Note on Luke 2:14

Into my hand was placed a clipping from the Chicago Tribune dated Saturday, September 24, 1955 with the above title. We considered the article interesting enough to pass on to our readers. 

It intends to clarify a problem concerning which there has been considerable debate among the textual critics as to the exact meaning of the text of Luke 2:14relative to the last part of the text. 

In the Greek original there are given two possible readings in respect to this last part. The translators have tried to reflect these differences in their renditions. The King James Version translates: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” The American Revised translation is: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased.” Douay translates the last part this way: “And on earth peace to men of good will.” We have always translated it this way: “And peace on earth in men of good pleasure.” The question is: Is the last word of the original text in the nominative or in the genitive case? Is it eudokia or eudokias? It appears that the majority of manuscripts favor the genitive, the denial of this by Lenski notwithstanding. The Chicago Tribune, reflecting on a series of articles appearing in the Christian Century, has done us a favor in claiming evidence that sustains and verifies our translation. Here is the article: 

“Christmas is now just three months ahead; this is, therefore, the right moment to announce that at last the old controversy over the proper translation of Luke 2:14, seems on the point of settlement. For this happy result we can thank the scholars who have been working over the recently discovered Dead Sea scrolls. 

“The verse, as it is incorrectly carried in the minds of many thousands of good people, ends with the words, “Peace on earth, good will to men.” When that formulation gets into the newspapers, as it usually does in the course of the Christmas season, the editor hears from his readers. He is reminded that the correct version reads, “. . . . and on earth peace, good will to men.” 

“No sooner does he print this quotation from the Ming James version than he hears from his Catholic readers. They quote the Douay translation which with the change of only a preposition or two, arrives at the wholly different meaning: “And on earth peace to men of good will.” 

“Prof. Goodspeed, in his American translation of 1931, found both readings incorrect and offered the translation, “Peace to the men he favors.” The scholars who prepared the Revised Standard version of 1952, now in use in many churches, accepted Dr. Godspeed’s idea but managed, with a little effort, to clothe it in more words: their reading is, “. . . and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased.” 

“So now we come to the Dead Sea scrolls, or rather a series of articles on them which have been published in recent issues of the Christian Century. The author is Prof. Frank M. Cross, Jr. of the McCormick Theological seminary of this city. On the basis of an ancient Essene psalm from which the words in Luke may have been quoted, he comes to the conclusion that Prof. Goodspeed was right; just to leave no doubt on the point, he offers the suggestion that the passage really means, peace “to those who, by God’s gracious election, find themselves members of the eschatological community.” 

“That ought to settle it even though there may be a little difficulty in setting these words to music.” So far the article. 

It surprises us that Prof. Cross will go so far to sustain the genitive rendition that he will say “to those who, by God’s gracious election, find themselves members of the eschatological community.” And yet that is certainly the idea of the text as well as of all Scripture. Those inclined to Pelagianism and Arminianism will surely be averse to this translation. They will favor the translation of Douay “and on earth peace to men of good will.” They will do this simply because they would find some good, inherent good, in man which God recognizes. But how contrary this is to the first part of the text in which the angels ascribe all the glory of God. And in the light of the context as well as of all Scripture is it not the truth that man is corrupt and lost in himself, that salvation is impossible as far he is concerned? That God, to whom all glory is due, through Immanuel, brings peace to those who are the objects of His good pleasure? Indeed, so it is! 

As to Catechism Books. 

It is generally at this time of the year that we receive from the publishers: Eerdmans, Baker, and Zondervan, catalogues of the various catechism books and other related material which we are advised to order for use in the instruction of our covenant children in the catechism classes which again take up their work after a period of recess.

Since this material is written by men outside of our denomination and therefore includes doctrinal material we cannot nor desire to use, the publishers could probably save themselves considerable expense and effort by discontinuing this practice. 

This does not mean, however, that we do not need catechism material. For it becomes increasingly evident that there is great need, and that too, for the very best possible. One or more of our churches expressed this need before a major assembly which body took action. As is well known, for years we had the use of catechism books written by our own men and approved by our major assemblies. These included the two books written by the Rev. H. Hoeksema, namely, Essentials of Reformed Doctrine and The Heidelberg Catechism for Junior Catechumens, as well as five books written by the Rev. P. De Boer of a historical nature, namely, the Old and New Testament for Seniors, the Old and New Testament for Juniors, and Bible Stories for Beginners. Since the Rev. De Boer is no longer with us and since he had complete control over the supply of his books, it was thought that we would have to seek a new source of supply. I recall that Classis East, when faced with this problem, decided to ask the Rev. De Boer to continue to supply our churches with his books and First Church of Grand Rapids was authorized to procure them. Besides it was also decided to appoint a committee, composed of our own ministers, that would work on the production of new books. 

We are happy with this decision, for it takes care of our immediate need, and fosters the hope that in the not too distant future we will have material that will be a vast improvement over the old. 

When one looks over the vast amount of catechism material that has been produced in and outside of our churches, he might be inclined to say: Is there need of more catechism books? But when one is busily engaged in teaching our catechumens he soon discovers how essential it is to have the best. And the best is generally discovered after years of development and constructive criticism of the old material. 

There has been much criticism of the old material we have used which is in our opinion wholly unwarranted. I have in mind especially the criticism of Rev. Hoeksema’s book, Essentials of Reformed Doctrine by men who have now departed from us. Several were the attempts by them to throw out this book by replacing it with productions under their own name. Not only do we consider their criticism unjustifiable, but their productions we do not consider to be any improvement. Rather it appears that theirs was an attempt to get for themselves a name. Striking it is that our churches have never asked for a revision or simplification of this book. This means of course that the book has met with acceptance by our people in general and our young people in particular. This does not mean to say that the book is perfect and that no revision is possible. But we have always found that it gives good guidance and leaves room for the teacher to expand in the class room. This is, we believe as it should be. To write catechism books is not every man’s work. 

The committee, therefore, will have important work to do. Much time and effort will be required of those who labor in this work to produce material that will faithfully express the truth of Scripture in question and answer form. Our churches may well remember this committee in their prayers that the Holy Spirit may guide them who serve to pen only that which is in harmony with His infallible Word and which best expresses the truth as it is believed and confessed in our Protestant Reformed Churches. So we may believe, the Lord will preserve His truth in the future generations of our believing seed. Important as the pure preaching of the gospel each Sabbath from the pulpit is the importance of sound catechetical instruction of our children in the days of the week. Let them not neglect it, nor those instructing minimize it. 

Strictly speaking, I suppose, this part of my contribution does not properly belong to this rubric. ALL AROUND US is not WITHIN US. But it will have to stand for this time because I thought it necessary to say something about it that our people may be catechism-minded.