Volume 46 - Issue 3

Genre-Sensitive Biblical Interpretation in 1 Peter

By Jordan Atkinson


This article argues that 1 Peter 1:10–12 contains Peter’s hermeneutic for interpreting Old Testament messianic prophecies in 1 Peter. Though the scholarly consensus is that these verses govern every use of Scripture throughout 1 Peter, an exegesis of 1 Peter 1:10–12 reveals that Peter only discusses Old Testament prophecy in these verses. In addition to quoting prophecies, though, Peter also quotes the Law and wisdom literature. The hermeneutic for the Law and wisdom literature in 1 Peter is distinct from that of prophecy and is a model for how Christians should continue to interpret biblical texts according to their genres.


1. Introduction

How does Peter interpret the OT in his first letter?1 Since 1 Peter features such a high concentration of OT quotations and allusions, the OT hermeneutic at work in this book may be profitably investigated. This epistle is also important for its explicit statement about the nature of OT prophecy in 1 Peter 1:10–12, where Peter claims that OT prophets prophesied about the grace that Christians receive because of Christ’s sufferings for them. Most scholars consider 1 Peter 1:10–12 to explain how Peter interprets the OT throughout the letter.2 However, these verses specifically concern OT prophecy, which is but one genre among many in the OT. Later in 1 Peter, he also cites passages from the OT Law and wisdom literature (Lev 19:2; Ps 34:12–16; Prov 3:34; 11:31).3 One therefore cannot assume that 1 Peter 1:10–12 governs these quotations. I contend that Peter’s hermeneutical statement in these verses specifically concerns the interpretation of specific OT prophecies and not the interpretation of other types of OT literature quoted later in 1 Peter.

To defend this thesis, I will first exegete 1 Peter 1:10–12. Abner Chou has rightly said, “Hermeneutical philosophy still rests upon our theology which is based upon our understanding of Scripture. Thus, in the end, the Bible becomes foundational for our hermeneutic.”4 Furthermore, though “some would suggest the starting point should be on the hermeneutical practices of the biblical authors’ contemporaries … the approach is inconsistent with our concern for authorial intent.”5 My contention that 1 Peter 1:10–12 concerns the interpretation of OT prophecy in particular, then, must be based first on an exegesis of 1 Peter 1:10–12. The consensus of other scholars that 1 Peter 1:10–12 contains Peter’s hermeneutical lens for the OT as a whole should then be seen as exegetically unsound. Finally, I will demonstrate that Peter’s interpretation of non-prophetic OT texts in the rest of this letter is distinct from his hermeneutical statement of 1:10–12, which concerns only OT messianic prophecies. These points together will show that 1:10–12 provides a hermeneutic for particular OT prophecies but not for OT texts of other genres. By recognizing Peter’s sensitivity to prophetic, legal, and wisdom texts, contemporary interpreters of Scripture may follow his apostolic example in being precise in our own interpretations of the OT literature.

2. Exegesis of 1 Peter 1:10–12

First Peter 1:10–12 concludes the long introductory sentence begun in 1:3 and describes the present nature of the “salvation” that Peter’s audience is presently “receiving,” even though it is “the goal of [their] faith” (v. 9).6 Both the dependence of the participle κομιζόμενοι (v. 9) on Christians’ present faith-induced joy (expressed by πιστεύοντες δὲ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε in v. 8) and the adverb νῦν (v. 12) indicate that the salvation, though not consummated until the second coming of Christ, is a present reality for the Christian readers of the epistle.7 Though numerous well-documented exegetical difficulties are present in verses 10–12, Peter’s main point in these verses is that Christians are privileged above not only OT prophets but also heavenly angels in their experience of God’s grace in salvation through the now-exalted Christ who suffered for them. Therefore, they should bless God (v. 3).8

Interpreters have debated the identity of “the prophets who prophesied about the grace to you” (1:10). Edward Selwyn made the most significant sustained argument that these prophets are first century Christian prophets rather than OT prophets in his 1946 commentary on 1 Peter.9 Among subsequent English-language scholars, Duane Warden is most notable for defending and bolstering Selwyn’s argument.10 Many other scholars, however, have rejected Selwyn’s argument and have continued to identify the prophets of 1 Peter 1:10–12 as OT prophets.11 The following additional evidence further supports these scholars’ arguments for considering the prophets of 1 Peter 1:10–12 to be OT prophets.

