By Grace Are We Saved
Reviewed by John Gee
The publication of Robert Millet’s book fills a long felt need for a work on grace for the Latter-day Saints which is balanced but not polemical. Millet has done us all a favor for which we should be grateful.
What qualifies Millet’s work for review in this publication is not so much that it is a book about the Book of Mormon but that it draws heavily on the Book of Mormon. Millet uses the Book of Mormon as much as the New Testament, and in many cases his points are best made and his conclusions often clinched by quoting the Book of Mormon. He also uses the Joseph Smith Translation both extensively and well. His wide use of both of these sources, as well as of several quotes from Joseph Smith, is what gives this discussion of grace a distinctively Latter-day Saint hue. By Grace Are We Saved contains a discussion of grace which is thoroughly grounded in the scriptures. Millet’s thought seems to be so permeated with the scriptures, in fact, and with statements of certain of the leaders of the Latter-day Saint Church that at times he seems to quote them unknowingly. Therefore, the following might be noted where he has omitted a reference or two:
On page 8, line 19, change “Nephi” to “Jacob” and add the references “(Isaiah 55:1; 2 Nephi 9:50-51)” at the end of the sentence, line 21.
On page 14, line 20, add “(Mosiah 16:4-7; 2 Nephi 9:7-9; Alma 11:40- 41)” at the end of the sentence.
On page 15, line 1, add “(JST, Matthew 5:6; 3 Nephi 12:6)” at the end of the first partial sentence.
On page 34, line 10, add “(see Lectures on Faith, 3:3-5, in Lundwall, A Compilation Containing the Lectures on Faith . . ., p. 33)” before the dash.
On page 38, line 23, add “(JST, Matthew 5:6; 3 Nephi 12:6)” at the end of the paragraph.
On page 52, line 8, add “(Acts 4:12; Mosiah 3:17; Moses 6:52)” at the end of the sentence.
On the whole, Millet is to be commended for his fair and balanced approach to the subject of grace; he cites both General Authorities and non-Mormon writers with about equal frequency. Most noteworthy is Millet’s care in avoiding two of the major pitfalls in discussions of grace: “(1) either they could come to believe in salvation by grace alone and hence in the irrelevance of one’s obedience and works, or (2) they could come to trust wholly in their own labors and genius, erroneously supposing that what they merit hereafter is a product solely of what they achieve or accomplish on their own here” (p. 4). Both grace and works are necessary but neither is individually sufficient (p. 70; Moroni 10:32 is cited appropriately here). Thus, Millet would have us avoid both the snare of Nehor, who “testified unto the people that . . . the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and in the end, all men should have eternal life” (Alma 1:4), and the delusion of Korihor, who said that “there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength” (Alma 30:17). Sometimes we are apt to fall into the Zoramite trap: “Holy God . . . we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children” and therefore we need “no Christ” (Alma 31:16), all the while being “puffed up, even to greatness, with the vain things of the world: . . . costly apparel, . . . gold, and all . . . precious things” which we have obtained through hard work (Alma 31:27-28). Alma called such people “wicked and . . . perverse” (Alma 31:24), and Millet’s book serves as an antidote for such thinking.
