Re: Colossians 1:23

From: James H. Vellenga (
Date: Fri Feb 21 1997 - 08:52:11 EST

> From: "Carl W. Conrad" <>
> At 8:31 PM -0600 2/20/97, Mark Armstrong wrote:
> >I am presently taking a Bible Study group through the Book of Colossians.
> >Last week someone in the group raised the issue of what 1:23b means. The
> >NIV says, "This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed
> >to every creature under heaven....".
> >Turning to the Greek text, we see TOU KHRUXQENTOS EN PASH KTISEI TN UPO TON
> >
> >The problem appears to be one of factuality, for I don't think it can mean
> >that the Gospel has been preached to every individual on earth at the time
> >Paul wrote this letter. Had Paul actually proclaimed the gospel to "every
> >creature under heaven", what can this mean? How do we translate PASH KTISEI
> > - as referring to humans alone, or does it include heavenly hosts and the
> >like? Is PASH used in a restrictive sense?
> >
> >If anyone has any insights into the text that may shed some light on this
> >issue I would be most grateful.
> (1) In the first place it strikes me that NIV's "to every creature" is a
> paraphrase rather than a translation of EN PASHi KTISEI, as the dative here
> is not the "true" dative commonly indicating a personal indirect object nor
> is it the not uncommon usage of the instrumental dative with EN to indicate
> means by which something is accomplished. Rather it is surely the "good
> old-fashioned" locative dative and should, normally, I would think, be
> translated as "in all creation."

I'm going to disagree with Carl here. Given that KRUChQENTOS is passive,
we ought very strongly to consider the possibility that EN PASHi KTISEI
is an instrumental dative.

In addition, we also ought to consider the possibility the PASHi here
means not "every" but "every kind of". In fact, I generally find it a
useful rule of thumb to use "every kind of" or "all kinds of" when the
noun modified by PAS lacks the definite article, and to use "every" or
"all" when the definite article is present (exception noted below).

From these, I get something like

  ... the good news that you heard, the one proclaimed by means of
  every kind of creature (or creation) that [is] under the sky ...

Phrased this way, we get echoes of "The heavens declare the glory of God"
or (Rom. 1.20) "His invisible [qualities] are clearly seen from a
creation of a world system, being understood [in?] the things made."

> (2) One factor that could enter in here is that the time referred to by the
> aorist passive participle KHRUCQENTOS need not refer to the past, although
> onemight imagine alternatives such as KHRUCQHSOMENOU or KHRUSSOMENOU which
> would more clearly imply non-completion. Actual completion might be more
> precisely indicated by KEKHRUGMENOU. In sum, KHRUCQENTOS might conceivably
> understood as having no clear determinate temporal reference (isn't that,
> in fact--the question is, of course, facetious--what "aorist" means?) and
> be translated as an attributive adjective "the gospel preached" without
> temporal focus, or as the verb of a relative clause that doesn't emphasize
> time but effect, "the gospel that gets preached in all creation."

Agreed. This understanding is reflected in my own paraphrase above.

> (3) IF, however, the question of actual fulfilment of this assertion at the
> time of its writing is understood, one would really have to wonder about
> what era the author understood himself to be living in. A very interesting
> parallel construction that jars a careful reader to sit up and take note is
> Mark's declaration that when John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness
> EXOMOLOGOUMENOI TAS hAMARTIAS AUTWN. Are we then really to understand Mark
> to be saying that the entire population of the territory designated as
> Judaea and EVERY SINGLE dweller in Jerusalem went to John and was actually
> baptized? I find it difficult to accept this as a historical fact that Mark
> is intent upon communicating to his readers. I think something else may in
> fact be intended by Mark; that's another question. But when I've looked at
> translations I rather think the translators side-step the sharpness of
> Mark's expression, and I note also that the parallel passages in Mt and Lk
> soften the sharpness of Mark's expression too so as to indicate that great
> numbers, but not the entire population, went to John.

This reference seems to violate my rule about translations of PAS with the
definite article. But I think this passage is hyperbole (exaggeration for
effect); one of my colleagues (without a working knowledge of Greek) observes
that the Gospel of Mark reads like the National Enquirer. Beyond that, we
might say on certain occasions that "The whole town turned out for such-and-
such a celebration" without explicitly noting that the invalids from the
nursing home and Old Mrs. Grouch didn't bother to show up.

> (4) Still another passage that is troubling in this manner is Acts 2:5 HSAN
> TON OURANON. Does this mean "of every nationality" in which there are
> actually Diaspora Jews participant? Or is this a deliberately tendentious
> univesal inclusive statement intended by the writer to express a symbolic
> rather than a literal historical meaning? I really do think Luke means to
> underscore the univesal human dimension, but he could do that only in a
> symbolic sense, and I am inclined to think that's what he's actually doing
> here.

Here again I would tend to say "from every kind of nation that [is] under
the sky" -- although this leads one to wonder what "kinds" of nations there
are. But basically it seems that the speakers are talking of "people from
all over the [known] world." So I basically agree with Carl, I think,
that these references are more "gut-feel" inclusive than mathematically
and logically inclusive.

Jim V.

James H. Vellenga |
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