Thursday, October 01, 2015

Notes on 1 Peter 3:8-4:6 (including "naughty" verses)

Last night was the fourth night in a series of group studies at College Wesleyan Church on 1 Peter. I've posted some notes so far on

1 Peter 1:3-2:10 (aliens and strangers in an oppressive context)
1 Peter 2:11-3:7 (slaves, wives, people in the empire, sit up straight around the bully)

The verses last night continued instruction on how to live in a world where the dominant power has it out for you.

1. Don't waste God's time.
It's not the time for "indecency, lusts, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, disgusting things, idolatry" (4:3). The Gentile audience has done enough of that in the past. So now it's time to suffer. The people around them are going to "think it strange" that they don't join in.

I imagine how hard it must be these days to go to some secular colleges and not get wasted all the time. Drinking is just out of control in these colossal wastes of time and money. Send your kids to IWU instead. :-)

2. Christ is our example.
He suffered. Indeed, this righteous one suffered for the unrighteous. So also the audience of 1 Peter has turned from sin and they were suffering (4:1). They should not repay evil for evil or insult for insult to their oppressors, but wish instead a blessing on them (3:9). Sounds like Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

1 Peter quotes Psalm 34, and although the context of the psalm in 1 Peter is not clear, it doesn't seem a coincidence that the psalm gives thanks to the Lord for delivering the psalmist from oppression. So also the audience of 1 Peter can thank God for getting them through a time of suffering.

Against all this background, the original connotations of the "apologetics proof-text" come into view. "Be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (3:15). This verse was not about having all the arguments of C. S. Lewis or William Lane Craig memorized. Anyone who knows me knows that I like rational arguments for faith. They're important to me personally.

But this is a verse about giving witness to Christ when you stand before your persecutors. It's about testimony rather than logical argument. Be prepared to testify that Jesus is your Lord when you stand before Caesar, who is not truly lord.

3. Christ has conquered all evil powers.
After the resurrection, God exalted Jesus at his right hand as Lord of the cosmos. He is far above all angels and authorities (3:22).

Here we come to what I call "naughty verses," verses that are hard to fit into my theology. The first is 3:19: "Christ himself suffered on account of sins... to bring you into the presence of God. Christ was put to death as a human, but made alive by the Spirit. And it was by the Spirit that he went to preach to the spirits in prison... these spirits were disobedient—when God patiently waited during the time of Noah" (CEB).

If you know Jewish literature, it's hard not to think of 1 Enoch here, a book that Jude quotes and to which 2 Peter seems to allude. Given that proximity, it's hard not to hear an allusion to the fallen angels of Genesis 6 in that tradition. I used to get very annoyed at some evangelical scholars at what seemed to me to be cooking the books at this point--using their considerable intellect to dodge what seems a likely conclusion. Let the text say what it seems to say and deal with it in your theology. If inerrancy means twisting the most likely meaning to fit your theology, then it is probably an instrument of falsehood--violating the text to suit your idea of what it should and shouldn't say.

The application stands! In death, Jesus announced his triumph over evil powers! That is the inspired and inerrant point Peter is making, IMO, delivered as all Scripture is in incarnated form. I could of course be wrong, but that is my line of thought as of 7:28 on 10-1-15.

4. Another "naughty verse" is 4:6: "They will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does" (NRSV).

Again, I poke fun at the NIV here, which inserts the word "now" into the translation to avoid the impression that Jesus is evangelizing the dead. That is a possible interpretation. But I hope I don't make interpretive decisions to massage my theology. Again, a neo-evangelical hangover, IMO.

BTW, the CEB dodges the NRSV's translation to avoid any impression that Peter has a body-spirit dualism: "They were judged as humans according to human standards, they could live by the Spirit according to divine standards." :-)

My interpretation is that Jesus is announcing salvation to the saints of the Old Testament. In other words, we should think of Hebrews 11:39-40: "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect" (NIV). Made alive in spirit, Jesus announced to the dead of the Old Testament that they could now be perfected.

Again, a difficult verse, but that's where I'm at with it.

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