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Peace on Earth?

December 30, 2013

After Jesus was born, angels appeared to shepherds, praising God and adding “on earth peace” (Lk. 2:14). Thus popular Christmas cards and carols celebrate peace on earth, good will to men. The problem is that there has never been such peace over the whole earth, nor good will among all men.

The above phrasing of Lk. 2:14 is found in the King James Version. But over the centuries after that translation (in 1611), older Greek manuscripts have been discovered. The oldest we now have add one Greek letter (a sigma) to the end of the word for “good will” (eudokia), making it eudokias. This changes the phrase to “of good will.” That is why the New King James Version has a note for Lk. 2:14 that says: NU-Text reads “toward men of good will.” (The NU-Text here combines the two current scholarly Greek texts that incorporate the more recently discovered texts that are older; the N stands for the “Nestle” text and and the U for the “UBS” text.)

While “of good will” could mean here “toward men of good will,” most modern translations do not refer to simply “men of good will.” For the phrase can also mean “of (his) good will,” that is, of God’s good will. Often in the Greek translation of the (Hebrew) Old Testament, the Septuagint translates eudokias to refer to the persons on whom divine favor, or divine good pleasure, rests. And the few other uses in the Gospel of Luke also suggest this is the proper translation here in Lk. 2:14.

The result is the following translations: NIV-“on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests;” RSV-“on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased;” NRSV-“on earth peace among those whom he favors;” NASB-“on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased” with a note: Lit(erally) “of good pleasure;” or “of good will.”

The only other use of eudokia in Luke is in 10:21. There the seventy disciples have returned from their mission of casting out demons, healing, and announcing the new kingdom, and Jesus is praising God for revealing this divine power over the enemy (10:1-20). In 10:21 Jesus thanks his Father that these things (this divine power) were hidden from the wise and understanding (like the scribes and Pharisees) and revealed to “babes” (the disciples), for this was “your gracious will” (RSV, with a note: or “so it was well-pleasing before thee”). So eudokia here is clearly God’s eudokia, expressed in revealing the divine power of the new kingdom of God to and through these disciples. Lk. 10:22 adds that no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

The verb form of eudokia is used two times in Luke. First, in Lk. 3:22, the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism announces, “You are my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.” Again, it is God who is well pleased with this Son. Second, in Lk. 12:32, Jesus tells his disciples, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (NIV-“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”)

The link between God’s eudokia in Lk. 2:14 and peace among certain people is thus pointing to the Son and the disciples whom the Son gives the kingdom and to whom he reveals divine power and revelation. The verse is not about a universal peace on earth, or good will among all men.

Certain later passages in Luke fill out this link with peace. In Lk. 10:5-6, when the seventy go to various houses as part of their mission, and a house invites them to enter, they are to say “Peace be to this house;” if “a son of peace” is there, this peace will rest on him; if not, it will not. Peace here is found among the disciples and those who welcome their mission and message. In Lk. 12:51, Jesus asks his disciples, “Do you think I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Jesus goes on to describe division among members of the same family. Peace will not be found among families, when one or two of the family become disciples while the rest do not. In Lk. 19:41-42, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem: “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes.”

Likewise, now that Christmas (and the Christmas “spirit”) has passed, the optimism of the cards and carols quickly passes away, and the earth that is full of division and strife rolls on like a torrent. Yet among true disciples of the Son, the Father’s favor is found among them, and there is peace, just like the angels sang. The Gospel of Luke ends with Jesus telling his disciples they will be witnesses of these things among all nations (24:47-48); this new kingdom (from heaven) will spread over all the earth, becoming small groups of disciples among all nations.

  1. Thanks for this and blessings for 2014. There is a further ambiguity in the phrase “en anthropois eudokias”: does it mean, “peace upon those on whom his favour rests”, that is, a blessing to an elect group of human beings; or does it mean, peace upon mortals, on whom his favour rests, that is, a blessing on all humanity, to whom God’s son is given? I think the latter and would translate so as to make this clear. What do you think?
    Mike, Dundee, Scotland

    • Hi Mike. Thanks for your New Year’s greeting. I hope you have a blessed year also.

      In my post, I opted for the former of your two choices, based on the use of eudokia(s) and its verb form elsewhere in Luke (and throughout the Septuagint). I think the “elect” group the Gospel of Luke points to are Jesus’ disciples, and this new kingdom is to expand to all nations, over all the earth–yet remain small groups of disciples everywhere. Thus disciples from nations and kingdoms that hate or fight against one another can join together in peace, showing love to those who were formerly enemies.

  2. I too have looked at the evidence in the LXX and Luke/Acts, and have not found eudokia along with anthropos elswehere. If the LXX uses eudokia to represent those on whom God’s favour rests, then there is some basis for saying it is “human beings” who are the recipients in this case. The favour meant by Luke is in my view, the birth of Jesus, given by God for “all humanity”, albeit this “favour” is only received, as John puts it, “by those who believed in his name.” The favour, the grace, is universal; the recognition of it partial, to this day.

    • Besides Lk. 2:14, the only other use of eudokia (not including verb forms) in Luke is in 10:21. There God’s favor is not something for everyone since Jesus contrasts the wise and understanding with the “babes” (disciples) to whom God’s eudokia reveals divine power. Thus the wise and understanding (like the scribes and Pharisees) are not part of this eudokia. As for verb forms, in Lk. 12:32 Jesus again focuses on his disciples, telling them God is “pleased” to give them the kingdom. So again, this “pleasure” (favor) is not a gift for all people, but a gift for disciples.

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