Hello and welcome back to Renaissance Woman!
This week I am continuing my study of Isaiah 45:7 looking specifically at the meaning of peace. Since I have begun focusing my attention on not only the meaning of peace but its nature, I realize how often I have used the word peace without taking time to think about what exactly I meant.
For instance, over the last week, there was a situation I did not have peace about and yet I held my peace. I saw others involved keep the peace-despite provocation-and strive to make peace. I am using the same word to say what I mean and yet I mean different things each time. I’ve been pondering the six definitions of peace in the dictionary. Each definition is not diametrically opposed to the other: the dictionary tells me “peace” comes from the Latin pax (pacis, pangere) which means to fasten and the Latin pacisci to confirm an agreement.
The first four entries under “peace” in the dictionary are, freedom from war, a treaty or agreement to end war, freedom from public disturbance, and freedom from quarrels. Each one of these reflects that idea of confirming an agreement but, as I previously shared, does not necessarily mean the parties are in accord; merely the parties have agreed not to fight. Entries five and six-an undisturbed state of mind, absence of mental conflict, calm, quiet, and tranquility-do not conform as well to the idea of confirming an agreement. It made me wonder if it didn’t make more sense to use different words for these concepts.
Out of curiosity, I checked my thesaurus to see what words I could find to better express the substance of my thoughts. I could say: I was upset and uneasy when I found myself confronted with a situation ripe for conflict. I remained silent and watched while others refused to be provoked, responded amicably, sought accordance and reconciliation rather than discord, and averted hostilities. While my mind is still not tranquil, I find the more I offer the situation up to Jesus the closer I come to ataraxia.
I admit I got a bit carried away at the end there but, as a side note, ataraxia is a great word and I am now going to practice interjecting it into my everyday conversation. I do think my second description is more precise than the first where I only used “peace”. As I began to study “peace” in the Hebrew and Greek, I found both languages to be equally precise.
I looked up “peace” in the Strong’s Concordance and took a look at the list of Hebrew and Greek words. Holding one’s peace is charash (H2790) which has a range of meanings. It does mean “to be silent” or “to let alone” but also, oddly, means “to scratch, to engrave, plow”. Leviticus 10:3 which records Aaron as “holding his peace” uses the word damam (H1826). This word means “to be dumb…astonished…to cease…quiet self…tarry”. 2 Kings 2:3, Psalm 39:2, and Isaiah 42:14 (among others) use the root chashah (H2814) for holding one’s peace while Nehemiah 8:11 and Zephaniah 1:7 use the root hacah (H2013). Both of these words mean “hush, keep quiet”.
The other words translated peace all come from the same family. “Making peace” or “being at peace” is the root shalam (H7999) except for Joshua 9:15 where Joshua makes peace and a covenant with the inhabitants of Gibeon. The Strong’s has shalom (H7965) listed here. The word for “peace offerings” is shelem (H8002). Shalom then is the word translated “peace” the most often except for two instances in Daniel (4:1 and 6:25) where the word shelam (H8001) is used.
The Greek also has different words that have been translated “peace”. The word used most often in the New Testament, and the word I find in the Septuagint in my study passage, is eirene (G1515). This word means “peace, prosperity, quietness, rest, to set at one again” and the Strong’s suggests it comes from the primary verb eiro which means “to join”. Related to eirene and also translated “peace” are the words eirenopoios (G1518) and eirenopoieo (G1517). Eirenopoios means “pacificatory, peaceable, peace maker” and eirenopoieo means “to harmonize, make peace.”
There are four Greek words for “holding one’s peace”. The first is siopao (G4623) which means “silence, muteness” but is an involuntary stillness or inability to speak. This word is contrasted with sige (G4602) which is a refusal to speak but sige doesn’t appear in the Strong’s list. Sigao (G4601) which comes from sige does and means, “to keep silent”. Phimoo (G5392) appears in Mark 1:25 and Luke 4:35 and means “to muzzle”. Hesuchazo (G2270) appears in Luke 14:4 where it is translated “held their peace” or “kept silent”. Jesus has asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” and they kept silent. The word hesuchazo does mean “to keep still” but this stillness is in the sense of refraining from labor, meddlesomeness of speech, rest.
I find all of this riveting. It’s not like I don’t know what these passages mean when I read them in English and read the word “peace”: I can glean the meaning from the context. And yet, I am missing subtleties by not knowing all of these are different Greek and Hebrew words with unique meanings. Does it really matter? I think it does. I have seen written and heard said that scripture “means exactly what it says”. I have also heard the word “infallible” used when it comes to scripture. I cannot commit myself to agree with those who claim the aforementioned until I know exactly what they mean. If they are referring to their English translation, I have to disagree. Not that I do not value my English translation: I do and I enjoy reading it. My quibble comes when dogmatic statements are made based on the English translation when it does lack the subtlety and precision of the Hebrew, Greek, and even Aramaic.
Last week I mentioned Jeff A. Benner and his YouTube channel. In a few of the videos I’ve watched, he puts up a picture of a fast food meal and another of a steak dinner. He asks if he were to invite us to dinner, which would we choose? He then compares reading a translation of scripture to the fast food meal and reading it in the original language to the steak dinner. Both will fill you up and satisfy hunger, but which would you prefer?
As I study, I find I agree. I have used the word “peace” in all of its meanings throughout my life. I’ve read scripture and had an intellectual grasp of what the passages meant when I read “peace”. I understand but it’s a surface understanding and is like a fast food meal: something I’ve grabbed on the run because I don’t have the time to prepare a meal and sit down to consume it. It satisfies at the moment but is not all the food there is and, stretching this analogy further, a diet of fast food is unhealthy. Studying, questioning, and looking up the different words and their meanings: this feels like the steak dinner with the trimmings (or a lovely lentil and vegetable meal for my vegetarian friends). It’s not the word consumed on the run but it’s me taking the time to savor the different flavors and textures.
What about those who cannot study the ancient languages, for whatever reason? I am so grateful for the opportunities I have to study but nothing compares to being in the presence of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ. The best meal of all is the one we partake of in and by the Holy Spirit living and working inside of us. There is no better food than that which comes directly from the hand of He who made it.
As I move forward in my study, I will be focusing on shalom and eirene, exploring beneath the definitions and usage, and seeing what can be unearthed. I have seen eirene coming from eiro means “to join” and here I finally see the idea of “to fasten” found in the dictionary. I am curious if I’ll find the same idea in shalom.
To be continued…
The Holy Bible, New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1982
Guralnik, David B., Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition, William Collins + World Publishing Co., Inc., Cleveland•New York, 1970, 1976
Rodale, J.I., The Synonym Finder, Warner Books, Rodale Press, Inc., Emmaus, Pennsylvania, 1978
Strong, James, LL.D., S.T.D., The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1990