I heard somewhere that in 2 Corinthians 5:20

Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech [you] by us: we pray [you] in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God

because of the absence of some words (I don't know which words exactly, maybe you's are absent) - either because of the specificity of Greek grammar or because of the damage on the manuscripts (again I don't know), there is a possibility of rendering it in quite another way - something like "we reconcile them to God" or something else.

Can, anyone, please, who is aware of this matter, provide some input here?

How is the Aorist Passive Imperative of καταλλάγητε to be translated correctly?

  • Another question was merged into this one, FYI. The edit is to bring over an aspect of that question that is helpful here.
    – Dan
    Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 22:42

5 Answers 5


καταλλάγητε is the 2nd plural aorist passive imperative of καταλλάσσω.

Breaking this down, 2nd plural is you (all) "y'all." Passive makes the subject of the verb the recipient of the action. Imperatives are commands and aorist imperatives generally indicate a command to start something.

So what would "we reconcile them" look like? καταλλάσoμεν αὐτοῦς.

Could this transition have taken place (καταλλάσoμεν αὐτοῦς -> καταλλάγητε)? Looking at it, corruption of the underlying text is unlikely since the pronoun (αὐτοῦς) would have needed to have been completely lost and the ending of of the verb would have to have been badly damaged (σoμεν -> γητε). These letters and endings aren't really near each other so a scribal error seems quite unlikely. Finally, such a variant would be extremely poorly attested since neither UBS 4 nor NA 27 note any variant within the compiled texts that these works use.

EDIT The entire sentence in Greek is:

ὑπὲρ Χριστοῦ οὖν πρεσβεύομεν ὡς τοῦ θεοῦ παρακαλοῦντος δι’ ἡμῶν· δεόμεθα ὑπὲρ Χριστοῦ, καταλλάγητε τῷ θεῷ.

Here are some of the words:

  • πρεσβεύομεν: present active indicative first plural of πρεσβεύω. Literally means "we are ambassadors"
  • παρακαλοῦντος: present active participle masculine singular genitive. It is part of the dependent clause begun with ὡς ("as"). Because it is a genitive absolute (this phrase: ὡς τοῦ θεοῦ παρακαλοῦντος δι’ ἡμῶν) we translate it as a straightforward phrase without using any of the "ownership" language markers of the genitive.
  • δεόμεθα: present active indicative first plural of δέω. Literally, it means "we bind/tie."

καταλλάγητε τῷ θεῷ "[y'all] be reconciled to God" becomes the content of the injunction upon the audience by Paul and his team.

"On behalf of Christ, therefore, we are ambassadors as God is urging through us. We bind you, on behalf of Christ: be reconciled to God."

I intentionally kept the translation stilted so that readers could try to correlate the inflected meaning with the words. A smoother translation would probably render:

"Therefore, on behalf of Christ, we are ambassadors as though God is urging through us. We bind you, on behalf of Christ: be reconciled to God."

Now, to address the referent of the "y'all" we must actually look back through the context of the passage. At a basic level, the audience is the Corinthian church and so that would be a natural reading of this. Additionally, all previous "you"s throughout this pericope would indicate that Paul is exhorting those who are being deceived by the "super apostles." (2 Corinthians 11:5) Additionally, earlier within the context there seems to be group of people groups with "you" and then "some" (2 Corinthians 5:13), especially since the content of 2 Corinthians 5:13 indicates that the "you" group are direct beneficiaries of Paul's ministry.

  • Sorry, I know this is old, was just looking at this verse myself and came across your answer, which is very helpful and has my +1. I’m having trouble with δεόμεθα as an active voice from δέω, though (last bullet)….I think it’s from δέομαι (but if from δέω it's middle/passive), which is deponent per BDAG (despite the existence of δέω), so I’m OK with calling it active, but it doesn’t really mean “to bind,” despite the etymologic connection (the semantics of which I don't really get).
    – Susan
    Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 3:10


In non-indicative moods (like the imperative) the "tense" indicates aspect and not time. So the aorist here indicates either a puntiliar (instantaneous) or undefined (generic) kind of action.


The active voice is used in Greek when the subject is performing the action (e.g. "he is eating"), while the passive is used to indicate an action performed on (experienced by) the subject (e.g. "he is being eaten").


The imperative is the mood of command (generally speaking), and indicates that the speaker wants the listener to do something. This could be a command (e.g. "eat him!") or a plea (e.g. "eat him, I beg you").


