Translation commentary on Galatians 1:24

They praised God because of me is literally “they were glorifying God in me.” The preposition “in” is used here as indicating the reason or basis of an action (compare Knox “They praised God for what he had done in me,” Phillips “they thanked God for what had happened to me”). Because of me may be understood in terms of “what God had done to me,” “what God had done through me,” or “what I had done.” Since the praise was rendered to God for what Paul was at that time doing, it seems more satisfactory to say “they praised God because of what he had done through me,” or “… what God had caused me to do.”

Quoted with permission from Arichea, Daniel C. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1976. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Galatians 3:11 – 3:12

In these two verses, Paul expands the contrast between faith and law. His argument is as follows: since he who is put right with God through faith shall live, and since the Law demands “doing” rather than “faith,” therefore it is very clear that no man is put right with God by means of the Law.

It is clear is literally “it is evident.” The Greek construction suggests the introduction of additional argument for Paul’s position as expressed in verse 10 (Phillips “it is made still plainer”; New American Bible “it should be obvious”; Twentieth Century “again, it is evident”). This may be rendered in some languages as “anyone can see,” or “surely one can realize.”

Put right with God is literally “justified.” Here, as in other letters of Paul, this expression has as its main component God’s activity in putting man into a right relationship with himself. The passive expression no one is put right with God may be changed into an active form by saying “God puts no one right with himself.” It must be made clear that the reflexive “himself” refers to God, not to the person.

By means of the Law is an expression of means, but in a number of languages the Law itself cannot be the means of performing this kind of activity. It may be necessary to expand this phrase into a clause of cause and to introduce the verb “obey,” since it is really not the Law itself but obedience to the Law which is the means Paul is speaking about. Accordingly, one may say, “No one is put right with God because he does what the Law requires.”

The scripture says is not in the Greek text, but since the quotation that follows is from scripture, Good News Translation marks it accordingly (compare New English Bible “we read,” Jerusalem Bible “we are told”). There are two ways of rendering the quotation: either “the just shall live by faith” (TEV margin, New American Bible, Jerusalem Bible, Phillips), or “the just through faith shall live” (Good News Translation text, New English Bible, Revised Standard Version). The quotation is from Habakkuk 2.4 (quoted by Paul also in Rom 1.17).

The person who is put right with God translates a noun (literally, “the righteous one”). Some translations take this in an ethical sense (New American Bible “the just man”; various versions “the righteous man”), while others, including Good News Translation, interpret it in the sense of the Greek verb “justify,” and therefore understand Paul to be referring to a man who has been put right with God, rather than to a morally upright person.

In the same way that by means of the Law must often be expanded to mean “because one obeys the laws,” it may also be necessary to amplify the phrase through faith as “because one trusts in God.”

The phrase shall live should not be rendered in such a way as to mean mere continued existence. It is important to employ a verb here which will suggest a higher quality of life. In some languages this may be equivalent to “shall really live.”

But expresses the contrast between the Law and faith. Has nothing to do with faith is literally “is not of faith.” Accordingly, there are various ways of rendering it. Some translations take it as saying that one does not need faith in order to follow the Law or that the law does not depend on faith (compare New American Bible; also Revised Standard Version “the law does not rest on faith”; Moffatt “the law is not based on faith”). Other translations interpret it as referring to the definite distinction between the Law and faith, their complete dissimilarity and lack of relation to each other, as does Good News Translation (also Phillips “the law is not a matter of faith,” New English Bible “now law is not at all a matter of having faith”).

The statement But the Law has nothing to do with faith is very succinct, for the Law in this context refers not primarily to regulations as such but to a person’s obedience to the Law. Similarly, faith is not to be understood as an abstract term, but must be related to one’s actual trust and confidence in God. This sentence, therefore, may be rendered as “But when a person obeys the Law, that is not at all the same as when one trusts God.” One may even say, in some instances, “But obeying the Law is not related to trusting God.”

As the scripture says is once again added to signal to the reader that what follows is a quotation from the Old Testament. It is from Leviticus 18.5 (quoted by Paul also in Rom 10.5) and is taken to be antithetical to the quotation from Habakkuk 2.4. The two quotations spell out the two ways of obtaining life, one by faith and the other by doing. The former is primarily an attitude of trust and confidence in God; the latter is not concerned with attitudes, but simply with performance or the lack of it.

Does everything the Law requires is literally “does them.” It is clear that “them” refers not to the Law in general (Law in the first part of the verse is singular), but to the requirements of the Law (Jerusalem Bible “the man who practises these precepts”; Knox “the man who carries out the commandments”). Everything the Law requires may be rendered as “everything the laws talk about,” or “everything the laws say that a person must do.”

The final phrase in the Greek text of this verse, namely, “by them,” is in a sense a duplication of the thought of the clause whoever does … requires.

Quoted with permission from Arichea, Daniel C. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1976. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Galatians 4:16

The occasion of Paul’s telling the Galatians the truth is quite disputed. Among the suggestions are (1) it was during a second visit or in an unrecorded letter, in which he warned them of the apostasy they are now confronted with; or (2) the reference is to the present letter, in which case Paul is simply expressing his fears that the strong language of his letter may lead the Galatians to treat him as an enemy. The first possibilities involve conjectures with no evidence at all. Against the second one must note that the verb form of “become” implies a result which already exists (though the verbal forms are not conclusive), and the Galatians have not yet read the letter. A third suggestion may be brought forth, and that is to interpret truth as the message which Paul preached among the Galatians during his first visit to them. The message of Paul’s enemies is, of course, contrary to what he preached to the Galatians, and since the Galatians, or some of them, have already accepted the Judaizers’ message, they are questioning the accuracy of Paul’s gospel and his right to proclaim it. The word enemy then could be interpreted as hostility to Paul and his message. This fourth suggestion would fit the context best, though no modern commentary takes this line of interpretation.

It may be difficult to speak of Paul as having actually “become an enemy.” Obviously he is not in reality an enemy; it is only that he is suggesting the possibility that the people in the congregations in Galatia might regard him as such. Therefore it may be better to render this verse as “Because I tell you the truth, do you now regard me as your enemy?”, “Does my telling you the truth cause you to think of me as your enemy?”, or “… cause you to say, He is now our enemy?”

Quoted with permission from Arichea, Daniel C. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1976. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Galatians 5:17

Paul starts this verse with for, which connects it with verse 16. We will not satisfy the desires of the human nature, if we live by the Spirit, because of the fact that human nature and the Holy Spirit are at enmity with each other.

The word translated human nature is “flesh,” and is to be taken in the same sense as in the previous verse. Here flesh and the Spirit are pictured as opposing each other. The contrast between the desires of the human nature and of the Spirit of God may be expressed in some languages as “For what we as human beings want is against what God’s Spirit wants, and what God’s Spirit wants is against what we as human beings want.” There may, however, be difficulties involved in some languages since a verb such as “want” may require a goal. Therefore, one may need to translate “For what we as human beings want to do is against what the Spirit of God wants us to do, and what the Spirit of God wants us to do is against what we as human beings want to do.”

After expressing the conflict, Paul comes up with another statement: These two are enemies, and this means that you cannot do what you want to do.

There are different ways of interpreting these two are enemies. One is to regard this statement as simply a summary of the first part of the verse. On the other hand, the first part of the verse can be taken as a general statement of the conflict, and the second part as a statement of the conflict in the experience of the individual believer. In both cases, the last clause you cannot do what you want to do is interpreted as expressing result. Further, it is neutral, referring to both good and evil desires. What Paul would mean, then, is that since the Spirit and the flesh are in conflict within the believer, this results in the believer’s loss of his freedom.

These two are enemies may be translated as either “What we want to do and what God’s Spirit wants us to do are opposed,” or “We as human beings and God’s Spirit are enemies of one another,” or “… opposed to one another.”

However, a third interpretation of these two are enemies is possible. That is to take you cannot do what you want to do to refer to doing what the flesh wants, which would take Paul’s meaning to be that since the Spirit opposes the flesh, then the believer is not free to do what he wants to do, insofar as following the flesh is concerned. The last part of this verse would then read: “These two are enemies, and this means that if the Spirit directs your lives, you cannot do what you want to do, which is to satisfy the desires of the human nature.”

The merit of this last interpretation is that it connects this verse more closely with both what precedes and what follows.

