All I want to do today to complete this focus on the contrivance of “applications” based on the misinterpretation of an archaic translation of a Scriptural word is to show the definition of “peculiar” as presented in Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language. The choice of this dictionary is significant in that it is this volume which is recommended to advocates of the superiority of the King James Version of the Bible to all modern translations. It often features the biblical usage of words, with numerous quotations from Scripture as well as classic English literature. You’d think such a resource would irradicate foibles like the one under consideration, but tradition dies hard!
PECU’LIAR, a. [L. peculiaris, from peculium, one’s own property, from pecus, cattle.]
- Appropriate; belonging to a person and to him only. Almost every writer has a peculiar style. Most men have manners peculiar to themselves.
- Singular; particular. The man has something peculiar in his deportment.
- Particular; special. “My fate is Juno’s most peculiar care.” Dryden.
Definition 1 is the relevant definition. Considering the given usages, when it comes to 1 Peter 2:9, God has a people that is peculiar to himself, as opposed to being the people of any other god or ruler. I repeat, the church is to be peculiar to God, not peculiar to the world. That means we are his and only his. This simply cannot legitimately “apply” to how strange believers ought to seem to the world. Granted, the immediate context of the passage does explicitly include some imperatives (that is, “applications”) that are to be performed because of the fact that we are peculiarly the Lord’s people, and I submit these are the imperatives intended by the human and divine authors of Scripture to be applied to believers.
“They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. (Notice the reference to God’s sovereign reprobation of those who never come to faith–that was for free!)
“9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
“11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” 1 Peter 2:8b-12.
The imperatives we have are based on the indicative of believers in Christ being a people who are peculiarly God’s, as opposed to any other god or ruler. Here’s where Christ-centeredness enters the picture. No exposition of the text is genuinely made in light of the full context, if the work of Christ for sinners is passed over and given little attention. It’s the indicatives of the Gospel, what God says about what he’s done for us in the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and about how it has affected us by his grace alone, that contains the power to call people out of darkness into his marvelous light. To focus the majority of our attention on the behavior that is to result from Scripture’s Christ-centered, Gospel cause is to miss the power to live out the behavior and actually perform the “application.”
So here are the results of God’s showing mercy to us, calling sinners from every nation, race and class out of the darkness and into the marvelous light, making us who were not a people a chosen generation and a holy nation and a people for his own possession–a people who are peculiarly his and no one else’s:
- proclaim the excellencies of him who brought us out of darkness into his marvelous light. Then Peter inserts another indicative statement that builds on and emphasizes on our being peculiarly God’s–once we weren’t a people, but now we are God’s people by virtue of his having shown us his mercy.
- Therefore, since we are citizens of God’s nation, we should view ourselves as exiles who are merely sojourning through this world (in the world, not of it), and we should abstain from fleshly passions, which wage war against our souls.
- In addition, since we are God’s people, our conduct (behavior) should be honorable (not “peculiar” or strange or goofy) as we sojourn among the “Gentiles” (unbelievers who are citizens of the world, rather than citizens of God’s kingdom), our motive being that when we are falsely accused of evil-doing, others will realize the falsity of such accusations and God will be glorified.
See? There’s plenty of application, explicitly given by the apostle. There’s no call for intentionally misinterpreting one word in the indicative portion of the passage in order to turn it into an imperative to “look goofy to the world.” Rather, proclaim the excellency of Christ as you abstain from fleshly passions and otherwise conduct yourself in an honorable manner as you continue to sojourn in this lost and dying world for the glory of God. Now that’s preaching that will strengthen the faith of believers! Thanks for spelling it out for us, Peter!
Now, going back to the Bible study at which I originally brought up this topic. You know how after you have a conversation, you think of things you should have, or could have said? Well, after I made my comments in the Q&A session after the lesson, the teacher thanked me for “showing us how much smarter I am than the rest of us.” If I’d had the presence of mind at the time, I would have, or could have, and indeed, should have, replied that it’s not about how smart I am; it’s about whether or not the minister of the Word is actually communicating what God is saying in the text.