2 Peter 1:3-4 – “The Christian Life, Part 1: Reviewing the Foundation”

Because His divine power has given all things to us for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence, through which He has given (what is to us) precious and the greatest promises, the results, by these you might become partakers of a divine nature, having escaped from the decay in the world by lust.


Though most English versions do not reflect this, a hard break should be understood after 1:2. The salutation is complete, and now Peter moves on to advance his purpose. In 1:3-4, Peter lays the cornerstone of his foundation by reminding his audience of their divine resources in Christ. This reminder is given as if Peter provides answers to three simple questions regarding the foundation of Christian Living.


What Have We Been Given? (v. 3a)

Because His divine power has given all things to us for life and godliness


Most commentators agree that the initial ὡς (“seeing that” NASB) is used to introduce v. 3 rather than providing a link back to v. 2.[1] It is possible that the conjunction serves only to introduce content (in which case we may not even bother to translate it) but is more likely that Peter uses it with a causal force. It is for this reason that we opted to translate ὡς as “because.” Here the body of the letter begins.


There remains a question as to who “He” is in this line. The genitive pronoun αὐτοῦ obviously refers either to God the Father or God the Son, as both are mentioned in the previous verse. Yet “Jesus our Lord” is the nearest reference and so it is most likely that Jesus Christ, God the Son, is in view here. The deity of Jesus Christ is a strong undercurrent throughout this letter. By stating that His power is divine power, Peter launches a second salvo against any who may doubt that Jesus of Nazareth is God in flesh.


The main emphasis of this line is to state that Christ has used His divine power to give all things to us. The perfect aspect of the participle δεδωρημένης indicates a completed action whose results continue. The act of giving is in the past, yet the results of the gift remain and continue into an unidentified future. By stating that all things have been given, Peter states that nothing of Christ’s power has been withheld from us.[2] Yet, this same unreserved power was given with a specific purpose; namely, for life and godliness (τὰ πρὸς ζωὴν καὶ εὐσέβειαν).


Peter is fond of using paired terms to form a hendiadys, two terms that together describe a single idea.[3] He has already linked grace and peace (v. 2) to form the singular idea of gospel blessing and will continue to make use of this literary tool throughout this letter. By “life” Peter refers to the regeneration of the new birth (1 Pet. 1:3). This life is given to the believer at the moment of conversion and carries on into eternity. By adding “godliness” Peter uses a term that literally means “well pleasing.” This term became almost exclusively used in religious context with the idea that one’s conduct and convictions were pleasing to the gods they served. In the given context of Christ’s generously given power, Peter combines regeneration to sanctification. By “godliness” he of course means the actions and attitudes that are pleasing to Christ. These two terms together briefly describe the entire Christian existence from conversion until they stand perfected before the Father’s throne. It is He, Jesus Christ, who has given everything required for Christian life. Peter begins by reminding Christians, those whose faith is the same as the apostles (v. 1), of the precious gift of salvation they have received from Christ.


Where Does This Gift Come From? (vv. 3b-4a)


Peter is greatly concerned that his readers understand the source of this gracious gift of salvation. His use of the διὰ preposition with the genitive (by/through) throughout the remainder of this text (“through the knowledge of Him who called…”; “Through which He has given…”; “the results, by these you might become”) communicates either means or agency. The quality and significance of any gift is largely dependent upon where the gift came from. Peter identifies the source of the gift of salvation in two ways.


The Knowledge of Christ (v. 3b)

Through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence


Even though God the Father is often referred to as the One who calls His people unto salvation (Rom. 8:30; 9:24; 1 Cor. 1:9; 7:15; Gal. 1:6; 1 Thess. 2:12, 4:7), it is more natural to view the One who called (τοῦ καλέσαντος) as the same One whose power gave us everything needed for salvation. After all, attributing the prerogatives, power, and pleasure of the Godhead to Christ is a major emphasis in this letter. The thrust of Peter’s point, however, is that it is by means of knowledge (ἐπιγνώσεως) of Christ that the gift of salvation has been given.


This is the same knowledge mentioned in v. 2, the knowledge that brings gospel blessings of grace and peace as well as the knowledge that brings salvation in life and godliness. Here the context clearly indicates that this knowledge is a saving knowledge. Peter presents this knowledge as the means (διὰ) by which the gift of salvation is applied, and he utilizes the same term just used to explain the means by which gospel blessings are bestowed (v. 2). The entire Christian experience this side of the Kingdom (“life and godliness” = regeneration and growth in holiness) comes from a saving knowledge of the One who called.


