Grace and Peace. So What?
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:7, ESV)
This phrase has been recognized as the standard Pauline greeting—and rightly so, for he uses it in each of his thirteen canonical letters (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; Col 1:2; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:2; 1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philem 3). Unfortunately, as in most things, ubiquity dilutes gravitas. Because it is so familiar to us we often pass over it in our sermons and devotional reading, in the same way we would a salutation at the end of an email (e.g., Sincerely, Best Regards, In Christ). By so doing, however, we take a massive theological sentiment and make it a throwaway line.
In Romans 1:7 Paul closes his lengthy prescript (in Greek Romans 1:1–7 is one sentence) with a benediction—the bestowal of a blessing, a good word. I will draw out three things I think Paul is doing in his standard greeting. Before so doing, however, I would like to highlight what I believe is an oft-missed fact: this is not Paul’s greeting.
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7, emphasis added).
This is not Paul’s greeting, per se. That is to say, this is not from Paul to the recipients of his letter. He is the mere medium of this greeting that is extended from God (“from God…”) to his beloved on earth . We must not neglect the fact that this blessing resounds from the throne room of God and echoes into his world through his apostle (messenger/sent one), Paul, to God’s people (which includes us!). Jewett elucidates:
The power to grant the content of the blessing, “grace and peace,” derives not from the person uttering the words as they are read aloud in the Roman house and tenement churches, but from the source of all blessing: “from God our Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ.”
With that, we can move on to the three things Paul is doing with “his standard greeting.”
- 1) First, as some commentators have suggested, Paul’s use of “grace and peace” echoes elements of the Aaronic benediction, originally spoken over Israel, recited at our church every week at the conclusion of our gatherings—May the LORD be "gracious to you…and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24–26, emphasis added).
- 2) Second, as is his habit, Paul transforms this exclusively Hebrew blessing and applies it to a mixed group of believers (Jew and Gentile) through layered meaning. Paul not only extends the Aaronic blessing but he also co-opts the standard Greek expressions of greeting and injects it with theological meaning. He combines the standard Greek (“grace/joy” charis) and Hebrew (“peace” šālôm/eirēnē) expressions of greeting to address “all those in Rome who are loved by God.”
- 3) Third, I believe that “grace to you” is the action whereby God extends his covenantal favor revealed in the Son to all who believe in him (Rom 5:2), and this “peace,” which is flourishing-joy and right relationship with God, is the result of God’s action in us (Rom 5:1). Dunn paraphrases this passage thusly: “May you know the generous power of God undergirding and coming to expression in your daily life.” This, he says, “is a prayer for the unbounded and wholly generous outreaching power of God which makes for humankind’s best well-being.”
In one phrase Paul acknowledges the ethnic diversity of his original recipients, addresses them with the Aaronic-blessing, thereby recognizing her as a continuation of the people of God, or as R.T. France has convincingly argued, “the resurrected Israel”, and closes his introduction with a concise presentation of God’s gracious gift in salvation and the peace that results from a relationship with him. Paul expects that this grace of God poured out on all people indiscriminately will result in peace among God’s beloved saints in Rome (and in our churches as well!).
These three points serve as a surface gleaning of the text, and do not in any way represent a concretized, exhaustive list of Paul’s intended meaning. Since the Bible is God’s Word it cannot be exhausted. Therefore, our reading can (and should) be enriched by a variety of approaches. ↩
Robert Jewett and Roy David Kotansky, Romans: A Commentary, ed. Eldon Jay Epp, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006), 116. ↩
For example, see Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, vol. 33, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 228. ↩
James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1–8, vol. 38A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 20. ↩
R. T. France, Matthew:Evangelist and Teacher (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2004), 229–30. ↩