The word "grace" in biblical parlance can, like forgiveness, repentance, regeneration, and salvation, mean something as broad as describing the whole of God's activity toward man or as narrow as describing one segment of that activity. An accurate, common definition describes grace as the unmerited favor of God toward man. In the Old Testament, the term that most often is translated "grace, " is hen [ej]; in the New Testament, it is charis [cavri"].
The Old Testament. The word hen [ej] occurs around sixty times in the Old Testament. There are examples of man's favor to man, but the theological concept of importance to us is the grace of God demonstrated toward man. The term occurs most often in the phrase favor "in your (i.e., God's) sight" or "in the eyes of the Lord." This assumes the notion of God as a watchful master or king, with the one who is finding favor, a servant, an employee, or perhaps a soldier.
The concept first occurs in Genesis 6:8. Noah finds "favor in the eyes of the Lord." The context is that the Lord was grieved at "how great man's wickedness on the earth had become" ( Gen 6:5 ). This statement about the Lord's antipathy toward man is followed by his promise that he will wipe humankind from the face of the earth, that is, completely destroy him, because of his anger at their condition. Noah is then described as having found favor in the eyes of the Lord. The themes of judgment and salvation, in which the vast majority of humankind are condemned to destruction, while God finds favor on a few (Noah and his family), reoccurs often in connection with the idea of grace. Hence, concepts of election, salvation, mercy, and forgiveness are all linked in this first illustration of grace in the Old Testament. Interestingly, the rest of the references to favor in Genesis all describe favor in the eyes of man (e.g., Jacob begging Esau's favor, 32:5 ; Genesis 33:8 Genesis 33:10 Genesis 33:15 ).
Crucial among the Old Testament passages on the unmerited favor of God is the conversation between Moses and God recorded in Exodus 33. There, in the space of six verses, Moses is said to have found favor with God five times, hen [ej] being translated either "find favor" or "be pleased with." At the beginning of the chapter, Moses goes into the tent of meeting, while the pillar of cloud stands at the entrance to the tent, and the people of Israel stay outside, worshiping (v. 10). The Lord speaks to Moses "face to face, s a man speaks with his friend." In the passage, the conversation between Moses and the Lord has to do specifically with the favor that God shows to Moses, and Moses requests that God demonstrate that favor toward him. Moses begins by reminding God that he has called Moses to lead these people, but that God has not let him know whom he will send with Moses. The statement echoes the original conversation between Moses and God at the burning bush in chapter 3, where God promises to send Aaron with Moses to help him get the people out of Egypt. Here, the Lord promises only that his "Presence" will go with Moses, and that he will give him rest (v. 14). Moses has just stated that he knows God's name (another echo of chap. 3), and that he has found favor with God; he requests that God teach him his ways, so that he may "know you and continue to find favor with you" (v. 13). Moses demonstrates his humble dependence upon the grace of God by affirming that if God's Presence does not go up with them, he does not want to be sent, because he knows they will fail (v. 15). But he asks the reasonable question, "How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us?" (v. 16). God promises to go with him in the next verse because "I am pleased with you and I know you by name" (v. 17).
Moses then makes one of the most remarkable requests of God ever made in Scripture, asking God to "show me your glory." Just as remarkable is that God answers his request positively. He promised to "cause all my goodness to pass in front of you" and that he will proclaim his name "Yahweh" in Moses' presence. He then makes a statement that is connected with grace throughout Scripture, one that Paul will quote in the context of election in Romans 9: "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." This is a remarkable example of the unconditional and full character of the grace of God. God holds very little back, only telling Moses that he "cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." Even this is an act of unconditional and full grace in that God has withheld from Moses what would destroy him. The passage closes with the strange instruction that God will cause his "glory" to pass by, Moses being hid in a cleft in a rock and covered with the hand of God until the glory has passed by. Then God will remove his hand and allow Moses to see the back of his glory, but not his face. Again, this protective, gracious act of God emphasizes the extent to which God is willing to go with his faithful servant to show his favor toward him.
Moses again speaks of finding favor with the Lord in Numbers 11:4-17. When the people of Israel complain at having only manna and not any meat, Moses cries out to the Lord in an apparently sincere state of vexation at the burden of judging this entire people by himself: "I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now if I have found favor in your eyes and do not let me face my own ruin" (vv. 14-15). Without questioning his integrity or his strength of character, God immediately gives Moses a solution to his problem by appointing seventy of the elders of Israel to help him carry the burden of the people, "so that you will not have to carry it alone" (v. 17).