Quoted with permission from Arichea, Daniel C. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1976. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Galatians 1:2

Paul’s usual practice is to mention by name those who are with him at the time of writing. Here, however, he mentions no name but only refers to his companions as all the brothers who are here. Brothers usually means “fellow Christians,” although it is very possible that here Paul is referring to his fellow missionaries. There has been a great deal of speculation and guesswork as to who these brothers are. One could wish that Paul had named them so that the writing and reception of the letter could be better defined historically and geographically; but they remain anonymous for a very good reason: it is Paul’s intention to defend himself against the attacks of his opponents without help from anyone.

In a number of languages the brothers must be rendered as “fellow Christians.” If one were to translate brothers literally, the term would have to refer to Paul’s own brothers. If, however, one understands brothers in this context to mean “fellow workers,” it is then possible to translate the term as “all the persons who are working here together with me for the gospel.”

Join me in sending greetings may be rendered in some languages as “are also sending greetings,” or “together with me they are sending greetings.”

The intended recipients of the letter are now identified: the churches of Galatia. Churches, of course, refers to various local congregations in Galatia. As to the location of Galatia, there are two possibilities: Paul may be referring to the geographical area known as Galatia, or to the political province of the same name. Arguments for both positions abound, and any modern commentary on Galatians will give a summary of the arguments. The weight of scholarly opinion tends to favor the latter view, that is, that Paul wrote to the churches in the Roman province of Galatia in Asia Minor, the towns of which he visited during his first and second missionary journeys (see Acts chapters 13, 14, and 16.1-5).

The question of which Galatia is intended is tied up with the problem of the date of this letter. Many scholars hold the opinion that Galatians was the first letter written by Paul, and they assign to it a date as early as the year 47 or 48 A.D. A later date, however, is suggested by the similarity of this letter to letters of Paul which clearly were written at a later date, particularly Romans and the Corinthian correspondence. The similarity tends to show that all these letters were probably written close to each other. If that is the case, the letter to the Galatians may have been written either during Paul’s second missionary journey or before the start of the third. This also makes it possible to equate Paul’s visit to Jerusalem mentioned in Galatians 2 with the visit recorded in Acts 15, when Paul and Barnabas attended the Jerusalem council.

In some languages it is almost a matter of necessity to indicate the nature of Galatia. One must translate “the churches in the province of Galatia,” or “… the region of Galatia,” depending upon one’s interpretation as to which Galatia is intended.

In selecting a term for churches, it is important to avoid an expression which will merely refer to buildings. Paul’s reference here is to groups of believers or “believers who meet together in various places.”

Quoted with permission from Arichea, Daniel C. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1976. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Galatians 2:11

Paul now relates the incident of Peter’s visit to Antioch as a further proof of his independence from the other apostles.

We are not sure when Peter visited Antioch, but it certainly was after Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem. Antioch is the major city in Syria, and the book of Acts informs us that it was from there that Paul started his first missionary journey (13.1-3). The membership of the church in Antioch consisted of both Jews and Gentiles, and apparently this had not caused any problems within the fellowship.

In rendering the clause when Peter came to Antioch, it is important to indicate that this was merely a visit and not a permanent change of residence.

I opposed him may be rendered as “I spoke against him,” or “I spoke against what he did.”

In public is literally “to the face,” a current idiom during Paul’s day. Some understand this to mean a face-to-face confrontation (New American Bible “I directly withstood him”). Others see an open public encounter as the main component (compare Phillips “I had to oppose him publicly,” thus connecting verse 11 with verse 14). In order to make clear that the phrase in public refers to the group of Christians and not to the people of the city in general, one may say “I opposed him with all the believers listening,” or “… in front of all the believers.”

He was clearly wrong may be rendered as “he stood condemned” (Revised Standard Version), here having the force of “guilty.” What Paul means is that it was obvious from Peter’s own actions that he was wrong (Knox “he stood self-condemned”). Since the mistake that Peter had made was not one of words but of actions, it may be important to translate “because what he did was wrong,” or “because it was clear that what he had done was not right.”

