Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
(l-10) EXHORTATION TO REALISE THE IDEA OF THE NEW ISRAEL.—The Apostle bids them put away all elements of disunion, and to combine into a new Temple founded on Jesus as the Christ, and into a new hierarchy and theocracy.
Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings,(1) Wherefore.—That is, Because the Pauline teaching is correct which brings the Gentiles up to the same level with the Jews. It may be observed that this newly enunciated principle is called by St. Peter in the previous verse of the last chapter, a “gospel,” or piece of good news, for all parties.
Laying aside.—This implies that before they had been wrapped up in these sins. There had been “malice” (i.e., ill will put into action) on the part of these Hebrew Christians against their Gentile brethren, and “guile,” and “hypocrisies,” and “jealousies,” which are all instances of concealed malice. Of these three, the first plots, the second pretends not to plot, and the third rejoices to think of the plot succeeding. The word for “all evil speakings” is literally, all talkings down—this is “malice” in word. Archbishop Leighton well says, “The Apostles sometimes name some of these evils, and sometimes other of them; but they are inseparable, all one garment, and all comprehended under that one word (Ephesians 4:22), ‘the old man,’ which the Apostle there exhorts to put off; and here it is pressed as a necessary evidence of this new birth, and furtherance of their spiritual growth, that these base habits be thrown away, ragged filthy habits, unbeseeming the children of God.” All these vices (natural vices to the Jewish mind) are contrasted with the “unfeigned (literally, un-hypocritical) brotherly kindness” of 1Peter 1:22.
As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:(2) As newborn babes.—The word “newborn” is, of course, newly, lately born, not born anew, although the birth meant is the new birth of 1Peter 1:23. They are said to be still but newborn because they are still so far from maturity in Christ, as these sins testified. The metaphor is said to be not uncommon in Rabbinical writers to denote proselytes. St. Peter would, therefore, be describing Jews who had newly received the word of God, as proselytes of the new Israel. “As” means “in keeping with your character of.” (Comp. 1Peter 1:14.)
Desire the sincere milk.—The word for “desire” here is a strong word—get an appetite for it. Bengel is perhaps right when he says on “newborn babes,” “It is their only occupation, so strong is their desire for it.” St. Peter here again seems to lend a thought to the writer to the Hebrews (Hebrews 5:12-14). In both places Jewish Christians are beginning to rebel against the Gospel instructions, and in both places they are warned that they have not yet outgrown the need of the very simplest elements of the Gospel. The epithet “sincere” should have been rendered guileless, as it contains a contrast with “guile” in the verse before; perhaps the intention of the epithet may be to rebuke the attempt to deal deceitfully with the Old Testament Scriptures after the example of the Septuagint passage quoted above.
Of the word.—This translation of the original adjective cannot possibly be right. The only other place in the New Testament where it is used, Romans 12:1, will show clearly enough its meaning here. There it is rendered “your reasonable service”—i.e., not “the service which may be reasonably expected of you,” but “the ritual worship which is performed by the reason, not by the body.” So here, “the reasonable guileless milk” will mean “the guileless milk which is sucked in, not by the lips, but by the reason.” The metaphor of milk (though used by St. Paul, 1Corinthians 3:2) was not so hackneyed as now; and the Apostle wished to soften it a little, and explain it by calling it mental milk,” just as (so Huther points out) he explained the metaphor in 1Peter 1:13, by adding “of your mind.” It is needless to add that the “mental milk” would, as a matter of fact, be “the milk of the word,” and that the Apostle is pressing his readers to cling with ardent attachment to the evangelical religion taught them by the Pauline party.
That ye may grow thereby.—All the best manuscripts and versions add “unto salvation,” which may confidently be adopted into the text. “Grow” is, of course, said in reference to the infant state of the converts as yet, and the maturity set before them (children long to be grown up) is spoken of as “salvation.” When we compare this with 1Peter 1:18, we see that the perfect emancipation from Jewish superstitions is a main part of the “salvation” to which they are to grow up.
If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.(3) If so be ye have tasted.—The “if so be,” as elsewhere (2Thessalonians 1:6, Note), constitutes a strong appeal to the readers to say whether it were not so. St. Peter confidently reckons that it is so. It should rather be ye tasted, looking back to a quite past time, probably that of the first conversion, when the taste of spiritual things is the most delicious. How sad to be past the relish for evangelical truth! The quotation, or rather adaptation, from Psalm 34:8 is, no doubt, suggested by the metaphor of “milk.” A curious little point about our translation here is that the word “gracious” has been adopted to suit the Prayer Book version of the Psalm. It is scarcely suitable to the Greek word, which, originally signifying “usable,” “serviceable,” passes on to be used of anything mild and pleasant, as, for instance, in Luke 5:39, of the mellowness of old wine. Here, therefore, the word seems to be peculiarly used with reference to the sense of taste. A more important point, doctrinally, is that St. Peter is here applying to Jesus Christ (as the next verse shows) a passage which otherwise we might not have thought of applying to Him in particular. It gives quite a new complexion to the 34th Psalm, when we see that in St. Peter’s view the Psalmist was speaking prophetically of our Lord. We shall find him quoting the same Psalm in the same sense again in 1Peter 3:10.
To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious,(4) To whom coming.—The word used is that which gives rise to the name of a “proselyte.” (Comp. Note on 1Peter 2:2.) It is also strangely used in something of the same sense in 1Timothy 6:3. “Joining Him therefore as proselytes.” Not that St. Peter has any notion of a mere external accession. The Apostolic writers do not contemplate the possibility of a difference between the visible and invisible Church. From this point the regeneration-idea, which coloured the whole of the preceding portion of the Epistle, suddenly disappears. The thought is no longer that of a spiritual seed instead of a carnal seed, but of a spiritual Temple instead of the stone temple at Jerusalem.
A living stone.—The very structure and order of the sentence puts Jesus Christ first. Foundation first, building afterwards. It is a pity to insert “as unto” with our version; it takes off from the striking, attracting effect of the sudden metaphor. St. Peter is fond of explaining his metaphors—e.g., “inheritance . . . in heaven,” “tested genuineness . . . more precious than of gold,” “gird up . . . loins of your minds:” so here, “living stone.” It is more than doubtful whether St. Peter, in what follows, had before his mind the giving of his own surname. The word which he here uses is neither petros, nor petra, but lithos; and indeed the whole idea of the relative position of the Church to the petra and to the lithos is quite different. Neither petros nor petra could possibly be used of the squared wrought stone, but represent the native rocky unhewn substratum—part, or whole—which pre-exists before any building is begun, even before the “chief corner-stone” would be placed. (Comp. Matthew 7:24.) Here, therefore, the idea is quite different: the substratum is not thought of at all; and Jesus Christ is a carefully selected and hewn stone (lithos), specially laid as the first act in the work of building. The only thing, therefore, which is, in fact, common to the two passages is the simple thought of the Christian Church being like a building. Our present verse gives us no direct help towards finding how St. Peter understood the famous name-passage. All we can say for certain is that he did not so interpret it as to suppose an official connection with his own person to be the one essential of the true Church, or else in again using the metaphor of building the Church (though in a different connection) he could hardly have omitted all mention of himself. He is, apparently, thinking only of the Messianic interpretation of Old Testament sayings as expounded by our Lord—the “unsophisticated milk of the word” of 1Peter 2:2.
Disallowed indeed of men.—A direct reference to the passage (Psalm 118:22), which is quoted below in 1Peter 2:7. It here says “men,” rather than “builders,” in order to contrast them more forcibly with God. The word “disallowed,” or “rejected,” implies a form of trial or probation which comes to an unsatisfactory conclusion. The human builders examine the stone, inspect all its qualifications, and find it unsuited to the edifice which they have in hand, and refuse it not only the place of honour, but any place at all, in their architecture. St. Peter wishes to bring out strongly the absolute opposition between God and the Jews.
But chosen of God, and precious.—Literally, but with God elect, honoured. This is a direct allusion to the passage, Isaiah 28:16, which is quoted in 1Peter 2:6. While the human builders saw the qualities of the stone, and rejected it because of its not fitting in with their ideal, on the other hand, “with God,” i.e., in God’s counsel and plan, it was “elect,” i.e., choice had been laid upon it, it had been selected for God’s building purposes; and not only “elect” (for this might be equally said of all the “living stones;” see 1Peter 1:2, where the word has precisely the same meaning), but also “honoured,” which is further explained to mean, singled out for the place of honour, i.e., for that of corner-stone. The designation of this stone as “elect,” brings out again what we have had in 1Peter 1:11; 1Peter 1:20, viz., the eternal predestination of Jesus to the Messiahship.
Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.(5) Ye also, as lively stones, are built up.—This is true enough: they were in process of building up; but it suits the hortatory character of the whole Epistle better to take it (the one is as grammatical as the other) in the imperative sense: Be ye also as living stones built up. The rendering “lively,” instead of “living,” as in 1Peter 2:4, is arbitrary, the Greek being precisely the same, and the intention being to show the complete conformation of the believers to Him who is the type and model for humanity. “Built up,” too, only expresses a part of the Greek word, which implies “built up upon Him.”
