Saturday, April 04, 2009

Heirs of God

The following verse has often puzzled me:

Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Romans 8:17, NIV

It puzzled me because the phrase "heirs of God" suggests that we are meant to inherit something when God dies. And he isn't going to.

But actually it turns out it's a bad translation (but so are most others) and latching on to a concept in Biblical theology.

The concept is the one of inheritance. The inheritance of the Israelites was the land that they got because of God's promise to them - each of them had an inheritance in the Promised Land. It didn't mean they had to die to get it - it meant it was a bit of land which they got which couldn't be taken away from their family.

And the word "heirs" in Romans 8:17 is better translated "inheritors". It means that what we get is God, and is with Christ.


Daniel Hill said...

I'm not with you, Custard: `heir' and `inheritor' both mean the same -- someone that inherits an inheritance from one deceased.

John said...

But the point is that "inheritance" in the Bible doesn't just mean what we get when we die.... It's already been expanded as a concept beyond that in the Old Testament.

Daniel Hill said...

`Inheritance' in normal English doesn't mean what we get when we die. It means what we get when another dies.

But an heir is someone that inherits, so what's wrong with the NIV's translation?

John said...

Sorry - my mistake. Inheritance in the Bible doesn't just mean what we get when other people die - its meaning is far broader. But the meaning of "heirs" has not been as clearly expanded in the OT, and the link between the words in English isn't anywhere near as clear as in Greek.

My point is that the Greek word translated "heirs" would be better translated "inheritors" to make the strong link between this word and the concept of inheritance as clear in English as it is in Greek.