Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s PEACE, which exceeds anything we can understand. His PEACE will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.Phil 4:6-7
Did you conclude what my one last thing to do was? My ‘X Factor’ that I left you with in the previous Gem? I think most of you would have thought, Ian has explained a lot of other words, but the one word he hasn’t explained is “Peace”. Surely that is the key word in all of this. What does Peace really mean from a Bible perspective? Did you notice how Paul began his letter to the Philippians with the standard Greek and Hebrew greeting.
May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.Phil 1:2
Grace being the standard Greek greeting and Peace being the standard Hebrew greeting. Each word or concept is what you wished for people in each culture. Eirēnē – unmerited favour in the Greek greeting – meaning unmerited favour for your family, peers and neighbours and those you came into contact with and the unmerited favour of the gods in general. Shalom – Peace, but I am sure you know peace in Hebrew terms (שׁלום with consonantal text only or שָׁלוֹם with vowel pointing) is a very deeply significant term meaning far more than just an absence of war or strife.
Paul has already wished the Philippian Christians grace and peace at the beginning of his letter. Perhaps it was just a meaningless greeting. Like “Hi, how are you?” I am sure there must have been some in both Hebrew and Greek culture who use the terms shalom and εirēnē flippantly. But in the case of Grace and Peace, the very words are a blessing in disguise.
- Peace be with you.
- Grace to you.
- May you know the peace of God.
- May you experience the favour of God.
Yes i guess it is true that you could say the words above and not be thinking of the meaning or the blessing contained in the words simply because of overuse. But when the words are words that are so foundational to each culture, one would think the blessing which is a major part of the culture would come through the words. At least being perceived by the hearer to be a pronounced blessing even if it were not intentionally meant that way by the speaker. The idea is inherent in the culture for the utterance to be meant as a pronouncement of blessing. May you live and abide in peace and may the favour of God be upon you.
For most of us in this modern world, peace means an absence of war, conflict, tension or strife. The Oxford Dictionary definition of “Peace” is “a freedom from anxiety, disturbance (emotional, mental, or spiritual), or inner conflict; calm, tranquillity.” You can see from the definition that in essence the word contains the connotation of the absence or lack of something:- war, conflict, strife, tension or stress. I have noticed so many people have that reaction to the idea of Christmas being a time of Peace, when the Prince of Peace came. Rather than peace, they experience tension, stress levels go up, fights and quarrels start, unmet expectations come into focus and ultimately Christmas loses its peace altogether. The season of peace meant to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, the Peace Child, the moment when peace came to mankind is anything but.
So what do Shalom and Eirēnē mean in the original languages?
At heart Shalom is a relational word. Oh for the individual the word contains the sense of peace, prosperity, wellness, health, safety, wholeness. Even biblically, the word contains the sense of the Oxford definition above, but in essence it is a positive word rather than the absence of the negative. The sense of Shalom is indeed wellbeing, health, prosperity and completeness and wholeness for the individual per se, but in essence it is all of those things because relationships with all around you are unimpaired and interpersonally everything is fulfilling. In other words relationally things are in harmony, complete and wholesome with an overwhelming sense of contentment and peace between you and those around you.
However, those of you who are followers of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, know there is another far more important dimension to relationships than those described in the paragraph above. The majority of occurrences of Shalom in the Bible are set in terms of peace with God or the peace of God. Did you notice the Hebrew and Greek words are used in the context of the favour or peace of God (or in other religions, the gods [plural]). In terms of the harmony of our relationships, we need to take into account our vertical relationship with God rather than just our horizontal relationships with our family, friends and those we meet. In fact the prime relationship we need to be concerned about is our relationship with God. In most religions, God is afar off and needs to be appeased. But in Christianity, God came close and created us for relationship. How is your relationship with God? May I suggest from personal experience, the most important relationship to take care of is your relationship with your Creator, the One who made you.
As an atheist, I didn’t believe God existed so why would I need a relationship with a non-existent being. On the 19th of August 1973, I was challenged by the evidence of God’s existence, which I knew deep down was true but had chosen to reject it. That night, I realised I needed to repent (say I was sorry) for rejecting the God who had made me, and ask God to show me the Truth. I did just that and ever since God has been confirming His reality. Let me tell you as honestly and as straight as I can, when you get your relationship with God sorted, all other relationships take on a new significance. When you have peace with God, you can be at peace with all those you encounter and what’s more peace at Christmas takes on a whole new meaning.
From a Hebrew point of view, peace is the normal and proper relationship of mankind in relationship with one another, enjoyed most intimately in families, but extended to others by us being under the umbrella of covenant relationship with God. God’s intention was that we love and care for everyone we meet and live in peace with everyone. Dare I say it: the first commandment is to love God, the second to love others. Can you say you are at peace with God and you experience harmony, completeness, wholeness and peace with everyone around you?
At the beginning of the Classic Greek period the word εirēnē had the prime sense of the absence of war or conflict. (The period of Classical Greek refers to period of time between the Persian Wars at the beginning of the fifth century B.C. and the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.) The classical period was an era of war and conflict, first between the Greeks and the Persians, and then the internal wars between the Athenians and the Spartans. At the beginning of the Classical Greek period, eirēnē maintained the same sense of the Ancient Greek period when peace meant the intervening state between perpetual wars. As the use of the term grew it took on new meaning such as the state of blessing for both land and people. By the end of the civil wars mentioned above it was used for peace treaties, the absence of hostilities and peaceful, kindly feelings toward others. Before the Christian Era (C.E.) the word meant the state of mind desired by the Stoics.
By the time of the first century C.E, in the writings of Josephus and Philo along with the Pseudepigrapha, peace had come to mean an accord or concord or a political peace. From that period of time onward, given the use of eirēnē in the documents of the New Testament, the word took on a match to the meaning of the rabbinic Hebrew word שָׁלוֹם due to the influence of Christian teaching and writings. From that time onward the Greek word [εἰρήνην] became a match for the Hebrew term שָׁלוֹם.
It is probably obvious to you if you have read significant portions of the Bible, that the biblical terms from peace influenced the use of εἰρήνην as it was used in the world of Greek influence to come to be a match for the Hebrew word for peace.
Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.Romans 5:1
We now have one more period to look at to gain the fullest sense of the use of the word for peace in the ancient world. Now we turn to the Latin use of the word Pax.
Pax Romana or Roman Peace was a term coined by Caesar Augustus and which enabled Rome to rule an Empire for two and a half centuries. Augustus transformed Rome internally from the two decades of civil wars preceding his reign into a time of stability, civil and political. The populace welcomed the stability, prosperity and increase efficiency and organisation of government, justice, civil law, and above all peace, as in the absence of conflict, internal and external.
In Augustus’ own words
As victor I pardoned all citizens who sought mercy. Foreign peoples who could safely be pardoned, I preferred to spare rather than put to the sword.Caesar Augustus
Under Caesar Augustus the concept was that Rome’s mission was peace for the world. Wars would cease and Augustus would build the golden age of concord, prosperity and order. The notion existed that the Romans were destined to prevail over all peoples. But they themselves excused the atrocities the Romans perpetrated. Tacitus, a Roman historian, dared to write “Pax Romana was a thing to be feared. The Romans call it empire and, it is in murder and rapine and profit; they make a desolation and call it peace.” A century later, Cicero wrote, “. . . how bitterly and how justly the empire of the Romans is detested in all the lands.”
Even among the Roman provinces, the Pax Romana was not uniformly experienced a tranquility in the best interests of all indigenous peoples. No bounds were set on the free exercise of the imperium (command). Their system of government was only as good as the character of the governor. Any revolt was put down brutally and ruthlessly. As the words for peace used by both the Romans and the conquering Greeks were by and large the language of the oppressors, the experience of peace for those who had been conquered, is well described by the description above of Pax Romana. A distinct contrast to the use of the word [εἰρήνην] in the Greek New Testament.
Peace I impart to you, My peace I give to you, not like the world gives, I give to you.John 14:27
What is it that turns biblical Peace into the Peace that passes understanding?
See the next Gem. In the meantime let’s explore the advice of the peace gurus.
Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.Ralph Waldo Emerson
The life of inner peace, being harmonious and without stress, is the easiest type of existence.Norman Vincent Peale
If you are depressed you are living in the past, if you are anxious you are living in the future, if you are at peace, you are living in the present.Lao Tzu
When things change inside you, things change around you.Anonymous
Peace of mind for five minutes, that’s what I crave.Alanis Morissette
I’d rather know the peace that passes understanding than the advice of the peace gurus. At least you are honest Alanis Morisette.Ian Vail