July 19: 1 Peter 3:18-19; 4:6, 14; Jude 19-20

Today’s note continues (from the one previous) the survey of references to the Spirit in 1 Peter and Jude.

1 Peter 3:18-19

The exhortation and ethical instruction in 1 Pet 3:13-22 continues the eschatological orientation from the prior sections of the letter. This is fully in keeping with much early Christian instruction (in the New Testament), where the need for believers to conduct themselves in a holy and upright manner takes on special urgency, due to the nearness of the coming Judgment. Thus, we should not be surprised when the author (Peter) draws upon the ancient tradition of the great Flood (vv. 19-20ff) to expound and illustrate the instruction in vv. 13-16ff. By the mid/late-1st century A.D., the Flood, through which God judged the world of old, had come to be seen as a type-pattern for the end-time Judgment. This usage goes back to at least the 6th century B.C. (cf. the Isaian “Apocalypse”, chaps. 24-27), and was well-established by the time our letter was written (cf. my earlier article in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”).

The instruction in vv. 17-18 provides the transition to the Flood illustration that follows. The key point is the contrast between death in the flesh, and life in the Spirit. This essentially reproduces the same dualistic contrast found regularly in Paul’s letters, and is tied to the same central (Pauline) theme—of believers’ participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Such participation is symbolized in the baptism ritual (cf. the explicit reference to baptism in vv. 20b-21). In verse 18, it is Jesus’ own death and resurrection that is in view:

“(For it is) also that (the) Anointed suffered one time over sins, a just (person) over (the) unjust (one)s, (so) that he would lead the way for us toward God—(on the one hand) being put to death in (the) flesh, but (one the other) being made alive in (the) Spirit.”

Believers experience new life from the dead, in the Spirit, even as Jesus himself did. This emphasis on resurrection from the dead leads to the rather enigmatic reference in v. 19 on Jesus’ encounter with “the spirits in (the prison) guard” —that is, the realm of the dead and those who are imprisoned there. The precise nature of this episode is not entirely clear, and interpretations continue to be debated by commentators today. In particular, it is not clear whether the “spirits” refer to divine/heavenly beings (i.e. [fallen] Angels) who were punished, or to the human beings who perished in the flood. Probably the former is primarily in view in v. 19; however, it is clear that the author has the latter in mind as well, and, indeed, it serves as the basis for the subsequent instruction in 4:1-6.

1 Peter 4:6, 14

The focus in the instruction of 4:1-6 is on the need for believers to remain faithful, with the expectation that they will endure suffering as the current Age nears it end. According to the traditional view, the end-time is a period of ever-increasing wickedness and godlessness, comparable to the condition of the world prior to the great Flood. A similar Judgment is coming upon humankind, as stated clearly in verse 5—it is a judgment that will apply to “(the) living and (the) dead”, that is, those who are currently alive and those who have died. This juxtaposition of life vs. death prompts the author (Peter) to recall the instruction from 3:18ff, with its contrast between death in the flesh and life in the Spirit (cf. above). The Gospel is proclaimed to all people, even those who are dead—understood both literally and figuratively—so that they can live in the Spirit. Again this ‘life from the dead’ is to be understood in both a concrete and symbolic sense—the promise of resurrection (in the future), along with the experience of new life in the Spirit (realized for believers in the present). The precise wording in verse 6 is interesting:

“…that they would be judged (on the one hand) according to men, in (the) flesh, but (on the other) according to God, in (the) Spirit.”

The judgment in the flesh, “according to men”, can be understood on two levels:

    • All human beings face the Judgment in the sense that they/we all die physically (“in the flesh”), and
    • All people will be judged for the things done during their/our earthly life (i.e. done “in the flesh”)

Believers face this same judgment, but with a different end result—they/we pass through it, into eternal life. This life also includes the raising of the physical body from the dead. It is only believers who experience this other side of the Judgment, “according to God” —that is, according to our identity as sons/children of God, realized through union with Christ and the abiding presence of the Spirit. This identity is well expressed in verse 14:

“If you are reproached in (the) name of (the) Anointed [i.e. because you are Christ’s], happy (are you), (in) that [i.e. because] the honor [do/ca] and the Spirit [pneu=ma] of God rest upon you.”

In other words, to be “in Christ” means that God’s Spirit is upon us, and that all that happens to us on account of Christ’s name will end in our sharing the honor/glory (do/ca) of God, which already “rests” upon us. The idea of heavenly reward here accords well with the beatitude-form (on this, cf. my earlier study).

Jude 19-20

At the close of the short letter of Jude, we find two references to the Spirit, both of which are well-founded on early Christian tradition, such as we have seen in the Pauline letters (and elsewhere). Verse 19 comes at the end of the main body of the letter, which is comprised of a series of forceful instructions (and warnings) regarding the threats to true Christian faith and teaching that have arisen (and continue to grow) at the end-time. The particular eschatological orientation, as it is expressed, is very close to that of 2 Peter, and most commentators posit some sort of relationship between the two letters.

Especially significant is the way that the wickedness of the end-time is seen as having infiltrated the Christian congregations. This outlook is typical of many of the later writings of the New Testament, in the period c. 60-100 A.D. We find it, for example, prominently as a feature of the Pastoral letters (esp. 1 Timothy), the Johannine letters, and (as noted above) 2 Peter. False believers are seen as exerting a baleful influence over the congregations, to the point of drawing some away from the true faith; certainly, such a danger is considered to be present. In vv. 17-18, the presence and activity of such false/wicked Christians is said to be a fulfillment of early Christian prophecies regarding the end-time (cp. Acts 20:29ff; 1 Tim 4:1ff; 2 Tim 3:1ff; also 1 John 2:18ff; 4:1-3). Here is how the author of the letter (“Jude”) summarizes these ‘false’ believers:

“These are the (one)s separating from (the things) marked out, (hav)ing (only a) soul [yuxikoi/], (but) not holding (the) Spirit.”

The adjective yuxiko/$ is extremely difficult to translate in English. I discussed Paul’s use of it in 1 Cor 2:14; 15:44, 46, where he contrasts it with pneumatiko/$. The latter is typically translated as “spiritual”, for which there is no corresponding English to render the former (i.e., “soulish”). Yuxiko/$ is often translated blandly as “natural”, but this is rather inaccurate and misleading. As the terms are contrasted by Paul, they clearly have the basic meaning “having (only) a soul” and “having the Spirit”, respectively. Non-believers do not have the Spirit, but only a soul; while believers, on the other hand, hold the Spirit in addition to their soul. This meaning is confirmed by the usage here in verse 19, as well as in James 3:15 (the only other occurrence of yuxiko/$ in the New Testament). The false believers are like the rest of humankind, possessing a soul but living without the Spirit of God.

Another characteristic of the ‘false’ believers, is that they separate from (a)po/) the things “marked out” (root vb o(ri/zw) and by God—i.e. the Gospel and the established (apostolic) traditions, etc. More to the point, this means that they do not belong to the gathering of the true believers. The wording here, using the compound verb a)podiori/zw, compares with what the author of 1 John says of the ‘false’ believers there: that they separated, going out from the true believers, into the world (2:19; 4:5-6; 2 John 7ff).

The reference to the Spirit in verse 20 has a different focus, emphasizing the need for believers to pray in the Spirit. On the specific association of the Spirit with prayer—and the special role the Spirit has in the prayer of believers—see Romans 8:26-27ff and the earlier note on Eph 6:17-18.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 25

Psalm 25

This Psalm is an acrostic, in which, for the most part, each verse or couplet begins with a successive letter of the alphabet; on the acrostic format, cf. the earlier study on Psalm 9-10. As a poetic or literary device, the acrostic seems quite artificial, placing constraints on the poem, which, from our standpoint today at least, are altogether arbitrary, and add little to the artistic merit of the work. However, the device does have practical value, as an aid for the memorization of a relatively long poem, such as we have here. Because of the acrostic arrangement, it seemed best to comment on each letter-couplet (or line) individually. I have, however, also divided the Psalm into two parts—verses 1-11 and 12-22; this week’s study will examine the first part.

This Psalm generally follows a 3-beat (3+3) bicolon format, though with some minor irregularity. The superscription identifies the poem simply as “belonging to David”, perhaps intending to indicate his composition of the words, but not (necessarily) the music; the significance of the lack of the word romz+m! (“musical composition”), or comparable term, in the superscriptions remains uncertain.

The Hebrew letters that make up the acrostic are indicated in the translations below; as far as possible, I have attempted to keep the corresponding English of the first word in the first position of the translation.

Verses 1-11

Verse 1 [a]

“To you [;yl#a@], YHWH, I lift up my soul,
<…. > my Mightiest (One).”

Verse 1, as it stands now, consists of a single line, not a couplet; this, along with the fact that the first word of v. 2 is out of place, disrupting the acrostic, has led some commentators to theorize that the surviving text is corrupt. According to this view, yh^l)a$ (“my Mightiest [One]”, i.e. “my God”) is part of a lost second line, parallel with YHWH in line 1. One can only speculate as to how this line might have read. Unfortunately, no help is to be found from the Dead Sea Scrolls, since verse 1 is not preserved in the surviving Psalms MSS.

