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Peace (in the Bible)

PEACE (IN THE BIBLE)

The Hebrew word for peace, šālôm, translated in the Septuagint most often by the Greek word, eirēnē, has a wide semantic range including the notions of totality or completeness, success, fulfillment, wholeness, harmony, security and well being.

Peace in the OT. The most comprehensive description of shalom is a cosmic order ordained by God through creation (Gn 1) and established with God's people in the covenant (Ex 2023). In this cosmic order each part finds its meaning and function as it conforms to God's purpose. Shalom describes the "realm where chaos is not allowed to enter" (Hanson, 347), chaos being understood as sickness, war, social strife, or the violation of the covenant.

Peace can result from military victory (Jgs 8:9), or from diplomacy (Est 9:30; 10:3). The phrase "to ask the peace" (2 Kgs 9:11, 19; cf. Dt 20:10), often serving as more than a common greeting, signals the process of initiating negotiation, whereas "go in peace" (Jgs 18:6; 1 Sm 20:13; 2 Sm 15:9) functioning as more than a farewell, appears to be used predominantly "as the conclusio of successful negotiations" (Wiseman, 323).

As the Hebrew Scriptures frequently attest, peace in its fullness is possible because Yahweh is its source and the giver of peace to others (Lv 26:6; Ps 29:11; 122.8; Is 26:12; Ez 34:25; Zec 8:12). In the well-known Aaronic blessing, "The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace" (Nm 6:20), peace is associated with God's presence. There is no peace for the wicked (Is 48:22), but the one who keeps God's law has great peace (Ps 119:165). Frequently peace and righteousness are linked together (Ps 72:7; 85:10; Is 9:7; 48:18). Those who proclaimed peace when injustice and greed prevailed were berated by the prophets (Jer 6:14; 8:11; Est 13:16). In the "covenant of shalom" (Nm 25:12; Is 54:10; Ez 34:25; 37:26), peace is experienced as the result of living in fidelity to the covenantal stipulations. During the period of the monarchy, Israel's kings hastened the return of chaos as they abandoned trust in Yahweh, relying instead on the strength of their armies. Peace comes to the nation that trusts in God (Is 26:3).

After the collapse of the Southern Kingdom, at the time of the Exile, the restoration of Shalom was announced. The era of shalom would encompass the whole world with its center in Zion (Is 6061). The coming of the day of salvation is linked with the Prince of Peace (Is 9:67), who is God's anointed (Is 61:1). Peace became the mark of the awaited Messianic kingdom and is announced along with salvation by its heralds (Is 52:7).

New Testament. The term eirēnē occurs in all the NT writings except 1 John, appearing most often in Luke-Acts, Romans, and Ephesians. Occasionally, eirēnē is used in its classical sense to designate a condition of law and order or the absence of war, as experienced, e.g., during the Pax Romana (Mt 10:34 par; Lk 11:21; 14:32; Acts 12:20; 24:2; Rv 6:4). Usually, however, the term is used to refer to the experience of salvation that comes from God or the harmonious relationships between persons.

In Luke-Acts Jesus is proclaimed as the one who brings "peace on earth," understood as salvation for (not from) the world (2:14), and who guides others "into the way of peace" (1:79). In fact, peace is used as term for salvation (7:50; 8:48). It is a peace that Jerusalem (the "city of peace") unfortunately has failed to understand (19:45) because it failed to recognize its "king" of peace.

The disciples are instructed to have peace among themselves, i.e., to form a community of peace (Mk 9:50) and to seek reconciliation among themselves before worship when the communal peace has been disturbed (Mt 5:2326; 18:1520). They are sent on mission to bring peace, but only the person receptive to God's salvation receives it; those who are non-receptive come under God's judgement (Mt 10:13 pa.; cf. Acts 10:36). Those who decide against Jesus can expect not peace but the sword (Mt 10:3436 par).

In John's Gospel, the "world" is portrayed as a hostile place neither able to give, nor easily receptive to the peace that already exists between Jesus and his disciples (Jn 14:27; 16:33). Accompanying the gift of the Spirit is the risen Jesus' gift of peace (Jn 20:19, 21, 26), a gift that drives out fear.

In the Pauline letters, the reconciling love of God in Christ (Rom 5:611) has bestowed justification upon believers, resulting in "peace with God" (Rom 5:1; see Col 1:20; Eph 2:1122). Those who live according to the Spirit know peace (Rom 8:6). Peace is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), the hallmark of the gospel (Eph 6:15), and, along with righteousness and joy, the essence of God's kingdom (Rom 14:17). For this reason Paul urges his readers to be "at peace" not only with other believers (Rom 14:19; 1 Cor 7:15; 2 Cor 13:11), but with everyone (Rom 12:18). Similarly, in the other letters believers are called to cultivate peace (Jas 3:18; cf. Mt 5:9) among themselves, with outsiders (Heb 12:14), and even with their enemies (1 Pt 3:1012, quoting Ps 34:1216).

God is a God of peace (1 Cor 14:33; cf. Rom 15:33; 16:20; 1 Thes 5:23) who will keep our hearts in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:7); Christ is himself the peace between us (Eph 2:14).

Bibliography: h. beck and c. brown, "Peace," Dictionary of New Testament Theology 2 (1976) 776783. j. i. durham, "Šālôm and the Presence of God," j. i. durham and j. r. porter, eds., Proclamation and Presence. Old Testament Essays in Honour of Gwynne Henton Davies (Richmond 1970) 272293. j. folk, "Salvation as Shalom," Dialog 26 (1987) 104110. v. p. furnish, "War and Peace in the New Testament," Interpretation 38 (1984) 363379. p. d. hanson, "War and Peace in the Hebrew Bible," Interpretation 38 (1984) 341362. v. hasler, "eirēnē, ēs, hē eirēnē Frieden," Exegetisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament, v. 1 (1980) cols. 957964. d. j. wiseman, "'Is it Peace?' Covenant and Diplomacy," Vetus Testmentum 32 (1982) 311326.

[j. l. gillman]

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