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Is there ever a time to use “man”? (Col 3:9–10) - Mondays with Mounce 261

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Paul tells the Colossian church to “Stop lying to one another, since you have put off the old man (τὸν παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον) with its practices, and have put on the new man (τὸν νέον), which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (3:9–10).

The challenge is the translation of ἄνθρωπον and the dual meaning in the verse.

On the one hand, it is a contrast between our old sinful nature and our new regenerated nature, hence the NLT’s translation. “Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.”

On the other hand, “man” is a corporate concept, the “old man” being our participation in Adam and the consequences of the Fall, and the “new man” being Christ and the consequences of the regenerate humanity (see Harris, Colossians & Philemon).

So how do you translate the double meaning? If a translation is comfortable with “man,” expecting the reader to understand it is inclusive of all people, men and women, then translation is easy. “Do not lie to one another since you have put off the old man with its practices and have been clothed with the new man that is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it” (NET, but see its extended footnote).

If a translation is not comfortable with “man,” a decision has to be made as to what meaning to keep and which meaning to lose. Interestingly, the ESV doesn’t stay with “man.” “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self.” Neither does the NASB. “You laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self” (with the footnote “Gk anthropos” on the first “self”).

The NIV is especially confusing. “You have taken off your old self.” The insertion of “your,” which is a legitimate translaton of τὸν, makes the corporate interpretation even more difficult.

I have no trouble avoiding “man” when the meaning is clearly inclusive of women and men,” but I do struggle when a translation loses so much of the meaning of the passage. Adam was a man, and we are in some way joined with the man Adam and the consequences of his sin, just as Jesus is the new man overcoming the consequences of Adam’s sin.

Can “man” not be used to save such an important truth?

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William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics on the ZA Blog. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek. He is the general editor ofMounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV.

Learn more about Bill’s Greek resources at Teknia.com and visit his blog on spiritual growth at BiblicalTraining.org/blog/life-journey.

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