1 Peter 5 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

1 Peter 5
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:

(1-11) FURTHER EXHORTATIONS SUGGESTED BY THE CRISIS.—The officers of the community are not to flinch from the duties imposed upon them, nor yet to perform them in any spirit of self-assertion. The laity, on the other hand, are to observe discipline. Indeed, mutual submission is the only safe-guard in the face of a common danger. An unbroken front must be presented, and the sense of brotherhood fostered.

(1) The elders which are among you . . .—The best text preserves the word “therefore” after “elders.” In view, that is, of these hopes and threats, of the present persecution, and of the coming judgment, St. Peter gives his solemn charge to those who shared with him the responsibility of office in the Church. The word rendered “exhort” is that common New Testament word (parakalô), which we miss in English, including encouragement and entreaty, and even consolation, as well as exhortation. (See, e.g., Acts 4:36,) The whole of this Epistle is an example of such paraclesis.

Who am also an elder.—St. Peter is giving no irresponsible advice. He knows by experience the dangers which beset the office. The head Christian of the world, and writing from the thick of the persecution already begun in Rome, the Asiatic elders cannot set his advice down as that of some easy layman who is untouched by the difficulty. It can hardly be said, therefore, that this is an example of St. Peter’s humility, as though he recognised in himself no higher office than that of these presbyters. The effect is, on the contrary, to make the recipients of the Letter feel that he is using a strong argument à fortiori.

And a witness of the sufferings of Christ.—The Greek word calls attention, not so much to the fact of his having been a spectator, an eye-witness, but rather to the fact of his bearing testimony to the sufferings. Here again, too, it is in Greek “the sufferings of the Christ.” (See Note on 1 Peter 1:11.) Not only did St. Peter know, by bearing office himself, what the dangers of office were, but he was able to testify how the Messiah Himself, the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, had suffered, from which it was natural to conclude that all Christians also were destined to suffer.

And also a partaker of the glory . . .—This splendid assurance follows naturally from being a witness of the sufferings of the Christ. “I am in as much danger as any of you,” the Apostle says, “but I can testify that the Christ Himself suffered thus, and therefore I knew that we who suffer with Him are even now partakers of the glory, though a veil at present hides. it.” St. Peter insists in the same way on our present possession of what will not be shown us for a time in 1 Peter 1:5.

Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
(2) Feed the flock of God which is among you.—By the word “feed” here is meant, not merely the giving of pasture, but the whole government. It is the verb used in John 21:16, not that in the 15th and 17th verses. There can be hardly any doubt that St. Peter was thinking of that scene when he issued these directions. Our Lord had committed into his hands all His sheep and lambs, without restriction of age or country, to be fed and shepherded; and now the time was approaching when he would have to “put off this tabernacle” (2 Peter 1:14), and he here takes order that “after his decease” the charge committed to him. may be fulfilled. He still shepherds the flock by proxy. Two other points must be mentioned, which bring this passage into connection with the charge given by St. Paul to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:28), which was very probably known to St. Peter. (1) St. Peter calls it “the flock of God.” Textual critics are much divided on the reading in Acts 20:28, but, on the whole, the Received reading seems the best supported: “the Church of God which He hath purchased with His own blood.” At the same time, St. Peter is in remembrance how Christ had said, “Feed My sheep.” It may be fairly thought, therefore, when we see St. Peter’s own theology in 1 Peter 1:25; 1 Peter 2:3; 1 Peter 3:15, that when he writes, “Feed the flock of God,” his thoughts turn to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity rather than to the First. (2) Hooker well points out, on Acts 20:28, the unity of the flock. Though there were many elders in Ephesus, there was but one flock they fed between them. So now, all over Asia Minor, it was but one flock. St. Peter, to whom the flock throughout the whole world was committed, saw it as a whole, but the elders to whom he writes had only to look to that part of the one flock which was “among them.” The marginal rendering is against the order of the Greek words, and does not suit the context so well when the context is rightly understood.

Taking the oversight thereof.—It is exceedingly doubtful whether these words form part of the original text or not. If they do, the translation unduly limits the meaning, which would be better expressed by “maintaining (or, exercising) the oversight,” or “performing the duties of bishops,” for he is addressing men who were already ordained. By this time the word “bishop” had not become a fixed title of one special office, though the office itself was in existence.

Not by constraint, but willingly.—Why should this exhortation be given so prominently? It is hardly to be thought that St. Peter had in view the humility which led men to adopt such strange methods of avoiding the responsibility of the priesthood as we find resorted to by Chrysostom and Ambrose. Much more probably he is thinking of the actual danger to life and property of being “ringleaders of the sect” (Acts 24:5), which would lead cowardly bishops to throw up their office. He is not treating of the motives which should lead a man to accept the position. He speaks to persons who already hold the office, and urges them not to leave the flock, like hirelings, when they see the persecution coming on. Several of the best authorities add,” but willingly, according to God.” It was God, that is, who put them in that station, and they must not need the compulsion of their laity, or of the rest of the episcopate, or of the Apostles, to keep them at their post.

Not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.—The opposite vice to that on which he has just passed sentence. Some, who had no fears, might be tempted to retain the office by the good salary which the Church gave, or might threaten to resign if their salaries were not raised in proportion to their risk. The “ready mind,” of which the Apostle speaks, means the love of the work itself, which should be the sole motive in seeking, or performing, the gospel ministry.

Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.
(3) Neither as being lords.—Rather, nor yet as lording it. The English version is somewhat too strict for the Greek and for the sense. There is a sense in which the heads of the Church are, and ought to be, lords and princes over the rest; but this is very different from “lording it,” acting tyrannically, forgetting the constitutional rights of their subjects.

Over God’s heritage.—Quite literally, Over the lots. The word first of all means (as in Matthew 27:35 or Acts 1:26) the actual scrap of paper or wood that was tossed. Then it comes to mean (like the word “lot” in the language of auctions) the piece of property that falls by lot to any one’s share. Then all notion of chance disappears, and it comes to mean the portion assigned to any one. So St. Peter says that Simon Magus has “no share nor lot in this thing” (Acts 8:21). In Acts 26:18, Colossians 1:12, the same word is rendered “inheritance.” In Acts 17:4, our version endeavours, not very successfully, through the Latin word “consorted,” to keep up the underlying notion of the Greek, which literally is “were allotted to Paul and Silas.” Here, therefore, we must understand “the lots,” over which the clergy are not to lord it, to be the different congregations, districts, parishes, dioceses, which had been allotted to them. At the same time it does not at all imply that any process like drawing of lots had been resorted to in their appointment, as is seen from Acts 17:4, just cited. It will be seen that our version is misleading in substituting singular for plural, and in inserting the word “God’s.” The whole flock is God’s (1 Peter 5:2), purchased with His own blood; but the “allotments” are the portions assigned by Him to the different clergy. It is some consolation to see, when we groan under the lives and characters of some church officers now, that even in the Apostles’ days cowardice, greed, and self-assertion were not unknown.

Ensamples to the flock.—The best way of becoming a real prince and lord over men is to show them by example what they ought to do, like Chaucer’s Parson, who—

“Cristes lore and hys Apostlis twelve

He taught, but fyrst hee practys’d it himselve.”

Leighton well quotes from Nazianzen: “Either teach not, or teach by living.”

And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
(4) And when the chief Shepherd shall appear.—Or, And at the chief Shepherd’s appearing. The “and” treats it as a simple natural consequence of acting as just indicated. The beautiful word for “chief Shepherd” seems to have been invented by St. Peter, and it has been apparently imitated in Hebrews 13:20. How could an office be more honoured than by speaking of Christ as the chief bearer of that office?

A crown of glory that fadeth not away.—It might perhaps be more closely, though less beautifully, represented by the glorious crown of amaranth, or the amaranthine crown of glory. Amaranth is the name of a flower which, like our immortelles, does not lose its colour or form. St. Peter immediately adds “of glory,” lest we should think too literally of the wreath of immortelles.

Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.
(5) Likewise, ye younger.—Self-submission has been, at least tacitly, inculcated upon the pastors in 1 Peter 5:3; so the writer can say “likewise” in turning to the rest. In comparison with the presbyters or elders, the lay people are styled “younger,” or “juniors;” although in point of natural age, or of baptismal seniority, they might be the older. So our Lord addresses His disciples (according to the rabbinical fashion) as “children,” though there is good reason to suppose that several were older than Himself; and St. Paul, in the same way, called all the Corinthian Christians his “sons.” This seems to be the most natural interpretation of the word; for it was undoubtedly in respect of the supposed juniority of the whole of the lay people that their rulers received the name of “presbyters.” Otherwise there is nothing against the interpretation which makes “ye younger to be an address to those who held inferior offices in the Church, such as deacons, catechists, readers, and the like (Acts 5:6; Acts 5:10). The danger of any insubordination of the laity or inferior clergy against the priesthood at such a crisis was very obvious.

Yea, all of you.—Here the true text strikes out the words “be subject and,” so that the clause will run, Yea, all of you be clothed with humility one to another. Not only mutual complaisance between rulers on the one hand and ruled on the other, but clergy to clergy and laity to laity are to behave with the same self-suppression.

Be clothed with humility.—The Greek verb is a rare and curious one. It means properly, “tie yourselves up in humility.” Humility is to be gathered tight round about us like a cloak, and tied up so that the wind may not blow it back, nor the rain beat inside it. But there is a still further and more delicate shade of meaning in the word. There was a peculiar kind of cape, well known by a name taken from this verb (we might call it a “tie-up”), and this kind of cape was worn by slaves, and by no others. It was a badge of servitude. Thus St. Peter bids them all gird themselves for one another in a slave’s “tie-up” of humility. None are to be masters in the Church of Christ. And the humility is to be the very first thing noticed about them, their outward mark and sign.

For God resisteth the proud.—The exhortation to mutual self-submission is reinforced by a quotation of a well-known proverb. The proverb is based on the LXX. translation of Proverbs 3:34; but as it differs somewhat from both the Hebrew and the Greek of that passage, and is found word for word in James 4:6, we may probably give the same account of it as of the other proverb quoted in 1 Peter 4:8, where see Note. A sad calamity for Christians under persecution, suddenly to find God Himself in array on the enemy’s side! (such is the meaning of “resisteth”); and this is what they would find, if they went against discipline. On the other hand, if they were submissive, He would bestow “grace” upon them; here again, perhaps, not in the strict theological sense, but in that of “favour.”

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:
(6) Humble yourselves therefore.—This, too, looks an amplification of a proverb, when we compare it with James 4:10. The humility here recommended is not merely a submissive bearing of the strokes which it pleased God to let fall upon them, but it was to be shown, as we see in the former verse, in their bearing toward one another. And “the mighty hand of God” is not to be regarded as that which is chastising them, but as the protecting shelter which they are humbly to seek.

In due time.—St. Peter probably means, in the day of judgment, which seemed so instant.

Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.
(7) Casting all your care upon him.—An adaptation of Psalm 55:22, according to the LXX. Anxiety implies not only some distrust of God’s providence, but also some kind of belief that we may be able to manage better for ourselves; therefore here, as in the Sermon on the Mount, we are exhorted, especially in time of danger, simply to do what we know we ought to do, and to be unheeding about the rest.

“Lord, it belongs not to my care

Whether I die or live.”

The confidence cannot be misplaced, for God is not forgetful of us. The play of words in the English does not represent anything in the original, where the two words for “care” are quite different.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
(8) Be sober, be vigilant.—Single words in the Greek, and in the tense which bespeaks immediate attention. The best text omits the following “because.” These are the sudden cries of warning of a shepherd who spies the lion prowling round the flock in the darkness, while the guardians of the flock lie drowsy and secure.

As a roaring lion.—The epithet is not only added to lend terror to the description, but the roaring implies hunger and determination.

Walketh about.—Comp. Job 1:7; Job 2:2. St. Peter, however, is not calling attention to the fact that Satan is always prowling about, but he warns the sleeping shepherds that he is especially doing so now. This season of persecution was just his time for picking off one here and another there.

Seeking whom he may devour.—Perhaps still more expressive to say, “seeking which he may devour.” Satan is eyeing all the Christians in turn to see which he has the best chance of, not merely stalking forth vaguely to look for prey.

Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
(9) Whom resist stedfast in the faith.—The expression is somewhat more picturesque in the Greek than in the English. “Stand and face him,” instead of running away from posts of duty (1 Peter 5:2), or lying still and letting things take their course (1 Peter 5:8). And the words for “stedfast in the faith” seem to mean not only that each individual is to stand firm, but that they are to present all together a solid front to the lion.

Knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.—The phraseology of the original is very strange. The sameness of the sufferings is brought out by an expression which literally runs “the same things in the way of sufferings;” the fraternal unity, by the use of the same abstract word which we had in 1 Peter 2:17. The verb rendered “to accomplish” sometimes denotes execution or infliction. So the whole will run, knowing that the very same things in the way of sufferings are being inflicted upon your brotherhood which is in the world. “There is one thing,” says Archbishop Leighton, “that much troubles the patience and weakens the faith of some Christians; they are ready to think there is none, yea, there was never any beloved of God in such a condition as theirs. Therefore the Apostle St. Paul breaks this conceit (1 Corinthians 10:13), ‘no temptation hath taken you but such as is common to man:’ and here is the same truth, ‘the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren.’ This is the truth, and, taken altogether, is a most comfortable truth; the whole brotherhood go in this way, and our eldest Brother went first.” The addition, “that are in the world,” points the suffering Christians indirectly to solace themselves with the thought of that portion of the brotherhood which has got beyond the infliction. It would be possible to translate, though somewhat far-fetched in point of thought, “knowing that the same sufferings (or, the identity of the sufferings) is completed by your brotherhood in the world”—i.e., finds a consummation in making closer the bonds of brotherhood between you.

But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.
(10) Who hath called us unto his eternal glory.—The true reading is, who called you, not “us.” The moment of the call was that when St. Paul and the others first preached there. (See 1 Peter 1:12; 1 Peter 1:25, and Notes.) The God who now bestows all grace, by the giving of that grace calls us into glory.

“The men of grace have found

Glory begun below.”

By Christ Jesus.—On the whole it seems best, with Tischendorf, to drop the name of Jesus out of the text: the title “Christ” will then stand between “the eternal glory,” which we possess “in Him” (not “by Christ Jesus,” as our version has it, but by virtue of our union with the Christ), and the immediate mention of suffering. In Him the two are drawn inseparably together.

Suffered a while.—The Greek says distinctly, “a little while,” as in 1 Peter 1:6. All time is short in comparison of what comes after. The original looks as if St. Peter meant not only “after that ye have suffered,” but also “by the fact of your having suffered.”

Make you perfect.—Strictly these are futures, “shall (or, will) make you perfect” &c. This verb occurs again in 1 Thessalonians 3:10, and elsewhere. It implies the reduction to order and fitness for work of what is disordered or broken. The others, which are all very similar in meaning, are heaped up after St. Peter’s manner. Bengel thus explains them: “Make you perfect, that there remain no defect in you. Stablish, that nothing shake you. Strengthen, that you may overcome all force brought against you.” The word for “to settle” means “to found,” to give a solid foundation. All this is to take place at the close of the short spell of suffering which is the means to it. St. Peter seems, therefore, to contemplate the passing off of the persecution before the end of the world; for these verbs could hardly be so naturally used to express our education in the world to come.

To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
(11) To him toe glory.—“The Apostle,” says Leighton, “having added prayer to his doctrine, adds here, you see, praise to his prayer.” This is the true consolation in trouble, to extol the power of God. If His be the dominion, and He have called us to His glory, then what can we fear?

By Silvanus, a faithful brother unto you, as I suppose, I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand.
(12-14) CONCLUDING GREETING.—You will trust the bearer of this Letter, and abide steadfastly in the faith which he has taught you. The exiled Israel in this wicked capital feels for you. Love and peace be among you.

(12) By Silvanus, a faithful brother unto you, as I suppose.—There is not any reason for doubting that this is the same as the Silas of the Acts and the Silvanus of 2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1. It is not a common name, and nothing would suggest the doubt, except the acceptance à priori of the Tübingen theory, that the feud between St. Peter and St. Paul was so deadly as to preclude the possibility of the first giving his patronage to a friend of the second. We have already seen repeatedly how false that theory is. That the bearer of this Letter was a personage of great consideration, may be seen from the fact that St. Peter speaks of him as well known throughout the whole Hebrew population of Asia Minor. In the original the testimony is still more marked than in our version, as it has the definite article, “the, or that, faithful brother unto you.” Silas being of the circumcision himself (Acts 15:22), St. Peter can without any risk, writing to the Jews, call him “brother.” And since there was probably some disaffection towards him among the Jewish Christians, for the way in which he had sided with St. Paul, St. Peter, the Apostle of the circumcision, adds it as his own personal conviction that Silas was no false brother to the Hebrew Christians, by saying, “as I reckon.” The words “as I suppose” (or, rather, as I reckon) do not imply any uncertainty on St. Peter’s part, nor even that St. Peter’s knowledge of Silas was less intimate than that of the persons to whom he writes. It means, rather, the most complete confidence in Silas, which the writer is not at all ashamed to declare—“that faithful brother unto you, in my estimation, if my conviction is worth anything.” This only shows that St. Peter had not altered his opinion either of Silas or of the relative positions of Jew and Gentile in the Church, since that great council in which he took so prominent a part, when Silas was selected, no doubt because of his uniting liberal views with steadfast allegiance to the Law, to bear the apostolic mandates to the Gentile metropolis of Antioch. The same qualifications which fitted him for that work, would now again serve him in good stead to bear to the Jews of Asia Minor St. Peter’s countersignature to the doctrine of St. Paul. At the same time the expression, “that faithful brother unto you,” indicates that St. Silas had been himself working in Asia Minor. Of his history nothing is recorded subsequent to his labours with St. Paul at Corinth (Acts 18:5; 2 Corinthians 1:19); but putting together the fact that he is not included in the list of St. Paul’s companions in Acts 20:4, with what is implied by this present passage, we might naturally infer that he was left at Ephesus, and devoted himself to the evangelisation of the Asiatic provinces.

Briefly.—So Hebrews 13:22. The writer hints that if this present Letter is not enough to effect its purpose, it is not because there is any lack of matter or weakness of conviction. (See also John 20:25.)

Exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand.—These words give St. Peter’s own account of the object and contents of the Epistle. The “exhortation” involves all that was mentioned in the Note on 1 Peter 5:1. The word for “testifying” has a little further force than appears in our version; it is “bearing witness thereto.” The fact had been alleged by others; St. Peter comes in as evidence to its truth. Literally it would run: “that this is true grace (or, a true grace) of God”; i.e., that the position which they now occupy, through the preaching of the gospel, is indeed one which the favour of God had brought them into: it was no fictitious grace, no robbing of them under pretence of bringing them glad tidings. When he says “this,” he seems to mean “this of which I have spoken,” “this which has formed the subject of my Letter.” And the best text pursues; “wherein stand ye,” or “whereupon take up your stand.” Thus the very sentence itself would contain the two elements of the Letter—“exhorting” as well as “testifying.” Nothing is to drive them or entice them from the ground which the Pauline preachers have marked out for them.

The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.
(13) The church. . . . elected together with you.—In the original it simply stands “the co-elect one [fern. sing.] in Babylon.” Some, therefore, seeing immediately after, “Marcus, my son,” and knowing that St. Peter was a married man (Matthew 8:14, 1 Corinthians 9:5), have thought that this “co-elect one” was St. Peter’s wife. But (1) it is highly improbable that St. Mark was in that sense “son” to St. Peter; (2) quite as improbable that she would have been put so prominently forward in such an Epistle; (3) the word “co-elect” evidently refers back to 1 Peter 1:2, and means “co-elect with you,” not “with me.” It was becoming a not infrequent mode of designating a church, to personify it under a female title (see 2 John 1:1; 1 Peter 1:4-5; 1 Peter 1:13); and it seems therefore much more natural to suppose that the salutation is from this church of “Babylon” to her sister churches in the provinces of Asia Minor. The modesty with which this church at “Babylon” is spoken of, as being only one of many “co-elect” ones is noteworthy. She does not claim such a position among churches as (e.g.) in Song of Solomon 6:8-9.

That is at Babylon.—Three places have claimed to be understood under this name: (1) A little place called Babylon in Egypt, which has nothing to plead for itself except the unlikelihood of St. Peter ever being at the Oriental Babylon, coupled with the difficulty of supposing that the name is used quite figuratively. Perhaps, also, we should mention the traditional connection of St. Mark with Egypt. No one now, however, maintains this view. (2) The literal Babylon in the East. This has for itself the simple way in which St. Peter uses the word without any circumlocution. But it has ‘nothing else for it, to set against all the overwhelming arguments in favour of the third claimant; besides which we learn from Josephus of a great expulsion of Jews from the Oriental Babylon a few years before this date: these Jews might of course, however, have gathered there again, as they did at Rome, in spite of frequent expulsions. (3) It may be called the established interpretation that the place meant is Rome. We never hear of St. Peter being in the East, and the thing in itself is improbable, whereas nothing but Protestant prejudice can stand against the historical evidence that St. Peter sojourned and died at Rome. Whatever theological consequences may flow from it, it is as certain that St. Peter was at Rome as that St. John was at Ephesus. Everything in the Letter also points to such a state of things as was to be found at Rome about the date when we believe the Letter to have been written. It is objected that St. Peter would not gravely speak of Rome under a fanciful name when dating a letter; but the symbolism in the name is quite in keeping with the context. St. Peter has just personified the church of the place from which he writes, which seems quite as unprosaic a use of language as to call Rome “Babylon.” And it seems pretty clear that the name was quite intelligible to Jewish readers, for whom it was intended. The Apocalypse (Revelation 17:18) is not the only place where Rome is found spoken of under this title. One of the first of living Hebraists (who will not allow his name to be mentioned) told the present writer that no Hebrew of St. Peter’s day would have had need to think twice what city was meant when “Babylon” was mentioned. And on the mention of the name, all the prophecies of the vengeance to be taken on the city which had desolated the Holy Land would rush with consolation into the mind of the readers, and they would feel that St. Peter, though supporting St. Paul, was still in full sympathy with themselves. Finally, as M. Renan suggests, there were reasons of prudence for not speaking too plainly about the presence of a large Christian society in Rome. The police were still more vigilant now than when St. Paul wrote in guarded language about the Roman empire to the Thessalonians. (See Excursus on the Man of Sin, after 2 Thess.) It might provoke hostilities if the Epistle fell into the hands of a delator, with names and places too clearly given.

Marcus, my son.—The particular word here used does not occur elsewhere of spiritual relationship, but the other thought is very improbable. We should have heard of it in other places had St. Mark been his son in the flesh. (See Acts 12:12.) St. Mark was. of course, well known in Asia Minor (Acts 12:25; Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11).

Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity. Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen.
(14) Kiss of charity.—Not only does he wish them to receive the greetings of the Roman Church, but to display their brotherly love to each other as well. On the kiss of charity, see 1 Thessalonians 5:26. The “peace” which he wishes to them includes, though it is not limited to, peace amongst themselves.

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