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.

July 15: 1 Peter 1:2, 11-12; 2:2-5

1 Peter 1:2, 11-12; 2:2-5

In the recent daily notes this summer we have been exploring the early Christian view of the Spirit, and the way that it developed, over the course of time, from the Old Testament, Jewish, and Gospel traditions. It remains to examine the references to the Spirit in the New Testament Writings not yet studied, such as the letters of 1 Peter and Jude, which contain key passages. These will be presented in a survey format, rather than with a detailed exegesis of each passage. The evidence from the Pauline letters, in particular, will be used as a point of reference (and comparison).

1 Peter 1:2

In the opening greeting, the author of the letter (Peter) refers to believers (his audience) as “the (one)s gathered out” (i.e. elect/chosen ones), and that this choosing by God took place “in (the) holiness of (the) Spirit”. The noun a(giasmo/$ more properly signifies something being made holy (vb a(gia/zw); though less accurate syntactically, we might translate the phrase as “in the Spirit making (you) holy”. Clearly this is a reference to baptism (cf. 3:21-22), as the parallel motif of “sprinkling” (r(antismo/$) would confirm. The Spirit played a central role in the early Christian baptism ritual, as we have discussed at various points throughout these notes. The association involved the fundamental idea of cleansing (from sin/impurity), which is certainly present here, as well as the following ideas that are more uniquely Christian in orientation:

    • The presence of the Spirit marks a new Age, and a new covenant with God, for believers in Christ. While this draws upon earlier Prophetic traditions, the Christocentric focus among early believers represented a radical new development, quite apart from Messianic traditions in Judaism at the time.
    • The ritual came to symbolize the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the believer’s participation in it. This goes quite beyond the earlier association of baptism with cleansing from sin, etc, being in some ways closer to certain rituals in contemporary mystery religions. Paul was most influential in developing this idea, drawing out the deeper theological and christological meaning.

The phrase “(the) sprinkling of (the) blood of Yeshua (the) Anointed” encompasses both of the aspects highlighted above. It alludes to the covenant ritual in Exodus 24:4-8, understood as a new covenant in terms of Jesus’ sacrificial death (Mark 14:24 par; cp. 1 Pet 1:19). Baptism thus symbolizes believers’ cleansing by the Spirit of God, as well their new  covenant identity as God’s people through union with Christ (including participation in his death and resurrection). The simple way that these ideas are combined in v. 2 suggests that they were well-established and ingrained in Christian thought at the time.

1 Peter 1:11-12

The references to the Spirit in verses 11-12 merely express the widespread early Christian belief, inherited from the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, that the Prophets of old were uniquely inspired by the Spirit of God, and spoke/wrote under its influence. The wording here, however, also evinces several uniquely Christian points of emphasis. Most importantly, we note how the expression “(the) Spirit of (the) Anointed” (pneu=ma Xristou=) is used in v. 11, being essentially synonymous with “(the) holy Spirit” in v. 12. Admittedly, the expression “Spirit of Christ” is rare in the New Testament, but we have seen how, for Paul at least, it was interchangeable with “Spirit of God” —indicating that the (Holy) Spirit was both the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of God.

The use of “Spirit of (the) Anointed” in verse 11 was likely influenced by the idea that the Old Testament prophecies foretold “the (thing)s (related) to (the) Anointed” —i.e., Messianic prophecies, of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Even so, the fact that “Spirit of Christ” could be used so readily as a substitute for the “Spirit (of God)”, without any need for further comment, shows how well-established the identification of the Spirit with both God the Father and Jesus Christ was among early Christians at the time. Moreover, it is likely that, in the case of 1 Peter, this also reflects a belief in the pre-existent deity of Jesus (cf. 1:20), rather than—or in addition to—the earlier exaltation Christology that associated his divine Sonship primarily with his resurrection and exaltation to heaven. Such pre-existence Christology,  even in a rudimentary form, would make it easier to envision how the Spirit of Christ could be inspiring the Old Testament Prophets. The Spirit was the active Spirit of both God the Father and Christ the Son, even prior to Jesus’ life on earth. If 1 Peter was genuinely written by the apostle Peter, then it probably dates from the early 60’s A.D., making it one of the earliest documents expressing this belief in Jesus’ pre-existence (cp. Phil 2:6ff).

1 Peter 2:5

As part of the exhortation and ethical instruction in 2:1-12, the letter makes use of the same motif we saw in Ephesians 2:18-22 (cf. the earlier note)—of believers, collectively, as a house (that is, the “house of God”, or Temple sanctuary). The Pauline character of the Ephesians passage tends to be confirmed by use of similar house/Temple metaphors elsewhere in the undisputed letters (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 5:1; 6:16), but the same sort of imagery here in 1 Peter indicates that it was even more widespread. This is rather to be expected, given the importance of the Temple, and the practical need for Christians to reinterpret (and ‘spiritualize’) its significance, turning it into a symbol of believers—individually and collectively—as the dwelling place for God. In particular, it is the place where God’s Spirit dwells.

Ephesians takes this a step further, emphasizing the Spirit as that which unites believers together, with the further implication that the ‘house’ itself is spiritual, built of/by the Spirit. Much the same is indicated in 1 Pet 2:5:

“and (also you your)selves, as living stones, are built as a house of the Spirit [i.e. spiritual house]”

This imagery is expounded through an application of several different Scripture passages (Isa 28:16; Psalm 118:26; Isa 8:4), identifying Jesus as the “foundation stone” (or cornerstone) of the Temple. This identification goes back to early Gospel tradition (Mark 12:10-11 par) and Jesus’ own teaching/sayings regarding the Temple. As Jesus Christ is the “living stone” (v. 4), so also believers, through union with him, are also made into “living stones”. As we have seen, to be “in Christ” is the same as being “in the Spirit”, a point that doubtless 1 Peter would affirm along with Paul, as indicated by the wording here in vv. 4-5.

Verses 5ff continue the spiritual reinterpretation of the Temple and its ritual (i.e. the priesthood and sacrificial offerings), identifying believers as representing the holy sacred office (priesthood), but one which now brings near to God sacrificial offerings “of the Spirit” (i.e. that are spiritual, pneumatiko/$). The old material offerings of slaughtered animals (qusi/ai), etc, have passed away completely for the people of God in the new covenant (vv. 9-10).

The remaining passages in 1 Peter and Jude will be discussed in the next daily note.

 

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: 1 Peter (Part 2)

(This is a continuation of the article from Part 1)

1 Peter 3:13-22

In the previous sections (2:13-3:12), the ethical-religious instruction in the letter became more practical in approach, dealing with how believers are to conduct themselves in society (and with each other). In the verses that follow, this instruction is increasingly set within an eschatological framework, along with repeated occurrences of one of the key themes of the letter—the need to remain faithful in the face of suffering as the end draws near.

