Food and water. These are the bare essentials if you plan on staying alive in your current body (feel free to pat yourself on the back for making it this far...you've met the basic requirements). Granted, you can go many weeks without food, but the body needs water more than anything to make it beyond a week.
And before we can even think about drinking water and eating solid food, we need a constant supply of our mother's milk immediately upon birth (or, thanks to modern advancements, a proper substitute). This is the way it is, and it's by design. There is simply no other way to thrive other than to meet these basic requirements for good health, proper nourishment, and growth.
As a Christian who believes that the God of the Bible is the Creator of everything, and now that I know He is also gracious and has personally redeemed me through Christ, I humbly submit to His design for my life. And this act of submission is not merely a one time choice, but also a daily surrender (cf. Lk. 9:23).
If you have also experienced the new birth that is essential for salvation (Jn. 3:3; Jm. 1:18), then, along with watching your physical health, you may have noticed a need for maintaining good spiritual health. Instinctively, we seek out physical food and drink to satisfy our hunger and thirst, but there is an even greater need for the child of God to stay alive in the Spirit in order to be productive and fruitful (cf. Jn. 15:1-8; Rom. 8:12-13). And this necessary fruit isn't the kind that perishes in the produce section. It's the kind that lasts forever.
Therefore, as true children of God who need consistent nourishment for growth and productivity, the last thing we need is fake spirituality, or vain religious attitudes and practices. There are plenty of counterfeits available, so discernment is crucial and adherence to the truth is vital for our spiritual health.
In this evil age full of deception and hypocrisy, how does the child of God not just survive, but thrive in these arid conditions? Where can we find continual strength and comfort when we are beaten down, rejected, and left out in the cold by others in our community?
Well, a great place to turn to in Scripture to answer these questions is 1 Peter. I've been in this book for a while now, and time and time again, I find myself returning to these passages in order to help a fellow brother or sister find meaning and purpose in their trials. Peter's letter is the perfect message for us right now as we witness many in our "selfie" generation cry out for justice and yet continue to despise authority.
While truth continues to stumble in the streets (Isa. 59:14), we don't have to stumble along with the mob. In the following study, we are going to take a look at 1 Peter 2:1-3. The apostle, by way of a creative and effective metaphor, reveals how beleaguered believers in a weary world can find the comfort and nourishment they so desperately need.
To Those Who are Exiles During the Times of the Gentiles
If you've ever felt like a stranger in your own home, or if you've ever been slandered or treated with contempt, then you can relate with Peter's audience. For Gentiles this is a little harder to picture, but a Jew living miles and miles away from Jerusalem and the Land of Israel knows exactly how it feels to be the object of scorn.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1 Pet. 1:1, ESV).
Imagine you are a Jew living in exile around AD 60. Not only are you outnumbered and standing out like a sore thumb because of your peculiar beliefs and customs, but you are also a Christian, and that designation alienates you further from your own Jewish brethren. It's a double whammy.
It's a situation not altogether foreign to many of us who feel like a stranger in our own country. Maybe your own family has given you the silent treatment because of your evangelistic efforts, or worse, maybe they've vocalized their hatred of your Christian values and love of the truth.
The backdrop to 1 Peter is something that the average Christian can relate to in modern times, and the apostle's authoritative word is something that every Christian needs to hear and put into practice.
Also, in addition to practical matters of submission to authority and suffering for the Lord, foremost in Peter's mind is the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember, we are still in the Times of the Gentiles (see Dan. 2:31-45), and this time period of tyranny and persecution won't end until the King of kings establishes His iron-rod rule on the earth at the end of the Tribulation. For those of us in the body of Christ, the male-child of Rev. 12:5, we are going home much sooner than the rest who must endure the Time of Jacob's Trouble (see Gary's post here; my post here).
Peter knew the book of Daniel and understood the prophetic hour; namely, after Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension, the countdown began during the time of the last Gentile power (Rome, + Rome 2.0 during the Trib).
In order to encourage those of you who are prophecy-minded and eager to meet the Lord in these last days, here is an extensive list of verses in Peter's letter highlighting the importance of Christ's return (adapted from Charles Baylis, Commentary Notes on 1 Peter, pg. 5):
1:5 – a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time
1:7 – at the revelation of Jesus Christ
1:9 – the salvation of your souls
1:13 – to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ
2:12 – in the day of visitation
4:5 – give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead
4:7 – the end of all things is at hand
4:13 – at the revelation of His glory
5:1 – a participant in the glory about to be revealed
5:4 – when the Chief Shepherd appears
5:8 – that He may exalt you at the proper time
5:10 – who called you into His eternal glory in Christ...after you have suffered for a little while
Amen! Now that we've got the return of the Lord in our sights, by no means does Peter want us to bunker down and isolate ourselves. On the contrary, he wants us to have the mindset of the prophet Daniel and thrive in the midst of our current trials.
For example, check out these allusions to the book of Daniel in 1 Peter (adapted from Baylis, 1 Peter, pg. 3):
1:1, 17 + 2:11 + 5:13 – "exile" and "Babylon" (cf. Dan. 1:1-2)
1:6-7 + 4:12 – "refined by fire" and "fiery trial" (cf. Dan. 3:24-30)
5:8 – "roaring lion" (cf. Dan. 6:10-24)
All right, now that we've got some background and context, let's look at the passage of focus: 1 Peter 2:1-3:
So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good" (ESV).
Here we find the answer to how the child of God thrives while living as an exile in enemy-occupied territory: By continually craving, or longing for "pure spiritual milk." The source of this "milk," of course, being "the Lord" himself (2:3), and to get it we must come to Him continually (2:4), "As you come to Him..." (see ESV, NIV, NET, and NRSV).
Next, we need to define and clarify Peter's metaphor [Greek: logikon adolon gala], which is translated in popular English versions in various ways:
1) Most common "pure spiritual milk" (ESV, NIV, HCSB, NET, etc.)
2) Less common "pure/sincere milk of the word" (KJV, NASB, YLT, etc.)
3) Even less common "pure rational/reasonable milk" (Douay-Rheims, Jubilee Bible, etc.)
How do we account for these discrepancies? Why do some translations explicitly say "word" (KJV) and others do not (ESV)? Why does the King James Version not include the prepositional phrase "in/to salvation? Is it a conspiracy? Are newer translations other than the KJV inspired by Satan?
The mystery surrounding the "milk" that the children of God must have for spiritual nourishment and growth continues...
The Milk That Saves and Never Spoils
Ok, at this point we need to go over a fundamental principle of Bible study. Before we can actually derive the correct interpretation of a passage of Scripture, we must establish the text. Thus, the logical first question of Bible study: What is the text?
It sounds simple enough. However, as you can see from the listed variations of 1 Peter 2:2 above, there is more going on beneath the surface. Most English versions today include footnotes to explain textual issues and variant translations, but I first want to explain why other modern versions are not doing anything malicious or conspiratorial when they say we are to grow up "into salvation" by means of the "milk" mentioned by Peter.
The following investigation might trigger the KJV-only crew, and if that's you, then please ask yourself if you are a true seeker and learner, or possibly someone who is afraid to admit that the answers aren't as simple as "It's the Authorized Version."
No doubt the KJV is a solid and faithful translation that has had a monumental impact on the Western world (and one that I have cited as the best translation in many examples!). But it's not perfect, and it's not God-breathed—in the case of 1 Peter 2:2, it's the original Greek text that is the inspired text.
Here's an explanatory note on the textual issue in 1 Pet. 2:2 from the NET Bible (#6):
The Byzantine text [a.k.a. Textus Receptus/KJV tradition] lacks eis soterian ["to salvation"] while the words are found in the earliest and best witnesses...[the earliest witness was discovered long after 1611 in Egypt (1952), a set of papyri called the 'Bodmer Codex']. Not only is the longer reading superior externally, but since the notion of growing up [in] salvation would have seemed theologically objectionable, it is easy to see why some scribes would omit it" (bracketed explanation mine).
Now then, after briefly addressing the minor textual issue, we can move forward with confidence in the longer reading. No need to stumble over the "salvation" in 2:2: It's not salvation in the sense of "justification by faith," as if Peter was teaching salvation by works. This goal of "growing up into salvation" is a reference to our "glorification," or the ultimate deliverance Peter has already previewed in 1:5 and 1:9 which occurs at the time of the Lord's return.
Next, we still need to address the lingering confusion over the exact meaning of what is commonly translated as "pure spiritual milk." At the lexical/grammatical level, we're dealing with a noun [Grk. gala] modified by two adjectives logikon and adolon. We'll hammer out a clearer definition of the "milk" later, but we can progress toward clarity by defining the two modifying adjectives:
First, the children of God are to crave the milk that is logikon. This Greek term is found only twice in the entire New Testament: One time here in 1 Peter 2:2 and the other in Romans 12:1. Since Paul's exhortation to present our bodies as a living sacrifice is a more well-known verse, you may already be familiar with the various translations of "...this is your spiritual worship," (ESV) or "...this is your reasonable worship" (KJV).
Honestly, I have no idea how translators get "spiritual" from logikon. According to extra-biblical Greek sources such as Epictetus and Philo (1st century AD), the term is translated as "reasonable" or "rational" and never in the sense of "spiritual" (see Epictetus Diatribe 1.16.20; Philo The Special Laws 1.277). In fact, if Peter wanted to convey the sense of "spiritual," then he would have used the term found a few verses away in 1 Pet. 2:5, "...[you] are being built into a spiritual [Grk. pneumatikos] house..." Paul also uses this term in places like 1 Cor. 2:13, where the sense is clearly "spiritual." Therefore, given the extra-biblical evidence it seems best to go with a sense of "rational/reasonable" for logikon milk in 1 Pet. 2:2.
Second, children of God are to crave the milk that is adolon. This word is found only here in 1 Peter, and so we don't have another New Testament context to compare its usage. However, in the Greek language, whenever you find an "a" + root word, it's usually the absence of something (such as a + theism, "without God," or a + pathy, "without feeling"). Guess what? The antonym of adolon is found in 1 Pet. 2:1 (and also in 2:22)! The word dolos means "...taking advantage through craft and underhanded methods, deceit, cunning, treachery" (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 3rd ed., pg. 256).
And so, adding these two descriptors together, we are told to grow up in our salvation by means of "milk" that is both reasonable and pure, or in other words, it is logical and without deceit. In laymen's terms...this "milk" is 100% organic and contains no additives!
We are almost there. Now on to the gala. What is this "milk" that is completely reasonable and genuine—the precise referent of Peter's metaphor?
The answer to this question has led to a few, slightly nuanced interpretations. For example, English translations such as the King James Version and New American Standard have already interpreted it for us, i.e., "...the sincere milk of the Word."
One female scholar has proposed another interpretation of the "milk" in 1 Pet. 2:2:
It seems evident that the use of the verb ["to crave," 1 Pet. 2:1] with these parallel concepts [see Rom. 13:12; Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:8; Heb. 12:1; and Jm. 1:21] should inform our understanding that craving logikon adolon gala refers to the passionate desire to reorient one's whole self and life to the reality of one's new birth" (Karen Jobes, "Got Milk?" A Petrine Metaphor in 1 Peter 2:1-3 Revisited, pg. 124, source).
Lastly, W. Edward Glenny has a more narrowed definition of "pure rational milk":
I have argued that this 'milk' represents the gospel of Christ, which the early church found in and preached from the OT. This 'milk' is 'reasonable' or 'rational' because it is the interpretation of [graphe, 'Scripture'] intended by the Holy Spirit (1:11)...for ''children of God' (the perspective from which the recipients are addressed in 1:13-2:10), who have obeyed 'the truth' (1:22), have been born again by 'incorruptible seed' through the gospel (1:23) and have tasted the goodness of the Lord (2:3), the recognition of and appetite for this gospel message and its implications as found in [Scripture] is as natural, instinctive, and reasonable as desire for milk is for newborn babes (2:2)" ("1 Peter 2:2a: Nourishment for Growth in Faith and Love" in Interpreting the New Testament Text, ed. Bock and Fanning, 447-48).
The interpretations above are varied, but they are all interrelated to the Word of God. That being said, I believe that Glenny has captured the best sense of Peter's all-encompassing metaphor. Discerning the true meaning of the "milk" that we are to desire with all of our being is as easy as 1-2-3, or simply looking back at the preceding context of 1 Pet. 1:23.
In 1 Peter 1:23, we are reminded that we've been born again through "the living and enduring word of God." The "word" here is logos, and as many of you know, a weighty term in reference to Christ in John 1:1, 14 and Revelation 19:13. The word of God is also the Scriptures (Peter cites Isaiah 40:6-8), the prophetic texts from which "the gospel" is proclaimed by the apostles and subsequent generations of believers (1 Pet. 1:25).
Thus, as children of God, we are to live and grow by that which gave us birth in the first place: The gospel of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, as proclaimed and made known by the Lord's own apostles and preached from the written Word of God, the Scriptures. This life-giving message about Jesus is reasonable and non-deceptive. No gimmicks, no pretense, no false promises. Only a living hope that will carry us to glory (1 Pet. 1:3, 9, 13)
"Milk," it does the spiritual body good. Do yourself a favor, if you've been languishing in your faith lately, begin to cultivate a taste for the pure and unadulterated gospel again!
Be a Baby, Cry Out to the Lord!
Growing up, maybe you were like me and a little on the sensitive side. After nursing an emotional wound, whether real or perceived, maybe you were chastised by a parent or an older sibling, who said, "Grow up, don't be such a baby!" You know, something encouraging like that.
Well, since we have sharpened our understanding of the "milk" in 1 Pet. 2:2, remember that we are encouraged to, "Be a baby!" That's right, we've got the green light from the apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ to be like a newborn infant. Well, maybe not in the sense that we should continue to throw tantrums and test God's boundaries. But definitely in the sense that we should be totally dependent on the Lord, crave daily the grace brought to us through the gospel, and continually take our cares and burdens to the One who always loves and cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7).
I didn't touch on this in the above discussion, but a chunk of Peter's letter is rooted in the theological message of Psalm 34. Not only is there a direct reference in 1 Pet. 2:3, but also a central passage in 1 Pet. 3:10-12. Here's how the psalm contributes to Peter's overarching message:
...by the use of Psalm 34 in 1 Peter, Christian readers are invited to see their accomplished redemption through the kindness of the Lord (2:3), and to come to him both as an accessible and active supporter in the present and a vindicator in the future (2:4; 3:9-12) and as a perfect model for the proper ethical response to their afflictions (3:8-9, 11, connecting with 2:21-25)" (Sean Christensen, "Solidarity in Suffering and Glory: The Unifying Role of Psalm 34 in 1 Peter 3:10-12," pg. 352, in Journal of the Evangelical Society, 2015, accessed here).
In the quotation above, Christensen highlights 1 Peter 2:4 as an echo of Psalm 34:10-11, especially verse 11, "Come, children, listen to me..." So, in addition to the more explicit references to Psalm 34 in Peter's letter, there is no doubt that King David's message thoroughly influenced Peter, who in turn sought to encourage the weary and persecuted children of God in his day.
I didn't realize how rich this milk metaphor was until I dug deeper. It's a perfect way to depict how desperate we are for grace, love, and the presence of the Lord in our everyday lives.
Speaking of grace: Wasn't it Galatia that had a difficult time with this concept (c.f. Gal. 3:1-5)? Isn't it ironic that one of the recipients of Peter's letter, the Galatians (1:1), are exhorted to crave the reasonable and genuine "milk" of the gospel? Remember, the Greek word for milk is [gala]. Thus, Peter speaks of real gala to the grace-starved Galatian.
Ah, but we're not getting off the hook so easily. The Galatian issue is all-too prevalent in the body of Christ today. We are a grace-starved people in a world that shows us no mercy. And why do we keep expecting to receive grace and mercy from people, religion, or anything that doesn't have the capacity to give it?
Thankfully, there is One who will always welcome His children into His presence. But in order to get the nourishment you crave, you must to come to Him boldly and with confidence that the blood of Christ cleanses you of all your guilt and shame:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to the confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time" (Heb. 4:14-16, HCSB, emphasis mine).
So, dear brother or sister in the Lord, what are you waiting for? As you wait for the Lord to return, don't wait to come to Him now. We are so close to the finish line, but we may have a little more "growing up" to do before we're taken up. Just make sure that you're growing up in the gospel of God's true grace, and not some cheap, man-made imitation.
After all, babies don't know what self-sufficiency is, and they don't have a buck to lean on. A final word for the body of Christ, co-heirs with the Son of God, Son of David:
Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters; and you without money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost! Why do you spend money on what is not food, and your wages on what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and you will enjoy the choicest of foods. Pay attention and come to Me; listen, so that you will live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, the promises assured to David" (Isa. 55:1-3, HCSB, emphasis mine).
Amen, and maranatha!