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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
1 Peter 4

 

 

Verse 1

IV.

(1) Forasmuch then . . .—Literally, a participial phrase: Christ, then, having suffered in (or, to) the flesh—i.e., so far as the flesh is concerned. The reference is to the words “killed in (or, to) the flesh” in 1 Peter 3:18, to which the word “then” takes us back. It is difficult to decide about the right of the words “for us” to stand in the text. Tischendorf and Lachmann strike them out, and they are probably right in doing so. The authority for the reading “for you” is nearly as strong; but in fact neither is wanted here, as the point is not the atoning character of Christ’s death, but the death itself.

Arm yourselves likewise with the same mind.—Or rather, with the same conception. It does not mean merely “put yourselves into the same disposition:” that is, “resolve to die with Him.” Though the word which is here rendered “mind” may possibly bear the meaning “intent” assigned to it in Hebrews 4:12 (the only other place in the New Testament where it occurs), the more natural and common sense is that of conception, notion, view. Christ is therefore said to have been “armed” with a particular “conception” or “view,” which He found to be sufficient shield in the day of suffering; and we are exhorted to try the same defensive armour. The “view” which Christ found so efficacious was the view He took of the “suffering” itself. What that view was is forthwith explained.

For he that hath suffered in the flesh . . .—Rather, that he that hath suffered to the flesh is at rest from, sin. This is the “view” which we are to take. The thought is probably derived from Romans 6:7. The death of the body puts a stop (at any rate, for the redeemed) to any further possibility of sin. Welcome, death! A slight difficulty is caused by the implied fact that Christ, too, in dying “ceased from sin.” But the Greek word for “hath ceased” literally means hath been caused to rest, St. Peter using expressly (for the only time in the New Testament) that part of the verb which does not mean a voluntary cessation from what one was doing before, but a pause imposed from without. And that Christ looked upon His death as a boon of rest from sin (it does not say from sinning) is not only a true and impressive thought, but is fully justified by Romans 6:10, “He died unto sin,” and even by His cry, “It is finished.” Whatever harshness there is in the thought is much softened by the fact that St. Peter names it as the view we are to take, not directly as the view He took; so that it admits of some adjustment when applied to Him.


Verse 2

(2) That he no longer.—The Greek admits at least equally of the translation, That ye no longer, Thus, this second verse will attach itself, not to the clause “that he that hath suffered,” but to the clause “arm yourselves.” And unless this be understood, we become involved in the difficulty that whereas, up to this very point, St. Peter has been urging the future martyrs, by the example of Christ, to face the death of the body bravely, he would now be sliding confusedly into treating of the baptismal death to sin, and indeed actually saying that a martyr’s death was a step to leading the rest of the life on earth becomingly! But if we attach 1 Peter 4:2 to the clause “arm yourselves,” it runs, without any confusion, thus: “As Christ suffered to the flesh without shrinking, take for your protection and support the same thought which proved. a protection and support to Him—viz., that to be rid of sin for ever was the greatest of all possible blessings, and that this is only attainable through the bodily death; and the result of embracing this thought will be, that for the rest of your lives on earth (so soon, perhaps, to be cut violently short.) you may no longer live to men’s lusts, but to God’s will.”


Verse 3

(3) For the time past of our life.—There are two words in the English here which do not stand in the true text, and sadly impede the sense. They are “of our life,” and “us.” The first is added by some scribe to point the contrast with “the rest of his time.” The second—which should be “you,” if anything at all—is simply put to fill the gap after the word “suffice.” If “our life” and “us” were right, we should have St. Peter, quite unlike his wont, identifying himself with the bad life here described, as though he himself had shared in it.

May suffice.—It is the same word as in Matthew 6:34; Matthew 10:25, and would be, literally, For sufficient is the past. There is an irony in the word similar to that in 1 Peter 3:17, “it is better.”

To have wrought.—Rather, to have perpetrated. The Greek word denotes the accomplishment of a criminal purpose, as in Romans 2:9; 1 Corinthians 5:3; and one passage more horrid still.

The will of the Gentiles.—Just as, in 1 Peter 4:2, there was a contrast between man’s manifold and conflicting lusts and God’s unity of will, so there is a contrast now between God’s “will” and (for the Greek word is quite different) the heathen’s “wish.” “To have perpetrated the heathen’s wish” means to have done the bad things which the heathen wanted them to be guilty of. The heathen were fain to catch them at malpractices. (See Note on 1 Peter 2:12, and the word “speaking evil” below.)

When we walked.—A participle in Greek, which gives no support to the use of “we,” but means simply having proceeded. Thus it does not directly state that they had so proceeded, for the participle explains the foregoing verb: “The past is sufficient to have done what the heathen want you to have done—viz., to have walked.”

Lasciviousness.—It should be plural, expressing the repeated acts of sin. The word in Greek means any outrageous debauchery, so that it may be said to include all the words that follow.

Excess of wine, in like manner, should be plural. It is a contemptuous word (wine-swillings), and differs from the word translated “banquetings”, below, because the latter is more refined, and also implies company, which the first need not. The “revellings” might mean any roystering parties, but contains more of the notion of making a pretext of a meal than “banquetings,” which consist solely of drinking.

