Nigel Turner on the Meaning of the Phrase ‘in Christ’

Nigel Turner, Grammatical Insights into the New Testament (1965, reprint London: T & T Clark, 2004), pp. 118-122.

The Mystical En

Much has been written about the theology of prepositions, which will be regarded as suspect in these days. Nevertheless, the student of biblical Greek grammar must acknowledge a peculiar usage of the preposition en which is theologically important. It is neither the instrumental en (“by” or “with”), which increased its vogue in the post-classical language, nor is it simply the local meaning of “in.” It is mystical, if that would be understood not as metaphorical or spiritual, but as secret and invisible. To be “in Christ” is not to be taken in a local sense, which is crude and meaningless, but neither is it a metaphor. It is what certain theologians have termed “Christification,” a sharing of the physis or nature of Christ—an adumbration of what in later theology was known as the theosis or deification of human nature, having as its ultimate goal the consummation which is described by St. Irenaeus as anakephalaiosis, the “recapitulation” of all men in Christ, adopting the verb used in Eph. 1:10.

This is the full flower of which the seed alone may have been in the mind of St. Paul and of the author of the phrase, “partakers of the divine nature” (II Pet. 1:4). However, it is probably not fortuitous that certain features of St. Paul’s style point in this direction. Designedly, he chose substantives rather than verbs or adjectives to describe Christ’s relationship with those who are en Christo, and delicately turned away from activity to existence, his idiom subconsciously following his theology. What was once activity and growth and movement has now become identification. Verb and adjective cease to be appropriate, supplanted by the substantive idiom. Christ no longer gives life. He is Life (Col. 3:4). He does not sanctify or redeem. He is sanctification and redemption. Neither is he sanctifying, living, or redeeming; these attributive qualities are rejected in favour of equivalent substantives. He does not make us wise, but is to us wisdom. The unusual and unidiomatic parade of substantives is consistent with St. Paul’s doctrine of the union and indwelling of the believer. Identification renders activity and attribution redundant, for they would represent a relationship between separate entities. Christ and the believer, like Christ and the Father, are one—a substantive whole. Predication alone is feasible and a new idiom is demanded where “Christification” has taken place—the predication of an abstract noun to a personal name.

It is not only Pauline Christianity that used the idiom. St. John refrained from saying that God is loving, preferring the mysterious declaration that “God is love.”

The mystical union with Christ, described as en Christo, is also explained in complementary terms as Christ or the Spirit existing in the believer. It is a reciprocal indwelling. “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom. 8:9). The idea of mutual indwelling is real enough to those who actually live inside this new sphere of spiritual existence. It was real enough to St. Paul and many of his readers. Indeed, it is difficult to find any other way of explaining the en which occurs in the first Epistle of John. Men walk in either of two spheres: in darkness, lies and hate, on the one hand, or in light, truth and love on the other. God’s Word is in us, his love is perfected in us, and we in our turn abide in God, as well as he in us. Pauline theologians, as notable as Pere L. Cerfaux, 1 have argued that St. Paul intended nothing mystical by the en–formula, and that the preposition expresses no more than simply a faith-connection with Christ, for all that we share in is no more or less than the life of Christ through faith. There is no mutual indwelling, and anything spatial about the term, “in Christ,” is dismissed as a vague and pantheistic mysticism in which Christ is reduced from a person into the status of a spirit or “mana.” Pere Cerfaux for instance argued that the phrase, “to put on Christ,” is only a metaphor, not to be understood realistically; it is the equivalent of the phrase, “to be like Christ.” Theology apart, I would feel uneasy about such an interpretation of the grammar. It does scant justice to the rich precision of Pauline syntax, and, from a theological standpoint, one fears that this is not the first time in Christian history that mysticism has been too easily equated with pantheism.

The debate whether St. Paul’s experiences are those of the mystic is a fruitless excursion into terminology. Denials that they amount to mysticism have to be qualified in the next breath in a way that makes the previous denial simply academic. According to Dr. Martin Dibelius, for instance, “We can feel the passionate ardour of the wonderful new life when he testifies, ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.’” 2 The fact that St. Paul can say of every true believer (for instance, Andronicus and Junias) that he is “in Christ,” does nothing to diminish the mysticism, for it is not the esoteric kind. It is Christian, and the distinction between so-called mystics and ordinary Christians is unreal. In that sense St. Paul is never “on the path of mysticism,” but the experience of being “in Christ” must not be under-rated simply because he does not use the “pagan” word apotheosis. He repeats essentially what the “pagan” word means and accepts it for Christ. Neither does he use the word Logos of Christ, and yet St. John has no scruples. The name matters not, but man is being transformed into God’s image. When St. Paul claims no longer to “live” independently, but that Christ lives in him (Gal. 2:20), this is strangely like what the accredited mystic asserts when he becomes God and God is identified with him.

