The following little excerpt is from a brief study on the Roman ‘household codes’ during the time of the New Testament writers. Aristotelian models were shaped primary by three social building blocks, or relationships which acted like glue for the Roman empire. They were Slave-Master, Husband-Wife and Parent-Children. Paul, as well as Peter both pick up on these themes in their letters, as a new entity, the church, wrestled both with its inherited Judaism, as well as a Hellenistic world that pressed upon it various social norms. With Rome in particular, history shows just how fiercely it responded to various uprisings that attempted to usurp these structures (e.g. Spartacus).
In the case of woman in their submissive roles to men, this was also something that early believers could not simply throw off without significant recourse. As with slaves and their masters, woman were to honor the patriarch in many interesting ways, including worship of the family god(s), participating in official Roman pagan celebrations. When the husband would come to Christ, the family, including those associated under his authority, would follow suit and become Christians (at least on the outside!). Those without power however or under Rome’s structural authority, like a woman or slave, if they came to Christ, they did not have the same freedoms and might suffer significant consequences from the authorities if they bucked the system, considered themselves free apart from the social norms.
All of this is difficult for our western minds, so used to freedom and independence. 1 Peter picks up with some real problems. Believers are experiencing some issues, and many of the social norms are being challenged, and beyond just suffering for their faith, they are experiencing the results of rebellion against the state. The last thing Jesus intended was for believers to be persecuted for the wrong things, He suffered justly, by being loving, He did not sin. These believers however were struggling with many forms of sin, against once another and also within the home obviously, as Peter dedicates chapter two specifically for guiding the home structure in the midst of a turbulent time.
My little notes below (I have to stay below 300 words or I get penalized, so thus explanation above).
Peter addresses the Christians composed of both Jewish and Gentile believers as aliens in exile (1:1), but in a metaphoric sense (Achtemeier 2001,518). Born again into a living hope (1:3), through the blood of Christ (1:19) and resurrected Savior (1:21) they now collectively represent God’s holy people among the nations (2:9). As such, believers need to live into this reality, ridding themselves of all that would compromise their witness before an opposing world.
After encouraging a general submission to worldly authorities (2:13-14), he turns his attention to the Greco-Roman household codes. Peter roots the need for cultural adaptation among the believers, not using their freedom in Christ for evil (2:16) but as an opportunity to participate in the suffering nature of Jesus, following in his steps (2:21-25). They were obviously experiencing suffering, but for the right things?
Peter reveals the difficult issues within “sect and society” (Bauman-Martin 2004, 264). As believers, their “commitment to the lordship of Jesus Christ have led to transformed attitudes and behaviors that place them on the margins of respectable society” (Achtemeier 2001, 518). Not attending Roman sponsored religious activities, or managing their homes in accordance with Greco-Roman household codes, would undoubtedly spur “social ostracism and other forms of harassment” (520) and be “viewed as a threat to the glue of the empire itself” (524). Chistian communities adapted the Roman codes (524) to other scriptural mandates such as mutual submission (Eph 5:21). If not mitigated wisely, believers would be exposed to additional, and perhaps unnecessary suffering.
Peter encourages them that “suffering serves rather as proof of their identification with Jesus” (527) and though they live in a new reality, they must continue to live in a world shaped by old realities (527). Peter elevates unity and love among them all (3:8), which if practiced would continue to promote “nonconformity rather than in a context of assimilation” (Bauman-Martin 2004, 268) and ensure the gospels powerful witness.
Achtemeier, P., J. Green, and M. Meye Thompson. 2001. Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids.
Women on the Edge: New Perspectives on Women in the Petrine Haustafel Author(s): Betsy J. Bauman-Martin Source: Journal of Biblical Literature,Vol. 123, No. 2 (Summer, 2004), pp. 253-279 URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3267945