A peculiar people – Religion column

Published 7:00 am Saturday, September 22, 2018

By Fr. Jonathan Filkins

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” This familiar children’s axiom is often used when the ire, even as adults, overflows to the portent of physical action. Our courts are often tasked with educating those who exercise less than perfect self-control; with the judge’s search for who struck the first blow.

Regrettably, words do hurt. Much of what we hear today inflames our passions and incites our sensibilities. Daily, we hear of those who have been assailed, demeaned and disenfranchised by words alone. Heard often enough, words leave emotional scars and impact our very lives.

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Consider those who hear these words, particularly in their early years, “You are so stupid,” and the baggage they carry as a result. Consider also, the impact on humankind and the loss of the potential of so many. As we progress, in this so-called modern society, the effort to be offensive has taken on a seemingly higher calling.

It would be easy to sanitize the events and words of the Holy Bible, as the time seem to be one of great antiquity. Yet, in the effort to simplify, comes the challenge of remaining true to the message itself. Here, we have to acknowledge our regular insistence for simplicity, at the expense of real understanding. After all, we are a busy people and desire our religious answers to be clear, but brief.

Much of the New Testament was written in Koine Greek. It is the Greek language of antiquity and was the second language of Jesus Christ; who spoke in Aramaic. The reason for the selection of Greek was the commonality, as it was understood throughout the Roman Empire. It was a practical choice and soon proved to be most valuable to the Early Church.

Translations occurred soon after the New Testament was compiled. The first was the Vulgate; the Latin text. In the Reformation, the King James version was the translation into English. Many of today’s more recent efforts rely upon these original Greek texts.

For anyone who knows language, they understand there are words which do not translate well. Nuances are lost and, occasionally, entire meanings are changed. In spite of the well-intentioned efforts of the scholars and, with no apology inferred, some are a bit of a mess.

The First Letter of Saint Peter shows us the challenge. Now, here was a fellow with a temper and a turn of the phrase.

Denying Christ, before the Resurrection, this Apostle became the foundation upon which the Christian Church was founded. His two letters illustrate his refreshed devotion and fervor.

In the original tongue, Saint Peter writes, translated in the King James version, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

Did you catch the words “peculiar people?” In today’s parlance this infers a negative difference. It implies some oddity, or lack of rational. When we say that someone is “peculiar,” our comment is meant to relay that the person is strange and less worthy. If we accept this societal understanding, then we are missing the truth.

Christians are a peculiar people. They are peculiar in that they believe in a supernatural being who can bring them salvation and everlasting life. This cannot be verified by some scientific formula, or divination. They are peculiar in that their faith is in God, through His Son. 

It is a unique position in the history of humankind.

Christians do not believe there is anywhere where God is not, nor that some object contains God. They do not believe in a panoply of Gods, but hold there is only one who is omnipotent.

This must be very odd to those who have other beliefs.

So be it, as we seek the revealed truths of Holy Scripture.