About: this paper was submitted to Dr. Lynn Wallmark at Simpson University during my senior year in a class on the General Epistles.
Some Christians among certain circles get very heated when debating particular issues. Whether it be about the divine election of the saints, the roles of women in the Church, or spiritual gifts and their applicability for today, Christians seemingly disagree all across the boards, and then make it known that this is so, even to the point that it causes schisms amongst the Bride of Christ. When it comes to First Peter, there is no exception. The first epistle of Peter contains some hot portions of Scripture with which much heated debate in some Christian circles comes forth, and so I am therefore going to focus on four of the more controversial areas of the book that address election (1:1, 2), slavery (2:18), roles in marriage (3:1-7), and retaliation (3:9). Wayne Grudem’s Tyndale New Testament commentary series on First Peter proves to be a helpful and useful aid to unpacking these four sizzling passages (1 Peter, edited by Leon Morris, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988).
THE FOUR FOCI
THE FIRST FOCUS: ELECTION (1:1, 2)
Much ink has been spilt on the issue of election. Many difficult questions have risen out from this issue. “Does God elect some to heaven and damn others to hell?” “How do you know if you are one of God’s elect?” “Did God not give his creation the will to choose?” These are all difficult questions, and all lead to very heated debates. First Peter contains some election language that is pertinent to this issue, and Grudem does a good job—a fantastic one, really—at demonstrating this topic in the first few verses of the epistle.
Grudem notes that Peter is writing to the chosen aliens dispersed throughout the world (48). He shows the uniqueness of Peter’s qualifying of “chosen” with “sojourners” (48). He notes very well that “chosen,” here, as in the rest of the New Testament, refers to the group of persons who are chosen by God out from a group of others who are not, and these ones are chosen for the purpose of inclusion into God’s people, and they are recipients of great blessing and privilege (48). Grudem does well by showing how the biblical audience would have heard the word “chosen” with the backdrop of Israel as the chosen people in their minds. It is true that the people of Israel were God’s chosen people in the Old Testament. Grudem concludes that Peter would have thought of the people he was writing to be of privileged status before God, at the very least as the chosen people of God whom he protected, preserved, and blessed throughout the Old Testament (48). In lieu of all of this, these aliens are the elect people whom the King of the cosmos has chosen to be his own, true people, who may benefit from his protection, and to dwell in his kingdom in heaven (49).
This issue of elect, or chosen, comes out in a communal or pluralistic sense here in the first few verses of First Peter. Many have argued election on an individualistic basis. However, the text of First Peter regarding the chosen ones is not only in the plural, thus indicating a communal sense and not an individual one, but it also draws upon communal parallelism. Now, by communal parallelism I mean a parallel between two communities—Israel and the Church. Israel was the chosen people of God in the Old Testament, while the Church is the chosen people of God in the New. Those who are Christians are the chosen sojourners because they belong to the Church, the chosen people of God in the New Testament. God would have elected an Israelite because he was part of the chosen people of God. Likewise, God elects a Christian because he is part of the chosen people of God. Election is based, at the least here in First Peter, in a communal sense, and is not to be looked at through an individualistic lens. Grudem does well to point this out in his conclusion that Peter understands that these chosen aliens are the ones who enjoy the position of being elected by God for protection, preservation, and blessing as compared to the chosen nation of Israel (48). Although many people get heated up while debating the election of the saints and the damning of all else, most of the time, at least in my experience, this is derived out of an individualistic understanding of election, and those who take this understanding would do well to look at Grudem’s treatment of 1 Pt. 1:1-2, for understanding election in a communal sense gives it a whole new meaning.
THE SECOND FOCUS: SLAVERY (2:18)
Slavery has been another hot topic in some Christian circles. In the past it has been debated if it is acceptable for Christians to own slaves or not. It has also been debated as to how a Christian, if he owns slaves, should treat them. Peter does not address masters, however, but slaves in their position as witnesses in 2:18. In this case Peter calls Christian slaves to humble obedience through submission to their masters even if they are evil. Grudem does quite well in unpacking the value of this verse.
The Greek word for servants, Grudem notes, is not doulos but oiketês, which is synonymous with the former though it bears a nuance of service within a household (123). This term is not to be associated with the terrible slavery period of the 19th century in the United States of America, as slavery in the Greco-Roman world was not nearly as bad as it was then in the more recent history (123). Despite the fact that slaves did own land and money, comprised the majority of the Roman Empire (working slaves plus freed slaves), and were very much indistinguishable from free citizens most of the time, slaves were still of a lower class in society, and thus, as Grudem notes, a word that is stronger than servant but less than slave is necessary, and perhaps it is fair to settle on an employee who is enslaved to his job (124).
These employees are to submit to their bosses with respect. What does it mean to submit? To respect? Grudem answers these questions in two well-written paragraphs. First, Grudem undertakes what it means to submit. He states that submission is a continuous mental attitude of acceptance of the legal, economic authorities over them, also encompassing a willing obedience to the commands from their masters (125). Second, Grudem tackles respect in 2:18. The Greek word, phobos, generally denotes fear. In this instance Peter is probably using the word in the sense of a healthy concern of the masters’ displeasure, and Grudem affirms that as such, respect is appropriate, thus warning against the careless disregard of, or scorning those in authority (125). But slaves are called to respectfully submit to the worst of masters—those that are crooked and perverse—with only one exception, when they command them to sin (126). Grudem sums it all up in a beautiful sentence: “Though the persons exercising authority in a fallen world are necessarily sinful, such lines of authority have been established by God and must be respected” (126).
Respectful obedience—submission—to masters, employers, or managers is imperative to the Christian slave, employee, or team member. The heated debate varies regarding these issues of slaves and masters, masters’ treatment of their slaves, and slaves’ obedience to their masters. Some difficult questions arise to which the answers are at times uncertain. “How must I treat my master?” “Is it okay for me to own slaves?” “How must I treat my slaves?” “Should I obey my master if he orders me to do something that I am unsure if it is legal?” At any rate, First Peter sets the standard at pleasing the master, no matter how crooked or how good he is, that is of course unless he asks you to do something that is contrary to what the Lord commands, and Grudem’s summary sentence succinctly brings this out.
THE THIRD FOCUS: ROLES IN MARRIAGE (3:1-7)
One of the more heated debates amongst many Christian circles is the issue of women in the Church and their role in relationships. Many have denied women a prominent leadership role in the Church because of their opinion that they are not to have a position over men. Others have not allowed their wives (to which the wives willingly subjected themselves) any hearsay in their relationship because they are not the “head.” First Peter gives some idea about the roles of both men and women in relationships, and although many debate how far to take this passage, it has a lot to offer, and even more so alongside of Grudem’s commentary.
Peter first addresses the role of wives in marriage. Grudem notes the relationship to submission in tandem with the role of wife. He writes, “it must be remembered that submission to authority is often consistent with equality in importance, dignity, and honour” (137). The command for women to subject themselves to their husbands ought not to ever be taken to imply the inferiority of either the person or the spirit, or to be of lesser importance (137). Indeed, Peter affirms that she is an equal to her husband since she is a co-heir of grace (cf. v. 7; 137). Furthermore, this submission relates to the husband’s authority or leadership and his, as Grudem puts it, “final responsibility” that affects the whole family (137). In her role as a wife the woman is called by Peter to be gentle. Grudem notes that gentle means here not insistent on one’s own rights, or it could also mean not pushy, not selfishly assertive, or not demanding one’s own way (140). The opposite of this attitude is summed up in this saying, “It’s my way or the highway.” This “my way; highway” attitude has no place in the woman’s role. As Grudem notes the gentle and quiet spirit that does not insist on one’s own rights or way is precious in God’s sight (140). It is furthermore demonstrated in the fact that Peter refers to Sarah who submitted to Abraham’s leadership. Grudem sums up her example in this: “it is her submission to her husband and her trust in God that Peter commends” (142). It is a combination of submission to the husband and trust in God to work in the circumstances that is desirable in the role of the wife.
Peter also addresses the role of the husband in verse seven. Grudem does a very good job in expounding the role of the husband in the marriage as seen in this passage of Scripture. Peter calls husbands to live considerately with their wives. Grudem mentions that this means that men are to live with considerate use of their authority over their wives (142). But there is more to it than that. The phrase that Peter wrote is literally, living together according to knowledge (142). Even more, the phrase, according to knowledge, refers more to the mode of how to live with their wives, and thus should be translated in an understanding way (143). Therefore, the husband ought to live with his wife in an understanding way, that is, by including all knowledge that might be beneficial to the marriage relationship, which includes knowledge of God’s purposes and principles for marriage, knowledge of the wife’s desires, goals, and frustrations, knowledge of her strengths and weaknesses in the physical, emotional and spiritual realms, and anything else that might do the relationship some good (143). Additionally, in the same way that God loves to bestow honor to those who are weaker or poorer in the world’s eyes, so also must the husband bestow honor to his wife through kind and affirming words, both in private or in public, and also by giving high priority in choices regarding the use of one’s time and money (143).
The idea of the weaker sex receives a good treatment by Grudem. He notes that there are at least three possibilities as to what exactly the weaker sex means. First, it could be that the husband is not to take advantage of the wife’s weaknesses, i.e., the woman is physically weaker than the husband, generally speaking (144). Second, it could be that women are merely weaker in authority in the marriage, thus Peter directs husbands to use their authority to give honor to their wives (144). The last option that Grudem gives for understanding the phrase, the weaker sex, is the possibility of simply the woman’s greater emotional sensitivity (144). At any rate, Grudem rightfully emphasizes that the husband is to be positive and affirming of his wife, both living in an understanding way with her and also by bestowing honor on her through his leadership (144).
