Context in 1 Peter 2:1
In a previous article, I introduced the COMMA practice of Bible study. Let's get into the first first step: context. That's the one-word Bible student's cheer I learned in fourth semester Greek. Context! Context! Context!
There are a few context questions relevant when beginning a book. Where am I in sacred Scripture? What book? And, when beginning to read a book like 1 Peter we can ask, Who is Peter? Who are the "elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia"? Two good questions for 1 Peter 1:1. Most study bibles and many online resources will provide helpful answers.
The next step in working through context generally takes careful reading. We'll get into this a little more in the article on observation. Yet careful reading is a major effort when considering context, as well. In 1 Peter 2:1 we read this, "So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander." The first, major context issue is simply in the verse citation itself (sorry to be so basic, but then our cheer has only one word: context. Basic is the name of the game at this point). 1 Peter chapter 2 tells us the context of this verse, verse 1 of chapter 2. And it begins with a conjunction, "so" in the ESV and NET, "therefore" in the NIV. Here is the context challenge of 1 Peter 2:1! What does the word "so" or "therefore" connect with? Is it the immediate verse? "'But the word of the Lord remains forever.' And this is the good news that was preached to you" (1 Peter 1:25). Or is it something else? Usually, I assume the words immediately before the "so" or "therefore" are connected with the word. And if it doesn't make sense, then I look elsewhere. And in this case, what does "And this is the word that was preached to you" have to do with "So put away all malice . . ."? Yes, the good news isn't consistent with malice, deceit, hypocrisy, and slander. But is there something else that makes more sense? In my Sunday morning reading of 1 Peter 2, I thought I'd look and see if another connection made better sense. Sure enough, 1 Peter 1:22 did just that. For context, I'll also include verse 23. "Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God." "Love one another earnestly from a pure heart" is the major command in verse 22 (bolded above). The phrase "since you have been born again" (italicized above) in verse 23 introduces the statements about the word of God that follow and conclude chapter 1. This leads me to the idea that the "so" or "therefore" in the beginning of chapter 2 refers back to the command in verse 22 which was followed by a brief focus on the Word of God in verses 23-25. Then I test drove that idea. "Love one another from a pure heart . . . . So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander." And that idea, namely that mailce, deceit, etc. aren't compatible with a pure heart, tells me that the context of 1 Peter 2:1 is the commandment in 1 Peter 1:22.
What a challenging, and important, example of paying attention to the context of a verse!
In closing, let me offer one question and quick answer with one clarification. Question: Oh my word! Is it always this involved? Quick answer: not normally.
Clarification: With practice, this gets much easier. This is especially the case as we learn and practice observation. That will be the subject of the next article in this series.