preaching study: 1 peter 3:18-4:6

In “preaching study” posts, I’m really interested in fostering a “community” approach to study and prep for the message, so please interact as much as you like. All Scripture quotes are from the TNIV unless otherwise noted. Thanks!

I’m preaching the traditional services this week, the first Sunday in the season of Lent. The text is 1 Peter 3:18-4:6. Here’s some initial study, with further thoughts throughout the week.

This is definitely a text with a high “huh???” factor for me with Peter’s curious handling of the reference to Noah and the flood and connecting that to baptism and salvation. Anyone with me? But that’s part of the fun of dealing with a text in order to preach it. You have to dig in, think hard and creatively and hopefully faithfully, study, read others and converse with them and wrestle like Jacob for a blessing out of this text whose meaning seems obscured and difficult because you have to preach it. 

Comments and engagement welcome. 

Literary Context 

  • Suffering theme: In keeping with a major theme of 1 Peter as a whole, the literary structure seems to emphasize the meaning of Christ’s suffering as grounds for suffering that we experience today. This is seen in references to Christ’s suffering in 3:18 and 4:1, and to references to the hearers’ situation in 4:1 and 4:4. 
  • Flow of the argument: Seems to be organized around the theme of suffering mentioned above and build it’s case around the narrative arc of Christ’s life: passion (3:18a), death (and whatever experience that included in another realm, 3:18b-21a), resurrection (3:21), ascension (3:22a), and exaltation (3:22b). This continues in the first six verses of chapter 4, establishing the Christian’s embrace of courage and meaningful suffering, and the practical implications of that for persons who are finding that their new commitment to Christ and the Christian Story at odds with others and the alternative stories being pressed upon them by their “abusers.” 
  • On an individual verse level, there are contrasts: Jesus as the righteous One dying for the ones who are unrighteous (3:18), Jesus being “put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit” (3:18), Jesus suffered for sins of others (3:18) but is elevated to the right hand of God above “angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (3:22) 
  • Purpose: Christ suffered “in order to” bring us to God. (3:18) 
  • Comparisons: Christian baptism and the Genesis flood (3:19-22), and Christ’s suffering and our suffering (4:1-4) 

Cultural Cues 

  • There is something going on with honor and shame ethics and boundary maintenance in 4:1-6. As appears throughout 1 Peter, in 4:3-6, we see the undercurrents of competing groups—a new Christ-centered community dealing with the impact of disparaging and abusive speech from the surrounding culture—the former community—on new members of the community. 
  • Also, there is the matter of an assumption on the ability of persons to engage the dead in 3:19 and 4:6. 

Canonical Connections 

  • Obviously, one big connection is with the flood and Noah (3:18-20, Genesis 6-9). 
  • Also, baptism is deal with here as well as throughout the New Testament in the Gospels some, Acts, and the letters. 

Observations? Thoughts?

Published by Guy M Williams

Christian | Husband, Father | Pastor | 8th-Gen Texan | Texas A&M ‘96 | Asbury Seminary ‘01 | Enjoy family, reading, running, golf, college football

2 thoughts on “preaching study: 1 peter 3:18-4:6

  1. Me too, I’m preaching on this on Sunday. At present I’m thinking that I will stress the majesty and authority of the crucified Jesus – whose victory IS his suffering and death. This victory then becomes known to humankind through the resurrection, but the spiritual world had heard it proclaimed first. (The harrowing of hell.)
    The believers are to be assured of sharing in this victory, despite the hhumiliation which their persecution may imply.

  2. Just came across this as I prepare to preach on this tomorrow following a baptism.

    The underlying structure of this passage would appear to be found in 4:1 (which repeats 3:17-18), i.e. Christ suffered for us, so we suffer.

    Other elements of structure include:
    – Contrast flesh / Spirit (cf 1:24)
    – God’s will / men’s lusts
    – The theme of the surrounding non-Christian world and the Christian’s living and preaching

    I take the two difficult passages as follows:

    – In the Spirit Christ spoke (cf. 1:11) through the prophet Noah (cf. 2 Peter 2:5) to those who when alive resisted God’s longsuffering and so are now awaiting judgment (3:19-20)

    – However, unlike those who did not heed Noah’s preaching, eight people were saved from water. In the same way we are saved by Christ and his resurrection from God’s judgment and now have a good conscience. In that sense baptism now also saves us (3:21)

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