General Epistles Exegetical Paper on 1 Peter 2:11-12
The debate concerning the Christian’s relationship to this world has been ongoing since the early Christian centuries. That this has been a perennial debate is beyond doubt. The historical and theological waters are too deep to plummet in a work of this scope, nevertheless Peter did have something to say concerning the relationship of the city of God to the city of man. Peter called the churches of Asia Minor to a presence in this world that is faithful to God. This essay will seek to interpret 1 Peter 2:11-12 in this connection. In order to interpret Peter, there is a gulf of modern interpretations which must be bridged before engaging the New Testament text so that modern presuppositions will become less of a determining factor in the interpretation of the text.
History of Interpretation
This passage and others related to it are understood in two significantly distinct ways since the reformation of the 16th century. The Reformed have classically held to an embrace of this world yet a faithful presence in that same world. The Anabaptists held to an embrace of the kingdom of heaven but not the kingdoms of this world. These are broad brushstrokes, but they shall suffice as the basic distinction as it stands in current scholarship.
The basic distinction is that the Reformed have embraced this world as created by God and as the realm in which Christ is building his kingdom. This is tempered by a clear distinction between the future fullness of the Kingdom of God, and the presence of that future in the present world. On the basis of the presence of the future complete rule of Christ, this world is not an enemy but a place of great potential for the dominion mandate to be taken up. Nevertheless, this world is marked by the sin of Adam, and will be until the end. This results in a theology of embrace of culture as God’s gift, all the while there is a tension for the new creation, for which this world groans as in labor pains.
The distinction comes down to how one interprets the nature of the exile as a colony of God’s kingdom on earth. The reformed see this exile as the beginning of colonization of the future kingdom. The Kingdom in the present is the presence of the future. Thus, being an exile in this world is a task that takes shape as one who must be faithful to their Covenant Lord even while in a foreign land. The Christian is both abstinent from the sins against his Covenant Lord, and engaged positively among the gentile nations.
Many characterizations of the Anabaptists view are that they abstain from sin, but also from the world. This is true, but not complete. There is also a strong victim mentality which fuels their way of engaging this world. Being an exile means that one is part of a colony which works among itself as a separate body from the pagan world. The “already” and “not yet” is not so much in view here as is the ultimately distinct new creation which will come at the consummation. However, though this is true of their rhetoric, the underlying theology is a bit more complex. Anabaptists do indeed engage this world, they just do it in a different way.
James Davidson Hunter recently described the Anabaptist method of engaging the world as using the culture transformation methods of the current American political culture, from which they, ironically, claim to be separate. The method is that churches are motivated by a narrative-myth of their plight which is created by their political opponents. This creates resentment toward the political opponent and motivates churches to action. Hunter argues that this method pervades most evangelical and liberal churches as well.
This comports with historic Anabaptist views of martyrdom. 20th century theologian Ethelbert Stauffer demonstrated profoundly that the theology of the magisterial radicals of the 16th century saw the martyrdom of their members as the most significant way of bringing about the ultimate state in the kingdom of heaven. Martyrdom acted as a baptism by blood, which lead to the coming of the kingdom (in the sense of going to heaven, not the kingdom coming as rule of Chirst on earth as he does in heaven). The narrative created by the martyrs was a rhetoric of resentment against their Roman Catholic opponents and resulted in the motivation of churches against their political enemies.
The problem with the Anabaptist interpretation of Peter is that he commanded them to be both faithful to their Covenant Lord, but also to be present within this world. Peter wrote of keeping “your behavior excellent among the Gentiles” (2Pet 2:12). He also commanded his audience to be faithfully present in the face of slander (2:12). He point is not to be a victim, but to be legitimated in the eyes of the pagans who do slander the Christians. Finally, Peter’s command here is based in the presence of the future kingdom of God. These contexts must be kept as the undergirding principle by which this text should be interpreted. Though the debate has been wages over the past two millennia, and especially fervently since the 16th century, Peter still speaks to the issue clearly.
Translation of the Text
There are not really interesting textual debates in this text accept for the “ἀπέχεσθαι.” Charles Bigg claimed that the “απεχεσθαι” in 1 Peter 2:11 should be understood as an imperative second person plural. He claims that the manuscript evidence weighs in favor of the imperative. He argues that this is definitely the case because it explains the absence of the accusative pronoun, and the following “ἔχοντες” in verse 12. It makes grammatical sense, but the general way of dealing with manuscript discrepancies is to seek the lectio difficilior (more difficult reading). The real question is if this is a case of the more difficult reading, or a more unlikely reading. The idea is practically the same as far as meaning goes in either case. The “ἀπέχεσθαι” is in a marked position already, and this is a classical phrase (“ἀπέχεσθαι ἐπιθυμιῶν,” appears in Plato). Therefore, the more likely conclusion is that “ἀπέχεσθαι” is the original, because it is possible and is in this marked position. This phrase should then be rendered as a command, indirectly, even though the imperative is not present.
Further, a quick glance at “ἀπέχεσθαι” in the New Testament shows that it always occurs in this present middle infinitive (Act 15:20, 29; 1Thess 4:3; 1Tim 4:3, 2Pet 2:11). It usually has basically the same meaning as an indirect command in each of these occurrences with “ἐπιθυμιῶν”. It also usually takes an indirect object from which one is called to abstain, idols, ceremonial unclean things, or lusts. This is enough evidence to say that this word is commonly used for ethical command to abstain from lusts. There is no nuance other than the typical progressive present of “παρακαλῶ.”
There are many wonderful formal and dynamic equivalents to this text. There is no need to duplicate the work done by such scholars. However, part of the stated task of many translations is to leave ambiguity for the sake of interpretation. This is not that goal of this paper. The goal here is to be as interpretative as possible. Therefore, the following translation will make exegetical decisions on word and syntax usage meaning. The words which are translated as part of the text itself will be in normal text, implied meanings (such as antecedents and postcedents, etc) will be placed in italics, and implied theological ideas will be placed in brackets.
|2:11||᾿Αγαπητοί, παρακαλῶ ὡς παροίκους καὶ παρεπιδήμους, ἀπέχεσθαι τῶν σαρκικῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν, αἵτινες στρατεύονται κατὰ τῆς ψυχῆς,||Beloved, I call you, as those who live as foreigners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshy lusts, which inordinate desires contends against your [renewed way of] life,|
|2:12||τὴν ἀναστροφὴν ὑμῶν ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν ἔχοντες καλήν, ἵνα, ἐν ᾧ καταλαλοῦσιν ὑμῶν ὡς κακοποιῶν, ἐκ τῶν καλῶν ἔργων ἐποπτεύοντες δοξάσωσι τὸν Θεὸν ἐν ἡμέρᾳ ἐπισκοπῆς.||…while you keep on holding to your good behavior; in order that (though with regard to this behavior they speak against you as if you were evildoers), because they see some of your good works, they may give recognition to God on the day of his [judgment] visitation.|
Delineating the Pericope
The initial vocative use of ᾿Αγαπητοί acts as a clear start of a new thought. It also appears in 4:12, and 2 Peter 3:1, 14, and 17. This formula is not particular to Peter, but also John (1Jon 2:7; 3:2), and Paul (1Cor 10:15, 15:48, 2Cor 7:21, Phil 2:12, 4:1). This does not mean that this topic is unrelated to the former, but this does constitute a discrete paragraph.
The end of the pericope is verse 12. Verse 12 is syntactically dependant on 11. The main verb idea of the sentence is “παρακαλῶ… ἀπέχεσθαι.” Verse 12 does not have a main verb. “καταλαλοῦσιν” is a subordinate idea because of the prepositional phrase “ἐν ᾧ.” “δοξάσωσιv” is part of the purpose clause marked out by “ἵνα.” These ideas act as elucidations of the main verb idea that Peter “calls them to abstain.”
There has been much debate over the identity of the recipients of the letter, Jew or Gentile. J.H.A Hart noted that both Eusebius and Origen were already arguing for the purely Jewish recipients in the early Christian centuries. Their claim, however, implies that someone probably had doubts as to whether these churches were truly of purely Jewish pedigree. This debate has been unclearly delineated since the early church.
Peter seems to confuse his “Jewish” readers with gentile circumstances. While Peter called his recipients “exiles of the dispersion” (1 Pet. 1:1), who live among the gentile nations (2:12); nevertheless, he said they were formerly “not a people” (Hos. 2:33, 1 Pet. 2:10), which is a theme also applied to gentiles by Paul (Eph. 2:11ff.). There is a great deal of Jewish imagery, and Old Testament terms in the book. These would likely not be applied to gentiles. Nevertheless, The way of life which characterized them as formerly pagan would not comport with this (1:14, 18; 4:3). The simplest explanation of this is that the confusion is by design. There is a general assumed homogeneity of the Jews and gentiles all under one banner as the people, temple, and holy nation of God.
Circumstances and Purpose:
Obviously the purpose is to encourage Christians to suffer for Christ. However, the exact nature of the suffering which Peter expects for the reader is in question. Authors have argued for circumstances of this epistle ranging from the early 60s to a terminal date in the 3rd century due to the lack of speaking about Gnosticism and the episcopate. The significance of these circumstances lend to different interpretations to the text. There are three major view. First, during Trajan,75-80 ad, suffering “for the name” (1 Pet. 4:14) fits the punishment was propter ipsum nomen (without proper charge) but by a answer to the court, yes or no with regards to being a Christian. Second, during the Neronian, 64-75, and when Vespasian revisited the policy of Nero, post 80. The policy was that they were punished for crimes against Rome, or as “evil doers” (1 Pet. 2:12). The problem for both of these views is that they are spuriously based on similarities to Roman policy. Different policies were enacted at different times, but both are supposedly present at once in this Epistle.
Charles Bigg argued that this epistle better fits the pre-Neronian persecutions which coincide with Pauline and Lukan phraseology better than the Roman policies, and thus the kind of persecution is earlier than either of those policies. His evidence for this is that the Jews had already been persecuting Christians during from the beginning. He pointed toward the general similarity in phraseology between Paul and Luke in Acts, and then he proceeded to demonstrate the similarities of 1 Peter to Acts.
He conceded that Christians were “spoken against as evildoers” by Nero, and were “reproached for the name of Christ” by Trajan and the Flavian Emperors. However, these phrases show up in Acts when the Apostles were “accused” by the Philippian slave girl, and reproached for the name from the start of the Church (Acts 16:16-18; 5:41). He gave more evidence, but these should bring this decision to a close.
The circumstances being typical Christian suffering under general persecutions by Jews or gentiles leads to a more sober and less sensational concept of suffering. Suffering for the kingdom is centered in Peter on imitating Christ’s suffering, because the Christian’s union with Him has brought the presence of the future life to bear on the current one. The eschaton is inaugurated. The suffering is done confidently with respect to the eternal life in heaven, but it is also empowered by the eternal life in the already inaugurated stage. More of this will be dealt with below. Suffice it at this point to say that the suffering is not only suffering unto death, but this is a theme that pervades the whole of Christian living.
Structure and Argument
Verse 13 begins a variation on the theme here, so it constitutes a new section on submission to the powers that be, which flows through 3:13. The theme is living in this world as holy (1:14-16), which means separate, or distinct as aliens and strangers (cf. 1:17). The variation is then to show that the powers that be should be obeyed insofar as they are not at odds with God’s word (2:13-3:13). The Next section after that also deals with the reality that opposition will follow those who live as distinctly holy people of God’s kingdom of heaven (3:14-4:6).
The argument of 2:11-12 concludes from the general section of the book. 1:13-2:10 is a call to be Holy. Here Peter made the argument that Christians are to be aliens and strangers in this world. These two terms are related to the concept of holiness, or separateness from the world as far as behavior goes. In 2:11-12 Peter introduces the main subject of the next major section of the book. This is a call to act as citizens of heaven who are sojourning in this world. This results in a lifestyle that both attracts slander, and results in pagans who glorify God. The point is not to be victims of the world, as the Anabaptists would argue, but rather that the task of the Christian is to have an engagement with this world which is particularly holy. This seems to be a contradiction. Holiness means distinction from (which is connoted by being aliens and strangers), but they are called to be “among the nations.” The question, then, is: from what is one to be holy from? The answer is “to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” The abstinence is not from the world, but from sinning against one’s neighbor. This is the good behavior to which he refers in verse 12.
The way to understand these two verses is as a call to be present in this world, yet faithful to the Covenant Lord. The word “beloved” is not just a term that becomes meaningless from overuse, but is the motivation for this engagement. As Christ loved the church, so the Apostle loves the church (see Jon 21). The Christian does not engage the world in such a way that sees the goal to be martyrdom, or persecution by some other means to bring about the kingdom, but rather the kingdom is the rule of God over the life of those whom he loves. Martyrdom/suffering is not the means by which the Christian engages this world, as the Anabaptist interpretation would suggest. Righteousness is the means of engaging the world, however, persecution may be occasioned by righteousness. Peter treats persecution as a accidence of being in this world, not as the end product. The love for the pagan rules over the suffering in this world. This is the distinction between the Christian and the pagan, the pagan performs works of kindness for self service, but the Christian does so out of love for both the pagan and his Covenant Lord.
