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1 . Wherefore laying aside ] The sequence of thought goes on, as is seen in the “new-born babes” of the next verse, from the thought of the “regeneration” of believers expressed in chap. 1:3, 23. As entering on a new and purer life they are to “lay aside” (compare the use of the kindred noun in connexion with baptism in chap. 3:21) the evil that belongs to the old. As far as the list of evils is concerned, they point, especially in the “hypocrisies and evil speakings,” to the besetting sins of the Jewish rather than the Gentile character, as condemned by our Lord (Matthew 23:0 et al.) and St James (3:4), and so confirm the view which has been here taken, that the Epistle was throughout addressed mainly to Jewish converts.
2 . as newborn babes ] The Greek noun, like the English, implies the earliest stage of infancy. See Luke 1:41 , Luke 1:44 , Luke 1:2 :12, Luke 1:16 .
the sincere milk of the word ] The English version tries to express the force of the original but has had recourse to a somewhat inadequate paraphrase. Literally, the words may be rendered as the rational (or intellectual ) milk , the adjective having very nearly the force of “spiritual” in such passages as 1 Corinthians 10:3 , 1 Corinthians 10:4 . The “milk” of which he speaks is that which nourishes the reason or mind, and not the body, and is found in the simpler form of the Truth as it is in Jesus which was presented by the Apostolic Church to the minds of its disciples. Looking to the other instances of parallelism between St Peter’s language and those of the Epistles of St Paul, we can scarcely be wrong in thinking that here also he more or less reproduces what he had read in them. The word for “rational” meets us in Romans 12:1 (“reasonable” in the English version), in the same sense as here, and is not found elsewhere in the New Testament. The thought that those who are as yet in spiritual childhood, must be fed with the spiritual milk adapted to their state, is found in 1 Corinthians 3:2 . Comp. also Hebrews 5:12 , Hebrews 5:13 . There is almost as striking a coincidence in the adjective sincere (better, pure or unadulterated ), which expresses precisely the same thought as that of St Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 2:17 (“we are not, as the many, adulterators of the word of God”) and 2 Corinthians 4:2 (“not dealing with the word of God deceitfully”). The thought implied in the word is that, however simple may be the truths which men teach, according to the capacities of their hearers, they should at all events be free from any admixture of conscious falsehood. The words fix the sentence of condemnation on the “pious frauds,” on the populus vult decipi et decipiatur , on which even Christian teachers and Churches have too often acted. In the word “desire,” or long after (the word expressing an almost passionate yearning), we have a sad reminder that the spiritual appetite is not as spontaneous as the natural. Infants do not need to be told to seek the mother’s breast.
that ye may grow thereby ] The better MSS. add the words unto salvation . Though not essential to the sense, they give a worthy completeness to it, and it is not easy to understand how they came to be omitted in the later MSS.
3 . if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious ] Better, if ye tasted , as referring more definitely to the experiences of the first period of their life as Christians. The word “tasted” as applied to those experiences follows naturally, as in Hebrews 6:4 , on the imagery of the milk. The Greek word for “gracious” itself carries on the metaphor of the tasting, being applied in Luke 5:39 to express the mellowness of wine ripened by age. The words are a quotation from Psalms 34:8 as it stands in the LXX. version. We can scarcely doubt that the Apostle saw in the Master he had owned in Christ the “Lord” of whom the Psalmist spoke. It is possible that he may have been led to choose the quotation from the close resemblance in sound between the two Greek words for “Christ” ( Christos ) and “gracious” ( Chrestos ). The acceptance of the name of Christian as carrying with it this significance, and being, as it were, nomen et omen , was common in the second century (Tertullian Apol . 100:3), and it would have been quite in accordance with Jewish habits of thought for St Peter to have anticipated that application.
4 . To whom coming, as unto a living stone ] The whole imagery changes, like a dissolving view, and in the place of the growth of babes nourished with spiritual milk, we have that of a building in which each disciple of Christ is as a “living stone” spontaneously taking its right place in the building that rests on Christ as the chief corner-stone. The new imagery is connected in St Peter’s mind with its use in Psalms 118:22 and Isaiah 28:16 , but it is not without significance to note that we have the same sequence of the two metaphors in 1 Corinthians 3:1 , 1 Corinthians 3:2 and 10, 11. It may be noted also that the Greek is bolder in its use of the image than the English, and has no particle of comparison, to whom coming, even to a living stone . The term “living” is used in its fullest sense, presenting the paradox of connecting the noun with the adjective which seems most remote from it. The lower sense of the word in which Latin writers applied the term saxum vivum to rocks in their natural form as distinct from those that had been hewn and shaped, is hardly admissible here.
