Today I am continuing in a series of brief snippets explaining why I find understanding the Greek text behind our English versions of the New Testament helpful. It is my hope to encourage some people who are either in the midst of or are considering learning Greek – that it really is worth doing.
If you don’t fall into that category, just consider this one of those “insights from the Greek.”
One of the funny phenomena of Greek grammar is that sometimes the verb in a sentence is omitted and you have to figure out what it is from context. Sometimes it is implied from earlier in the passage (often the last verb is meant to be repeated) or just a form of the verb “to be” is meant. An example of this is in 2 Corinthians 5:17, which most modern English translations render as something like, “if anyone is in the Messiah, he is a new creation.” However the Greek leaves out the verb “is” and the subject “he.” It simply reads, “If anyone is in the Messiah — New Creation!” Under the ordinary translation, the subject of the verb is the “anyone,” the individual who has been incorporated into the Messiah. Thus it would mean that the individual now has an opportunity to start their life over and to re-prioritize their life according to God’s ways, to re-channel their energies in obedience and holiness rather than sin. Of course this is all good, but is that what the verse is getting at?
Another option is that the subject of the verb is “new creation, giving us a translation like, “If anyone is in the Messiah, there is a new creation” (NRSV) or “if anyone is in the messiah, the new creation has come!” (TNIV). Supporting this interpretation is the observation that when Paul uses the term “creation,” he generally uses it in terms of the whole creation, not a part of it, or one individual within it.
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Romans 1:20
“19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Romans 8:19-22
“…neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:39
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Col. 1:15
What does this mean then? If this latter translation is correct – then “being in the Messiah” is not simply an opportunity for a fresh start or a new chance to get things right (as great as that is). Being in the Messiah means that one is a participant in the eschatological life of the restored and renewed heavens and earth even now. Some way and some how, through the Messiah, God’s future for the world, where peace, justice, life and joy reigns, has come forward and burst forth in the present time. This is not a “spiritualization” of eschatology. Rather, understanding the radicality of New Testament thought is grasping that the apostles believed this time of literal, cosmic, physical, eschatological fulfillment, the full restoration of heaven and earth, though yet remaining future, has nevertheless dawned in “the now.” This restoration is already tasted by those who are “in the Messiah.”