|« Prev||The First Epistle of St. Peter||Next »|
THE FIRST EPISTLE OF ST. PETER
1 PETER, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 whom God the Father has predestined and chosen, by the consecration of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with his blood: 3 may grace and peace be multiplied to you.
Apostle means a delegate with powers, one who represents the person who has commissioned him. Whether Peter had founded (ver. 12), or even visited, any of these churches, we do not know; he simply addresses them as an apostle of Jesus Christ (never using the term Jesus without adding Christ), perhaps to distinguish his position from that of the Jewish ‘apostles’ who visited Jewish communities in the Dispersion. Similarly he takes over into the Christian vocabulary the technical Jewish phrase exiles of the Dispersion (see ii. 11, v. 9). But on his lips it has a fresh sense and scope. (a) The reassembling of the exiles is to be in heaven, not on earth in Palestine; the thought is eschatological, as in Mark xiii. 27 and in the primitive eucharistic prayers of the Didaché (ix. 4: ‘As this broken bread was scattered upon the hills and collected to become one, so may thy church be collected from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom’; x. 5: ‘Remember thy church, Lord, to deliver her from all evil and perfect her in thy love, and collect her, made pure, from the four winds into thy kingdom which 90thou hast prepared for her’). Then (b) there is no touch of pathos (‘poor exiles’), but an exulting stress upon the privilege of membership in this community which is soon to be admitted to its proper glory and privileges in heaven. These Christians of pagan birth are heirs to all that Jews proudly claimed for themselves from God. (c) Hence the ethical obligation, which is worked out in ii. 11 f., of pure detachment from the vices of the pagan world; those who have such a prospect must not disqualify themselves by careless lives.
This Christian position is further described, after the geographical address (on which see the Introduction), 2 as whom God the Father has predestined and chosen (literally, chosen according to the predestination of God the Father). Christians as the true People of God their Father enjoy the prerogative hitherto monopolized by Jews of being chosen by God (so ii. 9), whose will of love lies behind everything in life, behind their experience as well as behind the vocation of Jesus Christ (ver. 20). In one sense, the consciousness of being thus chosen by the Divine call and choice is what makes them feel exiles. Chosen refers to the Land where they are really at home but from which they are at present distant; exiles refers to the land where they reside at present but. in which they are not at home. The hope of ultimate salvation rests on the consciousness of being predestined and chosen by God the Father, who has taken up their lives into His eternal will and purpose for all time. Such is the basis and hope of Christianity for Peter as for Paul (Romans viii. 28 f.). The means and process of this Christian life is described as by the consecration of the Spirit. Jewish Christians had coined the term hagiasmos to express an idea for which the 91nearest pagan equivalent was hagismos, i.e. the hallowing of the People. Consecration means the stamping and setting apart for God of those who belong to Him. At baptism they were consecrated (1 Corinthians vi. 11) thus by the Spirit. For what differentiates Christians from the world is not any birth-tie with a nation but their possession and control by the Spirit, which marks them off from paganism (iv. 17-18). To belong to God is to obey Jesus Christ (see Matthew xxviii. 19-20), i.e. primarily to believe in Him (so i. 22) and to accept Him as the means of union between the soul and God (i. 21, ii. 25, iii. 18). Hence Peter proceeds to describe the object of Christianity as to obey Jesus Christ. ‘Obey’ is one of the deep words of this epistle; here, as is plain from a passage like ii. 8 or iv. 17, it is practically equivalent to ‘believe.’ To obey Jesus Christ involves moral conduct, but primarily faith. Indeed Peter instantly proceeds to explain the religious and redemptive setting of the term by adding and to be sprinkled with his blood. This is not the thought of 1 John i. 7, the continuous forgiveness needed by those who are trying to obey Jesus Christ. It is an O.T. allusion, familiar to his readers. In Exodus xxiv. 7 f., the story of the ratification of the covenant at Sinai, Moses ‘took the book of the covenant and read it in the audience of the people, and they said, All that the Lord hath spoken will we do, and be obedient.’ He then ‘sprinkled the blood on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you on the basis of these words,’ i.e. their promise of obedience to the laws enacted. Half of the blood of the oxen had been previously sprinkled on the altar, as representing the Lord; the rest is sprinkled then on the people, 92who are thereby bound to God. The blood ratifies the compact or bond between God and the people. Peter’s point is that the new and true People of God owe obedience to Jesus Christ, not to any Jewish Law, as the authority to be followed; or, more precisely, that their entire relation to God depends upon the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. But this belief in the significance of the death is merely mentioned, not elaborated.
The final greeting is couched in archaic terms, borrowed from Enoch (v. 7: ‘to the elect there shall be light and grace and peace’) and Daniel (iv. 1: ‘peace be multiplied to you’). Grace suggests here as often in Paul the admission of pagan converts to the prerogatives and privileges of God’s People; peace carries its full Semitic sense of bliss and well-being, due to the goodwill and free favour of God.
The subject of the homily is faith under suffering; it is addressed to Christians who are undergoing a hard time. But Peter begins upon the note of praise (i. 3-12). ‘Remember first of all how much you have to thank God for. The right perspective for facing trouble. lies in the attitude of grateful thanks to God for His gift of an eternal hope, His sure promises, His purpose for you, and His preservation of you, leading up to the final joy so soon to come; it is a position which the very prophets of old could only anticipate, and which the very angels envy.’ This blessing, which in the original is one long sentence (3-12), has three phases, connected with God the Father (3-5), Jesus Christ (6-9), and the Spirit (10-12)—a trinitarian arrangement already suggested in ver. 2.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a life 93of hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 born to an unscathed, inviolate, unfading inheritance; it is kept in heaven for you, 5 and the power of God protects you by faith till you do inherit the salvation which is all ready to be revealed at the last hour.
Blessed be (the) God was a devout phrase of Jewish religion. Peter, like Paul (2 Corinthians i. 3), expands it as a Christian by adding and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. What God has done through Jesus Christ is the assurance of what He will do for Christians. No need to fear any break or blank in a life which springs from God’s great mercy, i.e. 4 His free, loving choice (ii. 10). By this we have been born anew. Our first birth ends in physical death; this regeneration issues in life eternal, in a life of hope, thanks to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
For Peter, God is the Father of Christians (i. 2, 17) as well as of Jesus, but he does not work out the sonship of Christians as Paul had done, though he recognizes that sonship carries with it an inheritance or patrimony (Galatians iv. 7). Christians owe everything to God; the initiative is with Him. Peter shares this fundamental conviction, that the undeserved, spontaneous favour of God is the beginning of everything in the Christian experience. But he expresses this in new terms; for the first time ‘regeneration’ enters the Christian vocabulary. It was not an O.T. metaphor, but it would be intelligible to Asiatic Christians who knew the mystery-cults, where the hope of the initiates was often for a re-birth to immortality through communion with the deity who had passed through death. One devout initiate thus describes himself: ‘A man, son of A. and born of the mortal womb of 94B. and of human sperm, to-day born again by Thee, one of so many myriads rendered immortal at this hour according to the good pleasure of God in His exceeding goodness.’ This conviction, that there could be no salvation or immortality apart from regeneration, was widely spread. The cults endeavoured to meet this yearning for a new life through fellowship with some divine Saviour, generally some mythical hero-god or personification of a nature-force. What they offered through sacramental rites and ecstatic experiences on the part of the devotees, generally of a more or less crude nature, Christianity offered in its gospel of the risen Christ. Regeneration issues in a life of hope, i.e. (see on ver. 21) hope of life, eternal secured and assured by Jesus Christ the risen Lord, which is further described as an unscathed (a synonym in contemporary Greek for ‘immortal’ or ‘imperishable’), inviolate (unprofaned—see Isaiah xlvii. 6), unfading (see ver. 4) inheritance (such as children receive from their father). In Enoch (xxxix. 9, 10) the prophet exclaims, ‘In these days I praised and extolled the name of the Lord of Spirits with blessings and praises, because He hath destined me for blessing and glory according to the good pleasure of the Lord of Spirits. For long time my eyes regarded that place [the predestined dwelling in heaven] and I blessed Him and praised Him, saying, “Blessed is He, and may He be blessed from the beginning and for evermore.”’ This is the outline filled up in these verses by the Christian prophet, who now adds that this inheritance is all ready in heaven, kept for you from all eternity (such is the force of the perfect participle). The change from us to you is simply the preacher addressing his people; in ver. 8 there is an obvious distinction between Peter and those Christians who had 95never known Jesus on earth, but here he is not dissociating himself from their expectation. 5 Yes, he adds, and (lest you think you may never reach it through all this hardship) the power of God protects you by faith (as you are loyal, v. 6, 10) till you do inherit the salvation (literally, unto the salvation—see Romans i. 16); God stands between you and all that menaces your hopes or threatens your eternal welfare, as you rely on Him; His power works in and for human faith. What is implied in faith is explained later (see vers. 7 and 9, 14, iii. 9, iv. 19, v. 7, 10). Peter meanwhile adds that the salvation (see ver. 9, iv. 18) is the final deliverance which issues in life eternal. So the messiah in Enoch (xlviii. 7) ‘hath preserved the lot of the righteous, because they have hated and despised this world of unrighteousness,’ their lot being called ‘the heritage of faith’ (lviii. 5). On the other hand, the protection of the faithful here is entirely and directly the work of God; Christianity drops the belief of Enoch (c. 5) in guardian angels appointed by God to protect them. The salvation is not merely secure, but soon to come, ready (see on iv. 5) to be revealed at the last hour after the imminent crisis of the judgment and the second Advent (iv. 5-7, 17-18). Revealed always implies something or someone already in existence. At the last hour is a Greek phrase which literally (en kairô eschatô) might mean, ‘when things are at their worst’; classical writers used it thus, but the context of this epistle is too eschatological to permit any sense except a reference to the imminent end (iv. 7).
Such bliss endangered by your present hardships? No, it is reached through them (6-9).
6 You will rejoice then, though for the passing moment you may need to suffer various trials; 7 that is only to prove 96your faith is sterling (far more precious than gold which is perishable and yet is tested by fire), and it redounds to your praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
The contrast is between then (i.e. at the last hour) and now, the passing moment of persecution. Peter speaks elsewhere of a present heroic joy for Christians who bear rough experiences in the right spirit (iv. 13), but here he is thinking of the last day. ‘I promise you, that will be a day of joy, a thrilling moment (ver. 8), when you find your faith ratified and rewarded!’ In Greek the verb rendered You will rejoice is a present with a quasi-future meaning, and most of the early versions understood the word as a future. The apostle’s simple philosophy of suffering is that (a) troubles are merely a temporary episode, (b) they do not last long, for the end (iv. 17, v. 10) is near, (c) some may be spared (may need) the ordeal, and, best of all (d), they are not accidental, but designed to test and attest faith. You may need to suffer various trials. Some of the acutest pangs are caused by uncertainty whether God means anything by allowing trials to befall us; this mental suffering need never trouble you, the apostle pleads. In Samson Agonistes (667–670) the Chorus cry:
‘God of our fathers I what is man,
That thou toward him with hand so various—
Or might I say contrarious?
Temper’st thy providence through his short course?’
No, Peter would reply, ‘You must not say “contrarious.”’ 7 The variety of trials which beset Christians is permitted only to prove something; persecution shows, as nothing else can, whether Christians are loyal to their convictions. Trouble 97is part of your discipline, to show that your faith is sterling, not mere emotion or words. The comparison of discipline to the furnace in which gold metal was tried, to bring out the sound ore, was common in antiquity; Peter’s pagan contemporary Seneca wrote in his treatise De Providentia (5), ignis aurum probat, miseria fortes viros. And it redounds to your own credit, when account is taken of life at the end. Peter speaks later of how the loyalty of Christians redounds to the honour of God (ii. 12, and iv. 11, 16); here, of the praise or moral approbation conveyed in the ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ Glory and honour are eschatological, as in Romans ii. 7, 10. The signal honour paid by God to the loyal comes at the close of their ordeal, when the world-order with its malign attacks upon the faithful is brought to an end at the revelation of Jesus Christ. This revelation of Jesus Christ in glorious authority is never far from the mind of the apostle (see ver. 13, iv. 13, and v. 4); he thinks of it not as the issue and reward of Christ’s own sufferings but rather as the supreme encouragement to his loyalists during the sharp interval, when they have to hold on and hold out till they are relieved (v. 10).
Faith and love for Christ will bring you successfully through the brief, hard interval before the end (8, 9) faith has an outcome.
8 You never knew him, but you love him; for the moment you do not see him, but you believe in him, and you will thrill with an unspeakable and glorious joy 9 to obtain the outcome of your faith jn the salvation of your souls.
The original reading, eidotes, was at an early period confused with idotes; hence the rendering, ‘whom having not 98seen.’ But Peter means, you never knew him in the past, as I did, and yet you love him . . . you believe in him in the present, though for the moment (ver. 6) you do not see him, as one day you will, when he is revealed in the immediate future. In Enoch (xlviii. 6 f., lxii. 7) the messiah is only revealed to the elect through O.T. prophecy. The Christian tie with Christ is infinitely. richer; your heart, if not your eyes, can possess him, Peter claims; the close fellowship of Christians with Christ underlies the thought of passages like ii. 4, 25 and iii. 15. Faith is not a stoical endurance of evil, but a personal affection and devotion to the Lord, and love proves its sterling quality by standing the strain of life in his service. Out of sight but not out of reach: such is Peter’s description of Christ. It is one of the most inward and moving sentences in the epistle. Here, as in ii. 6, Christ is the object of faith, and he never disappoints the personal confidence of Christians. Soon you will thrill (the verb is future in sense, as in ver. 6) with an unspeakable (too deep for words) and glorious joy. In the Greek version of Psalm lxxxvi. 3, ‘glorious things are spoken of thee, O City of God,’ Peter declares that the joy of Christians in heaven will be glorious, but that it cannot be put into words. The promise of joy had been made in Enoch (civ. 4): ‘Be hopeful and cast not away your hope, for you shall have great joy as the angels in heaven.’ 9Peter defines the joy differently; you obtain the outcome (same word as receive in v. 4) of your faith in the salvation of your souls; God will see to it that your faith (ver. 7) does not go for nothing.
In the next sentence (10-12), the certainty and magnificence of this salvation are extolled, on quite original lines.99
10 Even prophets have searched and inquired about that salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was meant for you; 11 the Spirit of messiah within them foretold all the suffering of messiah and his after-glory, and they pondered when or how this was to come; 12 to them it was revealed that they got this intelligence not for themselves but for you, regarding all that has now been disclosed to you by those who preached the gospel to you through the holy Spirit sent from heaven, The very angels long to get a glimpse of this!
