Recently I wrote on the topic of justification and the choice of the translators of God's Word Translation to translate the Greek word dikaioo as 'approval' instead of the traditional 'justify.' As mentioned there, years ago when I first did an in-depth review of the translation I was put off by choice of 'approval' instead of 'justify.' I believe strongly in the great tradition of the Church, which includes the vocabulary we have used through the centuries to describe God's work in our lives and world. I also realize, however, that in today's American culture this vocabulary is, at best, meaningless to many who unfamiliar with it and, at worst, misleading because of how these words are used outside of a Christian context. With that in mind, while I continue to believe we ought to teach people what these words mean as part of our catechesis and religious education, I appreciate the need for translations that use different language to communicate the traditional concepts in ways that make sense in today's culture.
Back in 2009, when I first did an in-depth review of God's Word translation, I complained about the translation of charis as 'kindness' instead of the more traditional 'grace.' Recently, a "Steadfast Lutheran's" article on Philip Melanchthon's teaching on justification caused me to change my mind on this translation choice, too. In that post, the author said that in his famous Loci Communes Melanchthon "defined grace as God’s kindness or merciful will toward sinners." My translation of the Loci doesn't use kindness anywhere in the section on grace. Instead, it says, "'Grace' is the free remission of sins, or mercy, or free acceptance," which is close but not quite the same. 1
This drove me to the Latin to see what Melanchthon actually wrote. In the Loci where he defines the word 'grace,' Melanchthon wrote, "si exactissime describenda sit, nisi Dei benevolentia erga nos seu voluntas Dei miserta nostri."2 The key word there for this discussion is benevolentia, which at its simplest means...wait for it...kindness or goodwill.
In other words, despite my critique of translating charis as 'kindness,' Melanchthon, who was a doubtless a far superior student of ancient languages than I could ever hope to be, thought the New Testament use of charis (Greek) and gratia (Latin) was perfectly understood this way.
I stand corrected. Again.
Melanchthon, P., & Preus, J. A. O. (1992). Loci communes, 1543 (electronic ed., p. 91). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House. ↩
Loci Communes in Latin here at Archive.org ↩