1 Peter 2:9 contains the phrase “a people for his own possession” (ESV). It is variously translated, “God’s special possession” (NIV), “a people of his own” (NET), “a people for His possession” (HCSB), “His own special people” (NKJV), “a peculiar people” (KJV), and “God’s own people” (NRSV). However, Ramsay (Word Biblical Commentary) translates the phrase “a people destined for vindication”. The difference in translation makes for a fundamental distinction in terms of the meaning of the entire passage.
In this section, Peter discusses the relationship of believers to God and to the world. A theme found in this passage is that trust in the Lord “will never be put to shame” (1 Peter 2:6). The same theme appears arises later in the discussion of the exemplary life of Christ – particularly the manner in which he responded to suffering (those who attempted to put him to shame). Christ refused to defend himself at that time, because “he continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
This theme can be found in 2 Thessalonians 1 (another letter connected with Silvanus), where Paul encourages the suffering church to remain faithful knowing that God will bring judgment against those who are afflicting the believers, “since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 2 Thessalonians 1:6 (ESV).
Ramsay argues as follows:
λαὸς εἰς περιποίησιν, “a people destined for vindication.” This phrase, together with the whole clause that follows, recalls Isa 43:21 LXX (not, as in Titus 2:14, the λαὸς περιούσιος of Exod 19:5). Peter has changed Isaiah’s λαόν μου ὃν περιεποιησάμην to the more future-oriented λαὸς εἰς περιποίησιν. In view of Peter’s characteristic use of εἰς in various eschatological expressions in 1:3–5, and especially the εἰς σωτηρίαν of 1:5 and 2:2, περιποίησις could be plausibly understood as a synonym for σωτηρία (cf. BGD, 650.1) in the sense of future or final salvation (cf. S. Halas, Bib 65.2  254–58, who translates accordingly, “peuple destiné au salut” ).
This interpretation is supported by the fact that three of the other four NT occurrences of περιποίησις use the word similarly as the object of εἰς and with a future reference (cf. 1 Thess 5:9; 2 Thess 2:14; Heb 10:39; Eph 1:14 is slightly different). In each instance περιποίησις in itself means simply “attainment” or “acquisition”: to complete the thought of “salvation” an additional noun in the genitive is needed (i.e., σωτηρίας in 1 Thess 5:9; δόξης in 2 Thess 2:14; ψυχῆς in Heb 10:39). In the present passage, the absence of such a qualifying noun, as well as the choice of περιποίησιν in place of σωτηρίαν, was probably dictated by Peter’s desire to echo as much as possible the language of Isa 43:21 even while making his own independent statement (cf. the use of εἰς περιποίησιν by itself in Hag 2:9b and Mal 3:17 LXX). If not the precise equivalent of σωτηρία, περιποίησις is at least a closely parallel term for future divine vindication (like the τιμή of v 7).
Of the four titles comprising v 9a, λαὸς εἰς περιποίησιν is the only one pointed distinctly toward the future. Once this is recognized, such traditional renderings as “God’s own people” (RSV) or “a people belonging to God” (NIV) are shown to be inadequate. To Peter, it is already the case that the Christian community belongs to God as a unique possession (cf. νῦν δὲ λαὸς θεοῦ, v 10); what still awaits is its final vindication against the unbelieving and disobedient.
J. Ramsey Michaels, vol. 49, 1 Peter, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 109-10.
Ramsay’s argument thus entails two elements: (1) the conjunction of the preposition eis + the noun in the accusative has a future reference; and (2) Peter has made use of an ellipsis, a deliberate omission of a word which must be supplied by the reader.
Taking the second element first, let us consider whether the structure of the sentence indicates an ellipsis:
9 ὑμεῖς δὲ γένος ἐκλεκτόν,
λαὸς εἰς περιποίησιν,
ὅπως τὰς ἀρετὰς ἐξαγγείλητε τοῦ ἐκ σκότους ὑμᾶς καλέσαντος εἰς τὸ θαυμαστὸν αὐτοῦ φῶς·1 Peter 2:9 (NA27)
The relevant phrase reads (literally) a people for [eis] possession. The phrase does stand out from the preceding three phrases: Each of the preceding phrases make sense as a stand-alone noun phrase (each is in the accusative): an elect generation/people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. Yet our phrase leaves something missing: a people for possession. The phrase is ambiguous.
The preposition eis + the accusative can refer to movement, time, purpose, result, reference/respect or advantage (Wallace, 741). Thus, the usage is unclear.
Moreover, the phrase is incomplete: each of the translations treat it as an ellipsis by supplying the possessor: God or He (God’s or His).
Ramsay gives three examples where the construction eis + possession is connected to a genitive object possessed (two of the three being found in Thessalonians – epistles both connected with Silvanus).
9 ὅτι οὐκ ἔθετο ἡμᾶς ὁ θεὸς εἰς ὀργὴν
ἀλλὰ εἰς περιποίησιν σωτηρίας
διὰ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ1 Thessalonians 5:9 (NA27)
9 For God has not destined us for wrath,
but to obtain salvation
through our Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Thessalonians 5:9 (ESV)
The parallels are interesting. First, the sentences are structurally similar in that each is a dependence clause to describe the people of God. Second, the dependent clause contains the same structure eis + possession. Without the genitive following possession, the phrase would be ambiguous and one would have to make an addition to resolve the trouble. For example, if the sentence had lacked the genitive “salvation” after possession [as it does in 1 Peter 2:9], the sentence would have read, 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, rather we are His possession through our Lord Jesus Christ,….
14 εἰς ὃ [καὶ] ἐκάλεσεν ὑμᾶς διὰ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου ἡμῶν
εἰς περιποίησιν δόξης
τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. 2 Thessalonians 2:14 (NA27)
14 To this he called you through our gospel,
so that you may obtain the glory
of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 2:14 (ESV)
Again, the parallels obtain. The potential ambiguity of eis + possession is resolved by the addition of a genitive following the noun “possession”.
Finally, there is the example of Hebrews 10:39:
39 ἡμεῖς δὲ οὐκ ἐσμὲν ὑποστολῆς εἰς ἀπώλειαν
εἰς περιποίησιν ψυχῆς. Hebrews 10:39 (NA27)
39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed,
but of those who have faith
and preserve their souls. Hebrews 10:39 (ESV)
Thus, on its face, Ramsay’s argument has plausibility: 1) An ellipsis does exist. 2) The parallel structures do exist. In addition, in two of the three parallel passages, Silvanus was listed as an author – and he is tied to 1 Peter (1 Peter 5:12. See Jobes, 335). In addition, the remedy of Ramsay matches well with the overall structure of the letter.
However, this leaves some additional questions: (1) Do we find any parallel constructions in the LXX (or perhaps in contemporary writing)? (2) Does any other commentator come to a similar conclusion? (3) If an ellipsis exists and it is to be remedied by a genitive object of possession, has Ramsay correctly identified that object? At this stage, all I can say is that Ramsay’s construction is possible – but not certain.