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Preacher and author John Piper says he grew up reading the King James Bible, which is one reason why he could not grasp the meaning of the biblical word "peoples" in relation to missions for more than three decades.
"If it's true that God created the world so that he would receive glad-hearted worship from all the peoples of the world, then missions is the summoning of the peoples to be glad in God," Piper, former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn., writes on the ministry blog DesiringGod.org.
This is a happy enterprise, the theologian says. "Yes, it is strewn with suffering and deep disappointments when many say no to the invitation. But what a privilege to announce to the nations the best news in the world. What an honor to summon them to joy: 'Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy' (Psalm 67:3–4)."
However, the language of peoples did not sound natural to Piper for 34 years, he says. "Then Ralph Winter introduced me to the biblical category of 'peoples.' All I remember hearing for my first three decades was mission 'fields.' Few people spoke of peoples. Now everywhere you turn, missions-minded folks speak of peoples – reached and unreached."
One of the reasons for those decades of ignorance was the King James Bible, Piper adds. "I grew up reading the King James Bible. But in the King James Bible there are only two occurrences of the plural word 'peoples,' and both of them are in Revelation," he writes, referring to Revelation 10:11, "And I was told, 'You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings;'" and Revelation 17:15, "The waters . . . are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages".
"So we know the translators knew this plural usage," he argues. "But not once in the Old Testament does the word 'peoples' occur. But the ESV [English Standard Version] has 235 instances of the plural peoples. In virtually all those cases the King James translates either as people (singular) or as gentiles."
The Hebrew and Greek terms for people are both singular and plural – Hebrew: am and amim; Greek: laos and laoi, Piper explains, adding the Bible is filled with references to the peoples of the earth. "God means to have them for himself. Christ died to have them," he says, quoting Revelation 5:9: "You were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation."
God is at work mightily among the peoples, Piper says. "He is pursuing them. Americans are not the only ones, or the main ones in this pursuit," he concludes, seeking prayers for Cross Conference for students to be held Dec. 27 to 30 in Louisville, Ky. It aims to mobilize students "for the most dangerous and loving cause in the universe: rescuing people from eternal suffering and bringing them into the everlasting joy of friendship with Jesus."