Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7f7b94f6bd-98q29 Total loading time: 0.287 Render date: 2022-06-30T07:37:38.020Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

Ethnicisation, Marriage and Early Christian Identity: Critical Reflections on 1 Corinthians 7, 1 Peter 3 and Modern New Testament Scholarship*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 May 2016

David G. Horrell*
Department of Theology and Religion, University of Exeter, Exeter, EX4 4RJ, United Kingdom. Email:


In the discipline of New Testament studies there are particular reasons for critical vigilance concerning the ways in which historical reconstructions can be shaped by a sense of both religious and ethnic or racial superiority. This risk applies specifically to the contrasting depictions of Judaism and Christianity, and it is notable that, despite the changing phases of scholarship, the tendency to replicate a dichotomy between an ethnically particular Judaism and a universal, open, trans-ethnic Christianity persists. As one facet of a critical consideration of this dichotomy, this essay considers two specific texts that contribute to the ethnicisation of early Christian identity: 1 Corinthians 7 and 1 Peter 3. In the former, Paul develops two principles that are significant in the ethnicisation process: endogamy as norm for the contraction of marriage (1 Cor 7.39) and the assumption that children with a Christian parent (even in a so-called ‘mixed marriage’) are part of the Christian community (1 Cor 7.14). The later household codes further develop this idea that the household is a place for the reproduction and generation of Christian identity. In 1 Pet 3.1–6, part of the letter's household code where mixed marriage is again an issue, two features of the text are of particular interest: its focus on a ‘way of life’ (ἀναστροφή) and the connections drawn between conduct and ancestry. In both of these respects, 1 Peter seems to be constructing a form of group-identity that shares features in common with Jewish notions of group-belonging in the period. The ‘ethnicising’ features of these texts raise questions about any categorical contrast between Jewish ethnicity and Christian inclusive trans-ethnicity. Why then is such a depiction of the Christian achievement – which in many ways parallels depictions of modern Western political liberalism – so enduring and appealing within the discipline? It is suggested that the answer must be sought in the religious and ethnic or racial location of that scholarly tradition.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Main Paper presented at the 70th Meeting of the SNTS, Amsterdam, July 2015. I am very grateful to John Barclay, Beverly Gaventa, Louise Lawrence, Kelly Liebengood, Bruce Longenecker, Todd Still and David Tollerton for comments on various earlier drafts of this paper; needless to say, they are in no way responsible for its arguments and shortcomings, or for any errors that remain. I am also grateful to Reimund Bieringer and Dominika Kurek-Chomycz for the opportunity to present and discuss this paper as a visiting scholar at the Catholic University of Leuven, during August 2015.


1 Whether it is appropriate to use the term ‘race’ is contested, and space does not permit a detailed discussion here. In brief, my reasons for retaining the term in scholarly discourse are as follows: (1) ‘race’ is more or less equivalent to the term ‘ethnicity’, which came to displace it in the 1950s for particular historical reasons; (2) both terms refer to identities that are constructed rather than objectively or physically ‘real’; (3) avoiding the term ‘race’ makes it too easy to sweep aside questions about the racialising of others and of racism, as if these adhered specifically to a biological theory of race. Social scientists vary in their approach to the two terms, but both continue to be discussed, defined and (in part) distinguished; see e.g. S. Cornell and D. Hartmann, Ethnicity and Race: Making Identities in a Changing World (Sociology for a New Century; Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge, 2007); J. Stone and R. Dennis, eds., Race and Ethnicity: Comparative and Theoretical Approaches (Blackwell Readers in Sociology; Oxford/ Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003).

2 Meer, N., ‘Racialization and Religion: Race, Culture and Difference in the Study of Antisemitism and Islamophobia’, Ethnic and Racial Studies 36 (2013) 385–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 386.

3 F. C. Baur, Das Christenthum und die christliche Kirche der drei ersten Jahrhunderte (ed. Klaus Scholder; Ausgewählte Werke in Einzelausgaben; Tübingen, repr. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Friedrich Frommann [1966], 18602) 44–5: ‘Er war es somit auch, welcher den christlichen Universalismus in seinem principiellen Unterschied vom jüdischen Particularismus nicht nur zuerst ausdrücklich in seiner bestimmten Form aussprach, sondern auch von Anfang an sosehr zur Aufgabe und leitenden Norm seines apostolischen Wirkens machte … da er … auch die Schranken des Judenthums durchbrach und den jüdischen Particularismus in der universellen Idee des Christenthums aufhob.’ My translation differs somewhat from that in F. C. Baur, The Church History of the First Three Centuries, vol. i (London & Edinburgh: Williams & Norgate, 18783) 46–7.

4 E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (London: SCM, 1977) 420.

5 See esp. Alexander, P. S., ‘Review of E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism’, JJS 37 (1986) 103–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Neusner, J., ‘Mr Sanders' Pharisees and Mine: A Response to E.P. Sanders, Jewish Law from Jesus to the Mishnah’, SJT 44 (1991) 7395CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 92–5; R. B. Matlock, ‘Almost Cultural Studies? Reflections on the “New Perspective” on Paul’, Biblical Studies/Cultural Studies: The Third Sheffield Colloquium (ed. J. C. Exum and S. D. Moore; JSOTSup 266; Gender, Culture, Theology 7; Sheffield: SAP, 1998) 433–59, at 444–7.

6 Dunn, J. D. G., ‘The New Perspective on Paul’, BJRL 65 (1983) 95122Google Scholar (repr. in J. D. G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the Law (London: SPCK, 1990) 183–214); quoted from Jesus, Paul and the Law, 197.

7 N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991) 13–14.

8 Wright, Climax, 240.

9 C. Johnson Hodge, If Sons, Then Heirs: A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul (Oxford/New York: OUP, 2007), 8.

10 This work does not feature in Johnson Hodge's brief critique of the ethnic/universal distinction in portrayals of Judaism and (Pauline) Christianity; instead, she turns to the ‘radical’ new perspective of Gaston, Gager, Stowers and others, and follows its key conviction that Paul is speaking to Gentiles and not to Jews (If Sons, Then Heirs, 6–9).

11 P. F. Esler, Conflict and Identity in Romans: The Social Setting of Paul's Letter (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003).

12 P. F. Esler, ‘From Ioudaioi to Children of God: The Development of a Non-Ethnic Group Identity in the Gospel of John’, In Other Words: Essays on Social Science Methods and the New Testament in Honor of Jerome H. Neyrey (ed. A. C. Hagedorn, Z. A. Crook, E. Stewart; Social World of Biblical Antiquity, Second Series, 1; Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2007) 106–37; id., ‘Judean Ethnic Identity and the Matthean Jesus’, Jesus – Gestalt und Gestaltungen: Rezeptionen des Galiläers in Wissenschaft, Kirche und Gesellschaft (ed. P. von Gemünden, D. G. Horrell, M. Küchler; FS Gerd Theissen; NTOA 100; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013) 193–210; id., Intergroup Conflict and Matthew 23: Towards Responsible Historical Interpretation of a Challenging Text’, BTB 45 (2015) 3859Google Scholar; A. J. Kuecker, The Spirit and the ‘Other’: Social Identity, Ethnicity and Intergroup Reconciliation in Luke-Acts (LNTS 444; London/New York: T&T Clark, 2011).

13 On Ioudaioi as (ethnic) Judeans, see Conflict and Identity, 62–74; on Greek ethnicity, pp. 54–61. On the Christ-movement as socio-religious, see e.g. ‘Matthean Jesus’, 195; ‘Intergroup Conflict and Matthew 23’, 56.

14 Esler, ‘From Ioudaioi to Children of God’, 132; cf. id., ‘Matthean Jesus’, 195.

15 Mason, S., ‘Jews, Judaeans, Judaizing, Judaism: Problems of Categorization in Ancient History’, JSJ 38 (2007) 457512Google Scholar, at 512.

16 D. K. Buell, Why This New Race: Ethnic Reasoning in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005). See also ead., Rethinking the Relevance of Race for Early Christian Self-Definition’, HTR 94 (2001) 449–76Google Scholar; ead., Race and Universalism in Early Christianity’, JECS 10 (2002) 429–68Google Scholar; and also the significant earlier study of J. M. Lieu, ‘The Race of the God-fearers’, Neither Jew Nor Greek? Constructing Early Christianity (SNTW; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2002) 49–68 (first published in JTS 46 (1995) 483–501).

17 Johnson Hodge, If Sons, Then Heirs; L. L. Sechrest, A Former Jew: Paul and the Dialectics of Race (LNTS 410; London/New York: T&T Clark, 2009); B. Hansen, ‘All of You Are One’: The Social Vision of Galatians 3.28, 1 Corinthians 12.13 and Colossians 3.11 (LNTS 409; London/New York: T&T Clark, 2010). Also taking Buell's agenda forward, in a study of Paul's deployment of ethnic mutability and imaginative reconstructions of the Corinthians’ possible reactions to it, is C. W. Concannon, ‘When You Were Gentiles’: Specters of Ethnicity in Roman Corinth and Paul's Corinthian Correspondence (Synkrisis; New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2014).

18 M. Weber, ‘Race Relations’, Max Weber: Selections in Translation (ed. W. G. Runciman; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978 [1922]) 359–69, at 364). Weber continues, explaining the distinction between ‘ethnic group’ and ‘kinship group’: ‘The question whether they are to be called an “ethnic” group is independent of the question whether they are objectively of common stock. The “ethnic” group differs from the “kinship group” in that it is constituted simply by the belief in a common identity’ (p. 364).

19 See e.g. the comments of K. Avruch, ‘Culture and Ethnic Conflict in the New World Disorder’, Race and Ethnicity: Comparative and Theoretical Approaches (ed. J. Stone and R. Dennis; Blackwell Readers in Sociology; Malden, MA/Oxford: Blackwell, 2003) 72–82, at 72; J. Stone, ‘Max Weber on Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism’, in Stone and Dennis, Race and Ethnicity, 28–42, at 33; P. Jackson and J. Penrose, ‘Introduction: Placing “Race” and “Nation”’, Constructions of Race, Place and Nation (ed. P. Jackson and J. Penrose; London: UCL Press/Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993/4) 1–23; Augoustinos, M. and De Garis, S., ‘“Too Black or Not Black Enough”: Social Identity Complexity in the Political Rhetoric of Barack Obama’, European Journal of Social Psychology 42 (2012) 564–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

20 Cf. M. G. Brett, ‘Interpreting Ethnicity: Method, Hermeneutics, Ethics’, Ethnicity and the Bible (ed. M. G. Brett; Biblical Interpretation; Leiden: Brill, 1996) 3–22: ‘Although ethnie can be exceptionally durable once formed, they are also symbolic constructions which have to be maintained by reiterated practices and transactions’ (p. 10).

21 R. A. Schermerhorn, Comparative Ethnic Relations: A Framework for Theory and Research (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 1978 [1970]) 12. A more extended discussion of characteristics of ethnic groups, based on Schermerhorn's and widely adopted in subsequent work, is presented by A. D. Smith, The Ethnic Origins of Nations (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986) 22–31; summarised in J. Hutchinson and A. D. Smith, ‘Introduction’, Ethnicity (ed. J. Hutchinson and A. D. Smith; Oxford Readers; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996) 3–14, at 6–7.

22 Schermerhorn, Comparative Ethnic Relations, 12.

23 Cornell and Hartmann, Ethnicity and Race, 19.

24 Cornell and Hartman, Ethnicity and Race, 35.

25 See esp. Johnson Hodge, If Sons, Then Heirs, 79–107; Sechrest, Former Jew, 113–33.

26 In her recent research, Johnson Hodge has also turned to these texts, and to the topic of mixed marriage in early Christianity; but her interest in ethnic identity-construction seems not to be in view in these studies. Hodge, C. Johnson, ‘Married to an Unbeliever: Households, Hierarchies, and Holiness in 1 Corinthians 7: 12–16’, HTR 103 (2010) 125CrossRefGoogle Scholar; ead., ‘“Holy Wives” in Roman Households: 1 Peter 3: 1–6’, Journal of Interdisciplinary Feminist Thought 4/1 (2010), available at:, accessed 21 May 2015; ead.,‘“Mixed Marriage” in Early Christianity: Trajectories from Corinth’, Corinth in Contrast: Studies in Inequality (ed. S. J. Friesen, S. A. James, D. N. Schowalter; NovTSup 155; Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2014) 227–44.

27 It should be noted that the equivalent label in German, Mischehe, evokes negative and problematic associations, due to the anti-Semitic marriage laws passed during the Nazi era, such that some authors prefer to use terms like interkulturelle or interreligiöse Ehe. See e.g. C. M. Maier, ‘Der Diskurs um interkulturelle Ehen in Jehud als antikes Beispiel von Intersektionalität’, Doing Gender – Doing Religion: Fallstudien zur Intersektionalität im frühen Judentum, Christentum und Islam (ed. U. E. Eisen, C. Gerber, A. Standhartinger; WUNT 302; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013) 129–53, at 129.

28 For arguments in favour of the nuance ‘distress’ here, see G. D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: Revised Edition (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014) 364.

29 The phrase is frequent and used with somewhat diverse senses, but see esp. 1 Cor 11.11; Phil 4.1–2; 1 Thess 3.8; 5.12; Col 3.18; 4.7; Eph 2.21; 5.8; 6.1. This is also one indication that the crucial social boundary is between those who are and are not ‘in Christ’; there is no corresponding evidence that such an identity-defining boundary exists between Jewish and Gentile Christians, pace Johnson Hodge, If Sons, 138, 146, et passim.

30 So e.g. O. L. Yarbrough, Not Like the Gentiles: Marriage Rules in the Letters of Paul (SBLDS 80; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1985) 109; A. C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) 604; Fee, 1 Corinthians, 392 with n. 379. This becomes the dominant interpretation from the earliest times (emphatically in Tertullian, also Cyprian) though not the only one (Augustine, for example, sees here no prohibition of marrying an unbeliever). See further S. J. D. Cohen, ‘From Permission to Prohibition: Paul and the Early Church on Mixed Marriage’, Paul's Jewish Matrix (ed. T. G. Casey and J. Taylor; Bible in Dialogue 2; Rome: Gregorian and Biblical Press, 2011) 259–91, at 260–3; W. Schrage, Der erste Brief an die Korinther (1 Kor 6,12–11,16) (EKKNT 7.2; Zürich: Benziger/Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1995) 210–11.

31 M. E. Thrall, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (ICC, vol. i; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994) 473 comments that Paul ‘[d]oubtless … does have in view the contraction of a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever’ but also other associations and relationships: the text ‘is unspecific and therefore widely comprehensive’. On the complex and much discussed questions concerning the origins, affinities and original location of this text, see T. Schmeller, Der zweite Brief an die Korinther (2 Kor 1,1–7,4) (EKKNT 8/1, 1; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener/Ostfildern: Patmos, 2010) 378–82 (and the literature listed on pp. 366–7).

32 See further C. E. Hayes, Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities: Intermarriage and Conversion from the Bible to the Talmud (Oxford/New York: OUP, 2002) 97–100; Cohen, ‘Permission to Prohibition’. Cohen, however, stresses too far the ambiguities of Paul's various texts on this topic, seeing this (implausibly) as representing Paul's ‘permission’ for mixed marriages to be undertaken, a permission which is then largely reversed in early Christian teaching, especially by Tertullian and Cyprian.

33 The contrasting positions may be epitomised by Joseph and Aseneth on the one hand, which depicts in legendary form the conversion of a previously idolatrous gentile woman to marry a Jewish man, and Jub. 30.7–17 on the other, which develops the view from Ezra/Nehemiah that marrying foreign women is forbidden (Ezra 9–10; Neh 9.2; 10.30; 13.3, 23–31). See further Hayes, Gentile Impurities, esp. 68–91; S. J. D. Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties (Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 1999) 241–62; Maier, ‘Interkulturelle Ehen in Jehud’. On Paul and the early Christians’ appropriation of this tradition, see Hayes, Gentile Impurities, 92–103.

34 Cf. Hayes, Gentile Impurities, 94. On this as the dominant understanding of vv. 12–16, see Schrage, Korinther, 121.

35 Cf. MacDonald, M. Y., ‘Women Holy in Body and Spirit: The Social Setting of 1 Corinthians 7’, NTS 36 (1990) 161–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar; ead., Early Christian Women and Pagan Opinion: The Power of the Hysterical Woman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) 189–95; A. C. Wire, The Corinthian Women Prophets: A Reconstruction through Paul's Rhetoric (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990) 85.

36 For later examples of such separations, see Justin Martyr, 2 Apol. 2; Acts of Peter 34. For discussion, see MacDonald, Early Christian Women, 205–13; Johnson Hodge, ‘Mixed Marriage’.

37 See further A. S. May, ‘The Body for the Lord’: Sex and Identity in 1 Corinthians 5–7 (JSNTSup 278; London/New York: T&T Clark, 2004) 117–19; D. G. Horrell, Solidarity and Difference: A Contemporary Reading of Paul's Ethics (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2005) 144–52, 163–4.

38 This particular topic is one clear indication that Paul is concerned with existing marriages, not with whom one may legitimately marry.

39 Cf. Yarbrough, Not Like the Gentiles, 111, who comments that, while the advice Paul gives ‘is clear enough’, his ‘attempt to justify his claim that believers should not seek separation from their non-believing partners … contains a number of vexing problems’.

40 Cf. Schrage, Korinther, 104: ‘Die Nichtchristen werden durch den christlichen Ehepartner geheiligt, nicht die Christen entheiligt’ (emphasis original).

41 Gillihan, Y. M., ‘Jewish Laws on Illicit Marriage, the Defilement of Offspring, and the Holiness of the Temple: A New Halakic Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:14’, JBL 121 (2002) 711–44Google Scholar, at 717–18. She draws particular attention to the ‘striking linguistic parallel’ in m.Qidd. 2.1.

42 Gillihan, ‘Jewish Laws’, 716; cf. 727–8, 738; also Yarbrough, Not Like the Gentiles, 112: ‘the marriage itself is holy and therefore need not be dissolved’.

