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)

March 15: Matthew 6:13b

Matthew 6:13b

The final petition in the Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer, while present in the majority of manuscripts of Luke, is absent a diverse range of witness, including some of the earliest and best manuscripts (Ë75 a*2 B L f1 700 pc vg, and segments of the Syriac and Coptic tradition). As with the other parts of the Prayer where a shorter Lukan version is attested, the longer form is almost certainly secondary, representing a scribal harmonization (to Matthew), of the sort we see frequently in the manuscript tradition. Here the text-critical axiom lectio brevior potior (“the shorter reading is preferable”) holds good. This (final) petition in Matthew (followed by the Didache) reads:

a)lla\ r(u=sai h(ma=$ a)po\ tou= ponhrou/
alla rhusai h¢mas apo tou pon¢rou
“but may you rescue us from the evil”

An Aramaic original, insofar as it valid to reconstruct, might be something like:

av*ya!B= /m! an`l=X#a^ <r^B=
b§ram °aƒƒéln¹° min b§°îš¹°
(cf. Fitzmyer, p. 901)

From the standpoint of the Matthean structure of the Prayer, it is better to consider this line as part of the previous petition (cf. the prior note). This is indicated by the contrastive/adversative particle a)lla/ (“but, rather”), establishing a contrast with the previous request, which had been negative (i.e., what God should not do); here is the corresponding positive request:

    • “May you not bring us into testing
      • but (rather) may you (instead) rescue us from the evil”

The main interpretive difficulty involves the precise meaning of the word ponhro/$ (“evil”). There are three question which must be addressed:

    1. Whether the article here is masculine or neuter
    2. The force of the definite article, and
    3. The nature of the “evil” referred to in the context of the Prayer

Each of these will be dealt with in turn. First, it is worth noting that the adjective ponhro/$ is much more frequent in Matthew than in the other Gospels. Mark has it (twice) in just one tradition (7:22-23), while it occurs just three times in John (3:19; 7:7; 17:5). It is a bit more common in Luke (12 times), with another 8 occurrences in Acts. By comparison it appears 25 times in Matthew, including 8 in the Sermon on the Mount; 5 of the 12 Lukan occurrences are in the parallel “Sermon on the Plain”. Overall, the adjective appears to be distinctive of the sayings of Jesus in the so-called “Q” material—sayings and traditions found in both Matthew and Luke, but not Mark.

1. The word with definite article is a substantive adjective (i.e. functioning as a noun), but the particular genitive form tou= ponhrou= is ambiguous in terms of gender: it can either be masculine or neuter. It is helpful to consider first the other 7 occurrences of the adjective in the Sermon on the Mount. It modifies masculine nouns in 5:45; 6:23; 7:11, 17-18—”man” (a&nqrwpo$ [implied]), “eye” (o)fqalmo/$), and “fruit” (karpo/$). In all these instances the adjective is used to describe the character of human beings, their attitude and actions. The same is probably the case in 5:39, where the substantive use (with the definite article) most likely refers to the person doing evil, rather than the evil itself. In 5:37 the substantive genitive tou= ponhrou= has the same ambiguity we see in here in the Prayer. The only certain occurrence of the neuter is in 5:11, where it refers to evil that is spoken against Jesus’ disciples. This neuter usage is similar to the plural substantive in Mark 7:23 (“these evil [thing]s”). Thus, it would appear that it is more common in the Sermon to use the adjective as characteristic of a person, rather than a reference to evil itself.

2. An interesting question is whether the definite article simply reflects a substantive use of the adjective (as a noun) generally, or whether it refers to evil in a specific sense. This will be discussed further under point #3 below. However, it is worth keeping in mind the parallel with the noun peirasmo/$ (“testing”); the rhythm and structure of the petition is aided by the inclusion of the definite article—peirasmo/$/o( ponhro/$—creating two nouns at the center of the contrast: “into testing” vs. “(away) from the evil”. But perhaps true definiteness is intended here as well, and meant to be emphasized, i.e. “the evil”. If so, then there are several possible meanings:

    • The evil which we experience or which comes upon us, specifically as sin, in the course of our life on earth
    • The (power of) evil which dominates the current Age, or, in an eschatological sense, is coming upon the world
    • The Evil One—the personification of evil, or the person most characterized by evil and responsible for it, i.e. the figure known as the Satan (/f*c*[h^]), dia/bolo$ (‘Devil’), or Belial (cf. 2 Cor 6:15 and the Qumran texts).

If we look at other occurrences in Matthew where the adjective is used with a definite article, we see that it is used two ways: (1) for specific person(s) who are evil, and (2) for the specific evil things a person says and does. There are actually two sections where these references occur: the teaching in 12:33-37 (cp. 7:15-20 and Mk 7:21-23), and the Kingdom parables in chapter 13. An examination of these is instructive.

  • Matt 12:35 presents a contrast between the person who is good and the one who is evil:
    “The good man casts out good (thing)s out of the good treasure (of his heart), and the evil man [o( ponhro/$ a&nqrwpo$] casts out evil (thing)s [ponhra/] out of the evil treasure [e)k tou= ponhrou= qhsaurou=] (of his heart).”
    This wording echoes that of 5:37 in the Sermon and may provide the context for the more ambiguous expression there:
    “And (so) your account must be “Yes, yes” (and) “no, no”, and the thing over (beyond) these (words) is [i.e. comes] out of the evil [e)k tou= ponhrou=].”
    It is often assumed that “the evil” that brings about the oath here is “the Evil (One)”, i.e. the Devil; however, the parallel in 12:35 suggests that it may actually refer to the evil (treasure) that is in a person’s heart.
  • By contrast, twice in chapter 13, in Jesus’ explanation of both the parable of the Sower and of the Weeds (vv. 19, 38), the expression o( ponhro/$ (“the evil”) almost certainly does refer to “the Evil (One)”, i.e. the Satan. The evil human beings (“the evil [one]s”) who are separated from the good at the Last Judgment (v. 49) reflect the character of the Evil One himself, even as Jesus’ faithful disciples reflect the character of God Himself (cf. 5:48, etc).

3. Now let us consider further the use of o( ponhro/$ (or to\ ponhro/n) in the context of both the Lord’s Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount. As documented above, the adjective serves the dualistic contrast present in Jesus’ teaching—that is, as a way of characterizing persons who do not follow his teaching, and who act and think in a way that does not reflect God the Father in Heaven. This continues the dualism we noted in earlier parts of the Prayer, especially in the opening petitions which emphasize God the Father as the One in the heavens. Jesus’ true disciples are those who, by following his teaching and example, actually do the will of God here on earth, even as it is done in heaven. The opposite of God’s will on earth is the presence and manifestation of wickedness and evil, which characterizes much (if not the majority) of humankind (cf. 7:11). Most people act and think in an earthly manner, seeking after earthly (and not heavenly) things. This is a fundamental principle that runs through the Sermon and establishes the contrast for how Jesus disciples are supposed to conduct themselves in their daily life (on earth). At the same time, there is an eschatological dimension, to both the Sermon and the Prayer, which emphasizes the coming Judgment and also the suffering and persecution Jesus’ followers will face on earth from the wicked and the forces of evil.

With all of this in mind, it is time to set forth several lines of interpretation for the phrase a)po\ tou= ponhrou= (“from the evil”) in this petition of the Prayer; bear in mind that each interpretation must also take into account the parallel expression “into testing” (ei)$ peirasmo/n):

  1. The evil we experience, in terms of sin and the temptation to commit sin (understanding peirasmo/$ here as “temptation”).
  2. The evil we experience (from others), and to which we must respond and endure–understood generally as mistreatment and persecution; here the “testing” involves our response to such mistreatment, following Jesus’ own instruction in the Sermon.
  3. The “testing” is temptation (which God allows), and “the Evil One” (i.e. Satan/Devil/Belial) is the one who tempts us to follow the way of evil along with the rest of humankind.
  4. The “testing” is the suffering and distress which Jesus’ followers experience on earth, and the evil is that which dominates the current Age (under the control of the Evil One).
  5. A variation of (d) gives greater emphasis to the eschatological context of the Prayer—i.e. the suffering/distress which is coming upon the world, and especially upon Jesus’ followers in the form of persecution and the danger of being deceived, falling from faith, etc.

In the next note I will discuss these options further, along with what it means to be “rescued” by God from this evil.

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.

March 13: Matt 6:13a; Luke 11:4b

Matthew 6:13a; Luke 11:4b

In the final petition(s) of the Lord’s Prayer, the focus shifts from sin and evil at the social (and religious) level, to encompass a wider, cosmic dimension. The petition found in all three versions of the Prayer, and which occurs in the same Greek form in each, is:

kai\ mh\ ei)sene/gkh|$ h(ma=$ ei)$ peirasmo/n
kai m¢ eisenengk¢s h¢mas eis peirasmon
“and (we ask that) you should not bring us into testing”

A possible Aramaic version, as might have been spoken by Jesus, is (cf. Fitzmyer, p. 901):

/oys=n]l= an`N^l!u@T^ la^w+
w§°al ta±¢linnán¹° l§nisyôn

The first thing to notice about the Greek text, is that the verb form as changed from a second person imperative to subjunctive: “you should/might…”. This is not as significant as it might seem, since an aorist subjunctive, especially when preceded by a negative particle (mh/) often has the force of an imperative (prohibition); and this is the only petition which makes a negative request of God (“may you not…”), indicating something we would ask God not to do. Still, it is possible that the subjunctive may be intended to soften the idea that we (human beings) are prohibiting God from doing something.

The verb used is ei)sfe/rw (or, more properly, –ene/gkw as an irregular verb form), meaning “carry into, bring into”. It is relatively rare in the New Testament (just 7 other occurrences), sometimes being used in the sense of bringing someone forcefully into a room, or into custody, etc (Lk 5:18-19; 12:11). The noun peirasmo/$, often translated “temptation”, properly means “test(ing)” (cf. the related verb peira/zw). The idea of believers being “tested” sometimes has the positive connotation of coming through the test as a proof of their character, their faith and trust, etc (James 1:12; 1 Pet 4:12-13; Rev 2:10); however, more commonly, the negative sense of temptation to sin and the danger of falling away from the faith is in view. Almost certainly, the latter aspect is intended primarily here in the Prayer. And, if the negative sense is intended, then it raises the problematic theological question of how (or why) God would bring someone into “temptation”. I have discussed the matter briefly in an earlier note on the Prayer, however, it is necessary here to go into the matter in more detail.

To begin with, we should keep in mind the conjunction kai/ which begins this petition, connecting it with the two prior. The Lukan sequence of three petitions (instead of the Matthean four) gives us a more concise set, which relate to different aspects of the life and existence of human beings (believers, in particular):

    • “may you give to us our bread…”
    • “may you release for us our sins…”
    • “may you not bring us into testing”

I would suggest that, in the Prayer itself, the word peirasmo/$ refers, not so much to temptation (to sin), as it does to suffering and distress. Consider the following thematic outline of the petitions in this regard:

    • Daily Life—Our daily needs for physical life and health, etc
    • Religion—Our moral and religious obligations, emphasizing the forgiveness of sin and guilt we hold before God
    • Suffering—The physical and spiritual distress we experience as disciples of Jesus (believers) in the world

This emphasis on peirasmo/$ as suffering and distress helps to explain, I think, the similarity between this petition in the Prayer, and the words of Jesus in the garden at the time of his Passion. Two traditions, in particular, should be noted:

  • First, the prayer Jesus makes to the Father:
    “Father…may you carry along [pare/negke] this drinking-cup from me…” (Mk 14:36 par, cf. verses 33-35 for an expression of his distress)
    The verb parafe/rw (“carry along”) has a similar sense as ei)sfe/rw (“carry/bring into”), expressing the same idea of suffering, from two perspectives: (i) a time of suffering coming to Jesus (or the disciple), and (ii) the disciple coming into a time of suffering; in both instances God is the one who brings this about. And, just as Jesus prays that this time of suffering might not come to him (however necessary it might be), so it is right and proper that his disciples (believers) follow his example and pray that they might not come into the time of suffering.
  • Second, the instruction Jesus gives to his disciples:
    “You must keep awake and speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray], (so) that you might not come into testing” (Mk 14:38 par, cf. verses 34, 37)
    The phrase “…might not come into testing” (mh\ e&lqete ei)$ peirasmo/n) is very close in form to that in the Prayer. The context suggests that peirasmo/$ here refers not to the temptation to sin per se, but, rather, that the disciples might find protection from the time of darkness and distress coming upon the world (v. 41; Lk 22:53). There is a strong eschatological aspect to this idea (cf. Mark 13:4-23 par) which is often lost for Christians reading the Gospels today. The (end-time) distress which is about to come upon Jesus’ followers includes the very real danger that people will be deceived and led astray, abandoning their faith as suffering and persecution intensifies (cp. Jesus’ prediction in Mk 14:27 par with 13:9-13, 22 par). Only the disciple who endures and remains true to the end will be saved (v. 13 par).

