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1 . Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered … in the flesh ] The thoughts of the Apostle go back, somewhat after the manner of St Paul after a dogmatic digression, to the point from which he had started. Christ had suffered in the flesh. If those who had been baptized in His name were called so to suffer, they, looking to the glory that had followed on His sufferings, were to follow His example. They were, it might be, engaged in a tremendous conflict, but they needed no other armour than “the mind of Christ,” the temper of patient submission and unwavering trust in the wisdom and love of the Father.
for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin ] If this had been the close of the sentence we might have looked on the “suffering” of which the Apostle speaks, as including death, as it had included it in the case of Christ. So taken, the words might seem to express the familiar thought that “Death only can from sin release,” as in the Rabbinic maxim “He that is dead is freed from sin” (Romans 6:7 ), that men were to welcome the sufferings that brought death near to them, as working out their complete emancipation. The words that follow, however, make this interpretation impossible, and the “ceasing from sin” must therefore be understood of that “deadness to sin,” “sin no longer having dominion over us,” of which St Paul speaks in Romans 6:7-11 . That Apostle, it may be noted, though he quotes the Rabbinic proverb, transfers its application from literal to spiritual death, and St Peter, following a like train of thought, affirms as a general law of the spiritual life that the very act of suffering in the mind of Christ and for Him so strengthens the powers of will and faith that the sufferer is ipso facto delivered from the life in which sin is dominant. It is hard to think of a martyr in the hour of death, or of a confessor patiently bearing his cross, as malignant or fraudulent or impure.
2 . that he no longer should live the rest of his time ] The Greek form of the sentence points rather to the result than to the purpose of sufferings so borne, but the result in this case was one which implied a divine purpose. The “lusts” or “desires” of men are pointedly contrasted with “the will of God,” the wild restless cravings with the calm and fixed purpose. It is not without significance to remember that St Paul, in an Epistle which St Peter had clearly seen, had written “This is the will of God, even our sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 ), and that St Peter himself teaches “He is not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9 ).
3 . For the time past of our life may suffice ] The language is that of grave irony. Enough time, and more than enough, had been already given to the world. Was it not well to give some time now to God? The general line of thought runs parallel to that of Romans 13:11 , Romans 13:12 .
to have wrought the will of the Gentiles ] The question meets us whether these words imply that the writer was, here at least, contemplating converts from heathenism, or still thinking only of the Jews of the dispersion. On the one hand, it may be said that it was more natural for a Jew writing to Jews to speak of “the heathen” or “the Gentiles.” If the reading “may suffice us ” be the right one, the fact that the Apostle joins himself with those to whom he writes strengthens that conclusion. The better MSS., however, omit the pronoun. The “abominable idolatries,” on the other hand, may seem decisive in favour of the supposition that this part of the Epistle was intended for Gentile readers: but here also the word of warning would be as applicable to lax and licentious Jews, or to those who had been proselytes to Judaism, and who had not given up their attendance at idol-feasts or eating things sacrificed to idols (comp. 1 Corinthians 8:10 , Revelation 2:14 , Revelation 2:20 ).
lasciviousness ] The Greek word is in the plural as expressing the manifold forms or acts of impurity. The word is always applied to the darker forms of evil (Mark 7:22 ; Romans 13:13 ; 2 Peter 2:2 , 2 Peter 2:7 , 2 Peter 2:18 ).
excess of wine ] The Greek word is found in the LXX. of Deuteronomy 21:20 , Isaiah 56:12 , but not elsewhere in the New Testament.
banquetings ] Literally, drinking-parties . The word went naturally as in other Greek writers with “revellings.”
