This blog continues my translation and study of the First Letter of Peter
1 Peter 4: 1
As therefore Messiah has suffered, arm yourselves with the same determination, for those who suffer in their flesh and blood have left sin behind, so as to live the remainder of their flesh and blood span, not by human desires any longer, but by the will of God. The time that has gone by was surely enough for performing the will of the “gentiles” by continuing to live in excessive desires, drunken parties, drinking bouts and uncontrolled worship of idols. Because they are shocked that you are not rushing with them into this flood of abandoned behaviour, they abuse you. But they will have to render an account of themselves to the One who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (Indeed, that is why the joyful news was also announced to the dead: so that although they were condemned in flesh and blood, like mortals, they could live in the spirit, like God.)
FROM THE HARROWING OF HELL BY PETER HOWSON
It’s interesting that although the Assemblies addressed in this letter would have included non-Jews, the author retains the Jewish vocabulary of denunciation of Gentile behaviour. There’s not much here which adds to that rhetoric, apart from a repeated emphasis on drunkenness. The key demand however is that believers should “arm” themselves – a military word is used- with the “determination” of the crucified Messiah, Greek “ennoia” which means a mental decision or disposition. The author means the trust and courage in which he resolved to suffer. If the believers identify with this determination of Jesus, they risk suffering but leave sin behind.
When the author shrewdly notes the shock of their unconverted Gentile pals, he uses a word which suggests that the believers are now seen as foreigners. The author’s description of the mindset of these Gentiles highlights their out of control rush to ruin. Although they may see believers as extreme, in fact the believers are modest and controlled in a way that classical Greek philosophy admired.
A conventional statement that those who abuse believers will have to stand judgement before “the one who is ready to judge the living and the dead” leads to a far from conventional note that, because God judges living and dead and always has done, the joyful news of Jesus had to be preached to the dead as well as the living, to give them as it were, a fair chance. This note pushes me to look back at my treatment of chapter 3:19, the preaching of Jesus to the “spirits in prison” whom I interpreted as rebel angels. Now I think that may have been mistaken. That verse and this note may refer to the crucified Jesus preaching to dead human beings who had been “condemned like mortals” but now had the chance of “living like God.”
It seems unlikely that two references to an otherwise unknown act of preaching should refer to different acts. Modern scholars seem to dislike this interpretation which led to the medieval teaching of the “Harrowing of Hell” by Jesus, through which those sinners who trusted in God in eras before Jesus – including Adam and Eve- were released from judgement into eternal life.
Of course this doctrine is speculative, but with First Peter as a basis, it is no more so than many orthodox doctrines, while being more positive and humane.