“to Himself” in Colossians 1:20

One of the joys of knowing Greek is being able to prepare sermons and classes from the original text of the New Testament. It uncovers another layer of insight and depth that the English simply doesn’t afford, or perhaps even obfuscates. I ran across one of these gems this past week as I was preparing for my sermon on Colossians 1:18b-20. The first phrase of 1:20 is: καὶ δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἀποκαταλλάξαι τὰ πάντα εἰς αὐτόν, which receives the following translation: and by (or through) Him to reconcile all things to Himself (NKJV, CSB, NASB, ESV, NIV, NET, with slight variations in word order).

What caught my attention was the phrase εἰς αὐτόν (eis auton — to Himself). Now, in a vacuum, the versions would make good sense; after all, Jesus’ work of reconciliation would naturally be to something or someone. Yet, what immediately came to mind was all the prepositional phrases followed by the third person singular pronoun in Colossians 1:15-20. Three times is the phrase ἐν αὐτῷ (en autô) used (1:16, 17, 19) — Creation was sourced in Him, it is sustained in Him, and the fullness of deity dwells in Him. We also see the phrase δι᾽ αὐτοῦ (di autou) twice (1:16, 20) — Creation was performed through/by Him, and the work of reconciliation is through/by Him.

So that leaves us with this third prepositional phrase: εἰς αὐτὸν (eis auton). It appears in vv. 16 and 20. In v. 16, all the versions are relatively uniform: All things were created through Him and for Him (εἰς αὐτὸν) (see NKJV, CSB, NASB, ESV, NIV, NET, NLT).

Note the difference in the translation of εἰς αὐτὸν between v. 16 and v. 20. Whereas the former universally receives for Him, the latter is rendered to Himself. In my estimation, the for Him gives the sense that creation was for His benefit, or for the purpose of glorifying Him (in Greek grammar, this is called the dative of advantage). It makes far more sense to me to replicate that translation and meaning of εἰς αὐτὸν in v. 20, as well: and by Him to reconcile all things for Himself. In other words, not only is our creation for the glory of Jesus, but our reconciliation, our becoming a new creation, is also for the glory of Jesus.

None of the commentaries I’ve consulted (Clark, Bruce, Moo, Hughes), or grammars (Wallace, BDF), devote hardly any time to the meaning of the phrase, let alone the translation. Not even BDAG gives this occurrence a listing (as is common for high-frequency words). I will say that in his book Prepositions and Theology, Murray J. Harris does highlight these two verses, and comes to a similar, though not identical, conclusion (he goes with a telic use of εἰς). So what basis do I have to suggest we go against all the major versions?

  1. The repetition of the exact same prepositional phrase in a passage where there are not only many significant prepositional phrases critical to the main argument of the passage, but copious parallels.* More than that, the phrases in which εἰς αὐτὸν occurs are strikingly similar, with their inclusion of δι᾽ αὐτοῦ, εἰς αὐτὸν, τὰ πάντα (all things), and their respective verbs (whether to create or to reconcile). Therefore, the translation and emphasis of εἰς αὐτὸν should be identical in both v. 16 and v. 20.
  2. It fits the main argument of the passage: Jesus is the preeminent One. He is the supreme One. He is the One in first place. He is the source, the agent, and the purpose. Indeed, it falls in line with the goal of salvation we see three times in Ephesians 1, that being that our salvation is brought about to the praise of his glory (1:6, 12, 14)!

Why is this important? Indeed, no doctrines are changed by this one translation of εἰς αὐτὸν. But if my line of thinking is correct, it is but one more verse among myriad that speak to the primary purpose for our deliverance and salvation as being the glory and exaltation of Jesus. Yes, we reap a good number of beautiful and wonderful benefits out of eternal life. But our lives, and all of history and creation, are for the purpose of bringing due honor to Jesus. And we need every reminder we can gather to keep this at the forefront of our minds! May the thoughts we think, the words we speak (and sing!), and may the tasks we endeavor, all be for Him.



* The passage is divided into two main sections — vv. 15-16 and vv. 18b-20, with an interlude of vv. 17-18a in the middle. I would argue there is a chiastic structure at work. In the A and A’ sections, both begin with He is followed by two characteristics or titles, with an occurrence of the notion of firstborn (πρωτότοκος) in each section. While A focuses on the physical creation, A’ focuses on reconciliation, or the spiritual new creation. Both make mention of things in heaven and things on earth. In B, Jesus is the source of cohesion of all physical things, in B’, He is the source of cohesion of all spiritual things, namely, the Church. The C line, the focal point of the passage, is in v. 17b: in Him all things consist, or in Him all things hold together.


“Simplicity” in 2 Corinthians 1:12

It’s not uncommon for me, using the New American Standard Bible, to run into interesting discrepancies between translations in a church that primarily uses the New International Version.  Today in Sunday School was such a time.  Today’s teacher read 2 Corinthians 1:12 in the New King James Version:

For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you.

It caught my eye, because the NASB translates the underlined as holiness and godly sincerity.

Naturally, I couldn’t let it go.  So I checked the different versions:

ESV: simplicity and godly sincerity (footnote: some manuscripts read holiness)
HCSB: God-given sincerity and purity
KJV: simplicity and godly sincerity
NET: pure motives and sincerity which are from God
NIV: integrity and godly sincerity
NLT: God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings (footnote: some manuscripts read honesty)
Pickering: openness and godly sincerity

Simplicity — holiness — simplicity — purity — simplicity — pure motives — integrity — holiness — openness.  This, my friends, is hardly unanimity!  So to the Greek we turn!

Nestle-Aland 27 — απλοτητι (Side note: if anyone wishes to purchase the 28th edition for me, Christmas *is* around the corner!)
Hodges & Farstad — απλοτητι
Robinson & Pierpont — απλοτητι
Pickering — απλοτητι

Now (well, for now) we have a unified voice in haploteti.  As we look in the Greek lexicon BDAG, we have definitions of simplicity, sincerity, uprightness, and frankness.  They add: “In our literature, especially of personal integrity expressed in word or action (compare with our colloquialism ‘what you see is what you get’)… Of simple goodness, which gives itself without reserve, ‘without strings attached,’ ‘without hidden agendas'” (p. 104).

At this point, we have two questions:

First, since simplicity is the correct word, what is meant by it?

Second, how did holiness creep in to NASB and NLT?

Tackling the first question, the simplicity here is not how we live life (vis-a-vis free of distractions, appointments, and material possessions).  Taking the context into account, it’s a frankness, a purity in Paul’s message.

The word occurs seven other times, three of which are relevant to our current study:

2 Corinthians 11:3 But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be seduced from a complete and pure devotion to Christ.

Ephesians 6:5 Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ.

Colossians 3:22 Slaves, obey your human masters in everything. Don’t work only while being watched, in order to please men, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord.

We get this idea of purity, openness, and earnestness.  We need to be asking the Spirit to search our hearts and point out when and where we are teaching the Word of God for our own gain.  We need to teach and preach with an attitude of, as the lexicon says, what you see is what you get, without strings attached.

What about the second question?  (Prepare to be bored.)

The Byzantine Text is unified in its reading of απλοτητι.  It also has the support of a correction in an early Alexandrian manuscript (א), as well as the three big Western Texts (D, F, and G).  But, the greater number of Alexandrian manuscripts (P46, A, B, C, 33, 1881, et al) all read αγιοτητι, or holiness.  In fact, Nestle-Aland 26 utilized the latter reading, which is why the NASB and the NLT translated the word holiness, and the ESV desperately wanted to.  (There was also a real outlier, the 12th century minuscule 88, which read πραοτητι, or gentleness.)

Of the decision for NA27, Metzger writes:  “[A] majority of the Committee favored the Western and Byzantine reading because (a) the context seems to require a word meaning ‘simplicity’ rather than ‘holiness;’ (b) the word [for simplicity] occurs a number of times in 2 Corinthians; and (c) [this specific word for holiness] is never used elsewhere by Paul” (p. 507).

And there you have it.

“sick” in James 5:14-15…

Part of my job in teaching Greek goes beyond teaching them the logistics of syntax and parsing — it is instructing them in becoming good translators.  If their knowledge only takes them as far as word studies and piecing together sentences, I’ve failed to raise them to become competent Greek scholars.  Translation is a fine art, and one that is quite subjective.  Everyone has their preferences.  On Monday, we were translating 1 John 4, when they came across the word ιλασμος (hilasmos).  We had a brief discussion on whether to translate it propitiation (which I prefer), expiation, sacrifice, or (as the lame NIV translates it) atoning sacrifice.  At the end of our discussion, I said no matter how they chose to translate it, it absolutely must be the same word or phrase that they used in 1 John 2:2.  Our job as translators is to bring clarity in uniformity and distinction, where each is appropriate.

Yesterday, I was studying with a friend, and we came across the following question:

Explain James 5:13-18 and its application.

Verses 14-15 read as follows in the NASB:

14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.

Here’s how other translations render the underlined words:

ESV – sick… sick…
HCSB – sick… sick…
NIV – sick… sick…
NKJV – sick… sick…
NLT – sick… sick…

What’s the implication here?  What does this lead the great majority of Bible-readers to conclude?

First, they erroneously conclude that these verses deal with the spiritual leaders of the church being able to heal the symptoms of physical ailments.

Second, regardless of the accuracy of the interpretation, they subconsciously assume that the same word is used in both instances, when it’s not.  It’s a translation boo-boo of significant magnitude; and how the two words were translated identically in all the versions is beyond me.  Of all main English translations, only the NET makes a distinction – ill… sick…

As we translate in class, I impress upon my students several axioms, two of which being:

  • Identical words used in the same work (let alone the immediate context) should always be translated identically.  I would actually go so far to say that significant words (such as ιλασμος) should be translated identically across the entire New Testament.
  • Distinguishable words used in the same work (let alone the immediate context) should always be translated distinctly.  Perhaps if the translations used two separate words (or, in the case of James 5, used the more common definitions of weak and weary), there would not be such misunderstanding and misinterpreting occurring.

One of my professors in college, John Master, once said, knowing Greek answers many questions that English-only readers wrestle with.  Knowledge of Greek comes with its own share of questions, but the questions are the better, more necessary questions to have (my apologies to John Master for the paraphrase).  Here’s to the harder questions!

on Bible versions…

In November, a new magazine began publication: “Bible Study Magazine,” which I’d imagine it has been underwritten by Logos, as every article is a shameless plug for the software.  Anyway, there was a whole stack of them at WBC today.  I wasn’t going to pick one up until I saw there was an article by Dan Wallace entitled “Choosing a Bible Translation.”  I eagerly checked it out and read it.  And I was greatly disappointed.

Concerning the KJV/NKJV, he writes: “Lest anyone wishes to revere it because it was ‘good enough for Jesus,’ or some such nonsense, we must remember that the KJV of today is not the KJV of 1611.  It has undergone three revisions, incorporating more than 100,000 changes.  Even with all these changes, much of the evidence from new manuscript discoveries has not been incorporated.  The KJV was translated from later manuscripts that are less accurate to the original text of the Bible.”

I am not a KJV/NKJV guy because it’s the KJV/NKJV.  I like the translation because it is the only one based upon the truer text of the NT, a text which Wallace believes is less accurate.  Read his last statement: “The KJV was translated from later manuscripts that are less accurate to the original text of the Bible.”  You could simply reword it to show how subjective this claim is: “The KJV was translated from the vast majority of agreeing manuscripts that better attest to the original text of the Bible” (a statement I heartily agree with).

That being said, if there were another available translation that used the overwhelming majority of Greek texts, I would probably prefer that one.  The NKJV only updated the language of the KJV, and only changed content where it blatantly needed changing.  So, yeh.  I hope to translate the NT at some point using the Majority Text.

The other translation that he pointed out that I wanted to mention is the NET Bible: “The NET Bible was published in 2005.  The NET has all the earmarks of a great translation.  At times, it is more accurate than the NASB, more readable than the NIV, and more elegant than either.  It is clear and eloquent, while maintaining the meaning of the original.  In addition, the notes are a genuine gold mine of information…”  Well, that’s all well and good until you realize two things.  First off, the NET Bible is basically the Bible translated by the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary, of which Wallace is a part.  Second, this translation was done by individuals, not a committee, as every other translation is.  This leads to ZERO oversight, and ZERO consistency between books.

Wallace recommends that every English-speaking believer own three translations: the RSV, NIV, and NET.

So, where do we go from here?  In translating, there is a tension that must be dealt with: do we go word for word aiming for accuracy, or do we go for meaning aiming for clarity?  Translations such as KJV, NKJV, and NASB go for the former, while the NIV and NLT go for the latter.  Some, such as the HCSB, are more balanced.  I would recommend three versions, as well; but contrary to Wallace, they would be: the NKJV, NASB, and HCSB.

NKJV – This is the best translation available using the most accurate Greek texts, but it still leaves a lot to be desired as it depends too much on the KJV.

NASB – Even though it is “wooden,” it is simply the most accurate, and is probably the best one to do serious study from (until a new Majority Text Bible is translated, in which case the NKJV and NASB can both be scratched).

HCSB – This ten-year-old version is the product of the Southern Baptist’s desire to own a Bible translation that they don’t need to pay royalties for.  It strikes a good balance between word-for-word and thought-for-thought.  It is decidedly better than the NIV (I really loathe the NIV, in case you can’t tell – read The NIV Reconsidered by Zane Hodges to better understand why).  Though, to be fair, just as Wallace is biased of the NET, so also am I of the HCSB.  One of my Greek professors served as translator and editor of the NT (and translator of the OT), while one of my Hebrew professors served as translator and editor of the OT.

If you don’t know Greek, Hebrew, and Aramic, it is good to consult several translations in your studies.  Now you know my two cents.