Summary: When Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, “kindness” comes just before “goodness.”
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22)
Last week we talked about “kindness” as a fruit of the Spirit. When Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, “kindness” comes just before “goodness.” That’s what I read in the Bible I study most, which is a New International Version. The King James Version uses the word “gentleness” where the NIV uses “kindness.” A few fruit down the list, the NIV uses “gentleness” where the KJV uses “meekness.”
“Kindness,” “goodness” and “gentleness” kind of sound like three ways of saying the same thing to me. I figured I’d better dig into the words to find out why Paul would have listed all three if they all meant pretty much the same thing.
Looking the words up in my concordance didn’t seem to clear up the matter. Searching out all the times “kindness,” “goodness” and “gentleness” are used in the Bible turned out to be sort of a jumble. Sometimes “goodness” is the Hebrew for “kindness.” Sometimes “kindness” is the Greek word for “goodness”. The words are mixed around and mixed together. It’s all very confusing.
Why are “kindness,” “goodness” and even “gentleness” used so interchangeably in different translations of the English Bible? Do they all pretty much mean the same thing? If they all mean pretty much the same thing, then why does each have its own word in the original language? And if they all mean pretty much the same thing, why would each be listed in Galatians 5: 22-23 as fruit of the Spirit? Was Paul just repeating himself, using different words to convey the same meaning for emphasis?
For us, it’s kind of easy to fall into the trap of spiritualizing what Paul was saying and blend each of these attributes of the fruit of the Spirit into a sort of homogenous pudding of spiritual “niceness.” Is that really what Paul was trying to get across? A benign, cloud-floating, passive, “niceness”?
Well, Paul wasn’t repeating himself by using different words all having the same general meaning. And he wasn’t mixing up a “niceness” pudding, by blending all these words with apparently similar meanings. Galatians 5:22-23 lists nine attributes of the fruit of the Spirit. Each of these nine is different from the others; none are redundant and none are superfluous.
“Kindness” (the KJV uses “gentleness”), is “chrestotes” in Greek. We talked about kindness last week. The closest way to describe “chrestotes” in English would be “moral goodness,” “integrity,” “benignity,” or simply, “kindness.”
“Gentleness” or “meekness,” is something we’ll be talking about in a few weeks. The Greek word the NIV translates as “gentleness” and the KJV translates as “meekness” is “praotes.” It’s like “chrestotes,” but more passive; “mildness” is another English word you might use for “praotes.” Again, we’ll talk more about it in a few weeks.
“Goodness,” in the NIV and KJV (and every other English translation worth a flip) is the Greek word “agathosune.” “Agathosune” only appears in the Bible four times, and it’s always translated “goodness.” It means, “uprightness of heart and life.”
So why all this back and forth on these three words? Don’t they really mean about the same thing? Aren’t they all trying to say, “be good,” “be kind,” “be nice,” “be meek,” “be mild,” “be benign”?
That’s an interesting word, isn’t it? According to the Encarta Dictionary, “benign” means: “kindly, not life-threatening, harmless, favorable (mild).” Is that what “goodness” is describing? Is it just another word for “harmless” or “mild”?
Two of our nine words describing the fruit of the Spirit are “kindness” and “gentleness”. Jesus taught us that the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5) and that if someone strikes you on your right cheek you should turn your left to him as well (Matthew 5:39). Meekness, mildness, benignity and harmlessness are pretty well established facets of following Christ, are they not? So why am I trying so hard to make a distinction between “kindness,” “goodness” and “gentleness” they’re all different words for the same general idea, right?
Let’s take another look at the definition of “agathosune” (goodness): “uprightness of heart and life.” Again, the word is only used four times in the Bible. Besides Galatians 5:22, it’s used in Romans 15:14, Ephesians 5:9 and II Thessalonians 1:11. Do you want to know the words it’s associated with in those passages? “Knowledge,” “instruction,” “righteousness,” “truth,” “power” and “purpose.” Is it starting to sound a little less “benign”; a little less “harmless”?
“Goodness” isn’t a sissy word. There’s something extremely powerful, sometimes even frightening (if you’re on the wrong side of it) about goodness.
William Barclay writes in his Daily Study Bible commentary, that: “It [agathosune] is the widest word for goodness; it is defined as ‘virtue equipped at every point.’ … Agathosune might, and could, rebuke and discipline ....”