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How Does God the Father Relate to Jesus Christ in 1 Peter?

What’s the nature of the relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ in 1 Peter? How do God’s actions toward Christ contribute to our understanding of Peter’s conception of God’s identity?

Jesus Christ’s identity can only be understood in relation to his unique filial relationship with God the Father. Further, God’s relationship with Christ is disclosed when the identity descriptions of Peter’s God-talk are given proper attention.

Unique Relationship with Father

Divine fatherhood is the controlling concept of God in 1 Peter (1:2, 3, 17). Commentators connect the picture of God as a Father to the rebirth metaphor that Peter uses to describe believers’ salvation (v. 3). John Elliott writes, “The metaphor of God as father . . . implies God as progenitor and the believing community as God’s family or household (2:5; 4:17) and ‘brotherhood’ (2:17; 5:9).”

We may add that Peter clarifies that rebirth isn’t given by means of “perishable seed” (σπορᾶς φθαρτῆς) but the “imperishable” (ἀφθάρτου)—the living and abiding Word of God (1:23). Further, as God is the Father of believers, certain codes of conduct from his children are required (τέκνα ὑπακοῆς; v. 14).

Thus, in 1 Peter, both spiritual and social privileges of the community are grounded in the thick metaphor of the fatherhood of God. Since the believing community relates to God as Father, how should we understand the fatherhood of God in relation to Jesus Christ (v. 3)? Is the sonship of Jesus symmetrical with the sonship of believers?

Divine fatherhood is the controlling concept of God in 1 Peter.

Several points in 1 Peter forward the notion that Christ’s relationship to the Father is indeed unique. All believers can certainly invoke God as Father, nevertheless, they do so in a mediated sense. Joel B. Green is close to the point when he says, “Although both Jesus and believers find their identity in relationship to God, they do so in different ways.”

To bring out an obvious point, not only is the believer’s relationship with God different from Christ’s due to mediation but they’re only designated God’s children through the Son of God, Jesus Christ. This point is seen as Peter consistently uses the preposition διά to indicate how believers participate in calling God their Father. For example, in 1:3, the metaphor of rebirth (which is connected to the father metaphor for the believing community) is said to be “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (διʼ ἀναστάσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐκ νεκρῶν).

Also, in 1:21 it’s through Christ that Peter’s audience has faith in God (τοὺς διʼ αὐτοῦ πιστοὺς εἰς θεόν). Later in 2:5, Peter affirms believers offer spiritual sacrifices well pleasing to God “through Jesus Christ” (διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ). Finally, according to 3:21, believers appeal to God for a clear conscience “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (διʼ ἀναστάσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ).

This suggests that while both Christ and believers have a filial relationship with God, Christ’s relationship with the Father is unique by its unmediated nature. It doesn’t necessitate much imagination to see how comparing the filial relationship between believers and the Father alongside the filial relationship between Jesus Christ and the Father causes serious reflection on the ontological relationship between the Father and the Son.

Identity Descriptions of the Father

The category of “mutuality” or “bidirectionality” has been used within a Trinitarian framework to analyze the God-talk of various texts.

Mutuality is explained by Francis Watson when he writes, “Trinitarian theology claims that God’s identity is determined by God’s relation to Jesus, just as Jesus’ identity is determined by his relation to God.” In other words, both the identity of God and the identity of Jesus are determined by how they relate to each other.

Using the concept of mutuality, we find that Peter likewise puts pressure on his readers to conclude God’s identity is tied to Jesus Christ in such a way that we cannot talk about God without reference to Jesus Christ, and we cannot talk about Jesus without reference to God. Mutuality between the Father and Christ is found in 1:17–21. Peter concisely narrates the Christ-event that stretches back before history and culminates in the moment of Christ’s death (vv. 19–20).

A profound articulation of God’s identity appears at the conclusion of the semi-creedal statement about the Christ-event in 1:21. Peter’s description of God’s actions in that event is expressed with a pair of participles connected by a conjunction. God is described as “the one who raised him [Christ] from the dead” (θεὸν τὸν ἐγείραντα αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν) and who “gave him glory” (καὶ δόξαν αὐτῷ δόντα).

Such descriptions of God are found elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. Gal. 1:1; Rom. 4:24; 8:11). According to Elliot, they represent a “central . . . [and] stable element of early Christian tradition.” Due to the ubiquity of the depiction of God, as well as its semi-creedal nature, scholars working within a Trinitarian framework have labeled such participial phrases “identity descriptions.” Wesley Hill comments, “The aim of such formulations is not merely to reference some divine action but also to ‘name’ God or specify his unique character by that action.”

The description of God’s action of raising Christ from the dead and giving him glory also discloses something about God’s identity. Following Watson, “The raising of Jesus discloses, not only what God does but, at the same time, who God is.” Again, Watson writes, “Divine being and divine action are inseparable from one another, and no distinction is drawn between how God is in se and ad extra.”

One may object by asking why God’s action toward Christ should be constitutive to his identity. As the context of Peter’s letter indicates, God’s action in raising Christ from the dead is the definitive act of God. For Peter, the action of raising Christ from the dead and giving him glory constitutes the redemptive act by which God has brought about the new birth for his people. Specifically, the intended result connected to God’s actions in 1:21 is so believers have “faith and hope in God” (ὥστε τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν καὶ ἐλπίδα εἶναι εἰς θεόν).

The action of raising Christ from the dead is elsewhere connected to providing believers with eschatological hope (1:3). Moreover, it’s integral to both cleansing believer’s consciences and forgiving their sins (3:21). Thus, from Peter’s perspective, God’s action in raising Christ from the dead is the definitive work of God’s redemption and relates to several benefits his people experience.

God’s action in raising Christ from the dead is the definitive work of God’s redemption and relates to several benefits his people experience.

Working from the assumption that divine act reveals divine being, we may consider two additional divine acts that disclose God’s identity in 1 Peter. Preceding 1:21 are two participial phrases that also narrate God’s actions toward Christ. Peter says Christ is “foreknown” (προεγνωσμένου) before the foundation of the world (v. 20) and he is “made manifest in the last times” (φανερωθέντος δὲ ἐπʼ ἐσχάτου τῶν χρόνων). According to Paul Achtemeier, it’s the person of Christ and not merely God’s plan that’s foreknown.

Moreover, this manifestation refers to Christ’s incarnation with the passive form of the participle indicating divine action. Putting all these divine acts together, we see that, in 1 Peter, Christ is the One who was foreknown, manifested, raised, and given glory by God. As such, God’s identity is constitutively tied to his actions in Christ as Christ is definitively identified by his relationship with God the Father.

Defined by Relationship

What does the relationship between God and Jesus Christ tell us about the divine identity in 1 Peter? God is who he is by virtue of his relationship with Jesus Christ; he’s the Father of Christ, and by implication, Christ is his Son. This relationship between God and Christ, although sharing some commonalities with all believers, is marked uniquely by the unmediated nature of their relationship.

Further, God is identified in 1 Peter by his actions. Scholars have noted the importance of “identity descriptions” and specifically the ability to “pick out” the God of 1 Peter through these descriptions. When applied to 1 Peter, God is defined as “the God who raised Jesus from the dead and gave him glory.” He’s the God who has “foreknown” and “manifested” Jesus Christ. These identity descriptions work in a bidirectional manner; thus, Jesus is also identified as the One whom the Father foreknew, manifested, raised, and glorified.

God is defined in 1 Peter by his relationship to Jesus Christ, just as Christ is defined by his relationship to God the Father.


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