An Exegesis of 1 Peter 3:13-17


Grudem suggests that the letter was written before AD64 when the wide persecution under Nero had not begun yet.[1] From the text it is indicated that the original readers were probably doubting about God’s work and were facing the temptation to step back on their faith, thus the major theme of the letter is to encourage them to “Stand firm in it” (5:12). Peter also expresses his compassion for the readers of the letter and encourages them to think about eternal things, instead of focusing on temporal trials. On the problem of theodicy, he explains that God is still sovereign while His people are in temporal suffering, and God is still carrying on His plan (1:5-9).

The text being studied in this paper is 3:13-17. The major theme of this section is regarding the problem of being persecuted or accused by unbelievers because of the Christian faith. Though it’s the major problem that Peter is trying to solve in the letter, it is the first time that he focuses a section of the text on this topic. The center of 2:13-3:12 is to glorify God by doing good, which is to show respectfulness and obedience in all human relationships. Then Peter quotes Psalm 34 in 3:10-12 as basis for Christian ethics to further support that God’s will is for His people to do good, and God is against even Christians who do evil. It is natural that the readers might start to wonder why God does not protect His people who are doing good, or whether the unjust suffering is from God because we are not good enough. Peter starts to deal with the unjust suffering immediately after applying the quotation to the current situation of his readers.


13 Καὶ τίς κακώσων ὑμᾶς

13 Then who is the one that will harm you if you are one who desire good things?

The conjunction Καὶ is often used as a transitional word. The previous text is a quotation of Psalm stating that God is on the side of the righteous and against those who do evil, and this verse is a rhetorical question, can be viewed as the consequence of the previous statement. It can be rendered as “then” or “therefore” (Rom 8:31, 1:17).

τίς is a interrogative pronoun serving as a predicate nominative. Here it introduces a rhetorical question. κακώσων is a future active participle masculine nominative single of κακόω (“harm”). The article ὁ nominalizes the participle and make it the nominative subject of an implied ἐστιν. The participle with article indicates people, means “one who will harm”. ὑμᾶς is σύ in accusative plural, function as the direct object of the participle verb.

Putting together, the rhetorical question here is “who is the one that will harm you” or “who will harm you” after simplification. It can also be translated as “is there anyone who will harm you?” since it’s not a normal open question.

ἐὰν τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ζηλωταὶ γένησθε;

if you are zealous for good things?

The finite verb in this conditional clause is γἰνομαι in aorist middle subjunctive 2nd plural, together with ἐὰν formed a third class conditional protasis. The middle voice of γἰνομαι actually expresses the “state” just like ἐστιν. Michaels suggests that the subjunctive use “does not necessarily mean that the readers are not now pursuing the good”, but to substitute for εἶναι, meaning “to be” or “to show oneself to be”.[2]

Therefore, ζηλωταὶ, the noun ζηλωτής in masculine nominative plural is best to be understood as the predicate nominative of the conditional clause, while the “you” implied in the subjunctive verb is the subject. ζηλωτής is quite common in NT connecting with the pursuit of spiritual gifts (1 Cor 14:12) and law (acts 21:20) or God (Acts 22:3). It carries a meaning of eagerly following or devoting oneself to an object. The article plus the genitive form adjective αγαθός nominalize the word and make it an objective genitive of the nearest noun, ζηλωτής.

Peter is implying that being harmed is not a normal expectation. I would assume that by speaking in this way, Peter asks the readers to check themselves if they really desire the good things, and whether there are some harms or persecutions because of Christians’ faults. And of course this does not cover all possibilities causes of being harmed, thus Peter continues in verse 14 on another possibility: being harmed because of doing righteousness.[3]

14ἀλλ᾽ εἰ καὶ πάσχοιτε διὰ δικαιοσύνην, μακάριοι.

14But even if you suffer for righteousness, you are blessed.

ἀλλα (“but”) introduces a contrasting exception to the normal expectation in verse 13 and the assurance in verse 12. It also indicates that the following clause extends to other possibilities of the harm. Then καὶ cannot mean “and” or “but” here, instead it is an adverbial ascensive use meaning “if”.

The verb in this clause is πάσχω in present active optative 2nd plural. Some manuscripts substitute this verb with the indicative form. Michaels suggests that the usage of optative mood “serves to strengthen the rhetorical device by which Peter encourages his readers”.[4] Michaels even makes a case that πάσχω could be "suffer death" (cf. BDAG), a remote possibility for Peter’s readers. Together with εἰ, they introduces the protasis of a fourth class condition.

