“Grace” for Lexham B.D.

February 22, 2011

(Note: This is the last of my entries.  I’ll be getting back to other posts and interacting with comments as soon as possible.)

*Grace (Heb hesed, “grace, mercy, steadfast love, compassion;” hen, “grace, graciousness, kindness”; Gk charis, “grace, favor, graciousness, goodwill”) Gracious or merciful behavior of a higher, or more powerful, person toward another. In the Old Testament, grace is displayed by both the Lord toward humankind and by human beings toward other people, as well as in referring to human gratitude. In the New Testament, the concept of grace is used several ways. It sometimes is a way of describing God or Christ in their merciful character or actions toward humankind. Completely undeserved by humanity, grace is at the heart of salvation. The term is also one way spiritual gifts are described. Further, grace is a literary device used at the beginning or end of many New Testament letters. Finally, grace occasionally reflects favor of one human being toward another, giving, graciousness or gratitude.*

!! Grace in the Old Testament. There is much more about grace in the Old Testament than might be expected, given the common perception of the Mosaic Law as being opposed to grace. The Lord is clearly seen to be a God of grace. Also, a common way of describing human graciousness toward another person is “to find favor in the eyes of.” 

!!! Divine Grace. From the beginning to the end of the Hebrew Bible, there are notable examples of the grace of God. In the earliest chapters of Scripture, when the entire human population was dominated by evil, Noah “found favor (Heb hen) in the eyes of the Lord” Gen 6:8, HCSB). In Exod 33, 34, Moses found favor in the eyes of the Lord, so that He did not judge the idolatrous children of Israel. As the Lord was preparing to rewrite the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone, He passed before Moses and said, “Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth” (Exod 34:6, HCSB). The hymnbook of Israel is filled with praise in regard to God’s grace/ graciousness (Pss 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 112:4; 116:5; 145:8), meaning that their worship included grace as a major theme. Shortly before giving the promise of the New Covenant, the Lord revealed, through the prophet Jeremiah, looked back on his favor toward Israel in the wilderness, after coming out of Egypt (Jer 31:2), implying He was about to do the same thing in graciously bringing His people out of Babylon. Finally, the Post-Exilic prophet, Zechariah, foretold a time when the Lord would “pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the house of David and the residents of Jerusalem, and they will look at Me whom they have pierced” (Zech 12:10, HCSB). This passage is cited in Rev 1:7 as one of two biblical “texts” for the Apocalypse, the other being Dan 7:13. This implies that the grace of God being poured out will produce a major impact at the end of the age.

!!! Human Favor and Graciousness. In the Old Testament, many individuals were acutely aware that their primary hope in difficult situations was to find favor (i.e., grace) with a more powerful person. For example, Jacob found favor with Esau (Gen 33:8, 10). Joseph found favor with Potiphar (Gen 39:4). The people of Egypt found favor with Joseph, who saved their lives (Gen 47:25). Ruth found favor with Boaz (Ruth 2:10), as Naomi had prayed (Ruth 2:2), setting in motion circumstances by which the Moabitess Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David (Ruth 4:21-22; Matt 1:5-6. David found favor with Jonathan (1 Sam 20:3), the son of Saul, who sought to kill David. Esther found favor with King Ahasuerus, who made her queen of the Persian Empire (Esth 2:17)

!!! Human Gratitude toward God. At a point of disenchantment in building the Second Temple, the term “grace” reflects a revelation from the Lord that provides major discouragement. An angel told Zechariah, “This is the word of the Lord to Zurabbabel: ‘Not by strength or by might, but by My Spirit’” (Zech 4:6, HCSB). Thus, since the construction would be graciously carried out in God’s power, when the Temple was completed (“bring out the capstone” [Zech 4:7, HCSB]), the shouts of the joyful multitude would be “Grace, grace to it!” (Zech 4:7, HCSB), in recognition of the Lord’s role, defying very long human odds.

!! Grace in the New Testament. As in the Old Testament, grace is used to describe both God and humanity. The aspects of grace in the New Testament not seen previously include grace in relation to salvation, spiritual gifts being referred to as “graces,” and the literary use of grace in beginning and/or ending many of the New Testament epistles.

!!! The Grace of God and of Christ. Both God and Christ are described in the New Testament by reference to the grace of their innate character and actions, sometimes together. In 1 Pet 5:10, the Father is called “the God of all grace” (HCSB) and Eph 1:7 speaks of “the riches of His grace” (HCSB), the recognition of which should be to “the praise of His glorious grace” (HCSB). Jn 1:14 calls Jesus “the One and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (HCSB). From the longest to the shortest of Paul’s letters, the majority of them end with wording like “the grace of our Lord Jesus” (e.g., Rom 16:20; 1 Cor 16:23; Phlm 25). In 2 Thess 1:12, the two are linked in regard to their charis: “the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (HCSB). The overall effect of these uses is the recognition that the Father and the Son are both equally divine and equally sources of amazing favor toward humankind.

!!! Grace in Salvation. God acted out of His mercy and love for humanity, even though, outside of faith in Christ, the human race is spiritually “dead” in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1). “Salvation was completely of grace (Eph 2:5), for both Jews (Rom 11:5-6) and Gentiles. Eph 2:8-9 clarifies how the gracious gift of eternal life (Rom 6:23) is received: “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast” (HCSB). Salvation does not end with justification by faith, however. In Tit 2:11-13, Paul instructs the young believers on the island of Crete: “For the grace of God has appeared with salvation for all people, instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (HCSB). The great lesson that the Lord taught Paul about his thorn in the flesh was “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9, HCSB). This is one of the most important principles of growing in regard to salvation: God’s grace is sufficient, no matter how desperate the circumstances or how weak the person (2 Cor 12:10). At Miletus, Paul told the Ephesian elders, “I commit you to God and to the message of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32, HCSB). Peter concludes his second letter with these words: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18, HCSB).

