Historical Background

Introduction

It so happened that one day on the Sea of Galilee, two fishermen were washing their nets after an unsuccessful night of fishing. These men, identified as Simon and his brother Andrew,[1] are confronted by Jesus, who, oddly enough, commands them to cast out their nets for another (or, in this case, a first) catch. Simon, with only the slightest hesitation, obeys. As we know, the result is a miraculous catch of fish that convinces Simon that he is standing in the presence of Someone unlike any he had ever met. This is clear from his response, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Lk. 5:8). Although this is not the first time we meet Simon in the Gospel narrative, it demonstrates the renowned apostle’s initial call. Some would express shock that Simon would confess his sinfulness rather than stand in awe of the miracle he had just witnessed. But, as Stein points out, when we view “this account not so much as a miracle or pronouncement story but rather as a theophany involving a call to service, the response is very appropriate.”[2] Simon, renamed Peter by Christ (see Jn. 1:42), becomes a full-time disciple of our Lord and follows Him for the rest of His earthly ministry.

Contending for Petrine Authorship

As we approach the letter of 1 Peter, we must first contend for the orthodox view that Peter did indeed pen this letter. Peter identifies himself as the author in the first verse (“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ…” [1:1]). For most evangelicals, this self-identification is evidence enough to conclude Petrine authorship. Additionally, conservative scholarship is generally in agreement that the same apostle mentioned throughout the Gospels, the Book of Acts, and Paul’s letter to the Galatians is the author of the first epistle bearing his name. Clowney states that this is “a claim that should not be discounted,”[3] as the early Church had received “other works claiming to be written by Peter [that] were rejected as not apostolic.[4] Likewise, Hiebert provides evidence from Eusebius’s writings that 1 Peter was among the books accepted by the whole Church.[5] Grudem also argues for Petrine authorship based on the reception of the early Church.[6] Thus, we have no reason to question (as many liberal scholars do) that anyone besides Peter wrote this letter. To do so is to deny the inspired account of Peter himself, and the firm testimony of Church history. Obviously, the former is of greater significance, but the latter should not be ignored.

Establishing a Date of Authorship

The most liberal estimates for dating the Book of 1 Peter range from “the time of Trajan (A.D. 98-117), Domitian (A.D. 81-96), or even Vespasian or Titus (A.D. 69-81).[7] These late dates allow for the author of the epistle to be writing under a pseudonym and are incompatible with the establishment of Petrine authorship. In seeking to establish a timeline for when Peter penned this epistle, we can go no further than the death of Emperor Nero in A.D. 68. This is because tradition tells us that Peter, like Paul, was executed under Nero’s reign.[8] Thus, Conservative scholars date the book somewhere between A.D. 62 and 67,[9] with a happy medium existing at some point between A.D. 63 and 64. If the former date is preferred, then 1 Peter was written shortly before Neronian persecution broke out. If we go with the latter, then 1 Peter was written shortly after the outbreak of persecution. Marshall notes that “The evidence from the letter points to widespread hostile reactions to Christians but not to organized, state-inspired persecution.”[10] [11] At any rate, a date of 63-64 is preferred for two reasons: 1) It allows for Paul and Peter to be in Rome at separate times. If Peter were writing from Rome any earlier, he would have inevitably been in the city during Paul’s imprisonment (roughly A.D. 60-62). While plausible, it is altogether unlikely being that neither of the apostles mentions the other in their respective letters.[12] Also, Mark’s placement (presumably John Mark) seems to offer some help in this area. If we understand Mark as being with Paul during his above-mentioned imprisonment, he could not be with Peter in Rome simultaneously (if Peter were writing between 60-62). Thus, we can essentially rule out a date earlier than A.D. 63. 2) It would also allow the letter’s writing to occur shortly before Neronian persecution broke out. This, as Marshall notes, seems to flow better with the thrust of the letter. Peter leaves little in the way of specific references within the letter that would help pinpoint an exact date in history, which leads me to believe that he was writing shortly before Nero’s persecution. This data is significant because it directly impacts how we interpret 1 Peter as a whole in light of the original audience.

Original Audience and Place of Writing

In the introduction (1:1-2), Peter addresses his letter to the “elect exiles of the Dispersion, in Pontius, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…” The locations mentioned serve as a postal route for the letter’s deliverer and cover four Roman provinces within Asia Minor (most modern-day Turkey). Thus, Peter’s audience would have been comprised of both Jewish and Gentile converts. Interestingly enough, a portion of these Jewish converts would have undoubtedly been present during Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts chapter two. Furthermore, the Gospel’s spread in these areas was likely due, in part, to these individuals carrying the message back home with them.

The implication of numerous Jewish believers in these regions should not discount the Gentile converts represented in the letter. This assumption seems to be implied by specific phrases that Peter uses throughout the letter that would be difficult to harmonize with those of a predominately Jewish background.[13] Nevertheless, in addressing this mix of believers, Peter consistently treats them as one unified Church, offering no room for division, and often applying terminology to both Jew and Gentile that, at one time, would have only applied to the Jews.

As for the location from which Peter is writing, there is a single reference located at the end of the letter. Here Peter writes, “She who is in Babylon…sends your greetings…” (5:13). The term Babylon has been taken both literally and figuratively.[14] For those who take a literal approach to the reference, two places are considered. First is the ancient city of Babylon known in the Old Testament. This is unlikely given that it was a rather “small and obscure place” at the time of Peter’s writing.[15] A second view on the literal spectrum is that Peter refers to Babylon, Egypt, located near modern-day Cairo. Neither of these options are preferable, yet some have argued that the literal interpretation makes sense because “other geographical references in 1 Peter are admittedly literal.”[16] Despite this argument for literal interpretation (which is much appreciated in many other areas), the symbolic approach of viewing “Babylon” as a reference to Rome is the most likely view. Peter referring to Rome as Babylon coincides with John’s later references of the same kind in the Book of Revelation (cf. 14:8; 16:19; 17:5, 18; 18:2).

There is also a theological significance to Peter’s introductory and concluding remarks. In identifying his audience as the “elect exiles of the dispersion,” Peter draws the reader’s attention to Israel’s exile under Babylonian dominance (an exile from which they never truly returned). Language that would have been formerly used to describe the remnant of Israel (God’s elect exiles of the OT) is now used to describe New Testament saints as well. Such a reference provides a direct link between OT Israel and the NT Church as the people of God.  Further emphasis is given when Peter closes the letter by referencing Babylon. In considering the significance of these two remarks, Schreiner concludes that “The mention of Babylon constitutes another reminder that believers are exiles in their present situation, and the allusion to exile under the dominion of Babylon constitutes a bookend between the beginning and end of the letter.”[17] Peter’s audience (and we, along with them) were exiles in a world that could never truly be called their home. Thus, the need for expectant hope in future grace (which we will soon see is the theme of 1 Peter as a whole) connects believers of all times and places.

Cultural Setting

The audience that Peter wrote to lived under the oppressive reign of Roman governance. Rome was widely recognized as a predominately evil empire. Both its rulers and its subjects were known for state instituted idol worship and celebrated debauchery. Such was the world into which the early Church was immersed. As such, purity and consecration to the Lord was a significant emphasis in nearly all of the NT letters. The apostles knew that they were writing to men and women who were submerged in a sea of wickedness, and their only hope was the persevering grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Apart from widespread wickedness, the early Church was not well-favored by its neighboring citizens (or the government, for that matter). This was due, in part, to the Christian rejection of all forms of polytheism. Devotion to the one true God was a disruption to the Roman way of life and, as such, was only tolerated for a short time before the state began widely persecuting Christians. Even from the early days, persecution was part of the Church’s everyday experience. That being said, the believers that Peter was writing to were probably accustomed to not “fitting in” with their Roman neighbors. Some of them may have even been imprisoned for their faith at some point or another. These believers lived in a time when being a Christian costed something, and, for some, that cost was something they paid with their lives.

Occasion of the Letter

Peter identifies his writing purpose toward the end of the letter (though it is strongly implied throughout). He says, “I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it!” (5:12). While I have not taken the stance that 1 Peter was written in response to Neronian persecution, I firmly believe that the Lord had Peter write this letter with that future event in mind.

Peter’s audience would have been a people familiar with various forms of suffering already. At this point in history, Christians, in general, were not a well-liked bunch. Peter hints at certain trials and forms of persecutions that these believers were already facing—probably on a daily basis. These include slander (2:12), unfair treatment imposed by masters (2:18-20), unbelieving spouses (3:1-2), and general persecution for doing what was right (3:14-17). Peter’s encouragement to these weary saints was to stand firm, remain pure, and fix their hope entirely on the grace that is to be revealed at Christ’s return (1:13-14). Though they may not have known it yet, it is this kind of living that would prepare them to face not only their current sufferings but also those that were to come (see 4:12).

Analysis of the Genre and Literary Context of 1 Peter

The Effects of Genre on the Interpretation of 1 Peter

The Book of 1 Peter, like much of the New Testament, is written as a letter (or epistle) to the Church of Christ. As such, it consists of three primary sections. 1) An introduction, identifying the author and audience, and offering thanksgiving (1:1-12).[18] 2) The body of the letter (1:13-5:9) 3) Closing remarks (5:10-14).

As we consider the impact of Peter’s writing style, it becomes clear that his aim is one of exhortation and testimony (see 5:12). Hiebert notes that Peter did not set out to present “momentous truths,”[19] but rather, he writes to offer practical exhortation in light of the audience’s current circumstances. The foundation of such exhortation is found within the epistle’s opening verses (1:3-12). We will explore the implications of these verses in a subsequent section. For now, I would like to comment briefly on how the genre of writing affects the interpretation of the letter as a whole.

To put it bluntly, the Apostle does not mince words, and there is no warrant for seeking to decipher hidden meaning in the text. 1 Peter presents a rational, laser-focused presentation of who God is, what He has done, and who the audience is to be in light of these truths. Compared to a book like Galatians or Ephesians, Peter’s epistle is a smooth read with a plethora of practical applications in the area of Christian living.

These observations are important as we set out to interpret the passage in question (1:13-16). The Apostle does not simply throw at us a list of random commands. Rather, each imperative is grounded in doctrinal truth and applied to believers in specific ways. There are commands addressed generally to all believers (i.e., 1:13-21; 2:11-17), and there are those that are addressed to specific individuals (i.e., 2:18; 3:1-7). However, in each of these cases, the general theme that we have established still applies. Namely, these believers are to stand firm in the face of suffering, remain holy in all areas of life, and have hope in the future grace that will be revealed at Christ’s coming. The individual applications of this theme only strengthen its impact on the believers to whom Peter is writing.

In sum, the genre of Peter’s letter brings forth a logical blend of expository and hortatory discourses that revolve around the aforementioned theme. As a whole, this letter is written in response to specific events happening to specific people at a specific point in history. There are also subtle references to trials that would shortly come, of which Peter desires his audience to be prepared. Therefore, the content is organized to offer hope to these weary believers and reminds them of God’s work on their behalf and how they are to live in response.

A Brief Examination of the Literary Context

The full contextual scope of verses 13-16 will be discussed in-depth in a later section, but at this time, a brief word will suffice to tie our verses into the rest of the letter. Verses 13-16 exist within the broader section of 1:13-2:10. This section operates as a single unit within the letter’s body and provides various exhortations in light of our common salvation (as defined in 1:3-12). Of that, a generous portion (1:13-2:3) is dedicated to the individual believer in relation to God (1:13-21), to the brethren (1:22-25), and his own personal growth (2:1-3). A smaller portion (2:4-10) is dedicated to the life of the redeemed as a corporate unity. Our passage falls into the former part of the section, specifically focusing on the individual believer in his relation to God.

The practical nature of Peter’s instruction cannot be ignored. He meticulously draws application from his opening verses and broadly spreads them throughout the letter. As such, we find that each section is deeply interconnected. For example, in examining the believer’s life relating to God, several characteristics support this relationship. 1) Unwavering hope (v. 13) 2) Personal holiness (v. 14-16) 3) A motivated reverence for the Lord (v. 17-21). Our passage primarily focuses on the first two (hope and holiness), but the third (reverence) is important, as it is essential to the thrust of the message. Peter is not making a call to half-hearted Christians. Rather, he seeks to encourage and equip the people of God to be the people of God—despite whatever circumstances they may be experiencing.

Breaking Down the Text

Block Diagram of 1 Peter 1:13-16

(a)Therefore,

                (b)preparing your minds for action

                                [(c)and]

                (d)being sober minded

(e)set your hope fully

                     (f)on the grace

                                         (g)that will be brought

                                                                                (h)to you

                                                                                (i)at the revelation

                                                                                           (j)of Jesus Christ

                (k)As obedient children,

(l)do not be conformed

                                (m)to the passions

                                                         (n)of your former ignorance,

(o)but

    (p)as He who called you is holy,

                (q)you also be holy

                                      (r)in all your conduct,

                                    (s)since it is written,

                                                (t)“You shall be holy,

                                                                                        (u)for I AM holy.”

Interpreting the Data

Before moving on to a full exegesis of 1 Peter 1:13-16, let us comment upon the verses’ grammatical structure as identified in our block diagram. I will correlate each observation with its corresponding alphabetical arrangement above. This will assist us when we move on to a full analysis of the passage’s contents.

(a) “Therefore” is an inferential conjunction, meaning that it should draw the reader’s attention back to the previous passage. What follows is an exhortation derived from (or based upon) verses 3-12).

(b) “Preparing your minds for action” is the first of two participle phrases in verse 13. This, and the following, provide the parameters by which we are to complete the command located at the end of the verse (“set your hope…”).

(c) The term “and” is not found in the Greek text but demonstrates the relationship between the two participles.

(d) “Being sober-minded” is the second participle phrase in verse 13. It adds an important element to the first participle. Namely, that of ongoing action (i.e., keeping/remaining of a sober mind). These two participles display the mind’s actions in relation to the main verb (a command of the will/emotions).

(e) “Set your hope fully” is the main clause of verse 13 and coincides with “grace.” Grace is the object of hope. The grace that the mind is to be set on has previously been explained in verses 3-12.

(f) “On the” modifies “hope” in that it displays the relationship between the verb (set) and the noun (hope).

(g) “That will be brought” is an attributive participle, as it shows how the object (grace) will be brought to the subject (you). This is in the passive voice, indicating that the subject does not contribute to the action of bringing grace.

(h) As already mentioned, “to you” (i.e., the audience/believer) is the personal pronoun demonstrating who will receive grace.

(i) “at” is a preposition of manner, answering the question: When will the grace be received? It will be received “at the revelation.”

(j) “of Jesus Christ” modifies “the revelation.” It will be at the revelation of Christ that the subject will receive grace.

(k) Verses 14-16 act as a single sentence. “As” introduces a comparison between the nominal phrase “obedient children” and what is to follow. Literally: because you” are obedient children, do this.

(l) “do not be conformed” (Lit. not conforming) is a participle with imperative force. Similar to “preparing your minds” and “being sober-minded” in verse 13, it adds to the main verb of verse 15 (“be holy”).

 (m) Preposition modifying “not being conformed.” i.e., here is what you are not to be conformed to

(n) Prepositional object- do not be conformed to the passions that belonged to you when you were formerly ignorant.

(o) “but” introduces a comparative clause, contrasting the conformity of passions in former ignorance to the life of holiness as obedient children.

(p) “He who called…” demonstrates that the verb “called” was an action performed by the object (He) on behalf of the subject (you).

(q) “be” is the main verb in the clause “you also be holy.” Obedient children who do not conform to past desires enacted in ignorance are to be holy just as the one who called them is holy.

(r) The preposition “in” indicates the extent to which holiness is to be in the believer’s life—“all (modifies prepositional object) your conduct” (conduct=prepositional object).

(s) “since”= causal subordinate clause. This case implies that the previous exhortation is derived from the following OT quotation. “It is written” is a finite verb in the perfect tense, meaning that it identifies something in the past with present ramifications.

(t) “You shall be holy” is written in the future tense, indicating an action completed in the future (i.e., complete, final holiness).

(u) “for”= conjunction, providing the basis for future holiness.—“I AM holy”= origin of holiness.

Big Picture Analysis: Synthesizing the Data

Introduction

1 Peter was written as an exhortation to weary saints to stand firm in the face of suffering and temptation, remain holy in all areas of life, and live hopefully in light of the coming grace of Christ at His return. As such, it is an extremely practical letter and should have left no questions in the minds of the original audience as to what Peter was urging them to do. These were a people living amid a hostile culture toward Christianity in general, and things were about to worsen. In chapter four of his letter, Peter instructs the readers to “not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you, as though something strange were happening…” (4:12). This mirrors language utilized in the first chapter that claims such trials are “necessary” to test the genuineness of one’s faith (see 1:6). The result is that of rejoicing. First, because they are sharing in the sufferings of our Lord, and second because it builds immense anticipation for His coming when their faith is rewarded, and His glory is revealed (1:7; 4:13).

As we know from the annals of history, within a year (or less) of Peter writing this letter, widespread persecution broke out in the Roman Empire against Christians under the command of Emperor Nero. Thus, the letter itself would be a prized commodity amongst the Christian community, as it provided much-needed encouragement and exhortation in facing this great trial. It is no mistake that the Spirit prompted Peter to write at the time He did. The Lord knew what was coming and, in His great mercy, sought to prepare the Church beforehand. Not only that, but this letter provides timeless aid to God’s people of all times, places, and circumstances.

The Life of a Pilgrim

Living hopefully in a world that seeks to deter hope is the overall theme of 1 Peter. As such, we would expect the Apostle to point back to his theme frequently as the letter develops. And this he most certainly does. In fact, Peter essentially utilizes the first 12 verses of the Epistle to develop an informed theology of the content of Christian hope. From there (beginning in verse 13), he presents practical exhortation that forms the thrust of the rest of the Book.

Because these opening remarks carry such weight, it is important to understand exactly how they contribute to the Book as a whole. We have already noted the theological significance that hope carries in the life of Christian pilgrims. Peter begins by addressing his audience as the “elect exiles of the Dispersion” (1:1). However, so that we do not think this to be an isolated incident, we can also trace this theme to other areas of the letter as well. In 1:17, the readers are called to conduct themselves with fear throughout their “time of…exile.” In 2:11, Peter urges the audience as “sojourners and exiles” to abstain from the passions of the flesh. Furthermore, as previously mentioned, the reference to Babylon at the end of the letter (5:13) serves as another reminder of exilic conditions.

Simply put, at all points in history, God’s people have been exiles in a world that can never truly be called their home. As the old saying goes, “we are in the world but not of it.” Our temporary residence on earth will one day be replaced with an eternal home in heaven. Until that day, we must keep ourselves from holding too tightly to the things of earth. Possessions, loved ones, status, wealth, and even our lives can be taken at a moment’s notice. Thus, developing a pilgrim necessitates hopeful living.

This was true of the saints of old as well. The patriarch Abraham looked forward to the city of God that was to come (see Heb. 11:10). In fact, the writer to the Hebrews speaks explicitly of this when he takes not of the Patriarchal hope in a heavenly homeland. In Hebrews 11:13-16, we read that:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city.

Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, Daniel, and all the rest of the Old Testament saints looked forward to a time when they would receive their reward. A reward promised by God and reserved in heaven for them. The world was not worthy of such men (Heb. 11:38), nor has it been worthy of any individual who is known of God since. We also fall into this category of men and women currently without a home to call our own.

Our hope should not rest in fulfilling the promise of Heaven in the here and now, though we, as Christians, should live individually to reflect this as much as we can. There is coming a day when the Kingdom of God will be fully realized, and the people of God will see the end of their time in exile. So, with our sight set on this future grace, we are to live as faithful pilgrims while we await the triumphant return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Setting the Stage for Hope

At this point, having made a case for pilgrim living, which highlights the necessity for hope in a permanent, future homeland, it would do us well to examine the theological foundations for hope that Peter establishes in the rest of his introduction. Quite to the contrary of wishful thinking, the Apostle presents us with the reality of being born again to a “living hope” (1:3b) built upon the assurance of Christ’s resurrection from the dead (1:3c). Notice how Peter presents Christ’s resurrection as the basis of Christian hope. It is through Christ’s resurrection that we hope to obtain an imperishable and undefiled inheritance that will not fade away (v. 4). We have hope in the reality that we are “protected by the power of God through faith,” and the outcome of our faith (namely, the salvation of our souls [see v. 9]) will be revealed, “in the last time” (v. 5). In hope, we rejoice, even amid various yet necessary trials (v. 6), knowing that our faith will “result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (v. 7). These marvelous truths are derived from the reality of Christ’s resurrection, which, in turn, gives the believer hope in their fulfillment.

The believer’s hope has always been rooted in the promises and works of God. Although the New Testament word “hope” does not have a perfect Old Testament counterpart, the concept of hope (or hoping) courses through the veins of the Old Testament. The ISBE offers a helpful note on this subject,

This lack of a specific word for hope has nothing to do with any undervaluation of the virtue among the Hebrews. For the religion of the OT is of all things a religion of hope, centered in God, from whom all deliverance and blessings are confidently expected (Jer. 17:17; Joel 3:16; Ps. 31:24; 33:18, 22; 39:7, etc.). The varieties of this hope are countless, but the form most perfected and with fundamental significance for the NT is the firm trust that at a time appointed God, in person or through His representative [the Messiah], will establish a kingdom of righteousness.[20]

In light of this, one cannot help but see how hopeful expectation in God’s work and promises demonstrates itself through the Patriarchs, Moses, David, or the Prophets. Such hope was not a product of man, and it did not rely on “peachy” circumstances to hold its ground. Even amid the horrors that ensued as a result of the Babylonian invasion, the prophet Jeremiah was able to say:

The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the Lord. (Lam. 3:22-26).

What on earth could make a man who has experienced so much grief say something like this? The answer is simple—hope. Jeremiah looked beyond his present circumstances and saw the glorious, once-and-for-all deliverance of Yahweh on the horizon. Thus, Jeremiah’s hoping in future grace gave way to victorious, holy, and grateful living in the present. Peter (and the rest of the NT writers) pick up on this significantly throughout the New Testament.

This leads to another important factor to notice. Namely, the hope Peter emphasizes is eschatological in nature. Such an emphasis implies that we are not necessarily experiencing the fullness of our hope’s object at this present time.[21] Our hope anticipates a future salvation. That is not to say that salvation does not have any bearing on the present, but our salvation’s completeness will not be fully realized until Christ returns.

The Apostle Paul highlights this point in Romans 8. He mentions specifically in verse 24 that we have been saved “in hope…but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?” In other words, hope is only necessary if the object hoped for is unavailable in the present. Once the object of hope arrives, hope becomes an unnecessary component in our relationship to the object, as the enjoyment of the object takes its place. In turn, it makes sense that when Paul describes the three abiding Christian virtues, he places a greater emphasis on love (see 1 Cor. 13:13). Faith and hope are of insurmountable value to the believer in this present age, but there will come a day when they will become altogether unnecessary in light of the coming of Christ—the object of our faith and hope. Thus, “if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance, we wait eagerly for it” (Rom. 8:25).

Peter further notes in verses 10-12 that the prophets looked forward to this future salvation in hope. They knew that “they were not serving themselves,” but rather, they prophesied of “the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.” Thus, the prophets also possessed an eschatological hope in the future anticipation of final (complete) salvation. The only difference consists in the amount of revelation to which they had access. With the coming of Christ, we now have a clearer picture of the object hoped for, leading to a heightened urgency to hope. Nevertheless, hope itself remains unchanged.

A Call to Hopeful Living

This brings us to our passage in focus—1 Peter 1:13-16. The entire passage reads as follows.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to your at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Here we find that verse 13 begins with the inferential conjunction “therefore” (Gk. Διὸ), implying that the following discourse is derived from the preceding content. It is as if Peter is saying, “I have given you the foundation of your hope; now, here is how you are to respond.” How then does the Apostle begin his instruction? “Preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded…” At first glance, these may seem like commands in themselves. However, these are actually participles that modify the main verb of verse 13, which is “fix your hope” (Gk. ἐλπίσατε). In turn, these two participles, along with the main verb, should be read as a single command. Schreiner points out that “The participles should be understood…as subordinate to the main verb and…should be construed as instrumental participles. Hence, the verse should read, ‘Set your hope fully on the grace…by preparing your minds for action and by being sober.’”[22]

What we have here is a command to hope. Again, Peter does not define hope as an abstract concept; rather, it is a living, vibrant, expectant hope that governs our way of life. Hiebert notes that “The hope called for is a personal attitude of expectant reliance on what God has promised He will yet do. The verb [ἐλπίσατε] conveys “a sense of confident expectation, an expectation strong enough for one to act on the basis of it.”[23] The two participles provide the parameters by which one can accomplish the command to hope.

“Preparing your mind” (Lit. having girded up) connotes the idea of decisive action. The aorist tense of this participle presents “a completed action in preparation for a course of activity, a strenuous life of obedience.”[24] “Being sober-minded” does not necessarily refer to the absence of alcohol-induced intoxication (although that would be implied). Rather, the figurative usage demands that the overall mindset of one who envelops this action of hopeful living is one of seriousness and self-control. Peter uses this same phrase two other times in this letter. In 4:7, he emphasizes this state of mind concerning how we should live in light of the last days. In 5:8, he points out that sober-mindedness is of great necessity in resisting the devil’s schemes. In turn, “preparing [the] mind” and “being sober-minded” are the mental disciplines required to “fix [our] hope.”

Upon what, then, are we to fix our hope? “The grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Future grace, resulting in “praise, glory, and honor” (v. 7), will be received by the believer when Christ returns. This is the object of hope’s attention. It is the greatest incentive for the believer to live as he ought in this present world. Perfect, complete, final, eschatological grace will come to every one of God’s “elect exiles” when our Lord returns to establish His Kingdom on earth. At this time, our imperishable and undefiled inheritance will arrive (v. 4), and our final salvation will be realized (v. 5, 9). Preparedness of mind and sober-mindedness are the means by which we fix our hope on this future grace in the present.

A Call to Holy Living

In verses 14-16, Peter identifies this hope, not as an end in itself, but as the means to holy living in the present. Verse 14 refers to believers as “obedient children” (Lit. children of obedience). This is more than just a recognition of the reader’s conduct of obedience.[25] Instead, it is a means of expressing the relationship that the audience has with their heavenly Father. As those who have been “born again” (v. 3), the believer is one who is characterized as having a special relationship with God the Father. Thus, “Peter’s reminder of the father-child theme in this context (vv. 14, 17) is appropriate, for it is the nature of children to want to imitate their parents. Christians should delight in imitating God, both because he is their Father and because his moral excellence is inherently beautiful and desirable—to be like him is the best way to be.”[26]

“Do not be conformed” operates similarly as “preparing your minds” and “being sober-minded.” It is a participle phrase that is dependent on the main verb found in verse 15 (“be holy”). As such, it would be better translated as “not conforming to the passions…” so as to highlight the negative aspect of the command “be holy.” So the idea being expressed here is literally, “Be holy by not conforming yourself to the passions of your former ignorance.”

At one time, we lived in ignorance, being conformed to passions, or lusts, that are characteristic of a world that has set itself against God. Now, by the “great mercy of God,” we have been “born again to a living hope” (v. 3) that is built upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In light of this, our minds are prepared for action; we are living soberly, and, as a result, our hope is fixed on the future grace that will be revealed at Christ’s coming. The inevitable result of such a transformation will be demonstrated through a concentrated life of holiness. Nothing less will do, as we are to imitate the one who called us, and He Himself is holy.

Holiness does not primarily imply moral perfection or absolute righteousness, although these are most certainly involved. Instead, holiness emphasizes that someone or something has been set apart. In relation to God, we find that holiness is a key (if not, the key) attribute that God possesses. The Seraphim in Isaiah 6 do not cry one another “love, love, love,”  “grace, grace, grace,” or even “sovereign, sovereign, sovereign.” Their worship is centered around the holiness of God. That is why they cry out “holy, holy, holy” (Isa. 6:3).

Additionally, the concept of holiness was strongly emphasized concerning the nation of Israel. From the beginning, Israel was marked as a people set apart unto God for His own purposes. Thus, it only makes sense that the people of God should be holy, just as God Himself is. Peter now takes this concept of holiness that applied to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament and applies it freely to the New Testament Church.

In verse 16, the Apostle draws from the Septuagint reading of Leviticus 19:2, which reads, “You shall be holy, for I AM holy.” (hagios esesthe, hoti hagios [eimi]).[27] I favor the approach demonstrated by Schreiner and Hiebert that takes this quotation as being demonstrative of the overall theme of Leviticus.[28] God’s holiness sets Him apart from all that He created. It demonstrates His absolute “otherness.” As such, the believer is unable to attain the same level of holiness that God Himself possesses, as this would make him equal to God. Instead, we are to imitate God’s holiness by remaining set apart from the world (as described in verse 14), and separated unto the Lord for His purposes. This is what Moses taught the Israelites when it came to how they interacted with neighboring nations, who were undoubtedly pagan.

Peter further emphasizes the idea of hopeful and holy living in 2:8 when he says that, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

Application for Believer’s in the 21st Century

Live Hopeful Lives

The call to hopeful living is relevant to God’s people, no matter “when” or “where” they may exist. It can be easy to look at the world around us and become discouraged with the way things are. All one needs to do is turn on the evening news to see the brokenness of this world. Murder, rape, corruption, greed, violence, lies, profanity, sex, apathy, envy, theft, riots, and numerous other evils fill the airwaves on any given day. Furthermore, many of these evils that are considered unthinkable on the evening news are, in turn, celebrated and consumed for “entertainment” purposes when they come in the form of movies, music, novels, and television programming.

Unfortunately, this has led many well-meaning Christians to set their hope on political policies as a means of “fixing” things. However, the one thing that is often overlooked is that such sin resides in men’s hearts. Policies implemented by even the most conservative politicians cannot affect change at a heart level. Furthermore, many of the same Christians who want to see real change in this world have fallen prey to the belief (although it may be a subconscious belief) that Edenic conditions can be replicated in a sinful world.

In fact, the opposite is true. As we know, the world will continue to worsen as the time of Christ’s return draws near. Rather than encourage God’s people to hope in favorable conditions on earth, the Apostle draws our attention to future grace that will be ours at the coming of Christ. We are to passionately and unreservedly hope in this grace. The only way that is possible is if we have minds set on the things above (see Col. 3:1). A mind filled primarily with the concerns of this world—politics, bills, business, the economy, entertainment, vacations, etc.—will most certainly contribute to a life lacking in the hope that God desires us to have. Even the best of God’s good gifts in this present age, such as family, success, comfort, and good health, can become a snare if they are held too tightly.

Peter’s call to hope is one that sees beyond the losses, trials, persecutions, and tragedies of life and rests securely in the final fulfillment of the promises of God. The Apostle also does not condone an abstract form of hope; rather, it is a living, vibrant, expectant hope that is to govern our way of life. Hiebert takes note of this when he says that “The hope called for is a personal attitude of expectant reliance on what God has promised He will yet do.” The verb [ἐλπίσατε] conveys “a sense of confident expectation, an expectation strong enough for one to act on the basis of it.”[29]

As we seek to put this command into practice, we must begin by saturating our minds with rich, life-giving, Biblical truth. It does us no good to hope in a God that we do not know very well. If we know of the nature and character of God (as revealed in the Scriptures), then we have every reason to believe that He is more than capable of accomplishing all that He has promised to do. Moreover, if God’s promises are to be viewed as certain, absolute, and concrete (in accordance with his nature and character), should it not be of crucial importance for us to know the content of which those promises speak? Neither of these (knowing God and the substance of His promises) can be accomplished instantaneously. Thus, Peter sets us up for a lifetime of discipleship and sanctification, which, in turn, leads to an increasing hopefulness and anticipation of what God will yet do. When a true and increasing knowledge of the Living God takes hold of the mind, hope is the only logical response.

Until the day dawns, when our faith is replaced by sight, hope is one of the greatest weapons we possess in light of the trials of our present pilgrimage. As we await such a day, our hopeful lives are to give way to holy conduct and reverence during the remainder of our exile.

Live Holy Lives

Holiness unto the Lord is not a matter that is up for debate. God’s children are to exemplify the holiness that is characteristic of their Heavenly Father. Peter quotes from Leviticus 19:2 (You shall be holy, for I am holy) to form the basis of this command. That is not to say that we are called to perfection. God knows our struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil. What is being called for here is not perfection, but direction. We, as the people of God, should be consistently moving toward progression in kingdom conduct. Not only that, but the very concept of holiness implies a distinction from the world and its desires. If our Christianity causes us to look more and more like the world and less and less like Christ, then it is safe to say it is not Christianity that we are practicing.

Peter notes in chapter 4 that “the time past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this, they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you…” (4:3-4). This tells us that our conduct is to be distinct from that of the world around us. So much so, in fact, that those who are not of the kingdom to which we belong express shock that our conduct is altogether unlike their own. In light of this, Peter’s words complement those of the Apostle James when he says that “friendship with the world is enmity with God.” It also coincides with our Lord’s warning that we are to be concerned if all men speak well of us (see Lk. 6:26).

None of this is to say that we should develop a “holier-than-thou” complex that couldn’t care less about the world and the people in it. Quite to the contrary, we should be those who love and care the most! Men have set themselves against the Almighty and, as such, face unthinkable judgment. Our love and pity for them should be a reflection of the love and pity that Christ showed to us in our time of ignorance and rebellion. All of this is necessarily implied in the command to live holy lives.

In sum, holiness implies a distinct “otherness” in the life of the believer. The foundation upon which this command is built is the theme of holiness developed in the Old Testament as it relates to, first, God, and second, His chosen people. Hebrews 2:14 makes clear that without holiness, no one will see the Lord. Thus, we are to strive to live holy lives in the present age as we await the return of our precious Savior, Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

As we have seen, 1 Peter is much more than an outdated letter written to a bunch of people who lived a long time ago. It is a passionate plea to the Church of all times to lead lives characterized by hope in the living God. Such hope sees through the difficulties of this life and looks forward to the future grace that will be ours when Jesus Christ returns. It is also hope that forms the foundation for holy living, which is critical to the infrastructure of Christian living in general. Though we are currently unable to experience the fullness of glory in all of its splendor in the here and now, hope allows us to live in expectancy of this reality. Which, I would argue, is the next best thing!


[1] See Mt. 4:18; Mk. 1:16; Lk. 5:1-3

[2] Stein, Robert H. Luke. Vol. 24. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992, 168.

[3] Clowney, Edmond P. The Message of 1 Peter: The Way of the Cross. The Bible Speaks Today. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1988, 18.

[4] Ibid, 18.

[5] Hiebert, D. Edmond. 1 Peter. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1997.

[6] Grudem, Wayne A. 1 Peter: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 17. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1988.

[7] Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. Vol. 37. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003, 36. See also Hiebert, 1 Peter, 27.

[8] See, Eusebius of Caesaria. “The Church History of Eusebius.” In Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, translated by Arthur Chusman McGiffert, 1:132. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890, 132.

[9] Hiebert, 1 Peter, 27.

[10] Marshall, L. Howard. 1 Peter. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1991.

[11] I generally agree with this assessment, yet would add that I am hesitant to fully embrace the conclusions of Grudem on this subject. He affirms that an A.D. 64 date is unlikely due to Peter’s “generally positive view of civil government (referring to 2:13-17)…without further qualification.” (See Grudem, 1 Peter, 36). While I afree that the lack of any specific reference to Neronian persecution is a factor that favors an earlier date of authorship, I am hesitant to base this solely on Peter’s “generally positive view of Government.” Government, and specifically governmental authority, is an establishment instituted by God for specific purposes. Whether good or evil, they offer a reflection of His authority and dominion. Albeit in a limited (and, at times, severely flawed) way. Therefore, the institution of government is always to be honored in this sense, even when participating in acts of civil disobedience. That being said, I believe that Peter’s comments are general and would have been the same whether experiencing severe persecution or not.

[12] “Since Peter’s letter mentions Mark but not Paul, it seems unlikely that Paul was in Rome at the time it was written. By the same token, Paul does not mention Peter in his letters, even when he seems to be naming ‘the men of the circumcision’ (Phil. 2:20-21; Col. 4:10-11) who remained his faithful comrades.” (Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter, 23).

[13] See, for example, 1 Peter 1:18; 2:10; 4:3-4. These examples, highlighted by Grudem, would be difficult to apply to a primarily Jewish audience.

[14] See Hiebert, 1 Peter, 330.

[15] See Grudem, 1 Peter, 208.

[16] Woods, Guy N. A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles of Peter, Johnm and Jude. Gospel Advocate Co., 1991, 623.

[17] Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 251.

[18] “Offering thanksgiving” may be a bit of an oversimplification, as I believe that Peter sets the foundation of the rest of his epistle in his opening statements.

[19] Hiebert, 1 Peter, 28.

[20] See Easton, Burton Scott. “Hope.” Edited by James Orr, John L. Nuelsen, Edgar Y. Mullins, and Morris O. Evans. The International Standard Bible Encylopaedia. Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915.

[21] This is implied, for example, in verse 5 where Peter states that we are “being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (emphasis mine).

[22] Schreiner, 1, 2, Peter, Jude, 77-78.

[23] Hiebert, D. Edmond. 1 Peter. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1997, 91.

[24] Ibid, 90.

[25] Ibid, 93.

[26] Grudem, Wayne A. 1 Peter: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 17. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988, 85.

[27] Beale, G. K.; Carson, D. A. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007, 1017.

[28] Hiebert, 1 Peter, 97. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 80.

[29] Hiebert, 1 Peter, 91.