Attempts to explain this en as having merely an instrumental meaning (“by” or “with”) should be resisted, for the predominant meaning is still “in,” “within,” “in the sphere of,” at this period. In a paper on the preposition en, 3 I set out its basic spatial meaning and proffered a warning against too flexible an interpretation of the passages. Sometimes, where at first sight it seems not possible that en can mean “in,” a closer look and deeper insight into the primitive Christian viewpoint brings awareness that this is more than the exceptional instrumental en. An example would be John 13:35. The best known translation, “if ye have love one to another,” assumes that en means “to,” not “in.” But there is no reason at all why the Greek, which is en allelois, should not be construed, “if you have love among one another,” for the sphere “in” which the love is exercised is Christ’s redeemed community. The tendency to give to en so little of its primary force, without reckoning with the mystical sense of “within,” is unfortunate. By way of baptism, a Christian comes into the new atmosphere which is the Body of Christ and ceases to be “in” darkness or “in” the flesh. That being so, St. Paul described himself in Eph. 4:1 as “the prisoner in the Lord,” and not “the prisoner of the Lord” (A.V.). He lived in Christ, in hope, in consecration, in peace. They are spheres or atmospheres, air, which the Christian breathes. No one, having examined I Thess. 4:7, would charge St. Paul with anything short of precision in his use of prepositions where the finer points of theology are at stake. In the same sentence he distinguished epi from en, but, bluntly insensitive, as often, King James’ bishops failed to make the same sort of distinction in English. It is easy to make it: “God has not called us to uncleanness, but his call is addressed to us in our state of sanctification.” The call to believe, too, comes to us in this same sphere of Christian sanctification and redemption. Adolf Deissmann, grammarian and theologian, made it clear a long time age in his Die N.T. Formel “in Christo Jesu ” (1892); he showed that the verb, “to believe,” when followed by the preposition en, means neither to believe in a person nor to believe a person; where that is demanded by the context the verb is always followed either by different prepositions (i.e. eis or epi) or by a simple dative. When the verb is followed by en, a new situation is in mind, and I suggest that it is the mystical conception of Christification once again. We do not therefore “believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15), nor does “everyone who believes in him” have eternal life (John 3:15). What we ought to read sounds revolutionary: “In this gospel dispensation, you must repent and believe”; and “every believer whose life is hid in Christ possesses eternal life.”

These highly mystical phrases, “in Christ,” and “in the Lord,” occur as many as forty-two times in two epistles of St. Paul. But, in addition, it was felt that Christian experience demanded several others of the same kind, such as: “in the Truth,” “in the Spirit,” “in the Name.”

Interchangeable with the “in”-formula in this mystical sense is a characteristically Pauline genitive construction. He spoke of “all the churches of Christ” (Rom. 16:16) in the same manner as elsewhere he refers to “the churches in Christ Jesus” (I Thess. 2:14, Gal. 1:22). It is doubtful whether any difference was intended by such an obvious parallel but the construction in St. Paul’s epistles deserves a careful interpretation. 4 The syntax volume of Moulton’s Grammar gives further examples of the “mystical” genitive: II Thess. 3:5 “steadfast loyalty in the Body of Christ” (not “the patience of Christ”), Rom. 3:22-26 “faith exercised within the Body of Christ.” The controversial phrase, “the faith of Jesus Christ,” is an instance where careful interpretation of the genitive proves to be rewarding; we have already found that it was difficult to comprehend it within the limits of either the subjective or objective genitive exclusively, and suggested that it shared in the qualities of both. 5 This may be the occasion to raise the question whether it may not also be an instance of St. Paul’s “mystical” genitive. That is to say, it is not merely subjective, objective, nor even both. It may be one of those characteristically Pauline genitives.


1. See the chapter with this title in his La Theologie de l’Eglise suivant S. Paul, Paris, 1947.

2. Paul, English tr., Longmans, 1953, p. 107.

3. Bible Translator, X, no. 3, 1959, pp. 113-20; against Mr. W.R. Hutton. See also Moulton-Howard-Turner, Grammar, vol. III, pp. 260-265.

4. “Indeed, so rich is Paul’s compression of language with genitives that the attempt to define too narrowly the various types of genitives is vain; they all denote a relationship which is amplified by the context.” Moulton-Howard-Turner, Grammar, vol. III, p. 212.

5. See above, pp. 86, 91.

The Preposition en in the New Testament

Nigel Turner

The Bible Translator 10/3 (July 1959), pp. 113-120.

Having read the article, “Considerations for the Translation of Greek en,” by W. R. Hutton in the October 1958 issue of The Bible Translator, I am reminded that the late Dr. J. H. Moulton described this preposition as a “maid-of-all-work” in late Greek and thought the increasing vagueness of its meaning contributed to its ultimate disappearance; in modern Greek it no longer survives in the spoken language. But the master-grammarian would scarcely have sanctioned the chaos of subjectivism advocated by this article, and it would be well to survey the use of the preposition in the NT as a whole.

In the Koine, that free use of prepositions which is a feature even of classical Greek is intensified, with an accompanying lack of precision in meaning. All the prepositions become increasingly elastic and their sense has to be determined more often by the context than was the case in earlier Greek. This is notably so with eis, en, and ek. In particular there is a wide use of prepositional phrases, such as eis or pros with accusative: and en with dative, where in earlier Greek there would have been the dative alone. This elasticity makes it dangerous to argue doctrinally on the basis of a precise use of prepositions, as though our authors were writing classical Greek. So far, Dr. Hutton is justified in urging a more flexible and idiomatic translation into English, with constant regard for either the immediate context or else for parallel usage of the prepositional expression in other contexts. But Dr. Hutton does violence to the facts if he thinks that in or among is still not the primary meaning in Hellenistic Greek, even NT Greek. It is not a matter of leaving it to what we think the context requires, or of what it sounds like in English, when we are confronted with a given prepositional expression. We have first to ask whether the predominant meaning of within (spatial or temporal or metaphorical) is the one which was in the author’s mind here. If that is self-evidently impossible, then we must give consideration to the context or to further parallels in Biblical and secular Greek. The fact that there is flexibility does not mean that there is no general rule at all, or that in is not the commonest meaning of the preposition.

Dr. Hutton brings forward only Bauer in evidence for his assumption that en has so many meanings that there is no “proper” or “original” meaning. The misunderstanding is probably due to the fact that owing to lack of space lexicons do not list every instance of a given usage: thus a comparatively rare meaning is allotted more space than an overwhelmingly common meaning. The letters u.s.w. can be treacherous! The only safe thing is to read through the NT and discover how the word is used everywhere. I find that the proportion for ‘in,’ ‘in the sphere of,’ ‘among,’ as against any other meaning (e.g. ‘to,’ ‘with,’ ‘because of’) is at least equal; and this is when one includes under the first only those examples where the preposition must mean ‘in,’ etc., and can hardly mean anything else. If we take the first fourteen chapters of the NT (half of Matthew) as a sample, the predominant meaning is the spatial ‘within’ (91 times) or the temporal ‘in’ (23) or ‘in the (abstract) sphere of’ (8) 1 or (once at Mat. 6:5) ‘at,’ or Semitically after omnunai and homologein (5). Only in twenty-five instances, and many of these doubtful (e.g. en heautois), may en mean anything else but ‘in’ or ‘at’ or ‘among’: viz. ‘to’ (Mat. 3:9, 9:3, 21), ‘because of’ (Mat. 6:7, 11:6, 13:57), and instrumental. 2 This is a proportion of five to one. Matthew is a narrative book, however, and in Paul the meanings of en are, of course, much more diverse. Nevertheless, in Romans the proportion is still 84/85, and in I Corinthians 75/92. Thus ‘within’ still represents half the total of all the varied meanings, and when we include the idea of being ‘in’ Christ as expressing ‘within,’ then the proportions are 105/64 (Rom.) and 96/71 (1 Cor.).

We must recollect that en occurs about 2,700 times in the NT and the controversy rages over only a comparatively small number of these. Three factors contributed to the frequency and wide expansion of NT usage: first, the growing lack of clarity in the dative case; then, the influence of the LXX, wherein en had been widely employed to render the much-used ב ; but equally important is the influence of Christian ideas, especially in phrases peculiar and vital to the Christian religion, like ‘in Christ.’

