2 Peter 1 and the Furnishing of Faith

This is an exact replication of Peter's likeness.

This is an exact replication of Peter’s likeness.

This past summer I attended a pastor’s conference where one of the keynote speakers spent several of his sessions preaching from the text of 2 Peter 1. His goal, as best I could tell, was to speak about the moral formation of pastors, and he was using the list of characteristics in 2 Peter 1:5-9 toward this purpose. In case you are unfamiliar with that list, the NIV renders that passage as follows:

5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

I confess a few problems. Three to be precise. First, is that of all the New Testament books, 2 Peter is the most likely candidate for, shall we say, lack of authenticity. Many scholars don’t believe that Peter had a hand in writing this letter, and there are a number of reasons for this. For example, a large section of the book is exactly copied in Jude, which means either that Jude was written first and Peter borrowed from him, or that Peter wrote and Jude borrowed. Either way, it’s a little troubling. For another matter, the business where Peter defends both Scripture (1:19-21) and Paul (3:15-16) feels a little strained. It is only later, inauthentic books that attempt to shore up their own authority with these kinds of claims. That isn’t to suggest that 2 Peter doesn’t belong in the Bible, but only that we have to read it with some special attention.

My second problem with 2 Peter 1 is that I find this list a little tiresome and daunting. Whenever I hear it I feel a kind of undue pressure. Does this mean that in addition to all the other ethical practices I am meant to keep—the Sermon on the Mount, the Fruits of the Spirit, and so forth—that this metric of adding to virtue A virtue B, and to virtue B virtue C and so forth is the way forward in faith? Something about the math of the matter leaves me sour, especially the sense that in order to get to love as a quality I have to accomplish tasks A, B, C, D, and E. This seems like a contradiction to the witness of Scripture elsewhere. Third and finally, the conference speaker wasn’t particularly good, and although he was very enthusiastic the level of his energy, this, combined with the relative poverty of his insights, left me feeling rather dry and nonplussed in the audience. His interpretation of 2 Peter 1, in other words, did not incite me to greater moral formation.

Reader's Greek Bible

I carry this with me at all times, just in case.

So, as is often the case, while he preached I opened my Greek Bible and began to work my way through the text in question. What I found in 2 Peter 1—as is often the case when I attend to the original Greek text—opened my eyes and encouraged my faith. Let me see if I can share the same encouragement with you.

The message of 2 Peter begins in verse 3 and the first paragraph runs through verse 11. Other translations do an injustice when they break the paragraph into pieces—the whole section from verse 3 to 11 is really one thought. Permit me to offer (or maybe even forgive me for this) my own translation here. Things may sound a little wooden because I am being intentionally literal. Also, please note that the words in bold are directly repeated words and ideas in the Greek text. Peter writes,

Since all things of His divine power—the things for life and for reverence—have been given to us through the knowledge of the one who calls us to His own glory and goodness (through whom the honorable and great promises have been given, in order that through these things you might share fellowship with the divine nature, escaping from corruption in the world’s desires)—now, regarding this very thing, making making every effort in all haste, supply in your faith goodness, and in goodness knowledge, and in knowledge self-control, and in self-control obedience, and in obedience reverence, and in reverence brotherly love, and in brotherly love love. For these things are possessions to you and increasing, making nothing idle or fruitless for the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For in the person for whom these things have not come, he is blind and shortsighted, holding forgetfulness of purification from his old sins. Wherefore more, brothers, hasten to make secure your calling and election, for doing these things you will never ever stumble. For thus access will be richly supplied to you for the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

One of the funny things about the Greek language that make it difficult to translate into English is the way it uses verbs. In any given sentence you can have one main verb with a whole host of attached clauses—the trick is that the main verb doesn’t always have to be at the beginning. In the passage above, the first main verb we get is in verse 5, were Peter commands us to “supply.” That means that the whole of the first two verses are clauses explaining this action of supplying. What this means is that we can neatly summarize the main idea of the passage as follows: since all things of the Divine power have been given, therefore supply the following to your faith. Because of verses 3 and 4, perform the command of verse 5. The grammar points to the importance of verses 5-7.