At the same time, God even answers the question that Moses has not asked: What about meat for the complaining people? God instructs Moses that he will give them meat for the month, though he will give them more meat than they want, as the story makes clear. The fact that the Lord brings judgment upon the people, however, does not vitiate the point of God's favor toward Moses in this passage. He still Acts as a sovereign who gives complete, unmerited favor to his servant.
God's favor sometimes extends to the fact that he will wait upon man as if he were his servant. Gideon, when called by God to lead Israel against Midian, asks God to wait while he goes to get his offering to set before him ( Judges 6:17 ). As with Moses, the statement is in the context of the promise of the Lord to be "with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together" ( Judges 6:16 ). When Gideon actually brings the offering that he has prepared, God shows his grace beyond what Gideon has asked by giving him instructions on where to place it and how to arrange it, then creating a supernatural fire that consumes the meat and the bread. After he disappears, Gideon realizes that he has seen the "angel of the Lord" and, interestingly, makes reference to the fact that he has seen him "face to face, " recalling the passage in Exodus. God shows his grace one more time by assuring Gideon that although he is afraid since he has seen the angel of the Lord face to face, he is not going to die ( Judges 6:23 ).
Samuel, too, finds favor in the eyes of the Lord ( 1 Sam 2:26 ). Here, the boy Samuel is described as growing in stature and in favor, not only with the Lord, but also with men. This verse is quoted, of course, in the New Testament, using the heavily theologically weighted term charis [cavri"] in relation to Jesus ( Luke 2:52 ). It is significant because it is a description of the growth of a child in the favor of God. The child cannot earn that favor since he is merely a child. Thus, God's grace toward those whom he loves grows in its extensiveness, as the child grows. This is perhaps no less important because of Samuel's unique relationship to salvation history. He is the last of the judges and is the transitional figure between the period of the judges and the period of the kings in Israel's history, as John the Baptist is in the New Testament between the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament evangelists.
Remarkably, the life of David is devoid of references to finding favor in the eyes of the Lord, though often he finds favor in the eyes of men, or requests such favor ( 1 Sam 16:22 ; 1 Samuel 20:3 1 Samuel 20:29 , etc. ). One reference, however, is striking, especially in light of the dearth of references elsewhere. As David flees the city of Jerusalem after hearing that Absalom has been crowned king in Hebron, he takes the ark with him. A particularly faithful servant named Ittai, the Gittite, has declared his faithfulness to David, even though David has given him leave to go back and spare himself potential death by association with David. The procession continues into the desert, where it stops so that they can offer sacrifices with the ark in their midst. Then the king tells Zadok the priest to take the ark back into the city because he knows it belongs in the temple of the Lord. In a remarkable display of trust in God and in his sovereignty, David says that if he finds favor in the Lord's eyes, then God will bring him back. But if he does not, then David is ready; as he puts it, "Let him do to me whatever seems good to him" ( 2 Sam 15:26 ). David recognizes that the unmerited favor of God has to do with God's choice, not his. Grace in the Old Testament is just as much an act of the sovereign will of God as is grace in the New Testament.
The last prominent example of grace in the Old Testament is found in the Book of Esther. Of course, the book does not speak of God's favor at all, but Esther's humility in seeking the favor of the king has always been understood as a pointer toward human responsibility to humbly accept the grace of God. Esther finds favor in the eyes of the king and is rewarded with the freedom of her people ( 5:1-8 ; 7:3 ; 8:5-8 ).
Only a few references close out the notion of grace in the Old Testament, but they are significant. Ezra in his notable prayer to God when he finds that the people have intermarried with foreigners against God's will (Ezra 9), states that God has been gracious to the people of Israel "for a brief moment, " in doing two things. The first is that he has left the people of Israel a remnant. The remnant is a sign that God's gracious favor bestowed upon Israel in the covenant continues on even in times of great disobedience and/or destruction among the Israelites, though this is the only reference to the remnant in the context in which hen [ej] is used in the Old Testament.
God has also given them "a firm place in his sanctuary, and so our God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage" ( Ezr 9:8 ). Here is a reference to the grace that is shown the people in the giving of the temple and the light that it brings to Israel. But in the context of the Book of Ezra, this may also be a reference to the grace shown by God in giving Israel the Law, since the reading of the Law and the confession of the sin of the people on the basis of that reading is so important to this book.
Another crucial reference is found in Jeremiah 31. The famous passage about the new covenant (vv. 31-34) is enough of a statement about the grace of God on its own, but it is linked to the hen [ej] of God by the occurrence of that word in 31:2. Introducing the same passage with the phrase "at that time, " an echo of the beginning of the covenant passage in 31:31, God says that "the people who survive the sword will find grace in the desert; I will come to give rest to Israel." Here is a promise of the grace of God given to the people when they are given the new covenant. The new covenant, of course, is a promise that God will be their God, and they will be his people, with the Law written upon their hearts and present in their minds, and the gracious promise that all God's people will know him. From the least of them to the greatest, they will be forgiven their wickedness, and God will remember their sins no more.
