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The Suffering Servants 1 Peter 2:18-25

1 Peter Bible Study Notes, Week 9

Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable (grace) if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable (grace) before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 

 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.  1 Peter 2:18-25

Additional reading: Isaiah 53:1-12

Things to think about

Have you ever suffered because of your Christian faith?  Were you aware of God’s grace, either during your period of suffering or afterwards?


Last week we looked at some advice that Peter gave to the Christians in Asia Minor. He instructed all of the Christians to submit to the emperor and the governors, and he summed up with some general advice in verse 17: “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.” (NIV 2011)

Suffering Servants—1 Peter 2:18-20

After making this expansive statement in verse 17, Peter gives instructions to specific groups of Christians, beginning in verse 18.[1] Peter didn’t start by addressing the most prestigious group of Christians, instead, he addressed the most vulnerable. The group addressed in verses 18-25 are oiketai.  This word is often translated as “slaves” in English translations, but the Greek word used here is not the typical word for slaves (douloi). Oiketai, used in verse 18, really refers to domestic or household servants.[2] These people were probably slaves, but some may have been free men and women.

As mentioned previously in these studies: As much as a third of the population of the first-century Greco-Roman world may have been slaves. It was not unusual for slaves to be well educated and reasonably well-treated. However, slaves were the property of their masters and vulnerable to exploitation and every form of abuse.

Despite their precarious situation, Peter told the household servants to submit to their masters. The participle form of “submit” in verse 18 carries on the theme of submission introduced by the verb for “submit” in 1 Peter 2:13. Peter assures the servants that God’s grace, that is, his favour, is upon them if they put up with unjust treatment. This unjust treatment included being beaten.[3]

This does not mean that Christians should seek opportunities for suffering so that they might experience God’s grace. It is simply sensible to avoid suffering. But if suffering is unavoidable, as it was for the Christian servants in Asia Minor, we can depend on God’s grace, favour, or commendation.[4] (The NIV translates “grace” as “commendable”.) It is an honour, even a gift, to suffer for the sake of our faith in God (cf. Phil. 1:29)

We can be sure of God’s grace and favour if our attitudes and behaviour are governed by our consciousness of God and our reverential fear of him (1 Pet. 2:18, 19).

Jesus, the Suffering Servant—1 Peter 2:21-24

The knowledge of God’s grace, or commendation, would have been a great source of comfort for the suffering servants. But Peter further mentions Jesus Christ as an inspiring example for the servants to copy, and he quotes from Isaiah 53, which is a prophetic passage about Jesus as “The Suffering Servant”. Peter is the only New Testament writer to explicitly identify Jesus with the Suffering Servant. (Jobes 2009:188) Ironically, it was also Peter who reprimanded Jesus when he tried to tell his disciples about his coming sufferings (Matt. 16:21-23).

Peter’s Jewish audience would have immediately recognised the quotations from Isaiah 53, and the Jewish servants would have understood the profound link. They were suffering servants, suffering unjustly, not unlike their Messiah.

In verses 22, 23 and 24 Peter makes three statements about Jesus. Each statement begins with the word hos, a relative pronoun typically translated as “who”. Hos is used elsewhere in New Testament Scripture as the first word in sentences of poetry about Jesus (e.g., Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 3:16). Are the following three lines taken from a hymn based on verses from Isaiah? [5] Or did Peter’s scribe, Silas, arrange the verses from Isaiah to form poetry?[6]

“Who did not sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth”
“Who while being reviled, did not revile in return; while suffering did not make threats, but entrusted himself to the one who judges justly”
“Who himself bore our sins in his body on the cross (lit: wood or tree), so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness”

Peter uses these lines to show that Jesus was innocent; and that while suffering unjustly, Jesus exhibited self-restraint and suffered in silence without any threats of retaliation. Peter’s repeated theme of self-restraint in his letter seems to indicate that the Christians in Asia Minor may have been thinking of resisting, or rebelling against, those who were mistreating them.

Jesus provided a precedent and an example for all who suffer unjustly. Moreover, Christians who suffer for their faith, share in the sufferings of Jesus. Despite the real pain and hardship, which can be unbearable, it is an honour to participate with Jesus in this calling!

Jesus’ example of silence remains applicable for Christians today. Even if we aren’t persecuted because of our faith, some of us will be slandered, or swindled, or treated unjustly in some other way. Using wisdom, we can choose to remain silent and trust in God to vindicate us (cf. 1 Cor. 6:7.)

By His Wounds, We are Healed—1 Peter 2:24

The phrase, “By his wounds (or stripes) we are healed” comes from Isaiah 53:5. The Greek word used in this phrase for “wounds” is mōlōps. It means a bruise, scar or welt left by a lash. It describes a physical condition that would have been familiar to many slaves and servants. (Stibbs 1983:121)

Some Christians have no problem with taking the phrase, “by his wounds we are healed” literally. They believe that this verse is referring to physical healing. Others suggest that this verse is referring more generally to salvation. The Greek word used here (iathēte from iaomai), however, is always used in the New Testament to mean healing from a disease or disability. Jesus’ suffering and death have made it possible for us to be redeemed and saved. Jesus’ suffering has also made it possible for some to be healed and made whole. But while death and decay remain, not everyone will experience this healing in every instance (cf. Rom. 8:18-24).

