Helaman 12:24 — LeGrand Baker — grace for grace

Helaman 12:24 — LeGrand Baker — grace for grace

Helaman 12:24
24 And may God grant, in his great fulness, that men might be brought unto repentance and good works, that they might be restored unto grace for grace, according to their works.

The phrase “grace for grace” is rare in the scriptures, but very significant. This verse in Helaman is the only place it is found in the Book of Mormon. In the New Testament is in also found only once, that is John 1:15-17. It reads:

15 John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.
16 And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.
17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:15-17).

In the Doctrine and Covenants the phrase is found only twice, and both of those are in Section 93. They read:

11 And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us.
12 And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;
13 And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;
19 I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness.
20 For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace (D&C 93:11-21).

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A few weeks ago I sent you an analysis of Psalm 25 which is set in the context of remembering our premortal covenants, and a word that brings those covenants with God into a deeply personal friendship/relationship is the Hebrew hesed.

In that psalm, hesed is used three times. It is translated as “lovingkindnesses” in one place and as “mercy” in the other two. Even though the hesed relationship described in Psalm 25 is between the king who speaks the words, and Jehovah to whom he addresses them, it must be remembered that in the Israelite temple drama the king represented every man in the congregation. Therefore, the hesed relationship described here also evokes the terms of the covenant between Jehovah and each worthy person. That being so, it follows that this same hesed relationship also exists as an eternal, fraternal bond between each man with Jehovah, perhaps between us and prophet/king, and most certainly each other.

The simplest and best definition of hesed is found in a new edition of Strong’s Concordance. It reads “hesed, unfailing love, loyal love, devotion. kindness, often based on a prior relationship, especially a covenant relationship.” {1}

The idea that ties “grace for grace” to hesed is in Friedrich’s ten volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. It which has a long article on the meaning of “grace.” Within that article there is a section on Old Testament equivalents. The author finds hesed to be the Hebrew word that most like the New Testament meaning of “grace.”

Another equally well respected source, The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, asserts that “the Greek equivalent is Philadelphia, fraternal love.” It also says:

We may venture the conjecture that even in cases where the context does not suggest such mutuality it is nevertheless implicit, because we are dealing with the closest of human bonds.{2}

An explanation and clarification of their phrase, “dealing with the closest of human bonds,” is easily found in the definition of the Greek word, philadelphia.

Strong defines philadelphia as “fraternal affection: brotherly love (kindness), love of the brethren.” {3}

Perhaps the best way to approach its meaning is to use Peter’s assurance that “brotherly kindness” (philadelphia) and charity are final prerequisites to making one’s calling and election sure. Peter wrote:

5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; {4} and to virtue knowledge;
6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness [“reverence” in the LDS Bible footnote; one cannot hurt anyone or anything that one reveres];
7 And to godliness brotherly kindness [philadelphia]; and to brotherly kindness charity.
8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:
11 For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-11).

Another Greek word that carries much the same connotation is pistis.{5} In the New Testament, pistis, is translated as “faith” from the Greek word which is all about making and keeping covenants. In Paul’s time, pistis was not a religious term.{6} It was used either as a diplomatic word that had to do with making a treaty, or else as an economic term that had to do with securing the validity of a contract.{7} Pistis did not actually refer to the conditions of the contract, but rather to its object and to the evidence that the contract was binding.{8}

Friedrich’s ten volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament has more than 40 pages discussing pistis and related Greek words. In his primary definition of pistis, he wrote:

Stress is often laid on the fact that this is a higher endowment than wealth. … Concretely pistis means the “guarantee” which creates the possibility of trust, that which may be relied on, or the assurance of reliability, “assurance’. … pistis is the “oath of fidelity,” “the pledge of faithfulness,” “security.” This leads on the one side to the sense of “certainty,” “trustworthiness,” on the other to that of “means of proof,” “proof.” In particular pistis denotes the reliability of persons, “faithfulness.” It belongs especially to friendship.{9}

So, our faith in God or in each other, is a covenant relationship that “belongs especially to friendship.” When we act in faith we are keeping the covenants; when we pray in faith, we are evoking the blessings of the covenants.

