Jesus summarized the entire Mosaic Law into two simple commandments that focused everyone’s attention on loving God and other people. He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-39). When God first spoke the Ten Commandments from the top of Mount Sinai, he intended that the children of Israel would become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6), but the Apostle Peter’s first letter indicated that never happened and that believers in Jesus Christ have become the treasured possession that God sought for himself (1 Peter 2:9). The details contained within the Mosaic Law were meant to provide specific examples of how to deal with the various conflicts that would inevitably arise from living in a close-knit community. Most of the laws dealt with conflicts between family members and neighbors that were interacting on a regular basis. They are still applicable today because the principles behind the laws are eternal and can prevent believers from harming the people they love.
At first glance, the laws about slaves might seem irrelevant, but Jesus’ messages about the kingdom of heaven clearly portrayed believers as servants (Matthew 10:24) and he often talked about doing God’s will in the context of a slave that was being obedient to his master (Matthew 18:22-35, 22:2-14, 25:14-30). The laws about slaves introduced an important principle that carries over into God’s plan of salvation, the redemption of souls. Exodus 21:7-11 states, “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.” This law partially explains why God hasn’t forsaken the people of Israel even though they haven’t met his expectations with regard to becoming a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
The nation of Israel was originally intended to be the bride of Christ, but the church has replaced it and now has the responsibility of making disciples of all the nations and teaching them all that Jesus commanded us to do (Matthew 28:18-20). The concept of redemption had to do with the liberation of human beings from slavery, but it can also be applied to sinful behavior and addictions to harmful substances. The Hebrew word that is translated redeemed in Exodus 21:8, padah (paw-daw’) means to release. “Padah indicates that some intervening or substitutionary action effects a release from an undesirable condition…When God is the subject of padah, the word emphasizes His complete, sovereign freedom to liberate human beings” (H6299). Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant portrayed God’s forgiveness of sins as something that should be reciprocated. After a servant that owed his master ten thousand talents was released from his debt, he went out and demanded payment from his fellow servant who was unable to pay him the small amount he owed. The parable states, “So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:29-35).
In addition to introducing the concept of redemption, the Mosaic Law also taught the Israelites about the principle of restitution. Although the laws that dealt with restitution may have seemed like common sense, it was necessary for them to be spelled out because of the natural human tendency to justify our own behavior, while at the same time condemning the actions of others. Exodus 21:33-34 states, “When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his” and “If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard. If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution” (Exodus 22:5-6). The Hebrew word that is translated full restitution, shalam (shaw-lam’) means “to be safe (in mind, body, or estate)…Shalam means to finish, complete, repay, reward. The Hebrew root denotes perfection in the sense that a condition or action is complete…Perfection and completeness is primarily attributed to God. He is deficient in nothing; His attributes are not marred by any shortcomings; His power is not limited by weakness” (H7999). Therefore, when a person makes full restitution, he is exhibiting godly behavior.
Peter’s first letter indicated that Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross, “that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). Essentially, what that meant was that we have been released from sin’s power to control our behavior and can live a godly life if we choose to. The Greek word that is translated die in the phrase “die to sin,” apogenomenos (ap-og-en-om’-en-os) means to be absent (G581) and seems to suggest that our sinful human nature has been removed, but Peter indicated that we might die to sin. In other words, dying to sin involves volition and is not guaranteed through Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. As hard as we may try to do things that please God, righteousness is not something that we can attain through our own efforts, it is something that is imputed to us, or credited to our account, because we have identified ourselves with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection through water baptism. As far as God is concerned, anyone that accepts Jesus as his or her Lord and Savior has fulfilled all the requirements of the Mosaic Law and will be rewarded with eternal life. What is left then is for us to reflect the character of Jesus through conscious choices that align us with God’s will.
Peter specifically addressed the conduct of husbands and wives and gave instructions to all believers that were intended to be a model for godly behavior. After stating that believers are to be subject to every human institution, Peter went on to say, “Likewise wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:1-4). The Greek word hupotasso (hoop-ot-as’-so) which is translated be subject “was originally a Greek military term meaning to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader. In non-military use, it was a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden” (G5293). Peter encouraged wives to be subject to their husbands so that if they weren’t believers they would be won over to the Lord without their wives having to say anything to them about being a follower of Christ. This was important in the time period in which Peter gave this instruction because Christians were being persecuted for their faith and wives were expected to conform to their husbands’ belief system.
Peter’s mention of a woman’s external adorning in contrast with her internal beauty was likely intended to point out that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was meant to transform our character and make us look different to the outside world. The Greek word kosmos (kos’-mos), which is translated adorning, is often used in connection with worldly people and sometimes is associated with a system of government that is opposed to Christ. The Apostle Paul used the word kosmos in his letter to the Ephesians to describe the former way of life that believers are expected to leave behind when they choose to follow Christ. Paul stated, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3, emphasis added). Peter indicated that wives should let their adorning be “the hidden person of the heart” (1 Peter 3:4). In that sense, adorning had to do with a woman’s attractiveness and Peter wanted women to know that the hidden person of the heart could be much more compelling to a man than the way she dressed herself.
