Exegesis of 1st Peter 2:19-25
Step 1 - Initial Acquaintance
NIV …unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.
NEB …undeserved suffering because God is in his thoughts.
NIV …How is it to your credit….
NEB …What good is there in fortitude…
NIV …commendable before God….
NEB …your fortitude is a fine thing in the sight of God.
NIV …To this you were called….
NEB …To that you were called….
NIV …He committed no sin, and deceit was found in his mouth.
NEB …He committed no sin, was convicted on no falsehood.
NIV …he entrusted himself….
NEB …committed his cause….
NIV …He bore our sins in his body….
NEV …He carried our sins to the gibbet
Rough Translation: It is good if a man stands strong under the pain of undeserved persecution. Nothing is added to your account in receiving a beating when you deserve it. But if you suffer for doing what is right and withstand it your account will be credited. For to this you have been called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you might follow in his steps. He never did anything wrong, nor was falsehood found in his mouth. When they insulted him he never sought revenge, when they punished him he didn't retaliate. Instead, he placed his trust in God, leaving it to God to make things right. To deliver us from our sins he used his own body to carry our sins to cross in order that we might die to our sins and live the right way. His wounds have healed us. For you were like sheep who had strayed, but now you have come back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
Step 2 - Disposition
Genre: The text is a letter written to the churches of Asia Minor. It is an exhortation to slaves to not retaliate when they suffer undeserved punishment. The author packs a lot of Christology into a few short verses.
Personal Interaction: It is hard to escape that the text was written to slaves. The lectionary attempts to avoid the issue by beginning with verse nineteen. I find the idea of submission in this context difficult to overcome. The call to submission sounds like compliance with an evil structure. The church has often been criticized for not being concerned enough about the systemic evil present in the structures of our society or as MLK would say it has been to concerned with the future good over yonder. I don't think this text plays well in an era when liberation theology calls for justice in structures that oppress. And I will not even attempt to speak to the issues concerning women in the lection that follows. However, it is important to note that the text functions on another level. There is an effort by the author to suggest that we are servants of Christ like a slave to his master. Once again this is difficult to swallow. One has to wonder if this is a text needs to be abandoned as irrelevant in our contemporary culture. The shepherding image is a much more compelling image to work with in our culture. What interests me most about the text however is the call to non-retaliation? I also have questions about the household codes of the Roman Empire. How do they influence this text? Despite my negativity about the text I do think it has some promising places to go in preaching.
Step 3 - Composition
Immediate Context: The immediate context for the selection is found in preceding verse (1 Pet 2:18 NIV) Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. Though the lectionary attempts to avoid the issue the text is a set of instructions to slaves. It is an exhortation on how to behave in this context with a new found freedom in Christ.
Organization of Whole Composition: The text in question is a part of a larger exhortation on how to behave in specific social situations. The context is determined by two verses one that precedes it and one that follows it. 1) (1 Pet 2:12 NIV) 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) (1 Pet 3:8-9 NIV) Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. In between is a call to submit to governments, masters, and spouses.
Issues of Authorship: The Christians in these communities were suffering from some level of hostility from local leadership. The author wrote the letter to encourage them to stand firm under the weight of the persecution. He accomplishes this task by reminding them of who they are in Jesus Christ. He also accomplishes the task by calling them to lead exemplary moral lives. The hope is that the larger society will be attracted to them because of the quality of their behavior. This is particularly true in this exhortation concerning slaves. You are to win over your slave owner by being a good and upright person. The last thing you should do is use your freedom in Christ as an opportunity to rebel. One has to believe that there must have been some tension in households where slaves became Christians and the master was not a Christian.
Step 4 - Context
Primitive Christianity: The text was probably not written by Peter. It appears to have been written much later by someone writing in his name. The concerns of the text suggest a much more developed Christian community. It is doubtful that during Peter's lifetime the church could expand so rapidly. What we see in the text is the conflicts that began to arise as the church spread to different cultures and began to have a social impact on the world around it. The concerns of this text indicate that the church in Asia Minor was beginning to be seen in some way as a threat to the existing culture. Some other issues are worth noting also. The text deals with the theme of non-retaliation. This theme is found also in the teachings of Jesus in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5:39 and in his response to those who would crucify him in Matthew 27:14, 26. In the epistles we find it dealt with in similar ways in Romans 12:19, 21; Ist Thessalonians 5:15. Further more the idea that Jesus was sinless is found in the following texts: John 8:46; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4;15; 7:26; Ist John 3:5. Also there is a great deal of congruent thought about the redemptive effect of the death of Jesus on the cross founding other places in the New Testament. These include: Col. 1:22; Heb. 10:10, John 1:29; Rev. 5:6; 12.
OT and Judaism: It is obvious that the author used the servant song of Isaiah 53 extensively in this text. It even appears as the text is a sermon based on Isaiah 53.
Hellenistic World: Many scholars believe the text reflects the household code of the Greco-Roman culture. It is believed that early Christian communities adopted these ancient codes of moral instruction. Other examples are found in Col. 3:18-4:1; Eph. 5:22-6:9. In the ancient world there was the idea that the family was the most basic unit of society. Therefore the security of a society was dependent upon the health of it's most basic unit. The point being that the observance of such house hold codes were important.
Step 5 - Distillation
Summary of Salient Features: The specific problem addressed by the text is how to behave when you are treated unfairly. Conventional wisdom would say that you should repay evil with evil. However, the author looks to Jesus for his example citing that Jesus did not repay evil with evil. He submitted to the hands of those who would punish him without resisting. This is even more remarkable when one considers the fact that Jesus was without deceit and sin. However, his very death on the cross brought redemption for those who believe in him. Therefore, as Christians living in a pagan culture we should walk in the steps of Jesus. We should take the path of non-violence. The hope is that such Christ-like behavior will convince those who do not believe of the truth in their cause.
Hermeneutical Bridge: In preaching this text I am going to deal with the issue of non-retaliation. What I see here is a way to break the cycle of violence prevalent in our world and communities and families. How powerfully this text speaks to the situation now boiling over in the Middle East. Who knows who started it and when. It appears to be an unending cycle of violence that will only be stopped when someone decides to quit repaying evil for evil. Violence as the old saying goes never gets anything but more violence. The issue however I suppose is if this posture of non-retaliation will work in the face of true evil such as a fundamentalist fanatic who sees it as a godly command to rid the world of the enemy. There are two wonderful examples in our culture that speak to this text. First is a recent movie called Changing Lanes - which is a film about the destructive force of seeking revenge. The second is a book written by a Washington Post reporter, Laura Blumenfeld called Revenge: A Story of Hope. Twelve years after a Palestinian militant tried to kill her father on the streets of Jerusalem, Laura Blumenfeld went searching for her dad's would-be murderer. She chooses the path of Non-violence for her revenge and it brings about a true transformation. Very timely in light of the current situation in the Middle East. Very much in my mind is the image of people standing at odds with one another in Manger Square. I'm also thinking about a Clint Eastwood film - Unforgiven. I will not avoid the slavery issue in the text. I think it is important to address it head on for educational purposes. Also I see a possible three-point outline referring to the person and nature of Jesus in this text. Jesus is 1) Our example. 2) Our redeemer. 3) Our shepherd. This could make for a strong sermon that include the issue of retaliation in it. On another note - could even ask if the idea of non-violence really works in our society. Is it an outdated concept? Also what does the death penalty really accomplish? I don't see how a Christian can be an advocate for it. Great article in a recent Houston Chronicle by man who was the former chaplain on Death Row in Huntsville - Carol Pickett.
Step 6 - Contemporary Address
Description of Audience: This is a congregation who has only heard a sermon or two on First Peter. Many of them have little if any knowledge of the epistle. They are a discerning group and will ask why I began the sermon at verse 19 instead of verse 18. In some way I will have to deal with the greater context of slavery. Many in the congregation are very distressed about the situation in Palestine.
Goals for the Address: As of this moment I plan to address the theme of non-retaliation. Hopefully I want to ask the question of whether or not we believe what the text says is true and if it will work in our world today. Do we believe this is the way to breaking the cycle of violence? Or will it just lead us down a path to meaningless suffering. Then again I could completely change directions over the next few days. I usually write this step before I write the sermon, which is probably a mistake. The sermon is always changing shape.