B.C. Askins

The Man With the Golden Gun

Archive for the category “Exegesis”

Union with Christ in the New Testament: A Provocative Exegesis of Matthew 25:31-46

[Caveat lector: Necessarily, this post will be an overly brief and superficial treatment of the immense subjects under discussion. As always, questions and comments are not only welcome, but strongly encouraged.]

The Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide) has been a matter for drawing swords and shedding ink (at least) ever since the days of the Reformation. Witness a Baptist preacher and an Anglican bishop crossing quills over the matter just a few years ago (helpful summary here). My two cents: Piper had the loudest volume and Wright the largest volume – pick which volume you prefer.

The unfortunate fallout from these centuries of justification debates is that sola fide has become the functional center of certain streams of thought within the broadly Reformed tradition, leading some to see it as the central point of Pauline theology as well. It is not. Union with Christ is. Fortunately, this error of emphasis is being corrected in many recent volumes and conferences. Justification is grounded in union with Christ.

In contrast, the Kingdom of God is central to the theology of Christ in the Gospels. So Paul’s theology centers on Union with Christ and Christ’s theology centers on the Kingdom of God. I would like to suggest that these two theological centers converge in Matthew 25:31-46, “The Final Judgment.” Jesus’ doctrine of the Kingdom culminates most clearly in this passage, while Paul’s doctrine of Union with Christ is clearly present in seed form, as we shall see.

If I am correct in my interpretation, then there will be relevant implications from my exegesis for discussions regarding the relationship between Pauline and Jacobean doctrines of justification, the relationship between justification and sanctification, and the role of love in the judgment of God (among many others).

Here is the text in Greek and English:

31Οταν δὲ ἔλθῃ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐν τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ καὶ πάντες οἱ ἄγγελοι μετ’ αὐτοῦ, τότε καθίσειἐπὶ θρόνου δόξης αὐτοῦ: 32καὶ συναχθήσονται ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, καὶ ἀφορίσει αὐτοὺςἀπ’ ἀλλήλων, ὥσπερ ποιμὴν ἀφορίζει τὰ πρόβατα ἀπὸ τῶν ἐρίφων, 33καὶ στήσει τὰ μὲν πρόβατα ἐκδεξιῶν αὐτοῦ τὰ δὲ ἐρίφια ἐξ εὐωνύμων. 34τότε ἐρεῖ βασιλεὺς τοῖς ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ, Δεῦτε, οἱεὐλογημένοι τοῦ πατρός μου, κληρονομήσατε τὴν ἡτοιμασμένην ὑμῖν βασιλείαν ἀπὸ καταβολῆςκόσμου: 35ἐπείνασα γὰρ καὶ ἐδώκατέ μοι φαγεῖν, ἐδίψησα καὶ ἐποτίσατέ με, ξένος ἤμην καὶσυνηγάγετέ με, 36γυμνὸς καὶ περιεβάλετέ με, ἠσθένησα καὶ ἐπεσκέψασθέ με, ἐν φυλακῇ ἤμην καὶἤλθατε πρός με. 37τότε ἀποκριθήσονται αὐτῷ οἱ δίκαιοι λέγοντες, Κύριε, πότε σε εἴδομεν πεινῶντακαὶ ἐθρέψαμεν, διψῶντα καὶ ἐποτίσαμεν; 38πότε δέ σε εἴδομεν ξένον καὶ συνηγάγομεν, γυμνὸν καὶπεριεβάλομεν; 39πότε δέ σε εἴδομεν ἀσθενοῦντα ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν πρός σε; 40καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς βασιλεὺς ἐρεῖ αὐτοῖς, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐφ’ ὅσον ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶ τούτων τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου τῶνἐλαχίστων, ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε. 41Τότε ἐρεῖ καὶ τοῖς ἐξ εὐωνύμων, Πορεύεσθε ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ [οἱ] κατηραμένοιεἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον τὸ ἡτοιμασμένον τῷ διαβόλῳ καὶ τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ: 42ἐπείνασα γὰρ καὶ οὐκἐδώκατέ μοι φαγεῖν, ἐδίψησα καὶ οὐκ ἐποτίσατέ με, 43ξένος ἤμην καὶ οὐ συνηγάγετέ με, γυμνὸς καὶοὐ περιεβάλετέ με, ἀσθενὴς καὶ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ οὐκ ἐπεσκέψασθέ με. 44τότε ἀποκριθήσονται καὶ αὐτοὶλέγοντες, Κύριε, πότε σε εἴδομεν πεινῶντα διψῶντα ξένον γυμνὸν ἀσθενῆ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ οὐδιηκονήσαμέν σοι; 45τότε ἀποκριθήσεται αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐφ’ ὅσον οὐκ ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶτούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων, οὐδὲ ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε. 46καὶ ἀπελεύσονται οὗτοι εἰς κόλασιν αἰώνιον, οἱ δὲδίκαιοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Now, I am far from an expert in the history of the interpretation of this passage; however, it might be useful to think of modern commentators as tending to fall into one of two broad categories when interpreting the passage: liberal and conservative. Oversimplifying the matter somewhat for brevity’s sake, we can say that liberal theologians have tended to emphasize the social justice matters which Christ emphasizes in the passage: good works of love are what will matter at the final judgment. Care for the poor is at the heart of the gospel (cf. liberation theology). This has some similarities with some Roman Catholic interpretations of the passage as implying that meritorious works can earn salvation, (cf. Robert Bellarmine). Further, many would point out that there is nothing at all mentioned about justification by faith.

Oversimplifying again, conservatives have responded to this passage by limiting its scope to those within the church, because Jesus refers to “the least” as his “brothers” in vs. 40 – meaning that good works performed for those in the household of faith will be what matters at the final judgment, not broader social justice issues. Protestants have responded that these good works are the product of faith and not the basis for salvation. Love is the fruit of faith, so while the final judgment will be according to works, those works must be grounded in faith in Christ or they are just self-righteousness (cf. John Calvin in response to Bellarmine).

I tend to agree with both sides when they disagree with each other and disagree with both when they agree with themselves. In other words, I think they’re both wrong.

Exegetical Notes

These are the final words of the final pericope in the final discourse of Matthew’s Gospel. It is fitting that its subject should be the final judgment. This passage is the poetic and dramatic climax of the teachings of Christ in the first Gospel.

The setting and events depicted in the passage are conventional of judgment scenes in Jewish literature, strongly echoing Daniel 7 (among others). The King sits upon a judgment throne; angels are present; people are gathered, separated into two groups and the righteous are rewarded while the wicked are punished. There are twin conversations which correspond with the two groups and their respective judgments.

The structural significance of the sentence conjunctions in this passage have been entirely overlooked by commentators. (For more on this matter generally, see Stephanie Black, Sentence Conjunctions in the Gospel of Matthew.) There is an introductory Οταν (“When”) followed by the twin conversations, which use three τότε (“then”) and a concluding καὶ (“and”) sentence. The paragraph structure is (1) introductory paragraph, (2) dialogue with the righteous, (3) dialogue with the wicked, and (4) conclusion. It looks like this:

(1) Οταν (“when”)…
(2) τότε (“then”)…
τότε (“then”)…

καὶ (“and”)…

(3) τότε (“then”)…
τότε (“then”)…
τότε (“then”)…

(4) καὶ (“and”)…

The conjunctions above first serve the obvious grammatical purpose of conjoining two clauses. There is also an obvious parallelism in the structuring of the two dialogues. However, once we consider the structure of the discourse from above the sentence level (in a discourse analysis) we can see beyond the twin mistakes made in the stereotypical liberal/conservative, Catholic/Protestant interpretations mentioned above.

Filling in the text further:

(1) When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him…
(2) Then  the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

(3) Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’
Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

(4) And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Structurally and poetically, the climactic central point of the text is found in the shocking identification of the King with “the least” in vs. 40: “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” It is the identification of the King with “the least” which is central to this passage, not the good works or lack of good works among those being judged. Both the liberal/conservative and Catholic/Protestant readings hang on two different sides of the same error by reading the text as though the distinguishing characteristics are in those being judged, rather than in the Judge’s shocking self-identification with “the least.”

As mentioned above, these are the final words of Christ in the final discourse of Matthew’s Gospel and shortly after proclaiming them, the King will be hungry and no one will feed him, thirsty and he will have only vinegar to drink, a stranger unwelcome among his own people, stripped naked to be beaten, sickened by blood loss and infection, and he will be alone in prison until his crucifixion, at which time he will even be forsaken by the Father so that “the least” would never be forsaken by Him. The shadow of the cross looms large upon this final discourse before the crucifixion, just as the love displayed there will be magnified at the final judgment.

Paul’s doctrine of Union with Christ simply makes explicit the subtle doctrinal realities already woven into the the narrative-discourse fabric of the Gospels. The final judgment will be based upon the love we show to the King, who identifies himself with us, becoming “the least” in order to save “the least.” For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:5)

(For a sermon I preached recently on this text, click here.)

The Greek Text of James’ Epistle with Dale C. Allison, Jr. (1:2-4)

Continuing a series working slowly through the Greek text of James’ Epistle alongside Dale C. Allison, Jr.’s International Critical Commentary. It will not be an exhaustive series, but will include quotes, notes, and anything else I consider of interest as I work through the two texts, paying special attention to any points of intertextuality raised, as this is a personal research interest. I would like to thank Bloomsbury for providing a review copy of Allison’s text for this series.

2Πᾶσαν χαρὰν ἡγήσασθε, ἀδελφοί μου, ὅταν πειρασμοῖς περιπέσητε ποικίλοις,

3γινώσκοντες ὅτι τὸ δοκίμιον ὑμῶν τῆς πίστεως κατεργάζεται ὑπομονήν:

4 δὲ ὑπομονὴ ἔργον τέλειον ἐχέτω, ἵνα ἦτε τέλειοι καὶ ὁλόκληροι, ἐν μηδενὶ λειπόμενοι.

2Consider it utmost joy, my brothers, when you fall into various tribulations, 3knowing that this means of testing your faith works patient endurance; 4and let patient endurance have in you its perfected work, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Allison begins with a helpful section on the history of interpretation and reception of this text. He notes efforts to reconcile apparent contradictions between this passage and the Lord’s prayer (“rejoice in tribulation” vs. “lead us not into tribulation), this passage and Paul (cf. Rom 5:3-4, where Paul states that tribuation (θλῖψις) produces perseverance (ὑπομονὴν) and perseverance fosters character (δοκιμήν) – whereas James states that tribulation (πειρασμοῖς) produces character (δοκίμιον) which fosters perseverance (ὑπομονὴν), and eventual perfection (τέλειον)). This passage also played a role in the Wesleyan understanding of entire sanctification (which contradicts 3:2 in its indictment of all). Some have used this passage as an exhortation to comfortable Christians, while others have consoled those in trial with these words. Notably, few have considered the ethical issues surrounding an exhortation to rejoice in suffering. Some might consider these to be cruel words to victims of abuse or injustice or it may engender a fatalistic “count it all joy” attitude toward the oppressed. These are interesting considerations for contemporary preachers.

Exegesis

(v. 2-4) James foregoes any further greeting or introduction and rolls directly into an unexpected imperative – rejoice in trials. This is an uncommon structure, although Galatians also begins similarly. He gives a complex justification for this exhortation in the rhetorical form of a gradatio or “climax,” building through a lengthy series of catchwords in 1:1-6. There is significant shared vocabulary and progression with Rom 5:3-4, which suggests either dependence between the texts or a common source/tradition. The passage may be closer to 1 Pet 1:6-7. Unlike Paul and Peter, however, James does not link this imperative to a Christological theme at all. The “trials/tribulations” here are likely non-specific historically and refer to the general afflictions of the audience.

(v. 2) James calls for the most counter-intuitive, unnatural response possible to trials and suffering: joy. In all of extant ancient Greek literature, only here in this instance is χαρά the object of ἡγέομαι, “as though James is commanding one to think an emotion.” (144) While the distinction can be maintained between God as “tester” and the devil as “tempter,” it is not always easy to distinguish between the two experientially (cf. 1:12-15, Book of Job, Testament of Job, Gen 50:20, Mt 4/Lk 4, Jesus led by Spirit into wilderness to be tempted by devil). πειρασμοῖς likely has eschatological significance here, possibly referring to the tribulation anticipated before Christ’s return (cf. Rev 3:10, Jas 5:8).

(v. 3) Allison translates the unusual δοκίμιον as “means of testing,” referring to a similar use in LXX Pr 27:1. This is the first of sixteen occurrences of πίστις (faith) in the epistle. While πίστις would seem to be “mere assent” or “credence” in 2:14-26, the term does not appear to carry that connotation consistently across James’ idiolect (cf. 1:3, 2:5, 5:15). Here is a use of πίστις which is consistent with Paul’s use, as “a comprehensive term for right religion.” (151) ὑπομονήν appears again near the end of the epistle (5:11), referring to Job’s endurance. ὑπομονήν is not passive resignation, but “being bravely patient with suffering until it dissipates.” (152)

(v. 4) James is envisioning the outcome of a process of enduring suffering to the point of a producing a perfect work. Suffering is not virtuous in itself, but endurance is. τέλειον (perfect) is a term freighted with significance, both ancient and contemporary. In the LXX, τέλειος most commonly refers to “unblemished” sacrifices or “undivided” hearts (cf. Dt 18:13). This is not likely a reference to sinlessness (contra Wesley), rather to “wholeness” (as contrasted with double-mindedness, 1:7-8). “James demands perfection, but he is no perfectionist.” (155) 1:5 links τέλειος with “wisdom” (σοφίας). “James 1.2-4 envisages a series and so a process. With this in mind, one recalls Phil 3:12-16, where Paul calls himself ‘perfect’ (v. 15) and yet declares that he has not yet obtained ‘perfection’ (v. 12), for that consists precisely in moving ever forward (v. 14).” (157) The virtues most prominent in James should be allowed to inform our understanding of τέλειος, namely peaceable, meek, willing to yield, full of mercy and good works, and bereft of partiality and hypocrisy (3:17-18). ὁλόκληροι is a near synonym of τέλειος, a common association. The verse concludes ambiguously ἐν μηδενὶ λειπόμενοι, leaving one to ask “not lacking in what?” The perfection discussed above is something “for which one strives in the present [but] will be realized at the end.” (160)

Reflection

Given the Jacobean theme of endurance under trial, I wonder to what degree the Book of Job (or Testament of Job?) would serve as an intertext for James – given that 5:11 is the only explicit mention of Job in the whole NT. Ah, my kingdom for some Bible software…

The Greek Text of James’ Epistle with Dale C. Allison, Jr. (1:1)

I’m going to begin (and hope one day to conclude) a series working slowly through the Greek text of James’ Epistle alongside Dale C. Allison, Jr.’s International Critical Commentary. It will not be an exhaustive series, but will include quotes, notes, and anything else I consider of interest as I work through the two texts, paying special attention to any points of intertextuality raised, as this is a personal research interest. I would like to thank Bloomsbury for providing a review copy of Allison’s text for this series.

Foregoing comment on the introductory background section of Allison’s commentary, we begin with 1:1, Salutation and Address.

Ἰάκωβος θεοῦ καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δοῦλος ταῖς δώδεκα φυλαῖς ταῖς
ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ χαίρειν.

(James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes that are in the diaspora: Greetings.)

