Word of the Week
January 16, 2021
The new version of “Word for the Week” has just been operating for a few weeks, but you can find a longer list of fascinating word studies in the archives. Take a few minutes to click here and you’ll be able to browse the backlog of articles.
While you’re on the Ezra Project Web site, take a look at the new Word Study Course that will be available in its completed form by the end of January. Seven lessons will provide you with the tools you need to start doing your own word studies.
Peripoiēsis – God’s Peculiar People
When I was a kid, our pastor would occasionally quote the verse that calls Christians “a peculiar people.” When I looked around at the folks in our church, I could see where you might get that description. Our crowd included some odd characters!
Indeed, much of the world considers Christians to be rather strange people, out of touch with the rest of society. However, that’s not the idea when 1 Peter 2:9 labels us as “peculiar people.”
When the King James version was produced, “peculiar people” was a perfectly clear translation. “Peculiar” meant “something that belongs to a specific person or place.” Our dictionaries today still retain that definition as a possible meaning. For example, you might say, “The Galapagos tortoise is peculiar to the Galapagos Islands.”
The Greek word translated “peculiar” in the King James Bible is peripoiēsis (pare-ee-poi-ay’-sis) and most modern translations render it as “possession” in this verse.
When you examine the word peripoiēsis in the New Testament, you will find that it expresses one of the most encouraging truths in Scripture.
We will look at both the noun (5 uses) and the matching verb (peripoieō – 3 uses). The thread that runs through all these passages is the idea of “possession.” I believe that this concept includes three connected ideas:
- Obtaining or acquiring something
- Owning or possessing something
- Preserving or maintaining something
It makes sense. You purchase a new home. As a result, you own it. And once you own it, you take care of it.
A particular passage might emphasize one of these aspects, but they’re all implied.
Let’s tour the Scripture passages where this concept occurs.
Some passages present the general concept of gaining a possession that you can keep safely.
- Luke 17:33 – Jesus declares that anyone who seeks to gain his own life will lose it.
People instinctively want to grab the life that they want and hang grimly onto it, but we know that the only path to happiness is to recognize that we belong to God, not ourselves.
- Hebrews 10:39 – On the other hand, faith is the way to gain and preserve your soul. All of Hebrews to this point is a warning to people tempted to jettison their faith as a way of regaining control of their lives. Hebrews 11 offers a catalog of those who have found that you can’t preserve yourself. You have to trust God with yourself.
- 1 Timothy 3:13 – A person who serves well in the office of deacon will acquire a good standing and boldness in faith.
More often the New Testament uses peripoiēsis to describe our salvation.
- Acts 20:28 – The church is God’s possession, one which He obtained by paying the immense price of Christ’s blood.
- Ephesians 1:14 – We are sealed by the Holy Spirit, and the fact that we have the Spirit is a first installment of the inheritance God has promised us. It’s all connected to redemption, the price God paid to have us as His personal possession. We are God’s private property.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:9 – God planned long ago to own us. “God has not destined us for wrath, but for the obtaining of salvation through Christ.” In short, we possess salvation because God possesses us.
- 2 Thessalonians 2:14 – A similar statement: God chose the Thessalonians from the beginning (verse 13) and sent Paul as a messenger to share the gospel. As a result, they have the privilege of being able to gain and keep the glory of the Lord Jesus. This verse makes it clear that God made the original choice to acquire us as His “property,” and He intends to take care of His own all the way to the end, when we share the glory of Christ in eternity. God has made us His property and He will preserve us.
And that brings us back to the verse where we began: 1 Peter 2:9.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for possession . . .
In the Old Testament, God declared that the nation of Israel would be His people, a nation that belonged exclusively to Him. No other nation shared that privilege. See Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 4:20; 7:6; 14:2.
Peter applies the same descriptions to us today. You are not only a member of the church, not only a member of God’s family. You are part of a worldwide group of people who bear the mark of God’s ownership.
God paid an immense price to acquire you.
He claims you as His personal possession.
And He intends to preserve you until you reach your eternal home.
At the same time, we are the possessors of a matchless inheritance. We can be confident as the “owners” of salvation because we belong to God. And He takes care of His own property.
You’ll notice that we looked at two cognates (words in the same family). Greek often has matching sets of nouns and verbs like peripoiēsis and peripoieō. In a regular dictionary or lexicon, you can find these by simply looking a little higher or lower on the page. In an electronic app like Blue Letter Bible, you will often find a link to related words, or you can just click to go to a higher or lower Strong’s number.
Q: Ephesians 4:11 says that God gave the church leaders like apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. I have heard that these words are all masculine nouns in Greek. Does that prove that they are all talking about men?
A: This question deals with Greek grammar, rather than word meanings, but it’s still a worthwhile issue to discuss.
The short answer: No, it doesn’t prove it.
The underlying grammar: Every Greek noun has a gender: masculine, feminine or neuter. When you check a Greek lexicon, it will always tell you the gender of each noun. However, these gender labels aren’t the same thing as male and female. Sometimes they make sense and sometimes they don’t; they can seem rather arbitrary. The word for child is neuter. The word for faith is feminine. There is one word for man (anēr) that specifically means a male or a husband. But the word anthrōpos means “man” in a more generic sense that can include men or women.
These gender labels can sometimes be useful to distinguish between male and female, especially when you’re talking about pronouns. But an argument based solely on Greek genders is pretty shaky!
You probably notice that I haven’t tried to settle the dispute about whether women can be pastors. I’m just evaluating this particular line of argument. Like the Supreme Court, I sometimes render “narrow” decisions that don’t solve the big issue. I just help you figure out whether or not the Greek is enough to resolve the problem.
How do we know what’s true? How do we know a person better? And what’s the difference between knowing algebra and knowing your spouse? Next week we’ll compare two Greek words that describe the avenues for knowing.
©Ezra Project 2021
The beauty of the Bible is that it is God’s tool to work in our lives. It is both humbling and encouraging to know that we are peculiar and all its ramifications.
All this time I thought it meant different or odd but belonging to or being owned by gives me great comfort
I’ve always thought the Bible was talking about the Jews, who, to me, are a very peculiar people indeed: They are God’s chosen people (they have belonged to Him from the beginning), not Christians; but thank You, Jesus for grafting us in! I don’t see Christian’s as being peculiar at all, most blend with the rest of the world, and this is coming from someone who went to a tongue speaking pentecostal church that moved in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Christians as a whole are definitely not peculiar, but the Jewish people are very peculiar, in my opinion – in fact, I’m in the Jewish district of Los Angeles right now, and they are walking around in their kippahs and tzitzits. I wouldn’t be able to differentiate between a Christian and non Christian person, but I can certainly recognize a Jewish person and their peculiar attire.