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1 Peter 3:13-22 NOTES

1 Peter 3:13-22 - EXEGESIS (Donovan)


CONTEXT:  Recipients of this letter are experiencing trials, harsh treatment, and suffering (1:6-7; 2:18-20; 3:13-17; 4:1-4, 12-19; 5:10). Peter encourages them with a vision of "an incorruptible and undefiled inheritance that doesn't fade away, reserved in Heaven for you" (1:4), and calls them to live holy lives (1:15; 2:9). He holds up the prospect of the rewards that they will experience in the future (1:8; 4:13ff)-and encourages them to stand fast in their faith in the midst of adversity.

The immediate context for verses 13-22 is a series of household codes, where Peter instructs these Christians on issues of personal holiness. He starts with their relationships to other people-"Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Honor the king" (2:17). He tells wives how to relate to their husbands (3:1-6) and husbands how to relate to their wives (3:7)-as well as giving more general instruction to "be like-minded, compassionate," etc. (3:8-12). He closes the household code section with the assurance that "the face of the Lord is against those who do evil" (3:12).

1 PETER 3:13-17.  WHO WILL HARM YOU?  

13 Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16  and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. 17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.


"Now (Greek: kai) who is he who will harm you, if you become imitators (Greek: zelotes) of that which is good?" (v. 13). The word kai connects this verse with the previous verse. Since "the face of the Lord is against those who do evil," (v. 12), then "who is he who will harm you?" (v. 13). Peter's assumption, of course, is that the Christians to whom he is writing are at least making an effort to lead moral lives-that they are, indeed, "putting away...all wickedness" (2:1).

  ▪ Throughout the Bible, we find the idea that God's people have nothing to fear from foes, because God will protect them (Psalm 56:4; 91:7; 118:6; Isaiah 50:9; Matthew 5:10-12; 10:28-31, 39; 16:25-26; Luke 12:4-7; 21:17-18). Paul asked Christians in Rome, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). In other words, if God is for us, it really doesn't matter who is against us. God's opponents don't have the power to thwart God's purposes.

  ▪ However, this doesn't mean that Christians are immune to suffering in this world. Early Christians suffered many forms of persecution because of their faith, but Jesus promised, "He who seeks his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39; 16:25). The hope of persecuted Christians, then, would appear to be eschatological (to be experienced in the last days-at the end of time). They might suffer now, but God will vindicate them in the end.

  ▪ But God's people also experience vindication in the here and now. David, who trusted Yahweh, won the victory over Goliath (1 Samuel 17). Gideon, who obeyed Yahweh, led his tiny band of soldiers to achieve victory over the much larger Midianite army (Judges 7). Peter, guarded by four squads of soldiers, was led by an angel to freedom (Acts 12).

  ▪ People of faith also experience less dramatic blessings on a day-by-day basis. As we try to do what Jesus would have us do, he helps us to bypass countless potholes and minefields. When we live by faith rather than fear, we experience benefits ranging from more joy to less anxiety and improved health.


"if you become imitators (Greek: zelotes) of that which is good?" (Greek: agathos) (v. 13b). The Greek word zelotes means zeal. A literal translation would be "if you are zealously devoted to that which is good."

  ▪ Zeal can be good or bad. Obviously, a passion for revenge would not accord with Jesus' call for forgiveness, but even a passion for God has the potential to go awry. Saul of Tarsus was "zealous for God" (Acts 22:3; Galatians 1:14), but his zeal drove him to persecute Christians "to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women" (Acts 22:4; Philippians 3:6). The challenge for Christians is to be zealous for God, while obeying Jesus' Great Commandment to love God and neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39). Obedience to Jesus' commandment will keep our zeal within Godly bounds.


"that which is good?" (Greek: agathos) (v. 13b). The Greek word agathos speaks of that which is good, virtuous, or benevolent. While it can be used in a multitude of ways, in this context it refers to that which is morally upright-in keeping with God's will.


"But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you are blessed" (v. 14a). Jesus stated this principle in the Sermon on the Mount:  "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.  Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake.  Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.  For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:10-12).

  ▪ He also said, "He who seeks his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake will find it" (Mt 10:39)


"Don't fear what they fear, neither be troubled" (v. 14b). This alludes to Isaiah 8:12b, which reads, "Neither fear what they fear, (and) do not be terrified" (a literal translation). In that context, Judah was threatened by its opponents. Isaiah told the Judeans not to fear their opponents, but to fear God and to trust in his promises.

Christians need to avoid buying into the fears of the faithless-and to avoid being intimidated by their threats.


"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts" (v. 15a). This verse alludes to Isaiah 8:13, which says, "Regard only the Lord of Hosts as holy. Only he should be feared. Only he should be held in awe" (a literal translation).


"and always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, with humility and fear" (v. 15b). Jesus earlier stated this same principle: "When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, don't be anxious how or what you will answer, or what you will say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that same hour what you must say" (Luke 12:11-12; see also Luke 21:14-15).

  ▪ Peter has practiced what he preaches in this verse. When arrested for preaching in Jerusalem, Peter proclaimed Christ to the assembled Jerusalem ruler, to include the two high priests (Acts 4:5-20). Not long afterwards, he addressed the same Jewish leaders, saying, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29, 42). After the vision in which God instructed Peter to kill and eat animals that were considered unclean under Jewish law, Peter instructed the Gentiles, Cornelius and his friends, leading to their receiving the Holy Spirit and being baptized (Acts 10:26-48). When criticized for his association with Gentiles, Peter defended himself before the Jerusalem church leadership (Acts 11:1-18)-and later did so again (Acts 15:7-11).