The hidden person of the heart is connected with the mortal human nature that affects our behavior. When we think of ourselves exhibiting godly behavior, we have to realize that our mortal human nature is a hindrance to us becoming like Christ. Peter encouraged wives to display “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4). Imperishable beauty implies immortality and suggests that Peter was referring to the Holy Spirit when he talked about the hidden person of the heart. It could be that Peter meant for wives to rely on the Holy Spirit to make them godly women, but his comment about a gentle and quiet spirit being very precious to God seems to suggest that there is a volitional element involved in all godly behavior. The Greek word that is translated very precious, poluteles (pol-oo-tel-ace’) was used in Mark’s gospel to describe the ointment that Mary used to anoint Jesus (Mark 14:3). It seems likely that Peter was referring to a gentle and quiet spirit as being a type of spiritual sacrifice that pleases God and wanted women to know that godly behavior is more important to the Lord than any other type of sacrifice that a believer can make.
After he addressed the conduct of their wives, Peter told husbands, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). Peter made it clear that husbands should treat their wives as equals and should not expect their prayers to be answered if they were treating them with disrespect. Peter told men to “live with your wives in an understanding way.” An understanding way is one that is based on a comprehension of God’s word. Typically, men received instruction in the holy scriptures and then, passed the information along to their wives, but they were not required to and weren’t held accountable for their wives’ spiritual training. The Apostle Paul seemed to have a more liberal viewpoint than Peter about women’s involvement in the church and even identified Phebe as being a teacher of God’s word at Cenchrea (Romans 16:1). When Peter described wives as being the weaker vessel, he may have meant that they were at a disadvantage when it came to getting an education and didn’t typically have access to the Old Testament scriptures which were important for understanding the bigger picture of God’s plan of salvation.
In his general comment to all believers, Peter stated, “all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8). The qualities Peter identified were focused on the collective suffering of believers that was due to the persecution of the church. The Greek word that is translated sympathy, sumpathes (soom-path-ace’) is derived from the word sumpascho (soom-pas’-kho) which means “to experience pain jointly or of the same kind (specifically persecution; to sympathize)” (G4841). Peter continued, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). To bless someone means that you speak well of them. Peter indicated that believers are called to bless others which may have meant that believers were expected to intercede on behalf of unbelievers in order for them to receive salvation. Since Peter was referring to Christians blessing those who do evil to them, it seems likely that he was talking about the Roman officials that were persecuting the church, but Peter may have been thinking about the internal conflict that was taking place within the Jewish community.
Peter’s first letter was most likely written in the AD 60s not long before the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jewish nation ceased to exist. Peter addressed his letter to the Jewish exiles in “the five Roman provinces in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) north of the Taursus Mountains (Introduction to the first letter of Peter, p. 1418). This particular group of Jews had already left the land of Israel and were living among foreigners which made them particularly vulnerable to outside pressure to conform to the Roman government’s way of doing things. Peter asked, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:13-17).
Having a good conscience is something that happens when we exhibit godly behavior. The Greek word that is translated conscience in 1 Peter 3:16 is suneidesis (soon-i’-day-sis) which means “co-perception, i.e. moral consciousness…Suneidesis literally means ‘a knowing,’ a co-knowledge with one’s self, the witness borne to one’s conduct by conscience, that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God, as that which is designed to govern our lives. The word is stressing that we receive input from our surroundings [temptations, decision-making events, etc.] and we are driven to make a decision. We compare what we know with our conscience [con – ‘with’, science ‘knowledge’], our knowledge base about this input. If we follow our conscience we act according to what we know to be true about the situation and the consequences/blessings of our decision. We can violate our conscience by overriding that knowledge” (G4893). That’s why Paul said that we need “to put off the old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
Peter explained that water baptism does not wash our sins away like when we take a bath to clean ourselves, but makes it possible for us to put on the righteousness of Christ. Using the ark that saved Noah and his family from the flood as an example, Peter said, “Baptism which corresponds to this, 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, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with the angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Peter 3:21-22). Essentially, what Peter was saying was that when we get baptized we are expressing a desire to be cleansed from our sins and it is because of that act that God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us, resulting in a good or you might say clear conscience. The reason why Peter said that we are saved through baptism is because it protects us from being condemned by our own consciences when we stand before God in the final judgment and are asked to give an account of our actions during our lifetimes on earth (Matthew 25:31-46). When John the Baptist questioned Jesus’ desire to be baptized by him, Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).