1 Peter 2:8 seems to be thought by some to teach that God has unconditionally determined some people to not be believers in Jesus, by unilateral decree. This stems from a seemingly poor interpretation of what is meant by “They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.” I would like to attempt to show an interpretation of the passage that better honours the relevant Biblical texts.
1 Peter 2:6-8 For in Scripture it says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”
Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
“The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
and, “A stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. (NIV)
For now, note here that Peter doesn’t mention the cause, or reason, that they were destined for stumbling. It could be the case that it is by God’s unilateral decree, or it could be something else. Now, compare 1 Peter 2:6-8 with Romans 9:30-33.
Romans 9:30-33 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written:
“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall,
and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.” (NIV)
Peter in vs.6-8 and Paul in v.33 are both quoting from Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16. Remember from ch.1 that Peter’s epistle is addressed primarily to Jewish exiles and at this point in Romans, Paul’s words are also directed to the people of Israel too (cf. v.31). Since they are both drawing from the same Old Testament citations and both have the same audience in mind, it would seem reasonable to assume that they are intending on conveying the same message.
Remember that Peter didn’t give the cause, or reason, for the destiny being set for some, but here Paul does! And why are some destined to stumble? “Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.” So it would seem the condition for an Israelite being destined to stumble is pursuing righteousness by the Law.
First Century Judaism experienced a unique historical period when the Messiah came. This was a time of transition from the Old to the New Covenant. Next read;
Romans 1:17 For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.” (NET)
Those truly faithful to Yahweh were destined for faith in the Messiah, Jesus – ‘from faith to faith’. They will live because they are pursuing a righteousness by faith. The corollary to this is that those who aren’t ‘the righteous by faith’ will not live and transition from faith to faith. Those who were not truly faithful to Yahweh and were pursuing righteousness by works, eg. Pharisees, were not destined for faith in the Messiah, but rather to stumble over Jesus in unbelief.
Therefore there seems to be no unilateral decree to destine to people to unbelief unconditionally, rather the text seems to speak of a particular people (First Century Jews) being destined to unbelief conditionally (due to seeking righteousness by works). And instead God’s remains faithful to His people truly giving scope for them to live by seeking righteousness by faith in Jesus, the ’chosen and precious cornerstone’ – “the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”