Re: 1 Pet. 4:6's Purpose Clause

Carl W. Conrad (
Sat, 30 Nov 1996 06:25:48 -0600

At 9:31 PM -0600 11/29/96, wrote:
>I've been looking in my Greek grammars and in some commentaries, but can't
>find a satisfactory answer. The only commentary I found that even attempted
>some explanation was S. Greijdanus's Dutch commentary. . . .
>Some translations of 1 Peter 4:6's purpose clause read something like this:
>"in order that they might be judged like men in the flesh but might live like
>God in the spirit." (Any better explanations of _kata_ here would also be
>appreciated.) Others, however, add the word "though," making the first part
>of this phrase into a concessive clause: "in order that, though they are
>judged ..., they might live ..."
>Why the "though"? Is that first part concessive?
>I notice that the purpose clause involves a _men_ . . . _de_ . . .
>construction. Does that imply that the first item is concessive? What is
>the function of a _hina_ clause with a _men_ . . . _de_ . . . construction?

I probably have no business attempting to say anything about this verse. It
reminds me of those numerous Sophoclean puzzles in the Oedipus Tyrannus,
the meaning of which is transparent on the surface but bottomless once one
starts probing more deeply and that also have a way of looking utterly
transformed like the pieces in a kaleidoscope when you come back and look
anew after some time has passed. One of those puzzles has always been for
me the line spoken by Oedipus to Teiresias when he is convinced that he
knows more than Teiresias does about himself, however little he does know:

You're blind of ears and mind and eyes alike.

I take it sometimes as Sophocles' personal message to me!

1 Peter 4:6 is indeed an interesting sentence: one wherein the grammar and
rhetoric are, at least on the surface, straightforward enough, yet one that
has evidently occasioned some ingenious efforts to recast it in translation
in order to yield a sense that is suitable to the translator/interpreter in
the context of its own setting and the translator/interpreter's
assumptions. I would hope that there might be several opinions offered on
it, inasmuch as the relatively simple Greek admits of a variety of

Let me begin by re-citing the verse (4:6) and offering a simple translation
of my own before responding to the specific questions raised above (I add
the comma after SARKI in order to distinguish more sharply the rhetorical


"This, after all, is why the gospel was preached even to the
dead: so that they may condemned in flesh in human terms, but
may have life in spirit in God's terms."

The GAR links this to the preceding assertion regarding TWi hETOIMWS EXONTI
KRINAI ZWNTAS KAI NEKROUS. But while KRINW in vs. 5 appears to have the
broader sense of "pass judgment upon," in vs. 6 KRINW appears to have the
more common negative sense of "condemn." In the context, moreover, of
eschatological judgment, the condemnation would appear to be to
eschatological death, while the verb ZWSI points rather to eschatological
life--presumably in the age to come, although another interpretation might
be possible.

The hINA purpose clause corresponds to the rhetorical introductory phrase,
EIS TOUTO: "for this reason--(namely) so that ..." I read the KATA
ANQRWPOUS and KATA SARKA as setting forth antithetical perspectives
according to which the subjunctive verbs are seens as valid: CONDEMNED so
far as the human perspective is a factor, but ALIVE in God's perspective.
Finally, here is also the antithesis of SARKI and PNEUMATI, by which I
assume something distinct from the difference of perspectives indicated by
the KATA phrases must be intended, while nevertheless each must also be
interpreted in the context of the same subjunctive verbs. That being the
case, I think that SARKI must refer to bodily existence in this world age
and PNEUMATI to spiritual existence (in Pauline "spiritual bodies" or
"glorified bodies") in the age to come.

What of the MEN ... DE? Quite clearly they articulate the structure of the
two purpose clauses into what might in other circumstances be parallel
statements but here are quite evidently antithetical. And that is the
reason why the translators want to insert an "although" before whatever
they take KRIQWSI to mean; I've tried to convey the antithesis in less
strongly-marked manner by inserting a "while" before "may have life."
Interpretation (and translation) of a MEN/DE construction is one of the
first challenges faced by every new student of Greek; some (MEN) never get
beyond the mechanical device of rendering them as "on the one hand ..., on
the other ...," while others (DE) may learn more subtle ways of grasping
and conveying the nuance of alternation intended in the particular context,
some of them (DE) even realizing that the words of the two phrases or
clauses adequately indicate the alternation so clearly that no verbal
translation of the MEN and DE is necessary at all.

I think that's about the sum of what can be said about the GREEK of this
passage. There's a host of other problems that have more to do with the
range and reasonable limits of interpretation of NEKROIS, KRIQWSI, ZWSI,
"dead" those who have died in the body, as it would seem most reasonable to
assume? Or are they in fact, actually alive in bodies, but in bodies that
have been condemned to death even though their only meaningful life is
spiritual? I am far from imagining that interpretation of this verse is a
simple matter already resolved, but I think that resolution of the problems
has to proceed on the basis of something that goes far beyond the Greek
text of the verse in questions, including the larger context of 1 Peter at
the very least--and I doubt that the resolution will ever be altogether
independent of the theological perspectives that one brings to bear upon
the Greek.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR