Slaves and Wives – 1 Peter 2:18-3:7 (Part 1)

Peter has stated several times in this letter that the readers are living like “strangers and aliens” in this world. Since they are strangers, the world is watching them very closely. It is therefore essential that the Christian live life to a higher moral and ethical standard. In the first section, Peter said that the believer must be submit to all human authorities, even the Emperor of the Roman Empire.

Roman Slave and Centurion

While this seems like a shock from a modern, American perspective (where protesting the government seems to be a sacred right), Peter sees obedience to human authority as a way of showing the world that the Christians are honorable and our God is worthy of respect.

Peter treats slaves, wives and then husbands together as a “household.” This was the most basic unit in the Roman world and every Greek and Roman ethical writer had something to say about the proper roles within a household. In general, the husband was to be the authority in the home, wives and children were to be subordinate to the husband, and slaves were the lowest of all.

In the next two sections of the letter, Peter will give two additional examples that might cause outsiders to attack believers: slaves and wives. Both of these examples are more controversial than obedience to the government.

First, he commands slaves to be subject to their masters because Jesus himself suffered injustice with silence. That the Bible does not command the release of slaves is often a problem for the non-believer, and even for the Christian we struggle to apply texts about slavery in a modern context since we believe that slavery is morally repugnant. But by reading Peter’s words in the context of first century Rome, we will find that he is not endorsing this extremely common practice, but using it as an opportunity for the Christian slave to suffer like Jesus did.

Roman Wife and ChildrenSecond, he commands wives to be subject to their husbands and dress modestly. That Peter would move from slaves to wives is jarring from a modern perspective, and that he would have the audacity to tell the women how to dress is considered rude my many modern readers.

He even uses the same words for wives as he did for slaves (“be subject”)! Most husbands know that quoting this line out of context to your wife is not the best way develop a good marriage relationship! But again, context is necessary to avoid making rather sweeping applications that make no sense in the modern world.

In both cases, Peter urges Christians to observe their place in society and live honorably so that the outsider will see and perhaps praise God as a result of how Christians live their lives. In the next two posts I want to examine Peter’s comments about both slaves and wives in order to draw some application to church practice in a modern context.

By His Wounds You Have Been Healed – 1 Peter 2:24

In 1 Peter 2:24, Peter alludes to Isaiah 53:5 when he declares that Christ’s death provides “healing.”  He is clearly referring to the death of Jesus on the cross (“he bore our sins on the tree”).  But Peter adjusts the wording of Isaiah 53 slightly. In both the Hebrew and Greek versions, the line reads “we are healed,” Peter has “you (plural) are healed.”  This may simply be a case of a pastor inserting his congregation into a text for rhetorical purposes.

On the other hand, it is not clear in Isaiah who the suffering servant benefits – who is the “we” in this verse?  A common first-century answer was “Israel.” The nation as a whole suffers in order to bring redemption to the world.   This could be an example of Peter re-using a text from the Hebrew Bible and applying it more specifically to the Church. It is not the nation of Israel who is healed by the death of the messiah, but rather the ones who follow Jesus.

The verb translated “healed” (ἰάομαι) can easily be misunderstood. While it is often used for physical healing, it is also used for being delivered from spiritual blindness. What is more, it is used in Isaiah 6:10 to describe what might happen if the people of Isaiah’s day turned their hearts to the Lord and really understood the message of the prophet – “they would be healed.” This text from Isaiah is used several times in the New Testament to describe the spiritual blindness of those who witnessed Jesus’ ministry. They were spiritually insensitive and therefore rejected the Suffering Servant when he revealed himself.

John 12:37-44 is a remarkable combination of Isaiah 6:10 and 53:1. This is John’s summary of the ministry of Jesus. No one heard the message of the Suffering Servant, so no one turned as was healed! Like John, Peter is saying that those who follow Christ are healed of their spiritual blindness in a way which separates them from those who heard the teaching of Jesus and failed to respond.

Isaiah 53 forms a foundation for Peter’s Christology, and probably for the Christology of the earliest apostolic preaching. Based on the suffering of Jesus Christ, his followers experience redemption.  But there is a pastoral application of Peter’s theology of salvation.  If Jesus suffered so intensely so that you can have salvation, then those who follow Jesus ought to suffer in the same way.  Look back a few verses:  1 Peter: 2:20 is an ethical statement about servants who are unjustly suffering at the  hands of their masters.

