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Luke 2:52 (ESV) states that "Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man." The word "favor" in this passage is translated from the Greek word "charis" (Strong's G5485), which the Strong's defines as "graciousness (as gratifying), of manner or act."

In my modern, American, English-speaking context, I don't see a straight-forward connection between graciousness and favor, specifically not the kind of favor implied by the common usage of "charisma" (i.e. I don't assume a person who has charisma will necessarily be gracious).

How were "graciousness" and "favor" associated in the ancient Greek context? How is it that the Greek word for "graciousness" also carried a connotation of "favor?"

  • Technically speaking, a "charisma" is a God-given talent or grace. The conventional English meaning is derived from that. – lonesomeday Oct 22 '11 at 16:00
  • Yes, you are correct: the dictionary definition contains that meaning. However, I don't think that would make sense to the average person on the street - not even the average Christian (unless they were charismatic and paying attention). I think I meant in my question to focus on the contextual meaning of the Greek word - let me try to re-phrase my question. – awmckinley Oct 22 '11 at 17:14
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You might be interested in Moral Transformation, page 166ff, in which Wallace and Rusk argue that "charis" did not have the technical sense many now give it, but always meant "favor" in a reciprocity system, or "favorable" as we would understand it, and that most of the passages in which we see "charis" used in a technical sense, it is referring to the favor that God did for us when he sent his son. They cite Malina and Harrison, among others--might be worth reading their sources.

In other words, perhaps it meant "favor" and has come to imply "charisma" instead of the other way around.

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  • Sounds plausible to me. I wonder if the book is in one of my local libraries... – Jon Ericson Oct 25 '11 at 17:17
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There's no doubt that the word is primarily translated as "grace" (130 times in the King James version). However, there are a few times (6 in total) that this word is translated as "favor".

Luke 1:30, Acts 2:47, Acts 7:10, Acts 7:46, and Acts 25:3 are the other five places (beyond the passage in question).

If you look at all six passages, the idea used is having found "grace" with someone, "grace" for someone, or "grace" towards someone.

The idea is always grace in motion.

If we look at the English definition of "favor" it might help make this translation clearer:

Merriam Webster: favor

  1. (1): a friendly regard shown toward another especially by a superior (2): an approving consideration or attention
  2. archaic appearance
  3. a : gracious kindness; also : an act of such kindness

The first definition shows that "favor" is a regard shown toward another. This is the same type of concept shown in the six passages above. Furthermore, the third definition shows that the idea of favor is connected with grace: "gracious kindness".

This link between "favor" and "grace" can also be seen in that second definition of "grace" is "approval, favor".

Summary

Ultimately, "finding grace with God and man" and "finding favor with God and man" are the same. If someone offers you grace, then they favor you. If someone finds favor with you, they will offer you grace. These two concepts are inextricably linked, to the point of being able to translate between the two.

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  • Hmm... not my best work. :\ – Richard Oct 24 '11 at 12:37
  • One point of confusion in Christian contexts is that grace is a technical term and favor isn't. It would be strange to say that Jesus increased in "grace" with God even though that's what the passage says. Substituting "favor" seems a good idea in this case. – Jon Ericson Oct 24 '11 at 19:32
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So, let's consider that Greek word, "charis" means "(God's) divine influence in the heart and its (subsequent) reflection in the life", as defined in Strong's Greek dictionary.

Then let's consider that in the early translations into English (Geneva and King James Bibles) the language is absent of words that equate with the Greek word, "charis" and its technical meaning, thus the translators used words at their disposal, those being grace and favor which are plesionyms rather than synonyms, the result of which was that at some point the meaning of "how God operates in our 'core beings'" began to be substituted with the meaning of “our resultant standing with God”.

It seems that the Bible translators would have done a greater service by simply injecting the meaning of charis rather than to use words that were (and are) mismatched to the word "charis". For after all, as Jesus stated, no one comes to Him (for salvation) except the Father draws (influences/motivates) him to do so! (See: John 6:44)

Now, "charis" IS the base for the Greek word "charizomai" which does mean "to grant as a favor", but "charis" itself means that God works in our hearts to produce an effect which HE desires ... His first desire being our redemption/salvation with the ongoing desired effects of His influence towards our lives increasingly reflecting the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29), which is why God tells us to "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ ..." (The concluding instructive of 2 Peter 3).

Interestingly, there can also be a negative reflection of God’s influence in our hearts which is human rejection and refusal to comply! Both of these are in fact reflections in life from God’s influencing efforts to draw us to Christ … so when you see a person adamantly or being confrontational in their refusing or rejecting God’s offer of salvation in Christ Jesus the Lord - you can be pretty certain that such person is reacting to God’s current operation of influencing their hearts to receive Christ Jesus!

Finally, looking at just the specific, not extrapolated, meaning of “charis”, it is interesting that it does apparently include or imply “favor”, much less undeserved or unmerited favor!

To further understand the confusion, the etymology of “grace” stems back to the French language in which the Old French grace means, "pardon, divine grace, mercy; favor, thanks; elegance, virtue" (12c., Modern French grâce), and from the Latin, “gratia” meaning "favor, esteem, regard; pleasing quality, good will, gratitude" (source of Italian grazia, Spanish gracia; in Church use translating Greek kharisma), from gratus "pleasing, agreeable," from PIE *gwreto-, suffixed form of root *gwere- (2) "to favor." {From etymonline.com}

So, as stipulated earlier, what has become the traditional religious meaning in churches is the result of the absence of a word in English that equates the Greek word, “charis”.

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