The New Testament. Grace in the New Testament is largely encompassed by the use of the word charis [cavri"]. While the idea of unmerited favor is found in some other places, the concept may be fairly restricted within the bounds of this article to the use of that term. It is worth noting that, though Jesus is never quoted as using the word charis [cavri"], his teaching is full of the unmerited favor of God. Perhaps the parable of the prodigal son is the most obvious example. In that parable grace is extended to one who has no basis upon which to be shown that grace, other than the fact that he has asked in humility and repentance to be shown it. Other parables demonstrate grace in the teaching of Jesus, perhaps most notably the parable of the laborers in he vineyard ( Matt 20:1-16 ) and the parable of the great supper ( Luke 14:16-24 ).
While the idea of grace can be said to be largely a Pauline one, there are references to it in John and Luke as well. John describes Jesus as "full of grace and truth" and speaks of his people receiving grace upon grace from the fullness of his grace ( John 1:16 ). In one of the most important theological statements about grace in Scripture, John says that the Law, a good thing, was given through Moses; the better things of grace and truth came through Jesus Christ ( John 1:17 ).
When we turn to the writings of Luke, we find that Jesus is described as having the grace of God upon him ( Luke 2:40 ) and as growing in grace with God and man ( Luke 2:52 ). Many more references to grace are found in the Book of Acts. Luke makes a strong association between grace and power, especially in the early chapters ( 4:33 ; 6:8 ; 11:23 ). Grace is found without qualifier ( 18:27 ) and in the phrases "message of his grace" ( 14:3 ), "grace of God" ( 14:26 ), "grace of our Lord Jesus" ( 15:11 ), "grace of the Lord" ( 15:40 ). The distinction between these phrases does not seem acute, and therefore the basic synonymity between them points to an intention on Luke's part to make a statement about the deity of Christ. Again, these phrases often seemed to be linked with the power of God to create spiritual life and to sustain Christians. This grace is, as in the Old Testament passages, an unmerited favor, but now a new aspect of power in the Spirit has been added to it.
The concept of grace is most prominently found in the New Testament in the epistles of Paul. The standard greeting in the Greek ancient world generally involved the verb charein. Paul's greeting, however, was unique, combining the Hebrew greeting, shalom [/l'v] (eirene in Greek) with the word charis [cavri"]. This in itself is enough to note that Paul is thinking and not simply reacting as he writes his greeting.
The fact that he sometimes uses grace in his benedictions as well, which clearly are intentional, indicates that his greetings are to be taken with some seriousness. For instance, the benediction in 1 Corinthians 16:23, coming just after his dramatic plea to the Lord to come, demonstrates a strong belief in the grace of God. In the salutation of the letter ( 1:3 ), one gets a greeting that follows on from a strongly worded theological statement about sanctification and calling ( 1:2 ) and that leads into a statement about grace in 1:4 demonstrating the theological import Paul intends. A similar seriousness could be argued about the other salutations in Paul's letters.
Overwhelmingly in the letters of Paul God is the subject of grace. He gives it freely and without merit. Hence the many different phrases connected with grace: the grace of God ( Rom 5:15 ), the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ ( 2 Cor 13:14 ), and the like. Sometimes this is explicitly stated, as in Ephesians 4:7: "to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it."
Interestingly, Paul sometimes mentions the gift of grace from God using alongside it language that speaks of human responsibility. So in Romans 15:16, Paul speaks of "the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God." Grace, then, is the power with which the human being then performs his or her gifted task. This is even more clearly seen in Paul's self-defense in Galatians. In one of the most truly dialectic passages in Scripture, Paul proclaims that he has died, yet lives, yet not he but Christ lives, yet he lives in the body by faith. He then argues that in living "by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me, " that he is not "setting aside the grace of God" ( 2:20-21 ). Only an argument that Paul was too dependent upon works in his life would create the argument that he was not setting aside the grace of God in his understanding of the sanctified Christian life.
Grace can be such a forceful thought for Paul that he sometimes anthropomorphizes it. Hence, in 1 Corinthians 15:10, in the midst of an emotional defense of his apostleship despite the fact that he had persecuted the church of God, Paul says that he is what he is by the grace of God. He then goes on to compare himself to others who had worked among the community, the other apostles, and declares that he worked harder than all of them. In order that this statement might not seem boastful, Paul follows it up by saying "yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." Though this grace is said to be God's grace, it nevertheless is said to be "with him, " and working harder than the other apostles, and is tantamount to equating the grace of God with the Holy Spirit.
In Ephesians 1:6 Paul speaks of the "glorious grace" of God, which should garner our praise. Of course, once again, Paul is not expecting us to praise an abstract comment, but he is thinking of the grace of God working so mightily in his life that it becomes a metonymy for God. The highly rhetorical character of the passage in which this verse is found ( 1:3-14 ) helps explain the power of this statement. The point is that Paul was so saturated with the notion of grace in his writing that he thought of it as an essential, if not the essential attribute of God.
Grace is most often associated in Paul with other terms having to do with salvation. We see it related to election ( Eph 1:3-6 ), to the gospel ( 2 Col 4:15 ; Col 1:5-6 ), explicitly to justification (Romans passim, esp. 3:23-26 ; Eph 2:8-9 ), and most often to sanctification ( Romans 5:2 Romans 5:21 ; Romans 6:1 Romans 6:14 Romans 6:15 ; 2 Col 12:9 ; Eph 2:10 ; Titus 2:11-14 ). It is even used with the human subject in speaking of the collection for Jerusalem as a work of grace.
In connecting grace to election Paul sees God as electing us before the creation of the world for the purpose of holiness and blamelessness ( Eph 1:4 ). He predestined us to be adopted as sons into the family of God ( Eph 1:5 ). All of this elective work is so that we might "praise his glorious grace." In other words, election and grace go hand in hand because of their free character. We can do nothing to deserve them.
This is the essential connection also with the gospel. In one of Paul's passages about the suffering that a minister of Christ undergoes, he speaks of faith and continuing in ministry "because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence" ( 2 Cor 4:14 ). Paul sees this as the benefit of not only the Corinthians but also all who receive his ministry, so that "the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart" (vv. 15-16). Grace thus renews Paul's inward spirit and assures him of glory in the afterlife (vv. 16-17). Hence, Paul's ministry is not one that he always does joyfully or motivated by his own power, but rather motivated by faith that God is working in the present and will reward him in the eschaton.
In the same way, he links the grace of God with the gospel in Colossians 1:5-6. The word of truth, the gospel, is bearing fruit and growing at the present time "just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth" (v. 6). The parallel descriptions of "gospel" and "grace" as "truth" link the two as synonyms in the passage. This grace is therefore the "hope that is stored up for [them] in heaven" (v. 5), presumably something God is doing in heaven for them, and hence free from merit.
Perhaps the most dominant metaphor with which grace is associated is the legal metaphor of justification. We see the two linked in two very important passages in which grace is used in Paul. Romans 3:23-24 states quite clearly that all have fallen short of the glory of God and are "justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Here, while the language of the slave market may be implied in the use of the word "redemption, " and that of the cultus in the use of the phrase "sacrifice of atonement" in the next verse, the strongest linking with grace in this passage is with the word "justified" in verse 24. Hence the unmerited favor of God buys us legal freedom from our sin and cancels the sentence of guilt the judge has had to declare in order "to be just and the one who justified those who have faith in Jesus" (v. 26). It is interesting to note that the next thought of Paul is: "where, then, is boasting? It is excluded" (v. 27), again emphasizing that grace is free and not the work of man.
In Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul states the free character of grace perhaps even more explicitly, now not using the language of justification but simply of salvation. We are told that we have been saved "by grace" but "through faith." Grace is seen here as the means by which we are saved, a free gift; faith is seen as the mechanism by which that salvation or grace is appropriated. Paul must then go on to argue that even faith is "not by works so that no one can boast" (v. 9).
This does not mean that Paul keeps grace separate from works in sanctification, for he goes right on to speak of us being God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works (v. 10). Similarly, grace is seen as being in the midst of our present Christian life. In Romans 5:2 Paul speaks of gaining "access by faith into this grace in which we now stand" and in 5:21 of grace reigning "through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." While all of this is in the context of the grace of God as a gift versus the Law of God as a work, nevertheless grace is viewed as reigning even as we live the life we are supposed to live in Christ. Hence the argument of Romans 6 that we are not to go on sinning so that grace may increase, but we are to "count [ourselves] dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus for sin shall not be [our] master, because [we] are not under law, but under grace" (vv. 11-14). The key metaphor used in this chapter to describe this "work" of sanctification is "offer." Hence we are not to "offer the parts of [our] body to sin as instruments of wickedness, " but rather offer ourselves to God, "as those who have been brought from death to life" (v. 13). This is done as slaves, offering ourselves in obedience to him (v. 16).
