Posted by: mattcolvin | May 2, 2012

“My Precious!” in Titus 2:14

Thursday of the third week after Easter: Titus 2.

Why did Jesus give himself for us?

Some believe that Christ obeyed God so that we could be saved despite the fact that we do not obey God.

What does Titus 2:14 say?

ὃς ἔδωκεν ἑαυτὸν ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν, ἵνα λυτρώσηται ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ πάσης ἀνομίας καὶ καθαρίσῃ ἑαυτῷ λαὸν περιούσιον, ζηλωτὴν καλῶν ἔργων.

“…Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all lawlessness and purify for Himself His own peculiar people, zealous for good works.”

The purpose of Christ’s sacrifice was to redeem a λαὸς, a people, not just a bunch of individuals, for good works. The word for “peculiar” is a very rare and odd Greek word: περιούσιος, which occurs only here and in the LXX translation of Exodus 19:5, which reads:

καὶ νῦν ἐὰν ἀκοῇ ἀκούσητε τῆς ἐμῆς φωνῆς καὶ φυλάξητε τὴν διαθήκην μου, ἔσεσθέ μοι λαὸς περιούσιος ἀπὸ πάντων τῶν ἐθνῶν· ἐμὴ γάρ ἐστιν πᾶσα ἡ γῆ.

And now if you hear my voice with hearing and keep my covenant, you shall be to me a λαὸς περιούσιος from all the nations; for all the earth is mine.

With its two words, “λαὸς περιούσιος”, the LXX is attempting to translate a single Hebrew word, segulah. HALOT says that it means “property”. It occurs in 1 Chronicles 29:3, where David claims to have given to the Temple of the Lord “my segulah of gold and silver” – presumably, by contrast to the gold and silver in 29:2, which I suppose were raised by public funds. David means that he has given an offering of gold and silver out of his own possessions. It is the difference between public funds (still entirely under the king’s control) and his private, personal wealth.

Another similar use occurs in Ecclesiastes 2:8, where Qohelet says, “I gathered to myself silver and gold and the segulah(LXX: περιουσιασμοὺς) of kings and of the provinces.”

Astonishingly, these are the only uses of the word in a context of human ownership. All the other instances in the Bible use the word to describe Israel as YHWH’s special possession. (Mal. 3:17, Ps. 135:4, Dt. 7:6, 14:2, 26:18.)

(Above: Gollum with his segulah.)

Back to Exodus 19:5. The verse ends with the hitherto odd little note that “all the earth is Mine.” This is now comprehensible. It is added to forestall the idea that if Israel belongs to God, then the rest of the nations do not. If David’s segulah in 1 Chronicles 29:3 is allowed to shed light on this, we may suggest that YHWH is depicting Himself as a king over the whole earth – thus, owning all the nations in a more general sense – but with Israel as His private property.

And finally, back to Titus 2:14. We should now be able to recognize this verse as a very strong echo of Exodus 19:5, where God tells Israel that they will be to Him a special possession if they obey His voice and keep His covenant. So when Paul says to Titus that Jesus has redeemed us from lawlessness so that we might be a people zealous for good works, he has in mind precisely the sort of conditions of the covenant that God laid out in Exodus 19.

Walk in the way of obedience. It is what God saved you for.

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