Subordination and Freedom : Tracing
Anarchist Themes in First Peter
Justin Bronson Barringer
Southern Methodist University
First Peter seems an unlikely place to look for anarchist inspira-
tion. In fact, at rst glance it seems to offer support for the very
sorts of domination that anarchists so adamantly oppose: govern-
ments over citizens, masters over slaves, and husbands over wives.
Drawing on Petrine scholarship, historical insights, political phi-
losophy, theology, and biblical exegesis, this paper will argue that,
in fact, First Peter contains several anarchist themes. The paper
shows that Peter advocates non-coercion, voluntary association,
equality of all persons, and subversion of the powers that be. By
examining some key debates in Petrine scholarship, the essay ex-
amines some relevant points of contention like debates over the
meaning of Peter’s use of the haustafeln tradition and proper trans-
lations of key Greek words related to government and submis-
sion/subordination before showing that the best interpretations
point to something at least akin to anarchism in this text. Peter’s
concerns are moral and ethical as well as political and this essay
weaves together all of those areas on inquiry to put forward a
reading that offers a Christian anarchist ethic and political theol-
ogy. Two millennia after it was written, Peter’s epistle still offers
a compelling vision for an alternative society, a society that em-
braces anarchist values and works to subvert the powers intent on
maintaining their perceived control of the world.
First Peter seems an unlikely place to look for anarchist inspiration.
At rst glance it seems to support the very sorts of domination –
governments over citizens, masters over slaves, and husbands over
How to cite this book chapter:
Bronson Barringer, J. 2018. Subordination and Freedom : Tracing Anarchist
Themes in First Peter. In: Christoyannopoulos, A. and Adams, M. S. (eds.) Essays
in Anarchism and Religion: Volume II. Pp. 132–172. Stockholm: Stockholm
University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16993/bas.e. License: CC-BY.
Subordination and Freedom 133
wives – that anarchists oppose.1 This paper will examine wheth-
er, and to what extent, First Peter contains themes that inform an
anarchist position.2 First Peter is a short letter attributed to the
Apostle Peter (1:1), though its authorship is still contested by schol-
ars.3 Likewise scholars argue about when exactly the letter was
written, but most agree that it is written to address the persecution
of Christians that was either already going on or was expected in
the near future. Peter’s rst letter is addressed to exiles scattered
throughout Asia Minor, perhaps people who had ed Jerusalem or
Rome due to persecution.4
Peter is concerned about the welfare and the witness of his fel-
low Christians. First Peter in many ways reects Jesus’ words to
be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”5 because the letter
offers these Christ-followers advice about avoiding persecution,
Peter’s letter to “exiles” in this world exhorted early Christians to embody
this movement toward anarchy as they adopted a certain way of being in
the world, a way of being that would ultimately point to another, better
world. It was by adopting non-coercion, voluntary association, and the
equality of persons that these early Christ-followers put themselves in a
place that necessarily subverted coercive hierarchies.
Jonathan Bartley, Faith and Politics After Christendom: The Church as
a Movement for Anarchy (Milton Keynes: Paternoster Press, 2006), 8.
Bartley suggests that in a post-Christendom world it is right to recognize
“the church as a movement for anarchy.” I believe Bartley is right, but I
argue Peter had this vision in mind well before Christendom. It is anach-
ronistic to call Peter’s writing anarchist, but anarchist themes are found
throughout his rst letter. The themes that will be examined include
non-coercion, voluntary association, equality of persons, and subversion
of the powers that be, all for the sake of Jesus.
I am most persuaded by arguments for the traditional position that this
letter was indeed written by Peter, so I will attribute it to him throughout
Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament
(Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1993), 706. Christians were lumped to-
gether with other minority religions in the minds of many in the Roman
Empire. Naturally they were directly linked to the Jews, and “Romans
viewed Christians, like Jews, as antisocial” (706). However, they were
also viewed with suspicion because they had supercial similarities with
other despised religious sects like the cults of Isis and Dionysus. See also
David L. Balch, Let Wives Be Submissive: The Domestic Code in 1 Peter
(Chico: Scholars Press, 1981), 65–73.
134 Essays in Anarchism and Religion: Volume II
yet instructs them how to live courageous and moral lives in the
face of slanderous accusations and oppressive violence precisely
because they have faith in the Christian God.
This is a good place to mention denitions. I have little con-
cern with the idea of “religion.” Following William Cavanaugh,
I would assert that “there is no such thing as a transhistorical or
transcultural ‘religion’ that is essentially separate from politics,”
and that “the attempt to say that there is a transhistorical and
transcultural concept of religion that is separable from secular
phenomena is itself part of a particular conguration of pow-
er, that of the modern, liberal nation-state as it developed in the
West.”6 Rather, I am concerned to address the faith broadly called
Christian. As for “anarchism”, I have essentially adopted a com-
bination of the denitions offered by Vernard Eller and Jacques
Ellul later in the essay.
One of Peter’s main purposes is, as Joel B. Green puts it, to
answer questions such as: “What to do with Rome? What to do
about Rome? What to make of Rome?”7 Green explains that “For
Peter, of course, ‘Rome’ really was the issue: its sanctioned reli-
gions, its imperial and colonizing presence and practices, its world
system, its matrices of honor and order.”8 Should they rebel?
Should they acquiesce? Should they withdraw? Should they make
compromises? Or, should they do something altogether different?
Green then points out that “Peter understands that the problem
is not about Rome per se, though, and so he refers to Rome not
by its real name but as ‘Babylon.’ ‘Babylon’ was a cipher for a
world power hostile to God, and, for Peter, this is what Rome had
In order to articulate the view that Peter’s letter proposes sever-
al ideals compatible with anarchism, this essay will rst offer some
preliminary denitions of anarchism in general and Christian an-
archism in particular by briey surveying some of the relevant
literature. The following section will then describe one of the key
William Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology
and the Roots of Modern Conict (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009), 9.
Joel B. Green, 1 Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 1.
Subordination and Freedom 135
interpretive considerations: the ancient household code, a literary
form Peter uses in his letter to instruct his readers. From there the
essay will turn to the specic themes Peter addresses that corre-
spond with an anarchist vision for society, including non-coercion
and voluntary association, equality of persons, and how each
of those empowers individuals and communities to subvert the
powers. The essay will conclude by arguing that Peter’s vision for
this alternative sort of society is wrapped up in his understanding
that it is not those who seek power who will ultimately shape
the world, but those whose humility is evident that will make
this reality, inaugurated by Jesus, manifest in the world until it is
someday likewise consummated by Jesus.
This essay argues that Peter proposes an unconventional
vision whereby oppressive power structures are subverted and
the oppressed are freed when those with little power, counter-
intuitive as it may seem, subordinate themselves to the powers
that be. While this argument may not be particularly popular,
it is not unheard of amongst self-proclaimed anarchists and
those offering anarchist-friendly theologies, but it is uncommon
enough that it is worth briey exploring here before delving into
the specics of Peter’s own arguments for subordination as a
Tolstoy argues, in the opening of his short essay “On Anarchy,”
that “[anarchists] are mistaken only in thinking Anarchy can
be instituted by a revolution. . . But [anarchy] will be instituted
only by there being more and more people who do not require
protection from governmental power, and by there being more
and more people who will be ashamed of applying this power.”10
Peter instructs his readers to subordinate themselves rather than
attempt a revolution or rebellion. His readers, largely, did not have
the option to seek government protection anyway, but Peter’s case
is that they did not require it because they put their trust in the
Lord. Nevertheless, they were able to shame oppressive powers by
living morally upright lives.
10 Leo Tolstoy, “On Anarchy” in Pamphlets Translated from the Russian.
Accessed on December 30, 2013 at https://archive.org/stream/
136 Essays in Anarchism and Religion: Volume II
Late theologian and ethicist John Howard Yoder talks about
“revolutionary subordination”11 as the way in which Christians
work for social change (including, problematically, the sub-
ordination of women to men, which I will anyway return to
below).12 He makes the important observation that something in
the Christian religion had already prompted subjugated classes to
embrace freedoms that they had never known before.13 Thus they
were tempted to a certain unruliness that would, in its context,
be shameful because women and slaves were expected to show
certain decorum, and presumably doomed to failure. The peculiar
revolutionary element, for Yoder, is that, “after having stated the
call to subordination as addressed rst to those who are subordi-
nate already”, those who have embraced this subordination “then
11 It is worth noting that in Yoder’s personal life he greatly abused his
own power, which may cause some to question his work on the subject.
I think this is fair though I contend that the value of his insight stands
alone. The idea of “revolutionary subordination” is particularly prob-
lematic when read in light of Yoder’s preying on female subordinates
and often sexually assaulting them. It might also be said that “revolu-
tionary” is strong of a term as the moves envisioned by writers like Peter
may have smaller and more gradual societal changes in mind, which
seems to t well with Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed. Also see Yoder
quote from Ibid., 186. Rightly understood though, it is the powerful,
it seems in Yoder’s thought, though clearly not in his life, who ought
to nd occasions to subordinate themselves, just as Jesus did. That is
revolutionary. For an extended account of Yoder’s sexual predation see
Rachel Waltner Goosen, “‘Defanging the Beast’: Mennonite Responses
to John Howard Yoder’s Sexual Abuse” in Mennonite Quarterly
Review, No. 89, January 2015. http://www.bishop-accountability.org/
12 Feminist scholars, such as Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza have taken par-
ticular exception to Yoder’s account. And they are probably right in-
asmuch as only expecting women to submit is indeed problematic and
leads to abuse. The appropriate change only happens in the church and
society when free men submit themselves to slaves and women, which
may have been precisely the case in 1 Peter 5:5. This works its way into
mutuality and thus erodes oppressive systems, not so much abolishing
them immediately. Note Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Bread Not Stone:
The Challenge of Feminist Biblical Interpretation (Boston: Beacon Press,
13 John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
Subordination and Freedom 137
go on to turn the relationship around and repeat the demand,
calling the dominant partner in the relationship to a kind of sub-
ordination in turn.” 14 For Yoder, it is precisely because “the call to
subordination is reciprocal [that it] is once again a revolutionary
trait.”15 Yoder goes on to write:
The Christian is called to view social status from the perspective
of maximizing freedom. One who is given an opportunity to exer-
cise more freedom should do so, because we are called to freedom
in Christ. Yet that freedom can already become real within one’s
present status by voluntarily accepting subordination, in view of
the relative unimportance of such social distinctions when seen in
the light of the coming fullment of God’s purposes.16
In other words, Yoder recognizes that what Peter is doing here is
calling Christians to continue to move toward freedom whenever
possible, but to also keep in mind that their freedom is tied up
in the freedom of every other person. It is by choosing to live in
thoughtfully restrained freedom that Christians are able to offer
a compelling witness to the world around them, thus exhorting
their fellow humans to join this way of Jesus that will increase all
people’s freedom, rather than uphold the structures which oppress
many while affording autonomy to only a few.
Some might question whether this approach really “works,” but
this question seems foreign, or at least secondary to Peter and to
the other New Testament writers. They simply are not utilitarian
enough because they trust that ultimately God will set all things
right even if humans fail. However, this does not mean they are
not concerned with human thriving: the New Testament writers
articulate a vision for a different sort of society, a society within
society, lived out in the political community called the church.
The New Testament writers offer us “reason to hope that the loving
willingness of our subordination will itself have a missionary
impact,”17 but our hope lies not in our own ability to make history
turn out right, but in the fact that our witness will be used by
14 Ibid., 177.
15 Ibid., 177.
16 Ibid., 182.
17 Ibid., 185.
138 Essays in Anarchism and Religion: Volume II
God’s Spirit to challenge domineering systems to forsake their
oppressive ways in exchange for the upside-down Kingdom where
it is the servants who exemplify honourable behaviour. Again
[Jesus’] motto of revolutionary subordination, of willing servan-
thood in the place of domination, enables the person in a sub-
ordinate position in society to accept and live within that status
without resentment, at the same time that it calls upon the person
in the superordinate position to forsake or renounce all domineer-
ing use of that status. This call is then precisely not a simple rati-
cation of the stratied society into which the gospel has come. The
subordinate person becomes a free ethical agent in the act of vol-
untarily acceding to subordination in the power of Christ instead
of bowing to it either fatalistically or resentfully. The claim is not
that there is immediately a new world regime which violently re-
places the old; rather, the old and the new order exist concurrently
on different levels. It is because she knows that in Christ there is
no male or female that the Christian wife can freely accept that
sub ordination to her unbelieving husband which is her present lot.
It is because Christ has freed us all, and slave and free are equal
before God, that their relationship may continue as a humane
and honest one within the framework of the present economy, the
structure of which is passing away.18
With this basic understanding of the way voluntary subordination
might be a subversive practice (an admittedly at rst surprising
but actually fairly widespread Christian anarchist perspective)19,
it is now appropriate to dene anarchism and anarchy for the
purposes of this essay then turn to the way in which Peter lays out
his anarchist vision of subordination and freedom.
Deﬁning Anarchism and Christian Anarchism
Dening anarchism (the ideology) and anarchy (the aim) is some-
times difcult because historically they have had a wide range of
denitions, and the words themselves are loaded. David Miller
18 Ibid., 186.
19 See Alexandre Christoyannopoulos, Christian Anarchism: A Political
Commentary on the Gospel (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2011), chapter 4
Subordination and Freedom 139
writes: “Of all the major ideologies confronting the student of
politics, anarchism must be one of the hardest to pin down. It
resists straightforward denition.”20 Anarchy is often misunder-
stood as chaos, “a black monster bent on swallowing everything;
in short, destruction and violence,”21 and this has led many to dis-
miss the idea of Christian anarchy out of hand, since the Christian
God is not a God of disorder, but a God of peace.22 The word “an-
archy” was originally used pejoratively to describe English and
French revolutionaries,23 and many people still use the term in a
derogatory fashion, as if it were simply synonymous with chaos.
Again Miller writes: “The prevalent image of the anarchist in the
popular mind is that of a destructive individual prepared to use
violent means to disrupt social order, without having anything
constructive to offer by way of alternative – the sinister gure in
a black cape concealing a stick of dynamite.”24 However, as this
essay will demonstrate this is neither the sort of movement that
Peter, nor contemporary Christian anarchists have in mind.
Moreover, the image Miller describes is still common in the
minds of many Christians, who therefore see anarchy as in-
compatible with Christianity. Besides, secular anarchists argue
“Christianity has produced about as hierarchic a structure as can
be, and anarchism not only rejects any hierarchy but is also often
fervently secular and anti-clerical.”25 Both views are unfortunate
because the Bible, particularly the New Testament, contains many
themes akin to anarchy. Similarly, many theologians and Christian
leaders from Tertullian to Barth and Tolstoy to Dorothy Day, have
espoused a range of anarchist-friendly theologies.
20 David Miller, Anarchism (London: JM Dent, 1984), 2.
21 Emma Goldman, “Anarchism: What It Really Stands For” in Anarchism
and Other Essays (New York: Mother Earth Publishing Association,
1910). Accessed on November 2, 2013 at http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/
22 1 Cor 14:33.
23 Nicolas Walter, “About Anarchy” in Howard J. Ehrlich, Carol Erlich,
David DeLeon, and Glenda Morris eds., Reinventing Anarchy: What Are
Anarchists Thinking These Days? (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul,
24 Miller, 2.
25 Christoyannopoulos, 1.
140 Essays in Anarchism and Religion: Volume II
While most anarchists agree that society can and should func-
tion without the rule of government, there are disagreements
about what shape an alternative society would take.26 Anarchists
ranging from Kropotkin and Goldman, to Randal Amster and
Mohammed Bamyeh, however, all recognize the themes this essay
notes in Peter’s rst epistle, namely non-coercion, voluntary asso-
ciation, equality of all persons, and subversion of the powers that
be as central to a future anarchist society.27
26 John P. Clark, “What is Anarchism?” in J. Roland Pennock and John W.
Chapman, Anarchism: Nomos XIX (New York: New York University
Press, 1978), 5. Clark’s essay concisely yet thoroughly explains many
variations within anarchist thought.
27 Peter Kropotkin denes anarchy as “the name given to a principle or
theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without gov-
ernment – harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission
to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements con-
cluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely
constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the
satisfaction of the innite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized
being” (Emphasis mine). Peter Kropotkin ed. Marshall Shatz, Conquest
of Bread and Other Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press),
233. Emma Goldman denes anarchy as “The philosophy of a new so-
cial order based on liberty unrestricted by man-made law; the theory
that all forms of government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong
and harmful, as well as unnecessary” (Emphasis mine). Emma Goldman,
“Anarchism: What It Really Stands For” in Anarchism and Other Essays
(New York: Mother Earth Publishing Association, 1910). Accessed on
November, 2 at http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/anarchist_archives/goldman/
aando/anarchism.html. Randall Amster argues, “Anarchism is at its root
a philosophy and set of practices based on the premise that people can
and should act from a place of freedom from domination and coercive
force. . . Our self-interest is wholly bound up with the interests of ev-
eryone else, making anarchism in its full dimensions a theory of radical
egalitarianism as much as one of individual autonomy” (Emphasis mine).
Randall Amster, Anarchism Today (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2012), 2.
Bamyeh is, perhaps ironically, not as forceful in his denition of anarchy
at least as it relates to coercion, yet he still seems interested in under-
standing anarchy as a society where coercion is unnecessary. He writes,
“[Anarchy] does in fact signify order, but one of a very specic type: in its
most pristine and developed forms anarchy is unimposed order. In a less
developed but still noble enough form, anarchy is a quest for unimposed
order – that is, order supported by the minimum necessary use of coer-
cion” (Emphasis mine). Mohammed A. Bamyeh, Anarchy as Order: The
Subordination and Freedom 141
One particular variety of anarchism is specically Christian.
One way to dene Christian anarchy is to begin with a Biblical
understanding of the powers that be, which are said to be more
impressed with the god of this age than with the God of eternity.28
Vernard Eller offers a helpful explanation of the powers and a
useable denition of Christian anarchy. He writes,
For us, then, ‘archy’ identies any principle of governance claiming
to be of primal value for society. ‘Government’ (that which is deter-
mined to govern human action and events) is a good synonym – as
long as we are clear that political arkys are far from being the only
‘governments’ around. Not at all; churches, schools, philosophies,
ideologies, social standards, peer pressures, fads and fashions,
advertising, planning techniques, psychological and sociological,
theories – all are arkys out to govern us. ‘Anarchy’ (‘unarkyness’),
it follows, is simply the state of being unimpressed with, disinter-
ested in, skeptical of, nonchalant toward, and uninuenced by the
highfalutin claims of any and all arkys. And ‘Christian anarchy’
. . . is a Christianity motivated by ‘unarkyness.’29
Christian anarchy, according to Eller, is not about bullish rebellion,
but it is a revolution of humble, lamb-like subordination – yet it is
still a revolution.30 It is about example, particularly about Christians
embodying the example of Christ, neither being drawn to places
of power, nor giving the powers special concern, but always being
faithfully obedient to the Father.31
History and Future of Civic Humanity (Lanham: Rowman & Littleeld
Publishers, 2010), 27.
