Grace, “A masculine noun meaning favor, grace, acceptance. Meaning an unmerited favor or regard in God’s sight.” This is the most common understanding of the word “grace” in our pulpits today. Every modern preacher I have seen on TV and heard on the radio has given that meaning while preaching. Even in most concordances and lexicons, that meaning is conveyed. But where does that word come from in the Bible? What is the origin of the word “grace” and what was the true meaning and understanding of the word? Before the New Testament was written how did the Jews understand “grace” from the Hebrew Bible? The majority of Christian believers will be shocked to learn that “grace” did not have the meaning of “unmerited favor” as understood today.
When God was about to destroy the earth by a flood, he spoke to Noah and told him to make an ark and put his family inside of it for safety. God warned Noah and protected him and his family from the flood. But why?
Gen.6:8 ונח מצא חן בעיני יהוה (Bold Hebrew letters for the name Noah and favor)
“But Noah found favor (grace) in the eyes of YHVH.”
The word “favor” in Genesis 6:8 is the word grace that is used to teach unmerited favor. Genesis 6:8 is the first time we see the word grace used in the Hebrew Bible. But there is something in the Hebrew that you can not see in the English translations. First, let me point out that Noah found or as the literal Hebrew puts it, attained/acquired favor or grace. The Hebrew word מצא (matsa) is best translated as attained or acquired. Noah acquired favor/grace from God. Does that sound like unmerited favor? How did Noah acquire favor or grace?
Gen.6:9 אלה תולדת נח נח אישׁ צדיק תמים היה בדרתיו את־האלהים התהלך־נח
“These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.” (ESV)
Noah attained or acquired grace from God because he had a relationship with God. Noah was a truthful man who walked with God. This is why God instructed him to build an ark for his protection. We also read this in Genesis 7:1, “Then YHVH said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation.” Noah acted righteously before YHVH and YHVH saw and gave him protection or grace. But what about the word grace?
The Hebrew word for grace is חֵן (CheN) with two Hebrew letters, the Chet and the Nun. In ancient Hebrew, the letters represented a word and a picture. The first letter in the Hebrew word for grace represents a fence that surrounds and protects. This is why the Hebrew picture for chet looks like a fence. And the second Hebrew letter, the nun, means life or to propagate, Psalm 72:17, and the Hebrew word picture resembles a symbol for life. Both Hebrew letters can be found in the Hebrew Bible as a word by themselves. Now, if we take that same Hebrew word for grace, CheN, and write it backward, it will spell the Hebrew name for Noah. The Nun and the Chet combined make the name Noah in English. So, Noah in the eyes of YHVH, like a backward reflection, makes the word grace or favor in Hebrew. Noah (Nun, Chet) attained or acquired grace (Chet, Nun) in the eyes of YHVH. This makes sense in the Hebrew word picture because Noah attained God’s protection of his life by building the ark. The ark is a picture of grace, God’s protection. This is the very foundation of the word grace or favor without the meaning of unmerited since Noah attained protection from God by having a personal relationship with him before the flood. The majority of Christians who believe “unmerited favor” teaching try very hard to explain this away because it does not fit their theology of grace. Especially those in the Reform movement.
THE REST OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
If we continue to follow the Hebrew word for grace in the Old Testament, we will see a pattern develop. In the entire first five books of Moses, the Torah, the word grace or favor is always preceded by the word “found” which in Hebrew means attained or acquired. This is also true in the Writings and the Prophets until we get to Psalms and Proverbs. The English Bible translators begin to translate the Hebrew word for grace as graceful, adornment and charm. About 95%+ of the entire Hebrew Bible reads, “…found favor…” or more literally, “…attained/acquired favor/protection…” The Jewish and Hebrew understanding was that an individual can attain God’s protection and mercy. The phrase was also understood and used toward kings and men in the Hebrew Old Testament. It was never defined or interpreted as unmerited favor. If one reads merely and follows the Hebrew word throughout the Old Testament, you can not help but see the pattern. Here are some examples.
Gen.18:3 “and said, (Abraham) “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant.”
Gen.19:19 (Lot speaking) “Behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life. But I cannot escape to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I die.”
Exo.33:12 “Moses said to the LORD, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up these 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.’”
Jdg.6:17 “So Gideon said to Him, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me.”
These are just a few passages that show part of the 95%+ of texts that prove my findings. The Old Testament Hebrew Bible supports that favor or grace is not grounded in the teaching of unmerited favor. Any person can search out for themselves the passages that are part of the 95%+ and see the pattern of the phrase “…found favor in your sight…” So what about the New Testament? Does it support the unmerited favor teaching?
NOTE: The word “grace” in the Hebrew is never connected with receiving eternal life. In other words, “grace” does not equal eternal life. It is used to convey God’s protection and blessing to his people who follow his commandments or Torah. If they do not keep his word, then grace (God’s blessing and protection) is removed, and they will be put under God’s curse. Also, the Hebrew word “CheN” for grace is translated in the Greek LXX as “charin” which is the same as the New Testament Greek word “charis” or “chariti.”
THE NEW TESTAMENT
As we come to the New Testament, we must remember that all we have, for the most part, are Greek copies and fragments. The Greek is not the same as Hebrew. Greek is an abstract language that comes from Semitic languages. Hebrew is concrete and is based on pictures and words for each letter while Greek does not. With that note, let us look at one of the foundation verse that is used to teach unmerited favor/grace in the New Testament. It comes from Ephesians 2:8-9.
Eph.2:8-9 “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.”
This verse is part of the foundation for “unmerited favor” teaching. But how do we get the word grace translated into these verses? It is a body of scholars who come together to decide how to translate the Hebrew and the Greek into English that will be easier to read for the reader. In Ephesians 2:8 we see the word grace in the passage. But does that word mean unmerited favor in the Greek? How is it translated in the rest of the New Testament? The Greek word for grace in Ephesians 2:8 is χάρις (charis). The shock to most Christian believers will be that charis is not always translated grace with the understanding of unmerited favor. In the New American Standard Bible, the Greek word charis is translated gracious work in 2Corinthias,
2Co.8:6-7 “So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well. But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.” (NASB)
One translation, the ESV, has “act of grace” while others translate with either grace or work. In fact, within the New Testament, we find the Greek word being translated in numerous ways. We see the translation of credit, benefit, blessing, thanks, gratitude, concession, etc. The Greek word is never used to mean just grace. Why? If this word is supposed to mean “unmerited favor” in connection with eternal life and salvation then why does it change in meaning when used in other verses? This answer is simple. Men have decided to translate the Greek word into grace into the verses they believe it has the meaning of the unmerited favor teaching. Ephesians 2:8 can be translated as follows,
Eph. 2:8-9 “For by His gracious work you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works (your works), so that no one may boast.”
This translation can efficiently work because Jesus did all the work for us by fulfilling the Torah and dying on the cross for the atonement of sins. We are blessed with eternal life through and by his works and not by ours. Remember, the Old Testament is the foundation for the New Testament and both need to be consistent and in harmony. If we understand that grace is a blessing and work from God to us for eternal life, then it fits the consistency of the Old Testament usage as well. Even in Romans, the word grace can be retranslated and still fit perfectly with how we receive eternal life.
Rom.3:23 “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”
Rom.3:23 “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his gracious work/blessing as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”
Both of these passages are true if we understand grace to mean, not unmerited favor, but God’s work and blessing in our lives. We are justified by the work of Jesus as a gift to us. But for us to receive this blessing from God by his work through Jesus, we need to have faith and believe in the one who completed the work. This is why Jesus can be full of grace or blessings and how we can fall from grace or from his blessings. Below are more examples how the Greek word charis is translated in most Bibles and others retranslated by me.
Luk.6:32 “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those, who love them.” (English Majority Text Version) See also verse 33-34, “credit.”
Luk.17:9 “Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?” (ESV)
Act.18:27 “And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace[His gracious work] had believed,” (My translation added)
Rom.1:5 “Through Christ, God gave me the special work of an apostle—to lead people of all nations to believe and obey him. I do all this to honor Christ.” (Easy To Read Version)
Rom.3:24 “being justified as a gift by His grace [gracious work]through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;” (NASB-brackets added)
Gal.2:21 “I do not nullify the grace [The work/blessing] of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (ESV-brackets added)
I can continue to post verse after verse showing that if we consider the Greek word charis to be understood as gracious work, blessing with God’s protection that all still fit the context and the meaning from the Old Testament. In many of the New Testament salutations we see “…grace and peace…” or “The grace of our Lord Jesus…” which is better understood from the Hebrew old Testament greetings of “Blessings…” We should be translating those New Testament verses “…blessings and peace…” and “The blessings of our Lord Jesus…” This fits best when we consider the Jewish understanding of the Hebrew Bible.
The word “grace” in the New Testament as been overused dramatically that it has lost its true meaning which is grounded in the Genesis 6:8 and the rest of the Old Testament. The challenge will be to abandon the modern tradition of “unmerited favor” or something for nothing teaching and realize that God grants us eternal life by our faith and trust in him through Jesus the Messiah. In doing so, we receive his blessings and protection in the form of grace and mercy. The teaching of eternal life comes from many New Testament verses with the condition of believing in Jesus as the son of man and as Messiah. In fact, the Gospel of John was written for this very purpose.
Joh.20:31 “but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (NASB)
Joh.3:15 “…that whoever believes in him (the son of man) may have eternal life.” (ESV)
Joh.6:40 “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (ESV)
Joh.6:47 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” (ESV)
In other parts of the New Testament, we see another connection to eternal life in regards to belief and seeking. This does not suggest that we receive eternal life by works. But there is an action on our part of coming to God in trust and faith in regards to Jesus. To a Jew, trust and belief in Jesus as Messiah is NOT considered work as some may suppose.
Rom.2:7 “…to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;” (ESV)
In other verses in the New Testament, we see the connection of eternal life and grace being used. Here are a couple of examples found in Romans and one in Titus.
Rom.5:21 “…so that, as sin reigned in death, grace [His work/blessing] also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (ESV)
Rom.6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift [The work/blessing] of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (English Majority Test Version)
Tit.3:7 “so that being justified by His grace [His gracious work] we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (ESV)
Paul continues his teaching to Timothy regarding eternal life by saying,
“Yet for this reason, I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” (1Timothy 1:16, NASB)
In conclusion, I want to make something very clear. I am not saying we as believers in Jesus the Messiah are saved or justified by our works that we do. Eternal life is in Jesus the Son of God, and by believing and trusting in him and the work, he has done for us. In doing so, we receive the blessing and protection of God in the form of grace and mercy which is the true meaning of grace in the New Testament and in the Old Testament.
1Jn.5:11 “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” (ESV) Amen and amen!