A Glance At Some Old Problems in First Peter -- By: John H. Skilton

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 58:1 (Spring 1996)
Article: A Glance At Some Old Problems in First Peter
Author: John H. Skilton


A Glance At Some Old Problems in First Peter

John H. Skilton

For decades now, after a period of neglect, 1 Peter has been targeted by many commentaries, articles, and special studies. Accompanying this new surge of interest has been a fascination with the celebrated problems of interpretation in 3:19 and its immediate context. With the thought of deriving benefit from some of the recent discussion of these problems and possibly encouraging further consideration of them, several have been chosen for brief review here.

I. A Question of Syntax

The first problem has to do with the interpretation of ἀπειθήσασιν in 3:20. It is often taken as an attributive adjective participle going with καὶ τοῖς ἐν φυλακῇ πνεύμασιν in v. 19 —and without explanation or defense. As Grudem says, “…our minds are cluttered by English translations which say \’who formerly disobeyed’.”1 The point is that the participle here does not look at all like an attributive or substantive participle, but it looks for all the world like an adverbial participle. It surely does not conform to the normal rule for attributive participles. Here is the rule, as Burton states it: “An Attributive Participle when used to limit a noun which has the article, stands in the so-called attributive position, i.e., between the article and the noun, or after an article following the noun; but when the participle is limited by an adverbial phrase, this phrase may stand between the article and the noun, and the participle without the article follow the noun.”2 In the present case, in which no known exception to the rule applies, the noun that our participle modifies has the article, and according to rule the participle instead of being anarthrous should have the article too—if it is to be translated by a relative clause and interpreted as attributive. However, if it is to be taken as an adverbial participle, it “logically modifies some other verb of the sentence in which it stands, being equivalent to an adverbial phrase or clause denoting time, condition, concession,

cause, purpose, means, manner, or attendant circumstance.”3 Of these possible adverbial interpretations, the one which seems to suit the context best at 3:19–20 is temporal: “when they formerly disobeyed.” Taking into account normal G...

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