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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

1 Peter 1

Verse 1


Following the greeting and salutation (1 Peter 1:1-2), there is a doxology, extolling the mercies of God who had given Christians a marvelous birth, a glorious inheritance, and the salvation of their souls, a salvation which even the prophets of old, and actually the angels, had sought to understand more perfectly (1 Peter 1:3-12). The final verses of the chapter (1 Peter 1:13-25) interweave the practical commands to "gird up the loins of the mind," to be "children of obedience," not to participate in their former lusts, and to "love one another," with some of the most magnificent teaching in the New Testament regarding the Father who is judge of all people, the redemption of Christians through the blood of Christ, the new birth accomplished through obedience to the truth, and a pointed identification of the Christian gospel as "the word of the Lord" that "abideth forever."

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied. (1 Peter 1:1-2)

As Barclay said, "One of the outstanding things about this passage is that it takes words and conceptions which had originally applied only to Jews and applies them to Christians."[1] These are elect, Chosen, Dispersion, and sojourners. "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ ..."

Peter was the beloved name that Jesus himself had bestowed upon this apostle, and is the Greek form of the Aramaic name meaning "stone" or "pebble." Jesus had first spoken it prophetically (John 1:42), later confirming it, when in his great confession of Christ (Matthew 16:18), this great apostle was proving his perception and dependability.

An apostle of Jesus Christ ... There was no need for Peter to defend his apostleship, for it was never questioned, as was sometimes true with Paul. Note also that he did not write "THE apostle," but "AN apostle." He was always careful to acknowledge his own equality with all the Twelve and with Paul also. "St. Peter knew no higher title to bestow on himself than that which he held in common with the other eleven."[2]

Jesus Christ ... Peter used this compound title of the Master eleven times in the 105 verses of this letter; it is likely that he and the other apostles heard it for the first time in Jesus' great prayer the night of his betrayal (John 17:3).

To the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion ... These are the great words, once applicable to Jews only, which have now been given by God himself to the church of Jesus Christ which has become through ancient Israel's rejection of the Messiah the true and only Israel of God in the new dispensation.

Elect ... The Greek word thus rendered literally means "picked out, chosen,"[3] and was used of ancient Israel because, as Moses said to Israel, "Because he loved thy fathers therefore he chose their seed after them" (Deuteronomy 4:37). However, Jesus Christ said to his followers, "I have chosen you" (John 15:16,19); therefore, Christians are the new chosen people (note particularly in this context that no Israelite in the fleshly sense is excluded from this fellowship, unless he chooses to be excluded); these people are said to be chosen out of the world, in the world, but not of it (John 15:15ff).

Who are sojourners ... Christians are citizens of another country, even heaven itself (Philippians 3:20); their head and Lord is in heaven; their treasure is there (Matthew 6:19); their affections are there (Colossians 3:2); their hope is centered there; many righteous loved ones are (in a sense) there; and it is a poor Christian indeed who considers the present world to be his permanent dwelling place. The Old Testament Israelites were also sojourners. Abraham said to the sons of Heth, "I am a stranger and sojourner with you" (Genesis 23:4); and Jacob also spoke of "the days of the years of my pilgrimage" (Genesis 47:9). Many orthodox Jews, regardless of how large and beautiful a house they may build, always leave some specified portion of it unfinished as a symbolical confession of their being sojourners.

Of the Dispersion ... The Greek word from which this comes is Diaspora, which during pre-Christian times was a technical word for the Jews living outside Palestine; in this remarkable passage, Peter preempts all of these glorious words and uses them with a Christian connotation; because, clearly, the epistle is addressed to Christians, not to Jews. The Christians too, like the Jews after the removal of the ten tribes and the Babylonia captivity, are scattered all over the earth, being separated, not merely from each other, but from the heavenly Jerusalem as well.

In Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia ... These were the provinces lying south of the Black Sea and west of the Taurus Mountains, "including the whole of what we call Asia Minor."[4] Many scholars see in the very order in which Peter mentioned these provinces an indication that Peter was writing from Rome. Coming from Rome by sea, the bearer of the letter would debark at a port on the Black Sea in Pontus; "He would begin in Pontus and travel around the Christian communities of Galatia, Cappadocia, and Asia, ending his journey in Bithynia."[5]

According to the foreknowledge of God the Father ... That God did indeed foreknow the calling of the Gentiles to be among the chosen people is proved by the dozens of prophetic references to this very event in the Old Testament. Paul, in the ninth and tenth chapters of Romans, quoted no less than nine Old Testament prophecies predicting the calling of the Gentiles (see my Commentary on Romans, pp. 326-382); and besides this, the original promise to Abraham had been specific as to God's purpose, namely, that in Abraham "all the families of the earth" should be blessed (Genesis 12:3). The unfortunate pride, self-righteousness and vanity of Israel caused that nation either to ignore this or to forget all about it.

In sanctification of the Spirit ... The Holy Spirit sanctifies "through the word of God" (John 17:17). Thus, obedience to the gospel with the consequent indwelling of the Spirit provides the initial sanctification belonging to every convert to Christ. Thus Paul was enabled to address the Corinthian church as "those sanctified in Christ Jesus" (1 Corinthians 1:2; 6:11); but sanctification must be continued until the Christian is sanctified "wholly" (1 Thessalonians 5:23). "This phrase clearly is to be connected with the word `chosen.'"[6] This shows that God chooses only those who will consent to obey the gospel and receive the earnest of the Holy Spirit.

Unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Christ ... The "obedience" in view here is the continuing fidelity of the Christian, not his primary obedience, because that must precede the Christian's endowment with the Spirit. The Spirit's being the agent of this continuing obedience unto sanctification "wholly," proves that the initial steps of accepting and obeying the gospel are not meant, because no one ever made it any clearer than did Peter that people must believe, repent and be baptized "in order to receive" and before they can ever receive, the promise of the Spirit (Acts 2:38ff).

And sprinkling of the blood of Christ ... This also has reference to a post-conversion quality leading to a greater degree of sanctification. Practically all scholars agree that this "refers back to the establishment of the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 24:7";[7] but, true as this is, it looks only to the typical sprinkling of blood, to the sanctification of the old Israel, What is the Christian application of these words? How are we sprinkled with the blood of Christ? It will be agreed by all that something typical is meant, but what is it? Perhaps no better answer to this has ever been given than that of James Macknight, as follows: "So all who receive the gospel are emblematically sprinkled with the blood of Jesus in the Lord's Supper."[8] Full agreement is felt with this, for on the very night of the institution of the Lord's Supper, the Saviour said of the cup, "This is the blood of the new testament shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:26).

Another word is in order with reference to "obedience" as used by Peter in this phrase. Hart compared it to "the obedience of faith," as used by Paul in Romans 1:5; 16:26,[9] indicating that in every instance of attributing salvation, whether to faith as Paul has it in Romans, or to "sanctification of the Spirit," as Peter has it in this passage, the sine qua non of all heavenly blessing is obedience on the part of the one to be blessed, obedience being one heavenly requirement that is never waived. Of course it is God's free grace that saves; and even the obedient are not saved either by works or by merit, but the disobedient are not going to be saved at all (2 Thessalonians 1:8).

Grace to you and peace be multiplied ... Judging from the frequent use of this greeting in the letters of Paul, it would appear to have been the general practice of the early church to avoid slighting either Jewish or Gentile elements in the churches, which generally were composed of both, by combining the Greek and Hebrew greetings, with strong Christian overtones, to give the marvelous "Grace ... and peace" of the New Testament.

[1] William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 165.

[2] A. J. Mason, Ellicott's Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 387.

[3] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Old Tappan, New Testament: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1940), vol. I, p. 20.

[4] J. R. Dummelow, One Volume Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 1040.

[5] Archibald M. Hunter, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. XIII (New York and Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 89.

[6] Raymond C. Kelcy, The Letters of Peter and Jude (Austin, Texas: R. B. Sweet Company, 1972), p. 18.

[7] G.J. Polkinghorne, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 586.

[8] James Macknight, Macknight on the Epistles, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1969), p. 434.

[9] J. H. A. Hart, Expositor's Greek Testament, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 40.

Verse 3

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ ... The fountainhead of all blessing and salvation is God himself; and by these words Peter showed that Christianity was in no sense a departure from the God of Israel and of the Hebrew patriarchs, but was still a worship of that same God through the acceptance of God's only begotten Son; for the same God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the very one who has begotten us.

According to his great mercy ... Every hope of eternal life, of forgiveness of sins, of every conceivable measure of salvation - all hope springs ultimately from the unmerited favor and mercy of an almighty God.

Begat us again unto a living hope ... This makes God the Father of every Christian, the means by which that hope is conveyed to them being the new birth, of which Peter will shortly speak again.

By the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead ... This does not deny that Christians are born again through obeying the word of God (1 Peter 1:22), but refers to the source of that word, Jesus Christ, and the mighty act wrought by God in his resurrection of our Saviour from the tomb, the same being the enabling charter, the vast achievement which made the salvation of people possible. Thus it is quite correct to say that Christians are born again by the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

Furthermore, it is most appropriate that the apostle Peter would have focused upon the resurrection at the very outset; because, as Hunter said, "The resurrection had made all new in Peter's life, had turned tragedy into triumph; so it is altogether fitting that his epistle should begin with this paean of it."[10]

The word "blessed" as used of God in this verse is a special word, "consecrated to God alone in the New Testament";[11] and it is utterly different from the term "blessed" as used in the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount. Kelcy informs us that the word reserved for God is [@eulogetos]; and the other one is [@makarios],[12] both of which, however, are translated "blessed" in the common versions.

[10] Archibald M. Hunter, op. cit., p. 92.

[11] A. J. Mason, op. cit., p. 388.

[12] Raymond C. Kelcy, op. cit., p. 20.

Verse 4

unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,

Here again the continuing contrast between the old and new Israel is in view. The inheritance that pertained to the old Israel was their literal possession of the land of Canaan; and in speaking of the marvelous reward that shall at last result from the Christian life, Peter called it an inheritance. Also, in the case of Christians, it is really an inheritance, something they are born into, through means of the new birth, just as the Israelites who possessed Canaan received it through their being the actual posterity of Abraham. Four things are stated with reference to that glorious inheritance.

Incorruptible ... Paul also spoke of the Christian's inheritance (Ephesians 1:14; Colossians 3:24), and all of the sacred writers extolled the virtues of it. Canaan, the inheritance of the old Israel, had indeed been corrupted; foreign enemies invaded it and subjected the people to slavery; evil kings arose from themselves who oppressed and devoured the land; but the heavenly inheritance cannot be corrupted. There seems also to be in this word a remembrance of what Jesus said about moth and rust corrupting earthly wealth (Matthew 6:19ff). Even the very best of earthly treasures are destined to failure and decay at last when not even the earth itself shall stand.

And undefiled ... The old Israel's inheritance (Canaan) had been indeed defiled. Again and again the people had fallen into idolatry; oppression of the poor was everywhere; even the sacred temple itself had not been exempt from the heel of the invader and the pollution of the most holy altar by the sacrifice of a sow.

And that fadeth not away ... The fading nature of all earthly and temporal things contrasts with the eternal reward of the saints in Christ Jesus. No matter what wealth, honor, power, glory, popularity, beauty, or success may come to one on earth, it is only for a moment. All of the strength, achievement, and desire of mortals quickly end in the tomb, fading away, and are soon forgotten by the fleeting generations of people; but not so the everlasting inheritance of the saints in light.

Reserved in heaven for you ... It is reserved for them who shall be entitled to it; it will be there ready for them; none other shall preempt it or take it away from them. Notice the emphasis upon heaven. Peter had heard the Master say, "Great is your reward in heaven" (Matthew 5:10-12). The essential "other-worldliness" of the Christian faith shines in a passage like this, where the pilgrims, sojourners, and citizens of heaven are called to contemplate the eternal nature of their ultimate reward, the glory of the everlasting inheritance.

Verse 5

who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

"The word guarded here is a military term,"[13] Christians are garrisoned by the power of God and are safeguarded by the Father himself. Of course, the Christians themselves, under the terms of the Father's will, contribute to that safety. How? The next phrase explains how.

Through faith ... This cannot bear the meaning that the Christian's sole act of believing provides any safety. "Faith" as used here means "staunch fidelity" as well as trustfulness.[14] Barnes summarized the thought of this verse thus:

The idea is that there was a faithful guardianship exercised over them to save them from danger, as a castle or garrison is watched to guard it against the approach of an enemy.[15]

A salvation ready to be revealed in the last time ... Despite the fact of many New Testament writers using the expression "the last days" to mean the Christian dispensation, "the last time" here has reference to the final judgment day when Christ will raise the dead and summon all people to the judgment of the White Throne. As Wheaton noted:

In these verses salvation is seen in all its tenses (past, present and future), Christians have been born anew by the mercy of God, are being guarded by the power of God, and look forward to obtaining complete deliverance from all evil in the last time.[16]

[13] Ibid., p. 23.

[14] A. J. Mason, op. cit., p. 389.

[15] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament, Peter (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1953), p. 114.

[16] Archibald M. Hunter, op. cit., p. 92.

Verse 6

Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, ye have been put to grief in manifold trials,

wherein ... There are several notions in vogue as to what, exactly, is the antecedent; but the most obvious meaning is that the whole "situation" just discussed is being given as the logical reason why they greatly rejoice, or are commanded to greatly rejoice. "The Greek verb might be taken also as an imperative, `Wherefore rejoice'"[17] This is also given as an alternative in RSV margin.

Ye greatly rejoice ... This is a simple statement of fact, rejoicing being mentioned almost continually throughout the New Testament, as when Paul and Silas rejoiced and sang hymns in the night (Acts 16:25).

Though now for a little while ... This is not to be understood as a prophecy that their trials would be of short duration, but relates to the fact of earthly life being almost infinitely shorter than eternal life.

Ye have been put to grief in manifold trials ... The trials coming upon the Christians to whom Peter wrote were more than were normally expected. "Here is a reference to the weight of persecutions being felt by Christians."[18] Later in the letter, Peter will give a number of glimpses of the hatred, vilification, and evil speakings which, even then, were an increasing storm of opposition to the faith.

[17] David H. Wheaton, op. cit., p. 1239.

[18] Stephen W. Paine, Wycliffe New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 970.

