1 Peter 3, Egalitarianism and Ben Irwin

Posted: August 28, 2012 in Complementarianism, Culture

Well folks! Here we are again!
Finally getting round to writing this final post to our series in response to Mr Irwin’s response to my article.

Let’s get cracking shall we?

Mr Irwin writes:

“Aaron began by citing 1 Peter 3:1-2, where wives are told to submit to their husbands “in the same way.” This leads Aaron to ask (quite rightly), the same as what?

Aaron notes that Peter mentioned “many other situations where Christians (not just women) are to submit themselves to different authorities… even if those authorities are harsh.”

In fact, Peter talked mostly about one other situation: slavery. The apostle commanded slaves to obey their masters, even the abusive ones (2:18-25). From there he moved immediately to wives, telling them to submit to their husbands in the same way that slaves submit to their masters.

I wondered why Aaron didn’t specify that slavery was one of the “other situations” to which Peter referred, but in any case, I think it reinforces my point that the arguments once used to justify slavery are inextricably linked to the those used today to argue for the unilateral subordination of women.

But that’s also why I was a little surprised to read this near the end of Aaron’s piece:

Furthermore, I don’t know about the arguments, supposedly used to justify slavery, that are being used to justify complementarianism, nor am I about to suggest that the Bible does the same. There is an article on the Desiring God website that quite clearly demonstrates that Paul did not think that way at all.

The Desiring God (DG) article claims the New Testament viewed a slave’s submission differently than a wife’s. DG proposes the instructions to wives “have theological strings attached to them that slavery does not.” But if that were true, then it wouldn’t make sense to argue (as Aaron does) that Peter’s instructions to slaves should govern how we read his instructions to wives. You can’t have it both ways.

As it happens, I think DG is wrong, as I argued in this post back in June. Both the wife’s submission and the slave’s were rooted in the same thing: obedience to Christ. Seems to me this is a pretty big “theological string.” And as Aaron reminds us, Peter told wives to submit in the same way as slaves.

So if we’re going to insist on wives submitting to their husbands on the basis of Peter and Paul’s “household codes,” then we’ll also have to argue for slavery and the submission of slaves to their masters.

Indeed, when you study 19th-century theologians from the American South, you will find the arguments they used to justify the enslavement of blacks leading up to the Civil War are the same as those used today to justify the subordination of women.”
So, as before, we shall examine the texts in question, and deal with the objections a section at a time.

Our text in question:

1 Peter 2:13-3:2

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.

21For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

 3:1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.

Lets take the first part:

Aaron notes that Peter mentioned “many other situations where Christians (not just women) are to submit themselves to different authorities… even if those authorities are harsh.”

In fact, Peter talked mostly about one other situation: slavery. The apostle commanded slaves to obey their masters, even the abusive ones (2:18-25). From there he moved immediately to wives, telling them to submit to their husbands in the same way that slaves submit to their masters.

Now, looking at the text, we can see what my claim originally was, is in fact accurate. In 1 Peter 2:13-17, it talks about other authorities, specifically human institutions, kings and governors – not just slave masters.

Further, the apostle does not move immediately to wives after discussing slavery – no, he interjects a reason for the slaves obedience, that is, that Christ Himself suffered unjust treatment, how much more should we endure in whatever vein of life we find ourselves? Be that slaves (v18-20) or free but under human authorities (v13-17).

Moving on:

I wondered why Aaron didn’t specify that slavery was one of the “other situations” to which Peter referred, but in any case, I think it reinforces my point that the arguments once used to justify slavery are inextricably linked to the those used today to argue for the unilateral subordination of women.”

I didn’t specify it because it doesn’t change anything – also I didn’t have remotely the word count I would have liked to have!

As we will see later, the arguments are not ‘inextricably linked’.

But that’s also why I was a little surprised to read this near the end of Aaron’s piece:

Furthermore, I don’t know about the arguments, supposedly used to justify slavery, that are being used to justify complementarianism, nor am I about to suggest that the Bible does the same. There is an article on the Desiring God website that quite clearly demonstrates that Paul did not think that way at all.”

I don’t know why this would be surprising, it didn’t occur to me that this would even be a possibility from reading the text, because frankly, it’s a silly idea – further, I still think now, after our engagements, that it is a silly idea – attempting to link the slavery of the American civil war to complimentarianism is just staggering.
Moving on.

 

The Desiring God (DG) article claims the New Testament viewed a slave’s submission differently than a wife’s. DG proposes the instructions to wives “have theological strings attached to them that slavery does not.”

I would encourage any reader here to read the article yourself – it is a good article!
I have already demonstrated that the idea of a wives submission to her husband as being rooted in the creation order at the end of the previous post, so I won’t go over it again here. This is, of course, in contrast to slavery, which is not at all related back to creation – so there are indeed different theological strings attached to both.

