Exegesis of 1 Peter 3:13-17: Verse 14a
3:14a, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.”
The contrastive conjunction alla introduces a clarifying qualification on verse 13, which recognizes that there are exceptions to the general rule that Christians will not suffer if they do that which is right. (7) Indeed, even in these times of suffering the author asserts that they are blessed.
The future tense of the participle is probably functioning much like the subjunctive here, (8) and in conjunction with the optative mood of the verb in the contrastive parallelism it may function to anchor the optative as more than a bare possibility for many believers. (9) “Peter was not teaching that suffering is rare, only that it is not perpetual.” (10) This interpretation is reinforced by Peter’s use of ei kai which can describe a condition which is either already fulfilled or is likely to be fulfilled. (11) It is also helpful to remember that this epistle was written to a diverse audience throughout several geographic locations, so the optative mood allows both for the transitory nature of suffering in the life of the church, as well as the diverse circumstances of the various churches being addressed.
Peter’s use of makarioi clearly echoes the eighth and ninth makarisms (or beatitudes) of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (12)
This echo is worth considering in some detail. Of specific value in the current context is the parallelism found between the two beatitudes: the ninth beatitude amplifies and personalizes the eighth. “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of (heneken) righteousness’ sake… Blessed are you when others… persecute you… because of (heneken) my account.” (13) In this parallel Christ subtly identifies himself as righteousness, since persecution because of righteousness is persecution because of Christ. In the same way, Peter declares that his readers are blessed when they suffer on account of righteousness, which is suffering on Christ’s account. After presenting a quote on righteous living from one of the psalms which prophesied about Christ’s crucifixion (Ps 34) in verses 10-12, Peter echoes Jesus’ own teaching on a righteous response to suffering and persecution (Mt 5:10-11) in verse 14a. A further echo to the same beatitudes is made in verse 16 when Peter refers to “those who revile your good behavior in Christ.”
The echoes of this beatitude in verses 14 and 16 appear to be intertextually emphasizing the divine righteousness of Christ, particularly in response to his own persecution, while contextually drawing central attention to the admonition enclosed between them in verse 15, “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.”
Associating blessing with suffering is initially counterintuitive, but when the church endures suffering righteously, believers receive the blessing of experiencing unity with Christ, which is the greatest sign of God’s favor, providing evidence of salvation and presenting an experiential basis for the hope referenced in verse 15.
(7) Mark Dubis, 1 Peter: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2010), 107.
(8) Brian Vickers, “1 Peter” (classroom lecture, 22760-Greek Exegesis: 1 Peter, Spring 2012).
(9) “The risk, always imminent but… most of the time a threat rather than an actuality, is itself sufficient to explain the optative.” Mark Dubis, 1 Peter: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2010), 107. Cf. 2 Tim 3:12.
(10) Thomas R. Schreiner, The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Peter, Jude. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 171.
(11) Paul J. Achtemeier, Hermeneia: 1 Peter, A Commentary on First Peter. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 230.
(12) The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002), 810. All subsequent references to Scripture will be taken from this version unless otherwise noted by the author.
(13) The italic font is emphasizing the specific amplification and personalization within the parallelism.