Verse 7

that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth though it is proved by fire, may be found unto praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ:

This rather complicated verse is not a comparison of faith with gold; "but there is an analogy between the testing of character (faith) and the refining of gold."[19] If people go to the trouble to test gold, how much more should it be expected that God will test faith? Barnes also stressed this, as follows:

This does not mean that their faith was more precious than gold (though of course it is), but that the testing of it ... was a much more important and valuable process than that of testing gold by fire.[20]

Also inherent in this verse is the tremendous fact itself, that faith is more precious than fine gold, the reason for this, as pointed out by Zerr, being that:

Even while the earth remains, the joys that gold may procure for us are uncertain and often flee like the dew of morning; but the happiness that is obtained by an enduring faith will not pass away.[21]

It will not be lost on a close student of the New Testament that these verses are loaded with phrases and thoughts used by the apostle Peter in his sermons (Acts 3:20,21; 10:42).

By Peter's striking this note of suffering early in his letter, he was only stressing that which had been stressed by the Master himself (Mark 8:31-38); and Peter would return to this, again and again, throughout the epistle (1 Peter 2:21; 3:14-22; 4:12-19; 5:1,10). (See under the Outline in the Introduction for discussion of themes recurring throughout the epistle.) Thus the sufferings of a Christian must not be viewed as any "unscheduled disaster overtaking him without the will of God, but on the other hand as the very route by which the Lord Jesus wrought his wonderful redemption."[22]

[19] Archibald M. Hunter, op. cit., p. 96.

[20] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1953), p. 116.

[21] E. M. Zerr, Bible Commentary (Marion, Indiana: Cogdill Foundation, 1954), p. 253.

[22] G. J. Polkinghorne, op. cit., p. 587.

Verse 8

whom not having seen ye love; on whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice greatly with joy unspeakable and full of glory;

Dummelow thought there was a "generous touch"[23] on Peter's part in this. The apostle who has seen, admires, and appreciates the love and joy of the brethren who have not seen(!) reminds us of the words of Jesus, "Blessed are they that have not seen, yet have believed" (John 20:29). Despite the unobtrusive nature of it, there is here a positive implication that the writer of the epistle had indeed seen the Lord, by these words recalling that second meeting with the Lord after his resurrection, in that upper room.

The Greeks had three words for love, these being [@agape], [@eros], and [@fileo]. It is the first of these that Peter used here; and Kelcy has an excellent word on the meaning of it:

It indicates an intelligent and purposeful love, the love which recognizes its object for what it is; it is the love of consideration and care, the love of good will, and the love which desires to serve and promote the best interests of its object.[24]

How can such unspeakable joy and rejoicing exist in the hearts of those whose hearts are burdened with manifold trials and temptations? The answer to this is thundered in the next verse.

[23] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 1041.

[24] Raymond C. Kelcy, op. cit., p. 26.

Verse 9

receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.

End of your faith ... This means the goal or purpose of faith, that which is the ultimate result of the obedience of faith.

Paine, basing his conclusion on the construction of the Greek, says, "This is not a future, but a present reference,"[25] thus making the salvation to be that which they already had. Of course, this harmonizes with the view in Acts that those who were "being saved" were added to the church (Acts 2:47). There was surely a sense in which Peter's addressees were already saved, that is, from "their old sins," as Peter explained in 2 Peter 1:9.

Even the salvation of your souls ... Dummelow pointed out that "the Greek has no word for your,"[26] which, accordingly, is italicized in our version. If read without the italicized words, then the verse has "the salvation of souls," this being indeed the objective or end of all believing, the holy purpose toward which the whole eternal plan of the heavenly Father is directed. The churches of the current era have tended to overlook this. The social gains which have preempted so much time in the plans and activities of churches, although having some little value for the now and the here, are by no means "the purpose" of God's church in the world. It is the salvation of people's souls, not their take-home pay, nor the quality of their housing, which looms in Scripture as the great commission for the church.

[25] Stephen W. Paine, op. cit., p. 970.

[26] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 1041.

Verse 10

Concerning which salvation the prophets sought and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:

As Caffin observed:

Peter was a diligent student of the prophetic books, and constantly quotes them, both in his epistles and in his speeches recorded in Acts. Here he gives a very remarkable glimpse into the condition of the prophetic consciousness.[27]

Here Peter called attention to the curiosity that the ancient prophets of the Old Testament had with reference to their own writings! Of course, New Testament critics would find fault with a truth like this, suggesting that Peter "built" this verse on one of the statements of Jesus "reported differently"[28] in Matthew 13:17 and Luke 10:24! There are plural errors in a view like this. First, there is the denial that Jesus made both statements. The foolish notion that similar statements in the New Testament are invariably founded upon "an original" is ridiculous. All of the New Testament sayings of Jesus are originals! Secondly, there is the notion that Peter had to "build" his words. Peter's teaching in this verse could well have been founded upon the personal words of Christ, but whether this is true or not, it is given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and therefore true.

The prophets ... These were the prophets of the old covenant, the writers of the Old Testament, whose hundreds of prophecies of Christ's coming into the world make up the burden of the Old Testament. For reasons that will appear below, critics have been very diligently at work on this Scripture. Selwyn argued that these are not the prophets of the Old Testament at all, but those of the apostolic church![29] However, the very fact of the prophets Peter mentioned having prophesied the sufferings and glories of Christ identifies them with the Old Testament, not the New Testament.

Sought and searched diligently ... What did the prophets search? The holy Scriptures which they had written, of course! John Calvin's remarkable pronouncement on this, to the effect that the prophets searched, "not the writing or the teaching, but the private longing with which each was fired!"[30] is likewise totally out of harmony with the passage. The following verse shows that it was the "testimony" of the Holy Spirit regarding the sufferings and glories of Christ it was that "testimony" which they did not understand (though they had written it), the point of their misunderstanding being the "time" when such things would occur. Now those testimonies of the sufferings and glories of Christ was not "private longings" of the prophets, but the plain words of the Scriptures which they wrote. Besides these obvious facts, who ever heard of a man "searching and inquiring into" his private longings!

The word for "inquired" is "used only here in the New Testament,"[31] and has the meaning of "to search out, to trace out, or explore."[32]

Barnes' lucid explanation of what this verse means is undoubtedly correct:

The prophets perceived that in their communications there were some great and glorious truths which they did not fully comprehend; and they diligently employed their natural faculties to understand that which they were appointed to impart to succeeding generations.[33]

[27] B. C. Caffin, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, Peter (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 6.

[28] J. H. A. Hart, op. cit, p. 46.

[29] E. G. Selwyn, The First Epistle of St. Peter (London: Macmillan and Company, 1946), pp. 131ff.

[30] A quotation from John Calvin by A. J. Mason, op. cit., p. 391.

[31] Raymond C. Kelcy, op. cit., p. 28.

[32] Albert Barnes, op. cit, p. 120.

[33] Ibid.

Verse 11

searching what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them.

The exact nature of the puzzlement of the prophets is here given. It regarded the "time" of the marvelous events which they foretold. The exact answer to their questionings, however, was not revealed to them, only that it was not scheduled for their own generation, but for subsequent ages.

The phenomenon of prophets not being able to comprehend fully their own writings is one of utmost consequence in biblical interpretation; for it requires the deduction that the Spirit of Christ, speaking through them, did not merely give them the correct ideas, or thoughts, which they then were to present in their own words, but, contrarily, the words of truth were exactly what they did receive, words with ideas and thoughts contained which they did not understand at all! It is a mystery why many modern commentators deny a proposition like this, especially in view of the fact that the apostle Peter himself, on Pentecost, uttered the words of God, which he did not at all fully comprehend at the time, the vital truth that the promises of the gospel are for "them that are afar off," clearly meaning, in retrospect, the Gentiles, but in no manner being fully understood by Peter at the time he spoke this. One may legitimately wonder if Peter's analysis of his own example in this did not likewise reveal to him what had happened in the case of the ancient prophets of the old dispensation, leading to the truth uttered here.

The Spirit of Christ which was in them ... The Spirit of Christ here is the "Holy Spirit," who was also called by this title by Paul (Romans 8:9); and there are deductions of vast consequences which are mandated by this:

In attributing the teaching of the prophets to the Spirit of Christ, Peter is in effect affirming that the same Spirit which spoke through him and the other apostles also spoke through the Old Testament prophets (compare 2 Peter 1:21)[34]

Macknight gave as the meaning of this verse the observation that:

From this it appears that, in many instances, the prophets did not understand the meaning of their own prophecies, but studied them, as others did, with great care, in order to find out.[35]

[34] Raymond C. Kelcy, op. cit., p. 28.

[35] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 439.

Verse 12

To whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto you, did they minister these things, which now have been announced unto you through them that preached the gospel unto you by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven; which things angels desire to look into.

Very significantly, in this verse:

Peter claims for those who evangelized Asia Minor (Paul and his companions) the same authority which was possessed by the ancient prophets. The Spirit of Christ was in the prophets; the same Spirit worked and preached through the apostles[36]

This verse says some wonderful things about preaching, summarized by Barclay: "That it is the announcement of salvation, that it is of the Holy Spirit, and that angels themselves are intensely interested in it."[37]

Peter's mention of the Holy Spirit's being sent forth from heaven implies that the word of the apostles is even superior to that of the prophets, being the result of a more glorious endowment by the blessed Spirit. "The primary reference (in this) is to the descent of the Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2.)"[38]

Which things angels desire to look into ... In emphasizing the greatness of the salvation that has come to Christians, Peter in this affirms that even the angels of heaven are deeply concerned and interested in this salvation; and why not? For their own number who had sinned, there was no day of grace, no offer of pardon, no opportunity to seek a remedy. The same verse of the word of God which relates their sin also relates their being cast out of heaven! No wonder they were interested in this new thing wherein God would forgive sinful and rebellious people! No greater wonder ever appeared, either in heaven or upon earth! There is no need to suppose that Peter relied upon the book of Enoch for this information, as alleged by Hart,[39] for everything that he affirmed here is represented typically in the carved figures of the holy angels adorning the mercy seat (Exodus 25:20ff), and who were represented in just such an attitude of inquisitive wonder as that which Peter mentioned here. (See short dissertation on The Mercy Seat in this series of commentaries, my Commentary on Hebrews, pp. 190-191.)

