177. Peter’s Critique of the ‘Ancestral Lifestyle’ (patroparadotos anastrophē 1 Peter 1:18)

The adjective patroparadotos occurs once in the New Testament in 1 Peter 1:18, a hapax legomenon in technical jargon. Nor was it used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The writer of 1 Peter uses it in an extended, complex sentence describing the transformation in the life of his Christian audience due to their conversion experience: “…knowing that you have been redeemed from your empty, ancestral/paternal/traditional lifestyle, not with corruptible things, i.e., silver or gold, but with the Messiah’s precious blood like that of a unblemished and spotless lamb…” (my translation).  In the context it carries a negative connotation.

The writer of this letter has not created this term. It occurs, for example, in an inscription (IvP I 248.49-50 Pergamum) dated to 135-34 BCE:

μάλιστα δὲ πρὸς τὸν Δία τὸν Σαβάζιον, πατροπαράδοτον αὐτὸγ κομίσασα εἰς τὴμ πατρίδα ἡμῶν,

and especially towards Zeus Sabazios, whom she brought as an ancestral or related to her fatherland divinity into our native city,

This is part of a letter by King Attalus (published in Bradford Welles. Royal Correspondence #65. OGI 331).  Even though the mother of king Attalus is introducing this god, the deity has ancient roots and is not a new deity. This inscription was found in same region in which two centuries later the churches are located to whom the letter of 1 Peter is addressed. The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (1st c. BCE) uses the term frequently. In one context a Hellenistic ruler, upon receiving a kingdom urges his subjects to “maintain their heritage of loyalty” (patroparadoton…euonian) (Bibliotheca Historica 15.74.5). In another passage he uses the adjective to describe patroparadoton eusebian “ancestral/traditional piety” that he considered should be shown to the immortalized Heracles ( This probably refers to the expected cultic memorials usually offered to such a deity.  Diodorus also uses the term to describe  the accession of Alexander the Great when he was granted tēn patroparadotou hēgemonian (“his father’s governance” Historiae; cf. Change of government required reaffirmation of loyalty and support. Another 1st c. BCE historian, Dionysius Halicarnassensis, describes a certain Roman, Publius Valerus, and one of his virtues is that despite his military successes, he continued to live “on a small, ancestral estate” (patroparadotōi…ousiai) (Antiquitates Romanae So the term describes anything that has to do with heritage, ancestral tradition, or something inherited from a father or fatherland. I am indebted in a number of ways to W. C. van Unnik, “The Critique of Paganism in 1 Peter 1:18” (Neotestimentica et Semitica 129-142) for various of these observations.

Van Unnik also indicates that “fathers” in this term can refer to distant ancestors or immediate parents. Also, all these references use patroparadotos in a positive way. I would suggest that the usage in 1 Peter 1:18 is intended to show respect to the ancestral or traditional way of life and religious practices of the Hellenistic world, but concurrently to indicate that such practices are nonetheless mataion “empty, vain, useless” in terms of religious efficacy. In the Septuagint this adjective is part of the apologetic against idolatry (e.g., Isaiah 44.9). I do not think he means to disparage these traditions or religious practices or more general Hellenistic moral values, even as he declares them ineffective for achieving the results their practitioners expect. If individuals did not respect the ancestral religious customs (kata ta patria) of a region or city, this was a major affront and upset the life of a people group

What is clear is that this term prior to its occurrence in 1 Peter is only employed in non-Jewish writings to describe ancestral or traditional practices. Only in later patristic writings is this term also applied to the religious practices of Judaism. In 1 Peter the writer describes the pre-conversion “lifestyle or conduct” (anastrophē) that characterized many in his audience. Some elements of this ancestral way of life might have been quite beneficial, but as the writer indicates in 4:3-4 others involved some disturbing behaviours. The writer indicates that they were trapped in this kind of life until Jesus Messiah, exercising his power through the gospel, “ransomed” them.


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