Christmas Calvinism: The Grammar of Luke 2:14

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace
among people with whom he is pleased.”
– Luke 2:14 [NET]

Until a few days ago, I’ve always read this verse in a Calvinistic way (I’ll use the term “exclusivist” for the rest of this post). That is to say, the peace being announced here is for a select group of individuals (not all of humanity) who have pleased God. Indeed, this is is how the ESV, NIV, and NRSV all steer their readers, replacing the above noun “people” with the pronoun “those” for a phrase that reads similar to “peace among those with whom his favor rests/he is pleased.”

However, I recently heard a sermon where the preacher read the text in a very inclusive way. That is to say, he read the peace being announced here as for all people, who as a collective, have God’s pleasure. The NET (quoted above) and NASB both leave this reading as an option, depending on how you mentally organize the clause. Does the phrase “with whom he is pleased” describe the type of people who are recipients of this peace or is it more of a simple description of the broad category of “people/humanity”? Thus reading: “Peace on earth among people/humanity, with whom he is pleased.”

It’s easy to see the various theological leanings which would play into how one chooses to read this verse. Surely God is not pleased with everybody, right? Or could it simply be God’s pleasure to send the Incarnate Son to redeem his perfectly loved, if not damaged, Image Bearers? Indeed, just before this angelic announcement there is another very inclusive phrase from the lips of the divine messenger: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people (παντὶ τῷ λαῷ).” [Lk. 2:10]

I know there are some issues with the Greek (and variant manuscripts) of this verse (see below*), but . . .

What do you think?
Should Luke 2:14 be read in an exclusive or inclusive way?
Why or why not?


Greek text of Luke 2:14 (marked off as poetry)

δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ
καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη
ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας

A quick consult with some of my more proficient Greek friends offered no help as to why exactly different translators have made the decisions they did or as to whether the Greek gives a definitive nod toward an exclusive or inclusive reading.

4 thoughts on “Christmas Calvinism: The Grammar of Luke 2:14

  1. Wouldn’t a Calvinistic reading also assume God had preordained the people he would be “pleased” with? Anyway, I’m not a Greek scholar, so it’s hard for me to tell how the Greek from verse 10 compares with that of verse 14. Can you enlighten us a little more?

    My own view (which is always open to modification!) is always rooted in how I see the nature of God…and I see God as ultimately inclusive. So I think he offers his peace to all humanity (and of course, we can debate as to what this “peace” entails!). Personally, I think part of the “peace” God offers is reconciliation with him. So he does indeed offer it to all…but not all will reciprocate. I don’t know exactly if that’s a satisfying resolution, but an inclusivist reading does seem more in keeping with the concept of God’s grace.

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    1. Matt – I think you’re right about a Calvinistic reading. Much more could be read into the phrase. I think an Arminian could read the text “exclusively” as well, though (which is why I ultimately went with that title).

      I don’t think there is much directly parallel between v. 10 and 14 (different words and different contexts – one messenger vs. a new appearance of heavenly choir), except that v. 10 sets the context of v. 14 as one of inclusivity.

      I agree with your view (but am always open to modification as well)! I am very interested to hear reasons (hopefully more linguistic/grammatical/exegetical) reasons behind the exclusive reading, which it seems to me like many translations lean towards. Or maybe I’m just reading into them!

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      1. You’re right, an Arminian interpretation could be read exclusively, too. I guess it serves to show how ultimately futile it can be to try contain God inside our philosophical constructs. But getting back to your point as to why the texts are generally interpreted in an exclusive way, I still wonder if that has as much to do with a particular view of God (God the judge who will punish those on whom his favor does not rest) as it does with what is actually recorded in the texts. Let’s face it, we want to see the “wicked” get what’s coming to them, right? And we want to be among those “on whom his favor rests.” So although I’m not a universalist, the inclusiveness of God found elsewhere in the Scriptures gives me pause. Anyway, excellent discussion.

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