Another Word on “Visible and Invisible”

Another Word on “Visible and Invisible” November 24, 2013

The second reading for today’s Feast of Christ the King is Colossians 1:12-20.  St. Paul, in a paean to God the Father, describes Jesus by saying that

“in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible” (Col 1:16)

As I was preparing this reading (I am a lector for today’s mass) I was struck by the use of visible and invisible.   Last week I blogged about this turn of phrase in the new translation of the creed, comparing it to Blessed Newman’s use of “seen” and “unseen,” the language of the earlier English translation.   Out of curiosity, I decided to see what other bible translations used in this passage.  A brief search showed that the majority of translations use “visible” and “invisible”.  A sampling of translations can be found at the BibleHub.

The underlying words in Greek are  “horatos” and “ahoratos”:  according to Strong’s Concordance, “visible” or “capable of being seen.”  It is the only occurrence of horatos in the New Testament; “ahoratos”  appears twice.

One translation did use “seen” and “unseen”:  the Weymouth New Testament.   According to Wikipedia, this was a 19th century version that attempted to translate the best Greek manuscript into “modern” (i.e. 19th century) English.  This use of seen and unseen thus squares with Newman’s use of the same terms and is further evidence that at least in the 19th century these terms were used interchangeably.

I would be interested in knowing more about why the most recent translations (including the NAB, the NIV and the NJB) all translate these words as visible and invisible, and how this differs from the places where the text reads “unseen”—e.g.  Matthew 6:6 in the NIV.  But this requires a far better knowledge of NT Greek than I can gain using Google.

Please feel free to draw whatever conclusions you want from this micro-excursion into the history of translations!   And as this liturgical year draws to a close, may God in his goodness, which is indeed visible all around us, continue to bless each and every one of you.

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  • phosphorious

    It’s a conspiracy! The attempt to translate the original Greek as “Seen and unseen” is a sneaky attempt to inject Berkleyan Idealism into catholic theology. Bishop Berkeley said “To Be is to Be Perceived,” and rejected the idea of imperceivable substances. Which has consequences for the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist.

    So all good Catholics should reject this translation, or else endanger their immortal souls. . .

    (Sorry, but you did say ‘whatever conclusions you want. . . “)

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      That was good! More than a little paranoid, but less paranoid than all those conspiracy theories about the freemasons and Vatican II.

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