Birth into a Living Hope
Dr. Daniel A. Keating
The following brief
commentary from the First Letter of Peter, Chapter 1 is excerpted from
the book, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: 1 Peter, 2 Peter,
and Jude, by Dr. Daniel Keating, published by Baker Academic, 2011.
While it was written from a Roman Catholic perspective, the material can
be beneficial for Christians from other traditions as well. Dr. Keating
explains the aim of his commentary in the introduction to 1 Peter: “The
First Letter of Peter is a hidden gem, tucked away among the catholic epistles,
just waiting to be discovered. Overshadowed by the longer and weightier
letters of Paul, 1 Peter has often been neglected or undervalued. My aim
in this commentary is to aid the reader in discovering the riches of this
letter, in the hope that he or she may hear its proclamation of the gospel
anew and follow the call to suffer joyfully with Christ.” – ed.
The opening blessing of 1 Peter is one of the most inspiring passages
in the New Testament. Even in English translation, the powerful language
and dynamic movement of the text are striking. Just as in verse 2, Peter
offers his blessing in terms of the activity of the Father (vv. 3–5), the
Son (vv. 3, 7–8), and the Spirit (vv. 10–12). The blessing is at one and
the same time an offering of praise to God for his works and a proclamation
of God’s works. It is both a prayer and a proclamation, announcing key
themes that Peter will unfold in the remainder of the letter.
be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy
gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus
Christ from the dead, 4
an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven
for you 5
by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that
is ready to be revealed in the final time. 6
this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer
through various trials, 7so
that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable
even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor
at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8Although
you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now
yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,
you attain the goal of [your] faith, the salvation of your souls.
references: Exodus 20:6; 34:7; Proverbs 17:3; Sirach 2:5
NT references: Matthew
25:21; John 20:29; 2 Cor inthians 4:17
Peter opens with a Jewish prayer form called a berakah (Hebrew for
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
offering praise to God the Father, the source of mercy, for the benefits
Christians have received.23
It was precisely God’s mercy that was the basis for his covenants with
Moses and David.24
By speaking of God’s mercy as the basis for the blessings received in
Christ in the New Covenant, Peter strongly indicates continuity with the
action of God in the Old Covenant.
Peter gives praise to God the Father for two specific benefits. The
first is a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus
Christ from the dead. God the Father has given us a new birth25
through the resurrection of Jesus. Why the link between our new birth and
Christ’s resurrection? Because the resurrection of Christ is the cause
and source of our new birth into God’s people and household. This is why
baptism was normally celebrated in the early Church at Easter, the feast
of the resurrection.
Peter speaks of a living hope, a theme that recurs throughout
the letter (1:13, 21; 3:5, 15). This hope refers to the object of our hope,
namely, the full inheritance (v. 4) that we will receive when Jesus Christ
comes again (vv. 5, 7). It is a living hope because Jesus Christ
himself is alive, and we have come to life in him. As Peter says in 2:2,
we are like newborn babes, drinking pure spiritual milk, so that we “may
grow into salvation”: this is our living hope.
vv. 4–5: The second benefit
is an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.
The triad of adjectives powerfully conveys the security of our inheritance
in Christ.26 Whereas
all earthly treasure is subject to decay, Peter assures us that we have
an inheritance – eternal life in heaven – that cannot perish, that has
no stain or defect, and that will never lose its glory. Why? Because it
is kept in heaven for us by God himself, where no moth and rust
consume (Matthew 6:20).
Peter gives further assurance that even in this life we are safeguarded
through faith by the power of God, so we should not be afraid. It is
not only our future inheritance in heaven that is secure. Even now on earth
we ourselves are safeguarded through our faith in Christ, safeguarded,
that is, for a salvation that is ready to be revealed. Peter is
referring here to the second coming of Christ (see v. 7). “Salvation” is
the general term in 1 Peter that sums up all that we receive in Christ.
In some cases it refers to our present status in Christ that comes through
faith and baptism (3:21), but here it points to our future destiny that
will be ours when Christ returns (see also 1:9, 10; 2:2). For Peter, our
salvation is both present and future; it is something that we have already
entered into through faith and baptism but that will be completed only
when Christ comes again.
The final time refers to Christ’s return and the end of the world.
“Final,” or “last,” translates the Greek eschatos, from which we
derive eschatology, the account of the last things that will occur when
Christ comes again. “Time” translates kairos, a word that often
means God’s timely intervention according to his plan. In 1 Peter, kairos
clearly carries this sense (see 1:11; 4:17; 5:6); it refers to God’s providential
time when he will act. The “final time,” then, is that moment in human
history when God will intervene decisively through the return of Christ
and bring our salvation to completion.
Peter tells us further (1:23) that we have been “born anew, not from
perishable seed but from imperishable seed, through the living and abiding
word of God.” What does this mean? The logic is this. Every kind of seed
produces something of its own kind. Grass seed produces grass. Human seed
produces humans. In an analogical way, divine seed, the Word of God, produces
a new birth that brings about the fruits of divine life in us. This rebirth
is a remarkable thing: it is what makes us capable of being holy, of loving
one another, and of enduring suffering for Christ’s sake. But we have to
nourish and cultivate this seed, so that it might bear all the fruits of
God’s life in us.
Joy in the midst
vv. 6–7: Peter now introduces
a profound paradox: the presence of inexpressible joy in the midst of suffering.
He says first that we rejoice in this living hope, which is our
salvation, present and future. Who would not rejoice? But then he tells
us that now we must be ready to suffer through various trials,
even if only for a little while. This echoes Paul’s reference to
the “momentary light affliction” that is preparing us for “an eternal weight
of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Using a metaphor found frequently in the Old Testament (Job 23:10; Proverbs
17:3; Wisdom 3:5–7; Zech 13:9), Peter compares the testing of our faith
the purification of gold by fire. The sentence structure is difficult
to follow, but the point of the comparison is perfectly clear. If gold,
the most precious of earthly substances, requires purification, how much
more does our faith – more precious than any earthly gold – benefit from
the purifying fire of our trials. “For in fire gold is tested, and worthy
men in the crucible of humiliation” (Sirach 2:5).
The term genuineness is difficult to capture in one English word.
It really means “the genuine quality produced through testing.” The point
is this: through various trials faith is made more pure, just as gold in
the fire. When Jesus is revealed in his coming again, all these trials
will result in praise, glory, and honor for those who have endured
faithfully. They will hear the Lord say, “Well done, my good and faithful
servant” (Matthew 25:21).
vv. 8–9: Peter knows that
the Christians he is addressing have not seen Jesus with their own
eyes. Nonetheless, he reminds them that despite not seeing him, they came
to love him. And though they do not see him in the
present time either, yet they continue to believe in him. As Jesus
said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed”
(John 20:29). Faith and love are not dependent on seeing the risen Lord
with our eyes.
More than this, Peter says that they rejoice with an indescribable
and glorious joy in the present time. Despite serious trials, the living
hope they have in Christ brings profound joy. This is not the stoic, cheerless
attitude sometimes ascribed to Christians, but rather the deep joy that
comes from already possessing a foretaste of our heavenly inheritance.
And it is joy that has the upper hand here. Structurally, Peter surrounds
the promise of suffering (vv. 6b–7) with joy on either side (vv. 6a and
8). Suffering and trial are fenced in, so to speak, by the overwhelming
reality of the great joy that is ours even now in Christ.
Even though Christ is not yet seen, they attain the goal of their
which is the salvation of their souls. The verb is best rendered
by the English present progressive tense: they are attaining the
goal of their faith, even as they move toward that final goal. And
the goal is salvation, the full inheritance that will be ours when Christ
returns again. But what does Peter mean when he says “the salvation of
your souls”? “Soul” here should not be understood in contrast to the body,
as if only the spiritual part of us will be saved at the last day. To the
contrary, “soul” represents the inner and essential life of a human being
but does not exclude the body. The salvation of our souls is the salvation
of our entire lives, including our resurrected bodies.
How can joy coexist with suffering? In the natural order of things,
joy and happiness are equated with the absence of suffering. When
suffering arrives, sadness and grief naturally follow. Is Peter then being
incoherent when he speaks in one breath of “indescribable and glorious
joy” and the suffering of “various trials”? No, not if we take into account
the power of the gospel. Only through the gospel can we experience true
joy in the midst of suffering. Since we have a “new birth” and a “living
hope” within us, the trials of life need not quench our joy. Saint Francis
of Assisi is a remarkable example of this. He experienced what he called
“perfect joy” right in the middle of his most intense trials.
Peter is simply recasting here what Jesus said to his disciples: “Blessed
are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and
denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap
for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven” (Luke
6:22–23). Knowing profound joy even in the midst of genuine suffering is
a mark of the disciples of Jesus; it shows that we possess more than transient
enthusiasm. Even though we haven’t seen the risen Jesus with our eyes,
we do have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, and so we can “rejoice with
an indescribable and glorious joy.” As we experience and display this paradoxical
joy in the midst of trials, we give witness to those around us that the
gospel gives power to engage and overcome the sufferings of the world.
23 The berakah
is the standard form for Jewish blessings. For examples in both the Old
Testament and New Testament, see Gen 14:20; 1 Sam 25:32; Ezra 7:27; Ps
31:21; Dan 3:28; Luke 1:68; 2 Cor 1:3; Eph 1:3.
24 See Exod 20:6;
34:7; Deut 5:10; 2 Sam 7:15; Ps 89:28.
25 The ESV translates
this “caused us to be born again,” whereas the RSV has “we have been born
anew.” The verb here, “to give new birth” (anagennao), is unique
to 1 Peter in the Bible (occurring here and in 1:23), but it is synonymous
with the phrase in John 3:3, “to be born from above,” or “to be born again.”
26 In Greek, the three
words display a delightful alliteration: aphtharton, amianton, amaranton.
Dr. Daniel A. Keating (Doctor
of Philosophy, University of Oxford) is associate professor of theology
at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, USA and an elder of
The Servants of the Word,
a lay missionary brotherhood of men living single for the Lord.