Called to Follow Jesus in 1 Peter 2:21-25: A step-by-step example of Biblical exegesis

1 Peter 2:21-25 (NASB) 21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you werecontinually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

1 Peter 2:21-25 explains to us what it means to follow Jesus Christ in discipleship. Whenever I approach a rich text such as 1 Peter 2:21-25, I attempt to explore the text step by step. I would like to walk you through this text and a typical step-by-step process to “leading out the meaning” (the literal definition of exegesis is to “lead out”) of God’s words one verse, one phrase and one word at a time.  Below is a thumbnail sketch for a step-by-step method of exegeting or “leading out” the meaning of God’s Word from observation, through interpretation to application.  To reach as many people as possible, I’ve written this post for readers who have never studied the Biblical languages as well as for those who have studied them. The goal will be to prayerfully and thoughtfully develop a simple summary of what Peter as written in the text above. In the standard way of working through any passage we will use the three-step process just mentioned that many Bible teachers have used throughout the years: Observation, Interpretation and Application.

Part One: Observe what is in the text

1. Translate the Text

       I always try to either translate whatever text I’m working with before even starting to explore the finer details, or simply read the text in a reliable English translation or translations.  Well-established literal English translations such as the KJV, NKJV, ESV or NASB and paraphrase-type translations such as the Holman Christian Standard (HCSB) and NLT can be used side by the side with the literal translations in arriving at an understanding of the passage.  

2. Study the text in its original language or with the aid of an interlinear

Even if a person does not know the original languages, certainly using a tool called an interlinear can be helpful.  An interlinear has the Greek (or Hebrew/Aramaic) text along with the English printed underneath each corresponding Greek or Hebrew or Aramaic word.  Another helpful tool is a concordance (such as Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance) that lists every occurrence of every English word and the corresponding Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek word.  Numbers are assigned by the concordance for each original language word, so that even if somebody does not know the languages, acquisition of the meaning of the original words can still be achieved.

If the Bible student has learned Hebrew/Aramaic or the Greek of the text, it is always helpful to look at the text.  Below is 1 Peter 2:21-25 in its original Greek:                                  1 Peter 2:21-25 (21) εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ ἐκλήθητε, ὅτι καὶ Χριστὸς ἔπαθεν ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν, ὑμῖν ὑπολιμπάνων ὑπογραμμὸν ἵνα ἐπακολουθήσητε τοῖς ἴχνεσιν αὐτοῦ· 22 ὃς ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἐποίησεν οὐδὲ εὑρέθη δόλος ἐν τῷ στόματι αὐτοῦ· 23 ὃς λοιδορούμενος οὐκ ἀντελοιδόρει, πάσχων οὐκ ἠπείλει, παρεδίδου δὲ τῷ κρίνοντι δικαίως·24 ὃς τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν αὐτὸς ἀνήνεγκεν ἐν τῷ σώματι αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τὸ ξύλον, ἵνα ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ἀπογενόμενοι τῇ δικαιοσύνῃ ζήσωμεν· οὗ τῷ μώλωπι ἰάθητε. 25 ἦτε γὰρ ὡς πρόβατα πλανώμενοι, ἀλλὰ ἐπεστράφητε νῦν ἐπὶ τὸν ποιμένα καὶ ἐπίσκοπον τῶν ψυχῶν ὑμῶν.

3. Note key transitional words. Example 1 Peter 2:21

Transitional words or phrases are terms used by the author to convey ideas such as purpose, cause, effect, result and other sorts of movements or relationships within a given sentence.  Whether you know the languages or have never studied them, identifying transitional words or phrases can be helpful in tracing the author’s thought process. In 1 Peter 2:21 for example we can note the following transitional words in both the Greek and English.

2:21 Greek                                                                                 2:21 English

a. εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ = purpose statement                                   a.  “for this purpose” (NASB)

b.  ἵναἐπακολουθήσητε τοῖς ἴχνεσιν αὐτοῦ                         b.   “to follow in His steps” (NASB) = this little term specifies the purpose                                                                            of the calling “to follow in His footprints”

c. ὅτι καὶ Χριστὸς ἔπαθεν ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν                               c. “since Christ also suffered for you

The word  ὅτι is giving the logical grounds for the                leaving you an example” (NASB)

calling, namely “that Christ also suffered on your behalf”.                                                       The little phrase ὑμῖν ὑπολιμπάνων ὑπογραμμὸν                                                                       is Peter unpacking the relationship between what                                                                Christ did to what we’re to do, namely “leaving behind                                                            for you a pattern of life to trace”. Without Christ’s objective                                                work, there would be no power for me to subjectively                                                          follow in His example, and thus fulfill my calling.

