Most modern translations of the New Testament are excellent. There are however a few places where you are completely surprised if you read the text in the original Greek. Several of those places have to do with the Christmas story. The verses that tell this story are so well known that many translations have chosen to keep old words that most people don’t understand, even if they think they do. The worst offender of all is the first half of Luke chapter two, the story of the Shepherds and the Angels.
The New International Version reads in verses 13 -14: Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
A “heavenly host” appears and they say something that looks like a poem or song lyrics. Notice it doesn’t actually say they sing.
Christmas cards, songs, movies and virtually everyone imagines in this verse a magnificent heavenly choir, arrayed in their glowing robes and singing four part harmony while floating in the sky. That is ABSOLUTELY NOT what Luke is describing.
The Shepherds are Terrified
The first clue is the reaction of the shepherds to the angel that appears in verse nine. The NIV says ‘they were terrified’. The old King James calls them ‘sore afraid’. The Greek literally says, ‘they were terrified with a great terror’. They aren’t just surprised. They are scared out of their minds. This is always the reaction when people in the Bible see an angel. Maybe they aren’t so friendly looking?
What exactly is a ‘host’?
Many people would say a host is a large number of people, or angels. But in that case Luke would be repeating himself when he says there was a ‘great company’ of the heavenly host. In fact, the word host has a very specific meaning.
The Greek word translated host is the word stratia. It is where we get our word strategy. It has only one basic meaning in New Testament Greek. It means AN ARMY. Not a choir. It means soldiers in full battle gear formed up for war.
If this is an army then why are they singing a song? The answer is they aren’t. Luke doesn’t say they are singing. They recite a kind of poem together. Did armies do that? Yes and they still do. ‘One, Two, Three, Four, I love the Marine Corps!’ The angel army is chanting a battle cry. The battle cry is simple. We can paraphrase it like this, “Glory to God in Heaven. Peace here on the earth to those who are His friends. The war is about to end. The Enemy is going to die.”
Why is the war over? Because a baby is born. The army marches behind its most powerful weapon, its First Soldier, the death blow to Satan and the enemies of God, the baby of Bethlehem.
Leave me a comment and tell me what you think.