Jesus the Shepherd and Overseer—1 Peter 2:25

Peter continues alluding to Isaiah 53 and quotes from Isaiah 53:6 that says: “All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way.” Peter describes Jesus as the Shepherd (or Pastor) and Overseer of our souls.

Jobes (2009:198) notes,

“The joining of shepherding and overseeing in the context of the Diaspora is also found In Ezek. 34:11-13 LXX, where God promises:

I will seek out my sheep and will oversee . . . them.  As the shepherd seeks his sheep in the day on which there is darkness and cloud . . .  so I will seek my sheep, and I will bring them back from every place where they are scattered . . . And I will bring them out from the Gentiles.

Elements of this passage from Ezekiel correlate so well with elements of 1 Peter that it is tempting to conclude that Peter deliberately alludes to Ezekiel her and elsewhere in his letter.”

For the Christians who were experiencing their own diaspora (scattering), the knowledge that Jesus was caring for them and watching over them as a pastor and overseer would have been a great comfort (1 Pet. 1:1).

Later in his letter, Peter instructed church leaders to function as pastors and overseers (1 Pet. 5:2). Church leaders have a responsibility to care for and watch over the people in their church community, but Jesus is our ultimate Pastor and Overseer (John 10:11;14).[7] Jesus is our guide and our guardian. He is also our goal. Jesus is our ultimate example. He is the one we are to imitate. He is the one in whose footsteps we are to follow.


[1] The numerous household codes of the Greek philosophers contain the same pairing of slave-master, wife-husband and child-parent as found in the New Testament household codes. These household codes were considered important for social stability. While similar in form, the household codes in the New Testament are significantly different. For instance, unlike the Greek household codes, Peter seems to address the household slaves and wives directly and he assumes that they are morally responsible for their own behaviour. Also, Peter rejects the cultural expectation that Christian slaves and wives worship the gods of their masters and husbands. Compared with the codes of the day, “the NT writers actually subverted cultural expectations by elevating the slave and the wife with unparalleled dignity.” (Jobes 2009:184-185)

[2] The household slaves and servants were involved with domestic duties. That is, they were not involved in agriculture or in a trade, etc. Because they were so closely associated with the household and family they were required to be very well behaved.

[3] The Greek word kolaphizō, meaning “strike with a fist” or “punch,” is used in 1 Peter 2:20 and in Matthew 24:27 and Mark 14:65 where Christ is punched and beaten during his trial before the Jewish Council.

[4] God does not want people to put up with abuse and suffer unnecessarily. In Western society, we have many rights and freedoms. Abuse and assaults are illegal and no one should be coerced into putting up mistreatment. Things were very different in the first century. Many people had no choice but to live in difficult conditions and put up with unjust situations, especially slaves. Paul wrote that if slaves could gain their freedom, they should do so (1 Cor. 7:21). But there is a higher form of freedom that many Christians have discovered, even when they have been in chains and in dungeons: Freedom in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 7:22). Still, in many parts of the world, many people are still denied basic rights and freedoms, and Christians should be at the forefront of trying to alleviate oppression and bringing freedom.

[5] There are no less than five quotations or echoes of statements and phraseology from Isaiah 53. Verse 22 follows Isaiah 53:9; “because he had done no violence, neither was there any deceit in his mouth”. Verse 23 is parallel to Isaiah 53:7; “he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth”. Verse 24 has phraseology from Isaiah 53:12; “he bore the sin of many”, and from Isaiah 53:5; “by his stripes we are healed”. Verse 25 echoes Isaiah 53:6; “All we like sheep have gone astray”. (Stibbs 1981:117)

[6] It is interesting to note that the creedal hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 and the (possible) hymn of 1 Peter 2:21-25 are both used to show Christians how to live, and at the same time, show the profound humiliation and suffering of Jesus Christ, our atoning sacrifice on the cross.

[7] Jesus is called the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14), the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2:25), the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4), and the Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20). (Cf Mat 2:6; 25:35; 26:31; Rev 7:17; 12:5; 19:15.)


Mary Magdalene kissing the feet of the crucified Christ, Tolentino Basilica, Italy, 14th century. (Wikimedia)

Week 8: Silencing Slander – 1 Peter 2:11-17
Week 10: Submission and Respect from Wives – 1 Peter 3:1-6

Related Articles

“Equality” in Paul’s Letters
The Early Church and Slavery
Wives, Mothers and Female Masters in the New Testament Household Codes
The Household Codes are about Power, not Gender
Are women pastors mentioned in the New Testament?
The Role of Overseers in First-Century House Churches
Jesus is No Longer on a Cross
The Creed (Hymn) of Philippians 2:6-11

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