Do you suffer in translation?


I don’t normally use the King James version of the Bible. It always seems hard enough for me to translate what the Bible says into the pattern of the way I live, without having to first decode it from Shakespearean English.

(But if it works for you, then that’s fine!)

But sometimes that old phrasing really grabs my attention.

I’ve been working on a book on Colossians, and in the process have accumulated at least forty translations of the text along with the various Greek texts. (You knew there was more than one, right?).

So, this business of “translation” was uppermost in my mind when I came to the KJV translation of Colossians 1:13: “He hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.

The two verbs tell the story of salvation. The first (“delivered“) gives an account of the slavery of our past lives without Christ. BC, in fact. “Before Christ” stepped in, decisively, to break my chains forever.

The second (“translated“) gives an account of where we are now, within the life, love and liberty of the “kingdom of his dear Son.”  We ‘re living in the “AD”, the “Anno Domini,” the year of our Lord. It’s the year of favour and Jubilee; of the release of all captives and the joy of debts forgiven, of land restored and prisoners set free…

That’s what we’ve been translated into.

In most versions, that word “translated” is given as “brought” or “transferred. It suggests the idea of your being moved from position 1 to position 2, like a piece on a chessboard, or taken from one school and placed in another.

That’s fair enough, but what those ideas of transferral don’t do is engage with the process of the shift. On the one side, captivity, and you’ve been delivered from it!; and on the other,  liberty and… and what?

You’ve been translated into it.

If I translate “Good morning” into French I say “Bonjour,” right? And yet, “Bonjour” doesn’t mean “Good morning.” Word for word it means “Good day.” But if I greeted someone in England with the phrase “Good day” it would sound a little old-fashioned, posh and not-quite-right.

What I mean to say is that the process of the shift from one language  to another is more than simply finding the word, it means a holistic shift in culture, mores, habit-patterns, worldview.

Someone said to me once: “You can’t just put a sentence into Google Translate and think you’re talking like a native. You more likely to be talking like an idiot.”

So that’s why that word grabbed my attention in the KJV of Col 1:13. We haven’t simply been transferred or brought, we’ve been translated. There’s a completely new way of doing things, of being human, or experiencing and responding to God and life itself.

We are engaging in an en-culturation programme that will take us through eternity. There will always be “further up and farther in” (C.S.Lewis) to go.

And what one word means in that old BC culture can be quite different to what it means in the AD world of the new. Think of the word “success” or “prosperity,” for example. The culture has changed! (Or do you really think that the best way God can think of to bless you is by giving you a bigger car?)

Well. I have so many ideas right now that my head is exploding with it, but give it a try for yourself. Pick a word. Think about what it might have meant to you before you were a Christian.

And now translate it into the new kingdom way of seeing things.

Love, joy, peace, truth…

And so I no longer worry when I “suffer in translation.” It’s worth the effort and it just helps me see how thoroughly God intends to change me.

Like that song:

“Water you turn into wine…”




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