The sort of engagement which the Christian has with this world is faithful to the Covenant Lord, yet present in the world. Peter called for separateness from the desires of the flesh, and yet called to a faithful presence among the nations. This idea will be demonstrated in three points below. First, Peter wrote of keeping “your behavior excellent among the Gentiles” (2Pet 2:12). Second, he commanded his audience to be faithfully present in the face of slander, and by extension, all kinds of suffering (2:12). He point is not to be a victim, but to be legitimated in the eyes of the pagans who do slander the Christians. Finally, Peter’s command here is based in the presence of the future kingdom of God. This can actually outline analogously to the rest of the major sections of the book.
|2:13-3:13, Faithful yet Present||2:11 “abstain from fleshly lusts… 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles”|
|3:14-4:6, Victors not Victims||2:12 “so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God”|
|4:7-19, Presence of the Future||2:12 “in the day of visitation”|
This leads to the conclusion that this verse is both a pivotal point for understanding the rest of the book, and the nature of the Christian engagement with this world.
Faithful Yet Present
The Geneva study Bible commented on this verse that it is, “a reason why we ought to live holy, that is, because we are citizens of heaven, and therefore we ought to live not according to the laws of this world, which is most corrupt, but of the heavenly city, although we are strangers in the world.”
Victors not Victims
The Presence of the Future
The debate about the relationship between the Christian and culture has been of perennial debate since the early centuries of Christianity. Though there are various and sundry ways that this relationship has been formulated, this paper took the position of the confessional reformed. This paper has however tried to remain faithful to the Biblical text throughout. This is an exegetical paper, but the topic required the extended historical survey in order to understand the difference between this interpretation and others.
There are some applications to be made to the Anabaptist view of the relation of the Christian and culture. First, the Christian is to be both faithful to God, yet present in and among the nations of this world. The Anabaptist engages culture in a profoundly worldly way. It actually diffuses the idea that one is “not of this world” by engaging the world on its own terms. Those terms are by using being separate from the world, not just from sin, and by creating a narrative of victimization in order to motivate churches.
Second, the Christian is not a victim but a victor in this world. The neo-Anabaptist view uses this victim status to create a resentment of political opponents and motivate Christians to retaliate in non-violent ways. The problem here is not non-violence, but that they call this Nietzschean passive aggressive way of engagement “not of this world.” In contrast to this, Peter calls the Christian to be holy in this world. The means of engagement is holiness, not persecution, though it may occasion retaliation.
Finally, the presence of the future undergirds the whole of Peter’s teaching. This eschatological scheme portrays this world as a place to be colonized by the rule of Christ. Though there will always be mixture of wheat and tares in the Church, and sin with righteousness, Jesus is working to renew and rule his kingdom. This is decidedly different than the neo-Anabaptist view of the next age. The age of the Spirit is coming, and thus they live in light of it now, and may even believe that they can usher it in. Peter’s context here is different. He argued that the future is already present in the risen Christ and his Church. Jesus rules in heaven, and continues to guide the church into all truth, and models the result of the church’s suffering. The church does not see suffering as a way of bringing the kingdom, but is rather the occasion of living holy lives. This is temporary and will yield to the final day when Christ returns. With Christ as an example, the Christian looks to the future as the goal of their witness and holy living. At the same time, the Christian looks to the presence of that future glory in the resurrected Christ, who will cause the hearts of the pagans to be renewed by their witness.
 Stauffer, Ethelbert (1945). “The Anabaptist Theology of Martyrdom””. MQR vol. 19: 179–214
 Hunter, James Davidson, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Mordern World (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010)
 Stauffer, “The Anabaptist Theology of Martyrdom,” Duckham, Ian, (1988) “Early Anabaptist Martyrs of the Low Countries 1525-1555” Limina Vol 4. He claims that both Protestants and Catholics were persecuting Anabaptists. He gives various figures. The point that this supports in the current thesis is that this will to power by creating resentment still exists in the Anabaptist sections of the church. It is not just that it is a victim theology, but has made itself illegitimate to the concerns of this world by both claiming so, and by using victimization as a motivating device.
 Bigg, Charles, The Epistles of Saint Peter and Jude (ICC, Edinburgh, London: T&T Clark, 1975 ) 135-136
 West, Martin L. Textual Criticism and Editorial Technique Applicable to Greek and Latin Texts (Stuttgart: B.G. Teubner, 1973) 51
 Bigg, 1 Peter, 136
 Hart, 1 Peter, 19
 Hart, 1 Peter 17-32
 Bigg, 1 Peter, 24-28
 Hart, J.H.A The Greek Expositors Bible (Ed., W.Robertson Nicoll,; Grand Rapids, MI: WMB Eerdmans, 1990) Vol. 5
 “1 Peter” in The Geneva Study Bible (White Hall, WV: Tolle Lege Press, 2010 )