I Peter 2:11–3:10. An Appeal to Pilgrims. On Submission.

Key Notes: Aliens submit to the laws, serve with distinction, suffer in silence. Questions and answers on submission.

Peter tackles several controversial topics in this lesson, but the over-riding theme is to do right in the face of pagan criticism.

A. 2:11–12 Peter reminds them that they are aliens ("next to the house")  and  exiles ("next to the city-people")  of the Roman Empire and begs them to abstain from the fleshly passions that war against the soul. Paul gives us a list, a catalog of the fleshly passion: sexual indulgence, pagan religious practices, various expressions of anger and malice, and abuse of alcohol. ( Gal.5:17-) Here the passions are anger, fear and despair in the face of persecution. If the pagans speak against you but observe your good deeds, they will glorify God when His Spirit visits them. (This is one of several interpretations.)

"If the Tiber rises to the walls of the city, if the Nile does not irrigate the fields, if an earthquake takes place, if famine or the pestilence arise, they cry forthwith: "Away with the Christians to the lions." --Tertullian. But they could not accuse the Christians of common immorality.

B. 2:13–17 We are to be subject to all human institutions, especially governments. Governments are created to promote good behavior. Here, too, good conduct will muzzle the ignorant. Christians are free people, not to do evil, but to serve God. Give honor to all, love the fellowship, fear God and honor the Emperor, even Nero! Paul's admonition is similar. Rom.l3:1–7

Comment: In the first five years of rule, Nero did well. The last five years he became increasingly insane and was finally ordered to commit suicide by the Senate. Peter was martyred probably during the second phase of Nero's rule.

C. 2:18–20 Servants are to obey their masters even if crooked. God approves if you are beaten unjustly. But you get no credit if you did wrong and were punished. Serving a crooked master did not license a servant's crooked behavior. But he might refuse to obey an evil command and be beaten for it. That would have God's approval.

D. 2:21–25 Christ's suffering is an example for our footsteps: no guile, no reviling, no threatening. But Christ's suffering goes beyond an example; it was our atonement. Peter's description quotes heavily from Isaiah 53. This is also a validation of the Messianic interpretation of Isaiah 53, as Philip the evangelist explained in Acts.8:35.

Comment: We do not usually think of the Crucifixion as a lesson in suffering for us, but Peter makes this his first point.

E. 3:1–7 Peter leads on into marriage. He says non-Christian husbands may be won by the devout and submissive behavior of their wives, a gentle and quiet spirit being more powerful than jewelry, expensive clothes and hair decorations. Holy women traditionally were submissive to their husbands, as Sarah was to Abraham. Husbands should dwell with their wives considerately, giving them special honor as joint heirs of their physical and spiritual lives. Failing to do so will hinder prayer.

Comment: Christians are divided between egalitarian (politically equal) and complementarian (biologically fitted) models of marriage. Peter's argument is pragmatic: submissiveness wins the rebellious.

F. 3:8–12 Unity, sympathy, brotherly love, tender heart and humble mind should characterize them, not reviling but blessing. Keep the tongue from evil; do right; seek peace. God is for the righteous and hears their prayer. He opposes the evil.

Comments: This is the elixir of life: to love life and see good days one must do good. It is not a drink but a life-style.

Peter is totally out of harmony with modern thinking. We are children of the Enlightenment. The Reformation, by its doctrine of the priesthood of the believer, set the stage for return to the early Church [the primitive is better], and spiritual freedom, adopted as liberation. The Enlightenment which followed the Reformation is difficult to characterize, but simply put, it intended to do away with medieval superstition like alchemy and witchcraft. It challenged all dogma and authority, and tried to apply the tools of reason so that all would be free and equal.

A sober analysis of the benefits of submission is a place to start. It is submission that makes a college degree possible and makes the symphony orchestra beautiful. It is submission that makes a championship in sports, or the harvesting of a corn crop, or the birth of a baby. Submission is a taboo word. Very little is written about it. But it covers a large reality, like many taboos.

Our question of Peter is not in the concept but in the applications. Peter counsels submission to an unsaved husband, a crooked employer, and an outrageous emperor. Today, people struggle with abusive work supervisors and find submission intolerable. Unions are formed to protect the workers and we applaud them. And if the family prevents women from expressing their full potential the family will be left behind. The government's policies will be protested by street demonstrations when other methods fail.

