Covering Evil

πρὸ πάντων τὴν εἰς ἑαυτοὺς ἀγάπην ἐκτενῆ ἔχοντες, ὅτι ἀγάπη καλύπτει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν, 1 Pe 4:8. (Novum Testamentum Graece).

The word ‘covers’ in 1 Peter 4:8 is a translation of the Greek verb καλύπτει (kaluptei) which is the present, active, indicative, third person, singular of the verb καλύπτω (kalúptō) the basic meaning being ‘to cover.’  Peter uses a form of this root eight times in his two letters, in both noun and verb forms, all of them appearing in the first epistle only.


All of these as used by Peter, except two (2:16, 4:8), are forms of apokalúptō, (to disclose, reveal) which are compound words created by prefixing ἀπο (apo)[1] to the root. Some other compound forms found in the N.T. are listed below:

anakalúptō, to uncover in the sense of removing all impediments to knowledge, equal to discover;

epikalúptō, to cover up or over;

katakalúptō, to cover completely;

parakalúptō, to hide; (to conceal thoroughly / para, ‘beside,’ intensive)[2]

perikalúptō, to cover around, blindfold;

sugkalúptō, to cover together or up.[3]

In examining the usage within the phrase “love covers a multitude of sins” in 1 Peter 4:8, I will first examine the six occurrences of Peter’s usage of the form apokalúptō throughout his epistles and then focus on the two remaining occurrences in the text.

Apokalúptō in 1 Peter

In 1:5 Peter references ‘salvation ready to be revealed’ (σωτηρίαν ἑτοίμην ἀποκαλυφθῆναι, soterion etoimen apokalupsthenai). In 1:7, it is the ‘revelation of Jesus Christ’ (ἀποκαλύψει Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, apokalupsei Jesou Christou) which will ‘result in praise and glory and honor’ as a result of the genuineness of the believers faith.

In 1:12, Peter states that ‘it was revealed to them’ (οἷς ἀπεκαλύφθη ὅτι, ois apekalupsthe oti); ‘it’ being the fact that ‘them’ (the prophets), ‘were not serving themselves, but you’ in regards to the aforementioned salvation (1:5, 1:9, 1:10). In 1:13, it is grace (χάριν) on which the believers are to ‘fix…hope completely’ and that will be brought to them at the ‘revelation of Jesus Christ,’(same phrase as 1:7).

In 4:13, Peter exclaims that as the believers share in Christ’s suffering, so ‘at the revelation of His glory’ (ἀποκαλύψει τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ, apolkalupsei tes doxes autou) they could ‘rejoice with exultation.’ He assures them in 5:1 that of the ‘glory that is to be revealed’ (μελλούσης ἀποκαλύπτεσθαι δόξης, mellouses apokaluttesthia doxes) he is a fellow-partaker.

Epikalumma in 2:16

In the remaining two occurrences, Peter uses the word in the sense of ‘covering’. In 1 Peter 2:16 the noun form of the word is used, ἐπικάλυμμα (epikalumma), where Peter instructs the believers in a paradoxical principle: that their liberty (ἐλευθερίαν, eleutherian) should be used as ‘bond slaves of God’ (δοῦλοι⸃ θεοῦ, douloi theou) and not as ‘covering for evil’ (ἐπικάλυμμα ἔχοντες τῆς κακίας, epikalumma echontes tes kakias).

Firstly, Peter’s admonition for the believers to do good is all over this epistle (2:14, 2:15, 2:20, 3:6, 3:10, 3:11, 3:13, 3:16, 3:17, 3:21, 4:19). Perhaps Peter had in mind Jesus’ dramatic lesson to him about his faith (Matt.14:29) when he uses the same root (ερχομαι) in describing their “coming to Him” (2:4), where their new position “being built up as a spiritual house” (2:5) must inform their behavior. They are to live as faithful (1:7), obedient (1:14), holy (1:15) ‘do-gooders’ (ἀγαθοποιῶν, agathopoion, lit. ‘ones who do good,’ 2:14) and that they must concentrate on God’s plan for their sanctification, i.e. growing up in their salvation (2:2) as ‘living stones’, ‘a spiritual house’ and ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession’ (2:9).

