By John McCort
Brethren sometimes fall into the trap of taking passages out of context and misapplying them in a zealous attempt to disprove false doctrines. When trying to disprove false doctrines, we should use our utmost discretion not to twist passages and draw conclusions that are not there. One misapplied passage exposed can seriously damage an attempt to teach an individual the truth.
Brethren have misapplied 1 Pet. 3:4 in an attempt to prove that the spirit of man is immortal. Although I firmly believe in the immortal nature of man, 1 Pet. 3:4 is not the passage to use in trying to establish that point. This passage has been widely used by brethren both in written and public debate. A close examination of the passage reveals nothing about the immortality of man’s spirit.
I Pet. 3:4 states, “But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” (KJV) The American Standard translation states; “But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” Some brethren have made the argument that the word “incorruptible” (aphtharto) literally means “immortal.” This word is used to describe God in 1 Tim. 1:17, “Now unto the King eternal, immortal (aphtharto) . . . .” They then draw the conclusion that since God is immortal and Peter says that woman are to have the immortal apparel of a meek and quiet spirit, that it logically follows that man possesses an immortal spirit.
The key to understanding this passage is determining what gives the spirit the immortal quality in this passage. Is Peter saying in this passage that all mankind possesses this much to be desired incorruptible spirit? No!! In the previous verse (vs. 3) Peter states, “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, or wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel.” Peter is contrasting the outward man with the inward man. The emphasis of the woman when she becomes a Christian should not be on adorning a body which will soon be wrinkled and ugly. The Christian woman is to emphasize the adorning of the heart in the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit. Peter is not saying that all men have an incorruptible spirit, but that the meekness and quietness are what give the spirit the imperishable (immortal) quality; a quality which only Christian women possess. Certainly a loud and aggressive spirit in a woman would not be described as “incorruptible” or “immortal.” Since a meek and quiet spirit is incorruptible (immortal), then a loud and aggressive spirit (in a woman) would likewise be corruptible (mortal). The Phillips translation of the Bible expresses the thought very lucidly, “. . . in the imperishable quality of a quiet and gentle spirit . . . .”
The word spirit in 1 Pet. 3:4, according to the scholars, has no reference to the immortal part of man but rather refers to the disposition or temperament of man. A. T. Robertson states, “Pneuma (spirit) is here disposition or temper (Bigg), unlike any other use in the N.T.” (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol. 6, p. 109) Lenski comments, “Without the incorruption of a meek and quiet spirit the hidden man of the heart would be filled with a vain, proud, self-assertive spirit, the mark of an unregenerate heart. Pneuma is to be understood in the ethical sense of temperament or character.” (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of Peter, John, And Jude, p. 131)
Lest I be misunderstood, I want categorically to state that I believe in the immortality of the soul. I believe there is a host of passages to establish that doctrine. I do not believe, though, this passage should be used in defense of this position.
Truth Magazine XVIII: 7, p. 102
December 19, 1974