Righteous Scarcely Saved


"And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" Please explain.


The point of Peter's argument in this section of the letter is that Christians should expect to suffer for Christ's sake (1 Pet. 4:12-16), and that in their suffering they should entrust themselves to God (1 Pet. 4:19). The suffering which the church endures is here portrayed as a form of judgment or trial that comes against the church ("the household of God") in order to test it (1 Pet. 4:12). Those who fail the test (unbelievers) suffer the curse of God's wrath. Those who endure and pass the test (believers) receive blessings and rewards according to God's love for them in the gospel (1 Pet. 5:10), though the test itself is still painful discipline for them (cf. Heb. 12:1-11).

1 Peter 4:18 quotes Proverbs 11:31, which in its Hebrew form teaches two things. First, it assumes ("if") that on earth even the righteous are recompensed for their deeds (e.g. 2 Sam. 12:13-14,18; cf. Heb. 12:1-11), which in this case seems to refer to discipline for misdeeds, but with salvific intent (cf. Prov. 11:30). The verb for "recompense" here is shalem, the most basic meaning of which is "being complete or sound." Second, it teaches that that the evil and the sinners are certain to suffer even more.

Peter, however, quotes the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) version of this verse, which more explicitly brings out the idea that the righteous suffer hardship (i.e. even the righteous have a difficult time in the salvation process), and which does not state that the hardship is a form of recompense. The Septuagint interprets shalem as indicating not simple recompense, but rather a hardship which accompanies or leads to salvation. Peter affirms this translation, and quotes it as an Old Testament precedent for his statement in 1 Peter 4:17.

"If the righteous scarcely be saved" is not a very good translation at this point because it implies that it is hard to save the righteous, that they are saved by the skin of their teeth. This, however, is not what the verse is teaching, or what the Proverb it quotes was teaching. Rather, the context in 1 Peter and the original meaning of Proverbs 11:31 demonstrate that the point is that the righteous suffer trials which they endure with difficulty, even while they are being saved.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.