I fully understand that it’s very hard for us to get our minds around the idea that all things are in Christ, and that sinners are not separated from God. It may even take us decades to fully deconstruct this Platonic dualist theology.
I want to take a closer look at Paul’s testimony in Gal.1:15-16. First, here is the standard translation of this verse (emphasis mine):
15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood (Gal.1:15-16 NKJV)
We’ve already seen that Jesus revealed Himself IN Paul while He was still an enemy of the Cross. But we need to look at another word in verse 16. It’s in the phrase, “among the Gentiles.” This is not a good English translation based on what it actually says in the original Greek (translators translate according to their theology.)
Most of us aren’t experts at reading Koine Greek, but that’s quite okay because I think you’ll easily see a similarity between these two phrases (Greek in parenthesis, bold-type added for clarification):
“in me” (εν εμοι)
“among the Gentiles” (εν τοις εθνεσιν)
You will notice that the same Greek word (εν, pronounced “en”) is used in both phrases. But this very common word, en, is normally translated “in,” not “among.” You can see the uses of “en” in the New Testament here. It’s almost always used in the normal meaning of “in,” or even “inside.” (It’s the same word in Col.1:27, Christ in (en) you, the hope of glory.”) Since it’s such a common word, context determines a lot here.
Taking context into account, we should read verse 16 as follows:
“to reveal His Son in (en) me, that I might preach Him in (en) the Gentiles….”
As I already pointed out, this goes along with Paul’s preaching to the pagan Athenians in Acts 17, telling them that their own poets have said, “IN Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28).
What a difference one little Greek word makes!
Jesus revealed Himself in Paul, and Paul was called to reveal Christ IN the Gentiles! Of course, we have the same ministry of reconciliation in this world.
Why do most English versions say, “among the Gentiles,” even though this normally wouldn’t be how you would render such a phrase? When translators confront a seemingly ambiguous phrase, they tend to go with the traditional rendering. Besides, “In the Gentiles” doesn’t make sense to our deeply ingrained Western deistic mindset. We can’t imagine that God would be revealed in sinners when we’re looking through centuries-old “glasses” that sees mankind separated from God.
Now, if you don’t believe me, let me say that I’m not the only one saying this. The early church fathers, like Athanasius and Gregory of Nazianzus taught this. More recently, theologians and even Bible translators have been making these corrections—notably, François Du Toit, with his Mirror Bible. His commentary is actually quite good for this verse. Worth the read. Here is the verse along with his commentary (verse in bold-type):
1:16 This is the heart of the gospel that I proclaim; it began with an unveiling of sonship in me, freeing me to announce the same sonship in the masses of non-Jewish people. I felt no immediate urgency to compare notes with those who were familiar with Christ from a mere historic point of view.”
(The Greek text is quite clear: “It pleased the Father to reveal his son in me in order that I may proclaim him in the nations!” The words, en emoi, translate as “in me,” and en ethnos translate as in the Gentile nations, or the masses of non Jewish people! Not “among” the Gentiles as most translations have it. Later, when Barnabas is sent to investigate the conversion of the Greeks in Acts 11, instead of reporting his findings to HQ in Jerusalem, he immediately finds Paul, knowing that Paul’s gospel is the revelation of the mystery of Christ in the nations [see Col 1:27]. No wonder then that those believers were the first to be called Christians, or Christ-like!)
Jesus Christ confirms that the son of man is the son of God. “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” [Mt 23:9] Paul reminds the Greek philosophers in Acts 17 that we live and move and have our being in God; humankind is indeed the offspring of God. He is quoting from their own writings, Aratus, who lived 300 BC. The incorruptible seed of sonship is as much in every man as the seed is already in all soil, even in the desert, waiting for the rain to awaken and ignite its life!
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, so shall my word be that proceeds from my mouth, it shall not disappoint my purpose, it shall saturate the soil and cause it to bring forth and sprout, instead of the thorn the cyprus and instead of the brier the myrtle!” [Isa 55:8-11, 13]
In Matthew 13:44, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in an agricultural field! There is more to the field than what meets the eye! In 2 Corinthians 4:4, 7, Paul says that we have this treasure in earthen vessels! But the god of this world seeks to blind our minds through unbelief [believing a lie about ourselves, Num 13:33] to keep us from seeing the light of the gospel revealing the glory of God in the face of Christ who is the image of God, as in a mirror! When Jesus speaks of the sinner he speaks of him as the lost sheep, coin, or son. [Lk 15] The inscription and image did not disappear from the coin when it was lost, how can we praise God and with the same mouth curse a “man made in his image? [Jas 3:9 and Lk 20:20-26] Mankind forgot what manner of man he is by design; man is the image and likeness bearer of his Maker; this is exactly what Jesus came to reveal and redeem.
We may now behold him with unveiled faces as in a mirror and be immediately transformed [in our understanding] into his likeness. From the glory [opinion] of the flesh to the glory [opinion] of God. Legalistic religion kept the veil in place; the proclaiming of the liberating truth of the Good News, removes the veil! The “ugly duckling” didn’t need a face-lift or lessons on how to fake the swan life! It only needed to know the truth about itself to be free indeed.)”
From “Mirror Bible: A selection of key New Testament texts paraphrased from the Greek” by Francois Du Toit
I will finish my series, where we are faithfully asking the question “Are sinners separated from God,” next time!