Monday, September 24, 2012

χάρις in Luke 6: 32-34

The Greek word χάρις appears in the Gospel of Luke four times.  Wesley translated χάρις as "grace" in Luke 2:40; however, in Luke 6: 32-34 he translated the same word as "thank" in his translation of the New Testament.  

Wesley's translation of χάρις is mostly consistent with the King James version of the Bible.  The word χάρις appears sixty-two times in the New Testament and in every instance but one Wesley and the KJV offer the same translation-- 51 times χάρις is translated as "grace," 5 times as "thanks" (the KJV has "thanked" in one verse), 4 times as "thank," once as "thankworthy" and once as "acceptable."

I am interested in what happens to the reading of Luke 6: 32-36 when χάρις is translated as grace--
“If you love those who love you, what grace is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what grace is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what grace is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.  Be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.”
I keyed on this verse because it is a parallel to Matthew 5:46-48, which ends with the promise that disciples will be perfect, τέλειος, just as God is τέλειος.  Instead of the promise of spiritual maturity, Luke's pericope closes with a command to be compassionate.  (If ever there was a corrective to Christian complacency and self-satisfaction this pericope is it!)

I find that I lose my audience whenever I use the term "perfection," so what about trying to explain the UM doctrine of Christian Perfection in terms of compassion?  Something like "God's grace gives mature Christians the power to extend compassion to their enemies, the sinful, the ungrateful, and the evil" might put the doctrine in terms that United Methodists can grasp.  And once they understand how radical Jesus' command is, maybe they will be convinced that their faith has room to grow.

Of course once we have convinced them, we will have to supply them with means of grace that will encourage this growth. Otherwise, folks will fall into works righteousness in the erroneous belief that they can become more compassionate through willpower instead of through grace by faith.


Anonymous said...

You're on to something with treating τελεῖος as compassion. I would say compassion is a result of τελεῖος, which I understand to be maturity. Consider Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 13: he contrasts childishness with τελεῖοςְ for when τελεῖος comes, childish things are set aside. I have a discussion about this at my blog, When Will Tongues Be Stilled. Peace!
Scott Stocking

Anonymous said...

Oops, got my accent in the wrong place. Should be τέλειος. I should know better. :-)

Laura Felleman said...

Thanks for the link to your post. "Perfect Love" was one of the synonyms Wesley used for Christian Perfection. Interestingly, in his comments on 1 Cor. 13: 10 he equated τέλειος with perfect knowledge. (Theories of human reasoning frequently appear in Wesley's writings.)