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grace or favor? 

10-02-2014 - Posted by Andre Piet

images19 What do you think of when you hear or see the word “grace”? In the first random dictionary that I consulted on the Internet, I read:

Grace is the remission of penalties.

Elsewhere, I saw the following as being the primary meaning: clemency, forgiveness, absolution. It is the first association that most people have with “grace”. But is this also the meaning of “grace” as we encounter it in the Bible? The answer is very definitely: no. If we limit ourselves to the “New Testament”, then grace is the main translation of the Greek word charis. That word is derived from chairo, which means: “rejoice” (Mat.2:10, 5:12, etc.). Charis is gratuitous joy. It is the opposite of obligation (Rom.4:4) and of work (i.e. to deserve, Rom.11:6). For a Greek, charis was any kind of joy that can not be bought: the enjoyment of a meal or the company of friends or a sunset, and so on. Grace points to favor, in the broad sense of the word. Several times, the Bible translators could not get around and avoid this meaning.

Now Festus, wanting to curry favor with the Jews, answering Paul, said, “Are you willing to go up into Jerusalem to be judged there before me concerning these things?” Acts 25:9

praising God and having favor for the whole people. Now the Lord added those being saved day by day in the same place. Acts 2:47

Why do we, here, have the rendering “favor” and not “grace”? Is it not because “grace”, in the Christian parlance, is mainly linked to guilt and punishment? This view has obscured our understanding of charis. We read of Jesus in His younger years:

And Jesus progressed in wisdom and stature, and in favor (Gr. charis) with God and men. Luke 2:52

If in this text, the translators had translated the Greek word charis, as usual, with the word “grace”, in the traditional understanding of that word, instead of with “favor”, we would have run hopelessly stuck. Was Jesus a sinner in need of grace? And how could it be that people should ever have to be gracious to Him, as if He, actually deserved the opposite? Have we not always been taught that Jesus shows grace to people, instead of vice versa? To properly see the meaning of the word charis, we will have to take off our dark, dogmatic glasses. Charis does not mean remission of guilt or punishment. Charis is gratuitous goodness, that is not for sale. Charis means favor.