Secondly, Peter’s lists five specific sins in 2:1that they are to stop and put aside: malice (κακίαν, kakian), deceit (δόλον, dolon), hypocrisy (ὑποκρίσεις hupokriseis), envy (φθόνους, phthonous) and all slander (καταλαλιάς, katalalias). The context is the actions of the believers in relation to human authorities, specifically those of the Gentiles among whom they were ‘aliens and strangers’ (2:11). Here he contrasts the behaviour of the believers with that characterizing the “ignorance of foolish men” (ἀφρόνων ἀνθρώπων ἀγνωσίαν; 2:15), who were actually doing those very things in order to accuse the believers of evil (2:12,15; 3:16).

 In obediently following Peter’s command for them to “Submit yourselves…” (1 Pe 2:13–14), the believers liberty in Christ is always from sin and towards God. They were to be holy in all behavior (1:15). Liberty in Christ never gives latitude to do what is legally wrong – unless those two would somehow come into direct conflict; a situation of which Peter had direct knowledge, (Acts 4:19, 20). Peter proceeds to encapsulate their liberty by using four imperative verbs (2:17) which give a high level overview of the attitudes that should guide the out workings of this principle towards others:

“πάντας τιμήσατε, τὴν ἀδελφότητα ἀγαπᾶτε, τὸν θεὸν φοβεῖσθε, τὸν βασιλέα τιμᾶτε.

(1 Pe 2:17). (Novum Testamentum Graece).

Warning (Bryant’s translation): ‘All: value, the brothers: love, the God: fear, the king: respect.’

Peter further reminds them that their goal, even in these tribulations, is finding favor with God (2:19, 20). Christ Himself is our example (2:21); He suffered yet did not “revile in return” (2:23). They are to be ‘…in sin, dead; in righteousness, alive…’ (‘ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ἀπογενόμενοι τῇ δικαιοσύνῃ ζήσωμεν’, 2:24).

Kaluptei in 4:8

In 1 Peter 4:8 the verse began with a phrase we have previously analyzed in James 5:12: ‘above all’ (πρὸ πάντων, pro panton). The phrase serves the same purpose here: to connect previous teaching in the letter with what follows, and giving it special, repeated emphasis.[6] Previously, Peter had discussed agape both for Christ (1:8) and for fellow saints (1:22, 2:11,17, 3:10) Here Peter uses the noun/adjective form by encouraging the active, ongoing love among the brothers: ‘keep fervent in your love’ (ἀγάπην ἐκτενῆ ἔχοντες, agapen ektene echontes,); previously he had urged the same behavior, but used the verbal form, ‘love fervently’ (ἀγαπήσατε ἐκτενῶς, agapesate ektenos), (1:22). There Peter had emphasized the vast difference between mere brotherly love and Christ’s ‘agape’ love: “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren (‘phileo’), fervently love (‘agape’) one another from the heart.” This was a distinction Christ had intentionally made in a special one-on-one with Peter at the end of His earthly ministry, (John 21:15-17).

It is in this first phrase of 4:8, that Peter re-reminds them of the source and motivation of the incomprehensible greatness of God’s agape love.[7],[8] It is the way Christ described God’s sacrificial love, and that which He instructed believers to exhibit to one another: ‘even as I have loved you’ (‘καθὼς ἠγάπησα ὑμᾶς, kathos egapesa umas), (John 13:34). This love which brings salvation was initiated by God, indeed it was in Christ that they were “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit” This salvation also includes “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1:4). It is utterly and uniquely invaluable, for they were “not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold…but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ,” (1:18–19).

In the second half of 4:8, Peter changes the focus to the action of agape love, both in its origin in God and practice through believers “for love covers a multitude of sins’, (ἀγάπη καλύπτει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν, agape kaluptei plethos hamartion).  Here the word for covers, ‘καλύπτει’ is the present active indicative where ‘love’, as the subject, performs the action: ‘love covers’. It is introduced by the adverbial conjunction ‘for’(ὅτι, hoti), which indicates purpose and answers the question, ‘why keep fervent in love?’.[9] As Peter has refreshes them on the rationale for fervent love, he involves not only the source as we just covered, but also highlights their obligations within it. From the very beginning of the epistle where he had reinforced the greatness of salvation, he had instructed the believers in 1:13 “Therefore, prepare your minds for action” (Διὸ ἀναζωσάμενοι τὰς ὀσφύας τῆς διανοίας, anazosamenoi tas osphuas tes dianois; an idiom, literally ‘to bind up the loins of the mind’).[10] He is telling them to sober up, keep focused on grace (as we saw earlier) and then beginning in 1:14, starts laying out the crucial material.

