Meme: Translating Colossians 3:1-3

Posted: 1st July 2008 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

I was tagged by Bryan Lilly who was tagged by TC Robinson for a meme on translating Colossians 3:1-3. The rules are:

  1. Be contemporary
  2. Be idiomatic and free as possible
  3. Parsing is optional

Here’s the original mess of squiggles Greek text:

Εἰ οὖν συνηγέρθητε τῷ Χριστῷ, τὰ ἄνω ζητεῖτε, οὗ ὁ Χριστός ἐστιν ἐν δεξιᾷ τοῦ θεοῦ καθήμενος· τὰ ἄνω φρονεῖτε, μὴ τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς. 3 ἀπεθάνετε γὰρ καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ὑμῶν κέκρυπται σὺν τῷ Χριστῷ ἐν τῷ θεῷ.

It’s a somewhat amusing meme for me, not knowing any Greek, so the above really does look “like Greek” to me. But consulting Strong’s and various translations, we shall nonetheless carry on, accepting with gratitude the third meme rule.

First, let’s consider the NASB and REB:

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (NASB)

Were you not raised to life with Christ? Then aspire to the realm above, where Christ is, seated at God’s right hand, and fix your thoughts on that higher realm, not on this earthly life. You died; and now your life lies hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you too will be revealed with him in glory. (REB)

Like Bryan, I’ve included verse 4 as it seems to complete the thought. Here’s my take:

Are you a born again Christian? Then press on by the gospel and don’t seek glory in the life of this world, but follow Christ, who is honored at the right hand of God. Remember: your sins are dead and buried, and your life has been claimed by Christ for God. As Christ is made known, your glorious new life will also be shown to belong to him.

Obviously, a “born again Christian” is contemporary language, but that was part of the meme challenge and I think that “born again” captures the “raised to life” aspect of the opening thought. One consequence of that is that I’ve had to somewhat mute the subsequent “heaven is up” traditional renderings.

As part of that, I’ve done a little reorganization of verses 1-2, mostly to contrast the negatives of “this earthy life” with the present glory of Christ at the right hand of God. I’ve used “the gospel” as a placeholder for “the things above”, the proclamation of the kingdom of heaven.

Most interpret verse 4 as an indicator of the parousia, the future appearance of Christ on New Earth. I’ve chosen to read it with some ambiguity, allowing the traditional interpretation, but also that the revelation of Christ through the proclamation of the gospel message also proclaims our life in him.

  1. tc robinson says:

    El, thanks for taking on the challenge. I see that you have a translation bone in you.

    I like “born again” as a contemporary nuance of the Greek.

    “Remember: your sins are dead and buried, and your life has been claimed by Christ for God.” I noticed that have interpreted the traditional “you have died” to a a reference to a person’s sins.

    I left out v. 4 because I thought some people would have a hard time working with so many verses. But I’m glad that you guys took it on.

    Yeah, you’ve really made this ambiguous. “As Christ is made known” points to the parousia in my opinion because of the qualifying prepositional phrase, “in glory.”

  2. Bryan says:

    I thought I sent this comment earlier, but apparently my computer ate it.

    This is exactly what I tagged you El- with your work on translations, not only just comparison but with literary types of translations, I knew that I could count on you for a great little “translation,” and was looking forward to see what you would do with it.

    Great job.

  3. @TC: thanks for the feedback – it’s always an interesting process to take a fresh look at a passage and imagine it in more contemporary terms.

    @Bryan: *blush* you are too kind.

  4. Damian says:

    It’s moments like this I wish I had learnt Greek at university. I check out TC and Bryan’s translations, too, and I must say I’m jealous at all of your skills.

  5. tc robinson says:

    El, I like the freshness of your translation. Hey, Damian, it’s not too late to learn NT Greek! Here’s a post you might find helpful: Learning to Read NT Greek. If you’re serious about learning NT Greek, I’d be glad to point out some helpful tools to you.

  6. Damian says:

    TC, I replied over on your blog (at the post you linked to). Thanks for your help – El and I have had discussed the equivalency of translations to originals, and I tend to come on the side that learning the original languages are the way to go.