Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Pure Milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:1-3)

1 Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, 2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.

St. Peter begins another section with another “therefore.” This “therefore”, like the one in verse 13, refers back to the new birth that we have been given through Jesus Christ. Because of this wonderful gift, St. Peter urges his readers to lay aside or put off the sins which can lead to dissension in the community, including “malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking.” This “laying aside” may be an allusion to their baptism, in which they laid aside their old clothes before being baptized.

The Greek words rendered “malice,” “deceit,” “hypocrisy,” “envy,” and “evil speaking” mean essentially the same thing as the equivalent English words. The Greek word translated as “evil speaking” is in the plural, so it is literally “evil speaking.” Regarding this, FF says that evil speaking “include acts of slander, criticism, and misrepresentation. It is fatally easy to cloak such sins in high-sounding names and to let them survive in our Christian life. But such things destroy the brotherly love which is the goal of baptism” (72).

Having urged them to put aside these fellowship-killing sins, St. Peter next urges them to replace these ways of thinking with the Word of God. He addresses them as “newborn babes,” which is a reference to the fact that most of them were recent converts. Just as newborn infants cry out for their mothers’ milk, so should new Christians cry out for more spiritual nourishment (and in fact, all of us should, whether we are recent converts or not). The “word” here, again is not necessarily the Scriptures (for the New Testament as we know it did not yet exist), although they are part of it. The word St. Peter refers to is the teaching of the Apostles, which is preserved today in the Church.

The teaching of the Church is the main means by which we grow spiritually. So we must constantly take it in. Just as a newborn infant would parish without milk, so we will dry up and wither spiritually if we do not constantly partake of the Scriptures and other documents of the Church. (Of course, we need prayer and the Sacraments as well, but that is not St. Peter’s focus here; his focus is on the teaching that is so important for brand new believers).

If we do not have a strong desire for the “milk” of the Word, then we have a major problem. We would need to repent of this, because there is a good chance that we have not, as St. Peter says, “tasted that the Lord is gracious” (an allusion to Psalm 34:8).

As FF points out, the “milk” of the Word that we all need is described as “guileless” (Gk. adolos) and “rational” (Gk. logikos). Interestingly, both the NKJV and the NASB, which are usually very literal translations, combine these two Greek words into the single English adjective “pure,” while the less literal NIV translates them literally as “pure, spiritual.” Adolos (“guileless”), in FF’s words, “describes milk that is pure, undiluted, not deceptively watered down, as some milk was.” (In other words, it is whole milk, not skim or 1%!). “The thought is of Christian teaching that is pure, free of secular philosophy, for such syncretistic teaching would deceive the heart” (73).

Regarding logikos (“rational” or “spiritual”), FF says “This Greek word is cognate with logos, which is rendered ‘word, reason, rationality.’ It here describes milk that is nonmaterial, spiritual, that given by the Word (Logos) of God. This is what the believers are to seek after—teaching that is pure, spiritual, coming from the apostolic tradition and free of all worldly mixture” (73).


Dennis Justison said...

"If we do not have a strong desire for the “milk” of the Word, and do not taste that the Lord is gracious..." Does this account for so much spiritual apathy in our times? "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ," says St. Jerome.

Fr. James Early said...

Absolulely, Dennis!