4 Translations: Two implied words

We communicate with words… and implied words. What difference can two implied words make? Check out 2 Corinthians 5:17.

This seems like a rather trivial example of translation change. In fact, it seems to be about what is implied in the Greek text. But looking beyond the simple change, there is a significant shift. When I write this I do not mean that it is wrong, but it is far different than what many think about this verse.
Greek: ὥστε εἴ τις ἐν Χριστῷ, καινὴ κτίσις· τὰ ἀρχαῖα παρῆλθεν, ἰδοὺ γέγονεν ⸀καινα

NIV 1984 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
NIV 2011 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
ESV Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
HCSB Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.
GW Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence.

The Difference?

At first glance there isn’t much difference, even when highlighted as above. Looking at the Greek, it only has “new creation,” everything else in translation is supplied by all translations to “clarify.” Compare the 1984 and 2011 versions of NIV, and notice that NIV 1984 has “he is a new creation.” Since the Greek does not contain any verb or implied subject, then NIV 1984 (and ESV and HCSB and GW) supply “he is” or “believer in Christ,” which is then the new creation. The individual is prominent, namely the “new person in Christ.”

NIV 2011 has “new creation” as the subject, with the implied verb “has come.“ What changes? Almost every aspect of the verse and the entire section. The NIV 2011 focuses the change that has come not on the individual but on the work of Christ. This implies, not only a change in the emphasis, it is a change on when and what happened in the “new creation.” According to NIV 2011, the coming of Christ brings about the new creation. The incorporation into Christ comes through that accomplished fact in history through what Jesus has done, namely his incarnation, perfect life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. Only as that new creation is established, can the person who believes in Christ share in it as part of the new creation.

In summary NIV 1984 rendition is individually oriented in the current moment in the person’s life; NIV 2011 is eschatologically focused, rooted in what Christ did in history, but which has present implications when the person believes.

So, which is the better translation? I won’t go into all the discussion. Check out this Better Bible Blog discussion a while back on this verse. http://betterbibles.com/2011/02/13/2-corinthians-517/

I will at least suggest that there is some support within 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 for the NIV 2011 choice.

2 Cor. 5:14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;

Notice that the entirety of death is accomplished in Christ’s death. By incorporation into Christ, the believers have died as well. Then when Paul gets to the reconciliation, he does the same thing. The totality in Christ work of reconciliation (in history on the cross) brings with it the message of reconciliation in the present.

2 Cor. 5:18-19 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

Concluding thoughts

Obviously this is a bigger topic than a simple post. I wanted to show that either translation is possible and either can be defended textually and theologically. But once the choice is made, it has significant repercussions on understanding not just this one verse but the entirety of 2 Cor. 5:11-21, and beyond. So, two implied words (in either choice of translations) makes significant difference. And neither is choice is “wrong” in the usual sense of evaluating translations


Author: exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian

2 thoughts on “4 Translations: Two implied words”

  1. I appreciate the thoughtful and scholastic consideration of the word here. Such consideration is healthy and necessary.

    I feel that the context of verse 16 is necessary to understand verse 17. In verse 16, Paul is speaking of not knowing believers according to the flesh, but rather alternatively knowing them in according to a different status. The “So then” at the beginning of 17 leads us to realize that verse 17 is a continuation of the consideration in verse 16. Paul’s consideration is of how we relate to a believer, a person. We should no longer know believers according to the flesh, now that they have received Christ, they are new, different by containing Christ’s life, they are born anew (Jn. 3:3), they are a new creation.

    “Know no one” is individual. “If anyone is in Christ” against this is individual. Certainly it is based upon the work of Christ that the old things have become new, however Paul is speaking about our relationship with individual believers according to their positional status, of being no longer in the flesh but a new creation, based upon the work of Christ which indeed has made them such. Paul’s emphasis here is on the individual believer and their subjective status of being in Christ, not merely the objective work of Christ.


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