There is no good way to communicate the concept of the χαριτ* word group in Western Culture at least in some texts- or a lot of texts.
Yes, Yes, we have the word “grace.” But that word is misses the point too often today. Unmerited favor? Close, but not close enough. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary is helpful on this point:
grace■ n.1 elegance of movement.2 courteous good will.† (graces) an attractively polite manner of behaving.3 (in Christian belief) the free and unearned favour of God.† a divinely given talent or blessing.† a person’s favour: he fell from grace with the tabloids.4 a period officially allowed for fulfilment of an obligation.5 a short prayer of thanks said before or after a meal.6 (His, Her, or Your Grace) a title or form of address for a duke, duchess, or archbishop.■ v. lend honour to by one’s presence.† be an attractive presence in or on.– phrasesbe in someone’s good (or bad) graces be regarded by someone with favour (or disfavour).the (Three) Graces Greek Mythology three beautiful goddesses, daughters of Zeus, believed to personify and bestow charm, grace, and beauty.with good (or bad) grace in a willing (or reluctant) manner.– origin ME: via OFr. from L. gratia, from gratus ‘pleasing, thankful’; rel. to grateful.Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
Now, definition #2 is closer to χαριτ* than the “in Christian belief” meaning, though perhaps “a person’s favo[u]r” works well too. But the way meaning works, we get the rest of the baggage too. That’s right, while we know there’s only one meaning in a give context, all the various meanings impact each other (unless they’re homonyms, which is not the case here).
But the truth is that grace as a translation of the χαριτ* word group has more to do with history than it does with meaning. It used to be a very accurate translation back when it functioned as part of the West’s system of patronage. Patronage was when someone higher up showed favor to someone of lower standing and in the Greco-Roman world as David deSilva and Frederick Danker have shown. That’s gone in our world and now to patronize someone is a horrible thing to do!
“a person’s favour: he fell from grace with the tabloids”
“You grace us with your presence.”
This was a much more flattering statement 150 years ago because it basically means: You’re better than anyone else here and even simply by entering the room, you’ve shown us favor and become our patron[ess].
All of this isn’t to say that we don’t have patronage systems today. Okay, so maybe we do, but we don’t call them that. We have sponsors, supporters, and at least when it comes art, we still call them patrons – unlike the rest of Americans, apparently Artists (though probably missionaries too) don’t mind being patronized.
But what do we when we come to places like Ephesians 1.7, where we’ve received redemption “κατὰ τὸ πλοῦτος τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ“? And no, “according to the riches of his grace” doesn’t work. Because no average person can tell you what that means. And if you have explain it, its not a good translation. Its failed translation. We might have as well have left the Bible in Latin 500 years ago.
So as Nida said at some point somewhere…the majority of translation problems arise from cultural anthropology, not theology.*
*Unfortunately, I cannot remember where that is from – other than that is posted by the chalkboard in room 7 of the Mahler Building at GIAL, but I haven’t been at GIAL since the beginning of June 08 and am trusting my memory to get it right.