Quoted with permission from Arichea, Daniel C. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1976. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Galatians 3:24

Paul introduces another metaphor in verse 24, but his use of the connective and so (New English Bible “thus”) indicates that he apparently wants it connected with the metaphor of the jailer in the previous verse. The Law, he says, was our “pedagogue.” The difficulty of translating this term is shown by the various ways of rendering it (Good News Translation in charge of us; Revised Standard Version “our custodian”; Phillips “like a strict governess”; Jerusalem Bible “our guardian”; New American Bible “our monitor”; Knox “our tutor”; New English Bible “a kind of tutor in charge of us”). In Paul’s time the “pedagogue” was a slave employed in Greek and Roman families whose job was to supervise a minor child (ages six through sixteen) both within and outside the home. Although the Greek word may suggest instruction, his main duty was not teaching (and therefore to translate it “tutor” as Knox and New English Bible do would be misleading), but rather enforcement of discipline and moral supervision of conduct. As a strict enforcer of rules and regulations and a watchful supervisor, the pedagogue would be an appropriate symbol of the Law and logically connected to the jailer of verse 23 in terms of function, namely, strict supervision.

Personification of the Law is not possible in some languages except as the Law may be likened to a person, for example, “The Law was like a person who made us behave until the time Christ came,” or “… tried to make us do what was right…,” or “… tried to keep us from doing bad….” If, however, one translates in charge of us as “keeping us from doing what is bad,” it may be necessary to alter the order of the clause until Christ came, since the latter clause might then be too closely connected with “doing bad.” One may alter the first part of this verse to read “So, until the time that Christ came, the Law was like a person who was making us behave.”

The Law, then, was in charge of us until Christ came (literally, “into Christ”). Some understand this to be purposive, that is, that the Law functioned as a pedagogue in order to lead us to Christ (for example, Knox “so the law was our tutor, bringing us to Christ”). Others, however, understand the expression simply as temporal, that is, as a designation of time (Good News Translation, Phillips, Jerusalem Bible, New English Bible, and many others).

The last clause in this verse, in order that we might then be put right with God through faith, is connected by some with until Christ came (New American Bible “until Christ came to bring about our justification through faith”). Most commentators, however, prefer to relate the purpose to the Law was in charge of us, that is, that the purpose of the Law being a “pedagogue” is that through faith we might be put in a right relationship with God. This purpose may be most conveniently rendered in some languages as a separate sentence introduced by a partial repetition of the preceding statement, for example, “The Law did this so that we would be put right with God through our believing,” or “… by means of our believing in Christ.”

Quoted with permission from Arichea, Daniel C. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1976. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Galatians 4:27

Paul further supports his concept of two Jerusalems with a quotation from the Old Testament, specifically Isaiah 54.1 quoted from the Septuagint. The quotation has some slight variations from the Hebrew text, but the translator should translate the quotation as Paul has it and not the way it may appear in the Old Testament.

This Old Testament passage of scripture reflects the time that the Jews were in exile in Babylon, away from their homeland. In this passage Jerusalem is viewed in two ways: (1) Jerusalem without its inhabitants, and therefore desolate, is represented as a childless woman (literally “barren one,” that is, incapable of bearing children), while (2) Jerusalem before the exile is represented as a woman whose husband never left her. The “barren” or childless woman is exhorted to be happy and to shout and cry with joy (literally “break forth and shout,” which calls for glad and loud exclamations). The first two lines of the prophecy are parallel to each other, and therefore the “barren” woman is the same as the one who never felt the pains of childbirth. The idea of having more children refers to the hoped for and expected return of the exiles from captivity.

In a number of languages it is necessary to identify who is being spoken to before a command can be given. Therefore, it may be necessary to alter the order in the first two lines of the scripture quotation so as to read “You woman, who has never had children, be happy! You who never had the pain of childbirth, shout and cry for joy!” In some languages, however, this kind of translation might suggest that two different women are being addressed. Since the two parallel lines obviously refer to the same person and the same experience, it may be more appropriate in some languages to translate “You women who have never had children and have never felt the pain of giving birth to children, be happy, shout and exclaim with joy!”

In citing this passage from Isaiah, it is quite possible that Paul is referring to Sarah when he speaks of the barren woman and to Hagar when he speaks of the woman whose husband never left her. It is more likely, however, that the barren woman refers to the heavenly Jerusalem, and the woman with a husband to the present city of Jerusalem. The idea of having more children is perhaps best interpreted to refer not simply to the entrance of both Jews and Gentiles into the fellowship of the church, but primarily in terms of the more desired gifts of freedom and of becoming children of God. The woman who was deserted may be rendered as “the woman whose husband had abandoned her.”

Quoted with permission from Arichea, Daniel C. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1976. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .