Monday, June 23, 2014

1 Peter 2:11-17 Exegetical Notes

Text

11 Ἀγαπητοί,
παρακαλῶ ὡς παροίκους καὶ παρεπιδήμους
ἀπέχεσθαι τῶν σαρκικῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν,
αἵτινες στρατεύονται κατὰ τῆς ψυχῆς·
12 τὴν ἀναστροφὴν ὑμῶν ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν ἔχοντες καλήν,
ἵνα, ἐν καταλαλοῦσιν ὑμῶν ὡς κακοποιῶν,
ἐκ τῶν καλῶν ἔργων ἐποπτεύοντες
δοξάσωσι τὸν θεὸν ἐν ἡμέρᾳ ἐπισκοπῆς.

13 Ὑποτάγητε πάσῃ ἀνθρωπίνῃ κτίσει διὰ τὸν κύριον·
εἴτε βασιλεῖ ὡς ὑπερέχοντι,
14 εἴτε ἡγεμόσιν ὡς διʼ αὐτοῦ πεμπομένοις
εἰς ἐκδίκησιν κακοποιῶν
ἔπαινον δὲ ἀγαθοποιῶν
15 (ὅτι οὕτως ἐστὶν τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ,
ἀγαθοποιοῦντας φιμοῦν τὴν τῶν ἀφρόνων ἀνθρώπων ἀγνωσίαν
16 ὡς ἐλεύθεροι,
καὶ μὴ ὡς ἐπικάλυμμα ἔχοντες τῆς κακίας τὴν ἐλευθερίαν,
ἀλλʼ ὡς θεοῦ δοῦλοι.

17 πάντας τιμήσατε,
τὴν ἀδελφότητα ἀγαπᾶτε,
τὸν θεὸν φοβεῖσθε,
τὸν βασιλέα τιμᾶτε

Critical

There are no major critical issues in this section.

Translation

Beloved, I exhort you as resident-aliens and sojourning-foreigners to abstain from fleshly passions, which are waging war against the soul; holding a way of life among the nations [that is] good, so that, in that which they slander you as evil-doers, from observing the good deeds they will glory God in the day of visitation.
Submit to every human authority-system on account of the Lord: whether to the emperor, as being in authority, or to governors as those sent out through him for punishment of evil-doers and praise of good-doers. Because in this way it is the will of God that, doing good, you put to silence the ignorance of foolish people, as free persons and not as having a freedom as veil of wickedness, but as slaves of God [thus live]. Honour all, love the brotherhood, fear God, honour the emperor.

Commentary


The direct address of ἀγαπητοί signals a shift in the structure of the letter, and introduces a new discourse block that runs through 2:11-4:11 and contains the major material of the letter. While it would be overstatement to regard 1:3-2:10 as mere ‘preface’, it is this later section that revolves around a central unit of ethical exhortation and instruction, interwoven with a consistent theological theme.

The exhortation is offered to them ὡς παροίκους καὶ παρεπιδήμους, which links our thoughts back to 1:1 (παρεπιδήμους) and 1:17 (παροικίας). In my translation I have rendered the terms as ‘resident-aliens’ and ‘sojourning-foreigners’, an attempt to bring out subtle differences between the two terms, if there is any. Both terms are used in parallel in LXX Genesis 23:4, where Abraham self-describes in these terms. The social connotation is of those who permanently, or temporarly, reside in a place and have a position as outsiders, without likelihood of integration. The best modern parallel would be ex-patriates and temporary workers. However Peter’s meaning is overlaid with a theological rationale that sees his addreeses as ‘twice-foreign’; however we read the historical context of his readers, this is treated as an indiciation of their status as foreigners in the world, whose true ‘citizenship’ lies with God. Their foreigness is consequent, ultimately, on their identity as God’s people, not their identity as exiles in Asia Minor.

It is this identity-statement that provides a basis for the exhortation ἀπέχεσθαι τῶν σαρκικῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν. The sense of ἐπιθυμία is of a strong desire, or a lust for a thing, whether sexual or otherwise. Peter here modifies it with ‘of the flesh’, and his teaching has a typical cast. To abstain from fleshly desires is not, in and of itself, a distinctly Christian ethical teaching. Rather, it is the rationale provided for doing so, as well as the identification of some of those desires, that is unique in this letter. The relative clause portrays such desires as ‘warring against the soul’, though we should be wary of reading a body-soul dichotomy into the text here. Rather the ψυχή may be better understood as the ‘holistic person’.

Verse 12 commences with a participial phrase, which may either be understood as adverbially modifying, and so extending, the sense of ἀπέχεσθαι, or else standing independently with an imperative meaning, as elsewhere in Peter. I am inclined to the former, but the latter is not objectionable. Again we encounter ἀναστροφή, here is is a ‘good way of life’, which is situated ‘among the nations’ (i.e. among the Gentiles). Notable is Peter’s continued adaptation of Jewish vocabulary for Christian purposes, since ‘Gentiles’ here signifiers something like ‘non-believers’ in contrast to Christians.

A good way of life, connected with self-control from fleshly desires, is given a specific purpose in the next clause, which immediately contains a nested relative phrase. Peter recognises that outsiders will, indeed are, speaking against believers, as ‘evil-doers’. While there is some ethical overlap, there is also severe ethical disjunction so that outsiders perceive the believers’ way of life to be deviant, to the extent of slander, accusation, and abuse as ‘evil-doers’. The construction of the relative “in that [thing] which” I read in a strong sense as related to the ‘good deeds’, i.e. it is not so much that believers are exhorted to do good deeds to overcome and outweight their negative social reputation, but that the same deeds may be perceived as evil by outsiders. Their recognition as good, by outsiders, may only be eschatologically realised, as seen in the completion of the purpose clause, “they will glorify God on the day of visitation”. ἐπισκοπῆς is found in the NT in Luke 19:44, seemingly in reference to God in Christ ‘visiting’ in the Incarnation. The sense of ‘visit’ is found in the OT with an interventionist idea of ‘come to bless’ or ‘come in judgment’, and so the meaning here is to Christ’s return, which is both a day of blessing and judgment, depending on one’s status. There is little here to support the idea of some commentators that it refers to the day of salvation in an individual’s life. Rather, even unbelievers will be forced to acknowledge, and thus vindicate, the rightness of the believing community’s way of life, and so glorify God, on the day of judgment.  

On the specific question of ‘doing good’, while term ἀγαθοποιέω may refer to public benefaction, its counterpart κακοποιέω does not seem to, so the weight seems against the idea that Peter envisages his readers taken on active, public roles of civic benefaction. Nevertheless, it is right to see that ‘doing good’ is more than mere observance of law codes, for the mere avoidance of legal trouble is unlikely to draw praise from civic rulers. Peter envisages that believers will be active, indeed take initiative, in doing good to those around them.

The particular focus of Peter’s instruction on a ‘good way of life’ comes into view in v13, with his command to ‘submit’. More interesting than contemporary problems with the idea of submission is Peter’s use of the word κτίσις which is the nominal form related to the verb κτίζω, to create; here I have rendered it as “authority-system”, but it very much retains the idea that such an authority or institution is something that has been brought into existence by an outside agent. Furthermore, Peter gives the reason, “on account of the Lord”. The submission rendered by believers to authorities does not legitimise those authorities, or their claims, nor does it necessarily amount to support for such authorities. Indeed, because submission is rendered on the basis of the the Lord, this in fact relativises and to some extent delegitimises human authorities’ claims to power.

The practical expression of that submission in Peter’s world is to either the emperor (following Greek usage of using βασιλεῦς to refer to the Roman emperor), or to governors, who are seen as agents of the emperor. Peter sees the role of the governors, as agents of the emperor, as bringing punishment to evildoers, reward to good-doers. The thought, though not its expression, bears some parallel to Romans 13:3-4. As in Paul, the idealisation of the role of governing figures does not suggest naïvety on Peter’s part, given the complexity of the theme of suffering for doing good that he will express throughout the letter, and the very social situation of those he writes to us (probably) having been exiled on account of no crime at all.

Again, the rationale for Christian behaviour here is not, ultimately, a calculation of consequences in their relation with governing authorities. Rather in v13 it is expressed as “the will of God”, that by doing good believers will “silence the ignorance of foolish people”. It is thus an act of apologetic, related back to the thought of v12, that motivates persistence in doing good.

Verse 16 then expresses a paradox that lies at the heart of the relation of Christian identity, soteriology, and ethics. The phrases ὡς ἐλεύθεροι... ὡς θεοῦ δοῦλοι encapsulate it nicely. For, in Christ, believers have been made free-persons, they have been set free, regardless of their prior social status. Indeed, even those who were either freedpersons or free persons, had to be set free, while those who are yet, in wordly terms, slaves, are ‘free’ in Christ. While the language of ἐλευθερία is more prevalent in the Pauline epistles, its presence here is noteworthy for dealing in some of the same dynamics. That freedom, and the language drawn from the political sphere, is applied to the ethical sphere as identity informs behaviour. Liberty is not, itself, the motivating factor of the Christian ethos, indeed, Peter specifically warns against using liberty qua licence. To have a right does not call for its execution. Rather, the pattern of behaviour for believers is ὡς θεοῦ δοῦλοι, whether previously or now slaves or free.

The section comes to a close with a brief chiastic summary:
               A             Honour all
               B             Love the brotherhood
               B’           Fear God
               A’           Honour the emperor

In this scheme we note that the middle two terms are distinctly Christian concerns, the outside two more ‘secular’. But alternate formulations are possible, for example the first two and the last two are sets of concerns in tension (‘all’ referring to society, over against the believing community; God over against the Emperor), and so an A, A’, B, B’ formulation may also be apparent. Perhaps there is no specific formulation, but Peter is giving overall instruction for reverent, respectful relations, which encompass all aspects of human existence, and is preparatory for more specific instructions to follow.


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