First, Selwyn is wrong that ἐξηραύνησαν “suggests work on written materials as in John 5:39.”12 As BDAG has shown, the verb ἐξεραυνάω means “to make careful inquiry.”13 The verb ἐξεραυνάω does not specify its object. Selwyn requiring ἐξεραυνάω to refer to searching “written materials” breaks the lexicographical rule that “the lexical meaning of a word is exactly what the word itself brings to the context and no more.”14 Selwyn’s assertion also fails to convince because in the only other biblical occurrence of ἐξεραυνάω, in Judges 18:2 (LXX), the object of ἐξεραυνάω is not any written materials but “the land” (τὴν γῆν).15 According to 1 Peter 1:10–12, God revealed to the OT prophets that they were prophesying about salvation and grace that would befall Christians instead of the prophets themselves or their contemporaries. Verse 11 claims that these prophets wanted more information about this salvation.16 Selwyn even admits this possibility: “if Jewish prophets are meant, indeed, then it is probably Daniel and the apocalyptic writers who are in mind rather than the prophets of the earlier periods.”17 In fact, Daniel “sought to understand” one of the visions he had (Dan 8:15 LXX: ἐζήτουν διανοηθῆναι), just as the prophets of 1 Peter 1:10 “sought” details “concerning this salvation” (Περὶ ἧς σωτηρίας ἐξεζήτησαν). Furthermore, after receiving his visions, Daniel asked, “What shall be the outcome of these things?” (Dan 12:8 ESV). Daniel thus fits Peter’s description of a prophet who “searched and made careful inquiry” about the visions given him (1 Pet 1:10). The OT does not explicitly ascribe such questions to other prophets like David or Isaiah, but Peter’s quotations of their messianic prophecies later in 1 Peter seems to indicate either that he surmised that they did ask these questions or that the Holy Spirit revealed that information to him.18

Second, Selwyn’s claim that the OT prophets’ “messages were emphatically for their own times, even when the prophets felt them to have a further meaning” and that their “ministry was primarily to their contemporaries” contradicts how the OT functions in 1 Peter.19 For example, the apostle quotes Isaiah as directly prophesying “the sufferings of Christ and the glories after these things” (1 Pet 1:11). Jesus is the “stone” that causes “stumbling” and “offense” in Isaiah 8:14 and the “chosen and precious cornerstone” of Isaiah 28:16 (1 Pet 2:4, 6, 8). The suffering servant of Isaiah 53 was likewise a messianic prophecy (1 Pet 2:21–25).20 Selwyn contends that Isaiah, as an OT prophet, ministered primarily to his contemporaries, but Peter does not interpret Isaiah in this way in this letter.

Finally, Warden’s attempt to strengthen Selwyn’s case that the prophets of 1 Peter 1:10 were acting like Christian prophets similarly fails to convince. According to Warden, Christian prophets exhort and edify churches, which “corresponds” to the way that the prophets of 1 Peter 1:12 “ministered not to themselves but to their readers.”21 However, the apostle uses OT prophecy to exhort Christians throughout 1 Peter. In his conclusion, he describes 1 Peter as a letter in which he “briefly wrote” to his audience, “exhorting” them to “stand firm” in “the true grace of God” (5:12). Specifically, in 1:22–25, Peter appeals to Isaiah 40:6–8 to describe the means by which Christians have been born again, which is the basis of the love that they should have for one another. In 2:4–8, he quotes Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22, and Isaiah 8:14 to encourage Christians to offer “spiritual sacrifices” because they are the temple being built on the cornerstone of Jesus Christ. In 2:21–25, Peter tells his audience that Jesus’s bearing of sins as prophesied in Isaiah 53 is exemplary for them, and they should follow his example by being subject to appropriate authorities.22 Then, in 3:14–15, Peter commands Christians directly from Isaiah 8:12–13. Therefore, exhorting the church is not a task unique to NT prophets but one that NT apostles and elders had in common with OT prophets.23

Peter, then, teaches in 1 Peter 1:10 that the OT prophets prophesied about the salvation and grace that Christians would experience. This salvation and grace would come through “the sufferings of Christ” (τὰ εἰς Χριστὸν παθήματα) and would be part of “the glories after these things” (v. 11). Selwyn and Warden both consider εἰς Χριστὸν παθήματα to refer to the suffering of Christians for Christ, and they use this interpretation to support their primary argument that verses 10–12 refer to Christian prophets, not OT prophets.24 However, many commentators have pointed out that τὰ εἰς Χριστὸν παθήματα (v. 11) is grammatically similar to εἰς ὑμᾶς χάριτος (v. 10); just as “you” receive grace, so Christ received “sufferings.”25 Warden has tried to deny this last point: “the verbal force inherent in the word ‘suffering’ is considerably stronger than it is in ‘grace.’”26 However, “grace” implies the giving of a gift.27 In the language of verses 10–12, Christians receive grace in the form of “salvation,” “glories,” and “the gospel” being preached to them, whereas Christ received “sufferings.” Warden also claims that εἰς in 1:25 and 2:14 means “in consideration of.”28 However the prepositional phrase εἰς ὑμᾶς in 1:25 identifies the recipients of the gospel; “the gospel was preached” not in consideration of but “to you.” The use of εἰς before ὑμᾶς in 1 Peter 1:25 “enhances … [and makes] it clearer how the nominal group functions.”29 The word εἰς must not be treated independent of ὑμᾶς, since “the headterm of the prepositional group is the nominalized element, not the preposition.”30 Admittedly, εἰς functions differently in 1 Peter 2:14. There εἰς ἐκδίκησιν κακοποιῶν ἔπαινον δὲ ἀγαθοποιῶν (“for the punishment of evildoers but the praise of those who do good”) communicates the purpose of the emperor “sending out” (πεμπομένοις) governors. Indeed, “purpose or result” is one of the circumstantial relationships that εἰς can convey.31 Warden’s error is to assume that εἰς must function identically in all of its uses in 1 Peter. On the contrary, as a preposition, εἰς has “expressive potential … [that] is immense, as the semantic potential … is almost inexhaustible.”32 Even in a letter as short as 1 Peter, the reader should expect to encounter the same preposition (εἰς) used in a variety of ways. In 1 Peter 1:10–11, εἰς ὑμᾶς χάριτος and τὰ εἰς Χριστὸν παθήματα alike indicate reception. Christians receive grace because Christ received prophesied sufferings and subsequent glorification.

