the weblog of Alan Knox

Living Stones and a Spiritual House

Posted by on May 5, 2010 in NT Greek, scripture, translation | 4 comments

I’ve been thinking about 1 Peter 2:4-5 for some time now:

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5 ESV)

The phrase that I’d like you to consider is “as a spiritual house”. In this text of the Greek New Testament, the two words that the ESV translates “as a spiritual house” is οἶκος πνευματικὸς (oikos pneumatikos). There is a problem though: this phrase is in the nominative case, which is almost always the subject of the sentence. Now, if the verb was a linking verb (like “to be” or “to become”) then it would be proper to translate the nominative phrase as a predicate nominative – which would come after the verb in English.

So, if the verb (οἰκοδομέωoikodomeo – “I build”) is a linking verb, or if it can take a predicate nominative, then the ESV’s translation (and, in fact, every translation that I checked) would be correct. Peter would be saying that his readers are being built “as a spiritual house.”

In fact, in the New Testament, this verb never takes a predicate nominative. It usually takes an accusative noun as a direct object (Acts 7:47), and occasionally takes a prepositional phrase (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Even in the LXX (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), the verb οἰκοδομέω (oikodomeo), does not take a predicate nominative, but instead takes an accusative noun or a prepositional phrase describing what is being built.

So, what does this mean? It means that Peter did not say that his readers were being built “as a spiritual house.” Instead, “spiritual house” is parallel to (in apposition to) the other nominatives in this sentence: “[You] yourselves” and “as living stones”. The sentence, then, would be this:

You yourselves, as living stones, that is, a spiritual house, are being built into a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices which are pleasing to God through Jesus Christ.

Thus, Peter’s readers (and us by extension) are not being built into a spiritual house, we are a spiritual house, just like we are living stones. Instead, we are being built into a holy priesthood, so that we can offer sacrifices that please God.

(By the way, as the ISV points out, the “yourselves” could be emphatic or reflexive. If the “yourselves” is reflexive, then the sentence would be: “You, as living stones, that is, a spiritual house, are building yourselves into a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices which are pleasing to God through Jesus Christ.” I think either of these translations would be better than reading the “spiritual house” as a predicate nominative.)

So, this is obviously a grammatical argument. If you are familiar with Greek, I’d love to hear your opinion on this.

But, does it matter? Does it matter if we are already a spiritual house or if we’re being built into a spiritual house? What do you say?


4 Comments

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  1. 5-5-2010

    maybe Peter’s grammar just wasn’t so goodly. he was just a fisherman after all.
    on the other hand, i really like your argument.

  2. 5-5-2010

    I agree. He’s making us into a spiritual priesthood. Scripture points out that he does not want our animal sacrifices but out hearts. Then he says he wants people “with clean hands a a pure heart.” That is all priestly stuff. He wants holy people whose hearts are cleansed by him- that is our assignment once we become the priests he wants! Bob

  3. 5-6-2010

    I’ve thought a good deal about this verse, but never taken the time to dig into it in the Greek. You bring out some interesting implications. If “you are building yourselves into a spiritual house” then this verse might carry a note of warning, ie., makes sure you continue the building process and allow nothing to hinder it. On the other hand, if it is emphatic, the verse would then carry quite a different meaning, almost as if “You are DEFINITELY being built.” It’s hard to decide which might have been intended, but this gives me something to chew on!

  4. 6-11-2010

    That makes sense Alan. A young boy born into royalty is part of the royal (spiritual) house by nature and is therefore a prince but he needs to be trained as a prince (priest) in order to do his works well.

    Have you looked at the Ephesians passage in the Greek (Eph 2:19-22) or the Peter passage (1 Pet 2:5)?

    Danny