his verse appears in the RCL for Easter 6A, most recently May 21, 2017
Summary: The Greek in this passage is quite difficult, so much so, in fact, that it reads more like a puzzle. I've tried to identify some meaningful pieces of the puzzle. Once you put them together, you get a clear image: God saves us; our job is to do good and share the good news. Repeat: God saves. I also explore the meaning of the some of the key words.
ζηλωται ("zealotai", adjective meaning "be zealous", 3:13) The word for "be eager" is "zelotehs," ie, be a zealot. It is a reminder that we are not simply encouraged to do good, but hunger for righteousness!
τον φοβον αυτων (meaning "the fear of them, 3:14) Interestingly, this phrase is translated, "Do not fear what they fear." But it literally reads, "Do not fear their fear..." in an age of fear, this perhaps a more helpful translation!
απολογια (apology, meaning "defense", 3:15) The word for defense here is "apologia" (ie apology); the word here for "reason/accounting" is "logos." In some ways our apology for the faith, our defense is not simply a negative word but finally is the logos, or Christ. In other words, we are not really defending something but giving away the word, who is Christ.
απαξ ("hapax" (rough breathing) meaning "once and for all", 3:18) Basic idea: Jesus does not have to die again.
ζωοποιηθεις ("zoo-poietheis" meaning "make alive", 3:18) There is also another word in this verse: "zoopoie-oo." "To make alive." This verb in the New Testament appears almost exclusively in the context of the Spirit. Furthermore, it is only God who makes alive! Yet in the previous verse, we were called to "do good" (agathopoie-oo). A reminder of our calling -- do good and give a witness; and the Spirit's calling - to make alive.
αντιτυπον ("antitype" meaning "prefigure", 3:21) The word for "prefigured" is "antitupos" (anti here does not mean apposed but pre)
σωζει ("sozo" meaning "save", 3:21) The verb "save," used in conjunction with Baptism, is in the present tense. This means that it does not simply save at one point, but continues to save us (a nice tie in then with the Gospel lesson about continual repentance).
συνειδησεως and επερωτημα (3:21) The real question is what does the phrase "an appeal (επερωτημα) of a good conscience (συνειδησεως ) to God" mean. There is a lot of ink written about this construction; the word "appeal" is a less frequent word, making its intrepretation more challenging. I suggest this verse is not about works-righteousness or some sort of baptismal pledge. It seems clear that the overall thrust of the passage is on the work of God through the resurrection to create life. And in the end, if justification by faith means the death of the sinner and the resurrection of the new creation, certainly this creation has a clear conscience before God. Regardless, Baptism saves us through the resurrection of God; there is no sense that our good works save us!
Grammar Review: When a sentence becomes a puzzle
3:13 This sentence is complex one in Greek; 1st of all, the word for "do bad" is a substantive participle; the word for "good" is substantive adjective (the good) and the verbs are all out of order...In this case, one might really need to look at other translations even to get started. Break down what one knows and then see if one can put it together:
Και τις ο κακωσαν υμας εαν του αγαθου ζηλωται γενησθε
τις The accent marks will tell you if it is a pronoun (any, a, certain) or a question (who/what/where). In this case, you have a question mark at the end, so it makes it easier to figure out it is a question.
ο κακωσαν υμας The one who does you bad/harm
του αγαθου of the good. Why is this in the genitive?
ζηλωται ...it looks like a verb, but it means 'zealous' In this case we can go back and figure out that seeking and good go together: seeking the good
γενησθε are (in subjunctive) That this is in the second person tells us that the subject of the sentence is "you."
So...And what the one who does you harm if of the good seeking you are?
Or "What becomes of the one doing bad to you if you are doing good?
Phew! Again, break down what you know and use other translations to help!