1 Peter 3:1-22

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“Likewise,” or in a manner similar to the way believers were to subject themselves to governmental authorities and slaves to their masters, wives were to be submissive to their “own husbands.” In Greek, the term anér designates both a “man” and a “husband,” and so the addition of “own” makes it clear that a husband is meant. For a believing wife, her submission to her husband is governed by her relationship to God and Christ and the associated obligation to be exemplary in disposition, word, and deed. (3:1)

In the case of unbelieving husbands, the exemplary conduct of their wives could be instrumental in having them cease to be disobedient “to the word.” Without a “word,” or without the use of persuasive words or argumentation, the praiseworthy conduct of believing wives could help their husbands to put faith in the “word” or the message about Christ and become his disciples. (3:1) When unbelieving husbands are able to see with their own eyes that their wives have high regard (literally, “fear”) for them and are chaste or morally pure in their behavior, this can be more persuasive than many words in revealing the true worth of accepting the message about Christ and acting on it in faith. (3:2)

Believing wives were not to be focused on showy externals — adornment, impressive braiding of the hair, wearing of gold ornaments or garments that would attract the attention of others. (3:3) Instead, they were to be concerned about their inner selves (the “hidden person of the heart”). Unlike fine attire that wears out in time, the beauty of the inner person that is reflected in the display of a “gentle” or unassuming and “quiet” or calm spirit or disposition never loses its attractiveness. It proves to be incorruptible adornment. Moreover, a woman’s gentle and calm spirit is of excelling value in God’s sight. (3:4; see the Notes section.)

Anciently, “holy women” who “hoped in God” adorned themselves with a gentle and calm disposition and were submissive to “their own husbands.” These women are referred to as “holy” on account of their living a life that was focused on being pleasing to God. They trusted in God, confident that hope based on his word of promise would be fulfilled. (3:5)

One of these “holy” or God-fearing women was Sarah. She “obeyed” her husband Abraham or subjected herself to his authority, leaving behind the more settled life in Ur and, for many years until her death, sharing with him a nomadic existence as a resident alien in the land of Canaan. Sarah had high regard for Abraham, “calling him lord.” The Genesis account contains only one reference to Sarah’s expressing herself in this way. She did so to herself and not in the hearing of others, indicating that she truly had the highest regard for her husband and his position as the head of the household that included hundreds of servants. The fact that Sarah referred to Abraham as lord in her own thoughts indicates that this must have been her regular practice and a reflection of her true feelings. Believing women prove themselves to be “daughters” of Sarah (praiseworthy godly women like Sarah) when they manifest the same disposition, doing what is good or upright and not giving in to any fear. They should not be terrified or become alarmed about any possible insult or hostility they might face because of being disciples of Jesus Christ. (3:6; Genesis 18:12, LXX)

With reference to the role of husbands, the adverb homoíos, meaning “likewise,” indicates that husbands have obligations to fulfill in their relationship to their wives, just as wives are duty-bound to their husbands by reason of the marriage. Believing husbands are to live with their wives in a manner that accords with “knowledge.” This knowledge could include a husband’s full awareness of his wife’s capabilities, limitations, and likes and dislikes. In this context, knowledge would especially pertain to a husband’s recognition of his marital responsibilities as a servant of God and Christ, displaying the kind of love for his wife as Christ has for the community of believers and for which he surrendered his life. (3:7; Ephesians 5:25)

Believing husbands should accord honor to their wives, treating them in a dignified manner. The description of women as “weaker” vessels may relate to their not being as strong physically as men commonly are. So, in treating his wife honorably, a believing husband would be considerate of her limitations. To interpret the reference to a wife’s being a “weaker vessel” to include mental and moral inferiority would not fit the tenor of the directive for husbands to honor their wives. (3:7)

Moreover, believing husbands were to keep in mind that their wives had the same standing before God as they did, for their wives were co-heirs of the gracious “favor of life.” Believers, both men and women, have been granted a newness of life on the basis of their faith in Christ and his having surrendered his life for them. Their enjoyment of this newness of life as persons forgiven of their sins and reconciled to God as his beloved children is an expression of divine favor or unmerited kindness. The honor a believing husband would show to his wife would reflect his regard for her as a fellow child of God. This is essential so that a husband’s prayers would not be hindered but would continue to receive God’s favorable attention. A failure to honor his wife would make a believing husband guilty of dishonoring one of God’s beloved children. (3:7; see the Notes section.)

