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Calvin's Commentaries
The First Epistle of Peter (Volume XXII)
1 Peter 2:11-12  
11. Dearly beloved, I beseech you, as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;  
11. Amici, adhortor vos tanquam inquilinos et peregrinos, ut abstineatis _ carnalibus desideriis, que militant adversus animam; 
12. Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles; that, whereas they speak against you as evil-doers, they may, by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.  
12. Conversationem vestram inter gentes bonam habentes, ut in quo detrahunt de vobis tanquam maleficis, ex bonis operibus aestimantes (vel, considerantes) glorificent Deum in die visitationis. 

11. As strangers, or sojourners. There are two parts to this exhortation, — that their souls were to be free within from wicked and vicious lusts; and also, that they were to live honestly among men, and by the example of a good life not only to confirm the godly, but also to gain over the unbelieving to God. 

And first, to call them away from the indulgence of carnal lusts, he employs this argument, that they were sojourners and strangers. And he so calls them, not because they were banished from their country, and scattered into various lands, but because the children of God, wherever they may be, are only guests in this world. In the former sense, indeed, he called them sojourners at the beginning of the Epistle, as it appears from the context; but what he says here is common to them all. For the lusts of the flesh hold us entangled, when in our minds we dwell in the world, and think not that heaven is our country; but when we pass as strangers through this life, we are not in bondage to the flesh. 

By the lusts or desires of the flesh he means not only those gross concupiscences which we have in common with animals, as the Sophists hold, but also all those sinful passions and affections of the soul, to which we are by nature guided and led. For it is certain that every thought of the flesh, that is, of unrenewed nature, is enmity against God. (Romans 8:7.) 

Which war against the soul. Here is another argument, that they could not comply with the desires of the flesh, except to their own ruin. For he refers not here to the contest described by Paul in the seventh chapter of Romans, and in the fifth of the Galatians, as he makes the soul to be an antagonist to the flesh: but what he says here is, that the desires of the flesh, whenever the soul consents to them, lead to perdition. He proves our carelessness in this respect, that while we anxiously shun enemies from whom we apprehend danger to the body, we willingly allow enemies hurtful to the soul to destroy us; nay, we as it were stretch forth our neck to them. 

12. Your conversation. The second part of the exhortation is, that they were to conduct themselves honestly towards men. What, indeed, precedes this in order is, that their minds should be cleansed before God; but a regard should also be had to men, lest we should become a hindrance to them. And he expressly says among the Gentiles; for the Jews were not only hated everywhere, but were also almost abhorred. The more carefully, therefore, ought they to have labored to wipe off the odium and infamy attached to their name by a holy life and a well-regulated conduct. For that admonition of Paul ought to be attended to, “To give no occasion to those who seek occasion.” Therefore the evil speakings and the wicked insinuations of the ungodly ought to stimulate us to lead an upright life; for it is no time for living listlessly and securely, when they sharply watch us in order to find out whatever we do amiss. 

That they — may glorify God. He intimates that we ought thus to strive, not for our own sake, that men may think and speak well of us; but that we may glorify God, as Christ also teaches us. And Peter shews how this would be effected, even that the unbelieving, led by our good works, would become obedient to God, and thus by their own conversion give glory to him; for this he intimates by the words, in the day of visitation. I know that some refer this to the last coming of Christ; but I take it otherwise, even that God employs the holy and honest life of his people, as a preparation, to bring back the wandering to the right way. For it is the beginning of our conversion, when God is pleased to look on us with a paternal eye; but when his face is turned away from us, we perish. Hence the day of visitation may justly be said to be the time when he invites us to himself. 

1 Peter 2:13-16  
13. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;  
13. Subditi ergo estote omni humanae ordinationi propter Dominum; sive regi tanquam supereminenti; 
14. Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well.  
14. Sive praesidibus, tanquam iis qui per ipsum mittuntur, in vindictam quidem maleficorum, laudem ver_ ben_ agentium. 
15. For so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:  
15. Sic enim est voluntas Dei, ut benefaciendo obstruatis ignorantiam stultorum horninum: 
16. As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.  
16. Ut liberi, et non quasi praetextum habentes malitiae, libertatem; sed tanquam servi Dei. 

13. Submit yourselves. He now comes to particular exhortations: and as obedience with regard to magistrates is a part of honest or good conversation, he draws this inference as to their duty, “Submit yourselves,” or, Be ye subject; for by refusing the yoke of government, they would have given to the Gentiles no small occasion for reproaching them. And, indeed, the Jews were especially hated and counted infamous for this reason, because they were regarded on account of their perverseness as ungovernable. And as the commotions which they raised up in the provinces, were causes of great calamities, so that every one of a quiet and peaceable disposition dreaded them as the plague, — this was the reason that induced Peter to speak so strongly on subjection. Besides, many thought the gospel was a proclamation of such liberty, that every one might deem himself as free from servitude. It seemed an unworthy thing that God’s children should be servants, and that the heirs of the world should not have a free possession, no, not even of their own bodies. Then there was another trial, — All the magistrates were Christ’s adversaries; and they used their own authority, so that no representation of God, which secures the chief reverence, appeared in them. We now perceive the design of Peter: he exhorted the Jews, especially for these reasons, to shew respect to the civil power. 

To every ordinance of man. Some render the words, “to every creature;” and from a rendering so obscure and ambiguous, much labor has been taken to elicit some meaning. But I have no doubt but that Peter meant to point out the distinct manner in which God governs mankind: for the verb kti>zein in Greek, from which kti>siv comes, means to form and to construct a building. Suitable, then, is the word “ordination;” by which Peter reminds us, that God the maker of the world has not left the human race in a state of confusion, that they might live after the manner of beasts, but as it were in a building regularly formed, and divided into several compartments. And it is called a human ordination, not because it has been invented by man, but because a mode of living, well arranged and duly ordered, is peculiar to men. 

Whether it be to the king. So he calls Caesar, as I think, whose empire extended over all those countries mentioned at the beginning of the Epistle. For though “king” was a name extremely hated by the Romans, yet it was in use among the Greeks. They, indeed, often called him autocrat, (aujtokra>tora ) but sometimes he was also called by them king, (basileu<v.) But as he subjoins a reason, that he ought to be obeyed because he excelled, or was eminent or supreme, there is no comparison made between Caesar and other magistrates. He held, indeed, the supreme power; but that eminence which Peter extols, is common to all who exercise public authority. And so Paul, in Romans 13:1, extends it to all magistrates. Now the meaning is, that obedience is due to all who rule, because they have been raised to that honor not by chance, but by God’s providence. For many are wont to inquire too scrupulously by what right power has been attained; but we ought to be satisfied with this alone, that power is possessed and exercised. And so Paul cuts off the handle of useless objections when he declares that there is no power but from God. And for this reason it is that Scripture so often says, that it is God who girds kings with a sword, who raises them on high, who transfers kingdoms as he pleases. 

As Peter referred especially to the Roman Emperor, it was necessary to add this admonition; for it is certain that the Romans through unjust means rather than in a legitimate way penetrated into Asia and subdued these countries. Besides, the Caesars, who then reigned, had possessed themselves of the monarchy by tyrannical force. Hence Peter as it were forbids these things to be controverted, for he shews that subjects ought to obey their rulers without hesitation, because they are not made eminent, unless elevated by God’s hand. 

14. Or unto governors, or, Whether to presidents. He designates every kind of magistrates, as though he had said, that there is no kind of government to which we ought not to submit. He confirms this by saying that they are God’s ministers; for they who apply him to the king, are greatly mistaken. There is then a common reason, which extols the authority of all magistrates, that they rule by the command of God, and are sent by him. It hence follows (as Paul also teaches us) that they resist God, who do not obediently submit to a power ordained by him. 

For the punishment. This is the second reason why it behoves us reverently to regard and to respect civil authority, and that is, because it has been appointed by the Lord for the common good of mankind; for we must be extremely barbarous and brutal, if the public good is not regarded by us. This, then, in short, is what Peter means, that since God keeps the world in order by the ministry of magistrates, all they who despise their authority are enemies to mankind. 

Now he assumes these two things, which belong, as Plato says, to a commonwealth, that is, reward to the good and punishment to the wicked; for, in ancient times, not only punishment was allotted to evil-doers, but also rewards to the doers of good. But though it often happens that honors are not rightly distributed, nor rewards given to the deserving, yet it is an honor, not to be despised, that the good are at the least under the care and protection of magistrates, that they are not exposed to the violence and injuries of the ungodly, that they live more quietly under laws and better retain their reputation, than if every one, unrestrained, lived as he pleased. In short, it is a singular blessing of God, that the wicked are not allowed to do what they like. 

It may, however, be objected here and said, that kings and magistrates often abuse their power, and exercise tyrannical cruelty rather than justice. Such were almost all the magistrates, when this Epistle was written. To this I answer, that tyrants and those like them, do not produce such effects by their abuse, but that the ordinance of God ever remains in force, as the institution of marriage is not subverted though the wife and the husband were to act in a way not becoming them. However, therefore, men may go astray, yet the end fixed by God cannot be changed. 

Were any one again to object and say, that we ought not to obey princes who, as far as they can, pervert the holy ordinance of God, and thus become savage wild beasts, while magistrates ought to bear the image of God. My reply is this, that government established by God ought to be so highly valued by us, as to honor even tyrants when in power. There is yet another reply still more evident, — that there has never been a tyranny, (nor can one be imagined,) however cruel and unbridled, in which some portion of equity has not appeared; and further, some kind of government, however deformed and corrupt it may be, is still better and more beneficial than anarchy. 

15. For so is the will of God. He returns to his former doctrine, lest an occasion should be given to the unbelieving to speak evil, though he expresses less than what he had said before; for he says only that the mouths of the foolish ought to be stopped. The phrase which he adopts, “to stop up ignorance,” though it may seem harsh on account of its novelty, does not yet obscure the sense. For he not only calls the unbelieving foolish, but also points out the reason why they slandered, even because they were ignorant of God. But inasmuch as he makes the unbelieving to be without understanding and reason, we hence conclude, that a right understanding cannot exist without the knowledge of God. How much soever, then, the unbelieving may boast of their own acuteness, and may seem to themselves to be wise and prudent, yet the Spirit of God charges them with folly, in order that we may know that, apart from God, we cannot be really wise, as without him there is nothing perfect. 

But he prescribes the way in which the evil-speaking of the unbelieving is to be restrained, even by well-doing, or, by doing good. In this expression he includes all the duties of humanity and kindness which we ought to perform towards our neighbors. And in these is included obedience to magistrates, without which concord among men cannot be cultivated. Were any one to object and say, that the faithful can never be so careful to do good, but that they will be evil-spoken of by the unbelieving: to this the obvious answer is, that the Apostle here does not in any degree exempt them from calumnies and reproaches; but he means that no occasion of slandering ought to be given to the unbelieving, however much they may desire it. And lest any one should further object and say, that the unbelieving are by no means worthy of so much regard that God’s children should form their life to please them, Peter expressly reminds us that we are bound by God’s command to shut up their mouths. 

16. As free. This is said by way of anticipation, that he might obviate those things which are usually objected to with regard to the liberty of God’s children. For as men are naturally ingenious in laying hold on what may be for their advantage, many, at the commencement of the Gospel, thought themselves free to live only for themselves. This doting opinion, then, is what Peter corrects; and he briefly shews how much the liberty of Christians differed from unbridled licentiousness. And, in the first place, he denies that there is any veil or pretext for wickedness, by which he intimates, that there is no liberty given us to hurt our neighbors, or to do any harm to others. True liberty, then, is that which harms or injures no one. To confirm this, he declares that those are free who serve God. It is obvious, hence, to conclude, that we obtain liberty, in order that we may more promptly and more readily render obedience to God; for it is no other than a freedom from sin; and dominion is taken away from sin, that men may become obedient to righteousness. 

In short, it is a free servitude, and a serving freedom. For as we ought to be the servants of God, that we may enjoy this benefit, so moderation is required in the use of it. In this way, indeed, our consciences become free; but this prevents us not to serve God, who requires us also to be subject to men. 

1 Peter 2:17  
17. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.  
17. Omnes honorate, fraternitatem diligite, Deum timete, regem honorate. 

This is a summary of what is gone before; for he intimates that God is not feared, nor their just right rendered to men, except civil order prevails among us, and magistrates retain their authority. That he bids honor to be rendered to all, I explain thus, that none are to be neglected; for it is a general precept, which refers to the social intercourse of men. The word honor has a wide meaning in Hebrew, and we know that the apostles, though they wrote in Greek, followed the meaning of words in the former language. Therefore, this word conveys no other idea to me, than that a regard ought to be had for all, since we ought to cultivate, as far as we can, peace and friendship with all; there is, indeed, nothing more adverse to concord than contempt. 

What he adds respecting the love of brethren is special, as contrasted with the first clause; for he speaks of that particular love which we are bidden to have towards the household of faith, because we are connected with them by a closer relationship. And so Peter did not omit this connection; but yet he reminds us, that though brethren are to be specially regarded, yet this ought not to prevent our love from being extended to the whole human race. The word fraternity, or brotherhood, I take collectively for brethren. 

Fear God. I have already said that all these clauses are applied by Peter to the subject he was treating. For he means, that honor paid to kings proceeds from the fear of God and the love of man; and that, therefore, it ought to be connected with them, as though he had said, “Whosoever fears God, loves his brethren and the whole human race as he ought, and will also give honor to kings.” But, at the same time, he expressly mentions the king, because that form of government was more than any other disliked; and under it other forms are included.