In 1973 I enrolled in a bible college to study the scriptures. I was warned that this college like the many others in the Fundamentalist Orbit had strict rules on all kinds of activities such as keeping one’s dorm room clean. If the bed was not made or the room unkempt then demerits would soon be issued by the hall monitors who would check them before chapel and it would not take many infractions before expulsion from the college occurred. The exhortation from The Apostle Peter however is starkly different from the Fundamentalists both in its goal and nature. If this institution would have focused upon biblical motivations and goals then Christian training would have been better accomplished in the lives of their students. As a point of record I never received any demerits while at the college but others were actually expelled because of demerits. I, in misguided zeal, myself became a stickler of all things ethical and moral in the lives of other Christians for a period of time. I was following Christian leaders after all and these leaders had, at best, a fuzzy understanding of the Christian life as explained in the scriptures.
These qualities or disciplines that Simon Peter lists are regarded as crucially important to the early Christians in that he wants to repeatedly remind his readers of their deployment in in their lives (vss. 12-13). These followers of Christ already knew the disciplines, but Peter thought they were so important as to continually remind his audience of them and to even record them for posterity before his own prophesied death (vss. 14-15). These qualities then form very important instruction for The Church of Jesus since they were given by an Apostle of Christ, and as such have received completed instruction (John 16.12-13) and are placed first in the Universal Church (1 Cor. 12.28).
Conceptually, how should these exercises or disciplines be viewed in regard to other instructions in the bible? Firstly, in the family of God, His revelation is given to us to study and continually ponder and reflect upon for our benefit (see Dt. 6.4-9). In analyzing The Book of Proverbs it is easy to recognize the work as instruction for godly living to someone operating in the context of a redeemed community yet exposed to dangers and temptations. Solomon’s Book (divinely inspired) deals with relating horizontally among others whereas The Mosaic Law dealt primarily about the vertical relationship between a person and God (yes, of course societal and other benefits accrued from The Mosaic Law as well). The Book of Proverbs helps believers during their time on earth to navigate their way successfully. The proverbs instructs on how to build character or discipline oneself to interact with others while on sinful earth. Neither Solomon’s Proverbs or Peter’s list of disciplines promise any direct reward for keeping them. Rather they (the disciplines) function as preparatory for other blessings. This then, is quite different than working for sanctification which is almost what the Fundamentalists were doing. Sanctification is a grace by The Spirit where the believer becomes more reflective of Christ. Christ is seen in the believer by the Spirit’s presence. The degree of the Spirit’s operation in the believer, as I understand it, is directly rewarded at the judgement. The Book of Proverbs and the list of disciplines in Peter instead provide ‘a ground’ or a basis of continually living successfully on earth (2Pe.1.10: “you will never stumble”).
I propose that these qualities in 2 Peter resemble the instructions given in the O.T. book of Proverbs. In Pr. 1.2 a summary statement appears at the beginning of Solomon’s work indicating purpose: “to know wisdom and instruction” this idea of knowing (lada’at) speaks of realizing, perceiving, personal internalization according to Bruce Waltke’s study of The Book of Proverbs. This “experiencing of wisdom” that Solomon calls his listeners to in 1.2 is, in essence, what Peter says the disciplines he lists accomplishes by the term epignosko (knowledge) of Jesus Christ in 2Pet. 1.8. This is a fuller knowledge than in 1.5 since that term “knowledge” (gnosin) is distinguished as preparatory and in part toward the knowledge (epignosko) of Jesus Christ. All the elements Peter lists completes this knowledge so it seems in context that epignosko indicates a fuller orbed realization or an experiencing of the spiritual wisdom that is in Christ. In Col. 2.3, Paul agrees with this sentiment saying: that in Jesus are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Of course in the eternal state the redeemed will have no need for the wisdom contained in Proverbs or 2 Peter. These disciplines enable a blessed life during the evil days of this world. As redeemed Christians we are still responsible for our own fall in Adam so no room exists for complaints about our troubles now.
In part 2 I will discuss the disciplines while this post introduced their nature and how they fit in an over all conception of biblical instruction.