St. Peter Doesn’t Give a Rip (Part 2)

unpopular.jpgPeter is going to make a lot of people in Dallas upset this morning.

In part 1 of “St. Peter Doesn’t Give a Rip” we saw that in 1 Peter the apostle speaks strongly and clearly on the issue of “double predestination”—an exceedingly unpopular doctrine.  Another quite unpopular doctrine is that of “supercessionism,” though for reasons that will become clear(er) below, I think that’s a misnomer.

There are many different kinds of supercessionism, but in its most extreme forms it is the belief that the (universal) church has “superseded” Israel as the people of God and God therefore no longer has purposes for Israel qua Israel.  What is meant by “Israel” (national, ethnic, “spiritual,” etc.) is a key aspect of the debate.  In its milder forms, supercessionism is often (more accurately, in my opinion) referred to as “completionism,” a term that downplays the idea of “replacement” and emphasizes the church, composed of both Gentile believers and a real ethnic Jewish remnant, as the completion or fulfillment of God’s eschatological people.

The ongoing debate on this issue continues between dispensationalists (who generally reject supercessionism) and covenant theologians (who generally adopt some form of continuationism), and is supercharged by the political and military turmoil in the Holy Land.  For, if you accept some form of supercessionism, while you may very well see the U.S.’s alliance with Israel as a key political and global strategic alliance, it will be unlikely that you’ll see theological or eschatological import in this alliance.  On the other hand, if you reject supercessionism and believe God has a significant place for national/political Israel in his “end-times” plan, you will likely be very pro-Israel and see the U.S.’s alliance with Israel as a very important commitment both strategically and theologically/eschatologically.

So, what does 1 Peter have to say about the issue?  While Peter never addresses this issue directly, I think he speaks even more clearly on it than does, for example, the Letter to the Hebrews in that while Hebrews addresses the obsolescence of Israel and the old covenant directly, Peter assumes it.

And this is key: We assume things we believe to be obvious to our listeners or readers.

In other words, Peter seems so sure of what we would call “completionism” (the title really is irrelevant) that he does not even feel the need to explain it or argue for it with his audience.  He simply assumes that they will agree with him.  The way he does this is by appropriating key terms and titles that were in common usage for the nation of Israel and applying them to the church—which, of course, includes non-Jewish believers.

First, Peter addresses his letter to “Those who are elect exiles of the diaspora (διασπορά) in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, anad Bithynia.”  The term “diaspora” typically referred very specifically to the dispersion of Jewish people outside the Promised Land following any of the several persecutions of Jews in the centuries surrounding the turn of the first millennium. (The term continues to be used today in some circles to refer to Jews residing outside of the state of Israel.)  The scholarly consensus is that 1 Peter is addressed primarily to Gentile (non-Jewish) believers (see 4:2-4), so this use of the term diaspora to refer mainly to Gentiles would have been very suggestive, to say the least, particularly when viewed in light of Peter’s use of “Babylon” in 5:13.

Even more suggestive is the language Peter employs in 2:9: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  The language of “chosen race,” “royal priesthood,” and holy nation” was viewed, in Peter’s context, as the exclusive domain of national Israel, who as the people of God under the old covenant were specifically designated as a chosen holy nation of priests.

But the very next verse (2:10) makes it clear that Peter is using these very strong “Israelite” terms to refer to a group composed predominantly of Gentiles: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”  The implication is that they are now “a people” and “have received mercy” because of what Christ has done for them.  Obviously, this characterization cannot apply to national Israel.

Clearly, then, Peter assumes some form of completionism/supercessionism.  We cannot parse out his view further because, as I said, he does not elaborate.  But the force of Peter’s assumption is telling and cannot easily be squared with classic forms of “Dallas dispensationalism,” or any eschatological scheme that preserves a significant place for national/political Israel in God’s “end-times” plan.  God’s purposes are now centered exclusively on the universal church as the people of God, composed of both Gentiles and a Jewish remnant (a vast number of whom are still to come to Christ [Rom. 11]), who are now together the recipients of all the promises of God to “Israel” under the old covenant.

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3 thoughts on “St. Peter Doesn’t Give a Rip (Part 2)”

  1. As a dispensationalist it will come as no surprise that I oppose supercessionism. It may though surprise you that I don’t think that the modern day nation of Israel has any special status before God. They are just one of many countries in our world; a creation of man.

    As for the audience of 1 Peter, I believe that the book was entirely to Jews. The diaspora were the Jews living out amongst the nations (Greek: ethnos). Ethnos is commonly (and erroneously) translated Gentiles, which is laughable due to the frequent occurrences of the term “ethnos of Israel”, meaning “nation of Israel”.

    The vast majority of believers during the Acts period were Jews. It is not until Acts 15 that we even see the believers admitting that non-Jewish believers were a possibility. In the later portion of Acts we see Paul the apostle to the (…uh hem…) nations go from nation to nation and preaching in the synagogues (Acts 17:1-2). In the book of Romans we see Paul primarily address the Jews. But in one of the few times in Romans that Paul addresses the non-Jews, Paul explains their relationship with the Jews. The few non-Jews were grafted in the Jewish tree (but could lose their place if more Jews came back).

    As for the “Gentile nature” of 1 Peter, I’m sorry, but I just don’t see it. The mentioned verses in 1 Peter 4:2-4 make perfect sense when it is remembered that many Jews in the diaspora had become Hellenized (much as many modern Jews secularize.) I don’t see anything here particular to non-Jews.

    As for Peter’s use of the word Babylon in 5:13, again I’m not sure how using this term would be a Gentile thing. If anything most Gentiles wouldn’t have a clue as to the meaning of the word. Most Jews on the other hand would. In fact non-Jews would be lost on alot of terminology that Peter uses. Remember, the non-Jewish believers didn’t have easy access to bibles, and had not grown up listening to the OT being read.

    So the “strong Israelite” terms that Peter uses refers to actual Israelites. Remember that these Israelites in the diaspora had been cut off from God and the Torah because they could not keep the Law, due to their location. So 1 Peter 2:10 can certainly be applied to such people who had lost their national identity.

    I still don’t understand how supercessionists can explain all of the detailed yet unfulfilled prophecies regarding Israel in the bible. There are a ton of them, which don’t seem to line up with any eschatology I have seen.

  2. I am not sure why 1 Peter addressing Gentiles excludes the idea of a specific place in prophecy for national Israel, considering the large number of such prophecies (such as a regathering as occurred miraculously in 1948).

    It seems obvious that the Church (the “true” Israel) is the only elect, chosen people of God (though He still could have special positions for Jews). Also I don’t see why this doesn’t still allow room for specific prophecies about national Israel, just as there are specific end-times prophecies about other nations.

  3. JD, while we agree that the prophecies regarding Israel remain for Israel, I don’t think that 1948 fulfills the prophecies regarding their in-gathering.

    For example Ezekiel 37:21-23 shows that they will be ruled by one king and the two houses will no longer be divided. Today they have a democracy with a Prime Minister. Today they lack any ordering of tribes, so the removal of the two houses is meaningless. Then there is Deut 30:1-5 which shows the God will return them “Even if your exiles are at the end of the heavens”. Today there are more Jews in America than are in the country of Israel. A meager return indeed.

    Throughout the bible I just don’t see the concept of “spiritual Israel” being expressed. The church today is not “true” Israel. This again is a foreign concept.

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