διὰ δικαιοσύνην is a propositional clause modifying the optative verb, as an causal adverbial. It can be translated as “because of righteousness”. It could either mean “because you do righteousness” or “you are righteous”. Given that Christians were persecuted simply because of their identity at that age (4:16, “ὡς Χριστιανός”), I would believe that the latter makes more sense.

μακάριοι (nominative plural of μακάριος, “blessed”) alone is the apodosis of the sentence. According to Porter, fourth class conditional should have ἄν+optative in the apodosis.[5] So this word is a predicate nominative with an implied form of εἰμί in optative. Similar usage can be found in 4:14 which is in favor of a present indicative reading in almost all English translations. Thus it is translated in present tense, “you are blessed”.

τὸν δὲ φόβον αὐτῶν μὴ φοβηθῆτε μηδὲ ταραχθῆτε,

do not be afraid of them nor be troubled.

This clause is italic in NA27, meaning that it’s a quotation from Scripture (Isa 8:12). There are two finite verbs in this quotation: φοβέω (“fear”) in aorist middle subjunctive 2nd plural, and ταράσσω (“be shaken up”, “be troubled”) in aorist middle subjunctive 2nd plural. It is noted that both verbs also indicate an emotional turmoil, thus the middle voice here implies an emotional response that against the subject. τὸν φόβον is the accusative direct object of φοβηθῆτε. In the original Hebrew text, the singular αὐτοῦ is referring to the king of Assyria, but here Peter replaced it with αὐτῶν referring to the persecutors of the readers. Micheals suggests that the prounoun is functioning as an objective genitive, “do not be afraid of them”.[6]

In Isaiah 8 God tells the people not to fear the enemies, but to fear Lord and only trust in him. Peter applied it just like a direct preaching from Old Testament to his readers: don’t be afraid of your persecutors or accusers.

15κύριον δὲ τὸν Χριστὸν ἁγιάσατε ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν,

15But treat Lord Christ as holy in your heart,

Peter is continuing his reference to the Scripture. Isa 8:13 in LXX has “κύριον αὐτόν ἁγιάσατε”, which is very similar to the first clause. Peter added δὲ as conjunction to continue the teaching from verse 14, but shifting from negative aspect (“do not”) to positive aspect (“do set…”). Another shift from verse 14 to 15 is to shift from what people can see (the accusers and persecutors) to what people cannot see (Lord Christ).

The finite verb is ἁγιάζω in aorist active imperative 2nd plural, means “set apart” or “set holy”. BDAG suggests translating it to “treat … as holy”. It is also the first petition of the Lord’s prayer, so it can be translated to “acknowledge or declare to be holy”. The prepositional clause following the verb does not come from Isa 8:13, but function as locative adverbial to the verb, indicating a deep inward proclamation of Christ’s lordship. Then there are two accusatives in the clause that both can be the direct object of ἁγιάζω. If the accusative κὐριος is the direct object, then the τὸν Χριστὸν functions is the accusative in apposition to κύριον. Then it is translated as “treat Lord Christ as holy”. Or treat κύριον as appositioin to τὸν Χριστὸν, thus “treat Christ the Lord as holy”. NET use κύριον as predicate accusative that “treat Christ as lord holy”. Since it is quoted from Isa 8:13 and τὸν Χριστὸν is an insertion added by Peter. I think Peter still want to use the original meaning of Isa 8:13 but calls attention to “Christ” as the object of ἁγιάζω.

ἕτοιμοι ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀπολογίαν παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι ὑμᾶς λόγον περὶ τῆς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐλπίδος.

Always be prepared to answer to everyone who demands a reason from you regarding the hope in you.

ἕτοιμοι is the adjective in nominative masculine plural. Since there’s no noun around to be modified, this adjective is most probably subordinate to the preceding imperative ἁγιάζω but function as a predicate adjective in imperative mood, “be prepared” or “let you be prepared”. ἀεὶ is the temporal adverb modifying the adjective. The prepositional phrase πρὸς ἀπολογίαν shows purpose. This term is used also for a formal court defense against specific charges (Paul in Acts 22:1, 25:16, etc.). Michaels says that ἀπολόγια in general sense, “refers to an argument made in one’s own behalf in the face of misunderstanding or criticism”.[7] So it originally Peter might not mean a simple answer just like we answer our friends and colleagues regarding our faith, but a defense of the faith against the accusers.

