Translation commentary on Colossians 1:11 – 1:12

The initial participial clause, “being empowered with all power according to the might of his glory,” may be taken as a circumstantial clause, “as you are made strong,” or absolutely (as participles in Greek New Testament often are) as a wish or a command (as “give thanks” in verse 12).

This expression of Paul’s wish for the believers in Colossae must be expressed in a number of languages as a type of prayer, for example, “I pray that you may be made strong.” It may, however, be important to introduce God as agent, for example, “I pray that God will cause you to be strong.”

A literal rendering of be made strong with all the strength may seem quite strange and even unintelligible, but the real problem is involved in relating this increase of strength with his glorious power. The connection may be made by a restructuring, so as to translate “I pray that God by using his glorious power may cause you to be exceedingly strong.” This strength, however, must not be understood in terms of physical strength or prowess. It is obviously related to the enduring of hardships with patience and therefore in some languages one must translate “strong in your spirits” or “strong in your hearts,” for this is psychological strength and not physical strength.

His glorious power (so most translations) is an inadequate translation of “the might of his glory,” since the noun doxa almost always (as its Heb counterpart kāvōd) represents the self-revelation of God as his presence with his people to save them. This characteristic of God is described in terms of light (compare Ex 16.10; 1 Kgs 8.10-11; Ezek 10.3-4). Twentieth Century New Testament has “the power manifested in his Glory,” Goodspeed “so mighty is his majesty,” Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch “his complete godly power and might.” His glorious power may be rendered in some languages as “his power which is so wonderful” or even “the fact that he is so wonderfully powerful.”

Endure … with patience represents two nouns in Greek whose meanings overlap each other; “steadfastness” (hupomonē) occurs in the NT more often than “endurance” (makrothumia). Translator’s New Testament “stand firm and be patient,” New English Bible Barclay “fortitude and patience,” Moffatt “endure and be patient,” Goodspeed “endurance and forbearance.”

In some instances, it may be essential to indicate the nature of what is to be endured, for example, “endure persecution” or “remain firm despite troubles.” In some languages, patience is best expressed as a negation of some negative quality, for example, “enduring without complaining” or “enduring and not being resentful.”

With joy may go with what precedes (so Lightfoot, Moule, Revised Standard Version New English Bible Phillips New American Bible Barclay Biblia Dios Habla Hoy Jerusalem Bible Moffatt Goodspeed) or with what follows (Abbott, Translator’s New Testament New International Version). If the phrase with joy is to be related to what precedes, one may say “to endure persecution without complaining and with happiness” or “… while continuing to be happy.” In a number of languages, joy is expressed figuratively, for example, “with a happy heart,” or “with dancing in one’s heart,” or “with a heart that sings.”

If the phrase with joy is to be combined with the giving of thanks, it is often possible to employ a coordinate phrase such as “be happy and give thanks.”

Give thanks represents a participle, understood by Good News Translation as an injunction or command, not as a circumstance (“as you give thanks”) or as a participle of means, dependent on the main verb “to live” in verse 10, that is, “by giving thanks” (so New International Version).

It is frequently impossible to speak of God as “the Father,” since a kinship term such as “father” must be possessed, that is to say, a father is always the father of someone. In certain languages, the closest equivalent of the Father is “the father of us all.” In other instances, it may be necessary to use an expanded phrase such as “God our father.” It is important not to conclude that one can communicate the meaning of father in this context merely by a device such as capitalization. The Scriptures are heard far more widely than they are read, and obviously capitalization does not show up in pronunciation.

Has made you fit: the verb hikanoō is causative, to make someone hikanos, that is, fit, qualified, competent, sufficient (see the verb in 2 Cor 3.6; the noun in 2 Cor 3.5; and the adjective, in this sense, in 2 Cor 2.16, 3.5; 2 Tim 2.2). Jerusalem Bible “made it possible for you”; New International Version “qualified”; Goodspeed “entitled you”; Phillips “you are privileged.” In some languages, the concept of fit may be expressed as “cause you to be the kind of person who can share” or “cause you to be the type of person who is worthy to share.”

