Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men! (Luke 2:14)In the days that the KJV was translated from the original languages, the focus may have been a hopeful one that looked toward that day when Jesus returned the second time to bring peace on earth. The translators may have liked the sound of those words and the idea of God’s goodwill toward all. I know that I do.
Yet is there peace on earth? We joke about the beauty pageant hopefuls who desire “peace on earth” in their short speeches and smile at children who ask for the same thing, but this is a serious matter. The earth has known only extremely short periods of peace since the birth of Christ. War prevails. War is happening somewhere on the planet all the time. Were the angels merely song writers out of touch with reality? Or did the people who translated the KJV make a mistake?
The original manuscripts are long gone. Paul’s letters, the Gospels, the Old Testament texts have not survived. Fortunately they were copied over and over, partly for circulation among the churches, and mostly because those who copied them knew their value. These ancient texts were penned by men but inspired by God.
When Christians agreed on the writings that were definitely God’s inspiration, they compiled them into a two-part volume. Those were then also copied, and recopied. In the Gutenberg Museum located in Mainz, Germany, I saw dozens of hand-copied bibles. I knew the people who did this counted characters and carefully checked in other ways to make sure their copies were accurate. I wept because their dedication meant that I could read the Word of God.
Later, I became aware of the differences in the manuscripts used for translation. Some are numerous. Others are older and considered more reliable. While they both declare the same glorious message, there are some small differences between the two. Another result of finding more manuscripts is that scholars today realize that there are more accurate translations of some passages. One of those is Luke 2:14. The better translations show that it should say:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace toward men on whom God’s sovereign pleasure rests (Luke 2:14).This makes sense. Peace on earth has not happened (yet), but peace has happened in the hearts of those whom God has blessed. This peace with God is a corollary of justification. Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I don’t know of peace on earth, but I do know peace with God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a wonderful reality, and it was God coming to earth in human flesh that made it possible. For that, I praise Him!
I don’t think the angels made a mistake. I’m thinking the KJV translators did not err either, but had more than good intentions. God did promise that this child would reign in a never-ending kingdom, a kingdom of peace. While it hasn’t happened yet, the Bible tells of the day when Jesus will return and reign on earth, so the idea of peace on earth is also possible.
This peace does not mean a universal salvation, but it does mean peace with God is available to anyone who responds to the goodwill of God toward them. His goodwill was demonstrated when He entered His creation as a babe — a babe who would eventually die on a cross so that all who believe, both in heaven and on earth, could enjoy peace with Him.