Exegesis of 1 Peter 3:13-17: Verses 14b-15
3:14b-15, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”
Peter then cites Is 8:12-13, with the only significant change from verse 12 in the LXX being his substitution of the plural auton for the singular autou and some difficulty has attended whether to understand this construction as an objective or subjective genitive. The discussion is complicated by the fact that the Hebrew appears to be consistent with a subjective genitive (“do not fear what the people fear”), while the LXX uses an objective genitive (“do not fear him,” referring to the king of Assyria). A similar construction can be found in 1 Pet 3:6 (“not fearing any fear”), which reflects a common Hebrew idiom, the cognate accusative. (14) Either translation can be understood in consonance with the overall theology of 1 Peter, and there is no consensus among the variety of English translations. The near context of the verse leads me to tentatively conclude that an objective genitive is the correct translation, given the references to slanderers and revilers in 3:16. Believers ought not to fear their interlocutors and persecutors. (15)
In any event, Peter’s second prohibition meide taraxtheite (“neither should you be troubled”) immediately reinforces the fact that Christians should not fear anything when under persecution, neither their persecutors (objective genitive) nor what they fear (subjective genitive). The double prohibition of not fearing nor being troubled emphasizes the Christian’s responsibility, effectively, to be fearless in suffering. This is consistent with 1 Peter’s overarching theme of fearing only God. This fearlessness is to be accomplished first by honoring Christ the Lord as holy (kyrion de ton Xriston hagiasate).
It is fascinating to note that immediately after echoing the beatitudes, wherein Christ subtly implies identification between himself and righteousness, Peter similarly implies identification between Christ and Yahweh in his quotation of Is 8:13. (16) Where the LXX of Is 8:13 uses the reflexive pronoun (“sanctify the Lord himself,” kyrion auton hagiasate), Peter inserts ton Xriston, freely identifying Christ with Yahweh. The substitution of ton Xriston for auton can be construed predicatively (“sanctify Christ as Lord”) or appositionally (“sanctify the Lord, namely, Christ”). It appears to be predicative, since the presence of the article makes an appositional translation awkward, as generally both nouns would be either arthrous or anarthrous in that case. (17) The meaning of the phrase is not significantly affected by either construal. (18)
Peter’s theme of the fear of God is explicitly directed toward Christ the Lord, whose righteousness is our example in his endurance of persecution, and whose holiness is our only cause for fear even in the midst of persecution. The sanctifying of Christ as Lord in our hearts means recognizing that Christ, not one’s persecutors, is sovereignly controlling and evaluating all events, as verse 12 said: “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” The inward fear of Christ drives out all other fears and drives saints down to their knees in prayer. The fearlessness commanded in 14b is accomplished by sanctifying Christ the Lord in our hearts – out of which the mouth speaks, always ready to give a defense of the hope found in Christ.
The sanctifying of Christ in the heart is demonstrated by “always being ready” (hetoimoi aei) (19) to present a defense (apologian) of our hope to anyone. This comports with Peter’s theme of “eschatological readiness,” wherein he has also declared that salvation is “ready” (hetoimein) to be revealed in the last time (1:5), and Christ stands “ready” (hetoimos) to judge the living and the dead (4:5). (20) Our constant readiness to defend our hope in Christ parallels Christ’s constant readiness in the revelation of salvation and judgment – indeed, our defense may be the very means by which Christ reveals both salvation and judgment to our audience.
The use of apologian is often in reference to a formal defense, as in a court of law responding to specific charges. However, that this defense is made to “anyone” (panti) leads most commentators to recognize a primarily informal setting is in mind here. Achtemeier is representative:
While one cannot rule out all reference to judicial proceedings, the likelihood is therefore that the author has more informal social intercourse in mind as the context here. The implication would then be that Christians must take any such request as seriously as they would the requirement in a court of law to answer to formal charges. (21)
The “hope which is in you” (en humin elpidos) harkens directly back to sanctifying Christ the Lord “in your hearts,” (en tais kardiais) so that giving a reason (logon) for this hope is to declare the Lordship of Christ.
Giving a reason must be done with gentleness (prauteitos) and fear (phobou). Phobou is often translated with reference to the believer’s human inquirers (“respect” NIV, ESV, NET, TEV, NLT); however, given Peter’s frequent use of this lexeme throughout the letter, it would seem more consistent with the theme of fearing only God to translate it as “reverence” (RSV, NRSV). (22) By linking prauteitos with phobou, Peter appears to be commending to his audience a humble “attitude toward others that is rooted in one’s attitude toward God.” (23) Gentleness and reverence are simply and clearly consistent with the humbling proclamation of the hope found in Christ’s Lordship. Any other attitude would be sinfully inconsistent.
(14) Wayne A. Grudem, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: 1 Peter, An Introduction and Commentary. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 160.
(15) Mark Dubis, 1 Peter: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2010), 108-109 has a helpful discussion, though I draw the opposite conclusion from him based upon the evidence which he presents.
(16) It appears that even Jesus’ rhetorical and pedagogical styles left an impression upon Peter.
(17) Contrastingly, Dubis asserts, “Arguments against (an appositional) interpretation on the basis of the arthrous nature of ton Xriston and the anarthrous nature of kyrion… are complicated by the fact that kyrios in the LXX routinely translates the anarthrous tetragrammaton from the Hebrew.” Mark Dubis, 1 Peter: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2010), 110.
(18) Paul J. Achtemeier, Hermeneia: 1 Peter, A Commentary on First Peter. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 232. Also Thomas R. Schreiner, The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Peter, Jude. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 173.
(19) “The NIV understandably turns the adjective ‘prepared’ (hetoimoi) into an imperative, ‘be prepared,’ for something needs to be supplied to make the construction sensible. Technically speaking, perhaps, a participle (ontes) links this phrase to the main verb above (‘set apart,’ hagaisate).” Thomas R. Schreiner, The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Peter, Jude. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 174.
(20) J. Ramsey Michaels, Word Biblical Commentary: 1 Peter (Waco: Word Publishers, Inc., 1988), 188.
(21) Paul J. Achtemeier, Hermeneia: 1 Peter, A Commentary on First Peter. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 233.
(22) Mark Dubis, 1 Peter: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2010), 112.
(23) Karen H. Jobes, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: 1 Peter. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 231.