“But if that were true, then it wouldn’t make sense to argue (as Aaron does) that Peter’s instructions to slaves should govern how we read his instructions to wives. You can’t have it both ways.””

I think it would make perfect sense. Just because slavery holds one of the strings, (ie Christ’s example) doesn’t mean that overrides the other string of being rooted in the creation order – which slavery is not.  It would only not make sense if you didn’t make any distinctions.

As it happens, I think DG is wrong, as I argued in this post back in June. Both the wife’s submission and the slave’s were rooted in the same thing: obedience to Christ. Seems to me this is a pretty big “theological string.” And as Aaron reminds us, Peter told wives to submit in the same way as slaves.

So if we’re going to insist on wives submitting to their husbands on the basis of Peter and Paul’s “household codes,” then we’ll also have to argue for slavery and the submission of slaves to their masters.

Indeed, when you study 19th-century theologians from the American South, you will find the arguments they used to justify the enslavement of blacks leading up to the Civil War are the same as those used today to justify the subordination of women.”

Again, I can only restate what has come before– there is a very real difference between the submission of a wife to her husband, and that of a slave to a master – the former being rooted in creation (pre-fall), the latter not being rooted in that. Distinctions matter.

So, what are the other distinctions?

Well, we already mentioned one, the fact that slavery is not rooted in the creation order, where a wives submission is.

What are the other two?

1) Type of slavery different.
I wrote about this back when I was dealing with the pro-homosexuality advocate objections. It is grossly over simplistic to draw the parallels that Mr Irwin is in his article here:

Indeed, when you study 19th-century theologians from the American South, you will find the arguments they used to justify the enslavement of blacks leading up to the Civil War are the same as those used today to justify the subordination of women.”

What Mr Irwin has failed to maintain is the difference in the type of slavery! He is simply reading the text with 21st (or 19th) century glasses on and expecting us to accept this. This will not do!

As I wrote previously (and you know you are in trouble if you start quoting yourself):

“Exodus 21:7  states:

[7]  “If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do.

Now, on the face of it, this may seem instantly to be of very bad taste – how could this possibly be allowed in scripture? The problem is that we are reading it with many pre-conceived ideas, and 21′st century concepts and sensibilities.

When most of us think of slavery, we instantly are drawn to the horrible things that were done to the African community and the great injustices that were done there! However, to read that kind of abuse back into the Exodus text, is by definition NOT how we do biblical interpretation.  Second, we also have to understand, back in that time, there were NO social benefits or government help – it’s not like you could just sign up for benefits at your local tax office or post office or whatever! You had a very stark choice. If you were poor and unable to get employment in a “hand to mouth” society, you could do one of three things:

One: Starve – Not really an option.

Two: Beg – obviously not a guarantee that you would actually get anything, and actually survive, especially if you had a family to feed!

Three: Sell yourself, or family member, or both as a slave – If you sold yourself, you would be provided for, but who would provide for your family? You could use some of the money to provide for them, but what happens when your money runs out? You could sell your family member(s), and they would be provided for and cared for by the master, and you could use the money to survive in the world in the hope that you could get a job and use the money you raised to buy them back out of slavery, or simply wait until after the six years of serving had been fulfilled, and they would be released on the seventh year. You could also sell your whole family into slavery to server, and in turn be cared for if you worked for the particular master, again, at the end of the six years, you would all be released. Slavery was not the cursed thing that it is seen to be today, in fact, it was sometimes the only way a person would survive in difficult times!”

 

This kind of practice was also done in Rome to save yourself from starvation, so it was not just restricted to the Jews! This practice is a far cry from the horrible acts that went on in the civil war where people were forcibly taken from their land, on to slave ships to travel around the world to be sold! It is not as if they sold themselves into slavery! So it is a failed analogy on the face of it!

2) Legitimacy of institution

Even if you wanted to still push the case, what is clear from the text is that Peter is telling the slaves to be submissive to the masters, even if they are unreasonable – he is giving them advice as to how to live as slaves if they find themselves in slavery. What he is not promoting is the legitimacy of slavery as an institution! He doesn’t even mention that! He is simply giving advice as to what to do if they are slaves! The legitimacy of a wives submission however is clear, as we mentioned before, it is rooted in the pre-fall state of creation.

As I said before, it is a totally flawed analogy to link a wives submission to her husband to American civil war slavery – a flaw for which it should surely be dropped.

Well, this post was thankfully a bit shorter than the rest! I hope this series has been helpful for you folks and will hopefully move on to something else… I may see if I can finish off the pro-homosexuality objection responses, or maybe I may just move on to something else in dealing with some of the post-modern philosophy and its result in the emergent church, God willing!

Who knows? God surely does!
God bless folks!

 

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Comments
  1. […] The second part of my response here : Ephesians 5:21-23, Egalitarianism and Ben Irwin and the third part here: 1 Peter 3, Egalitarianism and Ben Irwin […]

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