The Significance of 1 Peter 2:9’s Use of Exodus 19 Language Concerning the Relationship between the Church and Israel

The following was a short exegetical essay for Dr. Richard E. Averbeck’s Pentateuch and Historical Books course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter lathers Christian (Gentile) believers with descriptions once used exclusively of the nation of Israel (cf. Ex 19:5-6; Deut 7:6; Isa 43:20; Hos. 1:6, 9, 10; 2:23; Mal 3:17). Regarding Exodus 19 specifically, Peter quotes exactly from the LXX—βασίλειον ἱεράτευμα, ἔθνος ἅγιον (“a royal priesthood, a holy nation”; Ex 19:6)—and alludes to וִהְיִ֨יתֶם לִ֤י סְגֻלָּה֙ (“and you will be to me a treasured possession”) with the words λαὸς εἰς περιποίησιν (“a people for possession”; Ex 19:5). The application of such language to the Church has resulted in no little debate regarding the relationship between Israel and the Church. An investigation of Peter’s use of this language will help shed some light on this discussion.

Many scholars conclude that Peter’s application of Israel-designations to the Church indicates a level of continuity (often seen as typological and/or supersessionistic) between Israel and the Church. By using appellations of Israel in reference to the Church, Peter shows “how he understands the true line of continuity to run from the people of God under the old covenant to the people of God under the new covenant” (Carson, 1032; cf. Woudstra, 234; Grudem, 113). However, dispensationalists, whose theological presuppositions include the absolute separation of the Church and Israel (Ryrie, Kindle Locations 705-706), often understand Peter’s use as analogical. In other words, Peter is applying spiritual realities in Israel to similar spiritual realities present in the Church. Due to dispensationalists’ belief in a distinct future for national Israel apart from the Church, they are necessarily uncomfortable with applying “Israel” language to the Church or acknowledging a supersessionistic typological relationship between Israel and the Church. But as Progressive Dispensationalist, Robert Saucy, states, “The application to the church of these descriptions formerly used exclusively for Israel does not mean that the church now assumes that position exclusively for herself” (Continuity and Discontinuity, 241; emphasis mine). Elsewhere he argues that an initial typological fulfillment or application does not necessarily negate a future, ultimate fulfillment with national Israel (Progressive Dispensationalism, Kindle Locations 7035-7037). In other words, this relationship says something more than the OT texts, but not less (cf. complementary hermeneutics).

In conclusion, surely analogy is fundamental to Peter’s use of this OT language. But the lavishing of designations once used for Israel (Grudem, 113), as well as the specific type of designations, indicate something more. For example, what use is it to call the Church, a multi-ethnic community, a nation? Peter’s point is certainly not the Church’s national composition (hardly), but the realization of this special position once held by Israel. Or further, Peter does not merely apply one or two OT themes to the Church, but applies several designations for and descriptions of Israel to the Church in 2:9-10. And this Church, Peter has argued, is the people of God who has become the recipients of all the promises previously anticipated by the Old Testament people of God (1:3-12). In other words, Peter’s use of the language of Exodus 19 (as well as other OT texts) in application to the Church assumes an implied typological relationship between the Church and Israel. This doesn’t necessitate that the Church and Israel are indistinct and there’s no discontinuity between eschatological Israel (i.e., the Church; Gal 6:16) and Old Testament Israel; nor does it mean that the Church has “replaced” Israel (rather, believing Israelites are included) and ethnic Israel has no future in God’s redemptive purpose (cf. Rom 9-11). But this relationship does imply that all of God’s promises are realized in the Church, the eschatological people of God, of which all the true children of promise (Rom 9:8; Gal 4:28; cf. Rom 2:25-29; Gal 3:14, 29), Jew or Gentile, are a part.