Grace – definition

In this study an attempt is made to establish a definition for the concept of ‘grace’, because it is important to correctly understand what is meant by ‘grace’ in the Bible.

What is a definition.

A definition is:

  • A description of the characteristics of a concept, so that it cannot be confused with another concept.

Looking for a definition of ‘grace’.

‘Grace’ is the translation of the Greek word:  ‘charis’.
Charis’ is derived from the word ‘chairo’ according to the OLB.

To understand the concept of ‘charis/grace’ correctly it will therefore be necessary to study the meaning of the word ‘chairo’ first.

Study of the word ‘chairo’:

‘Chairo’ is found in 68 Bible texts of the New Testament.
According to the OLB ‘chairo’ is a root word and is translated as:

  • to rejoice, be glad
  • to rejoice exceedingly
  • to be well, thrive
  • in salutations
  • hail!   (Matthew 27:29 / Mark 15:18)
  • greetings  (Matthew 26:49 / Matthew 28:9 / Luke 1:28)

(In all Bible texts it is always conjugated in the imperative mood.)

The Greek/Dutch dictionary translates it as:

  • to rejoice
  • to be glad
  • to like doing something

A few examples of ‘chairo’ in Bible texts:

When they (the Wise Men from the east) saw the star, they were overjoyed (chairo).   (Matthew 2:10)

Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings (chairo), Rabbi!” and kissed him …   (Matthew 26:49)

But we had to celebrate and be glad (chairo), because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.   (Luke 15:32)

When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased (chairo).   (Luke 23:8)

Your father Abraham rejoiced (agalliaoo: to rejoice, to be happy) at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad (chairo).   (John 8:56).

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice (chairo)! Strive for full restoration, …   (2 Corinthians 13:11)

It always refers to someone being glad, rejoicing, or being told to be glad, without indicating how this is to be expressed.
It usually refers to something of a moment, sometimes also to a permanent order to be glad.

‘Chairo’ indicates a mood, denotes that someone is rejoicing, IS glad.

Study of the word ‘charis’:

‘Charis’ is derived from ‘chairo’.
According to the OLB, ‘charis’ is a noun and is translated as:

  • that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech
  • good will, loving-kindness, favour
  • what is due to grace
  • the token or proof of grace, benefit
  • thanks, (for benefits, services, favours), recompense, reward

The Greek/Dutch dictionary translates it as:

  • charm, beauty, sweetness, amiability
  • gladness
  • grace(gift) – in the N.T.

Notice that the OLB and the Greek/Dutch dictionary give very different translations for the concept of ‘charis’.
The reason for this is probably to be found in the remark in the Greek/Dutch dictionary that ‘charis’ is translated as ‘grace’ in the New Testament.
This gives rise to the conjecture that, through the centuries and in the Christian world, the concept of ‘charis’ has taken on a different meaning to its usual meaning in Greek.

According to the other translations in the dictionary: charm, beauty, sweetness, amiability and gladness, ‘charis’ describes how someone is experienced as a person, without any further description.

‘Chairo’ describes a person’s inner disposition.
‘Charis’ indicates how others experience that person.

Someone ‘is glad (chairo)’ and this is noticeable by the ‘gladness (charis)’ that emanates from that person.
The mood of someone who ‘is glad’, ‘who is rejoicing’ is thus recognisable in ‘charm, beauty, sweetness, amiability’.

‘Charis’ is therefore a general concept and only notices someone’s amiable look.

Definition of ‘charis’.

‘Charis’: indicates that someone is acting with a loving, kind disposition.

And it is important to note that ‘charis’ only reflects someone’s demeanour and not what someone else receives as a result thereof.
For this the Greek has the concept of ‘charisma’ that is translated as ‘spiritual gift’, and that will be discussed in a following study.

‘Charis’ refers therefore to a person’s loving, kind character.

‘Charis’ does not describe:

  • what someone does when he is glad
  • to whom this is directed
  • what someone receives.

Translation of ‘charis’.

‘Charis’ is generally translated as: grace in the New Testament.

