Translating εν Χριστω
English syntax clearly includes prepositional constructions with "in" and an object of the preposition that is a location, as in these sentences:
There is a bowl game in New Orleans tonight.It is even possible to use a human as the object of the preposition, if that human is a true location, as in:
I found a worm in my apple.
The catheter is now in the patient and we can view it on the monitor.But I have been unable to think of any English sentence which sounds grammatical where the object of the preposition "in" has the same semantic role as the word "Christ" does in the translation wording "in Christ." Notice how odd the following sentences sound:
The cancer has spread in Richard.
The critics of the war are in the prime minister.It even sounds odd if we substitute another name for Christ or another member of the trinity, as in:
Those who are in the president may get a political appointment.
If Simon is in Jesus he is considered a believer.Now, let's try not to shift our language intuitions about what sounds like proper English as we read the exactly parallel syntactic construction using the word "Christ". Do the following sentences sound as grammatically odd as the immediately preceding ones do?
Those who were in the Messiah were questioned by those who wanted a national deliverer.
Could you tell me how I can get in God?
Those who are in the Father are also in the Son.
Could you tell me how I get in Christ?Many of you will recognize that the last sentence is close to the usual translations of 2 Cor. 5:17. Those of us who grew up on Bible-speak (Biblish, Christianese, church language) find it more difficult to recognize (or agree, if you prefer) that saying "in Christ" is not proper English. We have become so familiar with the phrase that it sounds "normal" to us. But I claim that it isn't normal English. I hope that the trail of example sentences that I walked us on earlier in this post can show us that "in PERSON", including "in Christ," is not natural English where PERSON is not a true geographical location.
If Simon is in Christ he is considered a believer.
Those who were in Christ were questioned by those who wanted a national deliverer.
If anyone is in Christ everything has become new.
Is it possible to translate εν Χριστω to English which is both grammatical and natural? I believe that it is. I believe, as a matter of faith perhaps, but faith supported by thousands of examples from hundreds of languages, that it is possible to translate the meaning of any linguistic form of any language to the same meaning using some natural linguistic form of the translation target language.
So the first question must be: What does the Greek phrase εν Χριστω mean? Once we have determined that, the second question is: How do we express that meaning in grammatical, natural English?
Theologians have studied this key Greek phrase and written much about it. Pam Bendor-Samuel, a Bible translation specialist, has, in my opinion, summarized well an important aspect of the meaning of εν Χριστω in her article ‘In Christ’–Another Look At Its Meaning In The NT Using Semantic Role Analysis:
When used of the believer, the implications are that we are, or have, or do, certain things because of the close link or relationship we have with Christ i.e. as ‘Christians’ or as ‘believers in Christ’.Following are some translations of 2 Cor. 5:17 which express the believer's relationship with Christ, using English syntax which is both grammatical and natural:
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. (NLT2)
If anyone belongs to Christ, there is a new creation. (NCV)
Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. (CEV)
Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. (GW: note that "in" is used as a particle here, not a preposition: "believe in" is a verb unit)
And so, if someone is a follower of the Anointed One, they are a fresh creation (The Source)
When someone becomes a Christian he becomes a brand new person inside. (LB)
Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being (TEV)
For anyone united to Christ, there is a new creation (REB)