Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Meaning And Significance Of ζῳοποιηθείς In 1 Peter 3:19–20

Question: What does "made alive in the spirit/Spirit" mean in 1 Pet. 3:19–20?

AP: This is part of a liturgical hymn used in the community associated with the author of this particular letter. Here is my own translation, translated into English of course.
"That Christ suffered once for sins, 
the just for the unjust, 
to bring us to God, 
dead in the flesh, 
he was made alive in the Spirit . . ." 
We'll pause here and make some comments, and then I'll come back and finish up the translation. It would also be possible to translate this last phrase "by the Spirit," but this would break the parallelism we find in the hymn, and so we don't recommend it. So, what's the expression mean? What does the author mean when uses the verb ζῳοποιηθείς? It means that immediately the spirit of Christ was made operative by God before his body had been resurrected. The visit mentioned in the passage, in which Christ went and made proclamation to a certain group, takes place between the death of Jesus and his resurrection. It says that he went and preached to the spirits (i.e., those whose bodies were still dead, but their soul/spirit was alive = the immortal soul is still alive without the body, which is a very Greek concept). Now, let's pick up with the translation:
". . . in which he also went and made proclamation to the spirits who had once been unbelievers, when the patience of God waited in the days of Noah, when the ark was made, in which a few, that is, eight people (= souls) were saved through the water." 

TWH: There are few sections in the New Testament that garner more attention that the one addressed here. I'm going to say, first, that I'm not convinced that this is an existing hymn that was used by Peter. This is sort of like Col. 1:15–20 in the sense that people say Paul used a hymn when he wrote to believers in Colossae. Again, I'm not sold on that position at all. My own view is that Col. 1:15–20 originates entirely with Paul and, if used in liturgical settings, only after being written down by Paul. And, until I am given something more convincing, I'm going to say the same thing about 1 Pet. 3:19–20. But what about the word ζῳοποιηθείς? Let's take a look at just a few of the passages where ζῳοποιέω occurs. We'll choose the two occurrences in John and three from the writings of Paul. The ones I am going to point out are in the active voice, whereas the occurrence in 1 Peter is passive.
John 5:21: "For in the same way that the Father raises the dead and makes them alive, even so the Son also makes alive those whom he so wishes." 
John 6:63: "It is the Spirit who makes alive. The flesh does not help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." 
Rom. 4:17: " . . . in the presence of him whom he believed, namely God, who makes the dead alive and calls into being that which does not exist." 
Rom. 8:11: "But if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Jesus from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through his Spirit who dwells in you." 
2 Cor. 3:6: " . . . for the letter kills, but the Spirit makes alive." 
Now, I've intentionally used the gloss "makes/made alive" so that you can see where it's used in the passages above. Notice everywhere we see the word in the New Testament we are talking about God doing something to someone who is dead, not something to someone who is yet to exist. In other words, we would never expect this word to be used with reference to the historical Adam, i.e., when he was created. But it makes sense that we find it used with the one known as the second Adam, that is, Jesus (see 1 Cor. 15:45). It can be used to refer to making alive that which is literally dead, as we see in the examples I mentioned, but also with reference to that which is spiritually dead (Gal. 3:21). Now this doesn't mean that the word is only used in this particular way. But this is the way that we find in the writings of John and Paul, and therefore, we can say it is most likely the way that Peter intends. Peter speaks of Jesus' death and then proceeds to discuss the making alive. Basically, Peter just says that Jesus came to life even though dead and even before the resurrection. His life is not tied to his body, physical or resurrected. There is a part of humanity that is permanently alive. And even when the body dies, that part still lives. And even before the soul is united again to its body, it still lives. Now, why would we make sure to say that the Spirit actually brings about this life-giving act? Well, it's based in part on what we find in John 6:63 and other verses, including those verses dealing with the resurrection and specifically mention that Jesus did not raise himself, but was raised. The same seems to fit with the in-between time of the death of Jesus and his resurrection. Just as he had not performed a single miracle during his earthly ministry apart from the Spirit of God, even following his dead and prior to his ascension to the right hand of the Father, he did nothing apart from the Spirit. And based on that I would feel very comfortable with translating the prepositional phrase "by the Spirit."

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