CHARITY. The KJV translation of the Greek word agapē in twenty-eight places. It is translated “love” in eighty-seven places; once it is translated “dear” (
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
1. A New Word
2. A New Ideal
3. An Apostolic Term
4. Latin Equivalents
5. English Translation
6. Inward Motive
8. Ultimate Ideal 9. Almsgiving
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 (
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 (
6. Inward Motive:
In Paul’s psalm of love (
"Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not" (
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" (
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.
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."