Get behind me – or – Follow me

For the past several years my pastor and I have read his sermon texts in Greek and/or Hebrew and shared insights before he delivered his sermons.  In his recent sermon text of Mark 8:27-38, he noticed that the Greek word OPISO (usually translated “after” or “behind” in the KJV) occurs in verse 33 in the clause “Get behind me, Satan” and again in verse 34 in the clause “If any want to follow after/behind me…”

Our first thought was that the Greek word OPISO was used in two different senses; the occurrence in verse 33 in the sense in which the TEV (“Get away from me”) and the NIV (“Out of my sight”) translated it; the occurrence in verse 34 in the sense of following Jesus.  But then I began to wonder if the occurrence in verse 33 may have been intended to convey the same sense as the one in verse 34.  A look at a concordance supports that likelihood since nearly all uses of OPISO in the New Testament occur in contexts that convey the sense of following Jesus.

If Jesus were rebuking Satan in verse 33, I could understand why he might say “Get away from me” or “Out of my sight.”  But Jesus was scolding Peter, a devoted follower of his, who was not acting as a follower should.  I don’t think Jesus was rejecting Peter, which “Get away from me” implies.  I think Jesus was reminding Peter of what it meant to be his follower.  So I prefer the rendering of The Better Life Bible:   “Stop acting like Satan, who wants everything to go his way.”  I wonder if any other translations convey this idea.

Translating Doublets

A common expression among American English speakers is “pick and choose”.  Some people may associate a different meaning with “pick” than they do with “choose”, but Webster’s Dictionary indicates that their meaning overlaps for most people.  So I think this is a fairly good example of a synonymous doublet, two or more words within a sentence that convey essentially the same meaning.

The Bible contains hundreds of doublets.  In Doublets in the New Testament, Bruce Moore lists 654 doublets of various types in the New Testament alone.  Here are some examples of synonymous doublets from the Revised Standard Version:

          1 Timothy 3:3   not violent but gentle                                         
                            6:9    ruin and destruction           
                            6:18  do good . . . good deeds
                            6:18   liberal and generous

           2 Timothy 2:23   stupid, senseless
                             3:10   patience . . . steadfastness

Without knowing that many doublets convey the same meaning, readers often assume that different meanings are intended.  To avoid misunderstanding, many English translations express such doublets as a unit.  For example, the Contemporary English Version translates the doublet greater in might and power (RSV) in 2 Peter 2:11 as more powerful.

In a study of 121 verses containing doublets in the Hebrew scriptures (mostly from Psalms and Proverbs), translator/consultant Wayne Leman calculated what percentage of those doublets are conveyed as a unit in several English versions:

            69%   Contemporary English Version         
            37%   Today’s English Version
            20%   New Living Translation                
             11%   New Century Version             
               5%   New English Translation
               3%   God’s Word
               2%   New International Version
               2%   New Revised Standard Version

In The Better Life Bible, I’ve translated every synonymous doublet as a unit.  For example, in my translation of 1 Timothy 6:18, I expressed the doublet “liberal and generous” as “generously.”

Translating “Christ”

In my recent post entitled Translating “in Christ”, one commenter asked me to share my thoughts on how to translate “Christ”, and another asked why we go so far from the joy we are meant to know.  What I share in this post will hopefully address both of these points of interest to some degree.

Most English translations simply transliterate the Greek term CHRISTOS as “Christ” wherever it occurs in the New Testament.  The Greek term is a translation of the Hebrew term “Messiah”, both of which are derived from verb roots that mean “to anoint”. 

Many people in my target audience (those who rarely read or have never read the Bible) don’t understand the significance of the term “Christ” in the New Testament.  Even if it were translated as “the anointed one”, they would scratch their head as they wonder what that means.  So I decided to clarify the meaning of the term, which I believe includes the following focal points in the New Testament: 

* God promised that someone special would eventually come
* That person would help others enjoy a better life

The expression I finally settled on to translate “Christ” in The Better Life Bible (BLB), with some variation, is the following:

“the one that God promised would help people enjoy a better life”

Below are a few examples in context:  

Mark 8:29b     

NKJV   And Peter answered and said to him, “You are the Christ.”

BLB    Peter said, “You’re the one God promised would help people enjoy a better



Luke 23:35b

NKJV  “He saved others; let Him save Himself if he is the Christ, the chosen of

BLB     “He’s helped others and claims to be the one that God promised would
help us enjoy a better life, but he can’t even help himself.”

John 4:25b

NKJV  “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ).

BLB     “I know God promised that someone would come to help us enjoy a
better life.”

Translating “in Christ”

The expression in Christ (and its equivalents in Jesus, in the Lord, in the Son, etc.) occurs 174 times in the New Testament. While it does not occur in any of the Gospels, Hebrews or James, it occurs 21 times in the first two chapters of Ephesians and 10 times in chapter 16 of Romans.

The interesting thing about this seemingly simple expression is the wide range of meaning it conveys in various contexts. In Dr. Clarence Hale’s booklet entitled, The Meaning of IN CHRIST in the Greek New Testament, he suggests 241 ways to translate it. I’ll list just a few:

by Christ – Ephesians 2:22
Christians – Romans 16:7
through Christ – Ephesians 1:9
because of Christ – Ephesians 1:7
in the service of Christ – Romans 16:12
under the authority of Christ – Ephesians 1:10

Hale points out that the meaning of in Christ is unclear in many contexts. For example, in Romans 16:9 – “Greet Urbanus our fellow worker in Christ”  (NKJV), he suggests that in Christ could serve as an adjectival phrase to modify fellow worker, an adverbial phrase to modify greet, or a noun phrase to mean a Christian.

In my translation of this verse in The Better Life Bible, I convey the idea that in Christ identifies the common task of the fellow workers:

“Please give my greetings also to Urbanus,
who helps us tell others about Jesus.”

Translating "hell"

As I translated The Better Life Bible, I noticed that more than half (seven) of the occurrences of the term hell in the New Testament are in the Gospel of Matthew. So I decided to research where and how the term is used throughout the Bible. I discovered that the common definition of hell as a place of future punishment for the wicked dead has very weak support in the Bible. A more accurate definition would be the miserable life/condition that people experience when/because they reject God. I’ve written a seven-page paper that presents my findings. If you would like a copy, I’d be happy to send you one.

As a follow-up to the previous post, this is how I translated 1 John 3:11-24 in The Better Life Bible:

As I’ve said before, this is the same advice God gave our ancestors long ago. It’s obvious that Cain didn’t care about his brother Abel, because he killed him out of jealousy. So don’t be surprised when self-centered people make life miserable for you, too.

The more you care about others, the more you’ll realize that God is helping you improve your attitude and behavior. Eventually, you’ll even be willing to risk your life for others, as Jesus did.

Jesus demonstrated that the essence of God’s advice is caring about others. So you’re following God’s advice when you help others in need, and not just talk about it. Since self-centered people don’t help others in need, they obscure the fact that God cares about everyone.

God’s advice is more reliable than your conscience, so don’t hesitate to ask God to help you follow it.

BLB Translation Glimpses

I’ve recently published Glimpses into the Translation of The Better Life Bible, which is a compilation of the Translation Glimpses from my monthly newsletter during the seven-year translation process. This 42 page booklet (8.5 x 11) provides insight into how I translated more than 30 terms, including:

Eternal Life
Kingdom of God
Son of God
Son of Man

It also provides insight into nearly 30 other aspects of translation, including:

Adapting the translation to a particular audience
Focus and flow
Sacrifice and martyrdom in Jesus’ day

Translating "Law" in the New Testament

An important term in the New Testament is the Greek word nomos which the King James Version translates law in all of its 195 occurrences. However, this term conveys a wider range of meaning in the New Testament than many people realize, including the following:

1. law in general
2. the normal order of things
3. the guidelines God gave people so they could enjoy a better life
4. the traditions which contradict God’s guidelines
5. the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament)
6. the Old Testament as a whole
7. the teachings of Christ

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he uses this term 67 times to convey several of these meanings in various contexts. The problem with translating the term as law in every instance is that the reader may apply a meaning that Paul did not intend. The reader might even conclude that Paul contradicts himself, since in Romans 7:6 he says, we have been delivered from the law, implying that the law is bad, while in verse 12 he says, the law is holy, and in verse 16, the law is good.

In my translation of Romans in The Better Life Bible, I tried to clarify the meaning Paul intended for each context so the reader does not become confused. For example, I clarified that Paul’s remark in Romans 7:6 is a reference to delivering people from traditions which contradict God’s guidelines.