The Homeless’ (New) Temple, 1 Peter 2.1-10
Peter tells his audience to endure suffering, gives the example of Christ as one who endured suffering, and tells them of their reward (and possible detriment in failing to stand the test) but in this section, the audience is affirmed in their position, and it is one which turns Roman social structure upside down. In 2.1-3, which is part of the literary unit of the previous chapter, we are given a miniature vice list for the people to avoid. In 2.4-5, we find not just a comparison between Christ and the community, but an extension of who Christ is to the community, as if he was extending his position to the community through their shared suffering. I would identify this with early baptismal traditions, especially when comparing this particular passage with Romans 6.1-7 and in particular 1 Peter 1.1 (putting away) with Romans 13.12, Colossians 3.9 and other such passages in speaking of putting away old things in exchange for the new. This idea of transference of position, or perhaps the granting of position and status, looms in 1 Peter. Moving into 1 Peter 2.6-10 we find not the typical justification of the Christian community by using the Scriptures (such as Matthew’s use in prophetic fulfillment) but the use of Scripture as a guiding factor for the community as it prepares to assume, fully, the status already given to it by Christ. For Peter, the Scriptures must be read through the lens of Christ to guide the community into forming what we would later call the Church but what he may have seen as being guided into the ideal community.
In 1 Peter 2.1-3 the author, in continuing the thought separated by a later invention of chapters and verses, calls the community to a standard which would prohibit their reward and harm their newly assigned position. Peter is concerned not so much with the spiritual maturity as some commentators would note (cf ESV Study Bible), but with maintaining the ability to retain the position. For example, the Levites were born Levites, but to maintain their priestly status, they were given certain qualifications which they had to meet. The same is being said here to the effect that while they are now priests, they must put away these internal blemishes in order to be effectually made priests. These vices were πᾶσαν κακίαν καὶ πάντα δόλον καὶ ὑποκρίσεις καὶ φθόνους καὶ πάσας καταλαλιάς (1 Peter 2:1 BGT) with ‘all’ being applied to evil, deceit to which has coupled the like-minded words of hypocrisy and envy all of which include the notion of being an individual who is situationally based, and slander. Peter urges the community, since they have responded to truth and love (1.22-25), and thus been purified for the coming positions, to continue growing into their newness (as indicated at the baptismal language of ‘putting away.’)
1 Peter 1.22-2.3 is in an elliptical pattern in that it starts with the assumption of having been purified, goes through the next necessary steps, and ends with 2.3 which is an allusion to Psalm 34.8 in which the Psalmist declares that one should taste the Lord and see that he is good (NET; the LXX has χρηστὸς which is no doubt Peter’s source). But what is tasted? Having the ‘spiritual milk of the word of God’ so close to the tasting of the Lord draws our attention, but doesn’t fully settle the question. Two paths are set forth and both are easily argued. In one, the word of God (which rarely if ever applies to the whole of Scripture, as many take it to mean now) is to be tasted, while in the other, it is the milk, or sustaining life force from the Lord. It is only answered in noting that with Peter, the salvic moment is already past, so it is better to read this portion of the epistle as “Long for the pure milk, since you have already tasted the Lord and found him kind/good.” Since this allusion is to Psalm 34.8, the reader must keep this entire psalm in mind.
In doing so, we find that David is said to have written the psalm after his escape, but pretending to be insane, from King Abimelech. Psalm 34 is a psalm which is pertinent to the community, and again, while not serving as a proof-text in the style of the Evangelists, serves as a guide in how the community is to respond to their oppressors. In reading the psalm, we find that it could be used on the occasion of the weak escaping the powerful. We find an overall connection between the psalm and Peter’s letter in 34.6, 8, and 10 as well as other verses. It is no doubt then that Peter is trying to convey the same sense of excitement over the poor man’s escape from the rich oppressor by the redeeming (34.22) help of God. Further, the word translated as ‘taste’ is generally applied only to foods, but in the Psalm and in Peter, it is God who is said to be tasted. We may assume then that the situations produced such an experience which can only be said to be experiencing the very presence of God himself and in such a way as to enliven, and embolden David, and in Peter’s hope, the community which is suffering. Therefore, Peter is calling to mind the past experience of God’s goodness, and urging them to grow more in to salvation which is the word of God.
In 2.4-5 we find the turning point in the argument of the passage. The audience has thus for been told what has happened (the salvic moment) and what was expected of them (growth and maturity), but now they are given their position and will be told what this means (2.6-10). In this brief section, Peter begins to call attention to the role of the new community, and that as the Temple of God, but in doing so, their position must be assigned to them. Positions, honor, and hierarchy were important to Roman society, but as Christians (a name which was not glorious but one of ridicule), they were experiencing the treatment due to a lower class. Yet, Peter is telling them that society and culture cannot give them a position of honor, but that this comes through Christ who was God’s ‘choicest’. Now, it is said that the community shares in the position of Christ due to the extension (2.10) of mercy. Quoting Isaiah 28.16 several times in this passage, Peter is guiding the Christological thought of the community and preparing them for their ecclesiological service. Christ is said to be the living stone in verse 4 while the community are also living stones in verse 5. Christ was rejected, which is detailed throughout the Christological passages in Peter, and so too the community of believers whose suffering is the occasion of the letter. Further, in verse 5, the community is reminded that their ‘spiritual sacrifices’ (2.5 NASB) are now acceptable through Christ, allowing again, the application of Christ’s honor to the people.
In 2.6-10, Peter is attempting a theological reflection upon 2.4-5 but with the focus on the community in that we have now a focus on ecclesiology rather than Christology. Does Peter break with the tradition of applying Isaiah 28.16 to Christ? We find that Paul uses it in Romans 9.33 and the Evangelist is using it in Mark 12.10-11 to refer to Christ. Yet, Peter seems to apply it to the suffering community. This would not be out of the ordinary for Peter to use Scripture as experiential model for the believers to follow. However, like the transference of ‘living stones’ from Christ to the community, we can find the allowance in this passage to transfer the application of ‘cornerstone’ from Christ to the community without either breaking with tradition or assuming a low Christology. Beale notes that has at various times had different interpretations, such as the ‘temple, the Davidic monarchy, the remnant, Zion, faith, (and) the Messiah’ has been applied to Isaiah 28.16. As this is the case (Beale goes on to quote Qumran and other ancient sources), then using this passage to apply to both Jesus and the community would not be breaking with Jewish Tradition.
Isaiah 28.16 is not alone in being quoted in this brief passage. Peter quotes as well from Exodus 19.5-6, Psalm 118.22, Isaiah 8.14 as well as Hosea 1.10 and 2.23. Peter is following an interpretive principle called gezerah shavah which allows for words to be connected to create and overall thought from selected texts. In doing so, Peter proves again that he is not merely proof-texting (or speaking to a primarily Gentile audience, as such a technique would be lost on them), but that he is using Scripture to guide, or prod, his audience into action. The verses which are used form a cohesive thought which allows the audience to understand that because Christ is, they are. If we were to take this passage (2.6-10) and apply it to Christ, we see that he is the living stone which is the cornerstone, reject by men, but chosen by God. Because he was chosen by God, and is found valuable, Christ now occupies the place of power, sitting at God’s right hand. Further, he is precious, valuable, and the stumbling stone. If we apply this passage to the community, following the example set in 2.4-5, we find that the community are all these things, but that to them Peter appends that they are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and the people which are God’s own possession called out of darkness to praise God (Isaiah 60.21; 61.3; Jeremiah 13.11).
This passage forms the core of the argument for 1 Peter. The occasion of the letter is to encourage those who are suffering for being a Christian (4.16). Throughout the short work, Peter quotes from the Scriptures of his ancestors in an effort to move the community to an ecclesiological goal while reading the them through a Christological lens, and it is no more evident than in this passage. Beginning with the acknowledgement of the already salvic moment, Peter is encouraging them to move to a realized life which places them outside of their socio-political structures of honor, duty, and other forms of Imperial power centers. Their status is not assigned to them because of their birth or their race, but because of their new birth and their chosen status, but more than that, they are given honor above all in the empire because their assignment of status comes by extension of who they are, and that is, they are those who have been given mercy by Christ who has attained for them honor. Because of whom they now are, due to an event that already occurred; they are being built into a new Temple of God which allows for the full mental (theological) investment of Temple ideology into this passage. Peter is not merely commending to them some notion of Imperial honor, but moving them from merely relying upon a Christological hope to forming an ecclesiological reality wherein they, this community, is assuming a special status among humanity, and that of the royal priesthood and a holy nation, bringing to mind all of the promises made both to the Levites in particular and the nation of Israel in general.