English and Greek Ambiguity: 2 Corinthians 5:21

English and Greek Ambiguity: 2 Corinthians 5:21

This relates to my previous post on translating ambiguous passages.

The last clause of this verse reads, formally translated, “so that we might become [the] righteousness of God in him.” I’m interested in the range of meanings that might be heard by a modern English reader for the final phrase, “in him.”

A number of translations, even my beloved REB, translate this simply “in him.” The NLT gets bold and reads “so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” The CEV uses “so that Christ could make us acceptable to God.” Now both of those latter translations do mean something in English, while in common speech, I don’t think “in him” means very much at all.

I must admit that “in him” does mean something to me in church language, and it gives me the picture of being in the body of Christ, the church, as being a part of being reconciled to God. How exegetically sound that is will have to wait for another day. Suffice it to say that I don’t think I’m directly on target with Paul’s intent here. Other than that, however, “in + any reference to a person” only works rarely, in such statements as “the bullet was in him.” I’m pretty sure that’s not the intended meaning here.

I’m not looking here for the precise meaning of the verse, but rather the range of meanings that might be suggested by that particular phrase in this context. I’m thinking that the Greek will suggest a number of possibilities, such as agency or instrument that the English does not. I note that BDAG offers “before, in the presence of” (1e), instrument (5), agency (6), and marker of cause or reason (9). One could glean more, but I’d be interested in examples in which these latter meanings could apply. (Note that some, such as instrument, do not apply here in Greek either. I’m pointing that one out to show the substantially different semantic range of the Greek “en.”)

Comments, examples, and notes on your particular dialect of the English language would be appreciated.

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