Theology 101

Are Shalom and “Eirene” the Same?

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In my previous article, I elaborated on the Old Testament usage of “shalom” as a greeting, to denote a relationship, or to signify complete maturity. Today, we’re going to turn to “shalom” in the New Testament.

Shalom in the New Testament

The Jewish word shalom does not occur at all, of course, in the Greek New Testament. There is a Greek word, however, that is almost identical in meaning, eirene (pronounced eye-RAY-nay). While this word is usually translated as peace in the New Testament, when the New Testament writers wrote eirene, they were mostly thinking shalom.

In the classic Greek, the word eirene literally means a condition of law and order that results in the blessing of prosperity. While it sometimes suggests peaceful conduct toward others, the New Testament’s use of eirene is more all-encompassing. Like shalom in the Old Testament, it includes a broad vision of human flourishing with a New Testament emphasis on God’s saving work through Jesus Christ. Indeed, God’s redemption of Israel and the church is rightly described as shalom/eirene because the result is true human flourishing.

Eirene is an important word in the New Testament. There are approximately 90 occurrences in the Greek New Testament of the word eirene and in almost every instance, it is used in the same ways that shalom is used in the Old Testament. For example, 1 Corinthians 14:33 (ESV) reads, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace (eirene).” Reading this verse takes on deeper meaning with this more complete understanding of shalom. God is a not a God of confusion or instability (the way things are not supposed to be); he is the God of the way things are supposed to be, where everything is working as he intended. 

The Kingdom Vision of Shalom/Eirene

According to the Old Testament prophets, shalom/eirene will be an essential characteristic of the Messiah’s kingdom, and is therefore used almost synonymously with the idea of salvation through Christ (Eph. 2:17). In fact, it describes both the content and the goal of the New Testament Christian message called the “gospel of peace (eirene)” (Eph. 6:15). 

This biblical view of flourishing as seen by the use of shalom and eirene stands apart from all others in that it provides not only a vision but also the means by which a person can achieve true flourishing. Again, theologian Jonathan Pennington writes: 

The Bible certainly speaks to the issue of human flourishing in very significant ways. But this is not unique among other ancient or current philosophies, religions, or worldviews. What is unique and what is revelational and authoritative for the Christian is that Holy Scripture understands human flourishing to be a function of God’s redemptive work in the world, the very core of his relation toward his creatures.

God’s scripture paints a beautiful picture of biblical flourishing represented by the words shalom and eirene. It also shows us that God’s goal in redemption through Christ is the restoration of what was lost in the Fall—shalom. 

Editor’s Note: The new booklet, Reweaving Shalom: Your Work and the Restoration of All Things, from which this article is adapted is now available as a digital download! Download your copy here.

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