He first coaches them that to be obedient will require changes to be made –  from one mindset to something completely different: ”As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance” (1:14). The word used here is συσχηματίζομαι, (syschēmatizomai), ie. be formed on the model of, take on the form of something, conform to).[11] It is the same word Paul uses in Romans 12:2 in the imperative mood: “Do not be conformed…”.  In 1:14, Peter uses the passive participle, which is akin to saying ‘stop conforming yourselves …’.

What they are to conform to, and which becomes a theme for the book as we saw earlier, is for believers to be holy (αγιος, hagios), “but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ ”(1:15–16). Peter uses over two dozen words describing the conduct of doing good ‘ἀγαθοποιοῦντας’ (2:15), a behavior pattern that should always be characterized with an attitude of reverential fear (φοβος, phobos) because of the price that Christ paid (1:19) and His worthiness of all glory (1:21).

Finally we come to the word ‘sins’ (ἁμαρτιῶν, hamartion). Although Peter had used over a dozen terms for various kinds of sin in this epistle, here he uses the ‘the basic Greek word for sin’ a term that he first introduced in 2:20.[12] The usage here seems consistent with his larger emphasis, that true agape ‘covers’ sins.

Several options regarding ‘covering’ suggest themselves. The first is that perhaps he means agape covers or hides one’s own sins. But that cannot be the meaning, because, as discussed earlier, hiding one’s own sins might just be hypocrisy or illegal or perhaps both. Second what about hiding another’s sin? God’s agape love never condones any sin, not that of ourselves nor that of others, and forbids disobeying the law (except as discussed earlier). In any case, there is no hiding sin from the sight of God’ “but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (4:5). But what agape can do – indeed has done – is forgive.

Peter teaches that “Christ also died for sins (ἁμαρτιῶν, hamartion) once for all, the just (δίκαιος, dikaios) for the unjust (αδίκαιος, adikaios)…” (3:18). Jesus’ sacrifice is more than sufficient to cover all the hamartion that the world can muster. Christians, by contrast have the example, the liberty and even the obligation to forgive those sins comitted against them by fellow believers. The question is, will they listen, grow up, and obey?

 “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8–9)

[1] James Strong, The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996). “ἀπό, apŏ´; a primary particle; “off,” i.e. away (from something near), in various senses (of place, time, or relation; lit. or fig… In composition (as a prefix) it usually denotes separation, departure, cessation, completion, reversal, etc.”

[2] Vine, W. E., Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996.

[3] Zodhiates, Spiros. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000.

[4] Michaels, J. Ramsey. 1 Peter. Vol. 49. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998.

[5] Lukaszewski, Albert L. The Lexham Syntactic Greek New Testament Glossary. Lexham Press, 2007. “Genitive of Reference: Use of the genitive to express the reference or regard in which the author views the modified word.”

[6] “That is – be especially careful on this point; whatever else is done, let not this be. ”Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: James to Jude, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 90.)

[7] “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God” 1 Jn 3:1 (NASB)

[8] Don K. Campbell, “Love,” ed. Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, The Theological Wordbook, Swindoll Leadership Library (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, Inc., 2000), 231–232. “The dimensions of God’s love for the human race and the demands of such love on the believer seem almost impossible to comprehend. Scripture is clear that the self-sacrificing love of God sent Christ to die for sinners, and that believers are called on to manifest the same love to each other and to unbelievers. Such love, according to Paul, is the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22), something not produced by human effort but by the Holy Spirit working through a Christian who is in vital union with Christ (John 15:1–8).”

[9] Zodhiates, “hóti; conj. …because (causal) …for this reason, assigning the cause, motive, ground of something.”

[10] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 332. “to prepare oneself for learning and thinking—‘to get one’s mind ready for action, to be ready to learn and to think, to be alert.’ διὸ ἀναζωσάμενοι τὰς ὀσφύας τῆς διανοίας ὑμῶν ‘so then, have your minds ready for action’ “

[11] Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990–), 314.

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