We can see how this plays out in the current section, as the author (Peter) exhorts believers that they have nothing to fear from anyone, if they follow the example of Jesus in their daily life. They may indeed face suffering, but not as the result of their own inappropriate or unlawful conduct. Believers may consider themselves happy if they “suffer through justice [i.e. on account of justice/righteousness]” (v. 14), and should not be afraid; in such instances, they are to remain faithful since “the will of God may intend” that a measure of suffering take place (v. 17). There is unquestionably an eschatological dimension to the “suffering” (pa/sxein) that his readers are currently enduring (and/or that he expects they will have to endure); for more on this, cf. the discussion on 4:17 below.

The main point in this section is that, by enduring suffering, believers are truly following Jesus’ example, and share in his own sufferings—drawing upon the same basic idea of participation in the death (and resurrection) of Jesus that is so prominent in Paul’s letters. This is summarized in verse 18:

“(For it is) that even (the) Anointed suffered once, about [i.e. for the sake of] sins, a just (person) over [i.e. on behalf of] (those who are) without justice [i.e. unjust], (so) that he should lead us toward God, (hav)ing been put to death in the flesh, but (hav)ing been made alive in the Spirit…”

The reference to Jesus’ death leads to mention being made of his proclamation “to the spirits in (the prison) guard” (v. 19). This much-debated verse is the basis for the doctrine of Jesus’ “descent into Hell/Hades”. It would go much too far afield to discuss the subject here in any detail; there remain considerable differences of opinion over how to interpret “the spirits”, whether they are (a) the ‘fallen’ heavenly beings of Gen 6:1-4 (cf. 2 Pet 2:4), (b) the spirits of dead human beings bound in the realm of death (Hades/Sheol)—or some combination of the two. The immediate reference to the great Flood (v. 20) suggests the former, but the sense of the discussion that follows (esp. in 4:1-6, cf. below) seems to have the latter in view. On the relation of the Flood-tradition to Christian baptism (vv. 20b-21), see my recent Christmas-season note.

The great Flood also serves the author’s purpose, as an eschatological motif, a type-pattern of the coming Judgment—just as God destroyed humankind by the Flood in Noah’s time, so the wicked will perish at the end-time (cf. Jesus’ illustration in Matt 24:37-38 par, also in 2 Peter 2:5ff). Traditionally, the most common means by which the current Age would come to end, is through water (as in Noah’s Flood) or by fire (the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah), cf. Luke 17:26-30, and 2 Pet 2:5-9; 3:5-7 (to be discussed). There are other less obvious eschatological details in this passage, of which we may note the following:

    • The connotation of the Beatitude-form in verse 14, with the use of the plural adjective maka/rioi (“happy/blessed”); cf. my earlier discussion on the background of the Beatitude-form.
    • The expression “the hope [e)lpi/$] in you” (v. 15); as noted in Part 1, the early Christian use of the word e)lpi/$ was primarily eschatological—i.e. the future hope that awaits believers (the resurrection and eternal life)—even though this was already realized, at least in part, for believers in the present.
    • There is an allusion to the coming Judgment in verse 16, with the assurance that those speak against believers will “have shame brought down” on them (vb kataisxu/nw).
    • The concluding reference to Jesus’ exaltation (to God’s right hand, v. 22) assumes the future context of the final subjugation of all things to him; Paul assumes a similar context in the discussion of the resurrection in 1 Cor 15:24-28.

1 Peter 4:1-6

The instruction in 4:1-6 builds on the themes of the previous section, in the form of a more forceful ethical exhortation, based on the identity of believers as those who have participated in the sufferings of Christ (v. 1). The wickedness of the surrounding pagan (Greco-Roman) society in Asia Minor is vividly described in verses 2-3, though, to be sure, in rather stereotypical and exaggerated terms. The immorality of pagans was a stock motif in Judaism and early Christianity, but the point of the contrast is clear enough—believers are no longer to conduct themselves as those in the world around them do (v. 4). This is all the more important in light of the impending Judgment:

“th(e one)s who will (have to) give forth an account (of themselves) to the (One who is) ready to judge the (one)s living and dead” (v. 5)

The tradition cited in 3:20 is here given a new interpretation (v. 6), involving the distinction between death in the “flesh” and life in the Spirit (3:19). The idea seems to be that the Gospel is effectively proclaimed to all humankind—those who are dead both literally (physically) and figuratively—and, indeed, all humankind will be judged before God. Those who remain bound in the flesh will face the punishment of death, but those who have already died to the flesh (through trust in Jesus, symbolized by baptism), i.e. believers, will live, according to the same life-giving Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead.

1 Peter 4:7ff

“And (indeed) the completion [te/lo$] of all (thing)s has come near [h&ggiken].” (v. 7a)

The ethical instruction of vv. 1-6 is followed by more practical teaching, set again in a strong eschatological context that is established in the opening verse. It is hard to imagine a more concise and unequivocal statement of eschatological imminence; and, for commentators who are reluctant to admit the imminent eschatology expressed throughout the New Testament, such a clear statement is virtually impossible to explain any other way. The author (Peter) declares, simply enough, that the end (te/lo$, “completion”) of the current Age (“all [thing]s”) has come near (h&ggiken, perfect tense)—that is, of course, near to his readers (c. 60 A.D.?); doubtless, he expected that most of them would experience the return of Jesus and the end of the Age. On the technical eschatological use of the noun te/lo$ and verb e)ggi/zw (“come near”), cf. the separate study on imminent eschatology.

1 Peter 4:12-19

The eschatological aspect of the instruction in 1 Peter is heightened considerably in this section, beginning with the opening verses (vv. 12-13):

“(Be)loved (one)s, you must not regard as strange the fiery (burn)ing (that is) coming to be among you, toward (the) testing [peirasmo/$] of you, as (if) a strange (thing) is stepping [i.e. coming] together on you; but, according to the way you share (this) in common with the sufferings of the Anointed, you may delight (in it)! that, in the uncovering of his honor/splendor [do/ca], you may have delight, leaping (about for joy).”

As noted in Part 1, the noun peirasmo/$ (“test[ing]”) has a clear eschatological connotation in early Christianity, especially as there crystalized the idea of an end-time period of distress that would come upon humankind, in the time after Jesus’ ascension and before his subsequent return. During this time, believers would be severely tested, experiencing suffering (cf. above) that included persecution on account of their faith in Jesus. This is the “fiery (burn)ing” (pu/rwsi$) that he speaks of, part of the Judgment by fire (cf. below), a fire that tests the faith of believers. The suffering and persecution of this fiery test is described, in part, in verses 14-16, with a clear distinction between suffering because one has genuinely done wrong, and suffering that is experienced by the innocent—i.e. the faithful believer—in the same manner that Jesus himself suffered.