Abominable idolatries.—It is not as idolatries that they are called abominable, but because of the abominable adjuncts of the idol-festivals. This clause is the main support of those who think that the Letter was written to converts from heathenism and not from Judaism. How, it is urged, could St. Peter have said to persons who had been brought up as Jews, “The time past is long enough for you to have proceeded in abominable idolatries”? The argument is most convincing as it stands. If they had been living in idolatry, it is incredible that they were of Hebrew race: if they were of Hebrew race, it is incredible that they should have lived in idolatry. But, as a matter of fact, St. Peter does not say that they ever had lived in those sins. Quite on the contrary, he says, in 1 Peter 4:4, that the heathen found, to their surprise, that the Christians would not go with them in these things; and that, finding it to be so, they “blasphemed” or slandered them in this very respect. It may, perhaps, be answered that the Apostle is alluding to a period long past, and contrasting it with the present which so puzzled the Gentiles. But there is no ground for taking “the time past” to mean the time up to the date of their conversion to Christianity. It is simply “your past time” (i.e., the whole up to the date of the Letter), in contrast with “the rest of your time” (1 Peter 4:2, literally, your remaining time), i.e., the whole subsequent to the date of the Letter; so that it cannot mean, “The heathen think it strange that you do not join their profligate courses as you used in old days,” in which case we should naturally have expected him to say, “They think it strange that ye no longer run with them.” Besides, it seems plain, from 1 Peter 4:2, that. whatever may be meant by “perpetrating the wish of the Gentiles,” it was still a present danger when St. Peter wrote, or there would be little point in mentioning it at all. But if he means that, up to the date of the Letter, some of the recipients of it had been living in “abominable idolatries,” how could he continue that the Gentiles were astonished that they did not do so? for if the idolatries meant were the heathen’s own idolatries, the heathen would have been aware of their joining them, and it would have been no “slander” to say so. The conclusion is, that neither before nor after their conversion had they been really proceeding thus. St. Peter is, in fact, only putting in words the slander of the Gentiles, at which he had hinted in 1 Peter 2:12-15; 1 Peter 3:16. “For the future,” says he, “live to the will of God, not to the lusts of men. The past is long enough (without invading the future) to have perpetrated what the heathen want you to have perpetrated—viz., to have been proceeding in debaucheries and abominable idolatries—slandering you in that very point wherein they are puzzled if you do not run with them to the same excess of riot.” As an historical fact, these are the very calumnies which we find to have been brought against the early Christians—idolatries and all. The filthy idolatry ascribed to the Christians by the heathen may be found recorded in Tertullian’s Apology, and (so it is said) on the walls of Pompeii. But what, then, does St. Peter mean when he says that the past is sufficient to have perpetrated what the heathen wanted? It certainly implies that some of them had, even since their conversion, been doing what the malicious heathen would be glad to see them do. But we have already noticed that he is speaking ironically in using the word “sufficient,” and the irony continues through the rest of the clause. “Some of you have been living, up to the present time, more or less to human lusts (1 Peter 4:2). You have done so quite long enough now. You have quite sufficiently gratified the Gentiles, who long to prove that you are no better than themselves.” The argument is like that which Nestor, in Homer, addresses to the wrangling Greek captains:—

“Sure Priam would rejoice, and Priam’s sons,

Could they but learn this feud betwixt you twain.”

We may observe, further, that all through the Epistle St. Peter appears to have dread of a doctrine which was fast beginning to rise among the Asiatic Christians—that such sins as fornication and idolatry, being but bodily, were venial, especially in time of persecution. (See 1 Peter 1:4; 1 Peter 1:15; 1 Peter 2:11; 1 Peter 5:8.) Such pernicious doctrine was probably founded on a “wresting” of St. Paul’s teaching (2 Peter 3:16) on eating things offered to idols; from which it was concluded that the accompanying impurities were innocent likewise. This doctrine becomes very prominent in the Second Epistle; and in the Apocalypse there is even some reason to connect it specially with the Jewish element in the Church. (Comp. together 2 Peter 2:15; Revelation 2:6; Revelation 2:14-15, with Revelation 2:9.)


Verse 4

(4) Wherein they think it strange.—The word “wherein” is used in exactly the same sense as in 1 Peter 2:12; that is to say, it does not directly point back to the list of sins just named, but the grammatical antecedent is to be supplied in the participial clause which follows, thus: “In a particular where they cannot imagine your not being as bad as themselves, slanderously affirming that you are.” The only difficulty involved in this view is one which does not show in the English, viz., that the participle is attracted into the nominative case by the influence of the finite verb, instead of being (as it strictly should) in the genitive, agreeing with “of the Gentiles.” But we have seen before that St. Peter deals very freely with participles in the nominative case. (See 1 Peter 2:12, where “having” is nominative, though in strictness it should be accusative, agreeing with “you, as strangers and pilgrims;” comp. also 1 Peter 2:18; 1 Peter 3:1; 1 Peter 3:7; 1 Peter 3:9; 1 Peter 3:15-16.) Like instances are not wanting in classical Greek.


Verse 5

(5) Who shall give account.—Perhaps said with a reference to 1 Peter 3:15, where these very persons call the Christians to give “account” (the Greek word is the same). The side-purpose of the clause (as in the similar threat, 1 Peter 2:8) is to warn the readers against sharing their fate by sharing their sins.

To him that is ready to judge.—This carries on the history of Jesus Christ a step further still. The last thing was His sitting on the right hand of God. This is the order of the Apostles’ Creed. Bengel wisely remarks: “The Apostles, when they are not expressly treating of the date of Christ’s advent, set forth that advent to their longing and devotion as close at hand. Hence Peter includes the slanderers of his day among the living, as just about to be judged.”


