When you’ve studied the Bible for many years, you think you can’t be surprised anymore by what the text says. Sure, we all keep getting new insights as the Spirit enlightens us, but the text itself seems pretty solid.
Until you look “under the hood”.
No, I’m not about to question the words, like the liberal scholars have done, but to question the translations. I used to believe that with the plethora of English translations and paraphrases at our disposal I wouldn’t need to know the original languages. After all, no Bible translator would dare to tamper with it, and would always use the most rigorous scholarship to ascertain the best possible semantic range of any given word or phrase. But as I’ve written earlier (search here on “pharisee”), that turns out to be untrue. Even so, I thought that between the many translations and dictionaries I had a handle on the text.
Then along came the interlinears. If you don’t know, an interlinear has the English (or whatever language spoken today) lines interspersed with Greek, so you should be able to pinpoint how each word was translated. If you wanted to study a word you could find the Greek under it and look it up. But it’s still amazing how long I’ve used those interlinears and missed so much. In one of the two primary ones I use, sometimes words were simply ignored. But what really opens up the text is when an interlinear also supplies the grammatical parsing of each word, such that you can also know the tense (time: past, present, future, and variations), voice, mood, and other grammatical technicalities.
I decided recently to study Ephesians directly from an interlinear that has the grammatical parsing, and found some very interesting things. The most shocking thing was the discovery that Eph. 2:1-5 was saying the very opposite of how every English translation I checked rendered it. Here are examples of how some major translations render verse 1:
NASB: And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,
KJV: And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
YLT: Also you — being dead in the trespasses and the sins,
TNIV: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins
But the Greek actually reads like this:
You all are dead to your falling away and missing the mark
So instead of painting the picture of when believers were still lost they were “dead in sin”, it tells us of our new, current condition of being “dead TO sin”. The Greek words are in the present tense, not the past, and the dative case of “the sins” is translated “to the”, not “in the” (ref. This Link). Why do all the major translations ignore the grammar and change the meaning of the verse (likewise with vs. 5)?
Several possibilities I suppose, but the main one is the Calvinist presupposition that the lost are literally spiritually dead, meaning the same as physical death where the body is incapable of action. Translating vs. 1 and 5 this way bolsters their interpretation. And they are paranoid about giving ground to the view held by some that the saved can be sinless (which I agree is unbiblical), but they go too far because they (and practically everybody else) misunderstand the Biblical notion of death.
I came across This Article from a year ago that, although presuming the erroneous “dead in”, tells us how the first century Jews would have understood the passage, using Genesis 2-3 as an illustration. It agrees with my view that death can be simply defined as “separation”. Physically, death occurs when the body and spirit are separated; the body’s decay is a result, not a cause, of that separation. The article makes a very good point in stating that “Ephesians 2:1–2 defines what it means to be dead: to be dead is to live in your sins and trespasses while you follow this Satanic world system! In the context ‘death’ does not mean ‘unable to respond to God,’ it means ‘living a sinful life in harmony with this evil world.’ (emphasis mine)
Putting that concept together with paying attention to the grammar, we can understand that Paul is basically saying this:
You are terminally separated from your old life of sin and are now reconciled to God through Jesus’ sacrifice. You are saved by grace!
This does not mean we can no longer commit sin, as some would teach, but that our former relationship to sin is separated from us and we are no longer slaves to it (ref. Rom. 6:14). That relationship is broken, and a new one has been formed. So it’s not that we were once spiritually dead and now are not, but that we exchanged one relationship for another; we were separated from fellowship with God, and now we are separated from fellowship with evil. We’re “dead” either way!
That discovery has of course prompted the great and ominous question, “What else have we missed??” What else are we presuming on the basis of inaccurate translations by people who should know better? Can we trust translations that all seem to be lockstepping together in their biases? We need accuracy, not continued bowing to tradition!
I’m no expert of course, but there’s no law stating I can’t follow an interlinear and understand the meaning. If you’re morbidly curious, I paraphrased the New Testament letters and made them available for free at the Downloads page here. I only broke it up into paragraphs for readability. See how many other things you can find that don’t quite match the traditional renderings.