SUBMIT TO GOVERNING AUTHORITIES? (1 PETER 2)
It was Peter who uttered the words, "We must obey God rather than men!"1 to the Sanhedrin. Does he later tell us, in 1 Peter 2:13, to submit to governing authorities?
Read these two versions of the text.
"Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God ... Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king." (1 Peter 2:13-17 NASB2)
"Be ye subject therefore to every human creature for God's sake: whether it be to the king as excelling; Or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of the good: For so is the will of God ... Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king." (1 Peter 2:12-17 DRA3)
The first version seems to suggest we should submit to every human institution, while the second, an 1899 version, reads as though he is admonishing us to be submissive to every human creature alike and show them honour for God's sake. What was Peter trying to tell us?
The question then is, "Are we to submit to a human institution or to a human creature?" Other more modern translations use have interpreted it to mean government4 or authority instituted among men5.
The difference is in the interpretation of the Greek word ktisis, which literally means creation (the act or the product)6and is translated as such in every case, except in 1 Peter 2:13 of some versions. This word, ktisis, is also used by Paul to describe the new creature that people become in Christ Jesus.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 NASB) (emphasis is mine)
Most modern lexicons will tell us that ktisis can mean creation, creature, or institution. To submit to any human creation is tantamount to idolatry since we would be submitting to a thing we have created or formed. A cursory investigation of ktisis leaves me wondering how the word institution came to be included as a definition. This is an interpretation or the Greek word and not a translation.
In law we have to two main types of entities, one living, created by God and the other a corporation, created by man. A corporation is an entity that has been given "personhood" by man through a legislative act. Are we to submit to a thing created by the hand of man or to individuals selected by Jesus for positions of authority within His body of believers?
The word translated whether is the Greek word eite where it is defined as "a conditional disjunctive conjunction bringing together two objects in one's thoughts while keeping them distinct from each other." I would suggest that this could be better translated "as if" suggesting that Peter is presenting as a simile, "Submit to one another as if to the king or to governors." This is much more harmonious with the context and with other scriptures.
This is not about institutions; it is about relationships with people. You may love shopping, but when Jesus commanded us to love our neighbour as ourselves, He did not mean Walmart®.
In context, Peter is admonishing the Christians, for the sake of their testimony to those around them, that they show honour to every human creature whether they are kings, cops, or commoners. He summarizes well his intention for this chapter in the verse 17 where he writes, "Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king." Each of these entities are living beings.
2New American Standard Version
3The Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition. Very literal translation of the Latin Vulgate.
4God's Word to the Nations - GWN
5New International Version - NIV
©2009, Steve: Bydeley.
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Dr. Steve Bydeley is the author of Fathered by God and with his wife Dianne, co-author of Dream Dreams and Dreams the Heal and Counsel. He has been a guest on the Miracle Channel, Trinity Television, and Crossroads Communication, and have taught internationally on various topics.