43 Cf. Gillihan, ‘Jewish Laws’, 729, where this difference is noted.

44 Commentators have long discussed whether Paul's comment in v. 16 is optimistic or pessimistic concerning the unbelieving partner's salvation. It seems best to accept that the questions leave the implied answer open, but hopeful. As J. B. Lightfoot, Notes on Epistles of St Paul from Unpublished Commentaries (London/New York: Macmillan, 1904) 227 wisely remarks: ‘these expressions [τί οἶδας … εἰ], so far from emphasizing a doubt, express a hope … implying that there is a reasonable chance’. Cf. also Fee, 1 Corinthians, 337–8; Schrage, Korinther, 112.

45 Cf. Yarbrough, Not Like the Gentiles, 112.

46 Cf. Gillihan, ‘Jewish Laws’, 714–15: ‘As evidence that this principle is true [sc. that the unbelieving spouse is sanctified by the believing spouse] Paul points to the fact that the children are holy, not impure.’ Yarbrough, Not Like the Gentiles, 111, describes this as ‘the presupposition of Paul's argument’.

47 The proposal of Leif Vaage that both parts of this clause represent true conditions, such that Paul paradoxically ascribes to the children a ‘labile’ social identity that is simultaneously both unclean and holy, is unconvincing. See Vaage, L. E., ‘The Translation of 1 Cor 7: 14c and the Labile Social Body of the Pauline Church’, RB 116 (2009) 557–71Google Scholar, which also underpins some of the arguments in MacDonald, M. Y. and Vaage, L. E., ‘Unclean but Holy Children: Paul's Everyday Quandary in 1 Corinthians 7:14c’, CBQ 73 (2011) 526–46Google Scholar. Paul's other use of ἐπεὶ ἄρα … νῦν δέ (1 Cor 5.10–11) implies that the former is a hypothetical conclusion that would follow (but does not) if some logically prior condition were true (which it is not) (pace Vaage, ‘Translation’, 565) and the use of the indicative mood (in the sense of ‘assumed true for the sake of argument’) is unproblematic (and clearly need not indicate a ‘true’ condition, as Matt 12.27–8 and Rom 11.6 show).

48 G. Delling, Studien zum Neuen Testament und zum hellenistischen Judentum: Gesammelte Aufsätze 1950–1968 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1970) 257.

49 Murphy-O'Connor, J., ‘Works without Faith in i Cor., vii, 14’, RB 84 (1977) 349–61Google Scholar, at 356.

50 Murphy-O'Connor, ‘Works’, 361. Thiselton, 1 Corinthians, 530: ‘If the spouse falls under the influence of the Christian partner's faith, lifestyle, prayer, and living out of the gospel, how much more shall not [sic] the children? … even if only one parent is Christian the children will be marked by an element of shaping and “difference” from the wholly pagan environment.’

51 J. C. O'Neill, ‘1 Corinthians 7,14 and Infant Baptism’, L'Apôtre Paul: Personnalité, Style et Conception du Ministère (ed. A. Vanhoye; BETL 73; Leuven: Peeters, 1986) 357–61, at 357.

52 On this self-designation, which is much more frequent in Paul than elsewhere in the NT, see P. Trebilco, Self-Designations and Group Identity in the New Testament (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012) 122–63.

53 Cf. Horrell, Solidarity, 133–65; Trebilco, Self-Designations, 135: ‘οἱ ἅγιοι functions to establish boundaries around the Christian community’ (emphasis original).

54 Pace Fee, 1 Corinthians, 333, who seems more concerned than Paul to insist that the children's status can only be derived from and dependent on their ongoing link to the (adult) ‘believer’: ‘through their relationship with the believer, who maintains the marriage and thus keeps intact the relationship the children, they too can be understood to be “holy” in the same way as the unbelieving spouse’ (emphasis added). It is not hard to see that theological convictions shape the exegesis at this point.

55 Lightfoot, Notes, 226. Cf. also E.-B. Allo, Saint Paul: Première Épitre aux Corinthiens (Paris: Gabalda, 19342) 168: ‘ils [sc. vos enfants] sont «saints» (= non impurs), reçu déjà d'une certaine manière dans votre communauté de «saints»’.

56 Cf. the discussion of the shift from a (biblical) patrilineal to a (Mishnaic) matrilineal principle of descent in Judaism in Cohen, Jewishness, 263–307.

57 On the issue of Jewish apostasy and its complexities, see J. M. G. Barclay, ‘Who Was Considered an Apostate in the Jewish Diaspora?’, Tolerance and Intolerance in Early Judaism and Christianity (ed. G. N. Stanton and G. G. Stroumsa; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) 80–98; L. H. Feldman, Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World: Attitudes and Interactions from Alexander to Justinian (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993) 79–83.

58 To some extent this runs counter to a certain Protestant emphasis on the need for each individual to make their own faith-commitment, to have their own conversion experience, but the sociological reality is that children are socialised and enculturated into the religious tradition of their parents. This passage has understandably been a crux for the discussion of infant baptism, despite the fact that it is silent on the issue. Lightfoot (Notes, 226) again notes wisely that the passage ‘enunciates the principle which leads to infant baptism, viz., that the child of Christian parents shall be treated as a Christian’.

59 If the vicarious baptism referred to in the notoriously enigmatic 1 Cor 15.29 is undertaken for deceased family members (e.g. parents), who died before converting, as seems likely, then this is evidence of a kind of retrospective incorporation of such family members into the ‘people’ in Christ, a point I owe to Francis Watson. Cf. also Concannon, When You Were Gentiles, 166–9.

60 Needless to say, this does not mean (as in other groups, ethnic or otherwise) that Christians unanimously accepted or practised this principle, but it does become a prominent influence on subsequent custom. On the differences in practice, see Johnson Hodge, ‘Mixed Marriage’.

61 On this unusually direct appeal, see e.g. the recent comments of M. Y. MacDonald, The Power of Children: The Construction of Christian Families in the Greco-Roman World (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014) 7, 18.

62 J. M. G. Barclay, ‘The Family as the Bearer of Religion in Judaism and Early Christianity’, Constructing Early Christian Families: Family as Social Reality and Metaphor (ed. H. Moxnes; London/New York: Routledge, 1997) 66–80, at 76–7, though cast, one should note, under the rubric of the family as ‘bearer of religion’ rather than of ethnicity (but see p. 69 for Judaism as ‘fundamentally an ethnic tradition’). On Josephus' concern for the education of children in Judaism, see MacDonald, Power, 15, 77; C.Ap. 1.60; 2.173–4; 2.204, 206.

63 The key study remains that of D. L. Balch, Let Wives Be Submissive: The Domestic Code in 1 Peter (SBLMS 26; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1981).

64 See further MacDonald, Early Christian Women, 189–204.

65 Pace F. W. Beare, The First Epistle of Peter (Oxford: Blackwell, 19703 [1947]) 153; likewise P. J. Achtemeier, 1 Peter (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1996) 209–10. J. H. Elliott, 1 Peter: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB37B; New York: Doubleday, 2000) 557 more correctly interprets the force of καὶ εἴ τινες: ‘The conditional formulation “even if” (kai ei) indicates that the author allows for the fact that “some” (tines) of the husbands mentioned in v 1b may be nonbelievers.’

66 See further Balch, Wives, 81–105; Johnson Hodge, ‘Holy Wives’; Elliott, 1 Peter, 557–8; Plutarch, Mor. 140D; Tertullian, Ad Uxor. 2.4–5.

67 On the variety of meanings, see LSJ s.v. NT references are: Gal 1.13; Eph 4.22; 1 Tim 4.12; Heb 13.7; Jas 3.13; 1 Pet 1.15, 18; 2.12; 3.1, 2, 16; 2 Pet 2.7; 3.11.

68 In 2 Macc 5.8 it seems to mean something like ‘reversal of fortune’; so T. Muraoka, A Greek–English Lexicon of the Septuagint (Leuven: Peeters, 2009) 46.The other reference is in a series of admonitions addressed to the παιδίον in Tob 4.14 (only in GI, the shorter text-form), where it refers to a pattern of conduct: ἴσθι πεπαιδευμένος ἐν πάσῃ ἀναστροφῇ σου (‘be disciplined in all your conduct’ (RSV)).

69 Joachim Schaper (NETS, 511) evades the difficulty of translation by rendering it ‘allophylism’, though a footnote glosses this as ‘alien ways’.

70 In 4.13, the word's only other occurrence in the LXX, ἀλλοφυλισμός stands alongside Ἑλληνισμός. Muraoka (Lexicon, 29) suggests ‘alien, foreign culture’.

71 Cf. the features of an ethnic group listed by Hutchinson and Smith, ‘Introduction’, 6–7. As Weber (‘Race Relations’, 366) remarks, shared language and religious beliefs do not necessarily define ‘ethnic’ groups, but ‘a shared language and, after that, a common pattern of ritual regulation of life, based on shared religious conceptions, everywhere play an exceptionally important part in creating feelings of “ethnic” affinity’.

72 Apart from Gen 18.12, where Sarah says ‘my master is old’ (ὁ δὲ κύριός μου πρεσβύτερος) there is nowhere where she is depicted in these terms. Gen 16.2 gives a contrary impression: ὑπήκουσεν δὲ Αβραμ τῆς φωνῆς Σαρας. The addressing of Abraham as κύριος is much more prominent in the Testament of Abraham, as Troy Martin has shown. See Martin, T. W., ‘The TestAbr and the Background of 1 Pet 3,6’, ZNW 90 (1999) 139–46Google Scholar.