How should we apply Peter's teachings today?

A sovereign remedy:

"Sit down before a fact like a little child; otherwise you will learn nothing." ("Through the Looking Glass.--"Lewis Carroll.)


These questions were submitted by the class and answered in discussion. The topic is explosive but the class reacted thoughtfully.

1. Q. Why does Peter use the same construction in three places:
  2:13 Be subject to institutions.
   2:18 Be submissive to masters.
    3:1 Be submissive to husband.

A. He uses the same word and construction to convey the same idea. Why? For the Lord's sake. By doing right you put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.

What ignorance?
There was a long list of accusations, some absurd, made against the Christians by the Romans. They are

1. an aggressive, proselytizing, rapidly growing cult.
2. exclusive, absolute, uncompromising, obstinate, dogmatic people.
3. They have a Kingdom on earth; they are subversive.
4. They said the world will be destroyed by fire: they are incendiaries.
5. Idol-makers and sellers of sacrificial animals are losing revenue; the Christians are hostile to business.
6. They are breaking up families; believers separate themselves from society.
7. They forbid concubines and plural marriage.
8. They undermine the state religion; refusing to sacrifice to the genius of the emperor; denouncing the Emperor.
9. They come out of Judaism, itself a bad religion.
10.They perform magic--turning bread and wine into body and blood.
11. They are cannibals--eating flesh and blood.
12. They tolerate incest--loving your brother and sister.
11.They meet in secret; illicit assembly.
12.Teaching that slaves are free is revolutionary.
13.Not participating in the Games is hatred of mankind.
14.No idols? they must be atheists.
--from International Standard Bible Encyclopedia "Rome", p.216.

We modern Christians have unfortunately done wrong in public.
     Killing an abortion doctor.
     Bombing, or burning an abortion clinic.
     Cursing an opponent or a group. Putting out hate mail.
     Making money from a good cause by illegal or shady means.
     Supporting groups that advocate for race or social status.

2. Q. Does Peter contradict Eph.5:22- and I Tim.2?
A. No. They agree. Romans 13 and Titus 2 also give Peter strong support.

3. Q. Why doesn't Peter go farther into authority submission, spelling it out more?
A. He thinks it is obvious. He does not entertain a debate and I think Roman society was just as rebellious and outrageous as ours.

4. Q. Submit to the King: Is Peter talking about the office or the real person?
A. It is possible, perhaps necessary, to separate the office from the person. Sometimes my parents did things that I did not like, but I honored them because they were my parents. To some extent, we must do that with everyone.

5. Q. What is the basic motivation for submission? I feel that submission to other humans is an extension of our submission to God. That may be behind every occasion where the Scripture teaches submission.
A. I agree. The word submit (Gr.hypotasso) translates literally to "be under the arrangements". We are all under God's arrangements. A wife is under her husband's arrangements when she follows his occupational lead. He is under her arrangements in her management of house and home. She does not tell him what employee to hire. He does not tell her how to manage the kitchen. Scripture teaches meaningful mutual submission.

A. A survey of NT uses of submit (Gr. hypotasso). The word is used 40x in NT:

4x to submit to government;
7x to husband;
2x to a master;
3x to each other;
20x to God / Christ.

Wives are not told to "obey" their husbands, although obedience may be implied by the word submit. There is another word for obey; it is used for children, not for wives.
To resist (Gr.anti-tasso) is to be against the arrangements.

A. Motivation? Do not resist government that God has appointed. Rom.13:2; Cf.Dan.4:17
   Avoid wrath of government and for conscience' sake. Rom.13:5
   Do not discredit the word of God. Titus 2:5
   Your opponent should have nothing evil to say. Titus 2:8
   Make the doctrine of God our Savior attractive. Titus 2:10

Husband and wife are a model of Christ and the church. Eph.5:22-
Submission to government is based on God's appointment of leaders.
Submission to masters, and elders, is for the ordering of life and to avoid criticism of pagans.
Submission to husbands illustrates a spiritual relationship.

6. Q. Does the Bible have the principle of checks and balances in case a bad person abuses a good office?
A. No. The concept of checks and balances was introduced into the American Constitution by political leaders who understood sin. We have an executive, a legislating group, and a set of judges. Each has a function; three units make a government.
The Biblical answer to society's problems is "do it right". In OT Law, there were judges but no legal system, no legislature, and a minimal executive--a chieftain for each tribe. If people obeyed the law, there would be no jails, no poor, no wars, no famine.

A written comment by a class-member: "Do right" makes many decisions easier. So many times we intellectualize, rationalize, complicate issues when we already know what's right and don't like it. Instead of Nike's "Just do it" our motto should be "Just do right". We usually know what that is. (Amen.)

7. Q. Does the relationship of wife/husband = submission / considerate and respectful care translate into church offices / officers / leadership?
A. I think so. Paul's teaching on church leadership is similar.

8. Q. What does your sister think about "submit". {My sister is a Presbyterian minister.}
A. She wants to be treated with respect for her intelligence, if not for her defined role as assistant pastor for Christian education. She wants people to be able to say "no" to her as well as "yes". If she has the best information, she wants to be acknowledged for having the best information. She knows that she is subordinate to the senior pastor and to the Presbyterian Session. If she is told to do something, she may disagree but she will do it anyway. That is submission.

[A similar situation applies in a medical team. The person with the best information carries the day. Perhaps the third-year student can refute the attending physician's opinion with new scientific data. In the final analysis the senior physician takes responsibility for the decisions, not based on rank, but based on the best information. It is a group that submits to the truth.]

9. Q. Does Christian counseling come from a different text-book (than the Bible)?
A. That is a new idea. I suspect that there is great diversity in what Christian counselors advise, but a survey would be needed to find out. Submission is not taught in the Christian community at large.

10. Q. We are unable to deal with large world-view issues in the church except by pronouncements from the front of the church. We tend to single-issue voting--abortion, school prayer, personal morality of the candidate. What are we to do about the other 99 important issues?
A. The Church can help us on some of these issues, such as abortion. What about other matters of conscience? What do we do when we don't know what to do? We pray. There needs to be much research and concerted prayer by Christians in order to help us with these decisions.

11. Q. How can we be taught if not in the church or its classes how to take political--really moral--stands for example abortion, homosexuality and other popular issues of today. Who will teach us ways to be (politically) effective in a positive way?
A. The evangelical community is seriously divided on the question of whether to resist the culture by political means. Several evangelical leaders and groups have tried--and given up trying--to influence the political process. They say we should stick with preaching the Gospel and turn the Country around one soul at a time. They are preachers and evangelists by calling.

Others say that we should denounce evil (slavery, persecution, land-mines, torture, etc.) and press for change. These are the prophets. We need both and should support both. We should not be caught in an either /or question.

12. Q. How can we understand civil disobedience (Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr.) in the context of this passage? Under what circumstances is it permissible or necessary to submit to legal or other punishment in order to conscientiously rebel against injustice instead of submitting to this injustice?
A. Scripture provides us with good examples of situations in which God's will conflicted with civil government.

Look at three acts of civil disobedience in Acts.
     Acts. 4:1 Peter and John were arrested for causing a disturbance because a lame man was healed. "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard." (4:19)
     Acts. 5:17 The Sadducees arrested the apostles out of jealousy. God released them. "We must obey God rather than men." (5:29). That is civil disobedience. They testified. They were beaten and released.
     Acts 6:11 Stephen was falsely accused, preached denunciation on the Jewish leaders and was killed for telling the truth.

OT prophets spoke for God before kings and politicians. Nathan spoke against David. Jeremiah was deeply involved in palace dialogue, opposing the king. Observe how Daniel and his friends behaved in Babylon.

     Dan.1. The Hebrews would not eat from the king's menu.
     Dan.2 Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar of a dream threatening to his kingdom.
     Dan.3. The three Hebrew men would not bow to Nebuchadnezzar's image.
     Dan.4. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar of a dream hurtful to his person and future.
     Dan.5 Daniel interpreted the writing on the wall that was fatal to the Babylonian kingdom.
     Dan.6 Daniel refused to obey the decree to worship Darius the King.

Esther refused to submit her people to slaughter. She used passive resistance and political maneuvering.

13. Q. Is there redemption in our own unjust suffering?
A. Scripture indicates that God will reward unjust suffering. "But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God's approval." (IPet.2:20).
"Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might be resurrected to a better life." (Heb.11:35). "...becoming like him in his death that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead". (Phil.3:10–11)

Never play "Kick-me". Do not invite anyone to strike you.

