The Greek word KHARIS: "Undeserved Kindness"- New World Translation

"By this undeserved kindness(Greek "KHARIS"), indeed, you have been saved through faith, and this not owing to you, it is God's gift. "-Ephesians 2.8; New World Translation. Italics and words in brackets ours.

Somtimes the New World Translation is criticised for "going out of its way to be different." One Greek word which is rendered differently by the NWT Translation Committee, from 'mainline' translations(such as the King James, the New International Version and The New Revised Standard Version), is KHARIS which the NWT Translation Committee rendered, sometimes, as "underserved kindness." Is this an instance of the NWT Translation Committee "going out of its way to be different" from the above named translations which almost uniformly render it as "grace"? Or, rather, is this an instance where the New World Translation is superior to the above named translations? We think it is the latter. Please read the following which will show this to be so.

The New International Version: Keyword Study Bible in its "New Testament Lexical Aids" under the word KHARIS informs us:

"CHARIS...From its root, this word denotes that which causes joy, pleasure, that which creates delight in the recipient or observer. Hence, it is used with some latitude to mean gratification, thankfulness, gratitude or appreciation for a kindness granted or desired: a benefit, favor or gift: acceptance, approval, genorosity, open heartedness, or magnanimity. It was used especially to describe favors done without expectation of return. In reference to God we might understand it as the absolutely free expression of His loving-kindness to men, finding its only motive in His bounty and benevolence as the Giver: His unearned and unmerited favour. .....Meanings of charis:.....2. Grace, in act and deed, a favor conferred, a kindess, benefit, gift..."-p1686. italics ours

From Abbott-Smith's Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament we read, in part:

".....2 Subjectively, (a) on the part of the giver, grace, graciousness, kindness, goodwill, favour; esp. in the N.T. of the divine favour, grace, with emphasis on its freeness and universality.-italics ours.

The following is an excerpt from the article "Kindness" in the Insight on the Scriptures, Vol.2, page 153(© WTB&TS of Pennsylvania, 1988)

"Undeserved Kindness. The Greek word kha´ris occurs more than 150 times in the Greek Scriptures and is rendered in a variety of ways, depending on the context. In all instances the central idea of kha´ris is preserved-that which is agreeable (1Pe 2:19, 20) and winsome. (Lu 4:22) By extension, in some instances it refers to a kind gift (1Co 16:3; 2Co 8:19) or the kind manner of the giving. (2Co 8:4, 6) At other times it has reference to the credit, gratitude, or thankfulness that an especially kind act calls forth.-Lu 6:32-34; Ro 6:17; 1Co 10:30; 15:57; 2Co 2:14; 8:16; 9:15; 1Ti 1:12; 2Ti 1:3.

"On the other hand, in the great majority of occurrences, kha´ris is rendered "grace" by most English Bible translators. The word "grace," however, with some 14 different meanings does not convey to most readers the ideas contained in the Greek word. To illustrate: In John 1:14, where the King James Version says "the Word was made flesh . . . full of grace and truth," what is meant? Does it mean "gracefulness," or "favor," or what?

"Scholar R. C. Trench, in Synonyms of the New Testament, says kha´ris implies "a favour freely done, without claim or expectation of return-the word being thus predisposed to receive its new emphasis [as given it in the Christian writings] . . . , to set forth the entire and absolute freeness of the loving-kindness of God to men. Thus Aristotle, defining [kha´ris], lays the whole stress on this very point, that it is conferred freely, with no expectation of return, and finding its only motive in the bounty and free-heartedness of the giver." (London, 1961, p. 158) Joseph H. Thayer in his lexicon says: "The word [kha´ris] contains the idea of kindness which bestows upon one what he has not deserved . . . the N. T. writers use [kha´ris] pre-eminently of that kindness by which God bestows favors even upon the ill-deserving, and grants to sinners the pardon of their offences, and bids them accept of eternal salvation through Christ." (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 1889, p. 666) Kha´ris is closely related to another Greek word, kha´ri·sma, concerning which William Barclay's New Testament Wordbook (1956, p. 29) says: "The whole basic idea of the word [kha´ri·sma] is that of a free and undeserved gift, of something given to a man unearned and unmerited."-Compare 2Co 1:11, Int.

"When kha´ris is used in the above sense, in reference to kindness bestowed on one who does not deserve it, as is true with the kindnesses extended by Jehovah, "undeserved kindness" is a very good English equivalent for the Greek expression.-Ac 15:40; 18:27; 1Pe 4:10; 5:10, 12."-end of quotation. All italics theirs.

The Twentieth Century New Testament at Ephesians 2.8 reads:

"For it is by God's loving-kindness(Greek: KHARIS)that you have been saved, through your faith. It is not due to yourselves: the gift is God's."-italics and words in brackets ours.

The New Testament in the Language of the People by Charles B. Williams reads:

"For it is by his unmerited favor(Greek: KHARIS)through faith that you have been saved; it is not by anything that you have done, it is the gift of God."-italics and words in brackets ours.

The Classic Greek Dictionary prepared by George Ricker Berry under KHARIS says:

"....II. grace or favour felt, either, 1. by the Doer, kindness, goodwill :..."-italics ours.

The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon(here)states under its 2nd definition of the word:

"good will, loving-kindness, favour.

  1. of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues."-italics ours.

The NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words states:

"Words formed from the Gk. root char- indicate things that produce well-being. Included in this word group is chara(joy), which is the individual experience or expression of this well being. (a)From this basic meaning of this root the individual meanings of charis are derived: e.g., grace, favor, beauty, thankfulness, gratitude, delight, kindness, benefit..."

Note that this comprehensive dictionary gives one of its range of meanings as "kindness."

Of interest is what John L. McKenzie in his Dictionary of the Bible wrote in the article "Grace":

"The verb charizesthai is comparatively(to KHARIS)weak in theological content. It means to grant freely as a favor....(Rm.8:32)....(Gal. 3:18.)-page 324.

The New World Translation at these places where the related word KHARIZESTHAI occurs reads "kindly give" and "kindly given." McKenzie goes on to show why he favours the translation of KHARIS as "grace," as a "better translation than "favor" or "goodwill."" The New World Translation, for the reasons already given above, thought that the English word "grace" was ambigous because of its wide semantic field. Hence, the New World Translation wanted, it appears, to have a "better translation" than "grace" or "favour."

We hope all of the above will go some way to inform those who wish to know why the New World Translation differs with the many English Bible translations that offer "grace" for the Greek word KHARIS; that it will dispel any un-warranted criticism of the New World Translation's treatment of this word; to show the good grounds for this translation's rendering and, lastly, to even show its superiority over the many English translations available today. The New World Translation has not "gone out of its way to be different" with other English Bible translations but have sought an accurate meaning of the original Bible words used by the inspired Bible writers. They succeeded in this by rendering the Greek word KHARIS in reference to God as "undeserved kindness."

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