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, 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 . . .