grace

“The Greek word charis, usually translated by English ‘grace,’ is one of the desperations of translators. The area of meaning is exceptionally extensive. Note the following possible meanings for this word in various contexts of the New Testament: ‘sweetness,’ ‘charm,’ ‘loveliness,’ ‘good-will,’ ‘loving-kindness,’ ‘favor,’ ‘merciful kindness,’ ‘benefit,’ ‘gift,’ ‘benefaction,’ ‘bounty,’ and ‘thanks.’ The theological definition of ‘unmerited favor’ (some translators have attempted to employ this throughout) is applicable to only certain contexts. Moreover, it is quite a task to find some native expression which will represent the meaning of ‘unmerited favor.’ In some languages it is impossible to differentiate between ‘grace’ and ‘kindness.’ In fact, the translation ‘kindness’ is in some cases quite applicable. In other languages, a translation of ‘grace’ is inseparable from ‘goodness.’ In San Miguel El Grande Mixtec a very remarkable word has been used for ‘grace.’ It is made up of three elements. The first of these is a prefixial abstractor. The second is the stem for ‘beauty.’ The third is a suffix which indicates that the preceding elements are psychologically significant. The resultant word may be approximately defined as ‘the abstract quality of beauty of personality.’” (Source: Nida 1947, p. 223)

Other translations include (click or tap here to see more):

  • Inuktitut: “God’s kindness that enables us” (source: Andrew Atagotaaluk)
  • Kwara’ae: kwae ofe’ana (“kindness to one who deserves the opposite”) (source: Norman Deck in The Bible Translator 1963, 34ff. )
  • Chichewa: “being favored in the heart by God” (Source: Ernst Wendland)
  • Sayula Popoluca: “God’s favor” (source: Waterhouse / Parrott in Notes on Translation October 1967, p. 1ff.)
  • Caribbean Javanese: kabetyikané (“goodness”)
  • Saramaccan: bunhati (“good heart”)
  • Sranan Tongo: bun ati (“good heart”) or gadobun (“God’s goodness”)
  • Eastern Maroon Creole: (gaan) bun ati (“(big) good heart”) (source for this and three above: Jabini 2015)
  • Fasu: “free big help”
  • Wahgi: “save without reward” (source for this and the one above: Deibler / Taylor 1977)
  • Warao: “goodness of his obojona.” Obojona is a term that “includes the concepts of consciousness, will, attitude, attention and a few other miscellaneous notions” (source: Henry Osborn in The Bible Translator 1969, p. 74ff. ) — see other occurrences of Obojona in the Warao New Testament.
  • Nukna: “God gave his insides to one.” (“The ‘insides’ are the seat of emotion in Nukna, like the heart in the English language. To give your insides to someone is to feel love toward them, to want what is best for them, and to do good things for them.” (Source: Matt Taylor in The PNG Experience )
  • Uma: “(God’s) white insides” (source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Hindi, Bengali: anugraha (Hindi: अनुग्रह, Bengali: অনুগ্রহ) from graha: “grasp, a reaching out after, with gracious intent” (source: R.M. Clark in The Bible Translator 1962, p. 81ff. )
  • the German das Buch translation by Roland Werner (publ. 2009-2022) uses a large variety of translations, including “undeserved friendliness,” “wonderful work of God,” “loving attention,” “generous,” but also “undeserved grace” (using the traditional German term Gnade)

In Latvian the term žēlastība is used both for “grace” and “mercy.” (Source: Katie Roth)

For Muna, René van den Berg explains the process how the translation team arrived at a satisfactory solution: “Initial translation drafts in Muna tended to (…) use the single word kadawu ‘part, (given) share, gift,’ but this word is really too generic. It lacks the meaning component of mercy and kindness and also seems to imply that the gift is part of a larger whole. Consequently we now [translate] according to context. In wishes and prayers such as ‘Grace to you and peace from God’ we translate ‘grace’ as kabarakati ‘blessing’ (e.g. Gal 1:3). In many places we use kataano lalo ‘goodness of heart’ (e.g. Gal 1:15 ‘because of the goodness of his heart God chose me’) as well as the loan rahamati ‘mercy’ (e.g. ‘you have-turned-your-backs-on the mercy of God’ for ‘you have fallen away from grace’; Gal 5:4). In one case where the unmerited nature of ‘grace’ is in focus, we have also employed katohai ‘a free gift’ (typically food offered to one’s neighbo-1urs) in the same verse. ‘The reason-you-have-been-saved is because of the goodness of God’s heart (Greek charis, Muna kataano lalo), going-through your belief in Kristus. That salvation is not the result of your own work, but really a free-gift (Greek dooron ‘gift’; Muna katohai) of God.’ (Eph 2:8).

In Burmese, it is translated with the Buddhist term kyeh’jooh’tau (ကျေး​ဇူး​တော်). LaSeng Dingrin (in Missiology 37/4, 2009, p. 485ff.) explains: “As regards the Christian term ‘grace,’ Judson [the first translator of the Bible into Burmese] could not have brought the Burmese Buddhists the good news about the redeeming work of Jesus Christ and its benefits (i.e., forgiveness and salvation), without employing the Burmese Buddhist term kyeh’jooh’tau (‘grace’). Deriving from Pali kataññuta (“gratefulness”), kyeh’jooh’tau denotes ‘good deeds for others or benefits,’ which occur among humans. (…) When Christianized, kyeh’jooh’tau also refers to the atoning work of Jesus and its benefits, and can occur between humans and God. The word kyeh’jooh’tau looks very Burmese Buddhist, but it is Christian, too, and conveys the core of the Christian proclamation. Furthermore, kyeh’jooh’tau itself shows that translatability of Christianity cannot be imagined without reliance on Buddhism.” (See also the Burmese entry for God)

In American Sign Language it is translated with a sign that combines “compassion” and “giving out.” (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)


“Grace” in American Sign Language, source: Deaf Harbor

See also grace to you and grace (of God) (Japanese honorifics).

Translation: Eastern Canadian Inuktitut

ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ ᒍᕇᑭᒃᑯᑦ ᐅᖃᐅᓯᖅᑕᖓᑦ ᑐᑭᓕᐅᔾᔭᐅᓯᒪᔪᖅ ᐃᒫᒃ “ᓴᐃᒪᓂᖅ” ᖃᓪᓗᓈᑎᑐᓪᓕ ᑐᑭᓕᐅᔾᔭᐅᓯᒪᒻᒪᑦ ᐃᒫᒃ “ᒎᑎᐅᑉ ᑐᙵᓇᕐᓂᖓᓂ ᐅᕙᑦᑎᓐᓂᒃ ᐱᔪᓐᓇᑎᑦᑎᕙᑦᑐᖅ.”

(Translator: Julia Demcheson)