To look into ... These words are significant because of the root meaning. Dummelow said, "The Greek word means to look as out of a window";[40] but a variant meaning is evidently the one here: "To look comes from a word which indicates a stooping over in order to see more clearly."[41] Macknight also agreed to the certainty of this meaning here:

The Greek means literally to stoop; but stooping, being the attitude of one who desires to look narrowly into a thing; it is properly translated look attentively.[42]

It will be noted that this meaning focuses upon the stooping posture of the angels above the mercy seat.

[36] B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 8.

[37] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 180.

[38] Archibald M. Hunter, op. cit., p. 99.

[39] J. H. A. Hart, op. cit., p. 47.

[40] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 1042.

[41] Raymond C. Kelcy, op. cit., p. 29.

[42] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 441.

Verse 13

Wherefore, girding up the loins of your mind, be sober and set your hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;

Founded upon the Old Testament requirement that the Jews should observe the Passover with their "loins girded," a few have imagined all kinds of vain things, alleging that 1Peter is a sermon delivered in connection with observing the Lord's supper;[43] but the scholars should look, not always to the Old Testament, but to the words of Christ, for what Peter meant by this (Luke 12:35,36). Jesus used these words of being prepared for the Second Advent, and that is exactly the way Peter used them here.

Girding up the loins of your mind ... As he did frequently, Peter here gives a metaphorical meaning to well known expressions. "Girding up the loins" meant tying up one's loose outward garments as a prerequisite to being able to work unencumbered. It had the rough meaning of "Roll up your sleeves, and go to work." Sure enough, the mind cannot roll up any sleeves; but the mind can be disciplined and prepared for the future by diligent prayer, study and contemplation. It was of this that Peter spoke. From this, and many other instances in this letter, Peter's usual figurative method of expressing himself lends strong presumptive evidence to the conclusion that "Babylon" is a mystical name for "Rome."

Verse 14

as children of obedience, not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts in the time of your ignorance:

As children of obedience ... "Despite its emphasis on Christian freedom, obedience is one of the cardinal virtues of the New Testament."[44] Here is another metaphor. Obedience is represented as the mother of Christians.

Not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts ... A noble principle is in view here. Through the practice of wickedness, people fashion themselves in the likeness of the sins they commit; and thus they become "sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2; 5:6; Colossians 3:6), the very opposite of what Peter required for Christians here.

In the time of your ignorance ... The very nature of the Christless life is that it is controlled by lust, grounded in ignorance, and destined to end in futility.

Verse 15

but like as he who called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living;

Hunter properly discerned that the requirement here is about the same as that of Matthew 5:48, namely, perfection.[45] Isaiah referred to the Father as "the Holy One of Israel" (Isaiah 30:15); and the great premise here is that children of such a God must themselves be holy "in all manner of living." The writer of Hebrews likewise admonished to "Follow ... holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14 KJV). The theologians may speak as long and as lustily as they like about being saved "through faith alone," but this and a thousand other New Testament passages teach otherwise. Nor is this to allege that man has the ability to achieve this apart from being "in Christ."

Verse 16

because it is written, Ye shall be holy; for I am holy.

As Kelcy observed, "Thus it is seen that holiness is basic to true religion in both the Old Testament and the New Testament; without it, no one shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14)."[46]

Verse 17

And if ye call on him as Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to each man's work, pass the time of your sojourning in fear:

And if ye call on him as Father ... This does not imply any doubt of their calling upon the Father, being like Jesus' words, "If I go and prepare a place for you, etc." (John 14:3). Peter's familiarity with Jesus' instructions with reference to God as Father is reflected in this; but his admonition seems to be that, "Although you familiarly address God as Father, do not overlook the fact that he is also the Judge of every man: "Who without respect of persons judgeth according to each man's work."

According to each man's work ... This teaching is not peculiar to Peter; Paul declared that "God will render to every man according to his works" (Romans 2:6). The notion that being under the grace of God, and being saved by grace through faith, nullifies Scriptures such as these is extremely erroneous.

Pass the time of your sojourning in fear ... Another strand of the epistle's thought surfaces again here, as in 1 Peter 1:1. Some have alleged a contradiction between this and John's words, "Perfect love casteth out fear" (1 John 4:18); but, as Caffin pointed out:

The fear which both Peter and Paul (Philippians 2:12) commended is holy fear, the fear of a son for a loving father, the fear of displeasing God before whom we walk, the very God who gave his blessed Son to die for us, and will judge us at the last.[47]

Verse 18

knowing that ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, from your vain manner of life handed down from your fathers;

Ye were redeemed ... This is one of the great ransom passages of the New Testament, along with Mark 10:45; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Timothy 2:5; Revelation 1:5, and many others.

Not with silver or gold ... These are some of the corruptible things cited as examples; nothing of earthly value or merit made up the purchase price of Christians, but only the blood of Christ.

From your vain manner of life ... Inherent in all redemption is the state from which we are redeemed, namely, a state of sin. Peter here notes that the Christians were redeemed "from the vain manner of life"; and this is in every way consonant with what the angel said to Joseph, speaking of Christ, "It is he that shall save his people from their sins." The vanity, futility, lustfulness and ignorance of the Christless life are pointedly stressed in this chapter.

Handed down from your fathers ... Ah, here is the secret of most of the error on earth. "In general, the strongest argument for false religions, as well as for errors in the true, is that men have received them from their fathers."[48]

Verse 19

but with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ:

Again, Peter appropriates the corresponding Old Testament figure in describing the glorious redemption of the Christians. As Polkinghorne said:

The Passover lamb (Exodus), as the sacrifice whereby Israel was delivered from bondage and separated to the Lord, is richly significant in context, as is also the lamb of Isaiah 53, the passage so largely quoted in 1 Peter 2:22-25.[49]

But with precious blood ... This passage, with the preceding verse, sets forth Christ as the paschal lamb for Christians and describes the nature of the ransom price. Christ's purpose of redeeming people was the great motivation of coming into the world.


He came to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21).

He came to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

He came to suffer and rise again (Luke 24:46; Matthew 20:28).

He came to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

He came to be a propitiation for sin (Romans 3:25).

He came that we might receive the reconciliation (Romans 5:11).

He came to buy us with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19).

He came to give himself a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:5).

He came that he might redeem us from all iniquity (Titus 2:14).

He came that he might purify unto himself a people (Titus 2:17).

He came to make propitiation for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17).

He came to bear the sins of many (Hebrews 9:27).

He came to put away sins by the sacrifice of himself (Hebrews 9:26).

He came to offer one sacrifice for sins forever (Hebrews 10:12).

He came to redeem us with his blood (1 Peter 1:18).

He came to bear our sins in his body on the tree (2 Peter 2:24).

He came to suffer for sins that he might bring us to God (2 Peter 3:18).

He came to be the propitiation for our sins (2 John 1:2:2; 4:10).

He came to be the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.

He came to take away sins (1 John 3:5).

He came to loose us from our sins by his blood (Revelation 1:5).

Therefore, salvation by the blood of Christ is the crimson thread that runs from Matthew to Revelation, and there is no adequate theology that fails to take this into consideration.

Verse 20

who was foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world, but was manifested at the end of the times for your sake,

Who was foreknown indeed ... The redemptive visitation of our world by the Son of God was known in purpose from the beginning, but "was kept in silence through times eternal" (Romans 16:25); it "in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men" (Ephesians 3:5); it was "hidden for ages and generations" (Colossians 1:26).

Before the foundation of the world ... "This means `before Creation.'"[50] God chose us in Christ "before the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 4:16). There is no full understanding of such a thing as this by finite intelligence; but the heart of faith believes it without reservation or doubt.

The Christian dispensation, the point and period in history of Christ's coming, is here regarded as the climax and consummation of previous ages (see Hebrews 1:1,2; 9:26).[51]

By his use of "manifested," Peter also witnesses in this to the preexistence of Christ and the doctrine of the incarnation. It cannot be said of any ordinary man that he "was manifested."

At the end of the times ... "Peter regarded the Christian era as the last period in the religious history of man."[52]

[50] Archibald M. Hunter, op. cit., p. 103.

[51] Alan M. Stibbs, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 1Peter (London: The Tyndale Press, 1959), p. 92.

[52] Archibald M. Hunter, op. cit., p. 103.

Verse 21

who through him are believers in God, that raised him from the dead, and gave him glory; so that your faith and hope might be in God.

Who through him are believers in God ... This tells to whom Christ has been manifested, those who believe in him and his resurrection and in the glory that God gave him. "Not that any secrecy was kept from the world in general, for the gospel was preached to every creature under heaven."[53]

So that your faith and hope might be in God ... This translation makes the purpose of Christ's resurrection and glory to be that of creating faith in God; however the RSV rendition has it, "So that your faith and hope are in God." However, this makes no difference, for the passage is true either way. "In fact, faith and hope in God are both the purpose and the result of Christ's resurrection and ascension."[54]

[53] E. M. Zerr, op. cit., p. 254.

[54] David H. Wheaton, op. cit., p. 1240.

