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Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles
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1 Peter 2:18-20

18. Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

18. Famuli, subjecti sint cum omni timore dominis suis, non solum bonis et humanis, sed etiam pravis.

19. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience towards God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.

19. Haec enim est gratia, si propter conscientiam Dei quispiam molestias ferat patiens injustè.

20. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

20. Qualis enim gloria, si quum peccantes alapis caedemini, suffertis? sed si bene facientes et in aliis affecti suffertis, haec gratia apud Deum.

 

18 Servants, be subject Though this is a particular admonition, yet it is connected with what is gone before, as well as the other things which follow; for the obedience of servants to masters, and of wives also to their husbands, forms a part of civil or social subjection. 3030     The word for “servants,” οἰκέται properly means “domestics,” or household servants. They are mentioned as they came more in contact with their masters, and were more liable to be ill-treated. — Ed.

He first would have servants to be subject with all fear; by which expression he means that sincere and willing reverence, which they acknowledge by their office to be due. He then sets this fear in opposition to dissimulation as well as to forced subjection; for an eye-service (ὀφθαλμοδουλεία, Colossians 3:22,) as Paul calls it, is the opposite of this fear; and further, if servants clamor against severe treatment, being ready to throw off the yoke if they could, they cannot be said properly to fear. In short, fear arises from a right knowledge of duty. And though no exception is added in this place, yet, according to other places, it is to be understood. For subjection due to men is not to be so far extended as to lessen the authority of God. Then servants are to be subject to their masters, only as far as God permits, or as far as the altars, as they say. But as the word here is not δοῦλοι, slaves, but οἰκέται, domestics, we may understand the free as well as the bond servants to be meant, though it be a difference of little moment.

Not only to the good Though as to the duty of servants to obey their masters, it is wholly a matter of conscience; if, however, they are unjustly treated, as to themselves, they ought not to resist authority. Whatever, then, masters may be, there is no excuse for servants for not faithfully obeying them. For when a superior abuses his power, he must indeed hereafter render an account to God, yet he does not for the present lose his right. For this law is laid on servants, that they are to serve their masters, though they may be unworthy. For the froward he sets in opposition to the equitable or humane; and by this word he refers to the cruel and the perverse, or those who have no humanity and kindness. 3131    ”Good,” ἀγαθοῖς, the kind, benevolent; “gentle,” ἐπιεικέσιν, the yielding, mild, patient; “froward,” σκολιο̑ις the crooked, perverse, untoward, those of a cross disposition, self-willed, and hence cruel, being neither kind nor meek. — Ed.

It is a wonder what could have induced an interpreter to change one Greek word for another, and render it “wayward.” I should say nothing of the gross ignorance of the Sorbons, who commonly understand by wayward, (dyscolos,) the dissolute or dissipated, were it not that they seek by this absurd rendering to build up for us an article of faith, that we ought to obey the Pope and his horned wild beasts, however grievous and intolerable a tyranny they may exercise. This passage, then, shews how boldly they trifle with the Word of God.

19 For this is thankworthy The word grace or favor, has the meaning of praise; for he means that no grace or praise shall be found before God, if we bear the punishment which we have by our faults deserved; but that they who patiently bear injuries and wrongs are worthy of praise and accepted by God. 3232     Literally, “this is favor,” that is, with God, as at the end of the next verse. To “find favor with God” is a similar phrase, Luke 1:30, which means to find acceptance with him. We may render the words, “This is acceptable:” with whom acceptable, is afterwards explained. So the word חז in Hebrew means a favorable acceptance, or approbation. See Genesis 6:8; 32:5Ed. To testify that it was acceptable to God, when any one from conscience towards God persevered in doing his duty, though unjustly and unworthily treated, was at that time very necessary; for the condition of servants was very hard: they were counted no better than cattle. Such indignity might have driven them to despair; the only thing left for them was to look to God.

For conscience towards God means this, that one performs his duty, not from a regard to men, but to God. For, when a wife is submissive and obedient to her husband, in order to please him, she has her reward in this world, as Christ says of the ambitious, who looked to the praise of men, (Matthew 6:16.) The same view is to be taken of other cases: When a son obeys his father in order to secure his favor and bounty, he will have his reward from his father, not from God. It is, in short, a general truth, that what we do is approved by God, if our object be to serve him, and if we are not influenced by a regard to man alone. Moreover, he who considers that he has to do with God, must necessarily endeavor to overcome evil with good. For, God not only requires that we should be such to every one as he is to us, but also that we should be good to the unworthy and to such as persecute us.

It is not, however, an assertion without its difficulty, when he says, that there is nothing praiseworthy in him who is justly punished; for, when the Lord punishes our sins, patience is certainly a sacrifice of sweet odour to him, that is, when we bear with a submissive mind our punishment. But to this I reply, that Peter does not here speak simply but comparatively; for it is a small and slender praise to bear with submission a just punishment, in comparison with that of an innocent man, who willingly bears the wrongs of men, only because he fears God. At the same time he seems indirectly to refer to the motive; because they who suffer punishment for their faults, are influenced by the fear of men. But the reply already given is sufficient.


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