28 The Bible tells Christians that “our struggle is not against esh and
blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers
of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heaven-
ly realms” (Eph 6:12). If the struggle is indeed against the powers and
rulers, the “archys,” then to say Christians are anarchist seems to make
perfect Biblical sense. See Luke 12:11, Eph 6:12, Col 2:15, 1 Cor 15:24.
29 Vernard Eller, Christian Anarchy: Jesus’ Primacy Over the Powers (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 1–2.
30 Christoyannopoulos discusses this peculiar kind of subversive subordi-
nation advocated by many Christian anarchists in Christian Anarchism,
31 Eller, 3. “For Christian anarchists, then, the goal of anarchy is ‘theonomy’ –
the rule, the ordering, the arky of God. At this idea, of course, the world
rises up to insist that the arky of God is just as impositional as (if not
142 Essays in Anarchism and Religion: Volume II
Haustafeln as a Literary-Rhetorical Tradition32
A primary interpretive consideration for understanding 1 Peter is
the hortatory form of the ancient household codes or Haustafeln,33
more so than) any other arky that might be named. But Christians say
NO – and that on two counts. First particularly as God has been revealed
in Jesus Christ, the style of his arky is not that of imposition but of the
opposite, namely, that of the cross, the self-givingness of agape-love. And
second, God’s arky, his will for us, is never anything extraneous to our-
selves but precisely that which is most germane to our true destiny and
being. . . Rather than a heteronomous imposition, God’s arky spells the
discovery of that which is truest to myself and my world.”
32 There is a longstanding debate, represented by David Balch and John
Elliott, about whether relevant sections of 1 Peter are best understood
in the Haustafeln or Oikonomia tradition. The former is understood as
specic codes that individuals should follow, whereas the latter is more
about the way the leader of the house manages everyone in the house-
hold. While there is merit to delineating the debate in this way, it is large-
ly a distinction without much difference. Overall, I am satised with the
use of Haustafeln language, though the one area where the Oikonomia
language is helpful is in the recognition that Peter is not interested in
mere capitulation to societal norms, that is the particular codied duties
that society laid on each person; he is instead interested in reshaping
those norms over time. I will thus stick to the more common language
of Haustafeln, while on occasion noting the value of contributions from
scholars like John Elliott. What is important in this debate is the extent to
which 1 Peter articulates either resistance or conformity of Christians to
surrounding society. David G. Horrell does a good job of describing this
debate, while also suggesting a reading closer to mine, one that allows
for “conformity and resistance” to be held in tension. David G. Horrell,
“Between Conformity and Resistance: Beyond the Balch-Elliot Debate
Towards a Postcolonial Reading of First Peter,” in Reading First Peter
with New Eyes: Methodological Reassessments of the Letter of First
Peter, edited by Robert L. Webb and Betsy Bauman-Martin (New York:
T&T Clark: 2007), 111–143.
33 Philippa Carter, The Servant-Ethic of the New Testament (New York:
Peter Lang, 1997), 87. “The Haustafeln texts in the New Testament have
often been criticized as examples of how early Christianity capitulated
to social institutions and mores that were burdensome for many people.
I Peter is perhaps most susceptible to such a critique.” It is also worth
noting that while Peter’s use of the form does not make up the whole
letter, it does shape the content of other sections of his exhortations. For
instance, Troy Martin suggests that “In 5:1–5 the community groups
of elders and young men are even substituted for these [husband/wife,
father/child, slave/master] pairs” commonly found in ancient household
Subordination and Freedom 143
and the way Peter modies the form for his purposes. The Haustafel
was a code that “Stoic and other philosophers commonly used
. . . to delineate proper relationships with others.”34 The household
code tradition did not begin with the Stoics though: “Plato and
Aristotle, as well as other Greek political theorists, were interested
in the relation between the ‘city’ and the ‘house.’”35 Peter, too, is
interested in this connection; he rst discusses his readers’ rela-
tionship to the rulers of the wider society in 2:13 before he moves
on to concerns in the home in 2:18.
Aristotle and others were concerned about authority and sub-
ordination in relationships between husbands and wives, fathers
and children, and masters and slaves because they believed that in
order for society to function properly people had to t into their
natural place in the home or society would become corrupt and
chaotic.36 Thus it makes sense that these codes had such wide-
spread use and immense importance in Greco-Roman political
theory, and furthermore why “Any group accused of upsetting
proper subordination in the household would be criticized by
those charged with maintaining the constitution [that is order in
society].”37 Elliott seems to acknowledge this, but argues that 1
Peter’s concern has more to do with internal cohesion among the
church, and the distinct identity of Christians than conforming to
societal expectations regarding order.38
Thus, the Haustafel form was enticing to minority religious
groups attempting to nd ways to interact with society because
“slandered religious groups sometimes adopted these codes to
demonstrate that their groups actually supported the values of
the Roman society; this demonstration was important in com-
bating persecution.”39 If part of Peter’s purpose in writing was
codes. In Troy W. Martin, Metaphor and Composition in 1 Peter (Atlanta:
Scholars Press, 1992), 127.
34 Keener, 713.
35 Balch, 15.
36 Ibid., 61.
37 Ibid., 61.
38 John Elliott, 1 Peter: A New Translation with Introduction and
Commentary. Anchor Bible Commentary. (New York: Anchor/Doubleday,
39 Keener, 713.
144 Essays in Anarchism and Religion: Volume II
to demonstrate that Christians did indeed have a concern for the
common good, and that they could indeed accept many Roman
values, then it makes sense that he would adopt this form as a way
to help protect his readers from undue persecution.
Of course, Peter had this purpose in mind, but only to a de-
gree.40 He wrote to help Christians avoid unnecessary persecution,
while preparing them for the near inevitable persecution they will
experience,41 but more importantly Peter turns the form on its
head to express truths about the Kingdom of God.42
The emphasis in many Haustafeln was on those with relative
power.43 Yet, Peter gives more attention to wives and slaves, as
well as ordinary citizens. Peter uses the code to express mutual-
ity,44 a fundamental departure from patriarchal societal expecta-
40 Elliott argues that in fact “such an ‘accommodating’ and conformity-urg-
ing aim of the code material is thoroughly incompatible with exhorta-
tion of 1 Peter as a whole, which urges ‘holy nonconformity, (1:14–17)”
(Elliott 509). However, Elliott seems to concede on 510 that there is noth-
ing wrong with conformity inasmuch as it “is possible without compro-
mise of one’s loyalty to God.” In other words, Elliott does not provide
sufcient evidence that Peter might not have had in mind both of what
Horrell calls “conformity and resistance.”
41 See Green, 71–72.
42 Horrell, referring to Scott, notes that for instance, that there are “many
diverse ways in which subordinates express and practice their resistance
to oppression, in what he calls ‘the immense political terrain that lies
between quiescence and revolt’” (Horrell, 118). I am suggesting that the
kingdom of God occupies this broad terrain.
43 This does not necessarily mean that the powerful were always mentioned
rst (Green, 164), only that they were treated as individual moral agents
as opposed to those under their “rule” who were only told to obey, usu-
ally without further exposition.
44 Perhaps the mutuality here is implicit because of the mention of Sarah
and the debate over who listened to whom in her marriage. (See
Discovering Biblical Equality, 231ff [esp. 234–235]). Also, note his ar-
gument for equality in marriage on 237. “When addressing those with-
out power,” notes Peter H. Davids, the apostle Peter “does not call for
revolution, but upholds the values of the culture insofar as they do not
conict with commitment to Christ. He then reframes their behavior by
removing it from the realm of necessity and giving it a dignity, either that
of identication with Christ or of identication with the ‘holy women’
of Jewish antiquity. When speaking to the ones with power, however, he
asks them not to use their power, but to treat those they could dominate
as their equals – for in fact they are.”(Peter H. Davids, “A Silent Witness
Subordination and Freedom 145
tions. According to Boring, “It is striking that when the Haustafel
enters the Christian stream, even though the patriarchal order
continues to be presupposed, instruction is given in terms of mu-
tuality and not merely hierarchy. . . In the Christian literature,
slaves, women, and children are addressed as persons in their own
right, not merely as subjects to masters, husbands, or fathers.”45
Aristotle mentioned masters, husbands, and fathers before slaves,
wives, or children. . . and addressed only the male – the master,
husband, and father. In the NT [New Testament], however, the
wives are addressed, and this is done before the exhortation of
husbands. Slaves are addressed before masters in Colossians (mas-
ters are not exhorted in 1 Peter). The NT writers emphasize the
subordinate members who were in a difcult social situation. . .
