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1 Peter 2

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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A Holy Life — Generated by the Word (1:22-2:3)

In saying that the Christian’s "confidence" is "in God" (vs. 21), or in his "great mercy" (vs. 3) or "grace" (vss. 10, 13), Peter has presented to his readers the ultimate source of their salvation. He now indicates the means or instrument which God has employed to accomplish his will in this matter. This instrument is "the living and abiding word of God" (vs. 23) or "the good news" (vs. 25), that is to say, the gospel "which was preached" to these Christians and which resulted in their rebirth (vs. 23; see also 2:2).

In this doctrine of the new birth Peter shows affinity with several other New Testament writers. The teaching is essentially the same as that at John 3:1-10. But the sowing of the "word of God" which results in regeneration is also the theme of the parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9; Matthew 13:18-23). And the same series of ideas (living word, sowing, rebirth) with natural variations in the use of terminology is found also abundantly in both Paul (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:5; Colossians 1:25; Colossians 3:16) and Hebrews (4:2, 12; 13:7).

The response to this "word of God" or "good news" is that "obedience to the truth" which results in purification (vs. 22). Peter nowhere else in the letter uses the word "truth," but in 1:2 he speaks of "obedience to Jesus Christ" and in 2:8 of those who "disobey the word." We may put together the three passages and through their conjoint testimony discover that the "obedience" which he has in mind is that relating to Jesus Christ, or alternatively to the "truth," or to the "word." So that whether one say "word," "gospel," "good news," "truth," or "Jesus Christ," it would seem obvious that for Peter one is saying essentially the same thing. For him Jesus Christ is the content of the word, of the truth, of the gospel message. And there is considerable evidence in the New Testament that for the Early Church such equations were generally acceptable (Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:5; Colossians 1:25). According to Acts 15:9, Peter had maintained that the Holy Spirit had "cleansed their [the Gentiles’] hearts by faith." And though the Greek is not identical, the meaning is essentially the same as "having purified your souls," which Peter here says is the result of "obedience to the truth" (1:22).

The result of this rebirth and obedience or purification is "sincere love of the brethren" (vs. 22), or the putting away of "all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander” (2:1). And so the Christian trilogy of faith, hope, and love is complete (see vss. 3, 9, 13 above for "faith" and "hope"; and 1 Corinthians 13:13; Hebrews 10:39; Hebrews 11:1; Hebrews 13:1).

Peter’s readers were evidently quite recent converts, as he styles them "newborn babes" (2:2), an expression which in the Greek refers to the youngest type of infant, a babe in arms (see Luke 2:12; Luke 2:16; Luke 18:15; Acts 7:19). The phrase is nowhere else used in the New Testament in this spiritualized sense regarding converts, though a somewhat similar one is used of those who are mere "babes in Christ" in 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 and Hebrews 5:12-14. The phraseology, indeed, of verses 2 and 3 is quite similar to that in Hebrews 5:12 to Hebrews 6:8. There is, however, a distinct difference in that Hebrews blames its readers for not having gone on to maturity, in view of the considerable lapse of time since their conversion (see 5:12), whereas Peter expects his "newborn babes" to continue to long for the "spiritual milk" which apparently they still require.

Verses 4-10

A Holy Life — Incarnated in the Church (2:4-10)

This passage contains one of the most beautiful as well as most comprehensive descriptions of the Christian Church to be found in the New Testament. It has been suggested that it is derived from the stanzas of a Christian hymn which Peter took over and incorporated in his letter. In general it forms a Christian interpretation of three passages from the Old Testament — Isaiah 28:16 (vs. 6); Psalms 118:22 (vs. 7); and Isaiah 8:14-15 (vs. 8). Other Old Testament passages, however, are brought into use and phrases from them adopted, as, for instance, Exodus 19:6 in verse 9; Isaiah 43:20-21 in the same verse; and Hosea 1:6; Hosea 1:9; Hosea 2:23 in verse 10. Numerous phrases in the passage also link it to certain sayings of Jesus in the Gospels, to the Letters of Paul, the Letter to the Hebrews, and the Book of Revelation. Whether Peter constructed this section himself or inherited it in the tradition of the Church, its author has done a masterly piece of work in describing the Christian Church — its origin, its nature, and its function.

