Commentary on 1 Peter 2:18-25

Notes (NET Translation)

2:18 Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are perverse.

Remarkable to 1 Peter is the absence of any advice to slave owners, particularly when that was a feature of non-Christian household codes, and is included in other NT codes (Eph 6:9; Col 4:1). That this absence is due to the fact that there were no, or relatively few, slave owners in the communities addressed is unlikely, since letters addressed to the same area (Ephesians, Colossians) include such advice. Nor is it likely to be due to the fact that the majority of Christians at that time were slaves, or that the author hoped Christian slave owners would automatically treat their slaves justly. Far more likely is the suggestion that the author chose to address his admonitions to slaves because they typify the all but defenseless vulnerability of all paroikous kai parepidemous [foreigners and exiles] (2:11) to the forces arrayed against them in the Roman Empire. That that is the intention here is indicated by the author’s earlier assertion (2:16) that all Christians are God’s slaves, and by the fact that many of the phrases employed in this passage are elsewhere applied to all Christians. That Christ’s redemptive death (2:24) and his rescue of straying humanity is to be limited to household slaves are also unlikely. Rather, “slaves” in this context have paradigmatic significance; they and their fate stand as exemplary both of the Christian’s situations in the Roman Empire and of the Christlike reaction they must adopt to it. (Achtemeier 192)

Although oiketai can specify slaves attached to a household rather than, for example, those who worked in the field, it can also be used generically for slaves and is probably to be understood in that way here. That is not to ignore the force of this term, however; it was most likely chosen to emphasize that slaves also belong to the Christian community as members of the household of God. (Achtemeier 194)

Greco-Roman culture considered the household to be the basis for a strong, orderly, and prosperous society (Jobes loc. 2824). In the Roman Empire, slave masters (despotai) had complete authority over their slaves (Elliott 516). Based on the author’s usage of the term “reverence” (phoboi) elsewhere (1:17; 2:17; 3:2, 6, 14, 16) and the focus on finding favor with God in 2:19-20, it is likely that he is telling his readers to be subject to their masters out of reverence to God and not out of reverence to their masters. God’s commands trump the commands of the slave master. Although Peter does not provide explicit instructions to slave masters, we see that he implicitly condemns certain of their behaviors. Slave masters can be perverse (2:18) and can cause their slaves to suffer unjustly (2:19).

With the conversion of slaves, a particularly poignant problem was introduced into the Christian community. The difference between slave and master, fundamental to the self-understanding of the Greco-Roman social order, was irrelevant with relation to conduct within the Christian community (e.g., 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:28; Eph 6:8; Col 3:11; cf. also 1 Pet 2:16). Such a different status within and without the Christian community created the particular problem for Christian slaves. While there is no indication that the demand of Christian slaves for freedom was a central problem in the communities to which our letter was addressed, there is no question that slavery was an onerous burden for those who had to bear it. Yet any attempt to carry out a social revolution in terms of eliminating the practice of slavery would have had terrible consequences, resulting in the slaves’ crucifixion and the extermination of the Christian community. To live in the Roman world, slaves had to continue to subordinate themselves to their masters, however unjust the master and unfair the social institution of slavery. Yet it was precisely that situation that made slaves paradigmatic for the status of all Christians within Greco-Roman society, and let the author to address these exhortations to that particular class of Christians. (Achtemeier 195)

2:19 For this finds God’s favor, if because of conscience toward God someone endures hardships in suffering unjustly. 2:20 For what credit is it if you sin and are mistreated and endure it? But if you do good and suffer and so endure, this finds favor with God.

The Greek term charis (“favor”) creates an inclusio in vv. 19-20, implying that they should be interpreted together (Schreiner 138). Those who are punished for wrongdoing are getting what they deserve and so are not rewarded by God. “Conscience toward God” refers to a sensitivity towards God’s teachings (Elliott 519). Those who endure unjust suffering because they are following God (and possibly disobeying their master in the process) are rewarded by God.

