Translation Project: Col 1:15-23


First of all, what an amazing passage!

I’m obviously running a bit behind schedule, but here’s my translation for two weeks ago. I’m happy with it, but not overjoyed; I’d like to spend a bit more time with it clarifying some of the ambiguities. Here it is:

15 who [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, 16 for in him everything was created, things in the heavens and things on earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities – everything has been made through him and for him. 17 Indeed he is before all things and everything has held together in him, 18 and he is the head of the body, that is, the church. He is the beginning, firstborn from the dead, so that he himself might become first in all, 19 because in him all fullness was pleased to dwell 20 and through him to reconcile everything to him, making peace through the blood of his cross, through him whether the things on earth or the things in the heavens.

21 Indeed, you once were strangers and hostile in thought, doing evil deeds, 22 but now, in his body of flesh through death, he has reconciled to present you holy, faultless, and blameless in his presence, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith being firmly established and settled and not being moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached in all creation under heaven, of which I, Paul started becoming a servant.

I’m curious to hear how you dealt with the second “through him” in v. 20. Obviously, it’s originality is somewhat in question, but I opted to include it since it is well-attested and more difficult. If you included it, how do you interpret it? If not, why not?

I love translating because it slows me down enough to notice things that otherwise would slip past me, and what a great passage to spend some time with!

The power and sovereignty of Christ are shown with great majesty in vv. 15-20. In fact, his deity is so clear that the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Bible translation, the New World Translation, inserts “other” in brackets in vv. 16 and 17. For example, “he is before all [other] things and by means of him all [other] things were made to exist” (Col 1:17, NWT). The insertion is of course required because Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Christ himself is a created being, so he couldn’t have made all things to exist, but only all things other than himself. But the Greek doesn’t give any qualification to the word “all” here.

But I digress, how amazing is this passage in which we learn that through Christ’s bloody death we who were once “strangers and hostile in thought, doing evil deeds” have been reconciled in order to be presented as holy before God. Yet, this is true only “if indeed [we] continue in the faith.” Does this teach apostasy? I’ll leave that question alone for now.

Two take aways for me: 1) Think more on the amazing grace of the cross, and 2) pray to be less and less hostile in intent and evil in deeds, instead becoming more and more united with the mind and person of Christ.

How do you translate this passage? And more importantly, how do you apply it?


3 Responses to “Translation Project: Col 1:15-23”

  1. 1 Andrew Bowden

    Thanks for motivating me to get back on the ball, Adam! Here is a loose paraphrase of the passage

    He is the image of the unseeable God, and holds the first place over all creation because he not only created everything everywhere, not just seen things but unseen as well. He even created authority by which Kings rule, The Rulers themselves, their minions and they places upon which they rule. Everything was made through him and for him. What’s more, he is uncreated, eternal, before all things, evidenced by the fact that he created everything, and he keeps everything existing. This great one has turned his kind affection to his church, his very own body! He is the beginning, the head, the first to rise from the dead, thereby entitling him to the worhip of all things for eternity. After all, who is more rightfully to be worhsipped than him, in whom all the fullness of God rests, and through whom all things everywhere are reconciled by the blood of his cross?

    As usual, here’s the message’s translation:

    15-18We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.
    18-20He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.

    More to come later!

    • 2 Adam

      Hey Andy,

      I like your paraphrase! I’d be interested to hear your reasoning for translating that last phrase as a question, though. Paul is certainly using rhetorical devices here, but I don’t see that phrased as a question in the original.

      I agree with your interpretation, I’m just asking about the legitimate bounds for paraphrasing (mostly because I too often err on the wooden side).

      Looking forward to your paraphrase of the second half.

  2. 3 Andrew Bowden

    In answer to why a paraphrase, my answer is this:

    although the original is not a paraphrase, it seemed that translating it this way made it more understandable, and more clearly tie back to Christ’s preeminence in verse 18. It seemed that (v 19) answers the question “why?” “Why will he be pre-eminent” “why will he be first-in-everything?” HE will be so because the fullness of God dwells in him. Translating this as a rhetorical question seemed to bring this out. Hopefully this is not being to “loose” with the text.

    On another note, I agree very much with your translation of verses 21-23. Solid Stuff! One question about content. Verse 23 really made me slow down and think for a minute. Paul says that this gospel has been preached in all creation under heaven! These are strong words. How can they hear without a preacher? Paul makes it sound as if the hearing is not the issue, as they have not just hear, but been preached to? Is he talking about those that have “never heard the gospel?”

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