In fact, Peter’s point is that how you follow Jesus ought to be based on the way in which Jesus lived, suffered and died.  This is not some sort of sugary “WWJD” pep-talk.  Peter bases his ethical teachings on the suffering of Jesus, not his “good life” or other moral teachings.  It is remarkable that Peter does not say, “Love your neighbor the way Jesus loved his neighbors.” I am sure that is true and that Peter would agree with that sort of a statement.   But Peter says, “suffering in silence, the way Jesus suffered.”

My guess is that most people who wore the WWJD bracelets were not thinking about being silent while they were beaten unjustly for their commitment to their Lord and Savior.

Submit to the Government? – 1 Peter 2:11-17

Donald Trump AntichristStrangers are not always welcome. Imagine this scene: you are traveling in England, and in some small village you have some car trouble so you stop at the local pub with a colorful name like “the Prancing Pony” or “The Drunken Duck” or my personal favorite, “The Skiving Scholar” (which is in Plymouth). As you walk up to the door, you can hear people talking, laughing, etc. But when you open the door and step inside, everyone goes silent and looks at you: you are different. You are an outsider and no good can come from an outsider (especially an American). Maybe you hear some muttering in the background about “tourists” as people just glare at you, waiting to hear what you want.

In the first part of 1 Peter 2, Peter has described the People of God as stones in a Living Temple of God. If we really do have this kind of status in the world, and we really do function in some ways like a “royal priesthood” to the nations, then there are some practical applications for Peter’s readers.  He has described them as strangers and aliens, living as foreigners in a strange land. Whatever they do, the people of God will be watched with a suspicious eye since they are “different.”

Hillary Clinton AntichristThe first application he develops is the relationship of the believer to the government. This is a particularly difficult problem since Rome ruled Asia Minor, and most of Asia Minor encouraged the worship of the Empire and the Emperor as a show of loyalty.

When this letter was written, the Emperor was Nero. If the book of 1 Peter is dated to about A.D. 64, then Nero is just beginning his spiral into insanity that will result in his suicide in June of 68. In July of 64, Nero appears to have secretly ordered the burning of some buildings in Rome in order to build a new Palace dedicated to himself (an area of up to 300 acres!), but the fire got out of hand and burned for five days, destroying three districts in Rome and damaging seven others. Looking to shift blame, Nero blamed the Christians (those strange outsiders) and began a persecution that (at least according to tradition) killed both Peter and Paul.

Bernie Sanders AntichristIt is unlikely that this persecution reached beyond the city of Rome, but the Greco-Roman world always looked at Jews with suspicion, and even more so the growing sect of Christians. If Karen Jobes is right and the letter of 1 Peter is written to Jewish Christians expelled from Rome by Claudius, then they are literally “strangers and aliens,” exiles from their home.

It is therefore remarkable that Peter does not command his readers to rebel against Rome or form some sort of underground opposition party. Nor are the Christians to work to undermine the foundations of the Empire. In fact, he tells his readers to “Submit to every human authority” (v. 13). But can Peter really mean every human authority?

What sort of application might this have to contemporary Church-State conversations? I think that this would look different in American than most of the rest of the world – how do people living outside the democratic west handle this teaching?

We Are Like Stones – 1 Peter 2:5

If Jesus is the cornerstone, then the believers are the stones that are laid on the stone in order to build up a Temple. Peter compares the people of God to the stones that make up a “spiritual house.” If Jesus is like the chief cornerstone (in some ways like the foundation and in other ways like the capstone), then those who are in Christ are the other components of that building. This is not too far from Paul’s “body of Christ” metaphor, in which Christ is the head and believers are the members of the body.

Temple StonesPeter describes God’s people with Temple language in verse five. The people of God are a “spiritual house.” The text does not say “temple of the Holy Spirit,” the metaphor Paul used in 1 Corinthians, but it is not quite the same. Any Jewish person hearing the phrase “spiritual house” in the first century would have immediately thought of the Temple in Jerusalem, and even in the Diaspora there was a certain pride in the Temple as God’s dwelling place. Buy not all would agree that the Temple was a real, spiritual house.

There are several well-known critiques of the Temple, including the Temple Action by Jesus just before his crucifixion. Jesus called the activity around the Temple as a “den of thieves” and threatened to tear the Temple down and rebuild it in three days. We know now that he was talking about his body and the coming resurrection, but there were many who saw this as an attack on the Temple itself.

Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 is often seen as critical of the Temple and the aristocratic priesthood. Stephen claimed that there is simple no need for a “spiritual house” in the present age, and he was lynched for this attack! The Qumran community in particular considered the activity of the Temple to be corrupt.  The community seems to have considered their activity near the Dead Sea as a kind of replacement for Temple worship until the Temple was cleansed by the coming messiah.

In the same way, the original readers would have understood “holy priesthood” in the light of the Temple. In fact, the priests were the only ones who permitted to offer sacrifices at the temple.  Peter describes all believers as a “holy priesthood,: not just those members of the tribe of Levi or the family of Aaron.  The high priest was to come from the line of Zadok, but after the Maccabean Revolt the Hasmoneans served as priest-kings, despite only being from the tribe of Levi. Since they were not Zadokites, the Qumran community rejected them proper high priests.

At the time this letter was written, the high priests were appointed to the office by the Sanhedrin.  The high priest Ananus son of Ananus was removed from office in A.D. 63 because he executed James the brother of Jesus (Josephus,  Antiq., 20.9.1).  The high priest Joshua ben Gamla obtained the office in 64 after his wealthy wife bribed the right people; the final high priest, Phannias ben Samuel, was not even in the priestly line, but was appointed by the Zealots. Josephus said that he was a “mere rustic “and “a man not only unworthy of the high priesthood, but that did not well know what the high priesthood was.” (Josephus, JW, 4.151-158).

The believer is superior to the Temple priest because they are able to bring “acceptable sacrifice to God” because they are offering them “through Jesus.”  Again, if there were some Jewish groups that considered the Temple and the priesthood corrupt, then can their sacrifices be acceptable to God? If, for example, the high priest was not actually holy when he brought the Day of Atonement sacrifice (on the wrong day even!), is it possible that God did not accept that sacrifice?

All of this language sounds like Peter is describing the present people of God as a kind of New Israel, but it is not the case that Peter is saying that the present Church (the Body of Christ) replaces the old Israel. For a Jewish writer and reader this new priesthood and temple service replaces the old one that was ineffective. The believers in Asia Minor in the first century are now all priests that are capable of offering acceptable sacrifices to God.

Prepare Your Mind – 1 Peter 1:13-15

In 1 Peter 1:16, Peter stated that the believer is to be holy. But how do we “become holy”? In the previous post I alluded to the classic scene of a monk living in the cave. He is physically separate from the world, but his mind might remain there! He might be thinking about some women he met on the way to his cave, or wondering about how is life might have gone if he stayed at home, or he might be jealous of his brother who got rich and is living a good life, or ne might be smugly thinking how spiritual he is in comparison to all the other less-monkish Christians who do not live in caves, etc. Appearing to be holy should never be confused with actual holiness.

Peter’s main point in verses 13-15 is that a life of physical holiness and separation is of no value if one’s mind remains unrestrained. Holiness begins with control our thoughts.

First, we are to prepare our minds for action. This is the first word of the paragraph (and is an aorist participle) and it emphasizes the fact that Peter thinks that preparing your mind for action precedes holiness. The verb ἀναζώννυμι is literally “gird up,” and the phrase is in fact “gird up the loins of your mind (ὀσφυς).” To “gird up one’s loins” refers to the practice of wearing a belt and tucking your robe into the belt in order to move more freely, perhaps to walk or run. This is a similar metaphor to Paul’s “belt of truth” in Eph 6:14. In the parable in Luke 12:35-40 Jesus teaches that the disciple must be “dressed and ready” for the return of the Master at any time.

Homer BrainSecond, we are to prepare our minds by being “sober-minded.” This verb (νήφω) can refer to “not being drunk,” but it is often used for reasonableness, clear thinking. Think of this as the sort of self-discipline required of an athlete, they have to be completely focused on the game in order to win (or, think of the lack of focus of the five-year-old soccer league). Perhaps we can think of this word as referring to absolute focus on the task of “being holy.”

This is a very difficult thing for the typical twenty-first century person to practice since we are bombarded with so many ideas and distractions at any given time. For a twenty-something, it is difficult to sit quietly and think (they go into cell-phone deprivation). People were just as easily distracted in the first century, so Peter gives his readers a specific thing to focus on as they live out this new life in Christ.