Even the suffering of the present Christian life is linked to the grace that God gives us. In Paul's famous statement about the thorn in his flesh ( 2 Cor 12:7-10 ), he speaks of asking three times that this thorn be taken from him, only to receive the answer "my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Here grace is equated with the power to live the Christian life and to do ministry in the name of Christ. So Paul delights even in the hardships of that ministry. In a similar way, the whole of the Christian life is linked to grace in tit 2:11-14. This grace "teaches us to say No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope." Here we see both the ethic of the Christian life (saying no and living uprightly) and the thought of the Christian life (the blessed hope) combined under the reign of grace.
Finally, grace is associated strongly with the gifts of the Spirit. This is true of the list of gifts in Ephesians 4:3-11 corporately to the church and the gifts given to individuals within the church for its edification ( Rom 12:4-8 ; 1 Cor 12 ). In all of the work of grace about which Paul speaks, the Spirit has been implicit if not directly explicit. Hence, even though grace is not specifically mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, we find that the Spirit gives to each one a gift "as he determines" (v. 11). The simple mention of these attributes as "gifts" throughout the chapter implies that they are a work of grace as well, but the connection with grace is explicit in the parallel passage of Romans 12:3-8. Here Paul states we have different gifts "according to the grace given us" (v. 6), and he has opened the passage by proclaiming that the source of his statement about thinking of others more than you think of yourself by saying that it comes through grace (v. 3). The somewhat different list in Ephesians 4 is similarly controlled by the notion of grace. Paul states in verse 7 "to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it." As he then describes this grace that has been given, it comes in the form of apostles, evangelists, and pastors/teachers in order "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" (v. 11).
The notion of grace as connected to the Spirit of God is continued by the author of Hebrews in such a way that even mentions "the Spirit of grace" ( 10:29 ). Hebrews also emphasizes the connection of grace to salvation ( 2:9 ), sanctification ( 4:16 ; 12:15 ; 13:9 ), and the final blessing of God ( 13:25 ).
The other literature in the New Testament also emphasizes the free character of grace. The one reference in James links it to God's gift ( 4:6 ). Peter, who also includes it in his greeting, quotes the same Old Testament verse as James ( 1 Peter 5:5 ) and speaks of us as stewards of the grace of God ( 4:10 ). Peter also closes his second epistle with a benediction in joining us to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." The Book of Revelation also begins with a salutation and closes with a benediction that includes grace ( 1:4 ; 22:21 ), the only two references to grace in the entire book.
Andrew H. Trotter, Jr.
Bibliography. H. Conzelman, TDNT, 9:359-415; H.-H. Esser, NIDNTT, 2:115-24; A. B. Luter, Jr., DPL, pp. 372-74; J. Moffatt, Grace in the New Testament; C. R. Smith, The Bible Doctrine of Grace; J. H. Stringer, NBD, pp. 442-44.
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But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by GRACE ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his GRACE in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by GRACE are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. ( Ephesians 2:4-9 )
1. The Word Charis:
In the English New Testament the word "grace" is always a translation of (charis), a word that occurs in the Greek text something over 170 times (the reading is uncertain in places). In secular Greek of all periods it is also a very common word, and in both Biblical and secular Greek it is used with far more meanings than can be represented by any one term in English Primarily
(a) the word seems to denote pleasant external appearance, "gracefulness" "loveliness"; compare the personificaion in the Graces." Such a use is found in Luke 4:22, where `wondered at the charm of his words' is a good translation; and similarly in Colossians 4:6.
(b) Objectively, charis may denote the impression produced by "gracefulness," as in 3John 1:4 `greater gratification have I none than this' (but many manuscripts read chara, "joy," here).
(c) As a mental attribute charis may be translated by "graciousness," or, when directed toward a particular person or persons, by "favor." So in Luke 2:52, "Jesus advanced .... in favor with God and men."
(d) As the complement to this, charis denotes the emotion awakened in the recipient of such favor, i.e. "gratitude." So Luke 17:9 reads literally, `Has he gratitude to that servant?' In a slightly transferred sense charis designates the words or emotion in which gratitude is expressed, and so becomes "thanks" (some 10 t, Romans 6:17, etc.)'.
(e) Concretely, charis may mean the act by which graciousness is expressed, as in 1 Corinthians 16:3, where the King James Version translates by "liberality," and the Revised Version (British and American) by "bounty." These various meanings naturally tend to blend into each other, and in certain cases it is difficult to fix the precise meaning that the writer meant the word to convey, a confusion that is common to both New Testament and secular Greek And in secular Greek the word has a still larger variety of meanings that scarcely concern theologian.
2. Grace as Power:
Naturally, the various meanings of the word were simply taken over from ordinary language by the New Testament writers. And so it is quite illegitimate to try to construct on the basis of all the occurrences of the word a single doctrine that will account for all the various usages. That one word could express both "charm of speech" and "thankfulness for blessings" was doubtless felt to be a mere accident, if it was thought of at all. But none the less, the very elasticity of the word enabled it to receive still another--new and technically Christian--meaning. This seems to have originated in part by fusing together two of the ordinary significances. In the first place, as in (e) above, charis may mean "a gift." In 1 Corinthians 16:3; 2 Corinthians 8:19 it is the money given by the Corinthians to the Jerusalemites. In 2 Corinthians 9:8 it is the increase of worldly goods that God grants for charitable purposes. In 2 Corinthians 1:15 it is the benefit received by the Corinthians from a visit by Paul. In a more spiritual sense charis is the endowment for an office in the church (Ephesians 4:7), more particularly for the apostolate (Romans 1:5; 12:3; 15:15; 1 Corinthians 3:10; Ephesians 3:2,7). So in 1 Corinthians 1:4-7 margin charis is expanded into "word and all knowledge," endowments with which the Corinthians were especially favored. In 1 Peter 1:13 charis is the future heavenly blessedness that Christians are to receive; in 3:7 it is the present gift of "life." In the second place, charis is the word for God's favor, a sense of the term that is especially refined by Paul (see below). But God's favor differs from man's in that it cannot be conceived of as inactive. A favorable "thought" of God's about a man involves of necessity the reception of some blessing by that man, and "to look with favor" is one of the commonest Biblical paraphrases for "bestow a blessing." Between "God's favor" and "God's favors" there exists a relation of active power, and as charis denoted both the favor and the favors, it was the natural word for the power that connected them. This use is very clear in 1 Corinthians 15:10, where Paul says, "not I, but the grace of God which was with me" labored more abundantly than they all:
grace is something that labors. So in 2 Corinthians 12:9, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness"; compare 2 Timothy 2:1, "strengthened in the grace," and 1 Peter 4:10, "stewards of the manifold grace." Evidently in this sense "grace" is almost a synonym for the Spirit (see HOLY SPIRIT), and there is little real difference between "full of the Holy Spirit" and "full of grace and power" in Acts 6:5,8, while there is a very striking parallel between Ephesians 4:7-13 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, with "gifts of grace" in the one passage, and "gifts of the Spirit" in the other. And this connection between grace and the Spirit is found definitely in the formula "Spirit of grace" in Hebrews 10:29 (compare Zechariah 12:10). And, as is well known, it is from this sense of the word that the Catholic doctrine of grace developed.
3. Grace in Justification:
This meaning of charis was obtained by expanding and combining other meanings. By the opposite process of narrowly restricting one of the meanings of the word, it came again into Christian theology as a technical term, but this time in a sense quite distinct from that just discussed. The formation of this special sense seems to have been the work of Paul. When charis is used with the meaning "favor," nothing at all is implied as to whether or not the favor is deserved. So, for instance, in the New Testament, when in Luke 2:52 it is said that "Jesus advanced .... in favor with God and men," the last possible thought is that our Lord did not deserve this favor. Compare also Luke 2:40 and Acts 2:47 and, as less clear cases, Luke 1:30; Acts 7:46; Hebrews 4:16; 12:15,28. But the word has abundant use in secular Greek in the sense of unmerited favor, and Paul seized on this meaning of the word to express a fundamental characteristic of Christianity. The basic passage is Romans 11:5,6, where as a definition is given, "If it is by grace, it is no more of works:
otherwise grace is no more grace." That the word is used in other senses could have caused no 1st-century reader to miss the meaning, which, indeed, is unmistakable. "Grace" in this sense is an attitude on God's part that proceeds entirely from within Himself, and that is conditioned in no way by anything in the objects of His favor. So in Romans 4:4. If salvation is given on the basis of what a man has done, then salvation is given by God as the payment of a debt. But when faith is reckoned for what it is not, i.e. righteousness, there is no claim on man's part, and he receives as a pure gift something that he has not earned. (It is quite true that faith involves moral effort, and so may be thought of as a sort of a "work"; it is quite true that faith does something as a preparation for receiving God's further gifts. But it simply clouds the exegetical issue to bring in these ideas here, as they certainly were not present in Paul's mind when the verses were being written.) "Grace" then, in this sense is the antinomy to "works" or to "law"; it has a special relation to the guilt of sin (Romans 5:20; 6:1), and has almost exactly the same sense as "mercy." Indeed, "grace" here differs from "mercy" chiefly in connoting eager love as the source of the act. See JUSTIFICATION. Of course it is this sense of grace that dominates Romans 3-6, especially in thesis 3:24, while the same use is found in Galatians 2:21; Ephesians 2:5,8; 2 Timothy 1:9. The same strict sense underlies Galatians 1:6 and is found, less sharply formulated, in Titus 3:5-7. (Galatians 5:4 is perhaps different.) Outside of Paul's writings, his definition of the word seems to be adopted in John 1:17; Acts 15:11; Hebrews 13:9, while a perversion of this definition in the direction of antinomianism is the subject of the invective in Jude 1:4. And, of course, it is from the word in this technical Pauline sense that an elaborate Protestant doctrine of grace has been developed.
4. Special Uses:
A few special uses of the word may be noted. That the special blessing of God on a particular undertaking (Acts 14:26; 15:40) should be called a "grace" needs no explanation. In Luke 6:32-34, and 1 Peter 2:19,20, charis seems to be used in the sense of "that which deserves the thanks of God," i.e. a specifically Christian act as distinguished from an act of "natural morality." "Grace for grace" in John 1:16 is a difficult phrase, but an almost exact parallel in Philo (Poster. Cain, 43) may fix the sense as "benefit on benefit." But the tendency of the New Testament writers is to combine the various meanings the word can have, something that is particularly well illustrated in 2 Corinthians 8; 9. In these two chapters the word occurs 10 t, but in so many different senses as to suggest that Paul is consciously playing with the term. Charis is the money given to the Jerusalemites by the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 8:19), it is the increase of goods that God will grant the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 9:8), it is the disposition of the givers (2 Corinthians 8:6), it is the power of God that has wrought this disposition (2 Corinthians 8:1; 9:14), it is the act of Christ in the Incarnation (2 Corinthians 8:9; contrast the distinction between "God's grace" and "Christs act" in Hebrews 2:9), it is the thanks that Paul renders (2 Corinthians 9:15). That all a Christian is and all that he has is God's gift could have been stated of course without the use of any special term at all. But in these two chapters Paul has taught this truth by using for the various ideas always the same term and by referring this term to God at the beginning and the end of the section. That is, to the multiplicity of concepts there is given a unity of terminology, corresponding to the unity given the multiple aspects of life by the thought of entire dependence on God. So charis, "grace," becomes almost an equivalent for "Christianity," viewed as the religion of dependence on God through Christ. As one may think of entering Christianity, abiding in it, or falling from it, so one may speak of entering into (Romans 5:2), abiding in (Acts 13:43), or falling from (Galatians 5:4) grace; compare 1 Peter 5:12. So the teaching of Christianity may be summed up as word or gospel of grace (Acts 14:3; 20:24,32). So "grace be with you" closes the Epistles as a sufficient summary of all the blessings that can be wished Christian readers. At the beginning of the Epistles the words "and peace" are usually added, but this is due only to the influence of the Jewish greeting "peace be with you" (Luke 10:5, etc.), and not to any reflection on "grace" and "peace" as separate things. (It is possible that the Greek use of chairein, "rejoice," as an epistolary salutation (so in James 1:1) influenced the Christian use of charis. But that "grace and peace" was consciously regarded as a universalistic combination of Jewish and Gentilecustom is altogether unlikely.) The further expansion of the introductory formula by the introduction of "mercy" in 1 and 2Ti is quite without theological significance.
5. Teaching of Christ:
In the Greek Gospels, charis is used in the words of Christ only in Luke 6:32-34; 17:9. As Christ spoke in Aram, the choice of this word is due to Luke, probably under the influence of its common Christian use in his own day. And there is no word in our Lord's recorded sayings that suggests that He employed habitually any especial term to denote grace in any of its senses. But the ideas are unambiguously present. That the pardon of sins is a free act on God's part may be described as an essential in Christ's teaching, and the lesson is taught in all manner of ways. The prodigal knowing only his own wretchedness (Luke 15:20), the publican without merit to urge (Luke 18:13), the sick who need a physician (Mark 2:17), they who hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matthew 5:6), these are the ones for whom God's pardon is inexhaustible. And positive blessings, be they temporal or spiritual, are to be looked for from God, with perfect trust in Him who clothes the lilies and knows how to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11; here Luke 11:13 has "Holy Spirit" for "gifts," doubtless a Lukan interpretation, but certainly a correct one). Indeed, it is not too much to say that Christ knows but one unpardonable sin, the sin of spiritual self-satisfaction--"That which is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15; compare Luke 17:7-10; Matthew 20:1-16).
