Commentary on 1 Peter 1:22-2:10

Notes (ESV translation)

1:22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,

Recall from 1:9 that “souls” (psychas) denotes the whole human being and not merely a spiritual soul within the body. Obedience to the truth is the believer’s means of purification. “Truth” (aletheia) is that which corresponds exactly to reality (Elliott 383). In this context it is synonymous with the “word of God” (1:23-25). Brotherly love is the goal (“for”, eis) of this purification (Achtemeier 137). In Greek, this fraternal love (philadelphia) includes not just brothers (adelphoi) but also sisters (adelphai) (Elliott 384). One’s brothers and sisters includes fellow believers and not merely one’s biological family (cf. Mark 3:35).

In contrast to modern individualistic notions of love and romantic sentimentality, “love” (agape, agapeo) for the ancients denoted devoted attachment and loyalty to one’s group and its significant figures. This was a consequence of the fact that the ancients were oriented primarily not to individuals but to their primary group. Their experience had taught them that a meaningful existence required total reliance on the group in which one was embedded, be it kin group, surrogate kin group, village group, or any other association one might join. For Christians, that primary group was the community of the faithful, however it might be named. “Love” within this conceptual framework entailed both an inward feeling of attachment expressed in an outward manifestation of loyalty to God, Jesus, and fellow group members and an unrelenting commitment to this group’s values and beliefs. For the early Christians facing a hostile society, such commitment was essential for the very survival of the movement. Thus love and other expressions of commitment and mutual support figure prominently as imperatives of Christian behavior, not only in 1 Peter, but throughout the early Christian literature. Even among Christians’ adversaries, brotherly love became a hallmark of Christian identity. The reciprocal pronoun “one another” (allelous) explicitly expresses the reciprocal character of this internal bond in 1 Peter (cf. also 4:9; 5:5b, 14) and throughout the NT, where it occurs some one hundred times. (Elliott 386-387)

Love from a “pure heart” (katharas kardias) is “sincere brotherly love” (Elliott 387). The Greek word ektenos (“earnestly”) is not so much concerned with the intensity of the love but, rather, with its permanence and endurance even in the face of adversity (Elliott 387).

1:23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;

The believers are to love one another (1:22) because (“since”) they have been re-begotten (“born again”) by God (Acthemeier 139, Schreiner 94). The imperishable seed is the word of God (Schreiner 95, cf. 1:25).

A crucial question arises: How does having been reborn from imperishable seed imply the command to love one another? What is the logic of this claim? The new birth generates spiritual life from imperishable seed (1:23), the word of God. This is contrasted with the quality of life that comes from perishable seed (human procreation), whose glory at its best is like the fragile and temporary flowers of the field. The life of the believer has been generated by the imperishable (aphthartou) divine seed of God’s living and enduring word (the inheritance is similarly incorruptible, aphtharton, 1:4) in contrast to the perishable seed of all flesh. The love commanded in 1:22 is the result of obeying the truth — responding positively to the gospel — and is made possible by the spiritual energy of the new life God has generated by his eternal word. The Christian’s decision to obey the truth by coming to faith in Christ is the manifestation of one’s rebirth as a child of God (1:3). Peter instructs that love between Christians involves a moral transformation following from the spiritual reality that those reborn from God’s seed will have God’s character. The exhortations that follow throughout 1 Peter flesh out what Christian love looks like as a defining quality of one’s new, eternal life. (Jobes loc. 1998)

1:24-25 for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

In regard to the citation from Isaiah 40:6-8, which is employed to substantiate the enduring nature of the word of God by which they have been reborn, the broader context of this Isaian passage indicates its particular relevance for the whole of this letter. In fact, it could well have been the similarity of the precarious situations faced by both authors and the power of Isaiah’s response that inspired our author’s frequent use of this writing. As Isaiah addressed Judean exiles in Babylon (43:14; 47:1; 48:14, 20) as a people reproached, reviled (51:7; 53:1-12), and refined by fire (48:10), so our author from his Babylon (5:13) addresses strangers and resident aliens (1:1, 17; 2:11), harried and abused in their society (2:12; 3:9, 13-17; 4:4, 12-19; 5:9), and likewise tested in the fire of affliction (1:6; 4:12). As the exodus and God’s redemptive liberation of his people from darkness to light provided a model for Isaiah (40:3-5; 42:6, 7, 13, 16; 43:1-21; 52:3, 9), so also for 1 Peter (1:13, 18-19; 2:9). As the covenant and Israel’s divine election were for Isaiah’s message grounds for confidence, hope, and praise (41:8, 9; 42:1, 10-13; 43:10, 21; 44:1-2; 49:7; 54:10), so too for 1 Peter (1:1; 2:4-10). Isaiah’s optimistic appraisal, to all appearances, of a dire situation likewise is matched by that of the Petrine author. As Isaiah celebrates the glory of God (40:5; 41:16; 42:8, 12, etc.), so too our author (2:12; 4:11, 13, 14; 5:10). And as Isaiah’s proclamation of good news (40:9; 52:7) and encouragement (40:1; 42:10-13) is permeated by a note of joy and exultation (41:16; 49:13; 51:3, 11; 54:1-17; 55:1-13), so too the message of 1 Peter (1:6-8; 2:9; 4:13). (Elliott 393)

“All flesh” (pasa sarx) is a conventional phrase meaning humanity in totality (Elliott 390). The quotation supports Peter’s statement in 1:23 that God’s word is “living” and “abiding”.

Verse 25 concludes with Peter’s commentary on the Old Testament citation. The word of the Lord in Isaiah, which represents the promise that God will restore his people from exile and fulfill his promises to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3), is ultimately fulfilled in the gospel proclaimed (euangelisthen) to the churches in Asia Minor. The new exodus, the return from exile, and the fulfillment of all God’s promises to Israel have become a reality through the gospel. Peter’s use of the word (euangelizo) almost certainly comes from Isaiah as well since in Isa 40:9 (the very next verse from the section Peter cited) “the good news” for Zion and Jerusalem is that God will come and fulfill his promises to Israel. As previously observed, Peter argued that the promises preached by the prophets were not intended for the prophets but for Christian believers. Similarly, he argued here that the promises in Isaiah are fulfilled in the proclamation of the gospel. Such are the privileges of Peter’s readers. (Schreiner 97)

2:1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.

These vices get in the way of loving one another (1:22). The Greek word kakian (“malice”) denotes wickedness, malice, ill-will, and a disposition or behavior contrary to conventional morality (Elliott 396). The Greek word dolos (“deceit”) denotes guile, deceit, cunning, and treachery (Elliott 396). “Slander is not limited to spreading false stories about others but also involves disparaging others” (Schreiner 98-99). “In this context, the final vice probably refers to habitual disparagement of others rather than some kind of openly slanderous speech” (Achtemeier 144).

2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—

The readers are to be like infants in the sense that they should long for spiritual milk. The comparison does not mean that the readers were new converts. “The metaphor’s point of comparison is not the smallness or innocence of a baby, but its strong and instinctive longing for a mother’s milk” (Michaels 86). The Greek word epipothesate (“long for”) indicates intensity and could be translated as “fervently desire” or “long intensely for” (Elliott 399). The meaning of the Greek phrase to logikon adolon gala (“the pure spiritual milk”) is debated. The word adolon literally means “guileless” (Elliott 400). “Guileless” contrasts with the guile of 2:1. In light of the “pure heart” in 1:22 it is evident that “pure” is the intended meaning of adolon in this context. Unlike the ESV, some scholars take logikon to mean “word” and not “spiritual” (Elliott 399-401, Schreiner 100). J. H. Elliott takes the Greek phrase to mean “the guileless milk of the word.” Karen Jobes takes the phrase to refer to “milk” that is true to the nature of the new eschatological reality (loc. 2253). J. Ramsey Michaels opines (88-89):

It is doubtful, however, that the significance of “pure spiritual milk” for Peter can be summed up in joust one word or concept. It can be understood to represent divine mercy or grace as easily as divine life. Not only the parallels in the Odes of Solomon but the larger framework of the first major section of 1 Peter (1:3-2:10), in which a reference to mercy both begins (1:3, “in his great mercy”) and ends the argument (2:10, “now you have received mercy”), gives force to this interpretation. In the immediate context, the result of tasting the “spiritual milk” is finding out “that the Lord is good.” In light of 1:25 there can be no doubt that the medium by which the milk is received is the proclaimed message of the gospel, but the milk itself is more appropriately interpreted as the sustaining life of God given in mercy to his children.

Growing up into salvation is the goal/result of the preceding imperative. In this verse, the salvation in view is most likely deliverance at the time of the final judgment (Achtemeier 147).

2:3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Peter did not write “if” to sow doubts in the minds of the readers, but neither should “if” be confused with “since.” Peter wanted the readers to contemplate whether they have in fact experienced the kindness of the Lord, and he was confident that the answer would be affirmative. Translating the term “if” by “now” or “since,” however, short-circuits the process, removing the contingency that the author wanted his readers to consider.

The words used here contain an allusion to Psalm 34. This psalm apparently was important to Peter, for he cited it again in 3:10-12, quoting vv. 13-16 of the psalm (Ps 33 in the LXX). Here Peter alluded to v. 9 in the Septuagint. The selection of this psalm is intentional, and a number of echoes of this psalm reverberate throughout 1 Peter. We should note at the outset the theme of the psalm. When the righteous are afflicted and suffering, they can be confident that God will deliver them from all their troubles. Peter’s suffering readers could take great encouragement from the message of this psalm. Further, the psalm calls on the readers to hope in God in the midst of their troubles (33:9, 23 LXX), one of the central themes in 1 Peter. The superscription of the psalm was also known to Peter’s readers, and it informs us that David wrote the psalm when he fled from Abimelech after he feigned insanity. It is irrelevant for our purposes whether one thinks the superscription is accurate, for that is how the psalm was transmitted to the readers. Indeed, in the Septuagint version (33:5) David praised God for delivering him from all “his sojournings” (paroikon). This fits beautifully with the pilgrim people of God in 1 Peter, where the readers are “sojourners” (paroikoi, 1:17; 2:11; cf. 1:1). The blessing of God in 1 Pet 1:3 (eulogetos) is matched by the blessing of God in Ps 33:2 (eulogeso).

Peter also emphasized the importance of fearing the Lord (1:17; 2:17-18; 3:2, 14), and the psalmist often stressed its centrality of fearing the Lord (Ps 33:10, 12). In the very next verse (1 Pet 2:4) Peter spoke of “coming” (proserchomai), which is the same verb used by the psalmist (Ps 33:6). Finally, both Peter and the psalmist said that those who trust and hope in the Lord, in contrast to unbelievers, will not be put to shame (1 Pet 2:6; 3:16; 4:16; cf. Ps 33:6). All of this indicates that Peter did not allude to Psalm 34 casually, but the themes of the psalm had made a powerful impact on him. Since Peter only alluded to the psalm here, we should not expect the exact wording of the psalm to be reproduced. Indeed, what is imperative in the psalm is a conditional statement in Peter, and the words “and see” (kai idete) from the psalm are deleted.

We now come to the main idea of the verse. Believers should long for the Lord if indeed they have tasted or experienced his kindness. To see a reference to the eucharist reads the text too literally. Longing to grow spiritually comes from a taste of the beauty of the Lord, an experience of his kindness and goodness. Those who pursue God ardently have tasted his sweetness. Christian growth for Peter is not a mere call to duty or an alien moralism. The desire to grow springs from an experience with the Lord’s kindness, an experience that leaves believers desiring more. (Schreiner 101-102)

2:4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,

On the whole this antithesis between the Lord’s rejection by humans and election by God is a succinct and peculiar formulation on the part of our author of the traditional crucifixion/resurrection kerygma (Mark 8:31 par.; 9:31 par.; 10:33; Luke 24:46; Acts 2:23-24; 4:10; 10:39-40; Rom 6:4; 8:34; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Heb 2:9). (Elliott 411)

The perfect tense of “rejected” suggests Peter is noting the ongoing rejection of Christ and not merely alluding to his death. This ongoing rejection is illustrated by the rejection the readers face from society (Achtemeier 154).

2:5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Elliott believes the Greek translated by the ESV as “a spiritual house” is an ellipsis and therefore should be translated as “[you are] a house(hold) of the Spirit” (414). In other words, believers are not being built up in order to be a spiritual house, they are already a spiritual house. The Greek word oikos (house) can refer to a house, a temple, a household, or a larger people group (clan, tribe, nation). Verse 9 suggests that the believers form a community of the Spirit while the familial language throughout the letter suggests that believers are a household/family of God.

God, their heavenly “Father” (1:2, 3, 17), has not only caused them to be reborn but nourishes (2:2) and consolidates them (2:5c; 5:10) into a household or family (2:5; 4:17). As God’s children, they are subordinate to their heavenly father’s will (2:15; 3:17; 4:2, 19) and owe him reverence (1:17; 2:17, 18; 3:2, 16) and honor (2:5f, 9; 4:11, 16; 5:11). As brothers and sisters, through faith in Jesus Christ they constitute a brotherhood whose intimate integrity is maintained through brotherly love (1:22; 2:17; 3:8; 4:8; cf. 2:11; 4:12) and related actions of familial solidarity (3:8; 4:8-11; 5:5b-7; cf. 2:18-20; 3:1-7; 5:1-5a). In this household of faith, household slaves (oiketai) are the examples of all (2:18-25), husbands and wives live together (synoikein) in domestic harmony (3:7), younger members respect the elders (5:5a), co-senders are regarded as “brother” (5:12) and “son” (5:13), and all serve one another as “household servants of the varied grace of God” (4:10). Familial language pervades this composition from beginning to end, and the model of household/family serves as the dominant ecclesial metaphor through which its consolation and exhortation are integrated. (Elliott 418)

The adjective “spiritual” (pneumatikos) is not meant to contrast with the adjective “material.” Rather, it means that the Holy Spirit is sanctifying the household (Elliott 418).

The purpose of being built up is to be a “holy priesthood.” This phrase is derived from Exodus 19:6 LXX. The Greek word hierateuma (“priesthood”) does not denote an abstract priesthood, it denotes a “body of priests,” a community of holy persons enjoying, like priests, direct access to God and functioning in this capacity (Elliott 420).

The Petrine author shows no interest elsewhere in the letter in developing a notion of Christians as priests. The term hierateuma, like basileion, was derived from a covenantal formula (Exod 19:6) expressing the privileged status and the elect and holy character of God’s people. This is the sense in which the formula was interpreted before 1 Peter, and this is its sense in this letter as well. Thus, hierateuma is related conceptually to the letter’s stress on the holiness, purity, and election of the Christian community but not to any notion of Christian “priestliness.” Nor is any connection made between this term and the passages that deal with the mutual ministries within the community (4:8-10) or congregational authority and order (5:1-4). Later attempts in Christian history to see in this text and the term hierateuma in particular a basis for a general priesthood of all believers, in which all of the baptized (and not just the clergy) have the authority and status of priests and kings (e.g., Tertullian, Luther, and post-Reformation theology) have seriously misconstrued the actual focus of 2:4-10. In attempting to exploit this text for dealing with issues of authority and ecclesial order, they have distorted the collective sense of hierateuma, isolated it from its covenental context, and ignored the function of this covenantal formulation as an emphasis on the election and holiness of the people of God. (Elliott 420)

“Spiritual sacrifices” are sacrifices prompted by the Holy Spirit (Elliott 421-423). In light of verse 9, these sacrifices include, but are not limited to, praise and thanksgiving. Achtemeier notes that sacrifices are enabled by Christ, probably through his resurrection (158).

2:6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

The citation is from Isaiah 28:16 but with some variations. Isaiah is indicting Jerusalem’s lying leaders who have made a covenant with death and announcing that God will set a stone in Zion that will be a foundation of justice and deliverance. Zion was the location of the Jerusalem Temple but could also be used as a metonymy (a part used for the whole) for Israel or Jerusalem. The “stone” (lithos) is Jesus Christ (2:4). A “cornerstone” in the foundation of a building was carefully selected because it gave the line of the entire building. The church is envisioned as a building with Jesus Christ serving as the cornerstone “through which the entire edifice is joined together and supported” (Elliott 425). The Greek word entimon (“precious”) can also mean “honored” and thus forms a contrast with “shame” (Elliott 426).

