For the last three weeks I've been presenting on 1 Peter at College Wesleyan Church. Last week, for example, was on 1 Peter 1:3-2:10. Last night we looked at what are to me the difficult chapters, chaps 2-3.
1. Inevitably, we processed them in the light of America's situation and also Steve Deneff's sermon series that he's doing on being in exile.
Several very interesting thoughts emerged that I wanted to capture before they slipped out of my porous mind. The first is something that I've encountered before in Joel Green's commentary on 1 Peter and now in Abson Joseph's work as well. This is the idea that we are slaves to God but really free when it comes to our oppressors and the powers of the world (2:16).
In a couple key places, 1 Peter uses the Greek middle voice (2:18; 3:1), which can have the connotation of doing something to yourself--"submit yourselves to." In other words, submission in 1 Peter is not about being helplessly enslaved but it is about a free believer choosing to submit him or herself to a master or unbelieving husband as an act of the will, even though those to whom we are submitting are unjust.
So in 2:18 it is the household servant choosing to submit to an unjust master. Then in chapter 3 a wife is willingly submitting to a possibly unbelieving husband.
2. But probably the most generative thoughts of the night were the fact that different books of the Bible speak more powerfully to different times and places. So 1 Peter speaks especially to a situation where it is God's will for us to submit to powers that are oppressive or unjust. We spoke of Joshua as an example of a kind of text that might speak to a time when the church needs to fight and take action.
We used the example of the 1840s before the Civil War in America. That was not a time for Christians to be focusing on 1 Peter but rather a time for them to be reading Joshua.
How do we know what time it is? We only know for sure in hindsight. In Deuteronomy 18:22, we know whether someone is a false prophet by whether their prophecy comes true. In the same way, we will know whether the "fighters" in the church or the "submitters" are right in time.
I also suggested that if the Spirit is in believers, then we might look for trends in the church. My Facebook feed is divided over Kim Davis. I think she should have submitted. Others think she should fight. The church is divided. Which way is the Church moving? In hindsight we may have better clarity on who the true and who the "false prophets" were.
3. Another thought Steve Deneff had was that sometimes God has a 1 Peter role for one person and a Joshua role for another person, even in the same time. I remembered what someone in an African-American class in Indy said to me about the Civil Rights struggle. He believed that African-Americans would not have won that struggle if there had not been both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, that it took both the fighters and the submitters for culture to change.
It was an interesting thought that I won't pursue further, but unfortunately it does seem sometimes that it takes a slap in the face to get the dominant culture's attention when it is unthinkingly oppressing a minority.
4. I don't remember who first suggested that the inspiration of Scripture is best thought of not as one voice for all times but as a collection of voices, some of which speak more powerfully in some times and places than others. The miracle is that this diverse collection of text stands ready to speak poignantly even though the situations of history can vary drastically.
The unreflective reader does not realize that he or she is focusing on different passages than other Christians have at other times. They do not realize that 1 Peter is speaking more poignantly to them than Joshua at that time. The unreflective reader does not realize that he or she is hearing certain passages differently than others have heard them in other times and places.
But this is the miracle of inspiration, not that all the books say the same thing, but that they say different things, all of which speak directly at some time.
So are we living in the days of 1 Peter or the days of Joshua?