Discovery: 1 Peter 1:16 quotes Leviticus 19

I was sitting in chapel a month ago and Dad was doing a great job preaching 1 Peter 1:13-16. This is a great text that demonstrates that NT apostles understood the Pentateuch to provide immediately applicable commands for NT believers.

Verse 16 is Peter's quotation from Leviticus that buttresses his apostolic injunction to be holy in all your conduct: because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY."

I was sitting there with my copy of Biblia Sacra (combined Hebrew & Greek Bible), and I noticed the Greek syntax of the quotation placed "holy" in an emphatic position: ἅγιοι ἔσεσθε, ὅτι ἐγὼ ἅγιός.

Just out of curiosity, I decided to look at the syntax of the Hebrew text in the places in Leviticus where this statement is made (Lev. 11:44, 45; 19:2; cf. Lev. 20:7). What struck me as I looked is that Leviticus 19:2 is the only place where the Hebrew syntax exactly matches the Greek syntax of 1 Peter 1:16.

וִהְיִיתֶ֣ם קְדֹשִׁ֔ים כִּ֥י קָד֖וֹשׁ אָ֑נִי (Lev. 11:44)
וִהְיִיתֶ֣ם קְדֹשִׁ֔ים כִּ֥י קָד֖וֹשׁ אָֽנִי׃ (Lev. 11:45)
קְדֹשִׁ֣ים תִּהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃ (Lev. 19:2)

What further piqued my interest was that Peter's "in all your conduct" fits Lev. 19 much better than it fits Lev. 11. Leviticus 11:44 is part of the conclusion of a section on clean and unclean foods and is followed by a chapter on purification of women after childbirth.

I have been slowly memorizing and meditating on Leviticus 19 for about 6 months. I had come to the conclusion that God's "be holy for I am holy" in v. 2 is not merely one command in a list of commands, but is the key command that controls the entire chapter.

Specifically, fearing one's parents (v. 3), keeping His sabbaths (v. 3), rejecting idolatry (v. 4), worshiping God according to His specifications (vv. 5-8), caring for foreigners and the needy (9-10), not stealing or lying (v. 11), not swearing falsely (v. 12), loving your neighbor (v. 18) ... in fact the entire chapter is an explication of what it means to be holy "in all conduct."

I couldn't wait for chapel to be over so I could go check the LXX to see if, in fact, the variations in Hebrew syntax had been maintained in Lev. 11 and 19. I was a bit disappointed to find that it wasn't.

Lev 11:44 ἅγιοι ἔσεσθε ὅτι ἅγιός εἰμι ἐγὼ κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὑμῶν
Lev 11:45 ἔσεσθε ἅγιοι ὅτι ἅγιός εἰμι ἐγὼ κύριος
Lev 19:2 ἅγιοι ἔσεσθε ὅτι ἐγὼ ἅγιος κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὑμῶν
1 Pe 1:16 ἅγιοι ἔσεσθε, ὅτι ἐγὼ ἅγιός

In Leviticus 11:44, the LXX doesn't reflect the Hebrew syntax and places "holy" before "you shall be." So ... the syntax really doesn't decide the question of what text Peter was quoting. I suspect that those identifying cross-references just picked Lev. 11:44 because it was the first place this command occurs. However, I did notice that the syntax of 1 Peter 1:16 does perfectly match Lev. 19:2 as far as it goes.

Bottom line: Both the syntax and the context of Leviticus 19 make it a much better fit as a proof text for Peter's command to "be holy in all your conduct."

Application: In AL this week, I preached a two part message on 1 Peter 1:14-16 and Leviticus 19:1-18. Lev. 19:15-18 was a message all of its own, and, wow, what a powerful text on holy living! In fact, even though conduct is on front stage of this chapter, vv. 17-18 powerfully demonstrate that the holiness God wants from His people has always been a heart holiness that manifests itself in one's life.

To be holy as God is holy is to have the same excellence of character and conduct distinguishing us from the world that distinguishes God from all others gods.


Jon Earls said…
This is fascinating. Thanks for sharing! You've got my preaching juices flowing on a Monday morning! :-)

I wish I could have attended your meeting at Ada Chapel. Perhaps in the future we can have something similar at Cordele.
Philip Brown said…
Follow-up: Just checked Archer and Chirichigno's Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament and they also identify Leviticus 19 as the source for 1 Peter 1:16.

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