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Bible Commentaries

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

1 Peter 5

Verse 1

This chapter concludes the epistle with exhortations concerning the eldership and the general attitude of submission and obedience for all (1 Peter 5:1-11), ending with salutations and benediction (1 Peter 5:12-14).

The elders therefore among you I exhort, who am a fellow-elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, who am also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: (1 Peter 5:1)

In this verse, "There is neither self-exaltation nor disparagement, nor any hint of primacy, such as some have claimed for Peter."[1] The storm of persecution coming upon the church naturally focused Peter's mind upon "the need for adequate leadership."[2]

The elders which are among you ... Since these men are those exercising the oversight of the church (1 Peter 5:2), the church officials of that name are meant here. Significantly, in some of the older manuscripts "exercising the oversight" is omitted, probably for the purpose of denying the eldership the same authority which came, in time, to be attributed to "bishops" only. However, as Hunter noted, "In New Testament times the government of the local church was in the hands of a body of men called almost indifferently elders or overseers (bishops)."[3] Other New Testament synonyms for the same office are presbyters, pastors, shepherds and stewards. See more on this under 1 Peter 5:2.

Which are among you ... As Zerr noted, "Elders have no authority over disciples among whom they are not residing."[4] This is the reason that the apostles commanded elders to be ordained in "every church" (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5).

Whom am a fellow-elder ... The authority of the eldership is in the group sharing the office and is not to be exercised individually, each elder himself being subject, as is the whole church, to the eldership. Zerr noted that "Thayer defines the word elder as a fellow-elder."[5]

Who am a witness of the sufferings of Christ ... Primarily, this is a reference to Peter's apostleship; for as Hart said:

The qualifications of an apostle in the strict sense limited the office only to those who were companions of the Twelve in all the time from John's baptism to the Assumption, or at least witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 1:22).[6]

Construing "witness of the sufferings" as meaning an eyewitness of the crucifixion, however, some are "inclined to doubt this, for we are told that after the arrest in the garden, 'all the disciples forsook him and fled' (Matthew 26:56)."[7] But there is no validity to the view that Peter did not actually see the crucifixion. He could well have been among the number mentioned by Luke who beheld the event "from afar" (Luke 23:49); for Mark, shortly after saying that all the apostles forsook him and fled, placed Peter in the courtyard as an observer of the trials (Mark 14:50-54); and even beyond this, there is the fact that Peter witnessed the agony in Gethsemane.

Who am also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed ... Selwyn thought this clause has reference to the transfiguration which Peter, along with James and John, had witnessed during the Lord's ministry, saying:

Peter had experienced and was known to have experienced the special revelation of the glory that had been restored to Jesus at the Ascension ... and would be manifested to all when he came again at the End.[8]

[1] Roy S. Nicholson, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 299.

[2] David H. Wheaton, New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 1247.

[3] Archibald M. Hunter, The Interpreter's Bible. Vol. XII (New York and Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 147.

[4] E. M. Zerr, Bible Commentary, 1Peter (Marion, Indiana: Cogdill Foundation, 1954), p. 265.

[5] Ibid.

[6] J. H. A. Hart, Expositor's Greek Testament, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 76.

[7] William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 268.

[8] E. G. Selwyn, The First Epistle of St. Peter (London: Macmillan and Company, 1946), p. 229.

Verse 2

Tend the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight, not of constraint, but willingly, according to the will of God; nor yet for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;

Tend the flock of God ... The flock does not belong to the elders, but to God. The word here is exactly the same "that Jesus used when he admonished Peter to tend his sheep (John 21:16)."[9]

Exercising the oversight ... See under preceding verse. As Dummelow, and many others, stressed, "Elders were not then distinguished from bishops as they soon afterward were."[10] This is plain from the word [@episkopos] from which "oversight" is translated. This, of course, requires a date for the epistle prior to A.D. 70. Very soon, however, the elevation of so called "bishops" to a rank and dignity they did not have in the New Testament began to appear; and "The omission of this clause from the Vatican and Sinaitic manuscripts was prompted by ecclesiastical reason,"[11] for the fear that elders might be supposed to have equal authority with bishops, which was of course true. Incidentally, the close kinship of the Vatican and Sinaitic Manuscripts is evident in a thing like this, accounting for the fact of their correspondence in the treatment of Mark 16:12-20. For more on this, see the Introduction to my Commentary on Mark.

Not of constraint, but willingly ... "In times of persecution, lukewarm elders might regret their prominence,"[12] thus Peter admonishes elders not to quail under the pressure of the time. Such a fact is also possibly behind Paul's words, "If any man desire the office of a bishop" (1 Timothy 3:1).

According to the will of God ... Peter had just spoken of them as "partakers of Christ's sufferings" (1 Peter 4:13), and this clause shows that all Christians, elders included, are called to suffer for the cause of the Lord. As Paul put it, "If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:12). Many Christians fail because they do not properly discern the nature of the life to which they are committed. It is not one unending "high," comparable to a stroll along some flower-lined pathway to the accompaniment of sweet music. It is a fight (2 Timothy 4:7); it is like being a soldier (2 Timothy 2:4), subject to disagreeable and difficult assignments; it is like training for an athletic contest (2 Timothy 2:5), involving all kinds of austerity, self-discipline and hard work; it is called "taking up one's cross" (Matthew 16:24), etc.

Nor yet for filthy lucre ... This shows that, "Even in the earliest times, the elders received money in payment for such services as they rendered to the other brethren."[13]

Another thought based upon this verse was given by Zerr who wrote:

These principles disprove a popular notion that a person can be a member of a congregation even though he is too far away to be among the elders and the other members. The idea that a person can live in one community and "have his membership in another one" has no Scriptural authority.[14]

[9] Raymond C. Kelcy, The Letters of Peter and Jude (Austin, Texas: R. B. Sweet Company, 1972), p. 98.

[10] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 1047.

[11] B. C. Caffin, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22,1Peter (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 206.

[12] J. H. A. Hart, op. cit., p. 76.

[13] James William Russell, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 587.

[14] E. M. Zerr, op. cit., p. 265.

Verse 3

neither as lording it over the charge allotted to you, but making yourselves ensamples to the flock.

This verse is somewhat difficult; for, as Mason said, "The English version here is somewhat too strict for the Greek and for the sense."[15] The New Testament clearly teaches that in a sense (limited, of course), the elders are "lords" or rulers over their congregations; and what is prohibited here is not the exercise of their lawful authority, but the improper exercise of it. Zerr has this:

The Englishman's Greek New Testament renders it: "Not as exercising lordship over your possessions." ... If a man considers the church as his own, then he is indeed likely to rule in an improper manner.[16]

Thus it is not to be thought here that "Peter was commanding the bishops not to tyrannize over the inferior clergy."[17] It is from the word here rendered "lots" or "charge allotted" that the English word "clergy"[18] is derived; but the passage carries no such meaning.

The power motive is present in every church, and there is "no corruption so odious as that which in public purports to be benevolent and disinterested."[19] The desire for power is an ever-present threat to every congregation on earth.

[15] A. J. Mason, Ellicott's Bible Commentary, Vol. VII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 433.

[16] E. M. Zerr, op. cit., p. 266.

[17] B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 207.

[18] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 1047.

[19] Elmer G. Homrighausen, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. XII (New York and Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967), p. 151.

Verse 4

And when the chief Shepherd shall be manifested, ye shall receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away.

The chief Shepherd ... is a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ who called himself the "Good Shepherd" (John 10:11). See more on this under 1 Peter 2:25.

Crown of glory that fadeth not away ... "The Greek words here mean literally an amaranthine wreath."[20] Amaranth is the name of a flower which, like our "immortelles", does not lose its color or form."[21] However, Peter here used the word as the best figure available for describing the eternal glory of the heavenly reward, thus providing another example of the extensive use of such figurative language throughout 1Peter. It is partially because of things like this that "Babylon" in 1 Peter 5:13 is understood as meaning "Rome."

[20] B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 207.

[21] A. J. Mason, op. cit., p. 433.

Verse 5

Likewise, ye younger, be subject unto the elder. Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another: for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.

Ye younger ... "The reference here is to age, not to official rank. Younger men are to defer to their elders."[22] Despite this view which is quite common among commentators, however, Kelcy observed that "There is no evidence of a transition of thought from one group to another,"[23] therefore construing the passage as a reference to the submission to the congregation's official elders, as mentioned above.

Yea, all of you ... Here there is indeed the transition to a larger group of the whole church, all of whom are commanded to be humble and submissive to others in the giving of loving service to brothers and sisters in Christ.

Gird yourselves with humility to serve one another ...

Gird yourselves... must evidently have been written by Peter in vivid remembrance of that occasion when Jesus himself girded himself with a towel and washed the disciples' feet, even Peter's (John 13:4), and that at a time when not a one of the Twelve consented to do such a thing. In this clause, the Greek word actually means "an apron worn by slaves, which was tied around them when at work, to keep their dress clean."[24] Macknight also defined it as "a frock put over the rest of the clothes,"[25] giving the meaning to be that "humility should be visible over all the other Christian virtues, in our whole behavior."[26]

God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble ... Throughout the holy Scriptures, proud and haughty spirits are condemned. Pride leads the list of all of the sins (Proverbs 6:16-18). This passage echoes the very words of the Saviour (Luke 14:11). Humility is such a wonderful virtue that all of the publican's sins did not destroy him because he had it; and all of the Pharisee's righteousness could not save him because he did not have it (Luke 18:1-14).

[22] Archibald M. Hunter, op. cit., p. 152.

[23] Raymond C. Kelcy, op. cit., p. 101.

[24] B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 207.

[25] James Macknight, Macknight on the Epistles, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1969), p. 503.

[26] Ibid.

Verse 6

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time;

In due time ... Christians may not always be exalted in this life; and, indeed, it might be said that they seldom are; but the exaltation will come. "It might be in the present life, but it will certainly be in the world to come."[27]

Under the mighty hand of God ... This is a common "Old Testament expression used in connection with deliverance (Exodus 3:19; 20:33)."[28] The author of James also remembered this same teaching of Jesus (James 4:6,10).

[27] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament, 1Peter (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1953), p. 205.

[28] J. H. A. Hart, op. cit., p. 78.

Verse 7

casting all your anxiety upon him, because he careth for you.

The thought here contrasts the living and true God with the dumb idol gods of paganism who had no feeling, concern, or interest of any kind whatever in their worshipers. Even those pagan gods and goddesses which were supposed to be more glorious were always represented as being far off from their devotees, and as having no care whatever for them. It is one of the most glorious teachings of the Bible that God, yes, even the Almighty God, loves his children, is concerned and interested in their welfare; and his eyes are always upon his beloved.

Verse 8

Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:

This warning against the devices and evil intentions of man's inveterate foe, Satan, should be strictly heeded. Nothing could be any clearer than the presentation in Scripture of the kingdom of evil as an organized wickedness, directed by a powerful and malignant leader, a personal ruler of darkness, having as his objective the destruction of souls. The current theology which downgrades this danger, or even denies the reality of Satan, is wrong. It is contrary to the word of God. The Saviour himself warned Peter of Satan's "sifting him"; and from this it is clear that Peter got the message.

As a roaring lion ... Satan is represented in Scripture under various figures: (1) the roaring lion; (2) the angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14); and (3) the serpent (2 Corinthians 11:3; Revelation 20:2). These representations also answer to the three avenues of temptation: (1) the lust of the flesh; (2) the lust of the eye; and (3) the pride of life, the same being also the three avenues through which Satan assailed Jesus in the temptation (Matthew 4:1ff).

As a roaring lion ... In the time at which Peter wrote, Satan was indeed, not a sly and stealthy serpent, nor disguised as an angel of light; but he was a roaring lion elevated in the person of Nero upon the throne of the Caesars and thundering his decrees of death and destruction, like a roaring lion! Many of the Christians would be terrified and intimidated, and some under threat of death would renounce their faith. Satan's true nature is more visible in this than in the other Scriptural likenesses; because he adopts other methods only when circumstances make it impossible for him openly and wantonly to destroy, as was the case in the Neronian persecution. Paine was not wrong, therefore, when he wrote: "This passage may well be a veiled reference to Nero or to his amphitheater with its lions!"[29]

Verse 9

whom withstand stedfast in your faith, knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world.

