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The Table Video

Nicholas Wolterstorff

The Gospel and Shalom: A Better Translation

Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology, Yale University
June 5, 2017

Wolterstorff critiques a shallow evangelical interpretation of the Gospel as only “getting to heaven,” and discusses the implications of the Gospel for flourishing in this world.


The Gospel you say is meant to guide humanity in the pursuit of shalom.


But you think Shalom is more than just what you might translate as peace, or the absence of violence or strife. Can you say a little bit about how you understand this Gospel pursuit of Shalom?

So there’s a strong streak in evangelicalism which sees the Christian gospel as a message for how to get to heaven. And you believe in Jesus and by and large you don’t break contracts and things like that.

Have the right view of the atonement.

Nicholas: Have the right view of the atonement, have the right theology on a few crucial issues, believe that the Bible is infallible and things like that. Getting to heaven. I find it inescapable to see the Christian message as about, well getting to heaven, but about life in this world. And a key concept in that has come to be for me, the Hebrew concept, the concept in the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew word Shalom, which carries over into the New Testament. Shalom is, in most Biblical translations, English translations, translated as peace.

There was, in the second century before Christ, a Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Greek translators used the Greek word eirene to translate shalom, and eirene then also goes into the New Testament where it’s translated as peace. So running throughout, shalom, eirene, is peace. It’s come to seem to me, Evan, that peace is, the English word peace is a very weak translation of, not only weak but misleading. Yes, shalom involves no hostility. It involves peace in that sense. But it’s so much more than that. I think of it like this, it’s, it’s going right in all one’s relationships and taking joy in those relationships.

So being rightly related to God, and taking joy in that relationship. Being rightly related to one’s fellow human beings and taking joy in that relationship. Being rightly related to the natural world and finding joy. And one’s gotta include oneself, being rightly related to one’s self, because one can be wrongly related to oneself, of course, and finding joy in that. There are people who find themselves unpleasant or depressed and so forth, and that’s an absence of shalom.

So shalom, if I were a translator, I think I would use the English word flourishing. I think that’s the closest we get in English to shalom. As flourishing in all dimensions of one’s existence. It incorporates justice, but it goes beyond justice to finding delight.