“(For it is) that (this is) the moment of the Judgment beginning, (and) from the house of God! But, if first from us, what is the completion [te/lo$] (of it) for the (one)s being unpersuaded by the good message of God?” (v. 17)

This statement (and rhetorical question) is striking, and a bit difficult to understand at first. After all, is not the Judgment directed against the wicked? How, then, can it be said to begin with the “house of God” (i.e. believers)? Here the pronoun a)po/ (“from”) indicates the point at which, or from which, something occurs. In actuality, the early Christian concept of the end-time Judgment (kri/ma) encompasses the great Judgment proper, but also the preceding period of distress (qli/yi$) and the intervening event of Jesus’ return to earth. Believers are rescued/saved from the Judgment proper, but they do still have to endure the time of distress, as is clear from Jesus’ eschatological discourse (Mark 13:5-13ff par), the visionary narrative of the book of Revelation, and many other passages in the New Testament discussed in this series. It also reflected the practical experience of many believers at the time, as Paul, for example, makes clear at a number of points in his letters (esp. 1 & 2 Thessalonians, and the earlier articles on them in this series).

All of this means that, in going through the period of distress, believers, were, in a sense, experiencing the first stages of God’s Judgment—it begins with the house of God. However, while the fire of Judgment means punishment for the wicked (non-believers, those “unpersuaded” by the Gospel), for believers it serves as a means of testing one’s faith, like precious metal purified in the fire. At the same time, if believers are careless or negligent, they may still escape the punishment, but only narrowly, and through fire that burns away all that is impure or improper. This seems to be the implication, in part, of the citation of Prov 11:31 (LXX) in verse 18; Paul says much the same thing, though in a different context, in 1 Cor 3:12-15. The providential character of the suffering of believers is made clear in the final encouraging words of verse 19, referring to believers as “the (one)s suffering according to the will of God” —it is suffering that, ultimately, serves a beneficial purpose.

1 Peter 5:1-5

In 5:1-5, the instruction shifts to those who are the “elders”, the leading ministers and overseers of the congregations. As ‘shepherds’ who guard and guide the congregation, these persons have a greater responsibility, which includes strengthening the ones who experience suffering and persecution during the time of distress. Along with this responsibility, and a significant share of suffering as well, there is the promise of the heavenly reward, the “honor/splendor [do/ca] th(at is) about to be uncovered” (v. 1) This refers primarily to the end-time return of Jesus, but also to all that awaits for believers once we are gathered to him. This is the future hope (e)lpi/$) mentioned throughout the letter (cf. above, and in Part 1). The promise is stated more precisely in verse 4:

“…and, (at the) shining forth of the Chief Herdsman [i.e. Jesus the Shepherd], you will (receive and) care for a wreath of honor/splendor [do/ca] th(at is) without fading [i.e. that never fades].”

1 Peter 5:6-11

The ethical and religious instruction of the letter reaches it climax in these closing verses, with its sense of eschatological urgency coming through vividly. The sense that time is short, and that danger and persecution are close at hand, permeates the passage, from its initial words:

“So (then) you must lower [i.e. humble] yourselves under the mighty hand of God, (so) that He may lift you high in the (coming) moment…” (v. 6)

This “moment” (kairo/$) has eschatological significance, though the particular aspect may not be immediately apparent on a casual reading (see the other occurrences of the noun in 1:5, 11; 4:17 [above]). Also unquestionably eschatological is the use of the verb grhgoreu/w (“keep awake, keep watch”), as can be seen from similar exhortations in Mark 13:34-37 par (also 14:34ff par); Matt 25:13; Luke 12:37; 1 Thess 5:6, 10; Rev 3:2-3; 16:15. It is part of verse 8, one of the most famous in the letter:

“You must be sober, you must stay awake [grhgorh/sate]! The (one seek)ing decision against you, (the) Dia/bolo$, walks about roaring as a lion, seeking [someone] to gulp down…”

The noun a)nti/diko$, usually translated as “opponent, adversary”, here captures the eschatological Judgment-context. It literally means something like one who seeks “a right (decision) against” someone, i.e. in a court of law. The original meaning of the Hebrew /f*c* (´¹‰¹n, Satan) was also primarily judicial; even the corresponding Greek dia/bolo$ (i.e. Devil) preserves this aspect when understood literally as one who “throws across” accusations against someone. However, the Satan/Devil truly is opposed to believers (and to God), and represents the forces of evil that would attack (i.e. persecute) the faithful (lit. “gulp down”, katapi/nw; cp. the imagery in Revelation 12:4, 15-16). Christians should not despair in the face of such attacks, since believers everywhere are experiencing this (v. 9), and will continue to all the more, as the period of distress intensifies, prior to Jesus’ return.

Some commentators have sought to tie these references to specific instances of persecution against Christians, in the Roman Empire, during the mid-late 1st century, such as the brief (but severe) attack in the city of Rome during Nero’s reign. This would correspond roughly with the likely date of the letter (early 60’s), a letter which, it would seem, was itself written from Rome (“Babylon”, v. 13); even so, there is not enough information to draw any definite conclusions. The author (Peter) does not seem to be referring to direct attacks by the local (or imperial) authorities, though he may envision the possibility of this in his instruction that Christians are to behave honorably, avoiding provocative or anti-social behavior (cf. 2:13-23; 3:13-17). Any opposition toward believers is expected to come more from the surrounding (pagan) society as a whole, rather than from the government.

The final words of encouragement in verse 10, fittingly, bring out the eschatological emphasis that has been maintained throughout the letter:

“And the God of all favor, the (One hav)ing called you into His honor/splendor [do/ca] of the Ages, in (the) Anointed [Yeshua], (hav)ing suffered a little, He will (set you) down fit, He will (set you) firm, He will strengthen (you), He will (keep you) in place.”

At the heart of this statement is a contrast between a brief period of suffering in the present (“[hav]ing suffered a little”), and the eternal reward (“honor, splendor”, do/ca) that awaits for believers. It is to this moment that God has called us, the promise of which we already experience now “in Christ”; after only a little while, it will be realized in full with Jesus’ return in glory to earth. For believers, eternal life follows the consummation of the current Age, a significance that is rightly preserved by a literal translation of the idiom as “honor/splendor of the Age(s) [ai)w/nio$]”.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: 1 Peter (Part 1)

The Letter of 1 Peter

The two Petrine letters are the most thoroughly eschatological of all the New Testament writings (apart from the book of Revelation). It is hard to say how much our understanding of the early Christian eschatology in these letters is to be affected by longstanding questions regarding their authorship. Both letters claim to have been written by the apostle Simon Peter, and yet commentators have expressed doubt over the authenticity of this detail, though less so in the case of 1 Peter. If the reference in 1 Pet 1:1 is genuine (and not a mark of pseudonymity), then the letter is probably to be dated around 60 A.D. Even so, there are several ways to understand Peter’s role in the composition of the letter (and of the reference to Silvanus in 5:12): (1) Peter dictated the letter to Silvanus who presented it in more polished Greek, (2) it was co-authored with Silvanus, or (3) it was sent in the name of Peter, on his behalf, by an unknown author (together with Silvanus). Of these traditional-conservative approaches, the second makes most sense. If this “Silvanus” is the same as the “Silas” who served as an apostolic missionary together with Paul, it might explain some of the apparent similarity, in thought and expression, between 1 Peter and the Pauline letters.

In my view, the eschatology of the letter is fully in accord with a date of c. 60 A.D. It generally corresponds to the eschatological orientation in the Pauline letters we have examined (mainly in the period c. 50-58 A.D.), as well as the letter of James (cf. the previous article). Which is not to say that there are not some significant differences in emphasis, as we shall consider here below. Space will not allow detailed exegesis of every eschatological section in 1 Peter; instead, each important section will be surveyed, with special attention paid to the key eschatological phrases and expressions in the passage.

1 Peter 1:3-12

Following the epistolary prescript (opening/greeting), the exordium (introduction/thanksgiving) in verses 3-12 demonstrates the strong eschatological orientation of the letter. Verses 3-9 comprise a single long sentence in Greek, which becomes quite impractical in a modern English translation. However, I make every attempt here to preserve this syntax, as it is vital to maintain a sense of the force and flow of the author’s rhetoric. To aid the reader, I give this here in a syntactical outline form:

  • “(Of) good account (is)
    the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed,
    • the (One who), according to (how) much (there is) of His mercy,
      • (hav)ing caused us to be (born) again
        • into a living hope through the standing up (again) of Yeshua out of the dead,
        • into the lot (that is) without decay and without stain and without fading (away),
          • having been kept watch (over) in (the) heavens unto [i.e. for] you,
            • the (one)s (who) in the power of God (are) being watched before (Him), through trust, into (the) salvation
              • made ready to be uncovered in (the) last moment,
                • in which you leap (for joy), if a little (while) now (your) being saddened [is] necessary, in (your) various (time)s of testing,
                  • (so) that the consideration of your trust, more valuable than (the) gold th(at is) going to ruin, but (now) being considered through fire, should be found unto praise and honor and value in (the) uncovering of Yeshua (the) Anointed,
                    • who, not (hav)ing seen, you (still) love,
                    • in whom, not perceiving him now, but (still) trusting,
                      • you leap (about) in joy (that is) without (any) calling out and (yet) having been esteemed,
                        • taking care (to receive) the completion of [your] trust—
                          • the salvation of your souls.”

Let us briefly consider the main eschatological phrases and statements within this extraordinary opening sentence.

“…into a living hope through the standing up (again) of Yeshua out of the dead, into the lot (that is) without decay and without stain and without fading (away), having been kept watch (over) in heaven unto [i.e. for] you” (vv. 3b-4)

The twin prepositional phrases, governed by the preposition ei)$, indicate what believers have come to be born into—(1) a living hope (e)lpi/$), and (2) inheriting the lot portioned out (klhronomi/a) that is without decay, etc. In the New Testament the word e)lpi/$ (“hope”) is fundamentally eschatological—i.e., the future hope. Paul uses it most frequently, where it often alludes to the future resurrection; cf. especially Rom 8:24-25 (and my earlier article on this passage), also 1 Cor 15:19; 2 Cor 3:12; Gal 5:5, etc. We may note in particular the similar wording in Col 1:5, of a future hope that is waiting for believers in heaven. Here, indeed, in v. 3b hope is connected with the resurrection, though it is Jesus’ own resurrection that is emphasized. The statement agrees with Paul, in terms of the idea that believers participate in the life-giving resurrection of Jesus—we are “born into” it, and it is a “living” hope. Almost certainly, the context of baptism is in view, along with our union with Christ through the presence of the Spirit. This is “realized” for believers already in the present, but we still await its fulfillment in the future.

Even more traditional is the reference to this new life in terms of inheritance, using the noun klhronomi/a, which refers to a person receiving the lot or share that has been portioned out. Again Paul makes frequent use of this idiom, but its occurrence is widespread. The contrast with an ordinary earthly inheritance (cf. further in v. 7) is made by the use of a trio of a)-privative adjectives (“without…”); in other words, it is a heavenly, eternal inheritance, as is made explicit with the final phrase “having been kept watch (over) in the heavens”. God Himself watches over this inheritance, and it is reserved for believers (“unto you”).

“…into (the) salvation made ready to be uncovered in (the) last moment” (v. 5b)

Even as God keeps watch (vb thre/w) over the heavenly inheritance of believers, so also He watches over believers themselves, in the time while they are yet on earth. In verse 5a, believers are characterized as “the (one)s (who) in the power of God (are) being watched before (Him)”. The verb froure/w is a bit difficult to translate; it refers to someone keeping an eye on (i.e. watching) something that is before him. Here, again, the implication is that it is God doing the watching. That He watches believers is clear by the expression “through trust” (dia\ pi/stew$); this is parallel with the expression “in the power of God”, giving both sides of the dynamic—the divine protection involves both God’s power and our trust.

The purpose, or goal, of this protection is indicated by the prepositional phrase in verse 5b, again using the preposition ei)$ (“into”)—believers are guarded unto/into salvation. On numerous occasions in this series, I have noted how, for early Christians, the idea of salvation (swthri/a) is primarily eschatological, with the emphasis on being saved from God’s end-time Judgment on humankind. The eschatological orientation is made explicit here, as this salvation is “made ready to be uncovered in (the) last moment”. That the author (Peter) believes he and his readers are living at the time when this “last moment” will come, is clear enough from the context of the passage, and the letter as a whole (cf. below). It is unquestionably an imminent eschatology.

“…in (your) various (time)s of testing, (so) that the consideration of your trust, more valuable than (the) gold th(at is) going to ruin, but (now) being considered through fire, should be found unto praise and honor and value in (the) uncovering of Yeshua (the) Anointed” (vv. 6b-7)

Currently, the trust of believers is being tested, indicated here by the plural noun peirasmoi/, in the expression e)n poiki/loi$ peirasmoi=$, which I have translated as “in various (time)s of testing”. The noun peirasmo/$ is often rendered as “temptation”, but this can be misleading; it more properly means “test(ing)”, i.e. being put to the test. It has a specific eschatological connotation in early Christianity, as a number of occurrences in the New Testament make clear. This is certainly the case, for example, in Revelation 3:10, and also elsewhere in the Petrine letters (4:12, discussed in Part 2; and 2 Pet 2:9). Yet even in Jesus’ use of the word—in the Lord’s Prayer and Garden scene of his Passion (Matt 6:13 par; Mark 14:38 par), there is a strong eschatological aspect which is often overlooked. The context of 4:12, with the same motif of fire, suggests that the sense of the “testing” is also eschatological here. The proof of the believer’s faith and devotion will be manifest at the “uncovering” of Jesus, i.e. his end-time return, which is thought to be imminent.