6. In the Old Testament:
There is no word in Hebrew that can represent all the meanings of charis, and in the Septuagint charis itself is used, practically, only as a translation of the Hebrew chen, "favor," this restriction of meaning being due to the desire to represent the same Hebrew word by the same Greek word as far as possible. And chen, in turn, is used chiefly only in the phrase "find favor" (Genesis 6:8, etc.), whether the reference is to God or men, and without theological importance. Much nearer Paul's use of charis is ratson, "acceptance," in such passages as Isaiah 60:10, "In my favor have I had mercy on thee"; Psalms 44:3, "not .... by their own sword .... but .... because thou wast favorable unto them." Perhaps still closer parallels can be detected in the use of checedh, "kindness," "mercy," as in Exodus 20:6, etc. But, of course, a limitation of the sources for the doctrine to passages containing only certain words would be altogether unjust. The main lines seem to be these:
(1) Technically, salvation by grace in the New Testament is opposed to an Old Testament doctrine of salvation by works (Romans 4:4; 11:6), or, what is the same thing, by law (Romans 6:14; John 1:17); i.e men and God are thought of as parties to a contract, to be fulfilled by each independently. Most of the legislation seems to presuppose some idea of man as a quantity quite outside of God, while Deuteronomy 30:11-14 states explicitly that the law is not too hard nor too far off for man.
(2) Yet even this legalism is not without important modifications. The keeping of the law is man's work, but that man has the law to keep is something for which God only is to be thanked. Psalms 119 is the essence of legalism, but the writer feels overwhelmed throughout by the greatness of the mercy that disclosed such statutes to men. After all, the initial (and vital!) act is God's not man's. This is stated most sharply in Ezekiel 23:1-4--Oholibah and her sister became God's, not because of any virtue in them, but in spite of most revolting conduct. Compare Deuteronomy 7:7, etc.
(3) But even in the most legalistic passages, an absolute literal keeping of the law is never (not even in such a passage as Numbers 15:30,31) made a condition of salvation. The thought of transgression is at all times tempered with the thought of God's pardon. The whole sacrificial system, in so far as it is expiatory, rests on God's gracious acceptance of something in place of legal obedience, while the passages that offer God's mercy without demanding even a sacrifice (Isaiah 1:18; Micah 7:18-20, etc.) are countless. Indeed, in Ezekiel 16; 20; 23, mercy is promised to a nation that is spoken of as hardly even desiring it, a most extreme instance.
(4) But a mere negative granting of pardon is a most deficient definition of the Old Testament idea of God's mercy, which delights in conferring positive benefits. The gift to Abraham of the land of Canaan, liberation from Egypt, food in the wilderness, salvation from enemies, deliverance from exile--all of Israel's history can be felt to be the record of what God did for His people through no duty or compulsion, grateful thanksgiving for such unmerited blessings filling, for instance, much of the Psalter. The hearts of men are in God's keeping, to receive from Him the impulse toward what is right (1 Chronicles 29:18, etc.). And the promise is made that the God who has manifested Himself as a forgiving Father will in due time take hold of His children to work in them actual righteousness (Isaiah 1:26; 4:3,1; 32:1-8; 33:24; Jeremiah 31:33,14; Ezekiel 36:25,26; Zechariah 8; Daniel 9:24; Psalms 51:10-12) With this promise--for the Old Testament always a matter of the future--the Old Testament teaching passes into that of the New Testament.
Most of the discussions of the Biblical doctrine of grace have been faulty in narrowing the meaning of "grace" to some special sense, and then endeavoring to force this special sense on all the Biblical passages. For instance, Roman scholars, starting with the meaning of the word in (say) 2 Corinthians 12:9, have made Romans 3:24 state that men are justified by the infusion of Divine holiness into them, an interpretation that utterly ruins Paul's argument. On the other hand, Protestant extremists have tried to reverse the process and have argued that grace cannot mean anything except favor as an attitude, with results that are equally disastrous from the exegetical standpoint. And a confusion has resulted that has prevented men from seeing that most of the controversies about grace are at cross-purposes. A rigid definition is hardly possible, but still a single conception is actually present in almost every case where "grace" is found--the conception that all a Christian has or is, is centered exclusively in God and Christ, and depends utterly on God through Christ. The kingdom of heaven is reserved for those who become as little children, for those who look to their Father in loving confidence for every benefit, whether it be for the pardon so freely given, or for the strength that comes from Him who works in them both to will and to do.
All the Biblical theologies contain full discussions of the subject; for the New Testament the closest definitions are given by Bernard Weiss. But for the meaning of "grace" in any particular place the commentaries must be consulted, although the student may be warned against discussions that argue too closely from what may seem to be parallel passages.
Burton Scott Easton
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