The aorist passive imperative indicates that the speaker wants the listener to have something done to them in either a general sense, or at a particular point in time. Examples:

  • (In response to the question, "can I have myself bathed?") Yes, go ahead and have yourself bathed. (verses a present active indicative "you are bathing [someone]")

  • Please, be quiet! (verses a present active indicative "you are quieting [someone]")

  • Be afraid, be very afraid! (verses a present active indicative "you are scaring [someone]")

  • Be encouraged! (verses a present active indicative "you are encouraging [someone]")

  • I beg you, be reconciled to God! (verses a present active indicative "you are reconciling [someone] to God")

A "passive" voice does not mean the subject "isn't doing anything" and is simply a "passive" spectator; it just means that in the structure of the sentence, the action is done to / experienced by the subject. The use of the imperative, on the other hand, does indicate that the listener is expected to "do" something.

  • I think you make a very good point here. As far as the passive imperatives in English go, I think bullets 2 and 3 (syntactically) are really predicate adjectives. If you'd stick with the 3rd principal parts - "be quieted" and "be scared"- you could make a case that these are functioning as passive verbs.
    – Susan
    Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 21:48
  • @Susan Thanks for the feedback. I was thinking of translations from the Greek in those two cases. I'll update with more biblical examples when I get time.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 22:25

There are 28 instances of the Aorist Passive Imperative (Second Person Plural) in the Greek New Testament (NA28), which are found in 27 verses. Please click on the thumbnail, below, to view all of these instances in the New Testament.

Verse references

The Aorist Passive Imperative (Second Person Plural) is therefore not uncommon. Some verbs, such as δεήθητε (Matt 9:38), are deponent, which means the word appears in translation as active voice, but is passive in the grammatical sense. (In English we use the deponent as well: "All of you were graduated from the University of Arizona." Here the grammar is passive voice in English, but the idea conveyed is in the active voice.) So the Aorist Passive Imperative (Second Person Plural) is not uncommon in the New Testament whether the verbs are deponent or regular.

The following from the NASB therefore provides an accurate translation of this verse, which concerns the regular verb καταλλάγητε in the Aorist Passive Imperative (Second Person Plural).

2 Cor 5:20 (NASB)
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

What is the meaning?

The reconciliation is to receive eternal life, since Christ died for the sins not of just of believers, but of the entire world (1 Jn 2:2 and Heb 2:9). That is, the Pauline teaching found in Romans 5:1-21 is that Adam catapulted the human race into sin through his disobedience in the Garden of Eden - thus all men are born sinners through this federal headship in Adam (please click here). The Apostle Paul also indicates in the first chapters of Romans, and summarizing in Romans 3:23, that all men are sinners (please click here).

To continue the comparison and contrast with Adam, Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane when he obeyed the will of his father: he accepted the "cup" and died on the cross; he was the atonement for the sins of the world (please click here). Finally, eternal life is received by an act of faith (please click here).

It is this last step that is the "reconciliation." So, in this respect, the proclamation of the gospel can be made to all men (since Christ died for all), but only those who respond receive the free gift of eternal life. (The last judgment in Rev 20:15 condemns those whose names are not written in the Book of Life, which is eternal life. That is, those who are "dead" are already resurrected in Rev 20:12 before they experience the second death -- thus these "dead" are in reference to their spiritual death, whose fruits are the deeds found in the books of works in Rev 20:12.) That is, their life patterns, practices, and behaviors are the evidence that they never possessed eternal life (and thus their names are absent from the Book of Life).

To be reconciled to God through Christ therefore is to accept the free gift of eternal life through faith. So in the context of 2 Cor 5:20, one may know about Christ and his plan of salvation, but until eternal life is received through faith, reconciliation with God has not occurred. Paul admonishes the Corinthians, for whom he had doubts that they were ever saved (2 Cor 6:1), that they "not receive the grace of God in vain."


Thank you all for your insight full comments. I would say that I favor the conclusion of Thayer's Greek Lexicon (which I found here: http://biblehub.com/greek/2644.htm ) Specifically that "but the passive is used also where only one ceases to be angry with another and receives him into favor; thus καταλλαγεις, received by Cyrus into favor, Xenophon, an. 1, 6, 1; καταλλάττεται πρός αὐτήν, regained her favor, Josephus, Antiquities 5, 2, 8; and, on the other hand, God is said καταλλαγῆναι τίνι, with whom he ceases to be offended, to whom he grants his favor anew, whose sins he pardons, 2 Macc. 1:5 2Macc. 7:33 2Macc. 8:29; Josephus, Antiquities 6, 7, 4 cf. 7, 8, 4 (so ἐπικαταλλάττεσθαι τίνι, Clement of Rome, 1 Cor. 48, 1 [ET]). In the N. T. God is said καταλλάσσειν ἑαυτῷ τινα, to receive one into his favor (A. V. reconcile one to himself), 2 Corinthians 5:18f (where in the added participles two arguments are adduced which prove that God has done this: first, that he does not impute to men their trespasses; second, that he has deposited the doctrine of reconciliation in the souls of the preachers of the gospel); καταλλαγῆναι τῷ Θεῷ, to be restored to the favor of God, to recover God's favor, Romans 5:10 (but see ἐχθρός, 2); καταλλάγητε τῷ Θεῷ, allow yourselves to be reconciled to God; do not oppose your return into his favor, but lay hold of that favor now offered you, 2 Corinthians 5:20."

I am not a greek scholar. What NT greek I do know is from the studies my pastor teacher has taught us over the years and the greek tools I have either found for free on the internet or have purchased like BibleWorks 7.0 and various tools from the Olive Tree Software site. That being said, one of the very few Hermeneutical principle I do recall, is that words should be translated / interpreted with regard to how they are used in context, and as you know this word for reconciliation is used a lot here by Paul.

We see in verse 18 of 2 Cor 5, that God is doing all the work, He the Father reconciled us to Himself, "who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation" HCSB. We serve God by serving others. One of the ways we do serve God is by telling others that God has made peace (reconciled the differences between God and the world by accepting the atoning sacrifice of His Son on the behalf of the world.

Paul further explains in verse 19 that this was done during the time that His Son, our Messiah Savior hung between heaven and earth when God decided "in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them" Notice the them in this verse has to point back to "the world". The key here is that the reconciling work of God in Christ ended with his Spiritual and Physical deaths. God's reconciling work is complete, perfect and can not be added to by any being in the world. As such, there is nothing any being in the world can do to "be reconciled" Thus Thayer's lexicon conclusion of " allow yourselves to be reconciled to God; do not oppose your return into his favor, but lay hold of that favor now offered you, " seems to be the best translation consistent with the context and as Thayer's Greek Lexicon seems to indicate is consistent with the historical (http://biblehub.com/greek/2644.htm) use of the aorist passive imperative.

In summary I think an expanded translation of 2 Cor 5:20 would be something like this "we are ambassadors for Christ, just if He were appealing to the world through us (the message of reconciliation) we implore everyone in the world - do not oppose your return into his favor, but lay hold of that favor now offered you".

As such I respectfully disagree with the statement in one of the answers provided so far that says"To be reconciled to God through Christ therefore is to accept the free gift of eternal life through faith." We have nothing to d with reconciling our selves to God, God did all that work in the past when His Son hung from the cross and was crucified on behalf of the world

Eph 2:8 reminds us "For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift"

Note we are saved by grace in that God the offended party choose to make peace with the entire world accepting the atoning work of Jesus Christ on behalf of not some but all of the world - and the reap the benefits of what God did in Christ on the cross by believing the message of the Father about his Son " (Mat 3:7 And there came a voice from heaven: This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him! HCSM) (Mat 12:18 Here is My Servant whom I have chosen, My beloved in whom My soul delights; I will put My Spirit on Him, and He will proclaim justice to the nations. ) ( Mat 17:5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said: This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him. Listen to Him! HCSB)

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In English if I say I was reconciled to my neighbor then what I mean is that the relationship has been mutually restored. This is not they way Paul uses the term in question (καταλλάγητε). For him the reconciliation of the whole world was accomplished by God in that God has removed the barrier only from His side. That is, sin does not any longer prevent the relationship with God from being restored. But he does say that the sinner must also remove the barrier on their side by responding to the gospel in faith. "God has reconciled (removed the barrier) from the whole world by providing the gospel (and the new covenant for the Jews) so now Paul "prays to" the Corinthians to respond in faith and thus remove the barrier on their side.

The passive imperative acknowledges that though it is with the heart that the believer responds to the gospel it is still an act of reception rather than "climbing to the sky to bring Christ down". Instead, "the word is near you, even in your mouth":

BSB Romans 10: 5For concerning the righteousness that is by the Law, Moses writes: “The man who does these things will live by them.”a 6But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’b (that is, to bring Christ down) 7or, ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’c (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” 8But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9that if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with your heart you believe and are justified, and with your mouth you confess and are saved. 11It is just as the Scripture says: “Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.” 12For there is no difference between Jew and Greek: The same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all who call on Him, 13for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

  • "so now Paul "prays to" the Corinthians to respond in faith" - Wait a moment, but didn't Corinthians already respond to the gospel in faith, didn't they already get baptized as the 1st Corinthians says?
    – brilliant
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 22:56
  • @brilliant Perhaps not all. Or perhaps the snafu over the incident with the man having sex with his mother and all the fallout calls for a fresh reconciliation. I haven't really meditated on that but will keep it in mind.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 23:00

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