Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
THE EPISTLES GENERAL OF
The First Epistle of St. Peter. BY THE REV. A. J. MASON, M.A., D.D.
THE REV. A. J. MASON, M.A., D.D.
INTRODUCTION TO THE FIRST EPISTLE GENERAL OF PETER. I. The Author.
THE FIRST EPISTLE GENERAL OF
I. The Author.—The authorship of this Epistle can hardly be called a matter of question. If it be not St. Peter’s own, we have no choice but to set it down as an impudent forgery. It claims directly, and in the simplest form, to be the writing of the chief Apostle of our Lord (1Peter 1:1). The author asserts himself to be a “witness of the sufferings of Christ” (1Peter 5:1), and yet does it so modestly and with such absence of detail as would be inconceivable in a forger acquainted with St. Peter’s history. The enthusiastic and impassioned style of the Letter corresponds with the character of St. Peter as we find it recorded in history; and in several marked points not only the doctrinal statements, but even the literary style and turn of the sentences, recalls the style of St. Peter’s speeches in the Acts. The fact that the Letter was written in Greek (for the adjectives alone are sufficient disproof of the theory that it is a translation from an Aramaic original) is no objection to the Petrine authorship. Galilee was a half-Greek country, studded with Greek cities; St. Peter’s brother bore a Greek name. No Galilean of the middle classes (to which St. Peter evidently belonged) could have been ignorant of the language; indeed, there is sufficient evidence that Greek was as much used in Galilee as Aramaic.
It seems that no question was entertained until the nineteenth century with regard to the genuineness of the Epistle by any church, or by any individual, whether orthodox or heretical. The Epistle was, indeed, rejected by Marcion, but distinctly on the ground that it was St. Peter’s. Origen speaks of it as one of the books whose authority had never been disputed. The Second Epistle of St. Peter, which, even if not genuine, cannot be dated later than the early part of the second century, refers back to it, and refers to it expressly as the work of St. Peter. St. Clement of Rome, writing (probably) A.D. 95, though he does not directly quote from it with marks of citation, has expressions such as “His marvellous light,” and several others less marked, which seem certainly to indicate his acquaintance with it. St. Polycarp (about 115 A.D.), bishop of one of the churches to which the Epistle was addressed, within the compass of one short letter to the Philippians, cites it again and again—e.g., “In whom, though ye never saw Him, ye believe, and believing ye rejoice;” “not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing;” and many other passages. St. Polycarp’s friend Papias (according to Eusebius) made use of this Epistle too, and seems to have made special comments on the connection between St. Peter and St. Mark. Besides traces of the use of it to be found in Hermas, Theophilus, and others, it is freely quoted, and by name, by Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and all subsequent writers. In fact, it would be difficult to imagine stronger external evidence in its favour. M. Renan, to take one example of an historical critic whose theology is not that of St. Peter, writes: “If, as we are happy to believe, this Epistle is really Peter’s, it does honour to his good sense, his straightforwardness, and his simplicity;” and he gives many good reasons for his belief.
There is but one argument against the genuineness of the Epistle to which any weight at all can be assigned, and even this loses all its force when it is examined. “As for the eclectic and conciliatory tendencies observed in the Epistle of Peter,” writes M. Renan (Antéchrist, p. ix.), “they constitute no objection to any but those who, like Christian Baur and his disciples, imagine the difference between Peter and Paul to have been one of absolute opposition. Had the hatred between the two parties of primitive Christianity been as profound as is thought by that school, the reconciliation would never have been made. Peter was not an obstinate Jew like James.” Without necessarily agreeing in this description of James, we may well accept the statement that St. Peter was a man peculiarly susceptible of impressions, and (even putting out of view the two Epistles in our Canon) his admiration, and indeed his awe of St. Paul are visible to any reader of the Acts and the Epistle to the Galatians. No writer recognises them more frankly than M. Renan (Saint Paul, pp. 85, 86). Now, on the one hand, it is very easy to exaggerate the Pauline character of this Epistle. It contains no one doctrine, such as Justification by Faith, which is essentially bound up with the name of St. Paul. On the matter of the free admission of Gentiles into the Church (which indirectly forms a large element in this Epistle) St. Peter had made up his mind long years before he came much under the influence of St. Paul (Acts 10:34; Acts 11:17; Acts 15:11). But on the other hand, there were special reasons why, in this Epistle, all St. Peter’s sympathy for his co-Apostle should come out. He was using, either as his secretary or as his letter-bearer—perhaps in both capacities—that liberal-minded Silas (1Peter 5:12), who, after being chosen by the Church of Jerusalem as their own exponent to the Gentiles of Antioch, had attached himself to St. Paul, accompanied him in the most momentous of his missionary travels, and had (apparently) devoted himself to the edification and extension of those Asiatic churches which the two had founded together. St. Mark, too, dear to St. Peter as his own “son” in the faith (1Peter 5:13), had been but recently again (after early misunderstandings) a chosen companion of St. Paul, and was probably not very long returned from a mission on which that Apostle had despatched him into Asia Minor (Colossians 4:10). And, moreover, all St. Peter’s chivalrous nature would be aroused by the manner in which the churches of all that region, or any rate the Jewish element in them, were beginning to revolt (as at Corinth also) against their founder when his back was turned.
II. The Place, Time, and Occasion of the Epistle.—The place from which the Letter was written was, we may say without any hesitation, Rome. If this be not the case, we must understand the “Babylon” of 1Peter 5:13 to mean the Eastern Babylon; and it is neither very probable in itself that St. Peter should have visited that city, and there have been met by St. Silas and St. Mark, nor is there any trace of a tradition, however meagre, that he ever travelled in those parts. On the other hand, were it not for the abuse made of the fact by the supporters of the Papacy, no one would ever have questioned the universal and well-authenticated tradition which affirms that St. Peter was, along with St. Paul, co-founder of the Church of Rome. The whole subject has been, of late years, sifted to the bottom by various German and other writers, especially by Dr. Hilgenfeld in repeated articles between 1872 and 1877 in his Zeitschrift. Though every conceivable difference may be found between these authors respecting the dates and duration of St. Peter’s sojourn at Rome, very few are so hardily sceptical as to reject altogether evidence as strong, early, and wide, as that on which we believe that Hannibal invaded Italy. This fact being then certain, the only question is whether Eusebius is right—or St. Clement of Alexandria, and even Papias, whom he appears to be quoting—in suggesting that “Babylon” in this Epistle meant Rome.  The words occur in a passage describing the origin of the Gospel of St. Mark, which ends thus, “and that [St. Peter] ratified the book for the churches to study (Clement, in the sixth of his Hypotyposes, has put the story in our hands, and his account is substantiated also by the Bishop of Hierapolis named Papias), and that Peter mentions Mark in his former Epistle, which also they say that he composed at Rome itself, and that he means this when he calls the city in a figurative kind of way ‘Babylon,’ in these words, The co-elect one in Babylon greeteth you, and Mark my son”—(Eus. Hist. Eccl. II. xv. 2.)
 The words occur in a passage describing the origin of the Gospel of St. Mark, which ends thus, “and that [St. Peter] ratified the book for the churches to study (Clement, in the sixth of his Hypotyposes, has put the story in our hands, and his account is substantiated also by the Bishop of Hierapolis named Papias), and that Peter mentions Mark in his former Epistle, which also they say that he composed at Rome itself, and that he means this when he calls the city in a figurative kind of way ‘Babylon,’ in these words, The co-elect one in Babylon greeteth you, and Mark my son”—(Eus. Hist. Eccl. II. xv. 2.)
About this there can be no difficulty. Not only is Rome so styled in the Apocalypse, and some few years later in the Jewish Sibylline Oracles, but M. Renan quotes passages from various Rabbinical writings where the same name occurs with the same meaning. The Jews delighted in substituting symbolical names and epithets even in plain prose speech (e.g., Jerub-besheth for Jerub-baal, Haman the Agagite; St. Peter himself, if the Second Epistle be his, seems to do the same when he calls Balaam “the son of Bosor”); and the detestation of Rome, natural to a Jew at all times, and heightened by Christianity when once the persecution began, found vent for itself in all manner of names culled from the Old Testament, such as Nineveh and Edom, as well as Babylon.
If, then, Rome be the place from which St. Peter wrote, how can we find approximately the time? It cannot be put earlier than the year 64, for two reasons especially: (1) because it shows a deep acquaintance with the Epistle (so-named) to the Ephesians, the date of which Isaiah 62 or 63; (2) because direct persecution had broken out against the Christians as Christians, and this did not take place until after the great fire at Rome in July, 64. The phenomena of the letter will not bear interpreting by the theory of simple disaffection, however deep and spiteful, of the populace against the Christians. They are liable at any moment, even away in Asia, to be called upon to give an account for their faith in the law courts (1Peter 3:15). If any of them is proved to be a Christian, he will very likely “suffer”—suffer capital punishment—for that crime (1Peter 4:16). The whole piece is burdened with persecution of a most systematic kind on every side. There is, however, one side-question which causes some difficulty. St. Paul is not mentioned as joining in the salutation to the churches which he had founded. Why so? No more probable conjecture can be made than that, shortly after writing his Epistles to the Asiatic Churches, St. Paul was tried and liberated, and made that journey into the far West on which he had long set his heart, and which St. Clement of Rome, who must have known well, says that he took. By this journey he escaped death in the outbreak of Nero’s persecution; and St. Peter, arriving at Rome about the same time, finds him gone, and Silas and Mark just coming back to headquarters from their work in Asia, with reports of division and disorder which required immediate attention. Accordingly St. Peter issues this circular letter which we have before us.
 Compare 1Peter 1:1-2 with Ephesians 1:4; 1Peter 1:3 with Ephesians 1:3; 1Peter 1:4-5 with Ephesians 1:11; Ephesians 1:18; 1Peter 1:12 with Ephesians 3:10; 1Peter 1:14 with Ephesians 2:2-3; 1Peter 2:5 with Ephesians 2:20-22; 1Peter 2:18 with Ephesians 6:5; 1Peter 3:1 with Ephesians 5:22; 1Peter 3:22 with Ephesians 1:20-21; 1Peter 4:3 with Ephesians 2:2; and other passages. The connection with Silvanus, and with Mark, is sufficient to explain St. Peter’s close familiarity with an Epistle which had been destined (largely) for the same readers as his own. His deep knowledge of the Epistle to the Romans (which is traceable in very many passages is a strong argument in favour of the identification of “Babylon” with Rome. There are some indications also of an acquaintance with the Epistles to the Thessalonians, again perhaps through Silvanus. It is noteworthy, as showing the position which St. Peter held amidst conflicting parties, that the document which, next after the Epistles to the Romans and Ephesians, has most influenced this Letter, is the Epistle of St. James; for instance, compare 1Peter 1:6-7 with James 1:2-3; 1Peter 1:24 with James 1:10-11; 1Peter 4:8 with James 5:20; 1Peter 5:5-9 with James 4:6-10; et al.
Opinions are much divided as to whether the Letter was addressed primarily to Jewish or to Gentile Christians, or to both indifferently. Either answer is beset with difficulties, but the question will be found fully discussed in the Notes on the chief passages (1Peter 1:1; 1Peter 1:14; 1Peter 1:17-18; 1Peter 2:9-10; 1Peter 4:3, et al.), in which it will be seen that the annotator adheres to the usually received opinion that St. Peter keeps to his original intention of going to the circumcision only. The pact between the Apostles was, indeed, not of that rigid nature which would preclude the possibility of his writing to the Gentiles, even as St. Paul wrote to Jews; still, it seems more natural on the whole to suppose that he adhered to the pact. The letter is throughout exactly what the author describes it as being (1Peter 5:12). He “exhorts and testifies that this is God’s true grace.” That is, he insists upon the Jewish Christians recognising fully that St. Paul’s gospel was all that it ought to be (1Peter 1:12; 1Peter 1:25), and exhorts them to consequent unity and brotherly love. The presence of persecution both increases the temptation to fall away and also heightens the heinousness of such desertion, therefore every warning and every encouragement is pointed by the mention of sufferings and of the reward that is coming when Christ returns. The analysis of the Letter, which is somewhat hard to make, may be seen in the marginal notes.
In the preparation, of the Notes, the writer has not only had the usual printed commentaries and books of reference, but every now and then has had the advantage of manuscript notes of lectures (such as will scarcely be heard in Cambridge again) by Bishop Lightfoot.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,(1) Peter, an apostle.—The authoritative tone of this Epistle is shown at the outset. The writer assumes his full titles; not (as in the Second Epistle) his merely human name of Simeon, nor his humble capacity of “servant,” but the Rock-name which Christ had given him, and the official dignity of an “Apostle of Jesus Christ”—i.e., one charged with full legatine authority from Christ (John 17:18; John 20:21)—a vicar of Christ to the Church, and not only a representative of the Church to Godwards. Observe also that while St. Paul constantly adds “by the will of God,” or some similar phrase, by way of justifying his assumption of the title, St. Peter has no need to do more than mention it; his claim was never questioned. Again, though St. Silas and St. Mark are with him, they are not associated in the initial greeting, as they would probably have been by St. Paul (e.g., 1Thessalonians 1:1 and 2Thessalonians 1:1). “Apostle” though Silas was (see 1Thessalonians 2:6), and “faithful brother” to the recipients of the Letter (1Peter 5:12), his support would have added but little weight to the utterances of the Rock-Apostle. And yet, with all this quiet assumption of dignity, St. Peter knows no higher title to bestow on himself than that which he held in common with the other eleven—“an Apostle;” not “the Apostle,” nor “bishop of bishops,” nor (which means the same thing) “servant of servants.”
To the strangers scattered throughout . . .—Literally, to the elect, sojourners of the dispersion of Pontus. The persons for whom the Letter is destined are very clearly specified. In John 7:35 we have “the dispersion of the Greeks,” where it clearly means “those of the dispersed Jews who live among the Greeks,” so here “the dispersion of Pontus,” or “the Pontine dispersion,” will mean “those of, the dispersed Jews who live in Pontus.” In James 1:1 the same word is used, and, in fact, it seems to have been the recognised name for all Jews who did not live in Palestine. The word rendered by “sojourners” means people who are resident for a time among strangers: it might, for instance, describe English people who have taken houses in Paris without becoming naturalised; and, as it is here in so close a connection with geographical words, it seems forced to interpret it metaphorically (as in 1Peter 2:11). Palestine, not Heaven, is the home tacitly contrasted; Pontus, not earth, is the place of sojourn. This, then, is clear, that the Apostle of the Circumcision is writing to those of the Circumcision. The addition of the words “the blood of Jesus Christ” is the only thing which shows that they are Christian Jews.
Pontus, Galatia . . .—The provinces which between them make up the whole, or nearly so, of what we call Asia Minor, are named in no order that can be assigned a meaning, or that indicates the quarter whence the Letter was written. Possibly the circumstances which called for the writing of the Epistle may have been most striking in Pontus. Notice that at any rate the churches of Galatia and Asia owed their origin to St. Paul. Of the founding of the rest we know nothing; perhaps they were founded by St. Silas: but Jewish settlers from Cappadocia and Pontus had heard St. Peter’s first sermon on the Church’s birthday (Acts 2:9). A few years later and Pliny finds the whole upper shore of Asia Minor overrun and swallowed up by Christians.
Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.(2) Elect.—A true chosen people. This word marks them off from the rest of the Jewish settlers in those parts. It is an evasion of the difficulty to say that they were elect only in the mass, as a body. The election was individual and personal. God selected these particular Hebrews out of the whole number, and made them Christians; but what He elected them to is abundantly shown in the next words. For all their election they are not certain of salvation, and their title of “elect” implies no more than the fact that God has put them into the visible Church. (See Notes on 1Thessalonians 1:4, and 2Peter 1:10.)
According to the foreknowledge of God.—The origin of this election, the aim, and the means employed are now touched upon, and connected with the three Divine Persons respectively. (1) The origin. Their election is not accidental, nor yet something done on the spur of the moment, an afterthought of God. but “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”—i.e., in execution of His fore-arranged scheme. The word implies not simply a perception of the future, but the forming of a decision. (Comp. the same word in 1Peter 1:20, and in Romans 8:29; Romans 11:2.) Though the thought is common also to St. Paul, St. Peter was familiar with it before St. Paul’s conversion. (See Acts 2:23.) (2) The means. The preconcerted scheme of God embraced not only the choice of these particular persons for a blessing, but the lines on which the choice was to work itself out—“in a course of sanctification by the Spirit.” The words and the thought are identical with those of 2Thessalonians 2:13, but probably so far differ in exact meaning that there “the Spirit” is the spirit sanctified, here it is the Spirit which sanctifies. (Comp. also 1Thessalonians 4:7.) We see that even the blessing of “obedience and sprinkling”—much more that of glory hereafter—is unattainable except in the path of sanctification. (3) The end. That to which God had elected them was not in the first instance the participation of the joys of the post-resurrection life, but the benefits of redemption on this side of the grave. While other “sojourners of the Pontine dispersion” were allowed to remain in the disobedience which characterised the Jews, and trusting to the efficacy of membership in the covenant people, these had, in accordance with God’s plan, been admitted to “obedience”—i.e., the reception of the gospel facts and precepts (see Note on 2Thessalonians 1:8), and to the—
Sprinkling of the blood.—This important phrase must be compared with Hebrews 9:19; Hebrews 12:24, which passages were, perhaps, suggested by it, unless, indeed, the idea had become the common property of the Church already. There is nothing in St. Paul’s writings to compare with it. As the people themselves are “sprinkled,” and not their houses, the reference cannot be to the Paschal sprinkling (Exodus 12:22), but, as in Hebrews, to the scene under Mount Sinai in Exodus 24:8, where, once for all, the old covenant was inaugurated by the sprinkling of the people. It was to that same scene that our Lord referred when He said of the Eucharistic cup, “This is My blood of the new covenant.” Thus, “elect unto the sprinkling of the blood,” seems to mean “selected for admission into the new covenant inaugurated by the sprinkling of Christ’s blood.” But whereas the old covenant was inaugurated by sprinkling the people collectively and once for all, the new is inaugurated anew and anew by individual application; so that the Eucharistic cup was not (according to the Quaker theory) to be drunk once for all by the Apostles then present as the representatives of the whole subsequent Church. Neither does this inauguration by sprinkling come but once for all in the individual’s lifetime, but as often as the covenant is broken by his sin he comes to renew it again. Doubtless the participation of the Holy Communion is the act of “sprinkling” here before St. Peter’s mind, it being the one act which betokens membership in the new covenant-people, the new Israel. Of course the application of blood in both covenants rests on the notion of a death-forfeit being remitted.
Of Jesus Christ.—He does not say “of the new testament,” but substitutes the name of the Victim in whose blood the covenant is inaugurated—Jesus. And who is this Jesus? The Christ! The Messiah! As though Israel at Sinai had been sprinkled with the blood of Moses. What a contrast between the other Jews of Pontus, with their Messianic expectations, and these “elect sojourners” sprinkled with Messiah’s blood!
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,(3-12) PANEGYRIC OF THE GOSPEL FROM A HEBREW POINT OF VIEW.—The Apostle thanks God for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That fact is a regeneration of us, and a pledge of future glory, in view of which such afflictions as beset the Asiatic Hebrews were seen to serve a purpose, and that purpose the very “salvation” which had formed the theme of the Old Testament.
(3) Blessed.—A form consecrated to God alone (e.g., Mark 14:61; Romans 9:5; 2Corinthians 11:31), a completely different word from the “blessed,” or happy, of the Beatitudes; and differing from the “blessed” of the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:28; Luke 1:42) in that this form implies that blessing is always due on account of something inherent in the person, while that only implies that a blessing has been received. The idea of blessing God (literally, speaking Him well, Psalm 100:3) is, of course, wholly Hebrew.
Of our Lord Jesus Christ.—No longer only “the Lord God of Israel,” as, e.g., 1Chronicles 29:10; 2Chronicles 6:4; Luke 1:68; He is now in a nearer, tenderer relation to these members of the new covenant. He is the Father of the Messiah, and yet the God whom Jesus adores (John 20:17).
Which according to his abundant mercy.—This is the reason for which God deserves blessing from us. The word “according” never means exactly the same as “in” or “by”; here it rather shows that the particular instance was in keeping with what might have been expected, had we but known, from the “much pity” which God must have felt for creatures so forlorn. Our regeneration was no sudden capricious favour.
Hath begotten us again.—Rather, begat us again—the historical moment being here given as that of the resurrection of Christ. This great word, which is St. Peter’s own, being only found again in 1Peter 1:20, evidently contains the whole meaning of the being “born from above” or “begotten all over again” of John 3:3, of the “fresh creation” of 2Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15, of the “regeneration” of Titus 3:5, of the “begotten of God” in St. John’s Epistle, and (to a certain extent) of the “brought He us forth” of James 1:18. It seems to indicate that, if it takes effect, it makes a complete change not only in the condition and prospects of the man, but in the man himself: such a change, for example, as would pass over an animal if it were suddenly to receive the powers of a human being. It is no metaphor when the change from the natural man to a man united with the Incarnate God is described as an act of creation parallel only to those of the creation of matter and force (Genesis 1:1-2), the creation of life (Genesis 1:21), and the creation of humanity (Genesis 1:27), for, according to St. Peter’s teaching, we are thus actually made “partakers of the divine nature” (2Peter 1:4).
Unto a lively hope.—Or, into a living hope. Before this regeneration there was nothing to look forward to—at best a kind of dead-alive surmise that there might be something beyond the weary world. But as the animal we have imagined would find himself suddenly new-begotten into a state in which he was conscious of himself and of God, so we found ourselves new-begotten into a state of definite and most energetic expectation of whole sæcula sæculorum—worlds beyond worlds—of bliss before us.
By the resurrection of Jesus Christ.—Mystically speaking, the moment of our emergence into this new glow of expectation was that when the Messiah Jesus, who had been cut off, emerged from among the dead. Then we saw it all! St. Peter, indeed, is speaking, so far as himself was concerned, not mystically, but literally, as his history before and after the Resurrection shows. To him, and to the other Apostles, the Resurrection was a regeneration, and they became new beings. To subsequent Christians precisely the same effect takes place when (suddenly or gradually) the fact of the Resurrection is acknowledged and its significance realised. (See what St. Paul says, Philippians 3:10.) Yet we must not confine the meaning of the words to the effects of this conscious realisation. St. Peter is viewing the transaction theologically, i.e., from God’s point of view, not phenomenally, from man’s. He speaks of the begetting, not of the being born—of the Resurrection itself, not of the preaching of the Resurrection. To God, with whom, according to St. Peter, time does not exist (2Peter 3:8), there is no interval between His begetting of Christ again from the dead (Acts 13:33; Revelation 1:5), and His begetting of us again thereby. In the mystery of our union with the Incarnate Word, His historical resurrection did, through baptism, in some ineffable manner, infuse into us the grace which makes new creatures of us. Archbishop Leighton says well, “Not only is it (the Resurrection) the exemplar, but the efficient cause of our new birth.” (See below, 1Peter 3:21, and Romans 6:4.)
To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,(4) To an inheritance.—This is structurally parallel to and explanatory of, the clause “into a living hope” We are, as the saying is, born to an estate. This notion of an “inheritance,” or property, that we have come in for, is particularly Hebrew, occurring very frequently in the Old Testament. The Pontine dispersion had lost their “inheritance” in Palestine, but there is a better in store for them.
Incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.—Exuberant description of the excellencies of the new Canaan. The first epithet contrasts its imperishable nature (see Romans 1:23; 2Timothy 1:10) with the fleeting tenure of the earthly Canaan. The second speaks of its freedom from pollutions such as desecrated the first “Holy Land.” Perhaps it may specially mean that the new Holy Land will never be profaned by Gentile incursions and tyrannies. The third, and most poetical of all (which is only found besides in Wisdom Of Solomon 6:12), conveys the notion of the unchanging beauty of that land—no winter ill the inheritance to which the Resurrection brings us (Song of Solomon 2:11).
Reserved—The perfect tense, which hath been reserved unto you, i.e., either in the temporal sense—“kept all this while until you came,” or “with a view to you.” (Comp. Hebrews 11:40.) He now adds explicitly that it is no earthly, but a heavenly possession.
Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.(5) Who are kept.—This explains the word “you:” “those, I mean, who are under the guardianship of God’s power.” Bengel says, “As the inheritance hath been preserved, so are the heirs guarded; neither shall it fail them, nor they it.”
Through faith.—The Apostle is fearful lest the last words should give a false assurance. God can guard none of us, in spite of His “power,” unless there be a corresponding exertion upon our part—which is here called “faith”—combining the notions of staunch fidelity and of trustfulness in spite of appearances. It is through such trustful fidelity that we are guarded.
Unto salvation.—These words “unto” arise like point beyond point in the endless vista. “Begotten unto an inheritance, which hath bee reserved unto you, who are kept safe unto a deliverance.” This Salvation, spoken of again in 1Peter 1:9, must not be taken in the bald sense of salvation from damnation. Indeed, the thought of the perdition of the lost does not enter at all into the passage. The salvation, or deliverance, is primarily a deliverance from all the trials and persecutions, struggles and temptations of this life—an emergence into the state of peace and rest, as we can see from the verses that follow.
Ready to be revealed in the last time.—How such an assurance helps to form the very “faith” through which the treasure is secured! That perfect state of peace, that heavenly inheritance, is not something to be prepared hereafter, but there it is. If only our eyes were opened, we should already see it. It is all ready, only waiting for the great moment. The tense of the word “revealed” implies the suddenness of the unveiling. It will be but the work of an instant to put aside the curtain and show the inheritance which has been kept hidden so long behind it. This, however, will not take place till the exact period (so the word for “time” suggests; comp. 2Thessalonians 2:6), and that period will be the last of the world’s history. For such teaching the Hebrews would be well prepared by the Old Testament—for instance, comp. Daniel 12:9; Daniel 12:13—and it was the earliest kind teaching culled for converts out of the “oracles of God” (Hebrews 5:12; Hebrews 6:2).
Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:(6) Wherein ye greatly rejoice.—“His scope,” says Leighton, “is to stir up and strengthen spiritual joy in his afflicted brethren; and therefore having set the matter of it before them in the preceding verses, he now applies it, and expressly opposes it to their distresses.” There is a little doubt as to the antecedent of the word “wherein.” At first sight it would seem to be “in the last time,” and the thought would then be that this “last time,” with all its predicted afflictions, was already begun, and that the Pontine Hebrews were fulfilling the injunction of our Lord in Luke 21:28, and “rejoicing” (the word is one of enthusiastic and demonstrative joy) in the near approach of their redemption. This makes good sense, but it is better to see the antecedent in “the whole complex sense of the preceding verses, concerning the hope of glory. In this thing ye rejoice, that ye are begotten again; that there is such an inheritance, and that you are made heirs of it; that it is kept for you, and you for it; that nothing can come betwixt you and it, and disappoint you of possessing and enjoying it, though there be many deserts and mountains and seas in the way, yet you are ascertained that you shall come safe thither.” (Leighton.)
Though now for a season.—Literally, after having been grieved in the present (if it must be so) for a little while in the midst of manifold temptations. The Apostle takes his stand at the moment of the revelation and looks back upon the fast-passing present and its griefs. What the temptations were we cannot tell; but the word “manifold” shows that it was not only one type of temptation under which all lay alike. The chief was probably the unkind attitude of Gentile neighbours (1Peter 2:12; 1Peter 2:15; 1Peter 3:14-17; 1Peter 4:4; 1Peter 4:12-19), which was the most searching “test of faith.” Identical words (in the Greek) occur in James 1:2-3, so as almost to suggest a common origin—possibly to be found in Romans 5:3.
If need be.—Or, if it must be so. To encourage them to bear up St. Peter throws in this phrase, so as not to take it for granted that they will have to suffer; he hopes it may not be so. (Comp. 1Peter 3:17.)
That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:(7) That the trial of your faith.—This depends grammatically on “having been grieved.” The purpose of God’s providence in sending the griefs is “that the trial of your faith might be found unto praise.” The word “trial” here does not mean exactly the same as in the passage of St. James; in that passage it signifies the active testing of faith, here it has rather the meaning of the cognate word translated “assurance” in Romans 5:4, “proof” in 2Corinthians 2:9, Philippians 2:22, i.e., the attested worth, the genuine character. This seems necessitated by the comparison of the trial with the gold itself, as we shall see. You cannot compare an act or process with gold, but you can compare “the genuine character” brought out by the process properly enough. Besides, that which you wish to “praise” at Christ’s coming is not the process by which the faith was proved, but the worth of the faith itself. “Faith” seems to mean the same as in 1Peter 1:5.
Being much more precious than of gold.—There is no reason, or indeed any grammatical right, to insert the “of.” It should be, more exceedingly valuable than gold. He does not say “your faith is more valuable than gold,” but “your faith’s genuineness is more valuable than gold.” It is worth anything to establish the true character of your faith; it would be a most serious loss to leave a chance of an imputation upon your Christianity.
That perisheth, though it be tried with fire.—Rather, which is a thing that perisheth, and yet is tried through fire. The argument is this. Gold is a perishable thing, and comes to an end with the rest of the world, or is worn away with handling and is lost; and yet men take great pains to test it and show that it contains no dross, and do so by means of fire. How much more may we expect a fiery trial (1Peter 4:12) to test the character of our belief in the unseen Christ, when that belief is never to come to an end (1Corinthians 13:13), and on its freedom from alloy everything depends!
Might be found.—That is, might clearly prove to be. The time will come when the gold will be inspected, and the Judge, and all the spectators, will “find” that the testing was sufficient and the character satisfactory. “Found unto praise,” or, found for a praise, is a Hebraism, meaning “found to be a matter of praise.” St. Peter is fond of heaping up words of like signification. (See 1Peter 1:4, and 1Peter 5:10.) “Praise” is the language that will be used about these men’s faith; “honour,” the rank in which they will be placed; “glory,” the fervent admiration accorded to them: the three words correspond to the regions of word, act, and feeling.
At the appearing of Jesus Christ.—Revelation would have been better, as the word in the Greek is the same as in 1Peter 1:5. This gives the date at which the trial will have done its work: it is the same as the “last time” when the “deliverance” will be revealed. Remember that all through the afflictions and assaults the men are “being guarded by the power of God.” There are several words and thoughts in this whole passage which would suggest that Daniel 12 was before the mind of the Apostle more or less consciously.
Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:(8) Whom, having not seen.—Said in contrast to the word “revelation” in the last verse: “whom you love already, though He is not yet revealed, so that you have not as yet seen Him.” There seems to be a kind of tender pity in the words, as spoken by one who himself had seen so abundantly (Acts 4:20; Acts 10:41; 2Peter 1:16). In this and the following verse we return again from the sorrow to the joy, and to the true cause of that joy, which is only to be found in the love of Jesus Christ. There is another reading, though not so good either in sense or in authority, “whom, without knowing Him, ye love.” Bengel remarks that this is intended for a paradox, sight and knowledge being the usual parents of love.
Ye love.—The word of calm and divinely-given attachment, in fact the usual word in the New Testament, that which Christ used in questioning the writer (John 20:15), not the word of warm human friendship with which St. Peter then answered Him.
In whom.—To be construed, not with “ye rejoice,” but with “believing.” The participles give the grounds of the rejoicing: “because at present without seeing ye believe in Him none the less, therefore ye rejoice.” The word “rejoice” takes us back to 1Peter 1:6 : “ye greatly rejoice, I repeat.” Notice, again, the stress laid on faith: we have already had it three times mentioned. St. Peter, whose own faith gained him his name and prerogative, is, at least, as much the Apostle of faith as St. Paul is, though his conception of it, perhaps, slightly differs from St. Paul’s. The definition given by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 11:1) might have been, perhaps was, drawn from a study of St. Peter’s writings. Our present verse gives us the leading thought of “faith” as it appears in both of these works addressed to Hebrews, viz., its being the opposite of sight, “the evidence of things not seen,” rather than as the opposite of works. And the main object of both these Epistles is to keep the Hebrews from slipping back from internal to external religion, i.e., to strengthen faith. (Comp. Hebrews 3:12.) The Apostle is full of admiration for a faith which (unlike his own) was not based on sight. (See John 20:29—an incident which may have been in the writer’s mind.)
Unspeakable.—The beautiful Greek word (which means “unable to find expression in words”) seems to have been coined by St. Peter.
Full of glory.—Literally, that hath been glorified; i.e., a joy that has reached its ideal pitch, and feels no further sense of imperfection; a signification of the word found, for instance, in Romans 8:30.
Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.(9) Receiving the end of your faith.—The “end of our faith” means, the object to which our faith is directed, the thing we believed for. And “faith” catches up the “believing” of last verse, so that, in reading, the accent of the sentence falls on “end,” not on “faith;” and the whole clause is added to justify the statement that we rejoice with a joy which has already attained its full perfection. The reason is, he says, because we receive already, in the present life, the object of all this trusting without sight; we need not wait till the next world to attain our glorification.
The salvation of your souls.—It might be simply, salvation of souls, including other men’s besides our own, but the context is against it, and the absence of articles is characteristic of St. Peter. It seems at first sight not a very exalted object for our faith to work to, the deliverance, or safety, of our own souls. And yet our Lord fully recognises the instinct of the higher self-preservation as that to which the ultimate appeal must be made (Matthew 16:25-26). He could give His own soul a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28); He could save others and not Himself (Matthew 27:42); St. Paul could wish himself accursed from Christ for his brethren’s sake, “that they might be saved” (Romans 9:3; Romans 10:1); Moses could ask to be “blotted out of the book” (Exodus 32:32); and yet the fact remains, that in seeking our own welfare, in the highest sense, we are fulfilling a primal law of our being, imposed upon us by the Creator. We are bound to make that our first object, if it were only to gratify Him who has no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, even if we could possibly divest ourselves of all “selfish” interest in the matter.
“A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify;
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.”
The Buddhist longing for Nirvana is as far as possible removed from the healthy spirit of Christianity. “Salvation” here seems to have widened its meaning since 1Peter 1:5; while there the main thought was final deliverance from the afflictions of life, here the salvation is said to be received in the very midst of all these afflictions. The addition of the word “souls,” appears to make the difference. For the soul, there is present salvation, because persecutions, &c., do not touch it, and it is capable of the most complete emancipation from the evils of sin (Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:69; Luke 1:71; Luke 1:75; Romans 6:14; Romans 7:24-25.) Salvation, then, is the restoration of man to the ideal excellence from which he was fallen: it contains—here, at any rate—no allusion to “damnation” as an opposite.
Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:(10) Now St. Peter brings his doctrine home to the hearts of his readers of the Dispersion, by showing them how scriptural it is. Surely they will not “draw back” (Hebrews 10:39), but believe on to the purchasing of their souls, when they consider that all the prophets looked forward with envy to the prize now in their hands.
(10) Of which salvation.—The “of” stands for “concerning,” “with regard to”; and the salvation which formed the subject of investigation to the prophets was the present deliverance of the believing soul from sin and gloom, as well as the salvation yet future. It is difficult not to believe that the song of Zacharias was in St. Peter’s mind when he thus wrote; the theme of that song is precisely the glory of present salvation through Christ, and the fulfilment of prophecy thereby: “Blessed be the Lord God . . . who hath raised up a horn of salvation for us . . ., as He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets,—salvation from our enemies . . ., that we might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days; and thou too, little child, shalt be called a prophet . . . to give knowledge of salvation unto His people.”
Have enquired and searched diligently.—Rather, did inquire; for our present version tends to convey the notion that the prophetic writings which we now possess are the result of the inquiry. This would be wrong. Calvin rightly says: “When he states that the prophets inquired and examined, this refers not to their writings or teaching, but to the private longing with which each was fired.” In fact, St. Peter goes on to say that the writings which the Holy Spirit impelled them to make were actually the text on which their longings were the comment: they endeavoured to understand what they themselves had written. The two Greek words give a much more lively picture than the English, of the intense eagerness of the search, and of the depth to which it penetrated. If these great prophets took such pains to understand our present salvation, we ought to take heed not to “let it slip.” Precisely the same argument is used for precisely the same purpose by our Lord in Matthew 13:16-17.
Who prophesied of the grace.—This is a description of the prophetic scriptures. The whole subject of the Old Testament is the bounty of God under the New; and this was what the prophets tried to realise.
The grace that should come unto you.—Perhaps the words in italics might be with advantage changed into, “the grace in reserve for you:” the word is the same as in 1Peter 1:4. “Grace” here seems to mean little more than “favour” or “bounty,” not the ordinary theological sense. The “favour” consists in our salvation.
Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.(11) Searching.—This further explains the “inquired and searched” above; it particularises the object of the inquiry. They knew that they spoke “concerning a salvation,” but they did not know the details. The present passage is perhaps the most striking in the whole New Testament in regard to the doctrine of prophetic inspiration. Assuming that the prophets did not speak simply of their own human calculation, but somehow under the influence of the Divine Spirit, we are brought to face the question, how far their utterances were their own, and how far suggested to them from on high. The doctrine of Montanism, which has not altogether died out of the Church yet, asserts that from first to last prophecy is superhuman; that every word and letter is forced upon the man by a power not his own, which leaves him no choice. God, and God alone, is responsible for every syllable. The human will and intelligence need not even concur in the message they deliver, nor even be conscious that they are delivering it. Thus Montanus makes God to say through him: “Lo, man is as a lyre, and I am as that which strikes the chords: the man is unconscious, and I alone wake.” On the other hand, some of the early opponents of Montanism went so far as to say that the inspired writers had a clear and immediate perception, a complete insight into the mysteries which they foretold,—that Isaiah, for instance, saw, as plainly as we do, Mary and Jesus in his prophecy of Immanuel. Our present verses show a doctrine between the two. The prophets find themselves impelled to say words which they are conscious of choosing and using, but which they feel to have a deeper meaning than they themselves were conscious of intending. It is clear to them (1Peter 1:12) that what they meant primarily as applying to present circumstances, was in reality being overruled by the Spirit to apply more fully to the future. But what that future was they struggled, and half in vain, to know. We may apply to them what Keble says of the Greek poets:—
“As little children lisp, and tell of Heaven,
So thoughts beyond their thoughts to those high bards were given.”
What, or what manner of time.—If this be right, it must mean, “what exact or approximate date.” But the simplest translation would be, to whom, or what period, the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing. This would give new significance to the sentence. They were aware that they were speaking of a Messiah; but who the man should be who would hold that office, or at what period of their history he would arise, this was what they longed to know. They foresaw a Christ, but they could not foresee Jesus; they could give to their Christ no definite position in future history. (Comp. Matthew 22:42; Luke 3:15; Luke 23:35; John 3:28; John 7:26; John 7:41; Acts 2:36, and often.)
