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Study #2, Luke 2:14

By GRACE LEONA WORCESTER

Luke 2:14: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

This familiar Christmas greeting has been written, read, sung, and heard by thousands of Christians throughout the generations. Today, I will challenge you to reconsider your understanding of this verse for the very simple reason that the above translation is not an accurate translation from the Greek. Here is the verse in Greek:

Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας.

The translation error centers around the word εὐδοκίας. Prior to that word, the sentence is translated thusly: “Glory in the highest to God and on earth peace to men….” As you might have guessed, εὐδοκίας means “good will”. Since it is the last word in the sentence you might think that the sentence should read the same as the English version presented at the start of this post.

However, word order does not matter in Greek. Instead, the word order in the English is determined by the word ending in Greek. εὐδοκίας comes from the word εὐδοκία. The ending in our sentence is –ίας meaning that the word is in the genitive case. This basically means that the word is the object of a prepositional phrase. Translated correctly, the sentence would read in this way:

“Glory in the highest to God and on earth peace to men of good will.”

For the Greek to read in the English presented at the beginning of this post εὐδοκίας would have to be εὐδοκία. Using the -ία ending would put the word in the nominative case. This would make the word the subject of the sentence (or in this case the subject of the second independent clause in the sentence) on equal footing with the word εἰρήνη (peace) resulting in the translation “peace and good will to man”.

So why the discrepancy?

The answer is simple: there are just as many manuscripts utilizing the nominative as there are manuscripts utilizing the genitive case. However, textual criticism indicates that the genitive case translation is more correct than the nominative case translation. It is much more likely that over time the sigma (ς) at the end of the word was mistakenly dropped than that it was mistakenly added. This is made further probable by the interesting fact that sigmas (ς) were the final letter in so many words that scribes took to denoting them with a small dot similar to an apostrophe to speed the scribal process.

Therefore, the familiar Christmas card greeting is incorrect and the verse should be translated:

“Glory in the highest to God and on earth peace to men of good will.”

Having faithfully translated this verse for you, my readers, I leave you to decide: what are the theological implications?

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