Paul addresses the “saints” who are residing in Corinth. He begins his letter by informing them that they were called by God and set apart for the Gospel. The next verse, 1 Corinthians 1:3, tells his readers what comes from being God’s special people, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Handbook for Translators suggests that this verse might better be presented as a prayer that Paul prays for his readers. It might go something like this, “May God be kind and generous toward you, May God show his goodness, or May God give you what you need.” Grace in Greek is related to the word for “greeting” that was commonly used at the beginning of Greek letters. Peace was similarly used in Jewish letters.

In the Christian context, however, both words have more significance. The Handbook goes on and says, “In the language of the early Christians, to pray that someone might receive grace was more than an ordinary greeting. Grace, depending on the context, can have any one of three meanings: (a) God’s generosity in giving his love to people who do not deserve it, (b) the total sum of God’s gifts considered as a whole, or (c) individual gifts. In this verse, meaning (b) is the most likely.” In western civilization, the word “grace” has lost much of its meaning in both the believing and non-believing population. Repeated sayings degenerate into the sheer convention and don’t carry the intended weight. Thus, the English “Good-bye” originates from the early form “God be wy you,” “God buy’ye” as a contraction of “God be with ye.” Paul doesn’t want the Greek greeting or the Hebrew greeting to be familiar to the readers of his epistles. Hence, he expands these two greetings by adding, “from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” “And peace for Christians, as in the Old Testament, was more than the absence of war or a peaceful feeling that an individual might have inside himself. Christians understood these terms as related to the nature of God. Grace and peace, therefore, overlap in meaning, both with one another and also with ‘righteousness,’ which Today’s English Version often translates as ‘being right with God.’ Peace in the New Testament refers to a total state of well-being or good spiritual health that God gives to a person.”[1]

The Pillar commentary explains “Grace and Peace” this way, “The two words sum up beautifully Paul’s gospel, drawing attention to God’s beneficence and bounty, grace, the cause of salvation, and the well-being and welfare of those who are saved, peace, the outcome of salvation. As Fee observes, ‘the one flows out of the other.’ When one Christian wishes grace and peace to another, he prays that he may apprehend more fully the grace of God in which he already stands and the peace he already enjoys. Grace and peace are Paul’s shorthand for the eschatological benefits we have received in Christ.”[2] Another commentator puts it this way, “Grace signifies the free favor, mercy, and compassion of God, by which he freely pardons sins without our contribution of good works, accepts us ungrateful sinners, and proclaims us righteous and heirs of eternal life. Peace signifies spiritual and physical blessings; certainly, it includes the gift of the Holy Spirit, peace of conscience, renewed righteousness and life, gladness in God, and the inheritance of eternal life. Further, it includes protection, sustenance, guidance, consolation, and every good thing that we need, both in this present life and in the life to come.”[3]

[1] Ellingworth, Paul, Howard Hatton, and Paul Ellingworth. 1995. A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies.

[2] Ciampa, Roy E., and Brian S. Rosner. 2010. The First Letter to the Corinthians. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[3] Manetsch, Scott M., Timothy George, and David W. McNutt, eds. 2017. 1 Corinthians: New Testament. Vol. IXa. Reformation Commentary on Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.