2 Corinthians 6:7, “In the word of truth, in the power of God, through the weapons of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.” (LITV)

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The development of this verse into its modern form, that is, as it is expressed by the NIV or the NLT, for instance, is an interesting example and raises some compelling questions about Bible translation.  We learn when studying this verse that its exact meaning is quite obscure, though perhaps not unintelligible. What we have is a verse that has some questionable attributes, and the scholarly answers to these questions have provided material for the translation. This raises the question, within biblical translation, how much liberty one might take with the manuscript text. The critic might be tempted to jump on a verse like this to disprove the reliability of translation, but it would amount to a poor argument, for the extant verses that are obscure are greatly outweighed by ones that are clear. In addition, scholars are careful to keep the verse in the context of the latter, that the overall biblical message is not hindered or altered by translation. This verse, in particular, has its historical peculiarities as made evident by the range of translation it has undergone.

Keeping sense of it all, and making sense of it all might prove to be a challenge, but I will attempt to do so for the benefit of the reader, and I will further attempt to extrapolate meaning from the verse. I may have to borrow from several sources to do this, however, and some of the evidence might come from commentaries, from those more familiar than myself with the translation process and as what might be expressed in the Greek. This process will hopefully give us more insight into the verses exact meaning, and show that what can be induced or deduced from it can be seen as Scriptural as applied to the whole of the Word.

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First, it may be constructive for us to first delve into some of the basic philosophies concerning biblical translation. To do this I will borrow a sizeable portion from the introduction to the Life Application Study Bible’s New Living Translation’s introduction. I believe this is a short but comprehensive explanation of biblical translation philosophies which we will see manifest in this study. The Life Application Study Bible in the “Introduction to The New Living Translation” begins by introducing us into the world of biblical translation theory.

“English Bible translations tend to be governed by one of two general translation theories.” –Life Application Study Bible

The first theory we are introduced to is one called, ‘formal-equivalence’ theory.

“According to [formal-equivalence] theory, the translator attempts to render each word of the original language into English and seeks to preserve the original syntax and sentence structure as much as possible in translation.” –Life Application Study Bible

“A formal-equivalence translation preserves aspects of the original text—including ancient idioms, term consistency, and original-language syntax—that are valuable for scholars and professional study.” –Life Application Study Bible

“[Formal-equivalence] allows a reader to trace formal elements of the original-language text through the English translation.” –Life Application Study Bible

The second theory we are introduced to is called, ‘dynamic-equivalence’ theory.

“The goal of [dynamic-equivalence] translation theory is to produce in English the closest natural equivalent of the message expressed by the original-language text, both in meaning and in style.” –Life Application Study Bible

“A dynamic-equivalence translation, . . . focuses on translating the message of the original-language text.” –Life Application Study Bible

“[Dynamic-equivalence] ensures that the meaning of the text is readily apparent to the contemporary reader. This allows the message to come through with immediacy, without requiring the reader to struggle with foreign idioms and awkward syntax.” –Life Application Study Bible

“[Dynamic-equivalence] also facilitates serious study of the text’s messages and clarity in both devotional and public reading.” –Life Application Study Bible

The Life Application Study Bible tells us that work in conjunction with each other and it is impractical to use either/or to the extreme.

“The pure application of either of these translation philosophies would create translations at opposite ends of the translation spectrum.” –Life Application Study Bible

“A purely formal-equivalence translation would be unintelligible in English, and a purely dynamic-equivalence translation would risk being unfaithful to the original.” –Life Application Study Bible

“In reality, all translations contain a mixture of these two philosophies.” –Life Application Study Bible

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The Life Application Study Bible goes on to express that utilization of the dynamic can be formal, and that the formal can prove to be dynamic.

“Translations shaped by the dynamic-equivalence theory are usually quite literal when the original text is relatively clear, and the translations shaped by the formal-equivalence theory are sometimes quite dynamic when the original text is obscure.” –Life Application Study Bible

Further, we can see the methodology of the New Living Translation is in all actually probably applied by most translators.

