They Were Destined to Disobey God?

John Piper posts a new "lab," interpreting Scripture at 1 Peter 2:4-8, and does so strictly by a faulty hermeneutic. This statement should come as no surprise; Piper and other Calvinists also charge Arminians of interpreting Scripture by a faulty hermeneutic. What I want to demonstrate is why I think Piper is using a faulty hermeneutic from the very passage itself. He has no biblical license underlying his assumption. Note first his title: "They Were Destined to Disobey God." The absence of predestination in his title is telling; the absence of predestination to disobedience in the text itself will prove problematic for Piper's opening address: it demonstrates why Piper's teaching should be avoided.

I could comment quite extensively even about Piper's opening prayer, that God would "guard him from saying anything amiss," and that temptation is very great, but I will only comment that, God does not guard any of us who teach the Bible from "saying anything amiss." If we think otherwise, then we are self-deceived, and are deceiving others into thinking that what we teach is God-ordained. I fear this is the notion garnered by Piper's readers, students, and this is dangerous. No teacher is inerrant.

Piper begins: "God predestined some, in his infinite mercy, to hear the gospel and believe. And he predestined others, in unspeakable mystery, to disobey and reject the good news." (link) (emphases added) I think the words "unspeakable mystery" should be changed to "unspeakable horror." Before a person is even conceived in the womb, from eternity past, God has, in this heretical supralapsarian understanding, already decided whether the human being created in His image will obey or disobey the Gospel. But answer this: Since total depravity and total inability are true, why would God need to "predestine" someone to disobedience? Will he not, ipso facto, disobey via his fallen state? Why this inconsistency on the part of Piper? Predestining an inherently disobedient, erring and sinful person to his disobedience seems rather gratuitous of God, no? This is a glaring error.

First, however, Piper primes his audience by asking them to consider two passages as they read the primary passage which he will interpret: "Read Matthew 21:42 and Acts 4:27–28. How do these passages effect how you read 1 Peter 2:6–8?" (link) "Jesus said to them, 'Did you never read in the Scriptures, "The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone; this came about from the LORD, and it is marvelous in our eyes"?'" (Matt. 21:42 NASB) "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur." (Acts 4:27-28) What if two other references should effect our reading of 1 Peter 2:6-8? What if, instead, we use, contextually, Isaiah 28:16 and John 3:36?

Isaiah 28:16 is where we first find the reference to which Peter is quoting: "Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, 'Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.'" But Peter also quotes from the Psalmist: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone" (Ps. 118:22); and another passage in Isaiah: "He will be as a sanctuary, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, as a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem." (Isa. 8:14 NKJV) None of the references used by Peter even implicitly infer that anyone is destined or predestined to disobedience.

There can be absolutely no doubt that Piper uses Acts 4:27-28 as a way to lead the student of Scripture to adopt his Calvinistic interpretation of 1 Peter 2:4-8. As a matter of fact, this cherry-picking method of interpreting Scripture is how I was led into adopting Calvinism. I was shone one verse, then another, then another, and yet another, none of which were read in their contexts, nor with an historical perspective, and then Calvinism made sense. Jehovah's Witnesses use this same tactic in making converts. Context matters little when a systematic agenda is the goal of the teacher. The same is true for Piper.

Peter, the Jewish disciple of Jesus Christ, addresses the believers in churches throughout modern-day Turkey who are experiencing persecution perhaps about 64-65 CE.1 Peter, writing within his Jewish-Christian context, longs for the persecuted believers to ground their hope in the almighty God by the resurrection of Christ for the attainment of an eternal and heavenly inheritance. (cf. 1 Pet. 1:1-4) Though God is their Protector (1 Pet. 1:5), they may still endure persecution (1 Pet. 1:6-8), but should not lose hope in their ultimate salvation (1 Pet. 1:9). Upon this eternal hope they are instructed to fix their spiritual gaze (1 Pet. 1:11-13). They are not to compromise with the surrounding culture (1 Pet. 1:14) but to be holy as God is holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16). After all, their redemption was purchased at the highest imaginable cost, the life of the innocent Christ (1 Pet. 1:17-25).

Peter then instructs these persecuted Christians to crave the Word of God so that they may grow spiritually and think biblically (1 Pet. 2:1-2). They have tasted of the goodness of the Lord (1 Pet. 2:3) and they are coming to the Lord as to a living stone (1 Pet. 2:4a). This Rock is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 10:4), to Whom they are coming (1 Pet. 2:4a), through Whom they approach God (cf. Heb. 7:25). This living Stone, this living Rock, is "rejected by men, but choice [ἐκλεκτὸν] and precious in the sight of God." (1 Pet. 2:4b NASB; cf. YLT) With the exception of Young's Literal Translation, the New American Standard Bible is the only major translation -- I also consulted obscure translations like the World English Bible, The Voice, Orthodox Jewish Bible, New Life Version, Lexham English Bible, God's Word, Darby and the American Standard Version of 1901 -- that translates the Greek ἐκλεκτὸν as "choice," which corresponds well with καὶ ἔντιμον, "and precious" (of great value, to be honored; cf. "but he was chosen by God for great honor," 1 Pet. 2:4 NLT).


Jesus is God the Father's Elect One: "Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles." (Isa. 42:1 NKJV) Contextually, this reference cannot be granted to Israel, because the Israelites were not used by God in such fashion. This has a Messianic reference and is reserved solely for Jesus Christ. He is God's Elect One. He is the living Stone who is, in an ultimately unique sense, precious to God the Father as His only-begotten.

Peter continues: "you [plural: you all] also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Pet. 2:5 NASB) Whereas the ancient Jewish priests alone could offer worship to God, now, in and through Christ Jesus, we who trust in Him and are united with Him by grace through faith in Him are being built together (note the plural tense) as a spiritual temple in which God Himself dwells; and we are now able to offer to Him the spiritual sacrifices of joy and praise that He alone deserves (Heb. 13:15). Peter then quotes from Isaiah and the Psalmist regarding this living Stone, who is our Corner Stone, the major Stone upon which our spiritual temple is being built. (1 Pet. 2:6, 7)

He then adds: "and, 'A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense'; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed." (1 Pet. 2:8 NASB, emphasis original) The word doom here is added by the translators because the passage needs a proper reference. John Piper's preferred translation, the English Standard Version, offers: "They stumble [προσκόπτουσιν, present active indicative: "they stumble and keep on stumbling"] because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do." (1 Pet. 2:8 ESV, emphasis added) Piper sees here an occasion for God predestining some (most; cf. Matt. 7:13, 14) to disobedience and unbelief. His first mistake is in using the word "predestined" in his initial teaching when his own preferred translation offers the word "destined." The two words are not synonymous. Someone may be destined to an end, an end commensurate with one's prior choices, which was not predestined.

In all fairness, I do not think the translators of the ESV are forcing a Calvinist agenda in this verse, given that its predecessors -- the NRSV and the RSV respectively -- employ the exact same translation. The translators of the NRSV and the original RSV were not Calvinistic. As a matter of fact, some form of this conception is maintained in other translations (cf. ASV, CJB, Darby, HCSB, ISV, KJV, LEB, MEV, NCV, NET, NIV, NKJV, The Voice, WEB). Other translations follow a similar pattern of the NASB (cf. CEB, God's Word, NABRE, NLV, NLT, Wycliffe, YLT). The Greek text of 1 Peter 2:8b, with accompanying English translation, is as follows: οἳ προσκόπτουσιν τῷ λόγῳ, they are stumbling, to the word, ἀπειθοῦντες εἰς ὃ καὶ, and so they are being disobedient (or disbelieving), ἐτέθησαν, they are set. Let us view this Greek word for "set," or "destined," ἐτέθησαν.

Properly this Greek word refers to putting in place, setting, establishing. (link) The word is used for believers in Christ not being "destined" to the experiencing of the wrath of God at 1 Thessalonians 5:9 and persecuted believers being destined for prison or the sword at Revelation 13:10. But this Greek word does not share the predestining or predetermining connotation of προώρισεν noted at Acts 4:28 (cf. also Rom. 8:29, 30; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:5, 11). But Piper wants his readers to make that very connection -- that very connection that the Word of God will not substantiate. Therefore, his comment that "God predestined some, in his infinite mercy, to hear the gospel and believe. And he predestined others, in unspeakable mystery, to disobey and reject the good news" cannot be validated by the Greek New Testament. How shall we view the passage of 1 Peter 2:8, then?

There is a reference by Peter in his letter to the persecuted believers who have not stumbled over the living Stone, the Corner Stone of God's temple, His Church. Peter refers to these people, made up of Jews and Gentiles, as a "chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession" (1 Pet. 2:9 NASB). These privileged positions once belonged solely to Israel. Now they are granted to those in Christ's Church.2 Those who disobey the Word of God, the Word of His Gospel, the very ones persecuting the believers to whom Peter is writing, they are stumbling3 because they are being disobedient and disbelieving, refusing to receive Christ. This inevitable "stumbling" renders them to an eternal doom, disconnected from the living Stone, separated from God forever. All disobedient and disbelieving people are destined to this fate.

The New Living Translation renders Peter's intention beautifully, biblically, and contextually: "They stumble because they do not obey God's word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them." The "fate" planned for unbelievers is a wrathful and eternal separation from God. (John 3:36) Though this fate is not God's desire (cf. Ezek. 18:23; 33:11; John 3:16, 17; 6:40; 1 Tim. 2:4), and thus not His strictly-decreed or eternally-necessitated will for them, this fated end belongs to them by their own choice. This is why I suggest that readers consider John 3:36 when studying 1 Peter 2:4-8: "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36 NKJV) No one is predestined to disobey the Word of God or the Gospel of Christ; and Piper's attempt at teaching otherwise bespeaks of how one's faulty hermeneutic inevitably leads one into serious theological error.

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1 Stephen Motyer, "1 Peter," in The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, eds. Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), 1540-41.

2 "While those who disobey the gospel stumble over Jesus, those who receive Jesus become 'a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God' (2:8-9). Now the multicultural church, composed of both Jews and gentiles, has become the people of God, a description once reserved only for Israel." The Baker Illustrated Bible Handbook, eds. J. Daniel Hays and J. Scott Duvall (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 939.

3 "Meantime . . . those builders who have refused to use this stone [i.e., Christ, the living and chief Corner Stone] in their building find that, as it [the living stone] lies on their site, it encumbers their operations by tripping them up. Such is the appointed portion of those who reject Christ, as Isa. 8:14 ff. predicts, especially of Israel . . ., endeavoring to continue as the people of God and to do His work while refusing His Messiah." G.J. Polkinghorne, "1 Peter," in The International Bible Commentary with the NIV, ed. F.F. Bruce (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 1555.

ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.