The passage beginning at 1 Peter 2:18 and continuing through 3:7 is what many refer to as the household code. However, the household codes of the Greco-Roman world frequently included instruction about how to relate to civil authorities for the sake of social order. Verses 2:11-17 seem to parallel such instructions. Therefore, I include them as part of the household code. I also include 3:8-22 because Peter seems to intend this passage as an elaboration on what he has just written in 2:11-3:7. Yesterday we left off at 2:17. Now we pick up with Peter’s instruction concerning slaves.
1 Peter 2:18-25
18 Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. 19 For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God's approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
22 "He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth."
23 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. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls. (NRSV)
The Greco-Roman philosophers’ household codes were not addressed to women and slaves. They were addressed to the paterfamilias. Whether by harsh means or gentle, he was the one responsible for ruling over his household and keeping order. The philosophers could not care less what women and slaves thought, partly because women and slaves had inferior minds and partly because it was the duty of women and slaves to do what they are told. Period!
Notice Peter does not address his instructions to a paterfamilias but to slaves and, later in verse 3:1, to women! Slaves and women were people with minds and volition to choose to hupotassomenoi, “accept the authority of” as the NRSV has it, of masters and husbands respectively. As we will see, this is characteristic of the Christian household codes and a marked departure from the Greco-Roman household codes.
The Greco-Roman household codes repeatedly had the preservation of the social order, and the status hierarchy it legitimized, as their base concern. Look at this passage and ask, what is the rationale Peter gives for “accepting the authority of masters?" It is to bring honor to, and identification with, Christ. Christ suffering was redemptive (vs 21-25). By not laying claim to the freedom they had in Christ as Children of God (v. 16) and submitting to the social arrangements of this alien world without being conformed to the status seeking obsessions of the culture, they could give witness of the new creation that is to come and identify with the suffering of Christ. There is no justification of slavery or commentary on its merits. It is a human institution that Christ through his body the church must incarnate. Submitting to masters was their missional call that would advance the mission of God.