2:7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”

This is a citation from Psalm 118:22.

Both Jesus and Peter (Matt 21:42; Acts 4:11) applied the psalm in a surprising way. The builders who reject the anointed king are not foreigners but the religious leaders of Israel. The religious leaders believe they are building God’s building, but they have rejected the cornerstone for the entire edifice. By doing so they are behaving like the pagan nations of David’s day and have assured their own judgment, for God has established Jesus as the cornerstone by virtue of his resurrection and hence vindicated him. (Schreiner 111)

However, in this passage, those who do not believe are probably not restricted to Jewish religious leaders (Michaels 105).

2:8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

The beginning of the verse alludes to Isaiah 8:14, where Israel and Judah are called to trust in God rather than fear other nations. The stumbling in this verse is not accidental, it is caused by disobedience to the word/gospel (1:23-25). The provocative phrase “as they were destined to do” has generated some disagreement among commentators as to its meaning. At the very least, it means that the result of disobedience is foreordained but not necessarily the decision to disobey itself (Elliott 433-434). “In the single act of raising Jesus from the dead (1:3, 21), God has laid the ‘choice and precious Stone’ that means honor and vindication for those who believe, but stumbling and shame for the disobedient” (Michaels 107). Other scholars go further and take the phrase to mean that non-believers are predestined to disobey the word (Schreiner 112-114).

The point therefore, not only of vv. 7b-8 but of 5-7a as well, is that one’s fate, in our author’s view, is determined by one’s relation to Christ. Either one builds on him as a precious cornerstone and thus belongs to God’s people, or one stumbles over him and rejects him and is not a member of that people. While this is clearly in accord with God’s intention, it does not exclude the responsibility of those who have rejected Christ. Because that rejection is described in terms of disobedience (cf. the positive construal of faith as obedience in 1:2), the implication of a negative decision is clear: those who make it will finally have to take responsibility for it at the eschatological judgment (4:17). (Achtemeier 163)

2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

The phrase “you are a chosen race” is a contraction of Isaiah 43:20-21. Peter now applies language that was formerly applied to Israel to the church. It is faith, not biological descent, that determines whether one is a member of this “chosen race” (genos eklekton). The phrase “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” is drawn from Exodus 19:6. The noun aretas (“excellencies”) refers to “wondrous, praiseworthy deeds,” “manifestations of divine power and glory,” or the “praises” that such manifestations elicit (Elliott 439).

2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

This collation of terms from Hosea actually involves the names of Hosea’s children by his harlot wife, Gomer, and the altered relation to God that their change of names signifies. The Hosean context describes the birth and naming of Hosea’s three children, Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, and Lo-ammi, an incident that symbolized God’s dealing with his faithless people Israel (Hos 1:3). As a sign of Israel’s infidelity to the covenant, the second and third of Hosea’s children were named “Not-shown-mercy” (Heb.: Lo-ruhamah / LXX: Ouk-eleemenen, 1:6) and “Not-my-people” (Heb.: Lo-ammi / LXX: Ou-laos-mou, 1:9), signifying that God would no longer have mercy on the House of Israel and would no longer regard Israel as his people. Nevertheless Hosea envisions a future reversal, when God will have mercy on his people and claim them as his own. Then the daughter “Not-shown-mercy” will receive mercy (2:23) and will be renamed “She-who-has-received-mercy” (Heb. Ruhama / LXX: Eleemene, 2:3[1]) and the son “Not-my-people” will be called “My-People” (Heb.: Ammi, 2:1, 23 / LXX: Laos-mou, 2:3, 25). (Elliott 442)

The use of this material is meant to show that the readers are the people of God who have changed due to their conversion and have been blessed with divine mercy.

Bibliography

Achtemeier, Paul J. 1 Peter. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996.

Elliott, John Hall. 1 Peter. Yale University Press, 2007.

Jobes, Karen. 1 Peter. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 2005.

Michaels, J. Ramsey. 1 Peter. Thomas Nelson, 1988.

Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2003.

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