Home > Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2016 > Prayer and Worship: Commentary on the Scriptural Text

JANUARY 18–25, 2016

PRAYER / WORSHIP: Commentary on the Scriptural Text

2016 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

1 Peter 2:9
“Called to proclaim the mighty acts of God”

By By Rev. Dr. Shelly Matthews
Professor - Brite Divinity School

“Called to proclaim the mighty acts of God”

Might is often associated with muscular strength and martial contest.  Thus, the English translation of this phrase from I Peter could suggest that the deeds of God that are to be proclaimed by the royal priesthood of believers addressed in this verse lie in the realm of military strength.  Proclaiming the “mighty” acts of God could be understood then to involve witnessing to God as warrior, utilizing images such as those we find in the book of Revelation, where the heavenly armies are imagined to inflict violence of the sword on enemies in the name of God the Almighty (See, for instance Rev. 19:11-21); or, at least, the assertion that our God is somehow victorious over the peoples and divinities of others.

Yet the Greek word translated here as “mighty” is aretē, a word which usually connotes “moral excellence or virtue,” and secondarily is associated with the miraculous.
Given the times in which we live, in which religious violence seems to be reaching almost apocalyptic proportions, we would do well to steer away from proclaiming  images of divine “might” drawn from the arena of military battle. Understanding ourselves to be constituted for the purpose of proclaiming the aretē of God could call us instead to reflect on moral virtues, rather than weapons; on the awesomeness of the creation, rather than on muscular strength.  This exhortation from I Peter concerning God’s aretē might prompt us to search through scripture and tradition for instances of divine power channeled in unexpected, extraordinary, and counter cultural ways.

One of the most extraordinary images of disciplined strength and moral excellence found in scriptures comes from the servant song of Isaiah 42 where the servant, who is proclaimed as God’s chosen (as the addressees in I Peter 2 are said to be chosen) is described as follows:  “he will bring forth justice to the nations.  He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench” (Isa. 42:1b-3a, NRSV).  Here is extoled a sort of moral excellence and inner, disciplined strength that manifests itself in the form of gentleness, such that even the most fragile of things within the presence of God’s servant—the most slender and damaged reed, the faintest of flame—comes to no harm.
Such a counter cultural image of divine power might assist us in thinking through what mighty acts of God we are called to proclaim today.

Dr. Shelly Matthews holds the ThD from the Harvard Divinity School, the MDiv from Boston University School of Theology, and the BA from the University of North Dakota. Before arriving at Brite in 2011, she was the Dorothy and B.H. Peace Jr., Associate Professor of Religion at Furman University, in Greenville South Carolina, where she taught for 13 years.
She is an ordained United Methodist Minister (Dakotas Area Conference), and served three years in parish ministry in North Dakota before entering graduate school.

She currently co-chairs the Society of Biblical Literature Section on Early Jewish and Christian Relations, and was the co- founder and served for six years as co-chair of the SBL section on Violence and Representations of Violence Among Jews and Christians.  She also serves on editorial boards for the Journal of Biblical Literature, the Journal of New Testament Studies, and Lectio Dificilior. Her research interests include feminist biblical interpretation, the Acts of the Apostles, early Jewish Christian relations, and Paul in the second century.