The blog Grammarphobia recently clarified something I’d been wondering about:
Q: Which is proper, “on behalf of” or “in behalf of”?
A: Both expressions are correct, but they mean slightly different things.
“In behalf of” means “for the benefit of” or “in the interest of.”
“On behalf of” means either “in place of” or “as the agent of.”
So I might give a donation, “on behalf of” my gardening club, to be used “in behalf of” tree restoration in the park.
Even more significantly, the New Testament has a word that has the same range of meaning as these two phrases. In some cases it can mean “for the benefit” of (in behalf of) such as this:
Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? (Romans 8:32 NLT)
Yet in other places it means “in place of,” (on behalf of) as in these examples:
Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. (2 Corinthians 5:14 )
Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” (John 11:49-50)
In the latter example, the Jewish leaders had been discussing what to do about Jesus. They were afraid that the stir he was creating would prompt the Romans to clamp down and remove the semi-autonomy they presently enjoyed. In saying this, Caiphas meant that they should kill Jesus instead of risking a general slaughter by Roman soldiers. He had no idea that his words ironically contained a ultimate spiritual truth: that Jesus would die as the substitute for sinful people, taking the punishment we deserved so that we might be acceptable to God. This is the BEST NEWS EVER.
Here are a couple of wonderful songs on this beautiful theme:
“It’s About the Cross” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDwMcSvFwPA
“When I Think about the Cross” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDwMcSvFwPA