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Commentary on The First of Saint Peter

1:1 Peter, an apostle: Simon, the leader of the Twelve (Mt 10:2). Jesus renamed him "Peter", from the Greek petros, meaning "rock". The Aramaic equivalent of Peter is rendered "Cephas" (Jn 1:42) (CCC 552). See word study: Peter at Mt 16:18. exiles: Sojourners separated from their homeland (Heb 11:13-14). See introduction: Destination. Pontus . . . Bithynia: The names of several provinces in northern Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Back to text.

1:2 Peter coordinates three aspects of redemption with the three Persons of the Trinity: the Father elects us for salvation, the Spirit makes us holy, and the Son consecrates us for service by his blood (CCC 258). Other trinitarian passages in the NT include Mt 28:19, Lk 1:35, 1 Cor 12:4-6, and 2 Cor 13:14. sprinkling with . . . blood: Associated with rites of priestly ordination in ancient Israel. • In Ex 24:8, Moses sprinkled the people of Israel with the blood of the Sinai covenant, binding them to Yahweh and consecrating them to be a holy and priestly nation to the world (Ex 19:6). Similarly, in Lev 8:30, Aaron and his sons were ordained to the priesthood by the ritual sprinkling of blood. This background anticipates the description of believers as members of the "royal priesthood" of Jesus (1 Pet 2:9). grace and peace: A common Christian greeting in NT times (Rom 1:7; 2 Pet 1:2; Rev 1:4). Back to text.

1:3 Blessed be the God: A traditional prayer form, called a berakah (Hebrew for "blessing"), in which the Lord is praised for his saving deeds and thanked for his wonderful gifts (1 Chron 29:10-13; Tob 13:1-18; Dan 3:3-22). For other NT examples, see Lk 1:68-79 and Eph 1:3-14 (CCC 2626-27). living hope: Not mere optimism or wishful thinking, but the earnest desire, made possible by grace, for the unseen glory of heaven (1:13, 21; Rom 8:24-25). Notice that Peter's benediction makes reference to all three theological virtues: "faith" (1:9), "hope" (1:3), and "love" (1:8). See note on 1 Cor 13:13Back to text.

1:5 the last time: The climactic end of history, when the definitive salvation of believers will take place in connection with the Second Coming (described in 1:7 as "the revelation of Jesus Christ"). Back to text.

1:6 suffer various trials: Endurance of suffering and persecution is frequently mentioned in the letter (2:1922; 4:1, 12-19; 5:9-10). It is here compared to a smelting process that removes alloys and impurities from precious metals such as gold (1:7; Job 23:10; Sir 2:4-5). Suffering, Peter says, is the fire that refines our faith and makes us more like Christ, whose own endurance of torment was an expression of filial obedience to the Father (1 Pet 2:21; Phil 2:8; Heb 5:8) (CCC 618, 1031). • The saints, perceiving the benefits of divine fire, did not shrink from trials or become discouraged by them. Instead of suffering injury, they were improved by what they endured, gleaming like gold refined in fire (St. Athanasius, Festal Letters 10). Back to text.

1:8 you do not now see: Peter affirms readers for living by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7; cf. Jn 20:29). Faith will eventually bring believers face to face with the Lord (1 Cor 13:12). Back to text.

1:9 the outcome: Salvation is here described as a future event, which means it cannot be reduced to an event or experience already completed in the past. See note on Rom 5:10. salvation of your souls: The expression is a Semitic way of saying "your salvation". The term "soul" is used in the Hebrew sense of a whole living "person" (as in 1 Pet 3:20). Back to text.

Word Study

Born Anew (1 Pet 1:3)

Anagennaō (Gk.) means "regenerate" or "cause to be born again". It occurs in the NT only in 1 Pet 1:3 and 1:23, but parallel notions are expressed in similar words in Jn 3:3-5, Tit 3:5, and 1 Jn 3:9. For Peter, the rebirth of Jesus from the dead (resurrection) gives believers a spiritual rebirth by grace (regeneration). The idea is that God fathers or begets us anew, not in the natural way of biological parentage, but in a supernatural way that gives us a share in his own divine life (cf. 2 Pet 1:4). The benefit of this grace is a new birth into the family of God, so that believers united with Christ become "newborn infants" (1 Pet 2:2) and "children" (1 Pet 1:14) united in a "brotherhood" of faith (1 Pet 5:9). It is their privilege to invoke God as "Father" (1 Pet 1:17) and to await heaven as their "inheritance" (1 Pet 1:4).