“…taking care (to receive) the completion of [your] trust—the salvation of your souls.” (v. 9b)

This final statement brings out the exhortational dimension of the entire passage. Believers are to take care to remain faithful, even during the moments of testing in the end-time, so that they/we may receive the inheritance that awaits for us in heaven. Again, it must be emphasized that the early Christian understanding of salvation was fundamentally eschatological, a point brought out here vividly at the conclusion of the sentence (cp. Jesus’ words in Mark 13:13 par). The use of the word te/lo$ (“completion”) likely has eschatological significance here as well (cf. 4:7).

More is said about this “salvation” that awaits for believers, in verses 10-12. It is possible to regard these verses as part of the same sentence as vv. 3-9, separating with a pause, or semi-colon; however, I think it better to treat vv. 10-12 as a separate sentence:

“About which salvation the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] sought out and searched out… to whom it was uncovered that (it was) not for themselves, but for us, (that) they served (God in) th(ese thing)s, which are now given up as a message to you by the holy Spirit…”

This brings out a basic concept in early Christianity, one expressed by Paul with the use of the term musth/rion (“secret”)—that the Gospel message of Jesus Christ was a secret, hidden through the Ages, but only now being revealed, at the end-time. It was made known to the Prophets, but only in a veiled way, so that they did not fully understand what was being revealed to them, but had to “search out” the truth. The Spirit now makes clear this message for believers. Since Jesus was the Anointed One (Messiah), who has expected to appear at the end-time, the prophecies regarding him were eschatological prophecies. For early Christians, there was no significant separation between Jesus’ first coming and his eventual return—they were part of the same Prophetic message.

1 Peter 1:13-21ff

The exhortation of vv. 3-12 sharpens into a more precise ethical instruction in vv. 13-16ff; however, the eschatological orientation remains firmly in view. The imminence of Jesus’ return is expressed in verse 13, giving urgency to the instruction:

“Therefore, binding [i.e. girding] up the thighs/loins of (what goes) through your mind, (always) being sober, you must hope complete(ly) upon the favor (that is) being brought [lit. borne/carried] to you in the uncovering of Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

The adverb telei/w$ (“complete[ly]”), related to te/lo$ (“completion, end”), likely has a specific eschatological connotation here as well (cf. above, and on 4:7). Again, the “hope” (e)lpi/$) of believers is fundamentally eschatological, and rests on the end-time coming of Jesus, who will usher in the Judgment and save/deliver those who trust in him and remain faithful.

Verses 14-16 introduce the theme of believers as the chosen people of God; as such, the need to preserve the holiness of God, is central to the ethical instruction in the letter. The people of God are also his children (“offspring”, te/kna, v. 14), and so God is truly for them the Father (v. 17). This identity of believers as pure and holy people/children of God frames the passage in vv. 17-21, with its strong eschatological message. To begin with, the impending Judgment is mentioned in v. 17. Believers do not belong to the world (upon which the Judgment is coming), but are merely travelers passing through, in temporary dwellings (paroiki/a, “housing alongside”), living so for only a brief time (“you turn over [i.e. spend] your time”). While this may be understood generally, in terms of the relative brevity and transitory nature of human life (a common theme of Wisdom literature), it is all the more significant when the time remaining before the end is so short. The letter of James expresses this same eschatological aspect of the Wisdom tradition (cf. 1:9-11; 4:11-5:11).

Believers in Christ were set free from bondage to the transitory and corrupt existence of the world, and, as God’s own people (and children), now belong to the eternal and heavenly realm instead. This is experienced in the present, but will only be realized fully at the end-time. Both aspects—present and future—are expressed powerfully in the Christological statement of verses 19-20:

“(you were loosed from bondage) by the valuable blood of (the) Anointed, as (of) a lamb without fault and without spot, having been known before(hand), before the casting down [i.e. founding] of the world, but (having) been made to shine forth (now) upon the last times, through you [i.e. for your sake]”

There can be no doubt that, according to this statement, Jesus’ coming to earth took place in the “last times” (cp. Acts 2:17, “last days”, etc). If that is true of his initial appearance, it applies all the more to his return. Keep in mind that, for New Testament believers, c. 40-70 A.D., there was thought to be only a short gap of time between Jesus’ ascension and his return—both appearances reflect his identity as the Anointed One of the end-time, and both take place in the “last times”.

1 Peter 2:1-12

The same sort of ethical-religious instruction is found in 2:1-12, but presented in a more homiletic form, typical of the early Gospel preaching, in which the proclamation (kerygma) is set in the context of an Old Testament Scripture. Here the Scripture is a citation of Psalm 118:22 (also Isa 8:14), along with an allusion to Isa 28:16. The same Scripture was cited by Jesus in the Gospel tradition (Mark 12:10-11 par), and is also quoted or referenced in Acts 4:11 and Eph 2:20. In these passages, the emphasis is on Jesus as the foundation-stone or “cornerstone”; however, 1 Peter adds to this interpretation the image of believers as precious “living stones” (vv. 4-5, Isa 28:16; cp. Eph 2:21-22). This is important in light of the continuing theme of believers as the holy and chosen people of God (vv. 9-10). Because of this essential identity we possess, believers must live and act in a pure and upright manner that reflects this identity. The goal and purpose is that we would “grow into salvation” (v. 2). Again, this sense of salvation (swthri/a) is primarily eschatological—the eschatological aspect of the passage here is only brought out clearly in the closing exhortation of vv. 11-12:

“(Be)loved (one)s, I call (you) alongside, as (one)s (who only) house alongside and live alongside (the) people (of the world), to hold (yourself) away from (the) impulses upon fleshly (thing)s which make war (like) soldiers against the soul; (instead), (you should be) holding fine (the manner of) your turning up among the nations, (so) that, in the (way) that they speak against you as (one)s doing bad (things), (yet) casting (their) eyes upon (what comes) out of (your) fine works, they might honor God in the day of His (coming to) look (things) over [e)piskoph/].”

The vocabulary and syntax of these verses create certain difficulties in translation; preserving a literal rendering requires a fair amount of glossing and use of parenthetical words to fill out the passage. The sense of the exhortation is clear enough, though the precise meaning of the last clause remains a bit uncertain. Unquestionably, it refers to the end-time appearance of God, when he comes to bring Judgment. The idea seems to be that, even though at the moment many non-believers will disparage and speak evil of believers, they also (perhaps reluctantly) recognize the good that Christians do. And, as a result, this witness may eventually lead to the conversion of at least some non-believers, so that they will give honor to God at the time of Judgment. Compare Paul’s discussion, along similar lines, within a mixed marital setting (believer and non-believer), in 1 Cor 7:12-16.

In any case, the key word here is e)piskoph/ (literally, a “looking over”), sometimes used specifically in the sense of a supervising official coming (i.e. making an official visit) to look things over. In Hellenistic Judaism of the period, and in early Christianity, it came to have a technical meaning, referring to God’s (end-time) appearance on earth to look things over and render the Judgment accordingly. This could be understood as taking place through God’s appointed representative, i.e. the Messiah, or a similar heavenly/divine being. It has this meaning most clearly in Luke 19:44, where, in an early Christian (Gospel) setting, it functions as an allusion to Jesus’ end-time return.

