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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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In its substantival, adjectival, verbal, and adverbial form this term occurs in the English NT in the following passages: Luke 6:35, Acts 27:3; Acts 28:2, 1 Corinthians 13:4, 2 Corinthians 6:6, Galatians 5:22 (Revised Version only), Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:12, Titus 2:5 (Revised Version only), Titus 3:4, 2 Peter 1:7 (Authorized Version only; Revised Version ‘love of the brethren’). In all these passages (except Acts 27:3; Acts 28:2, where it renders φιλανθρώπως, φιλανθρωπία, Titus 2:5, where it renders ἀγαθός, and 2 Peter 1:7, where ‘brotherly kindness’ renders φιλαδελφία) the original has χρηστός, χρηστότης, χρηστεύειν. These Greek words, however, occur in several other places, where the English NT docs not employ the term ‘kindness,’ viz. Matthew 11:30 (‘easy’), Luke 5:39 (Authorized Version χρηστότερος, ‘better,’ Revised Version χρηστός, ‘good’), Romans 2:4 bis (‘goodness’), Romans 3:12 (‘good’), Romans 11:22 (‘goodness’), 1 Corinthians 15:33 (‘good’), Galatians 5:22 (Authorized Version ‘gentleness,’ Revised Version ‘kindness’), 1 Peter 2:3 (‘gracious’). These passages will have to be taken into account in determining the precise meaning of the conception.

χρηστός is the verbal adjective of χράω, ‘use.’ Its primary meaning, therefore, is ‘usable,’ ‘serviceable,’ ‘good,’ ‘adequate,’ ‘efficient’ (of persona as well as of things). This utilitarian sense of ‘goodness’ passes over into the ethical sense in which it becomes the opposite to such words as πονηρός, μοχθηρός, αἰσχρός. It further passes over into the more specialized ethical meaning of ‘kind,’ ‘mild.’ The process of the latter transition may perhaps still be observed in the phrase τὰ χρηστά =‘good services,’ ‘benefits,’ ‘kindnesses.’

In the NT there is only one instance where it has the sub-ethical meaning ‘good for use,’ viz. Luke 5:39; here the old wine is said to be ‘good’ or ‘better.’ According to Trench (Synonyms of the NT9, 1901, p. 233), even here the thought is coloured by the ethical employment of the word in other connexions, χρηστός = ‘mellowed with age.’ This is certainly true of Matthew 11:30, where Christ’s yoke is called χρηστός because it is a figure for demands that are kind and mild. In all other instances the ethical application is explicit. The precise shade of meaning, however, attaching to the word in this sense is not easy to determine. In certain instances it may designate moral goodness in general. This seems to be the case in Romans 3:12 (ποιῶν χρηστότητα, a quotation from Psalms 14:2, where χρηστόν is the Septuagint rendering for טוֹב). In 1 Corinthians 15:33 the proverbial saying φθείρουσιν ἤθη χρηστὰ ὁμιλίαι κακαί, ‘evil companionships corrupt good morals’ (or ‘characters’), has χρηστός in the same general sense, the opposite here being κακός. In all other cases there are indications that some specific quality of moral goodness is intended. Most clearly this is apparent in Galatians 5:22, for here χρηστότης stands among a number of Christian graces and is even distinguished from ἀγαθωσύνη, ‘goodness.’ A similar co-ordination is found in Colossians 3:12, where χρηστότης occurs side by side with πραὔτης. Various attempts have been made at defining that conception. Jerome in his exposition of Galatians 5:22 renders χρηστότης by benignitas (cf. the rendering by Wyclif and in the Rheims Version), and quotes the Stoic definition; ‘benignitas est virtus sponte ad benefaciendum exposita.’ The difference between χρηστότης and ἀγαθωσύνη he finds in this, that the latter can go together with a degree of severity, whilst it is inherent in χρηστότης to be sweet and inviting in its association with others. This, however, does not quite hit the centre of the biblical idea. Most shrewdly, it seems to us, the latter has been pointed out by Tittmann (de Synonymis in NT, 1829-32, i. 141) as consisting in the trait of beneficence towards those who are evil and ungrateful: ‘χρηστός bene cupit, neque bonis tantum sed etiam malis.’

A closer inspection of the several passages will bear this out, at least as the actual implication of the NT usage, if not as the inherent etymological force of the word. In Luke 6:35 God is said to be χρηστός towards the unthankful and evil, and the statement serves to urge the preceding exhortation: ‘love your enemies, do them good, and lend, never despairing.’ The passages in Romans point to the same conclusion. In Luke 2:4 the χρηστότης is associated with ‘forbearance’ and ‘longsuffering’; it is that attitude of God by which doing good in the face of evil He leads men to repentance. In the second clause of this verse the word occurs in the form τὸ χρηστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ, which probably means the embodiment of the χρηστότης in acts. On the same principle in Luke 11:22 χρηστότης is the opposite of ἀποτομία, ‘severity’; ‘to continue in the χρηστότης of God’ means to continue in conscious dependence on this undeserved favour of God (cf. Luke 11:21, ‘be not highminded, but fear’). In 1 Corinthians 13:4 we read of love that it ‘suffereth long (χρηστεύεται), envieth not,’ which indicates that a kindness is meant which overcomes obstacles. In 2 Corinthians 6:6, again, χρηστότης is found in conjunction with ‘longsuffering,’ and in a context which emphasizes the patient, forbearing character of the Apostle’s loving ministration to his converts. In Galatians 5:22 we meet with the same conjunction between ‘longsuffering’ and χρηστότης, and here, by distinction from ἀγαθωσύνη, ‘benevolence,’ and πραὔτης, ‘meekness,’ the sense is narrowed down to a benevolence which asserts itself either with a peculiar cheerfulness or in the face of peculiar difficulties. According to Ephesians 2:7 the Divine grace is shown in kindness; no matter whether χρηστότης is here taken as abstractum pro concreto=the embodiment of God’s kind procedure in the work of salvation, or whether ‘grace’ be given an objective concrete sense; in either case the association of the two shows that the Divine χρηστότης is conceived as having for its object the sinful and unworthy. The context of Colossians 3:12 likewise emphasizes the forbearing and forgiving disposition required of the Christian in view of the forgiveness received from God, and the terms with which χρηστότης is here associated (‘lowliness,’ ‘meekness,’ ‘longsuffering’) are again terms that describe benevolence over against faults observed in fellow-Christians. The χρηστότης of Titus 3:4 is shown by the context to be God’s kindness towards sinful, undeserving man, and held up as an example for the Christian of abstention from evil-speaking, contentiousness, and pride. It came to such as were ‘foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.’ Finally, in 1 Peter 2:8 (a quotation from Psalms 34:9) the general meaning ‘gracious’ seems to be indicated by the fact that the Divine χρηστότης is set in contrast to the wickedness and guile and hypocrisies and envies and evil-speakings, which the readers must put aside as new-born men (cf. 1 Peter 1:23 and the ‘therefore’ in 1 Peter 2:1), and the putting aside of which is invited by their vivid experience in the new life that the Lord Himself is gracious.

Geerhardus Vos.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Kindness'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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