73 Commentators have debated how exactly to understand the participial phrase: J. R. Michaels, 1 Peter (WBC 49; Waco, TX: Word Books, 1988) 166 takes the participles as imperatival in force; a conditional sense is favoured by Beare, 1 Peter, 157. Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 216, interprets them as participles of ‘attendant circumstance’, with effectively a temporal sense; while Elliott, 1 Peter, 573 suggests that the participles ‘describe the present conduct and confidence consequent upon becoming Sarah's spiritual children through conversion’. L. Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993) 224 insists that the participles ‘express not the ground but a demonstration of this relationship to Sarah’ (emphasis original); but there is nonetheless some conditionality bound up with this demonstration – this lifestyle is, in a sense, constitutive of their identity as Sarah's children. Cf. also J. Schlosser, La première épître de Pierre (CBNT 21; Paris: Cerf, 2011) 191.

74 Among older translations: Geneva, Tyndale, KJV, LutherBibel [1912]; among recent translations: NIV, NRSV (a change from RSV), LutherBibel [1984].

75 See further Horrell, D. G., ‘Fear, Hope, and Doing Good: Wives as a Paradigm of Mission in 1 Peter’, Estudios Biblicos 73 (2015) 409–29Google Scholar. There is a series of close parallels between 3.1–6 and 3.13–17: pattern of conduct (3.1–2 // 3.16); fear (3.2 // 3.16); the heart (3.4 // 3.15); gentleness (3.4 // 3.16); hope (3.5 // 3.15); doing good (3.6 // 3.17); not being afraid (3.6 // 3.14). These are noted by Elliott, 1 Peter, 619 with n. 230, who elsewhere makes the point about the domestic slaves being paradigms (1 Peter, 523), and set out in detail by Brown, J. K., ‘Silent Wives, Verbal Believers: Ethical and Hermeneutical Considerations in 1 Peter 3:1–6 and its Context’, W&W 24 (2004) 395403Google Scholar, at 396–7. As Michaels, 1 Peter, 166 remarks: ‘Nothing in this statement applies exclusively to women’; likewise, Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 217.

76 Contrast the earlier ‘definition’ of Greekness offered by Herodotus 8.144, which, interestingly, mentions ‘kinship in blood and speech’, religion (gods and sacrifices) and way of life, but significantly, as Suzanne Saïd notes, omits ‘shared territory and shared history’. S. Saïd, ‘The Discourse of Identity in Greek Rhetoric from Isocrates to Aristides’, Ancient Perceptions of Greek Identity (ed. I. Malkin; Centre for Hellenic Studies Colloquia 5; Washington, DC/Cambridge, MA/London: Harvard University Press, 2001) 275–99, at 275. For Jonathan Hall, Herodotus' statement already indicates a promotion of ‘cultural criteria (including language and religion) to the same level as kinship’ (p. 193) and is part of a process by which Hellenic identity shifted in the fifth–fourth centuries bce from an ethnic basis towards a cultural basis. See J. M. Hall, Hellenicity: Between Ethnicity and Culture (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2002), esp. 172–228. Esler, by contrast, insists that ‘a transition from ancestry to culture and language does not solemnize the disintegration of Greek ethnicity, but simply represents an alteration in the cultural indicia by which the boundaries of that ethnic group are negotiated’ (Conflict and Identity, 57) – though it is a misrepresentation to claim that Hall's case ‘rests on a single passage in Isocrates’ (Conflict and Identity, 56). I do not need to adjudicate that debate here, however, since the crucial point for my argument is that Greekness, whatever it is (like Jewishness, as we shall see below), is here being defined in ways that suggest commonalities with 1 Peter's depiction of Christian identity and social practice.

77 D. E. McCoskey, Race: Antiquity and its Legacy (Ancients and Moderns; London/New York: I. B. Tauris, 2012), 63. Cf. also Saïd, ‘Discourse of Identity’; D. Konstan, ‘To Hellēnikon ethnos: Ethnicity and the Construction of Ancient Greek Identity’, in Malkin, Ancient Perceptions of Greek Ethnicity, 29–50.

78 The context for these remarks is that of the welcome offered to proselytes (‘those who choose to share our ways’ (2.209; Barclay's Eng. trans.)), and as Barclay comments (J. M. G. Barclay, Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary, vol. x:Against Apion (Leiden: Brill, 2006) 291–2 n. 847), ‘it is notable that choice is an aspect of affinity supplementary to birth, not its antithesis’, a point Barclay sees as indicating that Judaism remains here ‘an ethnic tradition’ (p. 292), but one which, as he notes elsewhere, proselytes could join so as ‘to acquire in effect a new “ethnicity” in kinship and custom’ (emphasis original). J. M. G. Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora from Alexander to Trajan (323 bce–117 ce) (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996) 408.

