By O. C. Birdwell, Jr.
The ASV renders 2 Peter 1:5-9 as follows: “Yea, and for this very cause adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply virtue; and in your virtue knowledge; and in you knowledge self-control; and in your self-control patience; and in your patience godliness; and in you godliness brotherly kindness; and in your brotherly kindness love. For if these things are in you and abound they make you to be not idle nor unfruitful unto the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he that lacketh these things is blind, seeing only what is near, having forgotten the cleansing from his old sins.”
Our title is taken from the KJV where, in the above passage, instead of “in your faith supply” we find the words, “add to your faith . . . .” Following this charge, a list of seven items, commonly called “graces,” are given. Barnes correctly points out that we are not to endeavor particularly to add these things in the order in which they are listed. Nor is there any indication that virtue, though listed first, is more important than love, which is listed last. All are vital if we wish to make our calling and election sure (v. 10). The beginning point is faith. Peter is writing to those who “have obtained a like precious faith” (v. 1). This is the faith one has in God and Christ. It is the faith which enables one to become a Christian. To this faith the qualities given by Peter are to be added.
What is Virtue?
There is disagreement about the meaning of the word “virtue” as used in this passage. The author of the 1953 GA Annual Lesson Commentary says, “The word, virtue, here does not mean moral excellence, or chastity, but courage” (p. 72). Another writer presents an opposite view when he says, ‘”Virtue’ means excellence or moral purity. It refers to moral and ethical conduct (not manliness or strength as some have been misled by the English derivative ‘virtue’) as the Christian exercises his faith to live by the doctrine of Christ. This is how lust and corruption are overcome – by the establishment of proper habits and conduct” (J.W. Roberts, 1 & 2 Peter, p. 72).
W.E. Vine says that arete, translated virtue, “properly denotes whatever procures pre-eminent estimation for a person or thing; hence, intrinsic eminence, moral goodness, virtue. . .; (b) of any particular moral excellence, Phil. 4:8; 2 Pet. 1:5 (twice), where virtue is enjoined as an essential quality in the exercise of faith” (Expository Dictionary, Vol. IV, p. 189).
Thayer defines the word thusly: “A virtuous course of thought, feeling and action; virtue, moral goodness.” He also speaks of “Moral vigor” as he discusses virtue.
Young’s Analytical Concordance says the word means, “force, strength (of mind or body).” This work shows three words from which “virtue” or “virtuous” are translated. One is Hebrew, as used in Ruth 3:11; Prov. 12:4; 31:10; and 31:29. Another is the Greek dunamis which means power, and is translated “virtue” in Mk. 5:30; Lk. 6:19; and 8:46. The third is as found in the passage presently under consideration.
In a book called The Language of the King James Bible, Melvin Elliot defines the word, as used in 2 Peter 1:3, 5, as, “Moral rectitude, uprightness of character (considered as being a manifestation of manly vigor).”
This definition by Elliot seems to combine moral straightness with courage that is needed for one to be morally upright. Indeed in most societies, moral uprightness cannot be separated from courage, and would be a strong manifestation of a vigorous strength of character.
Our Present Need
We presently need Christians with the courage to be morally upright. The New Testament standard of moral conduct is clearly not the norm in the worldly society. It must, however, always be the standard for the child of God. One who fails to add virtue to his faith is blind, seeing only what is near, having forgotten the cleansing from his old sins (2 Pet. 1:9). Preachers, elders, and brethren, listen to me! Wake up to your responsibility to be examples in moral uprightness.
Guardian of Truth XXVI: 5, p. 73
February 4, 1982