Men of Goodwill
Published December 6, 2023
“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” ~ Luke 2:14
There are many things to love about the greatest animated Christmas special of all time, A Charlie Brown Christmas—the simple, charmingly inconsistent animation style (that little Christmas tree went from three branches to entirely lush faster than a Grinch’s heart can grow three sizes); the playful, West Coast jazz piano from Vince Guaraldi; the beloved Peanuts characters, brought to life from the pages of the Sunday paper to television sets across America for the first time. Yet for all these wonderful qualities, what makes A Charlie Brown Christmas truly special is its clear proclamation of the true meaning of Christmas. Disillusioned by the commercialization of Christmas, Charlie Brown despairs, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus immediately comes to the rescue! He steps up to the microphone and recites Luke 2:8-14, the passage where the angel announces the birth of Christ to a group of shepherds. It’s stirring to watch as Linus relaxes his otherwise unrelenting grip on his security blanket, dropping it on the floor just as he utters the words “fear not.” The climax of the passage, and incidentally the Christmas special, comes at verse 14, where a multitude of angels cry out, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men” (KJV).
The King James Translation of this verse read by Linus may be the one most familiar to our ears, but modern translations have actually rendered the end of the verse differently based on a textual variant in the Biblical manuscripts. While the KJV reads “peace, goodwill toward men,” the NASB reads “among men with whom he is pleased.” Virtually all modern translations more or less reflect the NASB reading, such as “among those with whom he is pleased” in the ESV or “to those on whom his favor rests” in the NIV. The difference comes down to a single Greek letter. The earliest and most reliable Greek manuscripts have a sigma at the end of the word for “goodwill,” which was accidentally omitted by a scribe somewhere along the way, resulting in the “goodwill toward men” reading. The original reading (with the sigma) could be rendered literally as “men of goodwill.” This goodwill comes from God, and this exact phrase is used as an idiom in other Greek literature (i.e., the Greek Old Testament [Septuagint] and other Jewish writings from the Second Temple period) for those on whom God has chosen to bestow His favor. In other words, the “men of goodwill” are God’s elect. This is why modern translations have rightly rendered the phrase as “the people with whom God is pleased” or “to those on whom his favor rests.”
The significance of this reading is that right at the climax of the angelic pronouncement of Christ’s birth stands the wonderful doctrine of election. This pronouncement is not primarily an expression of the general benevolence that God has toward all of His creation, but the expression of God’s special love for His people. It’s an electing love, from a God who chooses us from before the foundation of the world. It’s a sacrificial love, from a God who sends His Son to vicariously atone for our sins. It is a love that brings peace, but only to the men of goodwill, those with whom God is pleased, those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ. Only believers receive the peace that Jesus offers. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).
The result is glory. God, who has brought about this wonderful plan of salvation, receives the glory. He receives glory in the highest (the heavenly realm) from the innumerable angelic host (Luke 2:14), and glory from those who respond to the gospel proclamation, exemplified by the shepherds in Luke 2:20. God is redeeming a people for Himself, and the end result is a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue giving glory to God for this plan of salvation He has wrought (Rev. 7:9-12).
The application of this glorious pronouncement is twofold. For those who are unbelievers, who have not trusted in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, who have not experienced the peace of God, this proclamation is a call to do so. It is good news. Repent of your sins and place your faith in Jesus.
For believers, for those who have experienced the peace that Jesus brings, it is a call to give God glory. In this Christmas season, reflect on this marvelous work of God in sending Jesus into the world to bring peace to His elect people, those in whom He is pleased. May your heart overflow with gratitude that He chose you, not because of anything you have done, but because of His sovereign good pleasure.