Translation commentary on Hebrews 1:11

The main point of this verse is the contrast between the Lord, who will always remain in existence, and the world he has made, which will not.

The word for disappear is often used in the Bible in contexts which speak of violent destruction; therefore Barclay and Translator’s New Testament translate “be destroyed.” However, the idea of destruction is not present in the second half of the verse, which simply speaks of growing old. They will disappear may be rendered as “They will no longer be seen,” “They will no longer exist,” or “There will be a time when they will no longer be.”

The Greek verb for remain, as written in the oldest manuscripts, may mean either “you remain” (compare Revised Standard Version) or you will remain. Most early translations have the future tense. The immediate context (They will disappear, they will … wear out) suggests the future, but you are (verse 12) is a present tense in the Greek. Whether present or future is chosen, the meaning is much the same, since remain suggests a permanent state, including both present and future. Therefore it is important in rendering remain to indicate continued existence rather than merely remaining in a place. Hence, you will remain may be rendered as “you will always exist.”

It may be somewhat difficult to speak of the earth and the sky as “wearing out like clothes,” but sometimes one may speak of such a process as “they will become useless like old clothes.”

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on The Letter of the Hebrews. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1983. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Hebrews 3:13

The word translated Instead or “But” (Revised Standard Version) may also mean “What is more.” The problem for the translator is to decide which meaning suits the context better. If the more common meaning Instead is chosen, this will emphasize the contrast between turn away from the living God and help one another. It may be helpful to use some such introductory clause as “You shouldn’t do that but you should do this” or “Rather than turning away from God, you should….”

However, in the somewhat wider context the alternative meaning “What is more” perhaps makes better sense. The two main imperatives of verses 12 and 13 are be careful and help (or “encourage”). The writer is advising negative action in verse 12 and positive action in verse 13, but both are directed to the same end. This meaning may be brought out by some such expression as “Indeed, in order that none of you be deceived by sin and become stubborn, you must do more….”

None, like no one in the previous verse, means “no individual within the Christian community.”

On stubborn, see discussion on Heb. 3.8. The close relation between deceived by sin and stubborn may be made clear by some such translation as “in order that no one among you be made stubborn by the deceit of sin.”

Help in this context is a common language equivalent for “encourage,” though practical help is not excluded from the meaning here. There is a play on words in the Greek between the word translated help and the word for “called” (Revised Standard Version), but this has no importance for the meaning and should not influence the translation.

One another is literally “yourselves,” and some older commentators have thought that this emphasized the unity existing between members of the church; but this is rather speculative, and virtually all translations have one another.

As long as the word “Today” in the scripture applies to us states clearly, and more concisely than some modern translations, the most likely sense of a rather concentrated expression. It was common to refer to biblical passages by keywords, as in Mark 12.26, the bush, meaning “the passage about the burning bush.” Here the writer probably means “as long as we hear the word ‘Today’ spoken in its context in Psalm 95.” The psalm was probably used in Christian worship, as it is now. This interpretation is more likely than such translations as Knox “while the word To-day still has a meaning” and Jerusalem Bible “as long as this ‘today’ lasts.” The expression applies to us may be rendered as “refers to us,” “includes us,” or “is speaking to us.”

In some languages the purpose clause in order that none of you be deceived by sin and become stubborn must be shifted in order, so as to follow the main clause. If this is done, some adjustment needs to be introduced at the beginning of verse 14 in order to make the causal relationship clear.

In some languages it may be difficult to speak of “being deceived by sin.” The closest equivalent may be “become deceived by the sins that you commit” or “you sin and thus believe a lie.” And become stubborn may be rendered as “and thus become stubborn” in the sense of “and thus refuse to obey God.”

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on The Letter of the Hebrews. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1983. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Hebrews 5:10

Declared (Le Nouveau Testament. Version Synodale) has a range of meaning similar to call (see comment on Heb. 5.4). Bijbel in Gewone Taal has “called him out”; Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch “appointed”; New English Bible, Translator’s New Testament “named”; Moffatt, New American Bible, Phillips “designated”; Knox “called”; and Barclay “was given … the title of.” However, the earliest meaning of this verb is “greet,” and this sense is still found in secular writings of about the same date as the New Testament. Bible de Jérusalem translates “since he is greeted by God with the title of high priest according to the order of Melchizedek”; similarly Jerusalem Bible “acclaimed” and Traduction œcuménique de la Bible “proclaimed.” This is a possible meaning; however, it is more likely to be an equivalent of call, but the author used declared to avoid repetition. The word does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, and therefore the exact sense is not certain.

The meaning of the verb rendered declared may be expressed in some languages by direct discourse; for example, “God proclaimed, ‘You are a high priest in the way in which Melchizedek was.’ ” For a translation of in the priestly order of Melchizedek, see Heb. 5.6.

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on The Letter of the Hebrews. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1983. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Hebrews 7:10

In verse 10, unlike verse 9, there is no so to speak in the Greek text. As in verse 5, the writer uses the common Hebrew expression of descendants being “in the loins” (Revised Standard Version) of their male ancestors. To convey this idea to readers for whom it is strange, Good News Translation (a) expands “still in Abraham’s loins” to had not yet been born, but; (b) adds so to speak ( Good News Bible is not followed in this by Bijbel in Gewone Taal, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch); and (c) replaces “loins” by body (compare other common language translations except Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, which has a word which means “seed” or “sperm”).

Levi had not yet been born may be rendered as “Levi had not yet come into existence” or “Levi did not as yet exist.”

The statement but was, so to speak, in the body of his ancestor Abraham may be expressed as “but one might say that he was already in the body of his ancestor, who was Abraham” or “… in the body of Abraham, who was his ancestor.”

The pronoun him in the clause when Melchizedek met him must refer to Abraham and not to Levi.

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on The Letter of the Hebrews. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1983. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Hebrews 9:3

The second curtain: there is no reference to a “first curtain” in Greek, only to a “first tent” in verse 2, and to a “second curtain” and “a tent called Holy of Holies” in verse 3. Good News Translation attempts to distinguish the two tents by referring to the “first tent” as the outer one, but this leaves the confusion of mentioning a second curtain without a first curtain having been mentioned. Late Jewish writers mention a first curtain in front of the Holy Place. Phillips avoids this difficulty by omitting “second.” Most modern English translations prefer curtain to the traditional “veil,” which now suggests an article of clothing. Since no mention has been made of a first curtain, it may be best to translate Behind the second curtain as “Behind a curtain” or “Behind a drape.”

A literal rendering of the tent called the Most Holy Place may wrongly imply two different tents rather than a single sanctuary consisting of two parts. In order to avoid such complications, it may be better to translate the phrase as “the part of the tent called the Most Holy Room,” since, again, a literal rendering of Place might suggest an enclosed area.

The traditional expression rendered “the Holy of Holies” (Revised Standard Version) is a Hebrew idiom meaning the Most Holy Place (Bible en français courant “the very holy place”). Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch refers to a glossary note on “Temple.” In order to indicate clearly the significance of the Most Holy Place, it may be possible to speak of “that room which belongs to God more than any other place” or “that room which has been dedicated to God more than any other room.”

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on The Letter of the Hebrews. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1983. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Hebrews 10:8 – 10:10

By making a few verbal changes in the quotation from Psalm 40, Hebrews has emphasized the contrast between the end of the old order and the basis of the new. The quotation is now repeated in a rather different form, but with no major change of meaning. First or “above” (Revised Standard Version) may mean “earlier in what I am writing,” or more probably, “earlier in the quotation,” in contrast with Then, verse 9.

In view of the way in which the direct quotations are introduced in verses 5 and 7, it may be good in verse 8 to render First he said as “First Christ said.” It may be necessary to introduce God as the person to whom the statement is made, since only in this way is the referent of the pronoun You made clear.

The rendering of the direct quotation in verse 8 depends largely on the way in which similar expressions are rendered in verses 5 and 6.

He said this even though all these sacrifices are offered according to the Law is an aside, or parenthetic expression, as Revised Standard Version shows by using parentheses. Nowhere else does Hebrews speak so positively about the Law of Moses, and the meaning here may be only “these sacrifices belong to the old order, governed by the Law.” Since the Greek participle, literally “saying,” is translated He said, it would be possible to put are offered into the past tense also. A better solution is Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch‘s “although all these sacrifices are prescribed (or, laid down) in the Law” or Barclay‘s “and these are the offerings which the law prescribes” (similarly Translator’s New Testament).

