01 October 2008

λαὸς εἰς περιποίησιν

While working on a passage in 1 Peter this past weekend I was struck by a concept which I've not previously encountered (which by no means makes it novel or right).  But I remember translating the letter in one of my final semesters of graduate school and not catching this, so it might be one of the rarer ideas, and thus in danger of being completely wrong.  But, nevertheless, I proceed.

An interesting passage is 1 Peter 2:9-17.  In his letter as a whole, the apostle uses Christian and Jewish conceptions and terminology interchangeably - which makes for a really fascinating study.  In 2:9 this includes a listing of functions and titles for this community.  They are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people in possession.  These phrases are Jewish by nature but are now being applied to the church, as a fulfillment of the gospel.  Peter appears to be drawing from Exodus 19:6 and Isaiah 43:20-21 to bring together these ideas.  The function of Israel is now redefined within the concept of the church, with much continuity throughout.

What strikes me as of particular significance here is the phrase λαὸς εἰς περιποίησιν (what I've translated as "a people in possession").  Most translators here refer to this as God's possession or God's special possession or even a people of God's special possession.  But the reference to God is not present in the immediate context; it must be supplied by the translator.  Although the context can certainly support this type of reading, the actual text reads simple "a people in possession."

In its Old Testament context, the idea of a people who are in possession most directly refers to the nation of Israel coming into possession of the land (cf. Deut 2:9-13; Josh 1:10-11; Obad 17-21; et al).  The people in possession have arrived at the realization of God's presence, the fulfillment of the covenant promise to inherit the land.  Such phrasing and verbal allusions abound in the Old Testament as a way of referring to the fulfillment of the covenant promise, and I believe Peter to be referring to the same idea here.

This means that Peter is not necessarily concerned with the church being known as God's special possession, at least not in these particular three words.  He is preoccupied with the notion that the covenant has been fulfilled and the eschatological community has been realized.  The church is the true Israel: the chosen people, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, the people in possession (all terms of the covenant promise of Israel).  

Now, I'm willing to concede that I'm missing something in the Greek phrasing with the specific translation if there is a clear reason to translate it the other way.  But the language alone doesn't seem to do it for me and the context seems to support my idea.  And if there is a reason to read it as "God's special possession" this would not necessarily contradict the covenant motif.  It would change the force of the statement perhaps, but not that much.  The possession of God is also seen to be no longer bound to a geographical locale but of those people who are from every tribe, tongue, nation and creed.  

In the end, though, Peter seems to be riding the train of covenant fulfillment in the community of the church.  And this would mean that Peter interprets the people in possession to be those who participate in the eschatological community of salvation (the church) who have inherited the covenant blessing of land, now redefined as all people who participate in the kingdom who have inherited all of creation in the fulfillment of that covenant.

I'd be interested in your thoughts. . .

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