What does “All hail” mean in Matthew 28:9?


by Shawn Brasseaux

The Bible tells us in Matthew 28:9: “And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.”

“Hail” is equivalent to the Latin “salve,” as in “healing” or “health.” In fact, our English word “hail” originates from a (now obsolete) Middle English adjective that meant “health.” It is a wish for the health or wellbeing of the audience. The sense of the greeting is, “I hope you are well today,” “I hope I have found you in good health,” et cetera. In the case of Matthew 28:9, a group of women is addressed: “I wish all of you health.” What necessitated this salutation is found in the context of the relevant accounts.

Matthew chapter 28: “[5] And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. [6] He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. [7] And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. [8] And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.”

Mark chapter 16: “[5] And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. [6] And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. [7] But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. [8] And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.”

At that time, in Judaism, a woman’s testimony was not accepted as true, which is why we read in Luke chapter 24: “[9] And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. [10] It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. [11] And their words seemed to them as idle tales [nonsense, not worthy of acceptance], and they believed them not.

When the women were afraid and silent (Mark 16:8), Jesus appeared to them to encourage them to share the news of His resurrection with the Apostles (which they ultimately did, as reported in Luke 24:9-11). Matthew 28:9 again: “And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.” After they were calmed with such a greeting of health and comfort, they finally resumed their journey and spread the news.

For other examples of “hail,” see Matthew 26:49; Matthew 27:29; Mark 15:18; Luke 1:28; John 19:3. Regarding another translation of the Greek word “chairo,” notice “greeting” in Acts 15:23, Acts 23:26, and James 1:1. Also, see the rendering of “God speed” in 2 John 10-11, which our related Bible study (linked below) expounds.

Also see:
» Can you explain “God speed” in 2 John?
» Did the disciples go to the wrong tomb on Resurrection Sunday?
» Does Mark 16:9-20 belong in the Bible?