1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (NRSV).
In the midst of talks about ‘the finished work of Christ,’ some today are going beyond what is written, asserting that all humanity rose and ascended with Christ. While there is no reference anywhere in the New Testament that says ‘all rose’, such absences of Scriptural support matters very little to those who want the scope of Christ’s resurrection and ascension to comprehend all humanity. Yet that does not mean they do not appeal to Scripture at all. Driven by an earnest longing and such a deep yearning for their belief to be true, they sometimes appeal to 1 Peter 1:3 which says “By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (NRSV). With premature excitement and naive celebration, they claim Peter, indeed, teaches that all humanity was raised through Christ’s resurrection. They conclude the cosmos was reborn, apart from hearing the word of God or obedience to the truth since Peter omits the proclamation of and obedience to the gospel. All were included in Christ’s resurrection apart from hearing the gospel and personal faith in Christ. Unfortunately, their jubilee is groundless and when this verse is read in context, it is immediately clear their exhilaration is built on sand.
Firstly, we must look at who is said to be born anew. Who are the ‘us’ that have been given a ‘new birth to a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead?’ Verse 1:2 answers this, indicating that the ‘us’ in 1:3 refers to “those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (NASB). These are the ones that Peter is addressing and has in mind. They are beneficiaries of the new birth, through Christ’s resurrection and are contrasted from others who ‘do not believe’ (2:7) and ‘stumble because they disobey the word’ (2:8), from who malign them as evildoers (2:12), from others who ‘who demands from them an accounting for the hope that is in them’ (3:15), and from others who were surprised Peter’s audience no longer joins them in their way of life and malign them over it (4:3-4). A last and final distinction between those were given a new birth from others comes to full culmination toward the end of Peter’s letter: “For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (4:17). In the next verse (4:18), he then quotes the LXX version of Proverbs 11:31 and applies it to the situation his readers find themselves in “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinners?” As if that is not enough, Peter even makes a distinction between those God gives grace to and those whom He opposes (5:5). Far from thinking all were raised with Christ and the whole human race was born again the moment He rose from the dead, Peter’s wider context of this plainly denies this. So if Peter is not saying that the entire cosmos was born again when Christ rose again, what is Peter saying?
Instead of thinking that all rose through the resurrection, what Peter is actually saying is that prior to that event, no one was ever born again. F.F. Bruce concurs, saying “Regeneration, or being born again, is not an OT idea, although the Jews at times came close to it” (50). If this was not an Old Testament idea, where did this idea, the new birth, come from? According to Peter, it was “through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead” (1:3). J. Ramsey Michaels elaborates, saying, “The redemptive act by which God has brought about new birth for a new people is finally made explicit as the resurrection of Jesus” (19). What this means, then, is that both the idea and the phenomenon of the ‘new birth’ was something that appeared after Christ’s resurrection, not that all humanity was regenerated through that event. The introduction of a new kind of life appeared on earth and was made available to the world through the resurrection of Christ. Peter is saying that new birth is the achievement of the resurrection of Christ, not that the entire world was born again through His resurrection.
Absence of Faith is Evidence of Absence?
Secondly, some have rushed to believe that the new birth took place when Christ rose from the grave apart from the preaching of the gospel and our response to it. This is because 1:3 completely omits those elements. While it is true no mention of gospel preaching or personal faith is mentioned here, Karen H. Jobes points out that this is not the only place Peter uses the word for ‘given new birth.’ She says “the Greek word translated as ‘given new birth’(NRSV), “is the articular masculine participle of ἀναγεννάω, (anagennaō), a verb that does not occur in other books of the NT or the Greek OT. It is found only one other place, in 1:23” (82). That Peter uses the verb twice and is the only one to use it shows that he has the same event in mind in both places and is referring to one, not two, events. So while Peter does not mention any reference to hearing the gospel or believing in 1:3, he soon resumes his ‘rebirth’ imagery in 1:23 where he uses the verb again. Only this time, just before he uses the verb again he tells the recipients of his letter that “you have purified their souls by your obedience to the truth through the Spirit” (v. 1:22) and then explains, telling them they ἀναγεγεννημένοι (anagegennēmenoi) ‘have been born anew’ “of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God” (v. 1:23). Though no reference to hearing the gospel and obeying the truth is mentioned in 1:3, these elements are mentioned in 1:23. Why would Peter omit them in 1:3, but include them in 1:23? 1:3 is part of a eulogy which is observable by how Peter opens up with ‘blessed be God…’ This explains why Peter chose not to mention the proclamation of and obedience to the gospel at first. By omitting them there, he could solely bestow honor and glory upon God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in what is stylistically typical of benedictions in his time. In doing so, Peter heralds the achievement of what Christ’s resurrection brought into human history—the new birth. For the first time ever, resurrection life could be shared with others and experienced individually. Nevertheless, as he gets further in his letter he does put obedience to the truth by the Spirit and hearing the proclamation of the gospel in the context of being born anew. Far from being born again when Christ rose from the dead, Peter’s audience was born anew upon hearing the gospel and obeying the truth through the Spirit, which is what Peter is explaining in 1:22-25.
In conclusion, Peter is not saying all humanity was born again, but is instead writing how God the Father used the resurrection of Christ to introduce the new birth into human history. While 1:3 omits reference to the proclamation of the gospel and obedience to it, this is because of Peter is using a literary feature known as eulogy to praise the redemption of God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter does not think that new birth occurs apart from the proclamation of the gospel and obedience to the truth, so he takes time to mention those aspects in the context of where he mentioned being born anew the second time. If the New Testament teaches ‘all rose’ with Christ, we will have to look elsewhere.