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Monday, March 26, 2007

Technically speaking...what is grace?

When you hear the word grace, does this feeling of having your deepest needs met well up inside you? It should. That's Biblical. Now, if you walk up to the average person in a shopping mall parking lot and talk about grace, does the person sense you are using a term that refers to his or her deepest needs? It should. It did in the culture of the 1st century. Grace held society together. It gave it its ethics, its relationships, its roles. It defined how the haves met the needs of the have-nots and how the have-nots reciprocated in return.

Here's what David A. deSilva had to say about this in his book, "Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity, Unlocking New Testament Culture."
Grace, then, held two parties together in a bond of reciprocal exchanges, a bond in which each party committed to provide what he or she (or they) could to serve the needs or desires of the other. Public benefactions were frequent, particularly as a means by which local elites reaffirmed or increased their stature in the public eye. Such graces did not form long-lasting bonds of mutual commitment, but friendship relations and personal patronage did. In the case of social equals, this amounted to an exchange of like goods, and services, always within the context of mutual loyalty and commitment. Between a social or political superior and his or her juniors, goods and opportunities were channeled down from above, and respect, public praise and loyal service were returned from below, again within the context of mutual commitment. Giving was to be done for the sake of generosity and bringing another benefit, and not with a view to material profit from returns. Receiving, however, was always to be accompanied by the desire and commitment to return grace for grace. Though often profitably compared to a dance that had to be kept "grace-full" in a circle of giving and receiving, these relationships were far more than ornamental or recreational (as dances are). They formed the bedrock of society, a person's principal assurance of aid and support in an uncertain and insecure world. (pages 118-119)
So, you see, grace was the warp and woof that quilted people into a societal fabric. It was a common word; a word that spoke to people's needs. For many, it spoke to their deepest needs.

The use of the common vernacular has a way of sewing the meaning of a message into the very life of the one listening to that message. Paul, more than any other author, used that commonly known word to thread his message into the lives of anyone who would listen to him. I've often said that communication is the most intimate thing two or more people can do since it is the one thing that makes physical changes to the brains of those involved in the conversation--nerons change. Grace should do that.

Let me ask a another question. When you hear the word grace, does the concept of a religious, technical term come to mind? If it does, then that is unBiblical. Certainly, the Bible added meaning to the common word grace. It gave it something uncommon. Grace by its very nature will always be uncommon (until people's deepest need is fully relieved by the re-creation). However, it didn't make grace mean something different. It didn't turn a common word into a technical word, an ethereal, other-worldly word. It simply expanded it to encompass the need of eternal importance--one's soul. Grace was a common word applied to something of a larger-than-the-world worth. It was expanded by the text to apply to far more than food, and shelter, a person's worth in society, and other basic needs. But, in spite of this application, it was still a common, non-technical word.

Please understand that while I question the use of the English word grace, I most certainly am not undermining the very nature of what we Christians refer to when we use the term grace. I'm simply raising the question about how we communicate that beautiful truth, especially in our Bibles. Indeed, I'm asking whether we communicate the beautiful truth of it at all, if we use a word that in our common tongue doesn't mean what the original authors meant by their use of the word.

In our effort to make Better Bibles, how do we handle this? Should we use an uncommon word out of a sense of protecting God's truth, unlike the original authors who used a common word? Or, do we find a common word that communicates God's truth to the people who so desperately need to hear it?

4 Comments:

At Mon Mar 26, 04:34:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Eddie Torr Leman said...

Why don't we just say grace.

:-)

Thanks for gifting us so much with this post, Mike!

:-)

 
At Mon Mar 26, 04:45:00 PM, Blogger exegete77 said...

Howdy, Mike. Since you mention "technical term" that is the current topic of my own blog.... You wrote: "When you hear the word grace, does the concept of a religious, technical term come to mind? If it does, then that is unBiblical. "

I wonder whether that is, in fact, true. If that "technical" meaning includes the sense of the original text, then it is still Biblical. While a common word was used in the context of the writers of the NT, the use and re-use of the term meant something that included the "something uncommon". The instant that it is repeated, with the underlying context of the original text, then it seems to gain a technical sense, and is indeed a technical term. Even your last paragraph of questions suggests this:

Should we use an uncommon word out of a sense of protecting God's truth, unlike the original authors who used a common word?.

Perhaps the greater problem is that many of the Bible readers today do not have the Biblical context to understand how that uncommon meaning was attached to the word. I don't think that we gain much by using a common word in contemporary English, because the context of the current word may not be the same as the original language text. God's Word experimented and came up with some possibilities for "grace", ultimately using " an act of kindness" (Eph 2:8) or something similar. And for "righteousness" using "approval". While I like GW, I don't think these "common" substitutes do the text and context justice.

Just a few ramblings for an old(er) codger...

Blessings,

Rich

 
At Mon Mar 26, 05:30:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Thanks Rich. Perhaps I was using the term technical term in a too imprecise way. :-) However, I was specifically thinking in terms of the frequent assumption that grace is a religious term. I don't think it is...even in the Bible. (Although, even the word religious is a difficult word to nail down.) I'm cautious in thinking that a provincial exegesis (one which disallows the original context to form the framework) is the best point of departure.

You wrote:
Perhaps the greater problem is that many of the Bible readers today do not have the Biblical context to understand how that uncommon meaning was attached to the word.

What do you mean by, "Biblical context"? Are you referring to the context within which the original hearers heard the original message? Or, are you referring to a context built up by an understanding of the Bible?

Lastly, I agree, I think GW has emptied too much meaning from grace. And thinking of righteousness outside of a legal (even covenantal) context is emptying it, too (IMO).

I sometimes think the first qualification to talking about Bible translation is to fully grasp that it is hard. :-)

 
At Mon Mar 26, 09:24:00 PM, Blogger Stushie said...

Grace is a 100% discount applied to the price of sin. It comes with a cast-iron, 100%, no questions asked guarantee.

Grace is the delete button for the dirt and damage to our souls. When we crash, it restores us to God.

 

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