Unfortunately, we no longer possess the original autographs set to paper by the writers of the NT. What we do have is an abundance of manuscripts – far more than exists for any other book of antiquity. While it’s true there are variations among these manuscripts, because of their sheer abundance of them, we can have a good confidence what the original texts must have said.
Certainly none of the variations significantly impact any fundamental doctrine; however, occasionally variations result in a more than trivial difference in translations. One such variation occurs in Luke 2:14
The NA27 – which most modern translations use – reads:
δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας.
The Textus Receptus – which was the text used in the KJV translation – reads:
δοξα εν υψιστοις θεω και επι γης ειρηνη εν ανθρωποις ευδοκια
The difference between these two texts is only a single letter – the final sigma in ευδοκια. This single letter, however, changes the case of the word from the nominative case (ευδοκια) to the genitive case (εὐδοκίας).
The nominative case means εὐδοκία (along with εἰρήνη) is the subject of the clause εν ανθρωποις ευδοκια. This is a rather simple translation: “Good will toward men.” This is the KJV translation.
If the word is a genitive, then εἰρήνη is necessarily the subject of the clause εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας since it is in the nominative case. Translating this is somewhat more tricky (at least for me). It would mean something like: “peace toward men of good will.” More likely it means, “peace toward men of His [God’s] good pleasure.” The NASB reads, “peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
Theologically speaking, there is a slight difference between the two translations. “Good will toward men” suggests a universal peace from God toward all people. “[P]eace among men with whom He is pleased,” suggests God’s peace is reserved only for those who please God, namely those people who trust in His Son.
What a wonderful message the shepherds heard that night. This Christmas, I pray that everyone’s response would be the same as the shepherds’: “Let us now go… and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”