In view of the above-mentioned definition ‘charis/grace’ would be translated better as:

  •  ‘kindness’.

And again: ‘grace/kindness’ only indicates a person’s inner disposition and not what someone receives.

‘Charis/grace/kindness’ is a general concept and when it refers to God’s behaviour it is important to realise that Gods ‘kindness’ originates from the fact that God is love.

A few Bible texts.

The Greek word ‘charis’ appears in 147 verses, but it is sometimes translated by a different word than ‘grace’.

All the other translations of ‘charis’ are first given below.

Some other translations of ‘charis’.

In the Bible texts below the translation of ‘charis’ is always shown in bold characters.
A more literal translation of the underlined section is given following the Bible text.
This more literal translation is based on the OLB.

Luke 1:30
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found (also: meet, acquire)  favour (charis/kindness) with God.
Interpretation:  Do not be scared, Mary; for God has looked at you with kindness.
God rejoiced when He noticed the consecration in Mary’s life, as a result of which He considered her worthy to be the mother of His Son.

Luke 2:52
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature (also: adulthood), and in favour (charis/kindness) with God and man.

Luke 6:32-33-34
If you love those who love you, what credit (charis/kindness) is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.
(literally: of what kind is your kindness?)

Luke 17:9
Will he thank (charis/kindness) the servant because he did what he was told to do?
(will he be kind towards his slave – literally: will he have kindness for his slave)
(‘Charis’ is also translated as ‘to thank’ in the following verses: Romans 6:17 – 1 Corinthians 15:57 – 2 Corinthians 2:14 – 2 Corinthians 8:16 – 2 Corinthians 9:15 – 1 Timothy 1:12 – 2 Timothy 1:3.
This seems to be the best translation in these verses, even though kindness goes further than only being thankful, or saying thank-you.)

Acts 2:47
… praising God and enjoying the favour (charis/kindness) of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
(and were kind towards all the people / literally: and having kindness to (towards) all the people)

Acts 24:27
When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favour (charis/kindness) to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.
(wanted to predispose him to be kind)

Acts 25:2-3
… where the chief priests and the Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. They requested Festus, as a favour (charis/kindness) to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way.
(longing for the kindness of him (Festus)

Acts 25:9
Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favour (charis/kindness), said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?
(who wanted to be kind towards the Jews …)

Romans 4:4
Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift (grace/kindness) but as an obligation.

1 Corinthians 10:30
If I take part in the meal with thankfulness (charis/kindness), why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?
(But if I take part on the basis of kindness (or: am a part of) someone)

1 Corinthians 16:3
Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift (charis/kindness) to Jerusalem.
(to carry your kindness to Jerusalem)

2 Corinthians 1:15
Because I was confident of this, I wanted to visit you first so that you might benefit (charis/kindness) twice.
(receive kindness)

2 Corinthians 8:4
… hey urgently pleaded with us for the privilege (charis/kindness) of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.

2 Corinthians 8:6-7
So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace (charis/kindness) on your part. But since you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you – see that you also excel in this grace of giving (charis/kindness).
(this kindness)

Ephesians 4:29
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit (charis/kindness) those who listen.

Literally: … so that kindness should be given to those who belong.

Colossians 3:16
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude (charis/kindness) in your hearts.
(… with kindness (with gladness) in your heart, to God.)

Colossians 4:6
Let your conversation be always full of grace (charis/kindness), seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
(kind – literally: with kindness)

Hebrews 12:28
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful (charis/kindness), and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, …
(be kind)

Other Greek worlds translated as grace.

2 Bible texts are mentioned below in which different Greek words are translated as ‘grace’. In these Bible texts words are translated as ‘grace’, whereas ‘charis’ is not used in the Greek text.

Acts 6:8
Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace (pistis) and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.
(full of faith (pistis) and power)

2 Corinthians 1:10-11
He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour (charisma) granted us, in answer to the prayers of many.
(for his present (the deliverance from mortal danger) to us)

The concept of ‘charisma’ is explained in the study ‘Spiritual Gifts’.


To be continued in the study: Grace – a few Bible texts.


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Grace – definition.