Grace - Trench's New Testament Synonyms


charis (G5485) Grace
eleos (G1656) (Free) Gift
We have often noted how frequently Greek words are glorified and transformed when adopted for Christian use. These words seem to have waited for this adoption to reveal all the rich, deep meanings they contained or might be made to contain. Charis is such a word, and because it refers to the heart or essence of the Greek mind, it will be beneficial to sketch the history of its development. Charis is first of all that property that produces joy in its hearers or beholders. As Plutarch correctly explained, "Nothing is so productive of joy as charis." Charis also referred to the presence of grace or beauty, which were the most joy-inspiring of all qualities for the Greek. Charis often is used this way in the Septuagint (Ps. 45:2; Prov. 10:32), Apocrypha (Ecclus. 24:16; 40:22, "charm [charis] and beauty"), and New Testament (Luke 4:22; and perhaps Eph. 4:29).

Over a period of time, charis ceased to refer to grace and beauty as qualities and came to refer to gracious or beautiful things, acts, thoughts, speech, or persons. It came to refer to grace that embodied and expressed itself in gracious actions toward objects, not to "favor" in the sense of beauty. Thus charis helps in tracing the history of Greek. In classical Greek and in the Septuagint (Esther 5:3), charin often was used to mean "to seek, receive, and give favor." Charis also is used in the New Testament to refer to a merely human grace and favor (thus Acts 2:47; 25:3; 2 Cor. 9:19). Charis also came to refer to the thankfulness that is a response to the favor, a usage found frequently in the New Testament (Luke 17:9; Rom. 6:17; 2 Cor. 8:16), though we will not discuss this nuance since we are only discussing charis as it relates to eleos.
Charis received its highest consecration in the New Testament, where its meaning was not changed but ennobled and glorified. Charis was lifted from referring to an earthly benefit to referring to a heavenly one, from signifying the favor, grace, and goodness of man to man, to signifying the favor, grace, and goodness of God to man. In New Testament usage charis denotes the grace of the worthy to the unworthy, of the holy to the sinful. It had never had this meaning before, even in the Greek Old Testament, where the Hebrew word that approximates the meaning of charis in the New Testament is hsd(G2617), which is not translated by charis (except in Esther 2:9) but usually by eleos (Gen. 24:12; Job 6:14; Dan. 1:9; and often).
An anticipation of charis'sglorification, however, can be seen in the ethical terminology of the Greeks. For the Greeks, charis implied a favor that was freely done without claim or expectation of return, a usage that predisposed charis to receiving its new religious emphasis and the dogmatic significance with which it refers to the absolute freeness of the lovingkindness of God to men. In his definition of charis,Aristotle stressed that it is conferred freely with no expectation of return; its only motive is the bounty and generosity of the giver. Aristotle said: "Let charis be that quality by which he who has it is said to render favor [charin] to one who is in need, not in return for anything, nor that anything be given to him who renders it, but that something be given to that one in need." Charis is opposed to misthos. In Romans 11:6 Paul placed charis and erga (G2041) in direct antithesis, which shows that they are mutually exclusive. The essence of charis is that it is unearned and unmerited; indeed, it is demented, as the faithful man will freely acknowledge.
Although charis is related to sins and is the attribute of God that they evoke, God's eleos, the free gift for the forgiveness of sins, is related to the misery that sin brings. God's tender sense of our misery displays itself in his efforts to lessen and entirely remove itefforts that are hindered and defeated only by man's continued perverseness. As Bengel said: "Grace removes guilt, mercy removes misery."
It is worthwhile to consider how charis was used before it came to refer to God's mercy on all his works. Aristotle defined eleos this way: "Let mercy [eleos] be a certain grief for an apparently destructive and painful evil toward one who experienced what was undeserved in respect to what he himself or one of his family might expect to suffer." Aristotle's definition shows how much charis had to be modified before it could be used to refer to the eleos of God. Grief cannot and does not touch God, in whose presence is fullness of joy. Nor does God demand unworthysuffering to move him. Indeed, in a world of sinners there is no absolutely unworthy suffering. God transcends all chance and change and cannot be involved in the misery he beholds. It is not surprising that the Manichaeans and others who desired a God as unlike man as possible protested the attribution of eleos to him. They used this as a weapon in their warfare against the Old Testament, where God is not ashamed to proclaim himself a God of pity and compassion (Pss. 78:38; 86:15; and often). The Manichaeans were aided in this by the Latin word misericordia (tender-heartedness); they appealed to its etymology and demanded whether the miserum cor (miserable heart) could be found in God.With respect to this "blemish of a petty mind," as he called it, Seneca observed: "Mercy is a neighbor of misery, for it possesses and draws something from it." Augustine correctly answered that this and all other words used to express human affections required certain modifications to remove the infirmities of human passions before they could be ascribed to God. Such infirmities were accidental; the essentials remained unchanged. Thus Augustine stated: "Likewise concerning mercy, if you would remove the emotion of participating misery for the one you pity, so that there remains a calm benevolence for healing and freeing from misery, a certain recognition of divine mercy is acknowledged." There is always an element of grief in man's pity; John of Damascus listed eleos as one of the four forms of lype (G3077). This is not the case with God's pity. The charis of God, the gift of his free grace that is displayed in the forgiveness of sins, is extended to men as they are guilty, his eleos as they are miserable. The lower creation is the object of God's eleos, inasmuch as it has been affected by man's sin, but his charis is extended to man alone as the only one who needs it or is capable of receiving it.

In the divine mind, and in the order of our salvation as God conceives it, God's eleos precedes his charis. God so loved the world with a pitying love (eleos) that he gave his only begotten Son (charis) that the world through him might be saved (cf. Luke 1:78-79; Eph. 2:4). But in the order of the manifestation of that salvation, God's grace precedes his mercy, charis comes before eleos. The same people are the subjects of both, since they are both guilty and miserable, yet the righteousness of God demands that the guilt should be absolved before the misery can be assuaged: only the forgiven may be blessed. God must pardon before he can heal; men must be justified before they can be sanctified. Just as the righteousness of God absolutely requires relating the two terms, so does man's moral constitution, which links misery with guilt and makes the first the inseparable companion of the second. As a result, in each of the apostolic salutations where these words occur, charis precedes eleos, an order that could not have been reversed. In the more usual Pauline salutations, charis precedes eirene (G1515; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; and often).

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