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Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [1]

One of the three grand theological graces, consisting in the love of God and our neighbour, or the habit or disposition of loving God with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourselves. "Charity, " says an able writer, "consists not in speculative ideas of general benevolence floating in the head, and leaving the heart, as speculations often do, untouched and cold: neither is it confined to that indolent good nature which makes us rest satisfied with being free from inveterate malice, or ill will to our fellow creatures, without prompting us to be of service to any. True charity is an active principle. It is not properly a single virtue; but a disposition residing in the heart as a fountain; whence all the virtues of benignity, candour, forbearance, generosity, compassion, and liberality flow as so many native streams. From general good will to all, it extends its influence particularly to those with whom we stand in nearest connection, and who are directly within the sphere of our good offices. From the country or community to which we belong, it descends to the smaller associates of neighbourhood, relations, and friends; and spreads itself over the whole circle of social and domestic life. I mean not that it imports a promiscuous undistinguishing affection which gives every man an equal title to our love.

Charity, if we should endeavour to carry it so rare, would be rendered an impracticable virtue, and would resolve itself into mere words, without affecting the heart. True charity attempts not to shut our eyes to the distinction between good and bad men; nor to warm our hearts equally to those who befriend and those who injure us. It reserves our esteem for good men, and our complacency for our friends. Towards our enemies, it inspires forgiveness and humanity. It breathes universal candour and liberality of sentiment. It forms gentleness of temper, and dictates affability of manners. It prompts corresponding sympathics with them who rejoice, and them who weep. It teaches us to slight and despise no man. Charity is the comforter of the afflicted, the protector of the oppressed, the reconciler of differences, the intercessor for offenders. It is faithfulness in the friend, public spirit in the magistrate, equity and patience in the judge, moderation in the sovereign, and loyalty in the subject. In parents it is care and attention; in children it is reverence and submission. In a word, it is the soul of social life. It is the sun that enlivens and cheers the abodes of men; not a meteor which occasionally glares, but a luminary, which in its orderly and regular course dispenses a benignant influence."

See Barrow's Works, vol. 1: ser. 27, 28. Blair's Ser. vol. 4: ser. 2; Scott's Ser. ser. 14; Tillotson's Ser. ser. 158; Paley's Mor. Phil. vol. 1: p. 231; and articles Benevolence, Love

King James Dictionary [2]


1. In a general sense, love, benevolence, good will that disposition of heart which inclines men to think favorably of their fellow men to think favorably of their fellow men, and to do them good. In a theological sense, it includes supreme love to God, and universal good will to men.

 1 Corinthians 8 .  Colossians 3 .  1 Timothy 1 .

2. In a more particular sense, love, kindness, affection, tenderness, springing from natural relations as the charities of father, son and brother. 3. Liberality to the poor, consisting in almsgiving or benefactions, or in gratuitous services to relieve them in distress. 4. Alms whatever is bestowed gratuitously on the poor for their relief. 5. Liberality in gifts and services to promote public objects of utility, as to found and support bible societies, missionary societies, and others. 6. Candor liberality in judging of men and their actions a disposition which inclines men to think and judge favorably, and to put the best construction on words and actions which the case will admit. The highest exercise of charity, is charity towards the uncharitable. 7. Any act of kindness, or benevolence as the charities of life. 8. A charitable institution. Charity-school, is a school maintained by voluntary contributions for educating poor children.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [3]

CHARITY . The word ‘charity’ never occurs in AV [Note: Authorized Version.] in the sense of almsgiving , but always with the meaning of love . It comes from the Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] caritas , which was frequently used to translate the Greek agapç , probably because amor had impure associations, and because dilectio (which is sometimes so used) was scarcely strong enough. Wyclif followed the Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] , as did afterwards the Rhemish translators. Tindale and the Genevan Version preferred ‘love’; but in the Bishops’ Bible’ charity’ was again often used, and the AV [Note: Authorized Version.] followed the Bishops in this. In the RV [Note: Revised Version.] , however, ‘charity’ never occurs, the Gr. agapç being everywhere rendered ‘love.’

For Feast of Charity (  Judges 1:12 AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ) see Love Feast.

Webster's Dictionary [4]

(1): (n.) A charitable institution, or a gift to create and support such an institution; as, Lady Margaret's charity.

(2): (n.) Liberality to the poor and the suffering, to benevolent institutions, or to worthy causes; generosity.

(3): (n.) Eleemosynary appointments [grants or devises] including relief of the poor or friendless, education, religious culture, and public institutions.

(4): (n.) Whatever is bestowed gratuitously on the needy or suffering for their relief; alms; any act of kindness.

(5): (n.) Love; universal benevolence; good will.

(6): (n.) Liberality in judging of men and their actions; a disposition which inclines men to put the best construction on the words and actions of others.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [5]

considered as a Christian grace, ought in our translation, in order to avoid mistake, to have been translated love. It is the love of God, and the love of our neighbour flowing from the love of God; and is described with wonderful copiousness, felicity, and even grandeur, by St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 13; a portion of Scripture which, as it shows the habitual temper of a true Christian, cannot be too frequently referred to for self-examination, and ought to be constantly present to us as our rule.

2. In the popular sense, charity is almsgiving; a duty of practical Christianity which is solemnly enjoined, and to which special promises are annexed.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [6]

The Greek "love," "loving esteem"; Latin Caritas . The outward benefaction, or alms, is a mere manifestation of the inward and true charity of Scripture ( 1 Corinthians 13:3): "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, ... and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing."

Morrish Bible Dictionary [7]

A word often used in the A.V. where the word 'love' would be much better, as indeed the same Greek word is often translated. In  1 Corinthians 13:3 it is shown that a person may be very charitable or benevolent but have no love.

Holman Bible Dictionary [8]

agape  Luke 11:41 Luke 12:33 Acts 9:36

Easton's Bible Dictionary [9]

 1 Corinthians 13 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [10]

See Alms, Love.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [11]

char´i - ti ( ἀγάπη , agápē ):

1. A N ew Word

2. A N ew Ideal

3. An Apostolic Term

4. Latin Equivalents

5. English Translation

6. Inward Motive

7. Character

8. Ultimate Ideal

9. Almsgiving

10. Tolerance

In the King James Version in 26 places from  1 Corinthians 8:1 onward. The same Greek word, which appears in the New Testament 115 times, is elsewhere translated by "love."

1. A N ew Word

The substantive agapē is mainly, if not exclusively, a Biblical and ecclesiastical word (see Deissmann, Bible Studies , 198ff), not found in profane writings, although the verb agapā́n , 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 N ew 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 ( Matthew 24:12;  Luke 11:42 ), and although it is in both places put in the mouth of the Saviour, it can easily be understood how the language of a later time may have been used by the narrator, when it is considered that these gospels were compiled and reduced to writing many years after the spread of the Pauline epistles. The word is not found in James, Mark or Acts, but it appears in Paul 75 times, in John 30 times, in Peter 4 times, in Jude twice and in Hebrews twice. Jesus Christ gave the thing and the spirit in the church, and the apostles (probably Paul) invented the term to express it.

4. Latin Equivalents

When Jerome came to translate the Greek Testament into Latin, he found in that language no word to represent agapē . 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 agapē 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 agapē only in man, never as it denotes a quality or action of God, which is always translated by "love." When agapē is translated by "charity" it means either (1) a disposition in man which may qualify his own character ( 1 Corinthians 8:1 ) and be ready to go forth to God ( 1 Corinthians 8:3 ) or to men; or (2) an active and actual relation with other men, generally within the church ( Colossians 3:14;  1 Thessalonians 3:6;  2 Thessalonians 1:3;  1 Timothy 1:5;  1 Timothy 4:12;  1 Peter 4:8;  1 Peter 5:14 ), but also absolutely and universally ( 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 ). In the earlier epistles it stands first and unique as the supreme principle of the Christian life ( 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 ), but in the later writings, it is enumerated as one among the Christian virtues ( 1 Timothy 2:15;  2 Timothy 2:22;  2 Timothy 3:10;  Titus 2:2;  2 Peter 1:7;  Revelation 2:19 ).

6. Inward Motive

In Paul's psalm of love ( 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 ) it is set forth as an innermost principle contrasted with prophecy and knowledge, faith and works, as the motive that determines the quality of the whole inner life, and gives value to all its activities. If a man should have all gifts of miracles and intellect, and perform all the works of goodness and devotion, "and have not love, it profiteth nothing," for they would be purely external and legal, and lacking in the quality of moral choice and personal relation which give life its value ( 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ). Love itself defines men's relation to men as generous, tolerant and forgiving.

7. Character

"Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not" ( 1 Corinthians 13:4 ). It determines and defines a man's own character and personality. It is not boastful and arrogant, but dignified, pure, holy, courageous and serene. Evil cannot provoke it nor wrong delight it. It bears cheerfully all adversity and follows its course in confident hope ( 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ). It is final virtue, the ultimate ideal of life. Many of life's activities cease or change, but "love never faileth."

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" ( 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 ). In one passage only in the New Testament ( 3 John 1:6 ) agapē seems to have a meaning that comes near to the later, ecclesiastical meaning of charity as almsgiving.

9. Almsgiving

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 agapē ̌ - 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.

10. Tolerance

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 agapē , 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 ."

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [12]

one of the three chief Christian graces. The Greek word Ἀγάπη , frequently rendered in the authorized version Love, is occasionally translated Charity, and is so rendered throughout 1 Corinthians 13. The old English word Charity means Love love to God and man, which is the fulfilling of the law. Perhaps it would have been better had the word been rendered "love." The meaning of the term can, however, scarcely be misapprehended after a careful perusal of that important chapter. In popular usage, charity is often restricted to Almsgiving, which is only one of its manifestations. See LOVE. Christian ethics teach that charity, in this sense of love, is to be the habitual affection of the heart, in all our relations to our fellow-creatures. Charity considered,

1. As to its Source, implies a regenerated state of mind.

2. As to its Exclusiveness, shuts out all,

1, anger;

2, implacability;

3, revenge;

4, prejudice;

5, evil speaking;

6, petty aggressions, though legal;

7, artificial distinctions, as its limitations.

3. As to its Active Expression;

(1) it delights in sympathy, liberality, and, in general, in benevolence;

(2) it dictates and regulates Works Of Mercy;

(3) it teaches us that we are only Stewards of the divine goodness.

"All spiritual gifts are surpassed by charity, which alone puts on them the crown of perfection ( 1 Corinthians 12:31 to  1 Corinthians 13:13). By this we are to understand not a mere inclination and emotion, however pure, or natural benevolence and philanthropy, however disinterested; but a disposition wrought by the Holy Ghost, springing from the consciousness of reconciliation; a vital supernatural energy, uniting all the powers of the soul with God, the essence of all love, and consecrating them to the service of his kingdom. Without this, even speaking with the tongues of angels were but 'sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.' Without this, the boldest prophecy, the most comprehensive knowledge, and a power of faith which could call the impossible into being, have no abiding worth or practical importance. Without this, the other gifts would separate, pass into the service of ambition, and thus ruin themselves and the whole church. Without this, the gift of tongues fosters vanity and enthusiasm, knowledge puffs up ( 1 Corinthians 8:1-3), and the gift of government degenerates to despotism. As faith lies at the bottom of all the charisms, and forms their common root, so also love is properly not a gift by itself, but the soul of all gifts, binding them together like the members of a body, making them work in for each other, and directing them to the common good. It maintains the unity of the manifold divine powers, subordinates everything individual and personal to the general, and makes it subservient to the interests of the body of Christ.

"For another reason, love transcends all the other gifts. It never ceases. In the future world the other gifts will disappear, at least in their present nature. The mysterious tongues will cease in the land, where all understand them. Prophecies will be lost in their fulfillment, like the aurora in the moon. Knowledge, which on earth is but partial, will merge in immediate, perfect intuition. Nay, faith itself will be exchanged for sight, and hope for fruition. But love, by which even here we have fellowship of life with God through Christ, remains love. It changes not. It rises not out of its element. It passes not into another sphere. It only deepens and expands. It can never gain higher grounds, never reach another and better form of union with God; but only continues to grow stronger, fuller, more lively, and more blissful ( 1 Corinthians 13:8-13). 'Charity,' says Bishop Warburton somewhere, 'regulates and perfects all the other virtues, and is in itself in no want of a reformer.'

"Hence Paul exhorts the Corinthians, who were inclined to place an undue estimate on the more striking and showy charisms, to strive after charity, above all, as the greatest and most precious gift, the cardinal and universal Christian virtue, of which heathenism had scarce the faintest notion. 'Heathenism,' observes Olshausen (Comment. in, p. 698), 'did not get beyond Ἔρως . It knew nothing of the Christian Ἀγάπη . In the Old Testament nothing but the stern Δίκη reigns. Eros, even in its purest, noblest form, is but the result of want, the longing for love, springing from the consciousness that we have not what is worth loving.

But the Christian Ἀγάπη is the streaming forth of positive love, God himself dwelling in the believer, so that streams of living water flow out of him ( John 4:14).' And he commends it, in the most glowing and attractive description ever uttered by tongue of man or angel, in language which comes to the heart with perpetual freshness, like music from the bowers of eternity, and is of itself enough to put beyond all doubt the divinity of Christianity and its infinite superiority to all other religions. 'And now (in the present earthly life of Christians) abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity' " (Schaff, Apostolical Church, § 120). See also Watson, Theol. Institutes, pt. 3, ch. 4; Fellowes, Body Of Theology, 2:64, etc.; Barrow, Works, vol. 1, ser. 27, 28; Fletcher, Works (N.Y. ed.), 3, 156 sq.

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [13]

The Greek word agape frequently thus rendered in the Authorized Version of the New Testament (e.g. 1 Corinthians 13 throughout) is that which is more usually translated 'love' in the same version (e.g. John 15 throughout). The translation of the word by 'love' is the more proper, seeing that 'charity' has acquired a signification in our language which limits it to overt acts of beneficence. The Greek word denotes that kindly state of mind or feeling which renders a person full of such goodwill or affectionate regard towards others as is always ready to evince itself in word or action. In short, it describes that state of feeling which the apostle enjoined the Romans () to entertain: 'Be ye kindly affectioned one to another.' This extended meaning of the word explains the pre-eminence which the Apostle assigns to the virtue which it implies over every other Christian grace (I Corinthian 13).