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1 Peter 2

26 Nov 2018

Contents

Bible Notes Series

This is the second post in my Bible Notes Series where I go through the Bible one chapter a week and write some thoughts on a small section.

Each week, I’ll start with a description of some aspect of the series or my process before I dig into the passage itself. Last week, I gave a general introduction to the series. This week, I’ll give a brief overview of the process I use to read and study each chapter.

Monday–Thursday:
  • Read the chapter through each day in the NIV

  • Highlight anything I find interesting, confusing or challenging

Friday:
  • Select the verse I’ll study and write about

Friday–Saturday:
  • Read the verse or verses in various translations: NLT, AMP, KJV

  • Read any relevant sections in the Lexham Bible Guide for the book (if there is one)

    I have found Lexham Bible Guide series to be incredibly helpful in widening my theological horizons. They give an overview of the book, the passage, various interpretive issues and an overview of the passage’s application. I’ll talk more about these in a future post.

  • Read some commentaries on the verse and try to get a handle on what they’re generally saying

    I usually read 3–5 commentaries on the passage I’ve selected.

  • If possible, come to my own conclusions on the issues

    After reading the commentaries, I try to get a handle on what I think the verse is teaching, or at least what it’s saying to me in my context. This isn’t always possible – sometimes things require more time, sometimes things are too hard for me to understand. I don’t consider it a failure if I end my study on a verse with unanswered questions.

Saturday–Sunday:
  • Write the post

Monday:
  • Publish the post

1 Peter 2: Interesting Things

What I found interesting, confusing or challenging as I read through 1 Peter 2.

Selected Passage: 1 Peter 2:1–3

I was originally going to look at 1 Peter 2:4–8:

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ … They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. (1 Peter 2:4–5, 8b, NIV)

And that passage certainly has some interesting parts to it, but as I was studying that passage, I felt drawn to the passage on ‘pure spiritual milk’.

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1–3, NIV)

This passage addresses what it means to be a Christian after initial belief (I had originally called this ‘salvation’, but I think that’s not quite right in this context). Peter is talking about sanctification in the context of Christian community.

Outline (Jobes 2005)

A Paraphrase

The NLT renders these verses in a way that gives a slightly different emphasis:

So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have a taste of the Lord’s kindness. (1 Peter 2:1–3, NLT)

Pure Spiritual Milk

Paul and the writer of the Hebrews both use milk to describe the elementary things of faith:

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealously and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? (1 Corinthians 3:1–3, NIV)

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11–14)

It is natural to assume that Peter is using milk in much the same way, as what we need when we are new believers, as something we move on from once we mature. However, the commentators I read universally agreed that Peter’s use of milk should not be construed to have any negative connotations. No, the milk Peter is referring to is the food to be craved by all Christians no matter how long ago they believed, no matter how mature they are, for it is by this milk that we ‘grow into a full experience of salvation’.

Some scholars conclude that the readers were new Christians since they are compared to newborns. Such a judgment is mistaken, for the readers are not identified as infants in the faith. They are compared to infants who have a longing for milk. They are not defined as new converts. … The metaphor does convey that believers are dependent upon God for their lives.

… Milk, then, becomes the very substance of life, comprising that which all Christians need to progress in their spiritual lives. The image of milk does not suggest, then, that believers in Asia Minor need elementary and basic teaching. (Schreiner 2003: 99)1

So what exactly is this ‘pure spiritual milk’? In my study, I came across four options. I’ve listed small excerpts from some commentaries I read that support each view.

  1. The word of God (what I’ve always believed)

    But what is this pure spiritual milk? Several contextual considerations favour a reference to the written word of God, the Scriptures. (Grudem 1988: 101)

    Jobes says that this view is almost unanimous: ‘Modern interpreters almost unanimously understand the referent of the “pure spiritual milk” metaphor to be the word of God, whether in the form of apostolic preaching or inscripturated in the Bible’ (2005: 132).