Grudem makes a most noteworthy point at the end of his treatment of this passage in First Peter. He states, “To take the time to develop and maintain a good marriage is God’s will; it is serving God; it is a spiritual activity pleasing in his sight” (146). It is true that marriage can be an act of worship unto the Lord. The wife worships the Lord by submitting to her husband in a gentle and quiet spirit, and the husband by leading his wife in all honor and respect through knowledge. This is not usually understood. Marriage as worship? Yes! Women are not, however, even though it has been debated, slaves of their husbands. Furthermore, they are co-heirs or joint owners of the grace of life in Jesus Christ. As far as authority goes the husband demonstrates a loving, knowledgeable, honorable, caring leadership of his wife—not a dictatorship—despite what many have heatedly debated. Grudem’s treatment is absolutely marvelous and highlights the beauty of God’s inspired roles for women and men in relationships.
THE FOURTH FOCUS: RETALIATION (3:9)
Many have argued for total passivity. No retaliation is allowed, either verbal or physical, when harmed in any way. Some have taken it even further to mean that retaliation in the form of physical or self-defense is not permitted for the Christian, and I have personally heard some people refer to the first epistle of Peter in 3:9 to support their claims. Grudem does quite well in his commentary regarding this passage, and it proves to be a helpful aid in understanding Peter’s view of retaliation.
Grudem makes mention of the calling of the Christian to repay blessing for insult (cf. 3:9; 146). This is in relation to believers who are suffering, and they are not to return evil for evil, nor are they to repay insult for insult (146-7). This is a prohibition against personal verbal revenge (147). The Christian is to return a blessing instead of an insult for harm done because he has been called to receive God’s blessing (147).
The argument stands, then, at least from First Peter’s perspective, that retaliation is not allowed, either physically or verbally, but it says nothing of self-defense or protecting oneself from physical harm. Peter prohibits personal revenge in verbal form (147). Christians are to be a blessing by repaying blessing for insult, and thus God will bless them. They are to trust that God’s authorities will repay them for what they have done (147). Grudem mentions that alongside of Peter’s prohibition of personal revenge comes the endorsement of forceful retribution instituted by the government as seen in Romans 12:14, 17-21 and 13:1-5 (147). God has placed the government in authority so that such crimes will be punished, and it is not our place to institute such retribution.
When it all comes down to it retaliation is an issue of the heart. Grudem understands this when he begins the section that covers verse nine here with this: “Continuing with more actions which issue from a heart that is trusting in God to care for one’s needs” (146, italics mine). In verse eight Peter addresses some issues of the heart: to have unity of spirit; to be sympathetic; to have a love of the brethren; to have a tender heart; and to have a humble mind. Returning a blessing in the face of insult, suffering, and adversity speaks volumes about the person’s heart, for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks (cf. Matt. 12:34). It is to this form of retaliation that the Christian is called according to Peter. Grudem does a fantastic job of bringing this out, thus showing that retaliation in this instance is in relation to suffering.
First Peter provides some invaluable information regarding election, slavery, the roles of wives and husbands, and revenge. Grudem’s commentary is a great resource to help understand these issues within the first of Peter’s epistle. No matter how hot the debate may be, no matter how controversial, the text still demands to be understood in its own context, and Grudem proved himself to be faithful to the text, wading through these issues in their own settings and without bringing his own presuppositions to the table. Grudem did well by bringing up translational issues, by bringing forth absolutely essential Greek terms, and by bringing a fresh perspective to some of the more controversial passages in terms of debate in First Peter. I am thoroughly pleased with his commentary and have only but one objection—syntax. I would have liked to see more syntactical analysis than what was provided in his text, but this is merely a minor issue. Besides, to go beyond what he did would probably take his commentary above and beyond the scope of the series, and so with that in mind, the commentary stands solid as is, despite my desire for more.
The foci I have chosen have inspired some sizzling and controversial debates. Election has been understood to be of a communal sense, as Grudem showed through a wonderful parallelism between Israel and the Church, and should be understood from the perspective of First Peter in this sense. Slavery is understood to be less severe as many believe, at least in the Greco-Roman context, and Grudem shows the importance of slaves to submit to their masters with respect in an act to please the Lord. Roles in marriage, Grudem points out, are a beautifully God-created institution for marriage, where both the wife and the husband are equals in the grace of God, though they carry out different roles. And finally, retaliation is in First Peter prohibited in terms of personal revenge, and as Grudem puts it, it is left for the government to take care of. Grudem’s commentary, therefore, proves to be a great resource for all who want to study First Peter above and beyond the prima facie level, and it is highly invaluable, though not exclusively, for wading through some of its more controversial sections covering retaliation, roles in marriage, slavery, and election.