Wednesday, August 13, 2014

1 Peter 4:7-11 Exegetical Notes

Text

7 Πάντων δὲ τὸ τέλος ἤγγικεν. σωφρονήσατε οὖν καὶ νήψατε εἰς προσευχάς· 8 πρὸ πάντων τὴν εἰς ἑαυτοὺς ἀγάπην ἐκτενῆ ἔχοντες, ὅτι ἀγάπη καλύπτει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν· 9 φιλόξενοι εἰς ἀλλήλους ἄνευ γογγυσμοῦ· 10 ἕκαστος καθὼς ἔλαβεν χάρισμα, εἰς ἑαυτοὺς αὐτὸ διακονοῦντες ὡς καλοὶ οἰκονόμοι ποικίλης χάριτος θεοῦ· 11 εἴ τις λαλεῖ, ὡς λόγια θεοῦ· εἴ τις διακονεῖ, ὡς ἐξ ἰσχύος ἧς χορηγεῖ θεός· ἵνα ἐν πᾶσιν δοξάζηται θεὸς διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ἐστιν δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων· ἀμήν.

Critical

No significant critical issues.

Translation

The end of all things draws near. Be wise therefore and sober-minded for prayers; before all, have constant love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins; [be] hospitable to one another without grumbling; each just as they have received grace, ministering the same for one another as good stewards of God’s diverse grace; if anyone speaks, as the speech of God; if anyone ministers, as from the strength which God supplies: so that in everything God might be praised through Jesus Christ, to whom is the glory and the power forever and even: Amen.

Commentary

In terms of structure, the doxology that concludes verse 11, coupled with the vocative address in v12, indicates that this sub-unit completes a major unit; in Jobes’ view going back to 2:11, the body of the letter. Peter connects his thought here to the preceding words about judgment with the eschatological declaration that “the end of all things draws near.” It is this eschatological reality that informs the life of believers in the present. However, it is more than simply ‘end’ in a temporal sense, it is ‘goal’ in the sense of God’s purposes are drawing to their ultimate fulfilment. However, in light of 1 Peter 1:20 and 5:10, it is important to understand that Peter understands and portrays this in terms of a period, an ‘age’, rather than a point per se. It is in this sense that Peter’s statement remains true today – the end of all things draws near.

And so this thought provides the logical basis for Peter’s next exhortation, that they be ‘wise’ or ‘self-controlled’ or ‘right-minded’ as well as clear-minded in order to pray. In light of the reality of universal judgment (v6-7), and the end of all things (v8), believers should be conscious of that reality and so devoted to clear-minded prayer. The two verbs should probably be read as a kind of hendiadys, for clear-sober-mindedness. The later verb occurs elsewhere in 1:13 and 5:18. Prayer is not the activity of the day-dreamer, but the one who sees the cold light of reality.

A second injunction comes in verse 8, but again Peter uses a participle to express an imperatival concept. Although I have translated “before all”, a better English idiom would be “above all”, but the idea is the same, the action takes precedence over other actions. This love is intra-communal, “one another”, and earnest, constant, or persistent. However this injunction is coupled with a reason, “love covers a multitude of sins”. The phrase appears in a different form in James 5:20, and probably derives from Proverbs 10:12, though it seems more paraphrase than quotation. However we must ask what exactly “cover” means in this context. In Proverbs love is contrasted with hatred, which “stirs up dissension” in this context, love is act and attitude that dissipates and smooths-over dissension and quarrels. So Jobes rightly notes, Peter is not making a theological statement about God’s forgiveness of sins, nor an ecclesiastical counsel to conceal sin, but an ethical statement about how love contributes to peaceable community relations. This is consistent with Peter’s earlier injunctions to love, for example 1:22.

The third injunction, in verse 9, is to hospitality. This time the construction is an adjective with imperatival force. One wonders if Peter just didn’t like using too many imperative verbs. The primary question in this verse revolves around what ‘hospitality’ means in the context and to whom it is directed. It is typical to understand it as directed towards strangers, especially travelling Christians who would need a place to stay. While no doubt that is true, and having traveled recently in rural Mongolia I have a personal sense of what that may have been life, we ought to note that Peter once again says εἰς ἀλλήλους. Perhaps, rather, Peter is suggesting (again) intra-community acts of hospitality, a willingness to welcome other believers into one’s home for fellowship, for the common expression of worship. Furthermore, Peter says this should be done “without grumbling”. In a social context of hostility, even persecution, this is the building block activity of counter-cultural community and identity as people who love one another, as people chosen by God.

Verses 10-11a deal more generally with believers exercising “gifts of God’s grace”. Although Peter uses the word χάρισμα, he does not have on view here the same range of spiritual gifts that Paul has, but rather a broader conception of gifts that are manifestations of God’s grace in each believer. Neither does Peter provide anything like a ‘list’, since he only offers two items in v11! Rather Peter is concerned with how these gifts are employed. αὐτὸ is a complementary direct object to διακονοῦντες, so something like “employing that same gift in service”, and again we have a reciprocal subject, this time expressed as εἰς ἑαυτοὺς “for each other” (not “for oneself”). This is driven by the rationale that possessors of gifts (i.e. every believer) does so as a steward, responsible to God as the source of that grace.

Rather than enumerating a whole list of services or graces, Peter summarily treats them as two types, those of speaking and those of serving. In the former category fall those whose grace involves instruction/teaching/preaching/speaking about and on behalf of Christ. As they speak, they represent God’s words in the world and especially to the community. The second category simply includes all who serve, which may in fact include the first category. However it may be, Peter teaches that God is the one who supplies what strength is necessary. The resource of God is always at hand for the work of God. That said, this is an expression of faith, not presumption, of God’s gracious provision.
Especially this last point, the supply of God’s sufficient and gracious strength for service, is “so that God might be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.” This phrase may equally be read as the end of the whole sequence of ethical exhortation from 4:7 onwards, so that the community of believers, in prayer, in love, in hospitality, and in service, act and function together to bring glory to God, a glory that comes through Jesus Christ, who as we have already seen functions as the exemplar for God’s people even as he is first the saviour of them.


The final mention of Christ elicits a doxology that closes the body of the letter. Commentators are divided on whether the glory is ascribed to God or to Christ. Proximity favours the latter, while some understand διά to suggest that the antecedent be God; but then wouldn’t this be somewhat redundant? Does it matter? Peter, like most of the New Testament, has no problem with binitarian doxology patterns. For my opinion, the closest natural antecedent seems the best understanding. So, Peter rounds out the body of the letter by reminding his readers that all glory, and all power, belong to Christ. He is the one they have put their hope in, and he is their sustaining hope in the world.

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