One of the key passages that comes up when talking about apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15-16. Every apologist out there cites it at some point, and everyone has a pretty similar take on it (seeing that many use the text to justify their very existence). It’s apparently a divine command for every Christian to be continuously ready to let rip when someone challenges some aspect of Christian belief. Seeing that most Christians aren’t prepared to defend the Christian faith against the wide variety of attacks that come against it, the apologists are the big guns that are necessary to help defend the faith (and train others to do so).
Now I don’t doubt or question the value of apologists, but rather I do question the generally accepted interpretation of 1 Peter 3:15-16. Most apologists are decent enough theologians, but almost none of them are properly trained biblical exegetes. In other words, I can only think of a handful who know their biblical languages and have seminary training that’s relevant to exegesis. That’s not to condemn them but rather to recognize that there is an area of apologetic thinking that I can help with. I’m not a trained philosopher, historian or theologian (well, that last one is partially untrue) but I am a trained exegete and I’d like to walk through 1 Peter 2:13-3:16 an offer a little exegetical insight into a commonly cited text.
1 Peter 2:13 begins an extended passage on submission to “every authority”, which includes authorities in the government (1 Pet. 2:13-17), the workplace (1 Pet. 2:18-24), the home (1 Pet. 3:1-7) and the world at large (1 Pet. 3:8-22) in the specific context of submission in the face of suffering. The main thrust of the extended passage is on the necessity of holy living; that one’s life should be properly representative of one’s relationship with God, even when life is horribly difficult.
In the government, the Christian should submit to “every human institution,” including rulers (1 Pet. 2:13) or their subordinates (1 Pet. 2:14), and to do this for the sake of the Lord (1 Pet. 2:13). This submission is how the believer “should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men” (1 Pet. 2:15) and the believer should “not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil” (1 Pet. 2:16). Honoring those who rule is part of the proper manifestation of the fear of the Lord (1 Pet. 2:17).
In the workplace, the Christian should submit to both the righteous and wicked master (1 Pet. 2:18) and even do so when it is unjust suffering (1 Pet. 2:19). This is how the believer follows Christ’s example (1 Pet. 2:20-21); restraining one’s mouth (1 Pet. 2:22-23) and fulfilling the difficult duties that their masters require, for the sake of God (1 Pet. 2:24-25)
In the home, wives should “be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives” (1 Pet. 3:1-2). They should focus on beauty of character, not clothing (1 Pet. 3:4-5), and not live lives marked out by fear of that which is normally a source of anxiety (1 Pet. 3:6). Husbands should “be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (3:7).