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“Grace” as a Technical Term

Introduction

Grace is a term used for God’s unmerited favor to man throughout the Scriptures. God’s grace was evident in his dealings with man throughout the Old Testament and in the Gospels. But when we come to the Apostle Paul the concept of grace explodes. Paul used the term χάρις in a technical sense to describe God’s salvation by faith apart from works, the Christian’s freedom from the Mosaic Law, his own unique ministry, and in his greetings, farewell, and thankfulness. This article will explore Paul’s employment of grace as a fundamental concept of the Christian life.

Old Testament Witness of Grace

In the Old Testament, the verb חָנַן is used 78 times and its related noun חֵן is found 69 times (Genesis 6.8, 18.3, 19.19, 30.27, 32.5, 33.8, 10, 15, 34.11, 39.4, 21, 47.25, 29, 50.4; Exodus 3.21, 11.3, 12.36, 33.12, 13, 16, 17, 34.9; Numbers 11.11, 15, 32.5; Deuteronomy 24.1; Judges 6.17; Ruth 2.2, 10, 13; 1 Samuel 1.18, 16.22, 20.3, 29, 25.8, 27.5; 2 Samuel 14.22, 15.25, 16.4; 1 Kings 11.19; Esther 2.15, 17, 5.2, 8, 7.3, 8.5; Psalms 45.2, 84.11; Proverbs 1.9, 3.4, 22, 34, 4.9, 5.19, 11.16, 13.15, 17.8, 22.1. 11, 28.23, 31.30; Ecclesiastes 9.11, 10.12; Jeremiah 31.2; Nahum 3.4; Zechariah 4.7, 12.10). These terms are used for grace, favor, or goodwill.

Another Hebrew word תְּחִנָּה is used 25 times (Joshua 11.20; 1 Kings 8.28, 30, 38, 45, 49, 52, 54, 9.3; 2 Chronicles 6.19, 29, 35, 39, 33.13; Ezra 9.8; Psalms 6.9, 55.1, 119.170; Jeremiah 36.7, 37.20, 38.26, 42.2, 9; Daniel 9.20) of grace. Therefore, in the Old Testament, these terms demonstrate a usage of 172 times for grace, mercy, or supplication. Most of the uses involve relationships between individuals. However, in the case of Moses and the nation of Israel, it is frequently used of God’s attitude (Exodus 3.21, 11.3, 12.36, 33.12, 13, 16-17, 34.9; Numbers 11.11, 15, 32.5).

The New Testament Witness of Grace

The primary word for grace in the New Testament is χάρις. It occurs 156 times in 148 verses. Below is the distribution breakdown:

SourcesPassagesFrequency
Gospels
LukeLuke 1.30, 2.40, 52, 4.22, 6.32, 33, 6.34, 17.98x
JohnJohn 1.14, 16, 174x
ActsActs 2.47, 4.33, 6.8, 7.10, 46, 11.23, 13.43, 14.3, 26, 15.11, 40, 18.27, 20.24, 32, 24.27, 25.3, 917x
Epistles
PaulRomans 1.5, 7, 3.24, 4.4, 16, 5.2, 15, 17, 20, 21, 6.1, 14, 15, 17, 7.25, 11.5, 6, 12.3, 12.6, 15.15, 16.20, 2424x
1 Corinthians 1:3, 4, 3:10, 10:30, 15:10, 57, 16:3, 2310x
2 Corinthians 1:2, 12, 15, 2:14, 4:15, 6:1, 8:1, 4, 6, 7, 9, 16, 19, 9:8, 14, 15, 12:9, 13:14;19x
Galatians 1:3, 6, 15, 2:9, 21, 5:4, 6:187x
Ephesians 1:2, 6, 7, 2:5, 7, 8, 3:2, 7, 8, 4:7, 29, 6:2412x
Philippians 1:2, 7, 4:233x
Colossians 1:2, 6, 3:16, 4:6, 185x
1 Thessalonians 1:1, 5:282x
2 Thessalonians 1:2, 12, 2:16, 3:184x
1 Timothy 1:2, 12, 14, 6:214x
2 Timothy 1:2, 3, 9, 2:1, 4:225x
Titus 1:4, 2:11, 3:7, 154x
Philemon 1:3, 252x
HebrewsHebrews 2:9, 4:16, 10:29, 12:15, 12:28, 13:9, 258x
JamesJames 4:62x
Peter1 Peter 1:2, 10, 13, 2:19, 20, 3:7, 4:10, 5:5, 10, 12; 2 Peter 1.2, 3.1812x
John2 John 1:3; Revelation 1.4, 22.213x
JudeJude 1:41x

These statistics are remarkable. Paul used the term χάρις 101 times (109 times) if we include Hebrews out of a total usage of 156 times in the New Testament. Matthew and Mark do not include the word χάρις once. And John only used it 4x. Luke used the term 8x in his gospel and 19 times in Acts. Why the heavy use in Luke and not the other gospels? The answer is because Luke was a constant companion of Paul and was influenced by Paul’s thinking and vocabulary. Thus, χάρις is used only 22 times (14%) in the New Testament in a non-Pauline association. As in the Old Testament, most of the usages of “grace” relate to the general favor of God or man. When we come to Paul, however, the meaning of “grace” assumes a greater dimension.

Paul’s Use of Grace (χάρις)

1. Paul used the word χάρις to emphasize God’s unmerited favor toward man particularly in respect to salvation. In the gospel of the grace of God salvation is obtained by faith apart from any works. It is faith + 0. One need only trust in the finished work of Christ (1 Corinthians 15.1-4). In addition and concomitant the gospel of grace, the Lord also revealed to Paul that believers of Paul’s gospel were not under the dominion of the Mosaic Law. The Law was over and Christians were under grace (Romans 6.14 cf. Galatians 1.6-7, 2.16, 3.11, 24-26, 4.30-31, 5.1, 18). Paul’s specialized usage of the word in this way made his usage of the word technical and unique. For Paul, grace was the realm in which salvation of faith without works or faith + 0 operated. We do not find such language or usage by anyone else.

2. Grace was such an essential concept of Paul’s thinking that he began all his letters with a grace statement as a greeting and ended all his letters with a grace farewell. It was his identifying escutcheon.

GreetingFarewell
Romans 1.7Romans 16.20, 24
1 Corinthians 1.3-41 Corinthians 16.23
2 Corinthians 1.22 Corinthians 12.14
Galatians 1.3Galatians 6.18
Ephesians 1.2Ephesians 6.24
Philippians 1.2Philippians 4.23
Colossians 1.2Colossians 4.18
1 Thessalonians 1.11 Thessalonians 5.28
2 Thessalonians 1.22 Thessalonians 3.18
1 Timothy 1.21 Timothy 6.21
2 Timothy 1.22 Timothy 4.22
Titus 1.4Titus 3.15
Philemon 1.3Philemon 1.25

3. Paul used χάρις as the term to identify and embrace his unique ministry (Romans 1.5, 15.15; 1 Corinthians 3.10, 15.10; Galatians 1.15, 2.9; Ephesians 3.2, 7-8; 1 Timothy 1.11) which he received from the risen, ascended Lord to be the apostle of the Gentiles (Romans 11.13) for the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20.24). Paul made it clear that his ministry was completely different from the ministry of the Twelve. He, like an architect, had laid a new foundation (1 Corinthians 3.10) and declared he was the first (πρῶτος, i.e., the prototype) and the pattern (ὑποτύπωσις) of a new message and ministry (1 Timothy 1.15-16). Paul’s technical term for the revelations the risen Lord gave to him alone was μυστήριον “secret.”

4. Lastly, Paul employed χάρις as a term of thanksgiving (1 Corinthians 10.30; 2 Corinthians 9.15; Colossians 3.16; 1 Timothy 1.12; 2 Timothy 1.3).

Conclusion

No other biblical writer used χάρις (grace) the way Paul did. If one understands how and why Paul used grace the way he did one will grasp the basic concepts of Paul’s unique ministry and the message of Christianity. Without such understanding, one will flounder with confusion concerning the fundamental concepts as salvation by faith alone, i.e., sola fides, that the believer is not under Law, the “secrets” revealed by the risen Lord to Paul, and Paul’s unique apostleship. If one understands how Paul used “grace” these concepts will come to light.

©2013 Don Samdahl. Anyone is free to reproduce this material and distribute it, but it may not be sold.


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14 thoughts on ““Grace” as a Technical Term

  1. Ron G

    G’Day Don,
    If the Gospel of Grace came to us via Paul what does “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:16, 17 NKJV)” mean?
    Ron G

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      Ron,
      John’s audience was Jewish. He wrote that as Christ, God had revealed Himself to Israel in a way never before seen. Grace and truth did come through Christ but throughout His ministry He operated under the Law of Moses. He declared He came to fulfill it (Matthew 5.17). God had always operated in grace but His greatest manifestation was in Christ becoming man, going to the cross, and rising from the dead. But the gospel Jesus preached was a gospel under the Mosaic Law. Paul’s gospel was pure grace. No works were required for salvation. It was faith + 0. This was untrue of the gospel of the kingdom. It required faith + works. Also, God under Paul’s gospel was dealt with Gentiles directly. Jesus did not do this in His earthly ministry. This is why Paul was the Apostle of the grace of God.

  2. Becky

    Hi Don, can you explain/define “dispensation” to me as far as how Paul used it? I have absolutely no doubt that Paul only was entrusted with the dispensation of the grace of God. I have read Strong’s definition and I just need more clarity on the use of the word itself. Thanks so much.

  3. Becky

    For years, I heard people using the word “grace” but it always seemed to be used interchangeably with “mercy.” And the definition I received time and time again when asking about what it meant was “unmerited favor.” But for myself, as much as Paul spoke of grace, “unmerited favor” seemed more like a one-time thing instead of something actively ongoing on a daily basis. Then one day I thought to look it up in Strong’s and my eyes were opened to the full meaning of grace.
    Strong’s – From G5463; graciousness (as gratifying), of manner or act (abstract or concrete; literal, figurative or spiritual; especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude): – acceptable, benefit, favour, gift, grace (-ious), joy liberality, pleasure, thank (-s, -worthy).
    What jumped out at me was “especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life.” The first place I went was 2 Cor 12:9 and substituted “grace” with this definition, reading it aloud to myself: “My divine influence upon your heart and its reflection in your life is sufficient for you.” It immediately became a reality. It works in almost every instance in the New Testament. I have yet to hear anyone point this out or expound on it; it truly transformed my intimacy with the Lord and made me more aware of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. I greatly appreciate your statements of Paul’s specialized usage of the word “grace” and that grace was such an essential concept to Paul. Just a great and insightful study, thank you!

  4. todd

    I am trying to figure out my charismatic friends.Is it possible the reason they are so hung up on sign gifts is that it allows them to think they can receive God’s grace through works.

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      Todd,
      It varies with the individual. The primary cause is misunderstanding or misinterpreting Scripture. Too many think that since God doesn’t change this means His operations among men do not change. People think sign gifts are the proofs of God’s power we should be experiencing today and they wish to witness God “doing something.” The cure for this is faith. Paul wrote the power of God in the Church is the gospel and the resurrection, not sign gifts (Romans 1.4, 16-17).

  5. George

    Hello bro Don, hope your doing well. I have a question for you regarding grace. Paul says : Romans 11:6 indicates to me that grace and works are not compatible with eacother but how can this be when in the ot grace was given To people based on covenants and required works. They had grace based on their works, so grace stood hand in hand with works in order to be perfect, in paul’s gospel grace stands alone, not even touching hands with works, is Paul forgetting the nt covenant given by Jesus to the messianic church, Jesus came full of grace and truth Jn 1:17 to the little flock, but this grace had conditions! What is your view on this, thanks !

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      George,
      God has been gracious to mankind from the beginning. The primary thing that changed with Paul was God’s revelation that believers today are under the administration of grace. Israel was under the administration of Law from the time of Moses. The covenants were gracious blessings and Israel enjoyed blessing when it obeyed. We too, while under grace, enjoy blessing when we obey God. See my article, Paul and the Law.

  6. Chin

    Your article is so explanatory. I just have one question. Could you please tell me what is the ‘dictionary’ meaning of the word technical in your title? Thanks

  7. Brandenn

    Hey Don in past I have seen where you have said that Paul little interaction with the twelve but here you say Luke was a companion of Paul jus trying to make sense of it all

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