How favoured Christians are, when the very prophets of to old anticipated but only anticipated this destiny! Even prophets of old, inspired men who were deeply interested in your religious privileges, could not do more than predict the grace or salvation that was meant for you; they could neither experience it nor understand the hour or method of its realization. This grace includes the thought of God’s goodness in admitting pagan converts to membership in the People (i. 2, ii. 9 f.), so that prophets would mean seers like Isaiah and Hosea whom Paul had interpreted (see Romans ix. 25 f., etc.) as foretelling the admission of pagans to the People by God’s merciful favour. But, as the next words indicate, the apostle’s thought is still wider; he is thinking of Christians in general, not simply telling these pagan converts that their religious position is no after-thought of God, a sudden, new thing, but recalling that the Christian hope of salvation, which depended upon Christ’s suffering and glory (i.e. upon his resurrection, vers. 3, 21), as predestined (i. 2, 20) in the mind of God, had been already the subject of prophecy. Suffering and after-glory 100were essential to the messiah, but under the order of God’s grace Christians also pass through suffering to glory (see, e.g., iv. 13); they share this experience on the way to their salvation. Even Moses, according to one early Christian writer (Hebrews xi. 26), shared the obloquy of the messiah. Much more those who lived after messiah or Christ had come; with him and for him they suffer.
All this the early Christians found freely predicted in the O.T.; such a messianic interpretation of the O.T. was common (see Luke xxiv. 26, 27), especially in interpreting passages like Isaiah liii. and Psalms xvi. 10, 11 (see Acts ii. 25 f. for Peter’s view of this prophecy) and xxii. Jesus had once told his disciples that many prophets had longed to see what they saw and experienced (Matthew xiii. 16, 17 = Luke x. 23, 24); this was to enhance their appreciation of the gospel. In the Fourth Gospel (viii. 56, xii. 41) prophets like Abraham and Isaiah do not long in vain, they actually have visions of the Christ; Isaiah saw his glory, i.e. the glory of the messiah or pre-existent Christ. So Peter here assumes not only that what occupied the minds of these prophets was the salvation to be realized by Christ, 11 but that they were inspired by the Spirit of messiah within them (the Greek term for messiah being christos, the anointed of God, a title which became for Christians the proper name ‘Christ’). This was the current opinion in the early church; ‘the prophets, receiving grace from him, prophesied of him’ (Barnabas v. 6). Peter is in line with others when he declares that the Spirit of messiah foretold (edêlou, as in Hebrews xii. 27; promarturomenon, a word coined by the apostle) the suffering of (literally, meant for) messiah and his after-glory, i.e. not merely what Christ as messiah actually and 101afterwards experienced (1 Corinthians xv. 3, 4, ‘according to the scriptures’), but the messianic woes (Mark xiii. 8 f.) which accompanied the end or last hour (ver. 5), and in which these Christians were now involved as the sharp prelude to their final enjoyment of glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ (ver. 7).
Such engrossing interest in the storms that were to herald the final bliss was characteristic of the apocalyptic prophets particularly (see Daniel ix. 24 f.), and Peter has them specially in mind as he says that they pondered reflectively when or how this consummation was to come (literally, what was to be the time and the character of the time). Would it be soon? What would be the signs of the time? This was not revealed to them—a significant hint, for Peter himself never enters into details about the future in this epistle; he had learned his lesson (Acts i. 7) and is content to be sure that the end is near for Christians, 12 without offering prophetic calculations (iv. 7, v. 6, etc.). All that was revealed to these prophets (to Daniel, for example, in Daniel xii. 6, 7) was that their message was for the far future, not for themselves (though they would fain have shared in the promised consummation of grace), but for you (Peter is speaking from the standpoint of Christians). What the apostle has in view is the apocalyptic confession of Enoch (i. 2), as he predicts the experiences of the righteous on the day of tribulation which inaugurates the final intervention of God; I Enoch ‘saw the vision of the Holy One in the heavens . . . which the angels showed me . . . and I understood it not for this generation but for one afar off.’ The Greek term for ‘understood’ is dienoounto, and Dr. Rendel Harris shows how this could have been changed into the common reading diekonoun by an ordinary palaeographical 102error on the part of a scribe. Originally Peter wrote that the prophets got this intelligence or understood this (i.e. their vision of the coming grace), just as in ver. 13 he tells Christians to make their understanding (mind is the noun from this verb) a power in life, they who understood God’s grace so much better than these prophets of the past.
All this is designed to encourage the readers. The salvation in store for them has been the absorbing theme of inspired prophets in the past; also, they, are better off than the prophets, for (a) experience is higher than anticipation, and (b) even the prophets were limited in their visions; to Christians alone the full truth of God’s grace in Christ has now been disclosed. The preaching of the gospel is through the holy Spirit (as in Heb. ii. 4), who was sent from heaven (an allusion to Acts ii. 1 f., 32-33) to inspire conviction. The Spirit inspired prophets to predict the gospel, and the same Spirit now in the Christian order (sent from heaven) is the dynamic of the gospel mission.
The very angels are interested in this salvation, they long to get a glimpse of it! The verb is used of the four arch-angels in Enoch (ix. 1) looking down upon the wickedness of the earth before the Flood, but the sense here is the same as in John xx. 5 (glance). Peter thus closes the paragraph with a rapid, picturesque touch, alluding to the widespread belief in the early church that the saving purpose of God was a fascinating spectacle for the inhabitants of the celestial world. The background of the allusion is the same as in Ephesians iii. 9, 10.
Two paragraphs follow (i. 13-21, i. 22-ii. 10) on the moral responsibilities of this Christian position, but each ends by 103stressing the spiritual resources that lie behind and below the duties. The first paragraph handles the ethical obligations generally.
13 Brace up your minds, then, keep cool, and put your hope for good and all in the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 Be obedient children, instead of moulding yourselves to the passions that once ruled the days of your ignorance; 15 as He who called you is holy, so you must be holy too in all your conduct—16 for it is written, You shall be holy because I am holy. 17 And as you call upon a Father who judges everyone impartially by what he has done, be reverent in your conduct while you sojourn here below; 18 you know it was not by perishable silver or gold that you were ransomed from the futile traditions of your, past, 19 but by the precious blood of Christ, a lamb unblemished and unstained. 20 He was predestined before the foundation of the world, and has appeared at the end of the ages for your sake; 21 it is by him that you believe in God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory; and thus your faith means hope in God.
Such a prospect should rally you. Brace up your minds, instead of allowing yourselves to become depressed or panic-stricken by the hard times through which you are passing (ver. 6). Brace, literally, is ‘gird up the loins’—a metaphor common in the ancient world, where loose and flowing garments were tucked up and belted, to facilitate action and movement (Luke xii. 35; Ephesians vi. 14). No vague, dreamy thoughts will do, no habit of letting the mind be dominated by appearances, which often contradict the 104Christian hope. Realize the great, sure future before you; your religious position requires mental energy and resolution, in place of any slackness. Otherwise you may become excited and feverish, under the strain. Keep cool (iv. 7, v. 8), your faculties all under control, and thus, with calm conviction, put your hope (for yours is a life of hope, ver. 3) for good and all (as your one resource) in the grace (ver. 10) that is coming to you at the approaching revelation of Jesus Christ (ver. 7). Revelation is always eschatological in this letter (i. 5, v. 1). In some circles (Didaché x. 6) the cry was, ‘Let grace come, and let this world pass away.’ Everything was to be staked upon this future, Peter argued. A man might be a member of several cults and try one mystery-religion after another, to insure his eternal welfare, but Christians must put their hope for good and all (absolutely) in the promise of bliss; Christianity was too great to require to be eked out with other aids.
These words are a bridge between i. 3-12 and the following counsel upon the moral obligations and conditions of the Christian hope. Three serious demands are laid upon the conscience: Christians must resemble God in His nature (14-16), they must fear the last judgment (17), and they 14 must remember the cost of their redemption (18-21). Be obedient (i. 2) children of the God to whom you owe your life (i. 3), instead of moulding yourselves (the word used by Paul in Romans xii. 2) to the passions (ii. 11, iv. 2) that once ruled the days of your ignorance—a term specially applicable to Christians who had been born and bred in the religious ignorance of the true God which was a characteristic of paganism (so Acts xvii. 30; Ephesians iv. 17, 18). The primitive Christians used this language about pagans, as 105Muhammad called the ages before Islam, The Times of Ignorance.
(a) The first motive is put in O.T. language (e.g. Leviticus xix. 2); Christians as God’s people (ii. 10) must be holy like God Himself, as their ancestors (see iii. 5, 6) had been enjoined in the sacred book. Holiness, ‘deepest of all words that defy definition’ (Lord Morley), implies here as elsewhere a renunciation of what is worldly and corrupting, in the strength of some higher conception of God. You shall be holy because I am holy now means for Christians the call to reproduce what is the real nature of God, His goodness, justice, and moral purity. Moral purity of this kind was sought in some of the contemporary cults like Orphism, with which Peter’s readers were familiar; there were contemporary efforts in pagan religion to secure communion with the gods and immortality by means of a holy life. But Peter simply recalls and broadens the O.T. saying, which for his readers had no associations of merely negative and ritual purity. One specific form of this imitation is mentioned later (ii. 21). Here the injunction is general; as He who called you (ii. 9)16 is holy, so you must be holy too.
(b) Further, stand in awe of the judgment of God; Christianity is no sentimental religion of the Father, which encourages presumption and moral carelessness. ‘Il est bien nostre seul et unique protecteur,’ says Montaigne in his essay on prayer (Essais, i. 56), ‘et peult toutes choses á nous ayder: mais encores qu’il daigne nous honnorer de cette doulce alliance paternelle, it est pourtante autant juste, comme il est bon et comme it est puissante.’17 You call upon (invoke) a Father (perhaps a reminiscence of O.T. words like Jeremiah iii. 19 or Psalm lxxxix. 26, but certainly an allusion 106to the Lord’s Prayer) who judges (at the end, iv. 5, 17) everyone impartially (only here in N.T.) by what he has done (not by his pious language or warm emotions). God your Father will take strict, impartial account of your behaviour in His household, while you sojourn (ii. 11) here below. So be reverent (ii. 17), stand in awe of Him; God’s judgment will soon begin with us (iv. 17), and it will be searching, unbiassed, severe.
Finally, (c), remember the cost of your redemption from the futile traditions of your past. ‘Futility’ and ‘ignorance’ were two standing epithets for paganism (see Ephesians iv. 17 and above on ver. 14), ‘futile’ especially for idolatry (Acts xiv. 15, etc.). Their ancestral customs and national traditions were futile, because they led to nothing; such religious and patriotic rites did not avail to bring them near to God (iii. 18), as Christ alone could do and had done. In another sense, of course, they were far from weak; age-long customs acquire a sanctity and binding force, which in the mission-field have always been found an obstacle. Why should we give up our fathers’ religion? The pull of these old habits is referred to in iv. 3, 4. But they were futile because they yielded no sure hope in God, and from them these Asiatic Christians had to be emancipated.
As usual, Peter does not explain how Christ’s sacrifice availed to free men; with some words of Isaiah lii. 3 in his mind, he appeals to the heart of his friends—you know it was not by perishable silver or gold that you were ransomed, but by the precious blood of Christ as a sacrifice, a lamb unblemished and unstained. This may be an allusion to the passover lamb of Exodus xii. 13, sacrificed when the People were emancipated from the slave-pen of Egypt; it implies 107at anyrate that the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice lay in his sinlessness, and that it results in a moral emancipation. To be ransomed was to be set free, and in the world of that day certain forms of manumission were carried out in temples, the formal ceremony concluding with a sacrifice; thus the connexion of slaves’ emancipation with a sacrificial act would be intelligible to these Asiatics.
The fundamental idea in all such references to emancipation as ransom in the N.T. is not from what but for what one is ransomed, not to whom the price was paid (for ransomed is equivalent to bought) but to whom one now belongs. The Ransomer owns those whom he has emancipated at the cost of his own life; remember that, Peter urges—you belong to Another, after what he has done for you (the argument of ii. 24), by a sacrifice which has an eternal value; it is the sacrifice of One who is not merely sinless but outside the perishable, transient order of things. This conception emerges in Hebrews ix. 14, where Christ’s sacrifice is made in the spirit of the eternal. Peter does not develop the idea, 20 but proceeds to describe Christ in his own way as above the order of time and the universe, predestined (he had said this before, in Acts ii. 23) to his vocation as Redeemer before the foundation of the world. In i. 2 (as in Ephesians i. 4) Christians are predestined, but here the conception of a personal pre-existence is extended to the personality of Christ. The history of the world is determined by a redeeming purpose of God from all eternity, a purpose which was inaugurated when Christ appeared (so 1 Timothy iii. 16) at the end of the ages (so 1 Corinthians x. 11, Hebrews i. 2, etc.) for your sake, and which is soon to be completed (ver. 13). This thought of 108Christ’s pre-existence expresses the religious ’sense of his absolute value. It was natural for readers familiar with the book of Enoch and its messianic theology; in Enoch (xlviii.) the messianic Son of man’ was chosen and hidden before God, before the creation of the world, and the wisdom of the Lord of spirits hath revealed him to the holy and righteous; for he hath preserved the lot of the righteous’ (so lxii. 7), i.e. he has been revealed through prophecy and has upheld the faithful, till he becomes visible at the final judgment—a rough outline of what Peter has been saying about Christ.
The appearance of Christ on earth evokes faith, a faith that expects the final intervention before long; it is by him that you believe (‘by the faith he inspires,’ as Peter had already said, Acts iii. 16) in God, the God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory (ver. 11); and thus your faith means hope in God (ver. 3). Faith is determined by revelation, by the character of the God who appeals for it, here by God who raised Jesus from the dead. As the resurrection of Christ is the basis of hope for Christians, their faith becomes confident and hopeful of a similar triumph over death for themselves (the thought of Paul in Romans viii. 11, 13 f.). Thus the paragraph closes as it started, with hope (ver. 13). To Christians of pagan birth their new faith meant hope pre-eminently (see 1 Thessalonians iv. 13, Ephesians ii. 12); in their old religions the outlook upon the state after death had been hopeless; a yearning for the assurance of immortality throbbed in some of the mystery-cults of the age, but, if Peter was conscious of them, he evidently felt that their creeds were not worth mentioning beside the full and clear revelation of hope in Christian faith.109
Only, this hope is not a selfish possession; it involves brotherly love and mutual affection in the members of the community. The general moral obligations of the faith have been already outlined; now, after the slight digression in 19-21, the apostle goes forward to the special obligations of community-life among Christians (i. 22 f.). The first movement of this long paragraph (i. 22-ii. 10) is in i. 22-li. 1.
22 Now that your obedience to the Truth has purified your souls for a brotherly love that is sincere, love one another heartily and steadily. 23 You are born anew of immortal, not of mortal seed, by the living, lasting word of God; 24 for
All flesh is like the grass,
and all its glory like the flower of grass:
the grass withers
and the flower fades,
25 but the word of the Lord lasts for ever—
and that is the word of the gospel for you. So off with all malice, all guile and insincerity and envy and slander of every kind!
Peter had once spoken about God cleansing the hearts 22 of pagans by faith (Acts xv. 9). Here he uses another ritual term (like James iv. 8) in a metaphorical sense; now that (since your baptism—see iii. 21) your obedience (i. 2) to the Truth (instead of futile traditions) has purified your souls (the other side of the holiness mentioned in ver. 15) for a brotherly love (ii. 17)that is sincere, love one another heartily and steadily (not in any formal or perfunctory or casual way not simply when it is easy or when you feel in the mood, but 110persistently and patiently). Sincere is emphatic; the object of the Truth (i.e. the revealed will of the true God, the true Religion—a phrase which came naturally to an apocalypist, as in Daniel viii. 13) is a true affection, devoid of pretence. Paul has twice to give the same warning about Christian love (Romans xii. 9; 2 Corinthians vi. 6), where he uses the same term as here, literally devoid of hypocrisy, hypocrisy meaning ‘playing a part,’ the word rendered insincerity in ii. 1.
There is an apt illustration of the thought and term in Marcus Aurelius (xi. i8), who observes, ‘A friendly disposition is invincible, if it be genuine and not an affected smile or playing a part (hypocrisis).’ Brotherly love or philadelphia was no longer mere affection for one’s blood brothers or even for fellow-members of one’s nation, as Greeks and Jews interpreted it, but the tie which bound Christians to Christians as members of the brotherhood for which Christ had died, though by birth they might belong to different families and nations, the tie that drew them together and made them join hands in a warm, religious fellowship. Such an affection, Peter implies, does not spring up naturally in human nature; it is not a sensuous affection, but flows from the heart (heartily), from souls purified by a spiritual process, otherwise it may become a short-lived impulse or dry up into a formal expression. Even in Christians it requires to be disciplined and trained. This conception recurs elsewhere in the N.T., e.g. in James i. 20 f. (where the royal law of love has to be implanted in the soul), in 1 Timothy i. 5 (‘the aim of the Christian discipline is the love that springs from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and, from a sincere faith’), and in 1 John iv. 7 and v. 1 (where brotherly love is the outcome of love to 111God), above all in John xvii. 17 f. (where the consecration of life by the Truth leads to brotherly unity).
Love must be taken as seriously as hope, Peter means. In Christian circles it is constantly spoiled by spitefulness, self-seeking, censoriousness, fickleness, and formality; vital love of this new and exacting kind grows in a regenerated life, and the practice of it requires a realization of the re-generating power of God. Brotherly love is a moral task, but it is also an endowment. This is the point of the connexion between ver. 22 and what follows. Christian brotherly love, which may be defined as devotion to the ends of God in human personality, comes from the new relation to God in which He has placed us. Peter again, as in 19-21, recalls the roots as he appeals for the fruits of Christian living. 23 Love one another as you are born anew (so i. 3). Born by the Word of the truth, another writer put it (James i. 18); but Peter as usual prefers to use some O.T. lines, quoting Isaiah xl. 6, 7, to prove that God’s word was their vital force in living the Christian life, the seed to which they owed their being. Seed was appropriate, as it meant not only human seed but the seed of plant life. ‘The seed is the word of God,’ said Jesus in his parable (Luke viii. 11) of plant-life; the further idea of a divine word as reproductive in human life was already familiar in the Stoic notion of the Logos spermatikos or seminal reason which pervaded existence, but this Christian application is different. A closer parallel is the use of ‘sown’ as ‘founded ’ in a passage like Enoch lxii. 8 (‘the congregation of the elect and holy shall be sown’), where the founding of the community is due to the revelation of messiah. Here the gospel word of God is the saving revelation of Christ who has appeared 112(ver. 20), 24 and the citation is made in order to contrast the living, lasting word of God with mortal seed which can only 25 produce transient life. You are born of immortal seed, i.e. you owe your being as Christians to the revelation of the living God in Christ incarnate and risen. Such is your regenerate nature, a nature not only of faith and hope but of love, it is implied. Let its instincts have full play. ii. Off with (see Colossians iii. 8) 1 all habits and tempers that thwart brotherly love in your fellowship! The regenerate nature has instincts of love, but it demands a moral effort; old inconsistent ways of life have to be thrown aside (Ephesians iv. 22), all manner of malice (ill-feeling, shown in word or deed), guile (pretence or underhand dealing, but specially deceitful speech—see on ii. 22, iii. 10), insincerity (saying what one does not really mean—a common vice of the religious world, where pious language may be used by those who hide their true feelings; see i. 22), envy (‘almost the only vice which is practicable at all times and in every place,’ Johnson) and slander of every kind; Christians might be guilty of slander as well as exposed to it (ii. 12, iii. 16).
It is not enough to avoid or discard what is inconsistent; a taste for the new life must be developed (2-3, 4-5). Peter then describes again the strong position of Christians in the purpose of God, the honour. of this new life and its responsibilities (6-10).
2 Like newly-born children, thirst for the pure, spiritual milk to make you grow up to salvation. 3 You have had a taste of the kindness of the Lord: 4 come to him then—come to that living Stone which men have rejected and 113God holds choice and precious, come and, 5 like living stones yourselves, be built into a spiritual house, to form a consecrated priesthood for the offering of those spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Like newly-born children (babes at the breast)—either an indication that this part of the homily had been originally addressed to the newly-baptized, or a reminder that, however experienced, they were not beyond the need of simple spiritual nourishment for the regenerate life, that they might grow up to salvation (the other side of i. 5). This is a striking and original expression; the present attitude of Christians is more than mere waiting for the imminent salvation (i. 9), it is an active faith and love for the Lord which here and now brings them into vital contact with him. Thirst for (as the one food you appreciate) the pure (unadulterated) spiritual milk, i.e. for what faith receives from the living Lord. Peter does not contrast milk with solid food, as Paul had done in 1 Corinthians iii. 2 (see Hebrews v. 12 f.); he describes it as spiritual, using, like Paul (in Romans xii. 1), a Greek term, logikon, which in contemporary religious language had acquired this sense. The mistaken idea that there was a play on the resemblance between it and logos (Word) led to the rendering ‘milk of the Word,’ as though Christ were the content of Scripture or the Word. By a quaint custom in the later church the newly-baptized were sometimes given milk and honey as a symbol of their birth into God’s household—a practice for which there was apparently a precedent in the cults; the initiated in some Phrygian rites received milk, to symbolize their new 114birth to life eternal. The prevalence of such rites would lend point to Peter’s figure. But what is in his mind is 3 a reminiscence of Psalm xxxiv. 8: You have had a taste of the kindness of the Lord. Here kindness is the same as goodness in Titus iii. 4. Any mention of the Lord in the O.T. naturally suggested the divine Christ to an early Christian, and this sent Peter off again (as at i. 19) to expatiate upon the vital value of Christ to Christians. The metaphor is abruptly changed, from child-life to architecture, but there is no change in the thought: all depends upon Christians availing themselves of what God has provided in Christ. In the Greek Bible known to Peter and his friends, the fifth verse of the 34th Psalm (‘they looked to him’) was mistranslated ‘Come to him.’ Peter quotes this, and turns to the figure of the Stone and the Building, which he had heard Jesus use (Mark xii. 10, 11) 4and which he had himself already applied to the Lord (Acts iv. 11). Come to him, to that living Stone, which had been flung aside as useless by men like the Jewish authorities; they had, by a tragic miscalculation, rejected the messianic Stone as of no value for the fabric of God’s House, but in the resurrection God had shown his true value for the People, proving him choice and precious.
These words echo another passage, from Isaiah, which he is about to quote. 5 But, before developing this thought, he appeals for a vitally close fellowship with the Lord; come and, like living stones yourselves, be built into a spiritual house (iv. 17). Spiritual is equivalent to ‘not made with hands,’ and there may be an allusion to the Latin vivus in the adjective living, for vivus, when applied to a stone, meant a stone that had not been worked by hand. Hebrew 115thought also associated the building of a house with a family, as in 1 Samuel ii. 35, where to ‘build up a sure house for David’ was to ensure a succession of children; indeed the Targum on Psalm cxviii. 22 reads, ‘the youth which the builders rejected.’ But Peter does not elaborate the figure of the church as a building, as Paul had done; he continues: to form a consecrated priesthood (ver. 9) for the offering of those spiritual sacrifices (thank-offerings, of course, not atoning for sins) that are acceptable (because spiritual) to God through Jesus Christ. A priesthood and sacrifices were the normal features of any ancient religious house; the former is spiritualized as usual to mean the Christian body of members, but Peter does not explain what the sacrifices are; this is done in Romans xii. 1, Philippians ii. 17, iv. 18, and Hebrews xiii. 15, 16: What made sacrifices like praise and beneficence and brotherly love acceptable was that they were inspired and prompted by Jesus Christ. Nothing is said about sacrifice in connexion with the eucharist nor of the martyr’s death as a sacrifice (Martyrdom of Polykarp, xiv.); these lay beyond the horizon of the apostle.
He now comes back to Christ (6-10) as the Stone, before finishing his glowing outline of God’s goodness to Christians.
6 For thus it stands in the scripture:
Here I lay a Stone in Sion,
a choice, a precious cornerstone:
he who believes in him will never be disappointed.
7 Now you believe, you hold him ‘precious,’ but as for the unbelieving—
the very stone the builders rejected
is now the cornerstone,116
8 a stone over which men stumble and a rock of offence; they stumble over it in their disobedience to God’s word. Such is their appointed doom. 9 But you are the elect race, the royal priesthood, the consecrated nation, the People who belong to Him, that you may proclaim the wondrous deeds of Him who has called you from darkness to his wonderful light—10 you who once were no people and now are God’s people, you who once were unpitied and now are pitied.
The scripture is (a) Isaiah xxviii. 16; but two other Stone-passages are in his mind, (b) the 118th Psalm, in ver. 7, and (c) Isaiah viii. 14, in ver. 8. In Luke xx. 17 f. (b) and (c) are fused, in Romans ix. 33 (a) and (c). Probably the references are to some book of proof-texts from the O.T., arranged topically for the sake of convenience. The first passage combines the ideas of Christ’s value and of human faith in him; he never breaks down nor gives way; there is no disappointment in store for the faith of the church that rests upon his divine authority. This is quoted freely from the LXX and without any reference to its original historical 7 meaning; what matters is the conclusion, now you believe, you hold him ‘precious’ (taking God’s view, ver. 4), i.e. you accept Christ as messiah, as the foundation of all your hopes, as the divine revelation upon whom everything depends. But not so all. There are unbelieving people in the world. Men come across Christ; some find and make him the stay and support of life, while others trip over him and collapse. To some he is, as the psalm sings, the cornerstone of their Sion or sanctuary, the foundation-stone at the angle of the building which determines the whole structure; to others he is in their way. 1178And this is the sense of the second Isaiah clause, a stone over which men stumble and a rock of offence. If men to-day, like Ephraim and Judah of old, continue to ignore God’s goodness and strength, He will prove disastrous to them. The figure is not quite clear; the Stone may be thought of as one and the same, the passer-by tripping over the corner-stone of the building which juts out on the road, or two different stones may be in the apostle’s view. But the idea is plain: the presence of Christ in the world elicits faith and unbelief. The belief of Christians is thrown into relief against a background of repudiation on the part of others. These others include Jews, but they are not confined to Jews. Peter does not enter into any explanation of the offence of the cross, as Paul does; we are not told why some do not believe in Christ, but merely that they stumble over the Stone in their fatal (see iv. 17, iii. 1) disobedience to God’s word (i.e. to the gospel message and revelation of Christ). Such (i.e. such a collapse) is their appointed doom, as fixed as the blessed outcome of faith (never disappointed) for Christians. A similar problem is discussed by Paul in Romans ix.-xi., in connexion with the destiny of unbelieving Israel, who have rejected Christ. But Peter is not thinking of Israel specially. He does not mean that a special number of men were predestined to unbelief and doom, for the unbelieving (ver. 7) merely means ‘any who disbelieve.’ On the other hand, he regards unbelief no less than belief as falling under the will of God.
From this stern reminder that the attitude of men towards Christ is critical and decisive, and that the world-order is a grave matter for the disobedient 9(ii. 23), he turns to describe Christians in a mosaic of O.T. phrases drawn from Isaiah, 118Exodus, and Hosea, transferring tlA most honourable predicates of Israel to the Christian church as the true heir of all the divine promises. Some of these predicates had been already combined in Judaism, e.g. in the book of Jubilees (xvi. 18), where it is foretold that Israel should be for the Lord a people who belong to him above all nations, a royal priesthood, and a consecrated nation. The elect race is from Isaiah xliii. 20, the royal or kingly priesthood and the consecrated (i. 2) nation are from Exodus xix. 6; the former phrase is the only allusion to the King or the Kingdom in the epistle, terms which Peter perhaps avoided on account of their liability to be misconstrued (see on iv. 15). The People who belong to Him is a fusion of Exodus xix. 5 and Malachi iii. 17; it refers to the present possession of the church by God as His very own. The object of all this honour and privilege is that you may proclaim (from Isaiah xlii. 12) the wondrous deeds (from Isaiah xliii. 21) of Him who has called you (i. 15) from darkness to his wonderful light. The term rendered wondrous deeds is almost the same in meaning as the triumphs of God in Acts ii. 11; in current Greek it denoted the miraculous or wonderful deeds of a god, for which. he was to be praised, his manifestations of power. Darkness is often the term for the paganism from which converts have been emancipated (see Colossians i. 13, Ephesians v. 8). Christians are the People of God, not that they may exult over the Jews who have been superseded, but that they may exhibit the marvellous goodness of God and by their dutiful life (see, e.g., ii. 12) answer His purposes in the world. This is really the climax of the passage: Such is your destiny. 10But Peter, like Paul (Romans ix. 25), 119remembers some apt words from Hosea (ii. 3, 25), which he too transfers boldly to pagan converts. Pitied echoes God’s great mercy in i. 3.
The transference of the religious consciousness from the city or state to a religious society had been already initiated in cults like those of Isis and Mithras, which were international or rather non-national in scope. For this and other reasons they were suspected by the Romans, either as immoral (which was sometimes true, of Isis at anyrate) or as harbouring anti-social and unpatriotic tendencies. Both criticisms were levelled against Christianity as one of these new Oriental fellowships, and both now engage the attention of the apostle, who issues a series of counsels (ii. 11-iii. 12) on the practical duty of proclaiming the wondrous deeds of their God, counsels which close with a renewed emphasis upon (iv. 8 f.) the brotherly love which had been already urged in i. 22-ii. 2. The first is an admonition (11–12) on how the consecrated nation (ver. 9) was to behave in the midst of a pagan society saturated with vice and hostile to the Christian faith.
11 Beloved, as sojourners and exiles I appeal to you to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war upon the soul. 12 Conduct yourselves properly before pagans; so that for all their slander of you as bad characters, they may come to glorify God when you are put upon your trial, by what they see of your good deeds.
The first time Peter speaks in his own person, he affectionately calls his readers beloved (see iv. 12). What was once said of the Jewish nation is now said of the Christian church; they are appealed to as sojourners and exiles on earth (the 120thought of i. 1 and 17) whose real interests are elsewhere. The classical expression of this other-worldly consciousness occurs in the Epistle to Diognetus (v.): ‘they live in their own countries, but as sojourners . . . every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign.’ Christians are citizens of Heaven, and here only for a time. All the more reason, therefore, to hold aloof from their surroundings. Abstain from the passions (iv. 2-4) of the flesh that wage war upon (James iv. 1) the soul(the self, the true personality). Both metaphors are combined in Marcus Aurelius, ii. 17: ‘Life is a warfare and a foreign sojourn.’ And the call to abjure such passions was common in Greek ethics, e.g. Plato, Phaedo, 83: ‘the soul of the true philosopher abstains as far as possible from pleasures and passions.’
One good of this moral discipline is that it forms an effective 12 reply to the pagan slander of Christians as bad characters (so iv. 15). Among the nuisances and abuses punished during Nero’s reign, at Rome, was the religion of ‘Christians,’ says Suetonius (Life of Nero, xvi.), ‘a class of men belonging to a new and mischievous superstition’ (where the Latin term maleficus rendered ‘mischievous’ answers to the Greek term kakopoios used here by Peter). It is a vague term to express the ordinary pagan antipathy to Christians as a pest to society. Live down these hateful slanders and insinuations; says Peter (so in iii. 16), by behaving yourselves properly, i.e. leading an honest, upright life (Hebrews xiii. 18—similar phrase), so that your accusers may come to glorify God, i.e. to own your God, who inspires such innocent, moral lives, by what they see (iii. 2) of your good works. This refers to the scrutiny at a Roman cognitio or preliminary cross-examination of accused persons, which the 121magistrate held, when the charges were considered and evidence sought for the case. The apostle confidently hopes that the charges will break down, perhaps even that the accusers will be converted (if this be the meaning of glorify God, as in Matthew v. 16). When you are put upon your trial is literally ‘on the [a] day of visitation,’ a phrase used in Isaiah x. 3 of God visiting men in judgment. But Peter uses it for his own purpose, to mean not God’s trial of them (i.e. some crisis which will open their eyes to your innocence), but their trial of you as supposed wrongdoers, when they inspect your record or investigate your conduct.
13 Submit for the Lord’s sake to any human authority; submit to the emperor as supreme, 14 and to governors as deputed by him for the punishment of wrongdoers and the encouragement of honest people—15 for it is the will of God that by your honest lives you should silence the ignorant charges of foolish persons. 16 Live like free men, only do not make your freedom a pretext for misconduct; live like servants of God. 17 Do honour to all, love the brotherhood, reverence God, honour the emperor.
In vindicating Christian freedom against the Law, Paul had to issue a similar warning against antinomian excesses (Galatians v. 13); the freedom of Christians was not self-indulgence or any escape from moral restraints. But Peter never mentions the Law. His readers had no such problem. The experience of Christian freedom was a temptation to them, but in a different direction. Their danger was to 122become restive and insubordinate, as though the civil and social order of things had no claim upon them, particularly as it often interfered wantonly with their religion. They belonged to God’s People; they owned allegiance to Him alone; they were soon to be released from the present, distressful order of things on earth. Why should they pay respect to pagan institutions? Evidently anarchical and radical tendencies were abroad, fostered by the very consciousness of Christian liberty and hope. In a province like Asia, specially sensitive to loyalty, and with a government intensely suspicious of any secret movements which might cloak political sedition under religious pretexts, such high-flying notions would be compromising and dangerous, Peter felt. Hence, like Paul (Romans xiii. 1), he bids his readers submit for the Lord’s sake (either because Jesus told you so, when he said, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,’ or out of loyalty to him, not to bring discredit upon him) to any human authority (ktisis in the modern sense of ‘foundation’ or institution), i.e. not simply because you have to, but for a religious reason; no spiritual independence absolves you from obedience to the authorities of the State, whose 14 functions are to maintain the moral order of society. Submit to the emperor (basileus, the Caesar’s title among Greeks and Orientals) as supreme, and to your provincial (Mark xiii. 9) governors, subordinate officials deputed by him for the punishment of real wrongdoers (same word as ‘bad characters’ above) and the encouragement of honest people, i.e. of law-abiding, good citizens, who were frequently rewarded with crowns, statues, and inscriptions in their honour, by a grateful community. Submit, instead of being resentful and rebellious when you are charged with being wrongdoers. Never give 12315your pagan neighbours a handle for their calumnies. For it is the will of God (iii. 17) that by your honest lives (politically and morally blameless) you should silence the ignorant charges (made in disgraceful ignorance) of foolish persons. The pagan ignorance of Christianity was vocal; it expressed itself in calumnies and prejudiced criticism, as, for example, in the insinuation that the Christian kingdom (Acts xvi. 21 f., xvii. 7) was a revolutionary movement. There is a touch of righteous indignation in Peter’s description of these senseless critics. Also a very optimistic hope in the idea that such popular outcries will be silenced by the mere example of Christian good behaviour. The next two centuries dissipated this expectation; the friction between State and Church proved to be much more serious than the apostle at this period imagined. But his wise concern is to check any compromising outburst of insubordination on the part of the Asiatic Christians. 16 Live like free men . . . like servants (literally, slaves) of God (a fine oxymoron, see 1 Corinthians vii. 22), who requires you to obey the authorities (ver. 13). Do not make your freedom a pretext (literally, a cloak) for misconduct—the warning of a wise leader who knows how fanatical tendencies need to be disciplined. Religious freedom (i. 18) must never be made an excuse for moral or social anarchy.
What Christians are really free and bound to do is now put in four terse clauses. Do honour to all, not only to the authorities by loyalty and paying taxes, etc., but to all men; human nature is dishonoured by being treated as material for one’s own advantage (the temptation of the strong), or by being flattered (the temptation of the weaker), or by any cynical temper. Peter takes it for granted that 124those to be honoured deserve honour, owing to their position or their character and capacities. He had himself once learned a lesson on this subject (Acts xi. 9). Love the brotherhood (v. 9, only here in N.T., a Jewish-Greek term taken over to describe the brotherly union of Christians), is already in i. 22. The words of the next two clauses are partly taken from the Greek version of Proverbs xxiv. 22, ‘reverence God and the king,’ but Peter inserts honour before the emperor, thus closing the paragraph on the note on which he opened it (ver. 13). Awe or reverence is for God alone. The honour is done by obedience. To reverence God is the duty of His servants, and it is not incompatible with loyalty to the head of the State. Where Christians afterwards felt the strain between the two was over the claim of the State to enforce the worship of the emperor as an official proof of loyalty, which led to the situation reflected in the book of Revelation. But as yet things had not gone so far in Asia.
All Christians were servants or slaves of God. But some were literally slaves, who were specially tempted to be restive. Peter now turns to them (vers. 18-25), calling them to be patient under bad treatment and to give no offence, after the example of Christ.
18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with perfect respect, not simply to those who are kind and reasonable but to the surly as well—19 for it is a merit when from a sense of God one bears the pain of unjust suffering. 20 Where is the credit in standing punishment for having done wrong? No, if you stand suffering for having done right, that is what God counts a merit. 21 It is your vocation; for when 125Christ suffered for you, he left you an example, and you must follow his footsteps.
22 He committed no sin,
no guile was ever found upon his lips;
23 he was reviled and made no retort,
he suffered and never threatened,
but left everything to Him who judges justly; 24 he bore our sins in his own body on the gibbet, that we might break with sin and live for righteousness; and by his wounds you have been healed. 25 You were astray like sheep, but you have come back now to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
Peter thinks it possible that pagan husbands may be won over by Christian wives (iii. 1), but he does not contemplate the possibility of Christian servants converting their masters. All he asks is that they be submissive, even under intolerable treatment, with perfect respect (no disrespectful behaviour in any circumstances), even to masters who were not reasonable (i.e. considerate, unwilling to be tyrannical). The term surly means difficult to deal with, harsh. Domestic slaves, such as Peter is specially addressing, were at the mercy of their masters; they had no protection against bad temper or injustice, for they had no rights. As the law did not recognize them as persons, they had no means of redress under the existing conditions of social life. The master could whip his slave, or brand him, if he stole, if he tried to escape; in the last resort, he could crucify him. Such severity sometimes led pagan slaves to rebel, and, short of that, to be impertinent or to retaliate by pilfering (Titus ii. 10). No wonder if Christian slaves were also tempted to 126resent the degrading duties thrust upon them by some masters, or to be refractory under unfair treatment, as they reflected that they were equal to their masters in the sight of God. Sometimes they were better educated than their masters. For house-stewards (see iv. 10), librarians, and physicians in a large private establishment could be slaves as well as the cooks and porters and personal attendants. When they became Christians, their new sense of personality might intoxicate them, till they forgot to be respectful, when the master proved violent and overbearing.
But if you cannot please these unreasonable masters, you can please your God by bearing the pain of unjust suffering; 19 that is a merit, it counts with God, wins His approval. The phrase from a sense of God is unexampled in the N.T.; it means that one is supported by a steady consciousness of God (as for the Lord’s sake, ver. 13), perhaps by the feeling that God calls the servant to this trial (ver. 21). The term for standing punishment includes the narrower sense of being buffeted (A.V.), for a sharp blow was the common punishment of a slave who fell under his master’s displeasure; but the range of penalties was wider than whipping or flogging. 20 Where is the credit (only here in N.T.) in bending to punishment when you deserve it? Peter means, the credit with God. What God counts a merit (Luke vi. 32) is the patient endurance of suffering that you do not deserve. This 21 indeed is your vocation (iii. 9), for Christ calls you to follow his footsteps, i.e. (me aemulari, mein instare vestigiis, Pliny’s Epp., vi. 11) the example he left you of enduring unmerited pain without resenting it or retaliating. When Christ suffered for you, his sufferings were redemptive and more (i. 18, 19); they set you an example. This is a proof 127of the honour done by Christianity to the slave-class; Christ was actually held up to them as a pattern! Never had such conduct been expected from slaves in the ancient world. 22 His innocence is described in words freely quoted from Isaiah liii. 9 (the famous passage which was taken in the early church as a prediction of Christ); guile was particularly applicable to slaves in the empire, where glib, deceitful speech was one of their notorious characteristics, adroit evasions and excuses being often their sole means of self-protection. But no quotation was needed to describe the bearing of Jesus during his trial; Peter remembered well what he had seen; he could not forget (see v. 1) that the execution of 23 Jesus was a piece of human injustice, that it had been preceded by insults, and that the Lord had neither resisted nor resented the outrageous, cruel treatment he had received from the lips and hands of those who had him in their power. He suffered and never threatened vengeance upon his tormentors, but left everything to Him who judges justly (whatever the Jewish priests and the Roman judge might do in their unjust procedure). So must you, Peter implies, hinting (as in Ephesians vi. 9) that unjust masters will yet be called to account by God.
But the parallelism does not hold his mind. He does not suggest that Christian slaves by their patience under suffering vicariously atone for the sins of those who oppress them. Instinctively he returns to the thought, Christ suffered for you (iii. 21), recalling again the Isaiah-prophecy; he himself 24 (the word is emphatic) bore our sins in his own body on the gibbet (the slave’s punishment—a favourite word of Peter for the cross, to mark the shame of it, e.g. Acts v. 30, x. 39). He bore the consequences of our sins. How, Peter does not 128explain. It is the inimitable element in the sufferings of Christ, interpreted again from the O.T.: he went up to the cross to suffer there the penalty for our sins, not for his own. This, illustrated in various ways from the O.T. (e.g. i. 2 and 19), was the central truth in Christianity. Indeed for the moment Peter includes all Christians in what he says—he bore our sins that we might break with [die to] sin and live for righteousness (a collective term for the life that answers to the will of God). It is not the method but the object of the atoning death which interests him here as in i. 19. The language echoes that of Romans vi. 2, 11, 18, but there is nothing corresponding to Paul’s deep thought of dying and rising again with Christ; this was as far from the mind of Peter as was Paul’s conception of the church as the Body of Christ.
The apostle then turns back to the slaves; and by his wounds (literally, the weals or scars left by the lash) you have been healed (from Isaiah liii. 12), put into a position in which you can live, now that sin has been dealt with. The same thought is then put in another form; you have Christ to care for you, in this trying life of obedience, for while 25 you were astray like sheep (the last three words are a reminiscence of Isaiah lii. 6) once, you have come back now (like other pagan converts, 1 Thessalonians i. 9, Acts xi. 21) to the Shepherd (v. 4) and Guardian of your souls. Guardian or overseer, one who exercises oversight and protection, is literally “bishop”; Christ is the only bishop known to Peter and his churches. Christ had died for them; Christ had left them an example; and, best of all, Christ was living to make himself responsible for them as they tried to follow him in their own way and trusted themselves to his charge and care.129
From slaves Peter turns to wives and their duties (1-6) in the home. Women in the churches he addressed had evidently no need of being counselled about behaviour in church, as some of the Corinthian matrons had (1 Corinthians xiv. 33-35.
1 In the same way, you wives must be submissive to your I husbands, so that even those who will not believe the Word may be won over without a word by the behaviour of their wives, 2 when they see how chaste and reverent you are. 3 You are not to adorn yourselves on the outside with braids of hair and ornaments of gold and changes of dress, 4 but inside, in the heart, with the immortal beauty of a gentle and modest spirit, which in the sight of God is of rare value. 5 It was in this way long ago that the holy women who hoped in God adorned themselves. They were submissive to their husbands. 6 Thus Sara obeyed Abraham by calling him ‘lord.’ And you are daughters of Sara if you do what is right and yield to no panic.
The new Christian freedom was apt to make some married women restive as well as slaves, especially when their husbands were pagans. Mixed marriages started an acute problem in the early church. A Christian wife found herself in serious difficulties, domestic and social, when her religion ran across the pagan customs of her position as a married woman. Tertullian, a century and a half later, wrote vividly on these problems, but already they were being felt in Asia Minor, as they had been in Corinth (1 Corinthians vii. 10-16). And even when a husband was Christian, the wife was tempted 130to be self-assertive as she felt for the first time how her religion invested her with fresh rights as a personality.
Peter’s first word is that a similar (in the same way, as ii. 13, 18) duty of submissiveness lies upon Christian wives, though he does not give the reason of Ephesians v. 22 f. He thinks mainly of Christian women married to pagan husbands (Acts xvi. 1, xvii. 4) who will not believe the Word (ii. 8), i.e. the Gospel message. Be submissive; not simply to keep their affections, but that they may be won over (the thought of 1 Corinthians vii. 16, and the very word used in 1 Corinthians ix. 19 and Matthew xviii. 15) without a word. Your uppermost thought should be their conversion, and this will not be managed by talking. at them or even to them; quiet submissiveness to marital authority will do 2 more than nagging or indeed than any argument, when they see (ii. 12) how chaste and reverent you are. Chaste because reverent; en phobô here means reverence towards God (i. 17, ii. 17), not (as in ii. 18) respectfulness and deference.
The spectacle of chastity must also include gentle modesty (3-4), evinced in dress. This is the first sumptuary counsel in Christianity. Tertullian afterwards elaborated it into a puritanic protest, in his tract on The Dress of Women, against wives taking any care of their persons, which, he argued, simply pandered to lust; such attention to one’s person drew the eyes and sighs of young fellows in the street, whereas husbands wanted chastity alone in their wives! Tertullian was denouncing fashionable ladies in the Carthaginian church. Peter is also addressing ladies of wealth and position in this fine word upon the real attractiveness of womanhood, with its emphasis upon character, and its protest against showy luxury. He and his readers knew the tradition 131about the origin of such luxuries, the religious tale voiced in the Jewish piety of the book of Enoch (viii.) and elsewhere, that the fallen angels of Genesis vi. were responsible for introducing them on earth; these corrupt spirits (of whom he is to speak later, in iii. 19, 20) seduced women by revealing the knack of manufacturing ‘bracelets and ornaments,’ jewels and cosmetics. Even apart from such sinister associations of luxury in religious tradition, Greek and Roman ethic often frowned upon these meretricious ornaments as pandering to immorality. Probably the provinces followed the capital in fashions. 3 The Roman ladies wore no hats, but there was an elaborate cult of hairdressing with jewelled combs and golden fillets (braids of hair and ornaments of gold), and lavish expenditure on dress, among women of means.
Peter’s word anticipates some warnings by pagan moralists in the next century. Thus Plutarch (Conjug. Praecept. 26, 48) explains that for a woman to adorn (ho kosmos, the very word used here) herself with gold or pearls does not really beautify her; the real beauty of the sex lies in whatever invests them with seriousness and decorum and modesty. He also makes a point, by the way, which Peter misses, viz. that a husband must not expect his wife to avoid pretentious extravagance if she sees that he is addicted to it himself; ‘you cannot banish extravagance from the women’s quarter, when it is unchecked among the men’ (e.g. in decorating the harness of their horses). Lucian stresses beauty of character in women instead of outward adornment (Imagines, 11) with similar arguments, and there are other proofs that ethnic critics of social morality were alive to what Peter here urges on religious grounds. The apostle’s thought is that such moral beauty never wears out, being immortal (a characteristic touch, absent 132from 1 Timothy ii. 9), that simplicity is part and parcel of chastity, so far as husbands are concerned, and that 4 Christian wives owe it to God (in the sight of God) to think more of their personalities than of external adornments to their persons. By a gentle and modest spirit he means a spirit that is not self-assertive and aggressive, that will not flaunt even its religious opinions; to be modest in this sense is to be free not only from indelicacy but from fussiness and complacency.
Augustine’s mother Monica is an apt example of what is intended here. We are told in her son’s Confessions (ix.) how she endeavoured, and not without success, to win over a pagan husband to God, ‘preaching Thee to him by her character, whereby Thou didst make her beautiful to her husband, reverently loveable and wonderful.’
Peter now (5, 6) urges the example of O.T. women like Sara, holy women, i.e. women who belonged to the Chosen People of God. All Christian women are now by their faith daughters of Sara, though they had been born in paganism. The O.T. tells us nothing of the dress of such women, who probably wore the usual Oriental jewels and robes. But the apostle is thinking of the beautiful submissiveness shown by these women who hoped in God (i. 21), as an expression of their religion, particularly of Sara’s. In the tale of 6 Genesis xviii. 12 she was reported to have obeyed Abraham by calling him ‘lord.’ The instance sounds to us casual, but Jewish tradition attached high importance to it as a proof of piety; as such it is cited here, the more aptly as in Greek law the husband was the lord (kurios) of the wife. The Roman Pliny (Epp., viii. 5) has no finer praise for a friend’s dead wife than to declare that ‘for thirty-nine years he lived with her, 133without any quarrel or disagreement. What respectful deference she showed to her husband, though she herself deserved the greatest deference!’
And you are true (Isaiah li. 2) daughters of Sara if you do what is right (iv. 19, a general term here for a chaste, submissive, married life) and (even when your religious principles expose you to risk) yield to no panic or alarm. The last phrase is a reminiscence of Proverbs iii. 15, but the idea is entirely different; keep calm and courageous, even when a pagan husband threatens you with violence if you disobey his orders, e.g. perhaps to throw out a female infant (as by law he had the right to do), or to gratify his passions immodestly, or to give up some religious conviction. A hint of the limits to passive obedience on the part of a Christian wife, but only a hint! Peter is laying down general principles for wives as for slaves. He does not enter into the question of what a wife’s duty should be in cases where a pagan husband went too far. Plutarch, in the tract already cited (xix.), declared that a married woman ought to have no friends except her husband’s friends, and that as the chief friends were the gods, ‘a wife should reverence and acknowledge the gods owned by her husband. Her street-door should be kept shut against novel forms of worship and foreign superstitions.’ This Peter would not have admitted. One lady (the story is told in the Second Apology of Justin Martyr) was obliged eventually to divorce her pagan husband for gross and repeated licentiousness; whereupon he gave information to the authorities and had her arrested as a Christian. This is the kind of threat which we can read between the lines of Peter’s final word to Christian wives who had pagan husbands.
7 In the same way you husbands must be considerate in living with your wives, since they are the weaker sex; you must honour them as heirs equally with yourselves of the grace of Life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
Considerate, in the light of 1 Thessalonians iv. 3-5 and 1 Corinthians vii. 3-5, includes a reference to sexual rights. Peter brings three motives to bear upon Christian husbands. (a) Women are the weaker sex, deserving courtesy and chivalrous consideration. The term skeuos, here rendered ‘sex,’ literally means vessel or instrument (a wife in 1 Thessalonians iv. 4). (b) The tie is deeper than mere marital intercourse; husband and wife in marriage have equal religious privileges. You must honour them (a special case of ii. 17) as heirs equally with yourselves of the grace of Life, God’s grace consisting of the Christian life, the only life worthy of the name. Finally (c), so that your prayers may not be hindered (literally ‘blocked’—a military metaphor). Paul mentions how marital intercourse might be interrupted on occasion for the sake of prayer (1 Corinthians vii. 5). Peter twice mentions prayer, and in both passages notes the need of its conditions; in iv. 7 the need of a collected mind, here perhaps specially the need of courtesy and kindness on the part of husbands. God will not hear prayers from a home where the man bullies and overbears the woman. The reference is not to prayers in church (1 Timothy ii. 8), but to home prayers; it is assumed that both man and woman pray, and pray together. The previous words tell 135against the idea that the prayers are those of a Christian husband for the conversion of his pagan wife, prayers that naturally would be frustrated if they rose from a home where he did not treat her kindly.
‘Platon en ses loix,’ says Montaigne (Essais, i. 56), ‘faict trois sortes d’iniurieuse creance des dieux: Qu’il n’y en aye point; Qu’ils ne se meslent point de nos affaires [the point met by Peter in v. 7]; Qu’ils ne refusent rien à nos vœux, offrandes et sacrifices.’ On the third error he adds, ‘il fault avoir l’ame nette, au moins en ce moment auquel nous le prions, et deschargee de passions vicieuses.’ Peter would not have limited the demand, however, to, ‘ce moment auquel nous le prions.’ In view of the later tendency in some circles of the church to regard the married life as incompatible with true Christianity, it is important to note that Peter’s ethic is free from such ascetic aberration; he teaches that the ordinary relations of husband and wife may be and ought to be regulated for the highest ends of the Christian religion.
Peter has nothing to say about children and their parents, any more than about the duties of masters to their slaves. He passes forward to offer counsel to the whole body of Christians (iii. 8-iv. 6), beginning with a general word (8-i2) which opens out into advice about their bearing under trouble.
8 Lastly, you must all be united, you must have sympathy, 8 brotherly love, compassion, and humility, 9 never paying back evil for evil, never reviling when you are reviled, but on the contrary blessing. For this is your vocation, to bless and to inherit blessing;136
10 he who would love Life
and enjoy good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking guile
11 let him shun wrong and do right,
let him seek peace and make peace his aim.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the upright,
and his ears are open to their cry;
but the face of the Lord is set against wrongdoers.
Lastly (the phrase only here in N.T.), you must all be united. The Greek word for united (only here in the N.T.) is explained by the use in Homer’s Iliad (xxii. 260 f.): ‘wolves and sheep cannot have a united mind, but are constantly thinking evil against one another’; to be united is to be harmonious—no falling out among yourselves—you must have sympathy (only here in N.T.), fellow-feeling, brotherly love (i. 22), compassion (same word as ‘tenderhearted’ in Ephesians iv. 32), and humility (adjective only here in N.T.; see on v. 5). How needful was this appeal, for communities with such differences of social position among their members! Domestic slaves and noble ladies, for example, summoned to mutual consideration !
Then comes, as in Romans xii. 17, after the call for humility, a prohibition of retaliation which is an echo of Matthew v. 44; 9 never paying back evil for evil, never reviling when you are reviled, but on the contrary blessing (‘Bless those who curse you,’ Luke vi. 28; ‘being reviled, we bless,’ 1 Corinthians iv. 12). The thought already is including the relation of Christians to the outside world and its hostile atmosphere. For this is your vocation (so ii. 21), thus to bless and so to 137inherit blessing from your God, who only hears the prayers and undertakes the protection of those who live His life (see above, on ver. 7).
Then follows (10-12) a free quotation from Psalm xxxiv. 12-16, a psalm which he has already quoted (in ii. 3); he takes Life, not as earthly life (in the psalmist’s sense), but in the deeper sense of ver. 7, and purposely omits the closing line (‘to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth’). The last line of his citation echoes the thought of ii. 23, and it starts the next counsel on the attitude of Christians towards their enemies in the outside world (vers. 13 f.).
13 Yet who will wrong you if you have a passion for goodness? 14 Even supposing you have to suffer for the sake of what is right, still you are blessed. Have no fear of their threats, do not let that trouble you, 15 but reverence Christ as Lord in your own hearts.
Wrongdoers? Yet who will (who is likely to) wrong you if you have a passion (a strong term, rendered ‘a zest’ in Titus ii. 14) for goodness? An optimistic comfort! He at once qualifies this naïve idea by adding, 14 Even supposing you do have to suffer for the sake of what is right (as Jesus foretold, Matthew v. 10), still you are blessed by God (ver. 12). He thus comes nearer to the realities of life. ‘You are certain of God’s blessing as you maintain your inward reverence and homage for Christ as your Lord, instead of allowing yourselves to be intimidated into apostasy.’ He clinches the argument by using O.T. words (from the Greek version of Isaiah viii. 12, 13) which originally meant that Isaiah’s pious followers were to have no fear such as the other panic-stricken Jews felt in the crisis of the Syrian invasion. 138Peter had already quoted (ii. 8) from this chapter. Here he takes the words as ‘do not be afraid of your persecutors’ threats’; do not let that trouble you. Your one concern 15 is to be loyal to your Lord, as the pious Jews once had to be loyal to their God.
This is the negative side of their attitude towards pagan oppressors. But occasionally a more positive attitude is demanded (15-16).
15 Always be ready with a reply for anyone who calls you to account for the hope you cherish, but answer gently and with a sense of reverence; 16 see that you have a clean conscience, so that, for all their slander of you, these libellers of your good Christian behaviour may be ashamed.
Fearlessness does not mean contemptuous indifference to pagans, however; when you are questioned informally or interrogated by a magistrate, after arrest, always be ready with a reply. Be ready to explain and discuss your religion, not merely to reverence Christ as Lord in your own hearts, but to tell others what he means to you. The new outlook upon death and immortality often excited curiosity and keen interest in those who first heard of the Christian religion, but the hope you cherish is probably no more than a synonym for Christianity (see ver. 5). Particularly when they were ridiculed about the resurrection or called to account in court (ii. 12), there was a risk of replying arrogantly and scornfully. Hence Peter bids them not only take every chance of clearing away misconceptions of the faith, but also to do this gently (no indignation, no supercilious temper) and with a sense of reverence (towards God—as i. 17, iii. 2); to bear testimony 139before men tactfully and wisely requires a sense of serious responsibility to God.
To these two conditions of an effective reply, freedom from any lecturing tone and a deep consciousness of God’s presence, the apostle now, adds a third, 16 viz. that Christians must be conscious of their own innocence (the thought of ii. 12, and the phrase of iii. 21); any misconduct or inconsistent behaviour (i. 15, 16) would spoil their reply. The charges which they had to meet were obviously against alleged immoral conduct on the part of Christians. Christian is literally ‘in Christ,’ a phrase coined by Paul and used by him in a special and mystical sense. Peter hopes for some good result of such testimony; it may make an impression upon the pagan authorities; if they are not actually converted (ii. 12), they may at least be ashamed of their base and baseless misrepresentations.
Now, resuming the thought of ver. 14, he shows how the sufferings of Christians resemble those of Christ himself, as in ii. 21 f., where also the thought of Christ’s example passes at once over into the larger thought of the redemptive efficacy of his sufferings.
17 For it is better to suffer for doing right (if that should be the will of God) than for doing wrong. 18 Christ himself died for sins, once for all, a just man for unjust men, that he might bring us near to God; in the flesh he was put to death but he came to life in the Spirit.
God’s will is personified here, like His patience in ver. 20. Suppose you are punished or ill-treated unfairly? At anyrate it is not arbitrary or accidental, but the will of God for you as once it was for Christ himself. 18 He had to suffer death 140itself to overcome the obstacle of the sins that separated us from the presence of God (the other side of ii. 25). Peter had already spoken of Christ as ‘The Just One’ (Acts iii. 14), a messianic title first current in Enoch (see xxxviii. 2), and this lies behind the phrase a just man for unjust men. But how could he secure this free access to God, if he died? The answer is (as in 2 Corinthians xiii. 4) that he came to life in the Spirit as a ‘Christ of power.’
From the turn of thought here, as at ii. 21 f., we might again expect that Peter would proceed to show how Christians can vicariously suffer for others, as Christ did, by patient endurance of an unjust death. But he never does. He goes on to indicate that their suffering has a beneficial result upon themselves (iv. 1 f.). Before passing to this, however, the mention of the Spirit and the resurrection leads him into an aside upon baptism as the manifestation of Christ’s risen power in the Spirit (19-22). Only as baptized persons can Christians be nerved to lead a clean life in the flesh, with the suffering which it may entail. What takes place in the flesh, in the present bodily sphere, is explained by what takes place in the sphere of the Spirit.
19 It was in the Spirit that Enoch also went and preached to the imprisoned spirits 20 who had disobeyed at the time when God’s patience held out during the construction of the ark in the days of Noah the ark by which only a few souls, eight in all, were brought safely through the water. 21 Baptism, the counterpart of that, saves you to-day (not the mere washing of dirt from the flesh but the prayer for a clean conscience before God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ who is at God’s 141right hand—22 for he went to heaven after angels, authorities, and powers celestial had been made subject to him.
You remember, says, Peter, how it was in the Spirit (i.e. after his translation to heaven) that Enoch went down on his famous mission to the imprisoned spirits. One tradition placed this commission during Enoch’s lifetime; ‘Enoch, though a man, acted as God’s envoy to the angels, and was translated,’ says Irenaeus (iv. 16, 2). Peter seems to follow the other tradition (so Enoch xii. 1), which gave Enoch the honour of being commissioned by God to go down from heaven to announce a sentence of final doom to the rebellious angels who had (Genesis vi. 1-7) demoralized mankind so deeply that the Flood had to be sent. They were spirits who had defiled themselves with the flesh (Enoch xv. 4), and were punished by being imprisoned at the Flood (Enoch liv. 7 f.) in chains eternal (Judas 6). In vain they pled to God for mercy. At His bidding Enoch went and preached doom to them (Enoch xii. 3), telling them from God that they were to have ‘no peace nor forgiveness of sin’—a grim preaching! (Peter never uses this word in the epistle for preaching the gospel.) Enoch’s activity in the Spirit was very different from Christ’s: the one went down, on a mission of doom; the other went up (ver. 22), triumphing over all that kept men from receiving the mercy of God.
But what interests Peter is baptism, not Enoch. The contrast of flesh and Spirit, on which he is dwelling (iii. 18, iv. 1-6), suggests to him the supreme case of sin in the flesh being punished, and also the contrast between the two missions of Enoch and Christ in the Spirit. But his aim is to remind his readers that this activity of Christ in the Spirit 142has inaugurated the sacrament of baptism, which saves the spirit from the defilement of the flesh. We moderns have to spend words on explaining the mission of Enoch, because the allusion is to a world of belief which is remote and misty for us; but the first readers of the epistle required no explanation. They were familiar with the story of Enoch. The legend was so intelligible that their minds easily passed on to the subject of baptism, the reference to the Flood being the bridge between it and the mission of Enoch. The Flood! What a terrible warning (see Matthew xxiv. 37 f.) of the end of the world! Only eight souls saved then! Only a few—and will salvation be easy now (iv. 18)? There was an interpretation of Genesis vi. 3 (‘yet shall man’s days be a hundred and twenty years’) which took it as the declaration of a respite before the Flood, and to this 20 Peter refers when he speaks of the time when God’s patience held out during Noah’s construction of the ark (Hebrews xi. 7). Then no more than eight souls were brought safely through the water. The Greek preposition dia has the same convenient vagueness as our ‘through’; the water was at once the means of destruction and the agent of salvation. (Hence One rabbinic legend made Noah and the others find their way to the ark by wading up to the knees through the water which had already begun to rise.) Now 21 there is water in our sacrament too, the counterpart to this rescue of Noah and his family through water. Paul found a counterpart in the waters of the Red Sea (1 Corinthians x. 1-2); Peter chooses what some of these Asiatic Christians would appreciate as a local allusion, for early traditions connected both Enoch and the ark with Phrygia; indeed the city of Apamea on the river Marsyas was identified as the 143spot at which the ark rested, partly owing to its byname of Kibotos (Ark). But Peter appeals to far more than local interest. Baptism saves you to-day by the resurrection of Jesus Christ; the faith (i. 21) of Christians made them participate at baptism in the new life opened by Christ’s supremacy in the spiritual world. Again, the language would appeal to those who knew the contemporary representations of resurrection in cults like those of Cybele and Attis, or the aim of the Eleusinian mysteries to effect regeneration and salvation from evil through baptism (see above, on i. 3). But the thought of Peter is quite intelligible in the light of common Christian experience: had Christ not risen, there would have been no baptism at all; baptism in the name of Jesus Christ meant from the first (Acts ii. 31-41) a recognition of his living power to pardon sin and to confer new life.
In an important parenthesis Peter explains the human side of the sacrament. The Greek term (baptisma) still carried its original sense of washing (see Ephesians v. 26), but the effect of the sacrament was not skin-deep, as we say, not the mere washing or removal of dirt from the flesh. Instead of saying that it meant the cleansing of the spirit or heart (Hebrews x. 22), Peter defines the inward, essential factor in baptism as the prayer (only here in N.T.) for a clean conscience (ver. 16) before (in presence of, a reverential use of eis in connexion with petitions to authority) God. The reference is to the strict ethical obligations laid upon catechumens at baptism, perhaps to their solemn renunciation of the world. When Pliny cross-examined some Christians in Bithynia, about A.D. 112, he found that they ‘bound themselves by an oath (sacramento) not to commit theft or robbery or adultery, not to break their word, and not to deny having 144received a deposit when demanded’—a practical expression of the clean conscience for which Christians at baptism prayed, and to which Peter summoned them for the sake of impressing the outside public as well as for their own sake.
As for the closing words of the paragraph, they allude to the accepted belief of the church that the resurrection was 22 followed by the ascension (went to heaven), the session at God’s right hand (as Peter had said long ago, Acts ii. 32-35) and (as he had already mentioned, i. 12) the despatch of the holy Spirit. It is a picturesque way of delineating the supreme honour and authority of Christ. In the book of Enoch, Enoch is on a footing with the angels and celestial powers, but no more. Christ is superior to angels, authorities, and powers celestial (the same enumeration of celestial forces occurs in the contemporary Jewish apocalypse of The Ascension of Isaiah, i. 3); this supremacy in heaven belongs to the glory (i. 11, 21) he has won through death. Paul makes more of this triumph in the spirit-world, but Peter’s practical interest only touches the belief in order to remind Christians how secure they might feel with so exalted and powerful a Guardian (ii. 25) over them and theirs. In the flesh Christ had to die, his body laden with sins that were ours, not his. But now in the Spirit he has a saving ministry for us, who are still in the flesh.
Note on iii. 19, 20.—The text of ver. 19 as rendered above is ΕΝΩΚΑΙ ΕΝΩΧ. The common text is ΕΝΩΚΑΙ, i.e. by or in which (the Spirit), but an early copyist dropped ΕΝΩΧ, owing to their similarity to the preceding ΕΝΩΚ, a blunder not uncommon in MSS. This conjecture was originally suggested by some English scholars in the eighteenth century, made independently by the Dutch scholar Cramer 145in 1891, and put in improved form by Dr. Rendel Harris recently. The ordinary reading makes the preaching to the imprisoned spirits the work of Christ. Some scholars, it is true, recognize the mission of Enoch in iii. 19 even under the traditional text, but ’suppose that Christ acted through Enoch. The majority, however, take the words to mean a personal mission of Christ. This is sometimes referred to (a) the pre-existent Christ who is supposed to have preached in vain to the disobedient contemporaries of Noah (now in durance vile as imprisoned spirits for their rejection of his warning). More often, though no more convincingly, it is assigned to (b) Christ between the crucifixion and the resurrection, when, his body lying in the grave, he went in the Spirit to preach in Hades, the world of the dead. But to whom? To these impenitent contemporaries of Noah, offering them salvation; they were examples, good examples, just because they were so bad, of the gospel being presented after death to sinful men (an idea which is frequently read into iv. 6). This would be an unparalleled application of the common early Christian belief that Christ did descend to the lower world; the more usual view was that he preached there to the O.T. saints or that he released all in Hades, pagans as well as good Jews. The idea of disembodied spirits being released from Hades and the devil may underlie the allusion to the celestial powers having been made subject to Christ (ver. 22); such a result of the conquest of Hades by the descent of a divine victor was familiar in ethnic circles already, and soon entered into primitive Christianity as well as into apocalyptic Judaism. The later ‘Petrine’ literature throws no light upon the passage. In Second Peter the entire conception is ignored; Noah is the herald of righteousness 146(ii. 5) to his incredulous generation. In the Gospel of Peter (x. 39-42), when Christ, supported by two angels and followed by the cross, emerges from the grave, a Voice from heaven asks, ‘Hast thou preached to them that sleep?’ The cross replies, ‘Yes.’ Those who sleep are the dead, but the reference is deliberately vague.
Peter now resumes the thought of iii. 17, 18, applying the antithesis of flesh and the Spirit to the Christian life. In iii. 19-22 the Spirit of Christ has been uppermost; now it is the flesh of the Christian.
1 Well, as Christ has suffered for us in the flesh, let this very conviction that he who has suffered in the flesh gets quit of sin, 2 nerve you to spend the rest of your time in the flesh for the will of God and no longer for human passions.
We are living in a new era and order of experience, since Christ has suffered for us in the flesh. Therefore, he had already said, ‘We must break with sin and live for righteousness’ (ii. 24); the same thought is now put differently, in the form of a general axiom, he who has suffered in the flesh gets quit of sin. Some in the later church held that martyrdom was an atonement for sin, a second baptism which washed the soul clean. But this is not the meaning here; the words about the rest of your time in the flesh suggest that capital punishment was not expected as the normal outcome of faithfulness.’ The idea rather is that suffering in the flesh, i.e. in our sensuous nature, has a purifying and liberating effect. When Christians undergo suffering for conscience’ sake, there is a real virtue in it, a blessing (iii. 14) from God; it enables them to participate more fully in the Spirit (iv. 14). 147This is the deep thought expressed by Paul in his aspiration to know Christ in the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, with my nature transformed to die as he died (Philippians iii. 10), i.e. to sin. Peter puts it thus: people who for the sake of maintaining a clean conscience before God endure pain or face trials in order to advance his cause, are thereby detached from the grip of sin. Self-denial and hardship of this kind contribute a moral and spiritual factor of development to our nature (see ii. 20). It proves that they are done with sin, sitting loose to the passions and instincts of the flesh.
Experience is the best exegesis of such tense words, particularly the experience of those who have lived through similar phases of endurance in the Christian cause. Thus when Hus went to the Council of Constance in 1414, he wrote a letter to his friends in Bohemia about his persecutors in the Roman Church which contains a passage bearing on our text. ‘I shall not be led astray by them to the side of evil, though I suffer at His will temptations, revilings, imprisonments, and deaths as indeed He too suffered, and hath subjected His loved servants to the same trials, leaving us an example that we may suffer for His sake and our’ salvation. If He suffered, being what He was, why should not we? In truth, our suffering by His grace is our drawing from sins and our deliverance from eternal torments’ (The Letters of John Hus, ed. Workman and Pope, p. 148). The same profound thought reappears in lines which he wrote during his imprisonment (ibid., p. 198):
The hours pass lightly; for this road
The Master went, who bore our load.
This is my passion, naught indeed
Or slight, if I from sin be freed.148
May Christ the Lord stand by His own,
Lest Antichrist do gulp us down!
This is the conviction needed to nerve you for such moral loyalty; it is an heroic and trying enterprise. Literally the phrase is, ‘arm yourselves with’ this conviction. It is a common phrase, which has even passed into English. Thus the Roman general Cominius, in Shakespeare’s play, exhorts the high-spirited Coriolanus to summon up his powers of sell-control in order to meet the critical tribunes:
To answer mildly; for they are prepared
What matters is not so much the actual trials incurred in a consistent obedience to the will of God (ii. 15, iii. 17) as what we think about them when we encounter them in the flesh, where human passions still make their appeal. These human passions were primarily impurity and self-seeking. What impressed the world in the early Christians was their charity and their chastity. The former has been already mentioned. The latter, for which they were liable to be affronted and abused as well as admired, is now discussed.
With a touch of grave irony, Peter tells them that they have lived long enough in pagan vices, and consoles them by predicting the imminent judgment of God which will vindicate their staunchness (3-6).
3 It is quite enough to have done as pagans choose to do, during the time gone by! You used to lead lives of sensuality, lust, carousing, revelry, dissipation and illicit idolatry, 4 and it astonishes them that you will not plunge with them 149still into the same flood of profligacy. They abuse you, 5 but they will have to answer for that to Him who is prepared to judge the living and the dead (6 for this was why the gospel was preached to the dead as well, that while they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live as God lives in the spirit).
A sixfold description of the human passions of pagan society. Sensuality is indecent, lascivious conduct, wanton and unashamed. Lust is sexual passion in immoral forms (same word as that rendered ‘passions’ in ver. 2). Carousing (only here in N.T.) is immoderate indulgence in wine. Revelry means protracted drinking-bouts, often in connexion with celebrations of pagan religion, and dissipation refers to social drinking-parties (only here in N.T.). All idolatry was illicit, from the Christian point of view (i.e. contrary to the law and worship of God), but some forms of pagan worship in the Oriental cults were mixed up with practices which, from the point of Roman law, were abominable and illegal. ‘What you were makes them astonished at what you are’: this is the thought of ver. 4, 4 where profligacy means a reckless waste of time and strength and means. The reverberating effect of the participle blasphemountes at the end of the sentence is best preserved by taking it as the beginning of the next; from amazement at your new strictness they pass to abuse, taunting you as kill-joys and morose creatures. But they will have to answer for that abuse (which did not stop with words) to Him who is prepared ere long, at the second Advent, to judge the living and the dead, i.e. God the Father (i. 17, ii. 23), though, in speaking to Cornelius (Acts x. 42), Peter had followed the theology of Enoch (lxix. 27) that 150all judgment was entrusted to Christ. He is prepared to judge the dead as well as the living, in the immediate future, for the dead have had their chance of hearing the gospel already. The living include the present abusive enemies of Christians, for it is assumed that they will be alive at the judgment, so near it is. The Christians will also be alive and be judged strictly by their God (i. 17, iv. 17, 18), passing into life eternal in the spirit.
Peter mentions the dead for a special reason and with an explanation by way of parenthesis. Christians who have died before the second Advent are not excluded from this blissful vindication; though they have had to suffer the penalty of death in their mortal sinful natures 6 (judged in the flesh as men), their acceptance of the gospel when they were alive insures their immortal life as God lives (see i. 15) in the spirit. Peter thus meets in his own way the anxiety felt by some Macedonian Christians (1 Thessalonians iv. 13). In Asia, too, the vivid hope of the second Advent made believers feel disappointed and discouraged when some of their fellows died before this crowning triumph; they asked in perplexity, ‘What was the use of preaching the gospel to them at all, if they miss the outcome of it?’ Peter’s reply is that the reason why the gospel was preached once (i. 12) to those who are now dead as well as to those still living was to secure that in adhering to it they, like Christ (iii. 18), should reach the divine life in the spirit, though first they had to be judged in the flesh.
Another view is possible. While it is naturally out of the question to take the dead here as ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (the dead in ver. 5 are dead people, and the dead here are the same: they are not spiritually dead, but dead in the 151sense that they have experienced death on earth), yet the dead here might refer to those who had not heard the gospel during their lifetime, and therefore had an opportunity granted them somehow. In the early church there was a belief that Christ preached in Hades, the underworld of the dead, between the crucifixion and the resurrection, either to all the dead or to the O.T. saints, and Peter may be alluding to this idea (see above). There would be an implicit contrast between Enoch’s mission (iii. 19) and Christ’s; Enoch had only a message of doom, whilst Christ had one of hope; Enoch addressed fallen angels, whilst Christ dealt with disembodied human spirits, in the spirit-world.
In any case the words are an allusion in passing to some belief which was familiar to the writer and his readers, too familiar to require explanation. But it is hard for us to reconstruct the context of the belief from the scanty materials at our disposal. Peter was not writing a theology; he was simply addressing himself to a special situation, to harassed Christians who were in need of encouragement, and he reminds them that the relief is sure and near, vindication. for themselves, retribution for their foes—and also that their dead fellows were quite safe with God. Modern Christians ask larger questions. What becomes of the pre-Christian dead? How are men treated, who at the end have never heard the gospel? But these questions were not present to the apostle’s mind here.
7 Now, the end of all is near. Steady then, keep cool and pray! 8 Above all, be keen to love one another, for love 152hides a host of sins. 9 Be hospitable to each other, and to do not grudge it. 10 You must serve one another, each with the talent he has received, as efficient stewards of God’s varied grace. 11 If anyone preaches, he must preach as one who utters the words of God; if anyone renders some service, it must be as one who is supplied by God with power, so that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. The glory and the dominion are his for ever and ever; Amen.
No panic or excitement, however, though the end of all is near (ver. 5)! Steady (the word translated ‘sane’ in 2 Corinthians v. 13) then, instead of losing your heads, as some early Christians were apt to do (see 2 Thessalonians ii. 2, iii. 11, 12), dropping their work and duties in hectic anticipation. Keep cool (i. 13) and pray (literally, ‘keep cool for prayer’); your prayers must not be wild screams or reason-less cries. The judgment was to be a trying time (iv. 17, 18) as well as a relief, and serious prayer was the best preparation for it.
Another vital preparation was the habit of mutual love (i. 22, ii. 1, iii. 8), answering to the demands of God. Keen is the adjective whose adverb is rendered ‘steadily’ in i. 22. The community must hold together, instead of allowing their love to ‘grow cold’ (Matthew xxiv. 12) in the latter days of strain; it is a warning against loving others by fits and starts, a plea for steady affection, persisting through the irritations and antagonisms of common life in a society recruited from various classes of people. For much will be forgiven to a loving heart; God counts that too (ii. 20) a merit. Love hides a host of sins, says Peter, quoting a 153Greek version of Proverbs x. 12, to remind his friends that brotherly love will atone for a good deal in the sight of God. The original meaning of the proverb was that the loving temper does not rake up faults but seeks to pass them over with forbearance (the idea of 1 Corinthians xiii. 7). But here the sins are a man’s own, not his neighbours', As he forgives, he is forgiven (Matthew vi. 14, 15); hides or ‘covers’ implies forgiveness (Psalm xxxii. 1). The imminent judgment was to be a serious scrutiny of Christians (ver. 17), who would be tested by their measure of brotherly love.
As in Hebrews xiii. 2, one special form of love is urged. Be hospitable to one another. This duty of entertaining travelling Christians was still the duty of the members, though later it fell specially to the clergy (1 Timothy iii. 2). It was needful, for inns in the East were often not only expensive but morally deteriorating; an itinerant Christian, whether he was a preacher or not (see 3 John 5-8), was safer in the house of some local member of the church. And do not grudge it, despite the trouble and expense; naturally the burden would fall on one or two as a rule in each community, and fall repeatedly. In the pre-Christian Psalter of Solomon (v. 15), drawing a contrast between God’s kindness and man’s, the author writes: ‘If a man repeats his kindness and does not grudge it the very phrase used here], you would be surprised.’
The point of 10-11 is that the exercise of the various talents or endowments of Christians must be carried on in a deep sense of responsibility to God, as designed for the service of the community, not for self-display nor in any sell-reliance. We do not make them; 10 each has received his talent (Romans xii. 6, 1 Corinthians xii. 4) to serve others, 154and we are called to be efficient stewards in the household of God, administering His varied grace. The house-steward distributed the rations and pay regularly to his fellow-slaves. Jesus had used the figure (Luke xii. 42), and so had Paul. (1 Corinthians iv. 1), for the responsible duty of exercising one’s gifts in the service of the church.
Hospitality (Romans xii. 13) was one of these talents, but Peter passes on to mention preaching specifically, as Paul does in Romans xii. 7, 8; this, and not the administration of the sacraments, was the prominent function (so Hebrews xiii. 7). Preaches is a word that covers teaching and prophetic utterances, any official or unofficial exhortation to which a member was moved by his talent. The temptation of the talent of hospitality was to be grudging, i.e. to regard one’s possessions as more for oneself than for others. The temptation of preaching was to forget that one was no more than a steward, giving out what God had in store for the good of others. Hospitality was stewardship of money and a home; preaching was stewardship in which a man depended on God 11 for what he said. He must preach as one who utters the words of God, not his own opinions, not rhetoric of his own which he parades; he must depend upon the inspiration’ of Another for what he says.
So with any other form of practical service (Romans xii. 7, 1 Corinthians xvi. 15); the person must render it with due recognition that he is supplied by God with power (the term rendered ‘supplied’ is that rendered ‘furnish’ in 2 Corinthians ix. 10), therefore humbly, without self-display. Ignatius (Ad Polyk. vi.) bids the members of the church at Smyrna live together ‘as God’s stewards and assessors and servants.’ The range of stewardship here is equally wide; 155it is not confined to apostles or presbyters or any special ministers. Such a spirit of service in the community will bring out the full power of God, as it was intended to do—so that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ (the thought of Matthew v. 16 and John xv. 8). The brotherly love which is the life of the church is devoid of any self-glorification. The more efficient a community is, the more it suggests how great and good is the God to whom it owes everything. The glory and the dominion (over the celestial world, the earth, and the church, iii. 22, iv. 5, 11, see v. 6 and 11) are his (God, or, as in Revelation i. 6, Jesus Christ) for ever and ever: Amen (i.e. so be it, so it is—liturgical affirmation).
Here the homily might have ended. Here indeed it may have ended. But letters then, as now, were not always written at a sitting, and we may assume some interruption at this point; the epistle had to be laid aside for a time, and then resumed. In what follows Peter reiterates afresh the main thoughts of the earlier sections: iv. 12-19 corresponds to iii. 8-iv. 11 and v. 1-11 to iv. 7-11. On both topics he found he had more to say.
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the ordeal that has come to test you; as though some foreign experience befell you. 13 You are sharing what Christ suffered; so rejoice in it, that you may also rejoice and exult when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are denounced for the sake of Christ, you are blessed; for then the Spirit of glory and power, 156the Spirit of God himself, is resting on you. 15 None of you must suffer as a murderer or a thief or a bad character or a revolutionary; 16 but if a man suffers for being a Christian, he must not be ashamed, he must rather glorify God for that.
Beloved, as in ii. 11, is a touch of affectionate sympathy, as he handles the sensitive question of their trials. It is as though he overheard some saying, ‘Why have we been plunged into this trouble? What relevance has all this to our character and record?’ His first point is (a) that it is a test (as in i. 7). The term rendered ordeal occurs in the LXX of Proverbs xxvii. 21 (‘the fining pot for silver and the furnace for gold’). Only valuable metal is smelted in a furnace, and smelted to bring out its brilliance and lasting value. Then (b) the ordeal is not a foreign experience, not something irrelevant and abnormal, but in the direct line of Christ. Peter does not bring forward the example of the prophets, like Jesus (Matthew v. 11-12) and James (v. 10); he again (ii. 21) recalls how Jesus was badly treated by the world of his day, and summons his friends 13 to rejoice in sharing what Christ suffered. To be maligned and molested for his sake brings his followers into touch with him. Theirs is the inward joy of which he spoke (Matthew v. 10), and there is a thrilling joy (so i. 6, 8) to follow at the end of the rough experience. What promotes this heroic enthusiasm cannot be thought foreign to the Christian discipline. Peter, like Paul, only speaks about the ‘sufferings’ of Christ in connexion with Christians sharing them (see 2 Corinthians i. 5 and Philippians iii. 10). And in elaborating his argument (ver. 14) he is speaking of what he himself knew by sharp 157experience (see Acts v. 41), as well as of what he had once heard Jesus say (Matthew v. 11).
Rejoice. Why? 14 Because (see iii. 14) you are already being blessed, as Jesus promised; there is a divine compensation to be enjoyed under the outward contempt and scoffing, as you are denounced for being Christians. Sometimes this denunciation led to arrest and punishment at the hands of an excited mob or of the authorities (see ver. 16), but Peter is here thinking primarily of the sneers and taunts and slanders from pagans which were apt to make Christians feel depressed and uneasy. He would have them deserve the praise awarded to Milton’s Abdiel (Paradise Lost, vi. 32 f.), who, ‘for the testimony of truth,’ had borne—
Universal reproach, far worse to bear
Than violence; for this was all thy care—
To stand approved in sight of God, though worlds
Judged thee perverse.
Injuries and outrages reveal the spirit of your pagan neighbours, who try to crush your strength, but there is for your loyalty another revelation of God’s glory and power (the presence of God in glorious power) which inwardly rewards and rallies you. The phrase you are denounced . . . Christ may be an echo of Psalm lxxxix. 51, 52 (the LXX); certainly there is an echo of Isaiah xi. 2 in the Spirit of God is resting on you, i.e. inspiring and endowing you permanently. Only, this inner glow is reserved for those who are suffering innocently for the sake of Christ; it is not for any Christian who is punished as a criminal, e.g. as a really (contrast ii. 12) 15 bad character (see on ii. 12). This Greek term has been taken in the narrower sense of the Latin maleficus, i.e. poisoner or magician, but we should expect then a word like goês 158(2 Timothy iii. 13) or magos (Acts viii. 9 f.). Revolutionary again suggests the danger of Christians laying themselves open to the Roman suspicion of the church as a seditious, secret organization, aiming at the overthrow of the State. A Christian, especially under the influence of apocalyptic hopes, might incur the suspicion of treason by encouraging disobedience among slaves, for example, or by sympathizing with revolutionary movements, in exasperation against the persecuting authorities. The risk of an extreme left wing among Christians was not unfounded at this period. The anti-Roman tone of an apocalypse like the book of Revelation shows how the apocalyptic hope might be used to foster social discontent and political disorder. The Greek term, however, has been also taken to mean “busy-body,” i.e. a tactless interference with social customs, as when a Christian gave needless offence by tampering with social relationships or by ill-timed protests which roused dissension and discord. It might further refer to imprudent, though generous, representations to the authorities on behalf of some ill-used fellow-citizen, which laid the objectors open to the law against treason. Peter seems to have coined the word, and revolutionary answers to the sense of the context better than any allusion to indiscreet interference or meddling tactics.
But if a man suffers for being a Christian, he must not be ashamed, and so apostatize (see Mark viii. 38, 2 Timothy i. 8, 12), he must rather glorify God for that, i.e. in words, by thanking God for this opportunity of proving his loyalty and honouring the Christian cause, and also in deeds, proving by his stedfastness and patience what a good God he has and thus reflecting credit on his God—perhaps even by a 159martyr death (as in John xxi. 19). The name of Christian (see on Acts xi. 26) had already become a nickname on the lips of the Roman mob, as Tacitus implies. But it is noticeable that Peter never alludes to the three charges of atheism, cannibalism, and immorality, which were afterwards brought against Christianity by the suspicious Romans. Here, as elsewhere in the homily, the situation reflected seems to be merely one of popular suspicion directed against what was considered to be an illicit, foreign cult or secret religious society, largely recruited from the slave class and ominously antagonistic to social harmony.
Peter’s second word of consolation is eschatological. ‘Deliverance is at hand: you have not long now to wait.’
17 It is time for the Judgment to begin with the household of God;
and if it begins with us,
what will be the fate of those who refuse obedience to God’s gospel
If the just man is scarcely saved, what will become of the impious and sinful?
19 So let those who are suffering by the will of God trust heir souls to him, their faithful Creator, as they continue to do right.
It was an O.T. axiom that God’s judgment should begin with the household of God (see Isaiah x. 12, Jeremiah xxv. 29, and Ezekiel ix. 6, which is in the apostle’s mind here). That is, it begins with us, God’s People (ii. 9, 24) who live His life. Peter, like Jesus in the parable (Luke xix. 15), is sterner and stricter than the book of Enoch, which (see civ. 5, etc.) occasionally exempts the righteous from judgment. He views the sufferings of Christians as the prelude to the final 160judgment, or rather as the initial scene in the last act of judgment, and trying (the apocalyptic thought of Mark xiii. 20) because they involve the possibility of failing under the 18 severe test. The just man is scarcely saved, so hard is the trial, so weak is human nature. The consolation is (a) that it will be over soon, and (b) that failure will be unspeakably awful. Trust yourselves to God, continue to do right(see on ver. 8), and all will be well; however severe this ordeal may be, it is nothing compared to the fate of outsiders. In Proverbs xi. 31 the Hebrew couplet ran:
The just will be punished on earth—
How much more the impious and sinful!
That is, retribution will overtake sin in the present world. The LXX omitted on earth, which suited Peter’s purpose better. He is content to leave his question unanswered, What will be the fate of the impenitent? Which is more impressive than the explicit threats of Enoch (xxxviii. 1 f.: ‘sinners shall be driven from the earth,’ xlv. 6, etc.).
So, in view of what has been urged in 12-16 as well as in 17-18, let those who are suffering by the will of God (iii. 17) trust their souls to him for safe keeping—the thought of Psalm xxxi. 5, which Jesus quoted on the cross (Luke xxiii. 46). Do as Jesus did (ii. 23), leave yourselves in the hands of a faithful Creator, faithful in upholding the moral order, punishing the evil and preserving the faithful. The appeal to God as Creator is as early as Acts iv. 24, but this is the only place in the N.T. where the title is used. The implication here, as in Hebrews ii. 10, is that the redemptive purpose is part of creation. The Creator has the forces of the universe at His disposal to punish the disobedient (Enoch xciv. l0: 161‘He who hath created you will overthrow you’—the woe upon rich oppressors) and to safeguard the loyal lives which He has Himself created, as they continue to do right. Their trust in Him implies moral activity (the thought of 15-16). There must be no presuming upon faith in God; only a clean, obedient life can be securely committed to God’s care.
1 Now I make this appeal to your presbyters (for I am a presbyter myself, I was a witness of what Christ suffered and I am to share the glory that will be revealed), 2 be shepherds to your flock of God; take charge of them willingly instead of being pressed to it, not to make a base profit from it but freely, 3 not by way of lording it over your charges but proving a pattern to the flock. 4 Then you will receive the unfailing crown of glory, when the chief Shepherd makes his appearance.
Presbyter, the official title for the ministers of the primitive communities, meant literally ‘senior.’ Not all the seniors in a community would be presbyters, but the presbyters would be as a rule chosen on account of their experience and age. Peter plays on the double sense of the term; I am a presbyter myself, i.e. old enough to have seen Christ suffer. Presbyter myself (literally, fellow-presbyter) is a touch of modesty from an apostle (i. 1)—there is nothing overbearing about Peter (ver. 3). Witness means not only an eye-witness, but one who witnesses to what Christ suffered, i.e. to their significance and reality. But he cannot speak of these 162sufferings without adding their climax of the glory that will be revealed (see iv. 13), in which he is to share with Christ (the thought of John xiii. 36). Behind the suffering of the present world for Christians as well as for Christ, Peter always sees the gleam of the final glory. Even in an aside like this, the thought rises instinctively to hearten his readers.
Now . . . be shepherds. The adverb and the aoristic imperative of the verb (here, as in i. 13, 17, 22, referring to a specific period, the interval before the end ver. 4) imply that one means of upholding the faith of Christians under a strain (iv. 19) is the proper discharge of ministerial duty. The faithful must not be left to themselves; ministers ought to fulfil their pastoral responsibilities, supplying Christian discipline and direction, and giving a lead to the people. The pastoral metaphor has lost its appeal and significance for modern readers. Nowadays a mature layman will resent a clergyman calling ‘me one of his sheep. I am not a sheep relatively to him. I am at least his equal in knowledge, and greatly his superior in experience. Nobody but a parson would venture to compare me to an animal (such a stupid animal too!) and himself to that animal’s master’ (P. G. Hamerton, Human Intercourse, p. 191). But in the ancient world the metaphor denoted a vigorous and responsible authority. It was applied to kings and rulers, who had to provide for their people, protecting and ruling them with close personal supervision. The Oriental shepherd had to protect his flock as well as guide them to good pasture. He was never away from them. He had to stand between them and danger, to think for them, and to be responsible for them with his own life, if occasion required. No relation so expressed the twofold functions of control 163and devotion. Hence the term came into use for ministers of the church. Be shepherds to your flock of God. The flock belongs to God; Christ is the chief Shepherd (ver. 4); Christian ministers are subordinate shepherds. The word your (literally, among you) means that part of the great church which falls to your charge; the flock is wider than those within the Asiatic communities; it is invariably the flock of God, the divine flock (‘My sheep,’ John xxi. 15, 16); and Peter has three directions for the presbyters.
(a) They must show no reluctance in undertaking or in carrying out their duties. Take charge of them (episcopountes, i.e. discharge your episcopal functions) willingly, instead of being pressed to it. Sometimes the presbyters were selected by the apostles who founded the community (Acts xiv. 23). But, however chosen, they had a divine commission; Paul reminds the presbyters of the Ephesian church of their duties ‘to all the flock of which the holy Spirit has appointed you guardians (episcopous, bishops): shepherd the church of the Lord’ (Acts xx. 28). They must not grudge time and pains in the service, nor resent the onerous responsibilities of the position. In periods of persecution there was a real danger in accepting office, for officials enjoyed an unpleasant prominence, which led to them often being singled out by the State authorities. Hence some were indisposed to take office at all.
Others, again, were quite willing to serve, and threw themselves into the work, but evidently for the sake of what it brought them. Such presbyters (b) are warned not to make a base profit from it but to serve the church freely, i.e. without making the stipend the main end. Peter protests against mercenary aims, against the temper which makes men 164do no more than they are paid for. The presbyters had some control of church finance; they had to do with the funds, and this started temptations to make a lucrative thing of their position. Polykarp, in his epistle to the church of Philippi (ch. xi. 1), mentions the sad case of a local presbyter called Valens, who had evidently succumbed to this temptation.
But the desire for position is stronger in some than the love of money, and the apostle proceeds to warn (c) other 3 presbyters against lording it over their charges, the overbearing temper against which Jesus had already put his disciples on their guard (Mark x. 42 f., Luke xii. 45). A pre-Christian Jewish warning is quoted in the Chagiga (5b, i. 32) against any president of a rabbinic school ‘who deals arrogantly with the congregation.’ How this autocratic or self-important temper worked in the primitive Christian communities we are not told, but this is not the only hint of it (see 1 Timothy iii. 3). Such a domineering spirit defeats the ends of Christian discipline, produces bad feeling, and lowers the atmosphere of brotherly love.
Charges translates the plural of the term klêros, which here has its untechnical sense of ‘an allotted portion’; the charges are the different churches entrusted to the care of the presbyters. The Vulgate rendered the Greek literally, ‘dominantes in cleris,’ but the distinction between clergy and laity is much later than this, and the words cannot mean ‘domineering over the lower clergy.’ Instead of driving and bullying the faithful, the presbyters are to prove a pattern to the flock; their best influence will be through personal 4 example. Then, at the second Advent, you will receive (the same verb as ‘obtain ’ in i. 9) the unfading (i. 4) crown (consisting) of glory, when the chief Shepherd makes his 165appearance (same verb used of the first Advent in i. 20). In the Hellenistic world distinguished statesmen or public benefactors received crowns of gold from the community as a recognition of their services.
5 You younger men must also submit to the presbyters. Indeed you must all put on the apron of humility to serve one another, for
the haughty God opposes,
but to the humble he gives grace.
Humble yourselves under the strong hand of God, then, so that when it is time, he may raise you; 7 let all your anxieties fall upon him, for his interest is in you.
The younger men are junior subordinates in the ministry (see Acts v. 6, 10). They also (same word as ‘in the same way,’ iii. 1) have their temptation, to be restive under authority, and are bidden submit to the presbyters. Later in the century serious trouble arose in the church at Corinth over insubordination on the part of the younger men; the epistle of Clemens Romanus is elicited by this. Peter probably had this risk of forwardness and insubordination in mind when he warned the senior presbyters against rough ways (ver. 3). A tyrannical spirit among authorities does not make submissiveness easy among subordinates. Indeed you must all (seniors and juniors alike, officials and members) put on the apron of humility, as Jesus did at the last Supper (John xiii. 4 f.). Peter had not forgotten his lesson. The apron was worn by slaves, to protect their tunic when at work. Ministers are to help or serve one another; they 166require mutual aid and support, and this is impossible when they put on airs. Age and youth in the ministry are equally liable to a proud independence. But the common spirit of humility demanded by Peter from the rank and file as well implies a readiness to learn from others, a willingness to work with them; each must humbly recognize what the other may have to contribute, instead of holding aloof in a proud superiority. The comparative length of the admonitions may imply that the senior presbyters required more warning than the juniors; but it may simply mean that the senior position was more responsible and therefore involved greater perils.
The quotation from Proverbs iii. 34, with which the counsel is clinched, widens and deepens the duty of humility. Friends used to say of Bishop Westcott that ‘he was humble to God but not exactly humble to man.’ 6 Peter insists upon humility in both directions, and now on submission to the strong hand of God—an O.T. phrase (Exodus iii. 19, Ezekiel xx. 33 f.) for protection and deliverance as well as for the downfall of proud persecutors. The pressure of His hand in suffering must be submitted to humbly; so that, when it is time (when His time comes, as come it will), he may raise you, uplifting the lowly who have lain still under His discipline. For—
Tho’ His arm be strong to smite,
’Tis also strong to save.
Humble yourselves by letting all your anxieties fall upon him (a reminiscence of Psalm lv. 22). No impatience or fretfulness, as if you had to carry the burden yourselves. His interest is in you. ‘There are gods, and they are interested (melei, the same word as here) in human affairs’ (Marcus Aurelius, ii. 11). Be sure of His ultimate relief, but meanwhile 167do not think that He is careless or indifferent. His and youare emphatic.
But this does not mean that you can relax your efforts; be alert and stedfast till you are finally relieved (8-11).
8 Keep cool, keep awake. Your enemy the devil prowls like a roaring lion, looking out for someone to devour. 9 Resist him; keep your foothold in the faith, and learn to pay the same tax of suffering as the rest of your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 Once you have suffered for a little, the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will repair and recruit and strengthen you. 11 The dominion is his for ever and ever: Amen.
Trust is not idle security (so in iv. 19); the confidence in God which throws off anxieties only leaves one more able to be morally alert against temptations 8 to apostasy. Keep cool (as in i. 13, iv. 7)—no need for panic, when God’s care is over you—keep awake (Peter remembered the incident of Matthew xxvi. 41). For the first time in the epistle the origin of persecution is assigned to the ill-will of the devil; Satan is the inspirer of the attacks upon Christians. Your enemy the devil prowls like a roaring lion round the flock (1-3), roaring in hunger and eager ferocity, looking out for someone to devour, i.e. to force into apostasy. The devil’s aim is to induce weak Christians to deny God and thus to incur eternal death (see the phrase of Hus cited above on iv. 1). Peter does not explain how this activity of the devil was permitted by the will of God (which is the problem of the book of Job); he is simply putting his friends on their guard. The best comment on the verse is Latimer’s in his 168Sermon of the Plough, where he quotes and applies the text to prove that the devil is ‘the most diligent prelate and preacher in England’; in Sirach xxi. 2,
The teeth of sin are the teeth of a lion,
Slaying the souls of men.
Resist him by refusing to give up your faith, keep your foothold in the faith, firm and unyielding, with a courage on which no hardship makes any impression, and learn to pay the same tax of suffering as the rest of your brotherhood (ii. 17) throughout the world. Suffering is the penalty of your position, and there is nothing exceptional about it; it is the common lot of Christians. Peter then repeats his assurance of final relief. The prayer of the angels for the pious who are persecuted, in Enoch (xlvii. 2), is that ‘judgment may be done them, and that they may not have to suffer for ever.’ Peter ignores all such ideas of angelic intercession, and announces that after suffering for 10 a little (i. 6) they will be refreshed and settled in God’s heaven, by the God of all grace. The mark of His grace is that He has called you (so i. 2, 10, 15, etc.) to his eternal glory which is bound up in Christ Jesus. God’s choice, predestinating them to share in His purpose, will carry them through all opposition on earth, provided they remain loyal. The suffering passes, but the glory is eternal. There and then God will repair (refit the church broken by persecutions) and recruit (their powers—the same word as ‘be a strength to’ in Luke xxii. 32) and strengthen (verb only here in N.T.) you; some manuscripts add themeliôsei (settle), needlessly. The whole promise refers to the shattering and disabling effects of persecution, which are to be undone in 169heaven. 11 The liturgical formula of ver. 11 is practically the same as in iv. 11, but the stress on the divine dominion is significant; during times of persecution it was usual to contrast the transitory authority of the Empire with the lasting Reign of God. Thus Polykarp is said to have been martyred, in A.D. 155 or 156, at Smyrna, ‘when Statius Quadratus was proconsul but when Jesus Christ was reigning for ever’ (Martyrdom of Polykarp, xvi.).
A brief postscript follows (12-14).
12 By the hand of Silvanus, a faithful brother (in my opinion), I have written you these few’ lines of encouragement, to testify that this is what the true grace of God means. Stand in that grace.
13 Your sister-church in Babylon, elect like yourselves, salutes you. So does my son Mark. 14 Salute one another with a kiss of love.
Peace be to you all who are in Christ Jesus.
Silvanus was a Jewish Christian who spoke Greek, and therefore had been employed by Peter in the composition of the homily (see Introduction), as his amanuensis or secretary. Peter vouches for him as a faithful brother (in my opinion), i.e. as a reliable messenger, just as Cicero had vouched for Cossinius in one of his letters (Ad Attic., i. 19: ‘Cossinius hic, cui dedi litteras, valde mini bonus homo et non levis et amans tui vicus est’), perhaps because he was unknown to some or all of the recipients, perhaps because he was commissioned to expand orally the few lines enclosed. The verb in encouragement is appeal in ii. 11, v. 1, but here includes its wider sense of exhorting and inspiriting. (The A.V. ‘as I suppose’ suggests an uncertainty about Silvanus 170which is not in the original.) The object of the apostle in writing has been to testify (only here in N.T.) to what the true (real, see Colossians i. 5) grace of God is—a sure revelation of the future hope, resting on the purpose of God for His People, and not incompatible with hardship for the time being. Stand (ver. 9) in that grace (so Romans v. 2). The aorist imperative stête is better attested than estêkate (‘wherein ye stand’) and more vivid; take your stand upon the Christian position as I have outlined it briefly.
The first of the two greetings is from the local church where Peter is writing, your sister-church in Babylon, elect (i. 2) like yourselves. This is as figurative as son in the next sentence; it is a phrase of the, apocalyptic outlook which has so often marked the homily. As Babylon had been the supreme oppressor of the People In the O.T., the name had already begun to be applied in Judaism and Christianity to Rome, as a telling and cryptic epithet, e.g. in the contemporary Apocalypse of Baruch (xi. 1) and the Sibylline Oracles (v. 143) as well as in the early sources of the book of Revelation (xiv. and xvi. f.), where the term is used as traditional and familiar. No one in the early church ever dreamt of any other meaning; the first tradition (which may be as early as Papias, the Asiatic bishop, early in the second century) explains that Babylon here is a mystical figurative name for Rome (Eusebius, Hist. Eccles., ii. 25). It was not till much later, when the apocalyptic setting had been forgotten, that Babylon was identified with the Egyptian Babylon (a fortress at old Cairo) or Babylon in Mesopotamia. No tradition ever connected Peter or Mark with either locality.
The kiss of love, or, as, Paul termed it, the holy kiss, was a naïve custom among the primitive communities, who met 171for worship as real families of God. It was a simple, warm expression of the genuine fellowship which knit the members. ‘What prayer is complete,’ says Tertullian, ‘apart from the holy kiss?’ But, as Jesus had been betrayed by a kiss, it became customary to omit the kiss on Good Friday. As the meetings became larger and more formal, the habit of kissing was abused; Clement of Alexandria reports indignantly that some churches were noisy with the loud smack of kisses, and in the Apostolic Constitutions (ii. 57, viii. 11) it was expressly ordered that promiscuous kissing was to be stopped, men to kiss only men. The epistle was read aloud at public worship.
Peace as a farewell greeting occurs in 3 John 14; here, as in Hebrews xiii. 20, etc., it denotes the full bliss of God’s saving presence (see above on i. 2). In Christ (iii. 16) is practically equivalent to ‘Christians.’ Of the just it is said in Enoch cv. 2, ‘I and my Son the messiah will be united with them for ever in the paths of uprightness in their lives, and ye shall have peace.172173
|« Prev||The First Epistle of St. Peter||Next »|