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÷÷1 PETER 3



Wives and Husbands Submission to Husbands The Obligations of Christians Wives and Husbands The Obligations of Christians: in Marriage
3:1-6 3:1-6 3:1-6 3:1-6 3:1-6
  A Word to Husbands      
3:7 3:7 3:7 3:7 3:7
Suffering for Righteousness' Sake Called to Blessing   Suffering for Doing Right The Obligations of Christians: Love the Brothers
3:8-12 3:8-12 3:8-12 3:8-12 3:8-12

Suffering for Right and Wrong


The Obligations of Christians: in Persecution
3:13-22 3:13-17 3:13-22 3:13-22 3:13-17
  Christ's Suffering and Ours     The Resurrection and the Descent into Hell
  3:18-4:6     3:18-22

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Third paragraph, etc.


÷1 PETER 3:1-6

  1In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. 3Your adornment must not be merely external braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 5For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; 6just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.

3:1 "In the same way" This points back to his admonition to the Christian citizens (cf. 1 Pet. 2:13) and Christian slaves (cf. 1 Pet. 2:18).

▣ "you wives, be submissive" This is a present middle participle like 1 Pet. 2:18. This is a military term which means "to arrange oneself under authority" (cf. Eph. 5:21-33; Col. 3:18-19; Titus 2:4-5). This entire chapter is related to Peter's discussion of "submission" of believers to government (1 Pet. 2:13-17) and believing slaves to their masters (1 Petl 2:18-20). Submission is not a negative term; it describes Jesus Himself. He was submissive to His earthly parents. He was submissive to His heavenly Father.

Special Topic: Submission

▣ "in order that" This is a purpose (hina) clause, which states the theological purpose for a wife's submission. It is always for evangelism! Believers are to model daily the Kingdom of God (cf. the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7).

▣ "if" This is a first class conditional which is assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. This context is discussing unbelieving husbands. In the first century many mixed families were prevalent because one of the partners became a believer. This is not a biblical proof-text for marrying a non-believer!

▣ "any of them are disobedient" This is a present active indicative, which implies continual action. As biblical faith is an ongoing experience, so too, is unbelief!

▣ "to the word" In 1 Peter "the word" (i.e., logos) is a metaphor for Apostolic preaching of the gospel. Believers are born again by the word (cf. 1 Pet. 1:23). They are to desire the spiritual or sincere milk of the word (i.e., logikos, cf. 1 Pet. 2:2).

▣ "won" This is a future passive indicative. This term means "to profit." It is used of salvation in 1 Cor. 9:19-22. The natural goal of a believing wife is the salvation of her family. This should be the goal of all believers.

▣ "without a word" Her life of faith will speak louder and clearer than words! However, at some point words are needed to communicate the gospel message!

▣ "by the behavior" Our lifestyle often shouts louder than our words.

3:2 "observe" This term was used of eyewitnesses. Peter used it three times in his letters (cf. 1 Pet. 2:12; 3:2; 2 Pet. 1:16). Believers' lives are on display. Although it is a cliche it is true that believers' lives are the only Bible some people will ever read. Believers' lives are the only Jesus some people will ever know. What an awesome responsibility.

NASB, REB   "your chaste and respectful behavior"
NKJV   "your chaste conduct accompanied by fear"
NRSV   "the purity and reverence of your lives"
TEV   "pure and reverent your conduct is"
NJB   "the reverence and purity of your way of life"
Peshitta   "you conduct yourselves with respect and modesty"

Peter has used the term "fear," understood as respect earlier, in 1 Pet. 1:17 and 2:18 (cf. Acts 9:3; 10:2; Rom. 3:18; 13:7; Eph. 5:33; Rev. 11:18). Believers live selfless, godly, culturally acceptable lives for the purpose of Kingdom witness and evangelism.

The term "chaste" (agnos) is translated in several ways (pure, chaste, modest, innocent, blameless). It is used of women in 2 Cor. 11:2; Titus 2:5; and here.