There are a few matters which Millet has wisely left alone. For instance, he does not get entangled in a discussion of the meaning of the Greek word charis, which is traditionally translated “grace.” His one foray into a discussion of the meaning of Greek words, an etymology of metaphysics that occurs in the context of a discussion of metanoeo as a term meaning ‘repentance’,” is only partially successful. Meta does mean “after,” but it does not mean ” ‘above’ or ‘beyond,’ as in the word metaphysics” (p. 37).1 The term “metaphysics” comes from a book by Aristotle entitled Metaphysics because, in the canonical order of his works, it came after (meta) the book called Physics.2 Also, it should be noted that the Greek New Testament also uses at least two other words for repentance besides metanoeo: metamelomai (melomai means “intend, care for”) and epistrepho (“turn upon, pivot, or return”). The other reason Millet was wise to avoid the discussion of the Greek meanings of the word charis is that such a discussion would be more likely to fan the flames of debate rather than douse them. To illustrate how this would be more fuel for the fire, consider the following definitions of charis, or “grace,” all culled from major Greek lexica:
One of the oldest meanings is (1) glory;3 but contemporaneous therewith are the meanings of (2) beauty4 and (3) virtue.5 These have close associations with (4) charm or pleasantness,6 whence (5) pleasure.7 Applied to rhetoric this became (6) eloquence.8 Another early meaning was (7) thanks or gratitude,9 which is connected to the meanings of (8) friendship, benevolence,10 (9) fellowship,11 the highest form of which is (10) reconciliation, atonement.12 These things may be purchased through (11) a favor,13 or (12) a gift (dorea),14 which may be in the form of (13) a prize, or reward15 or (14) an offering, 16 especially (15) a bread offering,17 (16) specifically “a sacrifice of three round loaves lying together, certain of which have a flat appearance, also called artocharitas“;18 this gift on God’s part may take the form of (17) a type of spiritual gift (charisma) which precedes baptism.19 These gifts may be in the form of an (18) (ex)change,20 such as (19) good works (euergesian),21 (20) or “also a reward according to one’s good works”;22 but they may also be gifts given (21) freely,23 or (22) with no strings attached,24 therefore for (23) nought.25 This implies a certain (24) willingness, will, desire, determination,26 or (25) freewill27 on the part of the individual. Another old meaning was (26) joy, as the Greeks equated charis with both chara and hedone, and thought it to have derived from the verb chairo,”rejoice.”28 It was also thought of as one’s (27) fortune, or luck.29 It can also mean (28) love or charity (an English word with the same root);30 and by extension, (29) a love charm.31
Or we could define charis by its opposites. It is the opposite of (30) apechtheia, “enmity” (therefore goodwill),32 (31) epereia, “abuse, insult” (therefore “kindness”),33 (32) klaion, “weeping” (therefore “gladness”),34 (33) orge “wrath”;35 (34) chariti kai deesei are the opposite of apeilo, a “threat.”36
Finally there are a few instances where charis is used as a proper name: (38) the Greek goddesses, the Graces: Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia;40 (39) a type of tree, either the myrtle41 or (40) the cypress;42 (41) the name of an Attic naval vessel;43 (42) the name of a Parthian city;44 and finally (43) the name of a river.45
If simply looking at a few dictionaries will produce such a wide variety of meanings, a detailed word study would likely only add to the confusion. Some of the particular meanings, such as “the Graces” and “atonement,” could profitably use close attention by themselves. For example: The pagan Hesychius of Alexandria46 mentions the peculiar “thank” offering of three round bread loaves (popanon) — some of which looked like plakountes (a type of flat bread) — which is very similar to the thank offering of the Law of Moses which consisted of “round unleavened [and therefore flat] bread loaves moistened with oil and thin unleavened cakes anointed with oil and mixed wheat groats, round loaves moistened with oil, and upon the round loaf, a loaf of leavened bread [which] he shall offer for his thank-offering upon the altar” (Leviticus 7:12-13), which the Israelites could only partake of in the sanctuary under the supervision of the priests.47 The Septuagint does not use the word charis for this offering, but the two “thank” offerings are strikingly similar and remind one of the bread in the sacrament, which the Greek-speaking Christians call the eucharistia, another Greek word for “thanks” which comes from charis. Though such an analysis might not have been without interest to many Latter-day Saint readers, to go into such detail would have defeated Millet’s purpose of providing for the general reader a “perspective on what the Lord has done and continues to do for us” (p. vii). A specialized study might profitably treat this material, but such esoterica would likely confuse the average reader.
Millet has rightly drawn our attention to what it means to sing the song of redeeming love, a subject that deserves attention. There is, however, nothing that prevents us from taking the song of redeeming love literally; something Millet does not do. When Millet claims that “To sing the song of redeeming love is to joy in the matchless majesty of God’s goodness, to know the wonder of God’s love. It is to sense and know, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that the Lord is intimately involved with his children and that he cares, really cares, about their well-being; it is to relish and cherish that fruit which is most joyous to the soul” (pp. 106-7), he is describing not the song of redeeming love, but what it is to “have felt to sing the song of redeeming love” (Alma 5:26). The song and what motivates us to sing it are two different things. Millet has given us an excellent description of the latter while leaving the former untouched. Much work still remains to be done on this long-neglected subject, but Millet, at least, has given us something.
For the most part, the preceding has been mere straining at gnats. All books have flaws, and any author should feel fortunate to write a book which has as few as Millet’s. His book is one of the better Latter-day Saint discussions of grace available, and we do both the author and ourselves a great disfavor if we do not use what has been offered us.
1. On the meanings of meta, see Henry G. Liddell, Robert Scott, Henry S. George, and Roderick McKenzie, A Greek-English Lexicon, 9th ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968), 1108-9; Herbert W. Smyth, Greek Grammar (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1956), 371, 380-81.
2. See the Oxford English Dictionary, s. v. metaphysics: “Gr. (ta) metaphysika (neut. pl.), an alteration of the older ta meta ta physika ‘the (works) after the Physics’ . . . the title applied, at least from the 1st century A.D. to the 13 books of Aristotle dealing with questions of ‘first philosophy’ or ontology. This title doubtless originally referred (as some of the early commentators state) to the position which the books so designed occupied in the received arrangement of Aristotle’s writings (ta physika being used to signify, not the particular treatises so called, but the whole collection of treatises relating to matters of natural science). It was, however, from an early period used as a name for the branch of study treated in these books, and hence came to be misinterpreted as meaning ‘the science of things transcending what is physical and natural.’ This misinterpretation is found . . . notwithstanding the fact that meta does not admit of any such sense as ‘beyond’ or ‘transcending’ “ (emphasis added).
4. Henri Stephanus, Thesaurus Graecae Linguae, 9 vols. (Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, 1954), 9:1331; T. Gaisford, ed., Etymologicon Magnum (Oxford, 1848, repr. Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1967), 2253; Friedrich W. Sturzius, Etymologicum Graecae Linguae Gudianum (Leipzig: Ioa. Gottl. Weigel, 1818, repr. Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1973), 563; Slater, Lexicon to Pindar, 543; Liddell, Scott et al., Greek-English Lexicon, 1978; Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 877.
9. Ibid., 9:1333; Friedrich Preisigke, Wörterbuch der griechischen Papyrusurkunden, 2 vols. (Berlin: Grete Preisigke, 1927), 2:722; Slater, Lexicon to Pindar, 542-43; Liddell, Scott et al., Greek-English Lexicon, 1979; Walter Burkert, Greek Religion, tr. John Raffan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), 336-37; Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 878.
13. Ibid., 9:1335, 1337-38; Preisigke, Wörterbuch der griechischen Papyrusurkunden, 2:722; Slater, Lexicon to Pindar, 542; Liddell, Scott et al., Greek-English Lexicon, 1978-79; Burkert, Greek Religion, 273-74; Bauer, Greek- English Lexicon, 877.
14. Stephanus, Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, 9:1339; Hesychius of Alexandria, in Mauricus Schmidt, ed., Hesychii Alexandrini Lexicon, 4 vols. (Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1965), 4:275; Gaisford, Etymologicon Magnum, 2253; Sturzius, Etymologicum Graecae Linguae Gudianum, 563; Preisigke, Wörterbuch der griechischen Papyrusurkunden, 2:722; Burkert, Greek Religion, 336; Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 877.
28. Stephanus, Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, 9:1340-41; Hesychius of Alexandria, in Schmidt, ed., Hesychii Alexandrini Lexicon, 4:275; Gaisford, Etymologicon Magnum, 2253; Sturzius, Etymologicum Graecae Linguae Gudianum, 563; Preisigke, Wörterbuch der griechischen Papyrusurkunden, 2:721; Liddell, Scott et al., Greek-English Lexicon, 1979; Burkert, Greek Religion, 274; Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 877.
32. Stephanus, Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, 9:1333; Preisigke, Wörterbuch der griechischen Papyrusurkunden, 2:722; Slater, Lexicon to Pindar, 542-43; Liddell, Scott et al., Greek-English Lexicon, 1978; Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 877.
47. See David P. Wright, The Disposal of Impurity: Elimination Rites in the Bible and in Hittite and Mesopotamian Literature, vol. 101 of Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series (Atlanta, GA: Scholars, 1987), 141 n. 39, and 235 n. 5.