1 Peter’s Reflections Upon The Death Of Christ (1)


Compared to the tomes of books and studies dedicated to the Pauline epistles, namely with accords to Paul’s understanding and reflections on Christology, it far outweighs studies coming out from the other epistles. The logic to this would be that the bulk of the New Testament books is acquitted to Paul, so too with much of the development of Christian theology. But this understanding should not put an impression in us that the other epistles are unimportant for the Christian community. In fact, the focus of this study in this paper would be to answer the question, “In what ways does the author of 1 Peter reflect upon death of Christ?

This question will be developed by looking into the relevant texts where 1 Peter develops his understanding on Christ’s death. There are three such passages that 1 Peter touches on Christ’s death which are 1:18-21, 2:21-25 and 3:18-22. Following each passage, some preliminaries will be made on certain difficult issues that are embedded in the three specific texts that were mentioned above. This is because, if these issues are not dealt with, it might render our reflections on the texts obscure. Further implication will be made after this in connecting the details from the relevant passages. Reflections will be made further in looking at how 1 Peter’s reflection means in a Malaysian context.

1. Christ death as redemption from a former way of life (1:18-21)

Jobes makes some comments on the word “redeemed” in v.18,[1] where she highlights its cultural understanding in the Greco-Roman world to mean “the manumission of a slave.”[2] This cultural lens does depict a worthy parallel[3] with the notion that believers have been redeemed and are free but slaves to God[4]. Though the connection might form logic in a way that Peter was trying to connect theology shaped in the language of the culture, Jobes states that “the idea of redemption by the blood of the lamb is clearly rooted in the OT, most frequently found in Leviticus, Psalms, Exodus, and Isaiah-the very books from which Peter so often quotes.”[5] The OT context here, informs a coherent understanding of redemption that correlates with the situation that the readers were in.[6] Jobes sees that the understanding of “redemption” used by Peter were taken from perspectives of Isa. 52:3 and Ps. 34 where the former emphasizes their redemption from their past way of life which is depicted as slavery and the latter of a possibility of hope in their current situation.[7] Jobes notes concerning Peter’s reflection on Christ death:

“…Peter does not connect redemption directly with freedom from sin and guilt, nor does he portray redemption in contrast to the society in which his readers live. Rather, redemption is defined in contrast to the way his readers lived before they came to faith in Christ, a heritage that, though culturally venerated, he describes as “useless”…”[8]

What Peter highlights on “inherited from your ancestors” being “useless” is rather controversial. It was understood that what was passed on by ancestors were deemed important and forming a breakaway from it spelled disaster.[9] It is no wonder that the condition in which the recipients of the letter were living were socially scorned by their neighbours. But regardless of this fact, the great cost at the expense of Christ’s death forms the rationale behind the faithful allegiance that believers must display.

This understanding thus informs us of the way Peter reflected on the death of Jesus, where redemption is from a former way of life. Peter’s reflection on Christ’s death can be seen in two ways; in a way that it forms a reminder in the high cost of Christ’s death and a critique to the culturally norm of living to a new way of living formed by Christ’s redeeming death.

v. 20 This particular verse has been described by some as originating from an early Christian liturgy or hymnal. While this may be possible, Achtermeire explains that the construction of the linguistics of this particular verse could also be written and thought off by Peter.[10] The verse is explaining the link of the death of Christ “to God’s eternal plan, thus removing it from it from the realm of accidental.”[11] Jobes concurs and adds that “God already knew the complete program of redemption before the foundation of the world.”[12] Following this, Witherington raises an important question, “Does “foreknown” refer to Christ as a person or to his death and ransoming activity?”[13] His answer takes on the positive in both notes. Foreknowledge covers both pre-existence and his redemptive plain in which was planned from the beginning.

Forbes notes that Peter’s thought pattern found in v.20, where though being revealed in recent times, his role was a predetermined plan by God, corresponds to the Pauline designation of the mystery of Christ (Rom 16:25-26; Eph 1:8-10; 3:1-13; Col 1:26-27; 2:2).[14] He further develops this understanding by stating that the understanding of the word “revealed” that is used in Jewish and Christian literature does not just entail the unravelling of “something hidden, but also of the historical fulfilment of a predetermined plan.”[15]

The term “at the end of the age” or “the last times” is a familiar theme in early Christianity where this has the understanding that “the Church age being the age of fulfilment,”[16] upon which was inaugurated by “the past event of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.”[17] It does not stop here but has a twofold meaning in that “at the end of ages” is still something that is still in the future. An unravelling that will become clear in the near future[18], and one that has begun with the appearance of Christ who has started the ball rolling[19].

This verse motions the reader back to God, in whom they put their trust which is made possible by Christ[20], in what was previously explained in v.18-20. Faith in this God is rooted in the understanding that he vindicated Jesus by resurrecting him thus making this faith and hope; in him something that is secure[21] and further strengthens their confidence in him.[22] Thus we can say here that Christ’s death in Peter’s reflection points to; (1) A ransoming that denotes a high cost and value, (2) preordained rather than by a responsive act to a mistake that happened, and (3)  the one who was raised from the dead after his suffering and death. This was done all for the sake of believers, who by reflecting on this, might live their lives, remembering the cost that Christ had poured and in that able to draw hope and faith in trying circumstances because of the promise vindication of Christ. A new way of living is now possible, made complete by the redemptive death of Christ.

[1] Jobes, Karen H. 1 Peter. BECNT. (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker,2005). Pg 116

[2] See more explanation of this by Jobes. 1 Peter. BECNT. Pg 116-117

[3] Forbes, Greg W; Jason J. F. Lim. Asia Bible Commentary Series: 1 Peter. (Manila, Phillipines: OMF, 2006). Pg  42

[4] Jobes.1 Peter. BECNT. Pg 117

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Redemption is related to the OT context of deliverance from foreign exile, which fits well with Peter’s characterization of his readers as foreigners of the Diaspora of Asia Minor.” Jobes.1 Peter. BECNT. Pg 117

[7]Jobes.1 Peter. BECNT. Pg 117-118

[8] Ibid. Pg 118

[9] Green, Joel B. The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary: 1 Peter. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2007). Pg 38

[10] Achtemeir, P.J. 1 Peter. Hermeneia. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996). Pg130-131

[11] Ibid. Pg 131

[12] Jobes.1 Peter. BECNT. Pg 119

[13] Witherington, Ben. A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1-2 Peter. (Leicester: Apollos, 2007). Pg 107

[14] Forbes. Asia Bible Commentary Series: 1 Peter. Pg 43

[15] Ibid. Pg 43

[16] Forbes. Asia Bible Commentary Series: 1 Peter. Pg 43

[17] Jobes.1 Peter. BECNT. Pg 119

[18] Ibid

[19] Achtemeir, P.J. 1 Peter. Hermeneia. Pg 132

[20] Forbes. Asia Bible Commentary Series: 1 Peter Pg 44

[21] Ibid.

[22] Witherington, Ben. A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1-2 Peter. Pg 109

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