Allison agrees with the “common opinion” (114) of critical scholarship that the epistle is pseudepigraphal, noting that it was most common among pre-modern interpreters to attribute the letter’s authorship to James “the Just,” the brother of Jesus.

He takes the letter to be addressed to Jews, whether Christian or not – a minority report in contemporary and historical scholarship. Possibly, his audience includes Christian and unconverted Jews; Manton compares James’ epistle to the Sermon on the Mount, wherein Christ teaches his disciples directly, but allows the large crowds to overhear.

It’s interesting to note the clash between James’ introduction of himself as a δοῦλος (slave) of the Lord Jesus and Jesus’ own teaching to his disciples in John 15:15: “No longer do I call you slaves (δούλους).” If one accepts the author as the brother of Christ, then this introduction strongly illustrates the economics of the kingdom of heaven, where the way up is down and the first shall be last. Rather than claiming authority from natural fraternity, James prefers to address his audience as a humble slave – emulating Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve (Mt 20:28). The structure of the greeting could be hinting at James’ knowledge of Paul, conflating a traditional Jewish title (δοῦλος θεοῦ) with the Pauline δοῦλος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, though this far from establishes such a link.

Most interestingly, Allison highlights the faintest possibility of an echo of Isa 49:5-6 (LXX) in 1:1, as the texts share common references to Ἰάκωβος, δοῦλος, κυρίου, φυλαῖς, and διασπορᾷ. The connection is tenuous, based merely upon a shared lexicon (Beale/Carson make no mention of the allusion in their Commentary on the NT Use of the OT), but could be worth further consideration, nonetheless.

Given that ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ (in the dispersion) addresses all the Jews within a given geographically dispersed locale (Allison maintains the metaphorical/typological reading of δώδεκα φυλαῖς [twelve tribes] as a reference to the church is tenuous at best, for linguistic reasons, i.e. a letter addressed to “the Jews” is most likely intended for “the Jews”), and James’ eschatological situatedness at the end of the Jewish age (the old covenant era), “it may be that James presents itself as… an attempt to encourage and stir up the dispersed tribes to repent in preparation for the approaching day of judgment. Such a reading coheres with the possible allusion to LXX Isa 49.5-6, for that passage envisages the eschatological restoration of the entire Jewish people.” (133)

G.K. Beale in his Handbook on NT Use of the OT gives a nine-step method for interpreting NT quotes from or allusions to the OT. Regarding allusions, he states: “The telltale key to discerning an allusion is that of recognizing an incomparable or unique parallel in wording , syntax, concept, or cluster of motifs in the same order or structure… it remains possible that fewer than three words or even an idea may be an allusion.” (31)

Given these rather broad parameters, a thorough consideration of 1:1 as an allusion to Isa 49:5-6 would then involve:

1. Identify the OT reference. [Is it a quotation or allusion? If it is an allusion it must fit the criteria above.]
2. Analyze the broad NT context where the OT reference occurs.
3. Analyze the OT context both broadly and immediately, especially interpreting the paragraph in which the quotation or allusion occurs.
4. Survey the use of the OT text in early and late Judaism that might be of relevance to the NT appropriation of the OT text.
5. Compare the texts: NT, LXX, MT, and targums, early Jewish citations (DSS, the Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, Philo, etc.)
6. Analyze the author’s textual use of the OT.
7. Analyze the author’s interpretive use of the OT.
8. Analyze the author’s theological use of the OT.
9. Analyze the author’s rhetorical use of the OT.

Such a thorough analysis is far beyond the scope of my intent in this brief blog post, but may be a task I would return to at a later date (Jacobean condition). However, I would briefly highlight that Isa 49:5-6 is within a commonly referenced section of Isaiah (cf. quote in Acts 13:47, allusion in Lk 2:32, Acts 1:8) and James incorporates several clearer intertextual links to Isaiah throughout his epistle (1:15, 2:6-8, 3:6, 5:1).

