A better translation of Rom 4:1?

Steven Lo Vullo doulos at merr.com
Tue Oct 23 20:56:22 EDT 2001

on 10/23/01 6:20 AM, Paul D. Nitz at pnitz at wiss.co.mw wrote:

> "What then shall we say?   That we have
> found Abraham (to be) our forefather
> (only) according to the flesh?" (Lenski
> Commentary)
> As you can see above, Lenksi* translates
> Rom. 4:1much differently that the NIV
> (or KJV, NASB, NET).  His main point is
> that Abraham is the object and "we shall
> say" (EROUMEN) supplies the subject.

It's not for nothing that the translations above (and all others I know of)
do not translate as Lenski. It is an exceedingly unnatural and forced
> 1 - The subject "we" in the verb EROUMEN
> ("we shall say") supplies the subject
> lacking in the infinitive EURHKENAI ("to
> have found").   To quote Lenski, "It is
> the commonest of rules in Greek that
> infinitives take their subjects from
> what precedes, and that if a different
> subject is to be introduced it must be
> written.  "Abraham" is the object (not
> the subject of the infinitive), and "our
> forefather according to the flesh" is
> the predicate object with "Abraham."

First, in Lenski's translation above, it seems he understands Rom 4.1 as
containing two independent sentences, with hEURHKENAI functioning
independently in the second sentence. This is necessary if his
interpretation and translation are to work, for note what we have if we
treat the infinitival clause as dependent: "What then shall we say that we
have found Abraham (to be) our forefather (only) according to the flesh?"
This clearly doesn't make sense. And the fact that the infinitival clause
must be independent for his interpretation and translation to wark in itself
would nullify his contention that the subject "we" in EROUMEN supplies the
subject supposedly lacking (it isn't) in hEURHKENAI. The main verb supplies
the subject for the infinitive when the infinitival clause is substantival
(direct object) and dependent on the main verb. If these sentences are
independent (which they are not anyway), there is no reason to assume that
EROUMEN supplies the subject of hEURHKENAI.

Second, Lenski's treatment fails to explain how an infinitive can function
independently in the way that would be required for his translation to
rightly represent the Greek. So far as I know, the infinitive functions
independently in the NT only as an imperative (rare; see Rom 12.15; Phil
3.16)) or as absolute, where it has no syntactical relationship to anything
else in the sentence. The greeting CAIREIN would fall under this second
category. These uses clearly do not apply here.

Third, there is no reason to assume that the subject of hEURHKENAI is *not*
written. In NT usage, in a dependent infinitival clause functioning as
direct object of a verb, the subject, if different from the subject of the
main verb, is almost always put in the accusative case, so there is no
reason to think that ABRAAM is *not* the subject of hEURHKENAI. The fact
that it follows the infinitive has no bearing, since in this type of
construction the accusative subject does not have to precede the infinitive
(cf. Eph 4.21-22 below).

Fourth, since the infinitival clause is dependent (not independent), it
makes no sense to take TON PROPATORA as "predicate object" of ABRAAM. As I
mentioned earlier, this would yield, "What then shall we say that we have
found Abraham (to be) our forefather (only) according to the flesh?" This is
completely unnatural. On the other hand, it is eminently natural to take TON
PROPATORA as an appositive of ABRAAM, which yields "Abraham, our

It is important here to note that the main verb (EROUMEN) is a verb of
communication followed by an infinitival clause. The most likely conclusion
in this scenario is that the infinitival clause represents indirect
discourse. This is why the translations say something like "What shall we
say *that* Abraham our forefather has found?" This is the most natural way
to take this construction. For a similar usage, see Eph 4.21-22: EN AUTWi
"You were taught in him ... that you should put off ... the old person" or
"You were taught in him ... that you have put off ... the old person."

Steve Lo Vullo
Madison, WI

More information about the B-Greek mailing list