disallowed indeed of men ] The verb is the same as the “rejected” of Matthew 21:42 . We cannot forget that the thoughts on which St Peter now enters had their starting-point in the citation of the Psalm by our Lord on that occasion. In the substitution of the wide term “men” for the “builders” of the Psalm, we may trace the feeling that it was not the rulers of the Jews only, nor even the Jews only as a nation, but mankind at large, by whom the “head of the corner” had been rejected. Here again we see in the Epistle the reproduction of the Apostle’s earlier teaching (Acts 4:11 ).
but chosen of God, and precious ] More accurately, but with God (i.e. in God’s sight) chosen, precious (or, held in honour ). The two words emphasize the contrast between man’s rejection and God’s acceptance. Both are taken from the LXX. of Isaiah 28:16 .
5 . ye also, as lively stones ] Better, as living stones , there being no reason for a variation in the English, to which there is nothing corresponding in the Greek. The repetition of the same participle gives prominence to the thought that believers are sharers in the life of Christ, and that, in the building up of the spiritual temple, each of these “living stones” takes its voluntary, though not self-originated, part. It is an open question, as far as the Greek is concerned, whether the verb is in the passive or the middle voice, in the indicative or the imperative mood, but the sense is, perhaps, best given by the rendering, build yourselves up .
a spiritual house ] The words come as a secondary predicate of the previous clause. “This,” St Peter says, “is what you will become by coming to Christ and building yourselves on Him.” The “house,” like the corner-stone, carries our thoughts back to the Temple as “the house of God” (1 Kings 8:10 ), which finds its antitype in that Ecclesia to which St Paul attaches the same glorious title (1 Timothy 3:15 ). We can hardly think that St Peter could write these words without remembering the words which had told him of the rock on which Christ would build His Church, and into the full meaning of which he was now, at last, entering (Matthew 16:18 ).
a holy priesthood ] The thought of the Temple is followed naturally by that of its ritual and of those who are the chief agents in it. Here also there is a priesthood, but it is not attached, as in the Jewish Temple, to any sacerdotal caste, like that of the sons of Aaron, but is co-extensive with the whole company of worshippers. As in the patriarchal Church, as in the original ideal of Israel (Exodus 19:5 ), from which the appointment of the Levitical priesthood was a distinctly retrograde step consequent on the unfitness of the nation for its high calling as a kingdom of priests, as in the vision of the future that floated before the eyes of Isaiah (61:6), so now in the Church of Christ, there was to be no separate priesthood, in the old sense of the word, and with the old functions. All were to offer “spiritual sacrifices” (we note the identity of thought with Romans 12:1 ) as contrasted with the burnt-offerings or meat-offerings of Jewish ritual. And, by what to a Jew must have seemed at first the strangest of all paradoxes, and afterwards the development of a truth of which germinal hints had been given to his fathers, in this new order of things the Temple and the Priesthood were not, as in the old, distinguished and divided from each other, but were absolutely identical. The Priests who sacrificed in the true Temple, were themselves the stones of which that Temple was built.
acceptable to God ] St Peter uses the stronger and more emphatic form of the adjective which was familiar on St Paul’s lips (Romans 15:16 , Romans 15:31 ; 2 Corinthians 6:2 , 2 Corinthians 8:12 ). In the addition of the words “through Jesus Christ,” we have at once the sanction for the Church’s use of that form of words in connexion with all her acts of prayer and praise, and the implied truth that it is only through their union with Christ as the great High Priest and with His sacrifice that His people are able to share His priesthood and to offer their own spiritual sacrifices.
6 . Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture ] As the words are not quoted in exact accordance either with the LXX. or with the Hebrew, it is natural to see in them a citation from Isaiah 28:16 , freely made from memory.
a chief corner stone ] The words, as in Psalms 118:22 , Ephesians 2:20 , point to the stone at the corner where two walls met, and resting on which they were bonded together and made firm.
elect, precious ] Better, to maintain the identity of phrase, chosen, precious (or, held in honour ).
he that believeth on him shall not be confounded ] The meaning of the Hebrew is fairly expressed by the English version, “He that believeth shall not make haste,” i.e. shall go on his way calmly and trustfully, shall not be put to a hurried or hasty flight. Here St Peter follows the LXX. which expresses substantially the same thought.
7 . Unto you therefore which believe he is precious ] More accurately, Unto you therefore that believe there is the honour . The last words stand in direct connexion with the “shall not be ashamed” of the previous verse, and are not a predicate asserting what Christ is, but declare that honour, not shame, is the portion of those who believe on Him.
but unto them which be disobedient ] The Greek word, like the English, expresses something more than the mere absence of belief and implies a deliberate resistance. To such as these, St Peter says, combining Isaiah 8:14 , Isaiah 8:15 with the other passages in which the symbolism of the stone was prominent, much in the same way as St Paul combines them in Romans 9:33 , the very corner-stone itself became “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence.” Here again his language is an echo of our Lord’s (Matthew 21:44 ).
