Before I leave 1 Peter, there are some tidy-ups that need doing. I have continued to spend time thinking about the section on honorable living for slaves and those married to unbelieving spouses. I talked with a wise and knowledgeable friend on these subjects, we went back to the text, and then decided we needed to read it in Greek.
Well, well, well.
I have renewed my commitment to simply read the Christian Testament in its original language. Though I am very thankful for the translation teams that have brought us dozens and more versions of the Bible in our native tongues, there are words, and phrases, and passages that lose some of their meaning in English. Few would read a heavily annotated Bible, so translation teams try to give us Bibles that read smoothly, conversationally, while still retaining its sense.
Except, it is virtually impossible to translate without also interpreting, and I find I do not always agree with the interpretation.
Shoulda Woulda Coulda
It is such a simple verse, and it seems so straightforward at first read:
[Slaves,] [accept the authority] of [your masters] with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly.1 Peter 2:18-19 (NRSV)
- Peter did not use the word doulos, which means slave. Instead, Peter used οἰκέτης, oiketes, which means “those in the household,” and apparently could include all those who did menial things in the house—servants and slaves, women and children. It is a bit broader of a category.
- Peter next used the verb hupotasso, which in the civilian setting, and in the Christian scriptures, refers to a willing cooperation with, a willing support of, and an arranging within the protection of.
- Peter referred to the master as δεσπότης, despotes, rather than lord. Though a proper term for slaves to call their masters, the term itself implied a limitation to the master’s power, it was more a designation for head of the whole household and all the relationships that entails.
So, I went back to that post and translated the passage myself. The nuances definitely sound different (I did not go into detail about verse 19, but there are differences there, too).
To all who live in the home [from family to servants], willingly cooperate in all deference to the masters [of the house], not only those who are kind, good and fair but also those who are perverse and unjust. For this is graciousness if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly.1 Peter 2:18-19 (my translation)
Liberty is not License
Peter began his instructions on how to live honorably in a hostile, unbelieving world by pointing out that those who behold their good deeds will glorify God when God comes to judge. That is a bold avowal! So, Peter continued, for God’s sake, hupotasso!
Why that word, though? Why not just really lean into it and say, “Accept your low tier in life. Obey all the authorities. Obey the rules. Obey the masters.”?
Because all believers are,
As free ones, but not holding freedom to cover evil, but rather as God’s slaves (bondservants).1 Peter 2:16 (my translation)
Peter and his audience lived in a very patriarchal, very hierarchical culture. It is said seventy percent of the Roman Empire’s population was enslaved in some manner. The divide between wealth and poverty was eye-wateringly vast. People constantly jockeyed for position, for power, for whatever prosperity they could appropriate.
It was therefore inevitable that though slaves were at the very bottom of the ladder, whose slave one was made a big difference. Slaves of Caesar’s household commanded a much higher rank than, say, slaves of a merchant’s household, or the single slave of a lowly freedman.
So to be God’s bondservant was to be far above any earthly tier, the equivalent of a completely free and independent person, yet still beholden to the God believers belong to.
Because this is true, Peter might have written, you are indeed free, you do not –have- to obey earthly masters. Yet you are also the Lord’s, and to God we -are- obedient
According to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, into obedience ὑπακοή, hupakoe, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Messiah, grace to you and peace multiplied.1 Peter 1:2 (my translation)
For God’s sake, willingly cooperate with and support those whose earthly rank is above yours and even those who are your peers and equals.
Hupotasso Rather Than Hupakeo the Government
Willingly cooperate with, support, and arrange oneself within the protection of rather than obey. As with so much of Peter’s teaching, Paul had a companion passage. Here is what Peter wrote:
Willingly cooperate (hupotasso) with and place yourselves under the shelter of every human authority—through the Lord—whether king as supreme, whether a leader as through whom the criminal is punished and the well-doer is praised.1 Peter 2:13-14 (my translation)
Now look at Paul’s passage:
Let every person willingly cooperate with, support, arrange themselves within the protection of (ὑποτάσσω, hupotasso) those in authority over them.
For authority does not exist, if not in behalf of God, but being appointed, they are in behalf of God. So, those who set themselves against authority are opposing God’s ordinance, but the opposers will exact judgment for themselves.
For the rulers are not the cause of dread for good conduct, but for bad conduct. And, you do not want to be afraid of the authority (right)? (Then) produce good, and you will have approval from them.
For God’s servant means good for you. But, if you would produce bad, then be afraid: For not without reason is the sword worn, for God’s servant means wrath to those who produce bad. So, it is a necessity to willingly cooperate with, support, and arrange oneself within protection (ὑποτάσσω, hupotasso), not only because of the one condition [of] wrath, but rather even because of inner discernment.
For through this and the tribute you fully pay, the [servants] of God who perform public duties at their own cost are attending steadfastly to this very thing. Willingly deliver all obligations: to tribute, tribute; to duty, duty; to [respectful] fear, fear; to honor, honor.Romans 13:1-7 (my translation)
Jesus is Our Example
Every little while, Peter pointed to Jesus showing us how to do what Peter was describing.
The first time came in 1 Peter 2:21-24. Peter had just finished instructing those in the household to willingly cooperate with and support the head of the household, just as Jesus willingly cooperated with the authorities, even to the point of the cross. Eternal good came from what Jesus did, and Peter drew the connection that eternal good could come from this willing cooperation and support of even the undeserving, for beholding believers’ good deeds, unbelievers will come to glorify God when God comes to judge.
Peter began his instruction for those married to unbelieving spouses with the word ὁμοίως, homoios, meaning “likewise,” “equally,” And several other similar definitions. In common with Jesus, of like minds with Jesus, spouses live honorably, willingly cooperating with and supporting their unbelieving partner with the hope their hearts will be softened to the gospel.
Apostle Paul had also addressed this same issue.
If any believer has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. And if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.
For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. It is to peace that God has called you.
Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband. Husband, for all you know, you might save your wife.1 Corinthians 7:12-16 (NRSV)
Reading between the lines of both Paul’s and Peter’s letters, it seems many Christians were leaving their unbelieving spouses, thinking their marriage was unholy, that they were free to go.
Both Peter and Paul taught against such thinking. Take Christ’s example and for God’s sake, live honorably that God will be glorified.
The second time came in 1 Peter 3:18 as an encouragement and exhortation to suffer well, and to suffer for doing good rather than evil.
The third time came in 1 Peter 4:1 by explaining the sanctification that is to result from physical suffering.
This is a good one to finish with. Just as Jesus was the example for the believers in Peter’s first century world, so Jesus is for us today. As free people, let us hupotasso one unto the other, for Christ’s sake, that God may be glorified.
[Girl Sweeping | William McGregor Paxton, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons]