Living the Hands of Shirt with Christ: Saved by Grace in Nigeria
"At that time, you were living the hands of shirt with Christ..."
I'm leading the consultant check for Ephesians 2, looking at the back translation of verse 12. My supervisor and the Nigerian team are waiting for my question, which starts out as, "Umm...what?" "Living the hands of shirt" means "apart," the translators explain. On my Zoom screen, they spread their arms out wide like giant wingspans. "It means apart like this. Like the hands in a shirt." From sleeve-end to sleeve-end. Hands of shirt, apart.
But I wanted to make sure that this idiom fits Paul's words to the Ephesians: "You were at that time separated from Christ." Paul isn't talking about physical distance. He's describing the Ephesians' separation from Christ before they became believers. Does "living the hands of shirt" capture the separation Paul was referring to? I try to find out.
Q: "If I am working in a different city from my husband, are we living hands of shirt apart?" A: "No!" they laugh, "You are still married." Q: "What about strangers in different cities? Are they living hands of shirt apart?" A: "No! They don't even know about each other. There needs to be a relationship first to be hands of shirt apart." Ooo tricky, I think. The people Paul is talking about don't have a relationship with Jesus yet. Q: "But... these people don't know about God. They don't have a relationship with him, like strangers. So can you still say they are living hands of shirt with Christ?" The team sits back in their chairs a bit to consider for a few moments before they explain. A: "Yes, because God knows about them - he made them." Gradually I came to understand that, in their language, to be "living hands of shirt" with someone means you have a relationship, but something negative happened to separate your relationship-- like when you fling your arms out wide to separate your hands. While strangers wouldn't fit this description, spouses could be hands of shirt apart if their relationship is estranged (not just physical distance). The exegetical advisor working with the translators pointed out that Christ knows about and loves us before we are saved. He even loved us when we were living hands of shirt with him.
Even When We Were Dead
I was glad to see in their answers that this idiom works well, and I almost wished we had an expression in English that could capture this separated relationship. Maybe Paul would have liked it too, as he seems to be making the same point earlier:
"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved."
We were hands of shirt apart from Christ without even knowing it. Hearing this translation from Nigeria this week has filled me with gratitude. Because while we could spread our arms wide to show how far we were from God, Christ Himself spread his arms on the cross in order to bring us near.
As the team might say, "Dǝ ɗǝɗa Yam!" Praise God!! Until All Have Heard, Angela
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