3:3 "Your adornment must not be merely external" This is an emphasis on the inner qualities of a believer, not a prohibition against all cultural adornment. External cultural adornment can become a problem if it becomes ultimate and prideful and characterizes an evil heart (cf. Isa. 3:18-24). How one dresses is a window into the heart (cf. 1 Pet. 3:4).

The term "adornment" is a unique usage of the term, kosmos (the verb form in 1 Pet. 3:5). This usage is where we get the English word "cosmetic."

▣ "braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses" All of these refer to the expensive and elaborate hair and clothing fashions of the women in Greco-Roman first century. Believers must not desire or emulate this lust for social acceptance and social ranking based on outward ornaments. This does not imply we should wear rags, but that believers should dress in ways which are socially acceptable to their particular culture and time, but do not draw undue attention to themselves.

3:4 "the hidden person of the heart" This refers to the new person after salvation. The New covenant has given a new heart and spirit (cf. Ezek. 36:22-38).

For "heart" see Special Topic: Heart.

▣ "the imperishable quality" Peter has used this term of (1) God's imperishable inheritance, which He guards for believers in heaven (i.e., 1 Pet. 1:4) and (2) of believers being born again of imperishable seed (i.e., 1 Pet. 1:23).

Paul uses this same term of our new resurrection bodies in 1 Corinthians 15. and of believers' incorruptible crown in 1 Cor. 9:25.

▣ "gentle and quiet spirit" The first term praus (meek, gentle) describes Jesus in Matt. 11:29 and 21:5 and is to characterize believers in the beatitudes (cf. Matt. 5:5). It is also used in 1 Pet. 3:15 to characterize a believer's witness.

The second term, hēsuchios or hēsuchia, is used several times in Paul's writings to describe believers as quiet, tranquil, peaceful, or restful (cf. 1 Thess. 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:12; 1 Tim. 2:2,11,12).

There is an implied contrast between the changing styles of the world (cf. 1 Pet. 3:3) and the settled character of a redeemed life (cf. 1 Pet. 3:4).

3:5 "being submissive" This is the general theme of this entire context (believers submit to civil authority, 1 Pet. 2:13-17; believing slaves submit to masters, 1 Pet. 2:18-20; Christ submits to the Father's plan, 1 Pet. 2:21-25; believing wives submit to husbands, 1 Pet. 3:1-6). It is an observable reorientation from the Fall of Genesis 3. Believers no longer live for themselves, but for God.

Special Topic: Submission

3:6 "Sarah. . .calling him lord" This is an OT example (i.e., Gen. 18:12) of a godly woman's submission.

▣ "you become her children" Old Testament saints are often used to encourage believers (cf. Hebrews 11). They are also used to show that believers are fully accepted by God by faith in Christ (cf. Rom. 2:28-29; 4:11; Gal. 3:7,9). We are of the faith family of Abraham and Sarah. We are the new people of God. The new Israel of faith (cf. Gal. 6:16; 1 Pet. 2:5,9).

▣ "if you do what is right" See note at 1 Pet. 2:14. The conditional element ("if") expressed in the English translation (NASB, NKJV, TEV) is not in the Greek text, but is implied. The life of faith has observable characteristics.

▣ "without being frightened by any fear" This is another characteristic of the life of faith (cf. 1 Pet. 3:6,14). This may be an allusion to Pro. 3:25 and the truth of Ps. 23:4; 27:1; and 91:5.

÷1 PETER 3:7

 7You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

3:7 "You husbands" This section to believing husbands is much shorter than that addressed to believing wives; however, it reflects a radically positive balance for Peter's day, much like Paul's (cf. Eph. 5:21-31).

▣ "in an understanding way" This could refer to

  1. the truths of Scripture (i.e., Gen. 1:26-27; 2:18-25; Gal. 3:28)
  2. being mindful of women's unique physical structure (see note below)

▣ "weaker vessel" This means physically (cf. Job 4:19; 10:9; 33:6; 2 Cor. 4:7), not spiritually or intellectually (cf. Gal. 3:28). Some commentators relate it to social status. This same "vessel" may be used in 1 Thess. 4:4 as a reference to one's wife (or an idiom of describing an eternal spirit within a physical body made from clay, cf. Gen. 2:7; 3:19).

▣ "show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life" This reflects the spiritual equality (i.e., co-heirs, cf. 1 Pet. 1:4-5) of men and women (cf. Gen. 1:27; 2:18; Gal. 3:28). In some ways even now salvation removes the consequences of the Fall (cf. Gen. 3:16) and restores the mutuality between men and women of Genesis 1-2.

▣ "so that your prayers will not be hindered" How believing couples treat one another affects their relationship with God (cf. 1 Cor. 7:5).

÷1 PETER 3:8-12

 8To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 9not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. 10For, "The one who desires life, to love and see good days, Must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. 11He must turn away from evil and do good; He must seek peace and pursue it. 12For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, And His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."

NASB   "To sum up"
NKJV, NRSV, NJB. Peshitta, REB   "Finally"
TEV   "To conclude"

This is a Greek idiom ( "now the end") which means "in summation," not of the entire letter, but of this context on submission (cf. 1 Pet. 2:13-17,18-25; 3:1-7,8-22).

▣ "all of you be" This is addressed to the entire community of faith. There is no verb in this list of encouraged attributes.

NASB   "harmonious"
NKJV   "of one mind"
NRSV   "unity of spirit"
TEV   "the same attitude"
NJB   "you should all agree among yourselves"

This is literally a compound of homos (one or the same) and phrēn (mind or thinking). The same concept is encouraged in John 17:20-23; Rom. 12:16; Phil. 1:27 and 2:2.

NASB, NJB   "sympathetic"
NKJV   "having compassion for one another"
NRSV   "sympathy"
TEV   "having the same feelings"

This is literally a compound of sun (with) and paschō (to suffer). We get the English term "sympathy" from this Greek compound. In times of persecution and trials this is so important, as are the other qualities mentioned in 1 Pet. 3:8.

NASB   "brotherly"
NKJV   "love as brothers"
NRSV   "love for one another"
TEV   "love one another"
NJB   "love the brothers"

This is literally a compound of philos (love) and adelphos (brother). This is, of course, the generic use of brother. Possibly a better way to express this is "show family love for all believers"( cf. Rom. 12:10; 1 Thess. 4:9). This reflects Jesus' command in John 13:34; 1 John 3:23; 4:7-8,11-12,19-21. In Koine Greek philos and agapē were usually synonyms (compare John 3:35 and 5:20).

NASB   "kindhearted"
NKJV   "tenderhearted"
NRSV   "a tender heart"
TEV   "be kind"
NJB   "have compassion"

This is a compound of eu (good) and splagchnon (viscera, bowels). The ancients believed that the lower viscera (cf. Acts 1:18) were the seat of the emotions (cf. Luke 1:28; 2 Cor. 6:12; Phil. 1:8). This compound calls on believers to have "good feelings" toward one another (cf. Eph. 4:32).

NASB   "humble in spirit"
NKJV   "courteous"
NRSV   "a humble mind"
TEV   "humble"
NJB   "self-effacing"

This is a compound of tapeinos (humble) and phrēn (minded). It is used in Acts 20:19; Eph. 4:2 and Phil. 2:3. This is a uniquely Christian virtue. It means the opposite of self-assertion and egocentric pride.

3:9 "not returning evil for evil" This is a present active participle used as an imperative. This refers to true forgiveness (cf. Pro. 17:13, 20:22; Rom. 12:17, 1 Thess. 5:15). Remember that 1 Peter is written to persecuted and suffering believers, but they must respond as Christ responded to unfair treatment.

▣ "insult for insult" This reflects Jesus' life (cf. 1 Pet. 2:23).

