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Looking at Colossians 3:5 in Greek:

Νεκρώσατε οὖν τὰ μέλη τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, πορνείαν ἀκαθαρσίαν πάθος ἐπιθυμίαν κακήν, καὶ τὴν πλεονεξίαν, ἥτις ἐστὶν εἰδωλολατρία.

Πλεονεξία, often translated greed, occurs after a list of sensual sins in this verse. It is set off from them a bit by the grammar, but nonetheless this makes me wonder: is greed a good translation in this context?

The English word greed seems to have a connotation in its primary sense of increase in material possessions. While this would often be motivated by sensual desires, in itself it does not seem equivalent with them. I would not describe the hedonist who cares not for money except to have the next debauched party, who does not care to acquire a nice house, car, etc, but is looking only for momentary pleasure as greedy, at least not without a further qualifying phrase "greedy for sensual pleasure..."

Is "greed" a good rendering for πλεονεξία in this verse?

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This book, which I have not read, seems to be a book-length exposition of "greed is idolatry". – Kazark May 25 '12 at 21:59

I think that a strong case could be made for "covetousness." I've also seen it rendered as "avarice," but this doesn't fit into the 8th grade reading level goal of most biblical translations, and it effectively conveys extreme greed, which isn't much better anyways.

The sentence makes it clear that this "covetousness is idolatry" (πλεονεξιαν ητις εστιν ειδωλολατρια). I think greed captures the world fairly well, but alternately "covetousness" could be used. To make this more real for Western readers, perhaps it could be rendered as "put to death ... consumerism, which is idolatry." But this would be taking some interpretive license ;)

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I like "consumerism"--that hits home. The Message renders it, "grabbing whatever attracts your fancy", which is a bit long-winded, but gets across many of the same ideas has you suggest. – Jon Ericson Apr 23 '12 at 16:50
up vote 0 down vote accepted

I looked at the entry in An Intermediate Greek-English Founded Upon the Seventh Edition of Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon for every word that has the same stem as πλεονεξία (πλεονάζω, πλεονάκις, πλεονεκτέω, πλεονέκτημα, πλεονέκτης, πλεονεκτητέον, πλεονεκτικός, and πλεονεξία itself) and none of them seem to have any specific reference to money. The etymology of the word has no specific reference to money either (the same lexicon lists πλέον as Ionic for πλέως, full).

Moreover, it would seem odd that Paul would list a set of sins and then set one off as idolatry above all the rest unless it in some manner summarized or encompassed the others. In the Old Testament, inspired by the same Spirit that inspired Paul, and in which Paul was deeply educated, God takes all the sins of his people without discriminating between them as idolatry—though said another way, because idolatry is laid out in the ten commandments as a sin itself alongside the others, he saw all of their sins as coming back to the sin of idolatry.

Thus I contend that this verse makes the most sense in light of the rest of Biblical revelation when πλεονεξία is taken to have a broader meaning than an (unqualified) English greed. The idolatry is to turn ravenously to the sensuous pleasures of this world for satisfaction, instead of taking delight in Yahweh. This word, which is articular in this verse, subsumes those anathrous forms that come before it. I suggest translating it idiomatically as worldly craving, as that seems to capture both the generality and the intense appetite implied in the word.

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