Joseph A. Cannon is out of the office; this is a repeat of an earlier column.
...ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people..." I Peter 2:9
Today when we hear the word "peculiar," we think odd, unusual, strange, possibly weird. We may also think special or particular. In fact, these are the most common senses of peculiar today.
But this definition is relatively recent in the very long history of this word, probably first coming into use in the 17th century.
The earliest root of the word relates to woolly or hairy animals, sheep or cattle, with the idea that these were movable things of value. So early on, peculiar meant things owned that could be traded or bartered, hence pecuniary, meaning money.
At the heart of peculiar is the idea of something exclusively owned by someone, or private property. It is also no coincidence that one who cares for sheep or cattle is a shepherd, which comes from the root to protect, or save, hence, "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd" (Isaiah 4:11).
In the footnote to peculiar in LDS scriptures found in 1 Peter 2:9, we learn that it comes from a Greek word meaning purchased or preserved, and that it is related to a Hebrew word meaning special possession or property. The Hebrew word comes from the root meaning to shut up, which is what you do with wealth, hence a jewel or peculiar treasure.
In the Old Testament, peculiar is used in the sense of a special or particular treasure. The Lord tells us in Exodus that "if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people" (Exodus 19:5).
Thus if we exercise our agency and enter into a covenant of obedience to God, we become a special treasure of his.
The New Testament adds the idea that it is by the Savior's atonement that he fulfills his part of the covenant, thus purchasing us. "Our Savior 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" (Titus 2:13-14).To become a peculiar people then, we enter into a covenant to subordinate our will to his will, for we "are not our own ... (but) are bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The price of that redemption is "not with corruptible things, as silver and gold ... but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Joseph A. Cannon is editor of the Deseret News. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org