1 Peter 2:1-3 “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”
The unity of the Old and New Testaments is observed in how the New Testament authors quote or allude to Old Testament texts. Whenever one looks at the nearly 300 times the New Testament authors quote or allude to the Old Testament, it bears emphasizing the need to have more than a passing familiarity with the Old Testament. Theologian of yesteryear Roger Nicole notes the following about the New Testament authors’ use of the Old Testament in his essay on the subject (gleaned from the site: http://www.bible-researcher.com/nicole.html )
“The New Testament writers used quotations in their sermons, in their histories, in their letters, in their prayers. They used them when addressing Jews or Gentiles, churches or individuals, friends or antagonists, new converts or seasoned Christians. They used them for argumentation, for illustration, for instruction, for documentation, for prophecy, for reproof. They used them in times of stress and in hours of mature thinking, in liberty and in prison, at home and abroad. Everywhere and always they were ready to refer to the impregnable authority of Scripture.”
In today’s post we want to explore 1 Peter 2 to see how the Apostle Peter utilizes the Old Testament in his exposition on the Christian’s identity built upon Christ the Chief Cornerstone. We will first consider the various ways he incorporates the Old Testament into what he is writing. Second, we will follow up with applications taken from observing the contexts of the Old Testament texts we find referenced in 1 Peter 2. Lastly, we will discover how Peter reinforces life application through his use of the Old Testament and refocuses the reader’s attention upon the Lord Jesus Christ at the end of 1 Peter 2.
How Peter uses the Old Testament in 1 Peter 2
Many have written upon the ways in which New Testament authors use the Old Testament text in the New Testament. Three such ways are explained below as we find them in 1 Peter 2.
1. Direct quotation.
In the Apostle Peter’s first epistle, we find him directly quoting three Old Testament texts in 1 Peter 2. Such direct quotations are used to reinforce the author’s main point or demonstrate fulfillment of prophecy. Such quotations of Isaiah 28:16 in 1 Peter 2:6; Psalm 118:22 in 1 Peter 2:7 and Isaiah 8:14 in 1 Peter 2:8 are key examples of direct quotation. Later on in this post we will look specifically at these three Old Testament texts.
Sometimes the New Testament author will use an idea from the Old Testament without necessarily making direct quotation of a particular text. In 1 Peter 2:4 we find Peter mentioning how Christians come to Jesus as their “living stone”. The phrase “living stone” is an allusion to a whole batch of Old Testament texts utilizing the “living rock” or “living stone” idea in expressing the faithfulness and character of Yahweh.
For instance, Moses refers to Yahweh as “the Rock of salvation” in such texts as Deuteronomy 32:15. From what follows in studying Deuteronomy 32, we further discover that God as the “Rock” is the source of spiritual life (Deuteronomy 32:18) and ever faithful (Deuteronomy 32:31).
Further study of this theme of “living Rock” yields the prophet Daniel’s use of it in interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of the Colossus in Daniel 2:34 and 2:45. I both verses we find Daniel referring to the future Messiah or God’s Kingdom as a “stone that has been cut without hands”.
Without saying which text he is thinking about, Peter’s use of an allusion in the phrase “living stone” aids us in thinking back to these texts. The literature that discusses the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament refers to such methods as “scripture echo” and “intertextuality” as ways in which New Testament authors string together their thinking around Old Testament texts or ideas.
Scripture echoes involve the New Testament author taking an Old Testament text and reading it through the lens of additional texts to carry the resultant conclusion into the New Testament. For example, God’s deliverance of the people out of Egypt in the Exodus accounts were given comment centuries later by the prophet Hosea in Hosea 11:1 as being that of a Father rescuing His Son (Israel). This prophetic take on the Exodus accounts by the prophet Hosea factors into how Matthew would apply it to Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt for safe keeping of the Christ child in Matthew 2:15. The prophetic fulfillment expressed in Matthew 2:15 of “Out of Egypt I called My Son” is far from a reckless use of the Old Testament by Matthew.
Intertextuality refers to how a New Testament author will take a phrase or word play (mainly in the original language of the Old Testament or ancient version, like the Septuagint) and utilize it in the New Testament. Peter’s description of Jesus as the “living stone” in 1 Peter 2 takes into consideration several Old Testament passages that utilize the imagery of “rock” and “living” to refer to God (see discussion below). This is but one example of intertextuality.
Such methods function as springboards that aid in navigating the richness of Christ’s Person and achievements through His death, resurrection and ascension. Such methods function as springboards that aid in navigating the richness of Christ’s Person and achievements through His death, resurrection and ascension. Examples such as Peter’s imagery of “living stone” points to how Jesus demonstrated Himself as fulfilling such Old Testament imagery by His resurrection from the dead (see Acts 4:10-12, wherein Peter uses the “rock” imagery to refer to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead”).
Sometimes the New Testament author will use an Old Testament text to illustrate a truth he is bringing out in his letter or sermon. Peter does this in 1 Peter 2:9 to highlight how New Testament believers are a spiritual priesthood. As Peter quotes Exodus 19:6, the reader is taken back to those early days following Yahweh’s deliverance of the ancient Jews in the Exodus. The ancient Jews were led by Moses and God out to the desert to camp at the base of Mount Sinai. It was there that God manifested Himself as a Theophany of thunder and lightening atop the mountain. It was in Exodus 19-20 that God announced the Hebrew’s covenantal identity as the redeemed nation and kingdom of priests. No longer were the ancient Hebrews slaves of Pharaoh.
Peter’s point in bringing up Exodus 19:6 was to urge his readers to view themselves as under the Lordship of Christ, rather than the under the authorities of culture and this world. Covenant identity is a major theme in both Old and New Testaments. It is upon this basis of reminding the reader of their identity in Christ that Peter delivers his series of moral and spiritual imperative for godly living. (see 1 Peter 2:11-17)
How understanding the Old Testament texts in 1 Peter 2 can lead to life application for the Christian today
Why would Peter utilize the particular Old Testament passages he chose in putting together 1 Peter 2? Noting the context of each Old Testament reference can add insight into the overall thrust of the New Testament text.
Peter’s first quotation of Isaiah 28:16 in 1 Peter 2:6 hearkens back to a time in Israel’s history wherein she had lost all hope. The time was 722 b.c. The Northern Kingdom of Israel was on the brink of being taken captive by the Assyrians. The Southern Kingdom of Judah kept a close watch on all that was transpiring in the lives of her kinsmen to the North. Jerusalem, the capitol of the Southern Kingdom, saw fit to make political alliances to try to protect her interests. The people assumed God had forgotten them. Isaiah describes their actions as making a “covenant with death” in Isaiah 28:14-15. The Lord’s word to the people in eighth century b.c. Jerusalem was to not to abandon their hope in Him. All is not lost! Sadly, the Southern Kingdom of Judah would over the remainder of her history follow in the train of her Northern Kingdom counterpart – resulting in the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem beginning in 605 b.c. Peter’s word to his readers and to us is to not lose hope – but to look to that Precious Cornerstone – the Lord Jesus Christ.
The second Old Testament quotation is that of Psalm 118:22 in 1 Peter 2:7. Whenever one studies the context of Psalm 118, the author of that psalm is praising Yahweh for delivering him from certain trouble. The Psalm is filled with hope and renewed faith in the face of adversity. We know from the background of Peter’s audience in the first century that they were facing increasing difficulties. (see for instance 1 Peter 1:6-7; 3:13; 4:12) By recalling Psalm 118, Peter could show how the same God that answered cries of distress in the Psalmist’s time could do the same for the readers of his first epistle. Thus Peter is reinforcing his overall message to look to Christ as that Precious Cornerstone. Not only is Jesus the believer’s source of hope, He is also precious.
What about Peter’s third quotation of Isaiah 8:14? The context of Isaiah 8 is that of the Northern Kingdom of Israel prior to her defeat and fall at the hands of the Assyrians in 722 b.c. According to the historical backdrop of 2 Kings 15:32-38, Yahweh ordained to permit an alliance between Pekah, son of Remaliah and the King of Damascus of the Aramean Empire (also see Isaiah 7:1ff). God’s purpose was two-fold: to discipline Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom of Judah for their idolatry and to bring an end to the corruption that perpetuated in the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
The sense on gathers from Isaiah 8 is that the inhabitants of the Jerusalem were seeing their fellow Jews to the North given in and give up to the threats and pressures of opposing forces. Despite deserving the consequences themselves, God still held out His message of hope and salvation to them. Isaiah 8 carries the message that God always has a faithful remnant of people in every culture and age whom He desires to call forth to be a testimony for Him in the midst of wickedness. For those persons refusing to heed God’s well-meant offer of grace, the result would be their stumbling and judgment.
Is it no wonder that the Apostle Peter appealed to Isaiah 8 in urging his first century readers and us here in the 21st century to not give up – but to persevere? Peter’s use of these three main Old Testament references are even more remarkable when we realize that all three were connected to the ultimate fate of the Jewish temple. In the Isaiah passages, the fall of Samria and the Northern Kingdom would be a precursor to the fall of the Southern Kingdom and Jerusalem. The temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed by 586 b.c. Despite the destruction of the physical temple, God’s message was that His commitment to His people would never end.
Psalm 118 was composed at a time when the temple was still in existence. Both sets of texts communicate the reality of the temple and the people somehow persevering through incredible opposition. None of the Old Testament prophets fully understood what would be the New Testament reality of the church following forth from the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. God had all along wanted a temple, not of block and wood, but of His own people. The temple imagery found in 1 Peter 2 expresses the accomplishment of Christ.
Closing thoughts and applications:
With Peter’s overall message for believers to run to the Precious Cornerstone – it is in 1 Peter 2:21-25 that Peter draws this chapter to its appropriate conclusion. 1 Peter 2:21-25 gives one of the most eloquent expositions found on the Person and work of Jesus found anywhere in the New Testament. In pointing the reader to this final section of 1 Peter 2, Peter completes his overall message of God’s people being a spiritual temple based upon the Precious Cornerstone – Jesus Christ. A brief summary of 1 Peter 2:21-25 could be as follows:
a. Christ is our Example to live the Godly life. 1 Peter 2:21-23
b. Christ’s Effective work to empower Godly living. 1 Peter 2:24
c. Christ’s Exalted role as our Great Shepherd that provides meaning for Godly living. 1 Peter 2:25
The combination of the Old Testament quotations and extraordinary exposition of the Lord Jesus Christ grant readers all they need to discover just how well-built salvation is in Jesus Christ. May we take these truths and by faith rely upon the Great Shepherd, the Precious Cornerstone – the Lord Jesus Christ.