In verse 12, Revised Standard Version lists “us” as a variant reading (for “you”); “you” is the form better supported by external evidence; some commentators and translators, however, prefer “us” which, if adopted, is inclusive, meaning “all of us Christians.”

Your share of what God has reserved for his people: the noun klēros “lot” means that which is allotted or assigned to someone; it is a biblical word whose meaning springs from its application to the Promised Land, as the territory allotted by God to the Israelites as their exclusive possession. It became a figure of all of God’s blessings for his people, especially those reserved for the future; whence the use of “inherit eternal life,” etc. The use in English of “inheritance” (so Revised Standard Version, compare New English Bible Jerusalem Bible New International Version) is not recommended (compare Translator’s New Testament note), since it implies the transference of property as the result of the original owner’s death.

Your share may be expressed as “what rightfully belongs to you” or literally “your part.”

The clause of what God has reserved for his people may be expressed as “of what God has designated for his people,” or “… set aside for his people,” or even “… promised to give to his people.”

His people: see 1.2.

In the kingdom of light represents the Greek “in the light.” The clue for the use of kingdom comes from the next verse, and it (or “realm”) is used here also by Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch Bible en français courant New International Version Goodspeed Barclay Translator’s New Testament Twentieth Century New Testament. The kingdom of light is here a synonym for “the kingdom of God,” with emphasis on “the light,” that is, God’s own life, which shines on God’s people. Because of the extensive use of the figurative language for “light” and “darkness,” it is important to preserve the figurative significance and not to adopt merely an equivalent such as “the kingdom of God.” Some translators have employed a compromise expression such as “the kingdom of God, who is light” or even “the kingdom of God’s light.” At this point, it may be relevant to employ a footnote to identify the figurative significance of “light” versus “darkness,” for the contrast is not a matter of knowledge versus ignorance but of (1) moral and ethical truth in contrast with sin and disobedience, and (2) life in contrast with death. In a number of languages, there are very distinct words for “light” depending upon the nature of the light: (1) general light as in the case of daylight; (2) the light which radiates from a particular source such as a torch or lamp; and (3) unusual forms of light, as in the case of the northern lights (aurora borealis). Even the light of day may be subdivided into different aspects, for example, dawn before sunrise, early morning, midday, late afternoon, and twilight. In general the term which identifies the bright light of the day has the potential for greatest generalization of meaning and therefore is usually to be preferred to terms which may suggest only partial light or light coming from a lamp or a fire.

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Colossians 2:17

Paul characterizes these rules and the beliefs which they are based on as a mere shadow of things in the future, that is, they are unreal, they are not valid. What is meant by “what is to come” (Revised Standard Version)? Jerusalem Bible New English Bible Translator’s New Testament New International Version translate “what was to come” (see Beare, Moule) which may better represent the idea, since the reality has already come in Christ. So the translation may be “They are only a shadow of things to come” or “They are only a shadow of what was to come.” For a similar distinction between Jewish Law and the Gospel see Heb 8.5, 10.1.

The phrase all such things must often be translated as “such rules,” or “such observances,” or even “obeying such rules.”

The concept of a shadow of things in the future may be extremely difficult to comprehend in some languages, for it may be difficult to imagine the future casting a shadow. In certain instances, however, one may speak of “a reflection” or even of “a mirror reflection.” Therefore a shadow of things in the future may be expressed as “a mirror reflection of what will happen in the future.” If, however, one assumes that the reference is to the past as something which has already occurred in the incarnation, then one may speak of “a reflection of what was to happen,” and if necessary, as “a reflection of what was to happen and which did happen.” Otherwise, the expression might be interpreted to mean that the purpose implied in such rules was actually voided.

The reality is Christ translates the Greek “but the body (is) of Christ.” The word “body” is used occasionally in the sense of substance or reality, that is, what is real, true, as opposed to delusion or illusion (commentators cite passages in Philo and Josephus). Some commentators suggest that “body” here refers also and specifically to “the body of Christ,” the Church, in which the real, as opposed to the unreal, has been made manifest. No translation, however, attempts to make this thought explicit (but see New American Bible “the reality is the body of Christ”).

The reality is Christ may be expressed as “what is real is Christ” or “what exists is Christ.”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Colossians 4:4

Here Paul asks his readers to pray that he may fulfill his duty of making clear the meaning of the secret of Christ, the Christian message. The verb used here is the same as for “revealed” in 1.26. Paul must not only proclaim the message, but also “expound its deeper implications” (Beare).

The necessity implied in as I should (Good News Translation) or “as I ought” (Revised Standard Version) comes from God, who laid upon Paul the responsibility of proclaiming the gospel. A literal rendering of that I may speak, as I should, might suggest merely that Paul is asking the Colossian Christians to pray for him to be able to speak clearly or to enunciate well the message. What Paul is praying for is the ability to proclaim the message in such a way as to make it clear, and it is this proclamation of the message which is his obligation. Therefore, it may be more appropriate to render verse 4 as “therefore pray that I may announce this message in such a way as to make it clear, for that is what I must do.”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Colossians 1:24

Paul speaks of his sufferings on behalf of the Colossians, which can be understood only in a general sense of his hardships and troubles in his work as the apostle to the Gentiles, since he has had no personal contact with the Christians in Colossae.

Since the relationship between sufferings and being happy is essentially one of cause and effect, it may be important to make this quite explicit, for example, “my sufferings on your behalf have caused me to be happy” or “I am happy that I may now suffer for you.” This may be far more meaningful than to say “happy about my sufferings.”

By means of my physical sufferings may be expressed in some languages by a clause introduced by “because,” for example, “because I suffer in my body” or simply “because I am suffering,” in which case a verb for “suffering” should indicate physical suffering.

Now … my sufferings denotes his situation as a prisoner (4.10, 18). The relationship between Paul’s sufferings and what still remains of Christ’s sufferings is not easily understood. I am helping to complete translates a double compound verb (antanaplēroō), found only here in the NT. The simple verb plēroō means “fill, fulfill,” and the single compound anaplēroō is an emphatic form, “fill completely.” The added preposition anti “in the place of” or “on behalf of” indicates that this is done in the place of or on behalf of someone else. So here it means “complete, on Christ’s behalf” or “in the place of Christ.”

The expression Christ’s sufferings may be understood more in a qualitative than in a literal sense; that is to say, these are “the kinds of suffering which Christ endured.” In this way, one may avoid the impression that what Christ suffered was inadequate for atonement. One may, therefore, translate I am helping to complete what still remains of Christ’s sufferings as “I am helping to complete the suffering which must be endured in the way Christ suffered” or “there is much suffering which people must endure and I am suffering in the way in which Christ suffered in order to complete the suffering which is necessary.”

Christ’s sufferings: the Greek for sufferings is here a different word from the one Paul uses for his own sufferings; it is possible that this word (thlipsis) was a technical term for the “tribulation” of the Messianic era, which would precede the end. What still remains translates a plural noun, literally, “the things lacking,” “the deficiencies,” and the plural, as such, states that there are sufferings still to be endured by Christ. In no sense, does Paul mean that Christ’s suffering and death for the redemption of mankind was not sufficient; what is meant is that in the service of Christ his servants are called upon to suffer as he did; suffering is an integral part of the ministry of Christ’s servants, as it was of Christ himself. Barclay translates “the uncompleted sufferings which the work of Christ still entails.”

Paul’s sufferings are physical (lit. “in the flesh”), and they are on behalf of the church. There are two different ways of construing the phrase: (1) Paul’s physical sufferings are on behalf of the church: Revised Standard Version Twentieth Century New Testament New International Version Translator’s New Testament New English Bible Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch; (2) Christ’s sufferings are on behalf of the church: Good News Translation Moffatt Goodspeed Phillips Jerusalem Bible New American Bible. Although it is impossible to state dogmatically which is intended, it seems more probable that the former is meant. It should be mentioned that some commentators and translations connect the phrase “in my flesh” to the immediately preceding “the afflictions of Christ”; they take this to mean that the afflictions of Christ are in the body of Paul; so Abbott; Moffatt “all that Christ has to suffer in my body,” and as an alternative rendering in Traduction œcuménique de la Bible; this, however, does not seem very probable.

If one wishes to make clear that it is Paul’s suffering in this context which is on behalf of the church, it may be necessary to introduce a separate clause, for example, “this suffering of mine is on behalf of the church, which is Christ’s body.”

For his body, the church, see verse 18.

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Colossians 3:7

The phrase at one time must not be interpreted as reference to a specific time but a way of speaking of former time, equivalent in many languages to “previously” or “at an earlier time.”

You yourselves is a possible translation of the Greek kai humeis; or it could be “you, also (as well as other Gentiles)” (see Translator’s New Testament). An equivalent of the emphatic you yourselves may be expressed in some languages as “you are the very ones who.” For live see 1.10, 2.6.

According to such desires represents the Greek “in these” (see Revised Standard Version), the pronoun being read as neuter, referring to the sins or vices of verses 5-6. Some, however, contend that if the longer text of verse 6 is read (that is, with the clause “upon those who do not obey him”), then the pronoun is demonstrably masculine, meaning “among such people you once lived,” but this does not necessarily follow (see Lightfoot, Beare, and others).

Used to live according to such desires must often be restructured so as to read “such desires controlled you,” or “such desires caused you to live as you did,” or “because you had such desires, you lived as you did.”

When your life was dominated by them: the Greek is literally “when you lived in them” (Revised Standard Version), but more would appear to be involved than merely an exact repetition of the first part of the sentence. Though the expression when your life was dominated by them does seem to involve more than what is expressed in the previous statement, it is essentially a means of emphasizing the previous clause, and accordingly it may be possible to coalesce the two statements into a single one by making the combined statement more emphatic. This may be done in some cases by adding adverbial expressions such as “completely” or “entirely.”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Colossians 4:15

With this verse Paul asks the Colossians to extend his greetings to the brothers in Laodicea, and also to Nympha and the church that meets in her house. It must be assumed that Nympha and the Christians associated with her are also in Laodicea, which would mean that besides the Christian group in Laodicea addressed as “the brothers,” there is also this other Christian community. Beare suggests that Nympha and her group were possibly the church at Hierapolis or a rural congregation in the neighborhood.

It is uncertain whether the person named is a woman, Nympha or a man, “Nymphas.” The decision rests on whether the pronoun to be read is “his” or “her”; the name itself in the Greek text can be accented either as a feminine or a masculine noun. Most commentators and translations prefer the feminine (Moule prefers the masculine). There is another variant reading, “their house,” which Lightfoot prefers and explains as the house of Nymphas and his friends. For other examples of home-groups, see Rom 16.5 and 1 Cor 16.19 (Priscilla and Aquila); Philemon 2 (Philemon). Early Christians had no special houses of worship and met for worship in homes.

Give our best wishes to the brothers in Laodicea may be rendered as “tell the brothers in Laodicea how much we wish the best for them.”

In this context the rendering of church must obviously refer to a group of believers. It cannot refer to a building. However, the church as a group of believers implies worshiping together, and therefore by redistributing some of the meaningful components of this term, it is possible to translate the church that meets in her house as “the believers who regularly worship God in her house.”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Colossians 1:1

In some languages it may be quite impossible to begin a document with the phrase “from Paul,” especially when Paul is himself the writer of the letter, that it to say, it may not be possible for an author to speak of himself in the third person. The identification of the writer may require a first person singular pronoun followed by a verb indicating “writing,” for example, “I Paul write to….”

Paul’s status as an apostle of Christ Jesus is the result of God’s doing; it was God who made Paul an apostle (2 Cor 1.1, Eph 1.1, and 2 Tim 1.1 have the identical phrase; Rom 1.1 has “a called apostle,” and 1 Cor 1.1 “a called apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God”). Apostle is literally “messenger” and has the meaning of a representative, with the commission and authority to act in the name and on behalf of the one who has sent him; he is not simply one who delivers a message and nothing else.

The phrase by God’s will may be rendered in some languages as “this is what God wanted” or “this is what God planned.” In other instances, it may be better to restructure God’s will as a causative, for example, “God caused me to be an apostle of Christ Jesus.”

The relationship between apostle and Christ Jesus must be expressed in some languages as “an apostle sent by Christ Jesus” or “an apostle especially commissioned by Christ Jesus.” Though the term apostle may be rendered by a word meaning simply “messenger,” it is important to avoid the connotation of “errand boy.” The importance of the message communicated by the apostle, as well as the special relationship between the apostle and the one who sent him, must be appropriately reflected. Sometimes this can be done by a phrase, “one who is sent with a special message.”

Since the role of our brother Timothy is secondary in the writing of this letter, it may be useful to indicate this fact by some such phrase as “our brother Timothy joins me in greeting you” or “… in sending this letter to you.”

It may be essential to avoid a word such as brother, since this might refer only to individuals of the same family. An appropriate equivalent is sometimes “our fellow Christian Timothy” or “Timothy who is also a Christian together with us.” The rendering of our would of course be an inclusive first person plural if a distinction is made between so-called inclusive and exclusive first person plurals.

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Colossians 2:7

The verse is built on four participles which modify the main verb “live” (in verse 6). To imitate the Greek construction of the sentence (verses 6-7) makes it intolerably long and difficult to follow; so it is better to break it up, as Good News Translation has done, and start a new sentence in verse 7. Since these participial constructions introduce essentially the means by which one may live in union with Christ, it is possible to begin verse 7 by saying “you can do this by keeping your roots deep in him and by building your lives….”

Paul uses two figurative expressions: (1) “to be rooted in” (only here and Eph 3.17), the figure of a tree or plant; (2) “being built upon” (compare 1 Cor 3.10, 12, 14; Eph 2.20; 1 Peter 2.5; Jude 20), the figure of a building. Christ is the “soil” into which the roots sink and also the “foundation” upon which the building stands.

The more or less unusual nature of these figurative expressions may require in a number of languages the introduction of similes instead of metaphors, for example, “you should have, as it were, your roots deep in him, and you should build, as it were, your lives on him….” The introduction of an expression such as “as it were” will immediately alert the reader to understand the expression in a figurative sense. If neither a metaphor or a simile can be employed, it may be possible to render keep your roots deep in him as “remain firmly united to him,” and one may render build your lives on him as “as you develop in your life you should be more dependent on him” or “how you live should depend more and more on what he tells you to do.”

Become stronger: the verb bebaioō (be or make firm, strong) is used by Paul elsewhere only in 1 Cor 1.6, 8; 2 Cor 1.21, and emphasizes constancy, firmness, solidity. In your faith does not refer to a body of doctrines or belief, but to a living relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord. Some (compare Lightfoot, Beare) take tē pistei as instrumental, “by means of your faith” (so Phillips); Jerusalem Bible has “held firm by the faith” (similarly Barclay).

Rather than saying become stronger in your faith, it may be more appropriate to render this expression as “believe more and more firmly” or “put your confidence in Christ all the more.” The strength of confidence may, in some instances, be expressed negatively as “become completely unmovable in your confidence.”

As you were taught: most take this to modify the three preceding participles (“being rooted … being built upon … being firm”); some, however, take it to modify only the immediately preceding one “becoming stronger in the faith.” Some join it to the noun “faith”: “the faith that you were taught” (Jerusalem Bible New English Bible Barclay), but this does not seem very likely. The teacher here would be Epaphras (see 1.7). In order to relate as you were taught to the three preceding imperatives, it may be possible to state “you were taught all this,” or “this is what you were taught,” or “you were taught to do just this.”

Be filled with thanksgiving: a typical Pauline stress on joy or thanksgiving as the hallmark of genuine Christian faith (see 3.16-17).

Some good manuscripts have here “abounding en autē (“in it,” feminine) in thanksgiving,” which gives the meaning “abounding in the faith in thanksgiving” (so King James Version); others have “abounding en autō (in him) in thanksgiving,” which means “abounding in Christ in thanksgiving” (so Vulgate). The vast majority of commentators and translations prefer the text as in United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament.

Though in both Greek and Hebrew it is quite common to speak of being “filled” with a particular emotion or experience, this is a relatively rare figurative expression in many languages. The abundance of thanksgiving may, however, be expressed by saying “be very thankful indeed,” or “express your thankfulness much,” or “show very much how thankful you are.”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .