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[1Pe 4:17-18 DBY] (17) For the time of having the judgment begin from the house of God is come; but if first from us, what shall be the end of those who obey not the glad tidings of God? (18) And if the righteous is difficultly saved, where shall the impious and the sinner appear?

Is Peter referring to the "house" of God (IE: the temple) or "the household"? And does he mean the believing house/household or the unbelieving?

Optional: What is his reasoning about the righteous being "difficultly saved"?

4 Answers 4

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There are two questions about the passage in 1 Peter 4:17, 18.

Household/Family of God (v17)

This phrase "household of God" refers to the Christian community, see Eph 2:19, 1 Tim 3:15, Titus 1:7, Heb 3:2, 5, 6, 10:21, etc. This is conformed in the same verse where Peter writes, " … judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us … ". Apparently, Ellicott agrees:

Begin at the house of God.--The phrase contains an obvious reference to Ezekiel 9:6 (comp. also Jeremiah 25:29). Who are meant by the "house of God" is clear, not only from such passages as 1Peter 2:5; 1Corinthians 3:16; 2Thessalonians 2:4, but also from the immediate addition, "and if first at us."

Further, Paul also uses the Temple as a metaphor of the Christian community, 1 Cor 3;16, 17. In this and the other famous metaphor of the Christian community - the wheat and weeds parable, the righteous and the unrighteous in the church co-exist and are separated at the judgement.

Difficult Salvation (v18)

God is a great saviour and thus I do not believe the difficulty of salvation refers to any difficulty with God but with us. There are several references to this idea such as 1 Cor 3:15, Job 19:20, and of course the verse that Peter quotes is from Prov 11:31. As the Pulpit commentary observes:

The righteous shall be requited in the earth, that is, chastised for his transgressions. So it would be now, St. Peter says; judgment must begin at the house of God. He adopts the inexact Septuagint translation for its substantial truth, as we now sometimes use versions which are sufficient for practical purposes, though we know them to be critically inaccurate. We observe again the absence of marks of quotation, as often in St. Peter. Bengel well remarks that the awful "scarcely" (μόλις σώζεται) is softened by 2 Peter 1:11.

Ellicott reaches a similar conclusion:

The fact that they are "scarcely" saved "imports not," according to Leighton, "any uncertainty or hazard in the thing itself to the end, in respect of the purpose and performance of God, but only the great difficulties and hard encounters in the way." This is only partly true. The Apostle is rather thinking of the final judgment than of the life of trial; and he means that there was but little margin left: a very few more falls, a few more refusals to follow the calls of grace, and they would have been lost. Doubtless, when the best of us looks back, in the light of the last day, upon all that he has been through, he will be amazed that he ever could be saved at all. Yet Bengel well calls us to see the other side of the picture in 2Peter 1:11.

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  • Ezekiel 9:6 seems ambiguous: [Eze 9:6-7 KJV] (6) Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house. (7) And he said unto them, Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain: go ye forth. And they went forth, and slew in the city.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 22:05
  • Quite right - the slaying was among the so-called people of God, the Jews at the time. God was effectively separating the loyal Jews from the apostate Jews among the household of God. The same is true today among the Christian community - not all Christians will be saved.
    – user25930
    Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 22:42
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There is no need for any subjective interpretation here. Refer to the original Greek text:

> ... [10] εκαστος καθως ελαβεν χαρισμα εις εαυτους αυτο διακονουντες ως καλοι οικονομοι ποικιλης χαριτος θεου ... [17] οτι ο καιρος του αρξασθαι το κριμα απο του οικου του θεου ει δε πρωτον αφ ημων τι το τελος των απειθουντων τω του θεου ευαγγελιω ...
> ... [10] each [one], just as [he] received graciousness, ministering it to each other, as good stewards of [the] manifold grace of God ... [17] because [it is] the time [that] the judgement has come [starting] from the house of God. But if first from us, what [is] the end of the [ones] who are disobedient to the good tidings of God? ...

Clearly then "του οικου του θεου" refers to the same house of God for which each one of his intended audience is supposed to be a good stewards ("οικονομοι").

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  • Hi David and thank you for your response. So which house is he referring to?
    – Ruminator
    Commented Dec 23, 2020 at 13:51
  • @Ruminator: He is referring to the same house of God as in 1 Pet 2:5, namely God's people as a collective whole (2:10). The point of my post was to make it completely clear that the "house of God" in 4:17 is obviously not the individual household given the choice of (Greek) words to tie that with the household of God, since "οικονομοι" means something like household managers.
    – David
    Commented Dec 23, 2020 at 17:56
  • Thank you for the clarification. I posted my own answer, in which I opine that he seems to be speaking specifically of leadership of Jerusalem: [Luk 21:20 NLT] (20) "And when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know that the time of its destruction has arrived.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Dec 23, 2020 at 18:46
  • Your interpretation is simply impossible, and I will explain below your post.
    – David
    Commented Dec 27, 2020 at 15:43
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I posed this question some 20 months ago and have puzzled over it many times. It always seemed bent and I found no satisfying answer. For some reason, I didn't think to check how Ezekiel 9:6 read in the Greek text. When I did, it became, I believe, very clear:

[Brenton Septuagint Eze 9:6] Slay utterly old man and youth, and virgin, and infants, and women: but go ye not nigh any on whom is the mark: begin at my sanctuary. So they began with the elder men () who were within in the house.

[Eze 9:6 LXX] (6) πρεσβύτερον καὶ νεανίσκον καὶ παρθένον καὶ νήπια καὶ γυναῗκας ἀποκτείνατε εἰς ἐξάλειψιν ἐπὶ δὲ πάντας ἐφ᾽ οὕς ἐστιν τὸ σημεῗον μὴ ἐγγίσητε καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν ἁγίων μου ἄρξασθε καὶ ἤρξαντο ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνδρῶν τῶν πρεσβυτέρων οἳ ἦσαν ἔσω ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ

In 1 Peter, Peter identifies himself as an elder, and in the next chapter he specifies that he is exhorting the elders:

[1Pe 5:1-4 CSB] (1) I exhort (παρακαλῶ, present active indicative) the elders among you as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory about to be revealed: (2) Shepherd God's flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but willingly, as God would have you; not out of greed for money but eagerly; (3) not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (4) And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

So it seems clear that Peter understands Ezekiel 9:6 LXX to be saying that judgment must begin in Jerusalem, with the leaders of God's flock. He is referring to the horrors and destruction of the temple, Jerusalem, the Jewish polity of the Great Jewish Revolt c. 70 AD/CE.

In the gospels, Jesus tells parables to the effect that he is going to judge the leaders of the temple based polity (the scribes, Pharisees, the Sanhedrin, etc.) for their leadership as well per Ezekiel 34. Please see "the sheep and the goats" in Matthew 25 and:

[Mat 21:43-45 NKJV] (43) "Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. (44) "And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder." (45) Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them.

Related:

[Jer 25:29 NLT] (29) I have begun to punish Jerusalem, the city that bears my name. Now should I let you go unpunished? No, you will not escape disaster. I will call for war against all the nations of the earth ["land", of Israel]. I, the LORD of Heaven's Armies, have spoken!'

[Eze 9:6 NLT] (6) Kill them all--old and young, girls and women and little children. But do not touch anyone with the mark. Begin right here at the Temple." So they began by killing the seventy leaders.

[Mat 3:10 NLT] (10) Even now the ax of God's judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire. [Note: I understand "trees" in scripture to refer to teachers.]

[Luk 12:47-48 NLT] (47) "And a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn't prepared and doesn't carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. (48) But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.

[Eze 34:17-24 NLT] (17) "And as for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says to his people: I will judge between one animal of the flock and another, separating the sheep from the goats. (18) Isn't it enough for you to keep the best of the pastures for yourselves? Must you also trample down the rest? Isn't it enough for you to drink clear water for yourselves? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? (19) Why must my flock eat what you have trampled down and drink water you have fouled? (20) "Therefore, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will surely judge between the fat sheep and the scrawny sheep. (21) For you fat sheep pushed and butted and crowded my sick and hungry flock until you scattered them to distant lands. (22) So I will rescue my flock, and they will no longer be abused. I will judge between one animal of the flock and another. (23) And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. (24) And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. I, the LORD, have spoken!

[Luk 21:20 NLT] (20) "And when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know that the time of its destruction has arrived.

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  • This interpretation is wrong. As I quoted in my post, 1 Pet 4 itself says "[it is] the time [that] the judgement has come [starting] from the house of God. But if first from us, ...", making it clear that the judgement starts from the house of God including the author of 1 Pet 4! Note that the grammar does not allow reading the "from" as denoting origin, because the Greek word for "judgement" means the outcome rather than action of judging. Thus the author is saying that it is time for God's judgement to begin starting from themselves and then proceeding to the disobedient.
    – David
    Commented Dec 27, 2020 at 15:51
  • It doesn't make sense to say it is only restricted to the elders either, because there are clearly only two groups here, "us (all in the house of God)" and "those who are disobedient".
    – David
    Commented Dec 27, 2020 at 15:53
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I think we get into trouble in our interpretations when we read our current situation into the text. Firstly, to whom is Peter writing? The elect exiles of the Dispersion. The Dispersion is referencing those who have Israelite heritage and descent. The physical descendants of Abraham through Isaac and through Jacob. Peter writes to them during a very unique time in the history of Israel. Israel was established by God as a people and then a nation. He delivered them from Egyptian slavery and gave them victory over their enemies and gave them the land to possess.

Israel is a special nation through which God spoke through His prophets. The very oracles of God came through God's interactions with Israel. God made promises to this people through Abraham. Through Abraham, there would be blessing to come to all the families of the earth. This blessing is the Messiah--Israel's Messiah--who would be a blessing to all the families of the earth as well.

The ministry of Jesus was to Israel and His message was "repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand". The Sermon on the Mount is the message of Christ to Israel (not the church). He's calling on them to repent and follow Him. He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Repentance looks different, now. It isn't a return to Moses, but now it is a call to follow Him as the long awaited Messiah. In Matthew 4, John the Baptist is warning of the separation that is prophesied in Malachi 3:18. There will be separation within Israel. Good trees and bad trees. Wheat and chaff. Jesus also speaks to this separation that is to occur within Israel in chapter 5 when He speaks of salt that has lost its saltiness and is only good to throw out and be trampled underfoot. There is a separation between salt that is good and salt that is not.

This is the call of Christ to Israel during His ministry to them: Repent and come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. But we know that they would ultimately reject Him as a nation (although God preserves a remnant within Israel who are elect). These are the folks in view here to whom Peter writes. People with that rich history of the promises of God and the many instances in which He delivered them and preserved them as a nation (think about how God acted toward them in Judges).

The important thing for us to remember is that there is a prophesied separation to occur within Israel and the distinction to be made is based on those who are serving God in His mission and those who do not serve Him (Malachi 3:18). This is what Peter is speaking about. Israel is the household of God and He is purifying His household. So when Peter says "For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God", he is telling them what Malachi already said over 400 years earlier. What God is doing is separating Israel on the basis of those who serve Him and those who serve self. Purification is starting and the distinction that Malachi and then John the Baptist and then Jesus spoke of is being made plain. It has started.

This is supported by the overall message of Peter to these elect exiles of the dispersion as he is calling them to essentially show themselves to be the good trees, the wheat and the good salt that is salty and useful. Be holy and be those who are serving the One True God. Don't be found to be on the wrong mission serving yourself. So do these things (be self-controlled, sober-minded, love one another, etc) and put away these things (malice, deceit, envy, etc) because the time has passed for doing the things that the Gentiles do. Live faithfully rather than faithlessly.

God is purifying the household of God so be found faithful. He goes through a portion of explaining how they can be doing this in the midst of their current situation as he focuses on submission and proper order and authority in chapter 2-3.

Peter is highlighting the distinction in v17-19. Those who are righteous are made righteous by the grace of God alone. He did what was impossible for man to do. It is in this way that the righteous is scarcely saved. Not by works and nothing that he might boast about. By the grace of God alone in Christ Jesus His the Son. So if it is this way that the righteous are saved, what will become of those who are disobedient? Those whose lives are marked by a different mission? The understood answer is that they will be the bad trees that are burned or the chaff that is burned or the salt that is thrown out and trampled underfoot. Then in v19, so make sure you are on the right mission since God is purifying His household and making the distinction that Malachi spoke of.

Peter's special ministry was to believing Israelites and helping them to navigate this seismic shift in their relationship to God. We can tend to just look at the words on the page and be matter of fact with our study and declarations. However, these were people like us (and we know how shaky we can be, right?). Things happened very differently from what they expected and Peter's ministry was to walk them through this. We as the church benefit from this letter preserved by God in Scripture, but Gentiles were not the audience to whom it was written. We need to be careful to look at it in its proper place and then we can see the richness of the shepherding care Peter is extending to these believing Israelites--the remnant of Israel.

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  • Hi EC. While there are several salient points in your answer, which I appreciate, I am not sure I see the answer to "house" or "household." IE: Is he talking about a building or a family? Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 12:15
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