Peace

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 (Ps.28.3) or well-being and Security (Eccl.3.8) or the Reward of a mind stayed on God (Isa.26.3). It is linked with honest dealing and true Justice (Zech.8.16), and is a prominent feature of the coming Messiah (Isa.9.6).


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 Holy Spirit, 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 (Gen 43:27), and Moses asked about the welfare (peace) of his father-in-law when they were exchanging greetings (Exod 18:7). In some places, the reference is limited clearly to the physical safety of the individual (Job 5:23), or to his health (Isa 38:17). A passage in Psalm 38:3 is particularly clear in this respect when it says, “There is no soundness (peace) in my flesh.... no health (peace) in my bones.” As this verse continues, that this lack of soundness is “because of my sin,” the characteristic in the Old Testament of relating even the most mundane aspects of life to the judgments of God is readily seen (cf. Ps 38:1).

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” (Isa 32:17). Then, surprisingly, in the same context, the state of peace is seen to be attached also to the house of the righteous person (32:18). Jeremiah does the same when he refers to a “safe (peaceful) land” (Jer 12:5) and to “peaceful folds” (25:37). A soundness in relationship between friends is a further usage of peace in the Old Testament. Friends are spoken of as “familiar” (20:10), “trusted” (38:22; Obad 7), or in a relationship of “peaceful understanding” (Zech 6:13) where the word for “peace” is prefixed to the word for “friends.”

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” (Judg 6:24). The Old Testament writers felt that God creates peace in heavenly spheres, high above all human affairs, and is both the pledge of peace to man and the giver of peace, which appears as human prosperity and wholeness of life (see also Lev 26:6 and 1 Kings 2:33).


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 (Le 26:6; Nu 6:26, "Yahweh lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace"; Ps 29:11; Isa 26:12, etc.). To "die in peace" was greatly to be desired (Ge 15:15; 1Ki 2:6; 2Ch 34:28, etc.).



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 Ge 29:6, Ge 43:23, Ge 43:27, and Jud 6:23.

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” (Eph 2:14-17) in this richly conceived view of peace that includes Reconciliation with God and Justification in His sight. In a similar fashion, “peace with God” is the result of justification by faith (Rom 5:1, 10). Such views of peace are seen to be parallel to the abundant life that Christ obtains for the believer by His Sacrifice on the cross (John 10:10; Rom 8:6). Being “at peace” in this deep sense is a mode of existence that comes by Grace (2 Pet 3:14) and is far more than a psychological peace of Soul. Likewise, “the peace of God, which passes all understanding” cannot be merely psychological (Phil 4:7), or concerned only with man’s external affairs. Such a verse denotes the highest concept of peace, which a believer can comprehend only dimly as the salvation of the whole man is experienced as the power of God in his life. It is to the “peace of Christ” that he is called (Col 3:15).

Additional senses of peace can be seen in the following instances:

  • Peace is to be cherished and followed by Christians. Jesus exhorted His disciples, "Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace one with another" (Mr 9:50); Paul exhorts, "Live in peace: and the God of love and peace shall be with you" (2Co 13:11; compare Ro 12:18; 1Co 7:15).
  • God is "the God of peace," the Author and Giver of all good ("peace" including every blessing) very frequently (e.g. Ro 15:33; 16:20; 2Th 3:16, etc., "the Lord of peace"). "Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" is a common apostolic wish or salutation (compare 1Co 1:3; 2Co 1:2, etc.).


  • In the Apocrypha

    In Apocrypha eirene is frequent, mostly in the sense of peace from War or strife (Tobit 13:14; Judith 3:1; Ecclesiasticus 13:18; 1 Macc 5:54; 6:49; 2 Macc 14:6, eustatheia equals "tranquillity").

    Bibliography

  • R. Bultmann, The Theology of the New Testament, I (1951), 286-291
  • E. Stauffer, New Testament Theology (1956), 143-146
  • L. Köhler, Old Testament Theology (1957), 30-35
  • H. Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (1962), 274-277
  • J. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. II (1962), Book III ch. XIII; G. von Rad and W. Foerster, “Peace,” TWNT, II (1964), 400ff.