1 Peter and Social Relationships

I’m an Australian-born, Anglo-Irish, white male of a secular background.[1] I have no reason to regret any of these characteristics, as none of them were by my conscious choice. Nevertheless, on occasions I’ve felt embarrassed and even ashamed of some of these features. On my way to Britain, in late 1968, to attend university, I stopped for several days in South Africa. I was confronted with apartheid in its extreme form. The vicious pettiness of it shocked me and I felt ashamed of being white. British students soon challenged me on my own turf and reminded me of Australia’s appalling treatment of its own indigenous people. I grew up in a working class home, but still in total isolation from the first nation. The more I learned of their degradation at the hands of white Australians the more ashamed I felt of being one of them.

My studies in New Testament religion made me aware of anti-Semitism. Further study revealed an appalling history of Christian persecution and hatred of Jews. Visits to several holocaust museums simply reinforced my embarrassment in admitting to being a Gentile, let alone to being a Christian. In the name of Christ, but not in the truth of his teachings, dreadful things have been perpetrated against Jews and others.

When I first met the woman who was to become my wife, she asked me if I knew that Swedish women were equal. “Sure,” I said, and thus began the first lesson.[2] The truth of gender equality seems so obvious to me now that I cannot believe I was ever ignorant of it.[3] The fight women have had for equality in employment and salary, the battle they endured to gain the vote, and the struggle they undertook to obtain an education are shaming facts of history.[4] In 1988 (yes as late as that!) Magdalene College in Cambridge, U.K., which was founded in 1428, finally opened its gates to female students. It was the last college of the University’s network to do so, and the flag flew at half-mast and all the students and lecturers (dons) wore black armbands.[5] One sometimes feels like apologizing simply for being a male. I leave aside but do condemn such criminal acts as domestic violence and rape.

So what of Peter’s apparent acceptance of dominant states (1 Peter 2:13–17), brutal slave-owners (vv. 18–23), and overbearing husbands (3:1–6)? Jesus certainly taught us the futility of reacting to violence with violence (Matthew 5:39), but that does not mean he advocated a passive tolerance of injustice. There is a third way, as the late Walter Wink passionately proposed—the way of nonviolent resistance.[6] Peter is anxious that the early Christian movement not abuse its freedom in Christ with any hint of insurrection. “As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext [subterfuge] for evil” (2:16).[7]The end of all things has drawn near (4:7), so in the time that remains “conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge” (2:12).

Peter, no less than Paul, urged the early believers to “overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). Thus he wrote “Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing” (3:9). The great exemplar of this sterling behavior is of course Christ, who “when he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly” (2:23). But how does this help when your own government drops bombs on you? Does “your good conduct in Christ” put such abusers to shame (3:16)? It can if there is sufficient numbers and resolve to mount a rally of nonviolent resistance. Usually the response to such unjust abuse is either flight (refugees) or fight (civil war) and the price in both cases can be huge and the resolution of the conflict can be prolonged in coming and impermanent in duration. Violence may be better than passive submission, but Gandhi believed the third option of nonviolent resistance could always be found.[8]

So where do we start? Peter gives us a clue: to “love one another deeply from the heart” (1.22; 4:8), “to love the family of believers” (2:17). However, we should give heed to Gandhi’s caution that “love among ourselves based on hatred of others … is never real love.”[9]This of course is the teaching of Jesus.[10]The only thing Christians should hate is hatred itself. If God can love the world and forgive it (John 3:16; 2 Cor 5:19), then so should we. And let us remind ourselves that the love that “covers a multitude of sins” (4:8) is not a feeling but a way of treating others. Loving one another in this way is neither gender specific nor ethnically limited. Hence we start with our own heart and then with our religion. To quote Gandhi again: “If religion does not teach us how to achieve the conquest of evil by overcoming it with goodness, it teaches us nothing.”[11]

One time early in our marriage, I facetiously chose for our evening devotion a text that urged wives to submit to their husbands. “Who said that?” She wanted to know. To emphasize the authority of my source, I replied piously, “The Apostle Paul.” “Then he’s wrong,” she said, without hesitation. Perhaps that’s more radical than necessary, especially since Paul in Ephesians 5 is more demanding of the husband than of the wife. There are three things we should note about Peter’s admonition that wives submit to their husbands and address them, as Sarah did, as lord (3:1, 5). First, the husband is not a believer. Second, the purpose of the call for Christian wives to be respectful of their husbands is in the hope of gaining their conversion. In the modern world such servile (in our western context) behavior would likely have the opposite effect on an unbelieving husband.

So the purpose clause (“so that … they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct,” 3:1c) directs the way a wife behaves towards her husband within her own social context. Peter’s advice certainly does not endorse any form of abuse whether the spouse is a pagan, or even purportedly a Christian. Third, the reference to adornment is in contrast to the attractiveness of an inner beauty. A Christian disposition potentially converts; adornment does not, whether the wife dresses like an Amish or a film star. Peter is not laying down a law controlling how women groom themselves; he is advising wives how best to bring their unbelieving spouses to faith in Jesus.

Imperial Rome was one of only three societies whose economy was wholly dependent on slavery.[12]Mass emancipation in the first-century would have caused chaos, even if it were within the power of the apostolic church to banish slavery. Peter is keen that Christians not be seen as revolutionaries instigating a slave uprising. Yet Christianity really started the process that undermined the ethos of slavery. To send a slave (addressed as “boy”) back to his owner (addressed as “lord,” and “master”) as a brother turned the whole social order of slavery on its head (Philemon vv. 1–25). Loving one another was not a principle that endorsed slavery.

