Pecuniary Satisfaction and Peculiar People, part 1

A week ago, on Dr. James White’s The Dividing Line webcast, I was listening to his coverage of the SBC’s John 3:16 conference,dictionary the effort of “moderate Calvinists” or perhaps more accurately, four point Arminians, to combat the rising tide of five point Calvinists who are graduating from SBC seminaries and ministering in SBC churches. Some discussion was made about a “pecuniary debt” being paid by Christ on the cross for every individual, as distinguished in the lecture being discussed, a “moral debt” which is paid by the  believer who receives Christ by his own free will. This is only the second time since I’ve become a five point Calvinist myself, that I’ve heard reference made to this concept of “pecuniary debt.” Previous to this, I had a discussion with a few four-point Calvinists (which are predestinarians who deny that Christ died only for the elect) at Contend Earnestly. The term came up then, too, but, the discussion never moved toward exploring all the ins and outs of the concept. Indeed, the “pecuniary” view of Christ’s atonement, is a concept begging for my attention in the future. The reason I bring it up is to simply point out the fact that the word “pecuniary” was freshly bouncing around in my head before one Southern Baptist Bible study I attended last week.

In this Bible study, we happen to be studying Romans 12. But as is so often the case in Southern Baptist Bible study, the subject at hand often yields to the current events of the church, whether they have any bearing on the passage being studied or not. In this case, the current event under consideration was the semi-contemporary praise chorus, “A Chosen Generation,” which is a musical version of 1 Peter 2:9. This verse is very well-known even among Christians who generally deny the Calvinistic emphasis on God’s sovereign choice in election, or the covenantal unity of Israel and the Gentile Church as one chosen people, contrary to the dispensational “wrongly dividing” of the two groups into two separate chosen peoples. The thing that endears this verse to non-Reformed Southern Baptists is one particular phrase: “a peculiar people.” The King James Version translates the verse this way, and given the tendency to read the KJV in terms of today’s definitions and connotations, rather than remaining carefully on the look-out for archaisms, the phrase, “peculiar people,” lends itslef to a deeply engrained tradition of springboarding past exegetically-informed exposition to practical, relevant application to the Christian life.

I can’t reproduce verbatim what was said about the phrase, but I can characterize it or at least summarize it. God, in calling us a “peculiar people,” is implying that the church is different from the world; indeed, at times, the world may even consider what the church believes and does “peculiar,” or strange. This is the traditional moderate Calvinistic Baptist commentary on this whole verse. Rarely does anyone hear anything different in my experience. As I sat through the recitation of this unwritten creed, it struck me that the root word for “peculiar” is similar, if not the same as, the root for “pecuniary.” If pecuniary is associated with money or commerce, or wealth, it seemed possible that in the KJV of 1 Peter 2:9, we have another case of an archaic word being misread according to the twentieth century meaning of the word “peculiar.”

I held my tongue through the remainder of the class, but raised my hand to comment when so invited to at the end of the hour. I prefaced my concerns in my usual, self-depracating manner, telling the teacher I’m going to “nit pick” the word “peculiar.” Then I stated my concerns that when compared to the modern translation of 1 Peter 2:9, the traditional interpretation and application of “peculiar people” doesn’t seem to be the point of the text. Modern translations render the Greek here, “a people for his own possession,” so it’s not about believers seeming odd to the world, but rather about believers being God’s property. It’s not an imperative to be obeyed, but an indicative to be believed: the church is God’s possession.

. . . to be continued . . .

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7 responses

  1. Well, John, I guess we both agree that I was “bought” with a price to glorify God with my body and spirit and not just my spirit alone?

    Paul makes it more difficult for me when I read what he was doing with the Romans:::>

    Rom 7:22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,
    Rom 7:23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
    Rom 7:24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
    Rom 7:25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

    Hmmmmm? Ok Paul, ah, John, which is it then? Am I or am I not then peculiar? 🙂

    1Co 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,
    1Co 6:20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

    and

    1Co 7:22 For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ.
    1Co 7:23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.
    1Co 7:24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

  2. Capt.,
    Once again I had to have a talk with my pastor about some of your commentary here. I know you find “Southern Baptist Bible Study” to be, to some degree, a wast of time, but he (my pastor) and I would take you to task at one point.

