We begin our review of the household codes with 1 Peter. There is debate about who wrote 1 Peter. Some scholars think the Greek is a little too good to be written by a Palestinian fisherman. However, the author writes in 5:12 “With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, …” (NIV) It is possible that Silas was a scribe for Peter when he wrote this letter. Furthermore, the less elegant Greek used in 2 Peter could be explained by Peter writing the letter without assistance. I’m not aware of any facts mentioned in the letter, other than the mention of Rome as “Babylon” in 1 Peter 5:13, that would suggest that this letter was written after Peter’s death in the late 60s C.E. “Babylon” as a metaphor for Rome appears in other writings only after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C. E. However, the fact that it has not been found elsewhere seems to me to be weak evidence that it was not used earlier. Persecution under Nero certainly would have provoked images of a dominating evil empire. If you think Peter wrote the letter, then it was almost certainly written in the mid-60s during Nero’s persecution. If by someone else, then it was likely written in the 80s. I’m inclined to think that Peter wrote the two letters that bear his name but I’m not expert on such matters. I will refer to the author as Peter.
Where there is agreement is in regard to the purpose of the letter: It was written to exhort holy living in the midst of considerable tension with the Roman world. This is clear throughout the letter. The letter is one long series of exhortations beginning at 1:13 and extending through 5:13. Peter begins his exhortations with:
13 Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. 14 Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. 15 Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; 16 for it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." (1 Peter 1:13-16, NRSV)
Peter was calling upon his readers to abandon previous beliefs and practices, and to take on the heart and mind of God.
Beginning in Chapter 2, Peter exhorts the readers to “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.” (2:1) Then he launches into the metaphor rich passage I referenced last week about each person being “living stones” made into a holy temple where God lives. (2:1-10) But we need to pay attention to a concept Peter alludes to here:
…to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
Peter draws upon the image of Israel as a priestly nation presented in Exodus 19:
“…5 Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites."
Priests mediate God to the people and offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. But if each Christian is a living stone in the temple and part of the priesthood offering up sacrifices, for whom are they intermediaries? They are mediating on behalf of the world, offering up sacrifices to God and proclaiming to the world the mighty acts of God who called them out of darkness into his marvelous light.
This sets the stage for the household code that Peter unfolds in 2:11-3:22. His opening words are critical in framing all that follows:
11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. 12 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.
13 For the Lord's sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, 14 or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. 15 For it is God's will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. 16 As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. 17 Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:11-17)
Peter’s readers are citizens of another world that is yet to come. They are here on a mission. They are here to mediate God to the world. They are “free people” who chose to “accept the authority” of human institutions. No argument is given for conforming to a divinely prescribed order of things. Peter is writing about tactics to accomplish a mission. What would execution of this mission look like for the household? That is next.