79 On this latter point, see Horrell, D. G., ‘“Race”, “Nation”, “People”: Ethnic Identity-Construction in 1 Peter 2.9’, NTS 58 (2012) 123–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar, revised and expanded in D. G. Horrell, Becoming Christian: Essays on 1 Peter and the Making of Christian Identity (LNTS/ECC 394; London/New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013) 133–63.

80 Hence, for example, Barclay (Against Apion, lv with n. 137) expresses caution about Esler's use of Anthony Smith's criteria (cf. n. 21 above) as ‘a template of ethnicity’, insisting that ‘we need to attend carefully to the precise ingredients of the image of “Judeans” … without prior assumptions about what must, or must not, be embraced by this term’. Esler responds that ‘Barclay misunderstands the use of a social-scientific perspective in biblical interpretation’. The criteria used ‘merely raise questions to put to the text, to which it must supply responsive data; they do not prescribe any particular conclusion’ (P. F. Esler, ‘Judean Ethnic Identity in Josephus’ Against Apion’, in A Wandering Galilean: Essays in Honour of Seán Freyne (ed. Z. Rodgers, M. Daly-Denton, A. Fitzpatrick McKinley; Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2009) 73–91, at 76 n. 9). Yet there remains the risk that the use of such a list to categorise a group as ‘ethnic’ (or not) may mean that insufficient attention is paid to the varying ways in which features of identity – ethnic and other – are presented and deployed in different social and discursive contexts: ethnicity, like many other facets of social identity, is a fluid and highly diverse category, often interwoven with other facets of identity, such as religion, culture, language, nationality, and so on. We must attend to each and every distinctive articulation or construction of identity with due consideration for their particularity.

81 The theory of intersectionality is one influential attempt to grasp such interconnections, insofar as they combine to create multiple facets of disadvantage and inequality (especially in the triple combination of race, gender and class). For an overview of this approach and its application to biblical studies, see U. E. Eisen, C. Gerber, A. Standhartinger, ‘Doing Gender – Doing Religion: Zur Frage nach der Intersektionalität in den Bibelwissenschaften. Eine Einleitung’, in Doing Gender – Doing Religion: Fallstudien zur Intersektionalität im frühen Judentum, Christentum und Islam (ed. U. E. Eisen, C. Gerber, A. Standhartinger; WUNT 302; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013) 1–33.

82 Cf. Cornell and Hartman, Ethnicity and Race, 35, quoted above.

83 To take recent instances from my own context: Prime Minister David Cameron insists that freedom and tolerance are core British values (e.g. BBC news, 15 June 2014), while also declaring that Britain is a Christian country (BBC news, 16 April 2014). He has also been explicit about the need for a ‘muscular liberalism’ that shows stronger intolerance of (certain kinds of) intolerance (see, delivered 2011, accessed 30 June 2015). Currently there is the possibility that vocal opposition to those values may itself be criminalised: in proposing new legislation to combat extremism, the British government has apparently defined extremism as ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’ (New York Times, 13 May 2015; available at:, accessed 20 May 2015). Cf. also The Guardian, 13 May 2015 (available at:, accessed 20 May 2015).

84 Hence, for example, the revealing phraseology in Kathy Ehrensperger's exploration of ‘Paul's notion of “united nations in Christ”’ (‘“United Nations” under Rome or in Christ? Paul's Challenge of Cultural Translation’ (Main Paper, British New Testament Conference, University of St Andrews, September 2013), available at:, accessed 16 July 2015). See further K. Ehrensperger, Paul at the Crossroads of Cultures: Theologizing in the Space-Between (LNTS 456; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013), where she develops the idea that Paul's vision – in contrast to that of Rome (esp. pp. 172–3) – is one where ‘[u]nity is not achieved by the eradication of cultural and ethnic distinctions, but by affirming their validity and value in Christ’ (p. 158).

85 ‘The Western world’ is, of course, a loose and highly contestable designation, but most concisely captures my intended focus.

Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Ethnicisation, Marriage and Early Christian Identity: Critical Reflections on 1 Corinthians 7, 1 Peter 3 and Modern New Testament Scholarship*
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Ethnicisation, Marriage and Early Christian Identity: Critical Reflections on 1 Corinthians 7, 1 Peter 3 and Modern New Testament Scholarship*
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Ethnicisation, Marriage and Early Christian Identity: Critical Reflections on 1 Corinthians 7, 1 Peter 3 and Modern New Testament Scholarship*
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *