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Peace

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The Oxford Companion to the Bible What is This? Provides authoritative interpretive entries on Biblical people, places, beliefs, events, and secular influences.

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    Peace

    The Hebrew word translated “peace,” šālôm, occurs more than 250 times in the Bible, and its richness is shown in its many usages. It is used as a courteous greeting (Gen. 43.23; see Salutations), and also to refer to health or to restoration to health, to general well‐being such as sound sleep, length of life, a tranquil death, and even to the physical safety of an individual (Gen. 15.15; 43.27; Exod. 18.7; Josh. 10.21; 1 Kings 22.17; Job 5.23; Pss. 4.8; 38.3; Prov. 3.2; Isa. 38.17).

    šālôm is also used to describe good relations between peoples and nations (Judg. 4.17; 1 Kings 5.26). Thus, it has important social dimensions that can also be seen from the association of peace with righteousness, law, judgment, and the actions of public officials (Isa. 48.18; 60.17; Zech. 8.16).

    šālôm is used, too, to describe quiet tranquillity and contentment (Ps. 119.165; Isa. 32.17; Isa. 48.22). It can also be almost synonymous with friendship (1 Chron. 12.17; Zech. 6.13). The root ideas of the Hebrew word are well‐being, wholeness, soundness, completeness.

    šālôm also has theological dimensions. God is described as peace (Judg. 6.24), and its creator and source, who gives it to his people (Lev. 26.6; Num. 6.26; 1 Kings 2.33; 1 Chron. 22.9; Ps. 29.11; Isa. 26.12). Peace in its fullest sense thus cannot be had apart from God (Ps. 4.8; Isa. 45.7; Zech. 8.10–12), a conclusion especially prominent in exilic and postexilic literature (Isa. 54.10; Ezek. 37.26; Mal. 2.5).

    The usual Greek word for “peace” is eirēnē. In classical literature it denoted the opposite of war or conflict; later it came to describe a harmonious state of mind, an imperturbability that could exist irrespective of external circumstances. In the New Testament, eirēnē has these overtones as well as meanings derived from šālôm.

    The distinctive idea about eirēnē in the New Testament is its mediation through Jesus Christ. He is described as the peace which ultimately unifies humanity (Eph. 2.14–17), reconciling humanity with God (Rom. 5.1) through his death (Col. 1.20).

    Gerald F. Hawthorne

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