luke 2:14

Jim West has posed a yuletide quest to uncover the “right” translation of Luke 2:14 (does anyone else get a Google ad inserted into that page for the “United Church of God”?). So here I’ll get into the spirit and have a go!

First, for reference, Jim suggests the following:

Glory to the highest God; and on earth, peace to men of good will.

The Greek text reads as follows:

δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας.

There is one significant textual issue in the verse, where some manuscripts read εὐδοκία rather than εὐδοκίας, that is a nominative (although dative is distinguished from nominative only by the iota subscript and so would also have been indistinguishable in uncial MSS) rather than genitive.

A close parallel exists in the LXX in the Odes 14:1-3 which reads:

δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκία

This is probably sourced from Luke 2:14, although it further attests to the nominative (or possibly dative) reading of the word εὐδοκία. This all means that a faithful translation (as far as such is ever possible) is going to be more difficult because there will remain some question over the precise text.

For the purposes of the discussion, I’ll go with the genitive εὐδοκίας.

The first clause, δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ sets up a contrast with the second clause — ἐν ὑψίστοις “in the highest places” vs. ἐπὶ γῆς “on Earth.” As such, I think Jim’s rendering “the highest God” is perhaps not the best we could achieve (I’d be happy with that were the Greek ἐν ὑψίστῳ θεῷ; cf. Gen 14:19–22). So I’ll go with “Glory in the high heavens to God” for that clause.

That leaves the remainder, ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας. Perhaps the most interesting part is the final part, in particular how the genitive εὐδοκίας relates to “among people.” I think it reasonable to read εὐδοκίας as adjectival, thus restricting the people upon whom peace is wished. So I would go with “on Earth, peace on favoured people.”

So, putting it all together:

“Glory in the high heavens to God, and on Earth peace with favoured people.”

3 responses to “luke 2:14”

  1. Fr. Robert (Anglican)

    Nice rendering, I like it very much. Both the ‘glory and favor’ of God, on His people! Certainly “Mary”, ‘the virgin’ had also great “favor” with God (Lk. 1:28-32), as the vessel of grace, for and in, the incarnation. But I am “Catholic” in faith myself. – Fr. Robert

  2. martin

    Hi John. From what I can see you don’t offer much argument except for deciding whether to use “men” or “people” in rendering ἀνθρώποις. In that regard I’m not too fussed, really, although there is some part of me that wants people to hear what they haven’t heard before, and that requires a potent reading of the existing translation (as you highlight), a new translation, or both!

    My main interest in this passage — at least in this post — lies in how we handle εὐδοκία[ς].

    I do think what you say here does require some qualification:

    … The performance is also proof that it is not language at the segmental level – lexis, grammar, syntax – that makes a text intelligible. It is context. It is suprasegmental phonology. It’s not what you say, but how you say it.

    Of course this statement overly simplifies matters, doesn’t it? The truth is that it is both lexis, grammar, syntax and how you say it that makes a text intelligible and conveys meaning.

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