Third, we are to fully set our hope on the grace that will be revealed at the return of Jesus. Peter offers his readers something to help them focus their attention – the hope of the soon return of Jesus. Hope in the Bible is not like hope in modern English, which is often a kind of hope for something that is unlikely (“I hope I win the lottery.”) Instead, hope is in something that is certain to happen in the future and it gives a person some motivation to act in the present.

Our hope in the soon-return of Jesus ought to have an impact on how we live right now (mentally and spiritually prepared and sober-minded, leading to a kind of holiness that sets us apart from the world). This is not a prediction that Jesus will return in a particular date, nor does Peter look at contemporary events and claim that they are fulfilling prophecy; rather, he is making the simple observation that the return of Jesus is very close and could happen soon, therefore the believer ought to be motivated toward increasing holiness.

Last, if we allow our minds to be guided by holiness, we will not be conformed to childish passions. The more we yield to the Spirit of God and become more mature in Christ, the less we are “conformed” to the passions of this world. To conform is to be “guided by” something, to follow the instructions for example. (This is the same word Paul used in Romans 12:2, συσχηματίζω, with virtually the same point.)

It is significant that Peter does not give a list of spiritual, religions acts that will result in holiness. He does not give a special prayer, or a set of magic rituals that, if preformed correctly, will result in holiness. He simply says, “change the way you think!” The problem is that changing the was we think is far more difficult than a set of rituals, and that alone explains the practices of most religions.

Book Review: Greg Forbes, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: 1 Peter

Forbes, Greg. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: 1 Peter. Nashville: B&H, 2014. 202 pp. Pb; $24.99. Link to B&H Academic.  Click here for a 21-page sample from the book in PDF format, including front-matter and first chapter.

Forbes, 1 PeterThis new volume in the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series is a handbook for reading the text of 1 Peter. Following the same format at previous volumes in the series by Murray Harris (Colossians and Philemon, 2010) and Chris A. Vlachos (James, 2013). Greg Forbes, head of the Department of Biblical Studies at Melbourne School of Theology in Australia, is better known for his work on Luke (The God of Old: The Role of the Lukan Parables in the Purpose of Luke’s Gospel, JSNTSup 198; Sheffield, , 2000), but has contributed a few journal articles on 1 Peter.

The purpose of this book is an “exegetical companion,” meaning anyone working on teaching or preaching from 1 Peter can use this guide as the read the Greek New Testament. The handbook does not “give all the answers” by parsing every verb. In fact, it rarely parses forms fully. What is provided is a running commentary on syntactical categories and lexical data intended to illuminate the text for teaching and preaching. This means Forbes only comments on the nuance of a particular case or verb tense if it sheds light on the meaning of the text. He assumes a great deal from the reader, especially knowledge of Greek syntax. The guide makes use of abbreviations for standard works and syntactical categories. These are all families to scholars, but frequent consultation of the abbreviations page will be necessary for beginners. It does not help much to be told a genitive is “partitive” if one does not know what a partitive genitive is! This of course is no different than any tool used in exegesis, whether in a guidebook like this or a computer program which parses all forms with a single click.

The book follows a set structure found in the other volumes in this series. First, Forbes produced a detailed exegetical outline for the entire book. The guide then proceeds through each unit of his outline by providing the Greek text arranged in a syntactical display. Forbes briefly explains the structure of the passage and then moves phrase-by-phrase through the section. He comments on syntactical and lexical issues that bear on the meaning of the text, offering options when syntax may be nuanced differently in the commentaries. For example, in his discussion of 1 Peter 3:10, the ὅτι clause can be translated in three ways. Forbes lists the options along with support for each from various translations, lexicons and commentaries. He comes to a clear decision and demonstrates how that decision impacts his pastoral concerns (p. 109).

Rather than provide glosses for every word, he focuses on the more rare words and provides pointers to more detailed lexicons and theological dictionaries. These are not full word studies since the exegete will still need to look up the cited texts and read the details before making a decision on the meaning of a particular word.

Textual variants are briefly described based on the UBS 4 text, with the addition of eight additional variants found in the 5th edition (which was forthcoming when this book was published). Forbes gives a brief summary and evaluation of the textual evidence and offers an opinion on which variant is preferred.

Homiletical suggestions for preaching the pericope. Like most works of this kind, these outlines are not to be followed slavishly, but are hints for preachers who ought to compare their own work to Forbes’s outlines. While these outlines are brief, they are clearly drawn from the exegesis of the text and are an excellent model for text-based preaching.

