Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Use of the Old Testament in 1 Peter 2.9-10

There are a number of direct quotations from and direct allusions to the Old Testament in 1 Peter.  First Peter 2:9-10 is rich with evocative Old Testament themes and language.[1]  Most prominent in use are Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 43:20-21; and Hosea 2:23.[2]  In selecting these Old Testament passages Peter has drawn upon titles and images pertaining to Israel’s identity in the Old Covenant.  This is significant in light of the fact that the audience intended by this epistle is, in all likelihood, predominantly Gentile.[3]  This has implications for the relationship between “Israel” and the “Church”—an issue that continues to divide theological systems.  Furthermore, as will be seen, the texts from the Old Testament utilized by 1 Peter 2:9-10 have “missional” overtones that also suit Peter’s purposes in writing to his recipients.  A quick discussion of the individual Old Testament texts will be followed by a discussion of the implications of these texts for Peter’s context.
            Exodus 19:6 is an important statement made to Israel by God at a crucial moment in their history.  Three months after the defining moments of the exodus from Egypt Israel is at Mount Sinai and the living God is going to make a covenant with his people.  Yahweh speaks these words to his people:
Now then, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  Exodus 19:5-6a

Israel is chosen out of the nations for the special privilege of being God’s people.  This sets them apart from the other nations on the face of the earth—the Gentiles.  Furthermore,

there is an implicit call to Israel that she is to be God’s people on behalf of the nations.    Terence Fretheim argues that the phrase in Exodus 19:5—“for all the earth is mine”—is significant:
This suggest that the phrases relate to a mission that encompasses God’s purposes for the entire world.  Israel is commissioned to be God’s people on behalf of the earth which is God’s.[4]

This election by God is a calling to be God’s people on behalf of the nations, thus election and mission are intertwined. 
             Isaiah 43:20-21 is set within a context of God’s promises of deliverance for Israel from Bablylon.[5]  Israel is called God’s “chosen people” and a people formed for God himself so that they may “declare my praise.”  It is also of importance to note that this section of Isaiah is set within the larger context of the “servant” of Yahweh.  Israel as the Lord’s servant has a mission to be a light to the Gentiles (Isa 42:6; 49:6).  As with the Exodus 19 there is the dual emphasis on election and mission.
            Hosea is an eighth century prophet who is called to minister to the Northern Kingdom.  The children born to Hosea through his wife Gomer are symbolic of God’s judgment.  Their second child is called “Lo-ruhamah” which the Lord states to mean that he “will no longer have compassion on the house of the Israel, that I would ever forgive them” (Hosea 1:6).  Their third child is called “Lo-ammi” which means “for you are not my people and I am not your God” (Hosea 1:9).  This judgment is not the last word for Israel.  For in Hosea 2:23 the Lord states:
I will sow her for myself in the land.  I will have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion, and I will say to those people who were not my people, “You are my people!”  And they will say, “You are my God!”

Thus, Israel is judged to be of the status of the Gentiles as “not his people” but the day is coming when they shall again be called “my people.”  This will entail them coming to acknowledge the Davidic dynasty as indicated by Hosea 3:5.
The Lord had tolerated their secession from the David dynasty (931 B.C.).  But people may not enter into the era of restoration unless they completely abandon their former ways, submit to Yahweh, and express loyalty to Yahweh’s Messiah.[6]

Israel’s promised return will be their reception by God from the status of a Gentile-like people and unto the blessings of the promises of God.
            In utilizing these texts from the Old Testament Peter is evoking  glorious names and associations of the people of God and applying them to believers in Jesus Christ—both Jew and Gentile.  In that the primary audience in these scattered churches was Gentile in nature it is amazing to see the covenantal names, associations, and mission of Israel spoken of and applied to Gentiles in the church.  Peter is not simply speaking about Gentile inclusion among the people of God.  Had that been his desire he could have quoted any number of other Old Testament texts to demonstrate this reality.[7]  Rather, Peter is stressing the reality that those who have come to the “living stone” (1 Peter 2:4) and believe in him are those who are the people of God.  Peter is able to take these Old Testament statements and apply them to believers in Jesus (Jew and Gentile) since in his conception it was the “Spirit of Christ” that was at work in the Old Testament writers (1 Peter 1:11).  For Peter all those—and only those—who are found believing in Jesus Christ are the true people of God.  Peter can refer to believing Gentiles with the language of Old Covenant Israel.  These Gentiles have been incorporated into the people of God by virtue of faith in Messiah Jesus.  Conversely, Jewish people who reject Jesus are “disobedient to the word” and appointed unto doom (1 Peter 2:7-8). 
            The subtle missional overtones in the Old Testament passages cited also serve Peter’s purposes.  In 1 Peter 2:9 God’s people are to “proclaim the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  Although there is debate about the exact nature of this “proclaiming” Torrey Seland argues that it refers to some manner of proclamation to the outside unbelieving world.  Seland writes:
According to our reading of this text then, it most probably reveals that the author of 1 Peter envisioned and even encouraged his readers to proclaim the gospel to their neighbors and family.[8]

Peter is utilizing Old Testament texts with a focus on election with a corresponding call to God’s mission.  These emphases fit the needs of Peter’s recipients as well.  They are to be a people with “excellent behavior among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).[9]  The communities to whom Peter is writing this epistle are called to holy lives which serve as notice as a counter-culture people who attract the unbelieving world.  For Peter election serves the cause of mission or, as I. H. Marshall puts it, “Thus, to be a chosen nation is not only an indication of privilege but also a summons to service.”[10]
            Peter’s use of Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 43:20-21; and Hosea 2:23 is full of profound meaning.  The use of covenantal language which is used in the Old Testament to designate Israel is taken up by Peter and applied to all those who believe in Jesus—Jew and Gentile.  The people of God is now centered around those respond to the word of Christ and believe in him.  Furthermore the Old Testament texts utilized by Peter also had elements of a missional context; Israel was called as God’s people to serve the nations.  This missional theme also is evident in 1 Peter and Peter’s use of these texts furthers his agenda to set the churches on a correct course in this regard.

     [1] D. A. Carson notes that, “Scholars disagree on how much is quotation and how much is allusion, but even those who insist on some direct quotations cannot find more than two words at a time that apparently spring from specific texts.” G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 1030.
     [2] The combination of Exodus 19:6 and Hosea 2:23 may be an instance of gezerah shava with the connecting word being “people.”
     [3] Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter (TNTC 17; Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 1988), 38; Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude (NAC 37; Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman, 2003), 38-39.
     [4] Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus (Interpretation; Louisville: John Knox, 1991), 212 (emphasis in original).
     [5] As Alec Moyter states regarding this section: “it is explained that the fall of Babylon is an Egypt-exodus event, followed by a homeward journey full of divine provision.”  J. Alec Moyter, The Promise of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 1993), 335.  There may be a faint echo to this text in 1 Peter 5:13 in which Peter references “Babylon.”  Many scholars argue that this a reference to Rome.
     [6] Willem Van Gemeren, Interpreting the Prophetic Word (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1990), 114.
     [7] This is what Paul does in Romans 15:9-12 with his catena of passages which speak of the “Gentiles/nations.”
     [8] Torrey Seland, “Resident Aliens in Mission: Missional Practices in the Emerging Church of 1 Peter,” BBR 19.4 (2009): 585.
     [9] Both Grudem, 1 Peter, 117 and Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 124 argue that this “glorifying of God in the day of visitation” refers to those who have been converted through the words and works of Christians with excellent behavior.
     [10] I. H. Marshall, 1 Peter (IVPNTC; Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 1991), 74.