by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 2 Paragraph # 3 Study # 6 November 29, 2009 Lincolnton, N.C.
17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
1901 ASV Translation:
17 Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
I. Peter's Final Exhortations.
A. Clearly he thought that "honoring" people was most important and least likely.
1. Any time an author begins and ends a set of exhortations with the same one, he is telling us that he considers it important.
2. Also, any time an author begins and ends a set of exhortations with the same one, he is telling us that he, at a minimum, thinks his readers may just buzz by his words and, at a maximum, thinks that his readers may simply not be willing to give heed unless he "prods" them a bit.
a. On the one hand, if we are to "honor" all, surely that includes "the king", so why the special focus on "the king" unless there is some basis for thinking that people might not think he deserves "honor"? It is not hard to figure out, given the moral expectations of people and the almost total moral failure of most "kings". However, in the Kingdom of God, very little is based upon "deserving". This is the most difficult concept for fallen human beings to grasp, but is the root of the theology of the Cross: it is precisely because men do not/can not live up to their moral obligations that Christ came. If it is legitimate to withhold "honor" because of moral failure, it is legitimate to dishonor all men. But if moral failure is not a basis for dishonor, honoring all men becomes a "moral obligation" (which many who complain of the failures of others will, themselves, fail to do).
b. But, what does it actually mean to "honor" someone? This is the critical question. The biblical writers did not hesitate to express unwelcome truth (just one of a gazillion examples is Acts 2:23) that was extremely "unflattering" and enormously "unwelcome". So, as I have said countless times, "it's all in the definitions". What does it mean to "honor" someone? The word so translated and its antithesis (the negating "a" plus the verb) are used sufficiently in the New Testament to give us a fair understanding. For example, the verb used is consistently used to translate the fifth of the Ten Commandments (Matthew 15:4; 19:19; Mark 7:10; Ephesians 6:2). It was also used in a highly enlightening way in Matthew 27:9 to refer to the "value" set upon Jesus by those who were willing to pay for His betrayal and by Judas who was willing to accept that "value". In this text, as well as 1 Timothy 5:3, it is clear that the word "honor" has some significant overlapping considerations with the word "love" as used in multiple places in the New Testament. The word most widely used for "love" simply means "to assign positive value in respect to a goal and one's own participation in it". To "value" one is to assign this value. But, in relation to "honor", it may be that "love" sets the value in the heart and "honor" expresses that value in concrete ways of acting toward someone. Also, Paul castigates (but, apparently, does not "dishonor") the "Jew" who "dishonors" God by boasting in His Law and then turning right around and breaking it. It is precisely here that we see one of the overriding concerns of "honor": the "doing" that the "identity" of the "honored" requires. "Honoring" widows, for example, means providing for whatever needs they have that they cannot meet for themselves. In addition, Romans 1:24 mentions how men "dishonor" their bodies by giving themselves over to perverse sexual activities. This is instructive. It indicates that "honor" involves treating someone/something in accordance with its "purpose for being what he/she/it is". Thus since the "king" is in his place for the order of society, it is "dishonoring" to refuse to be in submission to his laws. By the same token, it is a "dishonor" for someone to be treated as though his/her position in life was one thing while, in reality, it was another. Allowing children to determine family life dishonors them (and everyone else in the family). Treating a rebel against the government as a legitimate object of "honor" is "dishonorable". As unreal as it may sound, letting a criminal get by with his/her crimes is an act of "dishonoring" him/her. Thus, we may at least draw the conclusion that "honor" requires that we hold a person in our hearts as sufficiently valuable so as to treat them according to their purpose for being who/what they are. And this stands true even if the person we "honor" is himself/herself dishonorable in their own actions as I said at the end of "a" above (If it is legitimate to withhold "honor" because of moral failure, it is legitimate to dishonor all men). The key issue here is the "identity" issue and it is complicated by the reality that people often have multiple "identities" (father, husband, employee, employer, king, slave, son, etc.) that may create a form of inherent conflict in the "honoring" process.
B. Next in Peter's concern is what the translators call "the brotherhood".
1. Peter, for whatever reason, chose a word that is not found elsewhere in the New Testament except in this letter (5:9) and is not widely found outside of biblical writings either. It apparently means "those of a common parent", but this is also what the typical term "brother" means. It has this distinction: the typical word for "brother" is masculine in gender and this word is feminine. What should we make of this? When words are initially "coined", they "fit" a "word-need" situation and those who "coin" them generally create them with that "word-need" on the front burner. So, why would anyone "coin" a word from a word that is typically considered "masculine" and put it in a "feminine" form? Robertson says that the particular feminine ending found on the masculine noun "brother" indicates either "agency" or "quality" (pps. 153-154). This, perhaps, gives us a glimmer of Peter's reasoning: his exhortation is to "consider the brotherhood particularly valuable" (i.e., "love"). Given the fact that "the valuable brethren" include both men and women, it would make sense to blend "gender" issues while also elevating the issue of "quality" because it elevates the need for such "love". Thus, the typically "masculine" noun, "brother", is wedded to the typically "feminine" suffix that elevates the issue of "quality" for the purpose of making sure the reader(s) gets the point: the brotherhood is of sufficient quality to warrant "love". That Peter, under divine inspiration, chose to use this relatively rare word indicates that he wants his readers to take his exhortation seriously.
2. The fundamental exhortation is to "love" this group of people. Peter selected the word in the New Testament that fundamentally means "to assign positive value in respect to a goal and one's own participation in it". The details here are two: the assignment of value in light of the requirements of a particular goal or objective; and the preferentialtreatment of another over one's own involvement. When one "loves", he/she is assigning value in light of a desired end. No one "loves" in a vacuum of intent. However, when one "loves" he/she is also deliberately placing another in a higher category of value than one holds oneself so that the other gets the privilege rather than oneself. "Love" is self-demoting while exalting another.