Travis B. Williams, «Reciprocity and Suffering in 1 Peter 2,19-20: Reading "caris" in Its Ancient Social Context.», Vol. 97 (2016) 421-439
Scholars have long debated whether "caris" in 1 Pet 2,19-20 should be understood as the unmerited favor which is divinely bestowed upon those who please God, or whether it represents a human action that secures a favorable response from God. What interpreters have continued to overlook, however, are the ancient social dynamics which underlie this passage. By interpreting "caris" within the framework of reciprocity and gift-exchange in the Greco-Roman world, this study brings fresh perspective to a problem which has long divided scholarship, and also suggests a new direction for understanding the letter's theology of suffering.
ReCIPROCITy AND sUFFeRING IN 1 PeTeR 2,19-20 425
reputation that one achieves within a group or community. In Greek
epic poetry, a person’s heroic death was understood as a means of at-
taining undying and imperishable kle,oj (Homer, Il. 9.412-416; Od.
4.584; 7.333) 7. This fame might take the form of a memorial tomb (Il.
7.91; Od. 4.584), or one’s memory might even be preserved in song
(Il. 6.357-358; Od. 3.204). In this way, a person could achieve immor-
tality 8. In the Greco-Roman period, the word is used in much the same
way, with fame also being achieved in the present life (Philo, Virt. 204;
Josephus, B.J. 1.293; IG IV2,1 590). But to claim that it denotes the
“credit” or “reward” that one earns before God is to stretch its semantic
domain beyond the limits of established usage 9.
It is best to define kle,oj in 1 Pet 2,20 as the good reputation that
one achieves through commendable behavior. In this case, it is espe-
cially concerned with the glory that is afforded by the slave master.
This meaning serves as a foil in the comparative purposes of the author.
The first half of this comparison (v. 20a) relates to the human sphere.
As Michaels points out, “slave masters, even those who are good
and fair, are not likely to be impressed by the patient endurance of a
disobedient or rebellious slave who (in their terms) gets what he
deserves” 10. In contrast, an alternative and more important perspective
is afforded to the readers through their relationship with God (v. 20b).
But this still leaves us to determine whether the author intends to
draw a connection between the “fame” (kle,oj) one achieves on a human
level (v. 20a) and the “commendation” (ca,rij) one could receive from
God (v. 20b). This seems possible, given that some translations render
the final clause in v. 20 as, “this is commendable before God” (NIV;
NKJV; CEB). yet, if this were the meaning intended by the author,
it would have been much more natural to employ the adjective cari,ej
see lsJ 958. Cf. also G. NAGy, Comparative Studies in Greek and Indic
Meter (Harvard studies in Comparative literature 33; Cambridge, MA 1974) 229-
261; M. GReINDl, “Kle,oj, Ku/doj, Eu=coj, Timh,, Fa,tij, Do,xa. eine bedeutungs-
geschichtliche Untersuchung des epischen und lyrischen sprachgebrauches”,
(Ph.D. diss., University of Munich 1938) 104-119.
It is not surprising, therefore, to find that kle,oj is commonly employed
in Greek sepulchral epigrams (see U. eCkeR, Grabmal und Epigramm. studien
zur frühgriechischen sepulkraldichtung [Palingenesia 29; stuttgart 1990] 34-40,
Cf. M. DUBIs, 1 Peter. A Handbook on the Greek Text (BHGNT; Waco, Tx
2010) 74: “The translation ‘credit’ that appears in many english versions (so also
BDAG, 547) does not quite capture the meaning of ‘acclaim’ that this noun carries”.
MICHAels, 1 Peter, 141.