Did the New Testament writings add some new meaning to the word "grace", or was the meaning expressed by this word in 2nd Corinthians 12:9 absolutely familiar to a native Greek speaker?

How was the Greek word for "grace" in 2nd Corinthians 12:9 used in Greek before the New Testament age: what meaning/meanings did it have then?

2nd Corinthians 12:9 (KJV)

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me

  • 5
    It seems to me that copying and pasting info from a lexicon would answer your question, which leads to my question: do you have access to a lexicon (e.g., LSJ), and what research have you done?
    – user862
    Dec 1, 2016 at 17:27
  • @SimplyaChristian - They have limited a free visitor's access to LSJ, so now I only have an access to the abridged lexicon. However, when I enter the Greek word χάρις in there, I get this result: stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/Iris/demo/… It gives me bunch of quotes from different sources, but I don't understand Greek
    – brilliant
    Dec 1, 2016 at 18:33
  • 2
    Have you tried the LSJ available at Perseus? I think your question is good, just not for the site, as it does not demonstrate that you researched, and it can easily be answered with a decent lexicon.
    – user862
    Dec 1, 2016 at 19:52
  • 1
    Yes. And that is the starting point. Because 200 or so years before Christ, it was translated from Hebrew into Greek (the LXX). So in terms of your question, the fact that Paul (and all other NT writers) chose to use a different word then the one the one chosen by the LXX translators is significant. One way to think about it is why did Paul decide to describe his situation with χάρις rather than χάριν which was used to describe Noah and Abraham (and others)? (χάριν also is used in the NT and it is used differently as well.) Dec 3, 2016 at 15:54
  • 2
    Is it like χάριν is merely one of the forms of χάρις...? -- yes! (insofar as both are used as nouns, anyway, examples of which are plentiful in the LXX as well as NT. The above attempt to draw a lexical distinction between them is conflating the adverb/improper preposition χάριν with the various forms of the noun χάρις.)
    – Susan
    Dec 5, 2016 at 5:56

3 Answers 3


Did the New Testament writings add some new meaning to the word "grace", or was the meaning expressed by this word in 2nd Corinthians 12:9 absolutely familiar to a native Greek speaker?

To answer this we must consider the 3 potential audiences:

  • Christians at Corinth (and other locations) at the time (and later)
  • Jewish people or proselytes who spoke Greek but did not believe Jesus was the Christ
  • Greek speaking "pagans" - those that were neither Jewish or Christian

The word "grace" has a wide range of meaning, as can be seen from James Shewey's: [Grace] and The Non Theologian's: [Grace] answers. Both of these demonstrate that grace is something positive, good, and desirable.

Given that essential meaning, the only group who would understand the meaning of grace in the context Paul describes, is the Christian. All others would be baffled by the use of the word.

Paul described both his hard work and the suffering he experienced in preaching the Gospel. His current situation is a "thorn in the flesh" which he understands is a messenger from Satan. There is no existing or extant meaning of grace by which any reader, other than the Christian, would comprehend being told "continue to suffer" as a positive, good, or desirable response. Clearly that was not what Paul desired. He pleaded 3 times for the positive outcome associated with grace. Only a Christian would understand the Lord Jesus' response, "My grace is sufficient for you."

The Greek dictionary recognizes two types of grace. One is commonly written as Χάριν which is derived from χάρις. [5484 - charin] It means favor which furnishes the reason to take action (i.e. to be “actionable”); “for this cause,” “for the sake of.” It indicates something which was received because of, or for this reason. It is used frequently throughout the OT/LXX in that context. A person does something good and because of their actions they obtain or grace or favor as it is often translated.

One example:

Moses said to the LORD, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” (Exodus 33:12-13) 1

On the basis of his actions, Moses can make a request to the LORD and expect a favorable outcome.

This is typical of how grace is used in the LXX. It is something that comes with a sense that grace was earned or due because of a person's actions. To anyone familiar with the LXX, the "grace" that Paul received is foreign to its use in the OT. Paul's sufferings and trials are the very things that entitle him to receive what he desires.

There is a second word, χάρις which is common to the New Testament and rarely used in the OT. This word describes a second type of grace where God freely extends Himself. [5485 - charis]

The Christian reader has a completely different understanding of grace:

“Grace,” according to the dictionary, is the unmerited favor of God toward mankind. 2

For the Christian, grace is a free gift from God: it is neither earned or deserved.