If such an allusion could be established, what would be its significance? As quoted above, the eschatological significance of James’ epistle would be immediately present to his audience. Further, this might potentially imply the significance of his letter for the Gentiles whom he does not address explicitly, but who are mentioned in Isa 49:6c: “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” We might even see in this allusion a cryptic reference to James’ (in Greek Jacob’s) own testimony as one who rejected Christ until after his resurrection, but now serves as his slave, gathering Israel to the Lord: “And now the Lord says—he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength” (Isa 49:5). These are merely suggestions for consideration and should be taken with a grain of salt, as I’ve not even begun anything like the exegetical spadework necessary to establish either of them.

Finally, χαίρειν (greetings) creates a paranomasic “catchword association” with χαρὰν (joy), transitioning to 1:2 using a common linguistic device found throughout the epistle. This is an important device, frequently overlooked because it is often forgotten that the early epistles were commonly read aloud within the congregations. Morphology directly corresponds to phonology.

Exegesis of 1 Peter 3:13-17: Apologetic Epilogue

A Brief Application to Christian Apologetics from Peter’s Use of Pros Apologian

1 Peter 3:15 has become the pretext for a wide variety of applications regarding apologetic methodologies (evidentialism, presuppositionalism, classicalism, Reformed epistemology, etc.) and philosophical arguments (ontological, teleological, cosmological, transcendental, etc.). Such applications, however, are not derived directly from this text but are based upon real or hypothetical questions and challenges presented by unbelievers. The text allows for such an application only insofar as the particular questions raised by an unbeliever may relate to those subjects. The context of 3:15 is suffering for living righteously, not familiarity with S5 modal logic. Constant awareness of the Lordship of Christ is a necessary and sufficient precondition for always being ready to fearlessly give reasons for our hope.

An apologetic discussion is faithful to this text only insofar as it is related to proclaiming the Lordship of Christ. The hope which is in us is grounded in sanctifying the Lord Christ in our hearts, and any reasons given for our hope must honor him as holy. An apologetic discussion is unfaithful to this text when it does not lead to the foot of the cross and the door of the empty tomb, but becomes bogged down in the finer details of the particular structure of transcendental arguments, focuses inordinately on apologetic methodological competition or endlessly appeals to the irreducible complexity of cellular biology (or any other apologetic “hobby horse” issue). Each of these apologetic subjects (and many others like them) has value in their place, but must never supplant the supremacy of the Lordship of Christ in apologetics and life.

Exegesis of 1 Peter 3:13-17: Verse 17

3:17, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”

The substantiation of a Christian’s good conscience is in our good behavior in Christ. This is the condition which 3:17 reinforces, that it is always better for a believer to suffer for doing good than for doing evil (cf. 2:19-20).

It is widely recognized that the “it is better to… than to…” formula is proverbial, stemming from OT wisdom literature. The proverbial wisdom laid out in this verse was common to the larger Greco-Roman cultural context in that day, but Peter has demonstrated that a Christocentric understanding of this general moral principle radically alters the ground and purpose for suffering righteously while enduring injustice.

It is this unjust suffering, combined with the believer’s righteous life, reasonable hope in Christ and gentle, reverent attitude which create a powerful witness that God may have ordained as a means leading to salvation for someone. The hoti clause of verse 18 shows that such suffering is Christ-like. “Just as Christ endured unjust suffering for our salvation, Peter reasons, so we are blessed by God if we endure unjust suffering for the salvation of others.” (29) Clearly, such suffering is much better than suffering for wrong-doing, especially when it is instrumental in leading others to hope in Christ.

The missiological and eschatological senses of kataisxunthosin in verse 16 are reinforced in verse 17 as well, in that it is better to suffer now for doing good to the missiological end that some might be saved through such a witness, than it is to suffer finally for wrong-doing under the eschatological judgment of God. This rendering also reinforces the need for responding with gentleness and reverence before our enemies when suffering, remembering that we are far better off than our oppressors – and would be no better off apart from the grace of God.

The optative mood of pasxoite completes the inclusio from 13-14b, finishing the application of his earlier exhortation to righteous living under the circumstances of slander and suffering.

