Strangers And Aliens (16b): Defending The Faith (1 Peter 3:13–17)


13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (ESV). 13 Καὶ τίς ὁ κακώσων ὑμᾶς ἐὰν τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ζηλωταὶ γένησθε 14ἀλλ᾿ εἰ καὶ πάσχοιτε διὰ δικαιοσύνην, μακάριοι. τὸν δὲ φόβον αὐτῶν μὴ φοβηθῆτε μηδὲ ταραχθῆτε, 15κύριον δὲ τὸν Χριστὸν ἁγιάσατε ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν, ἕτοιμοι ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀπολογίαν παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι ὑμᾶς λόγον περὶ τῆς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐλπίδος, 16 ἀλλὰ μετὰ πραΰτητος καὶ φόβου, συνείδησιν ἔχοντες ἀγαθήν, ἵνα ἐν ᾧ καταλαλεῖσθε καταισχυνθῶσιν οἱ ἐπηρεάζοντες ὑμῶν τὴν ἀγαθὴν ἐν Χριστῷ ἀναστροφήν. 17κρεῖττον γὰρ ἀγαθοποιοῦντας, εἰ θέλοι τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, πάσχειν ἢ κακοποιοῦντας.

v. 15: Our Second Defense: Witness
In this verse we are confronted immediately with two preliminary questions, one text-critical and the other of translation. The text-critical question regards two variant readings. The Textus Receptus (1550) of Robert Stephanus reads “κυριον δε τον θεον αγιασατε” (and/but set apart/sanctify God the Lord/the Lord God). This is the reading found in manuscripts (MSS) dating the the 6th (P), 8th (L), and 9th (K) centuries AD. The reading found in the older texts (e.g., P72, Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus) dates to the 3rd and 4th centuries AD says “κύριον δὲ τὸν Χριστὸν ἁγιάσατε” (and/but set apart/sanctify Christ the Lord/the Lord Christ). In such cases there are two questions to answer, what does the external evidence say and what are the internal probabilities. The external evidence is clear. The older reading is “set apart Christ….” The internal probability is less clear but, on balance, it seems most likely that Peter would have written “Christ” rather than God inasmuch as the question before suffering Christians in Asia Minor in the mid-60s was their confession of Christ as God.

The second question concerns the translation of the postpositive conjunction (δὲ). Virtually every English translation since Tyndale (1525) translated it as an adversative “but…”. In view of the exhortation from the Psalmist in the verse previous it is reasonable to translate the conjunction as “but…”. One major influence behind the translation “but” is the Vulgate, which translated the relatively weak δὲ with the much stronger sed (but). In fact δὲ may mean “now” or “and.” The question is whether Peter is continuing the previous thought or changing direction. One reason for translating δὲ as “and,” i.e., for signaling a continuation or elaboration of the previous verse is that he began v. 14 with a clear adversative (ἀλλ᾿) “but.” It makes arguably better sense of v. 15 to read it as a further explanation of how we are to suffer for righteousness’ sake and how we are to fear the Lord more than civil authorities (or others) who might seek to do us harm for the sake of our confession of Christ and the Christian faith.

Thus, “and in your hearts sanctify Christ the Lord prepared always unto a defense to everyone seeking a word (or reason) for the hope in you….” The scenario that Peter has in mind was not theoretical. About the very same time he was dictating these words (to his secretary) for the churches in Asia Minor (W. Turkey) Christians in Rome were undergoing a violent, horrible persecution at the hands of a madman, Caesar Nero. Peter and the other Christians knew that before the soldiers laid hands upon a Christian and hauled him before the authorities, one must have resolved some truly basic questions. Who am I? What is my only comfort in life and in death? Am I prepared to suffer and, if necessary, to die for Christ, who gave himself for me? In the case of Nero’s persecution the Christians were made scapegoats for a fire for which Nero himself was responsible. It was a property dispute gone horribly wrong. Nero blamed the Christians, whom those who knew about the Christians regarded with suspicion. The Jewish religion had been declared a “legal religion” and they were no required to confess that Caesar is a god. The Jews, however, had been insisting to the Roman authorities that Paul and the Christians were not to be regarded as a sub-set of the Jews and therefore not eligible for protection. Without such protection, the Christians were vulnerable. Further, the Romans could not understand why anyone would profess allegiance to an obscure Jewish rabbi who had been arrested, convicted (even though the Roman authorities believed him to be innocent) and worst of all, crucified as a common criminal. They could not understand why anyone would claim that a crucified rabbi had been raised from the dead. It is one thing to make a formal, external profession of loyalty to the traditional gods (not that anyone really believed in them any longer), as a show of loyalty to Caesar, to one’s ancestors, to tradition, and to the Empire, it is quite another thing to claim that a rabbi had been raised from the dead and that he ruled in the heavens as a king and that he is to one day return. That seemed foolish beyond words and it seemed arrogant not to conform to the prevailing socio-religious and patriotic norms.

To “sanctify” is to set apart as unique, clean, and pure. To “set apart” to “to regard as holy” in one’s figurative heart is, in the first instance, to establish a spiritual, moral, and even ontological hierarchy. A Christian says,

I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me, that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him (Heidelberg Catechism (1563), 1).

A Christian knows that Christ has graciously redeemed him, that Christ has been raised, and that Christ is Lord. Caesar has been appointed as the temporal governor (Rom 13) to keep order and to punish civil evil doers. Professing Christ as Lord and Savior is not a crime against nature and if the magistrate unjustly seeks to overturn that order a Christian must obey Christ the Lord, who, in his mysterious and sovereign providence, has appointed Nero and who, for his own good purposes, is using Nero to sanctify his Christians.

Next time: What sort of defense?

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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