PEACE (שָׁלוֹם, H8934, soundness, completeness, security, welfare, peace; εἰρήνη, G1645, harmony, concord, security, safety, assurance).
The word used in the Old Testament and still found today among Semitic peoples basically means “completeness” or “soundness.” It can denote neighborliness (
Use in the Bible
Human situations in the Bible that are commonly described by the word “peace” range from the cessation of hostilities between nations, the absence of civil or ecclesiastical disorder, and the freedom from dissension between individuals, through positive situations in which an individual has prospered materially, or is healthy, or possesses a tranquil freedom from mental or spiritual perturbation, to conditions where there is a minimum of noise or activity. But no situation in the Bible is simply human. In the total range of human activity, the divine influence is evident. In this way the Biblical notion of peace must be understood. For the New Testament writers, a more comprehensive spiritual element is added to the Old Testament concept of peace by the awareness that the true ground of reconciliation between God and man, between man and man, and within the individual is exhibited in the total work of Christ; and through the enabling power brought by the gracious visitation of the , this peace is made a joyous possession of a man.
Old Testament usage
Frequently, the Old Testament writers used the word “shalom” without explicit, but never without implicit, religious content. These writers often used the term to describe prosperity of a material sort, which for them was associated with God’s covenantal promises or with projections of His presence. The root meaning of “soundness,” “completeness,” and “well-being” is obvious in over two dozen passages where only general health and prosperity are described or discussed. Joseph, e.g., inquired after the welfare (peace) of his brothers (
Another common usage of shālōm in the Old Testament where the spiritual element is somewhat minimal (though evidenced in a higher degree than in the above cases) is in passages where the quiet tranquility and contentment of a man or land is pictured, and in places where a relationship of friendship is under consideration. The prophet Isaiah gives a good illustration of this seemingly psychological aspect of well-being when he says, “The effect of righteousness will be peace... quietness and trust for ever” (
Though the religious and spiritual content is at a minimum in the above human conditions, the Old Testament writers did not conceive of these situations as occurring independently of God’s controlling will and impelling presence. The awareness of God’s presence in power or judgment rounds out any Biblical concept of peace. In the Old Testament, this awareness of God gives a sense of wholeness and success to the business of living, which is marred only by human inadequacy and sin. Gideon’s altar to God, before which Gideon quaked in fear of God’s judgment, was named “The Lord is peace” (
The concept of peace has many additional senses in the Old Testament. Peace from enemies (implying prosperity) was one of the most pressing desires of Israel and is the gift of God to the people if they walk in His ways (
Shalom was also used as a common friendly greeting used in asking after the health of anyone, or in saying farewell. For examples of this use, see
New Testament usage
The Greek notion of peace
The Grecian culture made use of the word εἰρήνη, G1645, for peace. For them, the root meaning of peace was not considered as integral to any of the normal daily activities of man, but rather seemed to be a condition within the individual that persisted in spite of, and oblivious to, routine living or the influence of a divine being. Foerster suggests that this notion of peace was not a relation between people, or things, but a state (of mind) that was emotionally felt and passionately acclaimed. This widespread desire among the Greek intellectuals to attain a harmonious state of mind, best described as imperturbability, often made the actual human situation that could be called peaceful merely incidental to the inner experience of peace. Such a view was only superficially like the Old Testament concept of peace. Nevertheless, the New Testament writers made use of the standard Greek word for peace without confusion, because by their time the Greek word had been evacuated of Hellenistic philosophical meaning and infused with holistic Hebrew significance through the labors of generations of LXX and rabbinic scholars.
Peace in the New Testament
Man’s participation in the peace of God through Christ’s finished work of redemption also is mentioned frequently in the New Testament. Christ becomes “our peace” (
Additional senses of peace can be seen in the following instances: