Bob MacDonald said: Prepositions are notoriously flexible, stretchable, and ambiguous. So true. In the case of NT Greek the most common and flexible preposition is ἐν. From a historical and phonological point of view it corresponds to English in, and it is often translated by an in. In fact, it is far too often translated by an in. There are so many other possibilities for translating it. The range of options can most easily be seen in the 21 senses that Louw and Nida suggest for the word:
1 in (location)
2 among (location)
3 on (location)
4 at (location)
5 in (state)
6 into (extension)
7 in union with (association)
8 with (attendant circumstances)
9 with (instrument)
10 with (manner)
11 with regard to (specification)
12 of (substance)
13 to (experiencer)
14 by (agent)
15 by (guarantor)
16 by (means)
17 because (reason)
18 so that (result)
19 when (time)
20 during (time)
21 in (content)
So, how do we decide between this array of possibilities? We need to look at the noun phrase the preposition governs as well as the verb it is connected to. It is also helpful to see if a similar construction occurs in other Greek texts.
Let me take one example from Galatians (more examples in a post to come later). The preposition ἐν occurs 41 times in this small book. The first is Galatians 1:6:
Θαυμάζω ὅτι οὕτως ταχέως μετατίθεσθε ἀπὸ τοῦ καλέσαντος ὑμᾶς ἐν χάριτι [Χριστοῦ] εἰς ἕτερον εὐαγγέλιον I am shocked that you so quickly are being pushed away from the one who called you ἐν grace [of Christ] towards a different gospel.
I agree with Metzger that the reading without of Christ is likely to be the original reading, but it is impossible to be sure. We note that there is no definite article before grace, which gives it a qualitative sense. It is not referring to a particular act of grace, but to the kind or quality of grace that originates with God and Christ. The verb is “call”, so we would need to look at this verb in connection with ἐν.
We find an example in 1 Cor 7:15: ἐν δὲ εἰρήνῃ κέκληκεν ὑμᾶς ὁ θεός But it is ἐν peace that God has called you. This cannot mean that God was feeling peaceful when he called you, nor did he use peace as an instrument or agent for the calling. It has to be into peace. In order to translate that into English NIV says: “God has called us to live in peace.” (It should have been “called you”, but that is a textual issue again.) It is legitimate to add the words “to live” in order to make an accurate and meaningful translation.
Another example is 1 Thess 4:7: οὐ γὰρ ἐκάλεσεν ἡμᾶς ὁ θεὸς ἐπὶ ἀκαθαρσίᾳ ἀλλ᾽ ἐν ἁγιασμῷ You see, God did not call us to uncleanness, but rather ἐν holiness. Again, the NIV has correctly added the words “to live (a life)” and they say: “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” They might have said: “not to live in impurity, but in holiness,” or they might have said: “not to live a life in impurity, but in holiness”. There is seldom ONE correct translation, but some translations are better than others – according to various criteria.
From these examples it is reasonable to suggest that the verb call followed by ἐν indicates the kind of life we are called to live. This fits well with Gal 1:6, and if we look at the new NIV2010, we find that they are actually saying: “the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ.” The addition of the definite article is caused by the genitive “of Christ”. If we were to translate the text without this word – what Paul probably wrote – we could easily make it parallel to 1 Cor 7:15 and 1 Thess 4:7: “the one who called you to live in grace”. The Galatians were being pushed from a gospel of grace to a “gospel” of law which is not a gospel (good news) at all, as Paul went on to say in the next verse.