▣ "but giving a blessing" This is another present active participle used as an imperative. Literally it means "to speak well of" or "eulogize" in English (cf. Matt. 5:10,12,44, 6:14-15; Luke 6:28; Rom. 12:143; 1 Cor. 4:12).

3:9 "but you were called for the very purpose" This is exactly the same truth stated in 1 Pet. 2:21. Suffering, like Christ's example, is the believer's means of maturity (cf. Heb. 5:8) and witness (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15).

▣ "that you might inherit a blessing" This reflects the words of Jesus in Matt. 5:44 and Luke 6:28. The believer's inheritance has been a recurrent theme (cf. 1 Pet. 1:4-5; 3:7,9). We are family members with God and co-heirs with Jesus (cf. Rom. 8:17).

3:10-12 This is a quote from Psalm 34, from the MT and not the Septuagint. The Psalm is also alluded to in

  1. 1 Pet. 2:3 – Ps. 34:8 (cf. Heb. 6:5)
  2. 1 Pet. 2:22 – Ps. 34:13
  3. 1 Pet. 3:10 – Ps. 34:12-13
  4. 1 Pet. 3:11 – Ps. 34:14 (cf. Rom. 14:19; Heb. 12:14)
  5. 1 Pet. 3:12 – Ps. 34:15-16

Notice the three admonitions.

  1. must keep his tongue from evil (1 Pet. 3:10, see Special Topic: Human Speech)
  2. must turn away from evil (1 Pet. 3:11)
  3. must seek peace and pursue it (1 Pet. 3:11)

This shows the human aspect of the believer's covenant response. The reasons for believers' actions are given in 1 Pet. 3:12:

  1. the Lord takes personal notice toward the righteous
  2. the Lord hears the righteous
  3. the Lord is personally against the wicked

Throughout the Psalms "the Lord" originally referred to YHWH, the covenant God of Israel, yet in this context it refers to Jesus, the bringer of the new covenant (as do 1 Pet. 1:25 and 2:3). This is a common technique of NT authors to affirm the deity of Jesus.

÷1 PETER 3:13-22

 13Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15but 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; 16and 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. 17For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. 18For 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; 19in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20who 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. 21Corresponding 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.

3:13 "Who is there to harm you" This may be an allusion to Ps. 118:6 because this Psalm is quoted in 1 Pet. 2:7 and 9. This same truth is expressed in Rom. 8:31-34.

Believers must be continually reminded that this world is not their home and the physical is not ultimate reality! We are pilgrims here, just passing through. We must not be afraid (i.e., 1 Pet. 3:14).

It is ironic that those protected by the Lord are often the ones who are being persecuted. Knowing, loving, and serving God does not insulate one from pain, unfair treatment, even death. It may look like evil has won, but wait, even amidst suffering, the believer is blessed (cf. Matt. 5:10-12; Acts 5:41).

▣ "if you prove zealous for what is good" This is a third class conditional sentence which means potential action. They were suffering expressly because they were Christians (cf. 1 Pet. 3:14; 2:19; 3:16; 4:16). However, notice the contingency (i.e., subjunctive mood), "zealous for what is good"!

3:14 "But even if you should suffer" This is a rare fourth class conditional sentence (farthest condition from reality), which means possible, but not certain action (cf. 2 Tim. 3:12). Not every believer everywhere was suffering. Suffering was never and is never the experience of every Christian, but every Christian must be ready (cf. 1 Pet. 4:12-16; John 15:20; Acts 14:22; Rev. 8:17)!

▣ "righteousness" In this context it must refer to godly living or our verbal witness about the gospel. See Special Topic following.

Special Topic: Righteousness

▣ "you are blessed" This is a different term from 1 Pet. 3:9. This is the term used in the Beatitudes of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matt. 5:10-12). Believers are linked with the OT prophets as God's light and revelation to a lost world. By our witness even amidst persecution, the unbeliever may turn and praise God (cf. 1 Pet. 3:1,8-9).