8 . which stumble at the word ] The “word,” as before, is the sum and substance of the Gospel. Men opposing themselves to that word, looking on it as an obstacle to be got rid of, were as those who rush upon a firm-fixed stone, and who falling over it are sorely bruised.
whereunto also they were appointed ] Attempts have been made to soften the apparent fatalism of the words by carrying the antecedent of the “whereunto” as far back as verse 5, and seeing in the words the statement that even those who stumbled were appointed, as far as God’s purpose was concerned, to be built up on Christ. It is, however, all but obvious that this puts a forced and artificial meaning on the Apostle’s words. What he really affirms is that it is part of God’s appointed order that the disobedient should stumble and be put to shame. And it may be noted that this way of looking on things is eminently characteristic of him. In the treachery of Judas he read the lesson that “the Scripture must needs have been fulfilled” (Acts 1:16 ). Stumbling, however, was not necessarily identical with falling irretrievably (Romans 11:11 ).
9 . But ye are a chosen generation ] The glories that attach to the company of believers in Christ are brought before us in a mosaic of Old Testament phraseology. The “chosen generation” comes from Isaiah 43:20 , the “royal priesthood” from the LXX. of Exodus 19:6 , where the English version has more accurately “a kingdom of priests.” We note the recurrence of the thought in Revelation 1:6 , Revelation 5:10 . The same passage supplies the “holy nation.”
a peculiar people ] This somewhat singular word calls for a special note. The English translators appear to have used the term in its strictly etymological and almost forensic sense. The people of Christ, like Israel of old, were thought of as the special peculium , the possession, or property, of God. The adjective, however, has acquired in common usage so different a meaning that it would be better to translate the words, a people for a special possession . The noun or the cognate verb is found in the LXX. of the “ special people” of Deuteronomy 7:6 , in the “jewels” of Malachi 3:17 . The context shews however that Isaiah 43:21 was most prominently in the Apostle’s thoughts, “This people have I formed for myself (or, gained as a possession for myself ); they shall shew forth my praise.” In Ephesians 1:14 the noun is rendered by “purchased possession,” in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 , 2 Thessalonians 2:14 , by “obtaining,” in Hebrews 10:39 by “saving.” The primary idea of the Greek verb is that of acquiring for oneself by purchase or otherwise, and the noun accordingly denotes either the act of acquiring or that which is so acquired. Cranmer’s Bible gives “a people which are won:” the Rhemish Version “a people of purchase.”
that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you ] The word for “praises” is that commonly used by Greek ethical writers for “virtue,” and is so rendered in Philippians 4:8 and 2 Peter 1:3 , 2 Peter 1:5 . St Peter’s choice of the term was determined apparently, as intimated in the preceding note, by its use in the LXX. of Isaiah 43:21 . Here, since the associations of the word in English hardly allow us to speak of the “virtues” of God, “excellences” would perhaps be a more adequate rendering: the Greek word, though connected both by Greek ethical writers (Aristot. Eth. Nicom . iii. 1) and by St Paul (Philippians 4:8 ) with the thought of praise, cannot well itself have that meaning. The almost uniform reference, throughout the New Testament, of the act of calling to the Father, justifies the conclusion that St Peter so thinks of it here.
Darkness is, of course, the natural symbol for man’s ignorance of God (comp. John 8:12 , Acts 26:18 , Ephesians 5:8-13 , Romans 13:12 ), as light is for the true knowledge of Him. The epithet “marvellous,” or wonderful , as applied to that light is peculiar to St Peter. Looking to the stress laid on the glory of the Transfiguration in 2 Peter 1:16-18 , we may, perhaps, see in this passage the impression which had been made upon him by what he had then seen of the “marvellous light” of the Eternal. Into that light, of which what he had seen was but the outward symbol, not he only but all who believed in Christ had now been called.
10 . Which in time past were not a people ] The reference is to the children of Gomer, with their strange ill-omened names, Lo-Ammi and Lo-Ruhamah (Hosea 1:2 .): but it may be a question whether the citation is made directly from the prophet, or is traceable to St Paul’s use of it in Romans 9:25 . In favour of the former view is the fact that St Peter quotes it (1) in a different form from St Paul’s, giving “had not obtained mercy” for “not beloved,” following in this the text of the Alexandrian MS. of the LXX., and (2) in a different application, St Paul referring it to the calling of the Gentiles, while he applies it to that of Israel. Some interpreters, indeed, have seen in this passage also a proof that St Peter was writing to Gentile converts or thinking of them chiefly, but it may well be urged against this view that if the history of the prophet’s adulterous wife had been to him a parable of the sin and repentance of Israel, it might well be so to the Apostle also. Had not his Master spoken of the people as “an evil and adulterous generation” (Matthew 12:39 )? Had not his friend St James addressed them as “adulterers and adulteresses” (James 4:4 )?
11 . Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims ] This is manifestly the beginning of a fresh section of the Epistle. Somewhat after the manner of St Paul, the Apostle, alter having allowed his thoughts to travel through the mysteries of redemption, reaches, as it were, the highest region of the truth, and then pauses in the act of writing or dictating, and takes a fresh start. In doing so, however, he goes back to the opening words of the Epistle (see note on chap. 1:1). Those to whom he wrote were “strangers and pilgrims” (the English reader must remember that “pilgrim” is but another form of peregrinus ), not only as belonging to the Jews of the dispersion, but as being, like the patriarchs of old (Hebrews 11:13 ), men who, in whatever country they might be, felt that their true home was elsewhere. In the LXX. version of Psalms 39:12 we find both the words and the thoughts to which St Peter now gives utterance. It is obvious that the special local position of the disciples, though not, it may be, altogether excluded, is now thrown quite into the background.
abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul ] The negative aspect of the Christian life is put forward first, as being prior, both in order of thought, and often in that of time, to its more positive development. The entreaty rests upon the character implied in the previous words. Travellers in a strange land, yet more in the land of enemies, do not care commonly to adopt all its customs. They retain their nationality. The exiles who hung their harps by the waters of Babylon did not forget Jerusalem, and would not profane its hymns by singing them at idolfeasts (Psalms 137:1-3 ). The citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem were in like manner to keep themselves from all that would render them unfit for their true home. The words “fleshly lusts” have, perhaps, a somewhat wider range than the English term suggests, and take in all desires that originate in man’s corrupt nature, as well as those directly connected with the appetites of the body: comp. St Paul’s list of the “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21 . In the description of these as “warring against the soul,” we have another striking coincidence of language with St James (4:1) and St Paul (Romans 7:23 ). “Soul” stands here, as in chap. 1:9, for the higher element of man’s nature which, in the more elaborate threefold division of man’s nature, adopted by St Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and elsewhere, includes both “soul and spirit.”
12 . having your conversation honest among the Gentiles ] On “conversation,” see note on chap. 1:15. There is perhaps no better equivalent for the Greek word than “honest;” but it carries with it the thought of a nobler, more honourable, form of goodness than the English adjective. The special stress laid on the conduct of the disciples “among the Gentiles ” confirms the view taken throughout these notes that the Epistle is addressed mainly to those of the Asiatic Churches who were by birth or adoption of “the Circumcision.”
that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers ] It is not without significance that St Peter uses the same word as had been used by the chief priests of our Lord (John 18:30 ). This Epistle (here, and ver. 14, 3:16, 4:15) is the only book in the New Testament, with the exception of the passage just referred to, in which the word occurs. The words indicate the growth of a widespread feeling of dislike shewing itself in calumny. So in Acts 28:22 the disciples of Christ are described as “a sect everywhere spoken against.” The chief charge at this time was probably that of “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6 ), i.e. of revolutionary tendencies, and this view is confirmed by the stress laid on obedience to all constituted authority in the next verse. With this were probably connected, as the sequel shews (verse 18, chap. 3:1), the accusations of introducing discord into families, setting slaves against their masters, wives against their husbands. The more monstrous calumnies of worshipping an ass’s head, of Thyesteian banquets of human flesh, and orgies of foulest license, were probably of later date.
they may by your good works, which they shall behold ] The verb which St Peter uses is an unusual one, occurring in the New Testament only here and in chap. 3:2. The use of the cognate noun in the “eye-witnesses” of 2 Peter 1:16 may be noted as a coincidence pointing to identity of authorship. The history of the word as applied originally to those who were initiated in the third or highest order of the Eleusinian mysteries is not without interest. If we can suppose the Apostle to have become acquainted with that use of it, or even with the meaning derived from the use, we can imagine him choosing the word rather than the simple verb for “seeing” to express the thought that the disciples were as a “spectacle” (1 Corinthians 4:9 ; Hebrews 10:33 ) to the world around them, and that those who belonged to that world were looking on with a searching and unfriendly gaze.
glorify God in the day of visitation ] The usage of the Old Testament leaves it open whether the day in which God visits men is one of outward blessings as in Job 10:12 , Luke 1:43 , or of chastisement as in Isaiah 10:3 . The sense in which the term is used by St Peter was probably determined by our Lord’s use of “the time of thy visitation” in Luke 19:44 . There it is manifestly applied to the “accepted time,” the season in which God was visiting His people, it might be by chastisements, as well as by the call to repentance and the offer of forgiveness. And this, we can scarcely doubt, is its meaning here also. There is a singular width of charity in St Peter’s language. He anticipates “a day of visitation,” a time of calamities, earthquakes, pestilences, famines, wars and rumours of wars, such as his Lord had foretold (Matthew 24:6 , Matthew 24:7 ), but his hope is not that the slanderers may then be put to shame and perish, but that they may then “glorify God” by seeing how in the midst of all chaos and disorder, the disciples of Christ were distinguished by works that were nobly good, by calmness, obedience, charity.
13 . Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man ] The precept, like those of Romans 13:1-7 , points to this as the line of action which the circumstances of the time made most important, in order that the character of Christ’s disciples might be vindicated against the widely-spread suspicion that they were elements of disorder. The word for “ordinance,” usually translated “creature,” may possibly have that sense here. So taken, the counsel would stand parallel to the “honour all men” of ver. 17, to the “be ye subject one to another” of ch. 5:5, and would express the thought that the Christian was to act and speak as a “ servus servorum ,” submitting himself, as far as God’s law would allow, even to the meanest. Against this view, however, it may be urged that “every human creature” would be a somewhat awkward periphrasis for “all men,” and that the subdivision that follows points to something more specific. On the whole, therefore, there seems sufficient reason for accepting the English Version, and taking the word in the sense which it will well bear of “ordinance,” or better, perhaps, institution . The obedience which is thus enjoined is to be rendered not through fear of punishment but “for the Lord’s sake,” partly as remembering His example (vv. 21, 22), partly in zeal for the honour of His name, lest that also be “blasphemed among the Gentiles” (Romans 2:24 ).
whether it be to the king, as supreme ] The adjective is the same as in the “ higher powers” of Romans 13:1 . The “king” is of course the Emperor Nero, the Greek language not supplying a word with the full significance of the Roman Imperator . So we have prayers for “kings,” obviously including the Emperor, in 1 Timothy 2:2 . The “Governors” include the Pro-consuls or Pro-praetors of Roman provinces, and all officials such as the town-clerk of Ephesus, the Asiarchs, and other municipal authorities. (Acts 19:31 , Acts 19:35 , Acts 19:38 .)
14 . as unto them that are sent by him ] The tense of the Greek participle indicates that obedience was to be paid to those who, from time to time, were the local representatives of the central supreme authority. The identity of thought with Romans 13:3 , Romans 13:4 , will be noticed as another interesting coincidence in the teaching of the two Apostles. Both alike recognise that even an imperfect and corrupt government works, on the whole, for a greater good than lawless anarchy. Both therefore are against revolutionary attempts to destroy an established order. It has, of course, to be remembered that the Christian citizens of a Christian country now stand in a different position, in relation to the state, from that occupied by the disciples of the Apostolic Church, and have therefore different duties and responsibilities; among others, that of defending the “ordinance” or “institution” under which they live, whether that institution be monarchical or republican in its form, against open or insidious aggression.
15 . For so is the will of God ] Better, for thus it is the will of God . This was to be the chief, if not the only, apologia of Christians to the charges brought against them. They were accused of being evil-doers. They were to be conspicuous for well-doing. In the Greek for “put to silence” we have the word used in Matthew 22:12 , Matthew 22:34 , Mark 1:25 , Mark 4:39 , the primary meaning of which was “to enforce silence by a gag or muzzle.” The word “ignorance,” used elsewhere in the New Testament only in 1 Corinthians 15:34 , implies something more than a mere ignorance of facts. One might almost describe it as a settled incapacity for knowing and judging rightly. The “foolish men” are the accusers and slanderers of ver. 12 rather than the official authorities of vv. 13, 14.
16 . as free, and not using your liberty for a cloke ] The English text gives the impression that the word “free” is closely connected with the preceding verse. In the Greek, however, the adjective is in the nominative and cannot be in apposition with the preceding participle for “well-doing” which is in the accusative case. We are led therefore to connect it with what follows. “As being free … honour all men …” The fact that men had been made free with the freedom which Christ had given (comp. John 8:32 , John 8:36 , Galatians 5:1 ) brought with it an obligation to use the freedom rightly. If under the pretence that they were asserting their Christian freedom, they were rude, over-bearing, insolent, regardless of the conventional courtesies of life, what was this but to make their liberty a cloke (the word is the same as that used in the LXX. of Exodus 26:14 for the “covering” of the Tabernacle) for baseness ? The word just given answers better to the comprehensive meaning of the Greek word than the more specific “maliciousness.” In Galatians 5:13 , 2 Peter 2:19 we find indications that the warning was but too much needed.
“License they mean when they cry liberty”
was as true in the Apostolic age as it has been in later times.
as the servants of God ] St Peter, like St Paul, brings together the two contrasts as expressing one of the paradoxes of the spiritual life. There is a service even in slavery, which is not only compatible with freedom, but is absolutely its condition. Comp. Romans 6:16-18 , 1 Corinthians 7:22 , 1 Corinthians 7:23 .
17 . Honour all men ] The universality of the precept is not to be narrowed by any arbitrary restriction of its range to those to whom honour was due. St Peter had been taught of God “not to call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28 ). The fact that there were in every man traces of the image of God after which he had been created, and infinite undeveloped capacities which might issue in the restoration of that image to its original brightness, was in itself a reason for treating all, even the vilest and most degraded, with some measure of respect. It is obvious that the command is perfectly consistent with shewing degrees of honour according to the variations in men’s character and position. It would almost seem as if the Apostle chose the most terse and epigrammatic form for these great laws of conduct that their very brevity might impress them indelibly on the minds of his readers.
Love the brotherhood ] In the Greek, as in the English, the abstract noun is used to express the collective unity made up of many individuals. Within the Christian society in which all were brothers, as being children of the same Father, there might well be a warmer feeling of affection than that which was felt for those who were outside it. If St Peter’s rule seems at first somewhat narrower than that of Matthew 5:44 (“Love your enemies”), it may be remembered that the special love of the brethren does not shut out other forms and degrees of love, and that our Lord’s words are therefore left in all their full force of obligation.
Fear God. Honour the king ] The king, as before, is the Emperor. The two verbs seem deliberately chosen to express the feelings of man’s conduct in regard to divine and human authority. They are to fear God with the holy reverential awe of sons, with that fear which is “the beginning of wisdom” (Psalms 111:10 , Proverbs 1:7 ). They are not to fear man more than God, however great may be the authority with which he is invested. St Paul’s conduct before the high-priest, Felix, Festus and Agrippa (Acts 23 26.) may be noted as a practical illustration of St Peter’s precept. We may, perhaps, trace in the juxtaposition of the two precepts a reproduction of the teaching of Proverbs 24:21 .
18 . Servants, be subject to your masters ] The counsels thus opening are carried on to the close of the chapter. The fulness with which slaves are thus addressed, here and in Ephesians 6:5-8 , Colossians 3:22 , 1 Timothy 6:1 , 1 Timothy 6:2 , indicates the large proportion of converts that belonged to that class. Nearly all the names in Romans 16:0 and many of those of other members of the Church are found in the Columbaria or Catacombs of Rome as belonging to slaves or freedmen. The term for “servants,” here and in Luke 16:13 , Acts 10:7 , Romans 14:4 , differs from the more common word as pointing specially to household servants, the “domestics” of a family. It may have been chosen by St Peter as including the wide class of libertini or freedmen and freedwomen who, though no longer in the status of slavery, were still largely employed in the households of the upper classes, as scribes, musicians, teachers, physicians, needle-women and the like. It is obvious that the new thoughts of converts to the faith of Christ must have brought with them some peculiar dangers. They had learnt that all men were equal in the sight of God. Might they not be tempted to assert that equality in word or act? They felt themselves raised to a higher life than their heathen masters. Could they endure to serve loyally and humbly those whom they looked on as doomed to an inevitable perdition? Was it not their chief duty to escape by flight or purchase from the degradation and dangers of their position? The teaching of St Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:21-23 , as well as in the passages above referred to, shews how strongly he felt the urgency of this danger. Cardinal Wiseman’s Fabiola may be mentioned as giving, with special vividness and insight, a picture of this aspect of the social life of the early Church.
with all fear ] So St Paul urges obedience “with fear and trembling” (Ephesians 6:5 ). There was, looking to the then existing relations of society, a comparative nobleness in a service into which the fear of offending their master, as distinct from the mere dread of the scourge or other punishment, entered as a motive into the obedience of slaves. And this was not to depend on the character of the master. He might be good and easy-going, or perverse and irritable. Their duty was in either case to submit, with thankfulness in the one case, with a cheerful patience in the other.
