St. Peter Doesn’t Give a Rip (Part 1)

unpopular.jpgEvidently Peter doesn’t give a rip about being popular.

I’ve been working slowly and deliberately through 1 Peter in the mornings over the past week or two, and have noticed that Peter holds to some pretty unpopular doctrines.

In fact, over the course of 1 Peter alone I’ve seen him provide some of the strongest biblical evidence anywhere for some of the most unpopular doctrines in contemporary Christianity.  It’s worth being reminded, I think, that the popularity of a doctrine has no bearing whatsoever on whether it is true or false.  We could list dozens of specific historical example in which a “popular” (i.e. widely held) doctrine was patently false (e.g. the so-called prosperity gospel in Dallas and elsewhere), as well as those in which a very “unpopular” doctrine was undoubtedly true (e.g. Athanasius’s orthodox understanding of the nature of Christ against the popularly held Arianism).

And that’s exactly my point.  Many times we adopt beliefs because they’re popular or reject them because they’re unpopular.  Let’s be honest.  We all do it.  Even Peter has done it (cf. Gal. 2).  But God is no respecter of popularity.  Every belief must be tested by Scripture.  No one should believe something because it’s popular or not believe it because it’s unpopular.  Moreover, no one should believe something merely because it’s easy to believe it, nor disbelieve it because it’s difficult to believe.

Peter wouldn’t have been a very popular speaker among many Christians (evangelical or otherwise) in the West today.  He would’ve been mocked on the blogosphere and in hot-selling books authored by ultra-trendy pundits.  He would’ve been an easy target.

Let me show you a few of the reasons why.

Unpopular Doctrine #1 from 1 Peter: Double Predestination

In any Top Ten list of unpopular doctrines, double predestination will inevitably find its way into the top 3 (at least).  Double predestination, in brief, is the belief that God not only predetermined who will come to embrace the gospel and be saved (before they’ve done anything good or evil), but that he also predetermined who will reject the gospel and be damned.

I mean, can you imagine something more unpopular and abhorrent in our cultural context, with its massive emphasis on personal choice and self-determinism?  Doesn’t Peter know that this isn’t going to fly?!  Isn’t he aware that no one is going to be attracted to a God that makes choices for people—without their approval?!  Can’t he see that this is going to get him excoriated in the blogosphere?

He writes in 1 Peter 2:6-8: “For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’  So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”

This last phrase is, perhaps, the single strongest pillar supporting the doctrine of double predestination in all of Scripture (though, of course, no doctrine should be built on one text alone).  Verse 8 (οἳ προσκόπτουσιν τῷ λόγῳ ἀπειθοῦντες, εἰς ὃ καὶ ἐτέθησαν) may literally be rendered, “They stumble in that they disobey the word—a state of affairs to which they were appointed.”  In its context, it is without question that “the word” refers to the gospel (cf. v. 25).  The passive verb ἐτέθησαν makes it clear that those who were “appointed” to disbelieve the gospel were …well, passive in the matter.

In other words, it isn’t that God foresaw that they would not believe the gospel and therefore found it agreeable that they should stumble.  That won’t do given the language of verse 8.  On the contrary, it was God’s appointment of them to “stumble” that caused their rejection of the gospel, in contrast to those that he has “chosen” (ἐκλεκτόν, eklekton = “elected”) to believe (cf. v. 9).

Now of course the question, “What sort of God chooses to do it this way?” is a valid one.  It’s a serious question and an emotional one, given the fact that we all have friends and family who do not believe, and Peter is saying this is the case because God appointed them for that—unless (may it be!) they come to Christ!  But it is a separate question.  In other words, you don’t reject a doctrine because you don’t like its implications.  You allow the Scriptures to speak for themselves.  And then you deal with the implications.

God hasn’t apologized for what He’s said.  Neither should we.  There is a reason—a good, acceptable and perfect reason—that God has chosen to rule his world in this way.

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5 thoughts on “St. Peter Doesn’t Give a Rip (Part 1)”

  1. BC,

    First, I was forwarded your blog by a certain Jesse Sweeny with much recommendation. 🙂

    Second, there is much to commend in your thoughts on how the truth or falsity of doctrines is not determined by popularity.

    Third, you write, “There is a reason—a good, acceptable and perfect reason—that God has chosen to rule his world in this way.”

    But why should we think that? Especially in light of what the author says in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” That word “everyone” seems to indicate that even those that are “destined to disobey” are included in God’s patient desire for repentance. Perhaps, there is no good reason to believe in double predestination at all.

    Fourth, we might understand 1 Peter 2:6-8 in light of its quotations from the Old Testament. The passages highlight two things: (1) acceptance or rejection of the Messiah is the decisive factor in one’s salvation, and (2) that rejection of the Messiah by his people is anticipated. Instead of being a reference to some abstract theory of double predestination, we have a prophecy to Israel about how the Messiah will be received. The first principle is unconditional while the second is not. The text cannot be forced to say that it is necessary for the Israel to disobey, only that she will disobey. The NLT captures it well, “They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.” The “fate that was planned for them” is that which is contained in (1), Christ is the only way to salvation, and to reject him is to come to ruin.

    This is compatible with 2 Peter 3:9, and ought to be preferred, don’t you think?

  2. Adam,

    That seems to be a fair alternative reading of the text. Which is why, like Bryan said, “no doctrine should be built on one text alone.” Looking at Romans 9 seems to further indicate a clear plan of double predestination (God hardens some and has mercy on others). How do you read that text?

  3. Hi Adam,

    Good stuff, man. Hat tip to Sweeney, and thanks for stopping by.

    Your comment about 2 Peter 3:9 is an important one. I too believe that Peter means, as you said, that “even those that are ‘destined to disobey’ are included in God’s patient desire for repentance.” But I don’t think you’ve taken your own objection far enough.

    We both have to account for why everyone doesn’t get saved in light of 2 Peter 3:9. If this really is God’s desire–for everyone to be saved–then why doesn’t it happen?

    Your answer, I assume (correct me if I’m wrong), is that God also desired to give human beings free will to choose him or to reject him. My problem with that answer is that it is an idea completely foreign to Scripture. No where can you find this idea taught in Scripture. Not anywhere. 1 Peter 2:8 seems like a better answer to me because, well, it’s in the Bible.

    I do agree with you, however, that there are “two wills” in God: A will of desire (i.e. He desires that all would be saved) and a will of decree (i.e. He has deliberately chosen to create the sort of world in which he knew not everyone would be saved). But my answer to why 2 Peter 3:9 doesn’t happen is 1 Peter 2:8: He has appointed some not to believe. So, in some sense, God desires that everyone believe and be saved, and he governs the world (including the hearts of people) in such a way that he carries out another “will” (i.e. that some would perish). Paul gives God’s reason for doing it that way in Romans 9:19-24.

    You also said, “We might understand 1 Peter 2:6-8 in light of its quotations from the Old Testament. The passages highlight two things: (1) acceptance or rejection of the Messiah is the decisive factor in one’s salvation, and (2) that rejection of the Messiah by his people is anticipated. Instead of being a reference to some abstract theory of double predestination, we have a prophecy to Israel about how the Messiah will be received.

    I mostly agree (and I love people who actually go back and look at the context of OT quotes, by the way. You’re a man after my own heart). The main problem, however, is that you’re not taking account of how Peter is appropriating these quotes. Peter is using these quotes to say something. And he is not using them to make a point about Israel. 1 Peter is not mainly directed to Jews, but to Gentiles (more on that in Part 2). He is using these quotes to illustrate your two points: “Acceptance or rejection of the Messiah is the decisive factor in one’s salvation, and that rejection of the Messiah by his people is anticipated.

    But here’s the key problem with your objection: Verse 8 is Peter’s editorial on the quotes he’s used. Verse 8 is Peter’s explanation of why the rejection happens. And the explanation, as I’ve argued, is that God has appointed some to reject the Messiah. So, I think it’s unfair to call double predestination an “abstract theory.” I think double predestination is merely a shorthand way to say what Peter is saying: God has chosen (verse 9) some to belong to him, and has appointed some to reject him (verse 8).

  4. I find it interesting that Peter is presented for being gutsy to write about some unpopular ideas, since he was the one who got in such hot water for caving into peer pressure in Gal 2:11-14.

    [Announcer Voice] Now for a message from Lyle the Contrarian.
    (honestly I’m not trying to stir up trouble. I’m just calling them as I see ’em.)

    1 Peter 2:8b reads “Who stumble while disobeying the word – to which indeed they were appointed”

    The word appointed is from the Greek word ‘tithemi’, which has the basic meaning “to set, to place, to establish”. The question becomes what was the prepositional phrase “to which indeed they were appointed” being directed at? That is to say, “to whom or what” were they appointed?” It is normal to use context to find the answer. With context you look at what was just previously mentioned to see if that makes sense. If it seems to make sense, you can look further up the text, but it had better make even more sense. So we begin our context search.

    Before the word ‘to’ is the word ‘word’. Word can mean gospel or scripture here, regardless, if they had been obeying scripture they would have heeded the gospel. It does use the word ‘disobey’ which could be used of the gospel, but scripture make more sense to me with that word choice. But again as I said it makes little difference. So we have to figure out, were these people “set, placed, established, or appointed” to the scripture/gospel? The truth is that they were. They were supposed to obey scripture and believe the gospel. It was what they were supposed to do.

    Next word is ‘stumble’. If they are “put, placed, established or appointed” to being stumblers, then their role was to be stumblers. So for them it would be little different than the verses in the Old Testament where it states “God hardened their hearts”. That is to say, they had already rejected God, so God made that rejection solid/finished for His own purpose. It speaks nothing of this “placing” taking place at an earlier time. It matters little anyways, as the answer to the prepositional phrase question is much more likely “word” than it is “stumble”.

    Someday I will have to share with you my debunking of both Calvinism and Arminianism with the very same verse. It is only a handful of sentences long.

  5. First of all, I’m not a Calvinist or an Arminian, for that matter. So I don’t exactly view predestination the same way, but I think I’m going to use this excellent quote or some version of it:

    “In other words, you don’t reject a doctrine because you don’t like its implications. You allow the Scriptures to speak for themselves. And then you deal with the implications.”

    Excellent.

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