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I read this question and the edifying answers (which apparently deserve more upvotes), but I find myself with yet another question on the verse. What does χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος mean at the end of the verse? I know that literally it means "grace in place of grace", and that the Douay Rheims translates it as "grace for grace". But apart from a word-for-word translation, what does it actually mean?

Is the logic of this Greek phrase analogous to something like this in English—"We have received heaps upon heaps of grain"? The English analogy that I just gave is a way of intensifying the quantity of something. "Heaps upon heaps of grain" is obviously a lot more grain than just "heaps of grain". Is that what is meant here in the Greek phrase?

For ease of research and answering, I'll reproduce both the Greek and a translation.

ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ πληρώματος αὐτοῦ ἡμεῖς πάντες ἐλάβομεν καὶ χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος· (NA28)

And of his fulness we all have received, and grace for grace. (Douay Rheims)

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Indeed it is a strange and at a first glance an illogical passage, because it says that advent of Jesus is "grace instead of grace" (the ἀντί is 'instead of', 'substitute for'), thus intimating that before Jesus there was a grace that was superseded by a greater grace which came through His advent. But the immediate sequel (John 1:17) seems to go against this, for it says that "law was from Moses but grace and Truth came by Jesus Christ". Thus the difficulty lays in this.

I see 2 possible solutions:

  1. Moses' law was also grace in a relative sense, for it was also given by God, however it was not enough to save, to introduce the salvific ontological transformation in human essence so as to lead to discarding of the "old man", "old self" (Eph. 4:22) and becoming a "new creation" (Gal. 6:15), the latter became possible only through the advent of Jesus Christ which brought this new, salvific grace to humanity, thus "[the salvific and transforming] grace instead of [non-salvific, law-based] grace". The same logic is in 2 Cor. 3:13, when Paul distinguishes between "fading glory" of Moses from the unfading glory that those who accept Christ and working of His Spirit have, thus the semantic is the same "[unfading] glory instead of the [fading] glory".

  2. Moses brought only law, not grace, whereas Jesus brought grace, but the divine grace has a feature of initiating in humans an infinite process: a portion of divine grace makes man long and aspire for greater grace and so ad infinitum; thus Jesus brought the reality of "grace instead of grace", that is to say, he opened a path to humans towards infinite process of growth in greater and greater presence and intensity of divine grace, advancing from "power to power" (Psalm 84:7), or from "glory to glory" (2 Cor. 3:18), that is to say "from grace to grace".

The second interpretation is theologically quite sound especially in Eastern Christian theology where Gregory of Nyssa teaches about the ongoing infinite development of human being and the similar doctrine in late Byzantine theology which teaches about process of deification of human beings through divine grace=uncreated divine energies, however, so to say, objectively the first interpretation is, I think, more textually exact, even if theologically inferior.

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  • I concur fully. (+1) Great answer! In a sense, you could say it means 'we have recieved grace upon [the] grace [of the previous dispensation]'. – Sola Gratia Nov 14 '17 at 13:01
  • Thanks, Sola Gratia! yes, your formulation describes perfectly the first possible variant of interpretation offered in my post. – Levan Gigineishvili Nov 14 '17 at 13:55
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John 1:16 grace upon grace NASB [or grace in place of grace NABRE ]

Either translation is good since the Greek allows it.

Regarding the meaning of the text. The former rendering tells us that more grace is given while the latter speaks about grace that is received in the New Covenant.

THE FULLNESS OF CHRIST

Stephen is said to be ''full of grace'' (Acts 6:8). However, the immediate context reveals that He is the recipient rather than the giver of grace.

Christ gives grace. Paul wrote about ''the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ'' in 2 Corinthians 13:14.

James 1:17 (NASB), said that ''every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.'' Grace per se is a good gift and to say that Christ is full of grace means that every good gift comes from Him. This also implies Christ's divinity since only God gives grace (''grace'' > χάριν Psalm 84:11 L xx).

...we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. - John 1:14 (NASB)

Furthermore, it is said that this fullness of grace and truth is the glory of the only (begotten) from the Father. That is to say, of the Son of God, who while being God himself (''God'' > Θεὸς John 1:1c, 18b) is distinct from God, the Father. See the Doctrine of the Trinity.

RECIPIENTS OF HIS FULLNESS

Christ is the source of our fullness. In him, we ''have been made full'' (Colossians 2:1NASB).

For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. - John 1:16 (NASB)

In Philippians 4:19, it is said that God supplies all our needs in Christ Jesus. How does God supply all our needs in Christ Jesus? It is through grace. It is said that ''God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything ''( 2 Corinthians 9:8 NASB). Again, another scripture says that ''God gives us more grace '' (James 4:6 NIV).

IMAGE OF HIS FULLNESS

The saints can be ''filled with the fullness of God'' (Ephesians 3:19 NASB) because they are ''the fullness of Christ'' (Ephesians 4:13) in whom ''all the fullness of the Godhead'' dwells (Colossians 2:9).

which is His (Christ's) body, the fullness of Him (Christ) who fills all in all. Ephesians 1:23 (NASB)

When Christ dwells in our hearts (Ephesians 3:17), we are being filled with God because God is in Christ. Christ said to the Father, ''I in them and you in Me'' (John 17:23 NASB). That is, our union with Christ is a union with God.

Conclusion

The Greek phrase χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος has more than one meaning. It could either be the grace which we have received through the New Covenant or the grace that we are receiving by being in the New Covenant.Either way, it shows that everything that we have whether wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption, is not of our own doing but a gift of God. ''But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption'' (1 Corinthians 1:30 NASB).

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Its all about fullness of Christ, that is , about Pleroma of Him. "For of the fullness (pleromatos) of Him we all have received moreover grace upon grace"- this is Greek interlinear. Over-abundance or superabundance is the important and unique feature of Pleroma: just remember the catch of the fishes when boats were overburdened with fish; remember multiplication of bread and fish for the thousands when so much remains after the feast and so on. Kingdom, Pleroma is superabundant, so heaps upon heaps, grace upon grace.

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