The Spirit of Christ which was in them.—They are conscious of a power within them which is not themselves, “moving” them. And this power is described as “the Spirit of Christ.” Now, observe that a change has come over St. Peter’s way of speaking. Hitherto, he has always said, “Jesus Christ,” his object being to keep constantly before the eyes of these Hebrews the truth which he was the first man to enunciate, viz., “Thou art the Christ” (Matthew 16:16), that Jesus was the person who fulfilled all that was expected of the Messiah. “Christ” is not once used by St. Peter (as it is often by St. Paul) as a proper name: it always marks the office, not the person. Therefore we may not prove by this expression two doctrines, however true they may be in themselves, which are commonly sought to be supported by it, viz., the preexistence of our Lord, and the procession of the Holy Ghost from Him as well as from the Father. In spite of a well-quoted passage in Barnabas (1 Peter 5), “The prophets had the gift from Him, and prophesied of Him,” it cannot here mean, “the Holy Ghost given them by our Lord Himself.” Besides, it is theologically incorrect to say that Christ as the Anointed had any pre-existence, except as an indefinite hope in the minds of the Hebrews. The Son, the unincarnate Word, pre-existed, but it is Apollinarianism to say that Jesus had any existence before the Incarnation,—still more Christ, since it may be doubted whether the Incarnate Word became “Christ” until His baptism. That, at least, appears to be St. Peter’s doctrine (Acts 10:38). “The Spirit of Messiah,” then, at any rate when applied to the ages before Christ came, must have a different meaning. Probably not exactly “the Spirit that was to anoint and be in the Messiah,” but rather, “the Messiah-spirit” or “the Messianic spirit.” The prophets wondered who the man was, and where he would live, to whom this Messianic inspiration which they felt within was pointing. St. Peter himself, we repeat, was the first person who fully knew the answer.
When it testified beforehand.—A much more solemn word in the original than it looks in the English, and used by no other writer than St. Peter. It does not mean simply, “when it bore witness beforehand;” but “testifying” means an appeal to Heaven to mark and record the words so spoken: “when with a solemn appeal it announced beforehand.” Was he not thinking of the awful appeal in Daniel 12:7?
The sufferings of Christ.—This unduly contracts the fulness of the Greek, which reads, the sufferings for Christ (just as we had before “the grace for you”), i.e., “these sufferings in reserve for Messiah.” The Old Testament passages which may be supposed to be chiefly indicated are Isaiah 53 and (still more) Daniel 9:24-26. If it be asked how St. Peter knew that the prophets had these longings and doubts, we answer, that it was not only a probable guess, but the result of a study of Daniel, who records again and again the prophetic agony of his search into the future. Beware of treating the title “Christ” as a proper name. Eight out of the ten times that St. Peter uses the word by itself, i.e., without “Jesus” or “the Lord,” it is in direct connection with suffering (here, and in 1Peter 1:19; 1Peter 2:21; 1Peter 3:18; 1Peter 4:1; 1Peter 4:13-14; 1Peter 5:1). Conversely, he never speaks of the sufferings of Jesus Christ. That is to say, he loves to dwell upon the Passion of our Lord, not in its personal but its official aspect. The striking point is that the Messiah should have suffered thus. It was especially necessary to show this in any effort to retain the faith of the Hebrews. Comp. Luke 24:26-46 (Peter present); Acts 3:18 (Peter speaking); Acts 17:3 (to Hebrews); Acts 26:23. And we can see a reason for the insistence in St. Peter’s history. The very same day, apparently, when he had announced his belief that Jesus was the Messiah, he took Him to task for speaking of sufferings and shame. He never could forget the reprimand, like a sword-cut, which he received. The whole Epistle may be said to be an expansion of what Jesus said in answer (Matthew 16:23-27). Some commentators include in this phrase of “the sufferings in reserve for Messiah,” the thought of the sufferings of the Church as well; but it seems far-fetched, especially when we see the true meaning of the word “Christ.” Finally, we may add, that some would join very closely together the words for “signify” and “testifying beforehand,” which would give us this sense: “examining, in reserve for whom, or for what period, the Spirit, with its solemn appeal beforehand, was pointing out these sufferings in reserve for Messiah.” This is possible, and keeps the same sense, but it unnecessarily complicates the sentence.
And the glory that should follow.—Literally, and the glories after them. The plural “glories” corresponds to the plural “sufferings,”—the one as multiform as the other; resurrection, ascension, reassumption of the divine glory (John 17:5), triumphs of Church history, restitution of all things. The sufferings and subsequent glories of the Christ form, of course, together the whole of the gospel.
Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.(12) Unto whom it was revealed.—As 1Peter 1:11 expanded and expounded the words “inquired and searched,” so the first part of 1Peter 1:12 expounds the words “prophesied of the grace in reserve for you.” That is to say, the revelation here spoken of is not a special revelation sent in answer to their laborious musings, but rather the very thing which occasioned them; the perplexity consisted in feeling that God had a further meaning for their words. And the exact limits of the revelation are mentioned: they were shown that they spoke for the benefit of futurity, and no more! What a “trial of faith!” What a sublime disappointment! (Hebrews 11:40.)
Unto us.—Far the better reading is, unto you. It is a distinct characteristic of this Epistle, that “we,” “us,” “our,” are so seldom used (in the best text) where they might have been expected. Where St. Paul throws in his own sympathy, and puts himself on a footing with those whom he addresses, St. Peter utters his lofty pastoral from above. There are but four places in the Epistle (1Peter 1:3; 1Peter 2:24; 1Peter 3:18; 1Peter 4:17) where he associates himself thus with his brethren, and one of those (1Peter 2:24) is really a quotation, and one (1Peter 3:18) at best a very doubtful reading. The same tendency may be observed in his speech (Acts 15:7), where the right reading is “made choice among you.”
The things.—In the original simply them; so that a semicolon might better follow than a comma, and which things be put instead of “which.” The most natural thing is to suppose that the pronoun represents the preceding “sufferings in reserve for Messiah and the glories after.” In what sense, then, could the prophets “minister,” either to themselves or to us, the sufferings and glories of Messiah? The word is one which signifies a servant bringing to his master the things which he needs—commonly used (e.g., John 12:2) of serving up a meal; and the prophets are said to serve the Messianic sufferings and glories to us, to wait upon us with them, to present them to our use and study and comfort. (Comp. 1Peter 4:10.) When it says, however, that they ministered them “not to themselves but to us,” we must not suppose that they derived no comfort from their predictions (see John 8:56): the “not” must be taken in the same sense as in “I will have mercy and not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13).
Which are now reported unto you.—Rather, which things (i.e., the gospel story) now (in contrast with the days of the prophets) were (not “are”) openly declared to you (in all their details, in contrast with the dim and vague way in which they were seen before). Such is the force of this compound Greek verb in John 4:25; Acts 19:18; Acts 20:20; Acts 20:27.
By them that have preached.—More correctly, through those who preached; the difference being that St. Peter is referring to the first bearers of the gospel to those parts, not to all who from that time to the date of the Letter had preached. This is a point well worth noticing. The phrase seems to show that St. Peter himself was not of the number. Perhaps half the churches which received the Letter looked to St. Paul as their founder. (See last Note on 1Peter 1:1.) Here, then, we find the Rock-Apostle authoritatively setting his seal to the teaching of his junior colleague, just as he does in the Second Epistle (1Peter 3:15). It seems to imply that these Jewish Christians were beginning to feel a reaction from St. Paul’s evangelical teaching; and the Apostle of the Circumcision is called in to enforce what the Apostle of the Uncircumcision had taught. The revolt of the Hebrew Christians in Asia from evangelical teaching appears again at a still later period (Revelation 2:9; Revelation 3:9). It was, perhaps, only with Jewish Christians that such an appeal from St. Paul to St. Peter would be made, and need not imply superiority throughout the whole Church. St. Peter’s perfect concurrence with St. Paul here is a sufficient contradiction to the Tubingen theory of their irreconcilable divergence—only the Tubingen school reject the Epistle on the ground that it makes the Apostles too harmonious!
With the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.—The magnificent phrase seems meant to contrast the full effusion of the Spirit now, with His limited working in the prophets (1Peter 1:11). But it contains more teaching than this. The tense of the participle “sent” is such as might without violence be rendered “sent once and for ever,” “sent in a moment.” Now, remember that almost undoubtedly some of the recipients of the Letter (see last Note on 1Peter 1:1) were eye-witnesses of His being “sent” to St. Peter and the rest on the Day of Pentecost. St. Peter, then, here claims for St. Paul (and St. Silas perhaps) the very same inspiration with which himself was furnished. And as here he claims full inspiration for St. Paul’s preaching, so he does afterwards for his writing (2Peter 3:15).
Which things the angels.—The “which things” here is grammatically parallel to the “which things” of the last sentence, and therefore would mean “the sufferings of Messiah and the glories after.” But logically we have to go back to the beginning of 1Peter 1:10 : “Do I say that prophets, who had the mysteries of our redemption on their lips, yet pored in vain to catch the detailed meaning which you catch? Nay; angels (not “the angels”), who were present at every detail, and bore an active part in it all (see Matthew 1:20; Matthew 4:11; Matthew 28:2; Luke 1:26; Luke 2:9; Luke 22:43; John 1:51),—angels, of whom He ‘was seen’ (1Timothy 3:16),—covet now to exchange places with you that they may gaze into the mystery.” The word which has here shrunk into our word “to look into,” means really, to bend aside to see. In its literal sense it occurs in John 20:5; John 20:11, and in Luke 24:12 (a verse not found in the best text), of people standing at the side of the cave so as not to get in their own light, and stooping sideways to peer in. Metaphorically it is used in James 1:25, where see Note. It seems to mean a strained attention to something which has caught your eye somewhat out of your usual line of sight. Here then, the intention is to show that we are in a better position to understand the mysteries of redemption, not only than prophets, but also than angels; and they covet to stoop from their own point of view to ours. And why so? Not because of the inherent mysteriousness of the union of the two natures in Christ, for of that they are as intelligent as we, or more so; but because they are incapable of fully understanding human nature, flesh and blood, with its temptations and pains, its need of a Saviour. In Francia’s great picture, the two angels kneel by weeping Mary and dead Christ without a trace of grief on their countenances. The Son of God Himself only became capable of entering into our infirmities through becoming flesh, and experiencing the same (Hebrews 2:16; Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15). Several passages show us that the tragedy of human history is by no means enacted only for the benefit of the actors, but as a lesson (possibly, as Archbishop Whately pointed out, only a single illustration out of many in one lesson) for the instruction of unfallen spirits (1Corinthians 4:9; Ephesians 3:10; 1Timothy 3:16). Our present passage has impressed itself on Christian lyrics as much, perhaps, as any in the New Testament. Charles Wesley well strikes the meaning in many of his poems: as—
“Ask the Father’s Wisdom how,
Him that did the means ordain;
Angels round our altars bow
To search it out in vain;”
“Angels in fixt amazement
Around our altars hover,
With eager gaze adore the grace
Of our Eternal Lover.”
Though very possibly the divine intention of the cherubim over the mercy-seat (Exodus 25:20) may have been to symbolise that which is here said, yet it is not to be thought that St. Peter was consciously thinking of the symbol.
Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;(13-25) GENERAL APPLICATION OF THE FOREGOING.—This salvation being so magnificent, the Asiatic Hebrews must cling to it tenaciously, in holiness, in reverence caused by consideration of the cost of it, and in charity: the gospel they have received cannot be improved upon.
(13) Gird up the loins of your mind.—A metaphor from persons gathering up the flowing Oriental dress (which had been let down for repose), so as to be ready for energetic action (e.g., 1Kings 18:46, for running; Job 38:3, for arguing). What exact kind of action St. Peter meant them here to prepare for we need not inquire. A “mind,” rather than “soul” or “heart,” seems to bespeak practical intelligence. Thus when the Galatians, too, began to fall from evangelical to Judaic religion St. Paul calls them “senseless” (Galatians 3:1).
Hope to the end.—Literally, hope perfectly, or, thoroughly, or, with completeness. “Indeed this hope,” says Leighton, “is perfect in continuance, it is a hope unto the end, because it is perfect in its nature.” The chief thought, however, is that the hope should not be half-hearted, dispirited. St. Peter brings us back to what he began with, that ours is a living hope. The exhortation is exactly of the same nature as that which pervades the Epistle to the Hebrews (see, for instance, Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 3:14; Hebrews 6:11), and for the same reason—i.e., that spiritual sloth, combined with fear of man, was beginning to turn these Jewish Christians back to dead works. “Hope on,” in these passages, is tantamount to “remain Christians.”
For the grace.—Not exactly” hope for the grace,” i.e., expect confidently that it will come: rather, “hope upon the grace,” as in 1Timothy 5:5, the only other place where the same construction is used, and where it is rendered “trusteth in God.” Here, therefore, it is, “confidently hope (for salvation, glory, &c.) on the strength of the grace.” The grace is the same as in 1Peter 1:10.
That is to be brought.—“If we will render it strictly, it is, That is a-bringing to you. That blessedness, that consummation of grace, the saints are hastening forward to, walking on in their way, wheresoever it lies indifferently, through honour and dishonour, through evil report and good report. And as they are hastening to it, it is hastening to them in the course of time; every day brings it nearer to them than before; and notwithstanding all difficulties and dangers in the way, they that have their eye and their hopes upon it shall arrive at it, and it shall be brought safe to their hand; all the malice of men and devils shall not be able to cut them short of this grace that is a-bringing to them against the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Leighton). On the tense, see also Note on 1Thessalonians 1:10. Notice also that it is now the personal Name, not the official title. St. Peter is enforcing the gospel as we know it; we no longer “search unto whom” the title of the Messiah belongs.
(13-4: 6) EXHORTATION TO KEEP A PURE CONSCIENCE.—It is the only charm against persecution. It is like Christ to suffer with a good conscience; and He had His reward for it, in bringing us, and even the spirits of men who had died impenitent, to God thereby. It is the very meaning of the baptism by which He saves us. To feel its beauty and safety, we have but to consider the ugliness and danger of our former life.
As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance:(14) As obedient children.—Literally, as children of obedience—children, i.e., in the sense of relationship, not of age. It is characteristic of the writer to keep one thought underlying many digressions, and so here, the appeal to them as “children” is based on the “begotten again” of 1Peter 1:3, and “inheritance” of 1Peter 1:4; it comes up again in 1Peter 1:17, “the Father”; in 1Peter 1:22, “the brethren”; and again in 1Peter 1:23, “begotten again.” The usual characteristic of Jews in the New Testament is disobedience. (See Note on 2Thessalonians 1:8.) The “as” means “in keeping with your character of,” just as we say in common English, “Do so like obedient children.”
Not fashioning yourselves according to.—This rare verb is the same as is translated “be not conformed,” in Romans 12:2, from which some think it is borrowed. The expression is a little confused, the lusts themselves being spoken of as a model not to be copied, where we should rather have expected “not being conformed to your former selves.”
The former lusts in your ignorance—i.e., which you indulged before you came to know the gospel truth—of course implying also that the ignorance was the mother of the lusts. The same assumption is made here which we shall find again below in 1Peter 2:9, and still more in 1Peter 4:3, that the recipients of this Letter had lived in ignorance and in vice up to a certain point of their lives. And it is contended, with much plausibility, that both accusations show the recipients of the letter to be of Gentile and not of Jewish origin. It is true that lusts of the flesh are not usually laid to the charge of the Jews, as they are of the Gentiles. (See, for instance, 1Thessalonians 4:5; Ephesians 4:17.) It is also true that the ignorance with which the Jews are charged (for instance, Acts 3:17; Romans 10:3; 1Timothy 1:13) has quite a different tendency from this. But it may be answered that such details are of little weight in comparison with the direct evidence of the first verse, and the indirect evidence of the whole tone of the Letter; also that, putting out of sight expressions of St. Paul’s which have nothing to do with St. Peter, “ignorance” is surely not an unnatural word to represent the contrast between the state of unregenerate Jews and the same persons when they have attained to knowledge higher than that of prophets or of angels; that even Jews were men of flesh and blood, and therefore not exempt from the temptations of the flesh, from which mere legalism was quite insufficient to protect them (see Romans 7:8, “sin through the commandment wrought in me every lust); that in Hebrews 5:2; Hebrews 9:7, Jewish people are supposed to have need of a high priest to bear with and atone for their “ignorance” and “ignorances;” that the same writer contemplates the possibility of “many” of his Hebrews being “defiled” through fleshly sin (Hebrews 12:15-16), and deems it necessary to urge strongly the sanctions of marriage (Hebrews 13:4).
But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;(15) But as he which hath called you is holy.—More correctly, But according to (or, after, i.e., in the likeness of: see Ephesians 4:24, “after God”) the Holy One who called you. The “calling” is mentioned because of the obligation it imposes upon us. Bengel notices how fond St. Peter is of the words “call,” “calling.” (See 1Peter 2:9; 1Peter 2:21; 1Peter 3:9; 1Peter 5:10; 2Peter 1:3; 2Peter 1:10.) The “call” here seems to mean specially the call to be children of God.
So be ye holy.—Perhaps the imperative would come out stronger thus, Do ye also show yourselves holy in every part of your conduct. Leighton says, “He hath severed you from the mass of the profane world, and picked you out to be jewels for Himself; He hath set you apart for this end; that you may be holy to Him, as the Hebrew word that signifies ‘holiness’ imports ‘setting apart,’ or fitting for a peculiar use; be not then untrue to His design. It is sacrilege for you to dispose of yourselves after the impure manner of the world, and to apply yourself to any profane use, whom God hath consecrated to Himself.”
Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.(16) Be ye holy; for I am holy.—The better reading here is, Ye shall he holy; it is still, however, a command, not a promise—except that all God’s commands are promises. The command comes some five or six times in the Book of Leviticus, addressed not only to the Levites, but to all the people. It would, therefore, apply twice over to the recipients of this letter by virtue of their twofold consecration, in the old and in the new Israel.
And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear:(17) And if.—The “if” casts no doubt, but, on the contrary, serves to bring out the necessary logical connection between invoking the Father—and such a Father—and fear. (See Note on 1Thessalonians 4:14.)
Ye call on the Father.—We might paraphrase by “if you use the Lord’s Prayer.” (Refer again to 1Peter 1:3; 1Peter 1:14.) The word seems not only to mean “if you appeal to the Father,” but “if you appeal to the Father by the title of Father.” (Comp. Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6.)
Who without respect of persons judgeth.—This “judgeth,” or decideth, refers not only to the great judgment of the last day, but is used in reference to the word “if ye call upon the Father.” That word has a forensic sense (in which it is used in Acts 25:11) of lodging an appeal, and every time we lodge our appeal to the Father on the ground of His Fatherhood, He decides the case, but decides it without favour—makes no allowance to our wrong doing on the ground of being His regenerate children, and certainly none on the ground of being of the Hebrew race. That this last notion finds place here we may see from St. Peter’s words in Acts 10:34-35. He decides “according to every man’s work”—i.e., upon the individual merits of the case before Him. The man’s “work” (not “works”) embraces all his conduct in the lump, as a single performance, which is either good on the whole or bad on the whole.
Pass the time . . . in fear.—The word for “pass” really is the same as the “conversation” of 1Peter 1:15, and is intended to take our thought back to it: “As obedient children, be holy in every part of your conduct; and if you wish for favour from the Father, see that that conduct is characterised by fear.” “This fear,” says Archbishop Leighton, “is not cowardice (nor superstition, we may add); it drowns all lower fears, and begets true fortitude; the righteous dare do anything but offend God. Moses was bold and fearless in dealing with a proud and wicked king, but when God appeared he said (as the Apostle informs us), ‘I exceedingly fear and quake.’“ This extract well contrasts with the meaning which some would apparently thrust into the word “fear,” as though it meant that the position of the Christians, as “aliens” in the midst of a hostile world, required a timid attitude towards man. The “fear” of the Father may be seen in the first two clauses of the Lord’s Prayer itself.
Your sojourning.—See on 1Peter 1:1, “strangers.” Because the word is metaphorical here and in 1Peter 2:11, is no reason why the similar word should be so there, in quite a different context. The expression here sets a limit for the discipline of fear, and at the same time suggests a reason for it—children though they are, they are not yet entered on their “inheritance” (1Peter 1:4), and have to secure it.
Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;(18) Forasmuch as ye know.—This correctly paraphrases the simple original knowing. Security, which is the opposite of the fear of the Father, is incompatible with knowing by whose and what anguish alone the inheritance could be purchased for us.
Corruptible things.—St. Peter’s contempt for “silver and gold” is shown early in his history (Acts 3:6; comp. 1Peter 3:4). Gold and silver will come to an end with everything else that is material. Observe that, by contrast, the “blood of Christ” is implied to be not corruptible; and that, not because of the miraculous incorruption of Jesus Christ’s flesh, but because the “blood of Christ” of which the Apostle here speaks is not material. The natural blood of Jesus was only the sign and sacrament of that by which He truly and inwardly redeemed the world. (See Isaiah 53:12, “He poured out His soul unto death,” and Hebrews 10:9-10.)
Redeemed . . . from your vain conversation.—We have to notice (1) what the “redemption” means, and (2) what the readers were redeemed from. Now (1) the word “redeem” is the same which is used in Luke 24:21 (“We used to hope that He was the person destined to redeem Israel”), and in Titus 2:14 (“Gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity”), and nowhere else. The substantive appears in Luke 1:68; Luke 2:38; Hebrews 9:12, to represent the action of redeeming; and in Acts 7:35, of Moses, to represent the person who effects such a redemption. Properly it means to ransom a person, to get them out of slavery or captivity by paying a ransom (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; comp. 1Timothy 2:6). The notion of an actual ransom paid, however, was apt to slip away, as in the case of Moses just quoted, who certainly gave nothing of the nature of an equivalent to Pharaoh for the loss of his serfs. So that here, as in all passages relating to the Atonement, we must be very careful not to press the metaphor, or to consider it as more than a metaphor. The leading notion here is not that of paying an equivalent, but to call closer attention to the state in which the readers were before. It was a servitude like that of Egypt, or a captivity like that of Babylon, from which they needed a “ransomer” like Moses or Zerubbabel. What then was that condition? (2) St. Peter describes it as a “vain conversation traditional from the fathers.” The word “conversation” again catches up 1Peter 1:15; 1Peter 1:17, “be holy in your conduct; let it be a conduct of fear; for your old vain conduct needed a terrible ransom before you could be set at liberty from it.” The question is, whether a Gentile or Jewish mode of life is intended. If it meant merely as regards religious worship, it would suit either way, for it was of the essence of Roman state “religion” that it should be the same from generation to generation. (See Acts 24:14.) But “conversation” or “manner of life” is far too wide a word to be thus limited, and at the same time the word “tradition” implies (in the New Testament) something sedulously taught, purposely handed down from father to son as an heirloom, so that it could not be applied to the careless, sensual life of Gentiles, learned by example only. On the other hand, among the Jews “tradition” entered into the minutest details of daily life or “conversation.” (See Mark 7:3-4—the Petrine Gospel.) It was a matter of serious “tradition” how a cup was to be washed. “Vain” (i.e., frivolous) seems not an unnatural epithet to apply to such a mode of life, especially to one who had heard Mark 7:7. It would seem, then, that the readers of this Letter were certainly Jews by birth. But would the Apostle of the Circumcision, the supposed head of the legal party in the Church, dare to call Judaism a “vain conversation,” to stigmatise it (the single compound adjective in the Greek has a contemptuous ring) as “imposed by tradition of the fathers,” and to imply that it was like an Egyptian bondage? We have only to turn to Acts 15:10, and we find him uttering precisely the same sentiments, and calling Judaism a slavish “yoke,” which was not only so bad for Gentiles that to impose it upon them was to tempt God, but also was secretly or openly felt intolerable by himself, by all the Jews there present, and even by the fathers who had imposed it. Judaism itself, then, in the form it had then assumed, was one of the foes and oppressors from which Christ came to “ransom” and “save” His people. (See Notes on 1Peter 1:9-10, and comp. Acts 13:39.)
But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:(19) With the precious blood of Christ.—“Precious” means, not “much prized by us,” but costly, precious in itself; opposed to the perishableness of gold and silver. Notice that it is not “Jesus,” but “Christ,” i.e., the Messiah. No price short of the “blood,” i.e., the death, of the Messiah could free the Jews from the thraldom of their “vain conversation.” (Comp. 1Peter 1:2 and Note.) How Christ’s death freed them from it is not explained here; but we may give a twofold explanation, as we did of His resurrection being our regeneration, in 1Peter 1:3. Historically it did so, because when they came to realise that their Messiah could only reach His glories through suffering it gave them a new insight into the whole meaning of the system under which they had been brought up. It did also, however, doubtless, in a more mysterious way, such as we cannot imagine, procure in God’s sight their emancipation; and the following verses show that again St. Peter is thinking more of the theological than of the phenomenal side of the occurrence.
As of a lamb without blemish and without spot.—We might roughly paraphrase it by, “as of a sacrificial victim, to the sufficiency of whose offering no exception can be taken.” The word “as” shows that in St. Peter’s mind the notion of a “sacrifice,” in reference to the atonement, was only a simile, or metaphor, just as it was with the notion of “ransom.” Once more observe that the sacrifice was offered to effect a redemption which for the readers had already taken place. (Comp. Hebrews 9:14.) The primary thought in mentioning a “lamb” is, of course, that of sacrifice; but when we come to consider why that particular sacrificial animal was named rather than another, it is, no doubt, for two reasons. First, because of the whiteness, the helplessness, the youth, the innocence, and patience, which make it a natural symbol of our Lord. (Comp. Ecce Homo, p. 6, ed. 3.) The second reason is to be found in St. Peter’s own life. The first thing that we know in his history was a putting together of those two words—Messiah, and the Lamb (John 1:36; John 1:40-41). Neither he nor St. John (see Revelation 5:6, et al.) ever forgot that cry of the Baptist. They, no doubt, understood that cry to refer, not primarily to the Paschal, or any other sacrifice, but to Isaiah 53:7, and perhaps to Genesis 22:8. A word in the next verse will make it clearer that St. Peter really had the Baptist consciously before his mind when he thus wrote.
Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,(20) Who verily was foreordained.—There is a sharp contrast intended between the two clauses of this verse, and in the Greek the tenses are different. “Who had been foreknown, indeed, before the foundation of the world, but for your benefit was (only) pointed out at the end of the times.” St, Peter is returning once more to the great argument of 1Peter 1:10-12, “Do not treat your share in the gospel liberation as if it were, at best, a piece of good luck, and so learn to despise it. Neither think of it as if Paul and Silvanus were preaching to you a novel invention at discord with the spirit of the old covenant, under which you were bred. God knew from all eternity who was to be His Messiah and His Lamb, but for your sakes the particular and personal declaration of Him was reserved till now. For you has been kept the revelation of a secret which underlay the whole Old Testament system.” The grammatical antecedent of the relative “who verily” is not “lamb,” but “Christ;” and the word for “foreordained” is, literally, foreknown, only as in 1Peter 1:2 (see Note), with the additional notion of coming to a decision. We see that St. Peter’s doctrine has not changed since the great day of Pentecost (Acts 2:23). The foreknowledge (as that passage would show) includes not only the knowledge and decision that Jesus should be the Christ, but that the Christ’s history should be what it was; and this seems to involve not only the doctrine that the Incarnation was no mere episode, consequent upon the Fall of man, but also the doctrine that, “before the foundation of the world,” God had foreknown, and predecided to allow, the Fall itself. The same doctrine seems to be involved in Revelation 13:8, but only indirectly, because there the words “from the foundation of the world,” are to be attached, not to the word “slain,” but to the word “written.”
Was manifest.—Better, was manifested, i.e., unambiguously shown, pointed out. The context shows that it does not simply mean the visible life of the Incarnate Word among men, as in 1Timothy 3:16; 1John 3:5; but that the Messiah and Lamb of God was pointed out as being identical with the Man Jesus. And this was the work of John the Baptist, to say of the particular Person whom he saw walking by Jordan, “Behold the Lamb.” So St. John Baptist himself described his mission: “The whole purpose of my coming was that He might be manifested, singled out and shown to Israel,” as the Person round whom all their Messianic hopes were gathered (John 1:31).
In these last times—i.e., not merely “in modern times,” “lately,” but “at the end of the times,” showing St. Peter’s belief that the end of the world was not far distant. (Comp. once more Daniel 12:4; Daniel 12:9; Daniel 12:13.) Almost exactly the same phrase is used in Hebrews 1:2; 2Peter 3:3.
Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.(21) Who by him do believe in God.—The sentence is joined on to the foregoing verse just as in 1Peter 1:5, “Who are kept.” The “who” might be rendered by “and you;” and the clause adds a kind of proof of the foregoing statement, drawn from the result of God’s manifestation of Christ to them. “This Christian doctrine is no innovation, nothing to lead you away from the God of our fathers. That same God had had the scheme in His thoughts from the beginning, and it is in that same God that you have been led thereby to believe.” There is a better supported and more forcible reading, Who through Him are faithful towards God, which combines the ideas of believing, i.e., putting the whole trust in God, and of loyal inward observance of Him. And if any one asks whether it be possible to say that Hebrew men only came to believe in God through the revelation of Christ, we must answer by pointing to the whole scope of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and especially to Hebrews 3:12, where it is not faith in Christ, but faith in a living God, which they are warned not to abandon: and to Hebrews 6:1, where faith toward God is part of the “word of the beginning of Christ.”
That raised him up.—These clauses give the historical facts which had led them, “through Christ,” to a living faith in God. Though the thought is common with St. Paul (e.g., Romans 1:2-4), St. Peter was familiar with it years before St. Paul’s conversion. See this in Acts 2:23-24; and Acts 2:33-36 of the same chapter will show what he means by “gave Him glory”—not to be confined to the Ascension, though that is the prominent thought; the glory was already partly given in the Resurrection. Comp. John 17:1, where there is the same reciprocal glorification of the Father and the Son, as here.
That your faith . . . might . . .—An inexact rendering which obscures the connection. Literally it is, so that your faith and hope is in (or, toward) God; that is to say, “Your faith and hope does not stop short in Jesus.” Hammond seems, to be quite right in paraphrasing, “Who by believing on Him (Jesus Christ) are far from departing from the God of Israel, but do, indeed, the more firmly believe and depend on Him as that omnipotent God who hath raised Christ from the dead.” The co-equal Son is less than the Father (John 14:28); and we should terribly mistake the meaning of the gospel were we content to rest in the love of Christ Himself without accepting His revelation of the Father. This is the “living hope” of 1Peter 1:3, brought about by Christ’s resurrection. Some of the German commentators translate, “So that your faith may be also hope in God;” which has nothing ungrammatical in it, but does not suit the context so well.
Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:(22) Purified your souls in obeying.—Bengel well points us to 2Peter 1:5-7, where, in like manner, St. Peter delights to exhibit gradations of grace. “Obeying the truth” here will correspond to “knowledge” there, with its immediate consequences of “self-mastery,” “endurance,” and “reverence;” after which we pass on to “love of the brethren,” and thence, as to a higher grace, to “love” or “charity.” On this last point see Note on 1Thessalonians 4:9. Perhaps the literal “in the obedience of the truth” (i.e., the Christian gospel) does not exactly coincide with “obeying the truth,” as implying rather “the obedience (to God) which the truth (i.e., the knowledge of the truth) demands.” Truth has a claim, not only to be accepted intellectually, as truth, but to alter moral conduct in accordance (comp. John 17:17): a doctrine which lies at the bottom of the Socratic maxim, “Virtue is knowledge.” That Socratic maxim, however, does not sufficiently take into account the inertness of the will to act on principle; and no doubt it was under some such instinct that some copyist first added as a gloss the words (not found in the original text) “through the Spirit.” The first effect of such knowledge of the truth, under the Spirit’s influence, is to “purify” the soul of selfish aims, and to give it that “altruism” (as they call it now), or desire for the benefit of the community rather than self, which is here described as “love of the brethren.” (See Notes on 1Thessalonians 3:13; 1Thessalonians 4:6.)
Unfeigned love of the brethren.—The epithet “unfeigned,” in itself, would suggest that St. Peter was uneasy about the depth of their brotherly kindness. And the brotherly kindness is here, as usual, attachment to other members of the Church, special point being added to the word here because of the notion of regeneration running through the whole passage. (See 1Peter 1:14.) Is it not possible that some coolness had arisen between the Jewish and Gentile members of the Church, and that St. Peter finds it necessary to remind the former that they are truly brethren, sons of one Father, and that they ought not only unaffectedly to have done with all jealousy of the Gentile members, but to be far beyond that, loving one another “from the heart (the word ‘pure’ is not part of the original text, and interrupts the run of the sentence) strenuously?”
Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.(23) Being born again.—Rather, Having been begotten again. It is not part of the exhortation, as though they had still to be thus begotten, but assigns the moral grounds for the exhortation. It is logically parallel with “seeing ye have purified,” and might be rendered, seeing that ye have been begotten again. For the meaning of the word, refer back to 1Peter 1:3.
Not of corruptible seed.—That is, not of the seed of Abraham, but of the seed of God. This is the argument: “You must learn not to be selfish, or arrogant, as being of the chosen race, but to have a true brotherly feeling and earnest love for the Gentile converts, and for those who, like St. Paul, are specially working for the Gentiles, because your inheritance of the promised ‘salvation’ is grounded, not on your Abrahamic descent, but on your spiritual regeneration, in which matter the Gentile converts are your equals.” That this was the doctrine of St. Peter is certain from his speech at the Council of Jerusalem, “God put no difference between us and them, having purified their hearts by faith;” and again, “It is only through the favour of the Lord Jesus that we hope to be saved, in precisely the same manner as they” (Acts 15:9; Acts 15:11). (Comp., for the argument, 1John 5:1.)
By the word of God.—“Seed,” in the beginning of the clause, is more literally the act of sowing, or engendering, which sowing is carried on “through the living and abiding word of God,” this “word of God” being the actual seed sown. The “seed” of all existence is the spoken Word of God, the expressed will and meaning of creative thought (Psalm 33:6); and so here, even when spoken mediately, through the lips of men (as explained in 1Peter 1:25), it is that which begets men afresh. God creates afresh, though men speak the creative word for Him, just as “it is He that hath made us,” although He does so through natural laws and human powers. The “Word of God” here is, no doubt, the preaching of the gospel, but especially, as it would seem, the preaching of the Resurrection (1Peter 1:3), or of the sufferings and glories of Messiah (1Peter 1:12), the “truth” of the last verse. The part taken by “the Word” in the sacrament of regeneration may be seen again in Ephesians 5:26 and James 1:18; in connection with the other sacrament we may also refer to John 6:63. “Incorruptible” (i.e., imperishable; see 1Peter 1:4; 1Peter 1:18) finds a more energetic paraphrase here in “living and abiding” (the words “for ever” not being part of the true text). The former epithet is a favourite with St. Peter (1Peter 1:3, 1Peter 2:4-5), and is perhaps borrowed from this place by the author to the Hebrews, in connection with the “word of God” (Hebrews 4:12). The epithets serve to prepare the way for the quotation.
For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away:(24) For all flesh is as grass.—The citation is from Isaiah 40:6-8, and varies between the Hebrew and the LXX. in the kind of way which shows that the writer was familiar with both. But the passage is by no means quoted only to support the assertion, in itself ordinary enough, that the Word of the Lord abideth for ever. It is always impossible to grasp the meaning of an Old Testament quotation in the mouth of a Hebrew without taking into account the context of the original. Nothing is commoner than to omit purposely the very words which contain the whole point of the quotation. Now these sentences in Isaiah stand in the forefront of the herald’s proclamation of the return of God to Sion, always interpreted of the establishment of the Messianic kingdom. This proclamation of the Messianic kingdom comprises words which St. Peter has purposely omitted, and they contain the point of the quotation. The omitted words are, “the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people”—i.e., Israel—“is grass.” Immediately before our quotation went the words, “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together;” statements which so shocked the LXX. translator that he entirely omitted 1Peter 1:7, and changed the previous verse so as to make some difference between Jew and Gentile (as Godet points out on Luke 3:6), into “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” i.e., to Israel, “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” The comment of Bishop Lowth on the original passage will well bring out what St. Peter means here: “What is the import of [the proclamation]? that the people, the flesh, is of a vain temporary nature; that all its glory fadeth, and is soon gone; but that the Word of God endureth for ever. What is this but a plain opposition of the flesh to the Spirit; of the carnal Israel to the spiritual; of the temporary Mosaic economy to the eternal Christian dispensation?” Here, then, St. Peter is quoting one of the greatest of Messianic prophecies; and his Hebrew readers would at once understand the Hebrew method of the quotation, and see that he was calling attention to the absolute equality of Jew and Gentile there proclaimed. Generation of the corruptible seed, physical descent from Abraham, was “the glory of the flesh” (observe that according to the best text St. Peter does not follow the LXX., and insert “of man,” but follows the Hebrew, and says “all the glory thereof,” i.e., of the flesh). On this “the Spirit of the Lord” had breathed (Psalm 104:30); and the merely fleshly glory had withered like grass. But “the word of our God,” which, mark well, St. Peter purposely changes into “the Word of the Lord,” i.e., of Jesus Christ, incidentally showing his Hebrew readers that he believed Jesus Christ to be “our God”—this “abideth for ever.” The engendering by this is imperishable, i.e., involves a privilege which is not, like that of the Jewish blood, transitory: it will never become a matter of indifference whether we have been engendered with this, as is the case now (Galatians 6:15) with regard to the “corruptible seed;” no further revelation will ever level up the unregenerate to be the equals of the regenerate. And in this regeneration “all flesh” share alike. The teaching of the Baptist, who fulfilled this prophecy, is here again apparent. (See Matthew 3:9.)
But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.(25) The word which by the gospel is preached.—An incorrect rendering of the original tense. It literally runs, And this is the word which was preached unto you. The whole magnificent peroration of this paragraph, as of the last, leads up to this: that, in the opinion of St. Peter, the Gospel, as delivered by St. Paul and his followers—the Gospel of equality, or rather of unity between Jew and Gentile in Jesus Christ—was the living and supreme abiding revelation of the will of God! Well may the Tübingen school wish to disprove the genuineness of this Epistle!