The ancients warred over gold and silver, the symbols of power, and they fought with weapons of bronze and iron (see Dan 2), but God’s kingdom is a pebble, a mustard bush, and not of this world (John 18:16). Its King was crowned in weakness, who was mocked, brutalized, humiliated, and crucified. But the weakness of God, that is the cross, is stronger than human strength and the stupidity of God is wiser than human wisdom (1 Cor 1:18, 25) To walk in Jesus’ footsteps requires that “all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Pet 2:21; 5:5).

[1] My parents were migrants from London and Belfast. I became a Christian in my 24th year.

[2] I think she was the first Swede I’d ever met.

[3]I had the misfortune but benefit of being raised by a war-widowed mother of incredible strength and independence, so I was somewhat predisposed to accepting that women are equal to men. My mother certainly was.

[4] The fight for equality in the churches has been embarrassingly prolonged. Clarissa Danforth was ordained in 1815 and Antoinette Brown Blackwell in September 15, 1853, yet many denominations still prevaricate. See https://alchetron.com/Clarissa-Danforth-1116992-W (accessed 04/16/17. Elizabeth Cazden, Antoinette Brown Blackwell: A Biography (New York: Feminist Press, 1983) 82.

[6]Walter Wink, Jesus and Non-Violence: A Third Way (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003).

[7]One thinks immediately of the Klu Klux Klan.

[8] Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence, 51.

[9] M. K. Gandhi, “Nonviolence—the Greatest Force,” in Walter Wink (ed.), Peace is the Way: Writings on Nonviolence from the Fellowship of Reconciliation (New York: Orbis, 2000) 3.

[10] “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matt 5:46–47).

[11] Quoted by Mairead Corrigan Maguire, “Gandhi and the Ancient Wisdom of Nonviolence” in Wink (ed.), Peace is the Way, 161.

[12] The other two were Athenian Greece and the Southern States of USA.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7976

one has to read Paul and Peter in context. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church. Head of household does not mean boss. Both Paul and Peter were against the abuse of women and slaves. I was in the third grade when this story occurred. a polish member, a father living distant from town arrived home late one evening to find his son on hands and knees, having been scalded but tipping over a large tub of hot water still on the stove. The mother pleaded with the father to take the boy to the hospital some 20 miles away… The father said, NO, I am tired, it has been a hard day. I’ll take him in the morning. the boy survived, But that action set the stage for my own fatherhood. tired or not, I was the man of proper immediate action. that is Paul and Peter as I read them.


I appreciated Dr Young’s remarks on this particular topic and believe them to be relevant and timely. However, I think Thomas J Zwerner that although your story illustrated a point was it absolutely necessary for you to mention the father’s nationality. That would almost indicate because a person is of Polish origin that all Poles behave in such a manner.

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Thank you, Norman for your thoughts and comments on Peter. I think we always have to remember when, where and why something is written. And when Peter or Paul or anybody gives advise from a special point of view, they might not speak för everybody always. And say hi to your clever wife.

You make a good point. Background–the little town of Pound, Wisconsin. Was founded by Italians who used the left over timber to make charcoal. next came the Germans, who were in the dairy business, the Italians started a cheese factory. they still do and take first prize in the state fair. Then came the Polish who were in the sugar beat farming. Last in they offered the best target. I was the age of the boy that got burned. The father played the guitar in the SDA church also highly opinionated and vocal. Sorry that was him not nationality. But he did resemble the polish farmers that traded at my uncles general store.

Peter , Just a little stone, but in the hand of God, was very important to the Church. How we treat each other is the final sign of whether this thing called Christianity has really taken hold of us .Has the change taken place in you , in me ? Here’s my take on Peter , under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: Note of the 7 verses in 1Peter 3:1-7 , SIX are directed to the wife and only ONE to the husband .Why! A woman requires six times more communications than a man . God knows that, and it has taken man a while to figure that out. Verse 1 starts out by saying , in the modern translation, SHUT UP ! You have already won the argument . The more you keep talking , you’re are going to hand the victory over to the man. So shut up.(without a word,1 Peter 1:1 ) .Just because you’re on the bottom , doesn’t mean that you are loosing the battle .God is on the side of women , if only they would listen . So, Why did this conversation take 6 verses for God to explain to the wife how to behave ? BECAUSE SHE KEPT SAYING, “What about him ?” God is saying to every women reading my post , " Forget about him, Listen to what I Am is saying to you . If you get this right, It’s only going to take ONE VERSE TO SORT THE MAN OUT ." Will she listen to God, or will she keep right on talking ? Only God knows . Until next time , Stay blessed.

I think that Peter and Paul’s ideas of submission to authority must be held in tension with Jesus’ act of overturning the money changers tables in the Jerusalem temple. This was hardly indicative of a pacifist acceptance or an acquiescence to the powers that be. It was a provocative act of protest against the established order, it’s perpetuation of greed, injustice, and misrepresentation of God, and was a threat to the Jerusalem power base over the people.

This was not only a spiritual protest, it was a highly charged political statement as well. Jesus was declaring that the whole system was over. The religious power brokers readily perceived the significance of Jesus’ actions, and it is what galvanized the movement to execute him.

Following him in obedience to God can entail submission to authority, even corrupt leadership, or it can lead one to resist and protest such. Either or both can bring us into the fellowship of his suffering.



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