on the Church as a Chosen race, a Holy nation (1 Pt 2:9)

I read Minear’s book Images of the Church in the New Testament and wrote this response to the image of the church as a Chosen race, a Holy Nation:

I chose the church image of the church as “a chosen race” [35] and the church as “a holy nation” [36]. I chose to do both because I see them as connected and in some ways two sides of the same coin. Both these images are referenced in 1 Peter 2:9 which reads: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Peter uses many images for the church in this letter- these are just two. He starts out his letter “To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces….” He then proceeds through the letter to delineate characteristics of the elect and their calling, which can also be seen as the chosen. Joel Green has “elect clan” for chosen race in 1 Peter 2:9 (Green, 1 Peter Two Horizons Commentary, Kindle loc 861) This reading would fall in line with Peter’s usage. Yet elect and chosen are similar concepts.

Under the heading of “the People of God” (ch 3) Minear seeks to explicate those images in the New Testament that are analogous to conceptualizing the church as a community, the people of God (Minear, Images, ch 3, Kindle loc 1369). For Minear, the basic function here is to relate to the contemporary Christian “the historic community” they belong to “whose origin stemmed from God’s covenant promises and whose pilgrimage had been sustained by God’s call” (ibid kindle loc 1377) As it was for them, so it is for the church today.

In 1 Peter 2:9, we find a little bit of what is called “intertextuality.” This is when the author makes intertextual connections and or allusions, such as recalling past events and reinterpreting them in light of the present (a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own possession, etc). For the Jewish people in biblical times, the exodus event and the narrative that tells the story shaped Israel as the people of God well through to the time of Christ. It is the heart of the Torah and is central to their theology. After being enslaved 430 years, through the leadership of Moses, God called his people out of Egpyt and out of the land of slavery. Exodus 19:5-6 and also Isaiah 43:20-21, which recalls the exodus and Sinai events (Ex 19), are foundational Scriptures for these images. 

Three months after YHWH called Israel out of Egypt, and led them through the desert, they came to Sinai. There they spent a year getting to know YHWH and getting acclimated to being on their own in the wilderness. It was here God established his covenant with the people of Israel and essentially let them know he would be their God and they would be his people. In the ANE world it was common for a king to set up such a relationship with a group of people; to be their king and they to be his people. It was on the one hand, a standard King/vassal relationship, yet on other hand, YHWH was not like the ANE gods and sought a reciprocal relationship with his people (c.f. Walton’s ANE Thought and the OT, 2018). The terminology in Exodus 19:5-6 is common King to vassal language. What sets it apart here is that YHWH is the one true God and he is a living God (as evidenced when he told Moses he was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and stated as such by Jesus in Matt 22:32). For YHWH, Israel was his “treasured possession.” 

The term here sᵉgullâ while typically referring to private property or one’s personal possession (like precious stones or a special ring, etc), it also “was a master’s term of endearment for a beloved vassal” (c.f. S.A. Lowenstamm, “עם סגולה,” in Linguistic Studies Presented to Ze’ev Ben-Hayyim (Jerusalem, 1983), 321-328 [Hebrew]). Israel was God’s precious possession special to him and him alone. Perhaps like with the image of Israel as God’s wife, sᵉgullâ was a term of endearment. She was his precious to him and him alone.

Additionally, sᵉgullâ was a near technical term for a valued treaty partner – one who went out to represent the treaty, in this case, the covenant made with YHWH; they live by the covenant stipulations, not as a set of rules to follow, but from out of a relationship with YHWH as a light to the nations. Israel was God’s treasured possession. His chosen race, (the people he formed for himself” (Isa 43:20)), hence their function as a royal priesthood and a holy nation. They were the people of God, set apart, called out, and meant to serve him and represent him and the covenant in the world. It is highly reciprocal and participatory. Sᵉgullâ also indicates “a particular portion of one’s possessions not used for ordinary purposes but saved for a special purpose” (A. B. Ehrlich, Randglosses zur hebr. Bibel  [1908], 1:336f.). That they were his chosen people, a holy nation, his treasured possession – shows God had uniquely chosen them out of all the nations to be his own and that not for the ordinary but for a special purpose – that purpose ultimately is missional – to be a light to the nations and see his salvation to the ends of the earth! (Isa 49:6).

Moving forward to 1 Peter 2:9, Peter writes this letter to “God’s elect” – the chosen. Here Peter is including all who have been redeemed by Christ and are now “in him.” Ultimately, it was through Jesus’ redemptive act on the cross and through the resurrection, God created a people as his chosen race, his precious possession. And he reminds the reader in 1Peter 2:10, “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” A people who once were not now are. Peter has appropriated the prior terms of endearment YHWH used for Israel and applied them to all of God’s people who are now his “treasured possession,” his “chosen race,” those he set apart to be a “holy nation,” set apart “to declare the praises of him who called them out of darkness and into his marvelous light.” The people of God now constitute all who are “in Christ.” They are the chosen ones, chosen to be his “holy nation.” The interesting thing about “nation” is that it refers to “a body of persons united by kinship, culture, and common traditions, nation, people,” “τὸ ἔθνος.” This “elect clan,” these “chosen people” are no longer just the people of Israel but are now all God has chosen in Christ. They are no longer defined by ethnicity (ἔθνος – ethnos, from where we get ethnicity or nationality) but instead by their identity in Christ. They are not marked out by anything but kinship in Christ, and the common fellowship as “the people of God.” 

The church now is this very thing. The church as a whole is the “chosen people” of God – a “holy nation” – set apart “to declare his praises” among the nations. Regardless of mega, mini, or para-church – each is a segment of the whole – the people of God called to be his sᵉgullâ in their respective communities – those who represent God to the people around them in their neighborhoods, schools, employment, and so much more. So now this image should unite churches and not divide them. It should bring churches and ministries together “to proclaim the praises who called them out of darkness and into his marvelous light” and make known Christ to the world.  Together we are the people of God, his chosen people, a holy nation.

One response to “on the Church as a Chosen race, a Holy nation (1 Pt 2:9)

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