This call therefore is so much more than a mere invitation. This is an effectual call that always produces the desired result.[4] When Christ calls His sheep, they know and hear His voice so that they follow Him (Jn. 10:27). By using the first plural “us” (ἡμᾶς), Peter includes himself with his readers. He knows what it means to hear the Savior’s call and immediately follow (Matt. 4:18-20). What is striking here is how Peter describes what this call consists of. The call of Christ to His sheep is nothing less than an unveiling of Himself.


By stating that Christ called us “by His own glory and excellence” (ἰδίᾳ[5] δόξῃ καὶ ἀρετῇ) Peter describes the means by which believers heard this call. Christ calls His people by revealing His glory and His excellence to them. As Thomas Schreiner writes, “When Christ calls people to himself, they perceive the beauty and loveliness of his moral character. His character becomes exceedingly attractive to them, and they trust God for their salvation.[6] When we hear the good news of Jesus preached or read this same message with our own eyes, Christ reveals His glory and excellent character to us. It is this excellent and glorious Christ unveiled that draws wretched sinners to their Savior.


At this point, there is an obvious thread that must be connected. We should ask ourselves, “where is this knowledge found?” The answer of course is that this knowledge is available in the Holy Word of God. It is in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments that we find the promise of Christ’s coming, the record of that coming, and the promise of His return. The glory and excellence of Jesus Christ is unveiled in the Bible. The knowledge of God that multiplies blessings to the believer (v. 2) and draws sinners to their Savior (v. 3) is a knowledge that has been recorded and preserved for mankind in the pages of Holy Scripture. To this revelation Peter now addresses the specific promises of Christ.


The Promises from Christ (v. 4a)

Through which He has given (what is to us) precious and the greatest promises


With another use of the διὰ preposition comes another means in which the gift is bestowed. The first description of salvation’s source presented the gift of Christ’s power as revealed in His person as presented in the Scriptures. Here we see a second description where the gift is bestowed by means of Christ’s promises. The plural relative pronoun ὧν (“which”) points to the revelation of Christ as the God/man. That is to say, the pronoun points to the hendiadys of His own glory and excellence. It is through that revelation, or knowledge, that Christ has given precious and the greatest promises.


The idea of a gift is repeated from v. 3 with the same force. The perfect aspect of δεδώρηται presents a past action with the continuing results. These promises have already been given, as they were presented with coming of the incarnate Christ. Yet, these promises are not trapped in history, for they continue to have effect to this day and beyond.


The quality of these promises is described with yet another hendiadys with the combination of the terms precious and the greatest. Peter has only used the term τίμιος one other time when he described the incalculable value of the blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:19). To us, these promises are beyond our ability to place a value upon them. They are precious to us. The adjective μέγιστα is a true superlative[7] which states something grander than that these promises are magnificent (NASB) but that they are the greatest! There are no other promises that can compare to the promises that flow from the source of Christ’s first advent.


Again, Peter subtly points us to the Scriptures. Some of these promises have already been fulfilled. The promise that the Christ would come (Is. 9:2-6), be born of a virgin (Is. 7:14), grow up as a man (Is. 53:2), and suffer to the point of death as a propitiation for sin (Is. 53:4-10). Some of these promises have not yet been fulfilled. We have not yet seen Christ’s return (Acts. 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 5:1-3; 2 Thess. 2:1-12), or the glories and judgments of His kingdom (Ps. 2; 110; Is. 65:17-25). Yet, these promises remain the greatest and most precious promises to us who believe.


What Does This Gift Do? (v. 4bc)


Peter makes an assumption of his ancient audience that few preachers would dare to make today. That is, Peter assumes that his readers know and understand the content of the promises he references. Peter is much more interested in expounding upon the result of these promises rather than the content of the promises themselves. The demonstrative τούτων (these) point back to the promises (ἐπαγγέλματα) already mentioned.[8]The initial ἵνα (“so that” NASB) is not used here to communicate the purpose of these promises, nor their content. Rather, the conjunction presents the result of these promises.[9] Peter presents these results as two sides of the same coin. First come the positive results followed by the negative.


Makes Us Partakers of the Divine Nature (v. 4b)

The results, by these you might become partakers of a divine nature


Peter has shifted from addressing the audience in conjunction with himself to now placing all the focus on the audience alone. These promises come with the result that you might become partakers of the divine nature. By “partakers of a divine nature,” Peter is not advocating Stoicism or any other pagan ideology that suggests mankind either possesses a divine spark or can work his way toward some sort of deification. Peter remains on point with what he stated in his first letter, that believers are called to be holy as God is holy (1 Pet. 2:4-10). Believing the promises of Christ (v. 4a) that flow from the revelation of Christ in His first advent (v. 3b) produce the result of a divine nature, that we will be as He is. As Hiebert sates, “The promises embodied in Christ and His gospel, are the objective means through which the divine life is communicated.[10]


It is true that this result describes a transformation that we do not yet know fully. We are not sinless, nor do we fully experience the fellowship (κοινωνός) of Christ’s glory and moral excellence. This state will not be known to us until this age has passed away and Christ reigns upon His throne over His Kingdom. Yet, it is not correct to say that we know nothing of this fellowship. Peter has already stated that Christ has already given us everything required for life and godliness. We possess the Spirit of God’s indwelling presences and as such are marked by this fellowship which will continue to grow until it is one day perfected.


Provides Escape from Corruption (v. 4c)

Having escaped from the decay in the world by lust.


Peter uses the aorist tense to describe both our becoming partakers (γένησθε) and the escape (ἀποφυγόντες) from the world’s decay. The sense is that both these actions occur at the same time. If one has become a partaker or fellowshipper in the divine nature it is because he has already escaped the decay of the world. It is a both/and scenario rather than an either/or. This becomes important when we seek to understand what is meant by “the decay in the world.”


The final phrase indicates a connection (ἐν) with this worldly decay or corruption (φθορᾶς) and lust (ἐπιθυμίᾳ). Peter connects the deterioration of the world with deep desires of man. There is an obvious link between this decay and the curse which binds the world to a broken state. A Christian does not fully escape the corruption and decay of the world until he either dies or is taken up by the Lord. But is our death or rapture the initiation of our escape? It is best to think of our escape as the same moment as our conversion or regeneration. When God made us alive in His Son, we were stamped for life instead of death. Thus, we can be said to have already escaped in the same sense that we have already become partakers of the divine nature. The fullest extent of our escape is not yet realized. But the certainty that our escape will be complete is secure.


Summary


Most agree that the grammar of 2 Peter 1:3-4 is difficult to decipher, but his logic is not that hard to follow. These verses are presented as the foundation to Peter’s opening discussion regarding the Christian life. Before addressing the false teachers (chapter 2) and why their teaching is false (chapter 3), Peter reminds his audience of their basic duty as Christians (chapter 1). This reminder begins with a review of the marvelous gift that all believers have been given by and through Jesus Christ. Peter first reminds his readers what they have been given (life and godliness). He then reviews the source of this gift (the knowledge of Christ’s first advent and the promises concerning Christ’s first and second advent). Peter concludes this review by reiterating the result of this gift (making partakers of the divine nature and providing escape from corruption).


Conclusion


Peter begins with the gospel. This gospel is not a two-minute presentation, or a slogan placed on the back of a postcard. The gospel is a reminder of the totality of the Scriptures and how they anticipate and proclaim the person of Jesus Christ. In the span of two verses, Peter summarizes the totality of the Bible and the Christian faith.


It has become something of a catchphrase that Christians should unite in the gospel. I cannot express to you how foolish I find such slogans. Those who shout such rhetoric reveal that they do not understand what the gospel is. If we understand the gospel as Peter does, then we know that the gospel is not a portion of Scripture but is a summation of the whole of Scripture. Modern evangelicalism misses the mark by a mile when they present the gospel as only a few key points upon which all denominations can agree. One cannot unite in the summation of the Bible while rejecting vast portions of that same Bible. In his fight against false teachers and his drive to stir up the memory of his audience, Peter begins with the gospel. This is not a simplified message from the Bible. This is simple summation of the entire biblical message. We must know the difference and defend this message with every breath until the Lord Jesus takes us home.


Soli Deo Gloria!

[1] Archibald Robertson, The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol. VI, VI vols., Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), p. 148; R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 256; D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary (Greensville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 1989), p. 43. [2] Lenski, p. 257. [3] Peter Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2006), p. 168. [4] Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), p. 292. [5] Some manuscripts have the preposition διὰ (by/through) instead of the adjective ἰδίᾳ (one’s own). With so many uses of διὰ in this short section, it is easy to understand how a copyist would make this mistake. The critical text (UBS4 and NA27) preserves the adjective as genuine. This is reflected in most English versions (eg. NASB, LSB, ESV). The Textus Receptus prefers the preposition. This tradition is maintained in the KJV and NKJV. [6] Schreiner, p. 293. [7] Hiebert, p. 46-7. [8] Schreiner, p. 294. [9] Hiebert, p. 48. [10] Ibid.

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