December 18, 2017

Adding to Our Faith? (2 Peter 1:5)

Layton Talbert

Second Peter establishes that our salvation is secured by means of a faith that gives us equal standing with the apostles themselves because our faith, like theirs, is not attained but obtained (1:1). Everything necessary for our sanctification has also been provided by God (1:3), accessible to us via priceless promises (1:4). Then comes the “catch.” You must “add” to your faith, by your own “diligence,” a catena of graces and virtues (1:5-7). Several of these are identical or parallel to graces described else­where as aspects of the fruit produced by the Spirit. How can we be commanded to “add” by “diligence” what only the Spirit can produce?

The imagery conveyed by the word “add” unlocks the door of verses 5 to 11 — a significant door to unlock, since possessing these qualities is vital for our fruitfulness and usefulness (1:8-9), crucial to confirming our election by God (1:10), and essential to our expectation of an abundant entrance into Christ’s kingdom (1:11). Peter chose his words carefully, and so should we. Other words could have conveyed the conventional sense of “add” (epitithemi or prostithemi). Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, Peter selected a distinctive term: epichorege.

Biblically, this term appears in contexts of (1) God’s provision for those who share financially with other believers (2 Cor. 9:10), (2) God’s supply of the Spirit to believers (Gal. 3:5), and (3) God’s furnishing of our ability to minister to others (1 Pet. 4:11). God does not do the sowing for us, but supplies what we need (seed) to sow. God does not minister for us, but furnishes the ability we need to minister.

Etymologically, this word is related to the root for words such as “chorus” or “choreograph” (see choros, “dancing,” Lk. 15:25). In general contexts it came to mean “furnish.” How do we get from “dance” to “fur­nish”? William Barclay elaborates on Galatians 3:5, “In the ancient days in Greece at the great festivals the great dramatists . . . presented their plays; Greek plays all have a chorus; to equip and train a chorus was expensive, and public-spirited Greeks generously offered to defray the entire expenses of the chorus. . . . The word [“minis­tereth”] underlines the generosity of God” in providing the Spirit that is essential for our salvation and security and Christian living.

Peter’s word choice originally described the action of a wealthy patron who agreed to sponsor the train­ing and production of a form of classical Greek drama known as a chorus: “Greek tragedies consisted of dra­matic episodes separated by cho­ral odes. . . . A chorus danced and sang and chanted the odes to musical accompaniment. . . . A wealthy citizen called the choregus provided the money to train and costume the chorus” (World Book Encyclopedia). No patron wanted an inferior production to give the impression that he was too poor or stingy to provide the very best. Consequently, the verb came to denote a lavish expenditure that furnished everything nec­essary. But the patron did not do the performing himself. That’s the analogical significance in Peter’s choice of words.

Leaning exclusively on etymology for interpretation may be an “exegetical fallacy.” But ignoring the etymolog­ical imagery suggested by a rare word choice is like insist­ing that a modern writer cannot purposefully choose a word with a known etymological connotation. The image conveyed by this word’s original meaning survived in its primary sense of “furnish[ing] (at one’s own expense)” what is necessary (BAGD).

Our task is not to “add” graces that are ultimately beyond our power. “Supplement” (ESV) is small improve­ment, but “supply” (NASB) is nearer. The best connota­tive translation is probably “in your faith, furnish . . . .” Just as a patron furnishes whatever is necessary without person­ally producing the end result, or a stage crew furnishes the stage with all the props and backdrops necessary for a successful production, our task is to furnish, set the stage, make full provision for the divine drama of sanctification to be produced by the Spirit of God in our lives.

I like the paraphrase bankroll or finance because it implies that we “pay the price” without personally pro­ducing the end result. Cultivate is helpful since you do nothing to make a seed grow; but you do everything in your power (“applying diligence”) to insure conditions conducive to growth — weeding out negative influences and provid­ing positive conditions (water, fertilizer).

I am to exercise diligence in furnishing the means and influences through which the Spirit of God can produce these characteristics in my life. Negatively, I remove influ­ences (literature, companions, entertainment options) and habits (laziness, poor priority choices) that will choke out the Spirit’s production of these qualities. Positively, I “set the stage” by pursuing and exposing myself to the influences that the Spirit uses to produce these qualities (Scripture, focused prayer, Christian literature, godly fel­lowship). We do not “add” these virtues to our lives, but furnish the necessary means, “finance” their production, lavish abundant opportunities for the Spirit to produce a first-class performance of sanctification in us (Hiebert, 2 Peter, 177-178). Then Christ will furnish (epichorege) for us a spectacular entrance into His kingdom (1:11).

Dr. Layton Talbert is a professor of Theology and New Testament Exposition at Bob Jones University and Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina.

(Originally published in FrontLine • March / April 2005. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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