Word Study in the New Living Translation: κοιμάω (koimaō)

by Mark D. Taylor, NLT Bible Translation Committee

Greek:      κοιμάω (koimaō)
English: fall asleep; die

The verb koimaō is used eighteen times in the New Testament. The literal meaning of the word is “to fall asleep.” An example of this usage is found in Luke 22:45, where Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane: “At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief.”

Similarly, the verb is used with this literal meaning in Acts 12:6: “The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate.”

But in most instances in the New Testament, this word is used as a euphemism for dying. So Bible translators must determine whether to translate the term literally—allowing the euphemism to stand in the English text—or to translate the meaning of the euphemism.

The translation philosophy adopted by many English Bible translations is to render the original language texts literally or “word for word.” For example, the publisher of the English Standard Version calls the ESV an “essentially literal” translation. So generally, they translate metaphors and euphemisms literally, which allows English readers to see the terminology that was used in the original context. Accordingly, the ESV translates koimaō as “fall asleep” or “slept” in nearly every instance that koimaō is used—either literally or as a euphemism.

Similarly, the New International Version usually renders the euphemistic use of koimaō as “fall asleep” or “slept.” For instance, when Stephen comes to the end of his sermon before the religious leaders and sees the heavens opened, the NIV allows the euphemistic use of koimaō to come through with a literal rendering:

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59-60; emphasis added)

The NLT, on the other hand, consistently translates koimaō as “die” or “died” when it is used as a euphemism. For example, here’s Acts 7:59-60 in the NLT:

As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died. (emphasis added)

In a section of Paul’s teaching in 1 Thessalonians 4, the word koimaō is used repeatedly as a euphemism. And again, the NLT renders the meaning to which the euphemism points rather than translating the euphemism literally. But note the footnotes (marked in the text with an asterisk), which help the reader also see a more literal rendering of the text:

13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died* so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. 15 We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died.* (1 Thessalonians 4:13-15; emphasis added)

4:13 Greek those who have fallen asleep; also in 4:14.
4:15 Greek those who have fallen asleep.

The NLT translators were concerned that a literal rendering of the euphemism (“those who have fallen asleep”) would not clearly communicate the text’s meaning to modern readers, since this is not a euphemism we use in contemporary English. This concern—that the text of Scripture should be understandable to readers today—is one reason that we have various English translations with different translation philosophies. Taken together, the rich variety of English translations allows readers to capture with clarity the life-giving truths and literary qualities of the ancient originals.

18 thoughts on “Word Study in the New Living Translation: κοιμάω (koimaō)

      1. I think the English transliteration is pretty intuitive. In this instance, we could have spelled it out as koi-ma-oh. The line over the ō means that the underlying Greek letter is the omega, and it has a long “oh” sound.

  1. Thank you so much for your wonderful efforts. Things like this will surely help believers to really have a more in depth understanding. We need more of these. GOD BLESS your works, your hands, your feet and your mind, all for GOD’S Glory…

  2. Thanks for taking the time to write these mini lessons out, I really appreciate them and enjoy learning why some things are translated certain ways. Very cool.

  3. Thank you! This was a really great read for me, and I enjoy reading different bible translations because when I catch a verse that I know isn’t written that way in a translation that I read consistently, it makes me do some research to find out what the different translations mean. I enjoy learning as much as I can about the ancient writings and language(s) that were used at the time. Thanks again!

  4. I talk to Jesus like He is my best beloved friend which He is. Remember the old Hymn “What a friend we have in Jesus”? Someone you love, care about and share all your secrets and concerns with. He sometimes verbally speaks, sometimes great peace, other times He let’s me know He hears and answers my prayers. It amazes me that as busy as he is He is still here for me. At times the answer comes upon awakening but I hear or feel Him. My husband also hears an answer as he prays that brings peace and comfort to or lives. Our 4 children are also Christians, one in particular is very close and we share a very loving close relationship with one another and with our Lord. He knows well our hearts and minds as no one can keep their sins or lives hidden, we shine like true light in this world and to our maker there is nothing hidden nor can be hidden. If people would truly understand there are no secrets and prayer with faith is our communion with He who decides our end fate they would learn to walk close and share everything with love and respect for our redeemer. The meek shall inherit life eternal. If we fail to speak to Him we fail to let him in our lives, we draw near to Him He draws near to us. Read scripture that leads us have faith and obey, walk in the light as He is the Light and He will walk and talk with us, lead guide and direct us on this road to Eternal blessed and fulfilled lives on earth and our Heavenly home. This is why he suffered and died and arose from the grave, so that we could have redemption through His blood and have perfect life with Him forever both here and now and after our lives on Earth. I look so forward to going to my eternal home and literally walk with Jesus where there is no pain or suffering, no sickness nor death in glorified bodies just like Jesus has that never grows old nor suffers. He is the same as the day he left this world in death for us thousands of years ago. He is my 1st love and greatest love, He is my life and I’m so grateful to be His now and forever…..

  5. Thanks! Very interesting and informative for a person who has not done any biblical studies. Puts life and meaning into the word of God.

  6. Excellent stuff! I’ve returned to the NLT since it was updated, and am really seeing its value. Whether one reads it as one’s sole Bible, or as an adjunct to a more literal version, like NASB or Legacy, the NLT is an excellent resource for those of us who want to really understand the Scriptures.

  7. Why do you think “sleep” is used euphemistically this way? Is it because it is meant to convey that death (like sleep) is actually a temporary state? We tend to think of death as permanent but all will be raised on the last day.

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