We mainly study Hebrew and Greek here at Bethlehem College & Seminary. But I have personally been learning an older Germanic language in recent weeks, particularly Gothic. The Goths are probably most famous for having sacked Rome in 410 AD. We also know that the “Christianity” adopted by most Goths was Arian, a heretical teaching claiming that Jesus was not co-eternal with the Father. Yet, much of the literature that remains from the Goths happens to be translations of the Bible. Can anything be worthwhile in such writings?
In the Gothic version of Luke 1:28, the translator has the angel Gabriel say to Mary, “Fagino, anstai audahafta,” which literally means, “Rejoice, one who is blessed with grace.” This is a peculiar wording because a common English rendering is “Greetings, O favored one” (ESV). Why did the translator include the phrase “with grace”? Since scholars tell us that the original writer took his translations directly from the Greek Bible, I went to investigate the original text.
The Greek New Testament gives the beginning of Luke 1:28 as, “Χαίρε, κεχαριτωμένη”. A very literal translation reads, “Greetings, one who has had favor (or blessing) bestowed upon her.” It is clear why the translator adopted the Gothic word audahafta (i.e. “blessed one”). For the root χαριτοω of the Greek participle κεχαριτωμένη means “to bestow favor upon” or “to bless”. But why does the translator add the Gothic word anstai (i.e. “with grace”) to make this verse say, “one who is blessed with grace”? It would have been a more straightforward translation from the original Greek to have Gabriel simply say, “Fagino, audahafta” or “Rejoice, one who is blessed.” Moreover, doesn’t the Bible warn us against adding words to Scripture (cf. Deut 4:2; Rev 22:18)? Perhaps the original translator was one of those Gothic heretics!
But browsing through a Greek dictionary I came upon another possible explanation. I noticed that there is a closely related Greek noun to χαριτοω: the word χάρις, which is usually translated as simply “favor” or “grace.” This is an almost perfect synonym with the Gothic word ansts (the root of anstai). The original translator would have known of this etymological connection. Perhaps in the Gothic language the notion of “blessing” or “favor” did not carry any clear connotations of “grace.” If that is so, using the expressive resources available in Gothic, perhaps the translator sought to communicate a fuller meaning from the original Greek root of “grace.”
Is this conclusion correct? Not sure, but what is clear is that the original Gothic translator sought to tie the notion of Mary’s high privilege of being chosen as the mother of the Christ to the overwhelming biblical concept of grace in Christ. For Jesus is truly full of grace (cf. John 1:14, 16–17; Rom 5:15, et al).
At Bethlehem College & Seminary we also seek to make explicit the connection between God’s blessing or favor and the abundant grace offered in Christ (1 Tim 1:14). Please pray for us as we seek to make the fullness of Christ’s grace known to our students and to the world.
Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Theology
- Pray for our faculty as they seek to make the fullness of Christ’s grace known to our students in each of the various disciples.
- Pray for our students as they settle in to academic life and face their first large papers of the year.
- Pray that God would bring in the finances needed to provide Serious Joy Scholarships for our students.
- Pray for three of our seminarians as they head to Ethiopia to preach , teach, and minister to orphans next week.