A verse that puts the brakes on

May 9, 2011

It's only in the last few years that I've felt free
to resist a biblical text, free to accept that such resistance is "allowed." It
still isn't something that comes easily for me, given my particular seminary
training--not to mention my fundamentalist upbringing.

I suppose my attempt to find some good news in the
text, rather than simply dismissing it out of hand, comes in part from that old
baggage. While I'm as prone as the next person to picking and choosing my good
news, I do have a high regard for the canon--even those bits of it that I don't
like, or that seem weird or impossible to defend. It's the book I've been
given, and I figure I need to make the best of it.

Verses like 1 Peter 2:18, which sets up this week's
assigned reading but is omitted from it, reveal the strangeness of the Bible:

Slaves, accept the authority of
your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but
also those who are harsh.

This strangeness is often lost because of our familiarity
with and domestication of the scripture. We often cross the gap between
contexts too casually--and make assumptions about what the text is saying just
as casually. This verse puts the brakes on, even against our will, and makes
plain that our world and Peter's are not one and the same.

This in turn demands that we do some background work
before deciding what Peter has to say to us. In this sense, I am glad to have
verse 18 in my Bible.


servants, not slaves

'Slaves' is what you are reading from some English translations. Socio-economic context tells that it's servants-master relationship (just as Lord-believers). It's not 'slaves' we know from the recent Western history of 1 or 2 hundred years ago.


As I read verse 18, it makes little difference whether we understand the translation as "servant" or "slave." Neither translation is a prescription for Christian discipleship. Can we merely see this as a description of a cultural context unique to its day and time and not a prescription for our context?

Print Friendly and PDF

Email this page