That is simply another facet of the covenant, friendship/love relationship that is expressed in grace, hased, and philadelphia.


Now we have two scholars with very similar, though somewhat different understandings. The one says “grace” is hesed, “because we are dealing with the closest of human bonds.” The other says hesed is most like philadelphia, fraternal love translated as brotherly love. Into that mix we add pistis, which is making and keeping covenants and “belongs especially to friendship.”

We are left to conclude this: the phrase “grace for grace” is about mutual covenants that focus on friendship, unfailing love, fraternal love. Peter says that learning how to give (and implicitly, to receive) that kind of love is a prerequisite to making our calling and election sure. Even though we are saved individually in the celestial kingdom, there is no such thing as solitary salvation. Salvation is to be part of the celestial community where each individual is sealed to every other individual in an eternal, covenant relationship based on mutual love. If we cannot achieve something like that here, we will have a jolly hard time achieving it in the hereafter.

So, perhaps it would not be inappropriate to understand “grace for grace” to be about the eternal maturation of loving, covenant relationships.

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1} John R. Kohlenberger III and James A. Swanson, The Strongest Strong’s, Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), Hebrew dictionary # 2617.

2} G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, eds., trans. Davod E. Green, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 15 vols. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1986), article about hesed, 5:45-48).

3} In this verse, the King James Version uses the phrase “brotherly kindness,” but elsewhere in the New Testament that same Greek word is always translated as “brotherly love” which has a somewhat stronger connotation (Strong: Greek 5360 [first edition, 1894] reads: “philadelphia; fraternal affection: brotherly love (kindness), love of the brethren.” [Emphasis is in original).

This is probably significant. Righteous masculine virtues include priesthood, extended brotherly love, and charity. In contrast, righteous women enjoy the focused yet overriding feminine virtue that has a more singular quality of charity than men have. In the eternities our Father’s objective has always been to bring each of us back to him in the eternal family unit where friendship, love, and charity are the sealing power—timeless in both directions—and where each participates in the creation of endless lives “after their own image”—“as innumerable as the stars” in the heavens (D&C 132:30-31).

4} “In ancient thinking, ‘virtue’ was closely tied to what seemed ideal masculine qualities: toughness, courage, simplicity of life, loyalty, piety, and contempt for suffering and even death.” Steve Mason, “Did the Essenes Write the Dead Sea Scrolls?” Biblical Archaeology Review 34, 6 (November/December 2008): 62.

5} In Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, there is a long chapter about pistis in connection withe faith in Moroni 7.

6} New Testament writers often avoided using in-vogue religious terms when teaching the new gospel. LDS missionaries do the same. For example, in the South, missionaries avoid using the phrase “born again.” That is a powerful and very important scriptural concept, but it is a phrase Mormons cannot use when doing missionary work in the Southern States because the Baptists and others have already defined it their way. If Mormon missionaries used that phrase when speaking to those people, “born again” would be understood according to the hearer’s prior learning, and unless the missionary laboriously redefined it, his words would be understood according to their usage, so when Mormons discuss being “born again” we speak of becoming a son or daughter of God.

7} “The words [beginning with] pist– did not become religious terms in classical Greek. . . . Nor did pistis become a religious term. At most one can only say that the possibility of its so doing is intimated by the fact that it can refer to reliance on a god.” (Gerhard Friedrich, ed., trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1964-1976], article about pistis, 6:179).

8} Friedrich gives a further definition: “Stoic Usage: Primarily, then, pistis is an attitude of man to himself, not to others. As Man’s faithfulness to himself, however, pistis makes possible a right relation to others. He who is pistos = ‘faithful’ to himself, can also be pistos = ‘faithful’ to others; he alone is capable of genuine friendship. (Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 6:182)

9} Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 6: 177. In the text pistis is written in Greek letters. In this quote pistis is written in italics. In the last sentence emphasis is added.

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