|Tyndale Bulletin 41.2 (1990) 276-289.
THE USE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT FOR
CHRISTIAN ETHICS IN 1 PETER
Gene L. Green
How did the author of 1 Peter use the OT to develop Christian
ethics? In the quest for moral guidance for his readers he drew
from sections of OT teaching and did not quote or allude to this
teaching in isolation from its context. His selection of texts was
based upon the correlation between the situation of the people
of God in the OT and that of his readers. The teaching he
extrapolated from the OT was then developed in the author's
own terminology to show its relevance for the suffering
Christian communities in Asia Minor.1
I. The Readers and their Situation
There are few books in the NT which make more extensive use
of the OT than 1 Peter. This is rather surprising since the
Christian communities to which the author writes were not
composed of Jewish but rather Gentile converts.2 This is
evident from 4:3 where it is stated that the readers had done
the will of the Gentiles in the past. The list of vices Peter
enumerates includes idolatry and focuses on sins connected with
sexual and alcoholic excess. In 1:18 Peter reminds his readers
that they were redeemed from this 'vain' way of life inherited
from their forefathers. The word used is μάταιος which was
often employed in critiques of pagan cult idolatry, a background
which is probably reflected here.3 And 1:14 calls the readers
1 The most comprehensive examination of the hermeneutic of 1 Peter is W.L.
Schutter, Hermeneutic and Composition in 1 Peter (Tübingen, J.C.B. Mohr [Paul
Siebeckl 1989). Schutter, however, does not deal specifically with the question
of the use of the OT in the development of the ethical exhortation.
2 Longenecker classifies 1 Peter as a Jewish Christian tractate and states that
the NT authors made extensive appeal to the OT only when their audience was
primarily Jewish. Richard Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic
Period (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans 1975) 186ff, 210ff. But the audience which
1 Peter addressed was manifestly Gentile.
3 See W. C. van Unnik, 'The Critique of Paganism in 1 Peter 1:18',
Neotestamentica et Semitica, (ed.) E. Earle Ellis and Max Wilcox (Edinburgh,
T. T. Clark, 1969) 129-142; TDNT, 4.521f.
GREEN: OT and Christian Ethics in 1 Peter 277
not to be conformed to their former lustful life which they lived
in ignorance, undoubtedly a reference to their ignorance of the
true God.4 The descriptions of the reader's past state makes it
highly unlikely that the audience was in the main Jewish and
not Gentile.5 Yet despite their non-Jewish heritage, the
apostle draws on the OT at almost every turn in order to
interpret the working of God in the present time and to give
moral direction to his readers.
The adverse situation in which the readers find them-
selves heightens the need for a proper understanding of God's
work and the Christian's moral obligations.6 The Christian
communities were being persecuted by the society whose life-
style they had rejected (4:3, 4). The social pressure was intense
as the Christians were spoken evil of (2:12; 3:16), reviled (3:9),
insulted (3:16), blasphemed (4:4), and denounced (4:14). They
were in a vulnerable position where at any time they may be
called to give an account of their faith (3:15, 16).7 While
4 Acts 3:17; 17:30; Eph. 4:18. L. Goppelt, Der Erste Petrusbrief (Göttingen,
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1978) 117 states, 'Er will janicht die Formen des
geschichtlichen Lebens als solche ablehnen, sondern nur ihre Prägung durch
ἄγνοια, "Unwissenheit", and tineuitta, "Begehre". Beides ist nach at.-jüdisch-
urchristlicher Tradition Kennzeichen des Heidentums.'
5 Some have suggested that the churches were mixed Jewish and Gentile
communities. J.N.D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and of Jude
(London, A. & C. Black 1969); E. G. Selwyn, The First Epistle of St. Peter
(London, Macmillan 1947); Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction
(Leicester, Apollos 19904); Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter (Leicester, IVP 1988) 38; John
H. Elliott, A Home for the Homeless (Philadelphia, Fortress Press 1981) 65-67.
The internal evidence does not lead to this conclusion.
6 The most useful, though conflicting, discussions of the sociological situation of
the readers can be found in Goppelt, Erste Petrusbrief ; David L. Balch, Let
Wives Be Submissive (Chico, California, Scholars Press 1981); Idem ,
'Hellenization/Acculturation in 1 Peter', Perspectives on First Peter (ed.)
