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Jude makes use of at least two books that were not considered to be inspired by the Church or the Jews. In v. 9 he alludes to the Testament of Moses and in vv. 14-15 he quotes 1 Enoch.

Bauckham points out that besides the direct citation of 1 Enoch 1, the writer knows 1 Enoch 1-36 and perhaps sections later in the book. 1 Enoch was popular at Qumran and there may be allusions to the book in Revelation as well. This section of 1 Enoch is an expansion of the story of the Nephlehim and the Giants a found in Genesis 6. Jude does not allude to that plot line at all, but rather to the rather generic statement that God is coming to execute justice on ones who have rebelled against him. In the context of 1 Enoch, this is the angels who have intermixed with humans and created “the Giants” and taught humans all manner of sin.

Michael and SatanThe reference to the archangel and Satan discussing the bones of Moses does not appear in the Testament of Moses, although it is likely that the words Jude uses are quoted from the lost ending to that book. Richard Bauckham has a considerable excursus on the sources for Jude 9 which includes a catalog of all of the variations of this story in Jewish and Christian sources as well as a list of references to the Assumption of Moses, a lost book usually confused with the Testament of Moses (Jude, 2 Peter, 48, 67). Bauckham concludes that the Assumption is a re-worked version of the Testament (76). There are a number of Christian sources that seem to have known the story in detail, and a few pre-Christian Jewish sources contain disputes between the devil and an angel over various events (Isaac’s sacrifice, for example).

That Jude would allude to these Jewish texts is a good argument for the circulation of the book within Jewish communities in Judea, perhaps in the “near diaspora” communities. We know that 1 Enoch appears at Qumran. Although the Testament of Moses has not been found among the DSS, it is not unlikely that this is evidence for an early date and Jewish Christian context for the book.

The common way to explain Jude’s used of these texts is to say they are simply “illustrations of truth: similar to a pastor using a commonly known story, film, or T.V. show as a sermon illustration. Jude is not trying to tell his readers that these books are inspired and worthy of inclusion in the Bible, but rather using texts that they are already familiar with in order to make a point. The reference to Enoch is a bit touchy, since it says Enoch in fact prophesied the Lord’s return – although one could argue Jude is saying the popular book of Enoch says this, rather than “historical Enoch.”

It is possible that Jude uses these texts because they are popular with the false teachers. In my post on Jude’s use of the Hebrew Bible I commented that Jude alludes to the wilderness tradition frequently, perhaps his opponents used the wilderness tradition and a book like 1 Enoch in their own teaching. The allusion to the Testament of Moses may be appropriate since the event took place in the wilderness and the end of that period of Israel’s history. The Qumran Community immediately comes to mind, since they are in the wilderness, not far from Nebo and made use of 1 Enoch. But Jude seems to imply the opponents are a perversion of Christian teaching, so perhaps they are a Essene like group which has accepted Jesus as Messiah.

In any case, Jude is turning their own favorite books around on them to show that they are heretics. Jude’s purpose is to combat a false teaching which has “smuggled” itself into the church.

What are the implications of Jude’s use of these sources?

Jude alludes to a number of stories from the Hebrew Bible. Jude rarely quotes the Hebrew Bible, but he alludes to key events which ought to be familiar to his readers. For example, in v. 5 alludes to the Exodus, v. 6, the Giants in Gen 6, and in v. 7 to Sodom and Gomorrah. He mentions the names of characters to invoke their stories as well. In v. 11 he lists Cain, Balaam and Korah as examples of rebellion against God.

In each of these cases, Jude wants the reader to hear not just the event or name, but to recall the whole story. To what extent does Jude expect the listener to hear the names and events as shorthand for the whole story? The story of the Exodus is common, but Baalam might not be as well known, and Korah is far more obscure. He is expecting a great deal out of his congregation by alluding to these stories.

It is significant that the majority of these examples come from the Wilderness traditions of the Hebrew Bible. The wilderness period was sometimes used in the prophets as an prime example of the rebellious nature of Israel. From the earliest history, Israel struggled to remain faithful to God. Jude makes use of this tradition much like the prophets did, drawing analogies from the first generation to describe his opponents.

While some of these traditions are obscure to us, they were likely well known by Jewish congregations. Paul alludes to the wilderness in 1 Cor 10, Jesus also creates an analogy between his own ministry at the generation in the wilderness (John 6 especially). The fact is that these stories turn up in a number of Jewish sources as examples of rebellion against God. Much of this literature either pre-dates Jude or is contemporary to the letter. “Probably this Jewish schema had been taken up in the paraenesis of the primitive church and used in the initial instruction of converts: hence Jude can refer to it as already well-known to his readers” (Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 46-47).

Jude used texts from the Hebrew Bible to create a typology. He is evoking the memory of a story or event from the history of Israel and drawing out some implication which applies to the situation of the churches he is addressing. Balaam is therefore analogous to the opponents of the church in some ways, but not in every way. Jude’s approach to scripture is not unlike that of the writer of Hebrews. Usually described as a midrash, Jude combines scripture and interprets the scripture as applicable to the present situation of false teachers having “slipped in unaware.”

Perhaps a better way to describe Jude’s technique is to compare the letter with the Habakkuk commentary from Qumran. This style, known as pesher, placed interpretations from the Community’s teacher in between lines of scripture. This sort of running commentary was intended to interpret the text of Habakkuk as applying to the Community’s current situation.

If Jude can be rightly described as a kind of either midrash or pesher, then this can be used as additional evidence of an early, Jewish Christianity as the background to the letter.  This observation will be beneficial in understanding the theology of this letter – keeping these images in mind, what is Jude saying about his opponents?

The opponents in Jude  misuse the grace of God as a license to sin. These seems to be the key problem Jude needs to address. The teachers seem to have been antinomian, a perversion of the gospel which argues that those who are saved are somehow “beyond” the law, so that they can behave however they want without consequence. Antinomianism was a serous problem at the end of the first century and lead to a bad reputation among the Romans, who heard rumors that all Christians engaged in strange sexual rites as a part of their worship.

Jude 4 describes the sin of the opponents as ἀσέλγεια, a word which has the sense of abandoning the restraints of socially accepted behavior, almost always sexual sin. (Only 2x in the LXX: WisSol 14:26, “sexual perversion”, 3 Macc 2:26 uses the word to describe the sexual excess of the Greek king of Egypt; cf., T.Levi 23:1, “lewdness.”)

Some of Jude’s biblical illustrations for these opponents are sexually oriented as well. The fallen angels (Gen 6:1-4, 1 Enoch). The sexual nature of the sins of the angels in Gen 6 is more clear in the 1 Enoch version, perhaps explaining Jude’s use of the more legendary form of the story. Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 14) were legendary for their sexual sins, it is possible that Jude has general sexual excess in mind rather than homosexuality.

Taken along with Jude’s reference to the opponents being “blemishes” on the church’s love feasts, it is likely that these teachers were using church meals as an opportunity for sexual debauchery. While this sounds completely alien to the later church, in a Greco-Roman context this makes more sense. Greco-Roman banquets were known for not only over indulgence in good food and wine. A good meal was often followed by sexual encounters with prostitutes.

Paul dealt with this very problem in Corinth where was a problem with gluttony, drunkenness and going to prostitutes at private banquets (1:Cor 6:12-20). The issue here is attendance at banquets given by the rich elite of the city. There is plenty of evidence concerning the types of things that went on in a Roman banquet of the first century from contemporary writers.

Plutarch described the combination of gluttony, drunkenness and sexual immorality that were a part of the “after-dinners” as he calls them. There was an association between gluttony and sexual excess, as is seen from the well known saying reported by Plutarch, “in well-gorged-bodies love (passions) reside.” The writer Athenaeus said tat the goddess Cypris (Aphrodite) does not visit the poor, “in an empty body no love of the beautiful can reside.” Plutarch also said that in “intemperate intercourse follows a lawless meal, inharmonious music follows a shameless debauch.”

