I’m not a scholar. Not in Greek. Not in anything, really. But I’ve been learning a lot throughout the last year, as I’ve painstakingly worked through a personal translation, or paraphrase, of the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Finally, as 2019 draws to a close, I’m ready to release my translation of Philippians for others to read and consider.
I’m calling it Asp’s Suggested Paraphrase — or “The ASP” or short. It’s a bit vain and silly, I know, but I figured it would be helpful to have a handle for this project. I’m hoping the project will grow in the years to come, as I follow a similar process of discovery for other books of the Bible. I went with the “P” instead of the “V” — a “Paraphrase” instead of a “Version” — because, well, it created a better acronym and because it seems like a more humble and realistic assessment of what I’m really doing.
Here’s how I created my translation / paraphrase. I’d start by copying down the Greek text into my journal, leaving every other line blank. Next, I’d translate as much of the material as I could from memory — drawing blanks on the page where I drew blanks in my mind. And then, I’d use my study resources to go back, check my work, and fill in the blanks. This created a literal translation. Finally, I would create my own idiomatic translation (or paraphrase) of the text, often while referencing other translations. I leaned especially on the English Standard Version, the New Living Translation, and the New International Version.
My ASP is not perfect. In fact, I reserve the right to edit, update, and amend my version of Philippians as my knowledge of Greek, my relationship with God, and my general life of faith might dictate in the years to come. But for whatever it’s worth, you are welcome to download this version of Philippians for your own study and enjoyment:
For those who might be interested in more of the minutiae of what I learned in the process of translation, here are some things I noticed about Philippians along the way:
- The Apostle Paul loved to write really long sentences! In translating these long sentences, there’s a challenge: Either (1) Deal with extra-long, unwieldy, sections of prose that can be confusing for the modern English reader — all for the sake of more faithfully and literally representing the original Greek version; or (2) Use punctuation (and some extra filler words), and break up the sentences to enhance clarity — while also, admittedly, introducing more subjectivity to the translation. I probably tended more towards breaking up the long sentences, but that was easier to do in some cases than in others.
- One of the things that a careful study of the Greek can really help to highlight is the way a book falls into patterns, rhythms, and repetition. Like the repetition of variations of the the word “All” (πάσῃ / πάντοτε / πάντων / πάντας) in the first eight verses of the book. I tried to highlight some of these patterns in my translation. Here’s an example of how I did that, in Chapter 1, Verse 4: “All of the time, in all of my prayers for all of you guys, I pray with joy.” Cool, huh?
- I made a decision to consistently translate the Greek second person plural as “You guys” instead of the simpler “You.” I liked the fact that this translation is true to the colloquial speech patterns of the United States Midwest. But the real reason why I made that choice is to emphasize the communal nature of the Christian experience, instead of feeding into an individualized reading of Scripture. 21st Century American society is one of the most individualistic societies in history. Clearly more so than ancient Philippi. So I like the way that “you guys” communicates the fact that the letter was addressed to a group, not an individual. It may make things sound a bit less formal. But it’s not taking any liberties in terms of the way the original Greek words were intended to define their audience.
- Translators have been struggling for the last fifty years to deal with the Greek preference to default to masculine pronouns for groups of people which may or may not have been mixed with men and women. It’s hard to make a translation decision on this one without feeling political. I decided to go with “My sweet family of faith” instead of “Brothers” (ἀδελφοί), just because I feel like that captures some of the tone of the original Greek, without making a gender-specific choice. It gets clunky, I know. And it is not a literal translation. But I think it’s a useful equivalent.
- What is the role of a translator in dealing with proper names like Euodia and Syntyche? These are not familiar names. And they’re not regular, recurring figures in the New Testament narrative. So: Why not translate Euodia and Syntyche to Jasmine and Sunny? These contemporary names have some of the same sounds and mean similar things? I decided to go ahead and simplify, or update, proper names in these cases. But I didn’t do that universally. I felt it was less clear about what to do with a name like Epaphroditus — who makes four appearances in Philippians and has a higher name recognition in contemporary Christianity. But I’m still thinking about what to do with this sort of translation situation.
- I’ve read Philippians dozens, if not hundreds, of times throughout my life. I’ve helped to teach at least two sermon series on this book of the Bible. But one thing I never really noticed about Philippians until this translation project was the theme of team and running that weaves in and out of the whole letter. Again, I’m not a true scholar — but it definitely seems like there’s a conscious choice to build this theme. And it connects to some of my other passions and pursuits so beautifully! So I made some translation choices to help highlight this theme, though this is — admittedly — a subjective decision.
Anyway, I’d love to hear any reflections you might have, if you give the ASP a read. Whether you’re a Greek expert or not, I really believe it will be helpful to get other perspectives. But for those who might prefer some selected highlights from my Asp’s Suggested Paraphrase, I’ll share a couple of my favorite verses in my personal translation:
- Philippians 1:8 (ASP) – “I yearn for all of you guys with all my guts”
- Philippians 3:2-3 (ASP) – “Look out for the dogs! Look out for the bad guys! Look out for the mutilation! Because we are the circumcision. It’s about worshiping by the Spirit of God, glorying and finding our confidence in Christ Jesus — not finding our confidence in that rotting pile of foreskins.”
- Philippians 3:12-14 (ASP) – It’s not like I’ve won anything yet. But I’m running in the right direction, so as to own up to that for which Christ Jesus has made me his own. My sweet family of faith, I don’t reckon that I’ve come into possession of all this yet. But one thing is clear: forgetting the ground I’ve already covered, leaning into that which is in front of me, I’m running hard to win the prize of a heavenly calling from God in Christ Jesus.
All right. Enough commentary. Enough hemming and hawing. My translation is not perfect. And remember: I reserve the right to edit, update, and amend my version of Philippians, as my knowledge of Greek, my relationship with God, and my general life of faith might dictate in the years to come. But now it’s out there. And may God bless the reading of His Word!