Charles H. Talbert (Macon, Georgia, Mercer University Press 1986) 79-101;
Elliott, Home for the Homeless ; Idem, '1 Peter, Its Situation and Strategy: A
Discussion with David Balch', Perspectives on First Peter (ed.) Charles H.
Talbert (Macon, Georgia, Mercer University Press 1986) 61-78.
7 The persecutions represented in 1 Peter were non-official but rather those that
were the common lot of believers in the early church. On the nature of the
persecutions see E.G. Selwyn, 'The Persecutions in 1 Peter' NTS 1 (1950) 39-50;
Kelly, Epistles of Peter; Ernest Best, 1 Peter (London, Oliphants 1971); James
Moffatt, Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament (Edinburgh, T. &
T. Clark 1918); W.C. van Unnik, 'Peter, First Letter of ' IBD 3.758-66; Idem,
'Christianity According to 1 Peter', ET 68 (1956) 79-83; C.F.D. Moule, 'The
Nature and Purpose of 1 Peter' NTS 3 (1957-58) 1-11.
278 TYNDALE BULLETIN 41.2 (1990)
verbal abuse and social rejection were the main forms of perse-
cution, in some cases the hostility may have taken the form of
physical attacks (2:20; 3:6; 4:1). The pressures on the
Christians were especially acute where close social relation-
ships existed, viz. slaves/masters, husbands/wives (2:18-3:6).
The crux of the matter was their reaction to this social
rejection. They had begun to be ashamed of their faith (4:6).8
They were tempted to retaliate, (3:9; cf. 2:23), and to conform to
a more socially acceptable lifestyle, (4:2, 3; 1:14). In fact, the
goal of their adversary, the devil, was to lead them into
apostasy, (5:8, 9).9 Peter combats this problem with the
theology and ethics of the epistle. And with this situation
ever present in his mind he makes extensive use of the OT, both
as it interprets the deed of God and elaborates his demand.
II. The Sectional Use of the Old Testament
One of the most fascinating aspects of 1 Peter is the way the
author interprets the OT in his attempt to address the reader's
social and moral crisis. The most extensive quotation of the OT
is found in 1 Peter 3:10-12, taken from Psalm 33:13-17(LXX):
ὁ γὰρ θέλων ζωὴν ἀγαπᾶν
καὶ ἰδεῖν ἡμέρας ἀγαθὰς
παυσάτω τὴν γλῶσσαν ἀπὸ κακοῦ
καὶ χείλη τοῦ μὴ λαλῆσαι δόλον
ἐκκλινάτω δὲ ἀπὸ κακοῦ καὶ ποιησάτω ἀγαθόν
ζητησάτω εἰρήνην καὶ διωξάτω αὐτήν
ὅτι ὀφθαλμοὶ κυρίου ἐπὶ δικαίους
καὶ ὦτα αὐτοῦ εἰς δέησιν αὐτῶν
προόσωπον δὲ κυρίου ἐπὶ ποιοῦντας κακά.
For the one who desires to love life
And to see good days
Let him stop his tongue from evil
And his lips from speaking deceit,
8 The present imperative with μή implies that the action is already in progress
and must be stopped. J.H. Moulton, A Grammar of New Testament Greek 4 vols.
(Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark 1906-1976) 1.122.
9 van Unnik, 'Christianity', 81; Kelly, Epistles of Peter 9, 209f; F.W. Beare, The
First Epistle of Peter (Oxford, BasilBlackwell, 1970) 204; Best, 1 Peter 174;
Alan M. Stibbs and Andrew F. Walls, The First Epistle General of Peter
(London, Tyndale Press 1959) 172; J. Ramsey Michaels, I Peter (Waco, Texas,
Word Books 1988) 299.
GREEN: OT and Christian Ethics in 1 Peter 279
Let him turn from evil and do good
Let him seek peace and pursue it.