If this is the background for the opponents in Jude, then once again we have evidence for an earlier date to the book, and perhaps another indication that the problems were caused by people, perhaps Jews, failing to challenge their pagan world with their new faith. I suspect that this is one of the more applicable elements of the book of Jude.  These “Christians” are using their religion to promote behaviors which would even shock the Romans.

Douglas Rowston described Jude as “the most neglected book in the New Testament.” Perhaps because the letter is so short, or possibly because of the book’s close relationship to 2 Peter, the book is rarely preached on, and few people turn to the book in devotional reading. It is, however, an important witness to the way the early church responded to false teaching. While the book is brief, it is a very “dense” book, in that nearly every line is packed with allusions to the Old Testament or laced with colorful metaphors to described the false teachers.

Why do many scholars deal with 2 Peter along with Jude? One factor is the is the similarity between the two letters – virtually the entire book of Jude appears in 2 Peter, with the exception of the two allusions to non-biblical books. For this reason scholars wonder if Jude used 2 Peter, or vice versa, or if both letters used a third source, perhaps a standard statement against false teachers who abuse their freedom in Christ.

Another major problem with the book is authorship. The author of Jude identifies himself simply as Jude, brother of James and servant of Jesus Christ. There are eight New Testament persons with the name Jude (Greek, Judas, or Hebrew, Judah), but the most likely is Jude the brother of Jesus. This has been the assumption of most Bible readers until relatively modern times. Since the rise of historical criticism, Jude is usually identified as a pseudonym or simply as another Jude other than the brother of Jesus.

Jude is the shortened form of Judas, a very common in the first century. Jesus had a brother named Judas as well as two disciples, and there are several others mentioned in the New Testament. Why was the name so popular? Judas Maccabees was one of the great heros of the Jewish people. He was the “Hammer” who led the rebellion against Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Judah was also the name of the founder of the tribe of Judah, the tribe to which King David belonged.

It was therefore a very patriotic name which brought to mind two very important times in Israel’s history: the founding of the Kingdom of David and the restoration of the kingdom under the Hasmoneans after the Maccabean revolt. Jesus ‘s own name evokes another great moment in Israel’s history, YeShua, the Lord Saves, is translated as Joshua in most English Bibles. Like Judas Maccabees, Joshua drove the Canaanites from the Land when Israel first arrived in the land promised to Abraham. Jesus’ other brother James would be better Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. That there were so many men named Judas might tell us something about Jewish expectations for a rebellion against Rome.

Yet the evidence is thin that the Jude who wrote this short letter was the brother of Jesus. Karen Jobes points out that we know from 1 Cor 15:7 that Jesus appear to his brother James after the resurrection, so “possibly he appeared to others in this family as well” (Letters to the Church, 237). That is certainly possible, but not necessary from 1 Cor 15. There is a strong tradition that Jude was not only a follower of Jesus after the resurrection, but that he became a leader in the Jerusalem church after the death of his brother James. Eusebius says that the grandsons of Jude were alive during the reign of Domitian and were brought to Rome under suspicion of fomenting rebellion. The emperor questioned them but realized they were not rebels at all, but rather simple farmers (H.E. 3.20).

If Jude was the brother of Jesus, why does he not say so in his letter? Why use the title “servant of Jesus?” The fact that Jude and the other brothers of Jesus were unbelievers until after the resurrection, the title “servant of Jesus” can be seen as a humble acknowledgment of Jesus’ Lordship.

Bibliography: Douglas J. Rowston, “The Most Neglected Book in the New Testament, NTS 21 (1975): 554-563.

Peter lists a series of vices that were acceptable in the Greco-Roman world. Some of these are associated with entertainment (theater, the games), others may be associated with banquets in the temples. While some of these might be family celebrations and fairly innocent, a meal at a temple would be an opportunity for drunkenness, gluttony, sexual excess.

Bacchus

Sensuality (ἀσέλγεια) refers to a “lack of self-constraint” that goes beyond what is socially acceptable. Traditionally this is translated as “licentiousness” and turns up in sin lists along with fornication. It is the kind of insolence that makes a mockery of what is considered acceptable in polite society.

Passions (ἐπιθυμία) is the typical word used for lust, although that is not always a sexual lust; gluttony, for example, is an inordinate craving for food, etc.) The word can refer to any sort of desire that goes beyond what is necessary.

Drunkenness (οἰνοφλυγία) is not the typical word used in the New Testament for one who gets drunk, but implies that the person is gluttonous for wine. Philo of Alexandria uses this word in his discussion of coveting:

Philo, Spec. Laws, 4.91 When it [coveting] affects the parts about the belly it makes men gluttonous, insatiable, intemperate, debauched, admirers of a profligate life, delighting in drunkenness, and epicurism, slaves to strong wine, and fish, and meat, pursuers of feasts and tables, wallowing like greedy dogs; owing to all which things their lives are rendered miserable and accursed, and they are reduced to an existence more grievous than any death.

The word translated orgies (κωμος) refers to a festive meal usually in honor of Dionysus/Bacchus, the god of wine. The word appears twice in the LXX, in 2 Macc 6:4 it describes the revelries of the Gentiles in the Temple courts before the Maccabean revolt, and in Wisdom of Solomon 14:23 it appears in a detailed sin list (translated as “frenzied revels.”

2 Maccabees 6:4 (NRSV)  For the temple was filled with debauchery and reveling by the Gentiles, who dallied with prostitutes and had intercourse with women within the sacred precincts, and besides brought in things for sacrifice that were unfit.

Wisdom of Solomon 14:23 (NRSV)  For whether they kill children in their initiations, or celebrate secret mysteries, or hold frenzied revels with strange customs

Similarly, “drinking parties” (πότος) refers to carousing, although this is not always with the connotation of drinking in a sleazy bar. The elite often held banquets to discuss literature or philosophy (a symposium) while drinking heavily. BDAG suggests that Peter “has less sophisticated participants in mind.”

Lawless idolatry (ἀθέμιτος εἰδωλολατρία). This final item is scathing in its condemnation of the religious practices of the Roman world.  The word Peter uses here is used for wanton, unseemly behavior, things that even the Roman world would consider too disgusting. In addition, Peter calls these gods idols, something that would not be considered politically correct in the Roman world. You might not worship someone else’s god, but you did not call it a disgusting idol! Not only do these people commit acts that are unseemly, they do so in the service of a worthless idol.

Imagine contemporary celebrations like Mardi Gras, New Year’s Eve, or Super Bowl parties. There are all excuses for indulging in behavior that would be inappropriate at other times. But this goes beyond the pale: imagine someone behaving so badly at Mardi Gras that people thought they were crossing the line.

Peter implies that his readers have participated in some of these things. This is usually taken as a “proof” that the congregation is made up of Gentile converts, since Jews would not have participated in these kinds of debaucheries. But as Karen Jobes points out, this may be an overly idealized view of diaspora Jews living in a pagan culture. That some of them at some point did attend the theater or the gladiatorial games is entirely possible.

Christians developed the reputation for being different because they chose not to participate in such behaviors. In the ancient world, different was always bad. If a Christian choose to not participate in some civic event because it is an excuse for debauchery, they are likely going to be view with suspicion. If the event was dedicated to the gods of the city, perhaps the Christians were endangering the prosperity of the city. If the event was a family celebration, then refusing to participate would have created tension within the most basic unit of Roman culture.

This goes beyond modern Christians abstaining from the drunken festivals of our time. To use the analogy of Mardi Gras, if someone refused to participate in the festivities, they might be considered a kill-joy, or holier-than-thou, or judgmental. But few would consider them traitors to the city of New Orleans, and no one really thinks that the gods are going to bless the city since everyone participates in the revels. This radical call to holiness opened many early Christians to accusations of disloyalty.

 

Peter describes Jesus as a “living stone” that was rejected by men (2:4). What is a “living stone”? Some take this as an uncut rock. Altars in the Old Testament were to be built from unhewn rock, not dressed stone.  Water that is used in a Jewish mikveh was called “living water” since it had to come from a “living source” (rain or a spring).  On the other hand, the stone may have been cut, carved and prepared for use as the Temple cornerstone.

Jesus is the “rejected stone” that becomes the chief stone in a New Temple (2:6-8) Peter draws several verses from the Hebrew Bible together in this paragraph. He first quotes Isa 28:16, where the Lord says he is “laying a stone in Zion.” In the original context, this saying referred to the establishment of a stable dynasty in Jerusalem, despite threats against it from the Assyrians.

Herodian Stones

The massive Herodian era foundation stone at the Temple Mount

The first line is fairly clear, but the expansion of stone into a “chosen cornerstone” needs to be unpacked.  The Greek word (ἀκρογωνιαιος) refers to a “capstone,” an ornate stone that would be the final stone added to a building. But a “cornerstone” refers to a stone laid as a foundation. Unlike modern “cornerstones” that are largely ceremonial, the cornerstone for a large building was critical for the building up of the rest of the building.

The second verse Peter quotes is from Psalm 118:22-23. The idea of a chief stone connects the Psalm to Isa 28:16. Jesus called himself the “stone that the builders rejected” after the Parable of the Vineyard in Mark 12:9-11. In Mark 12, Jesus calls the rejected stone the “head corner stone” (κεφαλή and γωνία, corner), although “head” can mean “chief” here. The context of the psalm is a restoration of Israel at the end of the exile, and it appears that the text was considered messianic based on the similarity of the word stone (eben) and son (ben) in Hebrew. David was the son who was rejected, yet he was the chose king who laid the foundation of the line of kings that would result in the coming of the Messiah.

In the Gospels, Jesus quotes Psalm 118 as a conclusion to the parable of the Vineyard, which concludes with the son of the vineyard’s owner being taken out of the vineyard and killed. This is a thinly veiled prediction of what will happen to Jesus in just a few days and is a clear statement from Jesus that his death will be in some ways a fulfillment of Psalm 118, the rejected son (ben) becomes the chief stone (eben) in the building.

The third text Peter quotes is Isa. 8:14. In response to the rejection of the stone, judgment will come. In the original context of Isaiah 8, God has given the sign of Immanuel (a son, ben) to king Ahaz, and now Isaiah is warned to honor only the Lord as holy and to only fear the Lord (rather than the king). The Lord will be a sanctuary (a holy place, the word mikdash is used for the tent of meeting and the Temple) for those who honor him, but for those who have rejected the Lord as their God, he will be a “stone of stumbling.”

Stones

At the Southwest corner of the Temple Mount

It is easy enough to connect sanctuary with temple (although the LXX has ἁγίασμα), but the image of what kind of stone Jesus is changes here – he is no longer an honored stone at the highest point in the Temple; rather he is a stone on the ground that trips people up and causes them to stumble. Sometimes this “stumbling-block” is described as a mostly-buried rock that someone does not really see until they trip over it and are injured.

Those who honor Jesus will be honored, those who do not will be shamed. This refers to eschatological judgment. When Jesus returns, there will be a separation of those who honored the stone as precious, or tripped over him and stumbled. Paul used these same verses in a very similar way in Romans 9:33, 10:11. In the present age, Peter says, there are some will believe in the cornerstone, and be honored ‘in that day,” while those who reject the stone will be shamed.

In summary, Peter describes Jesus in this passage as the most important stone in a Temple. If Jesus is the cornerstone or capstone, then the people of God are stones building on that foundation. What is Peter’s main point in this metaphor? Is it just a scriptural argument for Jesus as Messiah, or there are pastoral emphasis as well? Within the metaphor of a Temple, what is the relationship between the living stones of the church and Jesus?

In 1 Peter 1:15-16, Peter said the reason a believer ought to be holy is that they were ransomed by God with the greatest price imaginable, the blood of Jesus, the perfect and spotless lamb. The second reason Peter gives for his call to holiness is that the believer has been born again (1:22-23). The believer has experienced a change in status before God, we are now his children.

Peter’s description of salvation as being “born again” is drawn from the teaching of Jesus (John 3), but is consistent with Paul’s “new creation” and adoption language. Like Paul in 1 Cor 15, Peter says that the believer has been changed fundamentally, from perishable seed but imperishable. The believer’s salvation is imperishable because it is through the “living and abiding word of God.” The “seed” that creates this new, imperishable life in the believer is the Word of God.

Peter quotes Isaiah 40:6-8, although his words echo that whole passage. The original context of Isaiah 40 was a call for the exiles to leave Babylon and return to the land, the long exile of Israel was over.  Peter addressed his readers as those living in the Exile and claims to write “from Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13). The good news preached to his readers was that the exile is over and those who are born again in Jesus Christ are able to be the holy people that God desired from the beginning.

Baby with CandyIf the believer has really “tasted that the Lord is good,” then they ought to crave more and better food. When children are born, they are only able to drink milk, but they crave it so intensely that when a baby is hungry, everyone knows it!  When kids are young, parents try to get them to eat new kinds of food in order to provide more nutrition than Mac and Cheese with a hotdog. Most kids will not eat stuffed mushrooms or anything that “looks weird” (unless a stranger offers it to them in a store as a “free sample”!) This is the whole Green Eggs and Ham syndrome – if you taste it you will like it (Sam I Am).

The words “Taste that the Lord is good” is an allusion to Psalm 34:8. In that psalm David describes the blessed man who has found refuge in the Lord. The one who is protected by the Lord is safe, while the oppressors (“young lions”) go hungry. Since the believer has in fact “tasted the good things of the Lord,” it is only natural that they should crave.

The believer should put away things that are not consistent with that growth. As with human children, some things do not promote healthy growth. As parents, we tell our kids to eat the broccoli and asparagus because it is healthy and they need the vitamins, and we restrict their junk food because it is just that, junk. This restriction is not because parents are mean (or are hoarding the candy for themselves), but because they want to help their children grow up healthy.

He mentions specifically “all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” These are the sorts of things that destroy any community, but especially Christian communities. Malice (κακία) is the opposite of virtue (ἀρετή), but appears frequently in vice lists for a kind of “mean-spirited or vicious attitude” (BDAG). It appears with anger, hatred, rage, and even bitterness. It is a kind of attitude that finds fault with everything and cannot see any good at all in something.

Deceit (δόλος) is sometimes translated “underhandedness” or “treachery.” It is the word that appears in the LXX to describe the treachery of Jacob when he stole the blessing from his brother (Gen 27:35) and the treachery of Simeon and Levi when they attacked the people of Shechem.  The word appears in Psalm 34:13, which may supply Peter with his list of vices in this verse.

But it does not take a major sin to stunt our growth in the Lord – simple distractions are usually more effective for destroying our growth than “malice and deceit.” Peter’s point here is that the believer is a child of God and ought to act like it. It is only natural that the believer is growing and developing in holiness.

In his first chapter, Peter has described the salvation his readers experienced as unimaginably great. If the readers have such a great salvation as this, they ought to be holy (1:15-16). Peter quotes Leviticus 11:44: “You shall be holy because I am holy.” This section alludes to many texts and ideas drawn from the Old Testament. In fact, the more one is aware of the overall plot of the Old Testament, the clearer this passage is. Peter is assuming the “salvation history” of the Jewish people in these verses. He is not just quoting the Hebrew Bible; he is alluding to the whole plot of sin and redemption from Genesis through the Prophets.

