THE FIRST LETTER OF PETER - PART III
THE FAMILY AND TEMPLE OF GOD
I. The letter then turns to analogy of the family of God and the moral implications drawn from it.
A. The letter says that, if we call God our Father, we should act as His loyal sons.
1. The idea of
God as Father indicates He will be demanding and judge impartially.
A poor father may tolerate poor behavior and habits, or may be lax at
one time and not another. But, as Jewish literature so often emphasized,
a good father is demanding to his children that they may be good and
does not change his requirements according to mood. See Prov.
13:24; Sir. 30:1; Heb. 12:7-9. In the Old Testament, when God
is invoked as Father, it comes with a warning that transgressions will
be punished to be sure that the people remain as children, rather than
be captured by the world. Se, e.g., Duet. 32:5-6; 2 Sam. 7:14;
Is. 63:8-10; Mal. 2:10-17.
2. The letter
emphasizes again that we are journeying and therefore, should not act
in a manner that belongs to the world, as though the world were our
B. The letter then emphasizes the importance and cost of being a son of God by emphasizing that we were purchased by the blood of Christ.
1. In the ancient
Roman world, one could ransom a slave by purchasing him with gold or
silver. Sometimes, a family would even ransom a person to adopt
him, and such a ransomed slave would be worse than an ingrate if he
did not act in a reverent fashion towards his adoptive parents.
2. All the more,
the letter emphasizes, we were ransomed from slavery to sin by something
vastly greater than gold or silver, the blood of Christ, compared to
which even gold and silver are ephemeral.
3. The letter
describes Jesus as the pure spotless lamb, recalling the Lamb of the
Passover meal, whose blood would spare the Israelites from death, and
the eating of which would mark them as God's Chosen People.
See Ex. 12:1-28. St. John the Baptist introduced Christ as the
Lamb of God, and the Book of Revelation elaborates on this theme.
See John 1:36; Rev. 5:6-14. Isaiah had long ago said that
the people sold themselves for nothing (for sin is in the end a choice
of nothingness compared to God), but would be redeemed without money.
See Is. 52:3. Here, however, the letter indicates that, far from
meaning that the redemption would be without cost, the prophesy is fulfilled
by a redemption with a cost beyond all wealth. This knowledge
should give us a sense of great responsibility. See 1 Cor. 6:20.
C. The letter again refers to the planning that went into our salvation, for Christ was predestined before the foundation fo the world, for even before the fall God has planned His response.
1. But the world
did not know of God's love until the Son came to earth, and thus He
was not revealed (perhaps not even in full to the angels) until this,
"the end of times."
2. The letter
also says that the readers did not really know God except through Jesus.
We could have some sense of God without Jesus, but not really know Him.
Even the ancient Jews received Revelation only in preparation for Jesus.
Faith thus is ever based upon Christ.
3. And, therefore,
it is in Christ, that we really hope in God. The pagans never
really hoped that their gods could save from sin, and if they believed
in an Almighty God, as Aristotle did, they would not put any hope in
Him for they would not believe that He could really care about us.
It is only in Christ, and to a lesser degree, in the revelation that
led up to him, that we understand what God can do for us. Such
is a common theme of the letters of Paul that this letter of Peter picks
up on. See, e.g., Rom. 3:1-26; Gal. 3:10-22; Eph. 1:3-14.
D. Having described faith and hope, the letter now turns to love and the truth.
1. The letter described the need for obedience to the truth that leads to purity in the soul, which in turn enables one to have true love from the heart for others.
- Once again, there
is no conflict between love and truth, except that the latter is the
flowering of the former. Certainly, for one who has this love,
the truth is not a burden, but is still obeyed.
- The truth purifies
the heart of evil desires and thus enables it to see the truth of other
people and thus to be free. See John 1:17, 8:32. Jeremiah
and Ezekiel had prophesied long ago of a new heart based upon the covenants
now written in the people's hearts, and the letter of Peter says that
this prophesy has now been fulfilled. See Jer. 31:31-37; Ez. 26:16-38.
2. The letter picks
up on the image of Jeremiah that is connected to the new covenant, the
image of a new seed being planted that would lead to justice.
See Jer. 31:27-30. Jesus had described the word of God as a seed in
the ground, see Matt. 13:1-9, and now the letter applies this notion
to the Christian life, saying that we have been born again from God.
3. The letter contrasts
that imperishable seed, the permanent household built on the word of
God with the perishable human institutions that wilt and die.
The quote is from Isaiah that contrasts the glorious promise of a new
land and kingdom with the temporality of earthly promises. See
Is. 40:1-11. This analogy that one without the word of God is
like grass that comes and goes is a common one in the Old Testament,
see Job. 14:2; Ps. 37:2; Sir. 14:18; see also James 1;10. This
letter adds to this advice the positive aspect that the field of our
souls is, if we are willing, sown with imperishable seed. And
this land is the inheritance of the children of God.
II. The letter then turns to the analogy of a living temple.
A. The first line connects the analogy of a family by referring to the new Christians as newborn infants longing for spiritual milk (more literally "milk of the word"), which implies the gifts of Mother Church, that they may grow into adults. As with Jesus' image of accepting the kingdom as children, see Matt. 18:3-4, his image is a positive one, in contrast to a similar image in Hebrews. See Heb. 5:11-14. But the idea is that one should be childlike in avoiding experience of sin, or being too involved with the world, but also experienced as maturing Christians in theological understanding. Jesus balances the two images by saying that one should be as innocent as a dove, but wise as a serpent. Matt. 10:16.
- The letter refers
to Psalm 34, which calls for the faithful to taste the goodness of the
Lord. As that Psalm does, the letter then calls upon the reader
to avoid evil, especially evil of the tongue, and to trust the guidance
of God throughout all troubles, rather than envy of slander those who
seem to have no difficulties.
B. The letter then turns in full to the image of the living temple.
1. The idea is
in part that rock buildings are considered the most permanent, but they
are not alive. By contrast, things that are alive on earth are
subject to decay. There is a combined image here of a permanence
greater than stone, with a life greater than earth can give. There
is a similar combination of the images of family and temple in Ephesians,
the Pauline letter that is especially on the subject of the Church.
See Eph. 2:19-22.
2. The letter also taps into the image of the Temple in Jerusalem, which presumably was still standing when the letter was written.
- Even among the
Gentiles, the Temple was known and widely admired. It was the
resting place of God's glory on earth and the place to which all peoples
were to come. See Is. 56:6-8; see also Ez. 47.
- The letter is
indicating that the people of God are that new and glorious temple,
meant to sanctify the world through their sacrifices as a holy priesthood.
The Church maintains that there is a priesthood of all believers, as
well as an ordained priesthood. See Catechism 1141-42,
1546-47; Vatican II Council, Lumen Gentium 10.
3. Jesus is of
course the central living stone, the cornerstone upon which all else
is built. He gives life and structure to the rest of the building.
There is the image of life coming from the cornerstone to the entire
4. The image
of Christ as the cornerstone springs from Isaiah's prophesy that he
will level Judah, that He may plant again the field of God. See
Is. 28:14-29. Here, the letter is emphasizing the need to receive
life from Christ, who gives us that seed for the sowing.
5. As Jesus Himself
and later St. Peter did, the letter also picks up on the image from
Psalm 118 that this cornerstone will be rejected by men but central
to God. See Ps. 118:2; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11. Psalm 118
is a Psalm celebrating deliverance from seemingly overwhelming evil
though the power of God, and Jesus and Peter cited it in the context
of persecution by enemies, in Jesus' case in the days before His Crucifixion,
and in Peter's case in the midst of the beginnings of the persecutions.
The implication is that Christians can in turn expect the opposition
of the world, for the world to besiege this new Temple. But the
life of the cornerstone will defend it against all things. See,
e.g., Zech. 14:1-5.
letter then quotes the prophesy of Isaiah regarding a stone that will
be a stumbling block. The prophesy is in the context of a warning
that the kingdom of Judah should not enter into alliances with pagan
powers, in that case Egypt, but should rely on the Lord alone.
See Is. 8:11-15. That prophesy is followed by the prophesy of
the great King of Peace, the Wonder Counselor, God-Hero, Father Forever,
and Prince of Peace. See Is. 8:23-9:6. St. Paul likewise
cited this prophesy in the context of emphasizing the need for faith
in Christ. See Rom. 9:33. Here there is a calling to put
full faith in Christ and thus offer all struggles through Him as a sacrifice.
C. The letter then sums up this calling by describing the dignity that the people of God have received.
1. It begins by describing the people as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people."
- The first title,
a chosen race, seems to come from Isaiah's prophesy of a glorious
kingdom God is preparing is which the desert will bloom and even the
wild animals will again serve God's people. See Is. 43:19-21.
Yet there is a warning in that prophesy that the people did not recognize
- The next title
"a royal priesthood" comes from Israel's consecration at Mount
Sinai and indicates that the aspects of kingdom and priestly service,
united in a sense in Kings David and Solomon in their dedication to
the Ark and the Temple, are now given even more so to the people of
God. See Ex. 9:6; 2 Sam. 6:11-23; 1 Kings 8; Ps. 110.
Again, the priesthood of all believers is to be distinguished from the
ordained priesthood. See, e.g., Is. 66:21.
- The third title
"a holy nation"comes from the initial dedication of Israel as God's
nation, separate from other nations, at the Exodus and again as she
was to enter the Promised Land. See Ex. 19:6; Duet. 7:5-11.
The emphasis is on how God and He alone will make them a great and holy
- The fourth title
"God's own people" (or more literally "a people of possession")
comes also from the prophesy of Isaiah mentioned above as well as from
the prophesy of Malachi regarding the coming day of the Lord and the
establishment of a new and glorious people. See Is. 43:21; Mal.
2. The letter
then gives the goal of the glorious calling, to proclaim the deeds of
God who brings us from darkness into His own light. Again the
letter cross-references the prophecies of Isaiah mentioned above regarding
trust in the Lord and the coming of Immanuel who will bring the people
from darkness into light. See Is. 8:23, 43:21. It is an
image Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount, calling Christians to be
a light to the world. See Matt. 5:14-16.
3. The chapter then concludes by saying that the prophesy of Hosea, who spoke of the people of God as the spouse of God, then unfaithful, but to be espoused again, is now fulfilled. See Hos. 1:6-9, 2:25. The idea is that the promises to the people of Israel are now being fulfilled in the Christian community.