The meanings in the NT may be classified as follows:

  1. The local meanings: (a) ‘in,’ etc., actual and metaphorical; (b) ‘into,’ etc., (praegnans).
  2. The temporal meanings: ‘in,’ ‘at,’ ‘within,’ ‘during.’
  3. The peculiarly Christian usages, especially ‘in the Lord,’ ‘in Christ.’
    After this we reach the controversial meanings, where the idea of ‘within’ is hardly ever satisfactory, and these together represent about one third of all the NT instances:
  4. Of circumstance and instrument:
    1. Adverbially
    2. As equivalent of ‘with’
    3. As equivalent of ‘through’
    4. Strictly instrumental use
    5. Causal
    6. Of price
    7. A semiforensic sense
  5. As a dative of advantage or disadvantage
  6. Various occasional uses: reference, rate, etc.

The Local Meanings

(a) The meaning which still predominates in the NT is ‘within,’ ‘inside,’ ‘on,’ ‘at,’ ‘among,’ but a distinction must be made between those in an actual or material sense (e.g. 92 out of a total of 128 instances of en in Mat. 1-14; 28 out of 169 in Romans; 36 out of 167 in 1 Corinthians), and those in a metaphorical sense (e.g. 8 out of 128 in Mat. 1-14; 29 out of 169 in Romans; 17 out of 167 in 1 Corinthians). Among the former are quotation formulae, ‘in the book,’ ‘in the Law,’ ‘in David,’ of which there are classical examples: 3 as well as ‘among,’ and ‘in the house of’ (en tois tou, Lk. 2:49), and ‘at home’ (Mk. 2:1, 1 Cor. 11:34, 14:35), and the classical en meso; there is also the notion of being ‘inside’ clothing or equipment (Mk. 12:38, Jn. 20:12, Jas. 2:2) which is classical. Among the metaphorical are phrases like ‘in the heart,’ ‘in secret,’ ‘in prayers,’ ‘in thoughts,’ ‘in the mortal body,’ ‘on the right hand,’ ‘in the mouth,’ ‘in glory,’ ‘in the Vine,’ ‘in a race,’ ‘in the church.’ There are some borderline cases here: 1 Cor. 7:17 may be ‘in’ or ‘to’ the churches. Acts 17:31, en andri, may be ‘in the person of’ or may be instrumental. H. A. A. Kennedy (Expository Times, xxviii, 322) saw a causal en in Rom. 1:24 (‘because of’ the lusts of their hearts); and this may be true also of Rom. 1:21.

We should note the slight extension of the local sense to denote ‘in the sphere of,’ especially of God, Christ, and the Gospel, and probably also of the Spirit’s sanctification (1 Pet. 1:2) and the Name. But most of these will be dealt with below. We may notice the following spheres ‘in’ which individuals, Christians or not, are mentioned: the Gospel, the Law, darkness, circumcision, uncircumcision, grace (but in Rom. 5:2 it may be instrumental), new life, death, sin, the flesh, the spirit, a calling. Adam (for in 1 Cor. 15:22 it is not instrumental; Adam is a representative man ‘in’ whom all mankind was viewed), the Christian wife or husband (1 Cor. 7:14, also representative). 1 Cor. 7:15 might be ‘in the sphere of’ (Christian) peace, or probably ‘into’ peace. Romans has twenty-three examples of this kind of use, and 1 Corinthians has fourteen.

(b) There is also the constructio praegnans meaning either ‘into’ or ‘into a state of’; eis might have been used, and often is, with the kind of verb we find here. Mat. 26:23 has en after ‘dip,’ but Mk. 14:20 has eis. Lk. 4:1 (one reading) has en after ‘was led,’ but the parallel has eis (Mat. 4:1). Rom. 1:23, 25 have en after ‘change,’ but Rom. 1:26 has eis. After histanai (trans.) and tithenai the use of en is classical: Acts 5:27; Mat. 27:60 (Mk. 4:30 is instrumental), Mk. 6:29, 56, 15:46, Lk. 1:66, 21:14, 23:53, Jn. 19:41, Acts 1:7, 5:18, 25, 7:16, 9:37, Rom. 9:33, 1 Cor. 12:28, 2 Cor. 5:19, I Pet. 2:6. Sometimes after didonai the preposition is pleonastic and means no more than ‘to,’ but not always: Lk. 12:51 (‘bring into’), Jn. 3:35 (‘committed into’), 2 Cor. 1:22, 8:16 (‘put into the heart’). After other verbs of motion of course the usage is more extensive in later Greek than in classical, especially so in the LXX. The usage is not classical after verbs of coming and going, but it is literary and non-literary Hellenistic.

However, en is not likely to be ‘to’ or ‘into’ after erchesthai in Mark. Except for epi with accusative in two instances, Mark’s rule is invariable for expressing motion after this verb: eis (22 times) or pros (12 times); and so in Mark 5:27, 8:38, 13:26 the prepositional phrase will not express motion from place to place, but rather the accompanying circumstances or the sphere in which motion occurs. Nor is there any support at all for the rendering ‘into’ after piptein in Heb. 4:11; never, except in the compound en meso, does en occur in the NT in a pregnant sense after this verb, even in the more “Semitic” parts. In a work like Hebrews it is even less likely to occur in the LXX sense of a literal rendering of ב. Nor is Lk. 7:17 a case of constructio praegnans: the word spread abroad ‘in’ …

The Temporal Meanings

This preposition reinforces the dative of time. It does this as often as twenty-three times in Mat. 1-14; four times in Romans; ten times in 1 Corinthians. These uses may be divided into point of time and duration of time. The first we may render ‘in,’ ‘at,’ or ‘on’; the second by ‘within’ or ‘during,’ e.g. ‘in one day’ (1 Cor. 10:8), and this may be the way to take en oligo in Acts 26:28 (‘in a short time’), although ‘by a short argument’ (sc. logo) is not impossible. Here we may also observe en with the articular infinitive, especially with Luke. Most of the NT examples have the temporal significance, and sometimes it is the classical meaning: e.g. ‘in rowing’ Mk. 6:48, ‘in the abounding’ Lk. 12:15, ‘in turning’ Acts 3:26, and see also Mat. 13:4, Mk. 6:48, Rom. 3:4, 15:13, Gal. 4:18. All these are present infinitive and the meaning is usually ‘while,’ but with aorist infinitive the meaning is ‘when’ or ‘after’ (e.g. Lk. 9:36). However, this is not invariable, because the aorist construction in 1 Cor. 11:21 must mean ‘while you are eating’ or ‘in eating.’

The Special Christian Meanings

For the en of mystical union we may note the very common expressions ‘in Christ,’ ‘in the Lord,’ difficult though they are to determine, much less to translate. These phrases occur, for instance, in Romans twenty-one times and in 1 Corinthians twenty-one times. The inventiveness of Christian usage is not confined to these phrases but is seen also in the abundant use of such expressions as ‘in the truth,’ ‘in the Spirit,’ ‘in the Name.’ Sometimes Paul says we are in Christ (or the Spirit), and sometimes that Christ (or the Spirit) is in us; once, indeed, he says both in the same sentence, at Rom. 8:9 (“you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God dwells in you”). Obviously such conceptions cannot easily be mutually reconciled, and it is tempting in view of contemporary Greek usage to translate the preposition simply as ‘belongs to’ or ‘with.’ 4

But I think that Dr. Hutton gives too little weight to the mystical conception of our being ‘in Christ,’ inside a new sphere of experience and spiritual existence, or of Christ being ‘in me,’ which was important for the early Christians. How are we to explain away the en of the Johannine epistle? ‘In’ God is no darkness: ‘with’ is possible here. Men walk ‘in the sphere of’ either darkness or light, truth or lies, love or hate; no other translation than ‘in’ is possible. His Word is ‘in’ us, His love is made perfect ‘in’ us, we abide ‘in’ God and He abides ‘in’ us; ‘with’ is possible but inadequate. It is weakening an important conception, and it would be misleading advice to missionary translators to explain all this merely as God ‘with’ us or ‘for’ us, and we ‘with’ Him. It is more profound, and provision must be made for it in translating into English. If, then, there is no other way of dealing with, let us say, 1 Jn. 5:20 than to express that we are ‘in’ the True One, ‘in’ Jesus Christ, why should it be “queer” to give the preposition the same force in Eph. 4:1 and Phil. 1:13? The apostle could quite well be a prisoner ‘in’ the Lord and be bound ‘in’ Christ, because he lived in Christ, body, mind, and soul. It really is weak to counter this by pleading that we do not say that “someone is a prisoner in the governor.” Of course not, unless that governor should be the Son of God in whom we Christians live. The same applies to all other Christian experiences which we share: hope, consecration, peace. It would not be safe to ignore the primary force of the preposition in any of these instances. They are states in which the believer moves, air which he breathes. It is legitimate to take Eph. 4:4, 1 Th. 4:7, 1 Cor. 7:15 as instances of constructio praegnans; but then the translation should be ‘into,’ not simply ‘to.’ Paul was not unacquainted with the niceties of language, and he carefully distinguishes epi from en in the same breath (I Th. 4:7). There was a reason for the change from one preposition to the other which we ought not to ignore in translation.

It is just as misleading to suggest concerning Col. 3:20 that ‘pleasing to the Lord’ is the better rendering. On the contrary, the apostle means that this conduct, obedience to parents, is fit and proper ‘in that state’ of grace in which the Christian now lives. On the other five occasions in Pauline writings, ‘to’ after euarestos is the simple dative, not en, and we would expect only the dative here if ‘to’ is meant, Moreover, the parallel with en Kurio, in the command to women just above, would be lost: for just above it can only mean ‘in the Lord.’

No mention is made by Dr. Hutton of Deissmann’s thorough work in Die nt. Formel “in Christo Jesu” (1892). The verb ‘believe’ is followed by eis or epi or simple dative in the NT when it means ‘believe in’ someone or something; when the meaning is ‘believe’ someone, it has the simple dative. But the instances with en are predicated of Christ or the Gospel and mean ‘in the sphere of.’

In connection with the verb ‘call,’ in 1 Cor. 7:18 the phrase can hardly mean ‘to’ uncircumcision! It means ‘while he was’ uncircumcized. This is true also of 1 Cor. 7:24; let each remain in the state he was in when he was called. Therefore in 1 Cor. 7:22 (en Kurio kletheis) it is the less likely that the meaning is called ‘to’ or ‘by’ the Lord. Moreover, the presence of another preposition besides en in Col. 3:15 indicates that here en cannot mean ‘to’ but must denote membership ‘within’ the Body. Elsewhere in the NT eis is used with kalein for inviting ‘to’ weddings, fellowship, eternal life, and glory; and epi with dative for inviting to liberty and impurity (nine times in all).

If zen en means to live ‘by’ or ‘to,’ then nonsense is made of Rom. 6:11, for instance, where there is the simple dative as well: zontas de to theo en Christo Iesou. When Paul means ‘to live to,’ and not ‘in the sphere of,’ he uses the simple dative: Gal. 2:19, Rom. 6:10, 14:7, 8, 2 Cor. 5:15. And when he means ‘to live by’ he uses ek: 1 Cor. 9:14, 2 Cor. 13:4 twice, and OT quotations. There can be no question about the meaning of en with zen in Gal. 2:20, Phil. 1:22 (‘in the flesh’), Col. 2:20 (‘in this world’), Tit. 2:12 (‘in the present age’).

In the same way, if the meaning is ‘to’ with phaneros and phaneroun, simple dative is used throughout the NT. It is inconceivable that en means ‘to’ at Mk. 16:12, 2 Cor. 4:10, 11, 11:6 (eis within the same sentence), Col. 3:4, 1 Tim. 3:16, 1 Jn. 4:9. The only translation which is feasible in all contexts with parresiazesthai en is ‘in’ or ‘in the sphere of’; neither ‘by the help of’ nor ‘in the presence of’ will do for all: Acts 9:27, 28, 14:3, 18:26, Eph. 6:20, 1 Th. 2:2.

Circumstance and Instrument

At this point we pass to the examples where ‘in,’ etc., is usually quite unsuitable as a translation. It is not satisfactory, except for the sake of clarity, to subdivide the meanings under this general heading, but we may attempt to distinguish the various derived meanings as follows:

(a) In an adverbial sense, quite briefly stated. Thus in Romans we have: ‘powerfully’ 1:4, ‘openly’ 2:28, ‘secretly’ 2:29, ‘patiently’ 9:22, ‘in this way’ 14:18, ‘in carnal things’ 15:27, ‘joyfully’ 15:32, ‘quickly’ 16:20. Perhaps we may also include the six examples in 12:7, 8 : ‘liberally,’ ‘zealously,’ ‘cheerfully,’ etc. In 1 Corinthians we have: ‘weakly,’ ‘fearfully,’ ‘tremblingly’ 2:3, 15:42 twice, 43 four times, en protois 15:3, ‘peacefully’ 16:11, and perhaps ‘in love’ 16:14. Other NT examples come to mind: the classical en techei ‘quickly’ (Lk. 18:8), en dikaiosune = dikaios (Acts 17:31, Rev. 19:11), en pase asphaleia = asphalestata (Acts 5:23), ‘boldly’ (Col. 2:15). The en dolo of Mk. 14:1 shows how close we are to the instrumental sense: ‘by means of guile’ or ‘guilefully.’

(b) An en of accompaniment is apparently the equivalent of meta or sun or simple dative (= ‘with’), as in classical Greek. The idea of ‘manner’ is often implied. There is in Mk. 1:23, 5:2 the man ‘with’ the unclean spirit, unless we may take this as ‘in the power of’; but in Mk. 5:25 the woman must be ‘with,’ not ‘in the power of,’ a flow of blood. ‘With’ is also the way to translate Lk. 14:31 : ‘with ten thousand’ (especially as meta occurs in the adjacent parallel phrase), Rom. 1:27 : relations ‘with’ women, Rom. 15:29 : to come ‘with’ a blessing, 1 Cor. 4:21 twice: come ‘with’ a rod … ‘with’ love (but this may well be instrumental rather than of accompaniment), Heb. 9:22, 25 : ‘with’ blood, Jude 14 : ‘with’ his saints. The method is classical enough and belongs to the Koine, but its use in the LXX to render ב seems to have suggested an increase of use in the NT.

(c) en appears to approximate to dia ‘through’ in Gal. 1:16 (to reveal his Son ‘through me’), 1 Cor. 4:6 (learn ‘through us’). 2 Cor. 13:3 (to speak ‘through me’), 1 Tim. 1:16 (to show ‘through me’), Heb. 1:1 (‘through’ the prophets). Cf. Lightfoot’s Galatians, p. 83.

(d) There is the relatively frequent instrumental use, in the stricter sense: e.g. nineteen times in Mat. 1-14, twenty-five in Romans, twenty-eight in 1 Corinthians. It is as old as Homer, who uses this preposition for seeing ‘with’ the eyes, but it is comparatively rare before the LXX, in which it is extremely common—much more so proportionately than in the NT. Moreover, it is not very common in the Koine, where many apparent instances, as in the NT, may be accepted satisfactorily in the strictly locative sense. We cannot even rule out the possibility of ‘in water’ Mat. 3:11, nor of ‘in one mouth’ Rom. 15:6, since words are certainly formed here, as thoughts were considered to be formed in the heart. 5 Our own idiom is often ‘in’ in these phrases: ‘in’ God’s will (Rom. 1:10), ‘in’ the likeness (Rom. 8:3), to sum up ‘in’ one word (Rom. 13:9), but usually we shall employ ‘with.’ Semitic influence may be behind ‘swear by’ (Mat. 5:34), ‘with his arm’ (Lk. 1:51), ‘ransom by’ (Rev. 5:9), ‘call with a loud voice’ (Rev. 14:15); but Greek usage sufficiently accounts for ‘salted with’ (Mat. 5:13), ‘to be known by means of’ (Lk. 24:35), ‘mingle with’ (Rev. 8:3), ‘burn with fire’ (Rev. 18:8).

(e) A causal sense is probably best included here. We must render ‘because of’ at Mat. 6:7, 11:6, 13:57, Jn. 16:30, Acts 24:16, Rom. 2:17, 23, 5:3, 11, 14:21, 1 Cor. 2:5 twice, 4:4, 10:5, Col. 1:16, and ‘because’ (en ho) at Rom. 2:1, 8:3, Heb. 2:18, 6:17.

(f) A curious instrumental dative of price is found with en, a distinctly Semitic construction literally rendering the Beth pretii: 6 Rom. 3:25, 5:9, Rev. 5:9 (‘at the cost of his blood’).

(g) Then there is a semiforensic sense, suggested by 1 Cor. 6:2, 11:13 and found in the papyri: ‘in your judgment.’

Advantage or Disadvantage

There is no doubt that occasionally en with dative appears to stand pleonastically for the normal dative, ‘to’ or ‘for.’ 7 This was sometimes so in Attic poetry. However, the quotation in Mat. 21:42 obviously contains a Hebraizing form of this en. Almost certainly, it is pleonastic in the following examples and may there be ignored: ‘did to him’ Mat. 17:12, ‘done to me’ Mk. 14:6, ‘speak to the perfect’ 1 Cor. 2:6, ‘veiled to those’ 2 Cor. 4:3. Gal. 1:6 ought perhaps to be rendered in this way, but we have already suggested it should be ‘through me.’ ‘To the churches’ is possible in 1 Cor. 7:17, 2 Cor. 8:1, 2 Th. 1:4, but ‘within’ is not impossible; nor is ‘among’ impossible in Lk. 2:14, Acts 4:12, since the sphere of the activity is certainly emphasized in the context. Another doubtful instance is Rom. 10:20, where the presence of the preposition in both cases depends upon a variant reading: ‘among,’ even then, is possible. It may well be that in 1 Cor. 14:11 en was inserted in order to prevent lalon being taken closely with emoi: it is omitted by some good authorities. At first sight it appears that Rom. 1:19 must be ‘is plain to them’ (RSV) but, as we have already said, phaneros and the verb are also found with simple dative in this sense; the addition of the preposition seems to make a difference (as in 1 Cor. 11:19, Phil. 1:13) especially when the verb occurs immediately afterwards without it.

Moreover, at Jas. 5:3, 5 I find it difficult to accept en with dative as equivalent to a plain dative: i.e. treasure ‘for’ the last days, ‘for’ a day of slaughter. The author surely had some motive when he preferred en to the eis of the Greek OT. Nothing is being prepared ‘for’ the last days (eis); these are the last days (en). Jude 1 is difficult enough. The preposition may be displaced; but ‘beloved in God’ in the Christian mystical sense already referred to, is not unreasonable. It does not seem to matter whether it is ‘for’ or ‘among’ the Gentiles in Col. 1:27, ‘for’ or ‘among’ the saints in Eph. 1:18. I think that ‘for’ misses something that is in the original. As to whether the phrase is simply a dative of advantage in Jn. 3:21, of course it can be understood like that; but since it is likely that it means much more, ‘in God’ is still the safest rendering.

Much more is at stake in Acts 20:32. Is it simply that God’s grace gives an inheritance to those who are sanctified? Or is it that God’s grace will give to these particular saints at Ephesus, whose pastors Paul is addressing, an inheritance ‘among’ all the sanctified? That would be the richer thought; it is not vague and general, but relates to the Ephesian situation, and moreover it emphasizes the corporate nature of the whole Church ‘within’ which these believers have their place. The richness of this interpretation must not be diluted in a translation like “to give the inheritance to all those who are sanctified.” Luke does not, in fact, use didonai with en for ‘give to,’ Out of 81 occasions when he uses this verb with a possible indirect object, 74 have the simple dative, and of the seven others it is very doubtful whether the preposition means ‘to’ in any instance; it more naturally introduces an adverbial expression and is not an indirect object.

The streamlining process is desirable in translation provided that nothing vital is jettisoned. I have grave doubts about many of Dr. Hutton’s instances, even where he says that all render ‘love to (or for) one another’ (Jn. 13:35). Obviously no one will translate ‘love in each other’; that is a gratuitous suggestion. But the meaning may be more than loving one another individually, which the apostle has expressed differently already at verse 34; he is now depicting the situation where Christian love operates throughout the Christian community (en allelois). Translators must guard against the assumption that NT writers have nothing significant in mind when they vary a phrase from one verse to the next, even if the difference does not seem significant to us.

Some Occasional Usages

There are still a few phrases which elude classification.

There is the en which, as in the papyri, seems to mean ‘amounting to,’ ‘at the rate of,’ viz. in the parable of the sower: ‘stxtyfold,’ ‘a hundredfold’ Mk. 4:8, 20, and the quotation at Acts 7:14.

A meaning ‘consisting in ordinances’ (Eph. 2:15) can be supported from the papyri, and this seems right at 1 Cor. 4:20 (“the kingdom of God does not consist in talk,” RSV).

For en = ‘occupied in’ (1 Tim. 4:15, Col. 4:2) we have papyrus support.

It is permissable to classify a number of phrases as dative of reference: ‘concerning’ or ‘with reference to.’ At Rom. 8:37 we are said to be conquerors ‘with regard to’ all these things; Rom. 11:2 ‘about Elijah.’ So also Rom. 14:22, 15:13, 16:2, and 1 Cor. 1:5, 7, 10, 3:21, 4:2, 7:15, 9:15, 12:6, 15:28, 41, 58.

‘In the form of a mystery’ would seem to be intended at 1 Cor. 2:7, rather than ‘God’s secret wisdom.’


1. Mat. 5:28, 6:4 twice, Mat. 6:6, 18 twice, Mat. 9:4, 13:19.

2. Mat. 3:11 twice, Mat. 3:17, 5:13, 6:29, 7:2 twice, Mat. 7:6, 9:34, 11:21?, Mat. 12:24, 27 twice, Mat. 12:28, 13:3, 10, 13, 34, 14:2.

3. For classical examples, see Kühner-Geeeh, Grammatik der griechischen Sprache, 1898, I, Section 131, pp. 462-66.

4. M. Zerwick, Graecitas Biblica, 3rd. ed., Rome, 1955, Section 87, p. 34.

5. A. Detssmann, Bible Studies, 1901, pp. 119f.

6. Hebrew and English Lexicon, ed. Brown, Driver, and Briggs, s.v. ב, III, 3.

7. Blass-Debrunner, Grammatik des nt. Griechisch, Section 220; Zerwick, Section 90.