    Your statement, “. . .lends itself to a deeply engrained tradition of springboarding past exegetically-informed exposition to practical, relevant application to the Christian life” misses, in my opinion, the point. “Archaisms” are important, but no more important, in fact, than utilizing the Scripture accurately and clearly to provide relevant application. That is why the Scripture is “alive.” It fits today as perfectly as it did when it was penned from the mouth of God. There are a multitude of places, especially in Romans, where we clearly understand we are God’s possession.

    And while I am sure you actions were most beneficial, and you should continue to make known your understandings when the opportunity arises (every teacher worth his salt will appreciate that) don’t sell short the necessity of teaching people less informed and knowledgable the “practical applications” that “arise” from Scripture.

    Christian

  3. Michael,

    You most certainly are “bought” with a price to glorify God with your whole person, body and soul, and this sense is more in keeping with the sense of Peter in his letter.

    You, by his grace, are one of the people “for his own possession” through the redemption (the payment of a price) that is in Christ’s death (the price, or “ransom,” paid) and resurrection. To be “peculiar” according to the Bible, is simply to be his. And the fact that he has obtained us is not to set us on a pedastal and admire our value, but when God obtains us as his possession, we are then doubly obligated (first by creation, and now secondly, by redemption) to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

  4. C. W.,

    That is precisely my intention. This will not be the first time that I must remind you and your pastor that to put the “horse” of exegetically informed exposition before the “cart” relevant, practical application is not to denigrate the importance of application, but to get it in its place where it will be able to do the most good.

    To argue that the Word of God is alive, and therefore we are justified in focusing on the word “peculiar” in a sense intended neither by the translators of the KJV, nor the human or divine authors of the letter being so translated, is akin to the way liberal judicial activists wish to misinterpret the constitution in order to legislate from the bench things that were never to be legislated by such legislation. A minister or teacher is not speaking God’s words if what he says is not informed by a careful exegesis of the text, but rather informed by a careless misinterpretation of a perfectly good word being used in an overlooked archaic sense. If he’s not speaking God’s words, then how are we to expect the Spirit to speak through the minister? If the Spirit isn’t speaking through the minister, then where will be found the power to perform the supposed relevant, practical application?

  5. Capt.,
    Just one final word on this matter. I gathered from your original text that you were in a Bible Study where the subject was Romans – Chapter 12. Since there is no direct quote in that passage about “God’s peculiar people”, and the matter of the passage from 1 Peter arose during the discussion of a song, which then took the application of making sure that “as God’s possession” we are to be “different from the world”, would not necessarily be a “careless misinterpretation of a perfectly good word.” My concern at that point would be if the pastor in question here was properly interpreting the passage in Romans where the question arose (about a song) and how that might apply to — say for example, “so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God,” by making sure that you are recognizably different from the “world.”

    Just a thought. And let me know when that pastor of yours gets to 1 Peter. We’ll see what he says about that verse. . .

    Christian

  6. Interesting post, John. I had never thought about that term “peculiar” before. I looked up Titus 2:14 as well, and it must be the same word.

    I confess as a former KJV Onlyist that I thought peculiar meant different or strange. I wonder what the word meant in 1611 (or 1769)? Perhaps you’ll enlighten us.

    I agree that application is important, but we can’t go forcing verses that do not apply and making them apply to the topic we have at hand. Doing this is misinforming our congregations and teaching people to misuse the Scripture. That being said, many a man has made a mistake. I have!

    I’m waiting now for part 2.

    Blessings,

    Bob

  7. Yes, Bob, I’ll be getting to the definition of peculiar, and the mutual root word it shares with pecuniary. I hate to have posted this as an incomplete part 1, but time was wasting, and the post was getting too long.

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