2 Peter 1.5-7
For this reason expend all efforts to supplement to your faith excellence; then, to excellence, knowledge; then, to knowledge, self control; then, to self control, endurance; then, to endurance, godliness; then, to godliness, human kindness; then, to human kindness, love.
These disciplines that Simon Peter lists are regarded as crucially important to the early Christians since he wants to repeatedly remind his readers to deploy them in their lives (vss. 12-13). These followers of Christ already knew the disciplines, but Peter wanted to continually remind his audience, and to even record them for posterity, before his own prophesied death (vss. 14-15). These qualities, then, form Apostolic 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 as a foundation (1 Cor. 12.28).
Proverbs and the Disciplines
Conceptually, how should these disciplines (or qualities) be viewed in regard to other instructions in the bible? In analyzing The Book of Proverbs, it is easy to recognize the similarity to 2 Peter. Both works are instructions for godly living to someone operating in the context of a redeemed community, yet exposed to dangers and temptations. Solomon’s Book (Proverbs) deals mostly with relating horizontally among others, whereas The Mosaic Law, with its temple and sacrifices, dealt primarily with the vertical relationship between a person and God.
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 a temporal earth. Neither Solomon’s Proverbs nor Peter’s list of disciplines promise any direct reward for keeping them. Rather, the disciplines function as preparatory for other blessings. The Book of Proverbs and the list of disciplines in Peter provide “a ground” or a basis for continually living successfully on earth (2Pe.1.10: “you will never stumble”).
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 experiential knowledge (epignosko) of Jesus Christ. All the elements Peter lists completes this knowledge, so it seems, in context, that epignosko indicates a fuller realization or an experiencing of the spiritual wisdom that is in Christ.
The believer may struggle, initially, if they try to build excellence in their lives, if they do it by their own strength. Also, the first attempts may not be perfect, but the believer will find, by walking with Christ, that He will guide them to excellence in the Spirit. These disciplines are by faith and Christ will teach the believer aspects about themselves, and also, about Himself. Therefore, this full experiential knowledge (epignosko-vss. 3,8) is attained by walking with Christ to become more like Him.
Verse 8 also tells us the default nature of a believer is bareness without these qualities. These disciplines are exercised by faith and upon faith (vs. 5). Grace and peace will be dispensed by God as the believer deploys the disciplines in their lives (vs. 2). Also, those things necessary for life and godliness arrive with this fuller knowledge of Jesus Christ (vss. 3, 8).
The New Covenant promised to Israel had as its most distinguishing feature that all individuals would “know” the Lord (see Jer. 31.31-34). This means that all under (or in) The New Covenant would “know” the Lord intimately in their hearts. The Lord would now be “in” them directing and teaching His chosen ones through a new, fuller relationship provided by Christ’s sacrifice for our sins and conquering death through His resurrection. The New Covenant was promised to Israel, and so it was fulfilled to Israel in that Christ fulfilled the Passover, and, 50 days later (Pentecost), sent The Spirit, fulfilling the feast of Shavuot. The embryonic church was all Jewish and they were the ones with whom The New Covenant was made. Thus, the New Covenant was made with The House of Israel and the house of Judah (Jer. 31.31). It is also inclusive to the gentiles according to promises such as Isaiah 49.6 (He says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth”).
As I mentioned, these disciplines were to be added to the faith we have received (vss. 1,5). Therefore, after believing in Christ, as an act of faith, Peter urges us to add these qualities to our lives as a foundation for fuller understanding Christ through The Spirit. These qualities will ensure that we do not quench or grieve The Spirit.
The first of these disciplines, then, is excellence (some translators render arete as goodness, virtue). Generally speaking, translators have struggled to define the term as it relates to the recipients to whom Peter was writing. Originally, the term appears in ancient Greek as what characterized the Olympic contestants: physical prowess. The Greek Games eventually included poetic readings and the term arete also was used to refer to the qualities of oratory. By first century usage, the term is understood to connote an “all-around excellence.” In vs. 3, the term is used of God in that He has called the believers either to or by this excellence (the preposition’s meaning is governed by context and so an interpretive choice needs to be made). It seems “to” is the better choice if the goal were seen in an idealistic sense. Christians will not be able to have complete excellence but see it as something to aspire towards. For the most part, however, either rendering of the preposition hardly makes a difference. God has inherent excellence by which He calls us or He calls us to imitation of Himself.
In connection with faith and excellence, Christians are to add “knowledge” (gnosin). A question arises whether this is biblical and theological knowledge or general and useful information. On one hand, in a very real sense, “all truth is God’s truth.” Many areas of study will either directly indicate God’s truth or support it indirectly. Pr. 23.12 seems to speak generally: Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge. The more theological viewpoint is reflected in the whole of Pr. 2 which is probably better aligned to 2 Peter 1. Bible knowledge is necessary regardless of what other knowledge is gained as indicated by vs. 19: “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” The study of the scriptures is assumed by the writers of the N.T. since they quote so much of the previous given revelation contained in the O.T.
The next discipline is self-control, which Peter connects with knowledge, and, as itself, is connected with arete. While the disciplines are all interconnected, they are added to our faith (vs. 5); therefore, they are performed in faith. Noting their progressive nature, the disciplines seem more defined as they are listed. While excellence is added to faith, it needs some knowledge to perform cogently. Overall, excellence is directed by knowledge. Knowledge, though, may overextend itself if not corralled by self-control. Self-control may give up without perseverance. Perseverance may devolve into stubbornness without true godliness refining the Christian along biblical ways. Godliness can be cold if it is merely an exercise without a horizontal dimension of brotherly kindness toward others. Brotherly affection will remain earth-bound if another quality is not present: love.
Simon Peter tells his readers that great promises toward Christians will enable them to experience the divine nature and so not be mired in things which corrupt: inordinate desire (vs. 4). These disciplines continually performed and perfected contain two promises: 1. Will never stumble into sin (vs. 10), and 2. A rich entrance provided into the eternal kingdom (vs. 11).