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Looking at Colossians 1:23, specifically:

which was preached to every creature under heaven (KJV & NKJV)

has been proclaimed (ESV)

It looks like most translations translate "κηρύσσω - kērussō" as past tense. However, the WEB translation translates that section like this:

which is being proclaimed in all creation under heaven

This is present tense. To me, present tense makes way more sense but I'm not a Greek scholar. I want to hear from some Greek scholars about how they think it should be translated. Past and present tenses are very different from one another in this case.

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    I am not a Greek Scholar, but to add a comment here... I heard from those who know Greek better than I, that the proper translation is indeed the "present tense". I hope that is encouraging to you, peace.
    – Cork88
    Mar 12 at 1:30

3 Answers 3

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The relevant text of Col 1:23 is:

τοῦ κηρυχθέντος ἐν πάσῃ κτίσει

The verb κηρυχθέντος (keruchthentos) is part of the verb κηρύσσω (kérussó). In Col 1:23 it occurs as a Verb - Aorist Participle Passive - Genitive Neuter Singular.

Note that the tense is "aorist" - impossible to accurately translate into English because English has no aorist tense. In Greek, the aorist tense -

"defines an action that is undefined" (Mounce, Greek Grammar)

The usual (not universal) "custom" to translate the aorist is to use the simple past tense but this does not have to be the case. In Col 1:23, this might thus be translated simply "preached", but this does not properly convey the passive voice because then we would have, "the gospel that preached" which is definitely wrong.

Thus, many versions translate, "the gospel that was preached" to convey the passive voice. However, because the Greek has the aorist tense, and because the preaching of the gospel was not complete in Paul's time nor even to the current time, some prefer to render the sentence in the present continuous sense, "the gospel that is being preached". This is still passive but does not convey the aorist correctly (nothing can!).

Thus, Paul is simply saying the gospel "is preached". If I were translating, the best we could do in English is something like:

... the gospel that you have heard is preached to all creation under heaven

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The relevant verb - κηρυχθέντος - is aorist participle passive.

The aorist is sometimes referred to as a "simple present tense", which is true...but incomplete.

An aorist indicative is a fairly straightforward reference to a past event, such as the verbs ἠκούσατε ("you have heard") and ἐγενόμην ("have become") in the same passage. But the aorist need not necessarily indicate whether an action is complete or ongoing. The Greek word ἀόριστος, from which we get the name of the aorist tense, means "indeterminate" or "indefinite" (source).

An aorist participle, like the verb in question, is described by the Ezra Project as something which:

...describes a simple action, but it may not refer to action in the past. Most often, an aorist participle describes an action that takes place before the main verb of the sentence.

In this sense the thrust of the verb is that the proclaiming happens before something else.

As already noted by Dottard, English has no aorist tense; there's enough ambiguity in the translation of this passage that:

  • Most English translations describe it as a reference to the past (such as "has been proclaimed"); the verbs around it do describe discrete past occurrences (you have heard the gospel, Paul has become a minister)
  • A few English translations describe it as a reference to something ongoing -- the focus is not that the event is in the past but that it precedes something else in sequence

The latter option fits well with the context of verses 26-29, wherein Paul makes it clear that this work of proclaiming the message is indeed ongoing.

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It might be easier to understand if we do not translate "preached", but "proclaimed" (the basic meaning of the verb).

τοῦ εὐαγγελίου οὗ ἠκούσατε, τοῦ κηρυχθέντος ἐν πάσῃ κτίσει τῇ ὑπὸ τὸν οὐρανόν, οὗ ἐγενόμην ἐγὼ Παῦλος διάκονος.

The good news that you heard (clearly past tense), (the good news) that was proclaimed in all of creation, under the sky.

A proclamation is made once (aorist), but the message of the proclamation thereby exists, and carries on.

By translating "preach" you have to use some device to make the "preaching" carry on. We are too tied down to the modern sense of "preach".

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