Verse 2 [b]

“In you [;B=] I trust—let me not feel shame,
do not let my enemies rejoice because of me.”

As in many other Psalms we have examined thus far, we find here the theme of unknown enemies or adversaries who threaten the Psalmist. The verb jf^B* is also frequent in these Psalms; it has the basic meaning of trusting, but also with the specific connotation of finding safety or security (in someone or something). God Himself is the place of safety for the Psalmist. The imperfect forms with the negative particle la^ have jussive/cohortative force—i.e., “may I not…”, “let me not…”, etc. Victory by his enemies would bring the Psalmist shame (vb vWB)—not only for the defeat itself and the “rejoicing/exultation” (vb Jl^u*) of his enemies, but because it would mean that his trust in YHWH was all in vain.

Verse 3 [g]

“Indeed [<G~] all (those) calling (on) you will not feel shame;
but they will feel shame, (the) disloyal (one)s (making) empty (the bond).”

I follow Dahood (p. 155f) in identifying the basic meaning of the verb hw~q* (II) here as “call (on)”, supported by the context of the occurrences in Psalm 40:2; 52:11, etc. The attested meaning “gather” is doubtless related— “call [i.e. bring] together”, similar to the situation with the roots lh^q* and ar^q*. To “call on” YHWH implies faithfulness to him, and devotion/loyalty to the covenant bond. Such a person will never feel shame; by contrast, those who are disloyal (vb dg~B*) to the covenant, who make the bond void or “empty” (<q*yr@), they will experience shame. The root dg~B* can be used to express unfaithfulness in marriage, which is also a fitting symbol for disloyalty to the covenant with YHWH (i.e. religious unfaithfulness); cf. further below on v. 11.

Less certain is Dahood’s suggestion that the initial word <G~ be understood here in its meaning “with the voice, aloud”, as attested in Canaanite. With very few exceptions (Psalm 137:1?), this word in the Old Testament is used in its weaker sense as a particle of addition or emphasis (“also, even”).

Verse 4 [d]

“Your ways [;yk#r*D=], YHWH, make known to me,
your paths teach me (to travel).”

Faithfulness to YHWH is described with the familiar idiom of traveling (walking) a path. This metaphor was especially popular in Wisdom literature, and, as we have noted on numerous occasions, many Psalms, in the form we have them, were influenced by Wisdom traditions.

Verse 5ab [h]

“Make me walk [yn]k@yr!d=h^] in (the way of) your truth and teach me,
for you (are the) Mighty (One) of my salvation.”

The same imagery continues from v. 4, with the cognate verb Er^D*, “walk/tread the path (or way)”, related to Er#D# (“way”).

Verse 5c [w]

“<And> (on) you [;toa<w+>] do I call all the day (long).”

The place of this single line in the acrostic is uncertain. It does not properly begin with the requisite letter, and the single line raises the possibility that something has dropped out of the text (cf. on verse 1 above). Even if we were to grant that the text is corrupt here, any sort of reliable reconstruction would be virtually impossible at this point. In order to preserve the acrostic, I have emended the first word to begin with the w-conjunction (cf. Kraus, p. 318). The same meaning is given here to the verb hw~q* (II) as in v. 3 (cf. above).

Verse 6 [z]

“Remember [rk)z+] your (act)s of compassion, YHWH,
and your (act)s of kindness, that they (are) from (the) distant (past).”

The covenant loyalty of YHWH is rooted in the distant past, and similarly extends into the distant future—the word <l*ou can connote both aspects. Probably the Psalmist has in mind all that God has done for the ancestors of Israel, His many acts of compassion (<j^r^) and kindness (ds#j#). The latter term, in particular, can signify loyalty in a covenant-context. The appeal to what God has done in the past is meant to spur action on behalf of His people (represented by the Psalmist) in the present. This literary-theological device appears frequently in Old Testament narrative, as well as in the poetry.

Verse 7 [j]

“(The) sins of [twaF)h^] my youth, do not remember (them),
(but) according to your kindness, may you remember me—
in response to you (own) goodness, YHWH.”

There are several formal difficulties in this verse. To begin with, the meter is distended in the first line, and the word yu^v*p=W (“and my [act]s of rebellion”) feels like a (secondary) addition; I have tentatively omitted it in the translation above.  If original, the use of uv*P# would indicate a more serious kind of sin—unfaithfulness to the covenant with YHWH, in the active sense of treacherous disloyalty or outright “rebellion” against God. This would suggest that the Psalmist represents a person who had previously been an adherent of Canaanite religion (and/or its syncretistic Israelite forms), with its ‘idolatry’, but then subsequently converted to Yahwism. Cf. below on verse 11.

