Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 45: Catholic Epistles, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1 Peter 5:1-4
1. 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. Presbyteros qui inter vos sunt, hortor ego qui simul sum presbyter, et testis passionum Christi, et gloriae qum revelabitur particeps:
2. 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. Pascite, quantum in vobis est, gregem Dei (vel, Christi, vel, Domini,) episcopatu fungentes, non coactè, sed voluntariè; neque turpis lucri causâ, sed liberaliter;
3. Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.
3. Nec tanquam dominium exercentes adversus cleros, sed ut sitis exemplaria gregis.
4. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
4. Et quum apparuerit Princeps pastorum, reportabitis immarcescibilem gloriae coronam.
In exhorting pastors to their duty, he points out especially three vices which are found to prevail much, even sloth, desire of gain, and lust for power. In opposition to the first vice he sets alacrity or a willing attention; to the second, liberality; to the third, moderation and meekness, by which they are to keep themselves in their own rank or station.
He then says that pastors ought not to exercise care over the flock of the Lord, as far only as they are constrained; for they who seek to do no more than what constraint compels them, do their work formally and negligently. Hence he would have them to do willingly what they do, as those who are really devoted to their work. To correct avarice, he bids them to perform their office with a ready mind; for whosoever has not this end in view, to spend himself and his labor disinterestedly and gladly in behalf of the Church, is not a minister of Christ, but a slave to his own stomach and his purse. The third vice which he condemns is a lust for exercising power or dominion. But it may be asked, what kind of power does he mean? This, as it seems to me, may be gathered from the opposite clause, in which he bids them to be examples to the flock. It is the same as though he had said that they are to preside for this end, to be eminent in holiness, which cannot be, except they humbly subject themselves and their life to the same common rule. What stands opposed to this virtue is tyrannical pride, when the pastor exempts himself from all subjection, and tyrannizes over the Church. It was for this that Ezekiel condemned the false prophets, that is, that they ruled cruelly and tyrannically. (Eze 34:4.) Christ also condemned the Pharisees, because they laid intolerable burdens on the shoulders of the people which they would not touch, no, not with a finger. (Mt 23:4.) This imperious rigour, then, which ungodly pastors exercise over the Church, cannot be corrected, except their authority be restrained, so that they may rule in such a way as to afford an example of a godly life.
1 The elders By this name he designates pastors and all those who are appointed for the government of the Church. But they called them presbyters or elders for honor’s sake, not because they were all old in age, but because they were principally chosen from the aged, for old age for the most part has more prudence, gravity, and experience. But as sometimes hoariness is not wisdom, according to a Greek proverb, and as young men are found more fit, such as Timothy, these were also usually called presbyters, after having been chosen into that order. Since Peter calls himself in like manner a presbyter, it appears that it was a common name, which is still more evident from many other passages. Moreover, by this title he secured for himself more authority, as though he had said that he had a right to admonish pastors, because he was one of themselves, for there ought to be mutual liberty between colleagues. But if he had the right of primacy he would have claimed it; and this would have been most suitable on the present occasion. But though he was an Apostle, he yet knew that authority was by no means delegated to him over his colleagues, but that on the contrary he was joined with the rest in the participation of the same office.
A witness of the sufferings of Christ This may be explained of doctrine, yet I prefer to regard it as referring to his own life. At the same time both may be admitted; but I am more disposed to embrace the latter view, because these two clauses will be more in harmony, — that Peter speaks of the sufferings of Christ in his own flesh, and that he would be also a partaker of his glory. For the passage agrees with that of Paul, “If we suffer together, we shall also reign together.” Besides, it avails much to make us believe his words, that he gave a proof of his faith by enduring the cross. For it hence appears evident that he spoke in earnest; and the Lord, by thus proving his people, seals as it were their ministry, that it might have more honor and reverence among men. Peter, then, had probably this in view, so that he might be heard as the faithful minister of Christ, a proof of which he gave in the persecutions he had suffered, and in the hope which he had of future life. 53
But we must observe that Peter confidently declares that he would be a partaker of that glory which was not yet revealed; for it is the character of faith to acquiesce in hidden blessings.
2 Feed the flock of God We hence learn what the word presbyter imports, even that it includes the office of feeding. It is for a far different end that the Pope makes presbyters, even that they may daily slay Christ, there being no mention made of feeding in their ordination. Let us then remember to distinguish between the institution of Christ and the confusion of the Pope, it being as different as light is from darkness. Let us also bear in mind the definition given of the word; for the flock of Christ cannot be fed except with pure doctrine, which is alone our spiritual food.
Hence pastors are not mute hypocrites, nor those who spread their own figments, which, like deadly poison, destroy the souls of men.
The words, as much as it is in you, mean the same as though he had said, “Apply all your strength to this very thing, and whatever power God has conferred on you.” The old interpreter has given this rendering, “Which is among you;” and this may be the sense of the words: more correct, however, is the rendering of Erasmus, which I have followed, though I do not reject nor disapprove of the other. 54
The flock of God, or, of the Lord, or, of Christ: it matters little which you take, for the three readings are found in different copies. 55
Taking the oversight, or, discharging the office of a bishop. Erasmus renders the words, “Taking care of it,” (curam illius agentes;) but as the Greek word is ἐπισκοποῦντες I doubt not but that Peter meant to set forth the office and title of the episcopate. We may learn also from other parts of Scripture that these two names, bishop and presbyter, are synonymous. He then shews how they were rightly to perform the pastoral office, though the word ἐπισκοπεῖν generally means to preside or to oversee. What I have rendered “not constraintally,” is literally, “not necessarily;” for when we act according to what necessity prescribes, we proceed in our work slowly and frigidly, as it were by constraint.
3 Neither as being lords, or, as exercising dominion. The preposition κατὰ in Greek is taken, for the most part, in a bad sense: then Peter here condemns unreasonable exercise of power, as the case is with those who consider not themselves to be the ministers of Christ and his Church, but seek something higher. And he calls particular churches “lots,” (cleros;) for as the whole body of the Church is the Lord’s heritage, so the churches, scattered through towns and villages, were as so many farms, the culture of which he assigns to each presbyter. Some very ignorantly think that those called clergy are meant here. It was, indeed, an ancient way of speaking, to call the whole order of ministers, clergy; but I wish that it had never occurred to the Fathers to speak thus; for what Scripture ascribes in common to the whole Church, it was by no means right to confine to a few men. And this way of speaking was spurious, at least it was a departure from apostolic usage.
Peter, indeed, expressly gives the churches this title, in order that we may know that whatever men ascribe to themselves is taken away from the Lord, as in many places he calls the Church his peculiar treasure, and the rod of his heritage, when he intends to claim his entire dominion over it; for he never delivers to pastors the government, but only the care, so that his own right remains still complete.
4 When the chief Shepherd shall appear Except pastors retain this end in view, it can by no means be that they will in good earnest proceed in the course of their calling, but will, on the contrary, become often faint; for there are innumerable hindrances which are sufficient to discourage the most prudent. They have often to do with ungrateful men, from whom they receive an unworthy reward; long and great labors are often in vain; Satan sometimes prevails in his wicked devices. Lest, then, the faithful servant of Christ should be broken down, there is for him one and only one remedy, — to turn his eyes to the coming of Christ. Thus it will be, that he, who seems to derive no encouragement from men, will assiduously go on in his labors, knowing that a great reward is prepared for him by the Lord. And further, lest a protracted expectation should produce languor, he at the same time sets forth the greatness of the reward, which is sufficient to compensate for all delay: An unfading crown of glory, he says, awaits you.
It ought also to be observed, that he calls Christ the chief Pastor; for we are to rule the Church under him and in his name, in no other way but that he should be still really the Pastor. So the word chief here does not only mean the principal, but him whose power all others ought to submit to, as they do not represent him except according to his command and authority.
1 Peter 5:5-7
5. 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. Similiter juniores, subjecti estote senioribus; sic et omnes, alii allis subjiciamini; humilitatem animi induite; propterea quod Deus superbis resistit, humilibus vero dat gratiam.
6. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:
6. Humiliamini ergo sub potenti manu Dei, ut vos extollat quum erit opportunum;
7. Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.
7. Omni cura vestra in eum conjecta; quoniam illi cura est vestri.
5 Likewise, ye younger The word elder is put here in a sense different from what it had before; for it is necessary, when a contrast is made between them and the younger, that the two clauses should correspond. Then he refers to the elders in age, having before spoken of the office; and thus he comes from the particular to the general. And in short, he bids every one that is inferior in age to obey the counsels of the elders, and to be teachable and humble; for the age of youth is inconstant, and requires a bridle. Besides, pastors could not have performed their duty, except this reverential feeling prevailed and was cultivated, so that the younger suffered themselves to be ruled; for if there be no subjection, government is overturned. When they have no authority who ought by right or order of nature to rule, all will immediately become insolently wanton.
Yea, all He shews the reason why the younger ought to submit to the elder, even that there might be an equable state of things and due order among them. For, when authority is granted to the elders, there is not given them the right or the liberty of throwing off the bridle, but they are also themselves to be under due restraint, so that there may be a mutual subjection. So the husband is the head of the wife, and yet he in his turn is to be in some things subject to her. So the father has authority over his children, and still he is not exempt from all subjection, but something is due to them. The same thing, also, is to be thought of others. In short, all ranks in society have to defend the whole body, which cannot be done, except all the members are joined together by the bond of mutual subjection. Nothing is more adverse to the disposition of man than subjection. For it was formerly very truly said, that every one has within him the soul of a king. Until, then, the high spirits, with which the nature of men swells, are subdued, no man will give way to another; but, on the contrary, each one, despising others, will claim all things for himself.
Hence the Apostle, in order that humility may dwell among us, wisely reproves this haughtiness and pride. And the metaphor he uses is very appropriate, as though he had said, “Surround yourselves with humility on every side, as with a garment which covers the whole body.” He yet intimates that no ornament is more beautiful or more becoming, than when we submit one to another.
For, or, because. It is a most grievous threatening, when he says, that all who seek to elevate themselves, shall have God as their enemy, who will lay them low. But, on the contrary, he says of the humble, that God will be propitious and favorable to them. We are to imagine that; God has two hands; the one, which like a hammer beats down and breaks in pieces those who raise up themselves; and the other, which raises up the humble who willingly let down themselves, and is like a firm prop to sustain them. Were we really convinced of this, and had it deeply fixed in our minds, who of us would dare by pride to urge war with God? But the hope of impunity now makes us fearlessly to raise up our horn to heaven. Let, then, this declaration of Peter be as a celestial thunderbolt to make men humble.
But he calls those humble, who being emptied of every confidence in their own power, wisdom, and righteousness, seek every good from God alone. Since there is no coming to God except in this way, who, having lost his own glory, ought not willingly to humble himself?
6 Humble yourselves therefore. We must ever bear in mind for what end he bids us to be humble before God, even that we may be more courteous and kind to our brethren, and not refuse to submit to them as far as love demands. Then they who are haughty and refractory towards men, are, he says, acting insolently towards God. He therefore exhorts all the godly to submit to God’s authority; and he calls God’s power his hand, that he might make them to fear the more. For though hand is often applied to God, yet it is to be understood here according to the circumstances of the passage. But as we are wont commonly to fear, lest our humility should be a disadvantage to us, and others might for this reason grow more insolent, Peter meets this objection, and promises eminency to all who humble themselves.
But he adds, in due time, that he might at the same time obviate too much haste. He then intimates that it is necessary for us to learn humility now, but that the Lord well knows when it is expedient for us to be elevated. Thus it behoves us to yield to his counsel.
7 Casting all our care He more fully sets forth here the providence of God. For whence are these proverbial sayings, “We shall have to howl among wolves,” and, “They are foolish who are like sheep, exposing themselves to wolves to be devoured,” except that we think that by our humility we set loose the reins to the audacity of the ungodly, so that they insult us more wantonly? But this fear arises from our ignorance of divine providence. Now, on the other hand, as soon as we are convinced that God cares for us, our minds are easily led to patience and humility. Lest, then, the wickedness of men should tempt us to a fierceness of mind, the Apostle prescribes to us a remedy, and also David does in Ps 37:5, so that having cast our care on God, we may calmly rest. For all those who recumb not on God’s providence must necessarily be in constant turmoil and violently assail others. We ought the more to dwell on this thought, that God cares for us, in order, first, that we may have peace within; and, secondly, that we may be humble and meek towards men.
But we are not thus bidden to cast all our care on God, as though God wished us to have strong hearts, and to be void of all feeling; but lest fear or anxiety should drive us to impatience. In like manner, the knowledge of divine providence does not free men from every care, that they may securely indulge themselves; for it ought not to encourage the torpidity of the flesh, but to bring rest to faith.
1 Peter 5:8-11
8. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
8. Sobrii estote, vigilate, quia adversarius vester diabolus, tanquam leo rugiens, circuit, quaerens quem devoret (vel, quempiam devorare;)
9. Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
9. Cui resistite firmi fide, scientes easdem passiones, vestrae quae in mundo fraternitati adimpleri.
10. 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. Deus autera omnis gratiae, qui nos vocavit in aeternam suam gloriam per Christum Jesum, paulisper afflictos ipse vos perficiat, confirmet, corroboret, stabiliat:
11. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
11. Ei gloria et imperium in secula seculorum. Amen.
8 Be sober This explanation extends wider, that as we have war with a most fierce and most powerful enemy, we are to be strenuous in resisting him. But he uses a twofold metaphor, that they were to be sober, and that they were to exercise watchfulness. Surfeiting produces sloth and sleep; even so they who indulge in earthly cares and pleasures, think of nothing else, being under the power of spiritual lethargy.
We now perceive what the meaning of the Apostle is. We must, he says, carry on a warfare in this world; and he reminds us that we have to do with no common enemy, but one who, like a lion, runs here and there, ready to devour. He hence concludes that we ought carefully to watch. Paul stimulates us with the same argument in Eph 6:10-20, where he says that we have a contest not with flesh and blood, but with spiritual wickedness, etc. But we too often turn peace into sloth, and hence it comes that the enemy then circumvents and overwhelms us; for, as though placed beyond the reach of danger, we indulge ourselves according to the will of the flesh.
He compares the devil to a lion, as though he had said, that he is a savage wild beast. He says that he goes round to devour, in order to rouse us to wariness. He calls him the adversary of the godly, that they might know that they worship God and profess faith in Christ on this condition, that they are to have continual war with the devil, for he does not spare the members who fights with the head.
9 Whom resist As the power of an enemy ought to stimulate us and make us more careful, so there would be danger lest our hearts failed through immoderate fear, except the hope of victory were given us. This then is what the Apostle speaks of; he shows that the issue of the war will be prosperous, if we indeed fight under the banner of Christ; for whosoever comes to this contest, endued with faith, he declares that he will certainly be a conqueror.
Resist, he says; but some one may ask, how? To this he answers, there is sufficient strength in faith. Paul, in the passage which I have already quoted, enumerates the various parts of our armor, but the meaning is the same, (Eph 6:13,) for John testifies that faith alone is our victory over the world.
Knowing that the same afflictions, or sufferings. It is another consolation, that we have a contest in common with all the children of God; for Satan dangerously tries us, when he separates us from the body of Christ. We have heard how he attempted to storm the courage of Job,
“Look to the saints, has any one of them suffered such a thing?”
— Job 5:1.
The Apostle on the other hand, reminds us here that nothing happens to us but what we see does happen to other members of the Church. Moreover a fellowship, or a similar condition, with all the saints, ought by no means to be refused by us.
By saying that the same sufferings are accomplished, he means what Paul declares in Col 1:24, that what remains of the sufferings of Christ is daily fulfilled in the faithful.
The words, that are in the world, may be explained in two ways, either that God proves his faithful people indiscriminately everywhere in the world, or that the necessity of fighting awaits us as long as we are in the world. But we must observe that having said before that we are assailed by Satan, he then immediately refers to every kind of afflictions. We hence gather that we have always to do with our spiritual enemy, however adversities may come, or whatever they may be, whether diseases oppress us, or the barrenness of the land threatens us with famine, or men persecute us.
10 But the God of all grace After having sufficiently dwelt on admonitions, he now turns to prayer; for doctrine is in vain poured forth into the air, unless God works by his Spirit. And this example ought to be followed by all the ministers of God, that is, to pray that he may give success to their labors; for otherwise they effect nothing either by planting or by watering.
Some copies have the future tense, as though a promise is made; but the other reading is more commonly received. At the same time, the Apostle, by praying God, confirms those to whom he was writing, for when he calls God the author of all grace, and reminds them that they were called to eternal glory, his purpose no doubt was, to confirm them in the conviction, that the work of their salvation, which he had begun, would be completed.
He is called the God of all grace from the effect, from the gifts he bestows, according to the Hebrew manner. 56 And he mentions expressly all grace, first that they might learn that every blessing is to be ascribed to God; and secondly, that one grace is connected with another, so that they might hope in future for the addition of those graces in which they were hitherto wanting.
Who hath called us This, as I have said, serves to increase confidence, because God is led not only by his goodness, but also by his gracious benevolence, to aid us more and more. He does not simply mention calling, but he shews wherefore they were called, even that they might obtain eternal glory. He further fixes the foundation of calling in Christ. Both these things serve to give perpetual confidence, for if our calling is founded on Christ, and refers to the celestial kingdom of God and a blessed immortality, it follows that it is not transient nor fading.
It may also be right, by the way, to observe that when he says that we are called in Christ, first, our calling is established, because it is rightly founded; and secondly, that all respect to our worthiness and merit is excluded; for that God, by the preaching of the gospel, invites us to himself, it is altogether gratuitous; and it is still a greater grace that he efficaciously touches our hearts so as to lead us to obey his voice. Now Peter especially addresses the faithful; he therefore connects the efficacious power of the Spirit with the outward doctrine.
As to the three words which follow, some copies have them in the ablative case, which may be rendered in Latin by gerunds (fulciendo, roborando, stabiliendo) by supporting, by strengthening, by establishing. 57 But in this there is not much importance with regard to the meaning. Besides, Peter intends the same thing by all these words, even to confirm the faithful; and he uses these several words for this purpose, that we may know that to follow our course is a matter of no common difficulty, and that therefore we need the special grace of God. The words suffered a while, inserted here, shew that the time of suffering is but short, and this is no small consolation.
11 To him be glory That he might add more confidence to the godly, he breaks out into thanksgiving. Though this be read in the indicative as well as in the optative mood, still the meaning is nearly the same.
1 Peter 5:12-14
12. 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. Per Silvanum vobis fidum fratrem (ut arbitror) paucis scripsi, exhortans et testificans hanc esse veram gratiam in qua statis.
13. The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.
13. Salutat vos quae in Babylone est Ecclesia, simul vobiscum electa, et Marcus filius meus.
14. Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity. Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen.
14. Salutate vos invicem in osculo charitatis. Gratia vobis omnibus qui estis in Christo Jesu.
12 By Silvanus He exhorts them at the conclusion of the Epistle to constancy in the faith: yea, he declares that his design in writing, was to retain them in obedience to the doctrine which they had embraced. But he first commends the brevity of his Epistle, lest the reading of it should be tedious to them; and, secondly, he adds a short commendation of his messenger, that the living voice might be added to what was written; for this was the design of the testimony he bears to his fidelity. But the exception, as I suppose, or think, was added, either as token of modesty or to let them surely know, that he spoke according to the conviction of his own mind; and it was unreasonable for them not to assent to the judgment of so great an apostle.
Exhorting and testifying How difficult it is to continue in the faith! evidences of this are the daily defections of many: nor, indeed, is such a thing to be wondered at, when we consider how great is the levity and inconsistency of men, and how great is their inclination to vanity. But as no doctrine can strike firm and perpetual roots in men’s hearts, if it be accompanied with any doubt, he testifies that God’s truth, in which they had been taught, was certain. And, doubtless, except its certainty appears to our minds, we must at all times necessarily vacillate, and be ready to turn at every wind of new doctrine. By the grace of God, he means faith with all its effects and fruits.
13 That is at Babylon Many of the ancients thought that Rome is here enigmatically denoted. This comment the Papists gladly lay hold on, that Peter may appear to have presided over the Church of Rome: nor does the infamy of the name deter them, provided they can pretend to the title of an apostolic seat; nor do they care for Christ, provided Peter be left to them. Moreover, let them only retain the name of Peter’s chair, and they will not refuse to set Rome in the infernal regions. But this old comment has no color of truth in its favor; nor do I see why it was approved by Eusebius and others, except that they were already led astray by that error, that Peter had been at Rome. Besides, they are inconsistent with themselves. They say that Mark died at Alexandria, in the eighth year of Nero; but they imagine that Peter, six years after this, was put to death at Rome by Nero. If Mark formed, as they say, the Alexandrian Church, and had been long a bishop there, he could never have been at Rome with Peter. For Eusebius and Jerome extend the time of Peter’s presidency at Rome to twenty-five years; but this may be easily disproved by what is said in Ga 1 and Ga 2 chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians.
Since, then, Peter had Mark as his companion when he wrote this Epistle, it is very probable that he was at Babylon: and this was in accordance with his calling; for we know that he was appointed an apostle especially to the Jews. He therefore visited chiefly those parts where there was the greatest number of that nation.
In saying that the Church there was a partaker of the same election, his object was to confirm others more and more in the faith; for it was a great matter that the Jews were gathered into the Church, in so remote a part of the world.
My son So he calls Mark for honor’s sake; the reason, however, is, because he had begotten him in the faith, as Paul did Timothy.
Of the kiss of love we have spoken elsewhere. Now he bids this to be the kiss of love, 58 so that the sincerity of the heart might correspond with the external act.
END OF THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PETER
The most obvious meaning is, that Peter had been an eye-witness of Christ’s sufferings. So the word “witness” is taken by Grotius, Macknight, Doddridge, and Scott. — Ed.
The Vulgate, called here and elsewhere, “the old interpreter,” seems to be the most correct, as viewed by most critics. The same form of words is found in the first verse, “The elders who are among you.” — Ed.
By far the most approved reading is “of God.” — Ed.
We read in 1Pe 4:10, of “the manifold grace of God,” which may be viewed as explanatory of “the God of all grace.” — Ed.
It seems that the preponderance as to readings is in favor of this construction, for Griesbach has introduced into his text these three words as nouns, στηρίξει, σθενώσει, θεμελιώσει, but it is a harsh construction. The probability is, that this reading has been introduced because of the sense, as it was not seen how these words could come after “make perfect.” But the order is according to the usual style of the prophets, examples of which are also found in the New Testament: the ultimate object is mentioned first, and then what leads to it. The writer, as it were, retrogrades instead of going forward. See on this subject the preface to the third volume of Calvin’s Commentaries on Jeremiah.
Divested of this peculiarity, the words would run thus: “may he establish, strengthen, confirm, perfect you;” that is, to give the words more literally, “may he put you on a solid foundation, render you strong, render you firm, make you perfect.” — Ed.
See a Note in the Epistle to the Romans, p. 547. — Ed.