▣ "and do not fear their intimidation" This is an allusion to Isa. 8:12-13 (see similar concept in Isa. 50:9; 54:17; Rom. 8:31-38). Literally it is "fear not their fear." This phrase could be understood in two ways: (1) the fear of God that the persecutors felt or (2) the fear they instill in others. Lack of fear is a characteristic of the child of God (cf. 1 Pet. 3:6).

3:15 "but sanctify" This is an aorist active imperative, which implies a decisive past act of setting someone apart for God's use (this may also reflect Isa. 8:14, which has "sanctuary"). Believers must sanctify Christ in their hearts as Christ sanctified Himself for them (cf. John 17:19).

Notice that in 1 Thess. 5:23 it is God who sanctifies believers. Now believers are commanded to sanctify themselves. This is the covenant paradox of biblical faith (compare Ezek. 18:31 with 36:26-27). God is sovereign, yet humans are also free and must exercise that freedom in God's will. And how are we to sanctify Christ?

  1. with our love for one another (cf. 1 Pet. 3:8-9)
  2. with our lives (cf. 1 Pet. 3:13-14)
  3. with our verbal witness (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15)

Special Topic: Sanctification

▣ "Christ as Lord" The King James Version has "Lord God," which reflects Isa. 8:12-13, which has "the Lord of hosts," while 1 Pet. 3:14 is a Messianic text. However, the ancient Greek manuscripts P72, א, A, B, and C have "Christ as Lord," which fits this context better.

▣ "in your hearts" "Hearts" is an OT idiom referring to the whole person.

Special Topic: The Heart

▣ "always being ready to make a defense" This is the Greek term apologia, which is a compound of apo (from) and logos (word). It refers to a legal defense in a courtroom setting (cf. Acts 19:33; 22:1; 25:16; 26:1,2,24). This text is often used to encourage believers to be an evangelistic witness, which is surely needed, but in context this probably refers to official trials or interrogations. Notice that it is important for all believers to have a prepared, logical presentation of their faith in Christ, whether for a court or for a neighbor. Every believer should be ready to be a verbal witness!

▣ "for the hope that is in you" Hope here is a collective word for the gospel and its future consummation. Believers live now in godly ways because of their confidence in Christ's promises and return.

Special Topic: Hope

▣ "with gentleness and reverence" The first term is used of wives in 1 Pet. 3:4, where it describes an attitude which is pleasing to God. This is true, not only in the interpersonal relationships of the home, but also of the believer's relationship to others, even those who instigate persecution (cf. 2 Tim. 2:25).

The second term is used often in 1 Peter and also reflects a day of persecution and intimidation (cf. 1 Pet. 1:17; 2:17,18; 3:2,15). We are to respect God and because of that, honor even unbelieving masters, husbands, and persecutors, as we witness to His power and kingdom.

3:16 There is some confusion as to where 1 Pet. 3:16 starts. NASB and NKJV start here and UBS4, NRSV, TEV, and NJB start it a phrase earlier.

▣ "keep a good conscience" This is a present active participle used as an imperative.

There is not an OT counterpart to the Greek term "conscience" unless the Hebrew term "breast" implies a knowledge of self and its motives. Originally the Greek term referred to consciousness related to the five senses. It came to be used of the inner senses (cf. Rom. 2:15). Paul uses this term twice in his trials in Acts (cf. Acts 23:1 and 24:16). It refers to his sense that he had not knowingly violated any expected duties toward God (cf. 1 Cor. 4:4).

Conscience is a developing understanding of believers' motives and actions based on

  1. a biblical worldview
  2. an indwelling Spirit
  3. a knowledge of the word of God
  4. the personal reception of the gospel

Peter has used this expression three times, 1 Pet. 2:19; 3:16 and 21. This is exactly what religious legalism could not provide, but the gospel can.

Special Topic: Conscience

▣ "so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame" See notes at 1 Pet. 2:12 and 2:15.

3:17 "if God should will it so" This is a rare fourth class conditional as in 1 Pet. 3:14. Peter has consistently expressed the contingency, but not certainty, of suffering and persecution (cf. 1 Pet. 1:6; 2:15; 3:17; 4:14).