abominable idolatries ] The Greek adjective means, as in Acts 10:28 , simply “unlawful:” but as in the Latin nefas, nefanda, nefarius , the idea of that which is at variance not merely with human but with natural law tends to pass into that of a guilt which makes men shudder. It has been suggested above that even here the Apostle may have present to his thoughts the lives of licentious Jews falling into heathen ways rather than of Gentiles pure and simple. The Books of Maccabees (1 Macc. 1:13, 14; 2 Macc. 4:13, 14) shew that there had been a strong drift to apostasy of this kind under the Syrian Monarchy. The Temples, Gymnasia and Theatres built by the Herods had recently shewed a like tendency. At the very time when St Peter wrote there were Jews hanging about the court of Nero and Poppæa, taking part as actors in the imperial orgies (Joseph. Life , c. 3). It has been suggested that St Peter may have meant to refer to the old worship of Baal and Moloch and Ashtoreth and the groves and the calves which had prevailed in the history of Israel and Judah, so that the words “the time past may suffice” call on them to turn over a new leaf in their national existence, but the explanation of the words just given seems more natural and adequate.
4 . wherein they think it strange ] It may be worth noting that the same word is used to express (1) coming as a stranger (Acts 10:6 , Acts 10:18 , Acts 10:21 :16) and (2) as here, in verse 12 and Acts 17:20 , counting a person or thing strange. The “wherein” points to the change of life implied in the previous verse. “In which matter, in regard to which.” The words imply a change like that of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 . The heathen found that his old companions, even his Jewish companions, had acquired, when they became Christians, a new way of looking at things. Conscience was more sensitive. The standard of honesty, purity, and temperance was higher than before. It is not hard, even from our own experience, to picture to ourselves the surprise of the heathen when he found his friend refusing an invitation to a banquet, shrinking from contact with the prostitutes of Greek cities, or when there, passing the wine-cup untasted.
to the same excess of riot ] The Greek words are singularly forcible. That for “excess,” not found elsewhere in the New Testament, means primarily the “confluence” of waters then the cistern, sink, or cesspool into which waters have flowed. The underlying metaphor implied in the words reminds us of Juvenal’s ( Sat . iii. 62)
“Jam pridem Syrus in Tiberim defluxit Orontes”
(Syria’s Orontes into Tiber flows),
when he wishes to paint Rome as the meeting-point of the world’s vices. That for “riot” is used, in the adverbial form, of the life of the prodigal in Luke 15:13 , and as a noun here and in Ephesians 5:18 ; Titus 1:6 . Compounded as it is of the negative particle and of the root of the verb “to save,” it may mean either (1) the state in which a man no longer thinks of saving anything, health, money, character, in the indulgence of his passions, or (2) one in which there is no longer any hope of his being saved himself from utter ruin. The former is probably the dominant meaning of the word. In either case it indicates the basest form of profligacy.
speaking evil of you ] More accurately, reviling . The word is that which is more commonly translated “blaspheming” in direct reference to God. Even here, and in Acts 13:45 , Acts 18:6 , where it is used in reference to men, the other or darker sense can scarcely be thought of as altogether absent. Men blasphemed God when they reviled His servants.
5 . who shall give account ] The phrase is one of the many echoes in this Epistle of our Lord’s teaching (Luke 16:2 ). The thought of the Final Judgment from which there will be no appeal is made here, as in 1 Corinthians 4:5 , a motive for patience and courage under the false accusations and unjust judgments of men. They who now demand an account (chap. 3:15) will one day have to render it. Christ holds Himself in readiness to judge both the living and the dead. There is nothing in the context to lead us to any other than a literal interpretation of the familiar phraseology. Commentators who have taken the words of those who are spiritually living and spiritually dead have been led, for the most part, by their unwillingness to accept the natural meaning of the words that follow.