In their interactions with one another and unbelievers, believers have obligations besides being submissive to those who may have authority over them. These obligations are introduced with the expression tó dé télos, meaning “but finally” (literally, “but the end”) and apply to “all” believers. (3:8)

For believers to be “like-minded” requires avoiding whatever might give rise to disunity and bitter controversy. A harmonious spirit can be preserved when believers keep in mind that fellow believers are members of God’s beloved family and persons for whom Christ died. Their having sympathy or fellow feeling would especially be needed when others are suffering hardship or mistreatment for the sake of Christ. (Compare Hebrews 10:32-34.) As members of the family of God’s children, believers should have love for one another as evident from their being forgiving, not harboring grudges, and being responsive to the needy ones among them. They should be compassionate, having strong feelings for those who may be suffering and being eager to do everything within their power to assist them. The Greek word for “compassionate” is eúsplanchnos and, literally, signifies “good bowels” and, by extension, the tender feelings that were associated with the inward parts. Being “humble-minded” would include being willing to serve others, putting their interests ahead of one’s own. It is the opposite of having an exalted view of oneself and wanting to be served instead of seeking to be active in serving. (3:8; see the Notes section.)

In the world, believers often faced misrepresentation and abuse. They were not to retaliate, seeking to “return evil for evil or reviling for reviling.” Instead of attempting to get even for the injury that may have been done to them or countering insults by lashing out with abusive words, believers are called upon to bless. This does not mean that they would be commending those who treat them hatefully, but they would wish them well (not ill), sincerely desiring that they might change and come to be part of God’s family. (3:9)

The calling of God is not one to a life characterized by a desire for retaliation but a life of love, compassion, and concern for others. So believers have been called to bless, to desire good for fellow humans. Their being true to their calling would result in inheriting a blessing or being the recipient of God’s favor and approval. (3:9)

The quotation from Psalm 34:12-16 (33:13-17, LXX) supports the admonition not to retaliate and, aside from minor differences, corresponds to the reading of the extant Septuagint text. Loving life can denote having an appreciation for life, seeking to have a meaningful life that is more than mere existence and is focused on God and doing his will. Wanting to see or experience “good days” could relate to enjoying a purposeful life with his blessing. (3:10; see the Notes section.)

The individual who loves life and wants to see good days should cease from using his tongue to express “evil” and from speaking “deceit” with his lips. “Evil” would include cursing, slander, and abusive or degrading speech. Examples of deceit or treachery would be using flattery designed to entrap others, speaking half truths or lies, deliberately withholding vital information for the purpose of causing others to draw wrong conclusions, or in any other way misrepresenting matters. (3:10)

Besides keeping the tongue in check, all who love life should turn away from “evil,” or everything that is morally corrupt and harmful to themselves and others. They should “do good” or whatever is kind, loving, and compassionate, maintaining exemplary conduct. To seek peace would mean to follow a course of life that contributes to maintaining a good relationship with God and fellow humans. Peace would be the goal that is earnestly pursued, shunning quarrels, strife, haughtiness, and anything else that can destroy a state of tranquility. (3:11)

One’s shunning bad and doing good is governed by an awareness of God in all affairs of life, “for the eyes of the Lord” (YHWH, according to the Hebrew text) are “upon the righteous and his ears [are attentive] to their supplication.” This indicates that he watches over the upright and is fully aware of their situation. They can be confident that he will aid them in their time of need, and their petitions in times of distress or adversity will not be in vain. (3:12)

“But the face of the Lord” (YHWH, according to the Hebrew text) is “against evildoers.” This means that God himself is opposed to those who engage in corrupt practices and that he will hold an accounting against them. (3:12; see the Notes section.)