A spiritual house.—The epithet is supplied, just as in “living stone,” to make it abundantly clear that the language is figurative. In the first three verses of the chapter these Hebrew Christians were treated individually, as so many babes, to grow up into an ideal freedom of soul: here they are treated collectively (of course, along with the Gentile Christians), as so many stones, incomplete and unmeaning in themselves, by arrangement and cemented union to rise into an ideal house of God. St. Peter does not distinctly say that the “house” is a temple (for the word “spiritual” is only the opposite of “material”), but the context makes it plain that such is the case. The temple is, however, regarded not in its capacity of a place for worship so much as a place for Divine inhabitation. “The spiritual house,” says Leighton truly, “is the palace of the Great King. The Hebrew word for palace and temple is one.” And the reason for introducing this figure seems to be, to console the Hebrews for their vanishing privileges in the temple at Jerusalem. They are being taught to recognise that they themselves, in their union with one another, and with Jesus Christ, are the true abode of the Most High. The Christian substitution of something else in lieu of the Jerusalem Temple was one of the greatest stumbling-blocks to the Hebrews from the very first. (See Mark 14:58; John 2:21; Acts 7:48; Acts 21:28; compare also Hebrews 9:8; Hebrews 9:11.) All history is the process of building up a “spiritual palace” out of a regenerate humanity, in order that, in the end, the Father Himself may occupy it. This follows from the fact that the Incarnate Son is described as a part of the Temple. Even through the Incarnation—at least so far as it has as yet taken effect—creation has not become so completely pervaded and filled with the Deity as it is destined to be when the “palace” is finished. (See 1Corinthians 15:28.) The idea of the Eternal Son occupying such a relation to the Father on the one hand, and to humanity and creation on the other hand, is really the same as when He is called (by an entirely different metaphor) the “firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15).
An holy priesthood.—“Being living stones,” says Bengel, “they can be priests as well.” They not only compose the Temple, but minister in it. By becoming Christians they are cut off from neither Temple nor hierarchy, nor sacrifice; all are at hand, and they themselves are all. The old priesthood, like the old Temple, has “had its day, and ceased to be.” Mark, though, that the Apostle is not dwelling on the individual priesthood of each (though that is involved), but on the hierarchical order of the whole company of Christians: they are an organised body or college of priests, a new seed of Aaron or Levi. (See Isaiah 66:21.) The very word implies that all Christians have not an equal degree of priesthood. And this new priesthood, like the old, is no profane intruding priesthood like that of Core (Jude 1:11), but “holy”—i.e., consecrated, validly admitted to its work. The way in which this new metaphor is suddenly introduced,—“to whom coming, be built up upon Him . . . to be an holy priesthood,” implies that Jesus Christ is the High Priest quite as much as it implies His being Corner Stone. The Incarnate Son heads the adoration offered to the Father by creation, just as He binds creation into a palace for the Father’s indwelling.
To offer up spiritual sacrifices.—The new priesthood is not merely nominal; it is no sinecure. None is a priest who does not offer sacrifices (Hebrews 8:3). But the sacrifices of the new hierarchy are “spiritual, ”—i.e., not material, not sacrifices of bulls and goats and lambs. What, then, do the sacrifices consist of? If our priesthood is modelled on that of Jesus Christ, as is here implied, it consists mainly (Calvin points this out) of the sacrifice of self, of the will; then, in a minor degree, of words and acts of worship, thanks and praise. (See Hebrews 13:10-16.) But in order to constitute a true priesthood and true sacrifices after the model of Jesus Christ, these sacrifices are offered up on behalf of others. (See Hebrews 5:1, and 1John 3:16.) The first notion of the priesthood of all believers is not that of a mediatorial system being abolished, but of the mediatorial system being extended: whereas, before, only Aaron’s sons were recognised as mediators and intercessors, now all Israel, all the spiritual Israel, all men everywhere are called to be mediators and intercessors between each other and God.
By (or, through) Jesus Christ.—The name again, not the title only. We all help one another to present one another’s prayers and praises, which pass through the lips of many priests; but for them to be acceptable, they must be presented finally through the lips of the Great High Priest. He, in His perfect sympathy with all men, must make the sacrifice His own. We must unite our sacrifices with His—the Advocate with the Father, the Propitiation for our sins—or our sacrifice will be as irregular and offensive as though some Canaanite should have taken upon himself to intrude into the Holy of Holies on Atonement Day. (See Hebrews 10:19-25, especially 1Peter 2:21.)
Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.(6) Wherefore also.—The mention of Jesus Christ brings the writer back again to his theme, viz., that the whole system to which his readers belong has undergone a radical change, and is based on Jesus and His fulfilment of the sufferings and glories of the Messiah. The right reading here is not “wherefore also,” but because—i.e., the quotations are introduced in the same way as in 1Peter 1:16; 1Peter 1:24, as justifying the foregoing expressions.
It is contained in the scripture.—In the original the phrase is a curious one. “The scripture” never means the Old Testament as a whole, which would be called “the Scriptures,” but is always the particular book or passage of the Old Testament. Literally, then, our present phrase runs, because it encloses or contains in that passage. Thus attention is drawn to the context of the quotation, and in this context we shall again find what made St. Peter quote the text.
Behold, I lay.—The sentence is taken from Isaiah 28:16, and, like the last, is adapted to the occasion out of both Hebrew and LXX. Gesenius on that passage gives evidence to show that the early Jewish explanation, current in our Lord’s time, referred it to the Messiah; the later Rabbinical expositors, probably by way of opposition to the Christians, explained it to mean Hezekiah. In order to gain a clear conception of St. Peter’s aim in the quotation, it is necessary to glance over the whole section contained in the 28th and 29th chapters of Isaiah. “The prophecy here cited,” says Archbishop Leighton, “if we look upon it in its own place, we shall find inserted in the middle of a very sad denunciation of judgment against the Jews.” Besides our present text, which is quoted also in Romans 9:33, our Lord’s prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem is an amplification of Isaiah 29:3-4; His sharp censure of the corrupt traditions which had superseded the law of God (Matthew 15:7-9) is taken from Isaiah 29:13; St. Paul’s image of the potter changing his purpose with the lump of clay (Romans 9:21), comes from Isaiah 29:16. Like one bright spot in the sad picture appears our verse, but only as serving to heighten the general gloom. St. Peter’s quotation here, therefore, calling attention as it does to the context, is at least as much intended to show his Hebrew readers the sweeping away of the carnal Israel as to encourage them in their Christian allegiance. In the original passage the sure foundation is contrasted with the refuge of lies which the Jewish rulers had constructed for themselves against Assyria, “scorning” this sure foundation as a piece of antiquated and unpractical religionism. Nägelsbach (in his new commentary on Isaiah) seems to be right in interpreting the “refuge of lies” to mean the diplomatic skill with which Ahaz and the Jewish authorities flattered themselves their treaty with Egypt was drawn up, and the “sure foundation” opposed to it is primarily God’s plighted promise to the house of David, in which all who trusted would have no cause for flight. In the Messianic fulfilment, those promises are all summed up in the one person of Jesus Christ (Acts 13:33; 2Corinthians 1:20); and the “refuge of lies” in which the Jewish rulers had trusted was the wicked policy by which they had tried to secure their “place and nation” against the Romans (John 11:48).
In Sion.—In Isaiah it means that the people have not to look for any distant external aid, such as that of Pharaoh: all that they need is to be found in the city of David itself. Here, it seems to impress upon the Hebrew Christians that they are not abandoning their position as Hebrews by attaching themselves to Jesus Christ. It is they who are really clinging to Sion when the other Jews are abandoning her.
Shall not be confounded (or, ashamed).—Our version of Isaiah translates the Hebrew original by the unintelligible “shall not make haste.” It really means, shall not flee. While all the Jewish rulers, who had turned faithless and trusted in their finesse with Egypt, would have to flee from the face of the Assyrians, those who preserved their faith in God would be able to stand their ground. This, of course, did not come literally true in the first instance, where a common temporal overthrow came upon faithful and faithless alike, from Babylon, though not from Assyria. In the Messianic fulfilment, however, the faith or unbelief of the individual makes all the difference to him: the overthrow of the many does not affect the few. St. Peter adds to “believe” the words “on Him” or “on it.” which are found in neither the Hebrew nor the Greek of Isaiah, such an addition being quite in keeping with the Rabbinic method of quotation, which frequently alters words (comp. Matthew 2:6) to bring out the concealed intention more fully. The general quality of “faith” of which the prophet spoke, i.e., reliance on the promises of God, becomes faith in Him in whom the promises are fulfilled. For a like cause St. Peter prefers the LXX. “be ashamed” to the Hebrew “flee away,” there being (except at the Fall of Jerusalem) no opportunity for actual flight. It comes to the same thing in the end: “shall not find his confidence misplaced.”
Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,(7) He is precious.—Rather, Unto you therefore, the believers, belongs the honour. So said in reference to His being called “a stone elect, honoured,” taken in conjunction with “shall not be ashamed.” Both the Hebrew and the Greek word rendered “precious” may with equal propriety be translated “honoured,” and this contrasts better with the “shame” just spoken of. Thus Dr. Lightfoot takes it. The argument is this: “God has selected Jesus for special honour, and has promised that all who trust in Him, instead of scorning Him like the Jewish rulers, shall have no cause to blush. Now you do trust in Him, therefore to you belongs the promise, and the honour bestowed by God on Him reflects on you. You, like Him, are made parts of the divine imperishable architecture.”
Unto them which be disobedient.—The better reading is, Unto them which disbelieve; the other word being an importation from 1Peter 2:8. The true reading better preserves the contrast with “you that believe.”
The stone which the builders disallowed.—We should perhaps have rather expected the sentence to run more like this: “To you which believe belongs the honour, but to those who disbelieve belongs the shame from which you are secured.” But instead, the Apostle stops short, and inserts (by a quotation) the historical fact which brought the shame, viz., the disappointment of their own design, and the glorious completion of that which they opposed. The words which follow are quoted directly from the LXX., and properly represent the Hebrew. Almost all the best modern critics consider the Psalm from which this verse is cited to be a late Psalm, written subsequent to the return from Babylon, in which case it is most probable that the composer was directly thinking of the prophecy of Isaiah above quoted. The Messianic interpretation of the Psalm would be no novelty to the Hebrews who received this Epistle (see Matthew 21:9), though probably they had not perceived it in its fulness. In its first application the passage seems to mean as follows: The speaker is Israel, taken as a single person. He has been a despised captive. The great builders of the world—the Babylonian and Persian empires—had recognised no greatness in him, and had no intention of advancing him; they were engaged in aggrandisement of self alone. Yet, after all, Israel is firmly planted once more in Sion, to be the first stone of a new structure, a new empire. Thus this interpretation at once suggests the admission of the Gentiles, humanity at large, into the architecture. Israel is the corner-stone, but corner-stones are not laid to be left unbuilt upon. In the fulfilment Christ takes the place of Israel, as is the case with Isaiah 53. The builders are the rulers of the Jews. In Acts 4:11 our author had called the Sanhedrin to their face, “you builders.” They, like the kings of Babylon, had been intent on building a fabric of their own, and had despised Jesus, yet, without any intention of so doing, had been the means of advancing Him (Acts 4:27-28). He had been made the basis of a new spiritual structure, in which faith, not fleshly lineage, was the cement and bond; and the believing Israelites, united to Him in both ways, shared the honour of being corner-stone. A further point is given to the quotation if we suppose, with Hengstenberg, Delitzsch, and others, that the remembrance of Isaiah’s prophecy of the “corner-stone” was suggested to the original Psalmist by the works of the Second Temple, then begun, advancing, or fresh completed. It will then fit in more perfectly with the description of the “spiritual house.” Leighton well points out how sore a trial it was to the faith of Jewish Christians to see that their own chosen people, even the most learned of them, rejected Christ, and adds, “That they may know this makes nothing against Him, nor ought to invalidate their faith at all, but rather testifies with Christ, and so serves to confirm them in believing, the Apostle makes use of those prophetical scriptures that foretell the unbelief and contempt with which the most would entertain Christ.”
And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.(8) And a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence.—Another quotation, no doubt suggested by the word “a stone,” but conveying a totally different metaphor. Here there is no thought whatever of the stone as a material for building; the thought is that of a mass of rock on the road, on which the terror-stricken fugitives stumble and fall. The words are taken from Isaiah 8:14, and are translated directly from the Hebrew. The LXX. not only makes nonsense, but can again be hardly acquitted of “guile” (1Peter 2:1) in its endeavour to make out the best possible case for Israel by deliberately inserting the word “not” twice over. We shall find St. Peter in 1Peter 3:14 quoting the verses which immediately precede our present citation, and again the point lies in the context. The words are no mere phrase hastily caught up to serve the turn. They come out of the great Immanuel section of Isaiah, and immediately involve, like the quotation in 1Peter 2:6, the sharp contrast between the Jews who trust in Immanuel (the presence of God with Israel) and the Jews who do not, but rely on “confederacies.” To the one party, the Lord of Hosts will be “for a sanctuary;” but to the other party, who are described as “both houses of Israel,” and specially as the “inhabitant of Jerusalem,” He will be “for a stone of striking, and for a rock of stumbling over,” and also “for a snare.” The “sanctuary” does not seem to mean a temple (though this would connect it with the preceding words of St. Peter), but rather such a “sanctuary” as that of Bethel (Genesis 28:18), a consecrated stone to which a man might flee as an asylum. In the flight of terror before the face of the Assyrians the very stone which afforded right of sanctuary to those who recognised and trusted it, was a vexatious and dangerous obstacle, a trap full in the way to those who did not. Once more, therefore, the Hebrews of the Dispersion, in separating themselves from “both houses of Israel” and the “inhabitant of Jerusalem,” were obeying the warnings of the Immanuel prophecy, which every Hebrew recognised as Messianic. Though the coupling of these passages of the Old Testament together certainly seems to show traces of the influence of St. Paul (comp. Romans 9:32-33), yet St. Peter must have been present and heard “the Lord of Hosts” Himself put them together (Luke 20:17-18), and probably St. Paul’s use of the passages is itself to be traced back to the same origin.
Stumble at the word, being disobedient.—It seems better to arrange the words otherwise: which stumble, being disobedient to the word. The participle thus explains the verb. “‘A stone of stumbling’ He is to them; and the manner of the stumbling is in being disobedient to the gospel preaching” (Leighton).
Whereunto also they were appointed—i.e., unto stumbling. The present commentator believes that when St. Peter says that these unhappy Jews were appointed to stumble, he primarily means that the clear prophecies of the Old Testament which he has quoted marked them for such a destiny. It was no unforeseen, accidental consequence of the gospel. It had never been expected that all who heard the gospel would accept it. Those who stumbled by disbelief were marked out in prophecy as men who would stumble. Thus the introduction of the statement here has the direct practical purpose of confirming the faith of the readers by showing the verification of the prophecy. Still, in fairness, we must not shirk the further question which undoubtedly comes in at this point. Even though the moment of their appointment to stumble was that of the utterance of the prophecy, it cannot be denied that, in a certain sense, it was God Himself who appointed them to stumble. It will be observed, however, from the outset, that our present passage casts not a glance at the condition of the stumbling Jews after death. With this caution, we may say that God puts men sometimes into positions where, during this life, they almost inevitably reject the truth. This is implied in the very doctrine of election—e.g., in 2Thessalonians 2:13, where, if God selects one man out of the hundred to a present salvation through belief of truth, it seems to follow logically that the ninety and nine are appointed to have no share in that salvation, so far as this life is concerned, through disbelief of truth. These things remain as a trial of faith. It suffices that we know for certain that God is Love. He has “brought us forth at His own option by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:18). We have but to prize more highly our own present salvation, and to trust His love for that fuller harvest of which we are but the firstfruits. In some way even their stumbling will ultimately prove His love, to them as well as to us.
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:(9) But ye.—Like St. Paul in 2Thessalonians 2:13, St. Peter turns with an outburst of triumph to the happier and more practical and attractive theme. All the most splendid titles of the old Israel belong in a fuller sense to these Hebrews who have joined the new Israel. In 1Peter 2:5 they are bidden to aim at being what here they are said to be. (Comp. Colossians 3:3; Colossians 3:5.)
A chosen generation.—Better, a chosen, or elect race. As originally the clan of Abraham was selected from among “all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2), so out of the clan of Abraham after the flesh were these men selected to be a new clan, or race. They are not merely individuals selected one by one and left in isolation, but a tribe consolidated, only the bond henceforth is not merely one of common physical descent.
A royal priesthood, an holy nation.—These words are a direct quotation from Exodus 19:6, according to the LXX. version. The Hebrew has “a kingdom of priests,” as in Revelation 1:6 (according to the best reading); which would mean, God’s organised empire, every member of which is a priest. Nor is the thought far different here. The word “royal” does not seem intended to imply that every Christian is a king, or of royal birth (though that, of course, may be shown from elsewhere), but describes his belonging to the King as we might speak of the royal apartments, the royal borough, the royal establishment, or even of the royal servants. The substitution, therefore, of “royal priesthood” for “kingdom of priests” brings out more clearly the personal relation to the Personal King. But if the writer had said” royal priests,” the notion of organisation would have slipped out of sight altogether. By way of compensation, therefore, it is restored in the substitution of “priesthood” (see Note on 1Peter 2:5) instead of “priests.” This, and the next phrase, “an holy (i.e., consecrated) nation,” describe the whole Israelite nation as they stood beneath Mount Sinai. This must be taken into consideration in dealing with the doctrine of the Christian ministry. The sacerdotal office was as common to all Israelites under the Law as it is to all the new Israel under the Gospel.
A peculiar people.—This curious phrase is literally, a people for a special reservation. It is, no doubt, intended to represent Exodus 19:5, though it differs both from the Greek and the Hebrew, the variation being due to a recollection of the Greek of two other passages of the Old Testament (Isaiah 43:21; Malachi 3:17). The word rendered “peculiar” means properly “making over and above,” and would be represented in Latin by the word peculium, which means a man’s private pocket-money, as, for instance, the money a slave could make by working over hours, or such as a wife might have apart from her husband. When children speak of a thing being their “very own” it exactly expresses what we have here. From this sense of “making over and above,” by working out of hours, the word comes in other places to mean “earning by hard work,” in such a way as to establish peculiar rights of property over the thing earned. So in Acts 20:28, where St. Paul is probably thinking of the passage of Isaiah above referred to, both the hard earning and the special possession are intended: “the Church of God, which He won so hard for His very own, by His own blood.” Here, perhaps, the thought of “earning” is less obvious, and it means “a people to be His very own.” Comp. 1Thessalonians 5:9, and Ephesians 1:7, where (according to Dr. Lightfoot) it means “for a redemption which consists of taking possession of us for His own.”
That ye should shew forth the praises.—This is an adaptation, though not exactly according to the LXX., of Isaiah 43:21, which passage is brought to St. Peter’s mind by the word rendered “peculiar.” The word “praises” is put here in accordance with the English version there. The Greek means “virtues,” or “powers,” or “excellencies,” a rare word in the New Testament (see 2Peter 1:3). And the word for “shew forth,” which is nowhere else found in the New Testament, means by rights “to proclaim to those without what has taken place within.” This strict signification is very suitable here. St. Peter says that God has taken us for a people peculiarly near to Him, and the purpose is, not that we may stand within His courts and praise Him, but that we may carry to others the tidings of what we have been admitted to see. This was the true function of the old Israel, “Do My prophets no harm” (Psalm 105:15). They were not elect for their own sake, but to act as God’s exponents to the world. This function they abdicated by their selfish exclusiveness, and it has descended to the new Israel. St. Peter and St. Paul are at one.
Of him who hath called you out of darkness.—This is to be understood of the Father, not of Christ. For one thing, the act of calling is almost always ascribed in the New Testament to God Himself; and for another thing, it is probable that St. Peter regards our Lord as Head of this “people of God,” just as He is corner-stone of the Temple, and High Priest of the hierarchy. The act of calling (literally it is, ‘who called, not “who hath called”) was that of sending the preachers of the gospel to them, i.e., St. Paul and his followers (comp. 1Peter 1:12; 1Peter 1:25). Here again, then, we have St. Peter speaking in praise of St. Paul’s mission, and, indeed, speaking in the same tones of unbounded admiration: “His marvellous light.” But could Hebrew Christians be said to have gone through so great a change in becoming believers? Had they been in “darkness?” We may answer that St. Peter’s use of the word “marvellous” is no affectation of sympathy. He himself found the change to be what he here describes, therefore there is no difficulty in supposing that other Hebrews should have found it so too. Besides which, the state of the Jews immediately before Christ and without Him is often described as “darkness.” (See Matthew 4:16; Luke 1:79.) This very passage is quoted a few years later by St. Clement of Rome (chap. 36), as applying to himself among others, and Dr. Lightfoot has clearly established that St. Clement was a Jew.
Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.(10) Which in time past were not a people.—Here at last, say some, we have a distinct proof that the Epistle was written to the Gentiles only, or, at least, to churches which contained a very small proportion of Jews. Such, however, is by no means the case; in fact, the opposite. We have here an emphasised adaptation of Hosea 2:23, “And I will have mercy upon Lo-ruhamah, and I will say to Lo-ammi, ‘Thou art Animi,’ i.e., My people.” Now who were Lo-ruhamah and Lo-ammi? Types of Israel left unpitied, and rejected from their covenant with God. And this unpitied and rejected Israel, after being “scattered,” or sown, all over the earth, was to be restored again to favour, together with the increment of the Gentiles who joined, it as the result of the “sowing.” St. Peter means, then, that in his Hebrew readers and the brethren from among the Gentiles, who by the gospel of St. Paul had adhered to them, this promise given by Hosea had found its fulfilment. But, as usual, the quotation demands a more searching scrutiny of the context from which it is taken. The name Diaspora, or Dispersion, by which St. Peter, in 1Peter 1:1, designates those to whom he writes, was applied to themselves by the Jews in direct allusion (as seems probable) to the name Jezreel, or God will scatter, in Hosea 1:4. Now mark that St. Peter does not say “which in time past were not God’s people,” but “were not a people.” This was the effect of the dispersion, or “scattering.” Though each Jew of the dispersion retained, and still retains, in isolation, his national characteristics and aspirations, yet their unity—that which made them a “people”—was, and is, for the time broken. The Hebrews had not only ceased to be in covenant as “God’s people,” but had ceased to be “a people” at all. But in Christ, that very “scattering” becomes a “sowing” (Hosea 2:23), for the name Jezreel means both equally; their very dispersion becomes the means of their multiplication by union with the Gentiles in Christ, and thus spiritually they recover the lost unity, and become once more a solid and well-governed confederation, i.e., “a people,” and that “the people of God.” (See John 11:52, and Dr. Pusey’s notes on Hosea.) It is a mistake to take St. Paul’s quotation of this passage in Romans 9:26, as if it referred solely to the Gentiles; for he expressly affirms that the title “My people” belongs to neither section exclusively, but to both in reunion—“us whom He called, not only of the Jews, but also of the Gentiles.”
Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;PRUDENTIAL RULES OF CONDUCT IN VIEW OF THE HOSTILE ATTITUDE OF THE HEATHEN.—As slanders against the Christian name are rife, and bringing practical persecution on the Church, they are exhorted to extreme care about their conduct, especially in regard (1) to purity, and (2) to due subordination, whether as subjects to the officers of state, or as slaves to their masters, or as wives to their husbands (1Peter 2:11 to 1Peter 3:12.)
(11) Dearly beloved.—“Affectionate and pressing exhortation,” says Bengel. “That which is known to come from love,” says Leighton, “cannot readily but be so received too, and it is thus expressed for that very purpose, that the request may be the more welcome. Beloved, it is the advice of a friend, one that truly loves-you, and aims at nothing but your good; it is because I love you that I intreat you, and intreat you, as you love yourselves, to abstain from fleshly lusts.”
As strangers and pilgrims.—The exhortation will be felt with the more force if we turn to the Psalm from which St. Peter draws the phrase (Psalm 39:12, LXX.). The words, especially when compared with that Psalm, prepare for the description of distress which is to follow. (Comp. also Psalm 119:19.) The word “pilgrim” (which comes to us through the French form pelerin, from the Latin peregrinus) does not originally, or in this place, mean one on a pilgrimage. It implies no journeying, but simply residence in a foreign country. Here it represents the same Greek word which is rendered “strangers” in 1Peter 1:1, but is used in a metaphorical and not literal sense. Though no longer “scattered,” but gathered mercifully once more into “a people,” they were still far from home—unprotected residents in an alien and hostile world, which scrutinised their conduct and was anxious for an opportunity to get rid of them.
Abstain from fleshly lusts.—First prudential rule. Although all bad desires might be described as fleshly, the word seems here to mean what we usually understand by it, the lusts which lead to drunkenness, gluttony, and uncleanness. And though such sins are usually characteristic of the Gentile, not of the Jew, yet see our Note on 1Peter 1:14. Jews were not impeccable in such matters, and here the Apostle has a special reason for insisting on the observance of the seventh commandment. It may even be said that his mode of insistence recognises that his readers usually do observe it. He appeals to them as “Israelites from home” to be on their guard in such matters, as Leonidas might exhort Spartans going into battle not to flinch, or Nelson tell English sailors that “England expects every man to do his duty.” There was special reason for these Hebrew Christians to be more than ever vigilant, because (see Note on next verse) of the calumnies which the heathen were beginning to circulate about the Christians.
Which war against the soul.—This clause is no specifying of the particular fleshly lusts to be guarded against, as though there were some of them which did not war against the soul; but it is a description of the way in which all fleshly lusts alike act. It means not merely a general antagonism between soul and body, but that the lusts are on active service, engaged in a definite campaign against the immortal part of the man. St. Peter has probably forgotten for the moment his metaphor of strangers and sojourners, and we are not to put the two things together too closely, as though their position of strangers rendered them more liable to the attack of the hostile lusts. “Abstain” cannot mean merely “be on your guard against.” It runs rather thus: “You Christian Jews are dwelling as sojourners in the midst of jealous Gentile foreigners, and must, therefore, be particularly observant of moral conduct; for though I know that you usually are so, yet the fleshly appetites are actively engaged against your soul all the time; and if you should in any degree let them get the better of you, the heathen neighbours will at once take advantage of you.” As the expression might have been drawn equally well from St. Paul or from St. James, it is perhaps the easiest thing to suppose that (like the metaphors of building or of giving milk) it was part of the common property of Christians, and not consciously traceable to any originator.
Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.(12) Conversation.—A favourite word with St. Peter, occurring (substantive and verb) seven times in this Epistle, and thrice in the second—i.e., as often as in all the other New Testament writings put together. It means the visible conduct of the daily walk in life. This, as among Gentiles—i.e., heathen (the words are synonymous, though St. Paul generally says “those without” when he means heathen as opposed to Christian)—is to be “honest.” We have no word adequate to represent this charming adjective. It is rendered “good” immediately below and in John 10:11 (“the Good Shepherd”), “worthy” in James 2:7, “goodly” in Luke 21:5. But it is the ordinary Greek word for “beautiful,” and implies the attractiveness of the sight, the satisfaction afforded by an approach to ideal excellence.
That whereas.—The marginal version is more literal, and in sense perhaps preferable, “wherein.” It means that the very fact of the heathen having slandered them will make their testimony “in the day of visitation” all the more striking, as (by way of illustration) the doubts of St. Thomas tend to “the more confirmation of the faith.” So in Romans 2:1, “wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself;” or Hebrews 2:18 (lit.), “wherein He Himself hath suffered, being tempted.”
They speak against you as evildoers.—A significant phrase. St. Peter asserts distinctly that calumnies were really rife, about some particulars of the Christian morality, at the time that this letter was written. It is a mark of a late date, for at first the Christians had not attracted sufficient notice, as a body, to be talked of either in praise or blame. The heathen at first regarded them as merely a Jewish sect (Acts 18:15; Acts 25:18-20), and as such they received from the Roman Government a contemptuous toleration. The first state recognition of Christianity as a separate religion, with characteristics of its own, was the Persecution of Nero in the year 64. Now, it so happens that we have almost contemporary heathen documents which bring out the force of this passage. Suetonius, in his life of Nero (chap. 16), calls the Christians by the very name St. Peter uses, “the Christians, a kind of men of a new and malefic superstition.” Only about forty years later, we have Pliny’s famous letter to Trajan, written actually from the country in which St. Peter’s correspondents lived, and referring to some of the very persons (probably) who received the Epistle as having apostatised at the time of the persecution under Nero; in which letter Pliny asks whether it is the profession of being a Christian which is itself to be punished, or “the crimes which attach to that profession!” The Apologists of the second century are full of refutations of the lies current about the immorality of the Christian assemblies. The Christians were a secret society, and held their meetings before daylight; and the heathen, partly from natural suspicion, partly from consciousness of what passed in their own secret religious festivals, imagined all kinds of horrors in connection with our mysteries. From what transpired about the Lord’s Supper, they believed that the Christians used to kill children and drink their blood and eat their flesh. Here, however, the context points to a different scandal. They are warned against the fleshly lusts, in order that the heathen may find that the Christians’ great glory lies in the very point wherein they are slandered. “Evildoers,” therefore, must mean chiefly offences on that score. It is historically certain that such charges against Christian purity were extremely common. Even as late as the persecution under Maximin II., in the year 312, it was reported that these meetings before light were a school for the vilest of arts.
By your good works which they shall behold.—More literally, they may, in consequence of your beautiful works, being eye-witnesses thereof—The “good works” are not what are commonly so called—i.e., acts of benevolence, &c. Rather, their “works” are contrasted with the current report, and mean scarcely more than the “conversation” mentioned already. The present passage is, no doubt, a reminiscence of Matthew 5:16, where the word has the same force.
Glorify God in the day of visitation.—This “glorification” of God will be like that of Achan in the book of Joshua (Joshua 7:19), an acknowledgment how far they had been from the glorious truth. Some commentators understand the day of visitation to mean the day when the heathen themselves come really to look into the matter. This is possible; and it came true when Pliny tortured the Christian deaconesses and acquitted the poor fanatics, as he thought them, of all immoral practices. But from the ordinary use of the words, it would more naturally mean the day when God visits. And this will not mean only the great last day, but on whatever occasion God brings matters to a crisis. The visitation is a visitation of the Christians and the heathen alike, and it brings both grace and vengeance, according as men choose to receive it. (See Luke 19:44, and comp. Luke 1:78.)
Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;(13) To every ordinance of man.—Second prudential rule, subordination. Literally, to every human creation, i.e., to every office or authority which men have established. It is not only to ordinances of directly Divine institution that we are to submit. Mind that he does not say we are to submit to every law that men may pass. This passage is most directly modelled on Romans 13:1, et seq., where the reason assigned for submission is the same as that in John 19:11, viz., that ultimately the authority proceeds from God Himself. Here, however, the thought is quite different. They are to submit, but not because of the original source from which the authority flows, but because of the practical consequences of not submitting. It must be done “for the Lord’s” (i.e., Jesus Christ’s) “sake,” i.e., in order not to bring discredit upon His teaching, and persecution upon His Church. This difference of treatment, in the midst of so much resemblance, shows that at the date of St. Peter’s letter there was much more immediate cause for laying stress on political subordination. St. Paul, writing to the Roman Church, urges submission to Claudius, because the Roman Jews (among whom the Christians were reckoned) were often in trouble and expelled from the city of Rome (Acts 18:2); St. Peter, writing in all probability from the Roman Church, urges submission to Nero and the provincial governors because “ignorant and foolish men” were beginning to misrepresent the Christian Church as a kind of Internationalist or Socialist conspiracy.
The king, as supreme.—First division of second prudential rule: subordination political. Of course it means the emperor. The name “king,” though detested in Latin, was used without scruple by the provincial Greeks to express the sovereignty of the Caesars. When he is described here as “supreme,” it is not intended (as our English version would convey) to contrast his supreme power with the inferior power of the “governors;” the word is only the same which is rendered “higher” in Romans 13:1. Huther rightly says, “The emperor was in the Roman Empire not merely the highest, but actually the only ruler; all other magistrates were but the instruments by which he exercised his sway.” Of course all Asia Minor, to which St. Peter was writing, was in the Roman Empire; the language would have been different had the letter been addressed to, or perhaps had it even been written from, the geographical Babylon.
Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.(14) Governors, as unto them that are sent by him.—This word will include legati, proconsuls, propraetors, procurators, all officers entrusted with the administration of provinces. Of course the person “by” whom they are here said to be (from time to time) “sent” is Cæsar, not “the Lord.” The persons to whom the letter is addressed would have very little to do with Cæsar himself directly, their submission would be chiefly shown to the lieutenants. Yet how personal was the Imperial government, even in details, is shown in Pliny’s letters; the very letter before that in which he asks how to deal with the Christians of Bithynia requests Trajan’s leave to cover in an unhealthy beck in the town of Amastris.
For the punishment of evildoers.—St. Peter credits Roman imperialism (rightly in the main) with having as its aim the promotion of moral behaviour among its subjects. The word for “punishment” is that which is translated “vengeance” in 2Thessalonians 1:8, and implies forcing the malefactors to make satisfaction to those whom they had wronged, the “avenger” being, of course, quite disinterested. The “praise” which here, as in Romans 13:3, is said to have been bestowed by the government on welldoers, must mean the solid praise of preferments, which is hardly so marked a feature of government as the foregoing. Be it observed that neither St. Peter nor St. Paul lay down any exceptions to the rule of complete obedience. They refuse to contemplate, at least to formulate, the occasions when disobedience may be necessary. Obedience is the first thing to learn, and when they have learnt it, they will know of themselves when to disobey. St. Peter himself stands to all time as the type of magnificent disobedience (Acts 4:19).
For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:(15) For so is the will of God.—This refers to the command contained in the last two verses, which then is further explained by the clause which follows, “that with well-doing.” See a very similar construction in 1Thessalonians 4:3. The “well-doing” of this and the last verse bears the most general sense of good conduct, not the special sense noticed on the “fair works” and “fair life” of 1Peter 2:12.
Put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.—A very contemptuous expression, the word for “put to silence” being the same as in 1Corinthians 9:9; 1Timothy 5:18, to “muzzle” or “gag,” implying that there is something of the animal about these “foolish men.” The same contempt appears in each word of the clause, even down to “men,” which might be rendered “people” or “creatures.” The word for “ignorance” implies a stolid and wilful ignorance, and is so used by heathen authors, as well as very markedly in the only other place in the New Testament, 1Corinthians 15:34. “Foolish,” too, contains moral reprobation, Luke 11:40; Luke 12:20; 1Corinthians 15:36. suggesting thoughtlessness rather than senselessness. The definite article is also used in the Greek (as in 2Thessalonians 3:2), and again seems to indicate that St. Peter had some particular enemies in view who had brought the charges. This accusation was evidently one of a political nature; and, indeed, history shows us that the hostility of the empire to the faith was entirely based on the corporate nature of the Christian religion. They would not have minded the cultus, but they could not tolerate the Church. Pliny distinctly says in his letter to Trajan, that it was in consequence of Trajan’s issuing an order against hetœriœ or societies, that he was led to contend with the Christians in Bithynia.
As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.(16) As free.—This points at once to what was the gist of the accusation. The Christian took up a position of complete independence within, and professed himself in a certain sense to be above the laws, by virtue of being a member of Christ’s kingdom. This position of independence the heathen state resented, and looked upon the Christian Church as a dangerous organisation. Here, therefore, St. Peter both insists upon, and defines that independent position. “This the Apostle adds,” says Leighton, “lest any should so far mistake the nature of their Christian liberty as to dream of an exemption from obedience either to God or to man for His sake, and according to His appointment. Their freedom he grants, but would have them understand aright what it is.”
And not using.—The word “as” in the Greek attaches better to the participle instead of to the word “cloke,” so that the sentence will run, As free (i.e., as men who are really free), and not as using freedom for a curtain of vice. In this way the true and the false freedom are more forcibly contrasted.
For a cloke of maliciousness.—The uncommon word here used means any kind of covering, but not in the sense of a garment, so that we must not insist on the metaphor of the word “cloke.” The same Greek word is used in Exodus 26:14 to express the second covering of the tabernacle there mentioned, i.e., the uppermost, outermost covering. Grimm quotes a fragment of the comic poet Menander, “Wealth is a covering of many a bad thing;” this helps us to see that what St. Peter means is not ordinary hypocrisy. The man does not profess to be better than he is, but loudly asserts that he is not a slave. Men admire such freedom of speech, and excuse his vices just because of their openness.
But as the servants of God.—Such freedom as has been mentioned is no freedom. It is moral slavery. The only true freedom lies in being “servants” (or rather slaves) “of God,” whose will it is that you should be good subjects (1Peter 2:13; 1Peter 2:15). For a slightly different turn of thought, see Galatians 5:13.
Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.(17) Honour all men.—“These words have very briefly, and yet not obscured by briefness, but withal very plainly, the sum of our duty towards God and men; to men, both in general, honour all men, and in special relations, in their Christian or religious relations, love the brotherhood; and in a chief civil relation, honour the king. And our whole duty to God, comprised under the name of His fear, is set in the middle betwixt these, as the common spring of all duty to men, and of all due observance of it, and the sovereign rule by which it is to be regulated” (Leighton). St. Paul had said that this honour was to be paid to those to whom it was due; St. Peter says that this includes all men; there is not one who can be entirely despised, not one who has quite lost the likeness of Christ; Jews are not at liberty to despise even the idolatrous Gentiles.
Love the brotherhood.—See 1Peter 5:9, and Note on 1Peter 1:22. The brotherhood means, of course, all Christian men, who (mystically even now that the Church is divided, but then actually) formed a single confraternity. “All men,” Christian or heathen, are to be “honoured,” but there is a special sense in which love is only possible between fellow-Christians. For the converse proposition, see Matthew 5:44.
Fear God.—This enforces reverence for every law and ordinance of God, and therefore serves fitly to introduce the next precept. Rebellion against Nero is rebellion against God (Romans 13:2. Bengel compares Proverbs 24:21).
Honour the king.—This is the climax. Logically, the foregoing commands have only been inserted for the purpose of bringing out this last more clearly. This was the point on which the Christian religion was assailed, and the putting the readers through their catechism (as it were) of duties in other respects awakes their conscience to receive this precept. 1Peter 2:13-16 have insisted on the duty of political submission, and then the writer steps back, so to speak, for a final thrust: “so—as to all men you must pay reverence; as to the Christians, love; as to God, fear—so to the emperor you must pay constant reverence.” It is hardly right to say with Bengel that this paragraph is specially written because of the usual disaffection of Jews towards the Roman government; rather it is called for (like the warning of 1Peter 2:11-12), not by any special temptation within them, but by the particular circumstances of the time, i.e., the calumnies that were afloat against Christians.
Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.(18) Servants—Second division of the second prudential rule: subordination social. This word is not the same as is used by St. Paul—e.g., Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22—but is used only besides in Luke 16:13; Acts 10:7; Romans 14:4. It brings forward the family or household relation of servant or slave to master, and not (as does the common word used in 1Peter 2:16) the mere fact of ownership. We need not be surprised at directions for household servants, or slaves, in a letter addressed to Jewish Christians, for there were large numbers of Hebrews in this position both now and later; St. Clement, for example, was probably both.
With all fear.—“All” implies everything which goes to make up true fear, every kind of fear; and the “fear” (as when we speak of the fear of God) is not intended to mean any unmanly cowardice, dread of punishment, or such terror as is involved in having secrets which one dreads to have divulged. One commentator well defines it as “the shrinking from transgressing the master’s will, based on the consciousness of one’s own inferiority.”
The froward.—Literally, the crooked. Its meaning is made clear by the contrasted adjectives, “good,” i.e., kindly, considerate; and “gentle,” or, rather, reasonable, not disposed to take too stern a view of matters. A “froward” master, then, is one with a warped nature, who is unreasonably exacting, capricious, and cross-grained; in fact, one who will deal with his servants in the manner spoken of in the following verses.
For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.(19) For this is thankworthy.—“This,” viz., what goes before, which is further explained in what follows. Quite literally it is, for this is grace, or else (for, like grâce in French, ‘the word has the double signification) this is thanks. The passage has some little importance in controversy, as some of the older Roman Catholic divines pressed it into the service of the supererogation theory. “This is grace,” they said, means “this deserves grace as its reward.” It is needless to point out how shallow a view of duty is implied in the thought that it was more than duty to be thus submissive. Still taking the first translation, others would interpret, “this is a mark of grace”—i.e., shows that you are Christians indeed; or, “this is a gift of grace”—i.e., a supernatural and heroic virtue, such as must have come from God, and not from you.” These two interpretations make good sense in themselves, but they seem not to suit the context (“what glory is it”) quite so well as our authorised rendering, and they ignore the sayings of our Lord, which must certainly have been in St. Peter’s mind, recorded in Luke 6:27-35, especially Luke 6:32-34, and again in Luke 17:9. The thought is that where duty is both obvious and easy (as is the case with good masters), people do not lavish gratitude for the performance of it. The best of masters hardly feels grateful to the best of servants for doing his duty, though he will be grateful for the spirit and manner in which it is done. Here the “thanks” are put quite generally, as in the first passage in St. Luke: “this is a matter for thanks.” It does not say as yet who is to pay the thanks, and we may naturally conclude that the master so served, and all who are cognisant of the service, are the persons meant.
For conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.—This does not mean “if a man is afflicted for his religion’s sake.” Rather, the conscience towards God, or, perhaps, rather, consciousness of God, is thrown in to guard against any false theory that patience by itself is a thankworthy thing. However unjust the man’s treatment may be, and however little he may resent it in act, it is not thankworthy unless his resignation be grounded on consciousness of God’s presence. A resignation which comes from stolid want of feeling, or stoical fatalism, or from the sense that it is no good to seek redress—such resignation is sinfully defective. The two necessary qualifications, before patience can become in any sense meritorious, are (1) that the suffering should be undeserved, (2) that the man should recognise in it the hand of God.
For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.(20) For what glory is it.—A poetical and pagan-sounding word, not elsewhere found in the New Testament; in the Old Testament it corresponds to the word “fame,” in Job 28:22. The sense may be said to be slightly humorous. “If you make a blunder” (such is the meaning of “fault” here—it might include such things as the breaking of dishes), “and receive a buffet for it” (or a box on the ear—a common punishment of slaves for trifling faults), “and bear it with fortitude” (the meekness of patience has no place in the word), “do you expect to be made the subject of an heroic or dithyrambic poem, to have your name resounded through the world and immortalised among posterity?” The “for” at the beginning of the clause explains why the writer added “suffering wrongfully” at the end of the last.
When ye do well, and suffer for it.—It is a pity that the translators have limited St. Peter’s meaning by the insertion of the last two words. It is unnecessary to understand the suffering to be directly provoked by the well-doing. It would have done just as well to say, “when ye do well, and yet are ill-treated.” The “froward” master makes his servants suffer without thinking what he makes them suffer for.
This is acceptable with God.—Timidity about St. Peter’s theology has caused a difference between the rendering of the same word in two consecutive verses. It should be translated “thankworthy” here as well as above, and must be taken in precisely the same sense. Observe that the Apostle does not continue, “this is glory,” as we might have expected; a Christian is not supposed to care for such trash as fame. But a Christian may well care to win the thanks of God! And such endurance of griefs for God’s sake is now distinctly said to be “thankworthy with God”—i.e., from God’s point of view. See 2Thessalonians 1:6, where, as here, it is assumed that the moral law is identical for God and for us, and that His principles and impulses of action are the same as those which He has implanted in us. “He will thank a man for it,” says Archbishop Leighton, not a divine to favour the doctrine of human merit, but too honest a scholar to shrink from the meaning of words. Many things are strictly duty, and yet we do not expect to find them done, and are proportionably grateful when we see that they are done. And shall we, for the sake of a doctrinal thesis like that, “that man can deserve nothing at the hand of God,” deny to God the possibility of enjoying one of the happiest exercises of love, the sense of gratitude?
For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:(21) For even hereunto were ye called.—Namely, to the combination of suffering and well-doing. To this they “were called” by the Gospel which St. Paul had preached to them; it ought not to be a surprise to them when it comes. (See 1Peter 4:12.) It was a special point in St. Paul’s preaching to forewarn fairly of the tribulations attending all who wished to enter the kingdom of God. Comp. 1Thessalonians 3:3-4, and Acts 14:22, which latter passage refers to preaching in the very homes of some of the recipients of this Epistle.
Because.—This justifies the last assertion. It appeared on the very face of the gospel message that we should all (slave and freeman alike) have to do well, and at the same time suffer, because the gospel told us that it was so with Him, the subject of the gospel. Notice what a fine assumption lies in this “because”—viz., that Christ’s experience must needs be that of every Christian.
Christ also suffered.—It is to be carefully observed again that he does not say “Jesus suffered;” the whole point is that these Hebrew Christians have given in their adhesion to a suffering Messiah. (See Note on 1Peter 1:11.) And the true reading immediately after is “for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow His steps;” not, of course, that St. Peter exempts himself from the need of the atonement or the obligation of following Christ’s steps, but because it is his accustomed style to give a charge (as it were) rather than to throw himself in with those whom he addresses. (See Note on 1Peter 1:12.) There is one important point to be observed. Christ is said to have suffered “for you,” but this does not mean “in your stead” but “on your behalf, for your good.” Christ’s atonement for us is not represented in this passage as vicarious. He did not, according to St. Peter’s teaching, die as a substitute for us, any more than He rose again as our substitute. So far as the words themselves go, the death of the Messiah “for us” might have been such a death as that of the hero who, in the battle of Murgarten, gathered the Austrian spears like a sheaf into his own bosom, “for” his fellow-patriots, clearing the way for them to follow. The addition “for you” conveys the thought that in gratitude we ought to suffer with, or even for, Him.
Leaving us (you) an example.—This clause seems added as a kind of explanation of the abrupt “because” just before. “You were called to suffering, I said, because Christ, too, suffered; for in so suffering He left (“as something to survive Him” is implied in the word) an example to you.” (This last “you” stands very emphatically in the Greek). The curious word for “example,” nowhere else used in the New Testament, means primarily the “copy” given to a child to write from, or a “plan” suggested for carrying out in detail, a sketch to be filled in. It is used in this literal sense in 2 Maccabees 2:28-29, and in the metaphorical sense it occurs repeatedly in the Epistle of St. Clement; in one passage (chap. 16) apparently with a reminiscence of this place, for the author has been quoting the passage of Isaiah to which we shall come presently, and then adds, “See then, beloved sirs, what is the copy which has been set us; for if the Lord was so lowly-minded. what shall we do who through Him have come under the yoke of His grace?” The leaving us of this copy was one of the benefits of His passion implied in “suffered for you.”
Follow his steps.—In all probability St. Peter used the word rendered “example” without any sense of its containing a metaphor, or else it would accord badly with the metaphor here. The word for “follow” is a strengthened form, and in 1Timothy 5:10 is rendered “diligently follow;” in 1Peter 2:24 of the same chapter it is “follow after”—i.e., “dog;” the only other place being Mark 16:20. It means (as in 1Timothy 5:24) rather “to follow up,” made still more vivid by the addition of “His steps” (Romans 4:12; 2Corinthians 12:18). St. Peter could remember the day when he was called to follow, and he did so literally (Matthew 4:19; John 21:19); but the Pontine Christians, who had believed without having seen (1Peter 1:8), could only “follow Him up” by the footprints which He had left.
Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:(22) Who did no sin.—This verse is not to be taken by itself, but in the closest conjunction with the following. It is not the sinlessness of Christ by itself that is here set as an example before the servants, but His sinlessness in combination with His ill-treatment, or rather, His meekness under the combination. St. Peter again adapts the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 53:9) to his purpose. The word there was one of violent transgression; St. Peter substitutes the simple word which he had used in 1Peter 2:20, “fault”—“who never made a fault”—such as household servants were often committing—“neither was guile found in His mouth”—again referring to what was common with servants—petty acts of dishonesty, and petty deceits to screen themselves from punishment. One thing which lends special point to the allusion to Isaiah’s prophecy is that Israel is in that passage spoken of under the title of God’s “servant,” a thought familiar to St. Peter long ago in connection with Christ. (See Note on Acts 3:13.)
Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:(23) Who, when he was reviled.—This “who” might be rendered by and yet He. Conscious though He was of being blameless (John 8:46), it did not make Him retaliate upon His accusers by counter-accusations, true though these might have been. The word here translated “revile” is the same which reappears in 1Peter 3:9 as “railing,” and a sample of what it means is given in John 9:28. The servants would be particularly liable to be thus abused, and instances are not wanting in the comic poets where they lose their self-control under it, and openly rate their owners in return. The “suffering,” on the other hand, implies actual bodily maltreatment, “buffeting” (1Peter 2:20) and the like, to which the slaves could not answer directly by striking in return, but would sometimes take their revenge by “threats” of what they would do—run away, or burn the house, or poison the food, or do little acts of spite. Instances of our Lord’s silence or meekness under “reviling” may be seen in John 7:20; John 8:40; Matthew 12:24, as well as in the accounts of the Passion. There are no recorded instances, until the last day of His life, of His “suffering” in the sense here intended; but the tense of the verbs “reviled,” “threatened,” “committed,” shows that the writer was not thinking exclusively of any one occasion, but of our Lord’s constant habit, though naturally there would be uppermost in St. Peter’s mind the hours while he stood warming himself at Caiaphas’ fire, with the denial on his lips, and saw the Messiah blindfold and buffeted. He is also thinking of Isaiah 53:7.
But committed himself.—This was His only form of revenge. As the Greek does not express the grammatical object of the verb, it is better not to supply one so definite as “Himself” or “His cause,” rather, “but would leave it to Him that judgeth righteously.” M. Renan (Antéchrist, p. 117) says that this passage “requires it to be understood that the incident of Jesus praying for His murderers was not known by Peter;” and other critics have held the same view. But (1) St. Peter, as we have said, is speaking of what was the constant habit of Jesus, not of what He did on the day of His crucifixion only. (2) The word does not necessarily imply any act or word of direct appeal to God to judge between His murderers and Him; on the contrary, the leading thought is that of “passing the matter over” to God (comp. Romans 12:19), by simply refusing to take any action in self-defence. (3) It would have been unlike the usual method of the Epistles to make direct reference to any of the minor details of our Lord’s history. (4) Such a reference here would be beyond the point, for St. Peter said nothing in 1Peter 2:19 about praying for the bad masters, and here he is only justifying by Christ’s example the position he had laid down there.
To him that judgeth righteously.—God is described in the aspect which is most reassuring to men who are suffering unjustly (2Thessalonians 1:5). This looks back to that “consciousness of God” spoken of in 1Peter 2:19. There is a curious various reading which is adopted by the Vulgate, though without any solid authority, and evidently a mere blunder, the interpretation of which we may leave to those who are committed to it: “He gave Himself over to him (or, to one) who judgeth unrighteously.” St. Cyprian seems to have understood it of our Lord’s voluntary self-surrender to Pilate.
Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.(24) Who his own self.—This verse, like the “for you” in 1Peter 2:21, is intended to make the readers feel the claims of gratitude, not to set before them another point in which Christ was to be imitated. But at the same time it serves to enforce still more strongly the two points already mentioned—i.e., sinlessness and suffering. So far was Christ from “doing sins,” that He actually His own self bore ours, and in so doing endured the extremity of anguish “in His own body,” so that He could sympathise with the corporal chastisements of these poor servants; and “on the tree,” too, the wicked slave’s death.