Some might think Peter simply said that such suffering is “evidence of God’s grace” in one’s life. Two pieces of evidence, however, indicate that Peter thought of rewards rather than evidence of grace. First, the word “credit” (kleos) is parallel to the word “grace” [“favor”] (charis), and it can be defined as “credit,” “fame,” or “glory” (cf. Josephus, Ant. 4.105, 115; 19.223; 1 Clem. 5:6; 54:3). It refers to the reward believers will inherit (cf. 1 Clem. 5:6), demonstrating that “grace” here is not “evidence of grace” but the divine favor, blessing, and reward given to believers on the last day. Second, the argument in v. 19 is quite similar to Luke 6:32-35, and Peter adapted that tradition here. Jesus in Luke argued that if people bestow love only on their friends, they are no different from unbelievers. What distinguishes believers from others is their love for enemies and sinners. Similarly, Peter insisted that suffering for doing wrong deserves no credit, but if one suffers for doing what is right, a reward is fitting. Interestingly, three times in Luke the reward believers would receive for showing love is conveyed through the word “grace” (charis), translated “credit” by the NIV (Luke 6:32-34). We see from this that the word “grace” can be a synonym for the word “reward.” Indeed, in the conclusion of the paragraph (Luke 6:35) Luke shifted from “grace” to “reward” (misthos), showing that the two terms are roughly synonymous here. Indeed, in the Matthean parallel (Matt 5:46) to Luke 6:32 the word “reward” (misthos) is used instead of “grace” (charis), constituting another piece of evidence that “grace” means reward in Luke 6:32. To sum up, when Peter said it is “grace” for someone to endure suffering because of their relationship with God, his point was that those who suffer in such a way will receive a reward from God and that the reward in context is their eschatological inheritance — future salvation. (Schreiner 139-140)

2:21 For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps.

Believers were called to receive salvation by means of suffering for doing good. Just as Christ suffered for believers, so believers will suffer for Christ. Believers are to endure unjust suffering by following Christ’s example. Just as Christ’s suffering led to the salvation of others so the conduct of suffering believers may also lead to the salvation of others (2:12). Of course, only Christ is sinless (1:20; 2:22-23) and only his death provides the basis of the relationship of Christians to God (1:18-19; 2:24; 3:18) (Schreiner 141-142).

2:22 He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth.

This verse alludes to Isaiah 53:9.

2:23 When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly.

The maligning of Jesus can be seen in Mk 14:65; 15:12-20, 29-32; Lk 22:65; Mt 27:39. The readers of the epistle were also maligned (2:12, 15; 3:9, 16; 4:4, 14). Jesus advocated the principle of non-retaliation (Mt 5:38-42; Lk 6:27-29) and exemplified the principle during his trial (Mk 14:61-62; 15:5; Lk 23:9; Jn 19:9).

2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed.

Christ’s death is vicarious in nature (Elliott 532). The Greek term xylon (“tree”) refers to the cross Christ was executed on (Micheals 148). The term also occurs in the early tradition associated with Peter in Acts (5:30; 10:39). The result of Christ’s death, in addition to forgiveness, is to empower people to cease sinning and to live for righteousness (upright conduct). The phrase “by his wounds you were healed” is inspired by Isaiah 53:5. This “healing” is the forgiveness of sins.

2:25 For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

This verse is based on a conflation of Isaiah 53:6 and Ezekiel 34:11-13. Based on the use of the term “shepherd” in early Christian writings generally and in 1 Peter 5:4 in particular, the shepherd and guardian in this verse is probably Jesus Christ. As in 1:9, 22, the term psychon (“souls”) refers to the whole person.

Bibliography

Achtemeier, Paul J. 1 Peter. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996.

Elliott, John Hall. 1 Peter. Yale University Press, 2007.

Jobes, Karen. 1 Peter. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 2005.

Michaels, J. Ramsey. 1 Peter. Thomas Nelson, 1988.

Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2003.

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One thought on “Commentary on 1 Peter 2:18-25

  1. How are all Christians gods sleeves in that have free will? Then they wouldn’t have a choice to soon sin. . slaves don’t have choices. That’s why they’re slaves.

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