"concerning the hope that is in you" (v. 15b). Biblical hope is akin to faith. It is based on God's promises, and is also based on the believer's experience of God's faithfulness.

  ▪ Earlier, Peter defined the nature of "the hope that is in you." It is "a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an incorruptible and undefiled inheritance that doesn't fade away, reserved in Heaven for you" (1:3-4). He then said, "Be sober and set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1:13). So the hope of which Peter speaks here is the hope of salvation-based on the grace of God (1:13). It anticipates an "incorruptible and undefiled inheritance that doesn't fade away" (1:4). It is also the hope of blessings in the face of persecution (v. 14a).


"with humility (Greek: prautes) and fear" (Greek: phobos) (v. 15b). The NRSV places this phrase at the beginning of verse 16, but a number of translations place it here, at the end of verse 15.

  ▪ Prautes (humility) has sometimes been translated "gentleness" or "meekness." Meekness is not a good translation, however, because meekness has come to mean timidity or weakness. A prautes person, however, is neither timid nor weak. Instead, he/she enjoys the kind of self-assuredness that provides strength. We sometimes talk about "a strong quiet type"-by which we mean someone who has enough strength and confidence to be gentle in relationships but firm in convictions. That is a prautes person.


"and fear" (Greek: phobos) (v. 15b). In other places, Christians are told, "Don't be afraid" (Matthew 1:20; 10:31; 14:27; 17:7; 28:5). In those instances, they are told not to fear because God is with them.

  ▪ But the Bible holds that "fear of the Lord" is entirely appropriate. That is the kind of fear that Peter is advocating here. Fear of the Lord is serving the Lord and the Lord only (Deuteronomy 6:13). It is observing   God's commandments (Deut. 28:58). Fear of the Lord is "the beginning of knowledge," in the sense that the person who fears God will be open to instruction by God (Prov 1:7). Fear is "the beginning of wisdom"-wisdom being the kind of understanding that enables a person to make good decisions and to avoid bad consequences (Prov. 9:10). Fear of the Lord insures God's mercy (Lk. 1:50), and results in spiritual prosperity (Acts 9:31). "Behold, The Lord's eye is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his loving kindness" (Ps.33:18).


"having a good conscience" (Greek: suneidesis) (v. 16a). The Greek word suneidesis has to do with self-awareness-especially the kind of self-awareness that has a strong moral base and has the potential to keep a person on the straight and narrow pathway. Conscience is a good translation here. Peter is encouraging these Christians to keep their consciences clear so their detractors will find nothing to criticize.

  ▪ A good conscience is an alarm system that signals us when we do something wrong. It encourages us to rectify the error, and will bother us until we do so-or until sufficient time passes that we no longer remember the sin.

  ▪ However, a clear conscience is no assurance that a person is innocent of sin. A great deal depends on how we have trained our conscience. Some people can do terrible things and suffer no pangs of conscience. The more frequently we do something wrong, the less likely we are to suffer pangs of conscience. Furthermore, most of us engage in a good deal of rationalization. If we work at it hard enough, we can make ourselves believe that almost anything that we might choose to do is justified.


"that, while you are spoken against as evildoers, they may be disappointed (Greek: kataischuno) who curse your good way of life in Christ" (v. 16b). The Greek word kataischuno means to shame or to disgrace.

As noted above, the purpose of these Christians' clear consciences is to prevent their detractors from finding anything to criticize. Those who try to besmirch these Christians' reputations would be doomed to disappointment. Worse yet, on Judgment Day, they will find themselves standing before God trying to explain why they testified falsely against God's people.


"For it is better, if it is God's will, that you suffer for doing well than for doing evil" (v. 17). A better word order would be "For it is better that you suffer for doing well, if that is God's will, than for doing evil." Peter made this same point earlier in this letter (2:20).

  ▪ There is nothing masochistic about the Christian faith-nothing that encourages suffering for the sake of suffering. However, suffering endured in the line of duty-suffering with a purpose-suffering "for righteousness' sake" (v. 14) is commended, and rewards are promised to those who remain faithful.


18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you-not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience-through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.


"Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God; being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit" (v. 18). Peter stated this principle earlier in this letter. He said: "For what glory is it if, when you sin, you patiently endure beating?  But if, when you do well, you patiently endure suffering, this is commendable with God.  For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps" (2:20-21).

  ▪ Peter's point is that Christ endured the same kind of suffering that he calls Christians to bear. Christ was righteous, but suffered in behalf of those who were unrighteous "that he might bring (them) to God"-suffering with a redemptive purpose.


"in which he also went and preached to the spirits in prison (Greek: phulake), who before were disobedient, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, while the ship was being built. In it, few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water" (vv. 19-20). Martin Luther, in his commentary on Peter and Jude, wrote of this verse, "A wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means."

  ▪ After reading a number of scholars on this text, I have come to the conclusion that they don't know "for a certainty" either-and neither do I. For the most part, I think the preacher would do well to avoid getting bogged down trying to explain this verse.

