Saturday, April 10, 2021

Is Peace (Shalom) unconditional in the Bible? (Romans 5:1)

Protestant apologist James White has a few claims he regularly brings up against Catholicism, and which many Protestants blindly repeat. The two most common claims I've seen him make are asking Catholics "who is the Blessed Man of Romans 4:8?" and "Roman Catholicism cannot provide the true peace which the Gospel provides us". White says in his book and website (see here):
There can be no doubt what lies behind Paul’s use of the term peace in this [Romans 5:1] passage. The Hebrew steeped in Scripture knew full well the meaning of shalom. It does not refer merely to a cessation of hostilities. It is not a temporary cease-fire. The term shalom would not refer to a situation where two armed forces face each other across a border, ready for conflict, but not yet at war. Shalom refers to a fullness of peace, a wellness of relationship. Those systems [e.g. Roman Catholicism] that proclaim a man-centered scheme of justification cannot explain the richness of this word. They cannot provide peace because a relationship that finds its source and origin in the actions of imperfect sinners will always be imperfect itself. The phrase "we have peace" [Rom 5:1] in regard to God, properly means, God is at peace with us, his wrath towards us is removed.
This all sounds well and good, but all too often it turns out that things that sound good to human ears are often not actually what the Bible teaches (cf 2 Tim 4:3). White's lack of Biblical analysis in his presentation of how the Bible uses the term "peace" was suspicious to me, so I decided to see for myself how the Bible uses the Greek/Hebrew terms Peace/Shalom (here). Does the Bible speak of Peace/Shalom as something that is permanent and unconditional the way White makes it out to be? Here are some texts I've found that use the same Greek/Hebrew term "peace" as in Romans 5:1 that I think cast serious doubt on White's bold assertions: 
  • Ps 38:3 There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health [Shalom] in my bones because of my sin. - David is certainly not at peace with God because of David having displeased God through sin.
  • Ps 85:8 Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly. - The Psalm is about how God was formerly upset and punishing His people, but has since forgiven and restored them, with the warning they must not return back to sin.
  • Eccl 3:8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. - This indicates conditions can change such that peace turns to war. 
  • Isaiah 48:18 Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river . . . 22 “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.” - This clearly links having peace to keeping God's commandments, so in the Jewish mind, shalom/peace wasn't something unconditional and permanent.
  • Jeremiah 16:5 For thus says the Lord: Do not enter the house of mourning, or go to lament or grieve for them, for I have taken away my peace from this people, my steadfast love and mercy, declares the Lord. - This seems pretty clear: God took away peace from his people because of their sin. 
  • Lam 3:17 my soul is deprived of peace - other translation "You have taken peace from my soul" - The prophet Jeremiah is experiencing the loss of peace/shalom, even if it is for the national sin. 
  • Mt 10:12 (Lk 10:5-6) As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. - Sounds like peace can be canceled, rejected, etc, by bad behavior.
  • Lk11:21f When a strong man guards his own palace, his goods are safe [Greek: at Peace]; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he divides his spoil. - Jesus indicates peaceful conditions can cease.
  • Lk14:31ff What king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. - The language of "terms" indicate the peace is conditional and war can start up again if someone breaks the agreement.
  • Rom 2:9f There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good. - Paul indicates peace is tied to doing good, and is shown in opposite to distress.   
  • Rom 3:17 and the way of peace they have not known... - Paul is saying these people lack peace specifically because they live sinfully, this "way" is a lifestyle, quoting Isaiah 59:8
  • Gal 6:16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. - Paul says peace is only to be upon those who walk by Paul's rules. This is within an Epistle where many Christians were not living as they were supposed to.
  • Phil 4:9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me: practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. - Paul seems to tie having God's peace to practicing the faith.
  • Rev6:4 And out came another horse. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another. - God can remove peace from the earth, due to it's sinful living conditions.
Just from these passages, it seems that White's thesis about Biblical "peace" is dubious, if not debunked. From these texts, we see that peace can definitely be lost, for various reasons, including sinful living. This is not to downplay how amazing the Peace of Christ is, and how real it is, but rather to not go to the opposite extreme and think it is permanent and cannot be lost due to bad behavior. One clear example of losing peace is David in 2 Samuel 24, when he sinfully engaged in a census which God told him not to do, leading to David being punished with the death of 70,000 of his own people. The text 2 Sam 24:10 says David was "distressed" and had iniquity needing forgiveness, meaning not at peace per Rom 2:9f & Rom 4:8, and the divinely inspired Psalmist says "your wrath lies heavy upon me" (Ps 88:7), meaning not at peace per White's comments about wrath. 
Lastly, it should be noted that my opening quote from White is from at least 20 years ago, but within the last year on 28 April, 2020, White has officially changed his mind on how the Greek in Romans 5:1 should actually read. White now believes it should read "let us have peace" with God, rather than his longstanding preferred "we have peace" with God. [1] This is significant because the Church Fathers have "let us have peace" with God in their manuscripts (see my post here), and they explain it as "let us maintain peace by doing good works". As Chrysostom explains: "let us have peace, that is, let us sin no more, nor go back to our former estate. For this is making war with God" - and Pope Leo says: "The Apostle incites us to this good end, in saying, “let us have peace towards God.” In which brief sentence are summed up nearly all the commandments; for where true peace is, there can be no lack of virtue. . . . That chosen and royal race must live up to the dignity of its regeneration, must love what the Father loves, and in nought disagree with its Maker, lest the Lord should again say: I have begotten and raised up sons, but they have scorned Me." So we have a very reasonable case, both from the usage of the term in the Bible and in the very context, that the "peace" of Romans 5:1 is conditional upon our behavior.
[1] Skip to 1hr:10min at White's Dividing Line show here:
Peace is only found when you're
living according to God's Will



Talmid said...

Does White still uses the "no real peace on catholicism" argument that is made on his quote here? He changing his reading would kinda break the argument legs.

And yea, it is pretty important to look how the word is used on Scripture, a wrong reading of even one term can be a problem...

Nick said...

As far as I know, White has not abandoned the "no peace in Catholicism" claim, but I don't think he has really thought about it in relation to his "let us have peace" shift. Nor is he likely to re-consider it since nobody will bring it up to him. In his mind, the "let us have peace" claim isn't that radical and doesn't affect his theology, but that's because I don't think he has thought this through yet.

Talmid said...

That is a normal thing, i guess. Philosophers do something like that a lot, having this view that seems innocent but that actually can break their sistem. Usually only their disciples see the problem, a generation latter or more.

Hope that this happens faster here, but reformed christians seems focused on a more sistematic view of things, so that is unlikely.