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Οἰκονομία is often glossed stewardship; the UBS 4th edition Greek New Testament renders it management of a household in the glossary. However, I find it is often difficult to translate in a sentence. For example, Colossians 1:25:

ἧς ἐγενόμην ἐγὼ διάκονος κατὰ τὴν οἰκονομίαν τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν δοθεῖσάν μοι εἰς ὑμᾶς πληρῶσαι τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ

I am inclined to translate it here the responsibility God gave me. Is this a good translation in this context? Is there a rule of thumb for how to translate this word? Can you offer a better gloss than stewardship (a word we don't really use except to translate this one)?

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Welcome to Hermeneutics.SE! Great question. – Jon Ericson Nov 28 '11 at 20:17
I was trying to remember the talk I heard on that word and recall what the teacher said about it. My recollection is that he translated it with a phrase very similar to responsibility given by God. He used 1 Peter 4:10 as the key to interpreting the idea. There was a strong associate with the word diakoneo, which in that verse is sometimes translated steward. – Jon Ericson Nov 28 '11 at 20:27
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Vines has

oikonomos (οἰκονόμος, 3623) primarily denoted "the manager of a household or estate" (oikos, "a house," nemo, "to arrange"), "a steward" (such were usually slaves or freedmen), ...; in Rom. 16:23, the "treasurer" of a city (see CHAMBERLAIN); it is used metaphorically, in the wider sense, of a "steward" in general...

oikonomia (οἰκονομία, 3622) primarily signifies "the management of a household or of household affairs" (oikos, "a house," nomos, "a law"); then the management or administration of the property of others, and so "a stewardship"...

The differing etymological suggestions are curious, but that's an aside.

The key idea, then, is that Paul has become a servant entrusted by God with overseeing other servants, but that's hard to gloss in a post-feudal culture. We could try head butler, but I'm not sure that most people would understand what a butler's job really is. It might be possible to gloss it by analogy with Joseph's role either in Potifar's household or as second-in-command to Pharoah. Maybe the solution is to take a dynamic approach and look for a similar rôle in a modern business setting: I have been appointed COO by God... Or we could follow the NIV's approach and take a military analogy: the commission God gave me.

The responsibility God gave me captures a lot, but leaves the reader to work out what that responsibility actually was. In the context of a word ministry and following through on the imagery of a servant who oversees other servants to ensure that the whole estate works well, it's something like the responsibility God gave me to ensure that you fulfil his purposes for you.

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The Message translates it as "God's way of helping me serve you", which fits well with your answer. (Good work, by the way.) – Jon Ericson Dec 9 '11 at 0:50
This is a helpful answer. Not sure why I didn't accept it earlier, when I upvoted it (sorry). Accepted now. – Kazark Jan 7 '12 at 17:01

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