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Meaningful Words

March 7, 2014

Everyone in the English speaking world today takes for granted the fact that their language is interspersed with words that have root meanings of ancient origin.  Who wouldn’t?  Honestly, there are very few times that I can recall doing something and wondering what the ancient root of the word is that I’m thinking about.  Sure there’s been times when I’ve wondered where we got a phrase or where that vernacular came from but, like most people, I haven’t devoted a lot of energy to the study of my own language’s root words outside of an obscure mandatory high school course of study which is obsolete in public American classrooms called  Etymology .

However, when it comes to my faith much, much, much more rests on understanding the meanings of words and their implications since, by doing so, we understand the depths of our faith all the more clearly.  Some of the time Latin words feed our understanding of faith since most of our own language has Latin root words, thus our “faith words” utilize the Latin origin.  Sometimes it’s Greek since most of the Bible was read and studied in Greek in the ancient world.  For the Latin terms, however, we have words like sanctus which is the Latin word for ‘holy’ or ‘hallowed’ (past participle of sancīre meaning “to hallow”).  From it we get our word “sanctified”.  This is the beginning of the eternal call of the Seraphim in Heaven (cf. Is. 6:3, Rev. 4:8) and what is thus recited in a Catholic Church prefacing the Eucharistic prayer, “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus…” or “Holy, Holy, Holy…” It is also where we get the word, “saint” which of course means holy person.

Some words have changed meaning in the course of time like the word “apology” which is from the Latin word apologia which in turn is from the Greek word apologiā.  It means “an explanation or an excuse” this gradually came to primarily mean “an expression of regret or contrition for a fault.”  The derivative of this word, “apologetics” retains the definition of the latter, or older definition, “an explanation or excuse” for something.  It is specifically used to refer to a branch of study which is concerned with the explanation of matters of belief.

While this course of study offers interesting insight into one’s words and terminology there is far more to be gained by reviewing the passages of Scripture in the context of their original language in order to more fully understand what is being conveyed to the reader in the passage.  We can turn to that oft disputed passage of Scripture in Matthew 19 where Jesus gives Simon the new name “Rock”¹ and thus confers upon him a great title and responsibility.  We can also look at another passage in the Gospel where a great title and responsibility was handed on to a human being whose unique and singular title is being grossly and sadly misused today: the greeting to Mary in the Gospel of Luke.

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:26-28)
[Other translations say, “Hail, favored one!” or “Hail, highly favored one!” this is a poorer translation of the original Greek words used and will be discussed more fully later on.]

When the angel Gabriel appears to Mary in the first chapter of Luke and he greets her, he’s not simply making a statement.  He’s not saying, “Hello, Mary, boy does God really favor you!  You are so blessed!  Guess why!”  First, considering everything Mary went through, all her heartbreak and sorrow, I think the first thing I’d do when I got to Heaven is to go up to Gabriel and say, “Whatdaya mean ‘God really favors me and I’m so blessed?'”  Without the understanding of cultural and lexological meaning this phrase is being taken at face value and extrapolated from its genuine meaning to this unintended meaning.

This is where the understanding of language comes in and since the original languages the words were written in are not used now (Koine Greek), and since it’s also being translated into our language whose structure and grammatical makeup so differ, the intentions and meanings are lost without the scholastic benefits to impart to the reader.  The less that knowledge abounds all the more gives rise to incomplete understandings which, in turn, give rise to misused and misapplied beliefs.  In utilizing vernacular with today’s understanding of the English word rather than the historical understanding of it in context with the ancient Christological beliefs one applies a meaning to words that never existed or which impart an idea contrary to the commonly understood meanings of the terms used.  So to be “blessed” or  “favored” by God today implies one has obtained an abundance of good events or things which have come into their lives.  Although Mary and many in the Bible who shared a high favor with God often had just the opposite type of life.  Understanding this is not simply a “Catholic thing” trying to ‘make Mary distinct’ rather it is about correcting a claim to something which was never ours to claim to begin with and to which we are not rightly able to properly claim about ourselves.

The statement of the angel Gabriel to Mary, “Hail, highly favored one!” must be understood in it’s proper verbal and grammatical context.    First, as mentioned before, “Hail, favored/highly favored one!” is a poorer translation of the statement.  The more accurate translation is, “Hail, full of grace!”  This matters because of the Greek word that Luke uses for this greeting specifically and directly speaks of being ‘perfectly filled with grace’.  No one makes this bold a claim about themselves since it implies a self-determined very high state of holiness, but this is exactly the point since what Gabriel is really stating about Mary here is not that she’s “greatly favored” with God, but that she’s a very righteous person before God because she’s filled perfectly with grace.

The Koine Greek words that are used by Luke in this passage are, Chaire, kekaritomene.  The first word charie means: “be cheerful, hail, rejoice”.  Kekaritomene is formed from the same root word charitoo whose varient word also appears in Ephesians 1:6.  Protestants will argue that since a varient of charitoo is used elsewhere in the Bible it has no special meaning in Luke’s Gospel.  However, the variant of charitoo used in Ephesians is echaritosen.  The difference being that echaritosen means, “he graced” (or bestowed grace) and signifies a momentary action, an action brought to pass while kekaritomene means “a perfect action which is considered to have been completed before the time of the speaker.”  The Greek perfect tense means “a present state exists which took place at some point in the past and is continuing on in the present.”
“It is permissible, on Greek grammatical and linguistic grounds, to paraphrase kecharitomene as completely, perfectly, enduringly endowed with grace.” (Blass and DeBrunner, Greek Grammar of the New Testament).
Kekaritomene shows a completeness with a permanent result and denotes continuance of a completed action (H. W. Smyth, Greek Grammar [Harvard Univ Press, 1968], p. 108-109, sec 1852:b; ibid).²

In other words, the word in Greek that Luke chooses to use when he writes about Gabriel’s greeting to Mary is both unique and special because what Gabriel is telling Mary when he greets her is, in fact, recognizing in her a state of continued, completely full, perfect grace which has been present in her from a past action and is in effect in this present moment.  Therefore, the fact that the angel greets Mary this way is anything but common and is testified to by Mary’s reaction in the very next verse when it says, “But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.” (Also, because of the fact that Luke states that internally Mary [as evidenced by the passage, “considered in her mind”] was wondering what this meant traditionally has indicated that Mary herself was telling Luke this story, or, at the least, this version of the story was originally conveyed by Mary herself.)

This extremely unusual greeting which even Mary herself was greatly troubled by was given by Heaven to her and her alone because nowhere else in the Bible is the word with the same tense and meaning as kekaritomene used for anyone else.  Unless an individual really believes they have been endowed by Heaven with a completely full state of perfected grace supernaturally given to them in the past and continuing all the way into the present moment, this self-appointed statement, which is taken from this very passage of Scripture, is erroneous and misapplied.

What Mary has been given here is validation of an extraordinarily high honor confirmed by Heaven that she had been, in a perfect way, filled with Grace and that Grace was maintained to the present day. This is not an ordinary honor that was given to all believers and to utilize it in a manner with which is is not intended is a disservice and a dishonor to her unique role in Christianity. One may not believe all the dogmas proclaimed by the Catholic Church but she’s due a great and unique honor and this Scripture verse lends remarkable insight into that truth.
1. Aramaic – Kepha (Cephas) ; Greek – Petros. (The dispute argues from the point of the two forms of the word “‘rock” used in the passage, petros and petras.
2. ref. excerpted from author pfairban

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 21, 2014 5:02 pm

    Since this also comes from the noun χάρις, one might also, in a similarly bizarre twist, choose to translate Ephesians 2:8, “You have been saved by God doing you a favor.”

    Beg your pardon. I just saw your newest post in my reader, and decided to catch up a bit. And I chose not to resist a little levity.

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