6 . For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead ] The thought that Christ was ready to judge the great company of the dead, as well as those who were living when the Gospel was preached by His messengers, leads the Apostle back to the truth which had been partially uttered when he had spoken of the work of Christ in preaching to “the spirits in prison.” The question might be asked, How were the dead to be judged by their acceptance or rejection of the Gospel when they had passed away without any opportunity of hearing it? He finds the answer in the fact that to them also the Gospel-message had been brought. Those who were disobedient in the days of Noah are now seen by him as representatives of mankind at large. Of some of these his Lord Himself had taught him that if they had seen the wonderful works which attested His ministry and mission, “they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:21 ). Was it not a natural inference from those words, confirmed by what had been revealed to him as to the descent into Hades, that that opportunity had been given?
that they might be judged according to men in the flesh ] The contrast between “flesh” and “spirit” stands parallel to that in chap. 3:18. The “dead” had the Gospel preached to them that they might be judged by a judgment, which was remedial as well as penal, in that lower sensuous nature in which they had sinned. They were judged “according to men,” or better, after the manner of men , by the laws by which all men are judged according to their works, but the purpose of that judgment, like that of the judgments that come upon men in this life, was to rescue them from a final condemnation. The whole passage presents a striking parallelism to St Paul’s “delivering men to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:5 ), to his words “when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:32 ). Following what we have learnt to call the ideas of analogy and continuity, the Apostle teaches that death does not change altogether the nature and the purpose of the Divine Judgments, and that purpose is that they “according to God,” in a manner determined by His will and wisdom, should live, in the highest sense of life (John 17:3 ), in that element of their nature which was capable of knowing God and therefore of eternal life. Such seems the simple natural interpretation of the words. It is not to be wondered at, perhaps, that the same dogmatic prepossessions which led men to explain away the true meaning of Christ’s preaching to “the spirits in prison,” should have biassed them here also, and that the same school of interpreters should have taken the “dead” as meaning “dead in trespasses and sins,” and referred the “preaching of the Gospel” to the work of the Apostles, and the “judgment according to men” to their sufferings on earth.
7 . But the end of all things is at hand ] The words are spoken, as are nearly all the eschatological utterances of the New Testament, within the horizon of the Apostle’s knowledge, and it had not been given to him to know the “times and the seasons” (Acts 1:7 ). His language was the natural inference from our Lord’s words, “then shall the end be” (Matthew 24:6-14 ). The times in which the disciples lived were to them the “last times” (1 Timothy 4:1 ; 1 John 2:18 ). They looked for the coming of the Lord as not far off (Romans 13:12 ; James 5:8 ). They expected to be among those who should be living when He came (1 Corinthians 15:51 ), who should be caught up to meet Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17 ). A few years we might almost say, looking to 2 Peter 3:8 , a few months sufficed to shew that the divine plan extended over a wider range than their thoughts and expectations. And yet, in one very real sense, they were not altogether mistaken. The end of all that they had known and lived in, the end of one great æon, or dispensation, was indeed nigh at hand. The old order was changing and giving place to the new. There was to be a great removal of the things that were shaken, that had decayed and waxed old, that the things that could not be shaken might remain (Hebrews 12:27 ).
be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer ] The first of the two verbs is defined by Greek ethical writers (Aristotle, Eth. Nicom . ii. 2) as implying the harmony of affections and desires with reason. Of the two English words “sober” or temperate , by which it is commonly rendered, the latter, as expressing the due control of passions, is the more adequate. The Vulgate gives “ Estote prudentes ,” but that adjective belongs to another Greek ethical term. Mark 5:15 , Romans 12:3 , 2 Corinthians 5:13 , may be noticed as among the other passages in which the same verb occurs. Strictly speaking, indeed, the word “sober” is wanted instead of “watch” for the second verb, which implies in the strictest sense “abstinence from wine and strong drink.” The word commonly translated “watch” (Matthew 24:42 , Matthew 24:43 , 26:Matthew 24:38-41 ) is altogether different. It may be noticed that the tense of the two verbs in the original implies not a general precept, but a call to an immediate act. The words of St Peter present a singular contrast to the effect that has commonly been produced in later ages by the belief that the end of the world was near. Terror and alarm, the abandonment of earthly callings and social duties accompanied that belief in the tenth century, when kings left their thrones and sought the seclusion of the monastery, “ appropinquante fine saeculi ,” and a like agitation has accompanied it since. To the Apostle’s mind the approach of the end of all things is a motive for calmness and self-control. He seems almost to reproduce the thought of a poet of whom he had probably never heard,
[Si fractus illabatur orbis
Impavidum ferient ruinae.]
“Should the world’s ruins round him break
His confidence it will not shake;
Unmoved he bears it all.”
(Hor. Od . iii. 3. 7.)
The “calmness” of the Apostle differs, however, from that of the philosopher. It is not merely the self-command of one who has conquered. Men are to be sober with a view to prayer. Desires of all kinds, above all, those of man’s lower nature, are fatal to the energy and therefore to the efficacy of prayer.
8 . And above all things have fervent charity ] It is to be regretted that the unintelligent desire for variation which the translators of 1611 took almost as their guiding principle, and in this instance, perhaps, their fondness for current theological terms, should have led them to obscure the unity of Apostolic teaching by using the word “charity” instead of “love.” The use of the same word in 1 Corinthians 13:0 . helps us indeed to perceive the agreement of St Peter and St Paul, but we lose sight of the harmony between their teaching and that of St John. On the general precept and on the word “fervent” see note on chapter 1:22.
for charity shall cover the multitude of sins ] The words are probably a quotation from Proverbs 10:12 , where our English version, following the Hebrew, gives “Hatred stirreth up strife, but love covereth all sins.” It may be noted, however, that the LXX. version gives here an entirely different rendering, “Friendship covers all those who are not lovers of contention,” and that St Peter, though he commonly uses the LXX., must, in this instance, either have translated from the Hebrew, or, as seems more probable, have quoted the maxim as a current proverb The use of the same phrase in James 5:20 , “He that converteth the sinner.… shall hide a multitude of sins,” shews that the thought and the language were common to the two teachers. There remains the question, What is the meaning of the proverb? Whose are the sins that fervent love or charity will cover? (1) As the words meet us in Proverbs 10:12 , the context determines its meaning, “Love covers (i.e. forgives and does not expose) the sins of others,” and so it is contrasted with the “hatred which stirs up strife.” (2) This may be the meaning here, “Love one another, for so only can you forgive freely as you are taught to do.” If we adopt this view, or so far as we adopt it, we can scarcely fail to connect it with the lesson which St Peter had once needed, as to the limit, or rather the non-limitation, of forgiveness His “multitude of sins” is the equivalent of the “seventy times seven” of our Lord’s teaching (Matthew 18:22 ). (3) It lies in the nature of the case, however, that a maxim such as this should present different aspects. In James 5:20 , e.g., the words “hide a multitude of sins” are equivalent not to forgiving sins ourselves, but to winning God’s forgiveness for them. And looking to the connexion between loving and being forgiven in Luke 7:47 , we shall not be far wrong if we include that thought also as within the scope of the Apostle’s words, “Love above all things, for that will enable you to forgive others, and in so doing ye will fulfil the condition of being forgiven yourselves.” So taken, the proverb reminds us in its width of the familiar,
“The quality of mercy … is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
9 . Use hospitality one to another without grudging ] Literally, Be hospitable . The stress laid on this virtue in the New Testament, as in 1 Timothy 3:2 ; Romans 12:13 ; Hebrews 13:2 , brings before us some of the more striking features of the social life of the Christians of the first three centuries. The Christian traveller coming to a strange city was in a position of no little difficulty. The houses of heathen friends, if he had any, were likely to bring trials of one kind or another. He might be taunted and persecuted for his faith or tempted to “run to the same excess of riot with them.” Inns presented too often scenes of drunkenness and impurity, foul words and fouler acts. It was therefore an unspeakable gain for such an one to know that he could find shelter in a Christian home. The fact that he was a Christian, that he brought with him some “letter of commendation” (2 Corinthians 3:1 ) as a safeguard against imposture, was to be enough to secure a welcome. It lay in the nature of things that sometimes strangers might thus present themselves with inconvenient frequency or under inconvenient conditions, and therefore St Peter adds “be hospitable … without murmurings.” Men were not to look on it as a trouble or a nuisance, or think themselves hardly treated. They might be entertaining angels unawares (Hebrews 13:2 ). Here also God loved a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7 ).
10 . As every man hath received the gift ] The two verses remind us of the like precepts in Romans 12:6 ; 1 Corinthians 12:4 , 1 Corinthians 12:28 . The tense of the Greek verb (“as every man received the gift”) implies the thought that the gift came at a definite moment, probably at that of the laying on of hands. Comp. Acts 19:6 ; 1 Timothy 4:14 . The words “As every man received” may be equivalent to “Let every man use his gift according to its nature or purpose,” which agrees best with Romans 12:6 , or they may, more probably, be an echo of the “freely ye received, freely give” of Matthew 10:8 .
even so minister the same one to another ] The Greek verb means something more than “use” or “administer.” It implies that men were to see in the gifts they possessed no ground for boasting, but only a call to more lowly service. They were to be, as in the next clause, “stewards” of those gifts. The thought that men are stewards, not possessors, of what God has given them in their outward or their inward life was, of course, a natural one (1 Corinthians 4:1 ; Titus 1:7 ), but here we can scarcely fail to recognise an echo of our Lord’s teaching. Peter had heard the parable of the steward who “wasted his lord’s goods” (Luke 16:1-12 ) and his Lord’s question, Who then is the faithful and wise steward? (Luke 12:42 ). In the “manifold,” or better, perhaps, varied grace of God, we have implied a much greater diversity of gifts, such as we find in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 , Ephesians 4:11 , than those which the Apostle specifies. He confines himself, indeed, to the one broad division between the gifts that shewed themselves in speech and those that shewed themselves in act.
11 . If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God ] The words cover the gifts of tongues, prophecy, teaching, knowledge, counsel, in St Paul’s fuller classification (Romans 12:6-8 ; Romans 1:0 Cor. 12 14.). These gifts, St Peter teaches, were only used rightly when the speaker’s utterances were in harmony with what were already recognised as “oracles of God.” The word is used of Old Testament revelations in Acts 7:38 ; Romans 3:2 , but we may think of it as including also those made through the prophets and teachers of the Christian Church. The fact that Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, who came within the circle of Apostolical teaching, wrote a book on the Oracles of the Lord Jesus (Euseb. Hist. Eccl ., iii. 39), makes it probable that St Peter included our Lord’s teaching, possibly also the Epistles of St Paul, which he speaks of as “Scripture” (2 Peter 3:16 ), under this title. The essential unity of Apostolic teaching was not to be disturbed by private eccentricities of interpretation or theoretical speculation.
if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth ] The ministering here spoken of ( diakonein ) can hardly be limited to the special work of those who bore the name of “minister” or “deacon” as a title of office, but takes in all works of ministration in act as distinct from teaching, visiting the sick and needy, teaching children, helping those that were in trouble. Men were to set about that work also as stewards of a gift. The strength to work for others was not their own but was supplied by God. The word for “giveth,” used by St Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:10 , and again in a compound form by St Peter in 2 Peter 1:5 , had, as its primary meaning in Classical Greek, that of defraying the expense of a chorus in the performance of a drama. As this took its place among the more munificent acts of a citizen’s social life, the verb came to be connected with the general idea of large or liberal giving, and was used in that sense long after the original association had died out of it.
that God in all things may be glorified ] This is pointed out as the end to be aimed at in the use of all gifts whether of speech or action. In so teaching, St Peter was but reproducing what he had heard from his Lord’s lips, “that men may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ), perhaps also what he had read in St Paul’s Epistles, that men should “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 ).
to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen ] It was but natural with St Peter, as with St Paul, that the thought of “glorifying” should be followed up by the utterance of a doxology. For “praise” it would be better to read glory as expressing the sequence of thought more clearly, and instead of “for ever and ever,” for ages of ages . It may be noted, as probable evidence that the Apostle is using a liturgical formula, that precisely the same combination is used by St John in Revelation 1:6 , and is found also, in a fuller form, in Revelation 5:13 . The use of the Amen (from the Hebrew for “fixed, settled, true,” and so meaning “verily,”) as commonly in the Gospels, confirms this view. It was as in Romans 1:25 , Romans 1:9 :5, 1 Corinthians 14:16 , the natural close of a liturgical utterance of belief or adoration.
12 . Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you ] More literally, be not amazed (see, for the word, notes on verse 4) at the burning fire among you that comes to you as a test . The “burning fire” (the word is used literally in Revelation 18:9 , Revelation 18:18 ) is, of course, the symbol, as in chap. 1:7, of afflictions and persecutions. The mind of the Apostle once more goes back to these afflictions, as before in chap. 1:6, 7, 2:19 21, 3:15 17. He meets the terror which they were likely to cause by the thought that all this was to be expected. Men were to enter into the kingdom of God “through much tribulation” (Acts 14:22 ). All “they that would live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12 ). The strange thing would be if it were otherwise. And so the Apostle repeats his “think it not strange,” be not amazed , as the secret of calm endurance. It was for him and those to whom he wrote what the Nil admirari was for the Epicurean poet (Hor. Epp . i. 6). As before, he dwells on the leading character of suffering. It tries faith, and the faith which endures is stronger and purer for the process.
13 . but rejoice ] The words of the beatitude of Matthew 5:12 come back upon the Apostle’s mind, and are reproduced as from his own personal experience. When he had first heard them, he may well have counted them a strange thing. Now he has tried and proved their truth.
inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings ] The Greek conjunction expresses more than the ground of the joy. Men are to rejoice in proportion as they are sharers in the sufferings of Christ. On the thought of this intercommunion in suffering between Christ and His people, see note on chap. 1:11. Here “the sufferings of Christ” are those which He endured while on earth, those also which He endures now as the Head of His body, the Church, in His infinite sympathy with each individual member. Each faithful sufferer, accordingly, in proportion to the measure of his sufferings, becomes ipso facto a sharer in those of Christ. He fills up, in St Paul’s bold language, “what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (Colossians 1:24 ).
that, when his glory shall be revealed ] The thought is again closely parallel to that of chap. 1:11. Literally the words run, in the revelation of His glory . As thought of by the Apostles, the “revelation of Christ” is identical with His coming to judge the quick and dead (Luke 17:30 ). The precise phrase “the revelation of His glory” is not found elsewhere, but it has an analogue in “the throne of His glory” in Matthew 25:31 .
14 . If ye be reproached for the name of Christ ] Literally, in the name of Christ . As in chap. 3:14, “If ye suffer for righteousness’ sake,” we found an echo of one beatitude (Matthew 5:10 ), so in this we have the counterpart of the more personal “for my sake” of Matthew 5:11 . It would be better, as indicating the reference to the beatitudes, to render the adjective by blessed rather than happy .
the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you ] The English version is tenable, but the construction of the sentence is peculiar and admits of a different rendering, “the principle or element of glory , and the spirit of God, resteth on you.” In either case what is emphasized is the fact that the outward reviling to which the disciples were exposed brought glory and not dishonour. The Spirit of Glory was there who has glory as His essential attribute and that Spirit was none other than the very Spirit of God. Looking to the connexion between the “glory” of the Shechinah-cloud which was the witness of the Divine Presence, and that which dwelt in Christ as the only-begotten of the Father (John 1:14 ), it is possible that the words “the Spirit of Glory” may be equivalent to the “Spirit of Christ.” The use of the word for “rest” throws us back upon the occurrence of the same verb in the LXX. version of Numbers 11:25 , 2 Kings 2:15 . The thought of the Apostle, in this respect true to his citation from Joel 2:0 . in Acts 2:16-18 , is that the humblest sufferers for the name of Christ are as truly sharers in the gift of the Eternal Spirit as were the greatest prophets. It “rests” on them not coming and going, in fitful movements, or extraordinary manifestations, but dwelling with them continually.
on their part he is evil spoken of ] It is remarkable that the whole of this clause is omitted in many of the best MSS. and versions, including the Sinaitic. On the assumption to which this fact has led most recent Editors, that it was not part of the original text, we must think of it either as a marginal note that has found its way into the text, or, as an addition made in a second transcript of the Epistle by the writer himself. Here the word for “is evil spoken of” would rightly be rendered as blasphemed , and “Christ” or “the Spirit of God” must be taken as the subject of the sentence. In this case, that of suffering for the truth, the very blasphemies which men utter in their rage, are a witness to the effective work which has been done through the power of the Spirit, and in respect of those who suffer, are working for His glory. Appalling as is the contrast between the blasphemy of the persecutors and the doxologies of the sufferer, the one is almost the necessary complement of the other.