Slaves and wives are addressed rst by these early Christian mor-
alists because they were the focus of an intense social problem
between the church and Roman society. Romans frowned on their
wives and slaves being seduced by bizarre foreign cults, and this
led the author of 1 Peter to address the household code to those
who were the focus of the tension.46
Although Balch’s recognition of the differences between Aristotle’s
and the New Testament writer’s use of the form is signicant, his
assessment is lacking. Peter addresses these folks to dignify them
inasmuch as he makes claims about their ability to lead folks
from pagan idolatry into relationship with God. In other words,
as Horrell puts it, “The weak also exercise agency and power
though the multifarious means by which they resist their domina-
tion, whether in hidden or overt ways,”47 a fact that Peter seems
to be acknowledging, at least implicitly, through his instructions
to them. While wives and slaves were occasionally mentioned in
other Haustafeln, they were only told how to act without any jus-
tifying rationale. Peter exhorts wives precisely because they have
in Marriage” inDiscovering Biblical Equality, eds. Ronald W. Pierce and
Rebecca Merrill Groothuis – Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2005,
45 M. Eugene Boring, 1 Peter (Nashville: Abingdon, 1999), 106.
46 Balch, 96–97.
47 Horrell, 118.
146 Essays in Anarchism and Religion: Volume II
the inuence to win over their unbelieving husbands. Peter is not
only making claims about their moral agency, but declaring their
ability to lead their husbands into right belief.
Likewise, Peter is empowering slaves by using them as an exam-
ple for all Christians. Peter’s use of this form of ethical instruction
itself bolsters the actual content of his exhortation. It serves at
once to make it appear as if Christians t into their society, and to
call them into a better, alternative society. His instructions are not
about keeping people in their place, but freeing them to love more
fully. This ought to be understood as a uniquely anarchist position
because it does not rely on any sort of paternalistic account of
a better society whereby one group lifts another out of poverty
or the like, rather it is a simple rejection of static hierarchies in
favour of communities that are mutually empowering. Of course,
in the short term Peter seems to be advocating for his readers to
live in a particular way within the current hierarchy, all the while
holding on to the hope that God will use their witness to cre-
ate a more just and mutual society in which uid hierarchies are
more accepted.48 This, then, ultimately suggests a rejection of the
authority of the powers that be because the subordinate persons
were no longer subject to them, but rather subject to the Lord.
As Randall Amster writes, “The rejection of authority is the
sine qua non of anarchism. In this view, the imposition of pow-
er through force, coercion, domination and oppression is both
unconscionable and untenable. . . Anarchism challenges claims
to authority that are vested with the enforcement power of the
state.”49 Therefore, Peter’s vision as envisioned in this epistle, par-
ticularly his use of the Haustafeln form is anarchistic inasmuch as
it does not seek to reform the powers and authorities as much as it
seeks to see them abolished in this new society that is the church.50
48 See Horrell, 120–121.
49 Randall Amster, Anarchism Today (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2012), 6.
50 Peter is not interested in destroying the emperor as a person, since he
does after all say that his readers ought to honor the emperor, rather
he is interested, it seems, in the slow erosion of oppressive institutions
including the position of emperor itself. One can honor the person, while
believing that the ofce is unnecessary or even oppressive. I take this to
mean that we are to honor people in places of power simply because they
are people. We are not to show them special honor, and therefore we can
Subordination and Freedom 147
Amster continues by offering some helpful headings in his chap-
ter “Contemporary Anarchist Thought,” which suggest a number
of interconnected themes which collectively make up anarchy in-
cluding several found in 1 Peter, such as “Anti-authoritarianism,
“Voluntarism”, “Mutualism”, and “Egalitarianism.”51 The
anti-authoritarianism he describes is not against people asserting
expertise in a particular area, but against someone moving beyond
that area of expertise to force their authority on others. Amster
As it turns out contemporary anarchism is nuanced enough in its
values to narrow its anti-authoritarianism to those exercises of
power that are rigid, reied, and imposed, but not necessarily those
that are present in healthy communities grounded in equality and
respect. In an anarchist society, someone with expertise may well
represent an authority in a certain sphere, without then asserting
his or her power in another sphere. . . . The critical factor for an-
archists is that “the advice of an expert should only be accepted
on the basis of voluntary consent,” meaning that the acceptance of
authority in any particular matter rests with the recipient and not
the person or group asserting it.52
Peter, it seems, is arguing for this sort of society in the church. He
allows for expertise to be shared among everyone in the commu-
nity. In the very writing of the epistle, Peter is sharing his expertise
as an authority, while suggesting that the response to that author-
ity must not be coerced and likewise that the authority may move
from person to person as the situation demands.53
hope for, and indeed expect, the abolition of all governments as each
person confesses Jesus as Lord.
51 Amster, 6, 8, 9, and 12.
52 Ibid., 7. Amster quotes Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible: A
History of Anarchism (New York: Harper Perenial, 2008), 43.
53 Amster’s brief discussions on mutualism and egalitarianism likewise re-
ect Peter’s own exhortations. Amster, for instance, writes: “Freed from
compulsion, people learn to act at least in part for the common good,
since there exists an undeniable recognition of the necessity of human
community and sociality” (Ibid., 9), which echoes Peter’s words in
2:15–16 where is exhorts his readers to do good and avoid evil precisely
because they have the freedom to do so. Like Peter, Amster sees egali-
tarianism (equality of persons) as an outcome of anti-authoritarianism,
148 Essays in Anarchism and Religion: Volume II
Non-coercion and Voluntary Association
Anarchists from a variety of traditions ranging from early thinkers
like Kropotkin to modern scholars like Randall Amster have
offered defences of non-coercion and voluntary association as
foundational to their understanding of anarchism. In the Christian
anarchist tradition in particular most expositors have tended to
be pacists as Ellul articulates when he writes that anarchy is “an
absolute rejection of violence.”54 He, like Peter, seems to do so
on principle, but without losing sight of the potential for non-
coercion to effect change.55 This is reected in Peter’s exhortations
to wives, because it is their disciplined subordination, not an
attempt at coercive rebellion, which Peter argues may lead their
husbands in a shift of attitudes and actions.
Likewise, his more general exhortation to the whole Christian
community to “Live such good lives among the pagans that,
though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good
deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (2:12) suggests that
it is through living morally persuasive lives that people are won
over to a particular group. Peter desires that people freely choose
Christianity because they have been around those who have “tast-
ed that the Lord is good” (2:3).
This is also reected in Peter’s opening line when he calls his
readers “exiles” (παρεπιδήμοις) in this world (1:1).56 At rst glance,
volunteerism, and mutualism. Amster writes: “An anarchist social order
that eliminates coercion and domination promises to cultivate self-gov-
erning individuals who exhibit voluntary behaviors that are often mutu-
ally benecial, ideally creating a horizontal network of productive enter-
prises and self-managing communities that could subsume the material
and emotional necessities of life” (12). This seems to reect Peter’s words
in 4:8–10 in which he exhorts readers to love one another, offer hospital-
ity, and share their gifts with others for the sake of the good of the whole
54 Jacques Ellul, Anarchy and Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1991), 11. See also Christoyannopoulos, Christian Anarchism, chapter 1.
55 Ellul argues that disciplined nonviolence is often more effective in this
regard than violence.
56 Peter also uses similar language in 2:11. It seems to suggest that Christians
are not to demonstrate loyalty to any given nation or government. It is
worth noting that Balch and Elliot differ on whether this term is a meta-
phorical one or a literal one.
Subordination and Freedom 149
such a term seems to evoke images of coercion, as one rarely goes
into exile on one’s own accord. Yet, this is precisely the paradox
of Christian faith. In spite of the impending persecution in their
view,57 Peter’s audience chose to join a movement that rejected
the use of coercive force, and advocate extreme avoidance of such
force by encouraging its members to favour places of lowliness
rather than power. The witness of the community and their keryg-
ma, a Greek word that is best translated as proclamation, that
Jesus had indeed overcome the most oppressive forces of all, sin
and death (1:3), was sufcient to draw people to the faith. Peter’s
use of the word παρεπιδήμοις is indicative of both his belief in the
attractive power of God’s Spirit, inasmuch as people chose to take
on the lowly position of exiles because they were persuaded by the
beauty and goodness of Christian faith, and the basis for his lat-
er exhortations regarding the church’s peculiar witness, as those
who have become exiles in this world, of equality of persons and
subversion of the powers.
Near the end of the letter, Peter offers an admonition to church
leaders. Verses 5:1–5 are a return to the form of the Haustafel.
Once again Peter co-opts the form to undermine conventional
conceptions of authority; leadership in the church is not about
coercive power, but example.58 Likewise, and totally foreign to
the Greco-Roman world, while it is true that “Peter advocates
submission to the ruling elders [5:1]” it is important to note that
“he also urges – against Greco-Roman society’s ideals – mutual
Peter addresses leaders as a fellow elder. This is important be-
cause “Whatever hierarchical mode of thinking might be discern-
ible in Peter’s self-representation or in his talk of ‘elders’ is vacated
by. . . Peter’s refusal of special privilege by locating himself as an
57 This is reected not only in Peter’s letter, but in Christ’s own words. “If
they persecuted me they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).
58 There is not adequate space to explore this in this essay, but leadership by
example is found throughout Peter’s letter, both explicitly and implicitly.
Christ is the example for all (2:21). Peter is the example for his readers,
particularly the elders (5:1). Wives are examples for their husbands (3:1).
Shepherds are examples for their ocks (5:3).
59 Keener, 721.
150 Essays in Anarchism and Religion: Volume II
elder alongside other elders.”60 Though Peter has already identied
himself as an apostle (1:1), “Additional evidence that, in instruct-
ing his audience, Peter is not exercising conventional authority is
his apparent refusal to distribute directives simply on the basis
of his apostolic ofce.”61 Peter voluntarily humbled himself, rely-
ing not on his ofce for authority in the community, but on his
communion with local church leaders, and on his experience as a
witness (μάρτυς) testifying to Christ’s sufferings.
Peter’s own conduct implores church leaders to humble them-
selves and view their position not as an opportunity to lord power
over others, but as a chance to use their gifts in service. In 5:1–3,
those revered as leaders are counselled to live in exemplary fash-
ion, and charged with the care of their congregations.
Peter applies the language of shepherding to church leaders.62
As Keener notes, “The image of a ‘shepherd’ is that of a concerned
guide, not of a severe ruler,”63 an image that hearkens back to
Peter’s identication of Jesus as shepherd and overseer (2:25). It is
to be a ministry of example rather than an exercise of dominion
The metaphor is then extended, and qualied, in light of the
fact that every member of the church is a sheep under the care of
the “Chief Shepherd” (5:4). This is further evidenced in the next
verse as all members of God’s household are exhorted to wear
the same clothing of humility toward one another (5:5), as sheep
all wear the same warm wool. It is not coercion that binds the
Christian community, but a common humility.
It is also striking that Peter explicitly offers the elders the choice
to “serve as overseers,” rather than do so because they are obli-
gated (5:2). It is not societal pressure, nor money, nor ego that
60 Green, 164.
61 Ibid., 164.
62 John 21:16. See Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical
Ecclesiology for Today (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 319. This lan-
guage is perhaps reminiscent Peter’s own experience with Jesus when
Jesus gave Peter the charge to shepherd Jesus’ sheep. Ferguson notes,
“The work of shepherds is in looking after sheep – protecting them, lead-
ing them to water and pasture, caring for their injuries, seeking them
when lost” (321).
63 Keener, 720–721.
Subordination and Freedom 151
implores shepherds to assume their post; Peter exhorts them to this
ministry because they are willing and eager to serve. Achtemeier
comments on Peter’s rhetoric in 5:2, writing,
“The contrast between ‘not under compulsion’ (μὴ ἀναγκαστῶς)
and ‘willingly’ or ‘freely’ (ἑκουσίως) apparently exhorts elders to
accept their responsibilities without undue coercion. . . The sec-
ond antithesis qualies the rst, in that the second term προθύμως
(‘eagerly’), is virtually a synonym for ἑκουσίως, and the rst term,
μὴ αἰσχροκερδῶς (‘not in a way characterized by desire for base
gain’), may be a concrete instance of the kind of compulsion to be
As is typical in this letter, instructions to a particular party serve
to instruct the larger church community. If even those who hold
leadership roles are expected to humbly serve others then it fol-
lows that all members ought to follow that example. Thus, Peter
instructs the younger people in the community to “subordinate”
(ὑποτάσσω)65 themselves to the elders because the elders have pro-
vided a compelling, imitable example. Bamyeh says that anarchy
has a type of order that is not imposed, and that order means
“(1) that the agreements that organize social life are voluntary
in nature and (2) that whatever authority may exist is conceived
of as practical rather than absolute or permanent authority.”66
That is the case here in Peter’s discussion about the leadership of
elders as a sensible structure for these early Christian communities,
so long as they recognized that their positions were not those of
domination or their right, but simply as positions that they could
use to serve others, even subjugating themselves to “lesser” members
of the community when necessary.
64 Paul J. Achtemeier, 1 Peter: A Commentary on First Peter (Minneapolis:
Augsburg Fortress, 1996), 326.
65 The importance of this particular word will be examined in the following
66 Mohammed A. Bamyeh, Anarchy as Order: The History and Future of
Civic Humanity (Lanham: Rowman & Littleeld Publishers, 2010), 27.
He further suggests that the role of these authorities is to help move sub-
ordinate members into a place where mutuality is possible. A child learns
to be independent of the parent and the student learns to teach. (28)
152 Essays in Anarchism and Religion: Volume II
It is precisely because people are inclined to seek power,67 and
abuse it, that an anarchist voice is necessary. Hence Peter’s insis-
tence that non-coercion and voluntary association are requisite
expectations of the Christian community. Christians reject the
temptation to wield coercive power, and the allure of associating
too closely with folks who do; they set an example by choosing
to associate with others who, like Christ, elect to serve not be
served.68 It may or may not prove to be an effective social strategy,
though Peter assumes it will indeed inuence people, but the rejec-
tion of coercive force is inseparable from Peter’s larger anarchist
Equality of Persons
A cursory reading of the text, specically the Haustafel in 2:13–
3:8, might suggest that Peter favoured forms of subjugation that
were in line with the culture in which he lived,69 yet a closer
reading suggests that Peter has a high regard for the equality of
The rst of the three potentially problematic of exhortations
in Peter’s Haustafel revolves around Christians’ relationship to
government. It begins with the command to “submit” to govern-
ing authorities. However, an exploration of the Greek reveals that
many English translations do not convey the best rendering of the
67 Achtemeier points to the fact that “the warning against the desire for
money is a regular part of [Christian] advice” (326), which is true, but it
is reasonable, based on the all of 5:1–5, that similar warnings against the
desire for power should also be acknowledged.
68 Matt 20:28, Mark 10:45.
69 Some scholars have suggested such a reading. See Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter
(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005); Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition
of the Epistles of Peter and of the Epistle of Jude (Grand Rapids: Baker,
1987). Below I will articulate why such a reading is incorrect, and why
an anarchistic reading of the text is more appropriate.
70 Peter seems to be following the Pauline tradition. See for example Gal.
3:27. Likewise he might be recalling his own vision about clean and un-
clean animals in Acts 10:9–19.
Subordination and Freedom 153
One issue raised by exploring the Greek text (Ὑποτάγητε πάσῃ
ἀνθρωπίνῃ κτίσει [which Actemeier rightly translates as “Be sub-
ordinate to every human creature”71]) is the precise meaning of
the word κτίσει, which is often translated as “authority,” “institu-
tion,” or “ordinance.” Such renderings are neither literal nor con-
textually appropriate. The primary meaning of κτίσις is “creation”
or “creature,” and the context attests to the accuracy of this sort
of translation here. Achtemeier writes that “‘human being,’ [is] a
translation to be preferred to ‘human order’ or ‘institution,’ since
the latter meaning is nowhere to be found in Greek literature,
and the examples that follow – emperor, governors – are human
beings not institutions.”72 This rendering of κτίσις suggests that
Peter has an expectation that Christians willingly “submit” them-
selves to all people, an expectation that puts all humanity on an
equal plane, undermining the claims to authority made by ruling
powers. Rendering ἀνθρωπίνῃ κτίσει as “human creature” is more
faithful to the meaning of the word κτίσις, and supports the claim
that Peter’s concern is indeed the equality of persons.73 It challeng-
es the prevailing arguments that this passage is primarily about
submission to governing institutions, and thus disafrms common
arguments that Christians look favourably upon ruling powers.74
Another issue raised by the Greek text is the meaning of
Ὑποτάγητε,75 which is often translated as “submit” or “be sub-
ject.” It may appear that it has connotations of obedience since
the word is related to ὑπακοή. However, as Boring notes ὑποτάσσω
is “a broader and more exible word,” and therefore its specif-
ic meaning may be determined by context.76 Achtemeier argues
that “Its meaning is closer to ‘subordinate’ than to ‘submit’ or
‘obey,’ and advocates nding one’s proper place and acting
71 Achtemeier, 179.
72 Ibid., 182.
73 Unfortunately there is not space to expand this brief word study, but
Elliott’s own study regarding translation and meaning is helpful. See
Elliott, 486 fn 92.
74 The case for this translation is strengthened by Peter’s later exhortation
to show proper respect to everyone (2:17).
75 Although this is not the lexical form, I have chosen to leave the verb form
here because of its imperatival force. The lexical form is ὑποτάσσω.
76 Boring, 108.
154 Essays in Anarchism and Religion: Volume II
accordingly rather than calling upon one to give unquestioning
obedience to whatever anyone, including governing authorities,
Peter’s exhortation follows the Pauline tradition, which calls
Christians to consider others better than themselves (Phil 2:3).
Boring points out that considering others better than oneself does
not necessarily require obedience, nor losing one’s identity. He
writes, “What is called for here is not mindless robotic obedience
or servile cowering that denies one’s own identity and sense of
worth, which is provided not by status in society but by rebirth
and incorporation into God’s saving plan for history as members
of the holy people of God.”78 David Lipscomb argues,
[Ὑποτάγητε]. . . carries the idea that the person or body that sub-
mits, is entirely distinct and separate from and in antagonism to
the person or body to which it submits. The Christian then is not
part of the body to which he submits, or to which he brings himself
under subjection. . . We cannot be said to submit to ourselves, or to
a body of which we are a part and parcel, and with which we are
in harmony, and which we aid to conduct or manage. Submission
carries the idea of antagonism and opposition which are restrained
and held in abeyance. This is the relationship everywhere dened
as that which connects the Christian with the governments under
which they live.79
77 Achtemeier, 182.
78 Boring, 108.
79 David Lipscomb, On Civil Government: Its Origin, Mission and Destiny
and The Christian’s Relation to It (Indianapolis: Doulos Christou Press,
2006), 75. The objection could be raised that Lipscomb’s denition is
problematic since the same word is used to describe the husband/wife
relationship and the master/slave relationship. Lipscomb recognizes this
and offers an extended response, part of which is quoted here. “It is ar-
gued against this, that we are commanded to submit to God – children
to their parents, wives to their husbands. . .. Therefore antagonism is not
involved in the expression. Antagonism in all these relationships is the
ground of the admonition. Were there none, there would be no need of
the admonition. . . But in these relations to God, to the parents, to hus-
bands. . . still other terms as love, honor, are added. . . [W]e are told not
only to submit to God but to love him with all the soul and the mind and
the body, this leads to active, hearty, soul-felt participation in carrying
forward his government. So the child is commanded to love the parent,
the wife her husband, and all the members of the church must have a care
Subordination and Freedom 155
Therefore, according to Lipscomb, when Peter calls Christians to
Ὑποτάγητε he is suggesting that they are in some way in conict
with the body to which they “submit,” but this does not imply an
ontological superiority on the part of the ruling body. In other
words, Christians are free to submit or subordinate themselves to
government because they realize their own distinct identity apart
from the powers, and furthermore that they realize that this dis-
tinct identity is equally true of every other person.