4. Note the verbs in the passage. Example 1 Peter 2:21 

Verbs are king when it comes to interpreting a passage of scripture in whichever language (English or Greek). Three verbs standout in 1 Peter 2:21 that can function like the game of connecting the dots.  How? Verbs are the skeleton the Divine and human authors use to hang every other word and flow of the argument.  So for example we have three main verbs in 1 Peter 2:21:

a. ἐκλήθητε (e-klei-thei-te) = “you were called”.  This is a passive calling that God issued to Peter’s readers. He reminds them (and us reading) that our calling as Christians is directly the result of Christ’s finished work.

b. ἔπαθεν (e-pa-then) = “He suffered”. The first verb is couched in this second one.  Whatever explains the Christian’s life and calling is situated in Christ’s accomplished work.  In the Greek both of these verbs are in the “aorist” tense, meaning that the focus is on an event or action in the past. There is a since of “finality” to both verbs, meaning that neither the call to salvation nor thankfully, Christ’s atoning work will ever need to be repeated.

c. ἐπακολουθήσητε (ep-a-ko-loo-thei-sei-te) = “you may follow closely”.  The reason for this translation is because the verb is made up of two words.  I won’t get into the grammatical details except to point out that when an author stuck a preposition (like “on” in this instance) to the front of a verb, that verb’s force is reinforced and amplified.  Thus we are not to merely follow Jesus as unaffected observers, but we are to follow Him closely, with intensity and with all our heart.

Whenever you note the key verbs of the passage, 1 Peter 1:21 alone yields the following basic outline: “You were called” for this purpose.  “He suffered” for you. So that “you may follow intensely” in His footprints.  Again consulting multiple English translations can give the reader similar ability to study and analyze the key verbs of a given passage.

5. Note the repeated words. Example: 1 Peter 2:22-24

We have thus far observed the key transitional words and main verbs of 1 Peter 2:21, however lets continue forward into the passage.  Oftentimes, when either working in Greek or English, repeated words or ideas can either shed light on the main meaning of the passage or serve to unpack what was just said.  Clearly Peter is urging us to follow closely Jesus’ example.  The question is: “why?” In the Greek text, as well as the English, we see one word repeated three times that functions at the head of three clauses describing Jesus our example, namely the little pronoun “who” (ὃς):

1:22 ὃς ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἐποίησεν / “who never sinned or missed the mark”                             οὐδὲ εὑρέθη δόλος ἐν τῷ στόματι αὐτοῦ· /nor was there ever discovered the ability to                                                                                     falsify words in his mouth

1:23 ὃς λοιδορούμενος οὐκ ἀντελοιδόρει / “who did not ever engage in a shouting match,                                                                              even though He was verbally abused

1:24 ὃς τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν αὐτὸς ἀνήνεγκεν / “He who  took up and carried our sins         ἵνα ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ἀπογενόμενοι τῇ δικαιοσύνῃ ζήσωμεν / so that we may stop living with the goal to sin and start living lives that are right (i.e righteousness).

These three phrases, called “relative phrases”, relate our attention back to the person of Christ in 1 Peter 2:21.  Notice how He is described in sum: Inerrant Example, Infallible Example, Incorruptible example and our Empowering example.

6. Do word studies. Example 1 Peter 2:24. 

Word studies can aid greatly in unpacking precious truths from words the carry the freight load of the text.  For example in 1 Peter 2:24 we read οὗ τῷ μώλωπι ἰάθητε ( “oo toe moe-loe-pee i-a-thei-te” = by His stripes you were healed).  The word οὗ (oo) is the relative pronoun “who” and in its form (what is called the genitive case) can be translated “of whose”. meaning possession.  So the question is: Who is the “whose” and what is this “Who” in possession of? The “whose” of course is Jesus, and the possession of course is in reference to the “stripes” (toe  moe-loe-pi = τῷ μώλωπι).

The term τῷ μώλωπι  (toe  moe-loe-pi = τῷ μώλωπι) refers to wounds brought about by a beating or physical trauma.  The form of the word speaks “by means of” His wounds.  So then we come to the verb ἰάθητε (i-a-thei-te = you were healed). What is Peter talking about here? A quick cross reference of the passage will yield up two main references: the main one being Isaiah 53:9 which says in the NASB “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.”

The second passage is found in Matthew 8:17 “This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: ‘He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases.”’, quoting the same chapter in Isaiah.  In the Matthew account the healing of diseases by Jesus is tied to the healing predicted in Isaiah 53. Whenever you research the verb ἰάθητε (i-a-thei-te = you were healed), its meaning can refer to the healing of either physical diseases (as it interpreted to be in Matthew’s quote) or the healing of the spiritual ailments – i.e sins (as is the case in 1 Peter 2:24).

Word studies and consideration of the contexts in which the same Greek word is found can aid you greatly in the proper interpretation of a passage and avoid misinterpretation as well.  As noted above, a tool like an interlinear or a concordance can enable anyone to get access into the original languages of the scripture.

Part Two: Interpret the text

When going into the second step of interpretation, your aim is to bridge not only the language gap (which we have attempted to do above), but also to bridge cultural gaps (1st century culture vs our 21st century culture); historical gap (we are separate some 20 centuries from Peter’s day) and literary gap (Peter wrote a 1st century letter style called “epistle”, so I would need to understand how He wrote what He wrote).

I won’t spend a whole lot of time here, being that the purpose of this blog site is to get the reader mainly acquainted with exegesis and observation, which is truly the foundation of any Bible study.  Nevertheless we can note a few quick things. 1st in closing the cultural gap, Peter is writing to a group of Jews scattered the world over, so the notion of following Jesus means that no matter where they live, whenever they run across another Christian, they have a common point.  For Jewish people longing to return to their homeland, knowing Jesus Christ, the “bishop and overseer of their souls” means that they are home no matter what – namely in Him.

The historical gap can be closed by noting that these Jews had experienced what had been occurring for centuries, namely a redistribution of the Jews throughout the Roman world.  The literature of that day called such Jews “Diaspora Jews” or “scattered Jews”.  Like little sheep scattered on the hillsides where Peter’s readers.  To know that though they were separated from one another by geography, yet by grace through faith they are not alone, but have a common shepherd, the Great Shepherd. (compare Psalm 23)

Then of course in closing the literary gap, we can note that in a typical 1st century Epistle there was always a doctrinal section followed by a practical section.  In 1 Peter 2:21-25 we are seeing Peter delivering the doctrinal basis of his letter in order to transition into what will be the practical commands and instructions of chapters 3-5 that deal with the Christian standing firm in the grace of God.

Information such as what we just explored here in the interpretation step can be found in tools such as Bible Encyclopedias (Like the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia) or Bible Dictionary (Like Halley’s Bible Dictionary) and good commentaries (Such a Word Biblical Commentary).

Part Three: Applying 1 Peter 2:21-25

As we have labored through 1 Peter 2:21-25, we have observed the text in its original language, attempting to explain as much as possible the English translation and features of Peter’s writing.  Exegesis again aims at “leading out the meaning” packed in the text by the Divine Author – The Holy Spirit, and the human author – Peter.  We also attempted to even more briefly show how one would bridge the gaps of Peter’s 1st century world and our 21st century world by taking what we learned in observation and entering into interpretation of the text.  As we close I want to offer the reader an outline that one could use in teaching or preaching 1 Peter 2:21-25.  This of course will aim at applying all we have worked through in the scriptures today:

Called to follow Jesus – 1 Peter 2:21-25

What is involved in the call to follow Jesus here in 1 Peter 2:21-25? What does Jesus offer His followers as described by Peter?                                                                                     1. Example to follow.                    1 Peter 2:21-23

2. Empowerment to follow.        1 Peter 2:24

3. Eternal Shepherd to follow.  1 Peter 2:25

About pastormahlon

By the grace of God I was converted to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 10 and called into the Gospel ministry by age 17. Through the Lord's grace I completed a Bachelors in Bible at Lancaster Bible College in 1996 and have been married to my beautiful wife since that same year. We have been blessed with four children, ranging from 7-18 years of age. In 2002 the Lord enabled me to complete a Master of Arts in Christian Thought at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield PA. For nearly 25 years I have been preaching and teaching God's Word and have been studying the original languages since 1994. In 2016 God called my family and me to move to begin a pastorate at a wonderful Southern Baptist Congregation here in Northern New York.
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