The Meaning of Shalom in the Bible
Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). When Jesus meets his disciples after the resurrection, he continually says to them, “Peace” (John 20:19,21,26). Under these circumstances it is obvious that the term “peace” is extraordinarily full of meaning. What is this peace Jesus gives us? In order to understand Jesus’ words, we must reflect on the many facets of the crucial Hebrew term shalom, which lies behind the English word “peace.”
Shalom is one of the key words and images for salvation in the Bible. The Hebrew word refers most commonly to a person being uninjured and safe, whole and sound. In the New Testament, shalom is revealed as the reconciliation of all things to God through the work of Christ: “God was pleased . . . through [Christ] to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through [Christ’s] blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19–20). Shalom experienced is multidimensional, complete well-being — physical, psychological, social, and spiritual; it flows from all of one’s relationships being put right — with God, with(in) oneself, and with others.
Shalom with God
Most fundamentally, shalom means reconciliation with God. God can give us peace with himself or remove it (Psalm 85:8; Jeremiah 16:5). Because Phinehas turned away God’s wrath on sin, he and his family are given a “covenant of [shalom]” with God (Numbers 25:12). One of the offerings under the Mosaic covenant is the shelamim offering — the peace, or fellowship, offering — the only one of the Levitical sacrifices in which the offerer receives back some of the meal to eat. Sin disrupts shalom. When anything heals the rupture and closes the gap between us and God, there should be a celebration, a joyful meal in God’s presence.
Shalom with Others
Shalom also means peace with others, peace between parties. It means the end of hostilities and war (Deuteronomy 20:12; Judges 21:13). The wise woman of Abel Beth Maakah maintained her city’s shalom, its peacefulness, by averting a siege and war (2 Samuel 20:14–22). But shalom does not mean only reconciliation between warring factions or nations (1 Kings 5:12). It also refers to socially just relationships between individuals and classes. Jeremiah insists that unless there is an end to oppression, greed, and violence in social relationships, there can be no shalom, however much the false prophets say the word (Jeremiah 6:1–9,14; compare Jeremiah 8:11).