homebody translation

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
αὐτῷ εἶναι.

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?

8 thoughts on “homebody translation

  1. Geoff says:

    I dont think Paul is referring to an out of body experience of some kind.

    I think its more of a “I wish I was in the new creation, rather than here in this sick old one..”

  2. Peter Kirk says:

    Wayne, I’m puzzled that you are so puzzled here. Did you never long to be at home in Alaska with your parents, even if that meant being away from the home you shared with your wife? As Christians we have two homes (that has become almost a cliche in some circles) and while we are in this earthly one part of us longs to be in our heavenly one.

    I have always understood this passage as being about death, about being separated from the Lord while alive in earth and at home in the body, and that Paul is expressing similar sentiments to Philippians 1:20-26.

  3. Wayne Leman says:

    Yes, Peter, I know that feeling well: I have wished I could be in Alaska and near my children and grandchildren at the same time. But my questions here are linguistic: my language intuitions struggle with the English, as I have described in the post.

  4. Iver Larsen says:


    Are you suggesting that “being at home” is a literal translation of ἐνδημοῦντες or rather that this is the standard rendering since the time of the KJV? The more literal rendering as we find in, say, LSJ, is: “live at or in a place; simply, stay, remain in a place.” Nothing about being or feeling at home.

    The Wycliffe Bible had “the while we be in this body, we go in pilgrimage from the Lord”. From the context of the verses, it is clear that Paul considers the real home to be the future heavenly home where the Lord is. To be with him one day is special and precious and something we can look forward to in faith (verse 7). We haven’t seen that home yet, but we are confident that it is far better than our present dwelling place.

    ἐκδημοῦντες means being on the road, be travelling somewhere away from our real home, even being in exile. ἐνδημοῦντες means to live or stay in a particular place. In this context that stay is temporary. Our present body is like a tent as Paul also describes it. You can go camping and that is fine for a season, but you look forward to coming home.

    As far as translation goes, the literal versions you quote are not very close to the complete and intended meaning of the words and verses. They do not faithfully communicate the intended meaning in everyday English, but these translations do not have it as goal to communicate in common English. Other versions have such a goal.

    I was tempted to quote the Message as one example of common English, but decided it was too far away from Paul’s intentions and main concern. Then I thought of quoting the NLT, but it has a wrong sentence connection in v. 8. Of the English versions I prefer GW: “So we are always confident. We know that as long as we are living in these bodies, we are living away from the Lord. 7 Indeed, our lives are guided by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident and prefer to live away from this body and to live with the Lord. 9 Whether we live in the body or move out of it, our goal is to be pleasing to him.”

    This is how we did it in a fairly free Danish translation: “Derfor er vi altid ved godt mod, for vi ser frem til at komme hjem til Herren, selvom vi endnu en tid skal opholde os i en jordisk krop. 7 Vi lever jo i tro og ikke på grundlag af det, vi kan se. 8 Vi taber ikke modet, selvom vi hellere ville forlade den jordiske krop og tage hjem til Herren. 9 Vi sætter en ære i at behage ham i alt, hvad vi gør, hvad enten vi er hjemme hos ham, eller vi ikke er kommet hjem endnu.”

    The following English back translation does not do justice to it, but it can give you some feel for it:

    “So we are always in good spirits, for we look forward to coming home to the Lord, even though we yet for a time have to stay in an earthly body. 7 After all, we live by faith and not on the basis of what we can see. 8 We don’t lose courage even though we would rather leave this earthly body and come home to the Lord. 9 We want to do our utmost to please him in everything we do, whether we have come home to be with him or whether we have not yet come home.”

  5. Wayne Leman says:

    Iver asked:

    Are you suggesting that “being at home” is a literal translation of ἐνδημοῦντες or rather that this is the standard rendering since the time of the KJV? The more literal rendering as we find in, say, LSJ, is: “live at or in a place; simply, stay, remain in a place.” Nothing about being or feeling at home.

    I took my gloss from Friberg (BART). Barclay-Newman glosses as ‘be at home, be present’. Louw&Nida: ‘be at home’. It looks like some of these lexicons need to be revised.

    Thanks for catching this, Iver.

    Of course, I would still argue the same as I have for those English translations which translation as “at home” and “away from home.”

  6. Kevin Knox says:

    Hello Wayne,

    Your question rolls around in my mind a bit, then stops at Shakespeare. It seems Paul is intentionally indulging in what I’d call a transparent metaphor. He draws a picture of two homes and expresses a clear, if uncommon, preference between them. This is pretty routine stuff in all poetry and in much interesting prose.

    We’re all different, though. As well as I know and love people who thrive on vague metaphor, I know and love those who find poetry opaque and obstructive. Shakespeare has a lot of friends, but he has his detractors, too. By some estimates, he found nothing but a thousand ways of pointlessly obscuring his point. The thing is, Shakespeare wrote in a way nearly as obscure to his contemporaries as to us. There is a God-blessed preference for the literal in many of us, and just as God-blessed a preference for the metaphorical in others.

    You frame this as a translation question, but what if Paul here precedes Shakespeare down the metaphorical path intentionally? Doesn’t the translator, in “sanding off” the metaphor for clarity’s sake, risk hiding the personality of the author?

  7. Wayne Leman says:

    Kevin, I love metaphors also. I collect them and have written about them. I don’t want to sweep them under the rug! They are wonderful intra-language tools for adding beauty to our communication and literature. I’m not questioning what Paul wrote. I’m only questioning the English translations. If a literal translation of a metaphor does not communicate the metaphors original meaning, then the translation is not accurate. If a translation is not accurate, we have to do something about it so that people will understand its original meaning. There are several possible solutions:

    1. Leave things literal (literary translation?) but footnote the metaphorical meaning.
    2. Put the metaphorical meaning in the text and footnote the literal meaning.
    3. Make the metaphorical grounds of comparison a little clearer in the translation so that the figure of speech remains but is understandable to the translation audience which lacks the metaphor that the biblical language had.

  8. Ant Writes says:

    Could the body be referring to the “body of Christ”, which we are a part of on this earth? We are the physical body of Christ, while he is the head….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s