Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reflections on 1 Peter 2:8b and Reprobation

In preaching through 1 Peter 2:4-8 on Sunday I was struck by the last half of v. 8. In describing those who reject Christ, finding him to be “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” (cf. Isaiah 8:14), Peter concludes, “They stumble, being obedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.”

The issue here is with the idea that God appoints (the Greek verb is tithemi) sinners to reject Christ. The idea would be that if he appoints those who will be saved (cf. Acts 13:48: “And as many who had been appointed [here the Greek verb is tasso] to eternal life believed.”], he also appoints those who will be lost. This is the scandal of “double predestination." Some other passages to examine include:

• Paul’s hypothetical suggestion in Romans 9::22, "What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory,"

• Paul’s mention of vessels of “honor” and “dishonor” in 2 Timothy 2:20, "But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor."
• Jude’s reference to ungodly men “marked out [AV: “ordained”; the Greek verb is prographo, literally “written beforehand”] for this condemnation” (Jude 1:4).

The modern commentaries are quite nervous in handling the text of 1 Peter 4:8b:

Edmond Hiebert acknowledges Calvin’s frank assessment, “They had been appointed to unbelief.” Yet Hiebert concludes that this cannot be what it really means: “The clause refers not to their predestination to unbelief, but to the inevitable result of their willful rejection of the message of Christ” (1 Peter [BMH, 1984, 1992]: p. 141).

Tom Schreiner is more forthright, but he also retreats into the defense of mystery: “The Scriptures do not resolve how these two themes [God’s predestination and human responsibility] fit together philosophically, though today we would call it a ‘compatibilist’ worldview. We must admit, however, that how this fits together logically eludes us….” (1, 2 Peter and Jude, New American Commentary [B & H, 2003]: pp. 113-14).

As for older commentaries the Geneva Bible notes draws this conclusion about Peter’s contrast between “the most blessed condition of believers, and the most miserable of the rebellious one”: “…although they be created to this end and purpose, yet their fall and decay is not to be attributeth to God, but to their own obstinate stubbornness, which cometh between God’s decree, and the execution thereof or their condemnation, and is the true and proper cause of their destruction.”

Here’s how I handled it in the manuscript of my sermon:

Notice Peter’s final comment on those who reject Jesus: “They stumble….” Peter says that they were appointed to this. Here we have the doctrine of reprobation. It is a frightening doctrine. We know—as our confession makes plain—that God is not the author of evil. Those who reject Christ cannot blame God for forcing them to make this choice. Those who reject Christ will be held fully responsible for their own actions, but here Peter affirms that God is sovereignly in control even of those who reject his Son, and he uses even that to his own glory.


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