A better translation of Rom 4:1?

Matt Eby ebymatt at yahoo.com
Wed Oct 24 11:27:28 EDT 2001

Hi Steven:

--- Steven Lo Vullo <doulos at merr.com> wrote:
> 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)

> 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
> forefather." 

Romans 4:1(according to NA27):


Your grammatical argument against Lenski (whose rendering is actually
held by many scholars) breaks down because it assumes that the
infinitival clause must be dependent on the _explicit_ main verb
EROUMEN in the sentence.  Although it is true that an infinitival
clause cannot stand independently, you leave out the grammatically
legitimate option of having an _ellipted_ main verb starting a new


As you know, questions in any language are answered all the time with
sentence fragments.  Ask a person, "What do you want to eat?" and he
may respond with merely an object:  "ice cream"; it is understood that
what he obviously means is "_I want to eat_ ice cream."  In Rom 4:1 it
is grammatically legitimate to find Paul asking, "What then shall we
say?  [Shall we say] to have found Abraham our forefather according to
the flesh?"  Since hERUISKW can be used copulatively, Paul would be
asking, "What then shall we say?  [Shall we say] to have found Abraham
[to be] our forefather according to the flesh?"

That said, at this time I still agree with your rejection of Lenski,
but not on grammatical grounds.  I believe the interpretation of 4:1
must be arrived at contextually (and perhaps text-critically; cf. NA27
textual apparatus).  If Paul was asking whether he has found Abraham to
be his mere biological forefather, one would expect Paul to engage the
question in the immediately following verses, first with a customary MH
GENOITO and then explanation.  However, if Paul is asking what the
Jews' biological forefather, Abraham, found (concerning the issue he's
been discussing in 3:27-31--justification and its evidencing itself by
PISTIS apart from circumcision and the Mosaic Law), we would expect
Paul to discuss Abraham's discovery, bringing in textual support
concerning Abraham's justification by faith/faithfulness apart from
circumcision/Law.  It is precisely the latter that we find in 4:2-3.

But this is all going outside the realm of grammar. :)


Matt Eby
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

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