“Be ready in season and out of season.” I am little bit surprised at how few translations give readers a modern, understandable phrase for 2 Timothy 4:2. Most translations read as follows:

preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (ESV; cf. NASB, NKJV, NIV, TNIV)

I have to admit that if I had not heard a number of lessons on being ready “in season and out of season,” I don’t know that I would exactly know what this phrase meant. There are only two Greek words behind the translation of the phrase “in season and out of season.” I think this is a case of translations being over slavish to the traditional rendering and I do not think that many readers would understand this sentence on their own. There are a few translations that make modern adjustment.

proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. (NRSV)

Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. (NLT)

proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching. (HCSB)

Preach the message, be ready whether it is convenient or not, reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction. (NET)

I think these are better options than the traditional “in season or out of season.” The NRSV and NLT are best, in my opinion. I am not thrilled with the HCSB and NET here because “whether convenient or not” makes the text sound like we are talking about preaching whether it is convenient or not to the preacher. But the context seems to communicate that Timothy was to preach even if the circumstances are favorable or not. The NRSV and NLT include the phrase “the time” while the HCSB and NET omit this phrase. I think the omission leads to the potential misunderstanding.

I wish the ESV would have followed the rendering of the NRSV. I am shocked that the TNIV kept the traditional rendering rather than updating the phrase. No translation is perfect and every translation seems to lapse into occasions of traditional or archaic renderings.

4 Comments

  1. Brent, I personally favor the “traditional” rendering of this verse simply because it’s the language of the Bible. It’s terms like “begotten,” “propitiation,” “sanctification,” and the like, that gives the Bible its uniqueness and special literary style, just as this verse does.

    Now days, people growing up on these modern “meaning for meaning” Bibles don’t have a clue what these words mean because the publishers have decided people can’t read beyond the sixth grade level. So, they’re written for sixth graders.

    Why do you think we have commentaries, Bible dictionaries, and Bible encyclopedias? Why do we have preachers to preach from the pulpit? They’re to help us understand what these terms mean. These words and terms give the Bible a certain flavor and distinctiveness all its own. It makes for memorable reading. Most times these modern translation even with their “explanation” of what these words are rather than just use the correct word makes for a worse translation.

    Though I’m not an advocate of the King James Version and don’t use it, there’s one thing for sure, when it was the only Bible available people knew their Bibles and could quote Scripture right and left. Anymore, it’s a lost art . . . simply because we have all these different flavors of Bibles that try to be “today’s Bible for today’s modern reader.” It’s a travesty!

  2. To a degree, I agree with you Wendyl. Terms that do not have an understandable counterpart can be just terms we learn (like propitiation, justification, etc). But that does not mean that we should intentionally make the scriptures difficult. Nor do commentaries or preachers exist to deal with difficult English translations. They exist to help us dig deeper in the word of God. Translators exist to take us from the original language to the English language, communicated in a way that we can understand. Translation has no value if it does not make sense.

    The same word translated “in season” is used in Mark 14:11 and is most commonly translated “opportune time.” It is not some theological terms. It is means “opportune, convenient.” So “in season” is simply a traditional rendering and there are words that communicate the idea better.
    I do not want the Bible dumbed down. It is silly to try to use only 150 words to translate the Bible. Don’t dumb it down. But there is no reason to go out of our way to make it difficult to read. If a term is hard, don’t dumb it down. But if a term is simply, don’t make it hard. I feel the phrase “in season and out of season” is taking a simply concept and making it harder than it needs to be.
  3. Brent, I agree with you to a degree. You said:

    “Translators exist to take us from the original language to the English language, communicated in a way that we can understand. Translation has no value if it does not make sense.”

    What you said is true. However, when translators take the actual words written by the original writers and try to tell the reader “this is what the writer really means” is perverting the inspired Words of God. For far too long publishers have insisted that we “change” the actual words of the Bible so that elementary kids can read it.

    To me it’s like you receiving a love letter from your wife, but in route to your mailbox the mailman decides he knows more about what your wife meant to say than she did . . . so he changes the words and terms to those he thinks you’ll better understand. If you knew this I think you’d be a little bit upset!

    It’s all about greed and the publishers will do anything they can to sell their “Bibles.” I just cringe when “Christians” tell me they just love “The Message.” They’ll read it before ever even thinking about opening a real Bible.  Not good. Not good at all.

  4. That being said, we just had someone baptized reading from, guess what, The Living Bible – also a paraphrase like the Message.

    To me, a perversion of scriptures would be something like “he who believes and is not baptized will be saved”.

    I know this is a touchy issue for many….need to be careful of extremes.