3:18-22 Richard N. Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis In the Apostolic Period, pp. 69, 172, asserts that these verses are from a baptismal hymn. Grant Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, thinks just 1 Pet. 3:18 is poetic (none of the translations used in this commentary print it as a poem). If it is hymnic or poetic, then it should not be "pushed" for doctrine!

3:18 "for Christ also died for sins" This phrase is used in the Septuagint for "a sin offering" (cf. Lev. 5:7, 6:30; Isaiah 53; 2 Cor. 5:21). This phrase speaks of the vicarious, substitutionary death of Jesus, as does 1 Petl 2:22-24.

There are two parts of this phrase which have Greek variants.

  1. "Christ died" (cf. NASB, TEV, NJB). This is found in the Greek manuscripts P72, א, A, B, and C. Other ancient Greek uncials have "suffered" (NKJV, NRSV, i.e., MSS B, K and P). "Suffered" fits both the context and Peter's vocabulary (he uses "suffered" eleven times) best, but if it were original why would any scribe have changed it to "died"?
  2. "For sins." There are over seven variants of this section of the verse. Most of them incorporate "for us" or "on behalf of us." The problem is that the Greek preposition peri is used in connection with sin instead of the more expected huper.

▣ "once for all" This is the theme of the book of Hebrews (cf. Rom. 6:10; Heb. 7:17; 9:12,18,26,28; 10:10). Christ is the perfect, effective, once-given sacrifice for sin!

▣ "the just for the unjust" This may be an allusion to Isa. 53:11-12 and could be translated "the righteous for the unrighteous" (cf. NRSV). "The righteous one" may have been a title for Jesus in the early church (cf. Acts 3:14; 7:52; 1 John 2:1,29; 3:7). It emphasizes His sinless life (cf. 1 Pet. 1:19; 2:22) given on behalf of the sinful (cf. 1 Pet. 2:24).

▣ "in order that" This is a purpose (hina) clause.

▣ "He might bring us to God" This refers to "access" or "introduction" to deity (cf. Rom. 5:2; Eph. 2:18; 3:12). Jesus' death restores the relationship with God lost in the Fall. The image of God in mankind is restored through Christ. Believers have the possibility of intimacy with God as Adam and Eve experienced in Eden before the Fall of Genesis 3.

▣ "having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit" There is a contrast (parallelism) between Jesus' physical body (cf. 1 Pet. 4:1) and His spiritual life (cf. 1 Pet. 4:6; 1 Cor. 15:45). This same truth may be reflected in the early creed or hymn recorded in 1 Tim. 3:16.

Both of these phrases are aorist passive participles, which implies a historical event (crucifixion and resurrection, cf. Rom. 1:3-4) performed by an outside agency (i.e., the Father or the Holy Spirit). It is difficult in this passage to determine whether "spirit" should be capitalized (i.e., Holy Spirit) or not (i.e., Jesus' human spirit). I prefer the latter (as does A. T. Robertson), but F. F. Bruce prefers the former.

Special Topic: Spirit in the NT

▣ "made proclamation to" This is the Greek term kērussō, which means to proclaim or publicly announce. In the related passage, 1 Pet. 4:6, the verb is euangelizō, which refers exclusively to preaching the gospel. It is uncertain whether a distinction should be drawn in this context between these two terms (cf. Mark 5:20; Luke 9:60, where kērussō is used of gospel proclamation). I think they are synonyms.

▣ "the spirits" There are two theories concerning this:

  1. dead men (4:6; Heb. 12:23)
  2. evil angels (Gen. 6; 2 Pet. 2:4-5; Jude 6: I Enoch)

Humans are not referred to in the NT as "spirits" without other qualifiers (cf. F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions, p. 128).

Special Topic: "the sons of God" in Genesis 6

▣ "now in prison" There are several items in the text which must be linked together in some way to determine to what Peter is referring:

  1. Jesus was "in the spirit" (1 Pet. 3:18)
  2. Jesus preached to spirits who were imprisoned (1 Pet. 3:19)
  3. these spirits were disobedient in the days of Noah (1 Pet. 3:20)

When all of these are compared, a message to the fallen angels of Genesis 6 or the humans of Noah's day who drowned seem the only textual options. Noah's day is also mentioned in 2 Pet. 2:4-5, along with Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. 2 Pet. 2:6). In Jude rebellious angels (cf. Jude 6) and Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Jude 7) are also linked together.

It is unclear from the larger context why Peter even mentions this subject unless he is using the flood as an analogy to baptism (i.e., being saved through water, cf. 1 Pet. 3:20).

Two of the major points of contention in interpreting this passage are (1) when and (2) the content of Christ's preaching?

  1. the preexistent Christ preached through Noah (cf. 1 Pet. 1:11 where the Spirit of Christ preaches through the OT writers) to the people of his day, now imprisoned (Augustine)
  2. Christ, between death and resurrection, preached to the imprisoned people of Noah's day
    1. condemnation to them
    2. salvation to them (Clement of Alexandria)
    3. good things to Noah and his family (in Paradise) in front of them (in Tartarus)
  3. Christ, between death and resurrection, preached to
    1. the angels who took human women and had children by them (cf. Gen. 6:1-2)
    2. the half-angel, half-human offspring of Gen. 6:4 (see Special Topic: Terms Used for Tall/Powerful Warriors or People Groups.) The content of the message was their judgment and His victory. I Enoch says these disembodied half-angel/half-humans are the demons of the NT.
    3. Christ as the victorious Messiah ascended through the heavens (i.e., angelic levels of the Gnostics or the seven heavens of the rabbis, cf. 1 Pet. 3:22; Eph. 4:9). II Enoch 7:1-5 says that the fallen angels are imprisoned in the second heaven. He, by this very act, announced His victory over the angelic realms (i.e., all spiritual opposition, cf. the Jerome Bible Commentary, p. 367). I like this option best in this context.

Special Topic: Where Are the Dead?

3:20 "when the patience of God kept waiting" This is a compound of mēkos (distant, remote) and thumos (anger). This is an imperfect middle (deponent) indicative, implying God Himself continued to wait again and again. God's long-suffering, slow to avenge, loving patience characterizes His dealings with rebellious humans (cf. 1 Pet. 3:20; Exod. 34:6; Neh. 9:16-23; Ps. 103:8-14; Joel 2:13; Micah 6:18-20; 2 Pet. 3:15; Rom. 2:4; 9:22). This godly character is also to be manifest in His children (cf. 2 Cor. 6:6; Gal. 5:22; Eph. 4:2; Col. 1:11; 3:12; 1 Tim. 1:16; 2 Tim. 3:10; 4:2).

In Peter's writings God is depicted as patiently waiting and withholding His judgment so that people may be saved.

  1. He waited in the days of Noah, 1 Pet. 3:20
  2. He delayed the Second Coming, 2 Pet. 3:9

God wants all people to be saved (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9,15)!

▣ "who once were disobedient. . .Noah" This seems to refer to the angels of Genesis 6 (cf. 2 Pet. 2:4-5; Jude 6) or the unbelieving humans of Noah's day.

Special Topic: "the sons of God" in Genesis 6

▣ "were brought safely through the water" Contextually it seems that Peter brings up the historical account of Noah and the flood as a way to talk about being "saved" (OT physical delivery versus NT spiritual salvation) through water (i.e., OT flood of Genesis 6-9 versus Christian baptism). If I Enoch is the background, then Noah and his family (i.e., all mankind) were saved by the flood waters from the evil, mixed race of humans and angels.

NASB   "corresponding to that"
NKJV   "there is also an antitype"
NRSV   "which this prefigured"
TEV   "which was a symbol pointing to"
NJB   "corresponding to this"
Peshitta   "in that very manner"
REB   "symbolized"

This is the Greek term antitupon, which is a compound of anti (i.e., as over against or corresponding to) and tupos (an image or copy). This is the only example of the adjective in the NT, but the noun is in Heb. 9:24. This phrase shows the symbolic, typological nature of Peter's reference.

