Corruptible things.--St. Peter's contempt for "silver and gold" is shown early in his history (Acts 3:6; comp. 1 Peter 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. 1 Timothy 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 1 Peter 1:15; 1 Peter 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 1 Peter 1:9-10, and comp. Acts 13:39.)
that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold. The redemption of a soul, which is of more worth than a world, requires a greater price than gold and silver; and those who have the largest share thereof, can neither redeem their own souls with it, nor the souls of others. The soul is immortal and incorruptible, but these are corruptible things, which may be cankered, or wear away, and perish by using; and therefore, seeing redemption is not obtained by anything corruptible, nothing corrupt in principle, or practice should be indulged. The allusion is to the redemption of the people of Israel, and of the firstborn, by shekels, Exodus 30:12. Gold and silver do not mean pieces of gold and silver, but gold and silver coined; for only by such could redemption of anything be obtained (d) but these are insufficient for the redemption of the soul; which is a deliverance from the slavery of sin, the bondage, curse, and condemnation of the law, the captivity of Satan, and from a state of poverty, having been deep in debt, and sold under sin. It here follows,
from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; meaning not the corruption of nature, which is propagated from father to son by natural generation, and lies in the vanity of the mind, and is the spring and source of an evil conversation; though the saints, as they are redeemed from all sin, so from this, that it shall not be their condemnation; not Gentilism, which lay in vain philosophy, in idolatry and superstition, and in evil and wicked conversation, encouraged by the example of their ancestors; but Judaism, and either regards the ceremonial law, which was delivered by Moses to the Jewish fathers, and by them handed down to their posterity; and which was vain, as used and abused by them, and was unprofitable to obtain righteousness, life, and salvation by, and therefore was disannulled by Christ, who has redeemed and delivered his people from this yoke of bondage; or rather the traditions of the elders, which our Lord inveighs against, Matthew 15:3 &c. and the Apostle Paul was brought up in, and zealous of, before conversion, Galatians 1:14 as the Pharisees were. These were the inventions and decrees of them they called "fathers", to whose dogmas and decisions they paid the utmost respect. These made up their oral law, which the Jews say (e) Moses received from Sinai, and delivered to Joshua; and Joshua to the elders; and the elders to the prophets; and the prophets to the men of the great synagogue, the last of which was Simeon the just; and from him it was delivered to another; and so from one to another to the times of Christ and his apostles and afterwards; and which consisted of many vain, useless, and unprofitable things; to walk according to which must be a vain conversation; and the saints now being redeemed by a greater price than that of silver and gold, and which is after mentioned, they ought not therefore to be the servants of men, no, not of these fathers, but of God and Christ,
(d) Maimon. & Bartenora in Misn. Beracot, c. 7. sect. 1.((e) Pirke Abot, c. 1. sect. 1, 2, &c.