Questions: Epistles of Peter and John

In exploring incarnational, Trinitarian theology, questions arise about specific passages of Scripture. This page addresses questions related to passages in the books of 1 Peter through 3 John.

1 Peter 2:8-10
8..."A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the message-- which is also what they were destined for. 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

If all are forgiven, how can some be destined for destruction?

Peter is writing to the Jews dispersed throughout the Roman Empire. He is calling on them to “Come to him [Jesus], a living stone, though rejected by the mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight…” He is referencing several images from the prophets, including Psalm 118:22, which says, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” and Isaiah 8:13-15, where Isaiah writes: “The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, and he will be a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured."

The words in 1 Peter 2:8, “as they were destined for,” refer to the fulfillment of the prophecies regarding Israel stumbling over the stone the builders rejected, which were fulfilled, as Paul put it, by the “residents of Jerusalem and their leaders” (Acts 13:27-28), and as Peter put it, “this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed…” (Acts 2:23).

Verses 9-10 refer to the transformation that takes place at conversion; Peter is writing to Israelites whose eyes have been opened to who Christ is for them and who God has made them to be in Christ. Part of Israel’s story is that they were chosen to be God’s people not because of their greatness, but because of God’s love (Deut 7:6-8). Now, Peter is saying, unlike those who through unbelief stumble over the Rock, these Jews are now through belief in Jesus a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,” so that they can “proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (verse 9).  

Trinitarian theology does not teach that “every human is the people of God.” Only believers are the “people of God” in this sense. All humans belong to God in the sense of the universal atonement and reconciliation God has brought about in Christ, but only those who turn to Christ in faith participate with him in his relationship with the Father as the Father’s beloved Son.

1Peter 4:17-18
17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And, "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?"

Why does Peter say it is hard to be saved?

The point of verses 17-18 is found in verse 19: “So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

Peter has been encouraging persecuted believers to live in accord with their identity as children of God and not like those who live in debauchery and idolatry (verses 1-5).

As part of his argument, he points out that persecution is participation in the suffering of Christ, and therefore if believers are to suffer, they should suffer for their faith and godly behavior instead of suffering for sinful and ungodly behavior (verses 12-16). His point is that believers, who know that Jesus, the Savior, is the merciful Judge of all, should not be living in the same base and evil ways as those who oppose Christ.

It is actually impossible for anyone to be saved – were it not for Christ. Christ has done what is impossible for humans to do for themselves, but those who reject Christ are not participating in Christ’s suffering; they participate in their own suffering as they reap what they sow.

1John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Is John saying that God forgives us only after we confess?  If so, then the claim of Trinitarian theology that all are forgiven already is false.

Note that in v7 that it is the blood of Jesus that "purifies us from all sin."  And note in 2:2 that Jesus is "the atoning sacrifice" for "the sins of the whole world."   Elsewhere in Scripture (including in John's gospel), we learn that Jesus, through his representative/ substitutionary life, death and resurrection brought about forgiveness for all humanity, and the incorporation of all humanity into the life of God as his adopted children. This stunning reversal was accomplished completely apart from our personal action, including any belief of our own.

But why then these words from John concerning our confession?  Because it is one thing to be forgiven and another to know it.  It is one thing to be forgiven and another to live into that forgiveness.  It is to this personal experience of forgiveness to which John here writes. And he writes to the community of believers, calling them to practice the spiritual discipline of confession of sin so that the fellowship experience together the purification from sin that comes with a deep embrace of God's forgiveness in Christ.

Note how in verses 7 and 9 purification, confession and forgiveness are linked. As sins are confessed within the community, there is a purifying from sin that occurs as the community makes "real" subjectively what is already true objectively in Christ. This community/personal experience strengthens the believer in the faith and builds up the community in love and in mission.

It is this community experience and mission that Jesus seems to have in mind when he says to his disciples, "If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven" (John 20:23).



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