Two Words: A devotional in the guise of a complaint about Bible translation

I love to discover and read unusual translations of the New Testament. Well not too unusual. A good example would be the great classicist Richard Lattimore’s translation. Lattimore’s translations of Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey are almost canonical among readers, only recently rivaled in stature by the translations of Robert Fagles.

When I discover a new translation I often look immediately to Ephesians 1 to get a feel for the translation strategy. I’m not sure why I do that; my preferred translation, the NASB, published just the year before I was converted, has perhaps the worst, most complex, obtuse translations of the chapter available. The marginal readings barely rescue it from infamy. If I were to choose a translation based on Ephesians 1 alone I would never use my own Bible. Yet, it was the only true evangelical alternative at the time.

Nevertheless I still prefer the NASB, with some alterations, to the ESV, until you get to that abomination in verse 10, mostly because of two words that the NASB includes when describing God’s loving predestination of His chosen ones to adoption, two words that the ESV inexplicably drops, two words that are in the Greek as embarrassingly exposed by the ESV Reverse Interlinear Bible. Those two words are “to Himself”

In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the [good pleasure] of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Eph 1:4-6 NASB)

ἐν ἀγάπῃ, 5 προορίσας ἡμᾶς εἰς υἱοθεσίαν διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς αὐτόν, κατὰ τὴν εὐδοκίαν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ, 6 εἰς ἔπαινον δόξης τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ ἧς ἐχαρίτωσεν ἡμᾶς ἐν τῷ ἠγαπημένῳ. (Eph 1:4-6 BGT)

In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Eph 1:4-6 ESV)

Those who might wonder about my alteration of the NASB’s insipid “kind intention” to “good pleasure” or my placement of “in love” with the sentence of verse 5 when the New Testament Greek so obviously has the comma before verse 5 can find my explanation in a previous blog post: “Where Does ‘In Love’ Belong in Ephesians 1:4?”

This passage is enveloped in divine love: God’s love for those whom He has chosen as He contemplates predestinating them to adoption and His love for His beloved Son, whom He intends to make the head of both heavens and earth, an intense, white hot love. In the middle is a reference to the pleasure of God, yet again delighting in His chosen ones. It would almost seem that any additional expression of God’s love for us—yes, we can know that we have been chosen though we can never know that we have not—would be gratuitous, an unnecessary hyperbole. And yet, in the Greek and accurately translated in the NASB are two additional words “to Himself,” God predestines us to be adopted “to Himself!” These two words have always been a big bear hug to me, God reaching out to me and drawing me to Himself. How can anyone respond to such an expression of love except with love?

It is a shame that the ESV dropped these two words!

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