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I am wondering about the grammar and clause construction of Colossians 1:21-23 in the Greek. Unfortunately, I do not read Bible Greek, so I am lost here. It’s my understanding that the ancient Greek favored long run-on sentences, and the reader would know which clauses were dependent on the subject or predicate thoughts, and where to start a new thought as a sentence or paragraph.

Various English translations, though, following different reading level philosophies and perhaps theological streams, carve up the phrases differently. For example:

NIV

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation — 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

NLT

21 This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. 22 Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

23 But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. The Good News has been preached all over the world, and I, Paul, have been appointed as God’s servant to proclaim it.

ESV

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

LEXHAM

21 And although you were formerly alienated and enemies in attitude, because of your evil deeds, 22 but now you have been reconciled by his physical body through death, to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you remain in the faith, established and steadfast and not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.

My specific questions concern only the grammatical constructions and not the theological implications:

(1) Is this supposed to be a single thought and sentence, as the ESV and Lexham have it? Are the sentence and phrase punctuations in the NIV and NLT simply concessions to the translator’s reading level requirements?

(2) Is the clause in verse 22 (ESV) “, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,” essential to the completion of the thought of the verse? If you removed it so the text said “reconciled in his body of flesh by his death if indeed you continue in the faith”, would that be grammatically plausible, or grammatically damaging?

(3) Does the sentence construction support the idea that “if you continue” was part of the gospel that Paul preached (the NIV seems to imply this)? Or did the gospel only contain hope and assurance, and the “you must continue” phrases only warnings added by Paul?

Ed

1 Answer 1

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It is true that Paul often uses very long (some would argue rambling) sentences. Some of these last for more than 10 verses which almost all modern translation break into smaller units.

Col 1:21-23 is a single sentence in the Greek. For what it is worth, here is my literal translation of that sentence:

21 And you, being once alienated and hostile in mind, in the evil deeds, 22 but now He has reconciled [you] in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblemished and blameless before Him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, established and firm, and not being moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, having been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, of which I Paul have become a minister.

OP Question 1

The translations of the NLT and NIV break this long sentence into smaller units to accommodate modern English practice.

OP Question 2

V22 is a simple contrast with V21 - which together make the following contrast:

  • once you were sinful and alienated from God
  • but now, because of the sacrifice of Jesus, you have been reconciled to Him

There is no "in order that" in the Greek; such is an interpretive addition by the ESV and NLT translators

OP Question 3

The "if indeed" introduces a conditional phrase/clause with the "indeed" added for emphasis. [This sentence alone is enough to banish the Calvinist idea of irresistible grace.] This idea appears to be based in the extended argument as presented in Eze 18.

For more teaching on this subject, see the appendix below.

APPENDIX - Can one fall from Divine Grace?

  • Eze 18 contains and extended discussion about this subject.
  • Gal 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
  • 1 Tim 6:10, For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
  • Heb 2:1-3, We must pay closer attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every transgression and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?
  • Similarly, Heb 6:4-6 also teaches that some “who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit…” can fall away.
  • Heb 10:19-35 contains an extended passage on enduring. It contains some real gems about the possibility of losing one’s faith and confidence such as:
    • V26: If we(!) deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left
    • V29: How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them and who has insulted the Spirit of grace. This verse clearly shows that it is possible to be sanctified and subsequently lost.
    • V35: Therefore, do not throw away your confidence which has a great reward.
    • V36: You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God you will receive what he has promised.
  • Heb 13:9, “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace …”
  • 2 Peter 1:10, “make your calling and election sure”. This clearly allows for the possibility of losing one’s election.
  • 2 Peter 2:21, “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.”

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