Verse 22

Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from the heart fervently:

Hart paraphrased the meaning of the first clause here thus, "They must realize that they have cleansed themselves ideally at baptism";[55] and that this is surely the meaning of it appears to be certain when the passage is compared with Acts 2:40. On Pentecost Peter admonished those whom he was exhorting to be baptized to "save yourselves from this crooked generation." Here it is evident exactly what Peter meant by one's saving himself or purifying himself, the same being references to one's obeying the gospel of Christ. Of course, Peter did not mean by this that a man is his own saviour, or that he is in any sense the causative force of his purification; therefore, we should ask, "In what way is a person able to save himself or purify his soul?" Both here and in Acts 2:38ff, it is clear enough that he does so by obeying the gospel, and that is something that the man himself must do. He must fulfill the conditions that are prior to his being saved; and, through the fulfillment of such antecedent conditions, the Christian, in the sense of his having done that, saves himself. It was altogether proper for an apostle of Jesus Christ thus to speak with reference to people's saving themselves, because there are certain things one must do to be saved; and the people who do them are indeed saved, and those who neglect or refuse to do them cannot be saved at all, at least as far as any promise of the Christian gospel is concerned. Wesley's notion that "The Spirit bestows upon you freely both obedience and purification,"[56] has no foundation in the New Testament. While true enough that the Spirit of God aids Christians in their obedience after their conversion, there is a prior, antecedent obedience that must precede the Spirit's entry into Christian hearts; that obedience must be provided by the one who would be saved; and it is of this that Peter speaks here.

Seeing ye have purified ... "This is the perfect tense, pointing to a past act of obedience which has enduring results."[57] It is therefore a clear reference to the conversion which comes at the beginning of the Christian life, and not to subsequent spiritual endowments of the Christian.

In your obedience to the truth ... means simply, "by your obeying the gospel." As Dummelow put it, "The truth is the substance of the gospel."[58]

Unto unfeigned love of the brethren ... One is not merely saved, but saved for some holy purpose; and, in this passage, the love of the brethren is identified as that holy purpose.

Love one another from the heart fervently ... See in the introduction for Peter's fidelity in conforming his teaching to that of the Master. This shows that Peter had not forgotten the Saviour's commandments to this very end. Of particular interest is the word "Fervently," which may also be translated "earnestly." Wheaton cited four usages of this word in the New Testament, here, in 1 Peter 4:8, and in Luke 22:44, and in Acts 12:5, the latter reference being to the prayer offered on behalf of Peter himself. "It denotes with supreme effort, `with every muscle strained.'"[59]

[55] J. H. A. Hart, op. cit., p. 52.

[56] John Wesley, as quoted by Roy S. Nicholson, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 276.

[57] G. J. Polkinghorne, op. cit., p. 588.

[58] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 1042.

[59] David H. Wheaton, op. cit., p. 1240.

Verse 23

having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth.

Having been begotten again ... This is awkward, and the renditions of the RSV and the New English Bible (1961) are superior, "Ye were born again." This is positive proof that Peter was speaking of the new birth in the preceding verse.

Not of corruptible seed, .... "Peter in this stressed that "It is the word of God through which God brings forth new creatures?[60] The apostle James taught the same thing (James 1:18), as did also the evangelist Luke (Luke 8:11); "The seed is the word of God." In the present era, a great deal more needs to be made of the seed. The notion that the seed is weak and helpless and must have the direct operation of some external force (such as the Holy Spirit) in order to make it alive, effective, powerful or otherwise able to reproduce in the divine manner intended - all such thoughts are vain. The seed is able of itself to reproduce (Mark 4:26-29). The seed itself is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). It is the seed itself which produces the new birth and the consequent indwelling of the Spirit. It is the word of God that abideth forever.

Verse 24

For, All flesh is as grass, And all the glory thereof as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower falleth: But the word of the Lord abideth forever. And this was the word of good tidings which was preached unto you.

The Scripture quotation here is from Isaiah 4:6-8; but the passage seems to have been quoted with more in mind than the mere corroboration of the grand truth that the word of God abides forever, although that is indeed marvelous enough. The passage in Isaiah stands in the forefront of magnificent proclamations of the Messianic kingdom, especially as that pertained to "all flesh" and not merely to Jews only. "Peter was here calling attention to the absolute equality of Jew and Gentile."[61] By his absolute identification of the holy gospel proclaimed by the apostles as that "word of God" which abides forever, it would appear that this is certainly true.

Zerr's interesting comment on this verse is:

The new birth does not consist of some mysterious operation of God upon sinful men; it is a simple matter of believing and obeying the gospel

The reader is not left in any uncertainty as to what is meant by the spiritual seed of reproduction ... it is the gospel.[62]

Barnes' eloquent tribute to the power and beauty of the gospel is:

It is unremoved, fixed, permanent. Amidst all the revolutions on earth, the fading glories of natural objects, and the wasting strength of man, God's truth remains unaffected. Its beauty never fades; its power is never enfeebled. The gospel system is as lovely now as when it was first revealed to man, and it has as much power to save as it had when first applied to the human heart.[63]

People may busy themselves with studies of theology and a multitude of religious matters, but the means of saving the world from sin is the same as it always has been, namely, that of preaching the gospel to all people. It is not the deductions that people make from the sacred text, but the word itself that saves. The church's chief mission on earth is the proclamation of the word Peter mentioned here; failing in that, a church becomes not merely useless but abhorrent. What can give people the new birth and save their souls? The answer lies in the last verse of this chapter: It is, "The word of good tidings which was preached unto you."

[61] A. J. Mason, op. cit., p. 399.

[62] E. M. Zerr, op. cit., p. 255.

[63] Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 132.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Peter 1". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.