αἰτοῦντι is verb αἰτέω in present active participle masculine dative singular. BDAG suggests translating this verb followed by λόγον to “demand a reason/ground from someone”. Here we have a direct object of ὑμᾶς (“you”). The article nominalizes the participle and makes it substantival, working with the double accusative (“ὑμᾶς λόγον”) to form “one who demand an accounting from you”. Thus the whole clause παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι function as dative of reference, or dative of recipients to ἀπολόγια.

Then there is a prepositional clause περὶ τῆς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐλπίδος, where ἐν ὑμῖν is another prepositional insertion modifying ἐλπίδος. περὶ τῆς … ἐλπίδος is modifying λόγον, indicating the content. Michaels suggests that the ἐν ὑμῖν is a corporate location, “among you”. But in parallel to the earlier “in your hearts”, it’s better to be understood as individualized internal hope.

What is the “hope” that Peter is mentioning here? It must be something that distinguishes Christian from non-believers. Jobes suggests that “it is a term referring to the future aspect of salvation, for it is into a living hope that Christians have been reborn through the resurrection of Christ (1:3).”[8] The whole verse is suggesting an “always be prepared” status of Christians living in a persecuted environment. Peter teaches the readers to have a positive attitude against the threatens and persecutions, by switching to an “always prepared” lifestyle. Schreiner shed more lights on this verse and help us to understand the early church better: “The exhortation here is instructive, for Peter assumed that believes have solid intellectual grounds for believing the Gospel. The truth of the Gospel is a public truth that can be defended in the public arena.”[9]

16ἀλλὰ μετὰ πραΰτητος καὶ φόβου,

16 But with humility and fear,

The conjunction ἀλλὰ introduces a limitation on the ἀπολογία. Some manuscripts omit this conjunction. Considering that the Christians are accused with slanders, the conjunction can make the contrast between Christians’ attitude in answering and accusers’ slanders. The prepositional phrase μετὰ πραΰτητος καὶ φόβου (“with humility and fear”) is used adverbially modifying an omitted verb as manner. Most translations supply with an imperatival “do”. Putting verse 15 into consideration, probably it’s an ellipsis of an imperative λέγω or αποκρίνομαι. Since it is clearly stated that “do not fear them”, the φόβος (in genitive form as the object of the preposition) should be understood as an attitude toward God (“reverence” in RSV and NRSV).[10] So the manner of speech has two directions: humility toward human and fear toward God.

συνείδησιν ἔχοντες ἀγαθήν,

Having a good conscience,

ἔχω is the finite verb in present active participle masculine nominative plural. This participle can adverbially modify either the implied λέγω in this verse, or the finite verb ἁγιάσατε in verse 15. Elliott suggests that this participle functions as imperative and construct the cause for the ἵνα in next phrase. So this phrase starts a new sentence from συνείδησιν, which is συνείδησις in accusative function as the object of the participle verb, with ἀγαθήν as the modifying attributive adjective.

I’m more interested to know what is a “good conscience” is. Paul use συνείδησις several times to indicate the inward faculty of distinguishing right and wrong (Rom 2:15). Peter uses it once to indicate awareness of God (2:19). “A good conscience” (συνείδησις ἀγαθή) is used in Acts 23:1, 1 Timothy 1:5 and 1 Peter 3:21. This word does not mean a man without sin, but to indicate a man that have awareness of God’s law, and continuously practice repentance and prayer for forgiveness.

ἵνα ἐν ᾧ καταλαλεῖσθε

so that when you are slandered,

The conjunction ἵνα introduces a purpose clause, and the prepositional ἐν plus the relative pronoun is used by Peter in 2:12 in the same format. It can be interpreted as a temporal meaning, “when” in RSV/ESV/NET and many other English translations. The finite verb in the relative clause is καταλαλέω in present passive indictive 2nd plural, meaning “speak evil of” or “slander” according to BDAG (519). The same term is used in 2:12 and James 4:11.

καταισχυνθῶσιν οἱ ἐπηρεάζοντες ὑμῶν τὴν ἀγαθὴν ἐν Χριστῷ ἀναστροφήν.

Those who mistreat your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.

The subject of this sentence is the nominative οἱ ἐπηρεάζοντες. It is the verb ἐπηρεάζω in present active participle masculine plural format. The article nominalizes it and make it subject of καταισχύνω, “those who mistreat …” The verb means “treat someone in a despicable manner” or “mistreat” (BDAG, 362). The only finite verb in this sentence is καταισχύνω in aorist middle subjunctive 3rd plural. Elliott argues that this is a divine passive, reflects that “God put them to shame”. [11] However it can also mean an emotional middle meaning they put themselves to shame. ὑμῶν is the subjective genitive, modifying the accusative direct object τὴν ἀγαθὴν ἐν Χριστῷ ἀναστροφήν (“good conduct in Christ”).

