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Rom 8:38 (NLT):

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons*, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow - not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love.

Paul's Letters mention demons 4 times (1 Cor 10:20-21), 5 times if you include the Pastorals (1 Tim 4:1), always with δαιμόνιον daimonion.

But in Rom 8:38, Paul never uses δαιμόνιον. Sure, he's referring to evil entities, but his meaning is more similar to that in Eph 6:12, where, yet again, δαιμόνιον is never used.

  • Footnote says "Greek nor rulers", but that is still not entirely accurate.

Why did the translators make this decision? Wouldn't this obscure Paul's intended message? How do translators come to these decisions and who allows them?

  • For 'dynamic translation' read 'paraphrase'. It is not an accurate representation of what is in the Greek text. – Nigel J Apr 9 at 8:47
  • In this case I agree with NigelJ quite strongly - the NLT is reasonably good most of the time but here it just missed the mark completely. – Dottard Apr 9 at 10:10
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NLT translation philosophy is the following (quote from NLT Bible Introduction, emphases mine):

The translators of the New Living Translation set out to render the message of the original texts of Scripture into clear, contemporary English. As they did so, they kept the concerns of both formal-equivalence and dynamic-equivalence in mind. On the one hand, they translated as simply and literally as possible when that approach yielded an accurate, clear, and natural English text. Many words and phrases were rendered literally and consistently into English, preserving essential literary and rhetorical devices, ancient metaphors, and word choices that give structure to the text and provide echoes of meaning from one passage to the next.

On the other hand, the translators rendered the message more dynamically when the literal rendering was hard to understand, was misleading, or yielded archaic or foreign wording. They clarified difficult metaphors and terms to aid in the reader’s understanding. The translators first worked to understand the meaning of the words and phrases in the ancient context; then they rendered the message into clear, natural English. Their goal was to be both faithful to the ancient texts and eminently readable. The result is a translation that is both exegetically accurate and idiomatically powerful.

The Greek word in Rom 8:38 that NLT translator renders as "demons" is frequently translated as either "ruler" or "principalities" (see here for comparison). What does "ruler" or "principalities" mean in contemporary (past 30 years) English? To a 6th grade reader (see here for reading level expected for various translations), "ruler" would mean governmental power like a King, President, and "principalities" would prompt a child to open a dictionary and find this (from Merriam Webster Dictionary):

1a: the state, office, or authority of a prince

b: the position or responsibilities of a principal (as of a school)

2: the territory or jurisdiction of a prince : the country that gives title to a prince

3 : principalities plural : an order of angels, see CELESTIAL HIERARCHY

But who is the ruler of this world that are also part of the order of angels? The New Testament is very clear who that is: it's the demons. See Bible Verses about Satan as ruler of this world. So the translation is quite faithful and easy to read.

Plus, it's easy to see how St. Paul wants to emphasize how God is more powerful than any elements of His creation using the rhetorical expression of opposites: death or life, angels or xxxxx, today or tomorrow. What's a good word for xxxxx ? There are good angels and there are bad angels. Paul already use "angels" for the good ones. So the most appropriate 6th grade word for contemporary English is .... demons of course! The plural form preserves the parallelism. Dan Brown book and movie Angels & Demons helps make that association too.

Therefore, "demons" is an obvious but still responsible choice suitable for the target audience: 6th grade reading level contemporary English.

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  • Your response is much appreciated, and I follow the rationale until you say that demons are in the order angels. Nowhere in the NT will you find demons as celestial. According to the Jewish tradition of the time, which Paul subscribed being a former Pharisee, demons had distinct origins and behavior from angels. The NT writers indicate that demons roamed the earth seeking bodies to inhabit (Mt 12:43-45). But Paul, in passages such as Rom 8:38 and Eph 6:12, refers to entities in the heavens, not on earth. And the NLT doesn't say "demons" in Eph 6:12, which is an inconsistency. Again, thanks. – el_maiz Apr 9 at 2:57
  • @el_maiz Yes, I agree that it's very important not to project our own conception of demons into the thought world of St. Paul. That line of investigation is certainly valid. But why would you think Paul didn't share Matthew's view of demons possessing & harming people on earth? The early church certainly continue casting out demons. And doesn't Christian theology posits that bad angels (Lucifer and those loyal to him) started out as good angels but after their rebellion they were thrown into earth by God and that they were allowed dominion on earth until the 2nd coming? – GratefulDisciple Apr 9 at 3:08
  • @el_maiz for Eph 6:12 (comparing NLT with more literal ESV), the theme is putting on armor fighting against evil, unseen power. So I can see how NLT translator leaves the world "ruler" as is, and adds "evil" to clarify. I see what you mean that in Eph 6:12 it may seem Paul is only talking about heavens, but then why would be warned to fight them while we are on earth? – GratefulDisciple Apr 9 at 3:18
  • I do think Paul and Matthew agreed in their understanding of demons. I feel my best answer to your questions is to refer you to Dr. Michael S. Heiser at drmsh.com. He has other websites but that's his main one. He's also written books with a lot of scholarship and citations. I'm sure you'll be stimulated at the least. The character count won't support my attempt to state my case further, so to speak. Suffice it to say that I believe the biblical writers considered demons to be distinct from the rulers, powers, principalities, thrones, kingdoms, dominions, etc. which Paul mentions. – el_maiz Apr 9 at 3:32
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    @el_maiz I'm totally with you. I started reading Dr. Michael S. Heiser myself, his Unseen Realm book. Now I see why you asked the question. Maybe someday I'll revise my answer in light of that book. Another book I highly recommend is Prof. Walton's Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible which is more textbook like, and give larger background than the Unseem Realm book. – GratefulDisciple Apr 9 at 3:56
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I will not defend any particular version so I do not know what any given translation committee was thinking when they made their numerous decisions. What we do know is the following:

  1. The underlying Greek text is undisputed. The word here is ἀρχή (arché) and occurs about 56 times in the NT. In most cases it simply means "beginning" or very similar.
  2. However, about nine times it means "an authority figure who initiates activity or process, ruler, authority" (BDAG #6).

Specifically, the instances when ἀρχή (arché) means "ruler" or "principality" are: Luke 12:11, 20:20, Rom 8:38, 1 Cor 15:24, Eph 3:10, 6:12, Col 1:16, 2:15, Titus 3:1. With the exception of Rom 8:38, it never means "demons", but simply "rulers" or "Principalities".

In Rom 8:38, most versions correctly translate ἀρχή (arché) as "Rulers" or equivalent, with the conspicuous exception of NIV, NLT, Weymouth (that I could find). I am at a complete loss as to why this was done.

Even in extra-Biblical Greek of the period around the first century, I could find no instance of ἀρχή (arché) meaning "demons".

UPDATE:

The cognate close relative of the above noun is ἄρχων (archón) meaning "ruler" or "prince". It occurs in John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11, where it occurs in phrases like "ruler of the world" (and similar) but is never translated "demon". In Luke 11:15 it is used of the "ruler of the demons", but is itself not translated "demon".

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Great discussion with really good points and supporting material for both the question and the answer!

Strong's G746 - archē does mention /angels as well as demons in the meaning of that word, so one can see how NLT made the decision for demons.

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  • Welcome to S.E. Q&A, and thank you for contributing. – Steve11235 Apr 16 at 13:05

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