Medieval painting of the Trinity

I grew up hearing and reading the Bible during the transition from the King James Version to NASB and NIV. In my church setting, the transition was mostly welcomed, except by a few godly old-timers who were certain that our prayers were more acceptable to God if they included a generous portion of thees, thous, and Elizabethan-era verb endings.

The KJV had the interesting effect of making some very ordinary words into technical religious terms, since the words dropped out of ordinary use in the centuries since the KJV was translated. One of those words is grace. Interestingly, the NASB, the NIV, and even (often) the NLT continue to use this word to translate the Greek word χάρις (charis), even though the meaning of grace in English has changed over the centuries.

In modern English, grace primarily means something like beauty, charm, or refinement - a meaning that rarely fits what the NT authors meant by charis. Of course, Christians usually learn to fill in a technical religious meaning for the word grace, but charis in Greek did not have a uniquely religious meaning.

Charis has a variety of meanings depending on the context (like all words), but in the sorts of passages where it is translated grace, it often means something like generosity or generous gift. As I have been reading the New Testament recently, I have been translating charis with generosity or generous gift (wherever such a translation is relevant). Look at some of the passages:

Eph 2:8-9 For by [God's] generosity you have been saved... it is the gift of God.
Gal 1:3 Generosity and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Phil 1:7 It is only right for me to feel this way about you... since you all are partakers with me of [God's] generous gift.
1 Cor 15:10 But by the generosity of God I am what I am [that is, an apostle]; and his generosity towards me was not wasted, but I labored more than all of them; yet not I, but God's generous gift which was with me.
Rom 4:4 Now for the one who works, the wage is not counted as an act of generosity, but as an obligation

In some passages, charis is used more specifically to describe God's generous forgiveness. For example:

Rom 5:20 The Law came in so that transgression might increase; but where sin increased, [God's] generosity overflowed even more.
Rom 3:24 ... being justified freely by his generous gift through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.

Although this started for me as a thought experiment in translation, it has resulted in a great deal of thought about God's generosity. It is striking that Christ's life and death on our behalf is described as a generous gift to us. Paul's calling as an apostle, and our calling to serve in the church today, is a generous gift. Paul chose to start most of his letters with a prayer for God's generosity and peace. I do not think often enough of God as a generous God, a gift-giving God, a God who is characterized by his beneficence. Yet he is.

The picture: The Trinity, ca. 1414, by the Master of the Gerona Martyrology. This sort of painting is called a a gnadenstuhle or “Throne of Grace,” and was a common medieval way of portraying the Trinity.