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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.

As I showed in a previous post, 1 Peter is addressed to the “elect exiles of the dispersion” (1:1, ESV). The metaphor for the Christian as a “stranger” or “alien” in this world is very powerful, one that makes for great preaching. Christians sing “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” (For those who enjoy 80’s Christian rock, think of Petra’s “Not of this World.”) Famous stories like Pilgrim’s Progress describe the Christian life as a long journey through a foreign land. We are slowly making our way through a strange and wicked country to out real home, the Celestial City.

But in 1 Peter 1:1 the “stranger” and “exile” is a metaphor drawn on the experience of Israel. In fact, 1 Peter is framed with the idea of exile. In 5:13 Peter says “she who is in Babylon greets you.” To be “in Babylon” is to be in Exile, living in a strange land which is trying to “convert” you away from serving your God. Think of Daniel, a faithful Jew who served God in Babylon, in the exile. He was a stranger and foreigner, and a model for faithful Jews living in Exile. Peter addresses his letter to Jews living “in exile” as strangers in a strange land.

Does this metaphor address Jews or Gentiles? I think that it is undoubted that Peter drew the metaphor from the Hebrew Bible and the experience of the Jewish people. Calvin commented on 1 Peter 1:1 saying, “Those who think that all the godly are so called [foreigners], because they are strangers in the world, and are going on metaphorically towards the celestial country, are greatly mistaken, and this mistake can be refuted by the word dispersion which immediately follows. This can apply only to the Jews.”

Frequently the recipients are Gentiles, based on 1:18 (“futile ways inherited from your ancestors”). But Jobes points out that the next verse states that the readers are redeemed with the “precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter; BENT, 2005). This description of Jesus as Messiah and a spotless lamb seems in favor of a Jewish recipient. In addition, Jobes points out that Paul considered his Jewish accomplishments as “rubbish”(Phil 3:7-9). It is not surprising therefore that Peter might describe the practice of Judaism apart from Jesus as Christ as “futile.”

Does that mean we who are Gentile Christians ought to ignore this book as “Jewish”? That strikes me as dangerous and foolish, but it is nonetheless important to read these metaphors (and the whole book) in the context of Jewish Christianity of the mid-first century. Peter is addressing Jewish Christians who struggle living as strangers in their culture, which is exactly the sort of circumstance we face now. As Jobes says, “Once the letter circulated away from its original readers, the first sense necessarily receded and the metaphorical sense of “foreigners of the Diaspora” became primary.” (Jobes, 1 Peter, 64.)

How can this distinctly Jewish metaphor be transferred to the situation of the American church in the early 21st century?  Or, should it  be applied in this way?

Over the last few posts I have argued that literal interpretation is best understood as reading a text in order to understand the author’s original intent. What I am really arguing for here is a consistent use of the grammatical-historical method which takes into account the use of metaphors and other symbolic language.

When reading Paul or narrative texts like the Gospels or Acts, this is a fairly straightforward process. If Luke tells us Paul went to Philippi, we do not have to work very hard trying to determine the deeper meaning of the text. But when Paul describes the church as a “temple of the Holy Spirit,” he employs a metaphor which describes the church in some ways like a temple. The reader must determine what elements of the comparison are important and which are not.

Literally? For any text, when an author uses metaphors or other figurative language, the reader must “enter into the world of the metaphor” and understand what the author intended to highlight or emphasize in the comparison. This becomes increasingly difficult for Revelation since, as I said in a previous post, the book is like a political cartoon from a culture quite different than ours and from an entirely different point in history. We may not know what some of the elements mean since we are generally ignorant of the Jewish or Greco-Roman world some 2000 years ago. This means we have to work hard to “get into the world” of the first century in order to understand what this figurative language might mean.

Please understand that the use of figurative language does not necessarily mean that the reader is free to read it anyway they want. The reader is still must determine the writer’s intent when he used that figurative language. When someone argues that “Revelation is not literal so a literal method will not work,” then they are opening the door for an allegorical interpretation, or perhaps a reader-response method of approaching the text. I am arguing that we read Revelation the same way we read Romans, even if it is hard to do.

Can these assumptions be applied to the book of Revelation? Outside of the apocalyptic portions of Daniel and the book of Revelation, most scholars agree with the methods of literal interpretation to find the meaning of a text. But, some argue, once we enter the world of Apocalyptic, these principles must be set aside. Craig Blomberg offers three ways in which reading the genres of Revelation properly will be helpful when reading Revelation (Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 368-371).

  • As a letter, we must recognize that the author intended to be understood by his readers. The text cannot mean something unintelligible to the first readers.
  • As prophecy, we must recognize that prophecy does predict literal events through symbolic language. These events, it appears take place prior to the return of Christ.
  • As apocalyptic, we ought to treat the symbols and images as such and attempt to understand them in their original context, both literary and historical contexts.

I find that the balance between the three genres helps to avoid embarrassing extremes where locust become helicopters, but also reads rather bland “good versus evil” meditations found in some commentaries which fail to give full weight to the imagery.

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Christian Theology

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