The argument of 1 Peter 1:10–12 climaxes when the apostle says that the prophets “were serving these things not to themselves but to you, which have now been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, into which things angels long to look” (v. 12). Peter’s audience is privileged to live after the sufferings and exaltation of Christ. They have received the announcement of this good news, and it has resulted in their new birth and living hope that they have an imperishable inheritance in heaven that they will receive at the second coming of Christ (1:3–5). Not only did the OT prophets long to know the details of this good news, but the angels also at present “long to look” into the grace that Christians experience (v. 12). Most significantly, the same Spirit who “predicted the sufferings of Christ” to the prophets is the same “Holy Spirit sent from heaven” by whom Christian evangelists have “preached the gospel” to Peter’s audience (vv. 11–12).33 In 1:10–12, Peter claims that Christians live in the age in which OT prophecies are fulfilled and are therefore more privileged than either the OT prophets or even angels. This truth is the final reason why Christians should ascribe blessing to God (v. 3).

3. Scholarly Misapplication of 1 Peter 1:10–12

As argued above, 1 Peter 1:10–12 teaches that the OT prophets prophesied the death and resurrection of Christ and were thereby serving Christians rather than themselves. Many scholars have made a broader argument that this passage provides a schema for how the OT in general functions throughout 1 Peter. Schutter claims that 1:10–12 is “a key to the author’s hermeneutic.”34 McCartney refers to these verses as Peter’s “theoretical hermeneutic.”35 Joseph claims that 1:10–12 contains “the author’s theological hermeneutic of the OT.”36 Finally, Peter’s “scriptural hermeneutic [is] apparently expressed in these verses,” according to Sargent.37 Schutter argued for continuity between OT Israel and the NT church, and most scholars have followed him in this regard.38 Sargent, by contrast, considers discontinuity between OT Israel and the NT church to be predominant in 1 Peter.39 Though these scholars disagree about the mechanics of Peter’s OT hermeneutic, they agree that 1:1012 presents the author’s hermeneutic for interpreting and applying the OT in general in 1 Peter. However, this view does not describe with adequate precision how these verses function in relation to the rest of the letter.

In light of the above exegesis of 1 Peter 1:10–12, both scholars who emphasize continuity between OT Israel and the NT church and those who emphasize discontinuity go beyond what these verses actually teach about OT hermeneutics in 1 Peter. The exegesis above demonstrated that Peter claims that the OT prophecies about “the grace to you,” “the sufferings of Christ, and the glories after them” were prophesied for the benefit of Christians, who received them through faith when these things “were announced to you through those who preached the gospel” to them (1 Pet 1:10–12). However, Peter did not actually claim that his words were for interpreting all the OT. Rather, the hermeneutic of 1 Peter 1:10–12 applies to particular messianic OT prophecies.

Though he overemphasizes discontinuity between OT Israel and the NT church, Sargent is rightly concerned with affirming determinate meaning.40 Based on his interpretation of 1 Peter 1:10–12, he says, “It seems most unlikely that Peter thought of Scripture as having a prior referent.”41 Rather, “Scripture is … oriented toward [Christians] exclusively.”42 However, these claims are broader than Peter’s point in 1:10–12. The apostle does not claim that all of Scripture is oriented toward Christians “exclusively.” Nor does he write as though all Scripture had no referent except Christ and Christians. Rather, Peter claims that prophecies concerning the grace that Christians now enjoy or concerning Christ refers to Christian experience or Christ, respectively.

Though Schutter better emphasizes continuity over discontinuity in 1 Peter, he similarly overstates his case. He contends that Peter’s sufferings/glories schema operates “as an organizing principle in the way the author has read the Scriptures.”43 However, the letter’s first OT quotation, Leviticus 19:2 in 1 Peter 1:16, does not follow this pattern. Schutter admits, “The unwavering aim of the author [in 1:13–2:10] is to enunciate what Leviticus 19:2 means for his addressees in the light of the Christ-event.”44 He later describes Leviticus 19:2 as a “proof-text,” even though “the quotation is responsible for the introduction of the holiness terminology into the exposition.”45 Though its quotation initiates a portion of 1 Peter that later does feature Bible passages illustrating a general pattern of suffering to glory, Leviticus 19:2 itself does not contribute to that theme. This point undermines Schutter’s thesis about the centrality of 1 Peter 1:10–12 in describing the general OT hermeneutic at work throughout the letter, but it is consistent with 1:10–12. Peter’s point in these verses is not to explain his hermeneutic of the OT in general but to use his hermeneutic for particular OT prophecies to encourage Christians throughout Asia Minor.

As this analysis demonstrates, Peter is more precise in his hermeneutic than many of his recent interpreters. Though McCartney, like other scholars, wrongly considers 1 Peter 1:10–12 to contain Peter’s hermeneutic for the OT as a whole, he rightly distinguishes Peter’s “practical hermeneutic” (how individual OT quotations function in the letter) from Peter’s “theoretical hermeneutic” (the discussion of OT prophets in 1:10–12).46 As noted above, scholars disagree whether 1 Peter 1:10–12 indicates continuity between OT Israel and the NT church. However, they all argue that Peter’s use of Isaiah throughout the letter is consistent with the hermeneutic of 1:10–12.47 I seek to contribute to Petrine scholarship a recognition that the hermeneutic of 1:10–12 concerns OT prophecy, not OT law or wisdom literature. To make this particular point, the remainder of this article examines quotations from the Pentateuch, Psalm 34, and Proverbs in 1 Peter and shows that Peter interprets these passages as Law and wisdom literature, not as prophecies.48

4. The Interpretation of OT Law and Wisdom Literature in 1 Peter

The first OT quotation in 1 Peter is not from the Prophets but the Law. The apostle cites Leviticus 19:2 as the basis for his exhortation to holiness: “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet 1:15–16). His interpretation of Leviticus 19:2 is distinct from the hermeneutic for OT prophecies given in 1 Peter 1:10–12, as this legal text does not function as a prediction of Christ or as a prophecy exclusively for the benefit of Christians. As noted above, Schutter does not claim that Leviticus 19:2 follows the schema of 1 Peter 1:10–12.49 Sargent, by contrast, does consider Peter’s use of Leviticus 19:2 to be consistent with the single-referent prophecies described in 1 Peter 1:10–12: “Whilst it is possible that Peter does understand Scripture to have a dual referent when it functions as paraenesis, the direct application to the communities as well as the conviction that the Prophets served not their own situation but that yet to come in 1:12 demonstrates that the present is what has importance for Peter.”50 Sargent here creates a false dichotomy between the past significance of Scripture and the present significance of Scripture. As Joseph has shown, by contrast, 1 Peter affirms the “unity and continuity in the way God deals with his children,” which “is evident in the author’s articulation of his understanding of the story of salvation.”51 Peter’s point in 1:10–12 is that some OT prophecies referred to Christ and in that sense were for the church’s benefit. OT laws, however, were binding on their original hearers and on subsequent generations.52 Peter interprets Leviticus 19:2 as a law and affirms it as a command for his Christian audience. Christians should be holy like God their Father is holy.

More precisely, Peter’s citation of Leviticus 19:2 in 1 Peter 1:16 is an example of appropriating law as wisdom. Dryden has argued, “Epistles … are wisdom literature.”53 He has identified “commands,” “virtue and vice lists,” “conversion and antithesis,” and “moral exemplars” as “literary tools” by which “paraenetic authors seek to habituate virtuous actions, not only as a means to changing behavior but also a means to reeducating the affections and fostering the skill of discernment.”54 First Peter contains all these features. The appeal to Leviticus 19:2 in 1 Peter 1:16, “You shall be holy, for I am holy,” follows commands in 1:14–15 that may be more specifically labeled as part of conversion and antithesis, which contrasts “the old life associated with vice, and new life resulting from the salvific agency of God in Christ.”55 In these verses, Peter contrasts “the passions” of his audience’s “former ignorance” with the holiness that should characterize them now as the holy God’s “obedient children.” Similarly, Peter prefaces his citation of Psalm 34:12–16 in 1 Peter 3:10–12 with a virtue list in 3:8–9. He contrasts vices in 1 Peter 4:3 with virtues his audience should cultivate in 1 Peter 4:7–11. Christians should refrain from “sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry” but “be self-controlled and sober-minded,” “loving one another earnestly,” “show[ing] hospitality to one another without grumbling,” and “serv[ing] one another” with their various gifts of speech and of service (ESV). Christ is the moral exemplar Christians should emulate in 1 Peter 2:21–25. As a wisdom text, 1 Peter appropriates Leviticus 19:2, a law, as wisdom.56

The next non-prophetic text that Peter cites is Psalm 34:12–16 in 1 Peter 3:10–12:

For “Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,

let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;

let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.