▣ "baptism" Baptism was the early church's opportunity for a person's public profession (or confession). It was/is not the mechanism for salvation, but the occasion of a verbal affirmation of faith. Remember the early church had no buildings and met in homes or often in secret places because of persecution.

Many commentators have asserted that 1 Peter is a baptismal sermon. Although this is possible, it is not the only option. It is true that Peter often uses baptism as a crucial act of faith (cf. Acts 2:38,41; 10:47). However, it was/is not a sacramental event, but a faith event, symbolizing death, burial, and resurrection as the believer identifies with Christ's own experience (cf. Rom. 6:7-9; Col. 2:12). The act is symbolic, not sacramental; the act is the occasion of profession, not the mechanism of salvation.

Special Topic: Baptism

▣ "saves you" This term is used mostly in the OT for physical deliverance, but is used mostly in the NT for spiritual deliverance. In this context of persecution it obviously has both connotations.

▣ "but an appeal to God for a good conscience" This shows that it is not the ritual of baptism that saves, but a believer's attitude toward God (cf. 1 Pet. 3:16). However, I would add that baptism is not an option but

  1. an example given by Jesus (cf. Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:31-34
  2. a command from Jesus (cf. Matt. 28:19) for all believers

The NT knows nothing of unbaptized believers. In the NT baptism was inseparably related to one's profession of faith.

See note on "conscience" at Mark 3:16.

Special Topic: Conscience

▣ "through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" This shows that the essence of salvation is in Jesus' resurrection (cf. Rom. 1:4-5), not our baptism. This line of thought is clearly seen in Rom. 6:3-4. Baptism by analogy, by immersion, symbolizes death, burial, and resurrection. In reality the mode is not as significant as the heart of the candidate.

Special Topic: Resurrection

3:22 "who is at the right hand" This is an anthropomorphic metaphor of authority, power, and prestige (cf. 1 John 2:1). This imagery is drawn from Ps. 110:1.

The Bible uses human language to describe supernatural persons, places, and events. It is obviously analogous, symbolic, and metaphorical. It is able to communicate reality, but within limits (limits of

  1. our fallen human perception
  2. its physical, time-bound, cultural particularity)

It is adequate, but not ultimate.

▣ "angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him" This seems to refer to angelic ranks (cf. Rom. 8:38-39; 1 Cor. 15:24; Eph. 1:20-21, 6:12; Col. 2:15; I Enoch). It shows Christ's complete authority and power over the spiritual realm.

Although 1 Peter is not directly addressing Gnosticism, it is clear from other NT writings (Colossians, Ephesians, 1 Timothy, Titus, and 1 John) that the cultural context of the first century Greco-Roman world was impacted by this philosophical/theological thinking. In second century gnosticism (and the Nag Hammadi texts) the Greek term pleroma (fullness), used often by Paul, refers to the "fullness of God," the angelic levels (aeons i.e., possibly the Jewish seven heavens) between a high good god and lesser gods. Jesus is the key to heaven, not secret passwords or knowledge related to these intermediary angelic/demonic beings.

Even if the Gnostic aeons are not the focus of the passage it seems that angels are! This would imply that the "spirits in prison" refers to the disobedient angels who took human women and produced offspring (cf. Gen. 6:1-4).

Special Topic: Gnosticism

Special Topic: Angels and Demons


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Were the writers of the NT male chauvinists?

2. How should women dress? (Send for my tape #1337 entitled "A Theology of Christian Dress")

3. How can our family relationships affect our prayers?

4. List the characteristics that should guide our social relationships.

5. Why do Christians suffer?

6. Should every Christian be a verbal witness?

7. Who are the spirits in prison?

8. Does baptism save us? (Send for my tape #1962 entitled "Baptismal Regeneration")


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