Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Peculiar People

Who [Jesus] gave Himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:14 KJV)

Years ago, my father had a plant nursery and flower business called “Old Weird Harold’s.” This came from three sources. First, my father’s name is Harold. Second, Bill Cosby created a character named “Old Weird Harold.” Third is this verse, in the King James Version. Jesus gave Himself to redeem us and purify for Himself a “peculiar” people. Pop knew, of course, that the use of “peculiar” in this verse does not mean weird, but he was making a play on words with a popular cultural icon. So, there you go.

The word peculiar comes from peculium, a word which had a specific legal meaning in Roman civil law but then slipped into a more common usage.
PECULIUM, civil law. The savings which were made by a son or slave with the consent of his father or master. Inst. 2, 9, 1; Dig. 15, 1, 5, 3; Poth. ad Pand. lib. 50, tit. 17, c. 2, art. 3.
     2. A master is not entitled to the extraordinary earnings of his apprentice, which do not interfere with his services so as to affect his master’s profits. An apprentice was therefore decreed to be entitled to salvage in opposition to his master's claim for it.
In the Middle Ages, “peculiar” referred to that which was “one’s own,” and that is how it is used in the King James Version.
Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6)

For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth. (Deuteronomy 14:2)

And the LORD hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments; and to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the LORD thy God, as he hath spoken. (Deuteronomy 26:18-19)

For the LORD hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure. (Psalm 135:4)
The Greek word translated as “peculiar” in Titus 2:14 is periousious. Literally, it is about what is “over and above.” Vincent’s Word Studies says that it was used of what was “specially selected for one's own.” So the King James Version translates it as “peculiar.” Other versions have it as
  • A people for His own possession (English Standard Version, Lexham English Bible, New American Standard Bible)
  • His own people (Contemporary English Version)
  • A people who should be specially His own (Weymouth’s New Testament in Modern Speech)
  • A special people (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
  • People who belong only to Him (New Century Version, The Expanded Bible New Testament)
  • His own special people (New King James Version)
  • His very own people (New Living Translation)
  • A special people for Himself (Common English Bible)
  • A people that are His very own (New International Version)
  • His own dedicated band (The Unvarnished New Testament)
  • A people of His own private possession (Wuest’s New Testament: An Expanded Translation)
  • A people He can be proud of (The Message)
The Hebrew word translated as “peculiar” in the Old Testament is segullah and speaks of wealth or that which is treasured. In Exodus 19:5, the KJV translates it as “peculiar treasure.” The LXX (also known as the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures), translates the Old Testament occurrences listed above as periousious, the same word found in Titus 2:14.

In using periousious, the apostle Paul picks up on what God was doing in the Old Testament and brings it forward into the New. In the Old Testament, God created a people, Israel, to be His own treasured possession, who would be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:5-6). The role of a priest is to represent God before the people and the people before God, so Israel was to represent God before the nations and the nations before God. What Israel failed to do as a nation, though, was fulfilled through her Messiah, Jesus. In the New Testament, the people of God enlarged to include every believer in Jesus the Messiah, whether Jew or Gentile. Titus himself was a Gentile believer, as were many of those under his pastoral care, but Paul includes them all as God’s own people.

The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus gave Himself for us to redeem us from our sins and to purify us as His own people. Not as a loose assortment of individuals but together as a community of faith, a people who belong to God and God alone. We are His peculiar people. Not weird or geeky but special and treasured by Him.

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