Vol. 2 Issue 7 February 14, 2008
The weekly newsletter of True Potential Publishing

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 ….”

John W. Ritenbaugh, in Forerunner Commentary says of Romans 15:14: “This verse provides a clear sense of an active, even aggressive, goodness.”

Agathosune is a pretty big word; it covers a lot of territory. It’s “virtue equipped at every point.” That can mean doing the right thing in a quiet and gentle way, like giving a cup of cold water to a thirsty man. But it can also mean not letting wickedness and hypocrisy stand; being consumed with the knowledge and power and purpose of God’s goodness. It can mean causing a stir, when it’s a stir that’s needed.Remember when Jesus made a whip out of cords and went on a tirade in the Temple; kicking over tables of the merchants and moneychangers?

Remember when he berated Israel’s religious leaders in front of the crowds, calling them “hypocrites” and “blind guides”? Jesus’ behavior doesn’t sound very “benign” or “harmless,” does it?

A lot of Bible scholars believe that Jesus was showing “agathosune” in one of its purest forms. John remembered the prophecy that the Christ would be consumed with zeal for God’s house (John 2: 17). Jesus was consumed with “goodness”; consumed with “uprightness of heart and life.”

Jesus allowed himself to be spat upon and allowed a crown of thorns to pierce his brow; he allowed a mob to put him on a cross and he asked his Father in Heaven to forgive them for what they had done. He fed the hungry, healed the sick and allowed children to come and sit on his lap as he spoke to the crowds. The same Jesus violently and forcefully cleared the Temple of thieves dressed as respectable businessmen and publicly rebuked hypocrites who pretended to represent God.

“Goodness” is a bigger word than “kindness.” “Uprightness of heart and life” means that you’ll feed the hungry and care for the sick. It means that you’ll love your neighbor as yourself. It means that you’ll take time for a child, even when the crowd is pressing in; and that you’ll be ready to forgive and turn away anger with a soft word.

But “goodness” also means that “uprightness of heart and mind” will consume you. You’ll not let evil stand; especially in the place where goodness is meant to be made manifest.

Do you want goodness to rule your life? Answer anger with a soft word. Turn the other cheek. Forgive. Care for those who hurt. And when necessary, kick over a few tables; cause a stir when it’s a stir that’s needed. It’s all goodness.

In Him,

Steve Spillman