Christmas Greek Exegesis – Luke 2:14

Open your Bibles to Luke 2:14.

Verlyn Verbrugge writes,

“Peace on earth, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14, KJV).  You have probably all received Christmas cards containing this part of the angels’ song to the shepherds on the fields of Bethlehem.  But most modern translations read differently: “on earth peace to men on whom his [God’s] favor rests” (NIV); “and on earth peace among those whom he [God] favors” (NRSV). The difference between the KJV and the others is the difference between the nominative and the genitive.

The Greek manuscripts used to translate the KJV contain eudokia (nominative), whereas the older manuscripts used to translate the modern versions contain eudokias (genitive) – literally translated, “of good will” or “characterized by [God’s] good pleasure.”  In other words, the peace that the angels sang that belonged to the earth as a result of the birth of Christ is not a generic, worldwide peace for all humankind, but a peace limited to those who obtain favor with God by believing in his Son Jesus (see Romans 5:1).  What a difference a single letter can make of the text!

What do you think about that?

9 comments

  1. Well, Todd, the first part is a textual issue, and I don’t have a problem with the genitive reading. The issue I’m raising has to do with the attempt to pull that level of theological significance out of the variant, especially since it does seem to be unclear which reading is preferable on textual grounds.

    Interestingly enough, the genitive reading, supported by Vulgate, played a big part in the Roman Catholic Church becoming less exclusive in the years before, during, and after Vatican II, “men of good will” being seen as those for whom, although being formally outside the Church, salvation is yet possible.

  2. I wonder what language the angels spoke. I’m guessing the shepherds understood Aramaic. Maybe some Hebrew?

    Couple of possibly unimportant questions.
    Is “favor” congruent to “grace”?

    Isn’t there an implied optative mood? “LET THERE BE on earth peace toward men…” So the angels would be proclaiming the ultimate glorification of God through God’s favor resting on men.

    I’m not sure. My first impulse (influenced by years of Christmas carols and Peanuts cartoons) is that the angels are heralding a new era of understanding between God and mankind. From the angels perspective (I’m not suggesting they wrote their own lyrics, I’m just saying) God’s favor does rest on mankind at the mere offering or nearness of grace. In the HIGHEST realm, there is glory to God, in the lower realm an opportunity for peace has today been established among men in a way heretofore unknown . Aren’t y’all lucky/ favored by God?!

  3. The issue isn’t which rendering we prefer, but which is the Word of God. Eudokia occurs in the nominative case in the majority text, in the genitive case (eudokias) in most of the critical texts. Personally, I think the case has been definitively made that the majority text of the Greek NT is the preserved, pure textual tradition, whereas the critical texts (which differ significantly even among themselves) have suffered corruption. But my point is that the debate isn’t over which English translation is correct, but which Greek text to translate into English.

    That being said, the English rendering that comes from the critical text (e.g., NIV) is basically a tautology; of course there is only personal peace for those men toward whom God shows His grace in justifying the ungodly (Rom. 5:1). Nothing new or particularly exciting about angels showing up to give such a message at the birth of Christ. However, the revelation as given in the majority text (e.g., KJV) is a profound message worthy of being communicated by God’s heavenly host on the occasion of Christ’s birth. In the incarnation, God’s good will (i.e., grace) is being offered “toward men” in general, which is “good tidings of great joy… to ALL PEOPLE” (v. 10). Theologically this ends up at the debate between an unlimited vs. a limited atonement.

    Bottom line is I think the English rendering on our Christmas cards, which we’ve all come to love, is correct from both a textual and a theological perspective.

  4. Depends on what you mean by “favour,” “earn,” and “coming to believe.”

    God’s favor does rest on all men as evidenced by our continued existence. His wrath is restrained. I believe that he is only just in restraining his wrath because of Jesus and the Cross. If he had not intended on making this sacrifice then the only just thing to do with Adam and Eve would have been instant full retribution. Instead they got restraint. You could look at a lot of the Old Testament as a story about God restraining his wrath. So everyone experiences the restraint of God’s wrath at this time, but not everyone will experience his mercy for eternity.

    We earn his favor only in the same way as a newborn baby earns the love of her mother or a stray cat earns the favor of the grandma down the street. If we are earning anything you can bet its not because of anything we could boast about.

    I’ll stop there before I get double deep in over my head.

  5. I am a submitter, to start with.

    My strong beliefs is only selected few people get HIS mercy and meet HIM in the Hereafter, eternally. People who trust in HIM, HIS books, and do righteous will enjoy a blissful happiness, now and in the Hereafter. Those few could be believers in church, temple, mosque, even people without visiting specific places but they believe in GOD firmly and take positive actions.

    Praise LORD, aamiin….

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