19 . For this is thankworthy ] The word charis , commonly translated “grace,” is here used in the sense, which attaches also to the Latin gratia , as in ago tibi gratias , and the French mille graces , of thanks or cause for thanks. So in Luke 6:32 the same word is used in “what thank have ye,” where the context shews that it is equivalent to a “reward,” and in that case, as in this, a reward from God. It is not unreasonable to suppose that St Peter’s choice of the term was determined by the use of it which St Luke records in his report of the Sermon on the Plain.
for conscience toward God ] Literally, consciousness of God , i.e. of His presence as seeing, judging, helping, rewarding, His suffering servants. The phrase is analogous to the “conscience of the idol” in 1 Corinthians 8:7 .
suffering wrongfully ] Natural impulse, one might almost say natural ethics, sanctions the burning indignation and desire to retaliate which is caused by the sense of wrong. Here, as in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:39 ), which this teaching distinctly reproduces, that is made the crucial instance in which the Christian is to shew that the law of Christ is his rule of life. It is obvious that in this case the allowance of any exception to the rule would make it altogether inoperative. Each party in a dispute or quarrel thinks himself at the moment in the right, and it is only by acting on the principle that the more he believes himself to be in the right the more it is his duty to submit patiently, that a man can free himself from an endless entanglement of recriminations and retaliations.
20 . if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently ] Literally, if when ye are buffeted, being in fault, ye shall endure it . The common practice of Roman life, as of all countries in which slavery has prevailed, made the blow with the hand, the strict meaning of “buffeting” (Mark 14:65 ), or the stroke of the scourge, a thing of almost daily usage.
this is acceptable with God ] The Greek word is the same as that rendered “thankworthy” in the previous verse. It would obviously have been better, though “acceptable” expresses the sense fairly enough, to have retained that word here also.
21 . For even hereunto were ye called ] The thoughts of the Apostle travel from the teaching of Christ which he had heard to the life which he had witnessed. The very calling to be a disciple involved the taking up the cross and following Him (Matthew 10:38 , Matthew 10:16 :24; Luke 14:27 ). It was the very law of the Christian life that men “must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 ). And if this was true of all believers it was true in a yet higher sense of those who, when they were called to know Christ, were called as slaves, and as such were to abide in that calling and find in it a discipline of sanctification (comp. 1 Corinthians 7:22 ). And the Apostle had seen what that taking up the cross involved. It is not without significance that in almost every instance in which the example of Christ is referred to, it is in special connexion with His patience under sufferings. Stress is laid on his suffering for us, as making the analogy of the pattern sufferer more complete. He, too, was “buffeted” for no fault of His (Matthew 26:67 ).
leaving us an example ] The Greek noun, not found elsewhere in the New Testament, seems to have been a technical word for the drawing which was set before young students of art for them to copy. Such a picture of patience under suffering St Peter now paints, as with a few vivid touches, and sets it before those who were novices in the school of the Christ-like life that they may become artists worthy of their Master.
22 . Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth ] It is suggestive as indicating the line of prophetic interpretation in which the Apostle had been led on, that as soon as he begins to speak of the sufferings of Christ, he falls, as it were, naturally into the language of Isaiah 53:9 , as he found it (with the one exception that he gives “sin” for “iniquity”) in the LXX. version. The two clauses assert for the righteous sufferer a perfect sinlessness both in act and word.
23 . Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again ] Here again, though we have no direct quotation, it is impossible to overlook the allusive reference to the silence of the sufferer as portrayed in Isaiah 53:7 . Personal recollection was, however, the main source of the vivid picture which the Apostle draws, dwelling mainly on those features which the life of the slaves best enabled them to reproduce. They were tempted to return “railing for railing” (chap. 3:9). Christ had met taunts and revilings with a silent patience. They in their passionate indignation too often threatened revenge in some near or distant future. He, though he might have asked His Father for twelve legions of angels, had uttered no threats of judgment, but had committed Himself (as in the words on the Cross, “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit,” Luke 23:46 ) to the righteous Judge. So should the slaves who suffered wrongfully commit their cause to God in the full assurance that they will one day have righteous judgment. The strange rendering in the Vulgate, “tradebat judicanti se injuste ” as though the words referred not to God, but to Pilate, for which there is no Greek MS. authority, must be regarded as an arbitrary alteration made on the assumption that this was the crowning act of submissive patience.
