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.
430 T.B. WIllIAMs
The ancient epigraphic evidence is replete with examples in which
ca,rij is employed with the terminology of exchange (e.g., avpodido,nai,
“to return”; avmei,bein, “to repay”; avmoibh,, “repayment”; avnta,meiyij,
“exchanging”; evn me,rei, “in turn”) in order to represent the obligation
to reciprocate favors (see, e.g., OGIS 248; IGRR I 864; SIG3 618;
I.Délos IV 1521; SEG VIII 527). It is particularly common in connec-
tion with the beneficent practices of wealthy citizens. One of the most
noteworthy comes from an honorific decree in the city of Cardamylae.
In this inscription, the benefactor Poseidippos is praised for his generous
contributions to the city, and in return is awarded with a number of
prestigious honors 21:
… it was resolved by the People and the City and the ephors to praise
Poseidippos the son of Attalos on account of the aforesaid kindnesses
and also to return never-ending gratitude (avtelh/ ca,rin) in recompense
of (his bestowal) of benefits; and also to give to him the front seats at
the theatre and the first place in a procession and (the privilege of) eat-
ing in the public festivals which are celebrated amongst us and to offer
willingly all (the) honour given to a good and fine man in return for
the many (kindnesses) which he provided, while giving a share of the
lesser favour (evla,ttonoj ca,ritoj), (nevertheless) offering thankfulness
(euvcaristi,aj) to the benefactors of ourselves as an incentive to the oth-
ers, so that choosing the same favour (ca,rin) some of them may win
(the same) honours. And (it was resolved) to set up this decree on a
stone stele in the most conspicuous place in the gymnasium, while the
ephors make the solemn procession to the building without hindrance,
in order that those who confer benefits may receive favour (ca,rin) in
return for love of honour, and that those who have been benefited, re-
turning honours, may have a reputation of thankfulness (euvcaristi,aj)
before all people, never coming too late for the sake of recompense of
those who wish to do kindly (acts).
Here the city’s response is depicted within the context of exchange:
in response to Poseidippos’ beneficence, he has been recompensed with
a number of honorific awards, which are described as a “lesser favor”.
This return of favors does not complete the process, however. The
praise and adulation that is received is designed to garner more gifts
and favors for the community, not just from Poseidippos, but from
all benefactors who witness the display of gratitude with which civic
munificence is met 22.
SEG xI 948 (trans. HARRIsON). Cf. IG xII,9 899; SEG xxIV 1100; OGIS 248.
In the Greco-Roman world, the relationship of people to the gods is under-
stood in much the same way (cf. s.C. MOTT, “The Power of Giving and Receiving:
Reciprocity in Hellenistic Benevolence”, Current Issues in Biblical and Patristic