Peace Among Men Of His Delight! -- A Christmas Gospel Message

The 14th verse of the second chapter of the Gospel According to Luke is, frankly, kind of hard to translate.

The classic English translation works well enough: “Glory to God in the Highest! And on Earth, peace, goodwill to men!”

Strictly speaking, though, the Greek reads... well, it could read several things. A number of rather different things in fact.

{Doxa} ‘glory’
{en} ‘in’ or ‘among’
{huposistois} ‘(the) highest’
{the(i)o_} ‘to God’
{kai} ‘and’ or ‘now’ or even ‘but’ or ‘yet’
{epi} ‘upon’
{ge_s} ‘(the) land’ or ‘earth’
{eire_ne_} ‘peace’
{en} ‘in’ or ‘among’
{anthro_pois} ‘men’ or ‘mankind’
{eudokias} or {eudokia} ‘of his delight’ or ‘delight’

Does “highest” mean that glory is given among the highest angels to God? Or is the highest glory being given to God? Both of course would be true.

Is the glory being also given to God upon the earth or land? And if so, is the glory on the land, or is God upon the land as well as in heaven?! Either or both could be true!--if the Incarnation is true.

Is peace on the land, or in men? Either or both could (and should!) be true.

Is it peace or delight {en} men? Either or both could (and should!) be true.

The grammar could go one or both directions in several ways so far. But there is also a text-transmission problem toward the end. The vast majority of texts read ‘delight’; but the more difficult reading, which is also best supported among the earliest existent textual copies, both in the East and the West, is ‘of his delight’ (singular possessive).

If the well-attested older reading is in fact correct (which is the direction pointed to by textual criticism principles), the grammatic options shift a bit: it must be peace in men (as well as maybe on the land), whereas the delight belongs to God. Indeed the word there (in either form) means ‘good glory’ or even ‘good praise’, though it can also mean happiness and joy (as the term is sometimes used elsewhere in the New Testament.)

The Angelic Hymn announcing the birth of Christ, therefore, can (and probably should) be reset in the following stylistic pattern (which also fits the use of the Greek as printed):

“Glory among the highest to God and on the land!”
“Peace among men of His delight!”

The birth of the Messiah is announced to social outcasts by, quite literally, the armies of God. (That’s what the word we typically translate as “host” in English means.) And it comes with a tacit warning--a warning made more explicit a little later in Luke’s account by the mysterious prophet Simeon (possibly meant to be Simeon son of Hillel and father of Gamaliel I!) The Messiah brings peace, it is true; but it is peace among those who please God. The Messiah brings fire and sword (at least at first!) for those who do not please God.

What the hell kind of “gospel” is this!? Can this be “good news” for all mankind?!

A significant number of Christians (and Christian theologians, throughout our history) would say “No: it is only good news for the chosen elect of God.” And there’s some important theological truth in that, which they’re trying to protect by saying so. It is only by the freely given joy (the “grace”) of God that any of us can be pleasing to God at all; without that grace, we don’t even have the ability to be good. Other Christians (myself included) would say that God gives this gracious gift to all persons everywhere, and whether or not we please God depends on what we do with our gift (rather like with the parable of the talentons or the minas in GosMatt and GosLuke’s texts respectively.) If we abuse the gifts of God, we can rightfully expect no peace from God--not until we stop abusing the gifts of God.

In context of the Christmas gift of Christ Himself (the saving action of God Himself), we may consider God to be presenting us with a present that He will unwrap for us (and certainly made and provided for us). Rejecting that gift, or trying to take advantage of that gift apart from acknowledging the grace of God in giving it, is like the parable of the king who gives a wedding party for his son, inviting everyone everywhere to participate; but some refuse to come giving poor insulting reasons (fair honest reasons not to come, such as thinking one’s self too poor or the king too much of an enemy to believe the offer is real, are another matter--the king sends out special messengers to those people in the hedges and byways to practically compel them in!) Whereas others come to the party, but refuse to wear the celebration clothes provided graciously by the king. Those people, even though the king is friendly to them, will still be thrown outside the celebration party!--where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Now, some of us Christians believe that God doesn’t offer the present (so to speak) to everyone, but He does persistently offer it to at least some people till they receive it; and some of us believe that God offers it to everyone but eventually takes it away, not persistently offering it until they agree to receive it. A few of us (myself included) think both those other types of Christians have got things right!--and so we believe that God persistently offers that gift to everyone until those persons receive it (even if God persists for unspeakable eons of the eons.) But all of us agree that not having this gift means missing out on the best of Life Himself most high. And all of us agree that refusing this gift (whether temporarily or permanently) is not good news for anyone.

So there’s a warning, of a sword, couched in the message of the messengers.

But here is some other news about that sword!

The Messiah, God Most High Himself, shares that sword to the heart!--so that the hearts of many shall be revealed (as Simeon says, a little later in Luke’s account.)

God Most High does not baptize with fire (as well as with Spirit) from only on high, but stoops down low in humility, to count Himself among the rebels, sharing the chastening with us--even allowing Himself to be sacrificed and abused by us rebels when we sin.

And He does that out of love for us, even when we are sinners.

All of us Christians agree with this in principle as well as (to some extent at least) in practice--even the Christians who only believe God gives Himself for some but not for all, still believe (and ardently so!) that God does not wait for sinners to repent and seek forgiveness and salvation before He acts toward saving sinners from sin!

The message of Christmas, as well as of Easter, is that God Most High is not a tyrant, not even justly so. The highest possible Power gives Himself for even the worst of rebels because He loves even them. (And by ‘them’ I mean ‘us’ and ‘me!’)

That was completely new, as a religious idea at the time. And I think I can say that it still is completely unique. The baby Jesus of the Christmas story isn’t merely a lesser god being born more-or-less by accident. He isn’t a lesser god, or even God Most High (in one or another way), being born to help the people he (or He) already accounts as His allies. He isn’t mere Divinity coming to help whoever will listen to Him to cease to be persons themselves so that they can enter back into His substance.

The story is about the ground and source of all reality, sacrificing His life to give life to those who are in rebellion against the ground and source of all reality. Sharing the sword to the heart with the guilty and with the innocent, too, who must suffer in this “valley of death” and separation (such as Mary would have to endure a sword to her own heart, at the unjust death of her son.)

Even if you, wherever you are in the world today and this weekend, do not or cannot believe in the story as being factually true... least try to understand and appreciate what the meaning of the story is.

If you can even accept what’s at stake, when people try to put up billboards mocking the worth of the story at all...?

Well, that’s accepting the present, at least a little, to some degree.

And that’s a whole lot better than throwing away such a present as trash unfit for human consumption.

From all of us here at the Christian Cadre
To all our readers around the world, whoever you are!

May you come someday to believe that Love Most High has come, and comes, to share our joy and our pain in fair-togetherness with us...


(and hug someone for Christmas if you can... {g!})


Jason Pratt said…
Merry Christmas! Free cyber-hugs to all visitors this weekend! {lol!}

(Also, registering for comment tracking. This year for Christmas I would like Blogger to make that easier to do in their engine... {wry g})

Leslie said…
Thanks for this post!

It's interesting - just the other day I was reading these verses, and wanted to study the texts and such more in depth, but I'm overseas currently, far away from the many resources I might normally have available, so I was a bit unable to do so. This is a position I don't usually like to be in!

So thanks for this timely post on the exact verses and questions I was considering, and thanks for a thoughtful and thought-provoking message on the meaning of Christmas!

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

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