  2. The Eucharist (something I had never even considered)

    Several resources for this view were listed in the Lexham Bible Guide, but I do not have access to them so I cannot quote from them. This was not a view present in the commentaries I did have access to and I don’t find it particularly compelling.

  3. Christ himself, the living Word of God – both by direct experiences of Christ and by experiencing Christ through the Scriptures (also something I hadn’t really considered)

    Thus ‘[Peter] is not telling them to crave the word of God, as if to listen to more sermons or to read more Scripture, as good and even necessary as those activities may be. He is saying that God in Christ alone both conceives and sustains the life of the new birth. It is the Lord God they are to crave for spiritual nourishment’ (Jobes 2002: 12).

    Growth is always growth in faith. The word of the Lord constantly presents the Lord of the word. Coming to the word is coming to the Lord. This central truth cuts both ways. We cannot detach the word from the Lord and, like the scribes and the Pharisees, profess to cling to the Scriptures while refusing the Lord. On the other hand, neither can we profess obedience to the Lord while rejecting his word. To separate a living Lord from a ‘dead’ book or a divine Lord from a merely human book is to reject the apostolic gospel. (Clowney 1988: 79–80)

  4. A new way of living

    Milk, here, is not elementary doctrine, which one perpetually learns; and never comes to the knowledge of the truth, but a mode of living which has the savour of the new birth, when we surrender ourselves to be brought up by God. (Calvin 2010: 63)

Schreiner says that it is ‘the very substance of life, comprising that which Christians need to progress in their spiritual lives’. Schreiner goes on to say that ‘the word “pure” functions as a contrast to the deceit (dolos) believers are to put aside (v. 1)’, that it ‘refers to that which is unadulterated and uncontaminated’, and thus is ‘health giving and pure’ (2003: 99–100).

I couldn’t quite work out whether Schreiner took the first or the third position from my list above:

Usually, however, in Greek literature the term refers to that which is rational or reasonable. It is not equated with the term ‘spiritual,’ even though it overlaps with it. Peter probably opted for the term to clarify that the milk he had in view was the word of God. The ‘word’ (logos), after all, was the means by which God begot believers. … Hence, Peter used logikos to define milk here, so that the readers will understand that the milk by which they grow is nothing other than the word of God. The means by which God sanctifies believers is through the mind, through the continued proclamation of the word. Spiritual growth is not primarily mystical but rational, and rational in the sense that it is informed and sustained by God’s word. (2003: 100)

I find that I cannot agree with Schreiner’s statement (though I find it a difficult statement to understand and so I admit I may have misunderstood it) that ‘The means by which God sanctifies believers is through the mind, through the continued proclamation of the word. Spiritual growth is not primarily mystical but rational, and rational in the sense that it is informed and sustained by God’s word.’ (2003: 100) Certainly, I agree that it is sustained by God’s word, but I am of the view that, when we read Scripture with the right heart and with spiritual eyes, we encounter our Lord and God in a way that is far deeper than simply rational and that it is in these encounters that spiritual growth really happens.

He writes, ‘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’. Therefore, while it is not incorrect to direct Christians to the word of God in Scripture for spiritual sustenance throughout life, it is unlikely that Peter means to limit the milk metaphor exclusively to the written word of God. This would be especially true at a time before the gospel of Jesus Christ is fully and formally inscripturated in the NT. (Jobes 2005: 137, quoting Michaels 1988: 89)

Finally, Jobes flips vv. 2 and 3 around:

The logic of verses 2, then, is ‘since you have tasted that the Lord is good, crave…’, which makes the implied referent of the milk metaphor their experience of the Lord himself. (2005: 139)

Therefore, I lean towards the third view, that is Christ plus Scriptures or Christ in and of himself and Christ through the Scriptures – the pure spiritual milk we are to crave is Christ, we crave spiritual experiences of him (through prayer, meditation on scripture and other spiritual practices as well as simply living for his glory) and we crave rational experiences of him. We need to be changed in our hearts, in our souls and in our minds (cf. Matthew 22:37) and Christ meets us where we are needy.2

Moral Transformation is Spiritual Nourishment3

Schreiner says:

Spiritual growth is necessary for eschatological salvation. Understanding that ‘salvation’ as an end-time reality fits with 1:5 and 1:9 … Some commentators, however, make the mistake of saying that Peter referred to end-time salvation rather than spiritual maturity. This is a false dichotomy. Peter’s point is that spiritual growth is necessary for eschatological salvation. The evidence that one has been begotten by the Father through the word is that believers continue to long for that word and become increasingly mature. (2003: 101)

Though I disagreed (or at least misunderstood) Schreiner’s assertion that sanctification is ‘primarily … rational’, I agree with his conclusions that ‘spiritual growth is necessary for eschatological salvation’ and that ‘the evidence that one has been begotten by the father … is that believers continue to long for that word and become increasingly mature’. This falls in line with what I am learning more and more about the Christian life: we cannot simply be saved (get off the Titanic) and then rest on Jesus’ laurels. we cannot simply say, ‘I’m with him’ (while pointing to Jesus) and do nothing (though if we’re not with Jesus, anything we do is absolutely worthless). No, being with Jesus must mean more than simply assenting to any Christian creed, it must also mean that we become more like Jesus and this is something that we must actively participate in, we cannot just lay back and ‘let God work’.

The list of sins in v. 1 was noted by several commentators4 as being a list of social sins. Himes says that:

This intense craving for God must be accompanied by genuine, un-hypocritical affection for other believers: ‘When a church yearns for spiritual nourishment, that church will not be involved in bitter disputes with hypocritical showings or deceitful communications’.’ (2017, quoting McKnight 1996: 105)

I felt Peter’s words in this section were being pressed into my heart by the Spirit as I read them: I cannot love God and not love his people; I cannot claim to be craving the ‘pure spiritual milk’ and practice malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy or slander of any kind.

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. … 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.

If I have no desire to grow in my faith, I have forgotten the Lord’s kindness and goodness. Salvation is not something that comes to those who sit back and fall into that ever-popular idea that God just shrugs his shoulders when we sin as long as we’ve put our faith in Jesus. So yes, I must crave Jesus Christ himself, the pure spiritual milk, the pioneer and perfecter of my faith (Hebrews 12:2) and because I crave Jesus, because I cry out for him, I must crave his word.

Another main point from the larger section in 1 Peter (1:22–2:3) is that love and truth must always go together. Clowney puts it well:

Love and truth, so often set at odds in contemporary Christianity, are bound together by Peter. Clearly, Peter requires love for fellow-Christians as the great mark of true holiness. He is not satisfied with tolerance or acceptance, far less with formalized distance. He will have love, sincere love, without pretence or hypocrisy. (In the New Testament, ‘unhypocritical’ always describes love.) But even sincerity is not enough: our love must be ‘deep’ and intense. Peter uses a word that means ‘stretched’ or ‘strained’. The same term describes the earnestness of Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane. (1988: 74)

Throughout the history of the church and certainly in modern times, there have always been groups of Christians who seem to view their task as frantically holding back the tides of heresy that they think are threatening to overwhelm the church. I’ve bought into it to greater and lesser degrees throughout my Christian life and Peter is saying here that it must not be this way! The way we interact with each other matters, not just because the world looks on waiting for us to slip up (though it does, and we never make it wait too long), but because this is Jesus’ bride, this is what it means to grow up in our salvation, this is what it means to crave Jesus, to long for him. Our brothers and sisters are not only image bearers, they’re children of the Most High God! When we treat them with anything but absolute and total respect, we reject what Jesus has done for us. Much of the theology we aggressively debate doesn’t matter nearly as much as we think it does and I don’t think us trying to defend God or stand up for truth in some of the ways that we do impresses or pleases God in the slightest.