17κρεῖττον γὰρ ἀγαθοποιοῦντας, εἰ θέλοι τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, πάσχειν κακοποιοῦντας.

17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if God wishes it, then to suffer for doing evil.

γὰρ introduces a motivational ground or cause for the preceding verse. The εἰ in the second clause indicates that it’s a conditional clause. Then the rest of the sentence is the apodosis while the conditional clause is an insertion. In the protasis, the subject is the nominative τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ (“the will of God”) and the verb is θέλω in present active optative 3rd singular. Literally it means “if the will of God wishes”. The optative indicates that this will is possible but not a certainty.

The only possible subject in the apodosis is the verb πάσχω in present active indicative, meaning “to suffer”. And the first word is a predicate comparative adjective in neuter form since it is modifying the infinitive subject. The ἐστιν for the predicate is most possibly omitted. Then we have two accusative participles, ἀγαθοποιέω and κακοποιέω linked by comparative particle ἢ. They both modifies the infinitive as temporal (“when doing good/bad”) or causal (“because of doing good/bad”) adverbials.

Peter continue to explain why suffering for doing good is better than suffering for doing evil using the example of Jesus and his crucifixion in the next verse. From this verse, if people have to suffer in either situation, God wishes us to suffer for doing good. [12]


The focus of this section is to encourage the Christians to continue their lifestyle of doing righteousness, even if they are accused or persecuted because of this. To preach this passage, it is noticeable that Peter put Christ at the center in his teaching. Christians must first treat Lord Christ as holy in the heart (15), then the suffering will turn to a blessing (14) because we do good in him (16), and suffering could be part of his plan (17).

I’ve heard many Christians using verse 15 to argue for his not sharing gospel proactively, because he is waiting for someone to ask him for his faith. But we need to notice that verse 15 most probably is referring to a defense on the court, not sharing gospel in a friendly environment. In the meanwhile, this verse also urges Christians to be in a state of always being prepared so that we can defend our faith in a respectful (to God), clear and gentle way. We should also notice that not every Christian deserves this. A Christian is differentiated from others is by the “hope” in him. Simply doing good things or have religious behavior does not automatically differentiate a person as a Christian.


Achtemeier, Paul J. 1 Peter. Minneapolis: Fortress Press1996

Aland, Barbara, Kurt Aland, et al. Novum Testamentum Graece. 27th ed. New York: United Bible Societies, 1994

Dubis, Mark. 1 Peter: A Handbook on the Greek Text, Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2010

Elliott, John H. 1 Peter: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New York: Doubleday, 2000

Grudem, Wayne A. 1 Peter: an introduction and commentary. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009

Michaels, J. Ramsey. 1 Peter. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1988

Jobes , Karen H. 1 Peter. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005

Porter, Stanley E. Idioms of the Greek New Testament. Second Edition. Sheffield: Academic Press, 1996

Schreiner, Thomas R. The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Peter, Jude. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2011

[1] Wayne A. Grudem, 1 Peter: an introduction and commentary (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 37

[2] J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1988), 185

[3] Schreiner might not agree with this. He argues that the “harm” here refers to ultimate eschatological harm on the basis of verse 12’s emphasis that God is on the side of righteous. Then it can be implied that who hate and persecute the saints can do them no real harm; they cannot hurt their grace. However, Grudem argues that the contrastive parallelism between verse 13 and 14 is against Schreiner’s view because κακώσων has a parallel meaning as πάσχοιτε but clearly indicates physical harm.

[4] Michaels, 186. However Grudem think the optative indicates that the writer is speaking of an event that he considered unlikely. Yet Peter realizes that this unlikely event is happening and he needs to explain to his readers. Given the usage of another optative in verse 17 obviously does not imply any unlikely event, I think Michaels’ explanation makes more sense.

[5] Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek new Testament, 2nd Edition (London: Sheffield Academic Press 1994), 256

[6] Michaels, 187

[7] Michaels, 188

[8] Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 230

[9] Thomas R. Schreiner, The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Peter, Jude (B & H Publishing Group, 2011), 174-75

[10] Other translations, including NIV/ESV/NET understand this noun to speak of an attitude directed toward non-Christian inquirers and translated it to “respect”.

[11] John H. Elliott, 1 Peter: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 632-33

[12] Michaels (192) argues that these forms represent “eschatological alternatives” by identifying “suffering for doing good” for this age while “suffering for doing evil” for the age to come. Achtemeier (237) does not agree with this based on the usage of καταισχυνθῶσιν in 3:16.