Wednesday

06 September 2017

“Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (vv. 4-5)

Psalm: Psalm 74:1-12


Background

For 'Peter', as for Paul, faith in Christ was transformative - not just in terms of a change of status (becoming 'God's children'), but also in terms of behaviour. And, as for Paul, salvation was the end, not the start, of the spiritual journey - you 'grow into salvation'. But, as we have mentioned previously, there is an important difference that many New Testament scholars note - whereas Paul was writing especially (but not exclusively) to Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians, 1 Peter was probably written for an exclusively Jewish Christian audience, as becomes clear in the extensive use of quotes from Isaiah (especially) and Psalms.

The image here is of the destroyed Jerusalem temple, and it was a very potent image at the end of the first century because it had been demolished (apart from what we now know as The Wailing Wall) by the rampaging Roman army in AD70 (after the death of Peter, which is one reason why scholars might think he didn't write this letter.) For Jews this was, of course, a tragedy, but some saw it also as a sign of God's wrath and of an imminent Day of Judgement. For them, the temple (especially as re-modelled by Herod the Great) represented all that was wrong with Judaism - political compromise with the Romans, a corrupt religious hierarchy, and a loss of messianic vision. The Essenes (of Dead Sea Scrolls fame) were amongst those who looked for a radical transformation of Judaism, and John the Baptist - and Jesus himself - shared that view. So a re-built temple, as imagined by 'Peter', drawing together three building metaphors, was, in turn, a metaphor both for divine judgement and for a renewed people of God - a radically transformed Judaism. Verses 9 and 10 then take familiar titles for Israel and apply them to this new Jewish Christian community - they, and they alone, are the true people of God, in contrast to those who rejected Jesus as the true Messiah.


To Ponder

  • The Jerusalem temple was at the very heart of 1st-century Judaism - until its destruction. For 'Peter', his Jewish Christian community now took its place -as "living stones", a "spiritual house", and as a "holy priesthood" offering "spiritual sacrifices". This is very different from Paul's more organic image of the Church as the Body of Christ. Which image do you find more helpful? Why?
  • "Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander" (v. 1). 'Peter' equated Christian maturity with what we might now call emotional intelligence (very much like Paul's fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5). So which is the more important Christian characteristic: right behaviour or right belief? Why?


Bible notes author:  The Revd David Rhymer

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