Verse 6

(6) For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead.—This version is misleading, and seems indeed to be one of those rare cases where the original has been expanded by the translators for doctrinal ends. The Greek is simply, For for this end was the gospel preached to the dead also, or, still more literally, to dead men also. No one with an un-preoccupied mind could doubt, taking this clause by itself, that the persons to whom this preaching was made were dead at the time of being preached to. If this is the case, then, pretty obviously, St. Peter is carrying us back to his teaching of 1 Peter 3:19, and is explaining further the purpose of Christ’s descent into hell.

That they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.—In order to obtain a clear notion of this hard saying, it will be necessary once more to survey the course of the whole passage. “It is better,” the Apostle said, “to suffer in well-doing than in evil-doing.” They must take their choice, that is, which kind of suffering they would have. It was not indeed certain that in case they chose to do well they would suffer for it; and if they did, there was the history of Christ to encourage them. But in case they chose to be evil-doers, it was certain that they would suffer. “And you had better,” he says, “suffer in well-doing than in evil-doing.” He then gives an instance of persons who suffered in evil-doing—the fleshly Antediluvians, whom God cut short in their crimes by the Flood, and to whom Christ went to preach in their prison-house. He then exhorts his readers—some of whom had, for one reason or another, been allowing themselves to fall into antinomian ways—not to live any longer to the flesh, not to make true the slanders of the heathen, who tried to make out that the Christians were as bad livers as themselves; for such evil-doers were doomed to speedy suffering; those heathens would soon be called to account by Him who was ready to judge quick and dead alike; “for,” he adds, “the object of that preaching to the dead also was that they may be judged according to men in flesh, but may live according to God in spirit.” (1) The first question is, What does the Apostle mean to substantiate by this last verse, “for for this cause?” Not the fact that Christ will judge the dead as well as the quick, for that would have no practical bearing upon the readers. Not the fact that Christ was now ready for judgment; for although He will certainly not come until the dead as well as the quick are in a position to be judged, yet we should then have expected something more like, “The reason why the dead were preached to was that the judgment might no longer be put off;” instead of which, the whole point, of the verse is the particular destiny in reserve for those dead, which destiny was the intention and result of Christ’s preaching the gospel to them. It must, therefore, be a further reason for warning the Christians not to live lives of evil-doing like the contemporaries of Noah or their own heathen contemporaries. If it be necessary to attach the word “for” to any particular words, we may perhaps attach it to the words “they shall give account;” and 1 Peter 4:6 would hint at the kind of account they would have to give, as “giving account” implies the settlement which follows. (2) But if 1 Peter 4:6 clenches the warning to the Christians not to become antinomian, then we must understand the destiny of these dead to whom Christ preached to be not the brightest, after all. This brings us to consider what is meant by their being “judged in flesh” (i.e., as in 1 Peter 4:1, so far as flesh is concerned). In the previous verse, Christ is said to be quite ready to “judge” quick and dead. The context makes us feel that St. Peter is not picturing to himself that scene as one of calm forensic investigation, with “opened books” or the like. His idea of this judgment is rather of a “judgment” such as took place in the days of Noe, a great crisis (the Greek word for “judgment”) or world-wide catastrophe, which, of course, cannot harm the just, but only the unjust. He shows the same conception of the Judgment, and illustrates it by Noe’s Flood, in 2 Peter 2:5-9; 2 Peter 3:6-7. Now “judgment” is a neutral word, which, in Scripture, takes its colour from the surroundings, so that it sometimes is a thing to be longed for (e.g., Psalms 43:1; Psalms 72:2; Hebrews 10:30); at other times a thing to be dreaded, as here. Though we do not limit the “quick and dead” here to mean the wicked quick, and dead, yet they are evidently uppermost in St. Peter’s mind, so that there is scarcely any conscious change in the meaning of the word “judged” when we pass from 1 Peter 4:5 to 1 Peter 4:6. It there means certainly a judicial punishment, or even judicial destruction. While the word often denotes a condemnation (as in English we say “to sentence”)—for example, in John 16:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 2:12; Revelation 19:2—it seems to have the further notion of a judicial death in 1 Corinthians 11:31-32 : “Had we been in the habit of discerning ourselves, we should not have been subject to these repeated judgments (weakness, sickness, death—1 Corinthians 11:30); but now these judgments are a discipline from our Lord, to save us from being condemned with the world.” And that judicial destruction to the flesh is what St. Peter means. he proves by contrasting “but may live in spirit” rather than “be saved” or “justified.” (3) It is next to be considered what date we are to fix for this judgment of the flesh. Was it previous to Christ’s preaching the gospel to them in hell, or was it to be subsequent? Taking the former line, we should be able to paraphrase, “His object was, that though in flesh they had been judged, having been judicially destroyed by the Flood, they yet might live hereafter in spirit.” But, besides other difficulties, it is far more than doubtful whether it is Greek to infuse a past sense into the subjunctive mood here used: i.e., to render this, “it was preached in order that they might have been judged.” Had we the words by themselves, and no preconceived theology to hinder us, we should undoubtedly translate, “To this end was the gospel preached to dead men too: viz., in order that they may be judged indeed according to men so far as they are flesh, but may live according to God so far as they are spirit.” The judgment spoken of would not be their death beneath the waves of Noe, but something still future; and this view would be confirmed by reading what St. Peter says of them, and of the angels who (in all probability) sinned with them, in the passages of the Second Epistle above referred to. How, then, will they be hereafter condemned to a judicial destruction of the flesh, but a merciful preservation of the spirit? The answer, though it seems inevitable to the present writer, must be given with trembling, and in deference to the judgment of the Church, the collective Christian consciousness, whenever that shall be expressed upon the point. A close parallel may be found in 1 Corinthians 5:5. There St. Paul judges to deliver to Satan (is he the warder of the “prison” where such spirits are confined?) a person who has foully sinned in the flesh, “for annihilation of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” That in that place it does not mean a temporal judgment upon the bodily life (such as was passed upon the Antediluvians or the profaners of the Eucharist at Corinth) is clear, from the fact that excommunication was not attended with temporal death. That it does not mean voluntary self-mortification of the flesh in this world seems clear (among other considerations) by comparison of our present passage, for the opportunity for self-mortification in the flesh was long past for the spirits to whom Christ preached. Now why, in these two cases, do the writers take pains to point the antithesis between “flesh” and “spirit,” if, after all, the flesh is to share the mercy shown to the spirit? The antithesis becomes a false one. Why did not St. Paul say, “To deliver such an one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that he may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus?” and St. Peter, “For this cause was the gospel preached to the dead also, that though judged indeed in flesh, they might, after all, live according to God?” And what is the point of this dread warning, if in the end these Antediluvians attain to the same bliss, “both in body and soul,” as other men? There is a whole set of passages which seems to teach that resurrection—i.e., the permanent restitution of life to the body—is a gift which does not belong to all. To those who eat Christ’s flesh. He promises, “I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54). St. Paul suffers the loss of all things, “if by any means he may attain to the resurrection of the dead” (Philippians 3:11; comp. 2 Corinthians 5:3-4). Our Lord bids the Apostles “fear Him [it is doubtful whether he means God, or Satan, who acts by God’s permission] who is able to destroy both soul [He does not say ‘spirit’] and body in hell.” So it would be the simplest explanation of our present text if we might believe that these Antediluvians were to be deprived of resurrection of the flesh which they had so foully corrupted, but in God’s mercy, through accepting the gospel preached to them by Christ after their death, were to be allowed a purely spiritual existence. They would thus be sentenced “according to men,” i.e., from a human point of view: they would be unable to take their place again among the glorified human species in a human life; but still they would be alive “according to God,” from God’s point of view—a divine life, but “in the spirit” only. It was a gospel that Christ preached to them, for without it they would not have come to “live according to God” at all. Yet, on the other hand, it was a warning to the Christians. When it says “the gospel was preached to the dead also,” it implies a similar preaching to others, viz., to the heathen who were to “give account,” and that the result of the preaching would be the same. Those heathen who through ignorance lived corrupt lives all around, might possibly, in the intermediate state, hope to receive a gospel which would enable a bare half of their humanity to live according to God hereafter. It could not avert the destruction of their flesh. What, then, could be the hope of a Christian, one who had heard and embraced the gospel in this life, and had then surrendered himself to the same corruptions as the Gentiles?


Verse 7

(7) The end of all things is at hand.—Or, hath come nigh; the same word (for instance) as in Matthew 4:17; Matthew 26:46. It is but a repetition in other words of 1 Peter 4:5, inserted again to give weight to all the exhortations which follow. Probably, if St. Peter had thought the world would stand twenty centuries more, he would have expressed himself differently; yet see 2 Peter 3:4-10.

Be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.—These words sum up the cautions given in 1 Peter 4:1-6, before passing on to the next subject. The first verb includes more than sobriety, and means the keeping a check upon all the desires. The usual notion of sobriety is more exactly conveyed in the word rendered “watch,” which is the same as in 1 Peter 1:13 and 1 Peter 5:8. “Unto prayer” is a slip for unto prayers; the difference is that it does not mean that we are to be always in frame to pray, but that actual prayers should be always on our lips: every incident in life should suggest them. They would be especially necessary if any moment might see the end of the world. The tense of the imperatives in the Greek carries out the notion that the persons addressed had slipped into a careless state, from which they needed an arousal.


Verses 7-11

(7-11) DUTY OF BENEVOLENCE WITHIN THE CHURCH IN VIEW OF THE ADVENT.—The end of the world is not far off; let it find you not only sober, but (above all else) exerting an intense charity within the Church, by hospitality and generosity, in these as much as in spiritual ministrations seeking not your own glory, but God’s.


Verse 8

(8) And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves.—The original is far more vigorous: But before all things keeping intense your charity towards yourselves. St. Peter assumes that the charity is there, but insists on its not being suffered to flag in outward expression. (Comp. the same word in 1 Peter 1:22; also in Luke 22:44; Acts 12:5; Acts 26:7.)

Shall cover.—Properly, neither “shall” nor “will,” the right reading being present, covereth. The words are usually said to be a quotation from Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirreth up strifes, but love covereth all sins;” but they are widely different from the LXX. in that passage, and also vary from the Hebrew; and as precisely the same variation occurs in James 5:20, it seems more probable either that St. Peter had the passage of St. James consciously in his mind, or that the proverb was current and familiar to both writers in the form, “Love covereth a multitude of sins.” It is, therefore, unsafe to argue from the exact shade of meaning which the words bear in Proverbs 10:12. To “cover,” in Hebrew, often means to “forgive,” the idea being that of an offensive object which you bury or hide by putting something else over it; see, for examples, Psalms 32:1; Psalms 85:2; and the place in Proverbs seems to mean that whereas a bitter enemy will rake up every old grudge again and again, one who loves will not allow even himself to see the wrongs done to him by a friend. If this sense be accepted here, it will imply that the Christians in Asia had a good deal to put up with from each other; but even so, the argument seems a little strained: “Keep your charity at its full stretch, because charity forgives, however many the wrongs may be.” It far better suits the context to take the proverb in the same sense as in St. James, without any reference to the Old Testament passage. In St. James it is usually taken to mean, “He shall save (the convert’s) soul from death, and shall cover (i.e., procure for him the pardon of) a multitude of sins;” but as the true reading there is “his soul,” it is more natural to suppose that St. James is holding up, as the reward of converting the sinner, that the person who does so shall save his own soul, and procure for himself the pardon of a multitude of sins. So here it seems obvious that St. Peter is urging charity as something which will be found advantageous when the “end of all things” comes; and the advantage he mentions is, “because charity covereth a multitude of sins:” i.e., the exercise of this grace makes up for a great many other shortcomings in the man. A very good case might be made out for a doctrine of Justification by Love.


Verse 9

(9) Use hospitality.—It is a great pity that again (as in 1 Peter 3:8, and elsewhere) the participial clauses are broken up in our version into separate injunctions. Here it is, properly, being hospitable. This is the first form of charity—receiving Christians who came from other towns (comp. 3 John 1:5-6). See how such hospitality covers (to the surprise of the bestowers) a multitude of sins in Matthew 25:35-38.

Without grudging.—That is, without murmuring. How frequently Christian hospitality is marred by grumbling at the expense and the trouble which it costs!


Verse 10

(10) As every man hath received the gift.—There is no definite article in the-Greek, which might be rendered, According as every man was gifted. They are reminded, as in 1 Corinthians 4:7, that the gift was received, and for the same purpose. At what period these gifts were received it is hard to say, as in some instances the gift was of a spiritual nature, in others of a temporal nature. Each, however, has a gift of some kind for the benefit of the community.

Even so minister.—In the original, ministering. It is still an exhibition of the “intense charity” of 1 Peter 4:8. The verb is the same as in 1 Peter 1:12, where see Note.

As good stewards.—No one receives these gifts, spiritual or temporal, as his own; he is but a “steward,” and when he offers them to the Church it is not as a benefactor, but as a servant, “ministering.”

Of the manifold grace of God.—“Grace” is here used, not in its theological sense, but, as in 1 Peter 3:7, in the sense of bountiful giving; and the beautiful word rendered “manifold” brings out the subtle and picturesque variety with which God arranges and distributes His bounty. But the emphatic word of the sentence is “of God.”


Verse 11

(11) If any man speak.—St. Peter proceeds to speak of two particular forms taken by this “manifold grace of God;” (1) the power to speak; (2) the power to minister. The speaking is, of course, public preaching in the Church; and the man who does so is to do it “as oracles of God.” The article is not added in the Greek, so that it must not be pressed to mean “speaking on the model, or in accordance with the doctrines of., the Old Testament.” Rather, the emphatic word is “of God;” and the Apostle means that the preacher is not to trust to his own natural powers and wit, or to seek applause for himself, but to act as one possessed of powers not his own; to speak only that which God inspires him to speak. This clause must not be taken as being in this place complete in itself. It is apparently only introduced to give point to what follows, the intention of the whole paragraph being to enforce liberality. It is easy to recognise in spiritual things the principle of God being all in all; and St. Peter bids them apply the same principle to material gifts. “Recollect that whatever you possess, you possess from God in trust for the Church. Just as the man who preaches is to preach as a mere mouthpiece of God, so the man who gives must consider himself as being but God’s dispenser, that in this, too, God may have all the glory.” For the same kind of rhetorical effect, see 1 Peter 2:17, last Note.

If any man minister.—This does not mean “ministering” in the congregation, or spiritual ministrations of any sort, but giving the good things of this life for the benefit of the poor. The word rendered “ability” not unfrequently expresses (like our word “resources”) a sufficiency of wealth; and the word which appears as “giveth” is the same which is used of supplying material blessings in 2 Corinthians 9:10. In a compound form, the same verb occurs in Galatians 3:5, Colossians 2:19, 2 Peter 1:5-11; and the substantive in Ephesians 4:16, Philippians 1:19. The original classical meaning of the word is to pay the expenses of putting a play on the stage, which at Athens was a public burden borne by the wealthier citizens in turn, like the shrievalty of an English county. Thus the wealthy Christian who supports the Church and relieves all the poor is not really the Church’s patron: he is a responsible manager; but the paymaster is God.

That God in all things may be glorified.—How clearly St. Peter works it out: “the manifold grace of God,” “as oracles of God,” “out of the resources of which God is paymaster,” “that God in all things may be glorified.” The “all things” means emphatically that in these money matters as much as in the spiritual works God’s honour is concerned. For a most touching expansion of this text, see the Epistle of St. Theonas, Patriarch of Alexandria, to the High Chamberlain of the Emperor Diocletian, an English translation of which may be seen in The Persecution of Diocletian, by the same hand as these Notes.

Through Jesus Christ.—They see and feel that, had it not been for Jesus Christ, these rich men would not have been so liberal; and when they thus thank Him for it, they are in effect thanking God.

To whom.—That is, to God, rather than to Jesus Christ. And it should be, “to whom is,” or belongs, rather than “to whom be,” and “the glory and the dominion,” not “glory and dominion.”


Verse 12

(12) Beloved.—See Note on 1 Peter 2:11.

Think it not strange.—The same word as in 1 Peter 4:4. It means, literally, to feel like people in a strange country, lost and bewildered. It is. further explained by the clause “as though some strange thing were (by bad luck) happening unto you.” These Hebrew Christians felt at first it was not what was to be expected, that those who attached themselves to the Messiah should have a life of sorrow and persecution in the world.

The fiery trial which is to try you.—This rendering is not only slovenly, but conveys a false impression, for the fiery trial was not future, but actually present. Literally it runs, Be not bewildered at the conflagration among you taking place for a trial to you. Already, then, the Asiatic Christians are enduring a fierce persecution. The word which describes it is only found besides in Revelation 18:9; Revelation 18:18, “burning.” (Comp. 1 Peter 1:7.)


Verses 12-19

(12-19) EXHORTATION TO COURAGE AND STEADFASTNESS IN PERSECUTION.—All ought to be prepared for persecution. It is a blessed and glorious thing to have to bear it. A criminal’s death and a Christian martyrdom are the exact opposites of each other. Vengeance is speedily coming.


Verse 13

(13) But rejoice.—The opposite of being bewildered at it, for “rejoicing” in it implies a recognition of its character and purpose. The word rendered “inasmuch as” (which occurs also in 2 Corinthians 8:12) seems to mean, “in proportion as:” “the more nearly you are made to share Christ’s sufferings the more you should rejoice.” In the Acts of St. Probus (a Cappadocian), when, after many other tortures, the judge ordered them to heat some nails and run them through his hands, the martyr exclaims, “Glory to Thee, Lord Jesus Christ, who hast even deigned to let my hands be pierced for Thy name’s sake!”

Christ’s sufferings.—Rather, the sufferings of the Christ. (Comp. Note on 1 Peter 1:11.)

That—i.e., “in order that.” This is to be attached to “think it not strange, but rejoice”—“in order that at the revelation of His glory also (as now, in the sharing of His sufferings) ye may rejoice (the word is the same), exulting.” Such a recognition of the meaning of suffering, such a rejoicing in suffering now, is a sure means to rejoicing in glory also hereafter.


Verse 14

(14) If ye be reproached.—The form of speech denotes that they were so reproached.

For the name of Christ.—Literally, “in the name of Christ,” i.e., on the score of being Christians only. (Comp. 1 Peter 4:16.) Again, see how St. Peter presses the Messianic title: surely they will not abandon the hopes of Israel!

The spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you.—He is called the “Spirit of glory” here in the same way as He is called the “Spirit of truth” John 14:17), the “Spirit of holiness” (Romans 1:4), the “Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:29), &c. It expresses that glory—i.e., the triumphant manifestation of perfections—is His gift and His distinguishing sign and the atmosphere in which He lives. “Glory” stands in contrast with “reproach.” And lest it should be doubted who was meant by the splendid phrase, the Apostle adds, “and of God.” All “glory” is His, and therefore the Spirit which is the “Spirit of glory” can be no other than the “Spirit of God;” but as God Himself is greater than His own glory, the words form a climax, and it means more to call Him the “Spirit of God” than to call Him the “Spirit of glory.” And this Spirit “resteth” upon the persecuted Christians. It means far more than “remaineth” or “abideth.” It expresses the complete repose and satisfaction with which the Spirit of glory abides on men who have the hearts of martyrs. “This shall be My rest for ever: here will I dwell, for I have a delight therein.” It is the word which is used of the quiet retreat which our Lord took after John’s death (Mark 6:31; of the calm relief which He offers to the weary souls who come to Him (Matthew 11:28-29); of the repose of the blessed dead after the work of life is over (Revelation 6:11; Revelation 14:13). In the Old Testament it is used of the Spirit in Numbers 11:25, and 2 Kings 2:15; but, above all, in Isaiah 11:2, which was probably in St. Peter’s mind. And the argument is, that reproach for the name of the Christ is a proof of glory in reserve, or rather, already belonging to the man. Perhaps St. Peter intentionally hints (in speaking of the “Spirit”) that all who make themselves partakers of Christ’s reproach are made partakers of His chrism.

On their part.—These words, to the end of the verse, are an undoubted interpolation, though of very early date, appearing even in St. Cyprian’s works. The clause would bring out the different view taken by believers and unbelievers of the martyr-spirit. Pliny says in his letter that, whatever Christianity itself may be, there can be no doubt such obstinacy ought to be punished. Marcus Aurelius speaks with contempt of the spirit in which Christians suffered themselves to be put to death as mere self-will, unlike the philosophical grace of the Stoics. Gibbon speaks of the “pious obstinacy” of St. Felix of Tibiura.


Verse 15

(15) But let none of you.—The Greek takes exactly the opposite turn: “for let none of you suffer.” The connection is a little difficult, but it seems to be this: “I say advisedly that you are happy, and that the Spirit of glory reposes on you who die for the faith; for I am sure that you will not try to deceive yourselves and others by pretending to die as martyrs, when in reality you are dying as criminals.” In order to understand this caution, we must recollect how largely the first converts were drawn from actually criminal classes, and how easily they were admitted. In the persecution of Diocletian, Mensurius of Carthage found it necessary to expose those who drew persecution upon themselves to cloke their crimes under pretence of Christian faith. “Some,” he says, “are criminals, some debtors, who take the opportunity of persecution to be rid of so burdensome a life, thinking to atone for and wash off their misdeeds thereby.” It is conceivable that St. Peter may have had some such danger in view.

As a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer.—The insertion of “as” in the two latter cases obliterates the distinction between the class composed of those three words, and that which follows. It should be, as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer. When Pliny came to govern these men, a little later, he found that on a fixed day they met together before daylight, “and bound themselves by a sacramental oath, not to any crime, but that they would not do or see done any thefts, any robberies, any adulteries; that they would break no promises, and would repudiate no liabilities when called upon.” These words will partly explain the general term “evildoer.” (See also 1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 2:14; 1 Peter 3:16.)

Or as a busybody in other men’s matters.—M. Renan writes (Antéchrist, p. 42):—“Others, through excess of zeal, declaimed aloud against the pagans, and cast their vices in their teeth. Their more sensible brethren humorously called them ‘bishops,’ or ‘overseers of those who are without.’“ Such is, indeed, the meaning of the droll word which St. Peter here gives: except that, instead of “bishops of those without,” it means “bishops of other men’s matters.” It denotes those prying and self-important people who fancy they can set everything to rights, and that everybody they come across is under their personal jurisdiction. Such persons would tend to make Christianity unpopular among the unbelievers, and, in case of persecution, would be the first to “suffer” (i.e., to be picked out for martyrdom; see Note on 1 Peter 3:14); and while flattering themselves for the boldness with which they had spoken out, they would incur St. Peter’s censure, and their martyrdom would be reckoned no martyrdom by the Church. “Cruel mishaps,” continues M. Renan, “befell them; and the wise directors of the community, so far from extolling them, told them pretty plainly that it did but serve them right.”


Verse 16

(16) Yet if any man suffer as a Christian.—St. Peter purposely uses the name which was a name of derision among the heathens. It is not, as yet, one by which the believers would usually describe themselves. It only occurs twice besides in the New Testament—in Acts 11:26, where we are told of the invention of the nickname (see Note there), and in Acts 26:28, where Agrippa catches it up with the insolent scorn with which a brutal justice would have used the word “Methodist” a century ago. So contemptible was the name that, as M. Renan says (p. 37), “Well-bred people avoided pronouncing the name, or, when forced to do so, made a kind of apology.” Tacitus, for instance, says: “Those who were vulgarly known by the name of Christians.” In fact, it is quite an open question whether we ought not here (as well as in the two places of Acts above cited) to read the nickname in its barbarous form: Chrestian. The Sinaitic manuscript has that form, and the Vatican has the form Chreistian; and it is much harder to suppose that a scribe who commonly called himself a Christian would intentionally alter it into this strange form than to suppose that one who did not understand the irony of saying a Chrestian should have written the word with which he was so familiar.

Let him not be ashamed.—Although the name sounds worse to the world than “murderer,” or “thief,” or “malefactor.”

On this behalf.—This is a possible rendering, but it is more pointed to translate literally, but let him glorify God in this name—i.e., make even this name of ridicule the ground of an act of glory to God.


Verse 17

(17) For the time is come.—The “for” (literally, because) seems to substantiate the whole of the former part of the section, from 1 Peter 4:12 onwards, but with special reference to the injunction to glorify God on the ground of bearing the name of Christians, upon which it follows in much the same way as “for the spirit of glory” followed upon “if ye be reproached . . . happy are ye.” The judgment is just about to begin, and all those who bear the name of Christians may well be thankful that they do.

That judgment.—It should be, that the judgment—i.e., the great judgment which we all expect. The word “begin,” however, shows that in St. Peter’s mind it would be a long process; and he probably does not distinguish in his mind between the “burning which is befalling for a trial” and the final judgment, except that that “burning” is but the beginning. (Comp. 1 Peter 4:5.)

Begin at the house of God.—The phrase contains an obvious reference to Ezekiel 9:6 (comp. also Jeremiah 25:29). Who are meant by the “house of God” is clear, not only from such passages as 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:4, but also from the immediate addition, “and if first at us.” We who are Chrestiani, who bear the mark of the Christ’s shame upon our foreheads, and are not ashamed of it, are quite safe in this judgment: “come not near any man upon whom is the mark.” The sense is a little closely packed. It seems as if St. Peter meant at first only to say, “Thank God that you are ‘Christians,’ for the judgment is just about to begin,” as something which only concerns the unbelievers; then, as an afterthought, he adds, “and begin, too, at the house of God,” by way of making the believers also feel the need of care.

And if it first begin at us, what shall the end be . . .?—It is more expressive to omit, with St. Peter, the verb “begin “: and if first at us. The argument is: “If we, who are the very household of God, must undergo this searching investigation first, what will happen, as the judgment nears its climax, to those who,” &c.? When he says “the end of those that obey not,” he does not mean exactly “the final doom of those that obey not,” as contrasted with “the end” of those that obey, or as contrasted with their own earlier opportunities: rather, “the end” is the end of the great process of judgment, as contrasted with the “beginning first at us.” The judging of the house of God has now gone on for eighteen hundred years, but it has not yet touched those who are without.

