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Marvellous Descriptions of God’s People – 1 Peter 2:4-10

1 Peter Bible Study Notes, Week 7
1 Peter 2:4-10

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by people but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  1 Peter 2:4-10 (NIV 2011)

Additional reading: 1 Corinthians 3:9-17

Things to think about

Can you think of other Scriptures that mention a rock or a stone?
What is our main function as priests?
In what ways are you letting people know about God’s wonderful acts and excellent qualities?
In what ways is your church telling people about God’s wonderful acts and excellent qualities?

A Spiritual House – 1 Peter 2:4-5

The early Christians were sometimes accused of being atheists by their pagan neighbours and by Roman authorities. This is because first-century Christianity did not have temples, priests, or sacrifices. Nor was there any visible iconography that openly signified their faith. In fact, first-century Christianity did not have any of the things that most people usually associate with religion. Hence, the accusation of atheism.[1]

Some of the Jewish and pagan converts to Christianity may have been feeling that something was missing in their new faith. They may have been missing their rituals. For the Jews, this feeling of uneasiness was compounded by the fact that they no longer had access to the temple in Jerusalem for the Jewish pilgrimages. [See footnote 2.] The new Christians in Asia Minor, both Jew and Gentile, felt out of place. They were strangers and foreigners, spiritually and socially, because of their new allegiance to Jesus Christ and his people (1 Pet. 2:11 cf. 1 Pet. 1:1).

Peter attempts to alleviate their feeling of displacement and estrangement in verses 4-5. The Jerusalem Temple was utterly destroyed in 70 CE and the stone walls were broken down and ruined (Luke 21:5-6 cf. Matt 21:1-2; Mark 13:1-2), but Peter describes the Christian believers as living stones— living stones being built into a spiritual house. The people of God, themselves, are a temple and a holy priesthood. And the sacrifices that we now bring are spiritual sacrifices: sacrifices of spiritual worship, devotion and obedience (1 Cor. 3:16-17 cf. Acts 17:24).

Previous tabernacles and temples had been a concession. It was one way that God’s Presence could abide with his people on earth while sin was still a problem. Now that the sin problem has been dealt with by Jesus, God no longer uses tabernacles and temples as his dwelling place on earth because his Presence is among us. “God’s chosen sanctuary is his people.” (Stibbs 1983:104)

Rejected, Selected, Precious Stones – 1 Peter 2:5-8

Blum (1981:225) writes:

The “rock-stone” image imagery is common in Scripture. As Hillyer says, “There is, for example, the stumbling stone of Isaiah 8:14, the foundation stone of Isaiah 28:16, the parental rock of Isaiah 51:1f., the rejected but vindicated building stone of Psalm 118:22, the supernatural stone of Daniel 2:34 and the burdensome stone of Zechariah 12:3” (Norman Hillyer, “Rock-Stone Imagery in 1 Peter”, The Tyndale Bulletin, 22 [1971] 58). There is fair evidence that “Rock/Stone” was a messianic title among the Jews as well as among the Christians . . .

Jesus’ claim of being the Messiah, however, was rejected, or disallowed, by influential Jewish leaders (Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22). These leaders expressed their rejection and disapproval of Jesus and even had him executed. Jesus was cast aside as rubble that now they, and others, trip and stumble over.

While Jesus was rejected by some, he was chosen and exalted by God. Jesus is the choice and precious capstone, exalted as the pinnacle of the spiritual house. All believers are a part of this house, being integrated as living stones. In 1 Peter 2:6, Peter says that Jesus is the cornerstone in the foundation of the spiritual house, but in 1 Peter 2:7 he says that Jesus is the capstone, the apex, the highest point and unifying centre of the building under which we all take our place.[3] (The NASB translates capstone as cornerstone.) Either way, Jesus is the vital part of this house.

Interestingly, the name that Jesus gave to Peter (Petros) means “rock.”[4] In 1 Peter 2:5-9, however, Peter uses the Greek word lithos for stone, and not petros (rock), and so he does not draw any attention to his name in this discourse. Karen Jobes (2009:144), echoing Standford, notes, “The fact that Peter’s nickname means “rock” does not give himself a special place in this spiritual house is revealing and suggests that the author is not writing under the later Catholic doctrine of Peter’s primacy, upon which the apostolic succession of the papacy was based (Standford 1945).”

A Chosen People, a Royal Priesthood … – 1 Peter 2:9-10

In contrast to the disobedient people of 1 Peter 2:8, those who accept Jesus as Messiah belong to a group of men and women who are given some wonderful descriptions or titles. Stibbs (1983:103) points out that these titles are all corporate, collective nouns in the singular. We are many diverse people unified in one body. These titles are all Old Testament phrases, phrases that devout Jews identified with.

A Chosen People

Contrary to many contemporary Bible scholars, I believe that 1 Peter was addressed mainly to Jewish Christians. (See the Introduction for more on this.) The Jewish people are God’s chosen people or an “elect race” (Isa. 43:20), but Gentile Christian believers are grafted into this chosen race and have become joint beneficiaries of God’s favour, grace and mercy with their Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ (Rom. 11:17-18).

A Royal Priesthood

The destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE meant that the Jewish priesthood could no longer perform sacrifices and other religious rituals. This would have been devastating to all Jewish people. The letter to the Hebrews, however, teaches that the Old Testament priests and sacrifices were just a foreshadowing and that the better, superior way has come with the New Covenant (Heb. 7:18-19, 22-25; 8:1-7, 13).[4]

Under the New Covenant, all followers of Jesus Christ, both men and women, are part of a priesthood. Instead of animal and ceremonial sacrifices, all of us can offer spiritual sacrifices—sacrifices of praise, thankfulness, contrition, devotion, and obedience directly to God. We can be sure that our sacrifices are accepted when we offer them through Jesus. We do not need any other mediator or priest other than Jesus, our High Priest.

Jesus is the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. (The name Melchizedek means “My King of Righteousness/ Justice”.) Christian believers are part of the Royal Priesthood in the order of Melchizedek. Our sacrifices and services are in the service of our Messianic King and High Priest, Jesus Christ. Moreover, in some sense, we share with Christ in his kingship, or his royalty, as well as in his priesthood. (Stibbs 1983:104) [More on Old Testament priests and New Covenant ministers, here.]

A Holy Nation

The Greek word for “nation” (ethnos) is usually used in the plural for the Gentiles (or Gentile nations) and used in the singular for the nation of Israel. It is used here in the singular. The nation of Israel had been set apart by God as holy (Exod. 19:6; Lev. 20:26).

Karen Jobes explains that “Ancient Israel’s holiness as a nation derived from the Holy King of the universe, who had cut a covenant with them, binding themselves to him as his chosen nation and special possession.” (Jobes 2009:161-2) But God’s New Covenant people included Gentiles.

God’s Own Possession

Being God’s own possession means that we are separate and distinct from unbelievers. God has called us out of darkness (Col. 1:12-14) and brought us into his kingdom of light, so we must abstain from the deeds of darkness (Eph. 5:8-11).

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light  (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)  and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
Ephesians 5:8-11 (NIV 2011)

What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”
1 Corinthians 6:15-17

I love the fact that I am part of God’s own possession, that I belong to him. One of our responsibilities as people belonging to God is that we make known his excellent, eminent, praiseworthy qualities (tas aretas).

The word aretē was used to refer to the excellent character of one who is worthy of praise, as expressed, for instance, by acts of civic beneficence. Greek moral philosophers used aretē in discussing virtues of character that Greek society highly esteemed. In the religious context, the word referred to manifestations of divine power . . .” (Jobes 2009:163)

“My People” – 1 Peter 2:10

Peter closes this section with a reference from the Old Testament prophet Hosea (Hos. 1:6-10, 2:23b).

Then the LORD said, “Call him Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”), for you are not my people, and I am not your God. “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’” Hosea 1:9-10

“I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’” Hosea 2:23b

God used the names of Hosea’s children to show that he had turned away from the Israelites because of their repeated idolatry. However, in this prophecy, and elsewhere in the Old Testament, there is also a promise of a merciful, future restoration.

The Jewish Christians in Asia Minor felt displaced. So Peter used this prophecy in Hosea to encourage them and show them that they were truly children of the living God. (Note: Peter again uses the word “living”.) The Jewish Christians would have readily understood Peter’s reference to Hosea’s prophecy; however, the Gentile Christians were also included in this prophecy as they are God’s people too and part of the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:15-16). Both the Jewish and Gentile Christians had experienced the goodness of God (1 Pet. 2:3), they had received the mercy of God, and both had been called into his amazing light (1 Pet. 2:9-10).


[1] The Christians refused to worship any of the gods of the Greek or Roman Pantheon, or other deities. This brought the charge of atheism. The Romans saw atheists as a threat to society.

[2] Many Jews had fled from Jerusalem after the Jewish revolt against Rome that began in Spring of 66 CE and culminated in the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE. 1 Peter was possibly written sometime after 66 CE to the Jews dispersed in Asia Minor. If 1 Peter was written later still, as many Bible scholars suggest, then the Temple would have already been destroyed at the time of writing, and the words in 1 Peter 2:4-10 would have had even greater significance to the original recipients.

[3] Peter continually presents Jesus as an example for the Christians in Asia Minor to follow. He reminds the Asian Christians, who felt rejected and dejected, that like Jesus, they are elect, chosen and selected by God. They were precious and valuable to him

[4] Peter’s original name was Simon. His new name in Greek (Petros) and in Aramaic (Kephas) means “rock”. Peter was given his new name when he realised that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. The rock, or foundation, of our Christian faith is the revelation, or knowledge, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16-19).

[5] According to the author of Hebrews, Jesus is better than the angels (Heb 1:4); and there are better things for those who believe in Jesus (Heb. 6:9). Under the New Covenant we have a better hope (Heb. 7:19), a better covenant (Heb. 7:22; 8:6), better promises (Heb. 8:6), better sacrifices (Heb. 9:23), a better and lasting possession (Heb. 10:34), a better, heavenly country (Heb. 11:16), and a better resurrection (Heb. 11:35; cf. Heb. 11:4, 39-40 & 12:24.)

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The photo at the top of the page is of stones from the temple that were thrown from the Western Wall by Roman soldiers in 70 CE. (Wikimedia)

Week 6: Love, Obedience and Sanctification – 1 Peter 1:22-2:3
Week 8: Silencing Slander – 1 Peter 2:11-17

Explore more

Old Testament Priests and New Covenant Ministers
Gender Division Divides the Church (Revelation 5:9-10)
Is it only men who can represent Jesus?
The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith … Gender?

Further Reading

On the Direction Journal website: God’s Spiritual House: A Study of 1 Peter 2:4-5

3 thoughts on “Marvellous Descriptions of God’s People – 1 Peter 2:4-10

  1. Does it mean that we are (body) are the temple of God. No need to assemble in the church to worship, honor and glorify Him?
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Edward,

      This passage highlights the fact that together we constitute a temple. The individual living stones, when placed together, become a living temple. The stones on their own, and unassembled, are not very useful. Nevertheless, the rites and rituals of the Jerusalem temple are no longer relevant to followers of Jesus.

      This verse in no way suggests that Christian believers do not need to meet together in order to worship, glorify and honour God, and to mutually strengthen one another’s faith, and to equip people for ministry, etc.

      However, I notice your words “in the church.” By this do you mean “in a church building“?

      The spiritual house or temple in this passage is not a building, and the church is not a building, even if many churches meet in designated sanctuaries and chapels within buildings.

      Instead, a church is a group, or congregation, of believers who belong together and meet together for worship, edification and equipping, etc.

      A church in the New Testament sense is people, not a building

      The Christian life is best lived with the fellowship, encouragement, support, and correction of fellow Christians in community/ church. And w can worship and glorify God anywhere.

  2. Wow, what a clear commentary of 1 Peter 2:4-10!

    It’s really very important for a believer in Christ to know that we are living stones, spiritual temple where God’s Spirit dwells in. In other words, wherever we are, and whatever the day is, we should walk as living sacrifices that we may bring true glory and honor to our God through our Lord Jesus Christ, not only during Sundays or worship services.

    Thanks also for the reply to Mr. Edward Europa. It’s very clear and I gain much knowledge in your explanation.

    God bless you!

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