  ▪ However, the Apostles' Creed took a cue from this verse to include the words, "He descended into hell." Because of that, some parishioners might ask for an explanation. While I can't provide a definitive exegesis, I will offer what I have.  (1) First, I will note that verses 19-20 don't say that Christ "descended into hell." They mention neither "descended" nor "hell." The Greek word is phulake, which means prison-not hell. Ephesians 4:9 says that Christ "descended to the lower parts of the earth" (a literal translation). However, the meaning of that verse is also uncertain.  (2) The phrase "descended into hell" was not in the original version of the Apostles' Creed, but was added centuries later. Today, some versions of the creed substitute "he descended to the dead." Some versions drop the phrase entirely.  We can look to three passages within 1-2 Peter for clues to his intentions:

  ▪ In 1 Peter 4:6, Peter says that "the Good News was preached even to the dead." However, that doesn't necessarily mean that Christ did the preaching. A number of scholars believe that this preaching took place prior to these people's deaths. Their response to the Good News while alive has determined their eternal destiny.

  ▪ In 1 Peter 3:22 (the last verse of this lectionary reading), Peter says that "angels and authorities and powers (have been) made subject to (Christ)."

  ▪ Later, Peter says, "For if God didn't spare angels when they sinned, but cast them down to Tartarus, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved for judgment, ...the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation and keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment" (2 Peter 2:4, 9). The word Tatarus comes from Greek mythology, and represents a great pit beneath the earth where the wicked will suffer.


"who before were disobedient, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, while the ship was being built" (v. 20a). This verse alludes to Genesis 6:1-4, which says that "God's sons saw that men's daughters were beautiful, and they took for themselves wives of all that they chose.... They bore children to them." Most scholars believe that "God's sons" in that context were angels. That is, in fact, how the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) portrays them, saying, "angeloi tou theou"-"angels of God." These angels may have, in disobedience to God's will, taken bodily form to mate with men's beautiful daughters.

The apocryphal books, 1-2 Enoch, taught that evil angels were imprisoned for their disobedience. Some people think that Christ descended into hell to preach the Good News to these fallen angels, but I am not convinced that this is true.


"In it, few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water" (v. 20b). The eight people were Noah, his wife, their three sons, and their sons' wives (Genesis 6:10, 18; 7:13). They took refuge in the ark during the flood, and so were saved (Genesis 7:7, 23). The phrase "saved through water" alludes to the passage of the ark through the flood waters. As we will see in the next verse, Peter mentions "saved through water" in this verse to set up an analogy with Christian baptism in the next verse.

  ▪ This is where I would ordinarily state my opinion about the meaning of verses 19-20, but I am sufficiently uncertain that I am not going do that. If you would like to study this verse further, I recommend consulting half a dozen commentaries to see where they lead you. See the bibliography below as a starting point.


"This is a symbol of baptism, which now saves you" (v. 21a). Having established the first part of the analogy in verse 20-that the inhabitants of the ark were "saved through water"-Peter now connects that image with the salvation power of Christian baptism. Both the ark and Christian baptism are expressions of God's saving grace. The analogy isn't perfect, of course, because the inhabitants of the ark weren't saved by immersion in the water, but by being raised above the water and kept from contact with it.


"not the putting away of the filth of the flesh" (v. 21b). While baptism constitutes a kind of washing in water, it doesn't cleanse the physical body, but the soul.


"but the answer (Greek: eperotema) of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (v. 21b). The Greek word eperotema is usually translated "question" or "inquiry." In the early church, candidates for baptism were asked questions, such as, "Are you committed to follow Christ?" Only after answering affirmatively were they permitted to be baptized. Peter might have that process in mind when he writes this verse.

  ▪ The Christian's salvation is the result, not of a moral life, but of the saving grace of Jesus' resurrection.


"who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven" (v. 22a). This alludes to Psalm 110:1, which says, "Yahweh says to my Lord, 'Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool for your feet'" (see also Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Hebrews 8:1). Now Christ sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven.


"angels and authorities and powers being made subject to him" (v. 22). While authorities, and powers are not necessarily bad, they often operate in rebellion to God.

  ▪ The Apostle Paul uses similar language to talk about authorities and powers (1 Cor. 15:24-25; see also Eph. 1:21).  Paul also gave the clearest statement of Jesus' position in the heavenly kingdom. He said:

"Therefore God also highly exalted (Jesus), and gave to him the name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).



Eventual Vindication 3:13-4:6


Peter previously explained how a Christian can rejoice in his sufferings, having set forth his responsibilities and outlined specific conduct in times of suffering. He next emphasized the inner confidence a Christian can have when experiencing persecution for his or her faith to equip his readers to overcome their sufferings effectively.

1. Suffering for doing good 3:13-17

v. 13: Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? - This statement carries on what the psalmist said in the quotation just cited. If God will punish those who do evil (1 Peter 3:12), who will harm those who do good? God will not, and under normal circumstances no other person will either.

  ▪ Christians have an incredible contribution to make to the society in which they live by breaking the cycle of people returning evil for evil. As we begin to do good, most people will return that good by doing good. What a marvelous ministry-with very immediate and measurable results. Just as people tend to return evil for evil, they usually return good for good. Indeed, when you do good, blessing comes to everyone involved.

v. 14: But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, - Nevertheless people are perverse and we do experience suffering for doing good sometimes. In such cases we need to focus our attention on the blessing that will come to us for enduring persecution when we do good (cf. Matthew 5:10; Luke 1:48). Peter quoted the Lord's exhortation to Isaiah when the prophet learned that the people of Judah and Jerusalem would not respond to his ministry positively (Isaiah 8:12-13). God promised to take care of Isaiah, and He did. Though Isaiah eventually died a martyr's death, he persevered in his calling because God sustained him. This is what God will do for the Christian, and it gives us the courage we need to continue serving him faithfully in spite of persecution.

v. 15: but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; - Rather than being fearful we should commit ourselves afresh to Christ our Lord (Yahweh of armies, Isaiah 8:13) by purposing to continue to live for Him. We should also have the reason we are living as we do on the tip of our tongues so whenever an opportunity arises we can explain why we behave as we do (cf. Acts 22:1; Acts 25:16). Our inquisitive questioner may not ask about our hope per se. Nevertheless our hope is the root cause of our behavior and should be the subject of our answer. We should give this answer with a gentle spirit to those asking and in a reverent spirit toward God.

v. 16: and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. - A good conscience is possible when we know our suffering is in spite of good behavior, not because of bad behavior (cf. 1 Peter 2:19; 1 Peter 3:4; 1 Peter 3:6). A simple explanation of our good conduct may take the wind out of the sails of our critics.

  ▪ Conscience may be compared to a window that lets in the light of God's truth. If we persist in disobeying, the window gets dirtier and dirtier, until the light cannot enter. This leads to a 'defiled conscience' (Titus 1:15). A 'seared conscience' is one that has been so sinned against that it no longer is sensitive to what is right and wrong (1 Tim. 4:2). It is even possible for the conscience to be so poisoned that it approves things that are bad and accuses when the person does good! This the Bible calls 'an evil conscience' (Heb. 10:22). "A 'good conscience' is one that accuses when we think or do wrong and approves when we do right." [Wiersbe, 2:414]

v. 17: For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. - If it is God's will for us to suffer misunderstanding, abuse, or bullying, it is better that that suffering be for good conduct than for bad (Rom 8:28). Peter probably meant these words as assurance rather than as admonition. He meant that we are much better off when we suffer than the evildoers who oppress us.

2. The vindication of Christ 3:18-22

NOTE:  Peter now reminded his readers of the consequences of Jesus' response to unjustified persecution. He did so to strengthen their resolve to rededicate themselves to follow God's will wholeheartedly and confidently. He also wanted to assure them of their ultimate triumph in Christ.

1 Peter 3:18-22 contain some very difficult exegetical problems. Who are the spirits who received a proclamation (1 Peter 3:19)? When did Jesus make this proclamation? What was its content? Why did Peter mention Noah? In what sense does baptism save us?

One group of interpreters believes Jesus went to the realm of the dead and preached to Noah's contemporaries between His crucifixion and His resurrection. [Note: E.g., Bigg, p. 162.] Some of these say He extended an offer of salvation to them. Others feel He announced condemnation to the unbelievers. Still others hold that He announced good news to the saved among them.

A second group believes Jesus preached to Noah's sinful generation while Noah was living on the earth. They see Him doing so through Noah.

A third group holds that Jesus proclaimed His victory on the cross to fallen angels. Some advocates of this view say this took place in hell between His crucifixion and His resurrection. Others believe it happened during His ascension to heaven.

I shall discuss these views in the exposition to follow.

In 1 Peter 2:21-25 Peter mentioned Jesus' behavior during His passion (1 Peter 2:21-23), His death on the cross (1 Peter 2:24 a), and His present ministry as the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls (1 Peter 2:24-25). In 1 Peter 3:18-22 he cited Jesus' resurrection and ascension into glory, the "missing links" in the previous record of Jesus' experiences. Peter proceeded to explain the significance of Jesus' resurrection and exaltation not only for believers but also for the whole universe. Whereas the previous example of Jesus stressed the way He suffered while doing good, this one emphasizes the theme of Jesus' vindication, which is major in 1 Peter following the quotation of Psalms 34 in 1 Peter 3:10-12.

v.18: For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; - "For" connects 1 Peter 3:18-22 with 13-17, but "Christ also" recalls and resumes the example of Jesus Christ that Peter cited in 1 Peter 2:21-25. Peter used the same phrase to introduce Jesus Christ as an example of suffering there. Suffering for doing good is the point of comparison in both passages.

  ▪ "once for all" emphasizes the complete sufficiency of Jesus Christ's sacrifice. It does not need repeating (as in the Roman Catholic mass) or adding to (by any human works, cf. Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 9:28; Hebrews 10:10). The emphasis is on the finality of His sacrifice ("once for all," Gr. hapax) rather than on the extent of the atonement ("for all").

  ▪ His was also a vicarious sacrifice: the just One died for the unjust ones (1 Peter 1:19; 1 Peter 2:21-24; 1 Peter 4:1; cf. Isaiah 53:11; Matthew 27:19; Luke 23:47; Romans 5:6-10; 1 John 2:1; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:7). The purpose of Jesus Christ's death was to bring us into fellowship with God.

  ▪ No other NT writer has this active picture of Jesus leading the Christian to God. But it fits with Peter's usual conception of the Christian life as an active close following of Jesus (1 Peter 2:21; 1 Peter 4:13)." The phrase "having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit" has received several different interpretations.

