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Sunday, July 22, 2007

The kindness of God

I have been working through the Hebrew scriptures looking at the theme of kindness. There is the kindness that Sarah and later Abimilech showed to Abraham, there is the kindness of Rahab, of Boaz, of Ruth, of David, the law of kindness of the valiant woman, and the kindness of God.

Here are 4 verses (NRSV) in the Christian scriptures which mention the kindness of God.
    Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? Rom. 2:4

    Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity towards those who have fallen, but God’s kindness towards you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. Rom. 11:22

    So that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. Eph. 2:7

    But when the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, Titus 3:4-6
This repeated reference to kindness is unfortunately obscured in the King James Bible, which translates χρηστότης as "goodness" in Rom. 2:4, and 11:22, thus obscuring the continuity of one of the great themes of the Bible. Fortunately recent translations have restored the word "kindness" in these verses.

The kindness of God was brought to my attention by this post of Mike's, Chiasm in Ephesians 2.4-7. I have posted the verses again here, with his arrangement, changing "generosity" to "kindness".

4 ὁ δὲ θεὸς πλούσιος ὢν ἐν ἐλέει, διὰ τὴν πολλὴν ἀγάπην αὐτοῦ ἣν ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς,
[4] God is rich in mercy because of his abundant love with which he loved us.

5 καὶ ὄντας ἡμᾶς νεκροὺς τοῖς παραπτώμασιν συνεζωοποίησεν τῷ Χριστῷ,
[5] Although we were dead in our disobedience he has made us alive together through Christ.

χάριτί ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι
You are saved by grace!

6 καὶ συνήγειρεν καὶ συνεκάθισεν ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ,
[6] God raised and sat us in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus,

7 ἵνα ἐνδείξηται ἐν τοῖς αἰῶσιν τοῖς ἐπερχομένοις τὸ ὑπερβάλλον πλοῦτος τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ ἐν χρηστότητι ἐφʼ ἡμᾶς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ.
[7] so that in the coming ages he might show the unsurpassable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

I think this is a case where concordance, translating one Greek word with the same English word can bring into focus a major theme of the scriptures. There are many times where concordance is truly significant, we don't want to lose sight of that.

I also feel that more focus on the rhetorical structure of the scriptures might help us to see what God thinks is important. Mike's arrangement of these verses helped bring the meaning to my attention. Here we see that salvation from God is framed by his mercy and kindness. This is the loving kindness of God so abundantly shown to us in the Psalms and the kindness which should also be the basis of our relationships with others.
    As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience NRSV
It is a beautiful theme, one I have been tracing in many of my posts over the last few weeks, a theme which shows that sometimes translating the same Greek or Hebrew word with the same English word, in the right context, does sometimes make for a better Bible.


At Mon Jul 23, 03:27:00 AM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

Nice work - that word you are working on as you pointed out is hard to translate as one word in the target language. Because it is to do with covenant, it includes the idea of no as well as yes - a severe kindness which can include rebuke. Almost for personal reasons I latched onto BDB's suggesting that HSD could be translated as rebuke - that same severe kindness. I think the context of Psalm 23 requires this. David has to deal with enemies, and there are plenty both of his own making and not. So on the table are the real issues and relationships including all aspects of his covenant relationship. I am glad you are tracing this in the NT also. I am very new at both Hebrew and Greek but have found it helpful to find the semantic relations that connect the languages through the intertestamental period. E.g. the consolation (nxm, paracletos) links are very rich in meaning both Hebrew and Greek having legal as well as strengthening aspects. For HSD - what Greek word(s) are you considering in the LXX and NT?

Also, I couldn't agree more that structure helps resolve meaning. I have found myself wondering which levels of structure are more obvious aurally rather than visually. This Ephesians example can be heard. But the larger structures of Hebrews and Romans would require a consummate reader.

[BTW, sometimes I can read the Greek fonts and sometimes not - I have not paid enough attention to figure out the pattern.]

At Mon Jul 23, 08:10:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


Is the Greek font displaying better now? I had gotten lazy since IE 7 and Firefox have font substitution. What browser are you using?

The difference is probably that sometimes I have defined the font and other times left it undefined.

I have found myself wondering which levels of structure are more obvious aurally rather than visually.

That was Fee's point - to hear what it sounded like read out loud.

At Mon Jul 23, 01:54:00 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Thanks for the linking.

The reason I translated χρηστότητι as generosity was that I wanted to be as specific as I could. The translation generosity I think more precisely describes the type of kindness expressed in Ephesians 2.7. Especially since the context of the passage is that of God's wealth both in 4-7. Rich in mercy, abundant love, unsurpassable riches of his grace through his generosity /kindness.

All the translations I looked at use "kindness."

At Mon Jul 23, 03:56:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Sure, generosity is good, I just wanted to link the verse up with a few others, no reflection on your choice of words at all.

At Wed Jul 25, 03:31:00 AM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

Suzanne, the fonts in this post are completely readable. I use IE 6 and 7.


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