!!! Grace Gifts. Because of God’s grace (Rom 12:6; Eph 4:7), He has given a variety of spiritual gifts to His people (1 Pet 4:10). It is their responsible stewardship to employ those gifts to serve other (1 Pet 4:10). One of those gracious gifts was apostleship (1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11), which Paul exercised in proclaiming the mystery of Christ to the Gentiles (Eph 3:7-8). The more common New Testament term for spiritual gifts, though, is charisma, which literally means “graces” or “gifts of grace,” in contrast with the term which literally means “spiritual gifts” (Gk pneumatikos [1 Cor 12:1; 14:1]). It is found in connection with the listings of spiritual gifts in Rom 12:6, 1 Cor 12:4 and 1 Pet 4:10. The apparent reason Paul would choose to use charisma more frequently than pneumatikos is to emphasize that the possession of any of the spiritual gifts is only by God’s grace. Interestingly, salvation is also referred to as the charisma of God in Rom 6:23.

!!! Grace upon Grace. Jn 1:16-17 declares, “We have all received grace after grace from [Christ’s] fullness, for the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (HCSB). In other words, “grace” is one of the great words describing the New Covenant, which Jesus ratified. On a closely related note, every one of Paul’s epistles begins and ends with “grace.” That is a subtle, but highly significant, change from the typical beginning of the day, the Hellenistic charein (“greetings”), to charis (“grace”). The same is true of 2 Pet (1:2; 3:18) and Rev (1:4; 22:21). In regard to each of those New Testament books, the movement of thought within them is thus “from grace to grace.” That front-end/back-end literary effect is probably intended as an inclusio (i.e., a bookends effect), intentionally coloring everything in between with the presence of God’s “grace,” perhaps the important theological term utilized by Paul. It should also be noted that most of Paul’s letters begin with “grace and peace.” That wording puts together the emerging Christian use of “grace” with the traditional Hebrew greeting of “peace” (Heb shalom; Gk eirene). By contrast, the Pastoral Epistles (1-2 Tim, Titus) have “grace, mercy, and peace.” It is not known why Paul made this change, but it is unlikely that it is merely stylistic. If the Pastorals are Paul’s last three letters, it may be that he is reflecting a heightened awareness of God’s great mercy, following his earlier imprisonments and other sufferings.

!! Divine and Human Favor, Giving, Gratitude, and Graciousness. Like Old Testament usage, Mary found favor (Gk charis) with God (Lk 1:30). Jesus found favor with both God and humanity (Lk 2:52). In the days following the Day of Pentecost, the new church in Jerusalem found “favor with all the people” (Acts 2:47, HCSB).  In Stephen’s sermon, he refers to Joseph finding favor with Pharaoh (Acts 7:10). Acts 24:27 and 25:3, 9 tell of Festus’ desire to do a favor (Gk charis) for the Jews in the way he handled Paul’s case. Paul refers to his previous intention to visit the Corinthian church going and coming from Macedonia as a “double grace” (Gk deuteran charin; 2 Cor 1:15, HCSB). In parallel to the sacrificial response to God’s grace among the churches of Macadonia (2 Cor 8:1), Paul appeals to the Corinthians to also give a gracious offering (Gk charis) to meet pressing needs in the church in Jerusalem (2 Cor 8:4, 6, 7, 19). In evangelism, the speech of the believer “should always be gracious (Gk charis), seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer every person (Col 4:6, HCSB). In Col 3:16, singing with “grace” in your heart toward the Lord means gratitude for all he has done, none of which any Christian deserves.

–A. Boyd Luter

!! Bibliography

Andersen, T.D. “The Meaning of echontes charin pros in Acts 2:47,” in New Testament Studies 34 (1988) 604-10.

Casurella, Anthony. “Grace,” in the Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments. Eds. R.P. Martin and P.H. Davids. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997: 433-35.

Glueck, Nelson. Hesed in the Bible. Transl. A. Gottschalk. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1967.

Hals, Ronald M. Grace and Faith in the Old Testament. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1980.

Heath, Elaine A. “Grace,” in the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003: 371-75.

Luter, A. Boyd, Jr., “Grace,” in the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Gen. Eds. G.F. Hawthorne, R.P. Martin and D.G. Reid. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993: 372-74. 

Manson, William. “Grace in the NT,” in The Doctrine of Grace. Ed. W.T. Whitley. London: SCM Press, 1932.

Moffatt, James. Grace in the New Testament. New York: Long and Smith, 1932.

Mullins, T.Y. “Greetings as a NT Form,” Journal of Biblical Literature 87 (1968) 418-26. 

Roetzel, Calvin J. “Grace,” in Harper’s Bible Dictionary. Gen. Ed. P.J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985: 357-58.

Ryrie, Charles C. The Grace of God. Chicago: Moody Press, 1963.

Sakenfeld, Katherine D. The Meaning of Hesed in the Bible: A New Inquiry. Missoula: Scholars Press, 1978. 

Shogren, Gary S. “Grace (NT),” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary. Gen. Ed. D.N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992: II: 1086-88.

Smith, C.R. The Bible Doctrine of Grace. London: Epworth, 1956. 

Wetter, G.P. Charis. Leipzig: Brandstetter, 1913.

Williams, Norman P. The Grace of God. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1966.


One Response to ““Grace” for Lexham B.D.”

  1. Really appreciate this post. It’s hard to sort the good from the bad sometimes, but I think you’ve nailed it!
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