Luke 2:14

"Good will toward men"

© 2003 by T.L. Hubeart Jr.

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

"Good will toward men" is a reading much disputed. Not surprisingly, A.T. Robertson (Word Pictures) argues for the reading "peace among men in whom he is well pleased" (ASV), saying that--

"The Textus Receptus (Authorized Version) also has eudokia, but the genitive eudokias is undoubtedly correct, supported by the oldest and best uncials (Aleph, A B D W) . . . . There has been much objection raised to the genitive eudokias, the correct text. But it makes perfectly good sense and better sense. As a matter of fact real peace on earth exists only among those who are the subjects of God's goodwill, who are characterized by goodwill toward God and man. . . ."

His assertion about eudokias ("in whom he is well pleased") being "the correct text" and making "perfectly good sense and better sense" is best seen as vain bravado. For one thing, Robertson does not mention that the reading eudokia (which translates as the "good will" in the KJV's "good will toward men") is not restricted to the Textus Receptus, but in fact appears in the majority of mss. (cf. Nestle-Aland 26's apparatus and the text of the NKJV Interlinear). He also does not mention that both Codex Aleph and Codex B have been corrected by a later hand to the majority reading. He also does not mention the testimony of several eminent church fathers to this reading (Eusebius, Apostolic Constitutions, Chrysostom, Severian, Cyril, Hesychius, and many others--including Origen himself, who testifies three times for eudokia and four times for eudokias!). He also neglects the early versions (Bohairic Coptic [3rd cent.], Armenian [5th cent.], Ethiopic, Georgian, Old Church Slavonic, and with minor variants some Old Syriac) which agree with the majority's eudokia.

Also, the "perfectly good sense and better sense" Robertson alleges (even though Matthew Henry himself pays respectful regard to the eudokias reading) is certainly open to doubt. His statement that "real peace on earth exists only among those who are the subjects of God's goodwill" is true as far as it goes. But doctrinally this sentiment is not in place in this verse. Since this is the announcement of the birth of Jesus Christ, the emphasis is on the demonstration of God's "good will" to all people, not simply those "in whom He is well pleased." All are enlightened by the true Light of Christ (John 1:9), although not all respond to it. All receive the invitation to call upon the name of Jesus and be saved (Rom. 10:6-13) .

As Matthew Henry remarks, "Here was the peace proclaimed with great solemnity; whoever will, let them come and take the benefit of it." And John Wesley (Explanatory Notes) comments, "This rejoicing acclamation strongly represents the piety and benevolence of these heavenly spirits: as if they had said, Glory be to God in the highest heavens: let all the angelic legions resound his praises. For with the Redeemer's birth, peace, and all kind of happiness, come down to dwell on earth: yea, the overflowings of Divine good will and favor are now exercised toward men."

To read "peace among men in whom he is well pleased" seems, in contrast, to put an undue Calvinistic slant on the matter--as though Christ's gift were only extended to certain "elect" individuals and not to humanity as a whole! (Of course, there were no Calvinists per se in antiquity, and it is hard to know what specific reason someone might have had in apostolic times for changing the majority reading to eudokias, but if this was not a simple scribal blunder [a point argued strongly by Burgon, Last Twelve Verses of S. Mark, Appendix I, pp. 262-3], I assume it was meant to support a doctrine similar to the hyper-predestination that some subscribe to in our day.)

James White, in trying to bolster this reading, cites a fact from Edward F. Hills: that Theodore Beza, whose Textus Receptus edition the KJV translators followed, retained eudokia in his text but noted that he believed eudokias was correct (King James Only Controversy, p. 170). Given Beza's Calvinistic beliefs, we would expect him to be favorable to a reading that seemed to reflect Calvin's doctrine of predestination. But even Paul, who said more that could be taken in support of predestination than any other apostle (e.g., Rom. 8:28-30), acknowledged that Christ "died for all"--2 Cor. 5:14-15--and that God used this as a way "to reconcile all things unto himself"--Col. 1:20. And John is similarly expansive in a well-known passage of scripture--John 3:16-17--which claims that God gave His Son "that the world [not just certain elect individuals] through him might be saved."

On balance, then, it seems more likely that the passage in this gospel of Luke would extend "good will" to all, rather than reflecting a restriction on the gift of Christ to those "in whom he is well pleased" which accords with the hyper-predestination of some theologies.

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