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In The Market Place

The Meaning of a Word

Monica Lloyd

07/15/2012

I ’ve often wondered about the meaning of the word “peculiar” in the verse, “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14). What exactly makes God’s remnant “peculiar”?

That question motivated me to do some research on the biblical and contextual meaning of the word “peculiar.” In the process, I made some interesting discoveries about what it might have originally meant in Titus 2:14—and what it should mean to us today.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary lists numerous definitions of “peculiar” in today’s vernacular. It can mean “1: characteristic of only one person, group, or thing: DISTINCTIVE; 2: different from the usual or normal: a: SPECIAL, PARTICULAR b: ODD, CURIOUS c: ECCENTRIC, QUEER.”

2012-insideasi-summer-fall_web__page_06_image_0002I wondered, however, about the original meaning of “peculiar.” Did it originally mean “odd” or “eccentric,” or was it something closer to “distinctive” or “special”? I searched a little deeper and found that the word “peculiar” was commonly used by the 1500s. Its original root word in ancient times meant “of one’s own” or “private property.” Specifically, it referred to cattle or flocks, then considered the most important forms of personal property. In other words, it referred to a person’s most guarded and valued possessions.

Peculiar didn’t come to mean “strange” or “odd” until sometime in the early 1600s—around the same time the Bible was put back into the hands of the common people following the centuries-long Dark Ages. The modern meaning was carried into subsequent centuries, with the original meaning lost on future generations, including our own.
Was that by accident or by design? Personally, I believe the enemy works to destroy human understanding of God and His Word in any way possible. If that means changing or obscuring the meaning of a word, he’ll do it. The word “peculiar” describes the special relationship God desires to have with His children. And that’s the kind of knowledge the devil doesn’t want us to have.

We may live in an age of increased knowledge, yet somehow increased knowledge has resulted in increased obscurity. Not only has it led to knowing things that are not in our best interest to know, but it has also led to ignorance of things we need to know. Such tactics are as old as the Garden of Eden. We read in Genesis 3:5, “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” If we look around, we see the malignant results of this mixed knowledge. We do not need to know evil to know or to be good.

What does that have to do with the meaning of a word? Changing how we look at a word in Scripture affects how we view ourselves—either through the world’s eyes as odd and eccentric, or through God’s eyes as His own special property. Another verse removes the mystery: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special [peculiar] treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine” (Exodus 19:5). It all comes down to recognizing and embracing God’s