As I looked closer at verses 5-7, however, more of my curiosity was aroused. The preposition used between each element is en, meaning ‘in’ or ‘within.’ This seems like an odd choice to translate as “to” since there are other Greek prepositions that can mean “to” (such as eis or even epi). That made me want to look up the translation options for the word which the NIV translated “add,” but which I have translated “supply” above. In Greek, that word is epicoregeo, and other immediate options for translation are “provide” “give” “grant” and “support.” This range of options warranted some further digging, and what I found was this—the primary meaning of the word is to “supply” or “furnish,” and its special usage is the action of a husband providing for his wife. This discovery piqued my interest.

I looked at other occurrences of the word in the New Testament, and more things came together for me. Of these (there are 5 total, including the two in our passage above), Paul’s use of the word in Galatians 3:5 was especially arresting. Paul writes, “So then, does He who furnishes you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” What a concept! The Church, who is the bride of Christ, has been supplied (epicoregeo) by the Spirit. Taking from the special usage of the word, Paul is implying that the Spirit is like the support offered by God to we who are His Bride. He is our deposit, our household expense account, if the image is not too irreverent.

Concentric CirclesWith a fresh understanding of the word “supply” and its possible implications, I returned to 2 Peter 1 and reread the list. Things then began to shift. This is not a list of ethical addition at all. My faith is not a matter of adding x to y and to z in order to achieve love. Instead of addition, the dominant image is one of concentric circles. Faith is the overall picture, the biggest circle, but at the centre of that circle is love itself. The action of “supplying,” then, is the action making provision for the needs of my faith through these qualities. So, within my faith I supply goodness, and within goodness I supply knowledge, and within my knowledge I supply self-control, and within my self-control I supply obedience, and within my obedience I supply reverence, and within my reverence I supply brotherly love, and at the absolute centre of my being, the heart-of-hearts from which I operate all my faith, I am to supply love. The progression of my ethics is not adding action to action, but of a sanctified centre working outwards through all my behavior. The Christian life, in other words, is not a matter of adding qualities to attain to love, but of centering your life on love and then growing into these other qualities.

Suddenly, this passage in 2 Peter which had seemed obscure and, quite frankly, a little difficult, resolved into a clear message of Christian ethics. God is calling us into His Divine nature—to participation in His image and likeness. How are we commanded to respond to that call? By placing love at the centre of our lives, furnishing our faith with it as a husband furnishes living arrangements for his bride. If we reject this process, we are blind, shortsighted, and forgetful of our salvation.

My little Greek study made the conference more enjoyable. It overturned my previous thoughts on this passage. And it even began to change my perception of the second letter of Peter as being something of a fringe text. Indeed, read this way it would appear that the message of 2 Peter 1:3-11 is at the very centre of the Christian ethical life.

5 comments on “2 Peter 1 and the Furnishing of Faith

  1. Kotynski says:

    This little passage is quite difficult Greek (despite the fact or because of the fact that the quality of 2 Peter’s Greek is quite inferior to that of 1 Peter). Probably the biggest problem in most translations, in my opinion, is the omission of ὡς from verse three in translation. At least half of the English translations seem to miss the “since” or “inasmuch as” that you have resupplied in your translation – even the ESV which has become so popular of late. The NET version actually does quite a good job with the conjunction.

    If I may make some suggestions on your translation (in bold; underlined are repeated phrases/words): . . . since all things to us His divine power has given – things for life and for piety – through the knowledge/understanding of the one who called us by His own glory and excellence through which the honorable and greatest promises have been given, in order that through these things you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from corruption in the world in [its] desires. And now, regarding this very thing, applying yourselves with all zeal, supply in your faith excellence, and in excellence knowledge, and in knowledge self-control, and in self-control obedience, and in obedience piety, and in piety brotherly love, and in brotherly love love [for all]. For when these things are possessions to you and increasing, they make you not unproductive not fruitless for/in the knowledge/understanding of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the person to whom these things are not present, is blind and shortsighted, having taken forgetfulness [i.e. having become forgetful] of the purification from his old sins. Wherefore more, brothers, be zealous to make secure your calling and election, for in doing these things you will not ever ever stumble. For thus will be supplied to you entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

    As for ἐπιχορηγέω, I would say that you perhaps fall into the fallacy that D.A. Carson calls “Illegitimate Totality Transfer” – i.e. transferring the sense of a word in one context into all its contexts. While ἐπιχορηγέω can be specifically the way a man provides for his wife, it clearly is not the central meaning. If anything it seems to simply intensify the meaning of the verb χορηγέω (used of funding a χόρος in ancient times). But even that may be a stretch, since we know in Hellenistic Greek that compound verbs are losing their distinctive force so that more and more prefixes are needed to give a strong sense to a verb. [Not to mention that the verb can be of a wife providing for her husband!] Collocation is not the same as denotation (i.e. just because a word is used ‘technically’ in certain context doesn’t mean that that is the meaning of the word in all contexts; e.g. γύναι could mean “my dear wife”, but when Jesus says it to his mother it obviously means “my dear woman” with no connotations of the former.).

    The preposition ἐν + dat. may or may not be significant. If you notice in other places, a preposition is not usual with ἐπιχορηγέω (not even ἐπί), just the plain dative. But in Hellenistic Greek, ἐν is often used instrumentally where we might expect the plain dative (as also seems to be happening with the verb ἐπιχορηγέω). It seems to me likely that with Peter’s rather bad Greek, he is either using a colloquial sense of the preposition ἐν or is idiosyncratic (because of his presumed Semitic background: ἐν would be equivalent to the Hebrew or Aramaic ב, a construction similar to the Greek dative – now I am out of my depth. :)). But even if you prefer to translate it “in”, you still have to deal with the fact that the accusative in the passage is being supplied “in” the dative not the other way around. Which leads to my argument below.

    In terms of how you view the ethical demands of the passage, I’m not sure whether I am reading you right, but I think the traditional interpretation is correct. It doesn’t say “do all these things in love” it says finally, “supply love [in these things]”. So that while I agree our ethic is all based in love from other Biblical evidence, the passage truly seems to say that we add love to these things. Whether we take that as chronologically/logicially sequential is another matter (just as in Romans 8, the famous passage “those whom he foreknew, he predestined” etc. may or may not be sequential). It could simply be Peter’s way of making a list of virtues to pursue in your life in Christ (with a crescendo, as you noted, on ἀγάπη). But it is precisely the end of the passage which I think is strikingly moralistic in tone compared to Protestant or Evangelical theology “if you all do these things you will be allowed to enter the kingdom of God”! (Or more literally, “for thus will the entrance into the eternal kingdom be supplied to you all.”) The seemingly conditional nature of entrance into God’s kingdom has always something uncomfortable for Christians in the reformation tradition. But I think that we find this as a common theme throughout the gospels, Paul, and the early church fathers. Or as the author of the book of Hebrews says, “Pursue the holiness without which no one will see God.” Don’t get me wrong. It is by grace we have been saved, through faith, and this [whatever part or whole “this” refers to] is not of us. This is why, I believe, Paul said to “work out our salvation with faith and trembling, for it is God who is at work in us to will and to do.” In fact that is how I read 2 Peter 1: “Since God is at work in you, work out your salvation with all zeal, and you will gain entrance into his kingdom.”

    Thanks for a chance to scratch my head and think through a very difficult passage.

    • jmichaelrios says:

      Hey Eddie, I don’t have time right now to dig back into these details–what I do have time to do is say how awesome it is to have your response. I have always loved and appreciated your intelligence and wisdom in matters Greek, and I look forward to the blessing of working back through this alongside you!

      • Kotynski says:

        Thanks, Jeremy. I look forward to hearing from you. I don’t remember if I replied to you comment about Herodotus, but I was wondering if it was because I, like him, make things up, or if when you think of me you are referring to Nathan Seale’s favorite phrase from Herodotus, “They would be Cretans.” :). Cheers!

    • jmichaelrios says:

      Hi Eddie,

      I’ve finally found some time to explore this in more depth and get back to you. Thanks for your patience while I figured that out.

      First, translation comments. While the editors place a period before kai in verse 5, I am suggesting that the grammar pulls us toward a sentence beginning with ws (since), followed by several clauses, and then completed with epicoregeo (sorry, I’m not competent to type in Greek on wordpress!). So I resist the period at that point, hoping that dashes and parenthesis can sort the thought into a readable English idiom. In that same sentence, then, and in light of the overall awkward Greek, then, I opted to skip translating the kai, taking as a kind of untranslatable linking word that intensifies the “now” of de. Other than that, many of your suggested changes are stylistic–for example, choices regarding the use of aorist in complex sentences (is it merely unspecified or actually past tense? Is a translation that lends toward the perfect appropriate–i.e., “having escaped”?). I see that in with the pronoun in verse 4 “which” is more appropriate, and that the one in verse 9 needs smoothing out “For whom/the person to whom?” On the whole, however, I really wish we were sitting across a table working this out.

      Second, regarding the suggestion that perhaps I’ve fallen into a measure of “illegitimate totality transfer”–well, that certainly wasn’t my intention :) But I also don’t think that’s what I’ve done–and I didn’t mean to suggest that support for a wife was the only option for epicoregeo, but that option, given the context and usage, seemed especially appropriate here. I’m sure this next illustration is unnecessary, but I could use the English word “provender” to speak about replenishing my home pantry casually, or in the context of a long road trip I could use it with added emphasis, with echoes of military service and supply. Illegitimate Totality Transfer would obtain if I assumed that every use of provender was militaristically informed, and that I had a special idea of militarism every time I grocery shopped. Similarly here in 2 Peter, the notes I wanted to accent were those of “supply for a purpose,” as opposed to simply “add” (which seems woefully inadequate). So while I hope I haven’t suggested that Peter is commanding us specifically to view our faith as a bride and our actions in faith as the husband supplying for the bride, nevertheless I think there is an echo of that sentiment contained in epicoregeo. The challenge is to highlight the echo without letting the illustration overtake the passage.

      Third, regarding the use of en in the passage–well, that’s a tougher nut to crack, isn’t it? Someone could probably write a doctoral dissertation on the use of en in Peter’s epistles. So I’ll leave that one, for now, as an unanswered question. Although, perhaps the final comment below might mitigate the question of translation slightly…

      So fourth, let me say at the outset that we are in agreement with the Protestant discomfort with NT ethics. I’ve just finished teaching through Matthew’s gospel and I am struck by how little of what Jesus preaches looks like standard, mainline Reformation theology (and by ‘reformed’ I mean standard evangelical theology). Jesus’ gospel is a hard gospel, with hard ethical demands, and clear mandates for actions as consequences and proofs of faith. So having said that, I don’t want you to think that I’m revisiting 2 Peter as a way to assuage my Protestant discomfort with its demands. Upon reflection, my primary motive is translation based. A series of additives seems unwarranted by the ethics or grammar of the passage, however with the concept of supply, and the use of ‘en’ (as a positional, rather than additive pronoun), and with agape at the centre, it seemed reasonable, then sound, to revisit the translation and use of this passage. To that revisitation, I again refer above. :)

      Thanks again for the dialogue, Eddie. It was good to have to think through these things even more clearly (although, let’s admit it–clarity and Peter’s Greek don’t go all that hand-in-hand!).

      Blessings,

      Jeremy

      • Eddie Kotynski says:

        Jeremy,

        I decided to look back on this conversation again. Thanks for your interaction with me on it. It is nice to see that not everyone sees the gospel as easily conformable to the reformation tradition.

        I’ve been reading a lot of an 11th century archbishop of Bulgaria lately named Theophylact. He has Greek commentaries on the entire New Testament (and the minor prophets). I would be interested to see what he has to say. Unfortunately there are no English translations of much of his work, just the Migne editions. Anyway, that said, I hope to take a look at his commentary on 2 Peter in light of our conversation – and recommend him to you.

        χαρὶς καὶ εἰρήνη

        Eddie

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