That obey not the gospel of God?—Rather, that disobey the gospel of God?. The word is the same which we have noticed several times (see Note on 1 Peter 3:1) as being peculiarly applied to the Jews. Now the object of this mysterious threat (which is made more terrible by being thrown into the form of a question) is not only to solace the persecuted by the thought of God being their avenger, but to warn them against slipping into the position of those thus threatened. The recipients of the Letter, we must recollect, were Jewish Christians, who were in a two-fold danger—either of relapsing sullenly into Judaism, or of plunging into heathen excesses, like the Nicolaitan school, under the notion that such things could not hurt the spiritually-minded. To meet these two forms of danger, the Apostle hints darkly at the punishment of the two classes in this phrase and in the verse following, precisely as St. Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 1:8 (see Note there), divides the wicked to be punished into Jew and Gentile, or, in Romans 2:9, still more particularly. And that he is thinking specially of unbelieving Jews in this place appears from the context in Ezekiel 9:6 (especially 1 Peter 4:9), where the separation to be effected is not between Jew and Gentile, but between Jew and Jew—those “that sigh and that cry for all the abominations” committed by Israel, and those that commit the abominations. As Bengel remarks, “The persecution of Nero was but a few years before the catastrophe of the Jews.”


Verse 18

(18) And if the righteous scarcely be saved.—This is a literal quotation, word for word, of Proverbs 11:31, according to the LXX. The quotation proves to us St. Peter’s perfect familiarity with both the Hebrew original and the Greek version. We have seen how he rejects the LXX. version when it does not suit his meaning (e.g., 1 Peter 2:8): here it suits him (though it differs from the Hebrew), and he accepts it. The “righteous” man here means, apparently, as Leighton says, “he that endeavours to walk uprightly in the ways of God,” rather than the man who is then declared finally justified. The fact that they are “scarcely” saved “imports not,” according to Leighton, “any uncertainty or hazard in the thing itself to the end, in respect of the purpose and performance of God, but only the great difficulties and hard encounters in the way.” This is only partly true. The Apostle is rather thinking of the final judgment than of the life of trial; and he means that there was but little margin left: a very few more falls, a few more refusals to follow the calls of grace, and they would have been lost. Doubtless, when the best of us looks back, in the light of the last day, upon all that he has been through, he will be amazed that he ever could be saved at all. Yet Bengel well calls us to see the other side of the picture in 2 Peter 1:11.

The ungodly and the sinner.—This is the Gentile character. “Ungodly” denotes open irreligion—contempt of God and all that belongs to His worship. “Sinner” goes more to the moral side of the nature, pointing most of all to sins of the flesh. (Comp., for instance, Luke 7:37.) “Sinners” was almost a synonym for “Gentiles.” (See, e.g., Luke 6:32; Luke 24:7; Galatians 2:15.) The question “Where shall he appear?” imagines some scene such as that of Matthew 25:32 : “Where shall we see him? where will he have to stand?”


Verse 19

(19) Wherefore.—Because the beginning of the judgment—the judgment of the Christians—is so light in comparison with the fearful end when it lights on the disobedient and wicked.

Let them that suffer according to the will of God.—Our version omits an important little word: Let them that suffer also (or, Let even them that suffer) according to the will of God. The stress is on “suffer”—i.e., be put to death. And the clause, “according to the will of God,” seems not intended to mean “in a godly and unblameable manner,” as opposed to the “suffering as a murderer” (1 Peter 4:15); rather, it brings out that such a death is no accident, no sudden calamity, but in strict accordance with God’s prearranged design. (Comp. 1 Peter 3:17 : “if the will of God will it.”) Thus it harmonises with the following: “faithful Creator,” “commit their souls.”

Commit the keeping of their souls.—The beautiful verb rendered “commit the keeping of” is a technical term for depositing a deed, or sum of money, or other valuable, with any one in trust. In the literal sense it occurs in Luke 12:48; 2 Timothy 1:12 : in a metaphorical sense, of doctrines committed in trust to the safe keeping of the Episcopate, in 1 Timothy 1:18; 1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14; 2 Timothy 2:2 : of leaving persons whom you love in trust, in Acts 14:23; Acts 20:32. But the words which St. Peter probably has ringing in his ears when he thus writes are the words of our Lord on the cross (where the same verb is used): “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” (Luke 23:46). “Their souls” might, perhaps, with still more propriety, be here translated their lives. The connection will then be: “Consider the mildness of these trials compared with the terrors overhanging the sinful. Even if the worst should come to the worst, and you must die a martyr’s death, it is but the execution of God’s plan for you. View your life as a deposit: lay it confidently in His hands, to be returned to you again when the time comes: and you will find Him faithful to what a Creator ought to be.”

A faithful Creator.—The word “faithful” is used in reference to the “deposit” placed in His hands; and the title “Creator” seems to be chosen here rather than “Father,” or the like, because creation of the soul includes not only the giving of its existence but the shaping of its destiny. “The will of God,” in accordance with which they “suffer,” is part of the act of creation. The noble expression, however, contains the idea that the act of creation imposes duties and responsibilities upon the Creator. It is conceivable that some powerful being (not our God) might create, and be careless of the happiness or of the moral welfare or of the mutual relations of his creatures. Such a creator would be “unfaithful:” we should have a right to expect differently of him. But God is a “faithful Creator.” “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

In well doing.—In the Greek these words come emphatically last. (Comp. 1 Peter 3:17.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Peter 4:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/1-peter-4.html. 1905.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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