by Gordon Franz
A Plausible Historical Illustration of 1 Peter 3:1-6
The Apostle Peter wrote his first epistle from Rome about AD 43. In this letter, he admonishes wives to “be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear” (3:1-2, NKJV). He might have had Valeria Messalina, the 18 year old wife of Emperor Claudius, in the back of his mind as an ironic contrast when he penned these verses.
Messalina was born in AD 25 and married her nearly 50 year old uncle Emperor Claudius at the tender age of 14 or 15. She became his third wife and bore him two children, Britannicus and Claudia Octavia. She reigned as empress for about 8 years until her sexual appetite got the best of her. She was caught by her husband in an adulterous relationship with Gaius Silius, the most handsome man in Rome, as well as being involved in a planned coup and was forced to do the honorable thing – commit suicide in AD 48 (Vagi 1:157-158; 2:271-272; Wend 1999:20-23; Rose 1999:48-49).
While in Rome, Peter would have heard some of the gossip circulating around the city about the Imperial family. Among other things, Messalina was a devotee of the Greek goddess Hera (Juno was her Roman counterpart), the goddess and patron of marriage (Motte and Pirenne-Delforge 1996:683; RPC I/1:249).
Yet it seems Messalina would sneak out of the palace after she was sure her husband was fast asleep and work the night shift at a local house of ill-repute (Juvenal, Satire 6:115-132; LCL 93; see also Pliny, Natural History 10:172; LCL 3:401). She also had a reputation of arranging orgies for the upper class women in the palace while Claudius was away (Dio Cassius, Roman History (60) 18:1-2; LCL 7:413). Messalina apparently was anything but a submissive and chaste wife! In fact, in her arrogance, she had no fear of anybody, including the Lord Jesus or her husband the emperor!
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