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 2,19-20 429
early Christians has been informed immensely. Investigations have
uncovered a few basic meanings. The first is the most abstract, representing
an aesthetically pleasing quality that elicits favor or praise (“attractiveness”,
“charm”). This beauty, which invites a favorable reaction, might describe
anything from an eloquent speech (Homer, Od. 8.175; cf. luke 4,22)
to the attractiveness of an individual (Josephus, Ant. 2.231). One finds
this usage frequently in the lxx (e.g., Prov 10,32; eccl 10,12), and it
is this function that many assign to ca,rij in 1 Pet 2,19-20.
Two of the most frequent uses of ca,rij share a “common compo-
nent” which binds their meanings together 17. It is the social context of
reciprocity. The semantic versatility of ca,rij allows it to represent a
variety of social relationships. As far back as the time of Homer, the
term was used both to refer to favors granted as well as the counter-
gift returned by the beneficiary 18. even up until the Greco-Roman pe-
riod this connection was still strong. Related to the former, ca,rij can
describe a quality or disposition that inclines one toward generosity
(“beneficence”). This is often difficult to separate from the similar but
more concrete meaning, which is an actual favor or benefit given
to someone (“benefaction”). The majority of the examples of ca,rij in
1 Peter, as we will demonstrate below, fall within this latter category.
Most pertinent for our investigation is another usage, which de-
scribes the expression of gratitude in response to benefits received. On
the surface, this function may appear to indicate little more than an in-
ternal feeling of appreciation (“thanks”). It is noteworthy, in fact, how
closely this usage comes to the meaning of euvcaristi,a. However, when
ca,rij is employed within the social context of reciprocity, it often ex-
tends beyond mere “thanks” (although this idea is present) to describe
the socially-obligatory return of previously granted favors 19. In this
way, ca,rij not only represents gifts bestowed, but also gifts requited,
gifts which perpetuate an unbroken circle of exchange (cf. seneca, Ben.
1.3.2-5; sophocles, Ajax. 522) 20.
Cf. J.P. lOUW, Semantics of New Testament Greek (semeiast; Chico, CA
J.W. FRANzMANN, “The early Development of the Greek Concept of
Charis”, (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin 1972); M. sCOTT, “Charis in Homer
and the Homeric Hymns”, Acts Classica 26 (1983) 1-13; idem, “Charis from Hes-
iod to Pindar”, Acta Classica 27 (1984) 1-13; B. MAClACHlAN, The Age of Grace.
Charis in early Greek Poetry (Princeton, NJ 1993).
see HARRIsON, Paul’s Language of Grace, 40-43.
see especially D.A. De sIlVA, “Patronage and Reciprocity: The Context of
Grace in the New Testament”, ATJ 31 (1999) 32-84.