The New Testament declares the incarnation of God's Son was the advent of a new type of grace:

For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)

Just as there is righteousness from the Law, there is grace from works. And just like there is righteousness apart from the Law, there is grace apart from works. At the time Paul wrote people could expect grace based on their works, but the New Testament defines grace as a gift from God which is not by works:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The Christian understands "My grace is sufficient..." differently than the non-Christian because the Christian believes that Jesus came to earth and died for their sins and by believing in His Name, they become children of God and have eternal life.

That grace, freely given, is sufficient for Paul.

Additional considerations
Two New Testament uses of χάριν deserve consideration. The first is by the angel who appears to Mary:

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor (χάριν) with God. (Luke 1:30)

The New Testament writer presents the angel as announcing that Mary has found favor, using what amounts to the Old Testament word. This is the correct choice given the context. For while the event is recorded in the New Testament, it occurs before the incarnation.

The context is Old Testament and Mary receives favor for a reason:

to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David... (Luke 1:27)

Had Mary failed to accept the betrothal the entire plan of salvation would go up in smoke. It is not enough for the virgin to be with child to fulfill Scripture. She must be betrothed to someone from the House of David. So, just like Moses, as a result of her actions, she found χάριν favor with God.

The second use involves Abraham:

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor (χάριν), but as what is due. (Romans 4:3-4 NASB)

Paul uses χάριν not χάρις. This choice helps to elucidate a temporal consideration of receiving grace.

In terms of 2 Corinthians 12:9, the answer Paul received was not the one he desired; yet it was not "no." Instead he was told "My χάρις is sufficient..." That grace is the free gift of eternal life, which eventually will be received. For Paul it is grace deferred. However, when it is received, it will be given on the basis of what Paul did: he believed God. In other words, even the free gift of eternal life is actionable grace for a reason. The reason is not works but faith.

A failure to believe will result in a failure to receive. For Paul (and all believers) there will come a point in time when χάρις is realized and at that point would be correctly described as χάριν. Paul's receipt of the free gift of eternal life will be given for this reason: he believed God.

In Romans Paul is describing Abraham retrospectively; Abraham believed God as so it was credited to him as righteousness. Since Abraham now has that righteousness Paul correctly describes it with χάριν. That is, Abraham has favor for this reason: he believed God.

1. Scripture is English Standard Version unless noted otherwise.

2. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association [The Unmerited Favor of God]

  • (-1) Note that the question wasn't whether 'grace' means something different from the OT to the NT - it was whether the words χάρις / χάριν would have a recognizable range of meaning "absolutely familiar to a native Greek-speaker". It would be good to see some references from outside the LXX to support your points here.
    – Steve can help
    Dec 6, 2016 at 14:11
  • @SteveTaylor I have modified my answer to clarify that extra-Biblical meanings are not how the word is used in the NT. Essentially there are no non-Christian writings that follow Paul's use because he is expressing a uniquely Christian perspective of grace. Quite simply, for a Christian there is no cut and paste answer to this question. It is mind boggling (to me) how this question has 7 DV's. Dec 9, 2016 at 16:51
  • (1) Thank you very much for showing me the difference between the usage of χάρις / χάριν between OT and NT. You have, in fact, opened up something that I didn't expect to discover here. I agree with you that the OT usage always implies "a favor in return", while the NT, if it’s not quoting any story from the OT, it attaches another meaning, which is "an absolutely free favor".
    – brilliant
    Dec 10, 2016 at 2:53
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    (2) The only verse that puzzles me here is Rom 4:4: "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt" – Paul is quoting the OT story with Abraham, however, he does use the word grace in the "absolutely free favor" sense.
    – brilliant
    Dec 10, 2016 at 2:54
  • (3) Also, as the sources quoted in the answers here have shown, the pre-NT non-biblical usage of χάριν also had the "erotic sense", that is the sense of some kind of inner enjoyment, which may not be obvious from outside; so I think a native speaker of Greek would automatically assume that meaning when reading 2nd Corinthians 12:9 because the “favor in return” meaning , as you have rightly pointed out, wouldn’t make any sense in this verse.
    – brilliant
    Dec 10, 2016 at 2:54


The word Grace or χάρις (Charis) in Greek was in use for several hundred years before the authorship of 2nd Corinthians in both secular and Jewish writings prior to the coming of Christ and the authorship of the Epistles. As such χάρις (Charis) as it was used in 2nd Corinthians 12:9 would have been absolutely familiar to a native Greek speaker and its meaning was unchanged by the New Testament writers.

χάρις in secular usage

For example, Xenophon, a secular Greek philosopher, historian, soldier, mercenary, and a student of Socrates who lived from 431-354BC used χάρις (Charis) as a term of benevolence in his work Agesilaus which summarizes the life of King Agesilaus II in 2:29:

For he believed that at one stroke he would repay the Egyptian for his good offices to Sparta, would again set free the Greeks in Asia, and would chastise the Persian for his former hostility, and for demanding now, when he professed to be an ally of Sparta, that her claim to Messene should be given up.

ἐνόμιζε γὰρ τῇ αὐτῇ ὁρμῇ τῷ μὲν Αἰγυπτίῳ χάριν ἀποδώσειν ἀνθ᾽ ὧν εὐεργετήκει τὴν Λακεδαίμονα, τοὺς δ᾽ ἐν τῇ Ἀσίᾳ Ἕλληνας πάλιν ἐλευθερώσειν, τῷ δὲ Πέρσῃ δίκην ἐπιθήσειν καὶ τῶν πρόσθεν καὶ ὅτι νῦν σύμμαχος εἶναι φάσκων ἐπέταττε Μεσσήνην ἀφιέναι.

Similarly, in Anabasis book 3 Chapter 3 verse 14, Xenophon uses this as a term of thanksgiving for divine grace

Let us thank the gods, therefore, that they came, not with a large force, but with a handful, so that without doing us any great damage they have revealed our needs.

τοῖς οὖν θεοῖς χάρις ὅτι οὐ σὺν πολλῇ ῥώμῃ ἀλλὰ σὺν ὀλίγοις ἦλθον, ὥστε βλάψαι μὲν μὴ μεγάλα, δηλῶσαι δὲ ὧν δεόμεθα.

And also in Book 2 Chapter 5 Verse 14::

Again, take those who dwell around you: if you chose to be a friend to any, you could be the greatest possible friend, while if any were to annoy you, you could play the part of master over them in case you had us for supporters, for we should serve you, not merely for the sake of pay, but also out of the gratitude that we should feel, and rightly feel, toward you, the man who had saved us.

ἀλλὰ μὴν ἔν γε τοῖς πέριξ οἰκοῦσι σὺ εἰ μὲν βούλοιο φίλος ὡς μέγιστος ἂν εἴης, εἰ δέ τίς σε λυποίη, ὡς δεσπότης ἂν ἀναστρέφοιο ἔχων ἡμᾶς ὑπηρέτας, οἵ σοι οὐκ ἂν μισθοῦ ἕνεκα ὑπηρετοῖμεν ἀλλὰ καὶ τῆς χάριτος ἣν σωθέντες ὑπὸ σοῦ σοὶ ἂν ἔχοιμεν δικαίως.

He also goes on to use the term in several other writings including Cyropaedia, Hellenica, Memorabilia, Hiero, Oeconomicus.

In fact, it is used not just by Xenophon, but numerous other secular Greek authors including Aeschines (389-314 BC), Aeschylus (523-426 BC), Andocides (440-390 BC), Antiphon (480-411 BC), Aristophanes (446-386 BC), Demosthenes (384-322 BC), Euripides (480-406 BC), Isocrates (436-338 BC), Lycurgus (390-324 BC), Pausanias (Circa 420 BC) Thucydides (460-400 BC), Sophocles (497-406 BC), Hesiod (Circa 750-650 BC) and Homer (Circa 650-200BC)

For example the historian Polybius (200-118 BC) uses it in Book 2, Chapter 22 Verse 5 of his Histories

possessing themselves of all it contained, and, after remaining masters of the city for seven months, had finally given it up of their own free will and as an act of grace, and had returned home with their spoil, unbroken and unscathed.

γενόμενοι δὲ καὶ τῶν ὑπαρχόντων ἁπάντων ἐγκρατεῖς καὶ τῆς πόλεως αὐτῆς ἑπτὰ μῆνας κυριεύσαντες, τέλος ἐθελοντὶ καὶ μετὰ χάριτος παραδόντες τὴν πόλιν, ἄθραυστοι καὶ ἀσινεῖς ἔχοντες τὴν ὠφέλειαν εἰς τὴν οἰκείαν ἐπανῆλθον.

This term also appears in The Philosopher Plato's (428-327BC) Republic Book I Secion 338a

Nay, it is more reasonable that you should be the speaker. For you do affirm that you know and are able to tell. Don't be obstinate, but do me the favor to reply and don't be chary1 of your wisdom, and instruct Glaucon here and the rest of us.

<εἰκὸς λέγειν: σὺ γὰρ δὴ φῂς εἰδέναι καὶ ἔχειν εἰπεῖν. μὴ οὖν ἄλλως ποίει, ἀλλὰ ἐμοί τε χαρίζου ἀποκρινόμενος καὶ μὴ φθονήσῃς καὶ Γλαύκωνα τόνδε διδάξαι καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους.

And he also uses the term in his works Laws, Apology, Euthyphro, Phaedo, Theaetetus, Phaedrus, Laches, Gorgias, Lesser, Hippias and Menexenus.

The Greek historian Herodotus who lived from 484 BC to 425 BC used it several times:

Herodotus Book 3: Thaleia [140][4]

"O most noble of men, thou art he who when as yet I had no power gavest me a gift, small it may be, but nevertheless the kindness is counted with me to be as great as if I should now receive some great thing from some one."

ὦ γενναιότατε ἀνδρῶν, σὺ κεῖνος εἶς ὃς ἐμοὶ οὐδεμίαν ἔχοντί κω δύναμιν ἔδωκας εἰ καὶ σμικρά, ἀλλ᾽ ὦν ἴση γε ἡ χάρις ὁμοίως ὡς εἰ νῦν κοθέν τι μέγα λάβοιμι· ἀντ᾽ ὧν τοι χρυσὸν καὶ ἄργυρον ἄπλετον δίδωμι, ὡς μή κοτέ τοι μεταμελήσῃ Δαρεῖον τὸν Ὑστάσπεος εὖ ποιήσαντι.

Herodotus Book 8: Urania [140][4]

We admire however the forethought which ye had with regard to us, in that ye took thought for us who have had our substance destroyed, and are willing to support the members of our households; and so far as ye are concerned, the kindness has been fully performed: but we shall continue to endure as we may, and not be a trouble in any way to you.

καὶ ὑμῖν μὲν ἡ χάρις ἐκπεπλήρωται, ἡμεῖς μέντοι λιπαρήσομεν οὕτω ὅκως ἂν ἔχωμεν, οὐδὲν λυπέοντες ὑμέας. νῦν δέ, ὡς οὕτω ἐχόντων, στρατιὴν ὡς τάχιστα ἐκπέμπετε

Herodotus Book 3: Thaleia [42][2]

Thou didst exceedingly well, and double thanks are due to thee, for thy words and also for thy gift; and we invite thee to come to dinner.

κάρτα τε εὖ ἐποίησας καὶ χάρις διπλῆ τῶν τε λόγων καὶ τοῦ δώρου, καί σε ἐπὶ δεῖπνον καλέομεν.

Herodotus Book 5: Terpsichore [90][1]

While however they were preparing to take vengeance, a matter arose from the Lacedemonians which provided a hindrance to them: for the Lacedemonians, having learnt that which had been contrived by the Alcmaionidai with respect to the Pythian prophetess, and that which had been contrived by the Pythian prophetess against themselves and the sons of Peisistratos, were doubly grieved, not only because they had driven out into exile men who were their guest-friends, but also because after they had done this no gratitude was shown to them by the Athenians.

ἐς τιμωρίην δὲ παρασκευαζομένοισι αὐτοῖσι ἐκ Λακεδαιμονίων πρῆγμα ἐγειρόμενον ἐμπόδιον ἐγένετο. πυθόμενοι γὰρ Λακεδαιμόνιοι τὰ ἐκ τῶν Ἀλκμεωνιδέων ἐς τὴν Πυθίην μεμηχανημένα καὶ τὰ ἐκ τῆς Πυθίης ἐπὶ σφέας τε καὶ τοὺς Πεισιστρατίδας συμφορὴν ἐποιεῦντο διπλῆν, ὅτι τε ἄνδρας ξείνους σφίσι ἐόντας ἐξεληλάκεσαν ἐκ τῆς ἐκείνων, καὶ ὅτι ταῦτα ποιήσασι χάρις οὐδεμία ἐφαίνετο πρὸς Ἀθηναίων

And geographer, philosopher and historian Strabo (64 BC - 24 AD) uses the term in Geographica, Book 9, Chapter 2, Verse 40

And of its power there is this proof, that the Thebans were wont to pay tribute to the Orchomenians and to Erginus their tyrant, who is said to have been put to death by Heracles. Eteocles, one of those who reigned as king at Orchomenus, who founded a temple of the Graces, was the first to display both wealth and power; for he honored these goddesses either because he was successful in receiving graces, or in giving them, or both.

τῆς δυνάμεως δέ, ὅτι Θηβαῖοι δασμὸν ἐτέλουν τοῖς Ὀρχομενίοις καὶ Ἐργίνῳ τῷ τυραννοῦντι αὐτῶν, ὃν ὑφ᾽ Ἡρακλέους καταλυθῆναί φασιν. Ἐτεοκλῆς δέ, τῶν βασιλευσάντων ἐν Ὀρχομενῷ τις, Χαρίτων ἱερὸν ἱδρυσάμενος πρῶτος ἀμφότερα ἐμφαίνει, καὶ πλοῦτον καὶ δύναμιν, ὃς εἴτ᾽ ἐν τῷ λαμβάνειν χάριτας εἴτ᾽ ἐν τῷ διδόναι κατορθῶν εἴτε καὶ ἀμφότερα, τὰς θεὰς ἐτίμησε ταύτας.

Finally, Dionysius of Halicarnassus (60-7 BC), uses the word in his work De Compositione Verborum (pg 241):

Here the euphonious effect and the grace of the language arise from the coherence and smoothness of the junctures.

ταύτης τῆς λέξεως ἡ εὐέπεια καὶ ἡ χάρις ἐν τῇ συνεχείᾳ καὶ λειότητι γέγονε τῶν ἁρμονιῶν: παράκειται γὰρ ἀλλήλοις τὰ ὀνόματα καὶ συνύφανται κατά τινας οἰκειότητας καὶ συζυγίας φυσικὰς τῶν γραμμάτων:

From the above examples, you can see that χάρις (Charis) had a range of meanings which included χάρις (Charis) as an act of benevolence, χάρις (Charis) as a quality or character trait (which can also be seen through the usage of the root χάρις [Charis] in the word greek word χαρισμα [Charisma]), and finally the concept of giving χάρις (Charis) which is to give worship or thanksgiving to one's benefactor. In fact, usage of χάρις (Charis) and its' congugates are recorded over 200 times in secular works with the majority of uses appearing before Pauline writings.

χάρις in Septuagintal usage

The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Old Testament (Torah) from Hebrew. This is an extremely useful tool for comparing and contrasting how meaning is is understood once translated by the Greek audience of Jesus time, modern English readers and the origional Hebrew audience. For example, you can begin to see doctrines arise based on the Greek translations of the Torah.

In our case however, these writings also would have an irrevocable impact on the secular understanding of χάρις (Charis) since the Septuagint predates the birth of Christ by a couple hundred years and the Septuagint can serve to demonstrate that there was no difference between secular usage and religious meaning prior both to the birth of Christ and the penning of the Pauline Epistles. A more useful question is not if Paul imbued χάρις (Charis) with new meaning, but instead if the translators of the Septuagint imbued new meaning hundreds of years earlier (to which the answer is still "no" based on the above examples)

From Apocraphal Texts

This can firstly be seen in Apocraphal or non-canonical works

Wisdom of Solomon 3:9

They that put their trust in him shall understand the truth: and such as be faithful in love shall abide with him: for grace and mercy is to his saints, and he hath care for his elect.

οἱ πεποιθότες ἐπ᾿ αὐτῷ συνήσουσιν ἀλήθειαν, καὶ οἱ πιστοὶ ἐν ἀγάπῃ προσμενοῦσιν αὐτῷ, ὅτι χάρις καὶ ἔλεος ἐν τοῖς ὁσίοις αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐπισκοπὴ ἐν τοῖς ἐκλεκτοῖς αὐτοῦ.

Wisdom of Solomon 4:15 This the people saw, and understood it not, neither laid they up this in their minds, That his grace and mercy is with his saints, and that he hath respect unto his chosen.

ὅτι χάρις καὶ ἔλεος ἐν τοῖς ἐκλεκτοῖς αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐπισκοπὴ ἐν τοῖς ὁσίοις αὐτοῦ.

Wisdom of Sirach 4:21

For there is a shame that bringeth sin; and there is a shame which is glory and grace.

ἔστι γὰρ αἰσχύνη ἐπάγουσα ἁμαρτίαν, καὶ ἔστιν αἰσχύνη δόξα καὶ χάρις.

Wisdom of Sirach 20:13, 16

A wise man by his words maketh him beloved: but the graces of fools shall be poured out.

ὁ σοφὸς ἐν λόγῳ ἑαυτὸν προσφιλῆ ποιήσει, χάριτες δὲ μωρῶν ἐκχυθήσονται.

The fool saith, I have no friends, I have no thank for all my good deeds, and they that eat my bread speak evil of me.

μωρὸς ἐρεῖ· οὐχ ὑπάρχει μοι φίλος, καὶ οὐκ ἔστι χάρις τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς μου· οἱ ἔσθοντες τὸν ἄρτον μου, φαῦλοι γλώσσῃ·

Wisdom of Sirach 26:13-15

The grace of a wife delighteth her husband, and her discretion will fatten his bones.

χάρις γυναικὸς τέρψει τὸν ἄνδρα αὐτῆς, καὶ τὰ ὀστᾶ αὐτοῦ πιανεῖ ἡ ἐπιστήμη αὐτῆς. δόσις Κυρίου γυνὴ σιγηρά, καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν ἀντάλλαγμα πεπαιδευμένης ψυχῆς.

Wisdom of Sirach 32:10

Before the thunder goeth lightning; and before a shamefaced man shall go favour.

πρὸ βροντῆς κατασπεύδει ἀστραπή, καὶ πρὸ αἰσχυντηροῦ προελεύσεται χάρις.

Wisdom of Sirach 37:5, 11, 21

There is a companion, which helpeth his friend for the belly, and taketh up the buckler against the enemy.

ἑταῖρος φίλῳ συμπονεῖ χάριν γαστρός, ἔναντι πολέμου λήψεται ἀσπίδα.

Neither consult with a woman touching her of whom she is jealous; neither with a coward in matters of war; nor with a merchant concerning exchange; nor with a buyer of selling; nor with an envious man of thankfulness; nor with an unmerciful man touching kindness; nor with the slothful for any work; nor with an hireling for a year of finishing work; nor with an idle servant of much business: hearken not unto these in any matter of counsel.

μετὰ γυναικὸς περὶ τῆς ἀντιζήλου αὐτῆς καὶ μετὰ δειλοῦ περὶ πολέμου, μετὰ ἐμπόρου περὶ μεταβολίας καὶ μετὰ ἀγοράζοντος περὶ πράσεως, μετὰ βασκάνου περὶ εὐχαριστίας καὶ μετὰ ἀνελεήμονος περὶ χρηστοηθείας, μετὰ ὀκνηροῦ περὶ παντὸς ἔργου καὶ μετὰ μισθίου ἐφεστίου περὶ συντελείας, οἰκέτῃ ἀργῷ περὶ πολλῆς ἐργασίας, μὴ ἔπεχε ἐπὶ τούτοις περὶ πάσης συμβουλίας·

For grace is not given, him from the Lord, because he is deprived of all wisdom.

οὐ γὰρ ἐδόθη αὐτῷ παρὰ Κυρίου χάρις, ὅτι πάσης σοφίας ἐστερήθη.

From the Old Testament

And secondly, from the Old Testament

Proverbs 22:1 (Click here for English versions in Parallel)

A fair name is better than much wealth, and good favour is above silver and gold.

ΑΙΡΕΤΩΤΕΡΟΝ ὄνομα καλὸν ἢ πλοῦτος πολύς, ὑπὲρ δὲ ἀργύριον καὶ χρυσίον χάρις ἀγαθή,

Ecclesiastes 9:11 (Click here for English versions in Parallel)

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor yet bread to the wise, nor yet wealth to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of knowledge; for time and chance will happen to them all.

᾿Επέστρεψα καὶ εἶδον ὑπὸ τὸν ἥλιον ὅτι οὐ τοῖς κούφοις ὁ δρόμος καὶ οὐ τοῖς δυνατοῖς ὁ πόλεμος καί γε οὐ τῷ σοφῷ ἄρτος καί γε οὐ τοῖς συνετοῖς πλοῦτος καί γε οὐ τοῖς γινώσκουσι χάρις, ὅτι καιρὸς καὶ ἀπάντημα συναντήσεται τοῖς πᾶσιν αὐτοῖς.

Ecclesiastes 10:12 (Click here for English versions in Parallel)

The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor, but the lips of a fool consume him.

λόγοι στόματος σοφοῦ χάρις καὶ χείλη ἄφρονος καταποντιοῦσιν αὐτόν

Psalms 45:2 (Click here for English versions in Parallel)

You are fairer than the sons of men; Grace is poured upon Your lips; Therefore God has blessed You forever.

ὡραῖος κάλλει παρὰ τοὺς υἱοὺς τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ἐξεχύθη χάρις ἐν χείλεσί σου· διὰ τοῦτο εὐλόγησέ σε ὁ Θεὸς εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα


Based on all of the above cited instances (and more) the Lexicons rightly1 2 show that the semantic meaning and range of χάρις (Charis) is:

(1) a wining quality or attractiveness that invites a favorable reaction
(2) a beneficient disposition towards someone
    (a) A generosity granted to another
    (b) A generosity that one experiences
(3) the practical application of goodwill
    (a) by men
    (b) by a divine deity
(4) an exceptional effect produced by generosity (favor)
(5) response to generosity or beneficience

The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature 1 also notes that

It seems that χάρις is not always clearly differentiated in meaning From χαρά (Joy). For example, in the Second Century BC Apollodorus used the word in this way: 244 Fgm. 90 Jac. says in the second book περὶ θεῶν: κληθῆναι δὲ αὐτὰς ἀπὸ μὲν τ. χαρᾶς Χάριτας· καὶ γὰρ πολλάκις … οἱ ποιηταὶ τ. χάριν χαρὰν καλοῦσιν ‘the [deities] Charites are so called from χαρά [joy], for poets freq. equate χάρις with χαρά’. Cp. the wordplay AcPl Ha 8, 7 χαρᾶς καὶ χάριτος the house was filled with gaiety and gratitude.).

What is more interesting (to this author at least) is not if any meaning was added by more modern writings and translations, but instead what meaning has been lost. While we may have an idea of thanksgiving or gratitude in modern Western society, this activity stops at a feeling. Instead, the idea of "giving grace" as an act of thanksgiving is lost to modern audiences. Instead of being required to "pay it forward" by giving to others the same radical benevolence we outselves have received, we must merely "give thanks". While "giving grace: historically would have been seen as an indicator that Israelite should make sacrifices at the temple, Jesus radically alters the meaning of this edict in Luke 6:36), saying

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

we only need be "thankful" for what we have received.

In contrast, the idea of "giving grace" requires that we live an inaugurated eschatology in which Christ is (in some small part) incarnate in each of us and made manifest in the world around us through our acts of grace.

In short, χάρις (Charis) as it was used in 2nd Corinthians 12:9 would have been absolutely familiar to a native Greek speaker and the meaning of χάρις (Charis) was left unaltered by the New Testament writers.

1 Arndt, William ; Danker, Frederick W. ; Bauer, Walter: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2000, S. 1079

2 While the above list is based on the BDAG1 A Greek-English Lexicon by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott (the LSJ) records similar application and meaning.

  • Which of the meanings best fits the situation and use described in 2 Corinthians 12:9? How is grace demonstrated by not helping Paul with his thorn in the flesh? Dec 6, 2016 at 13:54
  • 1
    @RevelationLad, those are answers to questions not asked by the OP. The OP also originally asked about the usage χάρις in general and I do not believe the intent was to focus on 2 Cor 12:9. This passage was merely added to bring the question in scope. Nonetheless in this case, the meaning is obviously 3(b) and the verse can accordingly be rewritten as "my benevolence is sufficient for you" without losing meaning. You too seem to know this by the second part of your question. In this case, grace is highlighted because of the gracefulness Paul demonstrates in the face of his condition. Dec 6, 2016 at 14:37
  • I don't think any audience is going to understand the word outside of the context it is used. Paul starts out by starting how much he has suffered for the Lord, exactly the circumstances in which grace should be given to Paul. So what grace does a reader understand Paul has received for suffering by being told "continue to suffer"? What lexicon points to additional suffering as a meaning of grace? Dec 6, 2016 at 15:13
  • That sounds like a great question to ask - I'm not sure that I or anyone else could do a proper answer justice in the comments. Dec 6, 2016 at 15:15
  • A very thorough answer!
    – user15733
    Dec 6, 2016 at 16:30

The Greek word - χάρις (charis) - appear over 150 times in the Greek Septuagint, which pre-dates the New Testament by some two centuries.

In the Pentateuch (Torah), it is translated as both "grace" and "favor" in some English versions. In Brenton's translation, we find, for example:

Νωε δὲ εὗρεν χάριν ἐναντίον κυρίου τοῦ θεοῦ

But Noe [Noah] found grace before the Lord God.

Genesis 6:8 LXX

καὶ κύριος ἔδωκεν τὴν χάριν τῷ λαῷ αὐτοῦ ἐναντίον τῶν Αἰγυπτίων

And the Lord gave his people favour in the sight of the Egyptians

Exodus 3:21 LXX

καὶ εἶπεν Μωυσῆς πρὸς κύριον Ἵνα τί ἐκάκωσας τὸν θεράποντά σου, καὶ διὰ τί οὐχ εὕρηκα χάριν ἐναντίον σου ἐπιθεῖναι τὴν ὁρμὴν τοῦ λαοῦ τούτου ἐπʼ ἐμέ

And Moses said to the Lord, Why hast thou afflicted thy servant, and why have I not found grace in thy sight, that thou shouldest lay the weight of this people upon me?

Numbers 11:11 LXX

χάρις also has a somewhat more obscure meaning in the Old Testament of "cause". For example:

χάριν διαφόρου πολλοὶ ἥμαρτον, καὶ ὁ ζητῶν πληθῦναι ἀποστρέψει ὀφθαλμόν.

Many have sinned for a [χάριν] small matter; and he that seeketh for abundance will turn his eyes away.

Sirach 27:1

[A derivative of χάρις is χρηστός (chrestos), meaning "kind" or "gracious". A change of one letter - χρηστός -> χριστός - gives us "christos", the Greek word for "Christ" with a literal meaning of "anointed one" (e.g. Psalm 2:2 LXX, Daniel 9:25 LXX). I don't think there is an etymological connection here relevant to your question, but it is interesting.]

The Perseus web service provides extensive information on where Greek words that appear in the Bible may appear in other ancient works. One can follow the link (which leads to entries for χάρις) to find how the word was used in other contexts:

  • 1
    Are you saying χάρις is the same as χάριν? Dec 4, 2016 at 6:54
  • 1
    Can you say anything about the pre-NT usage of χάρις in non-biblical Greek?
    – brilliant
    Dec 4, 2016 at 7:29
  • 2
    @RevelationLad χάριν is the same as χάρις as far as meaning is concerned! The difference in spelling (not meaning) is due to χάριν being the accusative declension and χάρις being the nominative declension. See for yourself: χάριν occurs in Luke 1:30 with the obvious meaning of “grace”: καὶ εἶπεν ὁ ἄγγελος αὐτῇ Μὴ φοβοῦ Μαριάμ εὗρες γὰρ χάριν παρὰ τῷ θεῷ.
    – user862
    Dec 4, 2016 at 8:48
  • 1
    @RevelationLad All that being said, I understand why you are confused. χάριν, the accusative declension, can also used with a different meaning in Greek. Rather than meaning “grace,” it can mean for this reason; e.g., Eph. 3:1, and a few other meanings. See LSJ, χάρις, VI. Special Usages.
    – user862
    Dec 4, 2016 at 8:51
  • 2
    That's like asking if every use of "right" in a piece of literature refers to "correct" as opposed to a direction. Context, morphology, syntax all matter.
    – Dan
    Dec 5, 2016 at 2:37

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