The Three Foundational Words of the Center for Peacemaking and Conflict Studies

The Three Foundational Words of the Center for Peacemaking and Conflict Studies

Three words serve as the foundation of the mission, vision and description of the Center for Peacemaking & Conflict Studies (CPACS): shalom, eiréné and teleios. The importance of these words, therefore, necessitates a deeper look at their meanings and concepts. Most Christians know that the primary meaning of the Hebrew word shalom is “peace.” But this word also conveys more than just an absence of violence. In his essay “Peace (Shalom) in the Old Testament,” Claus Westermann points out, “The Hebrew word shalom is formed from a verb that means to make something complete, to make something whole or holistic. Shalom is this condition of being complete, of fullness or wholeness” (Westermann, p. 19). After sketching four uses of shalom in the Hebrew Bible, Westermann believes, “one can conclude the following: Shalom is so closely linked to what it means to be human, it refers to something . . . elemental. . . . To have shalom has obviously been essential for human existence throughout all ages, through all the manner and forms of existence” (Ibid., p. 20).

Like shalom, the Greek words eiréné and teleios have wide semantic domains. The most common definition of eiréné is “peace.” Its most ancient usage was to describe a moment in time “purely as an interlude in the everlasting state of war,” (Foerster, p. 401) but Werner Foerster points out that it was used “for almost all” the shalom passages in the Septuagint and, therefore, “it is natural that the content of the Heb. term should have penetrated into the Gk.” causing the word eiréné “to be filled out with the sense of the Neo-Hebrew or Aramaic shalom” (Ibid., p. 406). During this same time eiréné was being used by rabbis in a way not found in the Hebrew Bible—to describe the relationship between God and humanity (Ibid., p. 410). This progression continued into the Christian era where w was used to describe one’s relationship to/with God; as well as one’s relationships to/with others and how these relationships affect one’s life and soul (Ibid., p. 412-17). One of the most famous forms of eiréné occurs in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers (eirénopoios); for they shall be called the children of GOD,” (Matt 5:9) which refers to an unbiased/neutral person who comes between two contending parties and tries to make peace (Ibid., p. 419).

Like eiréné, teleios has a breadth of meanings and a depth of history. The earliest meanings of teleios are “whole,” “complete” and “perfect.” This “completeness” was understood as all encompassing “with no part outside, nothing which belongs left out” (Delling , p. 67). With the spread of Hellenism to Semitic peoples, the definition of teleios retained its earlier meanings but expanded to include “undivided” and “totality.” Several places in the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls use teleios to describe persons in right relationship to God as being whole, and in 1 Chronicles 28:9 as having an “undivided” heart (Ibid., p. 73). Teleios also features prominently in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “be teleios, just as your Heavenly Father is teleios” (Matt 5:48). Here, too, the context points “to conduct in relation” to others. “As God is unrestricted in His goodness, so . . . the disciples of Jesus should be ‘total’ in their love, bringing even their enemies within its compass” (Ibid., p. 74).

As this brief study shows, there are several reasons why shalom, eiréné and teleios serve as a foundation for CPACS. Important to each word is the aspect of relationship. Through its academic and service work CPACS desires to help individuals, organizations and communities restore broken relationships. Each word also conveys the idea of an ideal human state. The faculty, staff and volunteers at CPACS understand that people are most “human” when they are healthy communities practicing shalom, eiréné and teleios. Finally, each word carries within it a focus on the other rather than the self. Shalom, eiréné and teleios are not the goal of CPACS as much as they are the means to the goal. CPACS seeks the well-being of others through the theoretical and practical use of peacemaking so that our communities can flourish as GOD intended.

Delling, G. (1964). τελειος. In Theological Dictionary of the new Testament. (Vol. 8, pp. 67-78). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Foerster, W. (1964). ειρηνη. In Theological Dictionary of the new Testament. (Vol. 2, pp. 400-417). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Westermann, C. (1992). Peace (Shalom) in the Old Testament. In P. B. Yoder & W. M. Swartley (Eds.), The Meaning of Peace: Biblical Studies (pp. 16-48). Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press.

Spiritual Life

Randle Lewis