© 2008 John H Mattox

    In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Chapter two, verses fourteen and fifteen, Paul says:

"For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances, for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace."

    In our war-conscious world, peace means primarily the cessation of hostilities between two opposing parties, and certainly this is an important aspect of peace. However, the Hebrew concept of peace embraces much more than a mere termination of warfare. Shalom, or peace, was and is, the salutation commonly used by Hebrew-speaking people, and this rich Hebrew word expresses much more than merely the negative idea of the absence of warfare.
    The noun shalom is derived from the verb shalam, which has the following meanings:

1. To be in good health.
2. To be in harmony.
3. To be prosperous.
4. To make intact or whole.
5. To pay a debt.
6. To be preserved, kept uninjured.
7. To come to an agreement.

    That the Greek word for peace, eirene, was used in each of these senses can be proved by many New Testament passages. The first of these meanings, to be in good health, is the obvious meaning of the word eirene in such passages as Mark 5:34:

"And he said unto her. Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole (lit. healed thee); go in peace, and be whole (healed) of thy plague."

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Christ, Our Peace (cont)

    The second meaning of shalam, to be in harmony, seems to be the prevailing idea of eirene in such passages as Luke 2:14:

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men (or among men of good will)."

See also Luke 19:38.
    Luke 19:42 illustrates the third meaning of shalam, to be prosperous. The passage reads:

"Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace."

Peace (eirene) is obviously used here in the sense of prosperity, welfare, or best interests. Many other passages exhibit this same meaning of peace.
    The fourth meaning of shalam is to make intact or whole. This is the meaning comprehended by eirene in the passage cited at the beginning of this article. The death of Christ has broken down the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile, so that both compose a new and complete body when they believe on Christ Jesus. The figure of the middle wall of partition is taken from a feature of the temple, in which a wall separated the court of the Gentiles from the court of Israel. On this wall were fastened bronze plaques which read: "It is forbidden for strangers to enter within the balustrade into the holy precincts. Whoever is apprehended therein will be responsible for his death, which will follow." Christ has broken down the spiritual counterpart of this middle wall of partition, and has made of both one new man.

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Christ, Our Peace (cont)

Shalam also signifies to pay a debt, and while this meaning of the word is not too extensively seen in eirene, there seems to be at least a suggestion of it in passages such as Romans 5:1:

"Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God."

The subject under discussion in the context is the sacrificial death of Christ, by which we are saved. This death paid the debt which we owed to God's justice, namely, our own death, for the law says:

"The soul that sinneth, it shall die." Ezekiel 18:4.

    To be preserved, kept uninjured, is another meaning of shalam, and this is surely the meaning of eirene in Luke 11:21:

"When a strong man keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace."

Preservation and safety, not the absence of warfare, is the central thought here.
    The seventh meaning of shalam is to come to an agreement. This meaning seems to be the principal idea of eirene in Luke 14:31-32, which reads:

"Or what king, going to make war against another king sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage and desireth conditions of peace."

    It is very plain that all of the rich meaning of the Hebrew word shalam is to be found also in the Greek word eirene, at least as Jesus and the New Testament writers used it, and this fact enables us to appreciate much more fully what Paul meant when he said of Christ, "He is our peace." In Him we have wholeness, safety, soundness, health, concord, friendship, completeness and prosperity.

John H Mattox
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