1:11 the Spirit of Christ: The Holy Spirit (1:12), who is sent into the world by the Father (Jn 14:26) and the Son (Jn 15:26). The activity of the Spirit is here linked with the inspiration of the Prophets, who spoke the word of God to Israel and foretold the suffering of the Messiah (e.g., Is 52:13— 53:12; Dan 9:26). Peter will return to this subject in his second letter, where he describes the Prophets being "moved" by the Spirit to speak messages that come "from God" (2 Pet 1:21). • In the Nicene Creed, the Spirit is identified as the Divine Person "who has spoken through the prophets" (CCC 687, 702). Back to text.

1:12 those who preached: The apostles and prophets of the Church spoke by the same Spirit that had once inspired the Prophets of Israel (1:10-11). The result is a divinely established unity between OT and NT revelation (CCC 128-29). angels long to look: The salvation of men, worked out through the suffering and glorification of Christ, was once a mystery hidden in God (Eph 3:9). It is now revealed to the Church through the Spirit and to the angels through the ministry of the Church (Eph 3:10). Back to text.

1:13 gird up your minds: A metaphor for mental preparedness. In biblical times, to "gird up" meant to tuck a long garment into a belt so that one could run or move more quickly (Ex 12:11; Lk 12:35). Back to text.

1:16 You shall be holy: A recurring mandate from Leviticus (Lev 11:44; 19:2; 20:7). •Yahweh often demanded holiness from Israel; that is, he bid the people to draw close to him and to shun the vile practices of the Gentiles. Peter's readers are likewise surrounded by pagans, yet they are urged to serve God in holiness of life. Back to text.

1:17 invoke as Father: Refers to addressing God as "Abba" or "Father" in prayer (Mt 6:9; Rom 8:15; CCC 2780-82). impartially: I.e., with absolute fairness. Because God exercises perfect justice, he cannot be bribed to show favoritism toward some and not others (Deut 10:17). according to his deeds: The standard of judgment established in the OT (Ps 62:12; Prov 24:12) and maintained in the NT (Mt 16:27; Rom 2:5-11) (CCC 682). your exile: I.e., your time on earth. See introduction: Destination. Back to text.

1:19 lamb without blemish: Depicts Jesus as a Passover lamb (1 Cor 5:7). • Exodus stipulates that lambs chosen for Passover must be free from all physical defects (Ex 12:5). The point here is that Jesus is free from every blemish of sin (1 Pet 2:22). Other details reminiscent of the Passover tradition include the notion that Jesus "ransomed" us from sinful ways (1:18), just as Israel was redeemed from sinful Egypt (Ex 15:13), and that the "blood" of Jesus was shed for our salvation (1 Pet 1:19), recalling how the blood of the paschal lamb was shed as the sign of God's deliverance at the first Exodus (Ex 12:21-23) (CCC 602). Back to text.

1:20 the end of the times: The manifestation of Christ in the flesh marks the beginning of the end of history. Paul refers to this final era as "the end of the ages" (1 Cor 10:11). Back to text.

1:22 love one another: Echoes the new commandment of Jesus in Jn 13:34-35. Back to text.

1:23 not of perishable seed: The imperishable seed of grace and new life comes through the gospel. It begets children of God destined to live forever (CCC 1228, 2769). See word study: Born Anew at 1:3. Back to text.

1:24 All flesh is like grass: A quotation from Is 40:6-8. • Isaiah contrasts the fleeting existence of men with the abiding word of the Lord. Peter connects this with the gospel, the word that gives eternal life to all who accept it (1:25; Jas 1:18). Back to text.

2:2 newborn infants: The imagery of new birth is applied to new converts (1:3), who need the milk of sound instruction to grow and mature in their faith (Heb 5:12). • The simple elements of faith can be sought from the breasts of Mother Church, that is, from the teachers of the Old and New Testaments (St. Bede, On the Seven Catholic Epistles at 1 Pet 2:1-2). Back to text.

2:4-10 The Church is pictured as a spiritual temple under construction. Believers are like living stones built up securely on Christ, who is the cornerstone of the entire structure (Eph 2:1922). Since temples are not only dwelling places for God but also houses of worship and sacrifice, Peter can also describe Christians as a priestly people who make acceptable offerings to God through Christ. These truths are supported by a series of OT citations: 2:4 is elucidated by the quotations in 2:6-8, and 2:5 by references in 2:9-10 (CCC 901, 1141, 1179). Back to text.

2:6-8 Three OT texts that make reference to a "stone", which Peter interprets as an image of the Messiah. • The first is Is 28:16, where the foundation stone of a new edifice is laid down by the Lord as an invitation to faith. The second is Ps 118:22, which refers to a stone that was rejected by some but is chosen by God to be the cornerstone of a new building. The third is Is 8:14, where the Lord describes himself both as a sanctuary to the faithful of Israel and as a stumbling stone to the unfaithful. Similar use of these passages is made by Jesus (Lk 20:17-18), Paul (Rom 9:33), and Peter himself in Acts (Acts 4:10-11) (CCC 756). Back to text.

2:9 But you: Contrasts believers in Christ with those who reject the Messiah (2:8). The rest of the verse is a patchwork of expressions drawn from the Greek OT. • Two come from Is 43:20-21, where Israel is the chosen race commissioned by Yahweh to declare his wonderful deeds to the nations. Another comes from Mal 3:17, where the faithful of Israel are called God's own special people. Two more come from Ex 19:6, where Israel is gathered at Sinai and consecrated as a royal priesthood and a holy nation. These titles and privileges, once the exclusive prerogative of Israel, are now extended to the whole messianic people, who have come to share in the blessings of a covenant relationship with God (Rom 11:17-24; 15:27). One responsibility entailed in this relationship is the missionary vocation to announce God's goodness and salvation to the world. • Here we learn of the "priesthood of all believers", the doctrine that Baptism makes every member of the Church a sharer in the priesthood of Christ (CCC 1268, 1546). This grace, which differs in kind and not merely degree from the grace of ministerial priesthood possessed by bishops and priests, enables every Christian to minister to the spiritual needs of others (1 Pet 4:10) and to offer sacrifices of love and praise to God in his daily life (2:5; Rom 12:1; Heb 13:15-16). Back to text.

2:10 no people: An allusion to the Greek version of Hos 2:23. • Hosea is speaking about the restoration of Israel, specifically the northern tribes, who had rejected the Lord's covenant and had thereby reduced themselves to the status of the nations. Their return to covenant standing is thus equivalent to the conversion of Gentiles, which is now taking place through the preaching of the gospel and the ingathering of all nations into the Church (Rom 9:25). Back to text.

2:11 aliens and exiles: Heaven is the fatherland of the believer, making life in this world a journey away from home. See introduction: Destination. wage war: The internal conflict that rages in fallen human nature (Gal 5:16-24; CCC 2516). See note on Rom 7:23Back to text.

2:12 see your good deeds: Echoes the teaching of Jesus in Mt 5:16. the day of visitation: A biblical expression for the day of divine judgment, when God vindicates the righteous (Wis 3:7; Sir 18:20) and wreaks vengeance on the wicked (Is 10:3 LXX). Jesus spoke in these terms about the judgment of Jerusalem (Lk 19:44). Back to text.

2:13-17 Peter urges the saints to be model citizens. Submission to civil authorities is part of one's submission to God, by whose will earthly government is established (Wis 6:1-3). Justice demands that we give honor and taxes to these authorities in return for the benefits of a stable society that would not exist without them (Rom 13:1-7) (CCC 2238-42). Back to text.

2:16 Live as free men: Christians are free from absolute servitude to the State because they are servants of the Lord (1 Cor 7:22; Gal 5:13). See note on Acts 5:29Back to text.

2:17 the brotherhood: The community of believers united as brothers and sisters in the Lord (5:9). Honor the emperor: Caesar Nero, who reigned from A.D. 54 to 68 and who launched a savage persecution of Christians after a fire swept through Rome in A.D. 64 (Tacitus, Annals 15, 44). The fact that Peter exhorts readers to honor the emperor in this unqualified way is a strong indication that he is writing before the days of government-sponsored persecution against the Church, which began in the mid-60s and intensified toward the end of the first century. His words would certainly be susceptible to misunderstanding in the late first century when the public display of devotion to the emperor was a life-and-death issue for Christians. Back to text.

