Moving ahead from here, let’s think next about the translation of a key phrase in Romans 12:1. Whatever the living sacrifice is or does, Paul says it becomes something.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God [because of all that God has done for you], that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” (NKJV)
The NKJV translation chosen by Cottrill in his post renders the Greek logikan latreian as “reasonable service.” Now, words are just words—concepts are more important—but words are still worth pursuing, and I question “reasonable.” The way I read it, “reasonable” is a downgrade of “logical.” In other words, “logical,” a more literal translation, would have constituted a more firm rendering. However, either “reasonable service” or “logical service” clearly improves on the more commonly heard “spiritual worship”: the term “spiritual” is as vague today as it is ubiquitous, and to use it in this passage is at best wispy, and at worst misleading.
By “wispy” I mean to imply that the idea that everything is worship unhelpfully ethereal (ethereally unhelpful?); in the use of “misleading,” I’m suggesting that this idea may lead us away from Paul’s inspired intent. The idea that the presentation of the Christian’s body is the sum total of “spiritual worship” weakens both the philosophy and the reality of Christian worship.
Here are a few varying translations of the expression at the end of Romans 12:1, with my commentary on the right.
|NET, KJV, NKJV: … which is your reasonable service||“Reasonable” is close enough to “logical” to be a reasonable approximation!|
|ESV: … which is your spiritual worship||To the 21C mind, “spiritual” can suggest something Eastern and transcendental. Worse, the New Covenant word-concept “spiritual” is absent from this text.|
|NIV: This is your spiritual act of worship||The rendering “spiritual act” compels me, I’ll admit, but see above comment on the word “spiritual.” The NIV does better than the NASB with this phrase, implying the very sort of morphing from physical to spiritual that I infer from Paul. I think he was suggesting that the Christian’s life-service (sacrifice) becomes, in a way, “worship.” Also see comment on the BBE version below.|
|NLT: This is truly the way to worship him||The NLT translators often play fast and loose with texts in order to make things sound contemporary. This is no exception. This translation is no translation at all; in my opinion, it’s an ill-begotten, ill-fated, dynamic non-equivalent!|
|BBE: … which is the worship it is right for you to give him||The Bible in Basic English is a translation I’m not familiar with, so I looked up a few passages. it seems to do a pretty good job, in general, but this rendering, not unlike that of the NLT, is too loose for a Bible that purports to be a translation. It’s more of a commentating paraphrase. I don’t disagree with the import here, although I would add quotes around the word “worship,” but it’s nowhere near translation status: “it is right for you to give him” doesn’t appear in the text at all.|
|NASB: … which is your spiritual service of worship||Although I’m typically a champion of the NASB in terms of its literal renderings and careful translations, I think the Lockman Foundation missed the mark on two and one-half fronts here. Again, “spiritual” is not in this text at all. “Service” is, but “service of worship” would at a glance imply the presence of two words, and the single word is latreian. While “service” is a reasonable single-word translation of the Greek, it is not altogether sufficient to convey the concept, which may be why the NASB translators felt the need to take a further step in English. Unfortunately, they chose an institutionalized church-ese expression ne’er found or implied in the NC scriptures: “service of worship.” Brethren and cistern, there is no such Biblical animal as a “service of worship.” Translating to match the institutional status quo makes the NASB guys no better than ol’ King James’s men.|
Next: back to the beginning—looking at the idea of whole-life worship and sacrifice