First Peter is not a classic proof-text for Calvinism and does not contain any detailed teaching on the doctrines of grace. Rather Peter demonstrates what I’m calling “casual Calvinism”. He doesn’t set out to teach it or prove it, really, but makes consistent casual reference to it. This is interesting because it shows not only what Peter believes, but also that these beliefs are not a point of controversy between him and his audience. As an example, let’s first look at Peter’s casual Trinitarianism. Peter doesn’t sit down to prove the trinity to his audience, but he does make consistent reference to it.
…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.1 Peter 1:2
In the greeting to his letter, Peter mentions the Father, the Spirit and Jesus Christ together. That’s not anything like proof of the doctrine of the trinity, but it sure sounds like the way a Trinitarian would talk.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.1 Peter 1:10-11
Here the Holy Spirit who inspired the Old Testament prophets is referred to as the Spirit of Christ. Peter and his readers both believe in the deity of Christ, which is why he can casually refer to the Spirit of God as the Spirit of Christ without any need to argue or deal with expected objections.
(PS – if you’ve bought into the myth that the Trinity was invented in church councils of the 4th century, these quick examples of casual Trinitarianism could be multiplied a hundred-fold in the pages of the New Testament.)
So there’s Peter’s casual Trinitarianism, what about his supposed Calvinism?
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…1 Peter 1:1
She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.1 Peter 5:13
Peter is not the only apostle to have any easy time referring to Christians as elect or chosen. These words are common throughout the New Testament. But what do they mean? In what sense are Christians chosen? Some would say Christians are chosen because they chose themselves. But if that’s the case, why even use the word chosen in such a confusing and unusual way? Besides which, Ephesians 1:4 says that God is the one who chose us and that it happened before the foundation of the world. Others will say that God chose, not who to save, but the criterion for salvation, that is belief in Jesus. Well that’s interesting, but it’s simply not what the words say. Peter writes to the elect exiles, not the elect plan of salvation, and he sends greetings from a chosen church, not a chosen criterion. When Peter speaks in passing of Christians being chosen, the simplest explanation is the best. He’s speaking out of his belief that those who are Christians are chosen by God.
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.1 Peter 2:8
Once again a straightforward reading of Peter’s words reflects a Calvinist view – that God’s predetermined plan for the world extends to whether individuals will accept or reject the word of the gospel. Peter does not attribute the disobedience of unbelievers to free will, but to their having been destined to do so. We could play similar word games here to try to escape the plain sense of the verse, such as what was destined was not the disobedience of individuals, but of unbelievers in general, or that what destined really means is predicted – that God knew about it ahead of time. The second option begs the question – if Peter meant predicted, why did he say destined? And the first option renders the statement meaningless. To say that God predestined all who would disobey of their own accord to be disobedient is to say that God did something which was really nothing. Once again, if that’s what he really meant, then why use the word destined at all? Peter includes this phrase in the verse for a reason. He’s reminding his audience of what they already knew, that the unbelievers who were persecuting them were not outside God’s control, but even in disobedience were carrying out his predetermined plan.
According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.1 Peter 1:3-5
Notice first of all that Peter, along with John, talks about the new birth as something that God causes, not something that results from human faith or choice (See John 1:13 and 3:8). The second thing to observe is that Christians are guarded for salvation by God’s power. It’s obvious that God’s power cannot fail, so if that is the guarantee of our salvation, we can rest assured that there is no way for a real Christian to lose his salvation. And finally, look at the place that faith has. We are guarded by God’s power, through faith. God’s power is exercised through our faith, and so the faith we call our own does not ultimately depend on us, but on God’s power. Faith is commonly thought to be our responsibility, the condition we have to meet so that God will save us. But for Peter, faith is a gift of God. Paul speaks similarly when he tells the Philippians that it was granted to them to believe (Philippians 1:29). It is God who supplies faith by his power in order to bring about salvation for the souls of his elect.
Now none of this is anywhere near sufficient for a proof of the Calvinist doctrine of salvation, but isn’t it interesting that Peter seems to write like a Calvinist would, and that he doesn’t give any indication that his readers would be surprised? If Peter wasn’t a Calvinist, why does he talk like one? And if he was a Calvinist (before Calvin was), what does that mean for us?