The exhortation to “Be subordinate to every human creature”
is directly followed by an important modier – “on account of
the Lord” (διὰ τὸν κύριον). Again, Achtemeier writes, “The moti-
vation for such subordination, ‘because of the Lord,’ conrms the
basis of such subordination in Christian faith. . . That phrase also
qualies subordination by placing it within the larger context of
obedience to God; one is not to be subordinate in matters that go
counter to God’s will.”80 One cannot rightly “obey” a presumed
authority for the Lord’s sake if the authority is rebelling against
that very Lord.
For centuries, commentators who have understood 2:13 as a
command to obey governing authorities have struggled to recon-
cile that interpretation with the oppositional instruction in 2:16
to “live as free men.”81 Even if one understands the material in
for one another, they were to be members of one another, and to labor
together for their mutual good, the advancement of their common cause,
to love as brethren and be true children of God. . . But as no higher or
closer relation than submission is required toward civil government, all
the Christian can do in that relation, is to refrain from active antagonism
and conict, and to quietly and passively submit within the prescribed
limits, but no intimation of obligation or license to participate in or in
anywise fellowship and support is found” (75–76).
80 Achtemeier, 182.
81 Martin Luther, Commentary on Peter & Jude, trans John Nichols Lenker.
Grand Rapids: Kregel Classics, 1990). For instance, Luther writes, “since
ye have done all that was necessary to attain to true faith and you hold
your body in subjection, let this now be your rst business, to obey the
civil authorities” (116). While on the other hand, he writes, “Christians
yield themselves to the control of God’s Word; they have no need of civ-
il government for their own sake” (119). Furthermore, he claims, “Our
conscience is enlightened and has become free from human ordinances
and from the control which they had over us, so that we are no longer
obliged to do what they have commanded under peril of our salvation”
156 Essays in Anarchism and Religion: Volume II
2:13 to be essentially a command to obey authorities, as some
do, one still must contend with this seemingly contrary exhorta-
tion.82 Here Peter radically diverges from the Haustafel tradition
because he is not concerned about upholding the hierarchies be-
lieved to hold society together. Furthermore, the Greek text (ὡς
ἐλεύθεροι) is more accurately rendered “as free [men/people],”
which assumes the freedom of Peter’s audience whether they live
into that freedom or not. This is not to say that they are free to do
whatever they please because their freedom is afforded to them as
slaves to Christ, and it is to persuade others to join the Christian
Therefore, subordination is a choice, a free choice of a free hu-
man, whose allegiance is to God, not something that governments
can demand. It is this freedom that ultimately strips authority
from the principalities and powers because they become unneed-
ed and unwanted by people who view all others as equal. This is
the example of Jesus, who Peter points to in 2:21, the One with
all authority who voluntarily subordinated himself to the pow-
ers who were to crucify him.84 Here Jesus demonstrated that he
would rather die than take power by force, that he would rather
count himself among the criminals and outcasts than the pow-
erful elites. Jesus is the model of overcoming by subordination,
the leader of this anarchist revolution of the upside-down king-
dom that disarms abusive systems not by reforming them, but by
offering an alternative, the alternative of a cruciform revolution
(120). Though it is clear that Luther difculty with this tension, he does
provide great insight for Christians dealing with the paradoxical exhor-
tations of Peter in his statement, “For Christ’s followers are to be led and
ruled only be the Spirit. . . Henceforth, they are under obligation to do
nothing but good to their neighbor, helping him with all they have, as
Christ has helped them” (120).
82 See Kistemaker and/or Jobes.
83 This is a paradox that many, Christians and non-Christians, nd difcult
to grasp. See my argument in the essay “What About Those Men and
Women Who Gave Up Their Lives so that You and I Could be Free?
On Killing for Freedom” in A Faith Not Worth Fighting For (Eugene:
Cascade Books, 2012), 92–94.
84 Matt 26:42. Jesus subordinated himself to the governing bodies to the
point of death, not because of their inherent authority, but because he
was bearing witness to God’s great love.
Subordination and Freedom 157
whereby subordination to the powers in the name of God will
ultimately make a spectacle of their very existence.85
English translations diverge from the Greek text again in Verse
2:17, suggesting a different meaning than the one in Peter’s origi-
nal words. This verse is best translated as “Honor all [men]. Love
the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king/emperor.” Achtemeier
rightly suggests that “The use of ‘honor the emperor’ in 1 Pet 2:17
as a direct parallel to ‘honor all people’ specically divests the
emperor of any and all trappings of divine authority and power.”86
Actually, this structure suggests an even more radical meaning be-
cause it not only “divests the emperor. . . of divine authority and
power,” it suggests that there is no inherent difference between
even the emperor and a slave.87 Later Achtemeier moves this direc-
tion, writing, “The contrast of the rst and last clauses indicates
that the initial command to honor all implies such honor is not to
be reserved for the mighty; no creature of God is unworthy of it,
whatever his or her station in pagan society.”88
85 See Col 2:15
86 Achtemeier, 181.
87 This reects Luke’s comment that God is no respecter of persons (Acts
10:34). If Christians are to follow that example then they too must refuse
to show favor.
88 Achtemeier, 188. Peter of course nds himself in a difcult place where
he must simultaneously instruct his readers about the anti-hierarchical
nature of the Kingdom of God, while not drawing unnecessary attention
to his words from those who are looking for reasons to attack Christians,
as well as attempting to redene concepts of honor and shame for his
readers. Peter’s letter serves a paraenetic function, in that it offers mor-
al exhortations intended to socialize converts to this new religion (Troy
W. Martin, Metaphor and Composition in 1 Peter. [Atlanta: Scholars
Press, 1992], 103–118). Paraenesis, and its resulting socialization, in the
hierarchical Greco-Roman society was intended to cause one to live in
such a way that “one could attain δόξα (glory)” (Martin, 108). For Peter’s
audience, however, in attempting to follow the teachings of Jesus they
have been maligned, scorned, and persecuted. According to Martin, “This
problem sets up the rhetorical situation for the author of 1 Peter and
explains the unique paraenetic feature of eschatology. . . in this letter
. . . . The author of 1 Peter has resorted to eschatological ideas in his
paranaesis to resolve this problem of a non-realization of δόξα (Martin,
111–112). Martin is largely correct, but Peter doesn’t so much “resort”
to using eschatological arguments as much he simply continues in the
tradition of Jesus’ own teaching, perhaps recalling Jesus’ words that his
158 Essays in Anarchism and Religion: Volume II
The individual sections of this pericope each suggest a read-
ing sympathetic to an anarchistic equality of persons under and
before God. The same is true of the whole pericope, 2:13–17.
The inclusio formed by the two imperatives that begin (Ὑποτάγητε,
‘be subordinate’) and end (τιμᾶτε, ‘honor’) the passage, and by the
opening and closing references to the emperor, shows it to be a care-
ful literary composition. One must therefore pay attention to the
deliberate limitations placed here on the status of civil government:
the emperor is a ‘human creature’ to whom subordination is due
as an example of general subordination on the part of Christians
within civil society.89
Peter’s construction challenges notions that Christians were ene-
mies of the empire, while simultaneously subverting it by giving
each person equal respect.
A brief caveat is necessary here to explain the importance of
assessing the structure of a text in the eld of biblical exegesis. In
an attempt to understand the text inductively, that is to attempt
to understand the text on its own grounds rather than imposing
meaning on the text, exegetes often look for structural relation-
ships in the text that may make authorial intent more apparent.
One of the structures seen often in the biblical text is called inclu-
sio. “Inclusio is the repetition of words of phrases at the beginning
and end of a unit, thus creating a bracket effect. At the boundaries
inclusio establishes the main thought of the book (passage), point-
ing to the essential concern of the book (or passage). One should
note the relationship between these bracketing statements and the
intervening material in order to identify the semantic relationship
followers would indeed experience persecution for being his disciples,
and later Paul’s words that it was after Jesus’ suffering and shame that
Jesus received the joy of glory (e.g. Phil 2:6–11, Heb 12:2). Thus, Peter is
saying precisely what he means, but only one who is in on the redenition
of terms in the Christian tradition would understand this reappropria-
tion. Peter uses the common social framework of glory/honor and shame,
but reinterprets the concepts through the lens of the uniquely Christian
assertion that suffering comes before glory, and glory only comes, at least
in fullness, when God resurrects and redeems the faithful.
89 Achtemeier, 180.
Subordination and Freedom 159
with which an inclusio is used.”90 In other words, this is simply
a form of parallelism, which is commonly used in many types of
literature in order to emphasize a given point or to highlight the
similarities in a variety of connected clauses.
“Thus the bracketing statement is a general claim that is spelled
out, or particularized, in the intervening material,” note Bauer and
Traina.91 In this case, Peter makes the general statements regard-
ing subordination and honour, but spells out the parameters re-
garding the way in which his readers are to submit to and honour
others, including his seemingly contradictory claim that they are
to live as free people. This pericope seems to be a paradox in that
by honouring the authorities they are shamed. According to Peter
in the verse that precedes this pericope, the contrast of the good
behaviour of Jesus’ disciples, largely epitomized by enduring un-
just suffering for Christ’s sake, with the idolatrous, self-serving
behaviour of the powers, will expose the corruption and injus-
tice meted out by the imposturous and rebellious powers of this
While the focus of this analysis has been primarily on the rhe-
torical structure of this pericope, the brief segues into theological
and social issues strengthen the claims regarding Peter’s shrewd
composition. Like other writers who nd themselves vulnerable
because they are at odds with a society’s values, Peter employs
cunning rhetorical and theological moves that those socialized
into early Christianity could understand and appreciate while
those outside this “chosen people” (2:9) would not nd immedi-
ately threatening. The following section of exhortations directed
at slaves, then wives and husbands should further illumine the
sort of double meaning potentially bound up in Peter’s letter by
exposing more of the ways in which different inferences might be
made by those inside church and those on the outside. With this
in mind it is possible to see the subversive nature of Peter’s next
set of instructions.
90 David R. Bauer and Robert A. Traina, Inductive Bible Study: A
Comprehensive guide to the Practice of Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids:
Baker Academic, 2011), 117.
91 Ibid, 118.
160 Essays in Anarchism and Religion: Volume II
Peter moves into exhortations directed at slaves, then wives and
husbands. Though specic parties are addressed, Peter never loses
sight of the whole community. His instructions to these specif-
ic parties serves a double purpose, to help these particular per-
sons nd their place as individual moral agents and bearers of the
Imago Dei, and to use them as examples of Christlikeness. “Since
2:13–3:7 doesn’t cover all cases and classes, instructions to slaves
and wives are to be taken as illustrative. . . The whole community
is to learn from what is said to slaves and wives.”92
Again, Peter’s modied use of the Haustafel dignies slaves by as-
suming their moral agency, yet it is disturbing to modern readers
that he takes no umbrage with slavery itself. However, a closer
reading of the text suggests that Peter is merely taking a more cal-
culated and ultimately subversive approach. By revisiting themes
of subordination to all people (Ὑποτάγητε πάσῃ ἀνθρωπίνῃ κτίσει)
and being as free people, then setting slaves up as examples to
the rest of the Christian community, and directly connecting them
with Christ, Peter turns the social order on its head, a reality al-
ready coming to fruition in early Christian communities.
Two relevant clauses point readers back to Peter’s previous
discussion. First, Peter uses the word “subordinate,” in this case
(ὑποτασσόμενοι),93 a direct parallel to his earlier use in 2:13. Peter’s
use of “subordinate” to slaves here is a particularization of his in-
struction for all Christians to do so. Second, Peter points back to
his discussion about the freedom of all Christians, including those
in slavery, as those who choose to live as “God’s slaves” (θεοῦ
δοῦλοι). As Boring remarks, “all Christians are free, all are slaves.
As those already freed and accepted before God, their identity
does not depend on the social status others attribute to them.”94
92 Boring, 107.
93 The lexical form is ὑποτάσσω.
94 Ibid., 111. It should be noted however that some ancient writers like
Seneca recognized slaves as having the same inherent value as all other
humans, but he still supported slavery so long as masters treated their
Subordination and Freedom 161
Peter cunningly subverts social values, asserting the equality of
persons. As Joel Green writes, “[I]t is obvious that Peter’s theo-
logical perspective (particularly his identication of his Christian
audience, including slaves [v. 17], as ‘free persons’ [v. 16], his em-
phasis on ‘honoring all persons,’ including slaves, and his specic
address to slaves as moral agents [v. 18]) must trigger the unravel-
ing of the institution of slavery – at least insofar as this institution
rested on arguments from inherent nature and incarnate status in
the Greco-Roman world.”95
Peter not only dignies slaves by addressing them as moral
agents, he sets them up as examples to the rest of the Christian
community. This at once serves to uplift slaves and call those in
higher social classes to seek a certain downward mobility, thus
moving closer to a society where all people not only have theoret-
ical, but realized, equality.
It is noteworthy that “Romans reacted negatively when Jewish
and Christian slaves – the rst group to do so – rejected the wor-
ship of their masters’ gods, insisting on an exclusive worship of
their own God”96 because these slaves are examples of godliness
in the face of potentially awful consequences. Those who other-
wise have little or no power are empowered to lead the rest of
the Christian community by example.97 This means that other
Christians are not to subjugate those in slavery, but to look to
them as exemplars of Christian discipleship.
Most important is the fact that, as Keener notes, “Although an-
cient society was very status-conscious and associated power with
greatness, Peter identies Christ with unjustly treated slaves.”98
This comparison undermines conventional ways of thinking and
challenges readers to live the values of Jesus’ upside-down king-
dom. That is to say, by comparing Christ to slaves, Peter dignies
lowliness and exhorts his readers to take on servant roles because
they are free to do so in Christ. In this way, it is important to note
95 Green, 79.
96 Balch, 74.
97 It is at least conceivable that slaves could be elders in the early church,
and as the discussion earlier about shepherds suggests they would be
potentially great candidates.
98 Keener, 715.
162 Essays in Anarchism and Religion: Volume II
that the particulars of a slave’s experience are at the fore, and thus
the suffering of the slave is not meant to be downplayed. There is
no sort of “All Lives Matter” move being made here. Peter claries
that “Slave Lives Matter.”
On Wives and Husbands
Peter’s instructions to wives carry some complex socio-cultural
baggage, but they, along with instructions to husbands, offer in-
sight into understanding the equality of persons in Peter’s thought.
Women in much of the ancient world had little power and were
often viewed as property, and agents of seduction leading men
astray from their religious/societal duties.99
The women Peter addresses had already broken with tradition
choosing to worship their own God instead of their husbands’
gods, something that Peter unequivocally commends, exhorting
wives to lead their husbands to Christian belief. This is a rever-
sal of the typical expectations, stated by Plutarch: “A wife ought
not make friends of her own, but to enjoy her husband’s friends
in common with him. The gods are the rst and most important
friends. Therefore it is becoming for a wife to worship and know
only the gods that her husband believes in, and to shut the front
door tight upon all queer rituals and outlandish superstitions. For
with no god do stealthy and secret rites performed by a woman
nd any favour.”100
For the wives Peter is addressing there is no expectation that
women are required to follow their husbands into any religion, but
that women had the power to lead their husbands into worship
of the true God. Likewise, Peter’s instruction to wives necessitates
99 The fact that Peter feels compelled to address wives with specic instruc-
tions to subordinate (ὑποτασσόμεναι) themselves to their own husbands
(3:1), a practice already expected of women in Greco-Roman society,
suggests that these women had already begun embracing the freedom
found in Christ, though it seems that they may have been choosing to use
that freedom in unwise ways.
100 Found in Balch, 85.
Subordination and Freedom 163
that their worship not be done in secret, and more importantly
that God would indeed nd favour in their worship.101
Some might point to Peter’s use of Sarah as an example of wife-
ly obedience to undermine the above interpretation, but one need
only look briey at the story Peter is referencing, both in its bib-
lical and extrabiblical contexts, to see that Sarah and Abraham’s
relationship was more complicated than might initially appear.
Peter could be referring to Gen 18:12, which shows “Sarah was
hardly the paradigm of the servile housewife, but was laughing
out loud.”102 Rather than being obedient to Abraham, she was in
fact sometimes disrespectful. “Moreover, in the relevant material
in Genesis, it is easier to nd evidence that Abraham obeyed Sarah
more than the other way around.”103 On the other hand, Peter also
says that Sarah called Abraham “Lord,” which could suggest that
husbands may rightly subjugate their wives. However, “[Lord]
was not an unusual expression on the lips of Sarah, but was the
way in which all women of the period referred to their husbands
(probably with as little reection on it as a modern woman gives
to the term ‘husband).”104 My wife, for example, refers to me as a
husband to others, but does occasionally call me husband directly
101 This perhaps reects Peter’s more general exhortation that Christians live
such good lives among their pagan counterparts that the pagans would
see these good works and glorify God (2:12).
102 Boring, 125–126.
103 Green, 96. Green remarks, in footnote 79, that in Genesis God actually
tells Abraham to obey Sarah at one point, but the reverse is never seen in
104 Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1990), 120–121. In fact Davids contends elsewhere that, “bible transla-
tions divide over whether to translate this term according to its use in 1
Peter or within the context of Genesis. Like the NRSV, the NAB translates
the term contextually as “my husband.” The NKJV follows the traditional
AV rendering of “my lord.” The NIV has “my master” with the alter-
native “husband” in a note. The NLT compromises with “my master—
my husband.” Davids, “A Silent Witness in Marriage: 1 Peter 3:1–7” i n
Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarily without Hierarchy edited
by Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis with Gordon D. Fee
(Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2005), 231.
164 Essays in Anarchism and Religion: Volume II
However, it could very well be the case that Peter does not,
primarily at least, have the Genesis text in mind, but extrabiblical
stories familiar to the Jewish people. It seems that commentators
around Peter’s time were actually discussing the signicance of
Abraham and Sarah’s interactions.105 Peter, once again, might be
“splitting the difference” inasmuch as his reliance on the Genesis
text would likely lead to one conclusion, but his reliance on the
extra-biblical literature would point to a different conclusion.
Perhaps he has both in mind, as this essay has shown, was his
general way of helping Christians avoid persecution while eroding
away the very systems that were the source of that persecution.
