1 Peter 3
When I was a first-time mom, every once in a while I would leave Karalyn with a babysitter. I would leave detailed instructions of every single thing that I wanted that babysitter to know, from sleeping schedules to eating instructions to which toys and books she preferred. It was definitely overkill. Of course now that I’m a mother of six, when I get the chance to leave the kids, I just dump them off and run! As long as they’re alive when I get back, I call it successful!
1 Peter seems a lot like that long letter of detailed instructions. Remember, Peter is writing to the new believers in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Because they don’t have constant connectivity via text messages and facebook and email and cell phones, he has to get everything he wants to say into these two letters, 1 and 2 Peter. That’s why he tends to jump from idea to idea. He’s trying to fit everything in!
Husbands and Wives
First he has a few words for husbands and wives. As the good news of Jesus spread to Asia Minor, many Gentiles began to believe. But wives didn’t always convert at the same time as their husbands. That left many Christ-following wives married to unbelieving husbands. Given the accepted role of women in that culture as being subservient to their husbands, a conversion to Christianity by the wife proved to be a big problem in marriages.
Peter’s answer was simple. Wives, be subject to your own husbands. Don’t rebel, don’t nag or argue. He tells wives that their husbands can be won without a word when they see the respectful and pure conduct of their wives. But wouldn’t it be easier to talk about it- to discuss it? That’s usually our natural inclination as women. Husbands, be understanding of your wives and show honor to them as the weaker vessel and a co-heir with you in the grace of life. Wouldn’t it be easier to just let the women take care of everything and I can go hunt and grunt? That’s usually their natural inclination as men!
Think back to the Garden of Eden for a moment. Remember when Eve ate the fruit and shared some with Adam and he ate? God came and asked them what they had done and when it all came to light, God had a few choice words for Eve. In Genesis 3:16, God says “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” This wasn’t a curse just for Eve, this was a curse for the rest of womankind. (Thanks a lot, Eve!) Not only does childbearing HURT, our desire is for our husbands and they will rule over us! Now don’t get caught up in the word desire –this isn’t a sexual thing. No prophetic 50 Shades of Gray here. This desire for our husbands that we have is the desire to have their role as leader. Women now desire to be in charge, even though that’s not the way God planned for the family to function. Can you imagine that women were created to lovingly and willingly and happily submit to their husbands? That sure isn’t the case today, thanks to sin. It’s our sin that causes us to desire the role that God intended our husbands to have.
Following Christ means that we die to ourselves. Matthew 16:24 says “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” This means that we have to die daily to our natural desires. When we are tempted to desire the authority that truly belongs to our husbands in Christ Jesus, we must take those thoughts captive, make them obedient to Christ and choose death for ourselves. God’s design works much better than our own.
Peter starts verse 8 with the word “Finally”. He has taken time to give instructions to citizens and slaves and servants and husbands and wives and this is his final thought on matters of submission. He wants these new believers to have unity and love and humility and to bless each other. He then quotes from Psalm 34:12-16, using Old Testament Scripture to support the things he’s written. He reminds them about the blessings they will receive as they endure suffering for righteousness sake, a topic he spent a lot of time on at the beginning of this letter. He instructs them to always be prepared to give a gentle and respectful answer to anyone who asks them for a reason for the hope that is in them. He’s challenging them here to really live for Christ, not just giving lip-service to the cause, but to live it out every day, no matter what comes against them.
Christ Proclaims to Disobedient Spirits
And then we get to 1 Peter 3:18-22. I’ll be honest. I’m not quite sure how to interpret this passage. But apparently I’m not alone because I found this quote by Martin Luther in reference to these verses. Luther wrote, “A wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.” Well if Martin Luther doesn’t know what it means, I’m not sure that I have any hope for explaining it to you! But we’ll discuss what we can here. Read the passage and then read this:
There are many different acceptable theories about what this passage means – one commentary I read said there are 18 major theories. Verse 18 is pretty straightforward. It’s the gospel story. Jesus died for our sins, once for all, and made us alive with him in the spirit. Verse 19 and part of 20 says, “in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey…” This is the tricky part.
One theory is that sometime between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, he went to the place where disobedient supernatural powers are imprisoned and proclaimed his victory and their defeat.
Another theory (and the one that seems the most likely to me) is that this verse refers to Jesus speaking through Noah to those who lived in rebellion while Noah was building the ark.
A third theory (and one I reject entirely) is that in the time period between Christ’s death and resurrection, Christ descended into hell and proclaimed salvation, offering a second chance to those in hell. This directly contradicts other passages of Scripture that make it clear that Jesus did not in fact descend into hell during this time (Luke 23:43) and no second chances will be given after death (Hebrews 9:27).
One final theory is that this passage of Scripture refers to the Nephilim of Genesis 6:1-6, evil Spirits who came to earth and had sexual relations with human women. (Did you think the Bible was boring? Think again!!!) Christ would have been proclaiming to them his victory over angelic beings and spiritual powers.
When we come to a passage of Scripture that is just hard like this one, the important thing is not to nail down the exact right answer. There are biblical scholars and theologians who support each of these theories and not one single man or woman can be 100% sure that his viewpoint is the correct one. Some of you studied Seamless with us this summer and we looked at an overview of the entire Bible. While we were studying the Old Testament we read about how Jacob wrestled with a strange man throughout the night. Scripture makes it clear that this was a physical wrestling match with God himself and in the morning, Jacob walked away, but not without a mark of this wrestling match. From that night on, he walked with a limp, a sign that he had wrestled with God and had prevailed. Throughout the match he asked God to bless him, and in the end, He did. It’s okay for us to wrestle with God over hard things in the Bible. We aren’t supposed to know all the answers immediately. We’re not supposed to have it all together and understand it all. There is blessing in the wrestling! To read more about that, check out this post on the blog: The Blessing in Wrestling.
The last portion of this section of 1 Peter continues the illustration of Noah and his wife and their three sons and three daughters in law on the ark. Peter briefly mentions “baptism” here, which seems to merit more than just one or two verses, but remember, Peter is trying to get all of the instructions included in this letter. He doesn’t waste words at all. Verse 21 says “Baptism, which corresponds to this (Noah on the ark), now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”
Here Peter is telling us that in the same way that God carried Noah’s family through the waters of his wrath and safely into new life physically, baptism carries the new believer through the waters of God’s wrath and safely into new life spiritually. I asked Jesus to be the boss of my life when I was eight years old. I was baptized shortly after that. I consciously made a decision to make him my Lord and follow him in the example he set for us in believers baptism in Matthew 3:13-17.
There are two kinds of baptisms commonly practiced today. The first is infant baptism. Of course in infant baptism, the parents of a small child bring the child to a minister who usually sprinkles water on the child’s head for baptismal regeneration. One of the popular liturgies says, “Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this child is regenerate, and grafted into the body of Christ’s Church, let us give thanks.” Many people view this as a “dedication” ceremony for their infants, not tied to salvation. But many others view this as the means of salvation for infants. Infant baptism is not found in Scripture.
The second form of baptism commonly practiced today is believer’s baptism. This occurs when a child or adult makes a decision to follow Christ as Lord and desires to follow through with baptism, most often by immersion, as an outward sign of an inward change. Believer’s baptism occurs multiple times in Scripture, with Jesus being the most notable example in Matthew 3:13-17.
Peter makes it clear in verse 21 that there’s nothing in baptismal water that saves a person. Getting wet with water simply washes dirt off the body. What is important in baptism is that it is “an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” In other words, it’s the heart that is important in baptism. The body can get wet all day long and it’s just wet. The difference between baptism and a bath is that baptism requires a heart change. Without a change of heart, it’s just a bath, washing the dirt off. The Bible teaches that baptism is for those with a changed heart, which is why infant baptism is not a reflection of salvation. An infant cannot undergo such a change.
This verse which says “Baptism…now saves you” is quite often taken out of context. If you only read that one verse, it seems that baptism is the only requirement for salvation. No grace, no faith, just baptism. However, if that were the case, it would contradict so many Scriptures that proclaim otherwise. Scripture DOES NOT EVER contradict itself. Ephesians 2:8 says that it’s by grace that we have been saved and that it is not of works. There’s nothing we can do to merit salvation on our own, baptism included. So there must be another meaning to this verse and it is this: Baptism itself is important because it is an outward sign of an inward change. Without the change of heart, the belief in what Christ did when he died and rose again for you, it’s just a bath, not baptism. Baptism saves you because it is the evidence of a heart that belongs to Jesus Christ.
And for a really great sermon on this passage of Scripture by John Piper, check out this link:
I am very aware that many of my sisters in Christ in Community Bible Study come from denominations that practice infant baptism instead of believer’s baptism. I want to encourage you all (on both sides of the issue) to pick up your Bible and search for answers. Pray and ask God to show you the truth. Never accept a practice in your church as Biblically true just because it’s what you’ve always seen and heard and done. Ask questions. Search the Scriptures for answers. Talk to your pastors and your teachers and your friends. Wrestle with God. There is blessing in the wrestling!