Whom withstand ... Satan is not to be yielded to; whatever he may do to the bodies of Christians, there is really nothing that he is able to do to them.

Stedfast in your faith ... A glance at the marginal reading in the ASV shows that this should be translated "the faith," and thus be understood objectively as "the Christian faith," not as a sinner's subjective "trust/faith."

The same sufferings ... See under 1 Peter 5:2.

Who are in the world ... There is a poignant suggestion in this that being "in the world" was one and the same thing as being under Nero and his persecution. Someone has said that in the times of the Caesars, the world itself was but a dreary prison for those who were proscribed by the emperor.

Verse 10

And the God of all grace, who called you unto his eternal glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall himself perfect, establish, strengthen you.

In Christ ... Peter's usage of this mighty phrase, both here and at the end of the epistle, indicates his respect and appreciation of the doctrine, no less than that of Paul, despite the fact that he did not emphasize it as Paul did.

After ye have suffered a little while ... A while should here be understood for "the whole of life," and not as indicating the short duration of the persecutions. In the relative sense, even a long life is but "a little while."

Perfect ... This verb is the same that is used of "preparing" the earthly body for the incarnation of Christ in Hebrews 10:5;[30] and is therefore strongly suggestive of other passages in the New Testament where total and absolute perfection is the obvious meaning, as in Matthew 5:48. However, there is another scriptural meaning of it. It is the "word for mending nets (Mark 1:19) or setting a broken bone"[31] and this is the meaning that many commentators prefer. This writer cannot resist the conviction, however, that "the absolute perfection of Christians in Christ" is what this speaks of. The very proximity of the phrase "in Christ" seems to suggest this. For discussion of the whole theology of perfection, see in my Commentary on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, pp. 130-133. Taking the word in the other sense also yields some very beautiful thoughts, as in Barclay, who understood it to mean "restore," as Moffatt translated it. He wrote as an illustration of the thought:

Sir Edward Elgar once listened to a young girl singing a solo from one of his own works. She had a voice of exceptional purity and clarity ... When she had finished, he said, "She will be really great when something happens to break her heart."[32]

Something was about to happen which would indeed break the hearts of many Christians, recalling the words spoken by the blessed Christ who "learned obedience by the things which he suffered, having been made perfect" (Hebrews 5:8,9). Many of the precious saints would be "made perfect" in the same sense, through the awful things they were about to suffer.

Establish ... This word means "to fix, to make fast, to set,"[33] as when concrete sets.

Strengthen ... means "to make strong,"[34] and suggests the strengthening that comes to steel, or iron, when it is heated with fire and suddenly cooled, thus "tempering" it and giving it much greater hardness and strength. The onset of the fires of persecution would harden and strengthen the faith of many.

[30] W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1940), vol. 3p. 175.

[31] Archibald M. Hunter, op. cit., p. 157.

[32] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 273.

[33] W. E. Vine, op. cit., vol. 2p. 41.

[34] Ibid., vol. 4p. 81.

Verse 11

To him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

"This is the true consolation in trouble, to extol the power of God."[35] If God indeed has the dominion for ever and ever, the Christian may safely rest his case in God.

Verse 12

By Sylvanus our faithful brother, as I account him, I have written unto you briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God: stand ye fast therein.

By Sylvanus our faithful brother ... "On its narrowest interpretation, this means simply that Sylvanus was the bearer of the letter,"[36] the same being the technical meaning of the phrase; and it is perhaps best to let that meaning stand. We do not feel any need to help the apostle out with his Greek by making Sylvanus also the "writer" of this letter. Peter was fully competent to have written this epistle. Sylvanus' name is linked with Paul's in the writing of Thessalonians; he is called Silas (Acts 15:22); he is referred to as a chief man among the brethren (Acts 15:22), also as a prophet (Acts 15:32). After the defection of John Mark, he was Paul's traveling companion, being cast into prison with Paul at Philippi. Thus, he was well acquainted with many of the churches that would be receiving this epistle, thus being a very appropriate bearer of it.

As I account him ... does not imply any lack of confidence in Sylvanus, the same being Peter's manner of recommending him.

Exhorting, and testifying ... Again, it is clear that "testifying" in apostolic times was not merely sounding off in public meetings, as the word is often understood today. It was exhorting and commanding the people to obey the word of God.

This is the true grace of God ... The entire epistle Peter had written with its magnificent overtones of so many varied and profound Christian teachings - that is the true grace of God.

Stand ye fast therein ... This reminds one of Paul's great charge, "Having done all, to stand." The unanimous appeal of the apostles of Christ was for Christians to stand firmly against every foe, not being swept off their feet, or made to defect from the holy faith by anything whatsoever.

Verse 13

She that is in Babylon, elect together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Mark my son.

She that is in Babylon ... Although questioned by some who would see in this a reference to Peter's wife, the best view is almost certainly that the church in Babylon is meant. But where was Babylon? If these words are a mystical reference to Rome, as there seems every reason to believe, then the reference is to the great capital of the Caesars which was the center of the persecutions. See introduction for discussion of this. The figurative language throughout 1Peter; the fact that ancient Babylon was destroyed never to be rebuilt; the total absence in the New Testament, as well as in history, of any reference to Peter's ever having been in Babylon, literally; and the very early traditions that Peter did indeed preach in Rome and that he was martyred there (the same tradition having arisen much too early to be accredited to later claims of the apostate church); the pressing need, at the very time Peter wrote, to have spoken very guardedly concerning Nero and his city; the current usage of that very expression "Babylon" to mean Rome, as in Hebrew poetry; and the similar usage of it in Revelation - all these considerations taken together have great weight in indicating that the meaning here is Rome on the Tiber.

What are some of the spiritual implications of such a designation? (1) Just as ancient Babylon was a center of enmity and oppression of God's people, so Rome had become in the times of the apostles. (2) As Babylon was destroyed, so shall Rome also be destroyed. (3) Peter reminds his readers afresh that they, as the Israel of God, are "exiles in a foreign land,"[37] as were the ancient Jews in Babylon. (4) "The point of the allegory is that Rome was becoming the oppressor of the new Israel, not that it was the center of the world."[38]

And so doth Mark my son ... Peter was Mark's mentor, not his actual father; and he is called "my son" in the sense that Paul thus referred to Timothy. It is almost universally agreed that this is the John Mark of Acts, who is the author of the second Gospel. See the introduction to Mark in my Commentary on Mark for a full discussion.

[37] G. J. Polkinghorne, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 598.

[38] J. H. A. Hart, op. cit., p. 80.

Verse 14

Salute one another with a kiss of love. Peace be unto you all that are in Christ.

Kiss of love ... Paul similarly commanded this greeting (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26). Comment on this was made under all those references. "The practice seems to have been universal in those times."[39]

Peace be unto you all ... "This is the same blessing Peter had heard the Lord use, the old Hebrew blessing (Matthew 10:12f; Mark 5:34; Luke 2:14,29; John 20:19,21,26)."[40] The peace in view is primarily the well-being of the soul, the harmony of the recipients with the Father in heaven.

In Christ ... This incredibly important expression carries the thought that: (1) all blessings are exclusively for those in Christ, his baptized followers; (2) perfection and holiness without which no one may see God are achieved by the Christian's identity as Christ; (3) the ultimate grounds of all justification for human beings is the perfect faith and perfect obedience of the Son of God; etc., etc. For full discussion of this principal theme of the New Testament, see in my Commentary on Romans, especially in Romans 3, pp. 94-154. Peter's significant mention of this doctrine in this chapter fully establishes it as having been derived "from Christ himself."[41]

[39] B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 211.

[40] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 1048.

[41] Ibid., p. 1039.

Copyright Statement
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Peter 5". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.