Live As Servants Of God

1 Peter 2:16

il_570xN.549045468_m620It is not easy to find the connection of this verse with what precedes or with what follows. Perhaps there were some members of the early church who opposed submission to the state because of the fact that Christ has made them free people. Or perhaps, Peter was anticipating the disillusionment among his readers when they read his admonition for them to obey the authorities, since such submission would be tantamount to denying their freedom in Christ. To ease these feelings, Peter now admonishes them to live as free people with the implication that they do not lose their freedom by submitting to the state; such submission is not coerced upon them, but something which they do voluntarily as free people. Free is used here in the religious and moral sense, referring to their freedom in union with Jesus Christ (compare German common language translation GECL “Through Christ you are free”). The imperative force is taken by many translations, but the Greek allows also for an indicative rendering which would mean that Peter is simply stating an accepted fact (compare Knox, GECL, Reicke “Although you are free”). In some languages it is extremely difficult to speak about free people. The only equivalent is “people who are not slaves to others.” This is, however, a very useful equivalent expression for the first part of verse 16, since it provides an excellent contrast for the last clause.

This freedom in Christ, however, could be easily abused, and many New Testament writers warn their readers of this possibility (for example, Gal 5:1 and following). Peter, likewise, warns his readers not to use their freedom to cover up any evil, that is, using their freedom as a “pretext” (RSV) for doing wrong (compare JB“excuse for wickedness”; GECL “to justify your wrong deeds”). For evil, see 2:1. Here it may refer generally to all acts of wickedness, and specifically, to not doing the duties expected of a good citizen. It may be difficult in some languages to speak of “using one’s freedom,” especially in connection with covering up evil. One may, however, recast the second clause of verse 16 as “do not think that because you are not slaves that you can hide evil” or “… cause people not to see the evil which you might do.” In some instances to cover up any evil may also be rendered as “to sin and to get away with it” or “to sin and not be found out.”

good-shepherd-icon-250x322The last part of this verse brings out one of the profound paradoxes of the Christian life: Christians are free, and yet they are slaves of God; it is recognition of the latter that ensures the former. Implied in the statement is also the idea that when Christians submit to the state, they do not become slaves of the state; they remain slaves of God; government is never the Christian’s master; he owes his allegiance only to God. The Greek word for slave (doulos) is perhaps better translated as “servant” (for example, RSVNAB, PhpsMft) if it is interpreted as related to the Hebrew word ‘ebed which the Septuagint translated as doulos or pais. The main idea here is that God is their master; he controls them, and they obey him (compare GECL “people over whose lives God disposes”).

But live as God’s slaves may be rendered as “but live as those who serve God” or “… as those who are servants to God.” Such a change may be required if a literal rendering of slaves carries the wrong connotations.

Arichea, D. C., & Nida, E. A. (1980). A handbook on the first letter from Peter (pp. 74–75). New York: United Bible Societies.