1 Peter 3 – We’re WEIRD

This Tuesday we are discussing 1 Peter 3. Peter continues his household codes in the first part of this chapter. Within these readings (and through 4:11), Peter admonishes his audience to always maintain good conduct within the world and be subject to the world’s hierarchies both in the civil and household realm in order to be a witness to Christ.

Husbands and Wives: (vv.1-7)

In the first part of the reading this week, Peter concludes his recitation of the “household codes” by instructing wives to be submissive to their husbands and instructing husbands to be considerate of their wives. Beginning with Aristotle’s Politics, many ancient writers, including Jewish writers such as Josephus and Philo, incorporated household codes in their writings. Peter is simply setting forth fairly normative societal conventions in the Christian context. This raises the question of whether if Peter lived in a different society with different societal conventions, would these passages on household codes read differently.

In reading the household codes here and in Paul (Eph. 5:21-6:9, Col.3:12-4:6), there are two noticeable differences between the apostles’ writings and those of Aristotle and others. First, Peter speaks to women (and slaves) directly, thereby acknowledging their full humanity. Aristotle, and others, directed their writings at men only. Second, Peter instructs husbands to live considerately with and honor their wives. v.7. Greco-Roman household codes generally did not impose any such duties on the husband. Again, this speaks to the humanity of the lesser members of the households. A more in-depth discussion of these differences between Biblical and secular household codes from Rachel Held Evans is here.

You’re W.E.I.R.D.

As good Americans, we believe in individual human rights, the rule of the law, and that everyone has the right to self-determination. This is why the biblical household codes should strike us as odd and not Christ-like. But we are WEIRD – Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. In his book, The WEIRDest People in the World, author Joseph Henrich argues that these values are unique to Western Europe where the nuclear family is normative, and not found in more traditional societies where extended clan families are normative. These other societies value the clan, where everyone is related by blood, above all else. Male elders have the responsibility to look after the clan, and therefore, only they should make decisions. If you run a business, you should not prioritize making money or hiring the best people, but how that business can best benefit the clan. Nepotism is not a vice but a virtue to be upheld. In this traditional world, everyone has their place and their responsibilities assigned at birth. This is where these household codes originated and are still in force. A good article about the book from the New York Times is here and his recent interview with Ezra Klein from the Times (which is where I heard about his book) is here. If you have an hour, please listen to the interview. If you do not, then please read the article.

When we read these household codes for slaves and for wives, one thing that should jump out at us is the vast cultural distance between 21st-century Americans and 1st-century Jews, Greeks, and Romans. What is valued in our modern Western society (such as personal independence), would often be seen as a vice in ancient or more traditional societies. Therefore, when we read the Scriptures we must necessarily be aware of this gulf, not only in the household codes but in all things of which Scripture speaks even in such central ideas such as salvation and justification. We also must be aware, that both we and the writers of the Scriptures took their cultural and religious paradigms for granted, much like the proverbial fish does not know that it is wet. Whenever we read the Scriptures, we must keep this cultural chasm in mind, and read the Scriptures within their cultural context and not ours but also be able to translate the lessons of Scripture from their cultural context into ours.

Christian Harmony: (vv. 8-12)

Peter ends this section with an appeal to Christian harmony. We should always, in humility and in love, display a unity of spirit in both our actions and reactions. We see this specific teaching throughout Paul’s letters as well (Rom. 12, Eph. 4:1-6, Phil. 2:1-8) and particularly in 1 John. Peter’s specific instructions to the church, the gathering of those who follow Jesus, is to have a “unity of spirit, sympathy, love of one another, and humility.” v.8. The instruction is simply another way of restating the law of love that Paul lays down in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Most importantly, in this reading, Peter emphasizes the law of non-retaliation that was so central to Jesus’ teachings (Matt. 5:38-48, Luke 6:27-42) and to those of Paul (1 Cor. 4:12, 1 Thess. 5:15).

Peter puts before us the question of how we treat each other. How do we respond when someone in the church upsets us or merely disagrees with us? How we treat each other is a witness to our belief in Jesus Christ and a witness to the world. For as John writes, if we say we love God but do not love our fellow members in Jesus, then we are liars. 1 John 4:20.

Dinner is at 6. The menu is lettuce wraps. Discussion at 6:45. Compline at 8. Hope to see you here!

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  

Galatians 3:27-28

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