Exegesis of 1 Peter 3:13-17: Verse 13
3:13, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?”
Verse 13 begins a specific application of Peter’s admonitions to righteous living from verses 8-12. The close link between 3:13 and the preceding verses is demonstrated by his use of the conjunction kai even while drawing an inference from verse 12. (2) The link is further supported by the repeated use in 3:13 of key terms taken from the author’s quotation of Ps 34 in verses 11-12, namely ‘doing good’ in verse 11 and ‘doing evil’ in verse 12. (3)
The use of a rhetorical question directs the audiences’ thoughts toward their own circumstances. Who will harm them if they follow hard after what is good? If the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his face is against those who do evil (verse 12) who could ever truly harm believers who zealously pursue righteousness? The answer implied by the question appears to be, “No one.” However, there are many clear examples of believers being harmed, even murdered, for pursuing righteousness. (4) So what are we to make of the apparent conflict with reality created by this implication?
Schreiner resolves this issue by viewing the use of the future tense participle ho kakoson as eschatological, referring to the fact that believers will not be harmed on the final judgment day. (5) However, this interpretation does not account for the contrastive parallelism between verses 13 and 14, where kakoson parallels pasxoite and tou agathou zeilotai parallels dia dikaiosunein. This suggests that kakoson has the same meaning as pasxoite, namely, “physical suffering” – rather than “eschatological harm.” It seems more likely that the rhetorical question is hyperbolic, and qualified immediately by the conditional (ei) and the optative mood of pasxoite in verse 14. Further support for this interpretation is drawn from the fact that every other use of kakoo in the NT refers to physical suffering, not eschatological harm. (6)
Effectively, Peter is stating that pursuing righteousness does not generally meet with opposition, in principle; however, the principle of sin is also at work in the world, at times producing violently irrational responses to the goodness of God, sometimes directed at His followers.
(2) “The kai with which this verse opens functions not so much as a copulative link with the preceding sentence (‘and’) as it does to introduce an inference from the preceding verse, and hence has the meaning ‘then.’” Paul J. Achtemeier, Hermeneia: 1 Peter, A Commentary on First Peter. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 229. Also J. Ramsey Michaels, Word Biblical Commentary: 1 Peter (Waco: Word Publishers, Inc., 1988), 185.
(3) In the text, the terms used are kaka in the quotation and kakoson in the rhetorical question, as well as the neuter singular of agathos in both places.
(4) Acts 7, the martyrdom of Stephen, can be viewed as a representative example.
(5) Thomas R. Schreiner, The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Peter, Jude. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 170.
(6) Walter Bauer, W.F. Arndt, F.W. Gingrich, F.W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed, ed. Frederick William Danker (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 502. Also Mark Dubis, 1 Peter: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2010), 106.