“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” – Luke 2:14
and on earth peace…
…goodwill toward men. – NKJV
…among those with whom he is pleased. – ESV
…to men on whom his favor rests. – NIV
I’m a firm believer that there is no perfect translation of the original scriptures into English, but if you’re a reformed thinker like me, you’ve got to admit the NIV nails this one. Each translation I’ve cited above has its own unique theological implication, and thus a different message.
The NKJV has a couple problems. The first is the order of the words is backwards, according to this article. But aside from that, the message conflicts with Jesus’ ministry, indeed, his own words:
“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” – Luke 12:51
He goes on to describe how even families will become divided against one another. So what do we do with this? How can “on earth peace and goodwill toward men” be what the angel was proclaiming regarding Jesus’ birth, if he’s actually bringing division? The other translations provide the answer.
The ESV doesn’t make the same mistake with the order of words. On the contrary, they’re entirely different. There is nothing about goodwill at all. Instead, the text goes a step further to say just where the peace on earth is going: “among those with whom he is pleased.” This version takes the gender out to include women in the blessing, but it also adds a thick layer of controversy. If there are “those with whom he is pleased” then there must be those with whom he is not pleased. Quite a different message than “goodwill toward men.” This peace isn’t for the whole earth – it’s specifically for people God is pleased with. I appreciate the reformed message in this translation, but in my opinion it still contains a hint of salvation-by-works theology. One is led to ask the question, “What must I do to have him be pleased with me?” But we know better, don’t we? If there was something we could do, Christmas wouldn’t have been necessary.
I like how definitive the NIV translation is. It contains just as much controversy and theological weight as the ESV, but leaves out the opportunity to question it. There’s a difference between “among those with whom he is pleased” and “on whom his favor rests.” Think about it for a minute. What is the peace the angel is referring to? Peace from conflict, war, or fighting? Not according to what Jesus says in Luke 12:51. We can only fully understand this “peace” when we consider the complete gospel. The peace is an escape from eternal damnation, given to those whom God favors – whomever he chooses – regardless of what they’ve done to receive his pleasure. Therein lies the most controversy.
It’s easy to rest in the warm and fuzzies of “Peace on Earth and goodwill toward men,” but I love that God doesn’t stop there. Salvation is a gift, given through Christ. Without this ultimate gift, which cannot be earned, and is exclusive to his elect, we would have no escape from death, no assurance of eternal life, and no peace on earth.
This Christmas, believe. And receive the gift of eternal Peace.
But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God. – John 3:21