In 1 Peter 2, Peter quotes Psalm 118 about the Stone the builders rejected becoming the cornerstone. He contrasts these builders with his own audience: “They stumble, being disobedient to the word … but you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people….”
Who are these builders? Commentary after commentary tells me something like this:
One can see in the NT use of the stone passage a broadening in the identification of the rejecters. In the Gospels and Acts (Matt. 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11), the rejecters are the leaders of first-century Jerusalem, and the stone is identified as Jesus. In Rom. 9:32-33, where Paul conflates Isa. 8:14 and 28:16, those who reject Christ the cornerstone are the people of Israel as a nation. Here in 1 Pet. 2:8, the rejecters are any and all people, whether Jew or Gentile, who reject Christ” (Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, 154).
In Beare’s words, Peter is speaking now of “all human destiny and … all endeavour,” and “‘The builders’ now is taken to mean all who attempt to build human society or their own lives” (cited in Jobes 154). Goppelt speaks of building “a future” (cited in Jobes 155).
But what was the building project in Psalm 118 and in the citations in the Gospels? What building project is in view in 1 Peter 2, for that matter? Surely it’s the building of the Temple, not of “a future” or of “human society” or of people’s “own lives.” Peter speaks of his audience as being “built” into a “spiritual house,” and then immediately talks about them as priests offering spiritual sacrifices.
In the Gospels, Jesus cites this Psalm in his confrontation of the Jewish leaders in the Temple on the great day of controversy that ends with Jesus leaving the Temple and declaring that it will be leveled to the ground, with not one stone standing upon another. The temple’s leaders — the builders (who were at that time literally engaged in a building project) — had rejected the Cornerstone and therefore their building would not remain standing.
The builders, then, are not “any and all people, whether Jew or Gentile, who reject Christ.” What Peter says about them and their stumbling and destruction may apply more broadly to other unbelievers, including pagan ones, but Peter is not speaking about unbelievers in general.
Rather, the builders are specifically those who are endeavoring to build the Temple, to build God’s house, without Christ the Cornerstone. In 1 Peter 2, it seems to me, we should take the builders to be unbelieving Israel, rejecting Jesus and persecuting the church (or stirring up such persecution, as we see throughout Acts). But Peter’s readers, scattered as they are (1:1) due to the attacks of “Babylon” (5:13), are the heirs of all the titles and privileges of Old Covenant Israel (2:9-10). They are the temple, being built by God with Jesus as the Cornerstone.
The builders may continue with their Temple project, but they stumble and will, together with their temple, be destroyed. But the “spiritual house” made of “living stones,” built on and united to Jesus the “Living Stone,” will stand.
In her essay on “The Psalms in 1 Peter” (in The Psalms in the New Testament, ed. Steve Moyise & Maarten J. J. Menken [London: T&T Clark, 2004): 213-229), Sue Woan draws attention to the frequent allusions to Psalm 34 throughout this epistle. The quotation in 3:10-12 is obvious, but the references to “evil” (kakou) and “deceit” (dolon) in 2:1 likely come from Ps 34:12 (“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit”), and 2:3’s “you tasted that the Lord is good” derives from Ps 34:9 (“Taste and see that the LORD is good”).
What is particularly interesting is that the words and themes that appear in the quotation from Psalm 34 in 1 Peter 3:10-12 show up earlier in the letter in the same order:
1:3 – living hope (elpida zosan) & 3:10 – life (zoen)
1:8 – have seen (idontes) & 3:10 – to see (idein).
2:1 – evil (kakian) and deceit (dolon) & 3:10 – evil (kakou) and deceit (dolon).
2:12,14 – evildoers (kakopoion) & 3:11 – evil (kakou).
2:20 – doing good (agathopoiountes) & 3:11 – do good (poiesato agathon).
2:22 – righteously(dikaios) & 3:12 – righteous (dikaious).
3:9 – evil for evil (kakon auti kakou) & 3:12 – evil (kaka) (223-224).
What’s missing in this parallel? The quotation of Psalm 34 in 1 Peter 3:10-12 includes “Let them seek peace and pursue it,” and there’s no verbal parallel in 1 Peter. But, says Woan, what we do find as we follow these parallels in sequence is that the section that we’d expect to parallel this part of the Psalm 34 quotation is 2:11-20, “about pursuing a deliberate lifestyle of turning away from evil and from any activities not commensurate with their new status in Christ.”
We seek peace and pursue it, then, by abstaining from fleshly lusts that war against our soul. As we put off these lusts and abstain from them, they are not able to war against us, and the result is peace. Woan herself makes this point: “Such activities are described in 2:1 as ‘waging war’; the implication being that renouncing them is equivalent to ‘seeking peace'” (224).
But we can go further. Peter urges us to abstain from these lusts and to do good with a goal in mind. Woan’s parallels help us see that we are to seek and pursue peace in society as well, by doing good works so that even (perhaps once hostile) Gentiles may observe them and be drawn to join the church in glorifying God.
Woan also shows how the Psalm 34 quotation in 3:10-12 looks forward to what Peter says in 3:13-17, again with common words in order, but this time in reverse (chiastic) order:
A 3:11 – evil (kakou).
B 3:11 – doing good (poiesato agathon).
C 3:12 – righteous (dikaious).
D 3:12 – evil (kaka).
D’ 3:13 – evil (kakoson).
C’ 3:14 – righteousness (dikaiosunen).
B’ 3:17 – doing good (agathopoiountas).
A’ 3:17– doing evil (kakopoiountas).
Once again, there’s something in the Psalm quotation that doesn’t have an explicit verbal parallel in 1 Peter 3:13-17, namely the opening of the quotation: “He who wants to love life and to see good days…” (3:10). But, Woan says, there is a thematic parallel in 4:7 (“the end of all things is as hand”) and especially in 4:13 (“referring,” says Woan, “to the time when followers will be glad and shout for joy when Christ’s glory is revealed”) and 5:1, 4, 6, which “each focus on the ‘good days’ which are to come for those who are faithful” (225).
Certainly there isn’t a section of the text that one could say is clearly chiastically parallel to 3:10. Nevertheless, Woan is correct to see general parallels between the “good days” and the “life” of which Psalm 34 speaks and the glory Peter says is going to be revealed, the exaltation that is coming in due time for those who humble themselves under God’s hand.
In fact, we can go beyond what Woan herself says. Immediately after 3:14-17 (which Woan says is verbally chiastically parallel to 3:11-12), we have a passage about Jesus’ suffering and death, followed by new life (3:18: “made alive by the Spirit”), which leads into Peter’s application to his audience (e.g., 4:1-2: suffering in the flesh, like Christ, leads one to “live the rest of his time in the flesh” in a new way; 4:6: “those who are dead” may “live according to God in the Spirit”). So, as in 3:10, there is an emphasis here on life, the new life that Jesus has and in which his people share.
If you love life, then, you adopt the pattern of Psalm 34 (1 Pet 3:10-12), which is also the pattern of Christ (as the parallels between 3:10-12 and the first half of the epistle indicate). You abstain from evil and deceit; instead you do good. And the result is that, like Christ and in union with him, you also suffer in the flesh — but the result is life, a life which is “good days,” exaltation, glory, and rejoicing.
One can never think that he is getting into a deeper level of interpretation when he gets at the instincts of man than when he deals with the intellect of man. There are, from the Christian point of view, no higher and lower levels of existence…. The ineffable, the inexpressible, the “groanings which cannot be uttered” are not any more valuable in the sight of God than the self-consciously expressed praise of God.
Christian psychology does not place the intellect ahead of any other aspect of man’s personality in the sense that one should be more truly human than another. Man is equally prophet, priest and king. All that Reformed theology has meant by emphasizing the priority of the intellect is that it is only through intellectual interpretation that we can communicate with one another about the meaning of reality — Cornelius Van Til, Psychology of Religion, 49, 67.