Surprising your Grace

The piece below is terribly spiritual. It's meant to say "Surprising Grace" in Hebrew, referring to the sacrifice of Jesus... You know, the usual stuff.

And as usually happens, it went wrong. The tattoo above actually says "Charm Surprising".

I always warn against plugging a sentence into online translators and inking it on as is, since the above result is pretty much guaranteed.

This is how you correctly write "Surprising Grace":

Now, let's analyze our victim's mistakes:

1. The words are in reversed order. See, in Hebrew grammar you put the noun (Grace) before the adjective which describes it (Surprising).

2. The word "Grace" holds many meanings in English. In Hebrew, however, the meanings are separated.

The word "Grace" used in the tattoo is "Chen", its meanings are charm, attractiveness, elegance. It is also a popular female (and sometimes male) name. Nothing divine about it.

The word for "Grace" you'd want to use in a spiritual context, is "Chesed" which holds the meanings: kindness, charity, favor.


  1. I *think* they were trying to say "Amazing Grace".

    The standard translation of that into the poetic register of Modern Hebrew would be חסד מופלא (for any non-Hebrew readers: Chessed Moo-fla.)

    "Surprising grace" seems too odd even for a tattoo...

  2. Might seem odd to you (or me), but it's a Christian thing. He really did mean "Surprising Grace". Google it!

  3. Surprisingly, none of my friends from church have ever used that phrase!
    As you point out, it is quite common on Google.

    ::shakes head:: חסד מפתיע it is, then, giggles and snorts from Hebrew-speakers notwithstanding.

  4. Galatians 2:20 reads:
    "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

    I have very little isea what this has to do with Amazing Grace, but it might have some connection.

    Anyways, Amazing Grace can be translated to Hebrew in many ways, but the most conventional one is
    חסד מופלא

  5. Isn't it supposed to be "amazing grace"?

  6. you know, we do use the biblical word chein for that word, grace. it's in the birkat hamazon, and throughout tanach, the use of the words chein, chesed, and rachamim, all grouped together, very common liturgically. it means favor at a time when there is no merit to deserve it, that's one reason why it comes first usually, cause it's the highest form of "chesed", when a person actually doesn't deserve, or may deserve punishment.
    it's a very ambigous and hard to translate word. it also means charm, and maybe in modern hebrew it's used for charm primarily, but as the pasuk says "but noach found grace (chein) in the eyes of H' " you may agree that most people don't take that to mean "G-d thought Noah was a real looker" i mean, seriously?
    so the word is actually not a problem here, in my humble opinion, but to use the word chesed, for grace, well now that's just silly. chesed is just giving, kindness, charity. rachamim is probably the other word that might work. it is chesed, but that specific type of chesed has words that mean it exactly.

    what i want to know is, how "surpised" was this guy, and is he still surprised? or has some of that initial bodyofchrist taste turned into a sacharin type aftertaste?


  7. How do u spell the female name Nina = grace in hebrew letters?

  8. actually chen also means grace as in favor with The Divine so the tattoo is not wrong at all if they wanted the christian idea of favor or grace as opposed to chesed which has more of the intent of kindness or mercy. if i was getting a tattoo for my understanding of the word grace i would opt for chen over chesed as it is more in keeping with my personal faith in this context. but to each their own.


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