Because the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous
And his ears are open to their prayers
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
Peter's hermeneutic is distinctly literalist here, yet he takes
the liberty to mould the text in order to apply it—assuming
that the quotation comes from the LXX. In verse 10a he has
eliminated the interrogative particle of the LXX as well as the
words ἐστιν ἄνθρωπος (is the man). Also, ἀγαπῶν (loving) has
been changed to an infinitive connected with ζωήν (life) and the
words γάρ (for) and καί (and) have been added. So while the
LXX reads, 'Who is the man who desires life, loving to see good
days,' 1 Peter says, 'For the one who desires to love life and to
see good days, etc.' There has been a subtle shift of meaning, on
which Stibbs comments:
What he here writes does not, as in the psalm, describe simply the
man who desires a long life and a good one. Rather it describes the
man who wishes to live a life which he can love and find worthwhile, a
life that is not marked by endless frustration and boredom.10
Peter also give the quotation a distinctively eschatological
turn. For him ζωή (life) is not simply long life and prosperity,
but 'eternal life', the life really worth loving (cf. 3.7) and the
'good days' seem in context to be 'the days of future glory'.11 In
addition to these changes, the third person imperative is
inserted in the place of the second person imperative. Finally,
the imprecatory clause at the end of Psalm 33:17 has been
omitted, perhaps due to Peter's redemptive concern for the
unbelievers, even those who persecute the Christian commu-
nities:12 All these alterations betray Peter's deliberate
attempt to interpret the OT ethical instruction in the light of
his reader's present situation. He draws out the meaning of the
10 Stibbs-Walls, Peter 131.
11 Beare, Peter 161. So Kelly, Epistles of Peter 138; Michaels, I Peter 180.
12 1 Peter speaks of the judgment of the unbelievers (4:5,170 and displays the
hope that their verbal abuse will be silenced (2:15). But Peter also shows
concern for the redemption of those who do not believe (3:15f, 1; and perhaps
280 TYNDALE BULLETIN 41.2 (1990)
OT text for those who live in the present age of fulfilment. As
Manson has said, once the meaning of the OT text was found:
it becomes the clear duty to express it; and accurate reproduction of
the traditional wording of the Divine oracles took second place to
publication of what was held to be their essential meaning and
But why is our author drawn to quote these particular verses
from Psalm 33 in his moral instruction? Why not draw from the
myriad of other OT texts whose teaching would be just as
applicable? A clue to the answer can be found in the 1919
article by W. Bornemann in which he argues that 1 Peter is a
baptismal address based on Psalm 33 of the LXX.14 We need not
accept his theory regarding the baptismal occasion of the docu-
ment, nor his argument for the role of Silvanus as its author.15
But Bornemann's conclusion that 1 Peter was composed with
repeated reference to the psalm cannot be dismissed.16 Not
only is the psalm quoted in 1 Peter 3:10-12, but 2:3 (εἰ
ἐγεύσκασθε ὅτι χρηστὸς ὁ κύριος, Since you have tasted that
the Lord is kind) is a modified quotation from Psalm 33:9
(γεύσασθε καὶ ἴδετε ὅτι χρηστὸς ὁ κύριος, Taste and see that
the Lord is kind).17 Apart from these quotations, other
13 T.W. Manson, 'The Argument from Prophecy' JTS 46 (1945) 135ff.
14 W. Bornemann, 'Der erste Petrusbrief-eine Taufrede des Silvanus?' ZNW 19
15 See R.P. Martin, 'The Composition of 1 Peter in Recent Study' Vox Ev 1 (1962)
34ff; Best, 1Peter 20.
16 Schutter, Hermeneutic and Composition 44-49, questions Bornemann's
conclusion with regard to the influence of Psalm 33 on the teaching of the
epistle. He discusses each supposed parallel between the psalm and 1 Peter
and concludes that 'none of Bornemann's purported allusions to Ps. 34 are
sufficiently convincing so as to qualify more easily as evidence of dependence
than of biblically-patterned discourse, with the exception of several iterative
allusions that could hardly have been traced to the psalm unless its relevant
portion had been quoted in extenso (3:7, 13, 17 bis, 4:19).' (48) It cannot be denied
that taken individually most of the parallels between 1 Peter and Psalm 33
that Bornemann presents are not sufficiently strong to warrant his conclusion
concerning the influence of the Psalm on Peter's thought. But taken together
they show that there is something more than a 'tangential relationship to the
psalm' (ibid 47). As I will show, Peter tended to use sections of OT scripture
when he developed his ethics, and he exploited sections of text which
reflected a similar situation to that of his readers.
17 Peter adds the introductory particle εἰ and changes γεύσασθε into an
indicative. καὶ ἴδετε was omitted since it did not fit with his hunger imagery.
Bornemann suggests that καί ἴδετε may be echoed in 1:8, 'Petrusbrief' 147.
GREEN: OT and Christian Ethics in 1 Peter 281
allusions to Psalm 33 appear in the epistle. For example,
Peter 2:4 (πρὸς ὅν προσερξόμενοι, Coming to Him) echoes
Psalm 33:6 (προσέλθατε πρὸς αὐτόν, Come to Him). Parallel
themes appear in both documents, such as of the blessing of God
(1 Pet. 1:3; Ps. 33:2), the affliction of the righteous (1 Pet.1:6;
2:19-21, 23; 3:17; 4:12, 15, 19; 5:10; Ps. 33:7, 18, 20), and their joy
through affliction (1 Pet. 1.6, 8; 4:13; Ps. 33:4). The fear of the
Lord is a common element (1 Pet. 1:17; 2:17, 18; 3:2; Ps. 33:8, 10)
as is the necessity of hope (1 Pet. 1:3, 13, 21; 3:5, 15; Ps. 33:9, 23).
Both the psalmist and the author of 1 Peter turn their eyes to
the salvation of the Lord, though of course the latter gives this
concept eschatological significance(1 Pet. 1:5, 10; 2:2; 3:211;
Ps. 33:5, 7, 8, 18, 20). In both God's people are called 'holy ones’
(1 Pet. 1:15; 2:9; 3:5; Ps. 33:10) and 'aliens' (1 Pet. 1:17; 2:11;
Ps. 33:5). These and other parallels of thought and vocabu-
lary19 show that Peter did not draw out only a few verses of the
psalm as the basis for his ethical instruction for the persecuted
communities of Asia Minor. Rather he took into account the
whole of its thought and teaching.
A comparison of the indicated occasion of the psalm
with that of 1 Peter is instructive. Psalm 33, according to the
title, was a psalm of David. It was said to be written at the
time when he 'changed his face', or disguised his sanity, by
acting like a madman before his persecutor, Abimelech, the
king of Gath.20 While it is true that the psalm itself 'shows no
real connection with the event described'21 the supposed
background is in accord with the sentiments of the psalm.
Psalm 33 is rich with the themes of the persecution of the
righteous and the deliverance of the Lord. Its emphasis is upon
the proper attitudes of the righteous through their affliction,
such as the fear of the Lord, humility, doing good and seeking
peace. This is exactly the type of situation Peter had to
address. He chose to draw from this psalm for it spoke
18 3:21 may refer not only to eternal but temporal deliverance from hostile,
19 For a complete examination of the parallels see Bornemann, 'Petrusbrief'
20 A.A. Anderson, Psalms (London, Oliphants 1972) 1. 268 suggests that
Abimelech was the Semitic name for the king of Gath, Achisch.
282 TYNDALE BULLETIN 41.2 (1990)
specifically concerning how the people of God were to live in a
We are already familiar with this type of early
Christian exegesis form the seminal study of C.H. Dodd.22
Certain sections of the OT were employed to interpret the
Christ event and shape Christian theology.23 This method, I
believe, was drawn over into the field of ethics. A section of
the OT was used to interpret the situation of the Christian
community and to give direction to their moral life.
Psalm 33 is not the only OT section which Peter used.
Isaiah 8 is quoted in 1 Peter 2:8 (λίθος προσκόμματος καὶ
πέτρα σκανδάλου, A stone of stumbling and a rock to trip over)
and 3:14, 15 (τὸν δὲ φόβον αὐτῶν μὴ φοβηθῆτε μηδὲ
ταραχθῆτε, κύριον δὲ τὸν Χριστὸν ἁγιάσατε ἐν ταῖς
καρδίαις ὑμῶν, Do not be afraid of them neither be terrifed, but
reverence Christ as Lord in your hearts). This latter text is
taken from Isaiah 8:12b. Here again the text quoted seems to be
the LXX, with changes made by Peter in accordance with the
situation of the readers he addresses.24 But 1 Peter 2:8, which
is derived from Isaiah 8:14, does not appear to be a quotation
from the LXX but instead from the Hebrew text. This verse,
along the other 'stone' passages, made up one of the early testi-
monies used in first century Christian apologetics. With
repeated use in the church the Hebrew form became
standardized.25 These two texts from Isaiah 8 signal that our
author had this section of the prophet's message in mind when
22 C.H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures (London, Nisbet 1952).
23 See also Barnabas Lindars, New Testament Apologetic (London, SCM 1961) 4.
24 αὐτῶν (their) is substituted for αυτοῦ (his), οὐ is eliminated and οὐδὲ μή it is
exchanged for μηδέ. "In the Hebrew original the prophet and his disciples are
warned not to share the fears of the populace ('fear ye not their fear') or count
holy what they count holy, but to regard the Lord of hosts as holy and fear
Him alone. The Greek translator seems to have misunderstood the first part of
the passage and, substituting 'fear of him' for 'their fear', to have taken it as
an exhortation to the citizens of Jerusalem not to be afraid of the king of
Assyria, Kelly, Epistles of Peter 141ff. Peter sues the LXX meaning, although
the change of enemies form the king of Assyria to the gentile populace causes
him to alter αὐτοῦ (his) to areal, (their). Peter also adds τὸν Χριστόν
(Christ), making the reference to the κύριον (Lord) explicitly christological.
25 Cf. Rom. 9:33. Discussions of the 'stone' passages can be found in Dodd,
Scriptures; Lindars, Apologetic; E. Earle Ellis, Paul's Use of the Old Testament
(Edinburgh and London, Oliver and Boyd 1957).
GREEN: OT and Christian Ethics in 1 Peter 283
he composed his epistle. Other allusions to the thought
contained there can also be traced. The disobedient are singled
out (1 Pet. 2:8; 3:1, 20; 4:17; Is. 8:11) and the ones who believe or
trust in God are those who are granted aid and deliverance
(1 Pet. 1:5, 7, 9, 21; 5:9; Is. 8:14). The temple imagery is present
in both passages (1 Pet. 2:4, 5, 9; Is. 8:14) and they both speak of
the judgment of the persecutors (1 Pet. 4:5, 17,18; Is. 8:9, 10).
Most importantly, this section in Isaiah gives instruction for
those who face overwhelming hostility and stresses the proper
attitudes and conduct that the people of God are to adopt in the
face of great conflict. The parallels between the situation of
the prophet and his disciples and that of the persecuted
Christians in Asia Minor leads Peter to make use of this section
of the OT in the development of his ethical teaching.
Other sections which Peter may have had in mind
when he composed the epistle are Psalm 117, Isaiah 28, 40, and
53. Of these four, only Isaiah 53 is particularly relevant to the
question of the use of the OT in the development of Christian
ethics. There can be no doubt that Isaiah 52:13-53:12 was used
as a whole by the early church to interpret the Christ event.26
Peter alludes to it extensively in the Haustafel section of this
epistle. In 1 Peter 2:21-25 there are at least five reference to
Isaiah 53 (vs. 9-1 Pet. 2:22; v. 7-1 Pet. 2:2327; vv. 12, 4, 5-1 Pet.
2:24; v. 6-1 Pet. 2:25). Peter freely quotes the Isaiah material
before him to interpret the ministry of the Lord and the current
troubles of his readers. The suffering servant is Jesus Christ and
the sheep are the Gentiles to whom the apostle writes. The
passage is well suited to the author's purpose for it speaks of
the persecution of the righteous, God's deliverance, and the
conduct of the righteous under persecution.
Peter's exegesis of this passage, however, is somewhat
different than that of the others hitherto discussed. There is
no direct ethical command in Isaiah 53 for the people of God.
The picture is of the Righteous One suffering for the un-
righteous many. Yet our author extrapolates the ethical impli-
cations of the prophecy along an imitatio pattern. The
Christian slaves are to follow in Christ's footprints since he
26 See Lindars, Apologetic, 77ff.
27 Not a quotation, but the Isaiah passage does seem to be in mind.
284 TYNDALE BULLETIN 41.2 (1990)
left them an example (ὑπογραμμός). This means non-
retaliation, even though one suffers while doing good (1 Pet.
2:22f.). This teaching is translated into general instruction for
the whole community in 3:9: μὴ ἀποδιδόντος κακὸν ἀντὶ κακοῦ
ἤ λοιδορίαν ἀντὶ λοιδορίας (Do not return evil for evil, or
insult for insult).
Thus far, all the sections from the OT which Peter
referred to have had to do with the persecution of the elect,
the proper conduct under persecution, and the vindication of
God. Our author drew out the correspondences between God's
saving history, past and present, and where such analogies did
exist he adopted the teaching of the OT to give moral
instruction for his readers.
Peter's teaching about Sarah and the holy women of
old (3:5, 6) betrays a similar methodology. They were subject to
their husbands, and Sarah herself called Abraham κύριος
(Lord) (Gn. 18:12). For our author this indicated her obedience
to her husband.28 To be sure, Peter does not concern himself
with the whole of Genesis 18, nor does that section speak of the
suffering of the righteous in any way. Yet Peter sees a relation-
ship between Sarah and the Christian women. The corres-
pondence in history between Sarah and these women is made
explicit by the statement, 'whose [that is, Sarah's] children
you have become', 3:6.29 Thus her behaviour is to be imitated
by these women, even those who have non Christian husbands
(3:1, 2). There is a relationship here between the people of God
in the past and in the present. This indicates that Peter is not
merely concerned with pulling out any seemingly relevant
material from the OT, but rather his primary interest is in the
correspondences between people and situations in the redemp-
tive plan of God. Where such correspondences exist, the OT
teaching is paradigmatic for Christian behaviour. The moral
implications of these correspondences are developed on an
28 Perhaps there is a reflection here of rabbinic interpretation of Gn. 18:12. SB
3.764; Kelly, Epistles of Peter, 131; J.W.C. Wand, The General Epistles of St.
Peter and St. Jude (London, Methuen 1934) 91.
29 The punctuation of this verse is problematical. Does the author mean that by
virtue of their relationship with Sarah they are to act like her, or does he say
that be doing good and not fearing they become her children? See the UBS text.
GREEN: OT and Christian Ethics in 1 Peter 285
imitatio model, as well as by a literal application of OT moral
teaching to the readers of the epistle.
Another text which draws on the OT in the
development of Christian moral teaching is 1 Peter 1:16: διότι
γέγραπται [ὅτι] Ἅγιοι ἔσεσθε, ὅτι ἐγὼ ἅγίος (For it is
written, You shall be holy, because I am holy). This call to
holiness is the controlling imperative of the Holiness Code in
Leviticus, being repeated at various points in the teaching
(Lv. 11:44f.; 19:2; 20:7, 26). Peter's wording is closest to
Leviticus 19:2 and we may assume again that he is quoting from
the LXX. This observation is confirmed by the fact that both
Peter and Leviticus 19:2 follow the call to holiness with
instruction concerning the proper response to parental authority
(Lv. 19:3; 1 Pet. 1:17). Part of holiness is to fear one's parents,
whether the parent is human or divine (cf. 1 Pet. 1:3, 23; 2:2).
Once again Peter has a section of OT teaching in mind, albeit a
small section. But what correspondence is there, if any,
between this text in Leviticus and the situation of the readers
of the epistle? Leviticus 19:2a indicates that the call to
holiness was to be spoken in the gathering of the sons of Israel.
The context in which this call was given was the exodus from
Egypt (Lv. 11:44f.) and the separation of Israel from the
Gentiles (Lv. 20:26). According to Peter, the Christian
community is the new Israel, the people of God (1 Pet. 2:9, 10).
They have embarked on an exodus, not out of society (as the
Qumran sectaries) but out of the immorality of paganism.30 As
the call to holiness controls the teaching for those who
embarked on the exodus from Egypt, so the same call is applied
to those who are the new people of God, separated by the
redemption of Christ from immorality.
The OT quotation in this instance is signaled by the
words διότι γέγραπται (For it is written). The scripture says
they should be holy, therefore they must be holy. The text
itself is authoritative for the Christian communities in so far
as they are themselves the people of God. The correlation
30 L.Goppelt, Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans 1981-
82) 2. 165f. On the exodus imagery in 1 Peter see also F.L. Cross, 1 Peter: A
Paschal Liturgy (London, Mowbray 1954) 24-27; R.E. Nixon, The Exodus in the
New Testament (London, Tyndale Press 1963) 27f.
286 TYNDALE BULLETIN 41.2 (1990)
between the history of the people of God, old and new, gives
the context in which this imperative from scripture is applied
to their present situation.
Another place where Peter appeals to the OT to give
form and motive to his ethical teaching is 1 Peter 5:5b: [ὁ] θεὸς
ὑπερηφάνοις ἀντιτάσσεσται, ταπεινοῖς δὲ δίδωσιν χάριν,
(God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble). The
quotation is from Proverbs 3:34 which became common stock in
the paraenetic teaching of the early church (Jas. 4:6; Mt. 23:12).
Yet in 1 Peter there is another allusion to this chapter in
Proverbs which indicates that the author drew directly from
its teaching (Pr. 3:25 is reflected in 1 Pet. 3:6b).31 Due to the
epigrammatic nature of the proverbs we should not expect to
find the correspondences in this case between persons and
history. This has been the case with other OT texts which the
author has used in the development of his teaching.
To summarize, Peter's use of the OT in the development
of Christian ethics is based upon the correspondences which
occur in God's saving history. In 1 Peter the past activity of God
among his people is linked organically with his present
activity among the new people of God. As Kelly says, 'it is one
and the same God [who] is at work in history, bringing the same
purpose to ever fuller realization in the succession of personages
and events'.32 In so far as there are correlations between past
and present history, the imperative given to those in the past
becomes normative for the reader's present situation.
III. The Application of Old Testament Ethics
Peter's interpretation of the OT as a source for Christian ethics
is mostly of the literalist variety. Also, the theme of fulfil-
ment is prevalent in his use of the OT, as 1:10-12 indicates.
This is one of the clearest statements of the pesher type of
interpretation. But when it comes to the application of the OT
texts to the reader's present moral crisis, the author uses a
technique akin to midrashic exegesis. The OT text is cited and
31 Selwyn, First Epistle 408-10 suggests other parallels, none of which are
32 Kelly, Epistles of Peter 161. See also Oscar Cullmann, Salvation in History
(ET, London, SCM 1967) 134; Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis 94f.
GREEN: OT and Christian Ethics in 1 Peter 287
a commentary is developed upon it. We will examine briefly
In 1 Peter 3:10-12 the OT quotation of Psalm 33 centres
on three points of moral instruction: 1) Restraint of the tongue
(vs. 10b); 2) doing good while turning from evil (vs. 11a); 3)
seeking peace (vs. 11b). These three points are developed in
the ethical teaching, even being linked with other OT
material. The restraint of the tongue is a characteristic of the
suffering Christ. He had no guile in his mouth and did not
retaliate (1 Pet. 2:22, 23). This point is signaled in the author's
citation of Isaiah 53:9, with 'guile' (δόλος) being a common
element in this passage and in the Psalm 33 quotation. This
teaching may be reflected in 3:9 where the thought is taken a
step further (3:9 is primarily a translation into the imperative
of the attitude of Christ referred to in 2:23). Not only are they
to have no guile and to refrain from retaliation, but they are to
bless. In 2:1 the readers are told to put off all guile and evil
speaking. Perhaps the teaching of the psalm appears again in
3:15f where the readers are instructed to have a response for
everyone who asks them for an account of their hope, but in
meekness and fear.
Doing good while turning from evil is the second point
of the psalm (1 Pet. 3:11a). The call to 'do good' is a central
concept in the ethics of 1 Peter (2:12, 14, 15, 20; 3:6, 13, 16, 17;
4:19). Elliott has rightly suggested that 'It is not unlikely that
Peter's formulations, formations, and compounds to express the
idea of well-doing are adaptations of the thetical statement
which was quoted in altered form in 3:11, namely ψ 33:15.'33
Finally, the psalm's exhortation to seek peace and
pursue it (1 Pet. 3:11b) is developed through out the epistle in
the author's teaching concerning how they are to deal with
non-Christians, especially those who oppose them. Sub-
mission, non-retaliation, a meek reply, doing good even to the
evil are all approaches calculated to make for peace.
