“Peace and Goodwill To All!” What a great feeling to think about, especially around the holidays when people are drawn more closely to each other and maybe even try to consider the birth that inspired the expression. But what does it actually mean? In the Bible, Luke 2:10-14 describes the angels proclaiming joyful news to all people about the birth of Jesus with promises about peace and goodwill. The NEWS about the birth of the Savior is offered to all BUT the promises are only to those that understand His eventual sacrifice and believe in what it all means.
One difficulty with reading the Bible in modern English is that some words do not express the complete meaning of the word in the original language. For example, in Luke 2:14 the angels proclaim that peace is part of God’s plan for having Jesus be physically born. Most English translations use the word “peace” for this, meaning an absence of strife or anxiety. But the word originally used meant “shalom”, which includes the English meaning but also means “wholeness”, a sense of completeness that comes from having a relationship with God. A person trying to live without God has an incomplete understanding of what a person should be and could not enjoy a true and lasting peace. Using shalom in a greeting was done as a blessing for the recipient’s relationship with God. The word “peace” in this verse includes meaning that Jesus being born offers people that learn and accept who He is a chance for a complete relationship with God (John 16:33, John 14:27, Philippians 4:6-7).
Another issue is that the meaning of some words in English has changed over time so that the original language intent has been weakened or corrupted. For example, in the same verse the angels proclaim that good will or goodwill is part of God’s plan for having Jesus be physically born. Mostly when people consider goodwill in English they are thinking in their own terms of being charitable or offering someone their best wishes. But the original language uses two words, good and will, that have specific meanings.
In English “good” commonly seems to be similar to nice or desirable (“This pie tastes good!” or “Sounds good to me!”), which is purely subjective to a person’s wants. But it actually has the more objective meaning of “to unite or be associated with” or “suitable, a proper fit, well-suited, meet”. It means deciding if something matches up well to some established standard, not defining the appropriateness of something by our own desires. When an authority figure tells a child to be good, the child knows that “good” means what other people have defined, not what the child wants. In the Bible the word describes the characteristics of God’s ideas, not ours. God has the authority to define what is “good” for all of His creation. His definition is in the meaning of expressions like “Good morning/evening” and “Goodbye”, which originated as variations of the blessing “God (and His ways) be with you” or “Godspeed” (“Go with God”). It is why the day of Jesus’ crucifixion is called Good Friday (a gift from God that people who see the need for His sacrifice would want), and the idea of comparing Godly and ungodly things is called Good and Evil. Psalms 37:3 says to trust in the Lord and do good (His good) to enjoy His faithfulness.
Consider the early chapters of the book of Genesis. God creates things and even SAYS they are “good” (using His word for “good”), but He tells Adam and Eve that eating the fruit of a specific tree is bad and leads to death. Eve (and then Adam, he is guilty too!) decides to use the serpent’s suggestion of what is good, and THINKS to herself that the forbidden fruit is “good” (but somehow still uses God’s word for “good” without any concerns!), so she eats it. Rejecting the objective standard of what is good that God defined for them so they could use their subjective personal preference for it harmed them and every other person born afterwards. Most of the Old Testament teaches what happens to persons and groups of people that allow God to decide what is good for them compared to the people that decide that they can define what is good on their own. A person understanding life from this perspective knows the importance of considering and even heeding a community’s (which hopefully is also God’s) values instead of always selfishly focusing on their own desires. If they say “This pie is good, but I don’t like it”, they mean the pie meets all the desirable characteristics that most people would expect of it even though they personally do not like it.
The word “will” can mean “wish” as in someone’s “last will” document, but it also means intention (“I will do that”), or a person’s character/constitution that is causing their intentions (“Does he have the will to do that?”).
There are two words in the original Greek that can translate into the English term “good will”. The oldest hand-copied letters that became the book of Luke used “eudokias” which means “of good will”, but a large number of later copies use “eudokia” which means “good will to” (probably started from an error in making a copy that was then carried over to many copies). This means having to decide if Luke 2:14 is saying that Jesus being physically born offers peace and “goodwill to men” or peace “to men of good will”. The second meaning is probably more accurate because it is based on the copies written closest to the original, God-breathed version.
So the original two-word phrase “good will” in the book of Luke actually means Godly intentions or Godly character, not a person’s idea of charity or mere thoughts of best wishes. Luke 2:14 is actually saying God’s intention is to offer His complete peace (Rom 5:1, Phil 4:7, and other Spiritual fruits) to people with the kind of character He favors, with traits that He considers “Godly”, people that want to learn how to have a relationship with Him (and enjoy “shalom” peace). This matches up well to everything that the Bible teaches about the NECESSITY of accepting Christ as a personal Savior, being cleaned and reborn with Him to gain His favor. “Goodwill” is NOT a gift or blessing for every person that thinks happy thoughts about people or Jesus the way greeting cards present the verse at Christmas!
Similar to the idea of “shalom” being a form of peace that includes “wholeness” (with a relationship with God), is the word “integrity”. The root word of integrity is the Latin word “integer”, meaning solid, unbroken, complete, whole, untouched. It is our word for a whole number, with no fractions. The root for fraction is the Latin word part “frac”, meaning “broken”, also as in “fracture”. The word “integrate” means not complete before but now has disconnected, fractured things/ideas combined together to make whole an intact, complete thing. Most definitions of “integrity” include a moral component, and most definitions of “moral” include a spiritual source for it. So when a person has integrity, it means they have a complete and integrated character, with spiritual based morality as a key component. People living without it are fractured, and their idea of integrity or ethics is more easily compromised by their sense of “self” and its desires. For a Godly person integrity would describe a Spirit-led person who could be better trusted in their decision-making.
An interesting aside about how some people determine for themselves (without being led by the God of the Bible) what goodwill should mean is that one person may think it is providing useful charity to a needy person, similar to the good Samaritan in Luke chapter 10. Another person who is warm and well fed and sees a cold and hungry person may offer an empty blessing of best wishes with no actual help, like the man in James chapter 2. The first person performs works but without faith in God as the provider, and the second person has faith in an idea that help should come but offers no actual works. The first person is doing something helpful but will only gain accolades from other people for it (no crowns in Heaven or even the chance of getting there!), and the second person is more contemptible, believing that he already sacrifices enough for society so his wealth should remain his, but it is important for somebody else to do something about it (Heaven or God’s favor not even a consideration).
Also, a little more about the problems with deciding what is “good”: A golfer may decide it is good to enjoy the game so it is ok to repeat shots or move the ball to a better location. He may be able to force his beliefs on a few others with him (especially if they also enjoy the idea!), but a person thinking this way is focused on his sense of “self”, with little consideration of what his community (or God) has determined is the best way. He may feel like he has enjoyed a “good” day on the course, but eventually he will have conflict with others in the golfing community who have made a set of rules, an objective standard of what “good” golf is, so that the game is scored fairly for all. This is an example of what happens when people never learn how to fit into a community because they insist on living how they want and expect the community to accept them for it.
Some people think they have the authority to decide that their personal idea of what is good should also apply to others. If a group of them gets large and aggressive enough (whether they agree with each other on details or not), the objective standard of what the community previously decided is good can be overwhelmed. This can potentially lead to anarchy or a dominant sub group oppressing the group that wants to live by the established standard (consider looking for analogies in the books “Lord Of The Flies” and “Animal Farm” with an open mind).