I am compelled to share the insights I discovered during my word study on “peace.” While reading Luke 2:14 with my family, I noticed the order of the words in the NIV translation.
“On earth peace….”:
Perhaps, like me, you grew up hearing “peace on earth, good will to men.” The different order of this familiar phrase struck me. After searching several translations, I noticed some modern ones, such as HCSB and NLT, use “peace on earth.” But, the KJV–the version I hear most often read during this time of the year–the NIV, the Message, and the NASB use the phrase “on earth peace.” I suspect, although I am not certain, that this turn-of-phrase comes from the juxtapose seen in “Christmas Bells,” the poem Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote on Christmas Day 1863 after he learned his son had been wounded in the Civil War and his wife died in a fire. We know this poem as the song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
But, it occurs to me reversing these words causes more pain. Since sin entered the world, “peace on earth” ceased to exist. Our striving for “peace on earth,” ironically, leads us into further conflict. We convince ourselves we can make peace happen. In our best interest, we must admit we cannot.
“On earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Continuing the phrase, variances also occur. Here are a few.
What does “good will” mean in this passage? According to Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary, the term “well pleased” refers to the “good will” of God. In other words, what pleases God most is when we act according to His good will. He bestows on us His good will because He is pleased with us. While our acts of “good will” toward others bring Him pleasure, the greater meaning is His good will precedes ours. He finds favor in us where little exists. Our returning His favor is a direct result of the grace we do not deserve.
“Glory to God in the highest”
“Glory” in The Strongest NASB Exhaustive Concordance refers to “opinion, praise, honor, glory.” It is synonymous with “approval, brightness, majesties” as well. So, the context of this verse is that under the brightest star the world had ever seen, the angels appeared to shepherds to tell them of the Christ Child’s birth. They gloried in God who is the highest and assured the shepherds God had found them favorable by calming their fears and giving them peace. It becomes a command to glorify God as well.
If there is any peace within us or any peace on earth, it is because God gives it. The glory belongs to Him alone! As the shepherds eagerly went to see the Christ Child, may we glorify God by going with His peace and good will in the coming year.