I did this research (or most of it) for my Christmas homily and ended up not using it, so I’m posting it here so it won’t go to waste entirely.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14, ESV)
Or: and on earth peace, good will toward men (KJV and others in that line)
Or: and on earth peace to men of good will. (Douay/Rheims-Challoner; cf. the current translation of the Gloria).
You can compare more translations here, if you like. Here it is in Greek:
δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας.
Glory in highest to God and upon earth peace to men eudokias.
What should we do with eudokias? Which translation is right? They seem to fall into three groups. There’s the King James group, which has good will functioning in the same grammatical role as peace and glory. There’s the Vulgate-following group (more on that later), which has men of good will. And there’s the those on whom his favor rests group.
What does eudokias mean?
Derivation is always a chancy way to determine meaning (look up the derivation of the word nice sometime), but it’s a reasonable place to start, and in the case of this particular verse, it has definitely influenced translations.
The root (nominative) form of the word is eudokia. It’s a compound word, built from the prefix eu- and the word dokia. The prefix eu- means good or well. We see it in English in words like eulogy, euphemism, euphonium, and euphoria. Sometimes the letter u becomes a v, as in evangelism. The noun dokia comes from the verb dokeō. It means to seem, to appear, to think.
My Greek lexicons suggest good will, desire, purpose, choice.
It’s a word not found in secular Greek works, but I can look to see where it appears elsewhere in the Bible (all translations ESV):
Matt. 11:26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
Luke 10:21 In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
Rom. 10:1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.
Eph. 1:5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,
Eph. 1:9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ
Phil. 1:15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from [good will].
Phil. 2:13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
2Th. 1:11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power,
Clues from grammar
The word eudokias is in the genitive case in this verse. The genitive often (though not always) indicates ownership or possession, like an English of or an apostrophe-s. In a few manuscripts of this verse, however, the trailing s is omitted from this word, placing it in the nominative case.
The King James line of translations (“and on earth peace, goodwill to men”) seems to be based on manuscripts in which eudokia is in the nominative. (There is no record of what source text the KJV translators used.) In the Greek text, the words for glory and peace are both in the nominative, subjects of an implied be verb (“Glory be to God in the highest, and peace be on earth”). The KJV translators, looking at eudokia in the nominative, had little choice but to make peace and good will a double subject. The word order in Greek is awkward for that, but not impossible.
All other translations use the genitive reading: “of goodwill.”
Does “of goodwill” mean “having goodwill of their own” or “having God’s good will”? The “those with whom He is pleased” translations appear to think it’s the second. I think they’re going out on a bit of a limb in understanding eudokia as “having God’s favor/goodwill” when it really doesn’t seem to mean that anywhere else it’s used. My preference in translating would be to retain the ambiguity, say “of goodwill,” and let the reader/hearer contemplate both meanings.