15 . But let none of you suffer as a murderer ] Literally, For let none of you suffer . The implied sequence of thought would seem to be this: “I bid you suffer for the name of Christ and remind you of the blessing which attaches to such suffering, for the last thing I should wish is that you should think that it is the suffering, not the cause, that makes the martyr.” He represses the tendency, more or less prevalent in all times of persecution, whether of Christians by heathens, or of one body of Christians by another, which leads men to pose in the attitude of martyrs and confessors when they ought rather to be classed with ordinary criminals suffering the just punishment of their crimes.
Of the four forms of evils named, the first and second require no explanation. The third includes all other forms of evil which came under the cognizance of law, as in the “malefactor” of John 18:30 . Comp. 1 Peter 2:12-14 . The fourth is a word which is not found elsewhere and may possibly have been coined by St Peter. Literally, the word ( allotrio-episcopos ) describes one who claims an authority like that of a bishop or superintendent in a region in which he has no right to exercise it. As such it might, of course, be applied to the schismatic self-appointed teacher, and “a bishop in another man’s diocese,” though too modern in its associations, would be a fair equivalent for it. Such an one, however, would hardly be singled out for punishment by a heathen persecutor, and we must therefore think of the word as describing a like character in another sphere of action. It was, perhaps, a natural consequence of the higher standard of morals which the Christian disciple possessed, or imagined himself to possess, that he should be tempted to interfere with the action of public or private men when he thought them wrong, intermeddling in season or out of season. Such a man might easily incur the penalties which attach to what, in modern language, we call “contempt of court,” or “obstruction of justice.” If a passing word of controversial application be allowable in a Commentary we may note the reproduction of the character of the allotrio-episcopos (1) in the permanent policy of those who claim to be the successors of St Peter, and (2) in the meddling fussiness which leads laymen, or clergy, to interfere in matters which properly belong to the office of a Bishop, or to the jurisdiction of an authorized tribunal.
16 . Yet if any man suffer as a Christian ] The occurrence of a name which has played so prominent a part in the history of mankind requires a few words of notice. It did not originate with the followers of Christ themselves. They spoke of themselves as the “brethren” (Acts 14:2 , Acts 14:15 :1, Acts 14:3 , Acts 14:22 , &c.), as “the saints,” i.e. the holy or consecrated people (Matthew 27:52 ; Acts 9:13 , Acts 9:32 ; Romans 1:7 ; 1 Corinthians 6:1 ; Ephesians 1:1 , &c.), as “those of the way,” i.e. those who took their own way, the way which they believed would lead them to eternal life (Acts 9:2 , Acts 19:9 , Acts 24:22 ). By their Jewish opponents they were commonly stigmatized as “the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5 ), the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, the city out of which no good thing could come (John 1:46 ). The new name was given first at Antioch (Acts 11:26 ), shortly after the admission there, on a wider scale than elsewhere, of Gentile converts. Its Latin form, analogous to that of Pompeiani, Mariani , for the followers of Pompeius or Marius, indicated that the new society was attracting the attention of official persons and others at Antioch. The word naturally found acceptance. It expressed a fact, it was not offensive, and it might be used by those who, like Agrippa, though they were not believers themselves, wished to speak respectfully of those who were (Acts 26:28 ). Soon it came to be claimed by those believers. The question, Are you a Christian? became the crucial test of their faith. By disowning it, as in the case of the mildly repressive measures taken in these very regions by Pliny in the reign of Trajan, they might purchase safety (Pliny, Epp . x. 96). The words now before us probably did much to stamp it on the history of the Church. Men dared not disown it. They came to exult in it. Somewhat later on they came to find in it, with a pardonable play upon words, a new significance. The term Christiani (= followers of Christ) was commonly pronounced Chrestiani , and that, they urged, shewed that they were followers of Chrestus , i.e. of the good and gentle one. Their very name, they urged, through their Apologist, Tertullian ( Apol . i. 3), was a witness to the falsehood of the charges brought against them.
