A note on blog 2230:
I perhaps have not made it clear enough, that whatever the value of a woman “obeying” a (possibly abusive) husband in first century Asia Minor – one’s understanding of the text depends on one’s interpretation of the “violent threats” – I do not consider that it has any value today, and that I understand the anger aroused when this passage is read in worship as the Word of God. In fact I do not think that any biblical text is a Word of God until it has been studied within the community of believers and interpreted in the light of the Holy Spirit: Jesus Christ is the Word of God.
This blog now continues my translation and study of the First Letter of Peter.
1 PETER 3: 8
Finally, all of you, be like- minded, sympathetic, bound by family love, compassionate in heart, modest in mind; “do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult, but on the contrary, give a blessing,” for you have been called to do this, so that you may receive your allotted blessing. For, as the psalm says,
“If you want to love life and see good days
Hold back your tongue from abuse
and your lips from speaking malice.
Turn away from evil and do good;
Seek peace and pursue it;
For the Lord’s eyes are upon the just
And his ears are open to their prayer.
But the Lord’s face is against those who do wrong.”
Who is likely to harm you if you are eager for the good? But if indeed you suffer for the right, how fortunate you are! So, as Isaiah says, “do not be afraid of them, nor be disquieted,” but hallow Messiah in your hearts as Master, always ready to make a defence to anyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that is in you. Do so with gentleness and respect and a good conscience, so that if you are slandered, those who decry your good way of life in Messiah, may be put to shame.
This passage which is directed to the assembly as a whole, lays out clearly the basis of the advice already given to slaves and masters, wives and husbands. There are echoes of Jesus’ sermon on the mount as reported by Matthew, as well as quotations from the Jewish Bible. The character of the Assembly of Jesus, as advocated here, combines virtues which build and maintain community, with others which present a peaceful but determined face to the surrounding society. The moral teaching given to groups in the assembly is now shown to have been directed towards the health of the assembly and the success of its witness to Jesus.
The avoidance of confronting patriarchal privilege as such, for example, gives time for the development of new relations between the sexes, without forcing the breakdown of marriages. Those who endure wrongs are especially honoured as sharing the suffering of Jesus. The modern reader, who may disagree with this strategy, nevertheless feels admiration for the communal and personal virtues advocated by the author: most of us would enjoy meeting these people and sharing their community life. “Compassionate in heart, modest in mind” – faced with the aggressive certainty of so many religious groups today, who would not reverence these qualities?,
The long quotation is from Psalm 34, an alphabetical psalm which emphasises God’s commitment to the just and decent people who are sometimes made to suffer. The author uses it to emphasise the blessings of a modest and disciplined life. The injunction to “seek peace and pursue it,” is especially apt for people who may be treated badly: peace is not a simple given; it must be sought with determination.
The “hallowing” of Jesus as Master uses an expression associated with worship of God and applies it to Jesus, who is thus placed within the sphere of God’s holiness. But this hallowing includes obedience to Jesus’ way and teaching, and a readiness to talk sensibly to non- believers about the “hope that is in you” – a splendid phrase centred on the hope of God’s rule on earth and in heaven.
Some scholars have detected in this letter and in the so-called “pastoral letters” Timothy and Titus, a proto-catholicism, an ecumenical church beginning to settle down in the Roman Empire for the long haul, ready to cooperate with civil society and its institutions. But in this letter, the distinctiveness and urgency of the Messianic message remain, along with a confident, practical engagement with society. Discipleship of the crucified and risen Jesus is central to its teaching which is therefore relevant to believers today.