WHAT DOES “PECULIAR” MEAN IN THE KING JAMES BIBLE?
by Shawn Brasseaux
While the primary definition of “peculiar” is “odd or strange” in everyday speech, is that the meaning as found in the Authorized Version? No!
Never should we complain about how our translators were more knowledgeable about our language than we are. After all, they are to be experts. Perhaps they as leaders should be more skillful than those under them?! Only because of pride will someone moan: “This word is wrong, a poor translation, a dubious reading. It should be this or that instead.” No, this is nothing more than transferring the authority from the Bible to the teacher who presumes to know more than the Holy Spirit. After preaching a long-winded sermon about how he “loves and believes” God’s words, the scholarly-minded man proceeds to offer his “humble” textual corrections, destroying whatever faith his audience ever had in the Good Book. Such a travesty has happened millions of times in seminary classrooms and church buildings worldwide these last 2,000 years. We need not wonder why the professing church is rife with apostasy and heresy. There is far too much unbelief within Christendom—let alone without it.
Instead of possessing a limited knowledge of the English language, we should do a little studying and better appreciate our preserved English Bible (King James!). We are not to be children whining about adult matters we do not understand. Instead, we should be grownups who not only can process mature concepts but even accurately communicate them to others. This study will serve as a simple example.
Our 1611 Authorized Version employs the term “peculiar” on seven occasions:
- Exodus 19:5: “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:….”
- Deuteronomy 14:2: “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 26:18: “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;….”
- Psalm 135:4: “For the LORD hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure.”
- Ecclesiastes 2:8: “I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts.”
- Titus 2:14: “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”
- 1 Peter 2:9: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;….”
Friend, if you re-read those verses extremely carefully (and you are strongly encouraged to do so), you will notice they use “peculiar” in connection to ownership or possession. With the exception of the Ecclesiastes reference, each and every verse concerns the Lord owning a group of people. They belong to Him, so they are His “peculiar” people. In the case of Ecclesiastes, a certain type of “peculiar” treasure belongs to kings and provinces (country, land). These are perfectly acceptable translations of the Hebrew and Greek words, and we would say otherwise only if we had a poor understanding of English.
“Peculiar” originally meant “belonging exclusively to” or “particular, special.” It is taken from the Latin “peculiaris,” meaning “private property.” Now, because of this unique ownership, that which is peculiar may in fact be odd or bizarre (for it bears no resemblance to its surroundings). It bears the mark—stamp, traits, values, beliefs, et cetera—of its possessor. However, the chief definition in the Scriptures is “belonging exclusively to” (not “odd or bizarre”). In Exodus 19:5, Deuteronomy 14:2, Deuteronomy 26:18, Psalm 135:4, and 1 Peter 2:9; the nation Israel is God’s “peculiar” people. He has separated Israel from the nations of the world—the Gentiles—and given her special rights or privileges. “He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them. Praise ye the LORD” (Psalm 147:19-20). “What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles [words] of God” (Romans 3:1-2). Hence, Israel was ordered to obey “strange” laws throughout the Old Testament economy. (See our related study linked at the end of this article.)
To further accentuate our understanding of the word’s etymology, we draw our attention to Titus 2:14: “[The great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ] Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” This is the Church the Body of Christ, we who have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ alone as our personal Saviour (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Like the nation Israel, God has separated this entity (us) from the rest of the world. The name “Christian” means “Christ-like,” so our lifestyles should indeed reflect that of Jesus Christ. Oftentimes, however, there is very little Christian conduct among even professing Christians, which only further confuses non-Christians and drives them away from ever coming to Christianity. The nation Israel was equally “loose” with the Hebrew Scriptures, incurring similar scorn and blasphemy from the Gentiles (see Romans 2:17-29). “HA! If that is what being a ‘Christian’ or ‘Jew’ means, I would rather die a pagan!”
Let us add one final layer of truth to consolidate our grasp of this most important Scriptural theme. We can amplify these remarks by mentioning other Bible terms: “holy,” “hallowed,” “consecrated,” “sanctified,” “set apart” (these are synonyms). The opposite is “common,” “profane,” “ordinary.” God’s people are set apart, and should therefore not engage in lifestyles resembling lost people. “Everyone else is doing it, so I should do it too!” is never (!) to be heard from Christian lips. It makes sense for sinners to sin, but it is silly for saints to sin. If we are “dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:11), then we need to “reckon” or think that to be so. Here is victorious grace living, exemplified most succinctly in the context of Titus 2:14: “ For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,  Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;  Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;  Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”
Dear friend, if you need Divine counsel concerning any aspect of Christian living in this the Dispensation of the Grace of God, find and read the 13 Pauline Epistles, Romans through Philemon. You are sure to find the Holy Spirit’s advice somewhere therein. For some introductory passages, try Romans chapter 12, Ephesians chapter 4, and Colossians chapter 3. Pay special attention to Romans, the most basic Book, and its commentary Books of 1 and 2 Corinthians and Galatians. For more advanced material, consult Titus and Philemon. Whatever passage you read, friend, be sure to believe it in your heart—not just your head!
“For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
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» Why did Israel have to keep so many strange laws?
» Why do some Christians persistently behave like lost people?
» Must one be a “King James Bible Pauline dispensationalist” to have eternal life?
» Exactly what is “eternal life?”
» Should we be “fruit inspectors?”
» Does God see us Christians as sinners?
» Is grace a “license to sin?”
» How does one know if he or she is maturing in the Word of God?
» Does God intervene in my life? If so, how?
» “We are in the world, but not of the world?”
» Does “once saved, always saved” entitle us to abuse God’s grace?