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Tuesday, February 05, 2013

In Context

I'm reading through Peter's epistles and found something interesting. I'd like to practice what I've preached, so to speak. I'd like to examine a passage of Scripture for exegesis -- proper understanding. Now, keep in mind that the passage is likely controversial, so that's a double purpose of this exercise. I'd like to examine the text for what it says (exegesis) rather than what our world or even ourselves might like it to say (eisegesis).

Our Bibles are all divided up. First, the Bible is a library on its own, consisting of 66 books by various authors and written over some 2000 years or so. But in order to "be on the same page", so to speak, we have also divided our 66 books into chapter and verse. That way when I refer you to a text for examination you can find it fairly easily and know where I am. It's a lot harder if you're going to go with "page 3, paragraph 2, sentence 4, starting with word 5 and reading through word 12." Now, that sounds silly, doesn't it? Why would you start with a word and end with a word rather than the whole sentence or, better, the whole paragraph? It's problematic, but, you see, it's what we do. We have chapter and verse. Never mind if the verse is part of a sentence. It's a verse! Why look any further? Well, the divisions we have in our Bibles could, I think you can see, cause confusion if we read it that way.

So we come to 1 Peter 3 and read this:
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct (1 Peter 3:1-2).
I've avoided breaking up a sentence there. You have two verses and one sentence. But you can see why it might be ... controversial. Controversy #1: "Wives, be subject to your own husbands." That's not popular today. I'm not sure it ever has been, but even in the church today it's not popular. But that's not the hardest part. You see, most Christian wives would say, "I'm willing to submit to a husband who is a good man, who loves the Lord, whom I can trust." In other words, "As long as he meets my criteria, I'll submit." So we have Controversy #2: "even if some do not obey the word." "Wait, what? Are you suggesting that Peter is instructing wives to submit to bad husbands? Non-Christian husbands? Unpleasant men? How can you even suggest such a thing?" Well, I'm not. The text is. So the debate begins and will rage on.

The context, then, becomes important. That there is context is evident in the very first word: "Likewise". Like ... what? Ah! Context! The context is found in Chapter 2. If you read backward from here, you'll find a text about Christ. The text talks about Christ suffering for you even though He did nothing wrong. He was reviled but didn't revile in return. He bore our sins in His body even though He was without sin (1 Peter 2:21-25). "Likewise." Of course, this text is in context as well. This text begins with "You have been called for this purpose" and explains how we are to do what Christ did. The context, then, begins farther back. What was in view, then?

Here's the start of the context. Be prepared; you won't like it. "Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable" (1 Peter 2:12) (and there is even context to this). How? "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every authority" (1 Peter 2:13). Peter gives a fuller explanation of this command (1 Peter 2:13-17) and then gives an example: "Servants, be subject to your masters in all respect" (1 Peter 2:18). That's right. Peter's first example of submitting to "every authority" is to servants. He says, in fact, "be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust." Get that? Submit to authority for the Lord's sake and not only to authority that is good, but to bad ("unjust").

Christ did just that. He was sinless and submitted to the most evil authorities of His day. First He submitted to the Jewish religious leaders, then to the political leaders of His time -- Pilate and Herod. He did not complain and did not file suit. He didn't offer a defense or complain because "It's not fair!" You never heard, "I have My rights!" or "This is wrong!" And you never heard, "I will not submit to this." Now, be sure not to miss this: "For this you have been called" (1 Peter 2:21). Got that?

So, just like servants who are commanded to submit to just or unjust masters and suffer for it quietly, just like Christ, our prime example, who submitted ultimately to the ultimate injustice and acquired our salvation in the process, wives, submit to your husbands, good or bad.

Now, I don't need fancy logic here. I don't need a careful examination of ancient Greek or a process of philosophical or historical evaluation. It's what the text says. It's what the context says. Indeed, the context says far more than the 1 Peter 3:1-2 text because it explains further just how "disobedient to the word" a husband might be. And, please don't miss the rest of the text. "Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way ..." (1 Peter 3:7). That is, just as servants must submit to lousy masters and Christ submitted to the worst possible authority and just as wives must submit to husbands, husbands, you must submit to your wife by being understanding, by honoring, by regarding her as a fellow heir, by stepping down off your high horse and coming along side her to support her physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually -- in every way -- regardless of how good a wife she is. "Likewise."

There you have it. This is an example of examining a text for what it says. It's actually fairly easy to do, but fairly easy to miss as well because of the unnatural break up of texts by arbitrary chapter and verse. Don't let that throw you. Look at what it says. Examine yourself. Are you doing that? Or are you redefining Scripture based on your own worldview? That would not be a good thing. Indeed, according to Peter you would be defying God's purpose for your life. "For this you have been called," he says. Surely if Christ, the author of Christianity, did it, we ought to as well.

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