Commentary on 1 Peter 5:1-11

Notes (NET Translation)

5:1 So as your fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings and as one who shares in the glory that will be revealed, I urge the elders among you: 5:2 Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly.

The position of elder was a widespread leadership position in the early church (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6, 22-23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:28; 1 Tim 5:17; Titus 1:5; Jas 5:14). Peter identifies himself as a fellow elder to indicate solidarity with those he exhorts.

Peter personally understands their responsibilities, their fears, and the pressures that assail them because he also bears the responsibilities of an elder. The apostle embraces his calling as a leader in the church, a calling that will lead to his martyrdom in Rome. He is not asking them to do anything that he himself is not also doing.

Some interpreters see this self-description as an indication that the apostle Peter could not have written this letter, on the assumption that an apostle would not describe himself as simply a “fellow elder” Norbert Brox assumes pseudonymous authorship, arguing that this is a self-reference to the actual author of 1 Peter, who was in fact an anonymous elder. However, the terms “apostle” and “elder” were not necessarily mutually exclusive even during the lifetime of the apostles. In fact, it is difficult to imagine that an apostle would not also be considered an elder both in the local church where he resided and throughout the church at large. The author of the letter has already established his apostolic authority in 1:1, and self-reference to being a “fellow elder” is appropriate if his purpose here is to empathetically express his solidarity with those he is consoling and encouraging. The term “fellow elder” may in fact argue against pseudonymous authorship, since it seems more likely that a pseudonymous author consistent in his guise would simply reassert Peter’s apostolic authority here as the basis for exhorting the leaders of the church. (Jobes loc. 4661-4669)

It is debatable whether Peter is claiming to be an eyewitness to Christ’s sufferings or not. Note he is not claiming to have witnessed all of Christ’s sufferings, so the fact that he fled after Jesus’ arrest does not rule out the possibility that he is claiming to be an eyewitness to some of Christ’s sufferings. The Greek term martys can refer to an eyewitness of something or to one who bears witness to something (Elliott 819). Based on the context, the author is probably saying that, like the elders of Asia Minor, he too bears witness to the sufferings of Christ (Michaels 280-281). The “glory that will be revealed” is a reference to the second coming not the transfiguration or resurrection.

Elders are to care for God’s flock, not their own flock. In John 21:16 Jesus tells Peter to “Shepherd my sheep” and here Peter passes that teaching on. Elders oversee the church. At the time of this writing, the positions of “elder” and “overseer” are most likely the same position (Acts 20:17-18; Titus 1:5-7; 1 Clem. 42.4; 44.1-6). Elders should not serve because they have to nor out of greed. They should serve because they truly desire to follow God’s direction.

5:3 And do not lord it over those entrusted to you, but be examples to the flock.

Elders are not to oppress others to serve their own interests, but are to imitate the example of Jesus himself (Mt 20:25-28; Mk 10:42-45; Lk 22:25-27; 1 Pet 2:21-23).

5:4 Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away.

Jesus is the Chief Shepherd (cf. Jn 10:11, 14; Heb 13:20).  The term reminds elders that they are servants and not autocrats.

The “crown,” actually a victor’s wreath, has to do not with the authority to rule but with a divinely conferred honor (cf. “praise, glory, and honor” in 1:7). The genitive “of glory” is appositional: the “crown” or “wreath” is glory, the same glory to which Peter referred in 1:7, 4:13-14, and 5:1, the glory to be revealed at the future “revelation of Jesus Christ.” It must be remembered that “crown” is a metaphor, while “glory” is the reality that interprets the metaphor (cf. “crown of life” in James 1:12, Rev 2:10). The accent is not on the elders as individuals, as if each will have his or her own “crown,” but rather on the common glory in which all are “sharers.” This would be true even if Peter had spoken of “crowns” in the plural, but the fact that “crown” as well as “glory” is singular puts it beyond question. The other uses of “glory” in 1 Peter make it clear, in fact, that the “crown of glory” promised here is not for elders alone, but for all who share in the Christian hope. The elders will receive their “crown” like everyone else in the congregation, for doing what they were called to do (cf. 3:9). (Michaels 287)

Peter contrasted the crown elders will receive with the leafy crowns bestowed in the Greco-Roman world. Such crowns were given after athletic victories or military conquests (Martial, Epig. 2.2; Pliny, Hist. nat. 15.5; Dio Chrysostom, Or. 8.15). Such crowns faded as time elapsed, but the crown given by God (cf. 1 Pet 5:10) will never fade. (Schreiner 236)

5:5 In the same way, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

The term neoteroi is the comparative form of the adjective neos (new or young) and was never used to refer to an office of the church. The contrast is not between the older men and the younger men of the church-for which neanias or neaniskos would be expected. Rather it is between those who have the seniority and the commensurate standing that qualifies them to be presbyteroi in contrast to those who, for whatever reason, do not. Official elders of the church were naturally chosen from those who held seniority in the faith, which most often also corresponded to physical age. Those not (yet) qualified to be elders were “younger” in standing in the church. The term neoteroi therefore refers “to those who were not elders, that is to say all other church members”. (Jobes loc. 4772-4776)

The phrase “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” is drawn from Prov 3:34 LXX. A better translation of hyperephanois (“proud”) is “arrogant” (Elliott 848).

5:6 And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand 5:7 by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you.

God’s “mighty hand” (krataian cheira) is a term often associated with God’s delivering Israel out of Egypt (Ex 3:19; 6:1; 13:3, 9, 14, 16; 32:11; Dt 3:24; 4:34; 5:15; 6:21; 7:8, 19; 9:26, 29; 11:2; 26:8; 29:3; 34:12; Dan 9:15). Just as God delivered Israel from Egypt he will deliver the Christians of Asia Minor. The theme that the humble will be exalted can be traced back to the teachings of Jesus (Mt 23:12; Lk 14:11; 18:14). The believer humbles himself by casting his cares on God. Verse 7 probably alludes to Ps 55:22 (cf. Mt 6:25-34; Lk 12:22-32).

5:8 Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour.

Spiritual sobriety and alertness are necessary because the threat of spiritual destruction is real.

Peter portrayed the devil here as a roaring lion seeking to devour its prey. The devil roars like a lion to induce fear in the people of God. In other words, persecution is the roar by which he tries to intimidate believers in the hope that they will capitulate at the prospect of suffering. If believers deny their faith, then the devil has devoured them, bringing them back into his fold. The contrast between God and devil is quite striking. God tenderly cares for his children (5:6-7), inviting them to bring their worries to him so that he can sustain them. God promises to protect his flock (v. 2) in all their distress. Conversely, the devil’s aim is not to comfort but to terrify believers. He does not want to deliver them from fear but to devour their faith. Peter warned believers to be vigilant. The roaring of the devil is the crazed anger of a defeated enemy, and if they do not fear his ferocious bark, they will never be consumed by his bite. (Schreiner 242)

5:9 Resist him, strong in your faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are enduring the same kinds of suffering.

Two points stand out in this verse. The first is the universal nature of Christian suffering. It is not a localized phenomenon; it will occur wherever the Christian community takes seriously its commitment to God. The reason is that in making that commitment of trust, they align themselves against the ultimate forces of evil, and hence can expect only unremitting hostility. Christians are enmeshed in a universal eschatological battle between good and evil, between God and the devil, and so long as this conflict rages, suffering will constitute the normal state of affairs for Christians. The second point to emerge here is the fact that the origin of suffering is not God but the devil. While suffering in opposition to evil and for good has been identified as suffering in accordance with God’s will (3:17; 4:17-19), it is clear here that God’s will is for Christians to resist the blandishments of evil and to suffer the inevitable consequences of their trusting relationship to God. Such suffering is thus in accord with God’s will, even though its origin is with the devil, since that suffering means the Christians remain faithful to their trust in God. In the choice between suffering and apostasy, it is God’s will that Christians eschew apostasy, even when that means inevitably that suffering will be inflicted upon them. (Achtemeier 344)

Here we have further evidence that the persecution in 1 Peter was not an officially enforced policy from Rome. No evidence exists that Nero (or Domitian for that matter) systematically and officially persecuted Christians. What Peter had in mind instead was the pattern of discrimination and abuse experienced by Christians in the Greco-Roman world. Believers stood out as social outcasts because they would not participate in any activities devoted to foreign deities and refused to live as they did formerly (1 Pet 4:3-4). Their life as spiritual exiles explains why believers were mistreated on an informal and regular basis throughout the empire. (Schreiner 244)

5:10 And, after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

The sufferings in the this life will seem to have lasted only a “little while” (oligon) when compared to the eternal glory (cf. 2 Cor 4:16-18). The Greek verb katartisei means “put in order,” “mend,” “fully train,” “restore,” “make whole,” “complete” (Elliott 866). The Greek term sterixei means “set up,” “fix firmly,” “establish,” “hold up,” “reinforce,” “support,” “confirm,” “strengthen” (Elliott 866). The Greek term sthenosei is virtually synonymous with sterixei (Elliott 867). The verb themeliosei means “make,” “provide a solid foundation,” “ground firmly,” “establish” (Elliott 867). The point of these terms is that God will perfect the Christian community.

5:11 To him belongs the power forever. Amen.

To the original readers it may have appeared that Rome had the power. But, in actuality, God is ultimately in power.

Bibliography

Achtemeier, Paul J. 1 Peter. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996.

Elliott, John Hall. 1 Peter. Yale University Press, 2007.

Jobes, Karen. 1 Peter. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 2005.

Michaels, J. Ramsey. 1 Peter. Thomas Nelson, 1988.

Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2003.

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