But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (ESV)

As with his interpretation of the use of Leviticus 19:2 in 1 Peter 1:16, Sargent likewise misidentifies the Peter’s quotation of Psalm 34:12–16 as an example of how OT prophets were “serving the Christian community by offering them direction and encouragement.”57 Admittedly, John 19:36 may allude to Psalm 34:20 as typological of Christ’s death.58 However, 1 Peter 3:10–12 quotes a section of Psalm 34 that bears more in common with OT wisdom literature.59 The quotation of Psalm 34 in 1 Peter 3:10–12 functions not as a prophecy but as proverbial wisdom that has direct application to Peter’s Christian audience. “The wisdom sentences of the psalm very well suit the reasoning of the letter,” and “in the psalm the way of the righteous is depicted,” which to Peter “was a good description of how a Christian should live his life in this world and in expectation of life eternal.”60 As biblical wisdom, Psalm 34 had immediate application to its original audience (the “children” addressed in Psalm 34:11) and ongoing application for subsequent generations of readers. Like Christ, Christians should not be deceitful (1 Pet 2:22; 3:10, quoting Ps 34:13). They should do good (1 Pet 3:11, quoting Ps 34:14), even if they are slandered as being evil (1 Pet 2:11–12; 3:13–17; 4:12–19).

The apostle cites Proverbs 11:31 in 1 Peter 4:18 (ESV): “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” This quotation does not illustrate the OT prophetic hermeneutic of 1 Peter 1:10–12; rather, it further illustrates Peter’s hermeneutic for interpreting OT wisdom literature. In 4:17–19 Schutter finds an example of his sufferings/glories schema: “the culpable and the blameless suffer alike, just as in previous judgments of God’s Temple-community, but possibly with unprecedented ramifications.”61 Indeed, 4:17 begins with an allusion to Ezekiel 9:6 (ESV: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God”), but Proverbs 11:31 does not follow a narrative arc of sufferings to glory alone. Christians are “saved with difficulty” through life’s sufferings (1 Pet 4:18). They go from suffering to glory, but Proverbs 11:31 has an additional implication: “the ungodly and sinner” will not experience glory but condemnation and shame (1 Pet 4:18; cf. 3:16). Proverbs 11:31 makes these points not as a prophecy but as a proverb, and it must be interpreted as such. Sargent is therefore similarly wrong that Proverbs 11:31 is here exclusively “reflecting the prophetic vocation of [Scripture’s] writers to serve those who have had good news proclaimed to them.”62 As wisdom literature, Proverbs had significance not only for later generations but also for its original audience.

Granted, 1 Peter 4:18 quotes Proverbs 11:31 LXX, which differs substantially in meaning from extant Hebrew texts. The ESV translates the Hebrew: “If the righteous is repaid on earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner!” However, the NETS renders the LXX: “If the righteous is scarcely saved, where will the impious and the sinner appear?” Beetham has summarized the differences between these two versions of Proverbs 11:31 well: “The [Masoretic Text’s] focus is on recompense and the certainty of it for the wicked.… These compensations will be meted out in this life. There is no thought of afterlife in context. On the other hand, the [Septuagint’s] focus is on the difficulty of being rescued by God.”63 Beetham rightly affirms that 1 Peter 4:18 finds “a maxim from an ancient book of wisdom in Israel … to be immediately relevant to gentile Christian communities.”64 However, he neglects to point out that the proverb’s “thoroughly eschatological context in 1 Pet 4:12–19” originates not with Peter but with the LXX translator of Proverbs.65 Nevertheless, he rightly notes that Peter’s “conviction appears to be that God’s judging activity runs along the same principles whether the judgment is decreed within history or at its climactic conflagration.”66 Even acknowledging the eschatological nature of Proverbs 11:31 LXX, Peter uses this proverb consistent with its genre as a timelessly true proverb, not as a prophecy that had no significance prior to the sufferings and glories of Christ that have now been proclaimed to his Christian audience (1 Pet 1:10–12). The eschatological warning of Proverbs 11:31 LXX is not only for Peter’s Christian audience but also for previous generations of Jewish readers of that proverb in the LXX.

The citation of Proverbs 3:34 in 1 Peter 5:5 is a final example of how Peter’s OT hermeneutics are more nuanced than he indicates for prophecy in 1:10–12. Here Peter writes, “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (ESV). As with Leviticus 19:2, Schutter does not claim that Proverbs 3:34 follows the sufferings/glories schema specifically.67 However, Sargent again mistakenly brings this Scripture citation under the hermeneutic of 1 Peter 1:10–12 for predictive prophecies: “there is simply no evidence that Peter has any interest in what a scriptural text may have done in the past. As far as 1 Peter is concerned, the present is the only context of any significance.”68 Jobes, by contrast, has a better understanding of how Scripture works: “God has instructed his people … whenever and wherever they have lived.”69 Peter quotes Proverbs 3:34 in order to motivate his audience to humble themselves before one another and before God. They should do so because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Christ is the ultimate proof of this proverb, and Peter wants Christians to follow Christ’s humble example (1 Pet 2:21–25). However, this truth is proverbial and therefore is evident in the OT, as well. God resisted proud Saul (1 Sam 15), Haman (Esth 7), and Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 4:1–33), but he exalted humble David (1 Sam 16–17), Esther (Esth 2), Mordecai (Esth 6; 10), and Daniel (Dan 2). God even restored King Nebuchadnezzar to his exalted position once he humbled himself to God (Dan 4:34–37). To claim that passages of the Bible have meaning and significance only for generations subsequent to the original audience is a false dichotomy. Scripture has inherent authority and significance both for its original audience and for all subsequent readers, however far removed by time and space from its original composition. First Peter does not deny this point; on the contrary, the use of Scripture in 1 Peter, whether OT prophecies, legal texts, or wisdom sayings, is consistent with the original and ongoing authority of Scripture for its readers.

5. Conclusion

The hermeneutic of 1 Peter 1:10–12 concerns specific OT prophecies. It does not contain a hermeneutic for the OT in general. Though the interpretation of Proverbs 11:31 in 1 Peter 4:18 may be similar to the apostle’s interpretation of OT prophecies, those interpretations are similar because of the timeless nature of proverbial sayings and because of the eschatological translation of Proverbs 11:31 LXX. Peter’s appeals to Leviticus 19:2, Psalm 34:12–16, and Proverbs 3:34 likewise reflect how the OT teaches Christians how to live, precisely because that is how these texts function as law and wisdom literature. Interpreting OT texts according to their genres, as Peter does in this letter, has two primary benefits in light of previous scholarship on biblical hermeneutics in 1 Peter. First, against Sargent, it safeguards against an interpretation that claims that Peter sees no meaning or significance in the OT prior to his current audience. Second, it helps contemporary interpreters attend to Peter’s variegated interpretation of the OT so that they, too, may interpret the OT rightly. Evangelical Christians should learn from Peter that the OT must be interpreted with sensitivity to its various genres, whether Law, prophecy, or wisdom literature.

Genre-specific biblical interpretation is not a new method of biblical interpretation but a method the apostles themselves practiced, as evidenced by Peter’s nuanced interpretations of various OT texts in 1 Peter.70 He does not interpret all OT passages as prophecies referring directly to Christ or Christians, though he does interpret particular prophecies that way, in accordance with his statement in 1:10–12. Peter appropriates OT law, specifically Leviticus 19:2, as wisdom. His practice is that commended by Köstenberger and Patterson concerning how to interpret the OT law in light of later revelation: “determine the theological and moral principles inherent in the particular law.”71 Peter does not apply all the Holiness Code of Leviticus to Christians, but he defines holiness in terms of wisdom. As Dryden rightly affirms, Peter in this letter aims “to foster growth in Christian affections and practice”; his concern is “the spiritual formation of God’s people as those called by his righteousness.”72 Psalm 34:1216, Proverbs 11:31, and Proverbs 3:34 function in the same way later in 1 Peter. In 1 Peter, OT Law and wisdom literature apply to Christians just as much as prophecies do, not because the Law and wisdom literature had no application to previous generations of God’s people but because as Scripture, they apply not only to the original audience but also to every generation of God’s people thereafter.73

[1] I refer to the author of 1 Peter as Peter because he identifies himself as such (1 Pet 1:1). Many scholars consider 1 Peter to be pseudonymous (e.g., Paul J. Achtemeier, 1 Peter: A Commentary on First Peter, Hermeneia [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996], 1–43). However, others have demonstrated that this argument is speculative and that both biblical and extrabiblical evidence most strongly supports the apostle Peter being the author of 1 Peter (e.g., Gene L. Green, Vox Petri: A Theology of Peter [Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2020], 71–96; Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter, BECNT [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005], 14–19; and Craig S. Keener, 1 Peter: A Commentary [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021], 8–25).

[2] Joel Green, 1 Peter, Two Horizons (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 30; Abson Prédestin Joseph, A Narratological Reading of 1 Peter, LNTS 440 (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2012), 55; Andrew Mbuvi, Temple, Exile, and Identity in 1 Peter, LNTS 345 (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2007), 8; Dan G. McCartney, “The Use of the Old Testament in the First Epistle of Peter” (PhD diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1989), 31; Benjamin Sargent, Written to Serve: The Use of Scripture in 1 Peter, LNTS 547 (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015), 30; William L. Schutter, Hermeneutic and Composition in 1 Peter, WUNT 2/30 (Tübingen: Mohr, 1989), 123.

[3] Psalm 34 in English Bibles is Psalm 33 LXX. This paper uses English chapter and verse numbers for Psalms when they differ from Hebrew or Greek versification.

[4] Abner Chou, The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers: Learning to Interpret Scripture from the Prophets and Apostles (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2018), 14.

[5] Chou, Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers, 29.

[6] Scripture quotations are the author’s own translation unless otherwise specified.

[7] So also, e.g., Jobes, 1 Peter, 91–96; against J. Ramsey Michaels, who considers “salvation” in 1 Peter 1:5, 9–10; and 2:2 to be “essentially future” (1 Peter, WBC 49 [Waco, TX: Word, 1988], 23).

[8] I am here following the rhetorical analysis of Lauri Thurén, Argument and Theology in 1 Peter: The Origins of Christian Paraenesis, JSNTSup 114 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 101–5.

[9] Edward Gordon Selwyn, The First Epistle of St. Peter with Introduction, Notes and Essays (London: Macmillan, 1946), 260–68.

[10] Duane Warden, “The Prophets of 1 Peter 1:10–12,” ResQ 31 (1989): 1–12.

[11] Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 108; Mbuvi, Temple, Exile, and Identity in 1 Peter, 13; McCartney, “Use of the Old Testament,” 28; Michaels, 1 Peter, 40–41; and Thurén, Argument and Theology, 102.

[12] Selwyn, First Epistle of St. Peter, 262.

[13] BDAG 347.

[14] John A. L. Lee, A History of New Testament Lexicography, SBG 8 (New York: Peter Lang, 2003), 160.

[15] Many thanks to Brian Tabb for bringing the instance of ἐξεραυνάω in Judges 18:2 LXX to my attention.

[16] “What person or time” (ESV) is the correct translation of τίνα ἢ ποῖον καιρὸν (1 Pet 1:11). John H. Elliott has argued that τίνα should be translated as a masculine singular accusative pronoun, as in Matt 3:7, 16:13, Luke 5:21, and John 8:53, to avoid redundancy (1 Peter: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, AB 37B [New York: Doubleday, 2000], 345–46; similarly, Mark Dubis, 1 Peter: A Handbook on the Greek Text, BHGNT [Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010], 19). Greg W. Forbes adds that τίνα is more often a pronoun than an adjective in the NT and that elsewhere in 1 Peter, interrogative τίς is always a pronoun (1 Peter, EGGNT [Nasvhille, TN: B&H Academic, 2014], 30). These considerations overturn the alternative interpretation that τίνα ἢ ποῖον καιρὸν means “what time or what manner of time” (Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 109; Charles Bigg, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, ICC [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1903], 108; Jobes, 1 Peter, 103; Michaels 1 Peter, 41–42; and Selwyn, First Epistle of St. Peter, 135).

[17] Selwyn, First Epistle of St. Peter, 262.

[18] “The great revelation of suffering and glory awakes [in the prophets] an eager desire to know when and how these things shall be” (Bigg, Epistles of Peter and Jude, 108).

[19] Selwyn, First Epistle of St. Peter, 265.

[20] “Isaiah 53 is in mind at 1 Peter 1:10–12” (Mbuvi, Temple, Exile and Identity in 1 Peter, 13).

[21] Warden, “The Prophets of 1 Peter 1:10–12,” 11.

[22] He commands everyone, “Be submissive for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Pet 2:13). He then singles out “servants” as a group who should follow Jesus’s example (2:18). Finally, he commands, “Likewise, wives, be submissive to your own husbands” (3:1), and “Husbands, likewise, live with the woman according to knowledge” (3:7).

[23] Peter refers to himself as an apostle (1 Pet 1:1) and as an elder (5:1).

[24] Selwyn, First Epistle of St. Peter, 263; Warden, “The Prophets of 1 Peter 1:10–12,” 9.

[25] Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 110; Elliott, 1 Peter, 347; Jobes, 1 Peter, 100; and Michaels, 1 Peter, 44.

[26] Warden, “The Prophets of 1 Peter 1:10–12,” 6.

[27] John M. G. Barclay, Paul and the Gift (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 575.

[28] Warden, “The Prophets of 1 Peter 1:10–12,” 6.

[29] Stanley E. Porter, “Greek Prepositions in a Systemic Functional Linguistic Framework,” BAGL 6 (2017): 22. Porter also translates εἰς in 2 Corinthians 10:16 as indicating the addressees of gospel preaching, though there it may indicate places where the gospel would be preached (Porter, “Greek Prepositions,” 37). If locations of gospel preaching are metonymic for the people to whom the gospel is preached, Acts 8:25, 40; 14:21 would be additional examples of εἰς referring to those who hear the gospel.

[30] Porter, “Greek Prepositions,” 21–22.

[31] Porter, “Greek Prepositions,” 39; BDAG 290 (s.v. εἰς 4f).

[32] Porter, “Greek Prepositions,” 38.

[33] So also Green, 1 Peter, 31, 216; Jobes, 1 Peter, 103; Joseph, Narratological Reading, 56; Mbuvi, Temple, Exile and Identity in 1 Peter, 73 n. 18; and McCartney, “Use of the Old Testament,” 41. Others consider the Holy Spirit to be at work in Christian prophets rather than OT prophets (e.g., Selwyn, First Epistle of St. Peter, 262; Warden, “The Prophets of 1 Peter 1:10–12,” 9) or that “the Spirit of Christ” in v. 11 refers to Christ rather than the Holy Spirit (e.g., Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 109–10; Elliott, 1 Peter, 350). However, those who deny that the Spirit of Christ and the Holy Spirit can refer to the same person are wrongly assuming that Peter cannot refer to one person with two terms. They also overlook the fact that the spirit of Christ refers to the Holy Spirit in Rom 8:9.

[34] Schutter, Hermeneutic and Composition, 123.

[35] McCartney, “Use of the Old Testament,” 102.

[36] Joseph, Narratological Reading, 49.

[37] Sargent, Written to Serve, 40.

[38] Schutter, Hermeneutic and Composition, 123. Among those following him are Green, 1 Peter, 30; Joseph, Narratological Reading, 55; and Mbuvi, Temple, Exile and Identity in 1 Peter, 8.

[39] Sargent, Written to Serve, 40.

[40] Sargent, Written to Serve, 177–91.

[41] Sargent, Written to Serve, 175.

[42] Sargent, Written to Serve, 187.

[43] Schutter, Hermeneutic and Composition, 123.

[44] Schutter, Hermeneutic and Composition, 59 n. 115.

[45] Schutter, Hermeneutic and Composition, 80 n. 172.

[46] McCartney, “Use of the Old Testament,” 102.

[47] On the use of Isaiah 28:16 and 8:14 in 1 Peter 2:6–8, see, e.g., Sargent, Written to Serve, 77–78; and Schutter, Hermeneutic and Composition, 136–37. On the use of Isaiah 53 in 1 Peter 2:22–25, see, e.g., Sargent, Written to Serve, 130–31; and Schutter, Hermeneutic and Composition, 144.

[48] Peter cites Psalm 118:22 in 1 Peter 2:7 as a messianic prophecy, alongside quotations of the “stone” passages of Isa 28:16 and Isa 8:14. He treats all these passages as prophetic of Christ’s suffering and glorification. This use is consistent with his perspective on OT prophets in 1 Peter 1:10–12. For space limitations, this article limits itself to OT quotations and does not include the dozens of OT allusions in 1 Peter.

[49] Schutter, Hermeneutic and Composition, 136–37.

[50] Sargent, Written to Serve, 57–58.

[51] Joseph, Narratological Reading, 58.

[52] Chou writes, “Law not only has jurisdiction over the present generation but also over the ones to come” (Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers, 104).

[53] J. de Waal Dryden, A Hermeneutic of Wisdom: Recovering the Formative Agency of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018), 165.

[54] Dryden, Hermeneutic of Wisdom, 171–78.

[55] Dryden, Hermeneutic of Wisdom, 176.

[56] The use of law as wisdom is grounded even in the Law itself, according to Brian Rosner, Paul and the Law, NSBT 31 (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013), 175. As Deuteronomy 4:6 states, God’s people should obey his law because “that will be your wisdom and understanding in the sight of the peoples, who when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’” (ESV). Both Paul and Second Temple Jewish writers also appropriated the law as wisdom (Rosner, Paul and the Law, 175–77, 181–205).

[57] Sargent, Written to Serve, 82.

[58] LarsOlav Eriksson, “Come, Children, Listen to Me!” Psalm 34 in the Hebrew Bible and in Early Christian Writings, ConBOT 32 (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1991), 121–23.

[59] Psalm 34 shares some vocabulary, “its central theme: to teach,” and its form with OT wisdom literature (Eriksson, Come, Children, Listen to Me, 80–81).

[60] Eriksson, Come, Children, Listen to Me, 118.

[61] Schutter, Hermeneutic and Composition, 165.

[62] Sargent, Written to Serve, 95.

[63] Christopher A. Beetham, “Eschatology and the Book of Proverbs in 1 Peter,” in The Crucified Apostle: Essays on Peter and Paul, ed. Todd A. Wilson and Paul R. House, WUNT 2/450 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2017), 50–51.

[64] Beetham, “Eschatology and the Book of Proverbs in 1 Peter,” 53.

[65] Beetham, “Eschatology and the Book of Proverbs in 1 Peter,” 53.

[66] Beetham, “Eschatology and the Book of Proverbs in 1 Peter,” 53.

[67] Schutter, Hermeneutic and Composition, 165–66.

[68] Sargent, Written to Serve, 98.

[69] Jobes, 1 Peter, 309.

[70] Similarly Chou, Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers, 187–89.

[71] Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2011), 168.

[72] Dryden, Hermeneutic of Wisdom, 185.

[73] I presented an earlier version of this paper, “The Old Testament Prophetic Hermeneutic of 1 Peter 1:10–12,” at the General Epistles session of the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (November 2020). I am grateful to Dr. John J. R. Lee for mentoring me and giving me invaluable feedback on earlier drafts of this paper. Any and all shortcomings in this article, of course, remain my own.

Jordan Atkinson

Jordan Atkinson pastors Friendship Baptist Church in Harveysburg, Ohio, and is a PhD student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri.

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