A salutation on meeting; an expression of good wishes at the opening (or in Hellenistic times times also the close) of a letter.
Among Semitic peoples the usual greeting was and is peace: “Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have” (1 Samuel 25:5-6 NAS; compare
Luke 10:5). The usual Greek greeting on meeting is charein, translated “hail” or “greeting” (Luke 1:28;
Matthew 28:9). A kiss was frequently a part of such greeting (Genesis 29:13;
1 Corinthians 16:20;
2 Corinthians 13:12;
1 Thessalonians 5:26;
1 Peter 5:14). The command not to stop to exchange greetings (2 Kings 4:29;
Luke 10:4) underlines the urgency of the commission given.
The opening greetings of ancient letters typically took the form: X (sender) to Y (addressee), greeting (Acts 15:23;
James 1:1). A letter addressed to a social superior took the form: To Y (addressee) from X (sender), greeting (Ezra 4:17). James is the only New Testament book to begin with the normal Greek greeting charein.
Paul transformed the customary greeting charein into an opportunity for sharing the faith, substituting “grace [charis] to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7;
1 Corinthians 1:3;
2 Corinthians 1:2;
Titus 1:4). In Paul's opening greeting these terms always occur in this order, witnessing to the truth that peace cannot be experienced apart from the prior experience of God's grace.
The greetings of Hellenistic letters typically contained a prayer for the health of the recipients.
3 John 1:2 provides the best New Testament example: “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul” (NRSV). Paul greatly expanded his opening prayers. Most of his letters begin with a prayer of thanksgiving, usually for the recipients. Ephesians begins with a benediction rather than a prayer of thanksgiving (also
1 Peter 1:3-5;
Revelation 1:4-6). In the Pauline corpus only Galatians lacks an opening prayer.
Hellenistic letters frequently included closing greetings. Most often these are “third person” greetings of the form X sends you greetings (by me) (1 Corinthians 16:19-20;
Colossians 4:10-14) or send my greetings to Y (who is not directly addressed; e.g.,
Colossians 4:15). Closing greetings often included a prayer or benediction. The simplest is “Grace be with you” (Colossians 4:18;
1 Timothy 6:21;
Hebrews 13:25). Elsewhere the benediction is expanded (Romans 16:25-27;
1 Corinthians 16:23-24;
Philippians 4:23). Some of the most familiar benedictions used in Christian worship come from such closing greetings: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost” (2 Corinthians 13:14); “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep make you perfect in every good work to do his will.” (Hebrews 13:20-21); “Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling to the only wise God our Savior” (Jude 1:24-25).