Reflections on the Orthodox faith and life in this crazy 21st century world by an Orthodox priest and a few of his friends.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Fear God, Honor the King (1 Peter 2:13-17)
"Fear God. Honor the King" -- okay, okay...maybe not THIS king!
13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— 16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
Verse 13 contains an interesting translation problem, saying “submit yourself to every ανθρωπινη κτισει (anthropine ktisei).” Most of the English translations translate ktisei (from ktisis, “creation”) as “institution” or “authority” or something similar. FF, however, translates it literally, resulting in this translation: “Submit for the Lord’s sake to every human creation…” This translation, of course, results in a slightly different meaning, as he explains:
“The word…ktisis…[is] elsewhere used for the creation of the world and all those in it (Rom. 1:20; 8:39). [St. Peter] uses this word to show that even in pagan society, those who demand our submission are still the creation of God, and so if we submit to them for the Lord’s sake, it is a way of submitting to Him. The Christians are tempted to refuse this submission because those who are demanding it are pagan (this is all the more so in the case of the emperor, whose cult demands not only submission, but worship.) Peter writes to tell his readers that proper submission to the authorities is lawful for Christians.” So in his thinking, St. Peter is saying that we should respond to humans, who are all creations of God. This includes humans who govern, even when they themselves are not Christians. So, FF’s interpretation ends up meaning essentially the same thing as those of the translators of the common versions.
St. Peter then gives two reasons why we should submit to those in authority (both rulers of entire nations (“kings”) and those under them (“governors”). The first reason is because they are sent by God; the second is because they are put on earth for a reason: to punish evildoers and reward (or “praise,” as St. Peter says here) those who do good. By submitting to the government, Christians help it to fulfill these God-given rights.
(Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, too. Christians do not have to obey authorities when they forbid Christian worship or when they command us to do immoral or blasphemous things. A biblical example is Acts 4, when, after the Sanhedrin commanded them to no longer teach people about Jesus, St. Peter and St. John said "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19-20).)
God’s will, as we see in verse 15 is that we do good—both by submitting to authorities in particular and by doing good in general—we may silence the ignorant people who oppose the Gospel of Christ. When we do what is right and lawful, no one will have anything bad to say about us…at least not anything real and substantive.
In the books of the NT, both Jesus and the Apostles tell us that we are free. But this does not mean that we are free to just do anything we want, let alone to sin. It means rather that we are free FROM the power of sin. It means we are free to be the people God wants us to be and to live the type of life God wants us to live. We are free to be changed into His likeness. Like St. Paul, St. Peter warns that we should not use our freedom to engage in sin, but to be servants of God and of government. As FF writes, “Those who protest that it is demeaning to submit to legal authorities usually are not motivated by noble aims, and their desire for freedom is simply a pretext and covering for doing wickedness. Thus, as slaves they should settle it in their minds to honor all, giving to each one the appropriate respect” (78-79).
But of course, we must not give to a ruler the same reverence that we give to God. Note how St. Peter says, “Fear God; honor the king.” Note that “fear” (in the biblical sense of a deep, awe-filled reverence) is much greater than “honor,” and that St. Peter mentions God first and then the king.
Finally note that St. Peter says, "Honor ALL people." Yes, that means everyone!