The main teaching of the passage is to the effect that the Christian Church is "a spiritual house" (vs. 5; see Hebrews 3:6), that is, a house of worship whose cornerstone is the "living stone," Jesus Christ himself (vs. 4; see Ephesians 2:20). Such a Church is constituted itself of "living stones" (vs. 5; see Ephesians 2:21-22; Ephesians 4:15-16). Or, to change the metaphor, since the "spiritual house" in question is one for the worship of God, its household may be thought of as "a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices" (vs. 5) — sacrifices "acceptable to God through Jesus Christ," presumably because, as Peter has already indicated, it is through the work of Christ that the Church is in the process of being saved (1:18-21). Or, once again slightly changing the metaphor, this "spiritual house" is actually "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people" (vs. 9), a passage in which the phrases quoted are largely from Exodus 19, 23 and from Isaiah 43, as suggested above. Or, once again changing the metaphor and employing Hosea 1, 2, the Christian household of faith may be described as made up of those who "once . . . were no people but now . . . are God’s people; once . . . had not received mercy but now . . . have received mercy" (vs. 10).

The center about which this entire description of the Church revolves is the quotation in verse 7 from Psalms 118:22, a passage cited elsewhere in the New Testament. According to the Gospel writers, Jesus himself employed it with regard to himself (Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10-11; Luke 20:17). Peter employs the verse in a sermon (Acts 4:11) as well as in the present passage, and the contiguous verses of the Psalm are used by other New Testament writers. Peter, then, or the traditional hymn which he inserts in his letter, attached to this verse from the Psalm two verses from Isaiah (28:16 and 8:14-15) which also speak of "a stone" which was "chosen and precious" in the sight of God but calculated to "make men stumble" who did not accept Jesus Christ. (Paul also employs the same passages and circle of ideas in Romans 9:25-33, as well as the ideas from Hosea 1, 2 found in verse 10.)

Implicit in the passage as a whole is the idea that Jesus Christ is the great High Priest over God’s "spiritual house," although Peter neither here nor elsewhere applies this term to him; and that the Church as a whole, as he says specifically, is under Christ "a holy priesthood" or "a royal priesthood," performing "spiritual sacrifices" (vs. 5) which are acceptable to God, even as Christ’s sacrifice was (see also Colossians 1:24; Hebrews 9:13-14; Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:6).

This idea of Jesus Christ as High Priest and of Christians as priests, and of the personal sacrifices which both render in their worship to God, is akin to the thought of Hebrews. It is striking that in the one (Hebrews) Jesus Christ is called "high priest" (6:20; 9:11; 10:21), though his followers are never called "a priesthood," whereas in First Peter the situation is exactly reversed. His followers, as we have just seen, are called "a holy priesthood" (vs. 5) and "a royal priesthood" (vs. 9), but Peter never speaks of Jesus as "high priest." But perhaps the most striking similarity between this passage and Hebrews is found in their joint teaching that the sin which characterizes those who "stumble" upon the stone or rock which is Jesus Christ, is that "they disobey the word" (vs. 8; see Hebrews 3:18).

Three further points remain to be noted. First, the idea that Jesus was "rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious" (vs. 4) is similar in its teaching to that found in Peter’s sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2:22-36, and likewise the reference to the "wonderful deeds of him who called you" (vs. 9) is akin in meaning to the "mighty works and wonders and signs which God did" through "Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God" in Acts 2:22. Second, that the Christian readers of the letter have been called "out of darkness into his [God’s] marvelous light" (vs. 9) is a common New Testament way of speaking of those who are converted from paganism to the true faith (see Acts 26:18; Colossians 1:13-14). The idea no doubt derives from such passages as Isaiah 42:6-7; Isaiah 42:16 in which the work of the Servant of the Lord is under consideration. Finally, the idea that the readers once were "no people" and are now "God’s people," that they had at one time "not received mercy" but now "have received mercy" (vs. 10), enshrines the very heart of the Christian gospel as that is prefigured in the emblematic prophecy uttered by Hosea with regard to his adulterous wife (Hosea 1, 2).

Verses 11-12

Behavior Reflecting the Sanctified Life (2:11-3:12)

Good Conduct Among Non-Christians (2:11-12)

The quotation from the hymn (if such it be) inserted in verses 4-10 above has served to establish the fact that the Christian community is the true people of God. Peter now turns, accordingly, to a discussion of the behavior which should characterize that people, particularly "among the Gentiles" (vs. 12). The word here translated "Gentiles" both in the Greek and in the Hebrew lying behind it actually means "nations," and Peter in employing it is simply following the common New Testament practice (see Romans 2:14; 1 Corinthians 1:23), thereby in a formal manner perpetuating the Jewish distinction between the people of God on the one hand and the nations of the world on the other. It is, however, only in a formal sense that the Christian Church speaks of itself as "a chosen race" and "a holy nation" (vs. 9), as though it were, so to speak, a "third race" and thus distinct from both Jews and Gentiles. Actually, of course, the Christian community is composed of people of every race and nation without distinction. That this is Peter’s view is evidenced by his employing the terms "aliens and exiles" (vs. 11; see 1:1) to describe the Christian community, a mode of expression found also in Hebrews 11:13.

The "good conduct" which Christians are to practice includes abstaining from "the passions of the flesh that wage war against . . . [the] soul" (vs. 11). The exact Greek of this phrase is not found elsewhere in the New Testament, its nearest equivalents being in Galatians 5:16-17; Galatians 5:24; Ephesians 2:3; 2 Peter 2:18; 1 John 2:16. In the expression "flesh" stands, not for the physical constitution of man as such, but rather for fallen human nature, that is, for man’s entire person under the dominion of sin. And the thought that man’s "flesh" in this sense is dominated by evil passions or desires which are contrary to God’s will for his life is a rather common thought among the New Testament writers (see Romans 7:7-25; Romans 13:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:5; James 1:14-15; Judges 1:16; Judges 1:18). The old enemy of the fleshly passions remains alive to the very end and in consequence the Christian must never sleep.

The suggestion in verse 12 that Gentiles through the "good conduct" of Peter’s readers should be led to "see . . . [their] good deeds and glorify God" is reminiscent of Jesus’ saying in Matthew 5:16. As Paul remarks in Ephesians 2:10, the reason for glorifying God in this connection is the fact that he is himself the author of the good works of Christians, an idea which, as we have already seen, Peter has acknowledged (see 1:21, 22-25). The "day of visitation" referred to is that indicated in Isaiah 10:3 (Greek translation) and may be taken to mean generally the Day of Judgment

Verses 13-17

The Christian’s Obedience to Constituted Authority (2:13-17)

We are now to look in detail at the nature of the "good conduct among the Gentiles" which Peter pleads with his readers to maintain (vs. 12). This code of social ethics for the Christian has its nearest parallels in Paul (Romans 13:1-7; Ephesians 5:21 to Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:12 to Colossians 4:1; 1 Timothy 2:1-15; 1 Timothy 6:1-2; Titus 2:1 to Titus 3:2). Some mention of it is also found in James 4:6-10. But Peter’s comprehensive statement in verse 13 that the Christian is to "be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution" has no exact parallel for breadth elsewhere in the Epistles. The code is obviously one of "submission" (vss. 13, 18; 3:1) or of subordination. As Peter sees it, this principle is utterly universal and includes "every human institution," that is, every element in the social order. Moreover, such subordination is "for the Lord’s sake," an idea already implied in verse 12 in the injunction to "good deeds" with a view to the Gentiles’ glorifying God.

Christians then are in a very real sense to know two masters — God and man. The origin of such teaching may well be the Church’s Lord himself. For when confronted with the problem of the Christian’s attitude toward the state he remarked, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s" (Mark 12:17). By implication this means that the Christian is to realize that he is not only a citizen of heaven but as an "alien" and "exile" in the world he is also a citizen of the state and therefore subject to "every human institution." That, however, the Christian is to consider both God and the social order his master on equal terms is neither the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 6:24) nor that of the succeeding Church (Acts 4:19-20).

As the first and highest of the human institutions to which Peter refers, stands, of course, the state. In the context in which Peter was writing the state was represented by "the emperor as supreme" (vs. 13), and by the "governors" of the various imperial and senatorial provinces (vs. 14). Peter obviously sees in the Roman Empire a system of law and order of which it may justly be said that the aim is "to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right." And in this judgment he was undoubtedly right, even as was also Paul (Romans 13:3-4). Like Paul also, Peter holds that such submission to the state is "God’s will" for the Christian (vs. 15), and that in his performance of his civic duty the Christian may show himself an exemplary citizen of the state (Romans 13:1-2; Romans 13:5). Peter’s attitude in this matter seems to suggest an early date for the letter, approximating that of Romans.

The principle underlying this submission to the state of which Peter speaks and other types of which he will speak in the succeeding verses (2:18-3:7) is that which Paul terms "the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:21; see also Galatians 5:13). Peter’s statement of the principle approximates that in the Galatians passage just cited — "Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God" (vs. 16). The freedom of the Christian is not to be confused with license or with anarchy, for as Paul elsewhere says, "God is not a God of confusion but of peace" (1 Corinthians 14:33). And Peter knew as Paul did that Christian freedom was not a freedom to sin but a freedom from sin and unto righteousness (Romans 6:18). "As servants of God," therefore. Christians should be model citizens of the state.

In verse 17 we have perhaps the most comprehensive summary of the Christian faith and ethic to be found anywhere in the New Testament: "Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor." "Honor" is literally in the Greek "to set a value upon," "to estimate at true worth," "to respect." The same word is used with regard to the Christian’s attitude toward all men, on the one hand, and toward the emperor, on the other. One may almost say that Peter’s maxim amounts to this: "Treat every man as though he were a king." The tense of the verb, however, is significantly altered in the two cases. The command regarding the king literally means "go on honoring the emperor," as was suitable, since Christians, of course, as citizens of the state had always been doing just that. However, in the case of "all men" the tense employed may be translated "begin to honor all men" or, better still, "begin to treat every man as though he were a king"!

The fact that one is to "love the brotherhood" is not intended to militate against the law of love which Jesus laid down with regard to "the neighbor," meaning by the neighbor every man (Luke 10:25-37). For love of the neighbor is included in the command to "honor all men." But the Christian Church soon learned that within the brotherhood, centering about Christ as Lord of life, a new type of love had been born. This was a love involving not only respect for and utter commitment to one’s neighbor’s good, but also a unique affection and understanding born of a deep spiritual and moral experience in Christ. The command to "fear God" represents the typical Hebrew-Jewish attitude (Exodus 18:21; Leviticus 19:14; Deuteronomy 6:13), but it is also a worthy Christian motivation (see Acts 9:31; Romans 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:11; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Ephesians 5:21). Such "fear" in the Hebrew idiom represented an intimate understanding of God’s right to the highest respect from man, inasmuch as he is the sovereign Lord in the moral order.

Verses 18-25

The Christian Servant’s Submission to His Master (2:18-25)

Peter now turns from the state to the family as the recognized unit of the Church’s life (see Ephesians 5:21 to Ephesians 6:9), and he takes as examples of the submissiveness which should be found in Christian family life the relation of servant to master and of wife to husband, and the reverse. The term "be submissive" does not refer to slavish obedience. It assumes that one submits himself to the authority of another or of any "human institution," including the state, and that he does so of his own free will and with a view to serving higher ends.

The higher ends which are to be served are indicated by certain phrases, such as: "for the Lord’s sake" (vs. 13), "as servants of God" (vs. 16), "mindful of God" (vs. 19), "God’s approval" (vs. 20), "because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps" (vs. 21), "so that some, though they do not obey the word, may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives" (3:1).

In the present paragraph Peter does not have in mind Christian "masters" exclusively; for those of whom he writes include the "overbearing" (vs. 18), those because of whom the Christian servant ("houseboy," "slave") is "suffering unjustly" (vs. 19), those of whom it may be said that, though Christian servants "do right," they nonetheless are called upon to "suffer for it" (vs. 20). Again, as in verse 12 above, it is clear that these illustrations have in mind "good conduct among the Gentiles." In point of fact, many Christians in the earliest period of the Christian movement were slaves, and their masters by and large were pagans. Philemon (of Colossae? — see Colossians 4:9), to whom Paul addressed his notable little letter on behalf of Onesimus, was clearly an exception to this rule (Philemon 1:16-20).

At this point Peter adds a series of verses (vss. 21-25) which serve to mark out the position of the Christian slave in the whole Christian movement as being at its very center and serving to define its very nature. For the function of the Christian slave, says Peter, is in reality a vocation (vs. 21), wherein the Christian slave is "called," by following the "example" of Christ in whose "steps" he walks, to set forth the characteristic of humility which was his Master’s. In calling to mind Christ’s "example," Peter employs the language relating to the Suffering Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 53, as for example in verse 22 — "he committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips" (Isaiah 53:9) ; in verse 24 — "he himself bore our sins" (Isaiah 53:4; Isaiah 53:12); again in verse 24 — "by his wounds you have been healed" (Isaiah 53:5); and in verse 25 — "you were straying like sheep" (Isaiah 53:6). In addition, it has been argued by some interpreters that in verse 24 we should read, not "he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree," but, as in the margin, "carried up our sins in his body to the tree." If this translation is adopted, then possibly Peter has in mind the imagery of the "scapegoat" (Leviticus 16:20-22), upon which the high priest on the Day of Atonement was supposed to load all the sins of the people. He then drove the "scapegoat" into the wilderness, and it thus literally carried away the people’s sins. Peter may similarly be thinking of our Lord as carrying up the people’s sins to the tree (or cross) and thus dismissing them, as they were dismissed in the wilderness by the "scapegoat."

Finally, in suggesting that Christian slaves "were straying like sheep" (vs. 25), "but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of . . . [their] souls," Peter is calling upon a traditional characterization of his Master which probably goes back to Jesus himself (see Mark 6:34; Mark 14:27; John 10:11-18; Hebrews 13:20; Revelation 7:17). As the great Shepherd of the sheep Jesus takes the position which in prophetic thought has been accorded to God himself (see Psalms 23; Isaiah 40:11). Nowhere else in the New Testament is the Greek word which is here translated "Guardian" applied to our Lord. The word generally refers to an overseer of the Christian community (Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7), and later became the title of that official in the Christian Church called in English "the bishop." The use of the two terms here with reference to the Christian slave emphasizes the fact of the direct approach of the Christian, however humble, to the Lord himself, without mediation on the part of any other.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Peter 2". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/1-peter-2.html.
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