The translators of the New International Version chose to render apogenomenoi (aorist middle participle of apoginomai) in 1 Peter 2:24 as “die”. It follows a tradition of interpretation that goes back to the King James Version (“being dead to sins”). Karen Jobes in her recent commentary on 1 Peter, however, renders this part of v.24 as “so that having no part in (apogenomenoi) in sins, we might live in righteousness.”1 Why this difference? Is it justified? Is it significant?
Undoubtedly the contrast with the verb “might live” (zēsōmen), the main verb in this clause, has led translators to understand this distancing from sin as a kind of death. However, the verb essentially means “to be away, to depart.” Since 1 Peter 2:24 is the only occurrence of this verb in the New Testament and there are no usages in the Greek Old Testament, we have to gain a sense of its meaning from non-biblical contexts.
In Classical Greek texts this verb plainly can mean “to die, depart”. For example, Herodotus the Greek Historian writing in the fifth century B.C. used this verb to describe the burial customs employed by the Spartans when a king dies (“continually declaring that the king who just died (ton…apogenomenon) was the best they ever had”).2 Thucydides, another Greek historian from the same period, used this verb similarly (2.34; 2.51). It has the sense of “the departed one”, the one who has gone away. We find the same sense occurring in inscriptions and papyri that come from periods before and after the New Testament writings. Moulton and Milligan, for instance, report an occurrence in the Ryland Papyrus II.65 (c. 60 B.C.) where this verb describes “several corpses (apogegonota pleiona sōmata)”.3 In a Christian letter dated to the III/IV century AD the request is made by the writer to his recipient to “come to us since our mother died (apegeneto).”4
The verb can also have the sense of “be away from, have no part in”. That from which one is to be separated is normally expressed by a noun or pronoun in the genitive case, sometimes with a prepositional modifier. For example, Thucydides warns ___________ to “have no part in (apogenomenoi) failures/faults” [1:39.3].Josephus, writing towards the end of the first century AD used this word in a speech by a Roman Senator upon the death of the emperor Gaius to describe this assassination as freedom from tyranny, an act by which “you have rid yourselves of such evils (kakōn apogegonotes5)”.
The rather unique element in the construction in 1 Peter 2:24 is that the participle apogenomenoi is modified by a noun in the dative (tais hamartiais), rather than a genitive construction. Liddell and Scott provide no examples of this verb modified by a dative of reference. It is probable that Peter employs the dative here to create closer parallelism with the following expression (tēi dikaiosunēi zēsōmen) “that…we might/should live with respect to righteousness.” But does Peter want us to read this text in a Pauline sense (e.g. Romans 6), i.e. “having become dead with respect to sinful activities we might/should live with respect to righteousness”, or is Peter’s emphasis more on the idea of separating oneself from evil or wicked behaviour and adopting good and holy conduct?
I think that Peter’s usage would suggest that he wants to emphasize the idea of separation. Consider his exhortation in 2:11 “to abstain (apechesthai) from flesh-based desires which war against the soul,” or his wording in 1:14 that urges his audience “not to be conformed (suschēmatizomenoi) to your former, ignorant desires, but to be holy in all behaviour.” Then in 2:1 he has affirmed that believers “put off (apothemenoi)all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander.” He tells believers (4:1) that “those who have suffered in the flesh have finished (pepautai)with sin.” They should realize that they no longer “live for the rest of their earthly life by human desires, but by the will of God” (4:2). This language of separation, non-conformity, cessation and abstention emphasizes the immense ethical and behavioural change the new birth has initiated. Instead of “doing evil”, their lives are characterized by “doing good”, something only possible because of their participation in God’s salvation.
Peter, however, seems to avoid using the analogy of death6 to describe the believer’s change from darkness to light. There is new birth and new life, but this does not come about through death. Rather, this language seems to emphasize their translation into God’s family through a spiritual birthing process. Believers have shifted masters, becoming “slaves of God” through the redemptive work of Jesus (1:18-21; 2:16). God is building them into a new spiritual edifice and they have the ability to offer Him acceptable sacrifices. Satan, their adversary, seeks to consume them, but they have strength, generated through faith, to resist his efforts. They have become resident aliens in their social context, obedient to God and following the path blazed by the Messiah.
These emphases in Peter’s letter would lead me to support the translation proposed by Karen Jobes for 2:24. The believer “has no part in sinful activities” or, as Elliott7 proposes he has “abandoned wrongdoing”, because he is “living in righteousness”. The New Revised Standard Version translates “so that free from sins, we might live for righteousness.”
- Peter emphasizes the believer’s firm, deliberate and continuing abandonment of sinful activities and the embrace of what is right in God’s eyes. How is this significant change evident in your life today? What sinful activity are you abandoning? What right thing are you choosing to embrace?
- There is cost attached to this radical departure. What is the cost to Jesus Christ/ What is the potential cost to the believer? How is this cost being expressed in your life today?
- In 2:25 Peter uses the language of Isaiah 53 to describe the believer’s life-change – no longer straying sheep, but rather obedient sheep following the Shepherd. How does this analogy speak to you today? What is the Shepherd and Guardian of your soul saying to you? Where does He want you to follow?
- 1 Karen Jobes, 1 Peter. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005): 197.
- 2 Herodotus, The Histories, transl. Aubrey de Selincourt (Baltimore, Maryland; Penguin Books Ltd., 1954): 380 [Book 6.58].
- 3 James Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., repr.1972):59.
- 4 G.H.R. Horsley, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, 2 (Macquarie University: The Ancient Document Research Centre, North Ryde, N.S.W., Australia, 1982): 174-175.
- 5 Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 19.178.
- 6 While the language of death does occur in 1 Peter, it is associated primarily with the death of Christ for redemptive purposes. In three contexts the textual tradition is divided as to whether the emphasis is upon Christ’s sufferings or Christ’s death (2:21;3:18; 4:1). Of course his sufferings include his death and his death include his sufferings.
- 7 J.H. Elliott, I Peter. The Anchor Bible (Toronto: Doubleday, 2000): 535.