scum of the world

The Greek that is translated as “scum of the world” in some English translations is translated into Thai (Thai Common Language Version, 1985) as “(we are like) the spitting pot (spittoon) in the king’s palace.”

speak into the air

The Greek that is translated as “speaking into the air” in many English versions is translated into Thai (Thai Common Language Version, 1985) with a similar pronoun: “speak the wind.”

Translation commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:19

Some scholars have thought that verses 18-31 are from a sermon based on the quotation from Jer 9.24 in verse 31. Jewish preachers sometimes put their text at the end of the sermon. However, Paul seems to link his thinking more closely to the quotation from Isa 29.14 in this verse, especially to its keyword “wisdom.”

Revised Standard Version‘s For should be omitted in translation, as in New Jerusalem Bible, Revised English Bible; it is vague and possibly misleading. Paul seems to mean “What I have just said is confirmed by scripture when it says….”

It is written is literally “it has been written.” The tense of the verb in Greek implies that what has been written in the past remains valid in the present. Paul often uses this phrase to introduce quotations from the Old Testament. Revised Standard Version‘s rather literal translation it is written may not be enough to tell some readers that the quotation is from the Old Testament. Good News Bible renders this phrase as “the scripture says.” In a number of languages, though, one cannot talk about scripture’s “talking” or “saying” something. In these languages only humans can normally talk. In such cases the translator may say “In a passage of the Scriptures (or, Holy Writings) we find the following” or “One may read in the Scriptures the following.” Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch has the excellent translation “God has said.” Parola Del Signore: La Bibbia in Lingua Corrente has “the Bible says,” but has to add a glossary note explaining that this is not the whole Bible, but what Christians would now call the Old Testament. It is better to avoid the word “Bible” and to translate “the holy writings” or to follow the example of Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch.

Like most of Paul’s quotations, this one is taken from the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament), though Paul as a rabbi could have quoted the Hebrew text (see Acts 22.3; Phil 3.5). Books were bulky and expensive, and Paul very likely could not take them with him on his frequent travels. So he made many of his quotations from memory. Sometimes, therefore, he gave the general sense rather than the exact wording. This is what he does here. At the end of the quotation, in place of the Septuagint’s rendering “I will hide,” Paul writes “I will set aside.” He may be thinking of Psa 33.10 (Psa 32.10 in Greek), where the phrase “set aside” is used twice in the Greek text about God’s “setting aside” the plans of the Gentiles.

As often in Old Testament poetry, the two lines of the quotation mean the same:

I will destroy — the wisdom — of the wise
I will thwart — the cleverness — of the clever

In some languages, including English, it is not natural to write poetry in pairs of synonymous parallel lines. It may be better, then, to combine the two lines into one. The keyword wisdom must be kept because it is important in the following verses. But Paul does not use cleverness again in 1 or 2 Corinthians. If a translator decides to translate both halves of the quotation, the and should be omitted if it suggests that something new is about to be said. In this case, I will may be repeated.

Destroy in this context may also be rendered as “cause to be of no effect” or “make useless.” Thwart has a very similar meaning to destroy. Other possible renderings are “defeat,” “frustrate,” “put a road block in the way of,” and so on.

On wisdom, see comments on verses 5 and 17. Wisdom and cleverness are used in an ironic, negative sense, of human intelligence used without God’s help. Both halves of the sentence imply that God will prevent the plans made by this kind of human wisdom from being realized. It may be necessary to make this explicit by translating, for example, “I will prevent the plans of those who think they are wise or clever from coming into effect.”

Translators should also consider whether the subject of this quotation is one about which poetry would naturally be written in their own languages. Good News Bible translates this verse as prose in the Old Testament (Isa 29.14). Speakers of each languages normally have their own views of what subjects are suitable for poetry.

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 2nd edition. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1985/1994. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:4

This verse expands and illustrates the meaning of verse 3, but does not do it logically. So Revised Standard Version‘s For is a weak connection. It may be omitted in translation (so New International Version, Revised English Bible).

I belong can be rendered in many languages as “I am a disciple of.” See also the comments on 1.12.

The last part of the verse needs expansion in some languages, including English. The literal answer to the question are you not merely men? is clearly “Yes, we are.” But verse 3 has shown that the question is not intended literally; it is a rhetorical question. It describes a purely human way of life lived apart from the Holy Spirit. For this reason Fee renders this clause as “… are you not acting like mere men?” One may also translate this clause as a statement; for example, “you are acting like worldly people!” or “you are acting according to human standards!”

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 2nd edition. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1985/1994. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on 1 Corinthians 4:13

The first part of this verse ends the series of contrasts. Slandered means to speak in such a way as to damage someone’s reputation. So a natural translation of the Greek for conciliate would be “we humbly make our appeal,” that is, we politely ask the slanderers to stop slandering. This makes good sense in the context, but Revised English Bible has “we try to be conciliatory.” This sentence may also be rendered in the active voice; for example, “when people slander us, we speak kindly to them.”

The keywords in the rest of the verse are refuse and offscouring. These are strong and unusual terms, having very similar meanings. Most translations agree generally with Good News Bible in using words that suggest something utterly despised which people throw out as garbage or refuse. This is the simplest and perhaps the most likely way of understanding the sentence. However, there is some evidence that both these words were sometimes used in speaking of Jewish or pagan sacrifices which were made to purify the worshiper who offered them. It is with this in mind that Barrett translates “We have become as it were the world’s scapegoats; the scum of the earth,” though the word is different from that used of the Old Testament scapegoat (Lev 16.20-28), and it is not necessary to see a reference to this means of dealing with sin.

The context of world here suggests a bad meaning. World may refer to the universe generally, or, as more often when it has a bad meaning, it refers to the people in the world. Similarly, all things in the following phrase may be either masculine, referring to people, or neuter, referring to or including nonhuman things (see comments on 3.21). In this context human “society” (Bijbel in Gewone Taal) or “humanity” (Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch) may be truer to the meaning. Keeping this in mind, it is quite possible to render the latter section of this verse as “People of this world treat us as if we were mere garbage. They look upon us as if we were filthy scum.” Other languages have even more expressive ways to render this. One may say, for example, “we are like the spitting pot (or, spittoon) in the king’s palace” (Thai Common Language Version).

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 2nd edition. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1985/1994. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on 1 Corinthians 6:14

The argument in this verse and the previous one is rather difficult to see until one realizes that us is now used in place of “the body” in verse 13. Us also includes the readers. Paul is teaching that our bodies do have importance, because God will raise them (us) as he raised Christ. There is also an implied contrast with verse 12b: God will destroy the “stomach,” because it is only “a material organ that I use for a short time”; but he will raise us, that is, the body of believers. Good News Bible does not show this contrast clearly. The Greek is more strictly “God both raised the Lord from death, and will also raise us by his power.”

This verse may also be expressed as “God caused the Lord to come alive again, and he will use his power to cause us to come alive.”

In the first paragraph we assumed that the future tense will … raise us is correct (compare 2 Cor 4.14). However, there is important manuscript evidence also for the present tense “raises” and the past tense “raised.” All translations consulted choose the future tense as fitting in better with the argument; New Jerusalem Bible gives the past tense in a footnote. In chapter 15 the present tense is often used, but it is in the passive voice. Others may have changed to past tense to introduce a reference to baptism. However, it is also possible to argue that the past tense is more difficult, and therefore more likely to be what Paul originally wrote. Most people, however, agree with the UBS Greek text, Revised Standard Version, and Good News Bible in choosing the future tense will … raise. Will … raise … up translates a Greek compound (like the English “raise up”) of the verb raised used in the first clause of this verse. Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch restructures and expands the second half of the verse, “so his power will also awaken us to new life.”

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 2nd edition. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1985/1994. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:26

In view of may be expressed as “when we consider” or “when we look at.”

The phrase the present distress raises two questions: (1) Is the meaning “now” (so generally New International Version, New Revised Standard Version footnote, Revised English Bible) or “coming soon” (New Revised Standard Version)? There is no text in the New Testament in which this Greek word must itself mean “imminent” (Moffatt) or “coming soon.” However, words draw their meaning largely from contexts and from the situation to which they refer, so this question cannot be separated from the second one. (2) Is Paul referring to some personal problem or stress? Or is he referring to “a time of stress” that would affect, or was already affecting, the entire Christian community, or even the whole world as in verse 29? The word that is translated distress is commonly used in passages that speak about the end of time, and Paul may have been anticipating here the thought of verses 29-31, where he says “there is not much time left.” He is probably thinking of the present “difficult situation” (Parola Del Signore: La Bibbia in Lingua Corrente) of Christians as a sign that the distress of the last days is already beginning. It may be necessary, then, for translators to expand this text slightly: “The difficult times have (or, distress has) already begun. Therefore….”

Well is literally “good”; see 7.1, 8. The context implies that there is a comparison, as in the Good News Bible rendering “better,” and this seems to be the best translation.

Person: the following verse makes it clear that Paul is speaking exclusively to and about men for the moment. So Good News Bible‘s rendering “man” is the correct one here.

The sentence it is well … to remain as he is may be restructured; for example, “if a man remains as he is, that will be better” or “if a man stays in his present condition, that will be better.”

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 2nd edition. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1985/1994. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on 1 Corinthians 9:5

This rhetorical question is similar in form to that in verse 4. The translations wife or “a sister as wife” (Revised Standard Version footnote) are too literal, for in many cultures the word “sister” would be misunderstood. Therefore Good News Bible‘s translation “Christian wife” is preferable. Some manuscripts omit the word for “sister,” possibly correctly, but the UBS text includes it.

The language of the first half of the Greek sentence is condensed. This is typical of Paul’s writing. He expresses two thoughts: (a) “Do we not have the right to marry on condition that our wife is a Christian?” and (b) “Do we not have the right to take a wife with us on our travels?”

The other apostles probably means “other than myself.” There is no doubt that Paul included Peter among the apostles, and this verse suggests that Paul also considered that the brothers of Jesus were apostles (so Fee).

Here brothers means literally men who have at least the same father (contrast 1.1, for example).

As in 1.12, it is better to translate Cephas as “Peter” (Good News Bible).

In many languages this verse will need to be considerably restructured as Good News Bible has done.

An alternative translation model is the following:
• Since the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Peter take their wives with them when they travel, I have this right too.

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 2nd edition. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1985/1994. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .