2 Peter 1:5-11

This passage has quite a few interpretive difficulties in it. I will therefore tread cautiously.

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

The first difficulty is this: does verse 9 refer to believers or to unbelievers? I argue that he refers to believers here. First of all is the expression “cleansed from his former sins.” Secondly, the terms of the passage seem to indicate that the believer here is living like an unbeliever, rather than that the non-elect covenant member is on a teeter-totter. The following verse seems to me to indicate that the brothers are to receive this warning. Verse 10, by the way, does not indicate that the elect actually could fall from election. Thirdly, the lack of these qualities is not described as unbelief, but as “ineffectiveness, unfruitfulness, nearsighted, blind.” These qualities can more easily describe the believer who is not progressing as he ought, than that “cleansed from his former sins” could describe someone who is not elect.

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21 Comments

  1. Todd said,

    January 20, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    Why does Peter say “cleansed from his *former* sins”? Cleansed from some and not others?

  2. greenbaggins said,

    January 20, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    I’m not entirely sure why he uses the word “palai” there. It could be that it is part of the warning. But surely a true Christian is cleansed of his former sins. To say that is not to say that his other sins still need cleansing. I realize that many expositors say that he is referring to baptism here. I don’t think I can go there. I think the context points to his being a true believer, but one who is backslidden.

  3. Josh said,

    January 20, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    I have to agree with ya GB. I never thought this passage was full of interpretive difficulties.

  4. Anne said,

    January 20, 2007 at 5:27 pm

    I’ve figured Peter meant that since sin weighs us down, acting as a dragging force against any attempt to grow in virtue, then once we’ve been cleansed of our sins by the Holy Spirit that weight has been removed.

    It’s scary how often we tend to fall back into old habits through spiritual inertia, however.

    ISTM this is pretty much what Peter’s doing, anyway….reminding believers there is nothing stopping them from growing in virtue, knowledge, self-control, etc. because they are no longer slaves to sin.

  5. Todd said,

    January 20, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    So is it possible for a believer to “lack these qualities” completely?

  6. greenbaggins said,

    January 20, 2007 at 6:03 pm

    It is certainly possible to lack these qualities in the sense that they do not have them in increasing measure (vs. 9). They do not have them as they ought. It would have to be proven exegetically that Peter means to say that they completely lack them.

  7. Todd said,

    January 20, 2007 at 6:18 pm

    Perhaps it would have to be proven exegetically that Peter means to say that they only partially lack them.

  8. greenbaggins said,

    January 20, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    That would only be necessary if it could be proven that Peter was not speaking of believers. If he is, then the point is proved already, and the burden of proof lies on the other side.

  9. Todd said,

    January 20, 2007 at 7:55 pm

    In the NT, isn’t a fruitless believer a contradiction? A regenerate blindman?

  10. Todd said,

    January 20, 2007 at 9:16 pm

    Lane, I’m not sure what this comment means:

    “I’m not entirely sure why he uses the word “palai” there. It could be that it is part of the warning.”

    Could you explain?

  11. Anne Ivy said,

    January 20, 2007 at 10:05 pm

    Believers will always produce spiritual fruit, but not in the same way, or at the same pace, or to the same level, or with the same degree of visibility, etc. They hit plateaus, slide backwards, pick up steam and chug ahead for a while then slow down again, and in general be awfully hard for anyone else to measure with any degree of accuracy.

    Based upon the “Lord, Lord” passage, it can be difficult for us to measure ourselves accurately, come to that. We tend to think we’re doing a lot better than we are, or that we aren’t doing nearly as well as we might actually be doing.

    Still, based upon the quoted passage, I do think that believers can, at least occasionally, not possess those qualities in any significant degree. Apparently a believer can be “ineffective” and “unfruitful”, which is borne out in 1 Cor. 3…surely an “ineffective”, “unfruitful” Christian is going to be one who “will be saved, but only as through fire.”

  12. Todd said,

    January 21, 2007 at 8:46 am

    Anne has set the choice up in a great way: Is 2 Peter 1:9 talking about the kind of individual that Jesus is talking about in Matthew 7 — “I never knew you; depart from me” — or is he talking about the kind of individual that Paul is talking about in 1 Cor. 3 — “saved but only through fire”?

    In order to read 2 Peter in the second way, we have to import the idea of “occasional” lack of sanctification, while Peter only says, “If anyone lacks…”

    I suspect the answer is that the 2 Peter passage applies to many who are saved on the last day and to many who are not.

    Verse 11 brings judgment day into the picture, but only in a positive, optimistic, Heb. 6:9 kind of way. If there is an apostasy warning here, it is subtle and subdued.

    Isn’t it the common Reformed way to put things like this: If you aren’t “increasing” in these qualities, you have no real “right” to be assured of your ultimate salvation?

  13. Anne Ivy said,

    January 21, 2007 at 9:18 am

    Actually, Anne didn’t set it up worth diddly-squat, t’would appear, since she didn’t intend to suggest Peter was referring to those who are going hear “Depart from Me into everlasting fire” at judgment. ;^)

    Peter wrote “make every effort” to grow spiritually so as to be an effective, fruitful believer. To “supplement” means to add on to what is already present, in this case, faith. Presumably, based upon Peter’s words here, it is possible to have an unsupplemented, unadorned, rather bare-bones faith, which is – God be praised – sufficient to get its possessor into heaven but that’s literally about all the good it ever does.

    And a frightful idea that is, too. Can you imagine having been a believer for 50 years but when one shows up….whoosh!…all one’s “good works” go up in smoke, leaving a bare foundation of faith?

    Oopsie-doopsie! Someone fooled herself, huh?

    My point in hauling in the “Lord, Lord” passage was simply to point out a problem inherent in making justification at all dependent upon sanctification is we are not necessarily able to accurately gauge how well we’re doing, spiritually speaking. Were I to solemnly assure you that I am much more humble now than I was five years ago…oh, much, MUCH more humble!…I’m a veritable fount of humility, by jingo!…would you be able to keep a straight face?

    The idea of someone examining themselves and complacently approving of the level of sanctification they see, confidant it’s sufficient to warrant keeping their justification, is enough to give me the willies.

    Peter instructed us to make every effort to grow spiritually, so we should make every effort to do so. What we should not do, however, is allow that perceived spiritual growth to hold our justification hostage.

    If a “believer” makes no effort to eradicate sin from his or her life, instead happily splashing around in it like a pig in a puddle, then certainly there is no particularly good reason for that person to believe their faith is real. I don’t think that’s what Peter’s talking about here, though.

  14. Todd said,

    January 21, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    Anne, Peter writes: “For *in this way* there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

    In what way? What is Peter referring back to?

  15. Anne Ivy said,

    January 21, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    “Richly”…what sort of entrance will the believer enjoy? A rich entrance, complete with the warm greeting of “Well done, good and faithful servant!” or a greeting that makes quite, quite clear it is ONLY mercy that’s letting one in: “Welcome, O fortunate one beloved of the LORD, though we can’t imagine why, for heaven knows you don’t deserve it”?

  16. Todd said,

    January 21, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    But what is the antecedent for the word “this” — “in this way”? He’s referring to something he has already said, right? In what way?

  17. Anne Ivy said,

    January 21, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    If one does grow spiritually, being effective and fruitful, then one will be richly welcomed.

    I’m not intending to be dim as a five watt bulb, Todd, but I’m not grasping where the problem is here.

  18. Todd said,

    January 21, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    So, if one does not grow spiritually, and is neither effective nor fruitful, then one will be welcomed, but not richly?

    I am open to this, Anne, but I’m wondering whether there is a conflict with John 15, where true salvation leads to fruitfulness, while fruitlessness leads to condemnation.

    15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

  19. Anne Ivy said,

    January 21, 2007 at 9:20 pm

    In the John 15 passage is “fruit” necessarily defined in exactly the same way as in the 2 Peter passage?

    Surely there is a significant difference between what Christ was trying to communicate to His disciples shortly before His death and resurrection, and what Peter was trying to communicate to the believers to whom he was writing. I wonder if Christ wasn’t preparing His disciples for the forthcoming betrayal by Judas Iscariot, and Peter’s denials, among other things. In John 13:30 Judas left the Passover feast, after all. Christ was well aware His time here was running out and that the betrayal by someone who had been with them for years was going to cut deep. “If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers.”

    You don’t think Judas Iscariot was in His mind when He said that? The disciples wouldn’t have picked up on it, of course, since the betrayal hadn’t occurred yet, but Christ certainly knew it was happening.

    The “vine and branches” verses tend to get cited in isolation, but it’s crucial to read it in context. Judas had left the Passover (13:30); Peter had passionately declared his willingness to “lay down my life for You!” only to be wryly advised by Jesus that on the contrary, he would deny Him three times before morning (13:37-38). What is the very next thing He says to His disciples?

    “Your heart must not be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you.” (14:1-2) A few minutes later He assures them “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” (15:16a)

    It’s also rather interesting how Christ talks about the fruit of which He spoke: “I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.” (15:16b)

    That sounds more of a corporate sort of fruit, doesn’t it? I’m struggling to express what I mean, but ISTM “you should go out and produce fruit” isn’t the same as Peter’s “make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, etc….if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The latter is definitely directed to individual believers, regarding their individual spiritual growth.

    Peter had just assured his listeners/readers “For His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness, though the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” (1:3)

    IOW, you have the tools, y’all. You possess everything required to produce abundant spiritual fruit so as to be useful and effective for Christ.

    When he wrote “Therefore, brothers, make every effort to confirm your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly supplied to you” I don’t hear a threat of “and if you don’t, you’re going to burn in hell eternally.” When Peter urges believers to “confirm your calling and election” he did not mean that their calling and election is up in the air, but that the believers themselves will be more assured in themselves about their calling and election.

    When I call an airline to confirm my seat on a flight, I’m doing so for my own assurance. If I don’t call it doesn’t mean my seat’s not reserved, but it’s nice to be assured of it. (My husband is one who doesn’t bother calling to confirm his reservation a day or two prior to his flight, while I almost invariably do so. The actual existence of the reservation is unaffected whether the call is placed or not.)

    My apologies for the length of this reply, especially as I don’t know if it’s at all comprehensible! ;^)

  20. Todd said,

    January 21, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    But John 15 is part of a long passage that concerns the whole church age, not just the next few days. Right? Just like the ministry of the Holy Spirit is a reality for the entire era, so is the danger of fruitlessness and apostasy.

    Corporate fruit? Sure. But not to the exclusion of individual fruit, and the real danger of individual fruitlessness. Both-and. “If any*one* does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

  21. Anne Ivy said,

    January 21, 2007 at 10:37 pm

    We’re likely just going to have to agree to disagree, I daresay. If one exhibits – even inwardly, where only the LORD can see – absolutely no fruit whatsoever, including the fruit of repentance and hatred of one’s sin (which, while benefiting the individual believer, mayn’t produce much corporate fruit), that’s because there were no divine tools provided through regeneration.

    Spiritually dead people produce no fruit of any sort whatever. Spiritually alive people will produce something, even if it’s visible only to the LORD.

    No one actually loses their “reservation” in heaven…the dwelling place Christ prepared for them…because they didn’t produce sufficient fruit.


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