On Tuesday I indicated that I think 1 Peter 2:13 teaches that God established government, like marriage, into the structures of the creation. Today I’d like to justify that claim.
1 Peter 2:13 is translated in several different ways:
ESV: Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution . . .
Achtemeier (Hermeneia): Be subject to every human creature because of the Lord . . .
RSV mg.: Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every institution ordained for men . . .
I favor the translation:
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every [divine] creation among mankind.
In the context it is clear that the creation in view is government.
Institution, Creature, or Creation?
It is common for translations to translate κτίσις in this verse as “institution.” But against this translation Achtemeier notes this “meaning is nowhere to be found in Greek literature” (1 Peter, Hermeneia, 182). He comments, “The closest one can come to such a meaning [human institution] is to point to the regular use of κτίσις in secualr Greek to mean ‘founding a city’ (e.g., Selwyn, 172; Goppelt, 182) but that is hardly the meaning here” (ibid., 183, n. 40). Elliot adds to this critique: “The rendition of ktisis as ‘institution’ (RSV, NRSV, NEB, Selwyn) is inappropriate, for the abstraction ‘institution’ is a modern rather than an ancient concept” (1 Peter, AB, 489).
Both Achtemeier and Elliot favor the translation “Be subject to every human creature.” But Grudem provides a cogent response to this translation: “The context (vv. 13b-14, 18-20, 3:1-6) makes it clear, however, that it is not every human being in the world to whom we are to be subject (a meaning that the verb hypotasso could not bear in any case, since it refers to subjection to an authority)” (1 Peter, TNTC, 118; note: Grudem favors the translation “institution”). It doesn’t make sense to begin a command to submit to the governing authorities with a command to submit to all humans.
Hort says, “Put briefly, the main question is this,—does ἀνθρωπίνη κτίσις mean here a κτίσις by men or a κτίσις by God among men?” Hort rejects “a κτίσις by men” in favor of “a κτίσις by God among men.” He writes, “But the former of the two interpretations, though thus prima facie natural, cannot without straining be reconciled with the context. Wide as is the use of κτίσις, to speak of the supreme ruler or subordinate rulers, or their office or function, as a κτίσις on the part of men is without example or analogy in Greek usage. . . . Moreover, human authorship, put forward without qualification as here, and yet more emphasised by the addition of πάσῃ, is not likely to have been laid down by an apostle as a sufficient reason for subjection: he could not but remember for how many evil customs human authorship was responsible. If however we take κτίσις as implying Divine authorship, as in every other place where κτίζω or any of its derivatives occurs in the O.T. or N.T. (or in the Apocrypha, 1 Esd. iv. 53 excepted), all these difficulties vanish. The effect of ἀνθρωπίνῃ is accordingly to limit the κτίσεις spoken of to such elements of God’s universal κτίσις as are characteristically human. . . . Here then we have an adequate explanation of St Peter’s meaning. Biblical associations defined the founding spoken of to be the founding of the commonwealth of mankind by God Himself, and the Greek usage suggested that the founding implied a plan of which mankind were to be organised. By an ἀνθρωπίνη κτίσις then St Peter means a fundamental institution of human society. Before Christ came into the world, mankind already possessed a social order of which the chief elements were the state, the household, and the family; and here St Peter declares that they were not to be slighted or rejected because they were found among heathen. On the contrary, they had a divine origin, and they were distinctively human: without them man would sink into savagery. It was needful to say this after the previous verses, which might seem by contrast to condemn heathen society absolutely” (F. J. A. Hort, The First Epistle of St. Peter, I.1-II.17 [London: Macmillan, 1898], 139-40).
I think Hort is on the right track, though he does use the word “institution.” Yet, if what is really in view is an institution created by God, then the normal sense of “creation” would hold here and the meaning of the passage would would be similar to the one the Hort proposes.
Best also comments along the same lines: “When the word and its cognate forms appear in the LXX they almost always denote something created by God, e.g., man (Dt. 4:32), the universe (Gen. 14:19,22), agriculture (Sir. 7:15; 40:1), wisdom (Sir. 1:4); see w. Foerster, T.D.N.T., III, pp. 1023-8. Sir. 39:30 says that God created ‘the sword that punishes the ungodly with destruction’ (cf. 40:9f.), and this is very similar to the conception of 1 Pet. 2:14. The principle objection to this view is the adjective ‘human’ attached to ‘institution’; it suggests that man creates the state, but it can be taken as in the RSVmg in the sense that God (not mentioned but understood) creates in the sphere of human affairs; thus civil authority may be considered as instituted by God. This is similar to Paul’s teaching in Rom. 13:1-7, and to that of the OT (Isa. 5:25-30; 45:1) which became more explicit in Judaism (Dan. 2:21,37f.; 4:17,32; Wisd. 6:3). . . . Consequently the state is viewed as deriving from God’s appointment” (1 Peter, NCB, 113).
If Hort and Best are right, then government is a structure of the created order created by God himself. This is a strange way of thinking because here we are not talking about a particular government or even anything physical. But it is not a unique concept in Scripture. As Al Wolters notes, “There are a few places in Scripture where the basic confession of God’s creational sovereignty is specifically applied to such non-physical realities. According to Paul, marriage is among the things ‘which God created to be received with thanksgiving.’ It is therefore a demonic heresy to forbid marriage, ‘for everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected’ (1 Tim. 4:3-4)” (Creation Regained, 2nd ed., 24).