on this behalf ] Better, perhaps, in this point , or this particular . Many of the best MSS. give, however, in this name , i.e. either the name of Christ, for whom they suffered, or that of Christian, which was the occasion of their suffering.
17 . For the time is come that judgment must begin ] Literally, It is the season of the beginning of the judgment . The words of the Apostle stand in close connexion with his belief that he was living in the last age of the world, that “the end of all things was at hand.” (See note on verse 7.) He saw in the persecutions and sufferings that fell on the Church, beginning “from the house of God,” the opening of that judgment. It was not necessarily a work of condemnation. Those on whom it fell might be judged in order that they might not be condemned (comp. 1 Corinthians 11:32 ). But it was a time which, like the final judgment, was one of separation. It was trying the reality of the faith of those who professed to believe in Christ, and dividing the true disciples from the hypocrites and half-hearted. The “house of God” is His family, His Ecclesia , as in 1 Timothy 3:15 , and the “spiritual house” of chap. 2:5.
what shall the end be of them that obey not ] The à fortiori argument reminds us in some measure of that of St Paul, “If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not thee” (Romans 11:21 ). There, however, the contrast lay between Israel after the flesh that was rejected for its unfaithfulness and the new Israel after the spirit if it too should prove unfaithful. Here it lies between the true Israel of God and the outlying heathen world. With a question which is more awful than any assertion, he asks, as to those that obey not, What shall be their end? The thought was natural enough to have been quite spontaneous, but it may also have been the echo of like thoughts that had passed through the minds of the older prophets. “I begin to bring evil upon the city which is called by my Name, and shall ye” the nations of the heathen “be utterly unpunished?” Jeremiah 25:29 . Comp. also Jeremiah 49:12 ; Ezekiel 9:6 .
18 . And if the righteous scarcely be saved ] Once more we have a passage from the Old Testament (Proverbs 11:31 ) without any formula of quotation. In this instance the Apostle quotes from the LXX. version, though it is hardly more than an inaccurate paraphrase of the Hebrew, which runs “the righteous shall be requited” (the word may mean “punished”) “upon earth, much more the ungodly and the sinner.” St Peter, following the LXX., omits the words “upon earth,” which limit the application of the proverb to temporal chastisements; but it is obvious, as he is speaking primarily of the fiery trial of persecution, that he includes these as well as the issue of the final judgment. A time of “great tribulation,” such as Christ had foretold, was coming on the earth, in which, but for the elect’s sake, “no flesh should be saved” (Matthew 24:22 ). The “un-godly” and the “sinner” correspond to “those that obey not” in the previous verse, the former pointing to sins against God, the latter to sins against man.
19 . Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God ] In the acceptance of sufferings as being according to the will of God, much more is meant than the mere submission to an inevitable destiny. If we really think of pain and persecution as working out God’s will, permitted and controlled by Him, we know that that Will is righteous and loving; planning nothing less than our completeness in holiness (1 Thessalonians 4:3 ), the Will of which we daily pray that it may be done on earth as it is in heaven. The Greek word for “Creator” is not found elsewhere in the New Testament, but is found in the LXX. of Judith 9:12, 2 Macc. 1:24. Stress is laid on the attribute, or act, of creation as the ground of confidence. He who made the soul is also He who hateth nothing that He hath made. Here, also, we can scarcely doubt the example of the Great Sufferer was present to the Apostle’s mind, and his words were therefore echoes of those spoken on the Cross, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46 ).
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the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26