Friday, December 18, 2009

The Unbeliever's Destiny

“So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (1 Peter 2:7-8; quoting Ps. 118:22; Isa. 8:14).
“Believers are honored, but unbelievers stumble over the most important stone of all. Peter’s words are severe: ‘They stumble because they disobey the word, AS THEY WERE DESTINED TO DO’ (1 Peter 2:8b)...Here again SCRIPTURE TEACHES THAT GOD DESTINES THE FATE OF UNBELIEVERS. Although they are condemned because they ‘do not obey the gospel of God’ (4:17), God is nonetheless LORD OF THEIR DESTINY”
(Robert A. Peterson, “Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Responsibility.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007, pages 140-141).

Once again, I’m back to examine another passage Peterson uses in his little quest to convince his readers that Calvinism is the right theological system to uphold. Peterson gives a good shot...but comes up wrong once more.

Look at 1 Peter 2:7-8 above. The phrase that I will zone in on for the sake of importance is the phrase “they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”

The first words in the Greek are “hoi proskoptousin.” The word “hoi” is a plural article, which means that “proskoptousin” is a plural word as well. The word “proskoptousin” comes from the Greek verb “proskopto,” meaning “to stumble.” The translation of “hoi proskoptousin” becomes “the ones who stumble, THEY...” As you can see “the ones” and “they” are pretty redundant phrases.

The next phrase in the Greek is “to logo apeithountes,” which translates in English to “the word disbelieving.” Placed with the first words above, we have the translation, “They stumble, disbelieving the word...” Notice in verse 7 that, for those who do not believe, Christ has become “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” Christ serves as a stumbling block for those who do not believe. Their unbelief causes their stumbling, for Christ serves as a “thorn in their side.” They shun everything He is because of everything they are.

The first part of 1 Peter 2:8 is a reference to Psalm 118:22 in the Old Testament. Jesus references Psalm 118:22 in His encounter with the Jewish leaders in Luke 20. The Jewish leaders ask Jesus,

“tell us, by what authority are You doing these things? Or who is he who gave You this authority?” (Lk. 20:2, NKJV)

Jesus responds,

“I also will ask you one thing, and answer Me: The baptism of John--- was it from heaven or from men?” (v.4)

The Jewish leaders were more concerned about what Jesus would say instead of answering the question:

“And they reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” He will say, “WHY THEN DID YOU NOT BELIEVE HIM?” But if we say, “from men,” all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet” (vv.5-6).

If they said that John’s baptism was from heaven, they feared Jesus scolding them for their unbelief. It was UNBELIEF that was the key issue. And this is why, in the parable Jesus tells following this question, the emphasis is on belief. After the owner has sent three servants to the vinedressers, whom the vinedressers beat, the owner sends his son:

“Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son. PROBABLY THEY WILL RESPECT HIM WHEN THEY SEE HIM” (Lk. 20:13).

However, that is not what happened; instead of respecting the Son, they kill Him instead. Jesus responds by saying, “He [the owner] will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others” (v.16a). What is the response of the Jews? “Certainly not!” (v.16b) They refuse to believe that they would lose the privilege of the kingdom and that it would go to the Gentiles.

The Jews alert the reader that they are cognizant of Jesus’ criticism of themselves when it says that “the chief priests and the scribes THAT VERY HOUR sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people---FOR THEY KNEW HE HAD SPOKEN THIS PARABLE AGAINST THEM” (Lk. 20:19).

Going back to 1 Peter 2, then, we find that “he who believes on Him [Christ, the chief cornerstone] will by no means be put to shame” (1 Pet. 2:6). The emphasis, then, is not on the appointment of some to be damned---but on the damnation of those who live in unbelief. It is the unbelievers who are appointed to death, not the believers: “He who BELIEVES in Him IS NOT CONDEMNED; but he who DOES NOT BELIEVE IS CONDEMNED ALREADY, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18, NKJV). The unbelievers are already appointed to condemnation, but the believers are appointed to eternal life.

We can see this clearly in the surrounding context of 1 Peter 2. In chapter 1, Peter tells the congregation of believers that are scattered that they “are kept by the power of God THROUGH FAITH FOR SALVATION ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:5). Their faith is what is keeping them. The power of God is demonstrated through their faith in Christ. In verse 23 of chapter 1, Peter tells them that they are “born again, not of corruptible seed but INCORRUPTIBLE, THROUGH THE WORD OF GOD WHICH LIVES AND ABIDES FOREVER...this is the word which BY THE GOSPEL WAS PREACHED TO YOU” (vv.23, 25).

How did they become “born again?” It doesn’t say that they were born again by some secret eternal counsel of God, or some selection of God’s own arbitration. No---the text says that they were born again “through the word of God.” It is through the preached Word that these men and women came to Christ and the knowledge of the truth.

My last comment regarding 1 Peter 2 is the use of the word “etethesan,” meaning “were appointed.” The word itself comes from “tithemi,” which means “to appoint.” It is often translated “destined.”

Now I want us to look back at verses 7 and 8. Only those who disbelieve find Christ to be “a stone of stumbling.” Why is Christ a stone of stumbling? Because Christ “trips up” the unbeliever. He is destruction to those who do not believe. Their stumbling, therefore, is a DIRECT RESULT of their unbelief, not of some secret decree in eternity past!

It is the disobedience that causes the unbeliever to stumble; and the stumbling is what unbelievers are appointed to. If a person does not believe, what happens when they encounter Christ? They stumble and fall. Remember, Peter just stated in verse 6 that anyone who believed would not be ashamed. So if everyone is accepted by the Lord due to faith, then why would the Lord ordain some to be damned right from the start?

It is the exegesis of Peterson that makes no sense at all. Not only does my interpretation condemn Peterson’s, but also that of other theologians, as well as the church fathers. The Reverend Charles Bigg wrote in his “International Critical Commentary: St. Peter---

“an illustration may be found in the Book of Exodus...’and Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the Lord, that I should OBEY His voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.’ Therefore the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart (vii. 3), and brought him to ruin” (Rev. Charles Bigg, International Critical Commentary: St. Peter and St. Jude. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1946).

Last but not least, there are quotes from some of the church fathers, one of them being Didymus the Blind:

“The position in which they find themselves is one which THEY HAVE CHOSEN, for IT STARTS WITH THEIR UNBELIEF. For just as the world, which has been placed under evil, is not evil by nature but has attained this position by its own desire, so also those who are being talked about here have been so placed because OF THEIR OWN UNWILLINGNESS TO BELIEVE...” (Gerald Bray, ed. “Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture:James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000, caps mine)

The church father Oecumenius wrote:

“God is not to be held responsible for this, for no cause of damnation can ever come from HIM WHO WANTS EVERYONE TO BE SAVED. It is they who have made themselves into VESSELS OF WRATH, and unbelief has followed naturally from that. Therefore they have been established in the order for which they have prepared themselves. For if a human being is made with free will, that free will cannot be forced, nor can anyone accuse him who has decreed their fate of having done anything to them which they did not fully deserve as a result of their own actions” (“Ancient Christian Commentary: James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude,” page 87).

As the evidence has shown, those who stumble over Christ are those who refuse to believe. So did the Jews...and so do unbelievers today. The unbeliever’s destiny lies in the hands of the unbeliever.

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