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1 Peter 4

17 Dec 2018


Bible Notes Series

Each week, I discuss a little of my process before going into my thoughts on the passage. When I study a passage, I like to read 3 to 5 commentaries as well as the passage itself in multiple translations.

There are so many commentaries. I found it pretty overwhelming and ended up just using a few select commentaries that I’d become aware of over the years (e.g., entries in the Tyndale Old and New Testament Commentaries series). This left me with a narrow, outdated selection of commentaries.

Michael Heiser says that ‘commentaries are one of the tools that don’t get better with the passage of time’ and, using the example of Genesis 6:1–4, talks about how new research can make old commentaries obsolete:

This new research comes from a thorough reexamination of the Sumerian and Akkadian flood epics. The insights were skillfully culled by cuneiform scholar Amar Annus in a 2010 journal article. Annus’ article is the most current study on the Mesopotamian apkallu available anywhere in any form. It supersedes all preceding work on this subject. It deals a death blow to any nonsupernatural interpretation of Genesis 6:1–4.

What this means is that every commentary on Genesis you’ve come to trust can no longer be trusted on this passage because it was written before this new, ground-breaking research. (2017: 54–55)

I’m not a professional scholar, I don’t have the time to read and evaluate even a small selection of the commentaries that come on the market. So what do I do? I find someone else who is a professional scholar to do it for me. I found an excellent book by John Evans, called A Guide to Biblical Commentaries and Reference Works now in its 10th edition (I don’t receive any commissions or anything from this link, I’m just sharing it because it’s an excellent resource).

In this book, John Evans categories and reviews a wide range of commentaries. He categorises commentaries like this:

When I come to study a new book, I get copies of each of the works suggested for purchase and may buy one or two others if they’re referenced in my research. For 1 Peter, this ended up being 7 or 8 volumes.

To give you an idea of what Evans says about the suggested commentaries, I’ll quote from his section on 1 Peter:

Clowney, Edmund. (BST) 1989. A favorite of mine. His exegetical decisions are well considered, and his theological interpretation is very valuable. One of the best informed entries in the series. He was a communicator too (former President of Westminster Seminary and Professor of Homiletics and Practical Theology). This work is interesting from start to finish; you can read it straight through. Compare with McKnight, who is stronger in NT scholarship.

Davids, Peter. (NICNT) 1990. My first choice among mid-level works. The earlier James commentary led us to expect a lot, and those expectations were not disappointed. This is an ideal commentary: careful exegesis, superb theological reflection, thorough yet pithy. As I was preaching through 1 Peter myself in 1990, Davids was the most lucid and helpful in wrestling with the cruxes: 3:18–22 and 4:1, 6.

Doriani, Daniel M. (REC) 2014. Given very high marks by Carson: ‘exemplary in its careful handling of the text, theological robustness, and fresh writing … loaded with the best kind of application.’ Pastors will rejoice to read such model preaching. Compare with McKnight, Helm, and Marshall as expositional helps.

Jobes, Karen H. (BECNT) 2005. ‘Thankfully manageable in size (ca. 350 pages …), this is nonetheless a major critical commentary’ (Green) from the evangelical camp. Jobes has done much work on the Septuagint (Westminster PhD) and has contributed the Esther vol. to NIVAC. The up-to-date bibliography and interaction with recent technical commentaries will make this a fine reference vol. for students. Her special contributions, besides the solid exegesis, are: a proposal that the recipients were converts, possibly from Rome, displaced to Asia Minor; assessment of the LXX background; and a research of the quality of the Greek. Pastors can benefit much from the fine exegesis. Students will consult Jobes alongside the major heavyweight commentaries of Achtemeir, Elliott, and Michaels, with more than a nod to Selwyn, Goppelt, Kelly, and Feldmeier. See also Jobes’s textbook survey, Letters to the Church (2011).

Schreiner Thomas. 1, 2 Peter, Jude (NAC). 2003. One of the best vols. in the NT series. Though Schreiner gives a very good study of 1 Peter, with plenty of biographical help for students, I have valued this vol. even more for 2 Peter and Jude because of the long-standing lack of evangelical exegetical commentaries on that portion (Davids and Green have now supplied that lack). Preachers will appreciate the author’s clarity, exegetical good sense, and focus upon theological exposition (more or less Reformed). Blomberg rightly says, ‘If someone could afford only one commentary on these three letters together, then this is the obvious one to choose, with no close rivals.’

Evans updates his Guide approximately every 4 years and I have found Evans’ recommendations to be very good, I’ve learnt lots and have had some wrong thinking corrected through reading these commentaries.

1 Peter 4: Interesting Things

Selected Passage: 1 Peter 4:15

If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. (NIV)

Outline (Jobes 2005)


Writing on 1 Peter 4:15, J.R. Michaels says this:

Peter’s terminology suggests that he may have known of Christians who considered themselves in similar fashion guardians of public morality, and (in contrast to Epictetus) wants to warn his readers against assuming such a posture.

… Peter stands in agreement here with most pagan writers, and with the Apostle Paul.

… It is still possible that Peter chose ἀλλοτριεπίσκοπος instead of the more common περίεργος with the function of the Christian ἐπίσκοπος, or ‘overseer,’ in mind, so as to warn Christians to recognize the limits of their community and not try to legislate morality for others. Peter’s conviction, after all, is that Christ alone is the real ἐπίσκοπος. (Michaels 1998: 267–268)

Are we truly meant to ‘try to legislate morality for others’? Many Christians today seem to believe that we should, which has never sat well with me. I think a discussion of this topic is particularly timely for the church in Australia, and perhaps the rest of the western world, where we find ourselves transitioning out of the Christendom period to a much more secular and individualistic age. We seen inordinately concerned with the morality of those outside the church.

1 Peter was written to a ‘church facing, at minimum, social pressure and ostracization’ (Himes 2017) and, ass Scot McKnight writes, ‘Peter intends his readers to understand who they are before God so that they can be who they are in society’ (1996: 36, quoted in Himes 2017). It is thus extremely important to understand what Peter meant when he wrote against meddling – our understanding of who God is and who we are is at stake.

When Peter talks about ‘meddling’, he used the word allotriepiskopos. This word combines episkopos (‘one who watches over, guardian’) and allotria (‘what belongs to another, not one’s own, strange’) which gives us the idea of interfering in matters that do not belong to you1 My reading of this suggests that, in line with Paul’s instruction to the Corinthian believers (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:12–13), Christians should concern themselves with those inside the church not those outside the church, whom God will judge.

Peter Davids says that Peter is likely ‘concerned that Christians in their rejection of idolatry and pagan morality or their zeal for the gospel not put their noses into situations in which they ought not to be involved and thus justly earn the censure of pagan culture for transgressing culturally approved limits’ (1990: 169). In our zeal for the gospel, for standing up for the truth, for standing up for God, or whatever it is that motivates us, we must avoid earning the just reproof of the culture for, as Davids puts it, transgressing culturally approved limits. He goes on to say that ‘gentle persuasion is one thing; denouncing idolatry in a temple courtyard is another, as might also be interfering in the affairs of another family’ and, finally, that ‘no Christian should disgrace Christ by being guilty of such things’ (ibid.). Our society has limits. We live in an individualistic society where people’s own choices have high, perhaps supreme, importance. As Christians we seem to act as though it makes no difference what people think of us, but Peter is saying that it does matter. We shouldn’t seek to transgress others’ boundaries and thus bring suffering on ourselves. On the contrary, as Peter goes on to say in verse 16, we should praise God if we suffer as Christians, which I read to mean, if we suffer for the way we ourselves live for Christ, not the way we tell others to live.

Jobes summarises this well:

The prohibition against meddling accords well with Peter’s teaching elsewhere that Greco-Roman social roles and boundaries are to be respected, though not to the point of denying Christ. Peter wants his readers to avoid attracting hostility if at all possible, without renouncing their faith in Christ. (2005: 289).

I like the way she puts it. We are to ‘avoid attracting hostility if at all possible’ but we mustn’t go so far as to ‘renounce [our] faith in Christ’. The truth we stand up for, the truth we defend, is that we are Christ’s, he owns us, he is our master. We don’t need to defend the truth that God’s way is the right way, we can leave that to God. This, of course, matches what we find elsewhere in the New Testament:

Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (1 Thessalonians 4:10b–12, NIV)

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities,w to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one,y to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. (Titus 3:1–2, NIV)

I don’t know whether Peter and Paul would say that Christians’ sphere of responsibility is the local church or the wider church, whether, when we mind our own business, that is the business of the local church or the whole church on earth2. It seems clear to me, however, that we mustn’t usurp God’s authority to deal with non-Christians as he sees fit. In light of McKnight’s summary that ‘Peter intends his readers to understand who they are before God so that they can be who they are in society’ (1996: 36), this reading seems appropriate. For a long time, I have struggled to articulate why I’m so uncomfortable with the attitudes that some Christians and churches seem to have to those outside the church. These attitudes range from disinterested condemnation to militant opposition. I’m coming to see that my discomfort is because it’s not our job to condemn others or to oppose their ways of life. No, it’s God’s job and, when we try to be God, we commit the most fundamental of sins.

Meddling Hurts Evangelism

I’m not going to give a detailed defence of this position, but I believe that as Christians, Jesus has given us a single job: to proclaim his kingdom:

Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commended you. And surely I am always with you, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:18–20, NIV)

How does Paul accomplish this task? By proclaiming Jesus Christ crucified and nothing else:

When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1b–4, NIV)

In the Greco-Roman world, meddling was a serious offence, as it is in our society today.

Interference or meddling, then, is overseeing the activities of others when one has no proper right to do so. And interfering in this way is likely to get one ‘overthrown’ by those who are the recipients of the interference. The seriousness of the repercussion hints at the seriousness of the transgression. (Brown 2006: 554)

The busybody, then, is a leech on society who is thus abhorred by society: ‘Busybodies search out these very matters and others still worse, not to cure, but merely to expose them. For this reason they are hated deservedly’. Indeed, a busybody is so devoted to his ‘curiosity’ that he will ruin his own affairs over his obsession with those of his neighbor. (Himes 2017, quoting from Plutarch 1874: §7 [517D–E])

In verse 14, Peter says that ‘if you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you’ and, of course, continue sin verse 15, ‘if you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.’ Peter is saying that, if you meddle, you are not acting on behalf of Christ. Plutarch says that ‘busybodies search out these very matters … not to cure, but merely to expose them.’ Now, as Christians we know the only cure for sin is heart transformation through the Spirit. Thus, if we understand this meddling to be interfering in matters that do not concern us, we certainly fall under Plutarch’s criticism when, for example, we try to force people not to sin through legislation. This meddling is most unwelcome in our society as it was in Peter and Plutarch’s society and it hurts our witness.

Brown says that meddling in 1 Peter 4:15 ‘likely refers to movement outside of culturally appropriate social boundaries’ and that ‘this type of interference … would be understood as having insubordination to the polis’ (2006: 567)3. He links it to the household code of 1 Peter 2:11–3:12, which talks about submitting ourselves to every human authority for the Lord’s sake. In our society, Christians are often accused of meddling, we’re told ‘to mind our own business’ and it seems to me that Peter is telling us the same thing. We are not above the other people in our society. It is not right to thwart democratic processes, even if we say ‘God’s rules are the best for everyone, everyone will be happier and more whole if they just follow God’s law’. This is only true if they have been regenerated, born anew, by the Spirit. For those who have not been born of the Spirit, the message of the cross is foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18, cf. 1:23).

McKnight says that ‘When facing suffering, the Christian needs to remind himself or herself to guard good behaviour with a firm shield. Whatever happens to us, we are not to ruin the cause of the gospel with filthy works of evil’ (1996: 256). What we do and say matters. We have been given a job to do by Jesus our master. When we tell non-Christians that they must adhere to our moral standards, when we tell them that we’ll punish them if they don’t, we’re proclaiming a gospel of works. Not only do we usurp God’s authority, not only do we ignore the task we’ve been given, when we focus on what others are doing wrong without calling them to repentance, we actively work against God’s truth and plan. We must ensure that we keep our focus not on what others are doing wrong, but on the task we have been given, which is to make Jesus known, to make disciples and is the only thing that will truly cure the sin in our society.

Are There Exceptions?

Surely there are exceptions to this? Surely we must act when vulnerable people are being oppressed. Surely we cannot stand idly by while abortion becomes more and more prevalent. Personally, yes, I believe that abortion is one of those things that all people, not just Christians, have the right and the obligation to oppose. I do not believe that this is usurping God’s authority. On the other hand, defending the idea of Christian marriage to a secular society seems to fall outside our jurisdiction. As do divorce, homosexuality and perhaps even euthanasia.4 Certainly these things all fall in God’s jurisdiction, but I think the takeaway from 1 Peter 4:15 is that God has not given us authority over them. He has given us a job to do, which is to preach the kingdom, to preach King Jesus, but that job is not to legislate morality for those outside the church.

Paul Himes has some helpful things to say about this:

We certainly do not see the Apostle Peter or the Apostle Paul organizing protests or trying to force a Christian worldview on the Roman Empire apart from anything other than the transformation that occurs in Jesus Christ alone. On the other hand, early Christianity was certainly outspoken in its attitude against sin, especially idolatry (Acts 17:16–31). Thus, the fact that the church is not to ‘legislate morality’ should not be taken to mean that the church should not speak out against evil, wherever it may be found, nor cease to warn nonbelievers against the consequences of sin. The cry for repentance was, after all, a key aspect of the early church’s message (e.g., Acts 26:19–20). (2017)

In Acts 17, Paul speaks against idolatry in the synagogue and in the marketplace. In acts 26, defending himself to King Agrippa, Paul says that he preached repentance to those in Damascus, Jerusalem, all Judea and to the Gentiles.

Paul Himes quotes John Elliott, saying that:

Elliott also mentions ‘Censuring the behavior of outsiders on the basis of claims to a higher morality, interfering with family relationships,’ and ‘fomenting domestic discontent or discord’ as possible elements of being a allotriepiskopos. As to the first point, if Christians take a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude and make it their job to seek out the sins of their neighbors and confront them about it, then certainly this would fall under Peter’s condemnation of allotriepiskopos. On the other hand, as noted above, the call to repentance of sinners always has been a concern of the church. Selwyn’s key word ‘tactless’ is worth focusing on; there is a right way and a wrong way to confront others about their need for repentance. (2017, quoting Elliott 2000: 788, referring to Selwyn 1969: 225).

In verse 14, Peter tells us that ‘if you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.’ I am not suggesting that we attempt to get everyone to like us, never offending people. For, ‘as Jesus himself taught, “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you” (Luke 6:26, TNIV), for such universal acclaim suggests that one has in some way compromised the testimony of God’s truth in order to please’ (Jobes 2005: 287). But, as Peter says, it is only a blessing if we are suffering for doing good, not for meddling. If we suffer because we proclaim Christ in an evangelistic effort, then we are blessed. If we suffer because we are blessed. If we suffer because we are meddling in the affairs of others, then we are not.

I have not done a full study of how Christians should behave in a hostile culture. My task in these studies is primarily to sit with the verses of scripture I am studying, not to develop a systematic theology. Naturally, I will discuss patterns I see emerging in scripture, but I do not claim to have done an exhaustive study on any topic, certainly not one as wide reaching as this one. I am not aware of any persuasive arguments against the conclusions I have drawn here5 but I will be neither surprised nor disappointed if I discover one tomorrow. uuu


Brown, J.K., 2006. Just a Busybody? A Look at the Greco-Roman Topos of Meddling for Defining ἀλλοτριεπίσκοπος in 1 Peter 4:15. Journal of Biblical Literature, 125.

Davids, P.H., 1990. The First Epistle of Peter, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Elliott, John H., 2000. 1 Peter: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Yale Bible Commentary. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Green, Joel B, 2007. 1 Peter. Two Horizons Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Heiser, M.S., 2017. The Bible Unfiltered: Approaching Scripture on Its Own Terms, Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Himes, P.A., 2017. 1 Peter D. Mangum, E. Vince, & A. Salinger, eds., Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Jobes, K.H., 2005. 1 Peter, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

McKnight, Scot. 1996. 1 Peter. New International Version Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Michaels, J.R., 1998. 1 Peter, Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

Plutarch, 1874. Plutarch’s Morals. Goodwin, ed., Medford, MA: Little, Brown, and Company.

Schreiner, T.R., 2003. 1, 2 Peter, Jude, Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Selwyn, Edward Gordon. (1946) 1969. The First Epistle of St. Peter. London: MacMillan.

  1. What does the word allotriepiskopos mean? It does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, the LXX, the writings of Josephus or Philo, or any other known Greek literature that predates 1 Peter. In such extreme cases (and only in such cases), etymology may assist us in understanding the meaning. In this case, episkopos (‘one who oversees’) plus allotria (‘things which belong to another’) would seem to resul tin the idea of people who oversee matters that do not belong to them&emdash;in other words, ‘a busybody in other people’s matters’ (NKJV) or ‘meddler’ (NIV, ESV). Paul sues a more common word for this concept, periergos, in 1 Timothy 5:13. Peter uses this rarer word to create a stark contrast with his use of episkopos a few verses later, reminding the Christian community that some matters are outside of their jurisdiction. (Himes 2017)

    Given the lack of lexical evidence from contemporaneous Greek sources, scholars have been forced to move to etymological considerations to define ἀλλοτριεπίσκοπος. That the word is clearly a compound may allay fears of committing an etymological fallacy, especially if, as is likely, the author of 1 Peter coins the term for his particular situation. In addition, early precedent for drawing on etymological considerations is evident in the Greek manuscripts. Two variant readings, ἀλλότριος ἐπίσκοπος and ἀλλοτρίοις ἐπίσκοπος, indicate that etymology was at least one way that scribes attempted to define the obscure ἀλλοτριεπίσκοπος. The combination of ἀλλότριος (not one’s own) and ἐπίσκοπος (one who observes or watches over) would, at first blush, seem to point to a person who concerns himself/herself in the affairs of another. In support of this, Hermann W. Beyer indicates, ‘[w]henever ἀλλότριος is used [in a compound], it always denotes an activity which is foreign to the doer, or which is not his concern.’ The sense of concerning oneself in another’s affairs, that is, meddling, is what many have argued that ἀλλοτριεπίσκοπος means. In fact, most modern English translations move in this direction, as the examples above indicate. (Brown 2006: 550–551)

    It is clear that all known forms of the allotrio compounds denote an activity that is not the concern of the doer, and that in 1 Pet. 4:15 this behavior should be avoided. Therefore, ‘meddler’ remains the best inferred sense from the currently available data (Jobes 2005: 297)

  2. On the face of it, it seems likely to me that both Peter and Paul encouraged Christians to keep their concerns to their local church and not the wider church. Peter used the word episkopos which suggests to me a specific area of influence, but I didn’t have time to do any in-depth study on this, so I could be way off. 

  3. In conclusion, ἀλλοτριεπίσκοπος in 1 Peter 4:15 … likely refers to movement outside of culturally appropriate social boundaries. This type of interference in the social order has political ramifications and as such would be understood as involving insubordination to the polis. The admonition to 4:15 to avoid this insubordinate behavior fits the Petrine concern for ensuring that Christian behavior reproached by pagan neighbors is truly good and not evil (cf. 2:11–12, 4:15–16). In fact, the prohibition against behaving as an ἀλλοτριεπίσκοπος provides a thematic parallel to the submissive behavior commended earlier in the domestic code (2:11–3:12). (Brown 2006: 567)

  4. One could make a good argument that certain euthanasia implementations have the potential to take advantage of the elderly and infirm who would like to go on living but are manipulated into feeling like a burden to those caring for them. My current stance is that there are implementations of euthanasia that I would not oppose. 

  5. There are certainly commentators who take what may be a softer approach to understanding meddler. One example is Thomas Schreiner, who seems to describe Peter’s inclusion of _meddling as an example of the Christian pattern of taking something (in this case, holiness) further than what would be expected:

    Peter realized that most Christians will not be guilty of obvious sins like murder and stealing, and so he concluded by encouraging believers to even refrain from annoying others. If believers act like busybodies, they would be considered to be pests who deserve ostracism and mistreatment. Hence, though certainty is impossible, a reference to being a busybody seems probable. Peter wanted believers to refrain from acting tactlessly and without social graces. (Schreiner 2003: 224)