Are you at home? I am, as I compose this post.
Are you a homebody? I think I am. I enjoy being at home. Sometimes I call myself a nester. I like my comfy nest.
Are you at home in your body? Hmm. I don’t know if I am. I’m not even sure what this sentence would mean, if it means anything in English, even though it is syntactically well formed.
And that brings us to the question of how should we translate the Greek expression of being at home in the body. The Greek of 2 Cor. 5:9 is:
διὸ καὶ φιλοτιμούμεθα, εἴτε ἐνδημοῦντες εἴτε ἐκδημοῦντες, εὐάρεστοι
A word-for-word translation of this Greek gives us English like this:
therefore also we are aspiring, whether being at home or being away from home, well-pleasing to him to be
That English isn’t too bad. We probably can get some sense out of it. We can tweak it a bit so that it is closer to normal English diction and word order:
Therefore also we aspire, whether we are at home or away from home, to be well-pleasing to him.
Some English Bible translators might leave the translation like that. It seems to have correct English syntax. The word order now seems normal. The verse makes sense. If we read only this verse and none of its context, we would conclude that in this verse the writer is making the point that he (and perhaps other people, if the “we” is not an editorial or royal “we”) wants God to be pleased with what they are doing, whether they are at home or somewhere else, away from home.
To determine if we have understood being at home or away from home correctly, however, one of the first things we should do is read this verse in its context. Let’s do that. Here’s verse 6:
while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord (NASB)
Hmm. There’s the English we wondered about earlier, “at home in the body”. Maybe you understand what that means in English, but I don’t, at least not yet. But I can see that being at home in the body equates with being “absent from the Lord.” Hmm, I know what it means to be absent from school or from my office, but I’m not sure I know what “absent from the Lord” refers to.
Maybe verse 8 will help me understand a little better. Paul says:
we … prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord (NASB)
Hmm. What does it mean to be “absent from the body”? It sounds like someone wants to have an out-of-body experience. This would be confirmed to me as the meaning if I read another English translation, which uses the words “away from the body” instead of “absent from the body”:
we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord (NRSV)
I still don’t know if I understand what “away from the body” refers to. And I’m not sure I know what being “at home with the Lord” refers to. I know that I feel at home with my wife. I’m comfortable with her. I enjoy being with her. I can take out the word “feel” and say, “I’m at home with my wife.” I know what I’m intending to mean with this sentence: I’m physically in my own home at the same time my wife is. (She is actually quite close to me, sitting on the right end of her little couch and I’m about three feet away from her, in my recliner chair. These are our places where we sit during the evening.)
We then return to verse 9, which we are trying to translate so that its original meaning is communicated accurately to English speakers. After reading the preceding context, it still sounds to me that verse 9 is referring to having some kind of out-of-body experience versus being near to the Lord in my own home, or, possibly in his home.
Is this really what verse 9 is referring to? If not, what do you think it is actually referring to? If you think it’s not referring to what the verse literally says, what evidence causes you to think that some non-literal meaning is intended?