1 Peter 2:2-10
Peter is writing to Christians in Asia Minor (modern Turkey)—new Christians—predominately Gentile Christians. They have been experiencing trials (1:6), so he is encouraging them by reminding them of their prospects for glory and salvation (1:8-9).
He calls them to live holy lives, “because it is written, ‘You shall be holy; for I am holy'” (1:13-16; see also Leviticus 11:44). This emphasis on holy lives reappears at 2:1, which is not in our lectionary reading, but probably should be. Holy lives are essential to being “a holy priesthood, (able) to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (2:6).
In chapter one, Peter spoke of these Christians having purified their souls (1:22). This emphasis on purity recurs in chapter 2 with the call to “long for the pure milk of the Word” (2:2).
In chapter one, he spoke of their being “born again” (1:23). That emphasis on rebirth lays the foundation for his comments in chapter two about their being “newborn babies” who need “the pure milk of the Word” (2:2).
1 PETER 2:1-5. LONG FOR THE PURE MILK OF THE WORD
1 Putting away therefore all wickedness, all deceit, hypocrisies, envies, and all evil speaking, 2 as newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby, 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious: 4 coming to him, a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God, precious. 5 You also, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
“Putting away therefore all wickedness (Greek: kakia), all deceit (Greek: dolos), hypocrisies (Greek: hupokrisis), envies (Greek: phthonos), and all evil speaking” (Greek: katalalias) (v. 1).
While this verse isn’t in the lectionary reading, it probably should be. It makes specific what is involved in Peter’s earlier call to holiness (1:13-16). It also sets the stage for verses 2-10—our reading. A person striving for holiness will avoid these sins:
• Kakia means wickedness or evil.
• Dolos means deceit—any kind of false accusation, false witness, false swearing, or false dealings.
• Hypokrisis means hypocrisy, a particular form of deceit—pretending to be something that you are not.
• Phthonos means envy or jealousy—the kind of spirit that bristles at the good fortune of others—and would snatch that good fortune away from them if possible. Envy is a threat to the community at large, but is a particular threat to the envious person—a spiritual acid that corrodes the soul.
• Katalalias means slander, speaking evil of another person. This is specifically prohibited by one of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).
“as newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the Word” (Greek: adolos logikos gala) (v. 2a). As noted above, Peter’s earlier comment about their being “born again” (1:23) laid the foundation for his comment now about them being “newborn babies” who “long for the pure milk of the Word.”
The phrase, adolos logikos gala, can be translated variously. The word adolos is a combination of a (without) and dolos (guile or deceit), so it would be used to describe something that is “as advertised”—pure or unadulterated would be acceptable. Gala means milk. The meaning of logikos in this context, however, requires some thought. Logikos most often means logical or reasonable, but those words make no sense here. Logikos is related to the word logos, which means word, so “the pure milk of the Word” is a possible translation.
“that you may grow thereby“ (v. 2b). A literal translation of this verse would be “so that you may grow by (the pure milk) for (or into) salvation.”
While the World English Bible does an excellent job of translation for the most part, it ignores the last two Greek words of this verse, eis soteria (into salvation). Salvation is the goal or ultimate prospect of these Christians’ faith.
“if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious“ (v. 3). This alludes to Psalm 34:8, which says, “Oh taste and see that Yahweh is good”—but in the New Testament, the word Lord is ambiguous—it can refer to either to Jesus or God.
The last two Greek words of this verse are kurios (Lord) and chrestos (good). The more common Greek word for good would be agathos, but Peter chooses chrestos here—possibly because of its similarity to Christos, the Greek word for Christ. He might intend his readers to see kurios chrestos and think kurios Christos—the Lord is Christ.
“coming to him, a living stone” (Greek: lithos) (v. 4a). This verse introduces a new metaphor. In verse 2, these people were newborn babies. Now they are living stones.
We know nothing of living stones—except, perhaps, for a coral reef still in the process of forming. “Living water” is a more frequent metaphor (Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13; John 4:10-11; 7:38)—and easier to understand. We can visualize a mountain stream as living water as it splashes its way down the mountain. However, stones usually just stay where they are—inanimate.
But, as we will see in verses 6-8, Peter is alluding to a verse from Isaiah 28:16, which Jesus interpreted to refer to himself (Matthew 21:42).
This verse refers to Jesus as a living stone—an allusion to his resurrection—he is alive. The original readers of this letter—mostly Gentiles—had earlier worshiped idols made of inanimate stone—dead—lifeless—having no power to help them. They would surely understand the contrast between those dead idols and their living Christ.
Consider this irony. Peter, whom Jesus gave the Greek name Petros, which means rock (Matthew 16:18), now speaks of Christ as a living stone—and, in the next verse, will speak of his readers as living stones. However, Peter uses a different word for rock here—lithos—the same word that Jesus used when talking about the stone that the builders rejected (Matthew 21:42; see also Acts 4:11). Lithos would be the usual choice when talking about a stone for a building.
“rejected indeed by men, but chosen (Greek: eklektos) by God, precious“ (v. 4b). Jesus was rejected by the religious leaders, whose rejection led directly to Jesus’ cross. However, God had chosen (eklektos) Jesus so “that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus was the Father’s “beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5)—precious in the Father’s sight. We will see the word eklektos again in verse 9.
“You also, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house“ (Greek: pneumatikos oikos) (v. 5a). By virtue of their relationship to Christ, these new Christians have also become living stones—suitable for incorporation into a spiritual house—God’s temple—Christ’s church.
The word pneumatikos means spiritual as opposed to literal. In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul used this word to speak of spiritual food and drink (1 Corinthians 10:3-4).
The word oikos means house, but is often extended to mean a household (family) or a dynasty (such as “the house of David” 1 Samuel 20:16; 1 Kings 13:2) or the tabernacle or temple (Matthew 12:4; 21:13; John 2:16-17; Acts 7:47-49).
Now Peter tells these new Christians that God has chosen to build them up “as a spiritual house”—as the temple of God. Note that each of these Christians is a living stone, so there are many of them. The spiritual house into which they have been built, however, is one—the church. The many living stones constitute one spiritual house—a community.
“to be a holy (Greek: hagios) priesthood“ (v. 5b). The Greek word hagios means holy or set apart for God. The tabernacle and temple were holy, because they were the dwelling places of God. Sacrificial animals were holy, because they were set apart for God. Priests and Levites were holy, because they were set apart for service in God’s tabernacle and temple. Now Peter tells these new Gentile Christians that God has set them apart to be a holy priesthood.
But the word hagios also means sinless or upright. To be holy is to be called out from the sinful world into a deep and abiding relationship with God so that the person becomes more God-like—more upright—less like the sinful world-at-large.
“priesthood.“ Priests of Israel were descendants of Aaron (Exodus 28:1), charged with responsibility for the religious affairs of the nation. Presiding over religious rituals, to include sacrifices required by Torah law, they served as an intermediary between God and the people.
God told Moses to speak to the Israelites, saying, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation“ (Exodus 19:6). The phrase, “a kingdom of priests,” suggests that there is a sense in which the nation Israel constitutes a priesthood. The question then arises: Why would a nation with a substantial corps of priests need to be ordained to the priesthood as a nation? The answer is that, just as the priests were responsible for helping Israel to continue as a holy nation—so also God ordained the nation of Israel as “a kingdom of priests” to model holy living—to witness to Yahweh’s glory and majesty and power—to draw people from other nations into a saving relationship with Yahweh.
Now Peter tells these new Gentile Christians that they, too, have been called to be holy priests—set apart for God’s service, sinless (by the grace of God) and upright.
Their priesthood would stand in contrast to the priesthoods with which they had been familiar before becoming Christians. Those were priests chosen because of their family standing—or simply because they were willing to maintain a temple and make required offerings.
“to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ“ (v. 5c). The priests of Israel offered animal sacrifices in behalf of the people. But there were other, more personal kinds of sacrifices:
• God also called for “a sacrifice of thanksgiving” (Psalm 50:14, 23).
• The Psalmist declared, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit” (Psalm 51:17)—and prayed, “Let my prayer be set before you like incense; the lifting up of my hands like the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2).
• Paul implored Christians in Rome “to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service” (Romans 12:1).
• Paul described the gifts that he received from the church at Philippi as “a sweet-smelling fragrance, an acceptable and well-pleasing sacrifice to God” (Philippians 4:18).
• The book of Hebrews says, “Through (Jesus), then, let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which proclaim allegiance to his name. But don’t forget to be doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13:15-16).
When Peter encourages these Christians to offer spiritual sacrifices, he intends that they will offer sacrifices prompted by the Holy Spirit—that their lives will be filled with the Spirit so that their daily lives will constitute an ongoing sacrifice to honor God.
1 PETER 2:6-8. THE REJECTED STONE BECAME THE CORNERSTONE
6 Because it is contained in Scripture,
“Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, chosen, and precious:
He who believes in him will not be disappointed.”
7 For you who believe therefore is the honor, but for those who are disobedient,
“The stone which the builders rejected,
has become the chief cornerstone,”
“a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”
For they stumble at the word, being disobedient, to which also they were appointed.
“Because it is contained in Scripture, ‘Behold, I lay (Greek: tithemi—set in place, appointed) in Zion a chief cornerstone, chosen, and precious: He who believes in him will not be disappointed’“ (v. 6). In this verse, Peter uses the Greek word tithemi to mean that God set in place a chief cornerstone in Zion. In verse 8, he will use the same word to mean that God either (1) appointed the disobedient to stumble or (2) appointed certain people to be disobedient.
The scripture quoted here is from Isaiah. God said, “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone of a sure foundation” (Isaiah 28:16; see also Psalm 118:22-23). In the Isaiah context, God had just finished condemning the priests and prophets of Jerusalem for their infidelity. They had built their hopes on false foundations—and would suffer the consequences.
But in our present context, God, is laying a foundation anchored by a chief cornerstone that is “chosen and precious.” While Peter doesn’t say so specifically here, it is obvious that he means that Christ is that cornerstone. Jesus, Peter, and Paul made that connection explicit elsewhere:
• Jesus interpreted the Isaiah scripture to apply to himself as the cornerstone (Matthew 21:42; see also Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17).
• Shortly after Pentecost, when confronted by the religious leaders in Jerusalem, Peter said that “Jesus Christ of Nazareth…is ‘the stone which was regarded as worthless by you, the builders, which has become the head of the corner'” (Acts 4:10-11).
• Paul told the Christians in Ephesus that they were “fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).
“He who believes in him will not be disappointed“ (Greek: kataischuno) (v. 6b). The Greek word kataischuno means “put to shame.”
Honor and shame are significant values in any culture, but were especially so in the Middle East. In Biblical times, honor was a virtue associated primarily with men, defining their identity and self-worth. It had less to do with feelings and more to do with clout—influence—power. People would pay attention when a man of honor spoke.
Shame was the absence of honor—the absence of good reputation, influence, and power. A man could be shamed by acting shamefully, failing to uphold his own in an interaction with another man, losing a battle, or sustaining other kinds of losses.
Peter promises that those who believe in Christ need not fear being put to shame. That doesn’t mean that the Christians to whom Peter addressed this letter will not be rejected by their families for leaving their ancestral faith. Nor does it mean that Christians today will not experience opposition or even persecution. It does mean that those of us who believe in Jesus will be vindicated in the end.
“For you who believe (Greek: pisteuo) therefore is the honor“ (v. 7a). See the comments in the previous paragraph (v. 6b) on honor and shame. Peter promises that those who believe in Christ will find honor rather than shame.
“but for those who are disobedient” (Greek: apisteo) (v. 7b). Note the similarity between pisteuo (believe) in verse 7a and apisteo in verse 7b. Both pisteuo (believe) and apisteo (disbelieve) are related to the word pistis, which means faith. The “a” at the beginning of apisteo reverses the meaning of the word from “believe” to “disbelieve.” Apisteo therefore means “to disbelieve” or “to lack faith”—not to be “disobedient.”
“The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone“ (Greek: kephale gonia) (v. 7c). The word kephale means head, and the word gonia means corner or cornerstone.
Peter is quoting from Psalm 118:22, which says, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.”
The builders were the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Their rejection of Jesus resulted in his death on the cross. However, Jesus’ resurrection revealed him to be the chief cornerstone for the temple that God had planned from the beginning. The Christians to whom Peter is writing are living stones—building blocks of the new temple of God, the church (Ephesians 2:21ff; 1 Corinthians 3:9).
“and, ‘a stone (Greek: lithos) of stumbling (Greek: proskomma), and a rock (Greek: petra) of offense'” (Greek: skandalon) (v. 8a). Skandalon meant a trap or snare, but was also used for a rock in the road that would cause people to stumble.
Note the poetic construction of this verse—”a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” The allusion is to Isaiah’s prophesy, “He will be a sanctuary, but for both houses of Israel, he will be a trap and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Many will stumble over it, fall, be broken, be snared, and be captured” (Isaiah 8:14-15; see also Ezekiel 3:20; 7:19; 14:3ff).
Paul talked about the “offense (skandalon) of the cross” (Galatians 5:11)—that God would come into the world in human form and take upon himself the consequences for the sins of the world. That was difficult for many people to believe in the days of the early church, and it is still difficult for many people to accept today. The cross was the stumbling block over which many people stumbled.
The idea of a stumbling stone was particularly vivid in that part of the world, where the land was rocky. At best, the person who stumbled would suffer a sore toe or knee. At worst, he would stumble in battle and be rendered helpless in the face of his enemy.
“For they stumble at the word (Greek: logos), being disobedient (Greek: apeitheo), to which also they were appointed“ (Greek: tithemi) (v. 8b). In my comments on verse 7b above, I noted that apisteo means disbelieving rather than disobedient. However, we have a different word, apeitheo in this verse, and it does mean disobedient.
For those who are disobedient, the stone that God intended as the cornerstone becomes a stumbling block, because they cannot or will not see it for what it really is—the key to God’s plan of salvation.
The word tithemi means to put, place, set, or appoint. The question is whether God appointed these people to be disobedient (predestined them to fail) or simply set things up so that those who chose to be disobedient would stumble. Most scholars believe that God appointed these people to be disobedient and to stumble. However, the word stumble in this verse is present tense, so there is no reason to assume that their disobedience and stumbling will persist.
1 PETER 2:9-10. NO PEOPLE—GOD’S PEOPLE
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: 10who in time past were no people, but now are God’s people, who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
“But (Greek: de) you are a chosen race (Greek: genos eklektos), a royal priesthood, a holy (Greek:hagios) nation, a people for God’s own possession“ (v. 9a). The little word de (but) intends to show a contrast between that which went before (the stumbling of the disobedient) with that which follows (these Christians as a chosen people).
“you are a chosen race” (genos eklektos). “Chosen” is a good translation of eklektos, but, given our association of race with the pigmentation of one’s skin, “race” is an unfortunate translation of genos. The word genos has to do with family heritage—the lineage from which one has sprung.
When we hear the word chosen, we should remember that Israel was God’s chosen people or chosen nation (Leviticus 26:12; Deuteronomy 7:6-8; 14:2; Jeremiah 7:23; 30:22; Ezekiel 36:28; Amos 3:2; Isaiah 44:1). With the advent of Christ, the church became the people of God (Ephesians 2:12)—the household of God (Ephesians 2:19; 3:15; 4:6)—God’s children (Galatians 4:6-7; Romans 8:15). Therefore I would choose to translate genos eklektos as chosen people or chosen nation.
“a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” These phrases are rooted in the promise of God to Israel, that “if you will indeed obey my voice, and keep my covenant, then you… shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6).
Priests of Israel were holy men charged with serving in the tabernacle and temple to perform religious rituals as prescribed by Torah law. Their purpose was to help the Israelites to maintain their relationship with God.
Now Peter tells these Christians—predominately Gentiles—that they are a royal priesthood, invested with responsibility for doing those things that would help other people to maintain a good relationship with God.
Furthermore, they are “a holy (hagios) nation.” For hagios, see the comments above on verse 5b.
“that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light“ (v. 9b; see also Isaiah 43:20). God has granted these honors (chosen people, etc.) for a purpose, which is that these Christians might witness to the excellence of the God who called them out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Light and darkness are used in both Old and New Testaments as metaphors for good and evil—chaos and order—danger and security—joy and sorrow—truth and untruth—life and death—salvation and condemnation (Psalm 18:28; 119:105; Proverbs 13:9; Isaiah 5:20; 60:19-20; Matthew 5:14-16; John 3:19-21; 8:12; Acts 26:18; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 4:17-181 Thessalonians 5:5-6; Revelation 21:23b-24). God’s first creative act was to say “Let there be light!”—and to separate light from darkness (Genesis 1:3-4).
Before they knew Christ, these Christians were living in darkness—the darkness of not knowing God—the darkness of having to make their way without a spiritual guide—the darkness of sin and death. But God called them into his marvelous light, and that changed their lives. Now they have a responsibility to honor the God who transformed their lives—to proclaim God’s excellence—to let people know what God has done for them. That’s the best form of witness—letting people know what God has done for us.
“who in time past were no people, but now are God’s people, who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy“ (v. 10). The allusion here is to the prophet Hosea, whom God called to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1:2). Hosea married Gomer, who bore him a daughter named Lo-Ruhamah, “for I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel, that I should in any way pardon them” (Hosea 1:6). Later, Gomer bore Hosea a son named Lo-Ammi, “for you are not my people, and I will not be yours” (Hosea 1:9). Gomer represented adulterous Israel, and the children represented God’s judgment on Israel for her sins.
But God then said, “Yet the number of the children of Israel will be as the sand of the sea, which can’t be measured nor numbered; and it will come to pass that, in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God'” (Hosea 1:10)—a sign of the mercy that God would bestow on Israel. Then God said, “I will sow her to me in the earth; and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; and I will tell those who were not my people, ‘You are my people;’ and they will say, ‘My God!'” (Hosea 2:23).
Now Peter uses these verses from Hosea to remind these Gentile Christians that they were once no people—but now they are God’s people. They had once lived in a world without mercy, but now they have obtained God’s mercy. Now they have the resurrection hope of “an incorruptible and undefiled inheritance that doesn’t fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1:3-4).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2014, Richard Niell Donovan