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1 Peter 3:13-22

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on May 21, 2017.

This passage is full of difficulties, allusions to apocryphal literature, and obscure references that make it easy to get lost in the process of interpretation. In fact, if the minister is not very careful, he or she will be found trying to find out who are the spirits in prison, why Jesus preached to them, and how His preaching affected them, among other difficulties. Rather than get lost in these obvious difficulties, it would be better for the minister to focus on what can be readily understood in the passage. By looking at the book as a whole and the context of the passage, the meaning of the passage can be discerned.

In 1 Peter suffering is a very common theme. In the very beginning of the book, believers are encouraged to endure trials and suffering just as the prophets had endured them. Not only does the concept of suffering appear in the opening of the book, but it is also found throughout the text. The word suffering appears twenty times in the book. Further, the author goes out of his way to use the term suffering when it is not necessary. For example, the author uses “suffering” instead of “death” in 4:1 when referring to the crucifixion of Jesus. In 3:18 there is good reason to believe “suffered” is the correct word instead of “died” as some translations use.

Now I Peter’s emphasis on suffering does not necessarily mean that this passage is about suffering, but the context leans heavily in that direction. Verse 13 begins by talking about the harm that could come to the believer and discusses suffering immediately. Not only that, the passage mentions Christ’s suffering repeatedly; and it is followed by another section on suffering beginning in 4:1. If one is to get to the heart of the passage’s meaning one must look at it in the context of suffering.

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