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Sunday, September 14, 2008

when "in" is out

Every language is different from every other language. One of the principles of translation from one language to another is that the linguistic patterns (lexical, syntactic, pragmatic, etc.) used in the translation should be those of the target language, rather than the source language. If linguistic patterns of the source language are used, there is a very good chance that those who use the translation will not be able to understand it.

Formal equivalence can only accurately communicate the original message in translation if the language form used in the biblical language already exists in the target language. (The claim of the last sentence can be nuanced if we engineer new forms in the the target language which match forms in the biblical language texts and teach the meanings of the new forms to its speakers. But, to my mind, anyway, this defeats the purpose of translation, which is, again, to allow speakers of one language to understand a message first produced in another language.)

These facts are true whether the source language is Spanish, Navajo, Japanese, or one of the biblical languages. Translating the Bible does not give us the privilege of importing biblical language patterns to English if our aim is to accurately communicate the biblical language message to those who use the target language translation.

The longer I have been working as a Bible translator and Bible translation consultant, the more I have come to realize that many of the English Bible phrases I was raised on are not part of the English language. Many such problem phrases are prepositional phrases which begin with the preposition "in". I have written about this issue a number of times in the past, but I want to do so again, because this week I found that one English version does a good job of avoiding the non-English "in" phrases.

I grew up reading Romans 8:1 like this:
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Notice the phrase "in Christ Jesus". Notice also that the verb which "controls" it is "are," a form of the verb "be".

If we listen to English speakers, or study what they have written (or if we simply want to remember what our English teachers taught us), we can discover that English speakers have a linguistic rule that allows for "in" to be used with an object that states a location, for example:
  1. John is in Madison.
  2. Mary lives in Dallas.
  3. The bees are making honey in their hive.
  4. We ate supper in the dining room.
  5. The surgeon's hands are in Ralph right now.
There are a few other grammatical uses of "in" where the object is not a location, as in:
  1. John and Mary are in love.
  2. Elmer is in trouble.
As far as I have been able to determine, observing "in" usage for many years, the only time English speakers use the preposition "in" with the name of a person is when that person is a location, as in my somewhat odd sentence #5, above. Fluent English speakers do not speak or write sentences with the "in" phrase found quoted in Romans 8:1 at the beginning of this post. That usage of "in" has been imported to English from the Greek source text, which has the Greek preposition en followed by the name Christ Jesus. Greek en does properly translate to English "in" in locative phrases. But the Greek of Romans 8:1 does not have a locative phrase. Christ Jesus is not a location where a person can be "in". Here we see that Greek and English differ in how what they allow as the object of a preposition, Greek en or English "in". Prepositional phrases in Greek and English with these prepositions are sometimes formal equivalents and sometimes they are not. In other words, the proper translation equivalent in English to a Greek phrase beginning with en sometimes is an English phrase beginning with "in" and sometimes it is not.

This week I noticed that the NLT translates Romans 8:1 as
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.
Now, for the moment setting aside the question of translation accuracy, is this sentence grammatical English? It seems so to me. The phrase "belong to Christ Jesus" is intended to translate the meaning of the Greek phrase beginning with en.

Now, does "those who belong to Christ Jesus" mean the same as the intended meaning of the non-English prepositional phrase "those who are in Christ Jesus"? My understanding, from reading theological explanations of the intended meaning of phrases like "BE in the Lord", "BE in Christ," "BE in Christ Jesus," and "BE in God," is that "those who belong to Christ Jesus" is a good translation equivalent to the original Greek phrases. Clearly (at least to me!), if we say that someone belongs to Christ Jesus, that communicates meaning to more English speakers than does saying that someone is "in Christ Jesus."

The NLT includes a footnote in a parallel passage, 1 Cor. 1:4, to help those who might question the accuracy of a translation which does not use "in" to translate the Greek phrase en + Christ Jesus:
now that you belong to Christ Jesus (literally in Christ Jesus): Paul frequently uses the phrase in Christ Jesus to refer to the saving relationship believers have with Christ (e.g., Rom 3:24; Gal 2:4; Eph 3:6).
Are there other English Bible versions which avoid using the non-English phrasing "in Christ Jesus"? Yes, there are a few but not many. Most English versions import the form of the Greek prepositional phrase to English and supplement it with teaching to explain its meaning. But teaching does not transform the phrase into a genuine English, unless so many speakers of the language are taught the meaning of the phrase and so many speakers decide that they will add "in" plus Christ or God to their list of grammatical prepositional phrases. When that happens, language change will have occurred and teaching will not be required to understand the "in" phrase of Rom. 8:1.

Here are some other versions which attempt to use genuine English forms as translation equivalents of the Greek prepositional phrase for Rom. 8:1:
There is no condemnation now for those who live in union with Christ Jesus. (TEV)
If you belong to Christ Jesus, you won't be punished. (CEV)

So those who are believers in Christ Jesus can no longer be condemned. (God's Word)

It follows that there is now no condemnation for those who are united with Christ Jesus. (REB)
There is much more that could be added in a larger study of translation equivalence to the Greek phrase en + name for God or Christ, but this should be enough to introduce us to the issue and some genuine English solutions.

59 Comments:

At Sun Sep 14, 09:19:00 PM, Blogger Kevin Sam said...

Thanks for the post. I learned something new.

 
At Sun Sep 14, 09:56:00 PM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

Usage of prepositions in English is impoverished by the loss of these uses of 'in'. Most of your suggestions are circumlocutions rather than translations. The relationship between in Christ and in the covenant needs more work. There is a dislocation between old and new that the simplicity of 'in' might help overcome. Just a thought - not considered deeply. If you look at some of my psalm translations, you will probably have a fit over some of my language. I am not doing Greek at the moment - at least not Pauline Greek. And I am reading the NT in Hebrew and Latin first! Trying to see how some words got to where we thought they were in the 15th century CE when the now archaic English was in common use. In meant in richly to them. Why are we so weak-kneed.

 
At Sun Sep 14, 10:37:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Bob wrote:

Usage of prepositions in English is impoverished by the loss of these uses of 'in'.

Very interesting, Bob. I'd love to read any examples you can provide from older English literature where these uses of "in" were in composed English, not translated texts. I'll gladly change my perspective on the issue. There's nothing like data to help clarify things.

 
At Sun Sep 14, 11:21:00 PM, Blogger Keith Schooley said...

It seems to me that a question is being begged here: is the "in" (or "en") construction used elsewhere with a person as the object in Classical or Koine Greek? Because if it is, then the meanings of such usages would be useful to bring to bear on how best to translate Paul's "in Christ" language. But if it's not (which I suspect), then translating Paul's "in Christ" language with a more conventional English construction deliberately domesticates Paul's purposely idiosyncratic usage. What Paul intended to be unusual, thereby stretching his readers by inducing them to try to wrap their heads around such an odd phrase, gets preinterpreted by the translator, thereby doing a disservice to his or her readers.