Peter’s reference is not to convince wives of their inferiority, but
rather to encourage them to choose subordination as a witness
to the God who is faithful to make all things right. Furthermore,
“These [including Sarah] were ‘holy women,’ not because of
their specic moral virtue, but because they were heroines of the
Scriptures.”106 Sarah’s particular heroism, as it relates to Peter’s
purposes, was in the hope she placed in God, specically as an
alien and stranger in a foreign land.
Perhaps Peter uses Sarah to poke fun at unwitting pagans who
believed that the natural order required wives to do what their
husbands command. At rst glimpse, they would have likely seen
Peter’s words as essentially endorsing Greco-Roman values, but
those familiar with the story of Sarah would be inclined to see her
as a more complex example of faithful hope rather than simply
wifely obedience. Peter has in view a people who would put their
hope in God, exhorting them to treat all people with reverent
Likewise, calling wives the weaker vessel is sometimes viewed
as an ontological statement about women’s strength of character,
emotional stability, or intended place in society and marriage.107
105 Davids, “A Silent Witness,” 233.
106 Ibid., 119.
107 See for example, Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
2002), 143–145. Grudem argues that women are “weaker vessels” in at
least three ways. First, he says they have less physical strength than men.
Second, according to Grudem, women are weaker in that they have less
authority in marriage. Third, he argues, women are more emotionally
vulnerable, which he says is a weakness that can also be a strength. Also,
Subordination and Freedom 165
This view fails on at least two counts. First, and perhaps most
notably, the reference to females as “weaker” directly follows six
full verses that speak specically about the strength of character
required of Christian women, and the behaviours expected from
women as fully human moral agents.108
Second, the most contextually appropriate reading of the text
shows Peter’s awareness of the ways in which women were vul-
nerable in his readers’ context. As Jean Bethke Elshtain writes,
“Human beings are soft-shelled creatures. All bodies are fragile.
But some bodies, in some circumstances are more vulnerable than
others.”109 Peter reminds husbands that this is the situation for
their wives in the patriarchal Greco-Roman world. These wives
are more susceptible to abuse in the male-dominated culture, and
therefore Christian husbands have a responsibility to counter
these societal norms by treating their wives as equal heirs to all
that God offers.
For Peter, the point of Christians choosing to live into the free-
dom of Christ is that they live holy lives that others nd strangely
compelling. As people adopt Christianity, the expectation is that
they treat all others equitably as Jesus did. Peter is proposing a
social strategy whereby Christians would move the world toward
an embrace of anarchist principles, perhaps the most important of
which is the equality of persons.110 In short, “The servant-ethic of
see Martin Luther Commentary on Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids: Kregel
Classics, 1990), 140. Luther writes that “the wife is weaker bodily, as
well as more timid and more easily dispirited.” Davids notes, 123, that it
was common in the Greek and Hebrew world for women to be viewed
as “weaker in mind or morally inferior” by citing Plato (Leg 6.781b) and
noting that other places in scripture use similar wording to talk generally
about human moral failings (Rom 5:6) and an irresolute conscience (1
Cor 8:7–11; Rom 14:1).
108 See Davids, 123.
109 Jean Bethke Elshtain, “The Equality of Persons and the Culture of
Rights,” University of St. Thomas Law Journal: Vol. 1: Iss. 1. (2003), 5.
Available at: http://ir.stthomas.edu/ustlj/vol1/iss1/2
110 There is no doubt that equality of persons could, by itself, fall under
progressive or Marxists ideologies, but the way I believe Peter is using it
is thoroughly anarchist because his vision involves no coercion or benev-
olent dictator or government program that will bring about his desired
outcome. Rather, Peter proposes a society where people by their own
166 Essays in Anarchism and Religion: Volume II
I Peter, then, is strategic. In essence, it seeks to turn enemies into
Subverting the Powers
Hopefully, the subversive nature and power of non-coercion, vol-
untary association, and the equality of persons has begun to be-
come apparent in this overview of 1 Peter. That being the case, it is
pertinent to only highlight the points of contact that these themes
make with the Petrine message of subversion of the powers.
When one experiences unjust suffering, oppression unleashed
by the powers, there is a temptation to lash out against those forc-
es or to rebel in hopes of establishing a new order. This approach
simply perpetuates the power struggles, shifting the power from
one person or group to another.
Peter offers no such option to Christians. He suggests an alter-
native way of being in the world. He writes:
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a mul-
titude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve
others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very
words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength
God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through
Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.
free choice extend a hand of friendship to enemies precisely because they
have their own free moral agency and can choose to use it in this way.
Nor is Peter’s concern primarily economic; he is simply articulating the
larger NT vision that in the Kingdom of God there will not be divisions
based on race, gender, or social status, but all people will be invited to
participate in the community as they choose.
111 Carter, 89.
112 Much could be drawn out from this specic passage, but one of the most
compelling arguments for the power of subversion Peter has in mind
one might focus on his call to hospitality. See Christine D. Pohl, Making
Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1999). Pohl writes, “Although we often think of hospitality
as a tame and pleasant practice, Christian hospitality has always had a
subversive countercultural dimension. ‘Hospitality is resistance,’ as one
Subordination and Freedom 167
This is the alternative Peter offers for subverting the powers while
avoiding being drawn into them. It is an important word because
as Ellul writes, “When the church has been seduced by the rul-
ing classes, becoming a power or being obsessed with politics,
this is tantamount to its possession by the prince of this world
First Peter is a manifesto of sorts in which Christianity is set
against the powers. These powers, the ones upholding the hier-
archies Christ came to destroy, are undermined by this band of
aliens and strangers who claim Jesus is Lord. Peter’s epistle is an
archetype of Ellul’s statement that “Biblically, love is the way, not
violence. . . Not using violence against those in power does not
mean doing nothing. . . Christianity means a rejection of power
and a ght against it. . . There remains the anarchism which acts
by means of persuasion, by the creation of small groups and
networks, denouncing falsehood and oppression, aiming at a true
overturning of authorities of all kinds as people at the bottom speak
and organize themselves.”114 Alexandre Christoyannopoulos,
drawing from Peter Brock writes, “the state may be valid for non-
Christians, but if ‘all truly followed in Christ’s footsteps it would
wither away.’ God uses the state in his ordering of the cosmos
only because his commandments for a peaceful and just society
are not being followed.”115 Thus, the church’s witness of subordi-
nation is intended to draw people into the Christian faith which
ought to have the side effect of the dissolution of oppressive pow-
Peter’s letter maintains that Christians subvert the powers not
by violence, or rebellious revolution, but through the faithful wit-
ness of righteous suffering. Non-coercion and voluntary associ-
ation, and the equality of persons are part and parcel of such a
witness. Each calls into question the legitimacy of the powers, and
Catholic Worker observed. Especially when the larger society disregards
or dishonors certain persons, small acts of respect and welcome are po-
tent far beyond themselves. They point to a different system of valuing
and an alternate model of relationships” (61).
113 Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
114 Ellul, A&C, 13–14.
115 Christoyannopoulos, 153–154.
168 Essays in Anarchism and Religion: Volume II
exposes their sinfulness, challenging each person to glorify God
rather than self.
Social Location and Christian Witness
Peter is making the radical claim that it is not the powerful, the
violent, the coercive, nor the privileged who wield true inuence
in the world.116 It is the ones who are humble, by choice or by
circumstance, the ones who take up crosses upon their shoulders,
who are able to bear witness to the true, eschatological reality
that the powers, even death itself, have been overcome by Jesus.117
Rather than pursuing power, for Green, “Christians should expect
to be treated as those who are powerless. . . knowing, however,
that their appropriate conduct would have a redemptive effect
akin to that of Jesus.”118
As Boring puts it, “Throughout [1 Peter], the emphasis is on
mission, not on submission. As in the example of Christ (2:21–
25), submission is for the sake of mission.”119 The mission is tak-
en up voluntarily with a purpose in mind, not because the social
order demands it, nor because one group is necessarily inferior
or supposed to be subservient to another. The message here is
that by choosing submission Christians follow the example of
Christ. Speaking to the disenfranchised, Peter honours their con-
tributions to the Christian mission and shames the powerful who
would impede that mission. He also suggests that it is not the
powerful of this world who are most like Christ, but those who
nd their place in humble, seemingly powerless, service to others.
Therefore, Peter seems to be arguing that Christians effect change
in the world, not by using power over others, but by bearing wit-
ness to the eschatological hope and truth of Jesus. Near the end of
116 More evidence of Peter’s concern with social location can be seen in his
address to wives regarding their dress. Peter argues against the notion
that it is displays of wealth or beauty that show one’s value. Davids
writes, “[Peter’s] critique would apply mainly to upper-class women who
could afford more than the simplest dress (and perhaps to the aspirations
of other women).Thus it is a critique of the whole culture” (117–118).
117 See Col 2:15.
118 Green, 72.
119 Boring, 113.
Subordination and Freedom 169
his specic instructions to the congregations regarding righteous
subordination and its effects, Peter writes: “Humble yourselves,
therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in
due time” (4:6).
Peter’s vision of Christian witness was not of rebellion, but that
they model a different society, one not predicated on hierarchies
and coercion even as they choose to subversively subordinate
themselves to these forces that are already present, but on loving
relationships where each person honours the dignity of others.
Two millennia after it was written, Peter’s epistle still offers an
implicit yet compelling vision for an alternative society, a soci-
ety that embraces anarchist values of non-coercion, voluntary
association, and the equality of persons all as a way to subvert
the powers intent on maintaining their perceived control of the
world. Paradoxically, it is not the powers that have power over
the world’s destiny, but the One and ones who choose humble
subordination that declare the triumph of love.
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