24 . who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree ] Here again we have an unmistakeable reference to the language of Isaiah 53:12 . The Apostle, though he has begun with pointing to the sufferings of Christ as an example, cannot rest satisfied with speaking of them only under that aspect. He remembers that his Lord had spoken of Himself as giving His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28 ), of His blood as that of a new covenant (Matthew 26:28 ). He must speak accordingly, even to the slaves whom he calls upon to follow in the footsteps of their Master, of the atoning, mediatorial, sacrificial aspects of His death. Each word is full of a profound significance. The Greek verb for “bare” ( anapherein ) is always used with a liturgical sacrificial meaning, sometimes, in a directly transitive sense, of him who offers a sacrifice, as James 2:21 (“Abraham … when he had offered Isaac”), Hebrews 7:27 , Hebrews 13:15 , and in this very chapter (verse 5); sometimes of the victim offered, as bearing the sins of those who have transgressed, and for whom a sacrifice is required, as in Hebrews 9:28 and the LXX. of Isaiah 53:12 . Here, Christ being at once the Priest and the Victim, one meaning seems to melt into the other. He offers Himself: He bears the sins of many. But if there was a priest and a sacrifice, where was the altar? The Apostle finds that altar in the cross, just as many of the best commentators, including even Roman theologians like Estius and Aquinas, recognise a reference to the cross in the “we have an altar” of Hebrews 13:10 . In the word for “tree,” used instead of that for “cross,” we have the same term as that in Galatians 3:13 , where St Paul’s choice of it was obviously determined by its use in the LXX. of Deuteronomy 21:23 . The word was somewhat more generic than “cross,” and included a whole class of punishments to which slaves were subject, impaling, the stocks (Acts 16:24 ), and the like. It is possible that St Peter, in writing to slaves, may have chosen it as bringing home to their thoughts the parallelism between Christ’s sufferings and their own (comp. the “non pasces in cruce corvos” of Horace Epp . 1:16, 50:48); but its occurrence in St Luke’s reports of his speeches in Acts 5:30 , Acts 10:39 makes it more probable that it was simply a familiar term with him.
that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness ] The Greek word for “being dead” is a somewhat unusual one, and is not found elsewhere in the New Testament. As a word it has to a certain extent an euphemistic character, like “departing,” “being away,” and is so far analogous to the exodos or “decease” of 2 Peter 1:15 . The context leaves no doubt that the English rendering of the word fairly expresses its true meaning. “Having died” would perhaps give more accurately the force of the aorist participle. The thought presents another instance of parallelism between St Peter and St Paul (Romans 6:2 , Romans 6:11 ; Galatians 2:19 ) so close that it at least suggests the idea of derivation. In both cases the tense used implies a single act at a definite point of time, and as interpreted by St Paul’s teaching, and, we may add, by that of St Peter himself (chap. 3:21), that point of time can hardly be referred to any other occasion than that of the Baptism of those to whom he writes. In that rite they were mystically sharers in the death and entombment of Christ, and they were made so in order that they might live to Him in the righteousness of a new life.
by whose stripes ye were healed ] The word for “stripes” means strictly the livid mark or wheal left on the flesh by the scourge. Comp. Ecclus. 28:17. We may well believe that the specific term was chosen rather than any more general word like “sufferings” or “passion,” as bringing before the minds of the slave readers of the Epistle the feature of greatest ignominy in their Lord’s sufferings (Matthew 27:26 ; Mark 15:15 ), that in which they might find the closest parallelism with their own. When the scourge so freely used in Roman households left the quivering flesh red and raw, they were to remember that Christ also had so suffered, and that the stripes inflicted on Him were part of the process by which He was enabled to be the Healer of mankind. The words are cited from the LXX. of Isaiah 53:5 .
25 . For ye were as sheep going astray ] The sequence of thought is suggested by the “all we like sheep have gone astray” of Isaiah 53:6 , but the imagery could scarcely fail to recall to the mind of the Apostle the state of Israel “as sheep that had no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36 ), and the parable of the lost sheep (Matthew 18:12 , Matthew 18:13 ; Luke 15:4 ). The image had been a familiar one almost from the earliest times to describe the state of a people plunged into anarchy and confusion by the loss of their true leader (Numbers 27:17 ; 1 Kings 22:17 ).
but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls ] We can scarcely fail to connect the words with those which St Peter had once heard as to the “other sheep” who were not of the “fold” of Galilee and Jerusalem (John 10:16 ). In the “strangers of the dispersion” he might well recognise some, at least, of those other sheep. In the thought of Christ as the “Shepherd” we have primarily the echo of the teaching of our Lord just referred to, but the name at least suggests a possible reference to the older utterances of prophecy and devotion in Psalms 23:1 , Isaiah 40:11 , Ezekiel 34:23 , Ezekiel 37:24 . In the word for “Bishop” ( Episcopos ) (better perhaps, looking to the later associations that have gathered round the English term) guardian or protector , we may, possibly, find a reference to the use of the cognate verb in the LXX. of Ezekiel 34:11 . It deserves to be noted, however, that the Greek noun is often used in the New Testament in special association with the thought of the Shepherd’s work. Comp. Acts 20:28 , 1 Peter 5:4 . So in like manner, “Pastors” or “Shepherds” find their place in the classification of Christian Ministers in Ephesians 4:11 . There is, perhaps, a special stress laid on Christ being the Shepherd of their souls . Their bodies might be subject to the power and caprices of their masters, but their higher nature, that which was their true self, was subject only to the lovin
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the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27