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Grace. What does this word really mean?

Roy Blizzard III


“Grace” What does it really mean?


What is it and what does it mean for us in the New Testament and for those in the Old Testament.

2011© Roy Blizzard III

Psalm 136:1, "Oh give thanks unto the LORD; For He is good; For his mercy endures forever."

Grace or oftentimes translated Mercy in the Bible is derived from the Hebrew word CHESED (חסד). In Hebrew CHESED can mean quite a few things, but its basic meaning is usually thought to be something to do with goodness or kindness as in Brown Driver Briggs, but can it mean something deeper? While this is a noun in both Hebrew and English, in English it can stand alone as a state of being, as a conceptual idea with no tangibility about it. However in Hebrew, as with the word Faith or Emunah, Chesed must have an action occur in order for Chesed or Grace to exist. In the case of God, his creation of the universe for us generates Chesed as it is God doing something beneficial towards his creation. But in relationship to man, Chesed is often thought of as redemption from something such as enemies or from sin, and maybe it is here where we see an inkling of the deeper meaning.

Oftentimes we see the word Pious or Piety used in relation to Chesed. However, this word in English can mean something conceptual and rarely is tied to an action, ie He is such a Pious man. Well what makes him Pious. Someone must do something for real Piety to exist. In Hebrew in order for Piety to exist, there must be loving actions occurring. Chesed also designates love, as any deed done to another for their benefit is allowing love to exist. When the text says that we are saved by Grace, it is true. However, we have always been saved by grace as Grace was present from the beginning. How was Abraham found righteous-another synonym for saved, by Grace. Noah found Grace in the eyes of the Lord. It goes on and on. What does this mean for us?

When Paul says, “should we sin so that Grace will abound?”, he is simply restating that God wants to show us his loving kindness with all that entails, but if we keep sinning God is not forced to keep showing us his loving kindness, He does that of His own Essence found in the Hebrew word Mishpat or often erroneously thought of as simply Judgment. However, in Hebrew this word also carries with it the connotation that Love is behind the Judgment and is guiding it. Therefore Mishpat is thought of as half Love and half Judgment. Otherwise there would be no true Justice in the world. What we have in Hebrew is a complex set of concepts that are intimately and ultimately linked together and in order to know one we have to know many. This is quite different that we think in English where everything can stand alone and is quite conceptual and intransitive. But, again, is there more for us to consider?

"These translations use HESED as a single, one-way rather than reciprocal relationship. HESED, however, describes a mutual relationship between man and between God. Translating it as `mercy,' `compassion,' or `love' destroys the concept of mutuality. (Nelson Glueck, Hesed in the Bible [Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1967])."

An early biblical indication of an establishment of a reciprocal intimate Hesed relationship between God and man is found in the story of Abraham and his servant, whom he sends to Haran to find a wife for Isaac. As the servant nears the entrance to the city he prays (Genesis 24:12):

`O LORD God of my master Abraham, send me good speed this day and show HESED to my master Abraham.'

Did you know that the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, has sometimes erroneously influenced the translations in many language for centuries?

The Septuagint was a translation from the Hebrew text, translated in Alexandria, Egypt about 250 BCE. In Psalm 136:1, which is Psalm 135 in the Septuagint, the word for Mercy or sometimes Compassion is ελεος - Eleos. However, this is not the same word as Hesed in translation or in context. When you read Psalms 136, do the words "smote," "overthrew," and "slew" have any relationship to idea of Mercy? I don't think so, especially in the English sense. In looking at the translation of Psalms 136 there appears to be some problem with the words in translation and we have 2 choices, the Greek word or the Hebrew word.

Since the Psalms were written in Hebrew, the original text contained Hesed. So how did we get a Greek meaning of Eleos into our translations of a Hebrew word Hesed?

The Greek Septuagint was used all over the extensive Greek speaking world from 250 BC onward, even through the rise of Christianity. Therefore, the usage of Greek over Hebrew isn't any surprise and the religious community’s use of ELEOS continued until today. The Septuagint not only became the Bible of the known world outside of Israel, but it unfortunately for us became the "source document" for translators.

One of the first well known translations is the Latin Vulgate commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 in which we find "mercy" – verse 3 "quoniam in aeternum misercordia ejus." When Jerome finished his translation approximately 700 years had passed since the Septuagint had translated HESED as "mercy."

After Jerome, the meaning traveled from Rome and shows up 1200 years later in Germany with Martin Luther as he translates in 1545 – verse 19 "denn seine Guete wahret ewiglich." The trend continued.

Even Jewish translators unwittingly got into the act. In the German Jewish Prayer Book printed in Berlin in 1866 we find the same meaning of Psalm 136 as that of Luther - "denn ewig wahrt Gnade." Following the leaders, the French Jews translated - "car sa grace est eternelle". The Italians, following the Vulgate again, translated - "che la Sua misericordia e eterna." Today, even the Jewish Publication Society of America translated following the Septuagint - "His steadfast love endureth forever."

This shows the fallacies in many “So Called Translations”. Translators for the most part have followed traditions and not actually translated the text. Instead of trying to find the most accurate definitions and contextual meanings for the words of the text, they allow denominational tradition to limit the scope of their work and in many instances this leads to horrible error.

If the Translators misused it in the Old Testament, how Did Yeshua – Jesus – understand the usage of the word Hesed in the New Testament? Did Yeshua use it in the real Hebraic sense of the word HESED or the Greek sense as we use it?

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What if we translated Hesed or “mercy” as it should be translated, as LOYALTY!

Matthew 9:12-13, “But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” King James version

When Jesus said " I will have mercy, and not sacrifice:," he was quoting the first part of Hosea 6:6:

“For I desire Loyalty (HESED), and not sacrifice; and the (intimate) knowledge of God (not just head knowledge) more than burnt-offerings.”

Let’s look at Matthew12:1-9 because this scripture is very important in the understanding of the usage and understanding of the word HESED.

1At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat. 2But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day. 3But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; 4How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither (was it lawful) for them which were with him (to eat it), but only for the priests (to eat)? 5Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? 6But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. 7But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy (loyalty – GK. ELEOS Heb. Hesed), and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. 8For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day. 9And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue.” King James version

This highlights the schism between the values of Jesus and many Pharisees and other Jewish leaders. The Jewish Leaders understood that God gave the Torah (Bible) so that man would work all their lives to keep every word, down to the last letter. This gave them a sense of “Holiness” or “righteousness”. They valued their Torah and the keeping of every mark in it more than anything or anyone.

Yeshua, in keeping with his desire to fill the Torah full of meaning (the real meaning of “fulfill it”) taught that the preservation of life was something of far greater value than just blindly keeping the words of the Torah. Yeshua taught that David was performing a Mitzvot – an act of righteousness, by feeding his men instead of allowing his men to starve while huge loaves of God’s provision for the righteous were sitting there unused. Does God want us to starve or lay deathly ill while provisions are at hand just to preserve a “law”; that was given to man not man to the Law?

Let’s look at verse 8.

For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath Day.

While this English translation is used by many Christian denominations to justify not observing the Sabbath, they miss the much larger point shown below. Try this translation;

8) “Every man is a master of his own life and responsible for his actions, even on the Sabbath.”

Let’s look at another usage by Yeshua using Hesed instead of Eleos.

Matthew 23:23-24

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” King James version

Judgment –(mishpat), loyalty (hesed), and faithfulness (emunah). Are you starting to see the interplay between concepts.

In this verse, the translators decided to transliterate u`pokritai - hypocrites, instead of translating it from a Hebrew concept חנף - tanaph. The translation is a much more powerful indictment -Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees “ pretenders of scholarship”! Jastrows Dictionary of the Targumim etc.

While there are those who accused Yeshua of wanting to do away with the Torah, Yeshua’s words above demonstrate his loyalty to God and this time he makes it very clear. He has not been teaching his followers to ignore the teachings of the Torah. This can be clearly seen in his words - "You tithe mint, anise, and cumin . . . These you ought to have done. . . ."

What Yeshua shows us is that to God and in our intimate relationship with Him there are instructions within the Bible that have a much higher priority - "weightier matters" - things like "judgment, loyalty, and faithfulness"that should occupy our lives more so than the “tithing” of items. This is a Jewish teaching method of Kal ve chomer (Easy and Hard).

As a side note, the word "at" was a printer's typo in the very 1st edition of the King James. You strain out the gnat, and then swallow the camel ! - Is correct.

When the printers decided to correct their mistake the verse had become set in tradition, which prevails till today.

The word Endures appears in many English translations and usually is in italics. It is not in the original texts, but was added by the translators in order to make a smoother English.

The Greek Word Charisma - Χάρίσμά.- free gift- in the New Testament carries with it a sense of loyalty in only those who are Loyal to God are granted this gift.

Now go read Psalm 136 based on translating mercy as Loyalty. Here are the 1st three.

1) Give thanks to YHWH; For he is beautiful; Because forever is His loyalty.

2) Give thanks to the ELOHIM of the ELOHIM; Because forever is His loyalty.

3) Give thanks to the MASTER of the MASTERS; Because forever is His loyalty:

If you like this article then you will love my new book, "The Gospel of John, An Actual Translation"

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gabgirl12 on November 02, 2011:

Hi Roy I just wanted to ask if Grace is the same as Favor. And when in the Bible the common phrase used 'If I have achieved favor in your eyes' is also 'Grace'. Since Jesus died on the Cross for our sins we are in a time of Grace, wouldn't this also include favor? And in having favor, you are in good standing with God and the authorities that he puts on Earth to reach the higher calling and blessing?

Mic on June 06, 2011:

excellent and thorough job here . beneficial would be accurate description. I've seen so much cop-outs in churchianity where we play the 'grace card' and wondered what it would be like if our Father done it to us . just a horrible thought in passing. thanks for the article. mm

Sethareal on May 23, 2011:

"chein" is the Hebrew word for Grace, although sometimes translated as 'beauty', I believe Grace is more appropriate.

The only place I can think off the top of my head where it occurs is in Zechariah 4:7,

This passage as well as Zechariah 3 and the second half of Zechariah 2 are sung on Chanukah because it is believed that they are prophetic of the re-dedication of the Temple that occurred hundreds of years later.

A little background on the passages: Zechariah like most of the prophets (haftorah) was from the exile in Babylon and Zerubabbel mentioned in the this section was the Exilarch, the leader of the Jewish people while they were in bondage in Babylon and he is famous for beginning reconstruction of the Temple.

Zechariah 4:6 is one of my all time favorite lines, "Not by MIGHT and not by POWER but by my SPIRIT alone." and this is how I have always come to understand Grace, from the Jewish perspective.

I thoroughly enjoy the Christian philosopher Kierkegaard and love his understanding of Grace. Too much to go into detail on that now, but I wrote a hub on him and mention it a little:

yhell on May 19, 2011:

God Bless you all. Words is powerful

GRACE on May 19, 2011:


awkward choir boy from HOME on May 18, 2011:

Thanks for the article.I love it.

H P Roychoudhury from Guwahati, India on May 17, 2011:

Can a translated meaning of "biblical concepts" express the true meaning?

John M. on May 16, 2011:

Roy it is a good article. I know you put a lot of research in it. Toda Rabah

Sharon Bryant from Bristol TN on May 16, 2011:

Thank you for this wonderful explanation of grace. I have also heard it explained as God's Riches At Christ's Expense, acronym!

royblizzard (author) from Austin / Leander, Texas on May 16, 2011:

Hi Dave. In Hebrew it would be a different word, more like baruk or Bless.

Dave Mathews from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA on May 16, 2011:

Thank you for this explanation of Grace. I believe it can also be a verb too. The King Graced the room with His presence.

Halvor Ronning on May 16, 2011:

Good for you to have looked at Nelson Glueck's doctoral thesis (1930s in Germany) now evidently in book form since 1967. He really brings out the richness of the Hebrew concept CHESED- even beyond his favorite translation of Loyalty.

Since then Katherine Sakenfeld has also written a doctoral thesis on CHESED but I don't remember which aspect she chose as primary.

It all goes to show that for a fuller understanding of the biblical concepts, it is well worthwhile to learn the language in which God chose those concepts to be birthed!!!

His Power to you!


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