It’s okay if someone doesn’t know the answer to whatever theological question you might think is so important. Do they trust in Jesus alone for their justification? Do they crave him above all else as the pure milk they need to survive? Do they submit to him through the Spirit? Do they trust in him alone for their final salvation? I think if they can answer ‘Yes’ to these questions then the rest is just details (potentially important, interesting, challenging, encouraging details, sure, but nothing worth fighting over).

Can a Christian Survive Outside the Church?

One final note that I found interesting, though it is somewhat outside of the scope of my study. Talking of 1 Peter 2:1–10, Himes says this (and I agree):

In addition, this passage demolishes any attempts Christians make to get by without a local community of believers. Such expressions as ‘I love Jesus but don’t belong to any church’ become incoherent, as senseless as it would be for a part of a building to say ‘I’m built on the cornerstone but not attached to any other building blocks’ or for the foot to say ‘because I’m not a hand, I’m not part of the body’ (1 Cor 12:15). Thus, ‘private Christianity’ is oxymoronic and a contradiction in terms. (2017)

Naturally, there were countless stones left unturned in my very brief foray into 1 Peter. There are many things I would love to investigate and I’m sure there are even more that I didn’t even glimpse. Hopefully this has been useful to you, it’s certainly been useful to me.

References

Calvin, J. & Owen, J. 2010. Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Clowney, E.P., 1988. The message of 1 Peter: the way of the cross, Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Grudem, W.A., 1988. 1 Peter: an introduction and commentary, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Jobes, Karen H., 2002. ‘Got Milk? Septuagint Psalm 33 and the Interpretation of 1 Peter 2:1–3.’ Westminster Theological Journal 64.1: 1–14.

———, 2005. 1 Peter, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

McKnight, Scot, 1996. 1 Peter. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Michaels, J.R., 1988. 1 Peter. Word Biblical Commentary. Waco: Word.

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

  1. Milk, here, is not elementary doctrine, which one perpetually learns; and never comes to the knowledge of the truth, but a mode of living which has the savour of the new birth, when we surrender ourselves to be brought up by God. (Calvin 2010: 63)

    Milk in this context does not represent elementary Christian teaching (as it does in a different metaphor in 1 Cor. 3:2 and Heb. 5:12–13, where milk is contrasted with meat or solid food), but rather something to be eagerly desired for nourishment. (Grudem 1988: 100)

    Peter, however, is not thinking of milk as infant diet to be replaced by meat. In Peter’s figure the milk of the abiding word is simply the Christian’s necessary food. (Clowney 1988: 78)

    Although elsewhere in the NT milk is used as a metaphor for teachings suitable for immature Christians (Heb. 5:12) or worldly Christians (1 Cor. 3:1), such a negative connotation is not found here. Rather, Peter sees milk as that which all Christians need in order to nurture their new life in Christ, so that they will ‘grow up’ into salvation, deliverance from God’s judgment when the Lord returns. (Jobes 2005: 132)

  2. There seems to be some seriousness to the debate between the pure milk being the scriptures alone or whether it can be Christ and the scriptures. I’m sure the debate makes sense and is important from a scholarly point of view, but from a practical point of view, I see no danger in adopting the second option.

    Jobes says that ‘the widespread consensus among modern interpreters that the pure spiritual milk of 2:2 is the word of God may seem too strong to question, much less abandon.’ (2005: 141) Things that cannot be discussed always concern (and interest) me.

    If you are interested in learning more (or unconvinced), take a look at Karen Jobes’ excellent commentary on 1 Peter in the Baker Exegetical Commentaries series for a longer discussion of this issue. 

  3. In the Baker Exegetical Commentary volume on 1 Peter, Karen Jobes entitles her section on 1 Peter ‘Moral Transformation is Spiritual Nourishment’ (2005: 130). 

  4. The sins listed tear at the social fabric of the church, ripping away the threads of love that keep them together. (Schreiner 2003: 98)