The rhetorical question that follows serves to encourage pursuing a divinely approved course. “Who is the one who will injure you if you become zealous for what is good?” Under ordinary circumstances, no one would seek to hurt individuals because they are outstandingly helpful, kind, generous, considerate, and compassionate in their interactions with others. In view of the fact that believers often were the objects of mistreatment and misrepresentation, the question is more likely to denote whether anyone would be able to cause one real harm. The implied answer would be that no one could inflict permanent injury, for God is the one who will right all matters. (3:13)

If it should happen that believers suffer on account of righteousness or for having done what is right or divinely approved, they would be “fortunate” (makários). The Greek adjective makários describes an enviable state of well-being, happiness, or blessedness. Believers who patiently endure insult or abuse can have an inner joy and contentment because of having preserved a good conscience and knowing that their conduct is pleasing to God and Christ. (3:14)

The possibility of suffering for the right reasons, however, should not occasion fear. “But their fear you should not fear, nor be troubled.” “Their fear” may denote the fear of hostile unbelievers because of the hateful things they might say or do. “Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them.” (NAB) Another possibility is that believers were not to be afraid of what unbelievers feared. “Do not fear what they fear.” (NRSV) Unbelievers would have sought to resort to any means possible to avoid being subjected to mockery and mistreatment. Moreover, without a hope in the resurrection, they would have feared the possibility of having to face a violent death. The basic thought is that believers were not to give in to fear or be thrown into a state of inner turmoil on account of becoming objects of hostility. (3:14)

When subjected to unjust treatment, sinful humans often look for opportunities to retaliate. Believers, however, were to “sanctify Christ as Lord in [their] hearts.” This would mean that, regardless of the circumstances, they, in their “hearts” or their inner selves, should accord Christ the honor as their Lord, letting his example and teaching govern their attitude and every aspect of their lives. Instead of yielding to fear and holding back from speaking up about their faith, believers were to be ready to make a defense (apología) before, or to provide an explanation to, anyone who might ask for an expression “about the hope in [them].” The Greek term apología can designate either a defense (as one might make before an official) or, in a more general sense, a reply given to an inquiry. (3:15; see the Notes section.)

A believer’s hope centers on God and Christ and includes confidence in the certainty of becoming a recipient of all the privileges and blessings that have been made possible through Christ and his laying down his life for humankind. This hope is “in” believers, for it fills them and is firmly established in their inmost selves. (3:15)

When making a defense about their hope or responding to any inquiry regarding it, believers should do so “with gentleness and fear.” This would mean that their expressions would need to be made in a calm or courteous and respectful manner, not in a belligerent and arrogant way. Believers should be concerned about preserving a good conscience before God and fellow humans. Then, when insulted or maligned, they would be able to make the error of those who mistreated them evident. Persons guilty of having abused them for their “good conduct in Christ” might be put to shame. The exemplary conduct of believers as persons “in” or at one with Christ might make those who had spoken against them come to realize that they had seriously wronged them. (3:16)

It is better for one to suffer for doing good, “if the will of God desires it,” than for engaging in corrupt practices. Wrongdoing would merit punishment, and a believer’s failure to act uprightly would result in bringing reproach on God and Christ. The reference to the “will of God” does not mean that he wants believers to experience affliction. He may allow this to take place, and so it would be an expression of his permissive will. Whenever that might be the case, believers have the opportunity to demonstrate by their patient endurance the high value they place on being loyal disciples of God’s Son. Observers would be able to see the remarkable strength their faith has made possible. (3:17)

Believers are thus honored to be like their Lord Jesus Christ. As the sinless one, he suffered, not for his own sins, but for the sins of others once for all. He, the “righteous one” who lived a sinless life and perfectly reflected his Father’s purity in every way, endured insult, abuse, and a painful death for the “unrighteous,” for sinful humans. His patient endurance of affliction served to bring humans to God. Through his excruciating death, Jesus Christ provided the means for humans to have their sins forgiven and to be reconciled to his Father as members of his family. He was “put to death in the flesh” but restored to life in the “spirit.” Jesus Christ died while in the flesh, but he was raised to life, not in the flesh as a man, but in possession of life suited for the spiritual realm. In his glorified body, the Son of God is no longer subject to the limitations and weaknesses of the human body of flesh and blood. The contrasting parallel between flesh and spirit points to the distinct difference between Christ’s nature as a man on earth and his nature as the immortal Son of God with life-giving power. (3:18; see the Notes section.)

In the spirit, Jesus Christ preached to the “spirits in prison.” This preaching is directly linked to his having been made alive in the spirit and so occurring after his resurrection. The “spirits in prison” are identified as having been disobedient in the days of Noah. The Genesis account (6:1-4) and comments in 2 Peter 2:4, 5, and Jude 6 indicate that “sons of God” or angels disobeyed by leaving their heavenly estate and taking up life as men with women on earth. Ancient Jewish writings that appear to have been regarded as authoritative in the first century CE and earlier do refer to these disobedient angels as spirits and indicate them to be in a state of confinement. In view of Jesus Christ’s triumph over the powers of darkness by reason of his faithfulness to the death, he would have been in a position to express the ultimate judgments against the “spirits in prison.” (3:19, 20; see the Notes section for additional details.)

In the days of Noah, God waited patiently, apparently with reference to executing judgment against the ungodly and did so until the construction of the ark for the preservation of human and animal life had been completed. A few humans, “eight souls” (Noah, his wife, their three sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives), passed safely “through the water” of the deluge. (3:20; see the Notes section.)

The saving of eight humans as they passed “through the water” inside the ark is called an “antitype” (or a correspondency) of baptism, which is “now saving” believers “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Baptism is not the “removal of the filth of the flesh.” Its purpose is not to effect a ceremonial cleansing from impurity as did the water of cleansing according to the provision set forth in the law of Moses. (Numbers 19:13-19) Baptism may be understood to be a “request” (eperótema) directed to God for a “good” or a clean conscience. It is the individual’s tangible outward expression of having repented from sins and put faith or trust in Christ and his sacrifice as God’s means for forgiveness of sins. The baptismal act may be regarded as a petition for the repentance to be accepted and the good conscience or the divinely approved standing to be granted. (3:21)

While the Greek word eperótema can designate an appeal or a request, it could also be understood to be a pledge made to God, a pledge or promise to be faithful and which the one getting baptized makes with a good conscience. Another possible significance is that the appeal to God originates from a good conscience. (3:21) These meanings are found in a number of translations. “Baptism that now saves you also — not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.” (NIV) “It is the baptism corresponding to this water which saves you now — not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience given to God.” (NJB) “Baptism is not the washing away of bodily impurities but the appeal made to God from a good conscience.” (REB)

That the Son of God is intimately involved in salvation or the deliverance from sin and the condemnation to which sin leads is indicated by the words “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The resurrection confirmed that God had accepted his Son’s sacrificial death as the means by which humans could be forgiven of their sins and be saved from the associated condemnatory judgment. (3:21)

Subsequent to his resurrection, Jesus Christ entered heaven and is now at his Father’s right hand, representative of the position of the greatest honor, favor, and intimacy that he has been granted. In his highly exalted state of unparalleled honor or dignity, the Son of God has authority over all in heaven and on earth. “Angels and authorities and powers are subject to him,” for he is the King of kings and Lord of lords. His exaltation was made possible through the resurrection and also verified that the Father had accepted his Son’s sacrifice for humans, making it possible for them to be freed from sins and condemnation. (3:22)


In the Greco-Roman world, highly respected women would have identified with the admonition (in verse 4) about attire and adornment. In the first century CE, the Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca, in a personal letter to his mother, praised her for not being impressed by jewels or pearls and for refusing to wear immodest clothing that would have “exposed no greater nakedness” upon being removed. He added, “your only ornament, the kind of beauty that time does not tarnish, is the great honor of modesty.”