33 J.H. Elliott, The Elect and the Holy (Leiden, E.J. Brill 1966) 181. On the
meaning of "good works" in 1 Peter see W.D. van Unnik, 'The Teaching of Good
Works in 1 Peter', NTS 1(1954-55) 92-110; Idem, 'A Classical Parallel to 1 Peter
ii. 14', NTS 2 (1955-56) 198-202; Bruce W. Winter, 'The Public Honouring of
Christian Benefactors, Romans 13:3-4 and 1 Peter 2:14-15', JSNT 34 (1988)
288 TYNDALE BULLETIN 41.2 (1990)
Although εἰρήνη (peace) does not again appear in an ethical
context in the epistle, there is an over-riding conviction that
the Christians are to do things that make for peace.34
The methodology of the author seems to have been to
take the teaching of Psalm 33 and develop it fairly extensively
by incorporating it into the very fabric of his moral instruction.
Another passage in which a similar technique is used is
1:16, the call to holiness. The OT passage has been translated
into Peter's own language in 1:15: ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὸν καλέσαντα
ὑμᾶς ἅγιον καὶ αὐτοὶ ἅγιοι ἐν πάση ἀναστροφῇ γενήθητε
(But like the Holy One who called you is holy, even you be
holy in all your manner of life). Surprisingly, there are no
other imperatives in the epistle which call them to be ἅγιοι
(holy).35 And the idea of the imitation of God does not
explicitly reappear in any other passage. Yet it appears that
this passage is one of the principle imperatives of the epistle.
Instead of repeating the language of the imperative, he has
translated its thought into forms which are directly applicable
to the reader's situation. In 1:15 Peter says they are called to a
holy ἀναστροφή (lifestyle). The concept of the Christian
ἀναστροφή in other places in 1 Peter is connected with the
words καλή (noble) (2:11) and ἀγαθή (good) (3:16), and is
equivalent to 'doing good' (3:16, 17) and 'good works' (2:12).
The call to holiness is expounded in the repeated exhortation to
do good in all situations. Similarly, the imitation of God is
developed with reference to the imitation of the activity of
Christ (2:21ff).36 As C. H. Dodd said:
The New Testament idea of the imitation of Christ is a way of making
explicit what kinds of divine activity should be imitated by men, and
how, and why, and in what circumstances. . . To follow in His steps is to
have before us a truly human example, but it is also to have the divine
pattern made comprehensible and imitable. Hence, the imitation of
34 See B.W. Winter, 'Seek the welfare of the city": Social Ethics according to 1
Peter', Themelios 13 (1988) 91-94.
35 3.2 however, speaks of the Christian wives' ἁγνὴν ἀγαστροφήν (pure way of
life). The imperative in 3.15, κύριον δὲ τὸν Χριστὸν ἁγιάσατε, is best
interpreted as meaning they are to 'revere' Christ or 'acknowledge Him as
holy' (Mt. 6.9; Is. 19.23; Ez. 20.41; Ecclus. 26.4). Best, 1 Peter 133; Beare, Peter
164; Stibbs—Walls, Peter 135; Selwyn, First Epistle 192; Kelly, Epistles of Peter
142; Michaels, 1 Peter 187. Cf. TDNT 1. 112.
36 3.18 may reflect the imitatio idea as well.
GREEN: OT and Christian Ethics in 1 Peter 289
Christ, being the imitation of God Himself so far as God can be a
model to His creatures, becomes a mode of absolute ethics.37
Christ's life is the perfect pattern for the rejected community of
how to imitate God in their afflictions.
Out of this study a few basic points concerning Peter's use of the
OT in the development of Christian ethics have emerged.
First, he considered the adverse situation and the moral crisis
of his readers. Second, he appealed to sections of the OT which
for the most part reflected analogous situations in the life of
the ancient people of God. Third, in light of the corres-
pondences drawn between God's saving history in the past and
present the ethical teaching of the OT was adopted. The OT
teaching is normative for the Christian communities since they
stand in an organic relationship with the OT people of God.
Fourth, this material was then developed in the author's own
terminology and thought, explaining more explicitly its appli-
cation for the readers' present situation. In this time of crisis,
the OT had a living, authoritative message for the people of
37 C.H. Dodd, Gospel and Law (Cambridge, CUP 1951) 41f.