It is this possibility--that a passage may not have been perfectly plain to the original readers, and that some obscurity or ambiguity may have been intentional--that I've never seen addressed by advocates of a high level of dynamic equivalence. Translators are not only translating the end meaning of a text; they are also translating the experience of reading a text. If that text is intended to stretch its readers, and the translation doesn't, then the translation, though perhaps a smoother example of writing in the receptor language, has failed in conveying the experience of having read the original text.

 
At Sun Sep 14, 11:33:00 PM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

Wayne - It is not a matter of recovering old English examples. I don't know if there were any or not though it might be interesting. These uses of 'in' are creative - perhaps they were created by the translators. They have stood 400 years and they have enriched English. Losing them now impoverishes it. Perhaps they reflect an equal creativity of Paul when wanting to point to what the act of God in Christ did for Gentile and Jew alike. Understanding is part of a creative and living aspect of language - and it should allow us to engage with the gift that the language is pointing to. Has the message of Christ been lost because of the 16th century translation of Paul's use of 'in Christ'? I don't think it has. I think it makes us include all those circumlocutions - belonging to, being part of, living in union with, incorporated into and so on - without having to spell out one at the expense of the other. The brief translation encourages the reader to hear the text and enter into it - to puzzle it out. Then when that reader really comes into Christ through the death implicit in baptism and realizes that the Spirit has given life to his or her own mortal body - then 'in' gains a much greater meaning than explanation can achieve. In fact explanation might be a hindrance to such a gift.

I am not looking for an answer here. We might or might not agree. I note, however, that 'in the way', 'in the Lord', 'in Christ', and so on do not have to be seen simply as archaisms to be done away with. I will see if I can find some more in my translations of the psalms. I note psalm 5:7 as a start - in thy fear will I worship... Another phrase that one must think about - as if the worshiper is cloaked in the fear of the LORD. In Christ is similar. In wearing Christ as a cloak, we are in him. I think more could be said and I thank you for making me think about such a little word that I use so often.

 
At Mon Sep 15, 06:10:00 AM, Blogger Dan Sindlinger said...

Great post, Wayne.

Here's one other version which attempts to use genuine English forms as translation equivalents of the Greek prepositional phrase for Rom. 8:1:

"Since God knew that a self-centered lifestyle is a very unpleasant one, God enabled Jesus to demonstrate how to follow God's guidelines so we could enjoy a better life." www.BetterLifeBible.com

 
At Mon Sep 15, 06:25:00 AM, Blogger David Ker said...

Small error: "those who are in Christ Jesus" in one of your paragraphs should be "those who BELONG TO Christ Jesus"

It's such a crucial concept to this whole section of Rom 5-8. I try to imagine it from the perspective of those who were bound by a law they felt powerless to fulfill. Paul's message must have been a stunning relief. "I'm not condemned!" That's worth a hallelujah on a Monday morning! ;-)

Thanks for a wonderful post.

 
At Mon Sep 15, 07:57:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Bob wrote:

They have stood 400 years and they have enriched English.

Bob, have they enriched English outside of literal translations of the Bible? If not, then I suggest that they add no more to the English language today than they did 400 years ago. It does matter when syntax is imported from a biblical language. Regardless of how long the forms have been non-standard English, they provide an obstacle to clear, accurate understanding of the intended message.

 
At Mon Sep 15, 08:39:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Keith wrote:

It is this possibility--that a passage may not have been perfectly plain to the original readers, and that some obscurity or ambiguity may have been intentional--that I've never seen addressed by advocates of a high level of dynamic equivalence.

You raise a good point, Keith. Thanks. We really can't answer the question, can we, unless we find exx. from extrabiblical Greek? We don't know if en khristw was natural Greek or Greek that was close enough to other Greek that it stretched Paul's readers. Either way, since Paul used the construction so much, we can assume, as we should, at least intitially until given contrary evidence, with all communication that it was intended to be understood.

I suggest that English "in" lacks the flexibility of Greek en so that most English speakers cannot be "stretched" enough until they understand what "in Christ" means. I suggest, as I wrote in my post, that the only way for English speakers to understand "in Christ" is to be taught its meaning. That's different from stretching to understand an idiosyncratic usage. Poets and good writers often use poetic license to stretch their readers--which is your point. But they do so with constructions that readers can figure out, eventually, based on similarity to forms they already know.

If we field test "in Christ" (or more neutral equivalents, such as "those who are in Bush" or "those who are in Gordon Brown"), I predict that we will find few fluent English speakers, outside of those who have been taught Biblish, who can figure out what that construction means.

 
At Mon Sep 15, 08:53:00 AM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

I take it from this interchange that you consider the King James English to have had a negative impact on understanding over the past 400 years.

I do not agree.

What would you do with John 17:21-23?

That they all may be one; as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us ... I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one

I shudder to think of the 'clear' 'accurate' understanding - I withdraw my acceptance of this word - for you don't mean understanding, you mean explanation. And like all science - a full explanation is impossible. It denies the humanity of the one receiving it. It lessens the sender and receiver alike and fails in its message. (This last missional comment is critical to the engagement in unity that John 17 holds us in.)

 
At Mon Sep 15, 09:30:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Bob wrote:

I take it from this interchange that you consider the King James English to have had a negative impact on understanding over the past 400 years.

Not at all, Bob. My post and comments are only about this one prepositional phrase which is not part of the English language, as it is spoken and written by most fluent speakers.

 
At Mon Sep 15, 09:37:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Bob asked:

What would you do with John 17:21-23?

That they all may be one; as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us ... I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one


Bob, my understanding is that "in" is used differently here from the "in Christ" phrases. This John 17 "in" idea seems closer to a true locative, perhaps a kind of figurative locative. Would you agree?

But does the "in" of "those who are in Christ" indicate a location or even a figurative location?

I hear many churched children say, "Jesus is in my heart."

But I've never heard someone say, "I am in Christ." At least, not as a part of their standard English repertoire.

 
At Mon Sep 15, 09:49:00 AM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

But does the "in" of "those who are in Christ" indicate a location or even a figurative location?

Thanks for focusing this question. I use the term in Christ and in the Lord without difficulty and in conversations with normal English users. I am alone.

Let me ponder how I will respond. There are depths that I want to suggest but it may require a story or a separate essay.

 
At Mon Sep 15, 10:27:00 AM, Blogger Scripture Zealot said...

I love the term "in Christ" and now you're spoiling it for me! (kidding, kind of) I really like the REB, even if only from a sentimental point of view.

What do you think about Colossians 3:3?
"For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God." (NLT)

Jeff

 
At Mon Sep 15, 11:03:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Jeff asked:

What do you think about Colossians 3:3?
"For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God." (NLT)


Jeff, can understand everything up to "in God." I don't know that that means in this verse. I have written the NLT folks about this issue of consistency. Mark Taylor responded that they will be looking at the issue of being more consistent in how they handle these phrases that I blogged about.

 
At Mon Sep 15, 11:05:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Jeff asked:

What do you think about Colossians 3:3?
"For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God." (NLT)


Jeff, I can understand everything up to "in God." I don't know that that means in this verse.

I have written the NLT folks about this issue of consistency. Mark Taylor responded that they will be looking at the issue of being more consistent in how they handle these phrases that I blogged about.

 
At Mon Sep 15, 12:26:00 PM, Blogger Dru said...

Perhaps Paul did mean that the believer is 'in Christ' in rather the same way as John is in Madison or Mary lives in Dallas.

I do not think we can answer that, or whether 'in Christ Jesus' is or is not a better representation of the force of what Paul was saying than 'belong to' or 'live in union with', without a very thorough knowledge of koine.

What about the phrase 'believe in'? That is normal English, both in its usual sense and also as part of 'I'm a great believer in .... ' which is all too often followed by something incredible.

 
At Mon Sep 15, 01:54:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

David noticed:

Small error: "those who are in Christ Jesus" in one of your paragraphs should be "those who BELONG TO Christ Jesus"

Thanks, David. I corrected the error.

 
At Mon Sep 15, 02:06:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Dru asked:

What about the phrase 'believe in'? That is normal English, both in its usual sense and also as part of 'I'm a great believer in .... ' which is all too often followed by something incredible.

Great question, Dru.

The "in" of "believe in" does not function exactly the same as when "in" precedes an object which is a location.

Some English scholars call the verb + "in" combination a prepositional verb. Click here to learn more about "believe in" and other prepositional verbs and a similar class of verbs, called phrasal verbs, which use "in" and similar words as particles rather than prepositions.

To "believe in" someone is normal, standard English, whereas to "be in someone" (as in "those who are in Christ") is not normal, standard English. I believe that (not "in" here!) people have to be taught the Bible English meaning of being "in Christ", since it's not part of standard English.

 
At Mon Sep 15, 07:43:00 PM, Blogger codepoke said...

Wayne, I'm so sorry I don't have time to read the valuable comments, but I know a couple of people have mentioned my dilema. I more want to add voice to the question, than anything else.

How do you know what "in Christ" means?

I have been taught my more than one biblical scholar whom I respect that "in Christ" was an intentional stretching of the Greek to make it fit a new concept - that we were chosen in Christ, and that we return to be in Him in a VERY different way from how we might belong to a caesar or a company.

You make this a grammatical conundrum, but I don't know how you can be so sure it's not grammar intentionally strained by Paul for exactly the effect you're trying to erase.

I'm not trying to be snarky, but to learn what the grammatic proof is for your decision.

Thank you.

 
At Mon Sep 15, 07:47:00 PM, Blogger codepoke said...

> But I've never heard someone say, "I am in Christ." At least, not as a part of their standard English repertoire.

Ah. Exactly the point, Wayne.

Was the construction, "I am in Caesar" a common Greekism? I've heard it implied that it was not a Greek colloquialism, and that this phrase would have sounded as foreign to a Koine native as it does to us.

Why are you sure this phrasing sounded normal to the average Greek as simply meaning, "to belong to?"

 
At Mon Sep 15, 09:25:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

codepoke asked:

Why are you sure this phrasing sounded normal to the average Greek as simply meaning, "to belong to?"

I don't know if it sounded normal to the average Greek. That wasn't part of my blog post. All I know is that "in Christ" is not a standard English expression. I'm addressing the English issue and the issue of translation equivalence. From everything I know at this point, "belong to Christ" seems to me like an accurate, natural translation equivalent to the original Greek expression.

If Paul was stretching his audience to understand something that was unique Greek, he still would be building on the foundation they already had since they were fluent Greek speakers. Very few speakers or writers use terms so unique that people simply cannot understand them. If they did, poetic license, new metaphors, and other stretching of language would not communicate. But they do communicate, so there is something linguistic in common between an expression, even if is unique, and a person's knowledge of the language so that they can understand what they hear or read.

My point is to encourage us to think about how we might translate the Greek phrase to English so that English speakers can get the meaning that Paul intended. It's fine if English speakers have to be stretched to understand it, but they should be stretched no more than the Greek speakers were, or else there is a danger of no communication taking place.

How did you come to understand the English phrase "in Christ"? Did you simply ponder it on your own long enough that its meaning finally came to you? Or was there some other process?

I'm not trying to throw anything out in translation. I'm trying to ask questions based on my experience observing and testing English speakers as they interact with English Bibles.

I do not believe in dumbing down translations. I believe that they should communicate the same message that the original text did to its audiences. And there are many factors that complicate that picture, so answers are not easy to come by, but we need to ask the questions so we do not produce Bibles which sound like they were written by people who are not fluent in their own language, English.

 
At Mon Sep 15, 10:01:00 PM, Blogger Keith Schooley said...

I see that codepoke is making a similar point to the one I made. My problem with trying to make a more natural English rendering of "in Christ" is that it may very likely be only a part of what Paul had in mind.

I feel that way very strongly about the construction, "belongs to Christ." First of all, I think it brings with it suggestions of slavery which I don't think Paul has in mind in most of the places he uses the "in Christ" formula. (When he wants to say servant or slave of Christ, he comes out and says it.) The connotations of "in Christ," to me, are much more related to Paul's metaphor of us as the "body of Christ." It connotes a mystical union in which we, in a sense, become a part of Him. "Belongs to Christ" contains none of these connotations.

 
At Tue Sep 16, 08:22:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Keith wrote:

The connotations of "in Christ," to me, are much more related to Paul's metaphor of us as the "body of Christ." It connotes a mystical union in which we, in a sense, become a part of Him.

Then maybe you would like the TEV rendering cited in my blog post.

 
At Tue Sep 16, 08:38:00 AM, Blogger exegete77 said...

I, too, have to agree with codepoke and Keith about the phrase "in Christ". I look at the ~37 times it (or equivalent phrase) is used in Ephesians alone. I think Paul is using the phrase with a theological sense of transference of place (perhaps akin to 2 Cor. 5:21, the divine swap). To me, losing "in Christ" in Ephesians loses the effect and depth of theological understanding that Paul wanted to establish.

 
At Tue Sep 16, 09:13:00 AM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

Ah - I am not alone.

 
At Tue Sep 16, 02:44:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

I don't know if it sounded normal to the average Greek. That wasn't part of my blog post. All I know is that "in Christ" is not a standard English expression.

Wayne, Good post. And I think several here are saying this correctly: "if it's odd Greek, then why be so bent in English translation to make it not odd English?"

I think there's a case to be made that it was rather odd to write: τοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ /tois en ch-risto/ "to those in Anointed"

Paul may be copying Peter or vice versa. 1 Peter 5:15

But the normal use of the compound nounphrase- prepositionalphrase seems to be to convey a metaphorical position or actual location.

Here's from Aristotle (Nichomachian Ethics 1126b.35 with Rackham's English), and then from Septuagint translators, who have this (with Brenton's English), from Exodus 9:3 and I Sammuel 30:27-31:

διαφερόντως δ’ ὁμιλήσει τοῖς ἐν ἀξιώμασι καὶ τοῖς τυχοῦσι

And he will comport himself differently with men of [in?] high position and with ordinary people

ἰδοὺ χεὶρ κυρίου ἐπέσται ἐν τοῖς κτήνεσίν σου τοῖς ἐν τοῖς πεδίοις, ἔν τε τοῖς ἵπποις καὶ ἐν τοῖς ὑποζυγίοις καὶ ταῖς καμήλοις καὶ βουσὶν καὶ προβάτοις, θάνατος μέγας σφόδρα.

behold, the hand of the Lord shall be upon thy cattle in the fields, both on the horses, and on [in?] the asses, and on [in?] the camels and oxen and sheep, a very great mortality.

τοῖς ἐν Βαιθσουρ καὶ τοῖς ἐν Ραμα νότου καὶ τοῖς ἐν Ιεθθορ καὶ τοῖς ἐν Αροηρ καὶ τοῖς Αμμαδι καὶ τοῖς ἐν Σαφι καὶ τοῖς ἐν Εσθιε 28 a καὶ τοῖς ἐν Γεθ καὶ τοῖς ἐν Κιναν καὶ τοῖς ἐν Σαφεκ καὶ τοῖς ἐν Θιμαθ καὶ τοῖς ἐν Καρμήλῳ καὶ τοῖς ἐν ταῖς πόλεσιν τοῦ Ιεραμηλι καὶ τοῖς ἐν ταῖς πόλεσιν τοῦ Κενεζι καὶ τοῖς ἐν Ιεριμουθ καὶ τοῖς ἐν Βηρσαβεε καὶ τοῖς ἐν Νοο καὶ τοῖς ἐν Χεβρων καὶ εἰς πάντας τοὺς τόπους, οὓς διῆλθεν Δαυιδ ἐκεῖ, αὐτὸς καὶ οἱ ἄνδρες αὐτοῦ.

to those in Baethsur, and to those in Rama of the south, and to those in Gethor. And to those in Aroer, and to those in Ammadi, and to those in Saphi, and to those in Esthie, and to those in Geth, and to those in Cimath, and to those in Saphec, and to those in Themath, and to those in Carmel, and to those in the cities of Jeremeel, and to those in the cities of the Kenezite; and to those in Jerimuth, and to those in Bersabee, and to those in Nombe, and to those in Chebron, and to all the places which David and his men had passed through.

 
At Tue Sep 16, 03:12:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Perhaps it's a bit late to post a comment, everyone having moved on. However, I'll suggest the following nonetheless.

Wayne's point is that first one understands the meaning of the original and then second, one forms that meaning with the naturally occurring construction(s) of the target language. The difficulty in committing to this simple concept has nothing to do with Wayne's not expressing himself clearly. He's quite clear. And the concept is quite simple. The road block lies somewhere else.

In that regard, I think several comments have fallen far short in answering Wayne.

To me, there's a simple explanation of the difficulty in translating ἐν Χριστῷ (EN CRISTWi). We (ie. the English translators) have difficulty expressing the meaning in English.

I think there can be only two reasons for that. Either the person doesn't know English well enough to quite capture the meaning which is somehow contained within the mind. Or, two, the person really doesn't know what ἐν Χριστῷ means to begin with.

The former can usually be remedied by first using more words to express it. Then, someone more expert in English can tune the expression. If the person can't express it even with more words (but still relatively few), then the later explanation is the more likely.

There's actually a third reason having to do with the rather militant responses translators get when they translate in an unexpected way (unexpected because of previous conditioning). In this case the priority of accurate translation sadly takes second place.

Someone suggested that ἐν Χριστῷ has a deep theological meaning. My reply to statements like this has always been, "language can't express something deeply with only a word or two." However, I recognize that an author can wrap an expression with many more words and thereby develop the meaning. But the mind doesn't explode with large meaning when stimulated with a simple expression alone.

For what it's worth, I think Ephesians (at least the first three chapters) is written to develop the meaning of ἐν Χριστῷ. But, that's different than trying to find an English expression that gives the English reader a "handle" around which Paul can further develop the expression.

Lastly, 'belonging' does not necessarily imply slavery. That's a natural association. An obvious exception is that my wife belongs to me and so do my children. They certainly aren't slaves.

Belonging also associates strongly with 'family.' And, I suggest, that ἐν Χριστῷ signifies more closely that idea than most others that have been put forth. I come to that conclusion based on my understanding of Ephesians. That letter is all about how the Christ brought Gentiles into the one family of God. It seems appropriate that Paul would use the expression (or its substitutes) fairly frequently in that letter.

 
At Tue Sep 16, 04:29:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Mike, thank you for translating so well what I was trying to say!

 
At Tue Sep 16, 04:48:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Mike, I agree that the primary focus of the Greek behind "in Christ" is one of association with Christ. We become part of his family, his group. Of course, this is metaphorical language to try to capture the richness of the truth which has been properly emphasized by others commenting on this post.

I don't think that the English phrase "in Christ" communicates the biblical meaning at all, *unless* you have been taught that that is what those words are supposed to mean. But if we have to do that, we might as well just use the Greek words and teach their meaning. I return to the point at the beginning of the post, that translation is supposed to communicate in one language something that was original communicated in another language.

We can't make up words or syntax while translating and expect speakers of a language to understand what we have made up.

Of course, it doesn't feel very good to say these things about Bible phrases because for many of us they have become so familiar to us. They sound precious, sacred, special. But if the words prevent us from understanding the intended meaning, we need to find other words which will more accurately communicate that meaning.

 
At Wed Sep 17, 07:55:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

In Wayne and in Mike, we have the idea that the "in" in "in Christ" is either literal translation or archaic English based on literal translation (if not both). In Wayne and in Mike, there is no evidence in English that native speakers use "in Christ" or "in God."

In Bob and in Jeff (and maybe in Keith, in Dru, in Codepoke, and in me), we have in English a kind of metaphorical extension of "in" that we see Paul and Peter and the gospel writer-translators having in "en" in Greek.

Which is altogether different from what my son, in Christian preschool, did when when reciting the bible publicly. Here's what the little fellow added that made us his parents blush if everybody else laughed: "And Jesus said, 'I am in the way of the truth and the life.'"

 
At Wed Sep 17, 07:02:00 PM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

But if the words prevent us from understanding the intended meaning, we need to find other words which will more accurately communicate that meaning.

The words in Greek prevent understanding - they blind those not meant to see and they make deaf those not meant to hear. Whoever comes in through the gate, in to the Holy Place, through the veil, in the body or out of the body, but in him, spattered in his blood, a holy offering in the Anointed, - whoever does will understand. And how will they express this understanding to others. They will invite as the writer of Hebrews invited - approach and come in, be made complete. It's better and it's forever. It is good to be in Christ. You don't know what that means? Try it and see. The entry is by faith. Engage.

Let the meaning be in the doing - we will do them and then we will understand.

In works - you have not given a good reason yet to mess with it.

 
At Wed Sep 17, 07:59:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Bob wrote:

The words in Greek prevent understanding - they blind those not meant to see and they make deaf those not meant to hear.

Bob, with all due respect, you're confusing parables with something else here. Jesus himself said that parables were meant not to enlighten those who did not have ears to hear.

No one is trying to "mess" with anything here. We're simply trying to discuss what is the most accurate way to express the meaning of Greek en khristw in standard English so English speakers can understand what was meant by that expression. We have no proof that the Greek expression was intended to be obscure. Until we have better evidence for that, it is always the safest thing to assume that the author intended what he wrote to mean something and for those to whom he wrote to understand what that meaning was. Granted, some expressions are more difficult than others to understand and can take longer to understand than others. But people should be able to understand any expression that was not originally intended to be obscure.

I believe that our discussion would be helped if we would return to the basic purpose of Bible translation for any language. We don't have to translate the Bible. We could, rather, teach people the biblical languages. The purpose of Bible translation is *not* to simplify the Bible. It's got plenty of difficulties left after natural, accurate translation. Bible teachers will not be out of work if we first translate the Bible into standard English syntax and lexicon and they teach from such English Bibles.

 
At Wed Sep 17, 08:07:00 PM, Blogger codepoke said...

Great discussion. Thank you Wayne, and Keith, Bob, JK and others.

Mike Sangrey makes an salient point, that the surrounding words can explain the words in question. I think that point was made by Keith a little earlier, too. The conclusion I reach from the first 3 chapters of Ephesians is that Paul certainly means to create a new metaphysical connection in the reader's mind. Paul avoids the word for ownership (which was an option open to him, if he were trying to be clear) intentionally, and replaces it with a word for containment.

The first 3 chapters of Ephesians are rich with the idea of containment, and Paul certainly means to say we are contained by Christ.

We were formerly free elements, but now we are a part of a single entity. A dissolved salt molecule will precipitate out as part of a salt crystal, and we have precipitated out of the world as parts of the body of Christ. We continue to be salt molecules, but now we are in salt rather than in water.

I am a programmer by trade. I'm very comfortable with paradigms shifting under me, and with unfamiliar sounding new ways of looking at old problems. I am susceptible to being uncomfortable with a rewording of scripture, but I'm also able to admire an improved new wording.

I don't believe the substitution of "belong" for "in" is such an improvement. Throwing out the idea of transcendent containment is going against the purpose of the first 3 chapters of Ephesians.

All that said, it was a great post, a fun discussion, and I thank you for the stirring thinking, Wayne. :-)

 
At Wed Sep 17, 10:28:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Codepoint, a sincere question: What does it mean to be contained by someone? I don't think I have that concept yet, but I think you do and I'd like to learn it.

 
At Thu Sep 18, 06:44:00 AM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

In the early morning, in my bed, in the one in whom I live and move and have my being, a simple clarity came to me for this rich and present word 'in'. In God, in the Spirit, in Christ can be seen simply as being 'in him' because in his resurrection he is everywhere, in the pouring out of the Spirit, he is everywhere and every time that I am, in my created being new and old, where can I go that he is not with me, in me, and I with him, in him, having put him on as clothing, and having surrendered myself, all my being, space, and time to him. The surrender was needed of course for other reasons.

I have given a simple reason for translating en as in - I have not begun to exhaust the meaning. But I do not think we should ever create explanation as translation.

 
At Thu Sep 18, 06:45:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Kurk, I'm confident that your son intended "in the way of" in the sense in which John Hobbins understands the same phrase in his translation of Psalm 1:1.

 
At Thu Sep 18, 07:54:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Fun comment, Peter :)

And I do remember John's fine posts on (his translation of) Psalms 1:1 here, here, and here.

 
At Thu Sep 18, 08:09:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

But I do not think we should ever create explanation as translation.

This sounds right, Bob, but why? William S. Annis usually signs off his comments with a similar comment: a translation is just a commentary without notes. I believe this too but can't really say why.

Wayne, What do you think? Do you believe a "dynamic equivalent" translation (such as "those who live in union with Christ Jesus" for "τοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ") is more of an explanation of the Greek, more of a commentary? If so, should a translator really do this (as if the interpretation of what's dynamically equivalent is the only, or really the most equal, translation)?

 
At Thu Sep 18, 08:28:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Kurk asked:

Wayne, What do you think? Do you believe a "dynamic equivalent" translation (such as "those who live in union with Christ Jesus" for "τοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ") is more of an explanation of the Greek, more of a commentary? If so, should a translator really do this (as if the interpretation of what's dynamically equivalent is the only, or really the most equal, translation)?

Kurk, if syntactic transliteration (e.g. "in Christ") is not standard English and does not communicate the original meaning, then non-transliteration translation must be used. Sometimes a concept being translated cannot be matched with the same number of words as in the original. If en khristw *means* "belong to Christ" or "live in union with Christ" or "associated with Christ" or even simply "be a Christian", then using the English words that express that meaning accurately and natural is true translation, not a commentary. Commentary is going beyond the meaning in the text to explain that meaning.

If "in Christ" does not communicate to English speakers, and my belief, from observation and field testing, is that it does not, then it is not a translation of en khristw. It is simply syntactic transliteration. It is a placefiller to give opportunity for a Bible teacher to actually "translate" the meaning by translation and/or commentary.

 
At Thu Sep 18, 08:35:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Bob exemplified:

In the early morning, in my bed, in the one in whom I live and move and have my being, a simple clarity came to me for this rich and present word 'in'. In God, in the Spirit, in Christ can be seen simply as being 'in him' because in his resurrection he is everywhere, in the pouring out of the Spirit, he is everywhere and every time that I am, in my created being new and old, where can I go that he is not with me, in me, and I with him, in him, having put him on as clothing, and having surrendered myself, all my being, space, and time to him. The surrender was needed of course for other reasons.

Thanks for these examples and commentary on the use of "in", Bob. I must be really dense, but I still don't understand from them what Greek en khristw means in standard English.

Do you view the "in" of "in Christ" as a simple locative, as I could have said two weeks ago, "Our newest grandchild is in her mother"?

(BTW, she is no longer in her mother. She was born September 10.)

 
At Thu Sep 18, 08:41:00 AM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

JK asks - why?

I think the reasons are in this conversation. Perhaps the most superficial is that explanation belongs in the notes not in the text.

Perhaps it might also be suggested that the translator plants the seed but God gives the growth. Sometimes when you are planting, you soak the seeds overnight - good - so every written word in the text might be soaked in prayer and the stuff that dreams are made on. Sometimes you might plant deeply or shallowly - depending on the size of the seed. This word is small, but as seed it is big - so must be planted deeply. Let the reader understand.

 
At Thu Sep 18, 08:48:00 AM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

Wayne - I just got your comment - this live conversation has multiple posts crossing in the mail!

Congratulations - the seed is bearing fruit. The grandchild is now in a new place. The translator has sown the seed and when the meaning of 'in Christ' floods onto the reader, then the child is truly born into a new time and space. All things have become new.

All our language is limited - even in its most precise and scientific form, even this guarded limitation.

 
At Thu Sep 18, 08:52:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

It is simply syntactic transliteration. It is a placefiller to give opportunity for a Bible teacher to actually "translate" the meaning by translation and/or commentary.

Wayne, I follow (and agree with) what you're saying on this. But "in" for "en" is much easier, I think, than the following transliterations in your comment:

"Christ" for "ch-risto" (why not Anointed?)

"Bible" for "biblos" (why not book?)

"Jesus" for "iesous" (why not Joshua?)

"Christian" for "ch-ristianous" (why not Anointedites?)

To make some of your recent points about notes on the text, Bob, how about this as an "actual translation" of Romans 8:1,

Hence, at present, there's no longer any condemning judgment of those "in" the Anointed, Joshua.

(with footnotes or hyperlinks to explain, parenthetically, the commentary: that "in" is rather metaphorical here; and that, if we've got to bridge to transliterations that have become Englished, then we note also how Jesus is a strange transliteration of the Greek translation of Joshua, as in LXX, and Christ is also a strange transliteration of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Anointed, also transliterated Messiah).

 
At Thu Sep 18, 01:39:00 PM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

Hence, at present, there's no longer any condemning judgment of those "in" the Anointed, Joshua.

The 'in' is fine. The addition of 'judgment' is superfluous. Note the pattern of 'condemn' throughout the first 8 chapters - with only a brief reminder in the paranetic sections (12-15)

2:1 you condemn yourself
2:27 they will condemn you
3:7 why am I still being condemned
3:8 Their condemnation is just
5:16 judgment following one trespass brought condemnation
5:18 one human's trespass led to condemnation
8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation...
8:3 he condemned sin in the flesh
8:33 It is God who justifies; 34: who is to condemn?
14:23 But the one who has doubts is condemned, if he eats, because one does not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

The issue of the definite article in English is equally complex as the preposition 'in'. In language as it stands, anointed will not stand alone but Christ will without the need for the definite article. (Incidentally the Hebrew New Testaments I have looked at so far use b'moshiah without further ado. Similarly the vulgate 'in Christo'.)

You could of course write an essay on 'therefore'

'Summing up my argument to date, therefore, there is now, considering we are in the new creation, having died as I will explain further, no condemnation - i.e. like that which we do to each other and which we have earned by the fact of our primal disobedience, to us who are incorporated into the gift of the life of Messiah, J'shua, through our baptism which we of course take seriously.'

 
At Sat Sep 20, 08:10:00 PM, Blogger codepoke said...

> Codepoint, a sincere question: What does it mean to be contained by someone?

Wayne,

Here's what Paul said about his first three chapters of Ephesians. He said he was talking about:
> the mystery made known to me by revelation

This is not something I think I know, or that I think is easy. My point is not that I know what it means to be contained by Christ. It is that Paul self-described the things he was saying as difficult to understand, in fact impossible to understand without revelation.

And here's where he wore out the phrase "in Christ" in Eph 1-3.

> For he chose us in him
> you also were included in Christ
> you were marked in him
> seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus
> excluded from citizenship in Israel
> But now in Christ Jesus
> In him the whole building is joined
> And in him you too are being built
> become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

There's no way in English (nor, I assume, Greek) that I can be, "in Wayne." Neither you nor I can contain anyone else. That does not mean there cannot be some way Christ can contain us both. We do, after all, worship Him in spirit or not at all.

Maybe Paul meant nothing mysterious. Maybe Paul was not inventing a new language construct to describe a thing the world had never seen before. My original question was, "How can you be sure?"

Reducing this phrase to words that mean something to English speakers allows us to assimilate it smoothly, but should we do so? English has grown into the language it is by representing the world we know. But it sounds to me like Paul was working hard to represent something nobody knew except him, and that only by revelation. He could not invent new words, because they would have no meaning at all to a hearer. So instead, he leveraged words he had in ways no one had ever heard before.

He invented a phrase, "in Christ."

Unless you can prove to me that this phrase was a standard Greekism with a well-known meaning to all its hearers, that's the narrative that makes the most sense to me. "In Christ" is a mysterious phrase to describe a new thing that God brought to Earth through Christ and then revealed to Paul.

I'm happy to see sand kicked over it and that supposed mystery brushed away -- if -- you can demonstrate that the phrase means nothing more than "belonging to Christ."

 
At Sat Sep 20, 09:21:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Codepoke, just to be clear, I have not said that en khristw means nothing more than "belong to Christ". What I said was that it seems to me that "belong to Christ" is an accurate translation of en khristw. I doubt that "belong to Christ" fully captures Paul's intended meaning. I think that "be associated with Christ" is also accurate. Also accurate is "be in union with Christ" although this last English phrase is not as clear to me as the others.

We almost always intend to communicate something as clearly as possible when we speak. There are times, however, when we deliberately obfuscate, twist meaning, make plays on words, etc. But at those times, we often give some kind of clues that we are bending the rules of our language. Because this is true of all language communication (the exceptions prove the rule), I believe that the burden of proof is on anyone who would claim that Paul is inventing a new term or saying something mysterious whose content he does not intend his hearers to grasp to any large degree.

I personally believe that Paul is semantically extending the standard Greek physical locative meaning of en to a metaphorical kind of "in"-ness, such as when we say that someone is "in" a club or association. In English we can express that metaphorical sense with the word "in" if the object of the preposition is inanimate, but not if it is an animate being, such as a person. Greek, however, apparently allowed that metaphorical extension. Languages differ on what they allow to be metaphorically extended.

So, whatever the meaning of "in" is in "in the association" is, I suggest, the meaning that Paul is communicating with en kristw. Unfortunately, standard English does not allow us to simply transliterate those two words to the phrase "in Christ" and have it communicate meaning to someone who is a speaker of standard English but not a speaker of Biblish (a dialect which has to be taught to a person, just like any other dialect).

But in Bible translation work, we have found that it works much better to translate to the words and syntax that people already have in their language and dialect. It creates a much greater comprehension burden on the listener/hearer if they do not already have a syntactic-lexical phrasing already in their mental language module.

In lieu of syntactic transliteration, then, one needs to find the closest natural equivalent in the language that communicates the same meaning as the original phrase. I think that any of the phrases cited in my post from recent English Bible versions which do not use "in Christ" accurately communicate that original meaning. We can debate which of them is more effective. We can field test which of them most effectively communicates the original meaning.

No one is taking away or deleting the English phrase "in Christ." I suggest that that phrase has never been a part of the English language. It has just been in English Bibles for the past 450 years, but not part of standard English so that fluent English speakers can understand those words.

We have to teach more about the meaning of complex *concepts* in the Bible. But a good Bible translation should not require that we teach the meanings of any of the words or syntactic constructions with words. We never get all meaning just from words. Fuller meaning is built up from context and additional teaching.

 
At Sun Sep 21, 09:35:00 AM, Blogger codepoke said...

The odd thing here, Wayne, is that I agree with all your intentions. I agree completely with dynamic equivalence over absolute literal translations for all the reasons you list. You just keep choosing examples that seem to push my buttons. This matter of "in Christ" is, to me, deeply significant. You throw the burden of proof on me, and I happily agree to accept it. I just don't understand what more needs to be proven my last comment proved. Paul is saying something radically different from anything conventional human experience can model.

This observation is from this morning's sermon. It's not original with me.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.

You asked me to explain what containment meant between two people, and I could not. That's not condemnation in my opinion. That's what happens when you talk about God. This phrase from John is another that means nothing between any two people. For example:

"Bill got here early, and Bill was with the pastor, and Bill was the pastor. He was with the pastor early."

That sentence has no meaning, and yet it exactly mirrors the concepts of John 1:1&2. English cannot represent the Trinity, and it's impossible to ask it to try. We cannot logically model a thing that is 3 things and 1 thing at the same time. To try such a thing is a direct error definition. 1 is not 3, and cannot be modelled as such.

The language of Paul in Romans 8 and Ephesians 1-3 is completely consistent with such a mystery, and Paul goes so far as to directly call it a mystery. When you ask for more proof than that that containment is intended by Paul's phrase, "in Christ," I have no idea what more I can say.

This is not a matter of translation philosophy but of the meaning of the author. You relate to this understanding of Paul's words as, "There are times, however, when we deliberately obfuscate..." I completely disagree. Paul is not obfuscating, and I'm not attempting to take something that was clear to the original hearers and "save the biblish." Paul is attempting to describe something outside the experience of mortal language within its predefined boundaries and what he comes up with is very strange to our ears. It well ought to be.

Losing that strangeness is losing Paul's meaning.

Kill the biblish, yes, but don't kill the meaning.

 
At Sun Sep 21, 05:30:00 PM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

Of course Wayne does not want to kill the meaning, but I agree with Kevin Codepoke because I think the extra 'explanatory' words obscure possible applications of the text. As I noted in earlier comments - don't fill in puzzles that might have more than one 'answer' depending on the reader or hearer. There are at least two reasons for this approach: 1. you the translator do not know how God will use this text for another of his children. And 2. The children are entitled to figure out the implications of the text on their own. Give 'em notes if you must or you want to or if you have been called as teacher. But don't put the notes in the translated text.

 
At Mon Sep 22, 02:42:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Codepoke, I have just seen your summary of Ephesians 1-3 and I think I may be able to see why you don't like Wayne's suggested renderings like "belong to Christ", "be associated with Christ" and "be in union with Christ". I noted the contrast in Ephesians between "included in Christ" and "excluded from citizenship in Israel", also Wayne's point about "when we say that someone is "in" a club or association". This suggests to me that the primary meaning of "in Christ" is one of inclusion, with "Christ" here being shorthand for "the body of Christ" in which all Christians are members, almost as of a club - perhaps citizens, although they were not citizens of Israel. I'm not suggesting that that exhausts the meaning of the phrase, but it does bring out the important bodily (or corporate, but not in the business sense) aspect of being in Christ, in ways which none of the other suggestions do.

 
At Mon Sep 22, 07:09:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Peter wrote:

This suggests to me that the primary meaning of "in Christ" is one of inclusion, with "Christ" here being shorthand for "the body of Christ" in which all Christians are members, almost as of a club - perhaps citizens, although they were not citizens of Israel.

Well put, Peter. I have been thinking the same thing, but never quite got around to saying it.

 
At Tue Sep 30, 10:48:00 AM, Blogger Keith Schooley said...

I'm coming back to this discussion after some time away. I hope that's okay.

You suggest that I might like the TEV rendering, "live in union with." As a matter of fact, I actually do like it--except that I think it partakes of exactly the same problem that you have with "in Christ": no one in English talks about living "in union with" someone else. Quite frankly, the connotation of that phrase would be sexual union, which is a bit distant from Paul's point.

I'm going to riff off of one of your comments, which I think expresses most fully and completely your view of the issue. I'm trying to be as brief as possible, so I trust that neither you nor anyone else will think that I am taking specific lines out of context.

I believe that the burden of proof is on anyone who would claim that Paul is inventing a new term or saying something mysterious whose content he does not intend his hearers to grasp to any large degree.

I must say, I am a bit disconcerted regarding the use of "burden of proof." That belongs in a trial or debate; what we're talking about is the best way to translate a phrase in Scripture. I also don't know how to put the next point without being rude, but I think it is the translator's (or translation team's) responsibility to know the source language well enough to recognize either a familiar idiom or an unusual coining of phrase, either of which would assist both in translation and in defending a translational decision.

I don't think that Paul was trying to say something mysterious or that he intended not to be understood; I think he intended a turn of phrase that may have been an unusual construction but whose content and meaning would become evident through the context in which it was placed. I think that that is exactly how the phrase has been taken for hundreds of years in English translation; I don't think every English reader has been utterly stymied by the phrase (as we are with, for example, Selah :-).

I personally believe that Paul is semantically extending the standard Greek physical locative meaning of en to a metaphorical kind of "in"-ness, such as when we say that someone is "in" a club or association.

Okay, I agree. So the meaning isn't really all that hard to figure out after all. You're saying that Greek "evidently" allowed for that metaphorical usage to be extended to animate beings (which means you don't know whether this was a unique usage by Paul or not), but that English doesn't. But why can't English do that? English is the most cobbled together hybrid of languages on the earth. It's probably one of the most flexible. Just because there are certain constructions we don't normally use doesn't mean we can't understand them. We normally don't apply physical decomposition to national entities, but a decent writer might make use of the line, "There is something rotten in the state of Denmark."

I have not said that en khristw means nothing more than "belong to Christ". What I said was that it seems to me that "belong to Christ" is an accurate translation of en khristw. I doubt that "belong to Christ" fully captures Paul's intended meaning.

But the problem is that someone reading through the passage will never know (unless they compare with more "wooden" translations or learn Greek) that this debate ever existed. They will simply assimilate "belong to Christ" and move on. So meaning has been lost in the attempt to make meaning clearer. That, in a nutshell, is my problem. In order to remove a possible hiccup of understanding--which, through further reflection, could lead to greater understanding--a phrase has been employed which doesn't fully capture the intended meaning. Sometimes that may be unavoidable. In this case, I don't think it is.

 
At Tue Sep 30, 11:12:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Keith, yes, it's perfectly fine to come back to this topic. In fact, we very much appreciate it.

I think from your comments that we are close to being on the same page.

I'm sorry if I misused the term "burden of proof". I was using it based on the claim someone made here that the burden of proof was on me to prove that en khristw was a natural form in Greek. My response was based on how languages and communication work. If we assume, without contextual or other evidence, that a form is unnatural in the original and hence should be translated to unnatural English, then, ultimately, we can make that claim for any biblical language form that we have difficulty translating. What we have to do is have enough knowledge of the original language to be able to support our claims, or just not make claims about naturalness. I consider it a cop out to say that we have to translate something unnaturally because something in the original text is unnatural or a technical word. How do we know it is? It's a kind of circular reasoning to make the claim about the original to justify how we translate to English.

There is slippage with all translation. No two languages match perfectly. We can despair and give up the effort to translate. Or we can recognize that no translation will fully capture all of the meaning of the original and try to find the most accurate and most natural equivalent in the target language.

I agree with you on "in union with Christ" and I posted a comment to that effect somewhere in this comment thread.

Thanks for your helpful comments and your patience.

 
At Tue Sep 30, 11:23:00 AM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

Keith wrote: Quite frankly, the connotation of that phrase would be sexual union, which is a bit distant from Paul's point.

Why is this far from the point? What about 1 Corinthians 6 which elaborates explicitly on the issue of sexuality in Christ.

 
At Fri Oct 03, 10:36:00 PM, Blogger Keith Schooley said...

Bob-

Fair enough--scripture certainly makes use of sexual union (specifically, marriage) as an analogy to our union with God. We are, collectively, the "bride of Christ," for example. So it's actually not far from Paul's point. However, the context of the phrase here seems to suggest something more than an analogous understanding of the "union" here, and also invites understanding on an individual and not merely a collective level. The upshot of all of this is that, in a day and age of gender inclusiveness, it would be rather off-putting for most men to think of themselves as sexually united to Christ.

By the way, I understand your comment up to the word, "sexuality." The final two words of your comment do not convey any meaning to me at all. ;-)

Wayne--

Fair enough. We are rather close to the same page. I would like to say, however, that I have heard it taught that "en khristw" actually was a startling usage of the locative in Koine. Now, I don't know if that's true--it may have a source similar to the notorious "eye of the needle gate in Jerusalem"--but to my knowledge, it hasn't been merely hypothesized to justify an awkward translation.

My point is not that we shouldn't try to map any Greek phrase, novel or technical term or not, into as natural English as is possible. My point is only that if a natural equivalent doesn't present itself without significant loss of meaning, then a more word-for-word translation of that phrase may be appropriate, as opposed to an easy-to-assimilate English phrase that may actually be misleading.

Because in the end, I can think of worse things to happen than for a reader of Ephesians to think, "Hmmm. That's interesting. I wonder what it really means to be 'in Christ'."

 
At Sat Oct 04, 08:19:00 AM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

Thank-you Keith for the structural 'wink'.

I have a friend who says of my writing - your grammar is well-formed but I don't understand what you mean. Perhaps it is that I am trying to point to a frame that cannot be appropriated for our selves by our selves.

With respect to the 'off-putting' aspect of our place as bride and body of Christ, it might be best if men did not 'think of themselves' at all.

 
At Sat Oct 04, 08:54:00 AM, Blogger Keith Schooley said...

Hi Bob,

Not sure if you understood me (sorry if you did, and I'm just not picking up on it). The "wink" was because my comment was tongue-in-cheek: here we are talking about how we need to retranslate "in Christ" because it's supposedly unintelligible, and here you used it in a sentence quite plainly.

 
At Sat Oct 04, 10:33:00 AM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

Keith - I think I got it. Still we struggle over the 'end' of language. Our words limit and are limited. Our engagement with the living Christ, our resurrected hope, the living Word is limited only by his limits... - need I say that they are not limited as our human communication is limited?

This is why I seriously objected at the top of this comment series to the plaintive search for 'meaning' as if that were communicable in a form of words that can be 'understood' and the implication that therefore 'we have power' over them and over all others who are obliged to 'read' our understanding. Power is exactly what we do not have as 1 Corinthians 7 clearly shows. What is remarkable is that God would have given such power to our humanity! (You can see from these well-formed sentences of mine that they can be read in contradiction to each other - or they can be read as two impossible things which frame a possibility that transcends our death and gives us unexpected life. The reason for this is that they embrace an unspoken thought. I think that is how the Bible works to bring our thoughts into his thoughts.)

 
At Sat Oct 04, 11:24:00 AM, Blogger codepoke said...

Heh. The thread has a life of its own.

Great topic, Wayne. :-)

My little group at church is working its way through Colossians, and I note that Paul both places Christ in us and us in Christ. The one we find easy to swallow and the other we don't, but that's OK.

It made me go back to your question about containment. Colossians 2:6b-7a:
...live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him...

Paul suggests the metaphor of a plant, and that makes sense of the English for me. I can say a plant is in the dirt, and I can say nutrients from the dirt are in the plant.

Just thought I'd share that. It was a fun topic. And, by the way, I'd have jumped in on your Lord's Prayer topic if I'd not been working so unbelievably many hours at the time. That was an excellent post, and caused me more fun questions. :-)

 

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