Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Melting Elements and the evil spirits that roam the earth - 1 and 2 Peter

Below is something I wrote out in a discussion and thought it might be able to do some more good here as well:

2 Peter is a VERY difficult book to interpret. All scholars agree. The earth being laid bare at least means the earth survives. This stands with the creation account that the earth and creation are good and very good. But these stoichea/elements are not good. Where the earth is refined, the elements will be destroyed/melted.

Here is the Strong's parsing: http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4747&t=RSV

Notice Paul's use of the same word:

"So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the *elemental spirits* of the universe" (Gal 4:3). Though the RSV translates it "elemental spirits" the greek is "τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου" or "ta stoicheia tou kosmou" or the elements of the world (kosmou being our word for cosmos.).

Also see, "how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly *elemental spirits,* whose slaves you want to be once more?" (Gal. 4:9). Here the phrase is just "stoichea," same exact word as the 2 Peter passage above.

Paul, in Colossians, reiterates, "If with Christ you died to the *elemental spirits* of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?" --- same phrase as above.

More important than the whole biblical witness is Peter's use. We see something similar in 1 Peter 3 where Christ proclaims victory over the spirits in prison after his resurrection, "in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah..." (3:19-20). Peter is probably referring to the extra-biblical witness of Enoch and a Jewish worldview where the Nephilim and sons of God in Genesis 6 were spiritual powers and principalities rebelling against God (this and human rebelling lead to the flood). Paul and Peter reveal to us that most of these dark powers were bound up in the death and resurrection of Christ, but there is residual evil entities roaming the earth that will be destroyed ultimately when the refining fire of God comes to destroy all evil and injustice.

2 Peter 2:4-5 drives this home, "For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgement; and if he did not spare the ancient world, even though he saved Noah..." Here we see both rebelling angels and the flood connected. The stoichea are probably, in some mysterious sense, the offspring or residual consequence of the sinning angels "in prison..." The the ultimate perpetrators are locked up, the residual is still wreaking havoc on earth. Whereas 2 Peter is the problem facing the Church in his time (false teachers and stoichea) chapter 3 is the promise of the destruction of evil so that ultimately God can finish the transformation of our current creation into new creation, bringing "new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home" (2 Peter 3:13).

At the very least, here is John Calvin's thoughts on the matter from his commentary on the matter. He has a great thoughts from 1 and 2 Peter but here is a snippet: "Of the elements of the world I shall only say this one thing, that they are to be consumed, only that they may be renovated, their substance still remaining the same, as it may be easily gathered from Romans 8:21, and from other passages" (He is talking about chemical elements, not stoichea - http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom45.vii.iv.iii.html).

We find the Christian response to all this in Ephesians 6, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm."

Blessings!

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