2:18 Servants: Encouraged to bear unjust treatment with patience. Neither slavery nor physical abuse is thereby condoned; the point is only that innocent suffering can make one more like Christ (2:21). On slavery in NT times, see notes on 1 Cor 7:21 and Eph 6:5. Back to text.

2:22-25 Peter reflects on the Passion of Jesus. His thoughts are dominated by Isaiah's vision of the Suffering Servant (especially Is 53:5-11). • The prophet foresees the rejection and agony of the Messiah. Though he is reviled, the lips of the Servant are silent and free from deceit (Is 53:7, 9). Though wounded, he brings healing and forgiveness to others (Is 53:5, 11). Though an innocent lamb led to the slaughter, he gives his life for other sheep who have strayed from the Lord's pasture (Is 53:6-7) (CCC 601). Back to text.

2:22 committed no sin: The sinlessness of Jesus is an established doctrine of the NT (Jn 8:46; Heb 4:15; 1 Jn 3:5; CCC 612). Back to text.

2:24 the tree: The Cross, perhaps alluding to the words of Deut 21:22-23 (Acts 5:30; Gal 3:13). Back to text.

2:25 Shepherd and Guardian: The terms are roughly synonymous, both expressing Jesus' vigilant oversight of the Church (Jn 10:1-16; Heb 13:20). Back to text.

3:1-7 The responsibilities of married life are outlined. Similar codes for Christian households and spouses are given in Eph 5:21-6:2 and Col 3:18-4:1 (CCC 2204). Back to text.

3:1 Likewise: Begins a third application of the submission principle introduced in 2:13 and continued in 2:18. wives, be submissive: Christian wives are counseled to obey their husbands, some of whom were non-Christians. Peter envisions this as a dignified submission that earns a husband's respect rather than a degrading servitude that quietly endures personal abuse or insults to the faith. The social order of the day, where husbands ruled over their wives as the supreme authorities of the household, is not directly challenged or criticized. Instead, existing norms are infused with gospel charity: in this case, Peter urges Christian brides to exercise heroic love and service within the context of marriage. Paul gives similar counsel to married women (Eph 5:22-24; Col 3:18), though he addresses situations in which husband and wife are both believers (an important exception is 1 Cor 7:12-16). See note on Eph 5:22. without a word: The witness of a loving and supportive wife can win unbelieving husbands over to the faith. For the example of St. Monica and the eventual conversion of her husband, see St. Augustine, Confessions 9, 19-22. Back to text.

3:3 outward adorning: Preoccupation with physical appearance is discouraged (1 Tim 2:9). Outwardly, a woman should content herself with modest dress; inwardly, she should adorn herself with the virtues of Christian womanhood. Peter's insistence that interior beauty is precious "in God's sight" (1 Pet 3:4) indicates that his pastoral counsel is based on fixed spiritual principles, not on fluctuating standards of cultural acceptability. Back to text.

3:6 calling him lord: A reference to Gen 18:12, where Sarah calls Abraham "my husband". The expression is literally "my lord" (Heb., 'adoni). Peter concludes from this that Sarah acknowledged Abraham's leadership in marriage. Genesis gives no indication that Abraham, for his part, lacked respect for Sarah or considered her a mere slave under his authority. her children: Not by generation, but by imitation (cf. Mt 5:44-45; Jn 8:39-40). let nothing terrify you: Wives exposed to mistreatment from pagan husbands are admonished to take courage. The implication is not that Christian women are expected to tolerate such things without complaint. On the contrary, Peter anticipates that a holy and deferential wife will find herself respected and honored by her husband. Back to text.

3:7 husbands, live considerately: Christian husbands must be respectful and understanding toward their wives. Paul makes the additional demand that husbands should be models of Christ's sacrificial love (Eph 5:25). the weaker sex: The statement is made in reference to a woman's physical constitution, not her moral character or intellectual ability. Because a man's natural strength exceeds that of a woman, the husband is called to honor his bride, lest he misuse his physical advantage to intimidate or abuse her. joint heirs: Men and women are persons of equal dignity in God's eyes, for they are equal recipients of his salvation and love (Gal 3:28). prayers . . . hindered: A husband's prayers will go unanswered if he fails to honor and cherish his wife (3:12). He can expect the same result if he prays with doubt (Jas 1:5-8) or selfish motives (Jas 4:3) or cherishes iniquity in his heart (Ps 66:18). Back to text.

3:9 Do not return evil: The summons to bless those who curse you is made several times in the NT (Lk 6:28; Rom 12:14, 17; 1 Thess 5:15). Back to text.

3:10-12 A quotation from Ps 34:12-16. • Blessings are promised to those who shun evil, for the Lord is good to those who fear him, seek him, and direct their prayers to him. Peter offers these words of encouragement to readers being persecuted for their faith (3:14). Back to text.

3:14 suffer for righteousness' sake: Echoes the eighth beatitude given by Jesus in Mt 5:10. Back to text.

3:15 make a defense: I.e., make a reasoned articulation of the faith and be ready to disarm any attacks mounted against it. Essential to the task is an attitude of calm self-composure, so that the truth will always be honored and spoken in love (Eph 4:15). The word "defense" (Gk. apologia) often refers to a legal case presented before a judge and jury (Acts 25:16; 2 Tim 4:16). It is the basis of the word "apologetics", which involves explaining and defending Christian truth (Acts 22:1). Back to text.

3:18-20 On these verses, see essay: Christ and "the Spirits in Prison" at 1 Pet 3:18-20. Back to text.

3:21 Baptism . . . saves you: The clearest statement in the NT that Baptism brings us salvation. It is not only a sign of forgiveness and renewal, but an instrument of grace that actually regenerates (Jn 3:5; Tit 3:5). The Greek word translated as corresponds means "the fulfillment of a type" (Gk. antitypos). See word study: Type at Rom 5:14. • The flood is a type of Baptism: the raging waters that cleansed the earth of wickedness (Gen 7:17-24) prefigure the sacramental waters that cleanse the believer of sin (Acts 2:38; 22:16). In both cases, the water that brings judgment on sin is also the water that saves. It is unclear how far Peter intends us to see parallels beyond this basic level of correspondence. Certainly the story line itself is meaningful in a Christian context: Noah and his family, having built the ark in faith, passed through the waters of judgment (1 Pet 3:20) into a new life and a new covenant with God (Gen 9:8-17). So, too, Baptism is the sacrament of faith (Mk 16:16) that brings us new life (Rom 6:4) and makes us members of the New Covenant (CCC 1219). not as a removal of dirt: This clarification makes it certain that Peter is referring to the Sacrament of Baptism, an actual washing of the body that could be misunderstood because its effects on the soul are unseen (Heb 10:22). Some scholars read this statement as an allusion to circumcision, which entails the removal of flesh from the body as something unclean (Gen 17:9-14). In this case, Peter would be setting forth a contrast between the physical effect of circumcision and the spiritual effect of Baptism, much as Paul did in Col 2:11-13. Back to text.

3:22 right hand: An allusion to Ps 110:1, which envisions the enthronement of the Messiah (Lord) in heaven beside Yahweh (Lord). Every hostile opponent is then trampled underfoot—an idea that Peter connects with the subjugation of demons from the ranks of the angels, the authorities, and the powers (1 Cor 15:24-25; CCC 671). See note on Eph 1:21Back to text.

Word Study

Appeal (1 Pet 3:21)

Eperōtēma (Gk.) refers to an "answer", "decision", or "pledge". The term is rarely used in the Bible, only once in the Greek OT (Dan 4:17, Theodotian) and once in the NT (1 Pet 3:21). In secular Greek, it often refers to the formal acceptance of a contract or covenant using solemn words. The procedure followed a question-and-answer format that involved the terms of the agreement being spoken and the appropriate party pledging his compliance. In early Christian times, a similar procedure was used in the liturgy of Baptism. Most likely, this is the background of its use in 1 Pet 3:21, where the "appeal" to God for a clear conscience is best understood as a "pledge" made to God at Baptism to maintain a clear conscience by living in accord with the gospel. Thus, the sacrament not only cleanses the conscience of evil (Heb 10:22), but it entails a solemn commitment to follow a Christian way of life (for possible allusions to such a pledge, see Pliny the Younger, Epistles 10, 96; St. Justin Martyr, First Apology 61; St. Jerome, Letters 14, 2). Peter thus equates "good behavior in Christ" with the effort to "keep your conscience clear" (1 Pet 3:16).

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