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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

his inheritance in/among the saints

Eph. 1:18 is one of the more difficult verses in one of the most difficult chapters of the Bible to translate. A number of English versions end this verse with the wording "his (glorious) inheritance in the saints" (KJV, RSV, NASB, NIV, NET, ESV) or "his (glorious) inheritance among the saints" (NRSV, ISV, HCSB).

So far I have been unable to figure out what is meant by either of these wordings. Although the words and syntax are English, I suspect that the semantic collocational restrictions upon the words are not. Let's see if the problem is just mine or that of these translation wordings.

If we have the phrase translated as "his inheritance" (from the Greek tes kleronomias autou) with the noun "inheritance" modified by a possessive pronoun, as it is here by "his", my understanding of English is that the two words refer to something which a male has inherited. Perhaps the referent of "his" is God. But I do not know what God would inherit, unless perhaps we would view believers as a kind of inheritance that God receives, perhaps due to the death of Christ.

As a side note, the prepositional phrase "in the saints" would almost never be used in normal, natural English. I don't think it would be used in this context of inheritance. The preposition "among" sounds slightly better in this context to me, but I still do not know what it would mean for God to have an inheritance among the saints.

Perhaps Paul was referring in this verse to what saints have inherited from God. If that is the case, then I do not think that it would be accurate to refer to "his inheritance" where "his" refers to God. I might be wrong, but I don't think that is how possession works in English with the word "inheritance." If we want to refer to something someone has willed or bequeathed to someone or a group of people, I think we would not use the wording "his inheritance." Maybe I am mistaken and there may be English speakers who can speak of "his inheritance" where inheritance could refer either to what someone has bequeathed or to what someone has inherited, so I'm raising questions here to see if anyone else can get some sensible meaning from the wording "his inheritance in/among the saints."

There are English versions which have "unpacked" the semantic relationships of the tight Greek of this verse and translated that meaning to wordings which make sense to me. These include:
  1. glorious is the share he offers you among his people in their inheritance (REB)
  2. glorious are the blessings God has promised his holy people (NCV)
  3. the wonderful blessings he promises his people (TEV)
  4. the glorious blessings that will be yours together with all of God's people (CEV)
  5. the glorious wealth that God's people will inherit (GW)
  6. glorious inheritance he has given to his people (NLT)
Notice that each of these six versions follows the same exegesis, namely, that God has promised (or willed to) his people (saints) something glorious, not that God is the one who has inherited a glorious blessing. I wonder if it is this meaning that the translators of the wording "his inheritance in/among the saints" intend to communicate. If so, am I right in thinking that the phrase "his inheritance" should not be used to refer to something which God is giving or bequeathing to saints? Rather, it is "their inheritance" as the REB states.

UPDATE: Isn't Internet communication great (at times, anyway)?! Following is a response I received from one of the Bible translation committees concerning my preceding post:
Scholarly opinion differs. The N.T. members of ----- convinced the Committee that Andrew Lincoln (WORD: Ephesians) probably has it right when he writes: Here the riches of glory are linked particularly to God's inheritance among his people. Many commentators have assumed that the writer is thinking of the believers' inheritance. But whereas 1:14 talked about that...and believers obtaining their inheritance coincided with God's taking complete possession of his people and thereby his glory being praised, here in 1:18 the talk is of..."his inheritance," God's inheritance, which focuses not so much on what he gives his people as on the other side of the thought of 1:14, his possession of his people. In the OT God's inheritance is frequently used as a synonym for his people, Israel (cf. Deut. 4:20; 9:26,29; 2Sam 21:3; 1Kgs 8:51,53; 2Kgs 21:14; Pss 28:9; 33:12; 68:9; 78:62,71; 94:14; 106:5,40; Isa 19:25; 476; 63:17; Jer 10:16; 51:19). Here his inheritance involves the people of God from both Jesus and Gentiles, for it is..."among the saints." (p. 59)

Ephesians [here] uses similar words to those in Col 1:12 but with a different relationship among them and in a difficult (sic: "different"?) context. Here it is God's inheritance which is in view and his inheritance consists of the believers who now constitute his people (cf. also Abbott, 30; Gaugler, 69; Houden, 275; Ernst, 288; Mitton, 68-69). ... A reference to believers as a whole does best justice to the inheritance in 1:18 being God's and not believers', to the emphasis in the euology on the people of God as his possession, to the other hagioi references in Ephesians...and to the focus in this leltter on the Church and glory in the Church.... This part of the writer's petition, then, is that the readers might appreciate the wonder, the glory of what God has done in entering into possession of his people...and the immense privilege it is to be among these saints. (P. 60)
So, there we have an explanation for the rendering I have been unable to understand. Those who translated the Bible versions which use that rendering intended the meaning to be that it is God who inherits something. From this I have learned an exegetical option for Eph. 1:18 which I had not previously known. I hope you have enjoyed this field trip.


At Tue Jul 25, 12:32:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Perhaps the English wording of a formal equivalence version should be more like "his legacy" or "his bequest". In English "inheritance" can be possessed only by the recipient, but "legacy" and "bequest" can I think be possessed by either the giver or the recipient.

But then κληρονομία klēronomia is an interesting word whose meaning in the Bible is only roughly "inheritance". It certainly doesn't always imply something passed on when someone dies.

In Matthew 21:38 the word does refer to what is passed on when someone dies, but the possessive "his" refers to the person who dies, not to the recipient; but in the parallels in Mark 12:7, Luke 20:14 the possessive refers to the recipients. In Ephesians 1:14 the possessive is again of the recipient. These are the only other cases of κληρονομία klēronomia with a genitive in the NT. This suggests to me that there is no reason to question the majority exegesis of this verse.

At Wed Jul 26, 12:57:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Wed Jul 26, 01:10:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Anon. said:

I don't understand the problem Mr. Leman has with the phrase "inheritance in the saints"

It's a dialect issue for me. Chalk it up to my lack of familiarity with literature or speech that included the wording in question. I just could not get any meaning from the phrase in my dialect or even with my extensive knowledge of the Bible English dialect. That is one reason I felt the need for the post, to see if there are English speakers who can get sense from the wording. I am glad to hear that you do. There must be others who do, as well.

Now I want to post an update to my post which includes a response from one of the translation teams that translated with the wording I wonndered about. I will include the update at the end of the post itself.

I appreciate your comment. I am not able, at this point, to decode the example sentence you gave, but that is due to my not being familiar with that wording. It's my issue and I wondered in the post if it was.

At Wed Jul 26, 02:38:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Wayne, on this one your dialect intuition concurs with mine from the other side of the world.

I would not accept "One can see the Elder Lord Pitt's intellectual inheritance in Lord Pitt the Younger", except as a reference to something which the elder Pitt had inherited from someone else. Is this a quotation or a made up example? I would replace "inheritance" with "legacy" or "heriage" here. For in my dialect of English the possessor of "inheritance" is always the recipient.

At Wed Jul 26, 07:05:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Wed Jul 26, 07:34:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Anon. responded:

I think that a native speaker must be careful in decrying a sentence as lying outside her native tongue

I agree. I should have been more precise and written that 'to have an inheritance in' was not part of my ideolect, that is, my own personal subdialect of West Coast American English, which is the dialect of English that I speak. I simply have never heard or read 'have an inheritance in' before, but I repeat to you that I appreciate your mentioning that it is in your ideolect and that you have found examples of it in English literature. That's the kind of data that I was calling for in my post.

I was *not* at all suggesting that the wording was not part of any dialect of English. I was only saying that I did not understand it, nor do I yet, but if I take enough time to work with the data you have given I might be able to. I doubt that my ideolect has been exposed to as wide a range of English constructions as yours. I grew up in an isolated rural village where English was not the native language of my father, his family of origin, or many of the other village people. Nor did I get to read very much of English literature apart from the required works in high school English, such as one or two plays by Shakespeare, a taste of Old English, etc. I speak and understand most clearly a more 'common language' form of English. 'Common language' is a technical term described in a book written some time ago by a Bible society translation consultant William Wonderly (Bible Translations for Popular Use, 1968).

I believe you, Anon., that you can understand the wording which I questioned. And now I'm also sure that there are other English speakers who can understand it, as well. I can only speak for myself as saying that I have not understood it.

I *would* understand the following:

he has the saints as his inheritance


he will receive the saints as his inheritance

But as a descriptive (rather than prescriptive) linguist, I cannot say whether one wording is 'better' than another. I don't believe that I can make such evaluations about language. I can only observe my own linguistic usage and that of others. Empirical data, such as that which you have cited, is what we need in linguistic discussions.

Thanks, again, for your good contributions to this discussion.


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