The Lusts of Men

11 Jan

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Many commentaries on the first epistle of Peter would have us believe that he wrote specifically to gentiles, but I don’t believe this can be adequately supported in Scripture. The word of God tells us that Peter’s specific mission was to Jews (believing and unbelieving), not gentiles. The fact that he was chosen to go to Cornelius in Acts 10 is an anomaly, which had its purpose in getting fundamental Jewish believers to accept the idea that God really does receive gentiles as he does the Jews (cf. Acts 11:1-4, 17-18). In the context of Peter’s first epistle, it is understood in the term Hellenist that Jews, identified as such (cf. John 12:20-21), had made compromises with gentile behavior in order to appear more like them and less like the fundamentalist Jews of Jerusalem. These Hellenist Jews of the Diaspora had made concessions against Judaism, which resulted in acts of: lasciviousness, lust, drunkenness, reveling, banqueting, and abominable idolatries.

In view of these things, what can we say about the sins Peter mentions in 1Peter 4:3? First of all, the Greek word for lasciviousness (G766) is of uncertain origin, but it seems to be connected with the idea of lawless insolence. For example, Josephus uses the word to describe Jezebel for erecting a temple to Baal in Jerusalem. Thus, her behavior was not only openly contrary to law, but it mocked both the Torah and the Temple of God, in whose shadow a temple to Baal was built.[1]

Moreover, the writer of 3Maccabes tells of the corrupt high priest, Simon, who, while in Egypt, was “not satisfied with countless acts of impiety, his audacity (G766) so increased that he raised evil reports there, and many of his friends, watching his purpose attentively, joined in furthering his will” (3Maccabees 2:26). It was this sort of unrestrained behavior that answers to no moral or ethical code in order to accomplish its goals (the end justifying the means—cf. John 11:48-50) that some Messianic Jews left behind prior to their accepting Christ, and were not tempted to act upon in retaliation to the persecution.

The Greek word for lusts (G1939) is defined in ancient literature as an irrational longing or as an immoderate desire for the greatest good without being tempered by reason.[2] While it can be used in a good sense for the fulfillment of an intense desire (cf. Luke 22:15; Philippians 1:23), it is most often used in Scripture to describe an evil desire. The Greek word Peter uses (G1939) is the noun lust in Romans 7:7 that answers to the verb covet (G1937): “…I had not known lust except the Law had said: ‘You shall not covet’” Hellenists, coveted the gentile way of living and intensely desired to blend in. The sense in 1Peter 4:3 seems to be that the believing Jews of the Diaspora left behind their immoderate desires to embrace the gentile lifestyle.

The Greek word for excess of wine (G3632) points to the type of excess that leads to indulgence in sensual pleasure and scandalous activity. Moreover, it is described in ancient literature as a desire that ultimately will permanently harm one’s body. It is the word that Arrian of Nicomedia used to show what brought on the death of Alexander the Great. It is certainly true that Jews as well as gentiles have abused alcohol, and believers coming out of that lifestyle have had a lot of abuse to overcome.

The Greek word for reveling (G2970) describes a type of behavior brought on by excessive drinking. It was festive, loud and disturbing, and often culminated in the participants going out into the streets, singing as they went, and insulting and even attacking those they met on their merry way. It is not inconceivable that a Hellenist Jew would participate in such things with their gentile friends. It was the sort of behavior the believers in Asia Minor had left behind, but at the time of Peter’s epistle may have been recipients of such behavior by their persecutors.

The Greek word for banqueting (G4224) is found in the New Testament only in 1Peter 4:3. It is used in the Septuagint in a good sense in Genesis 19:3, when Lot made a feast for the angels in Sodom; it is also used for David making a feast for Abner (2Samuel 3:20), and the word is used for the feast that Ester made for her husband, the king, and for Haman (Esther 6:14). However, even though it is at times used in a good sense, it does provide opportunity for excess (1Samuel 25:26). The idea in 1Peter 4:3 implies, through its association with the other sins mentioned, that, whatever the original purpose of the banquet, it was a type of banquet that culminated in drinking-bouts, when all that was consumed was alcohol. Jews in the first century AD were certainly not immune to such behavior, and, therefore, Peter clearly writes to those who have repented of such behavior.

But, what about the abominable idolatries? The Greek words: (G111) for abominable and (G1495) for idolatries, should be translated unlawful (G111)[3] idolatries (G1495). That is, it was unlawful for Jews to participate in such practices. So, Peter may not have in view the sort of blatant idolatry practiced by the gentiles in their temples. Rather, he probably is referring to the practice of those things which led to apostasy—deserting God to enjoy a different lifestyle (see Colossians 3:5 where covetousness is defined as idolatry). For example:

And certain of the people were forward herein and went to the king, and he gave them license to do after the ordinances of the Gentiles. And they built a place of exercise in Jerusalem according to the laws of the Gentiles; (1Maccabees 1:13-14)

And thus there was an extreme of Greek fashions, and an advance of an alien religion, by reason of the exceeding profaneness of Jason, that ungodly man and no high priest; so that the priests had no more any zeal for the services of the altar: but despising the sanctuary, and neglecting the sacrifices, they hastened to enjoy that which was unlawfully provided in the gymnasium, after the summons of the discus; (2Maccabees 4:13-14)

Moreover, Josephus tells us of a Jew in Rome named Aliturius.[4] He was an actor, a comedian (jester), who abandoned his faith in pursuit of a more luxurious lifestyle in the court of Nero. Actors were not esteemed highly in Judea. Their name there is where we get our word hypocrite. The unlawful idolatries of which Peter spoke was of this type of behavior, namely, pursuits which demand so much of one’s life that he is forced to abandon worship of God in order to continue in the thing he desires so much. Jews were certainly guilty of this in the first century AD, and out of such behavior came Jews who embraced Christ.


[1] See Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews; 8.13.1

[2] See Trench Synonyms Enhanced

[3] See Acts 10:28 where Peter tells Cornelius that it was unlawful for a Jew to keep company with a gentile.

[4] Josephus: Life; 3

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Posted by on January 11, 2017 in Epistles of Peter


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