Some languages do not use a concessive clause introduced by a conjunction such as “though” or even though. However, it is always possible to express a concession by introducing a conjunction such as “nevertheless”; for example, “All these sacrifices were made as the Law said they should be made, but nevertheless he said this.”

As in verse 7, it may be necessary to alter the position of O God or to incorporate it as an indirect object of the verb said; for example, “Then he said to God, ‘I am here to do your will.’ ”

Translations are usually longer than the texts they translate. This passage is so compressed in the Greek that translations may need to be much longer if they are to bring out the full meaning.

The translator also has to choose between different ways of making explicit what is implicit in the text. The main problems may be listed as follows, using Revised Standard Version as a basis. The first two questions must be studied together: (a) Who “abolishes the first in order to establish the second”? And (b) what is “that will”? There are two possibilities:

(a) “he abolishes…”
(i) God abolishes: Good News Translation, Bible en français courant
(ii) Christ abolishes: Revised Standard Version, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, Phillips, Jerusalem Bible (?), Barclay (?).
(b) “that will”
(i) God’s will (in general): Bijbel in Gewone Taal, Knox (?), New English Bible
(ii) Christ’s act of obedient sacrifices: Good News Translation, Bible en français courant, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, Translator’s New Testament

Many translations irresponsibly leave the reader to choose; those translations are not mentioned in this summary. If necessary, an alternative translation may be added in a footnote.

(a) There are two arguments in favor of choice (i), Good News Translation God does away…. First, if “Christ” is the grammatical subject, the conclusion “the body of Jesus Christ” is a little awkward. Second, it is usually God rather than Christ who is said to establish or change the Law, priesthood, and forms of worship. On the other hand, in favor of choice (ii) is the fact that “Christ” has been the subject of all the main verbs since verse 5. Most translations therefore imply or state that “Christ” is the subject here also.

(b) “That will” is literally “by which will,” referring back to “thy will” (Revised Standard Version) in verse 9. “Thy will” there means “God’s will.” The question arises whether the “will” that people should be purified from sin is (i) God’s will or (ii) the specific act by which Christ offered himself in sacrifice, in response to what God wanted him to do. Choice (ii) fits in more clearly with the context, and choice (i) could have been more naturally expressed in Greek in other ways.

On this basis other questions are more easily settled. (c) Does away with means “abolishes” a “law,” rather than having the general meaning “destroys.” (d) “The first” (Revised Standard Version) means the old animal sacrifices mentioned in verses 5-6, and “the second” (Revised Standard Version) is Christ’s willing obedience to God (verse 7), expressed in the sacrifice of his death. (e) In we are all purified or “made holy,” we includes all Christians. The Greek for been purified in verse 2 is different from the word used here, and so is the Greek for make perfect in verse 1, but the meaning is very similar. Alternatively purified may mean “set apart to belong to God in a special way.” Translator’s New Testament combines the two: “we are cleansed and set apart for his service.” Barclay emphasizes that for the writer, the purpose of holiness is to make possible a real meeting with God in worship: “we have been made fit to enter God’s presence.” Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch (see below) emphasizes the inner purpose of worship as the removal of guilt, as in verses 17-18.

Even though the Greek text of verse 9b says only “he does away with the first in order to establish the second,” it is important to make clear what are the first and the second, and this is precisely what Good News Translation has attempted to do. But does away with should not be understood in the sense of “destroying” or “throwing away.” A more satisfactory rendering may be “declares that all the old sacrifices no longer have any power,” “causes all the old sacrifices to no longer have power,” or “… no longer be able to accomplish anything.” The rendering of puts the sacrifice of Christ in their place must be translated in such a way as to complement the first part of verse 9b. If the first part of 9b is translated “God takes away the power of all the old sacrifices,” one may translate the second part of 9b as “and he causes the sacrifice of Christ to have power.”

As in other contexts, we are all purified from sin may be best expressed negatively: “we no longer have sin” or “… have guilt.”

The offering … of his own body is the same as the sacrifice of himself in 9.26; compare 9.12. No contrast is implied between body, the keyword of verse 5, and “soul” or “spirit.” Offering, as in verse 8, is used in the sense of a “sacrifice.” The expression of means in the phrase by the offering that he made may be rendered in some languages as cause; for example, “because of the offering he made” or “because of the way he offered.”

In order to avoid the implication that his own body was something external to Christ himself, it may be best to translate by the offering that he made of his own body as “by the way in which he offered himself.”

Once and for all, in the Greek as in Good News Translation, comes at the end of the sentence, and is thus even more emphatic than usual. The tense of the verb indicates a past action, the effects of which continue into the present. Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch and some commentators understand the sentence to mean “we have been purified once for all,” but Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch first edition’s very clear translation is more probable: “Once for all, he offered himself.”

Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch sums up many of the choices recommended above: “In this way Christ puts an end to the old sacrifices and puts his own (sacrifice) in their place. Thus he did what God wanted of him. Once for all, he offered himself (emphasized). By this, we have been freed from all guilt.”

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on The Letter of the Hebrews. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1983. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Hebrews 11:6

This verse, especially the second part, explains and applies verse 5. Genesis 5.24 does not mention Enoch’s “faith,” so the writer has to show that it is implied. The phrase without faith may be restructured as “unless he has faith” or “if he does not have faith.”

Comes to God implies “worship,” as in 4.16 and 7.25. The indefinite relative clause whoever comes to God may be transformed into a conditional clause, such as “if anyone comes to God.” This may be rendered as “if anyone seeks to worship God” or “… wants to worship God.”

Must indicates a way of doing things which God has set up, not an arbitrary command.

Usually, common language translations use more verbs and less nouns than the Greek, but here Good News Translation replaces “believe” (Revised Standard Version) by have faith. The meaning is unchanged, and in Greek, “believe” and “faith” are expressed by related words.

The two clauses translated God exists (literally “he is”) and rewards those who seek him are closely linked. The stress falls on rewards, not on God exists, a fact which Jewish, though not Greek, readers would take for granted. Revised Standard Version‘s repetition of “that he” misleadingly gives equal stress to both statements.

God exists may be expressed in some languages simply as “God lives.”

Seek him, like comes to God, implies “in worship.”

And rewards those who seek him is often expressed as “and is good to those who seek him” or “… come to him.” It would be wrong to render seek him by expressions which would suggest “going out to find” or “looking around in order to discover.”

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on The Letter of the Hebrews. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1983. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Hebrews 12:3

King James Version‘s “For” translates a word which indicates that verse 3 partly repeats something already said, like the English “Yes, think of what he went through….” This word is often omitted in translation.

Think of includes the idea of comparing, that is, comparing Christ’s sufferings with the readers’ own less severe persecutions. Barclay brings this out precisely, if rather heavily: “The way to avoid the failure of your nerve and heart is to compare your situation with the situation of him who met the opposition of sinners with such constancy and courage.”

What he went through and put up with translate a single verb, related to determination in verse 1 and not give up in verse 2. The repetition helps to make this passage the strongest call for action in Hebrews. Bible en français courant is simpler here: “Think of him, of the way in which he put up with such opposition on the part of (or, from) sinners.”

It is rare that one can translate literally Think of what he went through, since this might very well be interpreted as suggesting that Jesus passed through some kind of structure or dwelling. A more satisfactory rendering is often “Consider how much he suffered.”

Hatred includes opposition both of word and deed, especially the latter in this context. It may be difficult to speak of “putting up with hatred,” for what is endured is not so much the hatred as what people do who hate. Therefore, how he put up with so much hatred from sinners may be expressed as “consider how much he endured from sinners who hated him so much” or “think about how much those sinners who hated him caused him to suffer.” The UBS Greek text (“D” rating) corresponds to Revised Standard Version‘s “against himself,” which is not especially emphasized, and which Good News Translation and other common language translations omit. The weight of the manuscript evidence is on the side of the difficult reading “against themselves,” similar in meaning to “on their own account” in 6.6. This may be explained as an allusion to Numbers 16.38 (17.3 in the Septuagint), where Korah, Dathan, and Abiram are said to have sinned “in their own souls.”

Yourselves is an idiomatic translation of the Greek for “your souls” (see 4.12). King James Version has “in your minds,” but the whole personality is involved.

Give up renders the same verb, with the same meaning, which is translated be discouraged in verse 5. King James Version has “faint” in both places.

So do not let yourselves become discouraged may be expressed as “Therefore, don’t ever lose your courage” or “… don’t let yourselves feel like giving up.” In some languages give up may be effectively rendered as “stop trusting God.”

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on The Letter of the Hebrews. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1983. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .