Sunday, May 2, 2010

χάρις ἀντὶ χάριτος in John 1:16

χάρις ἀντὶ χάριτος in John 1:16; grace instead of grace in John 1:16.

A verse in John's Gospel that entails a puzzling expression is John 1:16. See below the highlighted portion in the Greek and in the English translations.

John 1:16--ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ πληρώματος αὐτοῦ ἡμεῖς πάντες ἐλάβομεν καὶ χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος·

KJV--And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.

NASB--For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.

NIV--From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.

ESV--And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

TNIV--Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.
At issue is the force of the preposition ἀντί. As the translations indicate, some want to take ἀντί with senses that the preposition does not elsewhere convey. Thus, so many translations are quite improbable.

I was surprised, however, when I read the TNIV on John 1:16. It seems that this translation comes the closest to getting the preposition correct. Of the several commentaries that I have in my library, it seems to me that one alone gets the passage right. It is D. A. Carson's The Gospel according to John. As Carson observes, "The most convincing view takes anti in one of its most common uses (and by far the most common in the LXX) to mean 'instead of': from Christ's fulness we have all received grace instead of grace" (132).

How should we understand this? Carson offers the following: "On the face of it, then, it appears that the grace and truth that came through Jesus Christ is what replaces the law; the law itself is understood to be an earlier display of grace."

I think that Carson gets it right.


  1. the schoolmaster was gracious!

  2. Sorry for bad jokes, but it is all greek to me!!!

  3. Ardel:

    Indeed, I think Carson is right too. I think we get the same indication from Paul (e.g., Rom. 7; 2 Cor. 3) and then outside of Paul in Hebrews. The comparison is not with what was bad and what is now good, but what was good and what is now "better."

    I would be interested to see what you would say on the Greek word 'charin' in Galatians 3:19? Most commentators take this to mean that the law was given to show us our sin. However, 'charin' typically means "on account of," which would suggest that Paul is saying a similar thing to what he does in 1 Timothy 1:8-9 where the law is designed to curb sin. As we move on in Galatians 3 does not the role of the 'schoolmaster' fit this notion better?

    Thanks for your blog.

  4. Thanks for the question on Galatians 3:19. Here is a translation of the verse--"Why, then, the law? It was added, thanks to transgressions, having been appointed by angels, until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made."

    Many translations read "because of transgressions." Many commentators do take the expression to mean the same thing as does Romans 5:20a--"Now the law came in with the purpose that transgression might increase. . . ." This is possible. However, given Paul's later imagery choices for depicting the law in Galatians 3, such as the law as warden, the law as confining, the law as pedagogue, etc., suggests that Paul's focus in Galatians 3 may not be on the law's power to aggravate transgression, as in Romans 5:21, but on the law's power to expose transgression and to curb transgression, as you suggest, as in 1 Timothy 1:8-9.

  5. ...Aggravate, expose, then curb sin. That literally sounds
    Like hazing, or boot camp, which is descriptive of Israel's
    wilderness wanderings.

    People don't recognize this as gracious, because they have
    been trained to see grace as "unconditional love."

    The Marine recruit is not told, "we love you just the way
    You are." He is told, "You are invited to be transformed
    into a United States Marine."

  6. Yep, the key is how the LXX uses it. After all, the LXX was the apostle's Bible.

    He's given us His grace in place of Moses' grace.


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