(The remainder of this article follows in Part 2)

January 13: Baptism (1 Peter 3:18-22)

The Baptism Ritual: Symbolism and Efficacy

This is the last in a series of daily notes on baptism, commemorating the dates of Jan 6 and 13 and the Baptism of Jesus. One of the most pressing questions for believers in recent times, regarding baptism, has to do with the efficacy of the ritual. As we saw in the previous notes on Paul’s treatment of baptism in his letters, baptism represented the new life believers have and experience in Christ. However, the question is: does baptism symbolize a situation which already exists independently, or does the ritual in some way confer or transmit this new life to the believer?

In technical theological language, this latter idea is referred to as the “operative power” (virtus operativa) of the ritual itself, whereby the ritual (in this case, baptism) serves as a “means of grace” which functions ex opere operato (i.e., by the [proper] performance of the ritual). Christians with a more sacramental orientation tend hold this view, or belief, regarding baptism—that it serves as a vehicle whereby God transmits the saving power of Christ and the Spirit to the believer. By contrast, spiritualist Christians—that is, those who emphasize the inward spiritual aspect of religion over and against the outward form—would utterly reject such a sacramental approach. Many Protestants share this tendency, treating baptism as a symbol of the new life we already possess through trust in Jesus and the presence of the Spirit.

When we turn to the writings of the early Christians, what they say about baptism (and the Lord’s Supper) is ambiguous in this regard. For the most part, the baptism ritual is symbolic, but at times they seem to indicate that the ritual itself is efficacious. The evidence in the New Testament is, in my view, rather less ambiguous, but direct reference to baptism (especially outside of the Gospels and Acts) is scarce enough to make any conclusions on the matter tentative and uncertain. In fact, there is only one passage which addresses the efficacy of baptism directly—1 Peter 3:18-22; it also happens to be the only direct reference to baptism outside of the Pauline letters.

1 Peter 3:18-22

Verses 18-22 form the conclusion of an instructional section of the letter (3:13-22), exhorting believers to live in a faithful and upright manner, even in the face of suffering and persecution. In so doing, believers will be following the example of Jesus himself (v. 18), whose suffering culminated in his death and resurrection. In previous notes, we saw how Paul interpreted the baptism ritual in terms of our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus; and here the author (Peter) seems to have something of the same idea in mind. Part of Jesus’ death (and burial) is said to have involved his proclaiming “to the spirits in (the prison) guard”, i.e., in the realm of death and the dead. This enigmatic tradition has been much discussed; I will not address it here except to say that it relates in some way to the early Christian idea of salvation, of the work of Jesus delivering and freeing humankind (those who respond in trust to him) from the power of sin and death.

As a prototype for these disbelieving “spirits”, the author draws upon the ancient tradition reflected in Gen 6:1-4ff, of the situation on earth at the time of Noah and the great Flood. The widespread wickedness of that time is paralleled with the author’s own time—seen as the period just before the end (4:7)—with the Flood serving as a type for the imminent coming Judgment (cp. Matt 24:37-38 par; 2 Pet 2:5). The people bound by wickedness in the current end-time are no less “dead” than those to whom Jesus preached (in the realm of death); by proclaiming the Gospel to them, they may yet be saved before the coming Judgment (4:1-6). Believers, too, were dead, and have died to sin, only to come alive again in new life through the Spirit (4:6).

This is the context for the reference to baptism in 3:21, couched as it is within the image of the great Flood. The common motif is that of being submerged in water, which explains how the Flood can serve as a parallel to baptism:

“…in (the) days of Noah, (with the) box [i.e. ark] being put down [i.e. built] in preparation, (and) into which a few—that is, eight souls—were saved through water, which also (is) a pattern opposite [i.e. facing] us now—(the) dunking [ba/ptisma] (that) saves—not (as) a putting away of (the) dirt of (the) flesh, but (the answer) of a good sunei/dhsi$ unto God (in response to) what is asked, through the standing up (out of the dead) [i.e. resurrection] of Yeshua (the) Anointed” (vv. 20-21)

The syntax here is complex and difficult, as indicated by the literal (glossed) translation above. The number of parenthetical English words I have used shows how poorly the Greek syntax (and much of the vocabulary) has a corresponding equivalent in English. The portion in bold above is especially important, since it is a direct statement—one may say, the only such statement in the New Testament—regarding what the ritual of baptism actually accomplishes for the believer. It is framed as a contrast, with the negative clause given first:

“not (as) a putting away of (the) dirt of (the) flesh”
ou) sarko\$ a)po/qesi$ r(u/pou

In other words, the water of baptism does not (concretely) wash away the sinfulness (or “dirt, filth”) of the flesh. This is in spite of the longstanding idea of baptism as symbolizing a cleansing from sin, going back to the original Johannine dunkings (Mark 1:5 par; cf. Acts 22:16; 1 Cor 6:11). In more conventional religious language, we may paraphrase 1 Peter here as saying that the ritual of baptism itself does not effect the forgiveness and cleansing of a person from sin. What, then, does baptism accomplish? The author indicates this in the positive statement that follows:

“but (the answer) of a good sunei/dhsi$ unto God (in response to) what is asked”
a)lla\ suneidh/sew$ a)gaqh=$ e)perw/thma ei)$ qeo/n

The Greek is extremely difficult to render into English, as can be seen by the considerable variety in translations. For ease of analysis, it is useful to break down this awkward phrase into two components:

  1. suneidh/sew$ a)gaqh=$. The noun sunei/dhsi$ (syneíd¢sis), which I leave untranslated above, derives from the verb sunei/dw (syneídœ), “see (things) together”, i.e. “see completely”. It refers to a (correct) perception and awareness of how things are, sometimes rendered in English as “consciousness”, or, when emphasizing the moral/ethical aspect of perception, “conscience”. The modifying adjective a)gaqo/$ (“good”), means that one’s awareness and perception is good, or (functions) for the good.
  2. e)perw/thma ei)$ qeo/n. The noun e)perw/thma (eperœ¡t¢ma) stems from the verb e)perwta/w (eperœtáœ), “ask/inquire about”. The noun occurs only here in the New Testament, and only once in the Greek OT (Dan 4:14 Theodotion). However, the evidence from the papyri, for both the noun and verb, shows that it was used in a technical sense, of formal questions and answers made over a contract, etc. In such a setting, the noun can refer to an answer given to a question, in the sense of a confirmation or guarantee (some translations here use “pledge”). This answer is given “unto God” (ei)$ qeo/n), and two specific settings could be in mind: (1) the believer’s response (or ‘pledge’) at the time of baptism, i.e. during the ritual, or (2) in the scene of the Judgment, when the believer stands before God to give answer. Given the strong eschatological context of chaps. 3-4, I am inclined to favor option 2, but it is hard to be certain.

Putting these elements together gives us 1 Peter’s answer as to what the ritual of baptism truly accomplishes. I would perhaps summarize it this way:

By undergoing the baptism ritual, which certainly entailed a public confession of one’s trust in Jesus, such a person demonstrates his/her awareness of how things stand between the believer and God, “for the good” (a)gaqo/$). This perception, confirmed through the ritual, means that the believer will be able to stand before God at the Judgment and give an answer, without fear or doubt. But the believer’s response at baptism (i.e. the confession of faith, etc), also functions as a pledge to God, to remain faithful and live in a holy manner befitting the new life one has in Christ. It is in this sense that a person is saved now, in the present, with the truth of salvation realized even prior to actual moment of the Judgment. The dunking “saves” a person in two respects: (1) as symbol of salvation, following the parallel of the ark, and (2) as sign of the believer’s awareness of what has been achieved through the death and resurrection of Jesus (vv. 21b-22), with confidence/certainty that we can stand before God at the Judgment.

February 8: 1 Peter 4:6, 17, etc

In the previous note, I discussed the use of the verb eu)aggeli/zomai in 1 Peter 1:12, 25; today, I want to look at two more occurrences of the eu)aggel- word group in chapter 4 of that letter, before surveying briefly the remaining occurrences in the New Testament.

1 Peter 4:6, 17

The noun eu)agge/lion occurs in verse 6, part of a section of ethical instruction and exhortation with a strong eschatological emphasis. For the author (Peter), like nearly all early Christians, it was believed that the end was imminent (“the completion/end of all [thing]s has come near”, v. 7a), and the Judgment by God close at hand. The final Judgment is certainly in view in verse 6, as we read in verse 5: “…(they) shall give forth an account to the (One) holding readiness to judge the living and the dead”. We find in verse 6 the difficult phrase “the good message was brought even to the dead”, which has tripped up many commentators (cf. the earlier notice in 3:19). The main point to note, however, is that the Judgment of all humankind is to be based on the (Gospel) message of Jesus. Even more significant is that life (for the dead) in the Age to Come (i.e. eternal life) is dependent on the Spirit, which can only be bestowed on persons following reception of the Gospel message. Note the me\nde/ contrast:

    • “(on the one hand) they should live in the flesh according to man [i.e. as human beings]”
    • “(on the other hand) they (should live) in the Spirit according to God”

The same Judgment context, and implicit contrast between those who do and do not accept the message of Jesus, is present in verse 17, were the noun eu)agge/lion occurs:

“(it is) the time of the beginning of the Judgment from the house of God; and, if it is first from us, what (then) is (its) completion for the (one)s unpersuaded by the good message of God?”

The expression “good message of God” is familiar from Paul’s letters, where it occurs several times (Rom 1:1; 15:16; 1 Thess 2:2, 8-9), and was doubtless traditional by the time this letter was written (c. 60 A.D.?). What is unique about this usage in chapter 4 is how thoroughly the eu)aggel- word group is identified with trust in Jesus within the specific eschatological context of the last Judgment.

The Remainder of the New Testament

The eu)aggel- word group is entirely absent from the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters), but it does occur twice in the (Johannine) book of Revelation—the verb in 10:7, and noun and verb together in 14:6. In 10:7, it is possible that the verb eu)aggeli/zomai is being used more or less in the general sense of bringing good news—in this case, the “good message” involves, not the Gospel per se, but the final eschatological mystery of how/when God will bring the current Age to an end. The dual use of noun and verb in 14:6 is especially dramatic, as would be appropriate for the scene:

“And I saw another Messenger taking wing [i.e. flying] in the middle of the heaven(s), holding the good message of the Ages, to deliver as a good message upon the (one)s sitting [i.e. dwelling] upon the earth, and upon every nation and offshoot and tongue and people…”

Probably the technical sense of eu)aggel- as the (Christian) preaching of the Gospel is more in view here; however, the message is still primarily eschatological (not evangelistic), which can be obscured by translating the expression eu)agge/lion ai)w/nion as “eternal Gospel”, rather than more literally as “good message (of the) Age(s)”—i.e. the good news that the Ages of humankind are coming to an end, and that the New Age of God is being ushered in.

The occurrence of the verb eu)aggeli/zomai in Hebrews 4:2 and 6 is interesting in the way that the Christian meaning is read back into the more general sense (i.e. bringing good news). This is done in the context of paraenesis—ethical/religious teaching—involving the interpretation and application of Scripture (a common preaching technique, then as now). Believers in Christ had the “good message” of Jesus proclaimed to them, and yet are being warned of the danger of falling away. To emphasize this point, the example of the Israelites in the time of the Exodus is brought forth:

“indeed we are (one)s having the good message (declar)ed (to us) even as it also (was) to those (person)s; but the account [lo/go$] (which was) heard did not benefit those (person)s, not having been mixed together with trust/faith by the (one)s hearing.”

The rather complicated syntax in the second half of the verse is a roundabout way of saying that hearing the Gospel preached has to be accompanied by genuine trust from the person hearing in order to have its saving effect. The verb eu)aggeli/zomai is used again in the same context in verse 6.

Finally, we should note three occurrences of the noun eu)aggelisth/$. The common Greek noun eu)a/ggelo$ (“good messenger, messenger of good [news]”) does not occur in the New Testament at all, but only eu)aggelisth/$, which is derived from the verb eu)aggeli/zomai, and thus means “one bringing/declaring a good message”, emphasizing the action of bringing or announcing the message. Even so, this noun is rare, being used just three times, and in relatively late writings: Lukan narration in the book of Acts (21:8), 2 Timothy 4:5, and Ephesians 4:11. Second Timothy and Ephesians are often considered to be pseudonymous by commentators; whether or not this is correct, it is unlikely that either letter was written prior to the early-60’s A.D. The book of Acts was probably written c. 70-80 A.D.

In all three passages, eu)aggelisth/$ appears to be used in the established Christian sense of a specific ministry role, or position, within a group of believers (or congregation)—i.e., one who is specifically devoted to, and gifted in, preaching the Gospel message. The absence of this noun in the undisputed letters of Paul, and in the rest of the book of Acts, makes it unlikely that it was widely used prior to the 60’s A.D. It is possible that 2 Tim 4:5, if genuinely Pauline, represents the earliest surviving use of the noun, which was a word essentially coined by Christians. I am not aware of any occurrence prior to the 1st century, nor in any contemporary non-Christian context.

February 7: 1 Peter 1:12, 25, etc

Having discussed Paul’s use of the eu)aggel- word group in the previous notes, it is necessary to supplement that discussion with a brief survey of occurrences in the letters where authorship is disputed. After this, we will survey the remainder of the New Testament evidence.