14. Q. In the light of Peter's teaching about suffering, I find it difficult to understand how charismatic brothers (and sisters) still hold to the idea that God never wills sickness or other bad things to happen to His children. Isaiah is often quoted "By His stripes you have been healed."
A. Peter tells his readers about a fiery ordeal that was coming. A key word in I Peter is "suffering". Jesus told Paul "how much he must suffer for My Name's sake" (Acts.9:16). I doubt that good charismatic teachers would say otherwise.

15. Q. If Christian wives have Christian husbands, does her silence reinforce his bad behavior, for example, alcoholism? Is the Matt.18 passage appropriate?
A. A Christian wife's silence on alcohol should not be understood as consent. But supplying a spouse with alcohol is consent. Counseling is recommended for both spouses.
It is dangerous, however, to bring in a third party to create a confrontation. People who work with abused spouses are advised not to intrude into the relationship. The abused spouse may have to run, however, if physically threatened.

16. Q. When is passive resistance the right strategy?
A. When you and your opponent agree with the same set of rules, passive resistance works. Gandhi played by Christian rules in India; so did Martin Luther King in USA.
We are a dominant minority and the majority is playing by the same general rules in American society today. But in Roman days, the Christians also used passive resistance against adversaries that did not know or understand Christian rules. They won, although it took 250 years.

17. Q. Would Peter not have been crucified if he had chosen to submit?
A. Probably. Renounce Christ and offer incense to the Caesar and you go free, Peter. At least that is the challenge many Christians faced.

18. Q. Can you be 'submissive' and "free and equal" at the same time?
A. I think so. Freedom is the ability to work within the arrangements.
Equality says that men and women are in essence equal, both being human, and physically complementary, and fellow heirs of the grace of life.

19. Q. When our "rights" are violated, does submission require that we accept it, or is it appropriate to report it and fight the situation, e.g. work-place discrimination?
A. I think submission is obedience to obviously right rules. The early Christians evidently felt so free that they did not pay attention to rules. Paul and Peter had to speak against that. They insisted that the Christians toe the line as much as possible.
Flagrant abuses (smashing churches and icons, taking political power) occurred during The Reformation. That caused severe back-lashes against the Protestants.
Work-place discrimination is a common problem. When we blow the whistle, other people benefit as well.

20. Q. Where does one draw the line between what is moral and immoral, the requirement of submission to an evil ruler or master?
A. The lines between moral and immoral are usually clear, using Biblical rules.
What is legal and illegal is a first level, determined by legislation and enforcement.
What is moral or immoral is the second level, based on a society's customs.
What is ethical is a third level, and the most difficult to discern because the issue may not deal with morality or legality, but deal with these particular circumstances, and the will of God as well.

21. Q. This idea of civil disobedience is much stronger in USA than other parts of the world. "My rights" is a much stronger personal belief in USA than other places. Why is this thought imposed on other people and nations and no effort made to understand their operations and mechanisms. Is the USA way the only way?
A. Freedom is a Christian principle. Wherever there are Christians, freedom follows.

22. Q. IPet.2:13--"Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution."--seems to contradict the example of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
A. Not at all. They were asked to sin against God by worshipping an idol and they refused. God does not ask us to disobey His law in order to be subject to government.

23. Q. Does "honor all men" mean obey?
A. Honor means value, respect, treat graciously. Obey is a different Greek word; submit is also a different word.

24. Q. How do you respond to believers who enforce this verse (IPet.3:3)  about braiding hair, decorating with gold, fine clothing) literally / legalistically?
A. The context says that the way to win your husband to Christ is not by dressing up but by a Christ-like spirit. Gaudy display is counter-productive for many reasons. I think rules on hair, hair-coverings, clothing are discretionary. My grandmother could not wear her gold wedding ring in her church. That is over-reaching.

In contrast, moral rules are not discretionary.

25. Q. How could the Jews at the time of King Herod have honored him as their king in practical terms without compromising their own culture and traditions?
A. They could not. They either conformed or in many cases died.
Jesus recognized Herod as an adversary to the believers. Herod had killed John the Baptist when John advised him against taking his brother's wife. Jesus sent a message to Herod when Herod threatened to kill him, calling him "that old fox". (Lk.13:32). When Herod questioned him at the trial, he refused to answer. Lk.23:9