Bare our sins . . . on the tree.—This brings us face to face with a great mystery; and to add to the difficulty of the interpretation, almost each word is capable of being taken in several different ways. Most modern scholars are agreed to reject “on the tree,” in favour of the marginal “to,” the proper meaning of the Greek preposition, when connected (as here) with the accusative, being what is expressed in colloquial English by the useful compound “on-to the tree.” It is, however, not obligatory to see motion consciously intended in this preposition and accusative everywhere. It is used, for instance, Mark 4:38, of sleeping on the pillow; in 2Corinthians 3:15, of the veil resting upon their hearts; in Revelation 4:4, of the elders sitting upon their thrones. This word, then, will give us but little help to discover the meaning of the word translated “bare.” (1) That verb means literally “to carry or take up,” and is used thus in Matthew 17:1, Mark 9:2, of taking the disciples up the Mount of Transfiguration; and in Luke 24:51, of Jesus being carried up into heaven: therefore Hammond, Grimm, and others would here understand it to be, “He carried our sins up with Him on-to the tree,” there to expiate them by His death. (2) A much commoner meaning of the word is that which it bears in 1Peter 2:5, “to offer up” (so also in Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 13:15; James 2:21). The substantive formed from it (Anaphora) is still the liturgical term for the sacrificial section of the Eucharistic service. This interpretation is somewhat tempting, because the very preposition here used, with the very same case, appears in James 2:21, and frequently in the Old Testament, together with our present verb, for “to offer up upon the altar.” In this way it would be, “He offered up our sins in His own body on the altar of the cross.” So Luther and others take it. This would be perfect, were it not for the strangeness of regarding the sins themselves as a sacrifice to be offered on the altar. The only way to make sense of it in that case would be to join very closely “our sins in His own body”—i.e., as contained and gathered up in His own sinless body, which might come to nearly the same thing as saying that He “offered up His own body laden with our sins” upon that altar. (3) Both these renderings, however, pass over the fact that St. Peter is referring to Isaiah 53. In the English version of that chapter, “hath borne,” “shall bear,” “bare,” appears in 1Peter 2:4; 1Peter 2:11-12, indifferently; but the Hebrew is not the same in each case, for in 1Peter 2:11 the word for “shall bear” is identical with that rightly rendered “carry” in 1Peter 2:4, and has not the same signification as that which appears as “to bear” in 1Peter 2:4; 1Peter 2:12. The difference between these two Hebrew roots seems to be that the verb sabal in 1Peter 2:11 means “to carry,” as a porter carries a load, or as our Lord carried His cross; while the verb nasa,’ used in 1Peter 2:4 and 1Peter 2:12, means rather “to lift or raise,” which might, of course, be the action preparatory to that other of “carrying.” Now, the Greek word which we have here undoubtedly better represents nasa’ than sabal, but the question is complicated by the fact that the LXX. uses it to express both alike in 1Peter 2:11-12, observing at the same time the distinction between “iniquities” and “sin,” while in 1Peter 2:4 (where again it reads “our sins” instead of “our griefs”) it adopts a simpler verb; and St. Peter’s language here seems to be affected by all three passages. The expression “our sins” (which comes in so strangely with the use of “you” all round) seems a reminiscence of 1Peter 2:4 (LXX.). The order in which the words occur is precisely the order of 1Peter 2:11, and the tense points to 1Peter 2:12, as well as the parallel use in Hebrews 9:28, where the presence of the words “of many” proves that the writer was thinking of 1Peter 2:12. We cannot say for certain, then, whether St. Peter meant to represent nasa’ or sabal. We have some clue, however, to the way in which the Greek word was used, by finding it in Numbers 14:33, where the “whoredoms” of the fathers are said to be “borne” by their children (the Hebrew there being nasa’). Many instances in classical Greek lead to the conclusion that in such cases it implies something being laid or inflicted from without upon the person who “bears.” Thus, in Numbers 14:33, it will be, “your children will have to bear your whoredoms,” or, “will have laid upon them your whoredoms.” In Hebrews 9:28 it will be, “Christ was once for all presented (at the altar), to have the sins of many laid upon Him.” Here it will be, “Who His own self had our sins laid upon His body on the tree.” Then comes a further question. The persons who hold the substitute theory of the Atonement assert that “our sins” here stands for “the punishment of our sins.” This is, however, to use violence with words; we might with as good reason translate 1Peter 2:22, “Who did, or performed, no punishment for sin.” St. Peter asserts that Christ, in His boundless sympathy with fallen man, in His union with all mankind through the Incarnation whereby He became the second Adam, actually took, as His own, our sins, as well as everything else belonging to us. He was so identified with us, that in the great Psalm of the Messianic sacrifice, He calls them “My sins” (Psalm 40:12), sinless as He was. (See St. Matthew’s interpretation of the same thought, Matthew 8:17.)
That we being dead.—Just as the former part of this verse is an expansion of “Christ suffered for us,” so the latter part is an expansion of “that ye should follow His steps.” The “we,” however, is too emphatically placed in the English. To St. Peter, the thought of our union with Christ is so natural, that he slips easily over it, and passes on to the particular point of union which he has in view. “He bore our sins on the tree, in order that, having thus become ‘lost’ to those sins, we might live to righteousness.” The words present, perhaps, a closer parallel to Colossians 1:22 than to any other passage; but comp. also Romans 6:2; Romans 6:8; Romans 6:11, and 2Corinthians 5:14, and Notes. St. Peter’s word for “dying” in this place is not elsewhere found in the New Testament, and is originally an euphemism for death; literally, to be missing—i.e., when sin comes to seek its old servants it finds them gone.
With whose stripes ye were healed.—Observe how soon St. Peter reverts to the second person, even though he has to change the text he is quoting. Another mark of his style may well be noticed here, viz., his fondness for a number of co-ordinate relative sentences. (See 1Peter 1:8; 1Peter 1:12; 2Peter 2:1-3; and his speeches, Acts 3:13; Acts 3:15; Acts 4:10; Acts 10:38-39.) He is especially fond of finishing off a long sentence with a short relative clause, as here. Comp., for instance, 1Peter 2:8, 2Peter 2:17, also Acts 4:12, where it would be more correct to translate, “Neither is the salvation in any other, for, indeed, there is no second name under heaven which is the appointed name among men; in whom we must be saved”—i.e., if we are saved at all. The purpose of the little clause seems to be once more to make the good and ill-used servants feel, when the weals were smarting on their backs, that the Righteous Servant of Jehovah had borne the same, and that it had served a beneficial purpose, as they knew to their everlasting gratitude. Of course the “stripes” (in the original singular number, and literally weal) do not refer merely to the scourging. The words form a paradox.
For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.(25) For ye were as sheep going astray.—The right reading does not attach “going astray” to “sheep,” but as predicate of the sentence, “ye were going astray like sheep.” The “for” introduces an explanation of how they came to be in need of “healing.” “I may well say that ye were healed; for Israelites though you are, your consciences and memories tell you that you were as far gone in wilful error as any Gentiles, and needed as complete a conversion.” (Comp. 1Peter 2:10.) Jew and Gentile take different ways, but both alike fulfil the prophecy, “every man to his own way.” The two metaphors, of healing and going astray, do not match very well, but the fact that both are quotations from Isaiah 53 makes their disagreement less harsh. We must notice how deeply that prophecy (the interpretation of which was probably learned from the Baptist) had sunk into St. Peter’s mind. (See 1Peter 1:19.)
But are now returned.—The tense of the original verb points to the actual historical time at which it took place, rather than the position now occupied, “but now ye returned.” The word “now” is used in the same way in 1Peter 2:10, where literally it is, “but now did obtain mercy.” “Returned” does not in the Greek imply that they had at first been under the Shepherd’s care and had left Him. The word is that which is often rendered “were converted,” and only indicates that they turned round and moved in a contrary direction.
The shepherd and bishop of your souls.—Undoubtedly this means Christ. The first of the two titles is of course suggested by the simile of the sheep. The image is so natural and so frequent, that we can not say for certain that it proves St. Peter’s acquaintance with the parable of the Good Shepherd in John 10. More probably, perhaps, he is thinking of Psalm 23:3, “He converted my soul” (LXX.), where “the Lord,” as usual, may be taken to mean the Son of God rather than the Father; or else of Ezekiel 34:11; Ezekiel 34:16, where the words rendered “seek them out” in our version is represented in the LXX. by that from which the name of a “bishop” is derived. (Comp. Ezekiel 34:23; Ezekiel 37:24; also Isaiah 40:11, which last citation comes from a passage which has been in St. Peter’s mind just before, 1Peter 1:24.) It is hardly necessary to add that to the Hebrew mind the thought of superintendence and ruling, not that of giving food, was uppermost when they spoke of shepherds, and that the pastors spoken of in the Old Testament are not the priests or givers of spiritual nutriment, but the kings and princes. Thus it will here be nearly synonymous with the second title of bishop. This name suggests in the first instance not so much overseeing as visiting—i.e., going carefully into the different cases brought under the officer’s notice. (Comp. 1Peter 5:2; 1Peter 5:4, and Acts 20:28.) Both words were already familiar as ecclesiastical words already, and as such were especially appropriate to Christ, the Head of the Church; but as they had not yet become stereotyped in that sense, the writer adds, “of your souls,” to show that it was not an outward sovereignty and protectorate which the Messiah had assumed over them. “Soul” is a word of which St. Peter is fond (1Peter 1:9; 1Peter 1:22; 1Peter 2:11; 1Peter 4:19; 2Peter 2:8), but which is, perhaps, never used by St. Paul in this sense. It is to be remarked how St. Peter works almost every section of the Epistle round, so as to end with some encouragement to the readers to cling to Jesus as the Messiah, and to their Christian state, from which they were in danger of receding into Judaism. He makes even the special exhortations lead up to that which is the main exhortation of the Letter.