Just What Exactly Did Those Angels Say?

We all know the words, as recorded in the King James Bible and placed in a number of Christmas carols: “peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” But that was the King James version, and I’ve always questioned its accuracy. It seems rather indiscriminate, this goodwill to men, almost like sentimental humanism.

It’s always best to check other translations: For instance, the New American Standard says, “peace on earth among men with whom He is pleased.” Now that is different. It stresses that peace will come only to those who please God.

We see the same emphasis in the New International Version: “peace to men on whom His favor rests.” God’s favor rests on those who respond to Him. Yes, His love is unconditional, but His favor is something else.

I have an interlinear Greek-English New Testament, which translates as follows: “peace among men of good will.” Again, there is the concept of man’s response–you must be someone of good will to obtain His peace.

So when we see those words this Christmas, let’s not just fall into the worldly way of understanding them. The world loves the King James translation because it can turn its phrasing into a lack of personal responsibility. I don’t believe that is what is intended at all.

Peace on earth, and within each individual on earth, is obtained only through a restored relationship with the God of all. That restored relationship is available via the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. There is no other alternative.