Peace is often used today to describe the opposite of war, or as the termination of hostilities. In the Bible, however, it carries much greater significance. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, is also used as a greeting. It conveys not only the absence of conflict but also wishes the benefits and wellbeing brought by positive relationships for the person being greeted. In the Bible, peace also has a spiritual dimension; outer peace and inner spiritual peace are both seen as gifts from God.

Symbols of peace

DoveA dove, or an olive branch, are often used as symbols of peace. These derive from the story of Noah in the Old Testament, which tells how, after a terrible flood which wiped out most human beings and animals, God made peace with humankind. A dove, returning to Noah's ark (or boat) carrying an olive twig, showed Noah that the floods were receding (Genesis 8:11), a sign that God's anger was past. See Big ideas: Dove; Noah and the flood.

The gift of peace

The spiritual peace given by God is seen as a particular blessing throughout the Bible and is used in words of blessing today by both Jews and Christians. This is conveyed by the words ‘Shalom', or ‘Peace be with you'. In the Old Testament, God told Moses that the priests of the Israelites were to say,

‘The Lord bless you and keep you ... the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace' (Numbers 6:24-26).

Peace is also associated with wisdom (another gift from God), which itself is described as being: ‘more precious than rubies ... Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace' (Proverbs 3:15-17).

In the New Testament, Luke records how, when Christ was born, angels sang, ‘On earth, peace to men'.

Elsewhere, New Testament writers explain that when Jesus died on the cross and then came alive again, he overcame death and paid the necessary price for the sin of humankind. By doing so, his sacrifice made peace between people and God (Colossians 1:19-20). See Big ideas: Atonement and sacrifice; Cross, crucifixion; Death and resurrection.

Before his death, Christ promised comfort, in the form of the Holy Spirit, to his disciples. ‘Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you' (John 14:27). After Jesus came back from the dead, following his resurrection, he appeared to his disciples greeting them with the words, ‘Peace be with you' (Luke 24:36). Paul, writing to the people of Philippi (Philippians 4:7) speaks of the experience of ‘the peace of God which transcends all understanding.'

Later, Paul wrote to the Romans, praying that ‘the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him' (Romans 15:13).

Nevertheless, Jesus himself foresaw that such spiritual peace could only come after turmoil, since his message would even divide families. He asked his disciples,

‘Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three' (Luke 12:51-52).

Related topics

Big ideas: Atonement and sacrifice; Cross, crucifixion; Death and resurrection; Dove; Noah and the flood

Other cultural references

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