By Grace You Are Saved! But What is Grace?

Posted by on Aug 31, 2016

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. (Eph 2:8 KJV)

What does the English word grace mean? What is this by which we are saved? The Textus Receptus New Testament Dictionary does not give much clarity of what grace means. It says that the Greek word translated as grace χάρις (khar’-ece) means graciousness, of manner or act (abstract or concrete; literal, figurative or spiritual; especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude): – acceptable, benefit, favour, gift, grace (-ious), joy liberality, pleasure, thank (-s, -worthy), etc. There is not much to glean.

This Greek word has entered English to mean charisma. In Christianity it is viewed as an extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit espeacially in such dominations as the Charismatic and Pentecoastal churches. Otherwise, aside of the religion, it is a personal attractiveness or interestingness that enables one to influence others. Very often χάρις is translated as grace or favor as these two terms are used interchangeably. At any rate, grace is an abstruct concept.

However, what is the Hebrew word for grace and favor because in this study we will want to understand it from a Hebraic perspective? The Hebrew word often translated as grace is חֵן chayn or chen and can be found in the folowing verses in the Tanak: Gen_6:8, Gen_19:19, Gen_32:5, Gen_33:8, Gen_33:10, Gen_33:15, Gen_34:11, Gen_39:4, Gen_47:25, Gen_47:29, Gen_50:4, Exo_33:12-13, Exo_33:16-17, Exo_34:9, Num_32:5, Jdg_6:17, Rth_2:2, Rth_2:10, 1Sa_1:18, 1Sa_20:3, 1Sa_27:5, 2Sa_14:22, 2Sa_16:4, Est_2:17.

Or, translated as favor as seen in Gen_18:3, Gen_30:27, Exo_3:21 (2), Exo_11:3, Exo_12:36, Num_11:11, Num_11:15, Deu_24:1, Rth_2:13, 1Sa_16:22, 1Sa_20:29, 1Sa_25:8, 2Sa_15:25, 1Ki_11:19, Est_2:15, Est_5:2, Est_5:8, Est_7:3, Est_8:5, Pro_3:4.

A close reading of these verses should show us that חֵן chen shares or has the same connection with “someone’s eyes” such as it seen in Gen 6:8:

But Noach found favor (chen) in the eyes of Yehovah.

However, there is more to it than that. In other occurrence חֵן chen is found in verses such as Psa_45:2, Psa_84:11, Pro_1:9, Pro_4:9, where it is associated with something gleaming or shining:

She gives your head a fair (chen) wreath, She shields you with an adorning crown. (Pro 4:9)

Here the proverb compares wisdom to a gleaming (chen) crown. Or, another verse:

For Yehovah Elohim is a sun and a shield; Yehovah gives favor (chen) and esteem. (Psa 84:11)

There is a verse where חֵן chen is used in a negative way which may help us understand of what this Hebrew word actually means:

Because of the multitude of the harlotries of the well-favoured (chen) harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her harlotries, and families through her witchcrafts. (Nah 3:4 JPS)

In this verse חֵן chen is translated as well-favoured for a woman pleasing in appearance, hence, we understand it can be used for an attractive and seductive harlot, as the context of the verse indicates. How does the use of חֵן chen in this case explains its meaning?

In ancient times harlots used a herb called belladonna to make the eye pupils dilated. When the pupils are dilated, the woman looks like having larger, darker, and sparkling eyes to seduce men. Not surprisingly, bella donna is Italian for “beautiful woman.” Today, belladonna is used in ophthalmology for the production of homatropine eye drops which when instilled into the eye dilate the pupil by paralysing the pupillary sphincter.

With all that being said, we will proceed to Pro_17:8. Notice how חֵן chen is translated more literally as precious and again it is used with the phrase in the eyes of:

A gift is as a precious (chen) stone in the eyes of him that hath it; whithersoever he turneth, he prospereth. (Pro 17:8 JPS)

Let us take a closer look at this verse and try to make even more literal translation. The first word we will study is שַׁחַד shachad meaning a gift, present, reward. It comes from a verb with the same spelling and pronunciation which means to give a gift.

The second word is אֶבֶן ehven which simply means a stone. It comes from the root בָּנָה banah, to build. However, that אֶבֶן ehven can also mean a precious stone is seen in the context of 1 Chr 29:8 and elsewhere:

And they with whom precious stones (ehven) were found gave them to the treasure of the house of the LORD, … (1Ch 29:8 JPS)

In this verse אֶבֶן ehven is called a precious stone but in combination with חֵן chen it must mean something more than just a precious stone. Now, the important question we need to ask is: what would be the distinctive characteristic of a precious stone? Precious stones shine, glimmer, and sparkle. And this is the key to understand the Hebrew word חֵן chen which is often translated as grace or favor, and that is, that חֵן chen through its verbal root חָנַן chanan has something to do with shining, glimmering, and sparkling.

And indeed, when a compassionate mother overtaken by deep emotions hugs her child with tears sparkling in her eyes, her eyes look like sparkling gems.

Now, let us read Pro 17:8 literally from a Hebraic perspective and notice how חֵן chen is used as something sparklingly precious in the eyes and last but not least, it is also a gift:

אֶבֶן a stone חֵן sparkling הַ֭שֹּׁחַד The gift is בְּעֵינֵ֣י in the eyes בְעָלָ֑יו of its master

אֶֽל־כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֖ר to whatever place  יִפְנֶ֣ה he turns, יַשְׂכִּֽיל he prospers.

Therefore, having all things considered, what is חֵן chen? חֵן chen is the sparkling in the eyes of the one who gives grace, favor, and mercy, and that is Yehovah.

We may recall the very words of Yeshua the Messiah who foreseeing the destruction of the city and the suffering of His people said with compassion in His eyes:

Yerushalayim, Yerushalayim, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to her! How often I wished to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, but you would not! See! Your house is left to you laid waste, for I say to you, from now on you shall by no means see Me, until you say, ‘Blessed is He who is coming in the Name of Yehovah!’ (Mat 23:37-39)