to be God's Household, Priesthood, and People
Commentary on 1 Peter 2:4–10
Dr. Daniel A. Keating
The following short
commentary from the First Letter of Peter, Chapter 2, verses 4-10 is lightly
edited with permission of the author, Dr. Daniel Keating, from his book,
Commentary on Sacred Scripture: 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude, published
by Baker Academic, 2011. While it was written from a Roman Catholic perspective,
the material can be beneficial for Christians from other traditions as
Dr. Keating explains the
aim of his commentary in the introduction to 1 Peter: “The First Letter
of Peter is a hidden gem, tucked away among the catholic epistles, just
waiting to be discovered. Overshadowed by the longer and weightier letters
of Paul, 1 Peter has often been neglected or undervalued. My aim in this
commentary is to aid the reader in discovering the riches of this letter,
in the hope that he or she may hear its proclamation of the gospel anew
and follow the call to suffer joyfully with Christ.” – ed.
|1 Peter 2:
4 Come to him, a living
stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of
God, 5 and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into
a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices
acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it says in scripture:
“Behold, I am laying a stone in Zion, a cornerstone, chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in it shall not be put to shame.”
its value is for you who have faith, but for those without faith: “The
stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”8
and “A stone that will make people stumble, and a rock that will make them
fall.” They stumble by disobeying the word, as is their destiny.
references: Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 8:14; 28:16
NT reference: Ephesians
these two verses Paul used the image of a house, or temple, made of stones.
Echoing Psalm 34, Peter calls us to come to him,23
to Jesus himself, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen
and precious in the sight of God. This phrase is drawn from two Old
Testament texts: Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 28:16 (Peter will quote both texts
below in vv. 6–8). Jesus is the “stone” that the Father has given to serve
as the foundation of God’s own house.24
Though rejected by the Jewish leaders of his day, he is raised up and put
in place as the foundation of the Church. He is a “living” stone because,
though rejected and cut off in death, he has been raised from the dead
and now lives.
Strikingly, Peter now applies the imagery of “stones” directly to the
Christian people. We are to be like living stones who let themselves
built into a spiritual house. The image of a “house” predominates here,
both as a noun (oikos), but also as embedded in the verb “to be
built into” (oikodomeo). This is no ordinary house made of lifeless
stones but the true spiritual temple of God that has living members, with
Christ himself the cornerstone of the temple (see Ephesians 2:19–22). In
the Old Testament the temple in Jerusalem is often simply called the house
of God (see sidebar below, “The Temple as God’s House”). It was the dwelling
place of God among his people. We the Christian people have now become
the dwelling place of God; we are living stones built together “into a
dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22).
More than this, we are called to serve in this house as a holy priesthood.
Here the imagery slides from that of the building to those who serve in
that building. A priest is one ordained to serve in God’s temple. He offers
sacrifices and brings the prayers and needs of the people before the Lord.
What then does Peter mean by calling the Church a “holy priesthood” called
to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ?
He does not develop the practical implications here, but we should note
that he is not referring specifically to the ordained priesthood. Rather,
it is the entire Christian people by virtue of their baptism into Christ
who have entered into the inheritance given to the people of Israel to
be a “royal priesthood” (v. 9; Exodus 19:6). We are all called to stand
before the Lord as priests, offering our lives as living sacrifices.
We should not overlook the repetition of “spiritual” in verse 5.25
We have now become a “spiritual house” and a priesthood offering “spiritual
sacrifices.” “Spiritual” does not mean immaterial or unreal. Rather, “spiritual”
refers to the divine life and activity of the Holy Spirit in and through
us. We are now the house where God’s Spirit dwells and we offer our lives
as sacrifices in the power of the Spirit.
vv. 6–8: To support his point
Peter ties together three Old Testament texts that concern a “stone” in
God’s plan.26 The
first (v. 6) is from Isaiah 28:16, where the Lord God reprimands those
who put their trust in other gods and promises that he himself will establish
among his people a cornerstone, chosen and precious to him, such that whoever
believes in it shall not be put to shame. The second (v. 7) is an exact
quotation of Psalm 118:22: The stone which the builders rejected has
become the cornerstone. Here, the psalmist rebukes those who reject
the “stone” that the Lord himself is establishing as the cornerstone of
his own house. The third (v. 8) is a loose adaptation of Isaiah 8:14, in
which the prophet chides both houses of Israel for failing to believe the
Lord who will become for these faithless ones a stone that will make
people stumble, and a rock that will make them fall.
Peter shows that Jesus is the “stone” promised in the Scriptures, rejected
by the leaders of Israel who put him to death (see Acts 4:10–11) but raised
to life to become the cornerstone of God’s house. The key issue is faith.
For those who have faith, the stone established by the Father is
“precious,” but to those without faith, this stone becomes a cause
of stumbling and falling. What does it mean to stumble in this context?
They stumble by disobeying the word, that is, they do not believe
and obey the gospel (note the contrast with “obedience to the truth” in
What should we make of Peter’s claim that this stumbling over the stone
in unbelief was their destiny? Were they personally fated by God
to disbelieve and disobey the gospel of Christ? Some have interpreted Peter
this way, but this is not the conclusion Peter is drawing here. Rather,
he is showing that the Scriptures predicted ahead of time that Jesus, the
stone established by the Father, would be a cause of division and that
some would not obey his word. The biblical prediction does not rob anyone
of free will. Instead, it gives confidence to believers that the ongoing
rejection of Jesus by some was foreknown and foretold by God and so falls
within his plan and purpose for the salvation of the world.
The Temple as God’s House
Once his kingdom was secure,
David consulted the prophet Nathan about building a house for the Lord
God to dwell in, and Nathan gave his blessing (2 Samuel 7:1–16). But the
Lord interrupted this plan, telling David through Nathan that he had no
need of a house to dwell in. Instead, the Lord turned the tables on David
and promised that he would build a house for David, meaning a dynasty of
kings. The Lord also promised that David’s “offspring” would build the
house of the Lord, and this was fulfilled by David’s son, Solomon. The
glorious temple that Solomon built (see 1 Kings 5–8) was the focal point
for Israel’s life, worship, and sacrifice. Destroyed by the Babylonian
armies in 587 BC, the temple was rebuilt by the returning exiles (see Ezra
3). Enlarged by King Herod the Great (37–4 BC), the temple in Jerusalem
stood as one of the wonders of the ancient world. Jesus not only said that
he was greater than the temple (Matthew 12:6), but he also claimed that
he himself was the temple of the living God (John 2:19–21). He is now the
dwelling place of God on earth, and, as living stones built into him, we
have now become God’s house where he dwells through the Spirit.
|1 Peter 2:
9 But you are “a chosen
race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you
may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his
wonderful light. 10 Once you were “no people”
but now you are God’s people; you “had not received mercy” but now you
have received mercy.
references: Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 42:6–7; 43:20–21; Hosea 1:6–10; 2:23
NT reference: Ephesians
vs.9:We have now come to the
climax of this passage. Peter’s main concern is not, in fact, with those
who disobey (v. 8) but with the glorious privilege of those who have believed
in the “living stone” established by the Father. He announces that believers
in Christ have become a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a people of his own. The four phrases build upon one another with powerful
effect and together communicate the staggering dignity that is ours in
Christ. The language is not Peter’s own invention. He has selected and
combined phrases from the Greek version of Isa 43:20–21 and Exod 19:6.27
By linking these texts, Peter brings to mind the two great moments of deliverance
in Israel’s history: the deliverance from slavery in Egypt (Exod 19) and
the deliverance from exile in Babylon (Isa 43). Peter is saying that what
Israel was and is called to be has now been fulfilled in the Church through
the deliverance Christ has accomplished.
All the terms point to a corporate reality. We have become a “race,”
a “nation,” and a “people,” specially chosen by God for his own possession,
to be holy as he is holy. And this race, nation, and people is also a royal
priesthood. By virtue of our incorporation into Christ, we have attained
a truly kingly and priestly status not as separate individuals but as
a people, the Church.
Moreover, our royal priesthood obliges us to evangelize: we are to announce
the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful
light. The Greek word translated “praises” is literally “virtues” and
comes directly from Isa 43:21.28
Though the term “virtues” usually refers to good moral qualities, here
it refers to the saving acts of God. As the people of God, we are called
to announce God’s great deeds by giving testimony to what he has done for
us. The contrast between light and darkness depicts the conversion that
ought to accompany baptism: we come out of the darkness of our former way
of life into the light of Christ. Here it is helpful to call to mind the
mission of the servant of the Lord in Isa 42:6–7. He was called to be a
“covenant to the people,” a “light to the nations” (NRSV), and to free
from prison those who “live in darkness.” Jesus has done this through the
New Covenant, bringing both Jew and Gentile into the full inheritance promised
to Israel. This is what we are called to make known in the world—and when
we do so, we are giving God praise.
If all this is true—that each of us has been called to be a member
of a “royal priesthood” and a “holy nation”—then each of us is also called
to participate in the mission of this priesthood and nation to the
whole world. We are God’s “own possession” not simply for our own sakes.
We are also called to “announce the praises of him who called us out of
darkness into his wonderful light.” Each of us needs to know and experience
the freshness of the gospel and to experience wonder at being called into
God’s marvelous light. Not many of us are called to preach to large multitudes,
but all of us are capable of giving personal testimony to the great deeds
that God has worked in our own lives.
23 This is a clear
reference to Ps 34:6 (LXX 33:6), which in the Greek text says, “come to
him and be radiant.”
24 Jesus applies Ps
118:22 to himself in the Gospels (Matt 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17).
25 The Greek word
translated “spiritual” here (pneumatikos) is different than the one translated
“spiritual” in verse 2 (logikos).
26 The Old Testament
“stone” texts singly or in combination are used in a similar way by Jesus
himself (Matt 21:42; Mark 12:10–11; Luke 20:17–18), by Paul (Rom 9:32–33;
Eph 2:20), and by Peter in Acts (4:11).
27 From Isa 43:20–21
(LXX) with slight alterations come “chosen race” and a “people” for God’s
“possession”; from Exod 19:6 (LXX) come the exact phrases “royal priesthood”
and “holy nation.”
28 “Virtue” is an
unusual translation of the Hebrew “praise,” found only in a few texts in
the latter part of Isaiah and once in Habakkuk and Zechariah (Isa 42:8,
12; 43:21; 63:7; Hab 3:3; Zech 6:13).
NRSV New Revised Standard Version
Dr. Daniel A. Keating (Doctor
of Philosophy, University of Oxford) is associate professor of theology
at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, USA and an elder of
Servants of the Word, a lay missionary brotherhood of men living single
for the Lord.