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Dictionaries :: Charity

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Below are articles from the following dictionary:
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia


char'-i-ti (agape):

1. A New Word

2. A New Ideal

3. An Apostolic Term

4. Latin Equivalents

5. English Translation

6. Inward Motive

7. Character

8. Ultimate Ideal

9. Almsgiving

10. Tolerance

In the King James Version in 26 places from 1Co 8:1 onward. The same Greek word, which appears in the New Testament 115 times, is elsewhere translated by "love."

1. A New Word:

The substantive agape is mainly, if not exclusively, a Biblical and ecclesiastical word (see Deissmann, Bible Studies, 198 ff), not found in profane writings, although the verb agapan, from which it is derived, is used in classical Greek in the sense of "love, founded in admiration, veneration, esteem, like the Latin diligere" (Grimm-Thayer), rather than natural emotion (Latin, amare).

2. A New Ideal:

It is a significant evidence of the sense of a new ideal and principle of life that permeated the Christian consciousness of the earliest communities, that they should have made current a new word to express it, and that they should derive that word, not from the current or philosophical language of Greek morality, but from the Septuagint.

3. An Apostolic Term:

In the New Testament the word is apostolic, and appears first and predominantly in the Pauline writings. It is found only twice in the Synoptics (Mt 24:12; Lu 11:42), and although it is in both places put in the mouth of the Saviour, it can easily be understood how the language of a later time may have been used by the narrator, when it is considered that these gospels were compiled and reduced to writing many years after the spread of the Pauline epistles. The word is not found in James, Mark or Acts, but it appears in Paul 75 times, in John 30 times, in Peter 4 times, in Jude twice and in Hebrews twice. Jesus Christ gave the thing and the spirit in the church, and the apostles (probably Paul) invented the term to express it.

4. Latin Equivalents:

When Jerome came to translate the Greek Testament into Latin, he found in that language no word to represent agape. Amor was too gross, and he fell back on dilectio and caritas, words which, however, in their original meanings were too weak and colorless to represent agape adequately. No principle seems to have guided him in the choice of the one word or the other in particular places.

5. English Translation:

Caritas in English became "charity," and was taken over by the English translators from the Vulg, though not with any regularity, nor as far as can be judged, according to any definite principle, except that it is used of agape only in man, never as it denotes a quality or action of God, which is always translated by "love." When agape is translated by "charity" it means either

(1) a disposition in man which may qualify his own character (1Co 8:1) and be ready to go forth to God (1Co 8:3) or to men; or

(2) an active and actual relation with other men, generally within the church (Col 3:14; 1Th 3:6; 2Th 1:3; 1Ti 1:5; 4:12; 1Pe 4:8; 5:14), but also absolutely and universally (1Co 13). In the earlier epistles it stands first and unique as the supreme principle of the Christian life (1Co 13), but in the later writings, it is enumerated as one among the Christian virtues (1Ti 2:15; 2Ti 2:22; 3:10; Tit 2:2; 2Pe 1:7; Re 2:19).

6. Inward Motive:

In Paul's psalm of love (1Co 13) it is set forth as an innermost principle contrasted with prophecy and knowledge, faith and works, as the motive that determines the quality of the whole inner life, and gives value to all its activities. If a man should have all gifts of miracles and intellect, and perform all the works of goodness and devotion, "and have not love, it profiteth nothing," for they would be purely external and legal, and lacking in the quality of moral choice and personal relation which give life its value (1Co 13:1-3). Love itself defines men's relation to men as generous, tolerant and forgiving.

7. Character:

"Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not" (1Co 13:4). It determines and defines a man's own character and personality. It is not boastful and arrogant, but dignified, pure, holy, courageous and serene. Evil cannot provoke it nor wrong delight it. It bears cheerfully all adversity and follows its course in confident hope (1Co 13:4- 7). It is final virtue, the ultimate ideal of life. Many of life's activities cease or change, but "love never faileth."

8. Ultimate Ideal:

To it all other graces and virtues are subordinated. "Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love" (1Co 13:8-13). In one passage only in the New Testament (3Jo 1:6) agape seems to have a meaning that comes near to the later, ecclesiastical meaning of charity as almsgiving.

9. Almsgiving:

With the growing legalism of the church and the prevalence of monastic ideals of morality, caritas came to mean the very opposite of Paul's agape-just "the giving of goods to feed the poor," which "without love profiteth nothing." At present, the word means either liberality to the poor, or tolerance in judging the actions of others, both qualities of love, but very inadequate to express its totality.

10. Tolerance:

The Revisers have therefore accurately dropped the word and substituted "love" for it in all passages. It is interesting to note that in Welsh the reverse process has occurred: cariad (from Latin caritas) was used throughout to translate agape, with the result that, in both religious and ordinary speech, the word has established itself so firmly as almost to oust the native word "serch."

Written by T. Rees


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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