An Exegete’s Question–Why?

Questioning the text is one of the exegete’s principle “stock-in-trade” procedures. 1 Peter 3:6 contains a participial phrase (μὴ φοβούμεναι μηδεμίαν πτόησιν) begging for an answer to a question, “Why include ‘terror’ (πτόησιν) in the verse?” The last term is defined syntactically as a cognate accusative of the inner object  (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 1996, 189-90) affecting the meaning of the verbal to which it relates (φοβούμεναι). This usually involves emphasis. In this case, however, there is another reason for the cognate accusative.

The NT Greek word root (φοβ-) carries two basic senses: (1) to have fear, being afraid, and (2) to have respect, so used in verse 2 where the wife is told that the husband may be saved as he beholds his wife’s chaste and respectful  behavior towards him. In verse 6 the participle φοβούμεναι needed to be understood differently from the way in which Peter used the word root in the immediately preceding context (ἐν φόβῳ, verse 2) meaning “respect.” Therefore, Peter needed to do something to avoid the negative thought that he was encouraging wives not to show respect to their husbands. This was done by means of adding the cognate accusative of the inner object  (πτόησιν) to restrict the sense of the participle to fear. Thus, the wives are told that they like Sarah are not to live in fear  of their husbands.  The exegetical importance of this observation is clear. The term φοβούμεναι does not refer to respect but to fear, and the reason for this syntactical construction is lexical and not emotional, being restricted by πτόησιν, the cognate accusative of the inner object. Furthermore, this negative phrase really does help define what genuine respect looks like for the wife in verses 1-6. It consists of living with her husband respectfully  (verse 2) and fearlessly  (verse 6) because she regards him as good and who would not knowingly do her harm.

The point of this article is simply to remind ourselves to question the biblical writer as to why he used the words he did in difficult passages so that we do not go beyond his intended meaning. Here we asked and answered, “Why insert terror (πτόησιν) into verse 6?”  Exegetes who focus much of their exegetical energy doing word-meaning studies could miss Peter’s sense and move πτόησιν beyond its restrictive function  by emphasizing the “terror” idea. Thankfully, most English translations of this verse have done well in confining the participle to “fear.” The NIV captured Peter’s meaning admirably by translating, “and do not give way to fear.”

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