  ▪ Some interpreters believe that "flesh" refers to the material part of Jesus Christ's person and "spirit" to the immaterial part. [Note: E.g., Lenski, p. 159; John Albert Bengel, New Testament Word Studies, 2:746; B. C. Caffin, "I Peter," in The Pulpit Commentary, p. 133; A. J. Mason, "The First Epistle General of Peter," in Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, 8:420; J. W. C. Wand, The General Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude, p. 100; and Robertson, 6:116.] Supporters of this view argue that we should regard "flesh" and "spirit" as two parts of the Lord's human nature (cf. Matthew 26:41; Romans 1:3-4; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Corinthians 5:5). The contrast then would be that Jesus' body ("flesh") died, but His immaterial part ("spirit") experienced resurrection. The problem with this view is that an article precedes neither "flesh" nor "spirit" in the Greek text. The absence of the article usually stresses the quality of the noun. This would not be normal if Peter meant to contrast Jesus' body and His spirit. He would have included an article before each noun. The absence of the articles suggests a special meaning of "flesh" and "spirit." Furthermore Jesus' resurrection involved both the material and immaterial parts of His person, not just His spirit.

  ▪ Another view is that we should take the Greek nouns (sarki and pneumati, translated "in the flesh" and "in the spirit") as instrumental ("by the flesh" and "by the spirit") rather than as dative. The contrast, according to this interpretation, is between wicked men, who put Jesus to death by fleshly means, and the Holy Spirit, who raised Him. However, the Greek dative case ("in the flesh") is probably what Peter intended here rather than the instrumental case ("by the flesh"). This is probably a dative of respect. [Note: F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, § 197.] It is not who was responsible for Jesus' death and resurrection that is the issue but how Jesus suffered death and experienced resurrection. Moreover if "spirit" means the Holy Spirit, its meaning is not parallel with "flesh."

  ▪ A third view is that "flesh" refers to Jesus' death and "spirit" refers to His resurrection. The weakness of this view is that it is redundant. Peter said, according to this view, that Jesus was put to death in death and that He was made alive in resurrection.

  ▪ A fourth view sees "flesh" as describing Jesus' pre-resurrection condition (following the Incarnation) and "spirit" as referring to His post-resurrection condition. Peter used the same terminology in 1 Peter 4:6 where he referred to Christians who had died but were now alive. I prefer this view.

  ▪ As in Rom. 1:3f.; 1 Tim. 3:16, flesh and spirit do not here designate complimentary parts of Christ, but the whole of Christ regarded from different standpoints. By flesh is meant Christ in His human sphere of existence, considered as a man among men. By spirit is meant Christ in His heavenly spiritual sphere of existence, considered as divine spirit (see on 1. 11); and this does not exclude His bodily nature, since as risen from the dead it is glorified." [Note: Kelly, p. 151. Cf. Davids, p. 137-38.]

  ▪ 'Flesh' and 'spirit' do not refer to two 'parts' of Christ, i.e., his body and his soul; nor does the 'spirit' refer to the Holy Spirit or Christ's human spirit. Rather, 'flesh; refers to Christ in his human sphere of life and 'spirit' refers to Christ in his resurrected sphere of life (cf. [William J.] Dalton, [Christ's Proclamation to the Spirits,] pp. 124-24; TDNT, 6:417, 447; 7:143)." [Note: Blum, p. 242. Cf. Fanning, p. 444.]

  ▪ If 'flesh' is the sphere of human limitations, of suffering, and of death (cf. 1 Peter 4:1), 'Spirit' is the sphere of power, vindication, and a new life (cf. [F. W.] Beare, [The First Epistle of Peter: The Greek Text with Introduction and Notes, p.] 169). Both spheres affect Christ's (or anyone else's) whole person; one cannot be assigned to the body and the other to the soul . . .

  ▪ The statement that Christ was 'made alive in the Spirit,' therefore, means simply that he was raised from the dead, not as a spirit, but bodily (as resurrection always is in the NT), and in a sphere in which the Spirit and power of God are displayed without hindrance or human limitation (cf. 1 Peter 1:21)." [Note: Michaels, p. 205. Cf. Selwyn, p. 197.]

  ▪ Jesus Christ became the Victor rather than a victim. All who trust Him share that victory (cf. 1 Peter 3:13-17). This verse is an encouragement to Peter's readers that even though Jesus died because He remained committed to God's will, He experienced resurrection. Therefore we should remain faithful with the confident hope that God will also vindicate us.

  ▪ This verse is "one of the shortest and simplest [?!], and yet one of the richest summaries given in the New Testament of the meaning of the Cross of Jesus." [Note: J. M. E. Ross, The First Epistle of Peter, pp. 151-52.]

vv. 19-20: in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. - Peter here introduced more information about Jesus' activity in His spirit (i.e., His post-resurrection sphere of life), in addition to what he said about His resurrection from the dead (1 Peter 3:18), to encourage his readers.

  ▪ "In which" refers back to the spiritual sphere of life in which Jesus Christ now lives (1 Peter 3:18). The identity of the "spirits in prison" is problematic. The plural "spirits" describes human beings only one other place in the New Testament (Hebrews 12:23), but it describes evil spirit beings frequently (Matthew 10:1; Mark 1:27; Mark 3:11; Mark 5:13; Mark 6:7: Luke 4:36; Luke 6:18; Acts 5:16; Revelation 16:13; et al.). Thus we would expect that evil angels are in view, but does what Peter said about them confirm this identification? He said they are in prison (cf. 2 Peter 2:4) and that they were disobedient in the days of Noah (1 Peter 3:20).