“The translators [of the New Living Translation] rendered the message more dynamically when the literal rendering was hard to understand, was misleading, or yielded archaic or foreign wording.”Life Application Study Bible

Keeping the principles of both formal-equivalence and dynamic-equivalence in mind, we can see by comparison of different translations, that a translation rendering is dependent upon the degree the translators exercise these two philosophies within any given verse. In our study of 2 Corinthians 6:7, it seems apparent that a great volume of dynamic liberties are taken within the verse in some translations. Perhaps, some borrowing from commentators and/or the scholarly research of the more formal translations, and applying them as deemed fit within the verse itself.

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Again, this raises the issue and question, to what degree can we justifiably apply “liberties” and are we indeed “licensed” to do so? Indeed, this question should be taken on a case to case basis. In this study I will state several translations of 2 Corinthians 6:7, attempt to expound on the reasoning of the rendering, as well as pose some of my own thoughts or questions concerning the more literal translation of the Greek, in that one more knowledgeable that I am may reach or provide answer.

Now, let us go to the Greek to give us a starting point upon which to build.

2 Corinthians 6:7, “In a word of truth, is the power of God, through the weapons of righteousness on the right and of left.” (Greek)

Further, let us relate another translation, the NLT, because the NLT shows us the extent of dynamic-equivalence. I believe these two translations (for even the Greek is translated into English) show us both ends of the spectrum within the formal (Greek) and dynamic (NLT) theories. Let the reader note that it is not a rebuke or correction of the NLT, for I don’t have the wisdom to be able to do so, nor the knowledge. I am merely exploring and posing some questions to the reader for them to make up their own mind.

2 Corinthians 6:7, “We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense.” (NLT)

A couple things we can note immediately. The Greek, or rather, Greek-to-English translation omits several things in comparison to the NLT. There, for instance, is no mention of hands, nor no mention of anything being in those hands. Rather than “in” within the NLT, The Greek-to-English says “on.” Further, there is no mention in the Greek-to-English about faithfulness and preaching. Also, there is no reference to offense or defense and “in the power of God” is completely reworded to say, “God’s Power is working in us.” However, is this interpretive translation completely erroneous? Not necessarily.

The KJB puts the verse like this:

2 Corinthians 6:7, “By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand on the left.”

Much like later in the verse, there is debate about this part of the Scripture, that is, what the KJB states as “by the word of truth.” William MacDonald in The Believer’s Bible Commentary says:

“By the word of truth’ may indicate that all of Paul’s ministry was carried out in obedience to the word of truth, or it may mean that it was an honest ministry, consistent with the type of message which he preached, namely the Word of truth.” –William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary

So we are given two options concerning what “by the word of truth” means. It could, as MacDonald points out, refer to the honesty and reliability of the apostle Paul’s message and ministry, as it would be characterized, as free of deceit or falsity. On the other hand, it could mean it was carried out in obedience to the word of truth, which is the Word of God. However, I would argue that the two cannot be divorced from each other. Can the two really be said to be apart from one another in the apostle Paul as regards the correspondence adhering between a word of truth and being in the Word of Truth? In other words, if the apostle Paul let falsity or disobedience creep into his ministry then he would be transgressing against the Word of truth. Thus, the message, his personal character, his obedience and the character of his ministry, in order for it to be classified as truthful, in and of itself, it would need to be in the Word of Truth. Thereby, we can make the following statement, that Paul’s ministry had to be a word of truth, in the Word of truth, by the Word of truth, and of the Word of truth. The two schools of thought cannot divorce one another unless it means, again, trespassing against the Word of truth. What is important, then, is the Word of truth, which Paul subscribed to, preached, and by all accounts, after his conversion, followed. With this standpoint, the two schools of thought concerning Paul’s statement, “by the word of truth” lose their distinction, for it becomes increasingly irrelevant, in light of Paul’s obedience to the Word of truth. Then we can say it references not only the Word of truth but Paul’s obedience to that Word, that is his correspondence with the Word of truth as he shared this Word of truth, covering both the ‘Scriptural’ interpretation, and the ‘honesty’ interpretation. For if Paul’s ministry was dishonest or used trickery then he would no longer be in coherence with the Word of truth, and his message would reflect this cloudy distortion.

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Albert Barnes tells us:

“[‘By the word of truth’ refers to] making known the truths of the gospel. It was [Paul’s] object to make known the simple truth. He did not corrupt it by false mixtures of philosophy and human wisdom, but communicated it had been revealed to him. The object of the appointment of the Christian ministry is to make known the truth, and when that is done it cannot be but that they will commend their office and work to the favorable regards of people.” –Albert Barnes

Matthew Poole says:

“[‘By the word of truth’ is] living up to and keeping our eye upon the word of God, which is the word of truth: this seems to be the sense, rather than speaking truth to everyone, as some have thought.” –Matthew Poole

Charles John Ellicott expands on this further:

“Both words [word and truth] are, in the Greek, without the article, and this throws a slight shade of doubt upon their meaning. With the article, the same combination occurs in Ephesians 1:13 [and] 2 Timothy 2:15; and there can be no doubt that there the sense is objective—‘the word which conveys the truth of God to men.’ Here a subjective meaning, ‘a word of truthfulness,’ or ‘truthful word,’ as distinct from insincerity of speech, is grammatically possible; but in James 1:18, where precisely the same combination occurs, we have ample warrant for retaining the objective meaning even here.” –Charles John Ellicott

According to Ellicott then, we have more than a enough evidence to suppose that the “word of truth” referenced by 2 Corinthians 6:7 is the Word of God. I personally feel we have presented enough evidence to make this part of the verse’s interpretation a non-issue. Paul was simply walking in the truth and preaching this truth, and the truth went out unto the hearts of man that they might turn give their lives to the Lord, turn from wickedness, and be saved. This truth when out unto men, through and by the power of God, which Paul walked in. If we apply these lessons, then we find that this interpretation better fits all translation.

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Next regards the power of God. Paul not only established outright the power of God by doing the miraculous, he also walked in the power of God. Due to his faith and obedience the power of the Holy Spirit became ever more present upon his life and ministry. Though the outward manifestations or miraculous events certainly attest to the power of God, we need to ask ourselves, to interpret this verse, did the physical expressions of God’s power truly display, in Paul’s mind and spirit, the full measure or richness of the Lord our God? How much greater is it probably the case that Paul found more value in the eternal benefits offered by the richness of Christ rather than the temporary and fleeting physical outcomes of the displays offered by the Lord. Most certainly, both do have their place, let no reader misunderstand, but it all moves towards one end or goal, that is the salvation of man, that they may come to Christ and be eternally saved. Thus, the richness of the power of God would be found in the Holy Spirit within Paul, who attempted to move all man unto this end.

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William MacDonald addresses this in the Believer’s Bible Commentary:

“By the power of God doubtless signifies that the apostle did not carry on his work in his own power, but in simple dependence on the strength which God provides.” –William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary

While absolutely true, another significant truth we need to keep in mind is how the power of God is imparted upon words. As Paul states in 1 Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 2:4-5, “And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.”

Further in 1 Thessalonians, Paul says:

1 Thessalonians 1:5, “For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true. And you know of our concern for you from the way we lived when we were with you.”

In the church today there is a tendency among pastors to desire to entertain as well as preach the truth. This is not surprising concerning our T.V. laden society. I will stop well short of supposing assigning a value of right or wrong to these tactics, for to do so would suppose limits on the methods of the Holy Spirit how He utilizes certain means to reach people in today’s word. Paul himself relied not only on the power of the message of the pure gospel, but also used great discernment regarding, for instance, when to rely on the simple and “foolish” message of the cross and when to apply reason and argument. The book of Acts, as recorded by Paul’s companion Luke, records more than a couple instances where Paul uses reason in attempt to argue for the validity of the gospel. Acts says:

Acts 17:2-4, “As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. He said, ‘This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah.’ Some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women.”

Acts 17:17, “[Paul] went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.”

Acts 18:4, “[Paul] also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and His resurrection, they said, ‘What is this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be preaching about some foreign gods.’”

However, it seems apparent that no matter what “tactic” Paul used, He recognized the power of God in the words he preached. Thus, he did not rely on human speech and tactics alone, but sought the power of God in all his words, which the Lord graciously bestowed upon them. At the same time, it is likely, that Paul found the words and reasoning of man alone to be lacking, and the power of God needed to be first and foremost in the message he preached. Concerning these things, the Pulpit Commentary, states:

“[By] the form and matter of [Paul’s] discourse [the apostle Paul] would not attempt to use the keen sword of philosophical dialectics or human eloquence, but would only use the weapon of the cross.” –The Pulpit Commentary

On a personal level I feel that we need to be careful stating things like this, because of the fact that Paul did in fact reason with others. The reconciliation between these two sides, the power of God and the simplicity of the message of the cross, and the reasoning factor, can be merged by simply stating that the message of the cross is included within the reasoning and the power of God is relied upon for the power of the words, and not necessarily that of human reasoning, though God often applies reasoning in His Own arguments. Isaiah states:

Isaiah 1:18, “’Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.’”

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We often use another word in our defense and reasoning with others concerning Christianity. This word is “apologetics.” Similar charges are made for apologetics, as Norman L. Geisler explains:

“The charge is made that no one ever comes to Christ through apologetics.” –Norman L. Geisler

Here we can use apologetics almost interchangeably with reasoning.

“If this implies that the Holy Spirit never uses apologetic evidence to bring people to Christ, this is clearly false.” –Norman L. Geisler

Norman L. Geisler cites C. S. Lewis as a prime example. C. S. Lewis himself said:

“Nearly everyone I know who has embraced Christianity in adult life has been influenced by what seemed to him to be at least a probable argument for Theism.” –C. S. Lewis

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Geisler also cites the example of St. Augustine.

“Augustine tells in his ‘Confessions’ how he was led towards Christianity by hearing a Christian debate an unbeliever.” –Norman L. Geisler

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In addition, Geisler echoes the statement of Lewis when he says:

“God has used evidence and reason in some way to reach virtually all adults who come to Christ.” –Norman L. Geisler

So, whether in debate, in reason, in the simple message of the cross, and indeed, in all these examples the power of God, and the power He imparts on words must be evident to have an effect or they fall on deaf ears. Thereby, we see that the “power of God” referenced in 2 Corinthians 6:7, is multifaceted and despite the arguments for singular meaning, we find that in all probability it has multi-meaning, some of which we have discussed here. It is likely that Paul found that words alone, without or moving ahead of God and His power, fell on deaf ears. Again, as 1 Thessalonians 1:5 said, “it was not only with words but also with power.” Thereby, words alone, without the power of God were useless to Paul. The power of God needed to be included and, thus, his words needed to be led by the Holy Spirit, whether in reason or in the “simplistic” message of the cross.

In conclusion of these first two parts of the verse, that is, “In a word of truth,” and “In the power of God,” we see that all words spoken by Paul were in correspondence of truth with his speech. Further, that all his speech was related to the truth made extant by God and that his words were led by the Holy Spirit and thus imparted with power by the Holy Spirit to turn those who obeyed true reason to Christ or bring those affected by the simple message of the cross unto salvation and reconciliation with God. Both represented the power of God and the truth of God, which Paul not only spoke in, but walked in.

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Finally, we get to the last part of the verse, which in the Greek-to-English states, “Through the weapons of righteousness on the right and of left.” There is much debate about this last part of the verse, concerning not only the translation, but what it exactly means. There are a number of commentaries which imply that they agree with the KJV translation which says:

2 Corinthians 6:7, “By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.”

We note the last portion of the verse, “by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.” This is interesting terminology for many of our current translations say, “With the weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left.” Even the LITV says, “through the weapons of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.”

We should first ask what the weapons of righteousness are as expressed by Paul. I believe that some of these weapons, or armour are mentioned in the previous verse.

2 Corinthians 6:6, “We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love.”

Thus we find these are some of the weapons (armour) of righteousness:

  1. Purity

  2. Understanding

  3. Patience

  4. Kindness

  5. Holy Spirit

  6. Love

In addition, Ephesians 6:13-18 gives us more of the armor of God that we can apply to this list.

Ephesians 6:13-18, “Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will be standing firm. Sand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor [breastplate] of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.”

  1. Truth

  2. Righteousness

  3. Peace

  4. Faith

  5. Salvation

  6. Word of God

  7. Prayer

  8. Alertness

  9. Persistence

Therefore, the Scriptures tell us we have at least 15 weapons or armour of righteousness.

  1. Purity

  2. Understanding

  3. Patience

  4. Kindness

  5. The Holy Spirit

  6. Love

  7. Truth

  8. Righteousness

  9. Peace

  10. Faith

  11. Salvation

  12. Word of God

  13. Prayer

  14. Alertness

  15. Persistence

Some can be classified in argument as armour and others as weapons, so it kind of makes sense why there is a disagreement between scholars as whether 2 Corinthians 6:7 means armour or weapons. I think it can be understood as both, for we have the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God and the breastplate of righteousness. These things we not only put “on,” but hold “in” our hands as weapons. Thereby, we find the NLT’s translation of 2 Corinthians 6:7 useful, but it too needs a little explanation.

2 Corinthians 6:7“We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense.

This translation might seem a little odd concerning some of the more “simplistic” translations we have visited within this essay, but in fact it does have a rational basis that is worth examining. The Believer’s Bible Commentary explains:

“One of the more probable explanations is that it ancient warfare the sword was held in the right hand and the shield on the left. The sword spoke of offensive combat and the shield of defense. In that case, Paul would here be saying that a good Christian character is the best offense and defense.” –William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary

However, MacDonald himself points out the difficulty in translating this passage:

“There is some doubt as to the exact meaning of the expression on the right hand and on the left.” –William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary

This can be shown by examining some classical commentary concerning the verse. There are a number of different interpretations. These include:

  1. One is fully clothed in the armor of God on the right side and on the left.

  2. One is fully armed and has weapons in the both the right and the left hands.

  3. One is fully prepared for battle by weilding a weapon on the right hand and shield on the left.

“Interpreters bare varied much in the exposition of this passage; and many have run into utter wildness. Grotius says, that it refers to the manner in which the ancient soldiers were armed. They bore a spear [or sword] in their right hand, and a shield in the left. With the former they attacked their foes, with the later they made defense. Some have supposed that it refers to the fact that they were taught to use the word with the left hand as well as the right. The simple idea is, that they were completely armed. To be armed on the right and on the left is to be well armed, or entirely equipped. They went forth to conflict. They met persecution, opposition, and slander. As the solider went well armed to battle, so did they. But the armor with which they met their foes, and which constituted their panoply, was a holy life. With that they met all the assaults of their enemies; with that all slander and persecution. That was their defense, and by that they hoped and expected to achieve their conquests. They had no swords, and spears, and helmets, and shields; no carnal weapons of offense and defense; but they expected to meet their assaults, and to gain all their victories, by an upright and holy life.” –Albert Barnes

It appears, then, that the NLT translation is a profound blend of both theories, that is 1 and 2, and with other biblical evidence such as Ephesians 6:13-18. The fact is that whether or not we consider the list of the fifteen provided armaments as either weapons or armor, that is either offensive or defensive isn’t nearly as important as the fact that these things should be evident in our lives. If evident, then they will serve their place as both offensive and defensive due to the power of God as long as we remain in the truth and speak the truth.

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