T.B. Williams, «Reading Social Conflict through Greek Grammar: Reconciling the Difficulties of the Fourth-Class Condition in 1 Pet 3,14.», Vol. 26 (2013) 109-126
For the most part, it is assumed that in the Koine period the fourth-class condition indicated a future contingency with a possible or, in many cases, only a remote chance of fulfillment (e.g., “if this could happen”). If this meaning is applied to the condition in 1 Pet 3,14, it seems to imply not the reality of suffering, but merely the remote possibility, which is at odds with the popular understanding of the epistle’s social situation. This study is an attempt to examine the meaning of the fourth-class condition in 1 Pet 3,14 and its function(s) within the larger Petrine argument, a task which not only sheds light on the interpretation of 1 Pet 3,13-17, but also provides the unity of the epistle with some much-needed substantiation.
110 Travis B. Williams
One of the reasons why partition theories became so popular and why
the reality of suffering in the first half of the epistle was often questioned
is the presence of the unusual grammatical construction found in 1 Pet
3,14 and 17: the fourth-class condition. For the most part, it is assumed
that in the Koine period the fourth-class condition indicated a future
contingency with a possible or, in many cases, only a remote chance of
fulfillment (e.g., “if this could happen”)2. If this meaning is applied to the
condition in 1 Pet 3,14a, the following sense appears to be demanded:
“Even if you happen to suffer for righteousness [and it is not likely that
you will], you would be blessed”. As such, it seems to imply not the reality
of suffering, but merely the remote possibility.
Such an interpretation, of course, would be contrary to the commonly
agreed upon situational background of the Anatolian readers. Within
Petrine studies, commentators have come to conclude that the recipients
found themselves in the midst of social conflict with outsiders who were
reacting hostilely against their newly-adopted Christian faith3. This
apparent contradiction has not gone unnoticed by those who hold to
the unity of 1 Peter, however. Various proposals have been set forth to
explain this unusual grammatical form (see below); nevertheless, in spite
of the numerous suggestions that have been offered, the condition has yet
to be adequately accounted for.
The purpose of the present study is not to call the modern consensus
into question. Rather, it is to solidify the foundation upon which it is built.
The study will be an attempt to examine the meaning of the fourth-class
condition in 1 Pet 3,14a and its function within the overall argument of
the letter. This, in turn, will not only shed light on the interpretation of 1
Pet 3,13-17, it will also provide the unity of the epistle with the one final
piece of substantiation.
2. Methodological Clarification
Our entry into the discussion will begin with a few words of
methodological clarification. There are three problems, in particular,
There are actually no complete fourth-class conditions (i.e., εἰ + optative in the
protasis along with ἄν + optative in the apodosis) in the NT due to the decreasing use of the
optative in the Hellenistic period. Instead, only incomplete conditions (either protasis or
apodosis) appear. Yet this language will be employed in order to maintain continuity with
the terminology found in modern grammatical works.
On the nature of conflict represented in 1 Peter, see T.B. Williams, Persecution in 1
Peter: Differentiating and Contextualizing Early Christian Suffering (NovTSup 145; Leiden