As it stands, the verse is a tricolon, unusual within the structure of the Psalm, though there is a legitimate (partial) parallelism between the second and third lines. An interesting explanation (cf. Kraus, p. 318) is that the second line (7b) originally completed the couplet in v. 5, but came to be transferred to the current location during the course of transmission. In any case, the plea for YHWH to ignore the sins of a person’s youth, focusing on one’s current faithfulness, is natural in the context of such a prayer.

Verse 8 [f]

“(Indeed,) good and straight (is) YHWH,
(and the one)s sinning He will instruct in the way.”

The Wisdom language of vv. 4-5 (cf. above) continues here, emphasizing that God instructs His people when they sin. This is not the flagrant sin of rebellion or blatant transgression against the covenant, but follows the idea of “sins of youth” from v. 7, connoting especially unintentional error, the sin of negligence or carelessness. However, the use of uv*P# (“rebellion”) in v. 7, if original, would imply a more serious kind of sin—unfaithfulness to YHWH—which requires special forgiveness (cf. below).

The last word of the first line (/K@-lu^) is seemingly out of place, disrupting the rhythm of the couplet, and may well be a secondary addition and corruption of the original text; I have tentatively omitted in the translation above. If retained, it functions as a join between the two lines, translated literally as “upon this”, in conventional English something like “and so…”.

Verse 9 [y]

“He makes (the) oppressed (one)s walk in the judgment,
and He will teach (the) oppressed (to walk) in His way.”

Again, the Wisdom motif of “walking in the way” is used, along with the verb Er^D* (cf. above). The proper nuance of fP*v=m! (“judgment”) must be understood, as it here connotes God’s justice, such as he establishes for the righteous, as opposed to the punishment that comes upon the wicked. The judgments of God are good and holy, and are synonymous with His “way” (Er#D#).

Verse 10 [k]

“All [lK*] (the) paths of YHWH (are) kindness and truth
for (the one)s guarding His binding (agreement) and His repeated (command)s.”

The context of covenant-loyalty, implicit throughout, is now stated clearly here. Faithfulness and devotion to YHWH is defined in terms of loyalty to the binding agreement (tyr!B=). Such loyalty is expressed specifically as fulfilling the “repeated (instruction)s” by YHWH recorded in the Torah. For the one loyal to YHWH, walking in his paths becomes a blessing, as the person experiences the goodness and truth of God Himself.

Verse 11 [l]

“In response to [/u^m^l=] your (own) name, YHWH,
give pardon for my crookedness, for it (is) great (indeed)!”

Human “crookedness” (/ou*) is in contrast to the “straightness” (rv*y`, v. 8) of God. Even for the faithful ones among God’s people there is a measure of “crookedness”, marked by occasional sinning (vv. 7-8). The prayer here is for YHWH to give pardon (vb jl^s*) for such sin, purely on the basis of God’s own name—that is, His essential nature and character as the Mightiest, the Creator, and the One who is always straight and true. The opening word /u^m^l= is a prepositional particle derived, in part, from the root hnu, meaning to answer or give response. I translate it above, rather literally, as “in response to”. God responds with forgiveness, not because of anything the Psalmist has done (or will do), but simply because God’s name—His identity and His own loyalty to the covenant-bond—prompts it.

The declaration of the Psalmist’s “crookedness” as being great (lit. “much”, br^) may simply be an instance of pious exaggeration, a recognition of human imperfection in comparison with the holiness of God; however, it is also possible that something more is involved. In discussing verse 7 (above), I noted that the inclusion of the noun uv^P# (plur. “[act]s of rebellion”), if original, would imply that the Psalmist, at one point (in his “youth”), was an adherent of Canaanite religion—that is, of ‘idolatry’, presumably in the syncretistic forms that were relatively common and widespread throughout Israel. The idiom “great sin” (hl*d)g+ ha*f*j&) has this connotation, especially in the “Golden Calf” episode in Exodus 32 (vv. 21, 30-31; cf. also Gen 20:9; 2 Kings 17:21). The comparable br* uv^P# (“great rebellion”) would express this idea even more forcefully (Psalm 19:14; cf. Dahood, p. 125). The same idiom in Akkadian and Canaanite is used to denote adultery, which itself serves as a fitting metaphor in the Old Testament for unfaithfulness to YHWH.

References marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Psalmen, 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, Biblischer Kommentar series, 5th edition (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978), published in English translation as Psalms 1-59, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).