A work attributed to a female Pythagorean philosopher of the fourth or third century BCE states that a woman should not wear transparent, ornate or silk clothes, but should dress modestly in white. Thus she would not appear overdressed or as a woman given to luxury and would avoid making other women envious. She should not adorn herself with gold or emeralds, for these are costly and manifest arrogance toward women of limited means.

The Jewish philosopher Philo (c. 20 BCE to c. 50 CE) drew a distinction between the public sphere of men and the private sphere of women, and he indicated that a respectable woman would not want to be seen “going about like a woman who walks the streets in the sight of other men.” (Special Laws, III, 169-171)

The Greek biographer and essayist Plutarch (c. 46 to c. 120 CE), in his Advice to Bride and Groom, observed that a wife should not “rely on her dowry or birth or beauty, but on things in which she gains the greatest hold on her husband, namely conversation, character, and comradeship, which she must render not perverse or vexatious day by day, but accommodating, inoffensive, and agreeable.” (141B) He referred to Crates who used to say, “adornment is that which adorns,” and that which adorns a woman makes her more decorous. This “is not gold or precious stones or scarlet,” but it is “whatever invests her with that something which betokens dignity, good behavior, and modesty.” (141E)

In verse 7, fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and a number of other manuscripts include the word poikíles, meaning “varied,” “diversified,” or “manifold,” before “favor of life.”

The reading “humble-minded” (a form of tapeinóphron), in verse 8, has the support of the oldest extant manuscripts and also others. Many later manuscripts say “well-disposed” or “friendly” (a form of philóphron). A number of manuscripts contain both Greek words.

According to the Septuagint the words quoted in verse 10 are in the form of a question, “Who is [the] man desiring life, loving to see good days?”

In verse 12, a number of manuscripts continue the quotation, adding regarding the evildoers, “to destroy them from the earth.”

According to the oldest manuscript evidence, “Christ” is the Lord mentioned in verse 15. Numerous later manuscripts, however, read “God” instead of “Christ.”

Various manuscript readings exist for verse 18, with certain ones indicating that Jesus “died” for sins and others saying that he “suffered” for sins. Other differences include the use of first person plural (“we” or “our”) and second person plural (“you” or “your”).

It appears that the expression “spirits in prison” (verse 19) is to be understood against the background of what is preserved in ancient sources, particularly 1 Enoch. There is evidence that this book was regarded as authoritative in the first century CE and earlier, as well as in later times. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, there are twenty manuscripts of parts of 1 Enoch. Early Christian writers, including Irenaeus (in the second century CE), made use of this book. At the present time, however, only the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel) accept 1 Enoch as part of the Scriptures.

In 1 Enoch 15:3-8, the angels who had “left the high, holy, and eternal heaven” and had taken wives for themselves from the “daughters of men” are called “spirits,” and their offspring, the giants, are referred to as having been “produced from the spirits and flesh.” According to chapter 12, verses 4 and 5, Enoch had the commission to declare judgment against the disobedient spirits, the “watchers of heaven” who had left the “high heaven.” The judgment message included, “You shall have no peace nor forgiveness of sin.” With apparent reference to this point in 1 Enoch, Irenaeus (Against Heresies, IV, 16, 2) wrote, “Enoch, too, pleasing God, without circumcision, discharged the office of God’s legate to the angels although he was a man.”

In 2 Enoch, thought to date from late in the first century CE, disobedient angels are depicted as being in confinement in the “second heaven.” They are said to be in a condition of “darkness, greater than earthly darkness” and “awaiting the great and boundless judgment.” (7:1)

One papyrus manuscript from about 300 CE (P72) omits the word “eight” in verse 20.