Passover Lamb

The first reason Peter gives for this is that the believers have been “ransomed from their futile ways” (v.18). For a Jewish or Gentile reader, the “ransom” language Peter used would evoke the practice setting a slave free. The verb (λυτρόω) refers to paying a price to set a slave free. A price would be deposited at a temple, and the slave was then considered to be purchased by the god. For the Jewish reader, the idea of “ransom” is far more theologically rich. The Jewish people as a whole were redeemed out of their slavery in Egypt and therefore became the people of God in the Exodus.

Since Israel they broke the covenant and went into exile. The prophet (Isaiah especially) described the return from exile as a New Exodus. When Israel is called out of the nations they will once again be “redeemed” by their God. It is for this reason that the coming messianic age could be called the “redemption of Israel” (Luke 2:25 Simeon).

Peter makes a connection between the Passover Lamb and Jesus, who is the ultimate price to pay. The price paid was not with perishable things, gold or silver, but with a life. The sacrificial system from the Hebrew Bible required a life as a substitute for sin. When the first Passover happened, the blood of the lamb was placed on the doorposts so that the family in the home would be saved from the final plague and redeemed out of Egypt. The people did not give gold or silver to a temple, but they gave up a precious life.

Isaiah 55:1 may be a parallel here since the people are called out of the exile to eat and drink with the Lord, food provided without money. That section ends with a reference to the Word of God “not returning void” as the new eschatological age dawns. The blood of Christ’s sacrifice is even more “precious” (τίμιος) than the Passover Lamb. This word is often used for precious stones, jewels, etc. Something that is precious is held in highest honor. Since the contrast is with gold and silver, the value of the blood of the sacrifice of the Messiah is as high as imaginable.

A “lamb without blemish or spot” is an allusion to the Passover Lamb. Any sacrificed animal is to be pure and spotless (the same idea appears in Heb 9:14). But the word (ἄμωμος) is often used for moral purity as well. Since the lamb of a sacrifice was offered to God, it was to be as perfect as possible. In fact, Peter’s description of the death of Jesus as a ransom may be drawn from the teaching of Jesus himself. In Mark 10:45 Jesus describes the giving up of his life as a “ransom for many.”

Peter therefore connects the salvation experience of the believer to the Passover (the salvation experience of the Hebrew Bible) and draws the same ethical implications that the Torah did. Since believers in Christ has been “bought with a price” they ought to live a holy life. Based on 1 Peter 1-2, what does this holiness “look like”?

Having described our salvation as secure by its very nature, Peter goes on to describe our salvation as “has been kept in heaven” and guarded by the power of God.  A second reason our great salvation is secure is that we are not guarding it, God the Father himself is keeping it for us.

1 PeterThe Greek syntax is important here, the verb is a perfect passive participle (φρουρουμένους, from φρουρέω). Our inheritance has already been kept (the perfect) and it is not kept by us, but for us (the passive). The believer is not responsible for keep their salvation, or maintaining their salvation. It is an expectation that will be realized at some point in the future.

Ultimately that salvation will not be fully revealed until the “last time.” While we might here “when we get to heaven” in this statement, Peter has in mind the return of Jesus, the ultimate vindication of Jesus as the Lord of this world.  We tend to think something like, “since Jesus died for me, I get to go to heaven,” which of course is true. But Peter’s Jewish theology and world view emphasized the return of Jesus to render justice and establish his kingdom more completely.  As we will see in the rest of this letter, Peter believes that Jesus is going to return very soon and that believers live in the gap between the first and second coming of the Messiah.

Taken along with 1 Peter 1:4, we can be certain our salvation is secure because it is based on the death and resurrection of Jesus, by its very nature it cannot decay, and it is being kept by God himself in heaven.

If this is the case, what should Christians think about their “present suffering”? Peter argues that since our salvation is so certain, the trials of this life are occasions for praise (vv. 6-7).  The believer can rejoice in their “fiery trials” because they know that their inheritance is secured.  The belief that Jesus is Lord and that he is returning to render judgment on the world in the future runs counter to the prevailing belief that Rome is all-powerful and renders justice and that Caesar himself is the ultimate Lord.

In the territories mentioned in 1 Peter 1:1, Rome was venerated in imperial religious activity that could not be separated from civic life. If one was going be successful in the Roman world of the late first century, then Rome must be recognized as sovereign over this world.  This world view would naturally bring Christians into conflict with local authorities.  Why do Christians avoid participating in civic events that are dedicated to gods, or even to Rome itself?

It is difficult for contemporary (American) Christians to fully understand this because America attempts to completely separate “church and state.” What we do in church has nothing to do with our loyalty as Americans, and we do not really see our loyalty to America as something that conflicts with our faith in Jesus Christ. But that was just not the case in first century Rome, nor is it the case in many countries today.

Is it possible to be a loyal Christian and participate fully in civic life in China? Or the Middle East? Or many countries in Africa? How can Peter’s assertion that our inheritance is kept for us in Heaven encourage Christians wo are indeed suffering greatly for their faith?

 

In order to comfort those who might think their suffering implies a loss of salvation, Peter describes the nature of salvation as an expectation that cannot be lost. It is not possible to lose our inheritance of salvation because it is by its very nature not “lose-able.”

inheritanceA Jewish reader might hear the word “inheritance” as an allusion to the Promised Land, and these Jews are living outside that inheritance in the Diaspora. Peter therefore uses three words to describe our salvation in terms in order to highlight the fact that by nature this inheritance cannot be lost. On the other hand, virtually the entire ancient world would understand the importance of preserving an inheritance for their descendants. There was a great deal of social status and honor tied to the size and quality of an inheritance, and most people would have known a situation where an inheritance was far smaller than expected!

Imperishable (ἄφθαρτος) obviously refers to something that does not die. It is rarely used in the New Testament (8x including variants). It is likely that the next two words are expansions on the idea of an imperishable salvation.  How is our inheritance safe? It pure and unfading. In the LXX it appears only in Wisdom 12:1 for the immortality of the soul and 18:4 for the “imperishable light of the law” in contrast to those imprisoned in darkness. Paul used this word for the immortal God (Rom 1:23, 1 Tim 1:17), our reward (1 Cor 9:25) and our resurrection body (1 Cor 15:52).  Peter uses the word here and in 1:23 for the quality of our salvation. Later he uses the word for “genuine beauty” (3:4).

The word refers to something that cannot get old, rot away or die. The opposite is something that does rot. By analogy, people do not buy bananas as a long term investment. After a few days they turn brown and are not very appetizing. Imagine keeping a banana for a few months!  By contrast,

Undefiled (ἀμίαντος) can be translated “pure” in a moral sense. Hebrews 13:4 uses it for the marriage relationship and in 7:26 the word refers to Jesus as the pure high priest. 2 Maccabees 14:36, 15:34 uses the word for the temple, and it appears three times in Wisdom (3:13, 4:2, 8:20). The opposite (μιαίνω) refers to the stain of dye, but in most New Testament contexts it refers to the “stain” of immorality (Titus 1:15, Heb 12:15, Jude 8), although it may also refer to any uncleanliness (John 18:28).

Unfading (ἀμάραντος) only appears here in the New Testament, and in the LXX only in Wisdom 6:12 (unfading wisdom). Some time ago we moved our couch and found that the curtains on the front picture window were very faded when we saw the lower parts that do not hang in the sun. Eventually the drapes will have to be replaced since the sunlight would eventually ruin them completely. Is Peter’s used of “unfading” an allusion to Matthew 6:19-21 / Luke 12:33? There are some similarities, although the emphasis there is on external attacks on treasure, rather than the inviolability of our salvation. Gundry thought there was an allusion, Jobes reports this without comment, (1 Peter, 86).

Peter’s point is the salvation we have in Christ Jesus is an inheritance so perfect it cannot be lost, as was Israel’s inheritance of the land in the Hebrew Bible. If this is the case, is there any reason to worry about any harassment or persecution on account of our faith?

What are some other ways the nature of our salvation ought to change the way we live out our lives in a non-Christian world?

 

 

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Christian Theology

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