Question: "What does 1 Peter 2:9 mean when it refers to believers as peculiar people?"
Answer: The phrase peculiar people in 1 Peter 2:9 comes from the King James Version and is not seen in the more modern English translations. This is because at the time the King James Version was translated, the word peculiar was often used to refer to something belonging to someone, as in someone’s property. If we look up the word peculiar in a dictionary today we would still see that is one of several meanings this word can have.
Probably the most common usage of the word peculiar today is referring to someone or something that is strange, odd, or uncommon. Yet alternative meanings in the dictionary still tell us that this word can be used to describe something or someone that “belongs exclusively to some person, group, or thing” or to refer to “a property or privilege belonging exclusively or characteristically to a person.” The original meaning of the Greek words translated “peculiar” in 1 Peter 2:9 is indeed what is meant in this passage.
In this verse, Peter is not saying that Christians are odd or unusual people, even though the world often looks at us that way. What this passage is communicating is that Christians or believers are people who belong to God, they are His own possession. Another way of saying it is that believers are “God’s own special people.”
As we compare the different English translations of this verse and consider the alternative meaning of the word peculiar, it becomes clear that peculiar in this verse is referring to fact that believers are a “special people” because they were chosen from before the foundation of the earth to be “God’s own possession.” Those who are born again are different from the world around them because they are being transformed by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Also they are different because, having been born again by the Spirit of God and believing in Christ for salvation, they have received “the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). While it is true that believers are different, it is the believers’ standing as the adopted children of God, joint heirs with Christ Jesus, and God’s own special people that make us “peculiar.”
For reference, here are the ways several modern English translations translate this passage:
1 Peter 2:9 (NASB)
But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
1 Peter 2:9 (NKJV)
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
1 Peter 2:9 (HCSB)
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.