Translating 2 Cor 5:17 – “he is a new creation” or “there is a new creation”?

I got floored with a new insight in preparing for a sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:11-17 last Sunday. In verse 17, the translations I’ve always read said something like this: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” (see the 1984 NIV, ESV, NASB, HCSB, and others). However, when doing some study on this verse as part of my larger sermon prep, I noticed that literally, the sentence reads: “If anyone in Christ, new creation” (Ὥστε εἴ τις ἐν χριστῷ, καινὴ κτίσις). In the original Greek for this verse, there are no verbs, so they have to be supplied–If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.

However, the NRSV and the 2011 NIV render the passage, respectively, “there is a new creation” and “the new creation has come.” That’s different.

What alerted me to these alternate translations was the section in David Garland’s commentary on this passage where he pointed out something that turned my understanding of 2 Cor 5:17 upside down:

Paul also never uses the noun “creation” (ktisis) to refer to an individual person (see Rom 1:2, 25; 8:19–22, 39), and the concept of a new creation appears prominently in Jewish apocalyptic texts that picture the new age as inaugurating something far more sweeping than individual transformation—a new heaven and a new earth. The translation “there is a new creation” would mean that the new creation does not merely involve the personal transformation of individuals but encompasses the eschatological act of recreating humans and nature in Christ. It would also include the new community, which has done away with the artificial barriers of circumcision and uncircumcision (Gal 6:15–16; see Eph 2:14–16) as part of this new creation.

(David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, The New American Commentary, 286-87)

Garland’s not the only one that leans toward a “there is a new creation” translation. Ralph Martin writes,

Paul is talking of a “new act of creation,” not an individual’s renovation as a proselyte or a forgiven sinner in the Day of Atonement service. There is even an ontological dimension to Paul’s thought (so P. Stuhlmacher, “Erwägungen”), suggesting that with Christ’s coming a new chapter in cosmic relations to God opened and reversed the catastrophic effect of Adam’s fall which began the old creation (Kümmel, 205). To conclude: en Christo, kaine ktisis in this context relates to the new eschatological situation which has emerged from Christ’s advent (unlike the sense of Gal. 6:14, 15).

(Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians, Word Biblical Commentary, 152)

Or, consider Colin Kruse’s words:

The thrust of this statement is that when a person is in Christ, he or she is part of the new creation. God’s plan of salvation, while primarily concerned with humanity, encompasses the whole created order (Rom. 8:21). When a person is in Christ he or she has become already part of the new creation so that it may be said, the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. This participation in the new creation is reflected in the changed outlook of which v. 16 spoke and in a new holiness of life (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9–11), and will culminate in the renewal of the whole person by resurrection to immortality in the new created order at the parousia (cf. Isa. 65:17; 66:22; Rom. 8:19–23).

(Colin Kruse, 2 Corinthians, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, 123)

What’s happening here? How could so many of the mainstream translations land on the singular “he is a new creation”, when a number of scholars have pointed out otherwise? I think this could be a case where Western individualistic bias has unduly influenced translations to focus on the singular transformation of an individual when it comes to the gospel. As a result, the gospel has been presented as something that is focused solely on the individual–a person’s spiritual life is a “just between him/her and God” sort of thing. Private spirituality. However, the Bible doesn’t conceive of it this way. The OT spent a lot of time talking about the entire nation of Israel and God’s story working in and among them. Blessings and curses recorded in the Law and the Prophets were typically applied to the whole group–if one person messed up, then the whole nation suffered. Not only that, but when God created the heavens and the earth, he saw that it was good. Humanity’s brokenness upended the created order as well. God is repairing all that was broken in both the vertical and horizontal dimensions–between God and people, God and his creation, and also between people and people, people and his creation, and other parts of creation with other parts as well.

So how would seeing this passage as “there is a new creation” instead of “he is a new creation” change things? I think this means is that the gospel is proclaiming a much grander reality than just you and me, it’s talking about all of creation that was started anew in Christ’s death and resurrection and will be completely restored to perfection in the end. When we isolate 2 Cor 5:17 to just a single person sort of thing, we truncate its fuller scope: God intends to reconcile all things to himself–whether on earth or in heaven (Col 1:20). It’s not meant to signal a transformation of individuals only (though they remain primary), but it’s talking about a new heavens and a new earth (Rev 21:1). In between then and now, we’re invited as active participants in this new creation as new creatures dwelling within it. There’s a tension that we live in, of course, as the new creation has been inaugurated but not yet completed.

Taking that all in, I lean this way–2 Cor 5:17 is better thought of as, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation”, or better yet, as Garland suggests to allow for both options to weigh in, “If anyone in Christ, new creation!” I think this preserves the nuance that allows the Christ’s big picture new creation to be primary and the individual new creations to be folded into the grander picture of God reconciling all things to himself.

3 comments to Translating 2 Cor 5:17 – “he is a new creation” or “there is a new creation”?

  • It's All Greek

    Context, context, context. Before sweeping away all former Western translators and commentators for sake of what conforms to your liking in the newer commentaries, you first need to check out the context for the Greek. Please consult Alford, who dealt with similar allegorizing of the passage like the commentaries that you quoted, Roberton, Vincent, Wuest, Barnes, Zodhiates, who most thoroughly took on the Greek , Clarke, Gill, Vine, and the exposition in the Pulpit Commentary. All of these treated it in depth and showed that Paul used creation the individual way, but Gill probably gave more historical attention to the Rabbins, who he credited with why Paul used this difficult phrase to begin with. Study many sources, but does it surprise you how one that you quoted used “new age,” to support this passage, as does another modern commentator whom you did not quote and, still, a third that I know of used “new dawn.” Just what are they promoting here?

  • […] Paul also never uses the noun “creation” (ktisis) to refer to an individual person (see Rom 1:2, 25; 8:19–22, 39), and the concept of a new creation appears prominently in Jewish apocalyptic texts that picture the new age as inaugurating something far more sweeping than individual transformation—a new heaven and a new earth. The translation “there is a new creation” would mean that the new creation does not merely involve the personal transformation of individuals but encompasses the eschatological act of recreating humans and nature in Christ. It would also include the new community, which has done away with the artificial barriers of circumcision and uncircumcision (Gal 6:15–16; see Eph 2:14–16) as part of this new creation. (David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, The New American Commentary, 286-87)  link […]

  • I see you don’t monetize your blog, don’t waste your traffic, you can earn extra cash every month because you’ve got hi
    quality content. If you want to know how to make extra money, search for: Mrdalekjd methods for $$$

Leave a Reply to What’s a new creation? « behindthewillowtrees

 

 

 

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>