It is a terrible thing what our Bible translations have become these days. I have a feeling our translations are so tidy and squeaky clean due to our conception of modern rating systems like MPAA. Christian parents want to make sure everything in their child’s Bible is PG. To me, this is the height of all irony: the Bible must be PG, but when it comes to their kids’ movies, video games, and television anything goes! I am not certain how this bizarre double standard came about. For better or for worse (I would argue for better), the Bible is filled with…well, colorful language–the Apostle Paul being one of the most artistic. However, we miss some of his most poignant turns of phrase because our translators do not have enough testosterone in their system to print what is actually written in the original texts.
[Censored] for Material
Take for instance Paul’s final gesticulation against the Judaizers in the book of Galatians. All of his argument against circumcision has gotten him to the point of exasperation, and in his last lunging effort he exclaims, “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” (Gal. 5:12, ESV). Emasculate themselves? Well, that’s a nice way of putting it. We thank the decorous translators of the ESV for protecting our virgin eyes, but what Paul actually wrote is αποκοψονται. An honest rendering of that word would read this way: “I wish those who are disturbing you would cut the whole thing off!” Paul is in a discussion about circumcision, so I’ll leave it to your imagination to understand what exactly he wishes these Judaizers would cut completely off!
One other instance from Paul before we get to the Christian strippers. In Philippians 3, Paul is trying to communicate how little he values his personal accomplishments. Contrasting himself with men who claim to be something, he wants his readers to see how much stock he puts in his resume. In verse 8, he finds the perfect word to compare his accomplishments with that of Christ: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8, ESV). Rubbish? That’s a word a soccer hooligan uses to describe his team’s performance. Rubbish has no concrete meaning for us. The word Paul actually uses is σκυβαλα–a word found scratched on Roman walls as a form of ancient graffiti, a word best translated as s#*t. Now you get the feeling of how offensive it is to Paul for us to compare our accomplishments with the accomplishments of Christ.
What about Christian Strippers?
Well, I was reading in Colossians this week in preparation for Sunday’s sermon, and I noticed that again something has been lost in translation, particularly in chapters 2 and 3. In the book of Colossians, Paul communicates to us the significance of our status in Christ. Everything is connected to our identification in Christ. In Colossians 2:11-12, he explains that what has happened to us in Christ is the ultimate form of circumcision: “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.”
The problem with this translation is that putting off is a very vague rendering of a quite specific word, a word that greatly effects our understanding of the passage. Paul is developing a metaphor using two words that are opposites: ἀπεκδύομαι (disrobe/strip off) and ἐνδύομαι (clothe). The “circumcision not made with human hands” Paul speaks of is the stripping off of the entire body of flesh. No longer is a small part of skin stripped off, but the entire sinful flesh is stripped off like a filthy garment. He goes on in the next verse to explain how baptism symbolizes this stripping away. We have passed completely under the water, burying the old man, and have been raised with Jesus. Baptism, then, symbolizes a circumcision–a stripping off–of the entire flesh in Christ, while the circumcision of the OT only removed a small part of flesh.
When we come to chapter 3, this contrast resurfaces in verses 9 and 10: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off [stripped off] the old man with its practices and have put on [clothed yourselves with] the new man, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.” Essentially, we are called to be Christian strippers. We have stripped off the old man, and we have clothed ourselves with the New Man–that is, Christ. In Paul’s mind, it is congruent with our reality as believers to put to death the old man with all of his accoutrements and sinful accessories, and to further clothe ourselves with the attributes of Christ.
We strip off the members of the old man; we clothe ourselves with the spotlessly clean and righteous garments of Christ. However, we miss this entire beautiful metaphor if we translate these words as “put off” and “put on”. Only once we realize Paul is using language typically associated with stripping off and putting on clothing do we connect all of the dots.
What of Our [censored] Translations?
Do not despair, and certainly don’t throw out your ESV, NASB, or whatever translation you have. Honestly, I don’t have time to sit down and put together a translation of the 66 books of the Bible, and even if I did I am certain it would be a pitiful sight compared to the amazing translations out there. No, my encouragement to you is that you put some pressure on you pastor to make sure he is bringing out these metaphors that might be obscured during the translation process.
P.S.–If you are looking for more [censored] passages, investigate 1 Kings 12:10, Isaiah 64:6, and 1 Samuel 25:34.