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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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lxiii. ἀγαθωσύνη, χρηστότης.

Ἀγαθωσύνη is one of many words with which revealed religion has enriched the later language of Greece. It occurs nowhere else but in the Greek translations of the O. T. (2 Chron. 24:16; Nehem. 9:25; Eccles. 9:18), in the N. T., and in writings directly dependent upon these. The grammarians, indeed, at no time acknowledged, or gave to it or to ἀγαθότης the stamp of allowance, demanding that χρηστότης, which, as we shall see, is not absolutely identical with it, should be always employed in its stead (Lobeck, Pathol. Serm. Groec. p. 237). In the N. T. we meet with ἀγαθωσύνη four times, always in the writings of St. Paul (Rom. 15:14; Gal. 5:22; Ephes. 5:9; 2 Thess. 1:11); being invariably rendered ‘goodness’ in our Version. We sometimes feel the want of some word more special and definite, as at Gal. 5:22, where ἀγαθωσύνη makes one of a long list of Christian virtues or graces, and must mean some single and separate grace, while ‘goodness’ seems to embrace all. To explain it there, as does Phavorinus, ἡ ἀπηρτισμένη ἀρετή, is little satisfactory; however true it may be that it is sometimes, as at Ps. 52:5, set over against κακία, and obtains this larger meaning. With all this it is hard to suggest any other rendering; even as, no doubt, it is harder to seize the central force of ἀγαθωσύνη than of χρηστότης, this difficulty mainly arising from the fact that we have no helping passages in the classical literature of Greece; for, however these can never be admitted to give the absolute law to the meaning of words in Scripture, we at once feel a loss, when such are wanting altogether. It will be well, therefore, to consider χρηστότης first, and when it is seen what domain of meaning is occupied by it, we may then better judge what remains for ἀγαθωσύνη.

Χρηστότης, a beautiful word, as it is the expression of a beautiful grace (cf. χρηστοήθεια, Ecclus. 37:13), like ἀγαθωσύνη, occurs in the N. T. only in the writings of St. Paul, being by him joined to φιλανθρωπία (Tit. 3:4; cf. Lucian, Timon, 8; Plutarch, Demet. 50); to μακροθυμία and ἀνοχή (Rom. 2:4); and opposed to ἀποτομία (Rom. 11:22). The A. V. renders it ‘good’ (Rom. 3:12); ‘kindness’ (2 Cor. 6:6; Ephes. 2:7; Col. 3:12; Tit. 3:4); ‘gentleness’ (Gal. 5:22). The Rheims, which has for it ‘benignity,’ a great improvement on ‘gentleness’ (Gal. 5:22), ‘sweetness’ (2 Cor. 6:6), has seized more successfully the central notion of the word. It is explained in the Definitions which go under Plato’s name (412 e), ἤθους ἀπλαστία μετ᾽ εὐλογιστίας: by Phavorinus, εὐσπλαγχνία, ἡ πρὸς τοὺς πέλας συνδιάθεσις, τὰ αὐτοῦ ὡς οἰκεῖα ἰδιοποιουμένη. It is joined by Clement of Rome with ἔλεος (1 Ep. i. 9); by Plutarch with εὐμένεια (De Cap. ex Inim. Util. 9); with γλυκυθυμία (Terr. an Aquat. 32); with ἁπλότης and μεγαλοφροσύνη (Galba, 22); by Lucian with οἶκτος (Timon, 8); as χρηστός with φιλάνθρωπος (Plutarch, Symp. 1. 1. 4). It is grouped by Philo with εὐθυμία, ἡμερότης, ἠπιότης (De Mer. Merc. 3). Josephus, speaking of the χρηστότης of Isaac (Antt. i. 18. 3), displays a fine insight into the ethical character of the patriarch; see Gen. 26:20-22.

Calvin has quite too superficial a view of χρηστότης, when, commenting on Col. 3:12, he writes: ‘Comitatem—sic enim vertere libuit χρηστότητα quâ nos reddimus amabiles. Mansuetudo [πραΰτης], quae sequitur, latius patet quam comitas, nam illa praecipue est in vultu ac sermone, haec etiam in affectu interiore.’ So far from being this mere grace of word and countenance, it is one pervading and penetrating the whole nature, mellowing there all which would have been harsh and austere; thus wine is χρηστός, which has been mellowed with age (Luke 5:39); Christ’s yoke is χρηστός, as having nothing harsh or galling about it (Matt. 11:30). On the distinction between it and ἀγαθωσύνη Cocceius (on Gal. 5:22), quoting Tit. 3:4, where χρηστότης occurs, goes on to say: ‘Ex quo exemplo patet per hanc vocem significari quandam liberalitatem et studium benefaciendi. Per alteram autem [ἀγαθωσύνη] possumus intelligere comitatem, suavitatem morum, concinnitatem, gravitatem morum, et omnem amabilitatem cum decoro et dignitate conjunctam.’ Yet neither does this seem to me to have exactly hit the mark. If the words are at all set over against one another, the ‘suavitas’ belongs to the χρηστότης rather than to the ἀγαθωσύνη. More germain to the matter is what Jerome has said. Indeed I know nothing so well said elsewhere (in Ep. ad Gal. v. 22): ‘Benignitas sive suavitas, quia apud Graecos χρηστότης utrumque sonat, virtus est lenis, blanda, tranquilla, et omnium bonorum apta consortio; invitans ad familiaritatem sui, dulcis alloquio, moribus temperata. Denique et hanc Stoici ita definiunt: Benignitas est virtus sponte ad benefaciendum exposita. Non multum bonitas [ἀγαθωσύνη] a benignitate diversa est; quia et ipsa ad benefaciendum videtur exposita. Sed in eo differt; quia potest bonitas esse tristior, et fronte severis moribus irrugatâ, bene quidem facere et praestare quod poscitur; non tamen suavis esse consortio, et suâ cunctos invitare dulcedine. Hanc quoque sectatores Zenonis ita definiunt: Bonitas est virtus quae prodest, sive, virtus ex quâ oritur utilitas; aut, virtus propter semetipsam; aut, affectus qui fons sit ntilitatum.’ With this agrees in the main the distinction which St. Basil draws (Reg. Brev. Tract. 214): πλατυτέραν οἶμαι εἶναι τὴν χρηστότητα, εἰς εὐεργεσίαν τῶν ὅπως δηποτοῦν ἐπιδεομένων ταύτης· συνηγμένην δὲ μᾶλλον τὴν ἀγαθωσύνην, καὶ τοῖς τῆς δικαιοσύνης λόγοις ἐν ταῖς εὐεργεσίαις συγχρωμένην. Lightfoot, on Gal. 5:22, finds more activity in the ἀγαθωσύνη than in the χρηστότης: ‘they are distinguished from one another as the ἦθος from the ἐνέργεια: χρηστότης is potential ἀγαθωσύνη, ἀγαθωσύνη is energizing χρηστότης.’

A man might display his ἀγαθωσύνη, his zeal for goodness and truth, in rebuking, correcting, chastising. Christ was not working otherwise than in the spirit of this grace when He drove the buyers and sellers out of the temple (Matt. 21:13); or when He uttered all those terrible words against the Scribes and Pharisees (Matt. xxiii.); but we could not say that his χρηστότης was shown in these acts of a righteous indignation. This was rather displayed in his reception of the penitent woman (Luke 7:37-50; cf. Ps. 24:7, 8); as in all other his gracious dealings with the children of men. Thus we might speak,—the Apostolic Constitutions (ii. 22) do speak,—of the χρηστότης τῆς ἀγαθωσύνης of God, but scarcely of the converse. This χρηστότης was so predominantly the character of Christ’s ministry, that it is nothing wonderful to learn from Tertullian (Apol. 3), how ‘Christus’ became ‘Chrestus,’ and ‘Christiani’ ‘Chrestiani’ on the lips of the heathen—with that undertone, it is true, of contempt, which the world feels, and soon learns to express in words, for a goodness which to it seems to have only the harmlessness of the dove, and nothing of the wisdom of the serpent. Such a contempt, indeed, it is justified in entertaining for a goodness which has no edge, no sharpness in it, no righteous indignation against sin, nor willingness to punish it. That what was called χρηστότης, still retaining this honourable name, did sometimes degenerate into this, and end with being no goodness at all, we have evidence in a striking fragment of Menander (Meineke, Fragm. Com. Groec. p. 982):

ἡ νῦν ὑπό τινων χρηστότης καλουμένη
μεθῆκε τὸν ὃλον εἰς πονηρίαν βίον·
οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἀδικῶν τυγχάνει τιμωρίας

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G19,G5544.]

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