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The Gospel and Household Affairs

19 Dec
haustafel-codes

from Google Images

In chapter three Peter continues in the haustafel or household codes of his day. Household rules throughout the Empire were already in use by both Jews and gentiles. They were similar in content and where they would oppose the believer’s worldview,[1] Peter (like Paul) Christianized these lists by making some changes or adding to their wording. They were in place for the social wellbeing of the state and were meant to keep everything in its place for a well ordered life and common good. Although in Christ there are no distinctions (neither bond nor free, male nor female etc.), this was not so in society. The Gospel, as I have concluded in previous blog-posts, is not interested in changing society at large. Jesus is not the enemy of the state, nor does he seek to change the affairs of the state (John 18:36). The Gospel speaks to the hearts of people and changes their behavior. People who have been changed eventually seek to change the customs of the world, particularly that part of the world in which they live. Social change does not come through rebellion, but through concession.

The reason for a wife’s submission to her own husband is to be an example to any unbelieving husband, including her own, when such is the case, because husbands who are not obedient to the Gospel can be won to Christ through the good behavior of believing wives (1Peter 3:2). In saying this, Peter implies that these husbands at least know about the Gospel, because nowhere in Scripture is there found a single example of anyone being won to Christ without having some prior knowledge of him. Unless these men had some knowledge of Christ to begin with, it would be impossible for any of them to associate the behavior of their wives to Christ at all.

Therefore, Peter’s statement implies a choice was made by these men at some point not to follow Christ. These husbands may be unbelieving Jews, or unbelieving God-fearers of the gentile community who worshiped with the Jews. Of course, a pagan family could have been exposed to the Gospel at some point, and the husband decided against becoming a believer, while the wife desired to do so, but the greater number of families who were exposed to the Gospel by the time of Peter’s letter would have been either Jewish families or God-fearing families who worshiped in synagogues throughout Asia Minor.

In Roman life the wife was expected to adopt the religion of her husband. Since the believing woman wouldn’t do that, probably the Jewish communities throughout Asia Minor who had rejected Christ were making charges that the Gospel instigate rebellion in the home, saying believers in Jesus sought to undermine the husband’s relationship with his wife. Peter’s implication that the unbeliever knows about Christ but has rejected him for some reason points to possible family friction involving the wife’s decision to be a follower of Christ. Such discord may have included persecution of some kind both toward the wife and the believing community. If this was done, the believer was not to respond in kind (cf. 1Peter 2:12; Romans 12:17-21), but rather overcome the evil with good behavior.

In 1Peter 3:3 Peter speaks of such behavior as being a woman’s true beauty. Peter is no more saying that women should not adorn themselves with jewelry than he is saying they should appear in public without clothing—which must be the case, if Peter’s words are taken literally, as some like to interpret his words.[2] Rather, Peter is charging believing wives to be conscious of their inner beauty. God considers a woman’s character precious when it brings forth the fruit of his Spirit (1Peter 3:4), and Peter points to the women patriarchs in the Old Testament as examples of how believing wives of the first century AD should behave. While they faithfully submitted to the lifestyle their husbands chose for them, the women patriarchs looked to God to take their part (cf. Genesis 16:5) and preserve them (Genesis 12:13-15 and 20:2).

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[1] Josephus said, “A woman is inferior to her husband in all things.” He even claimed he was quoting the Scriptures in saying so (Josephus: Against Apion 2.25), but this is nowhere found in Scripture, and is corrected in the New Testament, in that, there is neither male nor female, but both are one in Christ (Galatians 3:28).

[2] See: Plutarch, Moralia 141e “It is not gold or precious stones or scarlet that makes her such, but whatever invests her with that something which betokens dignity, good behavior, and modesty.”

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Posted by on December 19, 2016 in Epistles of Peter

 

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