Translation commentary on Ephesians 2:8 – 2:9

The basic truth is repeated: For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. The verbal phrase in Greek has the auxiliary verb “to be” plus the perfect passive participle of the verb “to save,” a construction that emphasizes the completed aspect of the action: “you were saved and you continue saved.” Grace is the divine source of salvation, and human faith is the means whereby salvation takes place.

It is not easy to distinguish between the cause of salvation, that is, by God’s grace, and the means, namely, through faith. It is God’s grace which produces the salvation, but it is the faith of people which makes this possible. Faith therefore may be described technically as “contributing circumstances,” for without faith on man’s part God will not impose his grace and salvation. The statement it is by God’s grace that you have been saved may be expressed as “because God is so kind, you have been saved” or “because God is so kind, he has saved you.” The final phrase through faith may be expressed as “this was possible because you trusted.” In this way one can state the necessary circumstances which involve faith, but one can avoid making faith the ultimate means for salvation. If it is necessary to supply an object for the verb “trusted” or “had faith,” here it probably is better to have God as the object: “you trusted him” or “you had faith in him.”

The words that follow, “and this is not your doing, it is the gift of God” (Revised Standard Version), emphasize the divine initiative and activity. Some take “and this” (in verse 8) to refer to the preceding “faith,” but it seems more likely that the Greek neuter pronoun refers to the whole preceding event, that is, salvation by God’s grace through faith, and not just to faith (which in Greek is a feminine noun). It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift may be expressed as “you didn’t earn your salvation; God gave it to you” or “you did not save yourselves; God saved you” or “it was not because of what you did that God saved you, but what he did was a gift.”

Verse 9 (see Revised Standard Version) continues, “not from works,” that is, not the result of human activity, “in order that no one boast (or, as a result no one can boast).” The event of salvation is all God’s doing, resulting completely from his grace, his power, his love. All a person can do is trust, believe, accept, so all possibility of human pride and boasting is done away with.

“Not from works” is a restatement of the phrase in verse 8 “and this (is) not from you.” Good News Translation has restructured this passage in such a way that these two phrases have been combined: It is not the result of your own efforts. Similarly, translators will restructure the ideas of these two verses according to the requirements of good style in their language. They will only be assured of a smooth, natural translation when they have written out all the ideas in these two verses in a series of short sentences and then put them together in a way that is natural for their language.

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert C. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1982. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Ephesians 4:4 – 4:6

Here the writer passes from exhortation to exposition and bases his appeal for unity on the sevenfold unity revealed by the Christian event. Abbott’s classification is worth quoting: “First, the oneness of the Church itself: one Body, one Spirit, one Hope. Next the source and instrument of that unity: one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; and lastly, the unity of the Divine Author.”

(1) One body: this is the church, the body of Christ; it is one and indivisible. A literal rendering of there is one body might be misleading, because it might suggest that there was simply one body lying someplace. It may, therefore, be better to translate there is one body as “we form one body” or “we constitute just one body” or “we all belong to one body.”

(2) One Spirit: God’s Spirit, his gift to his people (see 2.18). It may be more meaningful and accurate to translate “there is just one Spirit” or “there is only one Holy Spirit.” The two, one body and one Spirit, may be joined as follows: “Because all of you have the same Spirit, you form with one another a single body.”

(3) One hope to which God has called you: see 1.18. It may be difficult to translate there is one hope, especially for languages in which hope is always a verb rather than a noun. Furthermore, in this context the reference of hope is that which is hoped for. Therefore, the second part of verse 4 may be rendered as “just as there is one thing that we may hope for and it is to this that God has called you” or “… and this is what God has called you to do” or “… invited you to do.”

(4) One Lord: Jesus Christ, the Lord of the church (compare 1 Cor 8.6). It may be more satisfactory to translate “there is only one Lord.”

(5) One faith: the Christian message is one, not many, and it calls for the same faith, belief, commitment from all who accept it. It is doubtful that here the Greek word for “faith” means “creed” (as Murray would define it). In this context one faith must refer to “one way in which we may trust God” or “… trust Christ.”

(6) One baptism: there is one initiatory rite, in which all believers engage, and it is the one symbolic and public demonstration of the believer’s response to God’s grace in Christ. It is quite unlikely that by “one baptism” the writer meant one form of baptism (among various forms), or that the rite was administered only once (not twice or several times). The emphasis in the noun baptisma is not on the action described by the verb baptizō “to dip,” but on the object or result of the act.

A literal translation of one baptism can be misunderstood, either as a single form of baptism or as baptism on only one occasion. The reference here is to the fact that this baptism was a baptism as a follower of Christ and not, for example, as a disciple of John. Accordingly it may be more satisfactory to translate one baptism as “one person in whose name we are baptized” or “one person for whom we are baptized.” Or else, “one purpose for which all of us are baptized.”

(7) One God: he is called one God and Father of all mankind, and his relation to mankind is expressed by three prepositional phrases: “who is over all and through all and in all” (New English Bible). The “all” in these three phrases has the same meaning as the preceding “all” in “one God and Father of all,” that is, all people, mankind, humanity as a whole. This means taking the Greek “of all” (twice) and “for all” as masculine, not neuter (so Abbott; Robinson prefers what he calls “the wider reference” of the neuter, that is, including inanimate creation as well). Such languages as French, Spanish, and Portuguese distinguish between the masculine and neuter forms, unlike English, where “all” may be either masculine or neuter.

A literal translation of one God and Father of all mankind can be misleading, since the use of “and” may imply two persons not one. Therefore the phrase Father of all mankind must often be made an appositional expression, for example, “one God, Father of all mankind” or “one God, who is Father of all mankind” or “… Father of all people.”

“Over all” means Lord of all (see Barclay “who reigns over all”; also Bible en français courant); “through all” is represented in Good News Translation by works through all (so Translator’s New Testament, New American Bible, Barclay); and “in all” means that he is present in all people. The Greek text does not in any way restrict the “all,” the clear implication being that all people are meant; but Moffatt, Goodspeed have “all of us” three times, thereby restricting the reference to Christians. This is not impossible, but it seems better in translation to do as most translations have done and say simply “all” or “all people.”

Who is Lord of all may be rendered as “who is Lord over all people” or “who is Lord ruling all people” or “who is the one who rules all people.”

The phrase works through all is difficult to understand and to translate in a completely adequate manner. To translate “he does his work by using all people” can be misleading for it may imply that God is exploiting people. It may also be possible to say “he causes all people to do what he wants them to do,” but this should not be translated in such a way as to imply that all people always do what God wants them to do.

The final statement is in all may be even more difficult to fully comprehend, but its equivalent in many languages is “dwells in all people.”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert C. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1982. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Ephesians 5:15 – 5:16

The writer turns once more to warnings and advice. The readers must be careful about their conduct (again the verb “to walk,” as in verse 8). Since they are people living in the light of Christ, they must behave like wise people, not like ignorant people; that is, they must apply their Christian wisdom to the practical matters of conduct that face them.

Be careful how you live may be more appropriately rendered in some languages as “pay close attention to how you behave.” Such a shift in wording may be required since live might suggest standard of living. Similarly, the admonition Don’t live like ignorant people may be best rendered as “Don’t act like ignorant people.” The phrase ignorant people may be rendered as “people who do not know any better.”

Verse 16 in Greek follows without a break from verse 15, with the use of a participial phrase “buying up the time.” This expression is found exactly the same in Colossians 4.5. The verb means literally “to buy out, redeem,” but here and in the Colossians passage it means make good use of. Most commentators and translators give the same meaning that appears in Good News Translation and Revised Standard Version, but Barth takes it to mean “Redeem the time” (so Robinson), and Jerusalem Bible translates “This may be a wicked age, but your lives should redeem it.” But this seems most unlikely. The readers are being told to seize and use every opportunity to carry on their Christian witness, because these are evil days, a comment which reflects the Christian thinking of that time, that the period in which they lived was under the control of the Devil (see 2.2). It may be that there is the further implication that there was not too much time left before the end of the age.

In some languages it is necessary to specify what is involved in every opportunity. Accordingly, it may be necessary to translate make good use of every opportunity you have as “every time you can do something good you should” or “you should use every chance to do good.”

The statement these are evil days seems perfectly evident in meaning, and yet a literal translation might mean nothing more than “this is a period of bad weather.” It may be necessary, therefore, to translate these are evil days as “these are days when people are evil” or “in these times people are evil.”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert C. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1982. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Ephesians 6:20

This verse is similar to Colossians 4.3d-4.

For the sake of this gospel translates the phrase “on behalf of which”; the antecedent of the relative pronoun may be “the gospel” or “the secret” (so Abbott), or the phrase can mean simply “For this reason” (so Barth).

In most languages it is relatively easy to speak of someone who has benefited by an event, but it is not always easy to use a simple phrase to explain a benefit which might accrue to the gospel. Some persons have attempted to use the phrase “in order to help the gospel,” but this may seem both strange and obscure. Perhaps the most satisfactory equivalent in some languages is simply “in order to tell others about the gospel” or “in order that more people may know about the gospel.”

I am an ambassador translates a Greek verb used only here In some cases it may be necessary to specify the person or institution that one represents as an ambassador. Therefore the clause I am an ambassador may require amplification, for example, “I am an ambassador of Jesus Christ” or “I am a spokesman for Jesus Christ.”

In prison: the writer refers to himself as a prisoner in 3.1; 4.1.

Pray: in a number of languages there is no specific term for pray, and therefore it may always be necessary to use a phrase such as “speak to God” or “ask God” or even “urge God.”

I may be bold in speaking translates a Greek verb which is related to the noun “boldness” in verse 19; this verb, “be a bold speaker,” is often used of Paul in the narrative in Acts (see 9.27, 28; 13.46; 14.3; 19.8; 26.26).

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert C. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1982. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Ephesians 2:20

In Greek this verse continues without a break from verse 19; the Greek aorist passive participle “having been built” is dependent on the main verb “you are” in verse 19 and represents the condition or manner of the readers’ new situation as full members of the Kingdom and family of God. The figure is now that of a building, which carries through verse 22 (verse 20 “build upon”; verse 21 “building”; verse 22 “build together with”). The Greek text says simply “(you) having been built upon”; Good News Translation has You, too are built upon (also Bible en français courant) in anticipation of what is explicitly stated in verse 22, “you are built together with,” and in order to make clear that the experience of Gentile Christians is the same as that of Jewish Christians and not different and separate from it. Jerusalem Bible, Translator’s New Testament have “you are part of a building”; Traduction œcuménique de la Bible “you have been integrated into the building.”

If a time reference is explicit in the aorist participle it is, as Abbott says, to the time when they became Christians.

The figure of a building is expressed by two features: the foundation and the cornerstone. As to the former, the Greek has simply the genitive construction, “the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” which may mean one of four things:

(1) the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets: Bengel, Salmond; Good News Translation, Twentieth Century New Testament, New English Bible, Bible en français courant, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, Biblia Dios Habla Hoy, Nova Tradução na Linguagem de Hoje
(2) the foundation which consists of the apostles and prophets: Abbott, Dodd, Furnish, Robinson, Murray, Beare, Barth; Good News Translation margin, New English Bible margin, Barclay, Traduction œcuménique de la Bible, Moffatt, Goodspeed, New American Bible, Bible de Jérusalem, Jerusalem Bible, Phillips
(3) the foundation upon which the apostles and prophets are built: Alford
(4) the foundation upon which the apostles and prophets have built: Beza

As is to be seen, the majority of commentators and translators prefer number 2, taking “of the apostles and prophets” to be a genitive of apposition (to “the foundation”). Simply to translate “the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (as do Revised Standard Version, Translator’s New Testament, New International Version) is to say in English that the foundation belonged to the apostles and prophets.

Apostles may refer in a restricted sense to the twelve immediate followers and companions of Jesus; more probably it refers to the wider group, which included people like Paul (see 1.1).

Prophets are probably New Testament prophets, people who delivered God’s message in Christian worship, and not Old Testament prophets; but it should be said that the fact that apostles comes before prophets, and that both are governed by one definite article, does not prove that these prophets are not Old Testament prophets. The same phrase occurs in 3.5, where the prophets are, undeniably, Christian prophets.

The bold metaphor which speaks of the believers as being built upon the foundation is something which must often be made a simile in order for the reader to immediately understand that this is a figure of speech, for example, “you, too, have been built, so to speak, upon the foundation.” In some languages the foundation is simply “the stones on which a house is built.”

The phrase laid by the apostles and prophets may be translated as “the apostles and the prophets laid the foundation” or “… made the foundation.” For a treatment of the term apostle see 1.1.

A typical and effective term for prophets is “those who speak on behalf of God” or “those who proclaim God’s word” or “… God’s message.”

If one assumes that the foundation consists of the apostles and prophets, then the figure of speech becomes more complex, because one does not wish to suggest that certain people were simply built literally on top of the apostles and prophets. The foundation, therefore, may be described as “the message (or, truth) which the apostles and prophets proclaimed.”

The cornerstone being Christ Jesus himself: the identification of Christ as the cornerstone makes it more likely that the apostles and prophets are the foundation, but is not conclusive proof that such was the meaning intended by the writer.

It is impossible to determine precisely which stone is meant by the Greek noun translated “cornerstone.” This word occurs also in 1 Peter 2.6, while in Matthew 21.42; Mark 12.10; Luke 20.17; Acts 4.11; 1 Peter 2.7 the phrase “head of the corner” is used. The stone in question could be the large stone used in ancient buildings which extended to the corner of the building, the stones from the wall at right angles to it fitting above and beneath this stone. One such massive stone, 38 feet 9 inches (almost 12 meters) long was discovered in the Temple area in Jerusalem. (Of course it should be noted that in English, at least, the “cornerstone” could refer to the stone at any one of the four corners of an edifice.) Others take the word to mean “keystone,” the stone at the top of an arch. In English this is called the “capstone” or “copestone.” Whatever the precise meaning of the word in Greek, the general meaning is not in doubt: Christ is called the most important stone in the building, the one that provides cohesion and support for the whole structure. So it will be better in most languages to represent the meaning by the phrase “the most important stone.”

In many parts of the world it is not customary to build buildings with foundations or from stones or bricks. As a result the images in this verse pose some difficulties. For these situations foundation can be described as “the solid (or, strong) base put down to build a house on” or “the base people put down before they build a house made of stone.” Cornerstone can then be represented as “the most important stone in the building” or “the stone that gives strength to the building.” When translators use expansions such as these, it becomes much easier to translate with similes, where the comparisons are made clear. One way to do this would be: “You, too, are part of a building. The base they build that building on was put there by the apostles and the prophets, and the stone that gives it strength is Christ Jesus himself.” Another possibility would be: “You, too, are like part of a building for which the apostles and the prophets laid down the base that gives it strength; and Christ Jesus is the important stone that gives strength to the building.”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert C. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1982. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Ephesians 4:19

The description of the heathens’ spiritual condition continues without a break from verse 18, and begins with the perfect participle of a Greek verb (which occurs only here in the New Testament) which describes complete loss of feeling; Revised Standard Version “callous”; Translator’s New Testament “Dead to all feeling of shame.” It is the ultimate in moral depravity, a lack of shame or guilt for any sin or vice.

It may be difficult to speak of “losing a feeling,” but one can translate they have lost all feeling of shame as “they no longer feel any shame about anything” or “no longer can anything make them feel ashamed” or “… anything which they have done make them feel ashamed” or “they are no longer able to feel shame for the bad things they do.”

Give … over translates a verb meaning “to deliver, hand over,” which in Romans 1.24, 26, 28 is used three times of God turning the Gentiles over to their own folly and sin. It may be difficult to speak of a person “giving himself over to something,” but one can in some instances say “they want to do nothing else than engage in vice” or “they spend all their time doing bad things.”

Vice translates a Greek noun meaning “indecent conduct, debauchery, licentiousness”; it occurs in other lists of vices: Mark 7.22; 2 Corinthians 12.21; Galatians 5.19; 1 Peter 4.3. There may be no generic term for vice, but it is always possible to employ a phrase such as “drunkenness and illicit sex” or “drunkenness and immorality” or, more generally, “evil practices.”

Do translates a noun which means “working, doing.” Indecent things translates “uncleanness, impurity” (New English Bible “foul desires”); it appears also in 5.3; Colossians 3.5. Without restraint translates the prepositional phrase “in avarice, greed, covetousness.” The Greek noun (also 5.3) describes the desire to have more, the lack of restraint in conduct.

The final clause of verse 19 may be rendered as “they do not hold themselves back at all from doing (or, they don’t stop doing) all kinds of bad things.” In order to reflect something of the indecency suggested by the Greek term, one may use such figurative expressions as “from sins that make them dirty” or even “from sins that stink.”

The sins listed here are mainly, but not exclusively, sexual in nature.

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert C. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1982. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Ephesians 5:28

The verse begins with the Greek adverb “in this way, in such a manner,” which may refer back to the way in which Christ loves the church (verse 25) or refer forward to “as their own bodies”; the latter seems more likely (see the same construction in verse 32). The meaning of the statement ought to love their wives just as they love their own bodies is made clear by the following verses; a husband and wife become “one flesh,” so, in effect, a husband’s love for his wife is his love for his own body. See New English Bible “In loving his wife a man loves himself.” It is possible to understand the Greek to mean “A man should love his wife as if she were his own body.” The Greek verb for ought expresses the necessity or compulsion that arises from a given set of circumstances.

As in some preceding verses it may be important in verse 28 to use a singular expression rather than a plural one because of the problem of polygamy in certain areas of the world, for example, “a man ought to love his wife just as he loves his own body” or “each man ought to love his own wife….” There may, however, be something rather unusual in the use of the same term for loving a wife and loving one’s own body. In fact, it may be necessary to use an expression such as “show deep appreciation for” or “be deeply concerned for.”

In translating the statement a man who loves his wife loves himself, it may be necessary to make somewhat more evident the inferred relationship or to use two different words for “love,” for example, “a man who loves his wife is, as it were, loving himself” or “a man who loves his wife shows real concern for himself.”

Abbott and Beare object to rendering the Greek for “as” by “as they love” (as Good News Translation, New English Bible, Jerusalem Bible translate); they contend that it means here “as being their own bodies”; so Barth, who translates “to love their wives for they are their bodies.” But it is by no means absolutely certain that this is so; no one would contend that the command “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Leviticus 19.18; Mark 12.31, means “love your neighbor as being yourself”; it means “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” If one follows this interpretation of as they love, it may be useful to translate “… to love his wife, for she is, in a sense, his own body.”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert C. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1982. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Ephesians 1:13

This verse in Greek (see Hdb|fig:Table_EPH1-3.jpg) has the main verb “you were sealed,” which is preceded and modified by two aorist participles, “having heard” and “having believed”; the three may be related in the following manner: “you heard … you believed … and then/so you were sealed.”

The verse in Greek begins “in whom also you, having heard the word of truth” (Hdb|fig:Table_EPH1-3.jpg). The writer now addresses his readers directly, distinguishing them from the us in the previous verse, with whom he associates himself. They, the readers, either as Gentile Christians or as second generation Christians, have been given the same destiny as the believers of Jewish origin: they also became God’s people (see Beare). This happened (1) when they heard “the word of truth” and (2) when they believed in Christ. “The word of truth” is a way of speaking of the gospel; Good News Translation the true message may not be adequate, and it may be better to take this genitive phrase to mean “the message/word about the truth,” the word “truth” then being defined by the following genitive phrase (so Abbott). See Colossians 1.5.

In rendering the statement you also became God’s people, it is important to avoid an expression which would suggest “you made yourself God’s people.” In order to avoid this it may be necessary to restructure the statement to read “God also made you his people.” It may also be difficult or impossible to speak of “the message about the truth,” since “truth” cannot be used as an abstract without some indication of the content of the truth. Therefore, it may be necessary to translate “the message about the truth” as “the message about the truth concerning God” or “the message which contains true words about God” or “… about what God has done.”

The genitive phrase “the good news of your salvation” may mean (1) the good news that you are saved or (2) the Good News that accomplished your salvation; the second one seems more likely in the context. This may be rendered in some languages as “the Good News which caused you to be saved.” In some languages, however, only a personal agent can accomplish salvation, and accordingly the gospel must be treated as the instrument, for example, “The Good News which God used to cause you to be saved” or “… used in order to save you.”

As the discussion above shows, the true message (or “the message about the truth”) is a way of speaking about the Good News. Translators should take care not to construct the passage so that it seems that they are two different things. In some cases they might have to use a phrase such as “the message of truth, which is the Good News that brought you salvation.”

God put his stamp of ownership on you translates the Greek verb “to seal,” which is used literally in Matthew 27.66 (the tomb) and Revelation 20.3 (the abyss); it appears figuratively (1) to close in order to keep from being known, Revelation 10.4; 22.10; (2) to place a mark on something or someone as sign of ownership, Revelation 7.3-4; 2 Corinthians 1.22; and here and in 4.30. The related noun “seal, certification, confirmation” is used in Romans 4.11: Abraham’s circumcision was a visible confirmation of his right standing with God, achieved through faith. Beare refers to the custom of a devout worshiper marking on his body the symbol of the god he worshiped, as a sign of his entire consecration. So circumcision was such a sign among the Jews, and in later (post-New Testament) Christian usage baptism was called “the seal”.

Here the “seal” is “the Holy Spirit of promise,” that is, the Holy Spirit that God had promised to give his people (see the quotation from Joel 2.28-32 in Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2.14-21). The Holy Spirit is God’s stamp of ownership, the certification that they belong to him. See Translator’s New Testament “to show that you were his, you received the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.” Another way of saying this would be “In order to show that you belonged to him, God marked you by giving you the Holy Spirit he had promised.”

In a number of languages it is impossible to speak about stamp of ownership. The closest equivalent may be “God declared that you belonged to him” or “God chose that you would belong to him.” This statement is then further explained by the following phrase, “by giving you the Holy Spirit,” which may be expressed in some languages as “for he gave you the Holy Spirit” or “he caused you to have the Holy Spirit” or “… to receive the Holy Spirit” or “… to have the Holy Spirit come into you.”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert C. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1982. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .