Note from the moderator: The updated NIV made a noteworthy change in 2 Corinthians 5:17 as compared to the 1984 NIV. I invited several scholars to respond, and CBT member Craig Blomberg explained more behind this alteration.
Question: What factors determine a translation of 2 Corinthians 5:17?
When my now 23-year-old daughter was 10, she invited two girlfriends her age who were not Christians to come to our church for the children’s Christmas program/service that she was singing in. The two friends seemed to appreciate the music and worship quite a bit. When the woman who was then our children’s director got up at the end to give an invitation to receive Christ, she read 2 Corinthians 5:17 out of the King James Version, her lifelong preference. After she read aloud, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new,” one of the girls sitting with my wife and me turned to her in disgust and asked quietly, “Does your church always use language like that?” All of the good of the service was undone with one unnecessary gender-exclusive reference that was unlike anything this 10-year-old had been exposed to in her home or in her public education.
Of course, this is only one of the translational problems in this verse. There is the textual problem of whether the verse ends just with kaina (“new”) or adds ta panta (“all things”) either before or after kaina. There is the question of whether the ellipsis before kainē ktisis (“new creation”) is even to be filled in with “he (or she) is,” or whether Paul is thinking more probably about the arrival, in part, of the new creation worldwide. This is related, thirdly, to whether or not ktisis should be translated “creation” or “creature.”
Let’s begin with the textual question. Textual critics are confident that the original reading was the shorter one, with just the word “new.” The last three (Greek) words of the verse then become, “Behold I have made new things (or things new).” Because verse 18 begins with a reference to “all things,” scribes likely added this to the end of verse 17 as well trying to clarify Paul’s meaning. That they did so in two different positions, that “new” is the shorter and harder reading, and that the best and most reliable manuscripts strongly support “new” all combine to make this a fairly straightforward decision.
But as so often is the case, textual variants may correctly interpret the meaning of the original, especially when it appears there are gaps to be filled in. Paul regularly looks forward not just to individuals becoming new creatures but to the arrival of a new creation (see esp. Rom. 8:19-23). How, then, would Paul have expected his audience to understand his meaning at the end of verse 17?—presumably by his language in the first part of the verse. The Greek does not actually supply a subject and verb before “new creation/creature,” which is unusual for Paul if he is saying simply that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. It is more likely that he is getting his readers’ attention by a staccato-like construction that makes them realize that he is talking about more than just the expected results of conversion—personal transformation—but about the arrival, even if only in part, of a whole new creation. Thus the Holman Christian Standard Bible writes, “there is a new creation,” as does the New Revised Standard Version and the New Century Version.
Clearer still is the updated NIV: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” The footnote, however, acknowledges the possibility that the second clause could be translated, “that person is a new creation.” Neither of these constructions requires any gender-exclusive language. In fact, the only masculine word in the whole verse in the Greek is “Christ.” Tis, or “anyone,” is a two-gender pronoun. That is to say, its masculine and feminine forms are identical; only the neuter differs morphologically. The KJV, the NKJV, the old American Standard Version, and the New American Standard Bible all put “he is” in italics to show that they were adding something that corresponded to nothing in the Greek. Unfortunately, more recent translations that don’t use this convention but still preserve the gender-exclusive language become the most misleading of all (e.g., the ESV, NET, or the 1984 NIV).
Craig Blomberg is distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colorado. He has been a member of the Committee on Bible Translation since 2008.
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