I think a lot off people wonder why it takes so long to translate the Bible. I love my job, but it is a big responsibility. There are stern warnings in Revelation about people who take away from, or add to, what is written! And our goal is to translate in an accurate, clear and natural way.
Colossians 3:3 is a good example of the big translation challenges I face daily: “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”
Let’s just focus on “life” and “hidden.” Well, I know the normal words for those in the Double Stuff language, and those are easy words in English. I can even read the words in Greek. But what does Paul mean?! First we look at the context. We need to find out what Paul means in saying, “you died.” Clearly, this isn’t normal death, otherwise the Colossian readers would not be reading this letter! He is talking about our reckoning about ourselves that we have spiritually accompanied Christ in his death and resurrection, as in chapter 2.
So does “life” mean resurrected life? How am I going to translate that concept? And, more difficult yet, what does it mean that this life is “hidden.” Who hid it?— and why is it hidden? Shouldn’t our new life be seen? There are so many questions, and unless I can find answers, the translation will end up a bunch of meaningless words. Ah, but we Bible translators have some wonderful tools! One is called Exegetical Summaries, and this is what it says for our two words, “life” and “hidden.” (If you are in a hurry, skip to the non-indented text!)
QUESTION—What is meant by Greek zwe hemòn ‘your life’?
1. It is a present possession [Alf, Ea, EG, EGT, Herm, ICC, Lg, Ln, Lt, Mou, Mrt, NTC, SSA, TNTC, WBC],
and will be consummated in the future [Alf, Ea, Herm, Lg].
It means their resurrection life [Alf, EG, EGT, SSA],
their new spiritual life [Ea, EG, Ln, SSA],
their true life [Herm, ICC],
which is seated in the heavenlies [ICC],
their higher life [Lt],
eternal life, which began at the time of the new birth [Lg].
It is their quality of life and devotion to Christ [Mrt].
It is a comprehensive term and includes life in a spiritual, ethical, and bodily sense [Alf].
This life replaced the old life to which they had died [SSA].
It is a participation in Christ’s resurrection life, having been raised with him to new life [WBC].
It means salvation, the life God created in them through their faith, which life is a present reality as they put their trust in Christ, live with him and obey him.
They keep this life in their possession by setting their minds on the things above [Herm].
2. It is the eternal life of the future, which is possessed in hope in the present [My].
QUESTION—What is meant by Greek kekruptai ‘has been hidden’?
It means concealed [Alf, Ea, EGT, Herm, Lg, Lt, Mrt, NTC, SSA, TNTC, WBC]
from human view [Herm, Lg, Lt, SSA, TNTC, WBC]
as a secret [TNTC],
from the world [Lg, Mrt, NTC],
from oneself [Lg, Lt, TNTC, WBC].
It means invisible [Ea, EGT, Ln, My, NTC, TH, WBC],
belonging to the eternal [EGT].
The full meaning of the Christian’s life has not yet been revealed [TH].
The life has not yet been manifested [My].
When the Colossians were baptized, they were buried out of sight and the world could see them no more, meaning that the world knows nothing of their new life.
This is why their new life should not know anything of the world [Lt].
God, the source of our life, and Christ, its channel, are concealed.
Our connection with God and Christ is also concealed, in the sense that it is an inner experience [Ea].
This verb has a connection with the ‘secret’ of 2:3 [Mou].
It means hidden in heaven, which implies both security and being concealed from human view [EG].
It means safe [BAGD, NIC]
and secure [NIC, WBC].
Whew! Which is what Paul really meant?! Please pray for us for wisdom in translating!
Bear in mind that we are translating for people will little education or background in Christian teaching. Here is what our current “Double Stuff” draft says:
[In this world, we don't any longer live like before we knew Christ.]* Now it is as if we have died to that way of life. And we consider that our spirits are in Christ’s hand in heaven, where Christ lives in unity with God.
“Our spirits” will be understood in the sense of our true spiritual lives, and “in Christ’s hand” will be understood to mean that He keeps them safe.
My plan is to work on Colossians next. Last September, at the translation workshop, we only worked on chapter 3:1-3. Recently I enjoyed working on 2 Thessalonians. I’m hoping to check these letters with various groups of people in March, if the Lord opens the door for me to visit Oreo land. Please pray for that also!
Thanks for praying for us!
Phil & Gale
*The first sentence of the translation above is implicit information in the original text, which has been made explicit for our audience in this draft. It remains to be seen if this information will be in the text. It could be placed in a footnote.