I was reading 1 Peter this morning and this verse jumped out at me: “Like newborn infants, desire the unadulterated spiritual milk, so that you may grow by it in [your] salvation.” (HCSB) I just finished a semester studying 1 Corinthians, so the contrast between 1 Pet 2:2 and 1 Cor 3:2 stood out. In 1 Cor, the “milk” is cast as an undesirable thing; the preference should be for “solid food.” But in 1 Pet, the milk is to be desired.
Obviously, these are different letters from different authors to folks in different situations. The Corinthians were arrogant. They saw themselves as superior and enlightened. They attended lavish parties (idol feasts) and enjoyed rich food. They even considered some blatantly sinful acts to be badges of their spirituality! They saw themselves as sophisticated, wise and mature. Then Paul basically tells them that all they can handle is… baby food! Imagine a group of well-groomed businessmen and college professors expecting a dinner of bacon-wrapped filet mignon… and instead, they’re served jars of Gerber’s squash puree! I imagine that is how some of the Corinthians must have felt when they heard/read Paul’s words.
Just because you think you’re mature, that doesn’t make you mature. And using the right language doesn’t mean that you have the right heart. I’ve heard some people talking about wanting “pure spiritual milk,” but unfortunately, many of them are just applying that label to whatever it is they already crave: a teaching on their favorite topic, a supernatural experience, etc. And most of the time this “milk” is something that makes them look good or lets them walk away feeling pretty good about themselves. I don’t think that’s what Peter had in mind when he wrote his letter.
It also doesn’t help that our modern concept of “pure milk” has probably tainted our view of references like these. Even though both Paul and Peter clearly connect the “milk” to babies, these days that phrase probably brings to mind a nice tall cold glass of milk & a smiling person with a milk mustache. (Remember the “got milk?” ad campaigns?) When we think of milk, it is chilled, pasteurized, and homogenized… and often accompanied by a plate of cookies. In short, it’s nothing like the milk that would have been available in biblical times. The “pure” milk of biblical times–the “fresh squeezed” variety–is not even legal to sell in many states. And probably not something that the general public would consider all that refreshing or desirable or even sanitary.
So what was the “pure spiritual milk” that Peter wrote about?
The HCSB and NASB differ in their translation of 1 Pet 2:2. The HCSB and most modern translations go with “pure spiritual milk.” The NASB and NKJV say “pure milk of the word.” Apparently, both translations are possible. But I like the NASB version better.
As Christians, we know that we should spend time in the Word of God. But most of us aren’t doing that. We might surround ourselves with Christian culture — faith based movies, Christian radio, church activities — but we don’t study the Bible for ourselves. And even when we do spend time in the Word, it isn’t really the pure Word of God. I’m not talking about one translation being more “pure” or “superior” to another… I’m thinking about the way we process things today. Pasteurization kills most of the unpleasant harmful things from the cow’s milk that we drink. But that process doesn’t discriminate: it kills the beneficial things as well. It takes away some things that have value. I think we “pasteurize” the Bible when we read it through the filters of what we want to believe and/or skip over the parts that make us uncomfortable. It might make things more palatable to us in the short term, but it doesn’t help us so much in the long term.
It takes some humility for a mature person to eat baby food. It also takes some humility to come to the Scriptures with the right heart & attitude to find the “pure milk” — and resist the temptation to pasteurize and homogenize it to make it fit our culture.