A stack of books: English Bible, Hebrew Bible, and Greek Bible

Did you know that President Nelson has a love of languages from the ancient world? In his devotionals at BYU, he often explained the scriptures by delving into their original Greek, translations. Here are a few examples of his ancient-world vocabulary. What do these ancient definitions teach us about our divine nature?

Cgullah and Peripoiesis: A Peculiar People

“In a prophecy regarding us, Peter utilized uplifting terms. He declared that we ‘are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people’ (l Peter 2:9; emphasis added). We recognize the adjectives chosen, royal, and holy as complimentary. But what about the term peculiar? . . .

“. . . In the Old Testament, the Hebrew term from which peculiar was translated is cgullah, which means ‘valued property,’ or ‘treasure.’

“In the New Testament, the Greek term from which peculiar was translated is peripoiesis, which means ‘possession,’ or ‘an obtaining.’ . . .

“With that understanding from the Greek, we can see that the scriptural term peculiar does not mean ‘strange’ or ‘odd’ at all. It signifies ‘valued treasure,’ ‘made,’ or ‘selected by God.’. . .

In the New Testament, peculiar is used two times (Titus 2:14, 1 Peter 2:9). In each instance it has been translated from a Greek term that signifies ‘possession’ or ‘those selected by God as his own people.’ Thus, for us to be identified by servants of the Lord as his peculiar people is a compliment of the highest order.

“When we know who we are and what God expects of us, we are filled with hope and made aware of our significant role in his great plan of happiness.”

—Russell M. Nelson, “A More Excellent Hope,” 8 January 1995

Agape, Phileo, and Eros: A Higher Expectation of Love

“The New Testament contains many references to the Lord’s commandments that human beings love one another. Those verses become even more meaningful if considered in the New Testament’s original Greek language. It is a very rich language, having three different words for love, in contrast to the one available to us in the English language. The three Greek words for love apply at different levels of emotion. The term employed for the highest level of love is agape, to describe the kind of love we feel for the Lord or for other highly esteemed individuals. It is a term of great respect and adoration.

“The second level of love is expressed by the term phileo, to describe affection felt for a beloved associate or friend. It, too, is a term of great respect, but perhaps less formal.

The third level of love is depicted by the term eros, to describe physical desire and intimacy.

“ . . . Quoting the Lord: ‘A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another’ (John 13:34). Right! The level of love cited in this verse is that of agape: with highest respect.”

—Russell M. Nelson, “A More Excellent Hope,” 8 January 1995

Teleios and Telos: A Quest for Perfection

“‘Perfect’ in Matthew 5:48 comes from the Greek word teleios, meaning ‘complete,’ and is derived from the Greek word telos, which means ‘to set out for a definite point or goal.’ Thus, this scripture conveys the concept of conclusion of an act. Therefore, perfect in this scripture also means ‘finished,’ ‘completed,’ ‘consummated,’ or ‘fully developed,’ and refers to the reality of the glorious resurrection of our Master. . . .

“His atonement provides that the body, once corruptible, now may become incorruptible. Our physical frame, once capable of death and decay, now may become immortal and beyond crumbling deterioration. That body presently sustained by the blood of life (see Leviticus 17:11) and ever changing, may one day become sustained by spirit—changeless and incapable of death any more.”

—Russell M. Nelson, “I’ll Go, I’ll Do, I’ll Be: Three Steps Toward a Monumental Life,” 19 August 1986