(29) Wayne A. Grudem, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: 1 Peter, An Introduction and Commentary. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 162.

Exegesis of 1 Peter 3:13-17: Verse 16

3:16, “…having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

The exhortation to gentle and reverent discourse is further qualified by the participial phrase suneideisin exontes agathein (“having a good conscience”). This participle of attendant circumstance reinforces the concept that the truth of a Christian’s reasons must be accompanied by an attitude which is consistent with that truth. Believers live coram Deo and must not use manipulative or vituperative speech in proclaiming the Gospel; neither fear nor moral compromise are permitted.

The purpose for prohibiting moral compromise is revealed in the following hina clause: so that those who speak against believers might be ashamed. Shaming unbelievers is not an end in itself; it may be that this shame becomes the ground for considering the reasons a believer has given for hoping in Christ (cf. 2:12). (24)

The shame of the unbeliever is contrasted with the good conscience and behavior of the believer – in Christ. “Christ, then, defines what is good conduct, and Christ is the power and motivation for good conduct in even the most provoking situations.” (25) This “good in Christ manner of life” will be recognized as good in general by the broader culture, but still vilified at times by some, as mentioned in the discussion of verses 13 and 14. As the “good conscience” and “good behavior in Christ” of the believer are contrasted with the “slandering, reviling shame” of the unbelieving interlocutor, the judgment of God looms in the background (referenced in 3:11-12, 20-22). “Those who now demand an accounting from Christians will themselves have to give an accounting to the Judge of all (cf. 4:5). On the ‘day of visitation’ they will either ‘glorify God’ if they have repented, or be ‘put to shame’ if they have not.” (26)

Kataisxunthosin is rightfully translated as a divine passive, “be put to shame,” (27) which carries both missiological and eschatological senses. (28) An unbeliever may be ashamed by their sinful conduct and led to repentance by a believer’s faithfulness – or they will be finally put to shame on the Day of Judgment.

 

(24) Wayne A. Grudem, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: 1 Peter, An Introduction and Commentary. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 162.

(25) Peter H. Davids, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle of Peter. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 133.

(26) J. Ramsey Michaels, Word Biblical Commentary: 1 Peter (Waco: Word Publishers, Inc., 1988), 191

(27) 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), 517.2.

(28) Dubis sets these two categories in opposition to each other in his critique of Michaels’ emphasis on eschatology (Mark Dubis, 1 Peter: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2010), 113.). I see no reason for viewing the senses as mutually exclusive, given the broader themes of the epistle.

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.

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.

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.

Exegesis of 1 Peter 3:13-17: Introduction

1 Peter is a book about hope-filled, righteous living in the eschatological tension present for members of Christ’s already-established but not-yet-fully-consummated kingdom. 1 Peter 3:13-17 is an inclusio (1) which adequately reflects some of the larger themes of this epistle, particularly the exhortation to righteous living and encouragement in times of suffering. It is contextually situated in a pericope about suffering for righteousness’ sake, located between the author’s admonition and explanation of righteous living (verses 8-12) and the proclamation of Christ’s suffering for salvation and resurrection with power (verses 18-22). Within the broader context of 1 Peter this pericope is a specific encouragement for the church to live a holy life, fearing only God even in the midst of suffering.

The purpose of this paper is to systematically analyze the Greek grammar and syntax of this text in order to draw appropriate theological conclusions regarding how Christians are to suffer righteously, as well as a brief concluding discussion regarding some contextual implications of Peter’s use of the term apologian for Christian philosophy and apologetics.

(1) The rhetorical interrogative of verse 13 is closely tied to verse 14 by qualification, and the use of the optative mood in both 14 and 17 displays the enclosure between verses 13-14a and 17, while not making any sharp breaks thematically from the rest of the pericope (verses 8-22). See the discussion in J. Ramsey Michaels, Word Biblical Commentary: 1 Peter (Waco: Word Publishers, Inc., 1988), 184.

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