Usage in the disputed Pauline Letters

Colossians and Ephesians are often regarded as pseudonymous by many critical commentators. For my part, I consider Colossians to be authentically Pauline (on objective grounds), without any real reservation; however, I must admit to a little doubt in the case of Ephesians, where there appears to be more evidence for unusual wording and the development of (Pauline) thought and expression. In any case, the noun eu)agge/lion occurs twice in Colossians, in expanded expressions:

  • Col 1:5—”the account of the truth of the good message” (o( lo/go$ th=$ a)lhqei/a$ tou= eu)agge/liou):
    “…through the hope th(at is) being laid away for you in the heavens, of which you heard before in the account of the truth of the good message th(at is com)ing to be alongside unto you, even as it also is bearing fruit in all the world…” (vv. 5-6)
  • Col 1:23—”the hope of the good message” (h( e)lpi\$ tou= eu)agge/liou):
    “…if (indeed) you remain (well-)founded upon the trust and settled (down), and not being stirred over (away) from the hope of the good message which you heard, th(at) is being proclaimed among every (creature) formed (by God) under the heaven…”

It is possible that this reflects a development of the Pauline mode of expression. Certainly it is a more expansive kind of statement than we typically see in Paul’s letters, though rooted in his own style and vocabulary. For the expression “truth of the Gospel”, see Gal 2:5, 14; “hope of the Gospel” does not occur elsewhere in the letters, but cf. Rom 5:2ff; 8:24-25; Gal 5:5; 1 Thess 1:3, etc. The phrasing in Col 1:5 is quite close to Eph 1:13, and involves the critical questions of authorship and the relationship between the two letters. The noun eu)agge/lion itself occurs four times in Ephesians (1:13; 3:6; 6:15, 19), and the verb eu)aggeli/zomai twice (2:17; 3:8). Even scholars who believe Ephesians is pseudonymous must admit that it is derived and inspired by authentic Pauline tradition and expression:

  • Eph 1:13: “the account of the truth, the good message of your salvation”; cf. Col 1:5 (above). Vv. 13-14 represents a more systematic theological formulation.
  • Eph 2:17: “he [i.e. Jesus] brought the good message (of) peace to you the (one)s far (off), and (also) peace to the (one)s (who are) near”. This statement utilizes traditional language (cf. Acts 10:36 and the prior note), and does not reflect the technical Christian meaning of eu)aggeli/zomai as “preach the Gospel”.
  • Eph 3:6 and 8. The first half of chapter 3 (vv. 1-13) presents a detailed summary of Paul’s view regarding his role as minister of the Gospel (to the Gentiles), fully in keeping with what is expressed in his other letters, though not in such a clear and systematic manner as we find here. Verse 6 states concisely the Pauline doctrine that Gentile believers are heirs together (and equally so) to the promises God made to Israel, which are fulfilled for believers in Christ. This takes place “through the good message” (dia\ tou= eu)aggeli/ou). In verse 8, Paul declares once again that he was appointed by God “to bring the good message”.
  • Eph 6:15 and 19, where we find two developed Pauline expressions: “the good message of peace” (v. 15) and “the secret [musth/rion] of the good message” (v. 19, cf. Rom 16:25; Col 1:26-27, and earlier in Eph 3:6.

The Pastoral letters are also generally considered to be pseudonymous by critical scholars (and even some traditional-conservative commentators). The greatest doubt surrounds 1 Timothy (which has the largest concentration of unusual vocabulary and expression), while, in my view, 2 Timothy appears to be authentically Pauline (on objective grounds). The noun eu)agge/lion occurs 3 times in 2 Timothy (1:8, 10; 2:8) and corresponds entirely with Paul’s usage of the word. The expanded expression in 1 Timothy 1:11 is more unusual: “…the good message of the splendor of the blessed God”.

1 Peter and the rest of the New Testament

The eu)aggel- word group occurs 12 more times in the New Testament: the noun eu)agge/lion twice (1 Pet 4:17; Rev 14:6), the verb eu)aggelizomai seven times (Heb 4:2, 6; 1 Pet 1:12, 25; 4:6; Rev 10:7; 14:6), and the derived noun eu)aggelisth/$ three times (Acts 21:8; Eph 4:11; 2 Tim 4:5). The largest concentration (4) occur in two passages of 1 Peter.

1 Peter 1:12, 25

1 Peter 1:3-12 is essentially a single long introductory sentence, climaxing in verse 12, with the key declaration that the death and resurrection of Jesus (and its saving effect) was first revealed to the Prophets, and then subsequently made known to people (believers) through the Gospel:

“…the(se thing)s which now were given up as a message to you through the (one)s bringing the good message to you [in] the holy Spirit…”

The parallel between Prophets and Apostles (i.e. preachers of the good message) was traditional in early Christianity, with both groups seen as uniquely inspired, moved by the Spirit. There is similar traditional language used in the next section of the letter, the exhortation in vv. 13-25, which concludes with an important expository sequence:

  • The declaration in verse 23:
    “your trust and hope (is) to be unto God {v. 21}…having come to be (born) again, not out of decaying seed, but (out of seed) without decay, through the living word [lo/go$] of God (that is) also remaining (in you)”
  • The paraphrased quotation from Isa 40:6-8 in vv. 24-25a, which ends with a similar statement:
    “…but the utterance [r(h=ma] of the Lord remains into the Age” (cf. Isa 40:8b)
  • The statement in verse 25b identifying the eternal “word of the Lord” with the “good message” proclaimed by the apostles:
    “and this is the utterance being brought as a good message unto you”

In the previous note, I argued that the words lo/go$ (“account”) and r(h=ma (“utterance”) were more primitive, earlier terms for the Gospel message than eu)agge/lion. In Acts 10:36-37a, where the early message (kerygma) is proclaimed during Peter’s sermon-speech to the household of Cornelius, both of these words are used in tandem, along with the verb eu)aggeli/zomai, just as we see here; indeed, the declaration in vv. 36-37a introduces the Gospel. The use of eu)aggeli/zomai there does not refer to the preaching of the Gospel in the technical sense used by early Christians. We are, perhaps, closer to that here; certainly, there is distinct theological (interpretive) development at work. We may be able to trace this development by working backward in the syntax of this passage:

    • the eternal, undecaying seed which brings new life for the believer; this “seed”, which dwells and grows in the believer is elsewhere identified with the Spirit (of God and Christ)
      • this seed is identified as the living “word” [lo/go$] of God
        • it is part of the eternal creative power associated with the spoken word (“utterance”, r(h=ma) of God
          • lo/go$ (“account”) and r(h=ma (“utterance”) were both terms used by the first Christians to refer to the proclamation of the Gospel (kerygma)
            • the early/first preaching of the message of Jesus by the apostles, bringing “good news” (vb. eu)aggeli/zomai)

The occurrences in 1 Peter 4:6, 17, and the rest of the New Testament, will be discussed in the next daily note.