From “Subjection To Authority” To “Mutual Submission”: The Ethic Of Subordination In 1 Peter -- By: Robert L. Richardson, Jr.

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 04:2 (Spring 1987)
Article: From “Subjection To Authority” To “Mutual Submission”: The Ethic Of Subordination In 1 Peter
Author: Robert L. Richardson, Jr.


From “Subjection To Authority” To “Mutual Submission”:
The Ethic Of Subordination In 1 Peter

Robert L. Richardson, Jr.

Professor of Supervised Ministry,
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

It is commonly acknowledged that several of the epistles contain “household codes” which set forth an ethic of subordination (cf. Eph. 5:21–6:9; Col. 3:18–4:1; 1 Pt. 2:18–3:7).1 Wives are able to be subordinate (hypotassesthai) to husbands, children to parents, and slaves to masters. Not enough attention is usually paid, however, to the shades of meaning and contexts of these exhortations. According to the article on hypotasso in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament:

In exhortation the middle [voice] embraces a whole series of meanings from subiection to authority on the one side to considerate submission to others on the other. As regards the detailed meaning this can finally be decided only from the material context.2

It is my contention that a range of meanings of the exhortation “to subordinate oneself” is found in 1 Peter, from “subjection to authority” to “considerate submission to others.” I further contend that there is a movement in the epistle from the former meaning to the latter, as the author moves from talking about subordination to the state to subordination within the Christian community.

The Context

The importance of context becomes clear as one compares the household codes of Colossians and Ephesians with that of 1 Peter. In Colossians and in Ephesians (which is commonly acknowledged to be dependent upon Colossians), there are three pairs of relationships addressed in the household code—the relationship between wives and husbands, children and parents, and slaves and masters. The sub-ordinate member of the pair is mentioned first, then the super-ordinate.

Col. 3:18–4:1

wives (3:18)

husbands (3:19)

children (3:20)

fathers (3:21)

slaves (3:22–25)

ma...

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