Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 2.1-5
1 Peter 2.1-5
(1) Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. (2) Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, (3) now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (4) As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by human beings, but chosen by God and precious to him – (5) you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
This section was not quite as interwoven with interesting themes, at least to my eyes, as the last few section have been. But, there are quite a few intriguing tidbits that I want to place before us. We have seen some of them before, but it is good to get a sense of how different ideas in Calvin keep popping up. Here is what we will cover: Ethics Follows Regeneration, Got Milk?, Mirror, Mirror, One Temple, Acceptable Spiritual Sacrifices.
Ethics Follows Regeneration
I am constantly impressed by the constant presence of this theme in Calvin. It is unthinkable for Calvin that one could be regenerated without a corresponding change in life. However, I’m not feeling particularly inspired in writing about this at the moment, so I’ll simply quote a couple of Calvin’s discussion of the topic found in this passage.
“After having taught the faithful that they had been regenerated by the word of God, he now exhorts them to lead a life corresponding with their birth. For if we live in the Spirit, we ought also to walk in the Spirit, as Paul says. It is not, then sufficient for us to have been once called by the Lord, except we live as new creatures.”
“[Peter], in short, urges this, that new morals ought to follow a new life.”Got Milk?
When I was growing up, there was s fair bit of discussion in my ecclesiastical circles (I’ll let you figure our what those circles might be) about what the “milk of the word” was. This terminology shows up in a few places, and Calvin notes them in his treatment. He concedes the interpretation that I had always grown up hearing – that the “milk” is simple teaching – as accurate in the other instances of this term. However, he thinks that it is incorrect here. Instead, Calvin writes: “[M]ilk, here, is not elementary doctrine, which one perpetually learns; and never comes to the knowledge of the truth, but a mode of living which has the savour of the new birth, when we surrender ourselves to be brought up by God.” Milk, then, is a manner of life befitting infancy, which Calvin characterizes in this passage as being free from guile, i.e., as innocent. This is the mode of life that comes with new life in Christ.
One interesting corollary to this for Calvin is his discussion of infancy. We tend to think in terms of the life cycle, and therefore we think of infancy as a temporary thing. That is certainly true if milk is elementary doctrine. But, if it is the fitting mode of life for a Christian, then it is not temporary. Thus, Calvin says that “the infancy of the new life is perpetual.” Perpetual infancy? What kind of imagery is this? Well, if I wanted to develop this seed of Calvin’s thought (which I do), I would note that infancy is the beginning of life as innocent. Infants posses nothing. They live only in the present. They recognize no past and no future. This is the mode of life that is befitting a Christian. Possessing nothing, living in the moment of faith with an innocence that is perpetually renewed by the Spirit of God.
It occurred to me that it might be interesting to keep track of when Calvin uses his mirror metaphor. It shows up here in his discussion of verse 1. It is only a passing reference, and the force is that in the few vices listed in this verse we are meant to see all of our vices as though we were looking into a mirror.
This point arises in Calvin’s discussion of the spiritual house that Christians are being built into, a la verse 5. Calvin drives home the fact that, even though Scripture calls each Christian a temple of God in some passages, the point that we find here has to do with the Christian community. It is the community that is being made into this house, this temple. Because we can never hear enough about how the Christian community takes precedence over the Christian individual, I’m going to quote Calvin’s own formulation here.
“Peter no doubt meant to exhort the faithful to consecrate themselves as a spiritual temple to God; for he aptly infers from the design of our calling what our duty is. We must further observe, that he constructs one house from the whole number of the faithful. For though every one of us is said to be the temple of God, yet all are united together in one, and must be joined together by mutual love, so that one temple may be made of all. Then, as it is true that each one is a temple in which God dwells by his Spirit, so all ought to be so fitted together that they may form one universal temple. This is the case when every one, content with his own measure, keeps himself within the limits of his own duty; all have, however, something to do with regard to others.”Acceptable Spiritual Sacrifices
We often think of Jesus as mediating salvation to us, but we seldom think of Jesus as mediating something from us back to God. But, as TF Torrance and George Hunsinger are quick to point out, Christ mediates both ways. God comes to us through Christ, and we go to God through Christ. Now, I don’t mean to imply that Calvin has this carefully worked out in this section of his commentary, but the pattern of upward mediation is present in Calvin’s discussion of verse 6 and acceptable spiritual sacrifices.
Calvin wants to spur us on to good works. He notes here that this passage is beneficial because it “declares that what is required is acceptable to God, lest fear should make us slothful.” That is, we are required to do something, and to make sure we don’t get lazy because we don’t see the value in doing it, we are assured that God does accept these spiritual sacrifices. But, Calvin also wants to make sure that we don’t get cocky. It isn’t that we can offer acceptable sacrifices to God on the basis of our own capability. If this were the case, there would be no need for Christ – i.e., this would be very close to what commonly passes under the name of Pelagius. Instead, Calvin frames things this way:
“There is never found in our sacrifices such purity, that they are of themselves acceptable to God; our self-denial is never entire and complete, our prayers are never so sincere as they ought to be, we are never so zealous and so diligent in doing good, but that our works are imperfect and mingled with many vices. Nevertheless, Christ procures favour for them…we offer sacrifices through Christ, that they may be acceptable to God.”