Perhaps the most helpful sections of the book are the forty-two appendices scattered throughout the text on topic. After each section Forbes offers a short “for further study” section with monographs, book sections, journal articles and other resources bearing on that particular pericope. Some of these are book sections an exegete might overlook simply because it is embedded in a systematic theology. Others are mini-bibliographies for very specific topics. For example, after the section in 1 Peter 1:22-25, Forbes offers a collection of nine resources on community ethics (list 20; p.52-3). Every resource on the list is excellent and worthy of consideration. While some of the lists are cross-reference to others, there is no master index of all the “for further study” sections in the book. This would be a valuable addition to the series in the future.

Conclusion. The main competition for this book is the Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament. Mark Dubis contributed the 1 Peter volume in that series. Forbes uses Dubis occasionally, but the B&H series has more homiletical goals than the Baylor series. For the most part, the Baylor Handbooks are reading guides, providing far more parsing information than the B&H series. The EGGNT series will assist busy pastors and teachers who want to do quality exegesis by providing them with a quick overview of the major issues of their passage. This strength is also a potential drawback, since this book can become a crutch replacing the necessary exegetical work required to know a passage well. As with all such projects, the reader must know what to do with the information. The exegetical information in the book needs to be used properly in a lecture or sermon, that is the task of the well-trained teacher and pastor.

I recommend this book for anyone who is preaching or teaching 1 Peter, but also to students who want to develop their exegetical method. I see this book being used as a textbook in an intermediate Greek exegesis class. I look forward to future contributions to this series!


NB: Thanks to B&H for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

1 Peter 1:16 – Be Holy!

[The audio for the January 19, 2014 evening service is available at, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. This is part of a series of sermons on 1 Peter, beginning here.]

In his opening prayer for his readers, Peter described our salvation as “unable to be lost.” By its very nature, our great salvation cannot fade or be destroyed and God himself keeps it safe in heaven.  If this is true, then there are some ethical implications – why should the believer live out a live that is moral and ethical, if salvation is no longer dependent on good behavior or adherence to ritual? The reason, Peter says, is that our great salvation was bought with the ultimate price, the blood of Jesus.  We ought to therefore be holy, because the one who has called us to this great salvation is holy.

Since we have such a great salvation, Peter concludes that our response ought to be holiness. The section begins with “therefore.” The Greek conjunction διό draws a strong inference that is usually self-evident. This is not “if everything in verses 3-12 is true…” it is more like “Since all this is true….”

St BenedictPeter state that since the Lord has called us to such a great salvation, we ought to “be like” him, citing the book of Leviticus. Typically modern readers think of holiness as some sort of moral quality, avoiding certain vices and practicing certain religious virtues. A “holy man” is a monk who lives in a cave and does nothing but pray and meditate all day long. They are separate from the world quite literally.

But holiness in Leviticus is always associated with something that separates Israel from the world. One example might be the food laws. We read Lev 17 and wonder how God could forbid his people from eating pig (usually we try to find some reason for God’s commands, maybe there was a health reason for avoiding pork, etc.). But the food laws function as a boundary marker, defining how the covenant people are to live differently than the nations.

At the very foundation of all of the commands of Leviticus is the idea that God himself is holy, completely separate from sin. He expects his people to be separate from the world as well and he gives a series of principles in Leviticus that will ensure that God’s people think and act differently than the world.

What is holiness in this context? To be holy is to be set apart from the world in some very real way. In the present age, this is certainly not following the Law from the Old Testament (if you wonder about this, re-read Galatians!). But it means being separate from the way the world thinks and behaves.

If we are “changing the way we think” in order to be more holy, then there are many ways in which we will start to think differently and talk differently than the world. In the case of the first century, the Christians began to think differently about the Roman Empire. The Emperor did not bring peace to the world, and salvation is not to be found in loyalty to the Roman empire. The gods honored by the Roman world are not true gods at all. All this lead naturally to withdrawal from civic events that honored Rome and the Emperors as divine; they did not participate in festivals that were dedicated to the worship of the gods.

This is easily illustrated in the way the secular world describes an unborn baby (fetus or baby?), or perhaps in the way the secular world defines tolerance (toleration of any views except conservative Christian), or variations in sexual practice (preference as opposed to deviation?).

The bottom line is that if you are preparing your mind and thinking clearly, then you will think different than the world in many ways. And some of those thoughts will be dangerous!