  ▪ Some interpreters believe that the incident involving the sons of God and the daughters of men (Genesis 6:1-4) is what Peter had in view here. [Note: E.g., Michaels, pp. 206-13.] But there are some problems with this theory. First, this incident evidently did not take place during the construction of the ark but before construction began. Second, it is improbable that the "sons of God" were angels. [Note: See Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing, pp. 181-83.] Compare also Jesus' implication that angels do not procreate in Matthew 22:30. Nevertheless these "spirits" could still be angels. If they are fallen angels, Peter may have meant that after Jesus Christ arose He announced to them that their doom was now sure. He may have done this either by His resurrection itself or by some special announcement to them.

  ▪ A more probable explanation is that these "spirits" were the unbelievers who disobeyed God in Noah's day by rejecting his preaching. [Note: Fanning, pp. 449-50; Raymer, pp. 851-52; Selwyn, p. 199; John S. Feinberg, "1 Peter 3:18-20, Ancient Mythology, and the Intermediate State," Westminster Theological Journal 48:2 (Fall 1986):303-36; and Wayne Grudem, "Christ Preaching through Noah: 1 Peter 3:19-20 in the Light of Dominant Themes in Jewish Literature," Trinity Journal 7NS:2 (Fall 1986):3-31.] They are now "spirits" since they died long ago and their bodies have not yet experienced resurrection. He said the spirits of these unbelievers are in prison now (i.e., Sheol) awaiting resurrection and judgment by God (cf. Revelation 20:11-15). One could say that Jesus proclaimed a message to Noah's unbelieving contemporaries in His spirit (i.e., His spiritual state of life before the Incarnation) through Noah. Noah was preaching a message that God had given him, and in this sense Jesus Christ spoke through him (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20). Just so, Jesus Christ was speaking through Peter's readers to their unbelieving persecutors as they bore witness for Him in a hostile world. Noah faced the same type of opposition in his day that Peter's original readers did in theirs and we do in ours.

Another view is that the people to whom Jesus preached were those alive after Pentecost and in bondage to Satan and sin. Jesus preached to them through the apostles. The obvious problem with this view is that Peter linked these people with Noah. [Note: For fuller discussion of these views, see D. Edmond Hiebert, "The Suffering and Triumphant Christ: An Exposition of 1 Peter 3:18-22,"]

  ▪ God would bring Peter's readers safely through their trials just as He had brought Noah safely through his trials into a whole new world. God had done this for Noah even though he and his family were a small minority in their day. Furthermore as God judged the mockers in Noah's day, so will He judge those who persecuted Peter's readers.

  ▪ The phrase 'in the days of Noah' may well be based on the Gospel tradition and on Jesus' analogy between Noah's time and the time immediately preceding the end of the age (cf. Matthew 24:37-39//Luke 17:26-27)." [Note: Michaels, p. 211.]

  ▪ God is so patient that he waited for 120 years before sending the Flood in Noah's day (Genesis 6:3). Today He also waits, so patiently that some people conclude that He will never judge (cf. 2 Peter 3:3-4). Relatively few will escape God's coming judgment, just as only eight escaped His former judgment. The rest will die.


v. 21: Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you-not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience-through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, - The antecedent of "that" seems to be "water" (1 Peter 3:20). Baptism saves Christians now as the water that floated Noah's ark saved him and drowned his unbelieving antagonists. It does not save us by cleansing us from defilement, either physically or spiritually, but by announcing publicly that the person baptized has placed his or her faith in Jesus Christ. Baptism now delivers (saves) us from the consequences of siding with the world (cf. James 1:21; James 2:24; 2 Corinthians 6:17-18; Colossians 3:8-9; Hebrews 10:22). Baptism is the evidence that a person has made a break with his or her past life and is taking a stand with the Savior. It is a pledge (translated "appeal" in the NASB) springing from a good conscience (i.e., a conscience that is now right with God; cf. 1 Peter 3:16).

  ▪ They have already experienced salvation in the same way Noah did, namely by passing through water to safety, the water of baptism (cf. the similar analogy in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2)." [Note: Davids, p. 143.]

   ▪ Corresponding to" (1 Peter 3:21) is a translation of the Greek word antitypon ("antitype"). This is one of the places in the New Testament where the writer identified something as a type (cf. also Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 10:6; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 9:24). The flood in Noah's day is a type (i.e., a divinely intended foreshadowing) of baptism.

  ▪ Peter's point in his comments about baptism was this:  In water baptism his readers had made a public profession of faith in Christ in their community. This had led to persecution. However by that act of baptism they had also testified to their ultimate victory over their persecutors. Because they had taken a stand for Jesus Christ they could be sure that He would stand with them (cf. 2 Timothy 2:12).

  ▪ Many people who hold to infant baptism appeal to this verse in support of their belief. Most Lutherans, for example, believe that infant baptism guarantees the salvation of the child until he or she becomes old enough to make the faith of his parents, expressed in having their baby baptized, his own (cf. Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16). In infant baptism the Lord bestows on the child "a good conscience toward God," which is the evidence of salvation.

  ▪ The problem with this interpretation, from my viewpoint, is that Scripture nowhere else makes baptism a condition for salvation. In fact, it consistently warns against adding anything to faith for salvation. Circumcision did not save children under the Old Covenant any more than baptism does under the New Covenant. Circumcision expressed the faith of the parents. Abraham received the sign of circumcision to demonstrate his faith on the male members of his household (Genesis 17).

v. 22: who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him. - Salvation comes, not by baptism, but by faith in Jesus Christ whose resurrection and ascension testify to God's acceptance of and satisfaction with His sacrifice (1 John 2:2). 1 Corinthians 1:17 clarifies that baptism is not required for justification, and Acts 10:47 shows that baptism is a step of obedience for Christians. God has subjected all things, even the powers behind our persecutors, to Jesus Christ because of His death and resurrection (cf. 1 Peter 3:18). The fact that Jesus Christ now rules over the church does not mean that He is ruling on the throne of David over the kingdom of David. [Note: See Cleon L. Rogers Jr., "The Davidic Covenant in Acts-Revelation," "Through the resurrection" continues the thought that Peter began in 1 Peter 3:18 from which he digressed in 1 Peter 3:19-21 b.

  ▪ Jesus Christ's ultimate victory in spite of temporary persecution should be an encouragement to any suffering disciple of the Savior. 1 Peter 3:18 describes the saving work of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 3:19-20 refer to     His ministry of proclaiming good news to those destined for judgment, which ministry we in our day must continue faithfully, as Noah did in his. 1 Peter 3:21 stresses the importance of confessing Christ publicly in baptism by reminding us of what baptism does and what it does not do. 1 Peter 3:22 reminds us of our ultimate vindication and destiny.

  ▪ There is a difference between this reference to Jesus' sufferings and the one in 1 Peter 2:21-24. In the former case Peter used Jesus as an example of how to respond to suffering. In this case he showed that as a result of Jesus' sufferings we can be sure of ultimate triumph, and this gives us confidence as we suffer.

EW Commentary - 1 Peter 3:13-22

(3:13-17) How to handle it when our good is returned with evil.

13 Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. 17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.

a. And who is he who will harm you: Though Peter says that Christians should always answer evil with good, he also lived in the real world and he knew that people often repaid good with a response of evil.

      i. "Not to be hated by the world; to be loved and flattered and caressed by the world - is one of the most terrible positions in which a Christian can find himself. 'What bad thing have I done,' asked the ancient sage, 'that he should speak well of me?'" (Meyer)

b. If you become followers of what is good: Literally, become followers is "be zealous." "Some Jews were zealots, boasting their zeal for the Lord or His Law... all Christians should be zealots for that which is good." t)

c. But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you are blessed: Peter reminds us that there is even a blessing for us when we suffer for righteousness' sake. God will care for us, especially when we suffer unjustly.

i. Jesus spoke of the same attitude: "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).

d. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled: The presence or possibility of suffering for doing good should not make us shrink back from doing good. Instead we should give a special place (sanctify) to God in our hearts, and always be ready to explain our faith (give a defense), always doing it with a right attitude (meekness and fear).

      i. Other manuscripts render sanctify the Lord God in your hearts as, sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. "The simple meaning of the injunction is that at the very centre of life there is to be one Lord, and that is Christ... Other lords are permitted to invade the sanctuary of the heart, and to exercise dominion over us. Our own selfish desires, the opinion of others, worldly wisdom, the pressure of circumstances, these and many other lords command us, and we turn away our simple and complete allegiance to our one Lord."

      ii. We can be ready to give a defense if we have made ourselves ready in knowing the Bible. Peter knew how important it was to give a defense to everyone who asks you. He had to do this in the situations described in Acts 2:14-39, Acts 3:11-26, Acts 4:8-12, and Acts 5:29-32. In each point of testing Peter relied on the power of the Holy Spirit and was able to give a defense.

e. Those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed: Our good conduct, when our good is returned with evil, will prove others wrong in their opinions about us and it will make them ashamed for speaking against our godly lives.

f. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil: None of us want to suffer. But if we must, may it be for doing good and not for doing evil. Sometimes Christians are obnoxious and offensive and are made to suffer for it. They may wish it were persecution for the sake of the gospel, but really it is simply suffering for doing evil.

C. Jesus shows the power of suffering for doing good.  

1. (3:18) Through His godly suffering, Jesus brought us to God.

18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;

a. For Christ also suffered once for sins: Jesus "suffered once for sins." There is no longer any sacrifice or atonement that can please God other than what Jesus provided at the cross. Even our own suffering won't pay for our sins. The price has already been paid.

        i. Though Peter used the suffering of Christ as an encouragement and strength to his afflicted readers, we must remember that Peter also set Jesus completely apart from all others in his suffering. Spurgeon recalled the heroic suffering of one godly man: "I remember reading, in Foxe's Book of Martyrs, the story of a man of God, who was bound to a stake to die for Christ; there he was, calm and quiet, till his legs had been burned away, and the bystanders looked to see his helpless body drop from the chains as black as coal, and not a feature could be discerned; but one who was near was greatly surprised to see that poor black carcass open its mouth, and two words came out of it; and what do you suppose they were? 'Sweet Jesus!' And then the martyr fell over the chains, and at last life was gone."

        ii. That saint had the sweet presence of Jesus to help him through his horrible suffering; but Jesus did not have the sweet presence of His Father to help Him on the cross. Instead, God the Father treated Him as if He were an enemy, as the target of the righteous wrath of God. In this sense, the suffering of Jesus on the cross was worse than any ever suffered by a martyr; perhaps not worse in the physical pain suffered, but certainly in the spiritual suffering and total experience.

iii. "It is almost as if the apostle said, 'You have none of you suffered when compared with him; 'or, at least, he was the Arch-Sufferer, - the Prince of sufferers, - the Emperor of the realm of agony, - Lord Paramount in sorrow... You know a little about grief, but you do not know much. The hem of grief's garment is all you ever touch, but Christ wore it as his daily robe. We do but sip of the cup he drank to its bitterest dregs. We feel just a little of the warmth of Nebuchadnezzar's furnace; but he dwelt in the very midst of the fire." (Spurgeon)

b. The just for the unjust: Jesus is a perfect example of suffering for doing good. He, the just, suffered for all of us who are the unjust - and the purpose of it all was to bring us to God, to restore our broken and dead relationship with Him.

        i. Since Jesus did all this to bring us to God, how wrong it is for us to not come to God in fellowship! The ancient Greek word translated "bring" is the same word used for access in Romans 5:2 and Ephesians 2:18. In ancient literature, the word bring was used "of admission to an audience with the Great King." (Blum)

c. Being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit: Jesus did die in His body but was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit. Here, the Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. It also tells us that the Father raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 6:4), and it says that Jesus raised Himself from the dead (John 2:18-22). The resurrection was the work of the Triune God.