The line of interpretation given above more or less avoids the problematic notion, often discussed, that God might bring believers into temptation (i.e. to sin), quite contrary to other teaching we find in the New Testament (see the famous statement in James 1:13-14ff). However, if one decides that the petition does, in fact, refer to temptation (to sin) in the customary sense, it remains necessary to explain what this might mean in the context of the Prayer. Several possibilities may be adopted by commentators in approaching the issue:

    • God is ultimately responsible for all things, controlling all events which we experience; this is applied to temptation as well, even though He is not the one who (directly) tempts us. In other words, this petition simply asks that we be kept away from sin and temptation, but expresses it in a manner that emphasizes the will and power of God.
    • God may choose, by his sovereign will, to bring us into times of testing (including temptation to sin); even though these might be necessary (Jesus himself was tempted), it is natural that we would wish to avoid such moments. Far from being sinful, or cowardly, it is a sign of faithfulness to express our human fears and desires to God.
    • Temptation involves a legitimate testing by God of His people (for the Old Testament background of this, cf. Exod 16:4; 20:20; Deut 8:2, 16; 13:4; 33:8; Judg 2:22, etc; Fitzmyer, p. 906); as a result, some will fail and fall away, but the true disciples, the faithful remnant, will pass the test. This petition, like others in the Prayer, refers not so much to the temptation of the individual believer as it does to the Community as a whole. There is a natural wish that the Community not have to experience the reality of temptation and sin with the effects it has on the communal identity of Christians. In other words, even if an individual is not immediately affected, sin brings suffering and distress to the Community.

Other possible ways of addressing the question represent, to a large extent, variations on the three given above. I believe that first of these would best represent the ancient worldview and manner of thinking shared by Jews and early Christians at the time.

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.

March 1: Matt 4:1-11 par; 6:13; Lk 11:4

A traditional text from the Gospels for the First Sunday in Lent is the narrative of the Temptation of Jesus (parallel accounts in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13, along with a brief summary note in Mark 1:12-13). The themes of fasting and renunciation—denial of self, submission to God’s will, and endurance of testing—were deemed especially applicable to the season of Lent. In many parts of the world, strict Lentan rules are still in force, though among Protestants seasonal fasting has largely disappeared. And, although the three temptations Jesus faces in the narrative are, in one sense, unique to his Person (“if you are the Son of God…”), believers may still follow his example and also gain strength by the account.

The narratives in Matthew and Luke are very close, and are generally regarded by critical scholars as deriving from the common collection of sayings and traditions designated as “Q” (Quelle, source). In any case, it is clear that a common tradition is at work. The greatest difference between the two involves the order of the temptations:


1.       In the desert (vv. 2-4)

2.       High mountain (vv. 5-8)

3.       Wing/pinnacle of the Temple (vv. 9-12)


1.       In the desert (vv. 2-3)

2.       Wing/pinnacle of the Temple (vv. 5-7)

3.       High mountain (vv. 8-10)

The order in Matthew is often considered more likely to be original, for two main reasons: (1) the gradual ascension from desert floor to high mountain, (2) the declaration ku/rion to\n qeo/n sou proskunh/sei$ kai\ au)tw=| mo/nw| latreu/sei$ (“you shall worship [lit. kiss toward] the Lord your God and he alone you shall serve”) is a more suitable climax. This may well be case; however, I tend to prefer the Lukan order: (1) the climax on top of the Temple in Jerusalem seems particularly appropriate in the context of the Gospels, (2) there seems to be an intensifying in the nature of the temptation:

    1. Satisfying physical need (hunger)
    2. Gaining Worldly power and ambition
    3. Testing God

Not surprisingly, a few (versional) manuscripts apparently modified Luke to match Matthew’s order, and there may well be a tendency so to harmonize the accounts; but this is entirely unnecessary. For here is truly an example where the differences between the Gospels are complementary, and both should be held up together as containing important points of emphasis.

For a moment I would like to turn to the brief account in Mark 1:12-13, where it states kai\ eu)qu\$ to\ pneu=ma au)to\n e)kba/llei ei)$ th\n e&rhmon, “and immediately the Spirit casts him out in the the desert…” This is quite striking (Matthew and Mark use very different language in their account), and for me it brings to mind the famous petition of the Lord’s Prayer kai\ mh\ ei)sene/gkh|$ h(ma=$ ei)$ peirasmo/n (“and you should not bring us into testing”), Luke 11:4b, and identical in Matthew 6:13a with the accompanying imperatival phrase a)lla\ r(u=sai h(ma=$ a)po\ tou= ponhrou= (“but drag us away [i.e. rescue us] from the evil”).  Here I find three major interpretive questions, which I will discuss briefly:

1. What is the precise meaning of peirasmo/$?

Generally the Greek word would be translated “test, testing, trial” (from peira/w, “attempt, try, try to do [something]”). It can have: (1) a general, or neutral sense; (2) a positive sense (i.e, of “proving” someone or something); or (3) a negative sense (i.e., temptation). In the New Testament, the negative sense is more common, and probably is so intended here; however, I would still caution against translating the word as “temptation”, for the more general English “test, testing” is a better fit—the overall context, not translation of individual words, ultimately determines the meaning. Certainly, the positive sense of testing/proving would seem unlikely: otherwise, why, indeed, would we pray for God not to lead us into it? Some scholars have thought that here peirasmo/$ refers to an eschatological testing or “tribulation” preceding the final Judgment; this is possible, but, I think also unlikely. In virtually every instance in the New Testament where ‘testing’ is mentioned in an eschatological context, the positive aspect of ‘proving’ (do/kimo$, doki/mion) is present (cf. 1 Peter 1:6; 4:12, etc). Here in the Lord’s Prayer, I would say that a sense of ‘testing’ involving sin, evil, and/or present suffering is required.

2. What does it mean then to “bring into” (ei)sfe/rw) testing?

The verb form (ei)sene/gkh|$) is a subjunctive, and not an imperative; however, the (aorist) subjunctive + mh/ takes on the force of a prohibition “you should not….” which is similar to an imperative. The petition is that God should not bring (or lead) us into testing; but, if “testing” is understood in the negative sense of “temptation” (to sin), then this would seem to present a major theological difficulty, already recognized in the early Church—that God should be said to “tempt” believers (see virtually the opposite notion explicitly stated in James 1:13). No simple answer can be given, other than to suggest that in the Lord’s Prayer, in keeping with the form of a basic prayer, peirasmo/$ should be understood (and translated) in a very general way (as “test” or “testing”). Despite the profundity of the Prayer, it remains very concise and simple in form—it is not meant to present a detailed theology (much less a theodicy!), and, I believe, ought to be understood as covering more ground here than simply “temptation”. Testing, particularly of a sort that we would naturally wish to avoid—involving some form of suffering, or the possibility of moral failure, and the like—will surely be part of every believer’s experience. I would also say that it is a most natural, human response, the expression that we would prefer not to go through such testing. Since God guides the paths of all believers, certainly, it is He who brings us into testing. Far from being sinful, or cowardly, I consider it faithful to express our human fears and desires to God. Surely, there is no better example than Jesus himself who prayed first “Abba, Father, all things are powerful [i.e. possible] to you; bring along [i.e. take away] this cup from me”, adding, “but not what I wish, but what you [wish]”.

3. How should we understand to ponhro/$?

Increasingly today, commentators interpret this phrase—literally, “the evil”—as “the evil (One)”, that is, Satan. This is certainly possible, perhaps even likely, at least in terms of the thrust of Jesus’ original words. However, this is far from clear as the Prayer now stands in the Gospels. Again, I suggest it is better to keep the sense (and translation) of the Greek as simple and general as possible—i.e., “the evil”, including the malevolent actions of humans and devils alike. As with the rest of the Prayer, the language is simple and striking: “but drag us (away) from the evil”. Once more an imperative is used—if there is some caution, or uncertainty, in the request not to be brought into testing, there is none here: as it has been traditionally rendered…”deliver us from evil!”

In the Greek Church, the First Sunday of (Great) Lent is the “Feast of Orthodoxy”—celebrating the victory of Orthodoxy against heresy. The immediate historical context was the Iconoclastic controversy in the Byzantine Church. Icons are images—of Jesus, Mary, the Apostles, and other famous Saints—which decorated church buildings and were used in worship. Some leaders began to denounce the practice, thought, in the wake of the Islamic conquests, to have brought down God’s judgment on the Byzantine Empire. Use of Icons was outlawed, resulting in oppression and persecutions, until the council of Nicaea in 787 (last of the so-called ‘Ecumenical Councils’) restored their use, and again, decisively in 843. While the whole issue of icons and images may seem strange and hard to understand in the West (especially in Protestant circles), it has been, and remains, deeply felt in Eastern Churches as a vital part of faith and practice. Icons related to Holy Week—the suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ—hold a special place in the tradition.