A quick question

My colleague, Mikael, pointed out this strange little addition to Ephesians 2:1 in Portuguese:

Ele vos vivificou, estando vós mortos nos vossos delitos e pecados,

(João Ferreira de Almeida)

Any ideas where this addition comes from?

The King James also contains this addition:

And you hath hee quickned who were dead in trespasses, and sinnes,

(King James, 1611)

It seems to have popped up first in the Tyndale Bible:

And hath quickened you also that were deed in treaspasse and synne

(Tyndale, 1525)

If you compare this to any other translation, ancient or modern, or to the Greek versions of Ephesians, you’ll find that this phrase is missing. So why has it been added in these cases?

It seems to have arisen out of a concern to make the translations more natural since the passage begins rather abruptly with a series of participial phrases. But in the process of trying to make the text more natural, the translators have done violence to the logical or rhetorical setup of this passage.

The Greek looks something like this:

  1. You were really rotten and doomed (vv. 1-3)
  2. But God saved you (vv. 4-5)

Compare that to what happens when you add this little phrase

  1. He made you alive
  2. when you were really rotten and doomed (vv. 1-3)
  3. But God saved you (vv. 4-5)

That little phrases knocks the whole passage out of balance in my opinion. It’s like giving the punch line before you tell the joke.

What do you think? Why did this phrase get added by the translators?

11 thoughts on “A quick question

  1. J. K. Gayle says:

    The Erasmus text that Tyndale supposedly used seems not to have any such Greek edition. Maybe it’s an accident of history, one of those real [not just alleged] mistakes by the heroic translator:

    “Thomas More commented that searching for errors in the Tyndale Bible was similar to searching for water in the sea. Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall of London declared that there were upwards of 2,000 errors in Tyndale’s Bible. Tunstall in 1523 had denied Tyndale the permission required under the Constitutions of Oxford (1409), that were still in force, to translate the Bible into English, and forced him into exile.

    In response to allegations of inaccuracies in his translation in the New Testament, Tyndale wrote that he never intentionally altered or misrepresented any of the Bible in his translation, and would never do so.

    While translating, Tyndale controversially followed Erasmus’ (1522) Greek edition of the New Testament.”


  2. Bob MacDonald says:

    In the old days, before the invention of parentheses and other discourse and grammatical punctuation rules, this sentence would qualify as an awkward construction – a thought expressed, written down by a scribe, and then immediately extended and qualified with tone of voice as the marker of delay.

    Basically the punch line is too far away even for 16th century sensibilities so it gets anticipated or repeated.

    When I do this sort of thing, the sentence gets erased and rewritten or I shut down the page and say OK to – you have unsaved changes, do you wish to navigate away from this page?

    Here salvation is anticipated. In my work, the letters sometimes go into oblivion.

    Hope the Afri-Kers are well

  3. Tim Archer says:

    That phrase is also in the most common Spanish edition:

    “Y él os dio vida a vosotros, cuando estabais muertos en vuestros delitos y pecados,” (Reina-Valera, 1960 edition)

    Sadly, that edition continues to be the most used Spanish version in the evangelical world.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  4. Peter Kirk says:

    RSV does the same: “And you he made alive, when you were dead …”.

    Actually this is not an addition but a reordering to fit the rules of English grammar, which is what dynamic translation is supposed to do. In the long an rambling Greek sentence humas “you” in verse 1 is the object, and sunezoopoiesen “made alive together” in verse 5 is the verb – just before which the object is repeated as hemas “us”. This kind of construction simply cannot be translated literally into English – I don’t know about Spanish. So translators are not unreasonable to add the implied verb also in verse 1.

    There is of course an alternative translation strategy used in many modern translations, which is to turn the accusative participial clause in verse 1 into a sentence with a finite verb, “you were dead …”. But this does lose a significant part of the Greek meaning. It is not an easy judgment to choose one rather than the other. But I think the latter is probably preferable.

  5. chrystheo says:

    It’s obvious to me, it comes from verse 5 below, which both repeats verse 1 and offers the solution to the problem. In a sense this translation borrows the phrase from vs. 5, which is quite justifiable translation-wise.

  6. Trierr says:

    It looks like there might be a hint of the Vulgate lurking in these traditions, although it is different still.

    Et vos, cum essetis mortui delictis et peccatis vestris

  7. John Hobbins says:

    ESV also corrects RSV in this locus.

    I think NIV and TNIV handle this well:

    As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins . . . But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ . . .

  8. Mike Sangrey says:

    For me, it’s not really an error because they didn’t adhere to the form. It’s an attempt to bring over into natural English what is written in the original.

    However, I think the right question to ask is what is the most natural way to accurately express in English (or Portuguese) the meaning of the original. Though that gets a bit difficult here. We have a hard enough time discussing little bitty things like words. Here we have an entire sentence made up of nearly 100 words. And, of all things, it’s in a rather odd form (especially if brought over into English in a literal way). So, we’re talking about something other than, indeed, more than, lexicon and grammar. There’s something Pragmatic going on here.

    In my opinion, Paul starts with the object of the sentence, then he presents the subject and finally crescendos with the verb. Each of these parts is formed in quite complex ways using various features of the language (eg. participles). Now, how do you accurately do that in English or Portuguese?

    At the risk of sounding dramatic (though I think that is what Paul is doing here), I picture Paul standing on a platform, stating 2:1 with a conversational, though serious tone. He starts to build in volume and intensity as he talks about a “wealthy” God (rich in mercy). And then by verse 5, both hands are in the air and his voice is loud and strong. Like I said, I don’t intend to be dramatic here. However, I am expressing what I see as the meaning of the text as it is given by this somewhat unusual form. Please don’t understand this as sermon fodder; it’s an honest attempt at accurately capturing original intent. Generally speaking, we don’t bring over the Pragmatics very well in our translations; we have a hard enough time getting above the level of syntax.

    Which brings me back to the question: how do you accurately convey the original intent in English or Portuguese?

    You could transform each of the object, subject, and verb parts into separate sentences. Most translations do that. However, that looses the drama, the building intensity, that wonder that reaches out from the page and forces the reader to marvel at such a beneficent God. “It is by grace you have been saved!” We need BOLD.

    I’d be more disposed, rather than add a phrase of introduction which appears to me to mute the rhetorical beauty, I’d be more disposed to use some emotive words at the end. “Amazing! Amazing! It is by grace you have been saved! Amazing!”

    I think that is the effect Paul was attempting to get across by the sentential form he chose to use.

  9. David Ker says:


    CEV uses short sentences and builds to a reversal at v. 4 with “But God was merciful!” I think the paragraph break, contrastive “but” and exclamation point are an attempt to bring out the rhetorical impact of the passage although hitting the crash cymbal at an earlier point than you propose.

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