The NIV readalong: You suffered, he suffered, they suffered

Note: This is part of a semi-regular series of posts comparing the NIV translation of scriptures used in my church’s sermons with similar translations. The intent is to identify hurdles that may be encountered when reading along in the pew with a different translation and to determine if they are textually or exegetically significant.

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This week’s passage was 1 Peter 4.1-6, but I just want to focus on the first two verses, especially 4.1b. First in the NIV, then the TNIV that I was reading along with, followed by the NLT and HCSB, which I also use quite frequently:

1 Peter 4:1-2

NIV TNIV
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because those who have suffered in their bodies are done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.
NLT HCSB
So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin. You won’t spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God. Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same resolve—because the One who suffered in the flesh has finished with sin—in order to live the remaining time in the flesh, no longer for human desires, but for God’s will.

At first glance, it seems evident that to avoid the NIV’s masculine “he/his” in 4:1b, the TNIV editors simply updated the text with “those/their” and changed the verb accordingly. This is all well and good, unless your pastor chooses to dwell on the “he/his” as a typographical example of Christ. That is, because we have the example of Christ, who suffered in his physical body in order to conquer sin, we should not shy away from suffering for the will of God, but bear it along in our hope and faith of his salvation. Christ is the one who is done with sin, not us — we can only be done with sin through Christ, not of our own physical suffering.

Note that the HCSB even more explicitly takes the approach that my pastor did – by marking off the phrase in question with parenthetical dashes and capitalizing “One”, it is made clear that they consider this passage to be solely referring to Christ and not ourselves.

So what happens when you read this in the TNIV? The passage become more inclusive – not only from a gender perspective, but also placing our suffering alongside that of Christ. He suffered and we suffer. He finished with sin, we (will) finish with sin. Our suffering is shared in his suffering (cf. 4.13).

The NLT adds an explicit “for Christ” to this passage–effectively denying the HCSB’s interpretation and placing the emphasis back on the reader, though the NLT Study Bible *does* admit the possibility of the Christ-focused interpretation in the study notes.

Note the change in voice in the NLT as well, as v.4:1b-2 pick up the second person “you” and modify the text accordingly. It seems to me that, if a Christ-centric interpretation was preferred, the TNIV could have hewed somewhere between the NIV and NLT:

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, you need not live the rest of your earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.

In this manner, it is clear what is “you” and what is “he”. Whether it is correct or not, I couldn’t say.

Of the texts considered, I happen to think that the HCSB is the clearest text here from a plain reading approach. However, the question in my mind begins to coalesce around the point of whether the NIV and more specifically the HCSB have chosen their wording in order to avoid a whiff of suggestion that it is the effect of our physical work and/or an aesthetic of suffering that is victory over sin.

To be more blunt, is this a Protestant interpretation that seeks to keep the source of salvation centered on Christ rather than on our own effort? And is this interpretation accurate for these few verses?

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5 Comments

  1. Posted May 26, 2009 at 11:29 AM | Permalink

    The HCSB is over the top here in its interpretation — it is a possible interpretation, but hardly the only one. For example, here is a quotation from a Catholic commentary for laypeople (the Collegeville Bible Commentary):

    A further appeal is made to Christ’s paschal transition, once more to his suffering. “Christ suffered in the flesh.” This is literally applied to converts who, because of conversion to Christianity, will suffer after baptism. But this suffering is proof that converts have in fact “broken with sin” (v. 1). There can be no thought of lapsing from Christian holiness back into vice; enough time was spent on vice in former pagan lives; Christianity means a death to that old way, a radical break with the past.

    This is a much simpler reading of the text than seeing “the One” as Christ, but rather seeing it as continuing the discussion of the baptized individual (end of ch. 3) who forsakes the dissipation of the gentiles (4:3-6). In particular, the parallel between Peter 4:1-2 and 3:14-15 is so striking that it is difficult to maintain that the primary meaning of “the One” in 4:1-2 is Christological.

  2. Posted May 26, 2009 at 3:08 PM | Permalink

    Man, what a good text to look at! I’m no Greek scholar, but I’m more inclined to go with the NIV (the NASB makes the same choice, going with “he”) because that seems to be the closest translation of pathon. Unless the definite article before the participle is where the HCSB gets “the One” that does seem a tiny stretch. Not that it’s any less true theologically and found elsewhere, but in trying to stick to the text as we have it, I would think “he” works best, even if it ends up a little vague. If the text is vague or open ended, we should probably accept it as such.

  3. Posted May 28, 2009 at 7:29 AM | Permalink

    I think it is quite clear that neither NIV nor TNIV intended to allow the HCSB interpretation. In NIV “he” in verse 2 must be the same person as “he” in verse 1. And since I am sure the translators did not intend to suggest that Jesus lived any part of “his earthly life for evil human desires”, they clearly intended this “he” to be a representative reader, not Jesus.

    The HCSB interpretation seems to me highly unlikely. It is only possible (if we assume that the author did not mean to make Jesus a sinner) if the last part of verse 1 is a parenthesis. And I can see nothing in the Greek text to suggest this. I can see why the HCSB translators have chosen this reading to safeguard their particular version of Protestant doctrine. But the words translated in NIV “is done with sin” are not appropriate as a description of Jesus’ saving work, but rather mean much more like “has stopped sinning” – something which Jesus didn’t do but is explained in the next verse.

  4. Posted May 28, 2009 at 8:37 AM | Permalink

    Thank you all for the comments. I’m still slightly curious on a couple of things: first, (using the TNIV) the seeming change in verb tense between “arm yourselves” and “those who have [….] are done”. The latter, at least in English, seems to refer to a past object different than “yourselves” – whether this is Christ or an earlier representative Christ-follower than Peter’s audience, I don’t know. I suppose another take might be whether the attitude we are to take is during our suffering or after our suffering.

    Second, the changing pronouns between “yourselves” and “those/he”. The NLT made these concordant in the second person. I suppose that the phrase “those who have suffered in their bodies are done with sin” could be seen as a quote of a third-party saying, but usually those are more obviously noted as such. Can anyone comment on how the Greek is written?

  5. Posted May 28, 2009 at 11:03 AM | Permalink

    I take TNIV’s “those who have suffered in their bodies are done with sin” as a gnomic or proverbial saying, timeless. It potentially applies to anyone, but suffering precedes (aorist participle) the state of no longer sinning. It may indeed be an actual proverb from another source, but not I think a known one. But note the similarity to Romans 6:2.

    One problem with NLT’s rendering is that it obscures the change in the Greek from second person to third person.