 2. (19-20a) Through godly suffering, Jesus preached to the spirits in prison.

19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient,

a. By whom: This means that Jesus was inspired by the Holy Spirit when He did the work of preaching to the spirits in prison. He was made alive by the Spirit, and then also did this work by the same Spirit.

b. He went and preached to the spirits in prison: Apparently this work was done in the period after Jesus' death but before His first resurrection appearance to the disciples. Jesus went to Hades - the abode of the dead - and preached to the spirits there.

c. Spirits in prison: Though some have regarded these spirits as human spirits, it is more likely that they were demonic spirits. We know that their disobedience was in the days of Noah (1 Peter 3:20). We have evidence that this was a time of gross sin for both demons and humans, when there was an ungodly mingling of humans and demons (Genesis 6:1-2).

        i. "Apparently, the oldest identification of those imprisoned spirits understood them as the fallen angels of Genesis 6. That view was widely known and generally taken for granted in the apostolic era."

d. Preached to the spirits in prison: We also don't know exactly why Jesus preached to these imprisoned spirits. In all probability this was preaching (the proclamation of God's message), but it was not evangelism (the proclamation of good news). Jesus preached a message of judgment and final condemnation in light of His finished work on the cross to these disobedient spirits.

        i. In doing this there was a completion in Jesus' triumph over evil, even the evil that happened before the flood. The Bible says that even those under the earth must acknowledge Jesus' ultimate Lordship. Here Jesus was announcing that fact: "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth" (Philippians 2:10).

        ii. "We do not believe that Peter said that Christ preached the gospel to those imprisoned spirits; he taught that Christ announced His triumph over evil, which was bad news for them. For Peter's readers, however, it meant comfort and encouragement."

iii. "What His message was we are not told. Why only those disobedient in the days of Noah are mentioned is not stated. What the purpose or result of Christ's preaching was, is not revealed. On all these points we may form our own conclusions, but we have no authority for anything approaching dogmatic teaching." (Morgan)

3. (20b-22) The salvation of Noah as a picture of baptism.

when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you-not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience-through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.

a. Eight souls, were saved through water: Peter drew a picture with his words here. Even as Noah's salvation from the judgment of God was connected with water, so the Christian's salvation is connected with water, the water of baptism.

        i. The water of the flood washed away sin and wickedness and brought a new world with a fresh start before God. The water of baptism does the same thing, providing a passage from the old to the new.

        ii. "Noah was not saved by the world's being gradually reformed and restored to its primitive innocence, but a sentence of condemnation was pronounced, and death, burial, and resurrection ensued. Noah must go into the ark and become dead to the world; the floods must descend from heaven, and rise upward from their secret fountains beneath the earth, the ark must be submerged with many waters - here was burial; and then after a time, Noah and his family must come out into a totally new world of resurrection life." (Spurgeon)

b. Not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God: At the same time Peter was careful to point out that it isn't the actual water washing of baptism that saves us, but the spiritual reality behind the immersion in water. What really saves us is the answer of a good conscience toward God, a conscience made good through the completed work of Jesus.

c. Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God: We see the completeness of Jesus' work by His exaltation to the right hand of God the Father, and the subjection of all created spirits unto Him (angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him). So though Jesus suffered for doing good, He had the ultimate triumph. The example of Jesus proves Peter's point in 1 Peter 3:9: when we suffer for doing good, we will inherit a blessing.

        i. Jesus has gone into heaven, and it is better for us that He is there. Spurgeon related this to how the high priest, ministering for Israel on the Day of Atonement, disappeared from the people and went behind the veil. "Though he was not with them, he was with God, which was better for them. The high priest was more useful to them within the veil than outside of it; he was doing for them out of sight what he could not accomplish in their view. I delight to think that my Lord is with the Father. Sometimes I cannot get to God, my access seems blocked by my infirmity; but he is always with God to plead for me."

        ii. Our connection with Jesus is like the little boy with his kite. His kite flew so high in the sky that he could no longer see it. Someone asked him, "How do you know it is still up there?" The boy answered, "I can feel it pull." We can't see Jesus enthroned in heaven, but we can certainly feel Him pull us toward Himself.

iii. Since Jesus has gone into heaven, His Church is safe. "Let not his church tremble, let her not think of putting out the hand of unbelief to steady the ark of the Lord. The history of the church is to be the history of Christ repeated: she is to be betrayed, she is to be scourged, she is to be falsely accused and spitted on; she may have her crucifixion and her death; but she shall rise again. Her Master rose, and like him she shall rise and receive glory. You can never kill the church till you can kill Christ; and you can never defeat her till you defeat the Lord Jesus, who already wears the crown of triumph." (Spurgeon)