A better translation of Rom 4:1?

Matt Eby ebymatt at yahoo.com
Fri Oct 26 13:16:48 EDT 2001

Hello again, Steven:

--- Steven Lo Vullo <doulos at merr.com> wrote:
> on 10/24/01 10:27 AM, Matt Eby at ebymatt at yahoo.com wrote:
> Your general observation that not all clauses have explicit main
> verbs does
> not prove that an ellipted verb is a "grammatically legitimate
> option" in
> any one particular clause. There must be contextual indicators that
> make
> such an option *probable*. 

Hence my statement that "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."  That is, if we isolate verse 1 and
examine its grammar, there is not conclusive evidence within verse 1 of
what Paul's intentions are.  I find contextual evidence from the
immediately surrounding verses to reject Lenski's rendering, not
grammatical evidence from within the verse.  Now, you are of the
opinion that the grammar *within* the verse denies Lenski's

> And I don't think this is a probable
> option in
> Rom 4.1 for the following reasons:
> (1) A stop between EROUMEN and hEURHKENAI leaves us with an abrupt
> and
> unnatural disconnect where there is a perfectly smooth connection
> between
> EROUMEN as a main verb that expresses communication (speech) and
> as an infinitive in indirect discourse, a common construction in
> Greek that
> would be quite natural to a Greek reader or listener. Why complicate
> with a
> conjectural ellipsis what is simple enough as it actually reads?

Your assertion that "a stop between EROUMEN and hEURHKENAI leaves us
with an abrupt and unnatural disconnect" is mitigated by the neglected
evidence that in every other instance that Paul uses TI [OUN] EROUMEN
throughout Romans (3:5; 6:1; 7:7; 8:31; 9:14; 9:30) it constitutes a
complete sentence which is punctuated by a question mark after EROUMEN
(8:31 is only a minor variation).  In all six cases the clause precedes
another rhetorical question which introduces an inference that could be
drawn from the preceding discussion, and in four of the six instances
this inference is a false one.  Stanley Stowers (_The Diatribe and
Paul's Letter to the Romans_ [Chico: Scholars Press, 1981] 133-137)
points out that TI [OUN] EROUMEN was a rhetorical clause commonly used
in diatribe in general to introduce false conclusions.  Thus it can be
argued that your rendering would not be any more grammatically
"natural" than Lenski's to the Greek reader/listener who is used to
this diatribal device.  Other scholars who have attempted to capitalize
on this include Richard B. Hays ("'Have We Found Abraham to be Our
Forefather According to the Flesh?' A Reconsideration of Rom 4:1,"
_NovT_ 27 [1985] 77-78) and Michael Cranford ("Abraham in Romans 4: The
Father of All Who Believe," _NTS_ 41 [1995] 71-88).

> (2) There is nothing in the context that indicates an *elliptical*
> verb that
> is *required* to make sense of the infinitival clause (see above). In
> order
> to infer an ellipsis, we must detect some contextual indicator(s)
> that such
> a verb is necessarily implied in order to make sense of the clause in
> question (which, as I stated above, is not required here, since the
> infinitival clause works quite naturally as the direct object of the
> *expressed* verb of communication).

In grammar it is not necessary to prove that an option is "required" in
order for it to be *possible*.  (Nor is it right to conclude simply
because an option is possible that it is required).  I believe Lenski's
option--although not required, is both natural and possible and
deserving of consideration on the *grammatical* grounds given above. 
But this does not mean he is right; it simply means we must go to other
context in an attempt to vindicate the more *probable* option).

> The very next verse (Rom 4.2)
> offers an
> example of what I mean. There we read, EI GAR ABRAAM EX ERGWN
> ECEI KAUCHMA, ALL' OU PROS QEON. In this case ALL' (since it
> introduces an
> opposing clause) along with OU and PROS QEON (since they most
> naturally call
> for a verb to modify), lead us to conclude that there is an ellipsis
> here.
> The two words in the context that best fill the ellipsis are ECEI
> OU
> [ECEI KAUCHMA] PROS QEON. There are no contextual indicators in Rom
> 4.1 that
> similarly compel us to understand an ellipsis there. The sentence
> works
> quite well without the supposition of an ellipsis. Again, why
> complicate
> matters?

Given the status of TI [OUN] EROUMEN as an established diatribal
clause-introducing device, I believe that this alone could exert enough
force to cue an ellipsis; it hardly complicates matters.

> > 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?"
> First, the example you give does not speak to the issue at hand,
> since the
> sentence in question in Rom 4.1 gives no indication of ellipsis,
> while "ice
> cream" does.

Hopefully, given my argument, you see that 4:1 could legitimately give
indication of an ellipsis, and thus my example still stands as an
appropriate one.

> Second, we are hopefully not seeking simply what is "legitimate" or
> possible, but what is most probable.

I assure you that I am; I am simply illustrating that grammar alone
(which is the focus of B-Greek) gives me *no* insight into what is most
probable here.

> Third, I'm not sure what your point is when you say hEURISKW "can be
> used
> copulatively." What exactly are you contending it is joining? If you
> are
> contending that it legitimizes the use of a copulative "to be"
> between
> ABRAAM and TON PROPATORA, that would have nothing to do with hEURISKW
> being
> copulative, but would rather assume that TON PROPATORA is in a double
> acccusative relationship with ABRAAM. 

You are correct that by "copulative" I meant that such a rendering
would assume a copulative "to be" (cf. Gal 2:17).  You are also right
that this would more precisely be labeled as a double-accusative
construction (object-complement).  Sorry for the ambiguity.

> While this is *possible*, it does not
> seem probable when other features of the syntax are examined. Rather,
> in
> light of these features, it seems most natural to take TON PROPATORA
> as an
> appositive of ABRAAM.

Again, as I have shown above, what is most "natural" in this verse is

> > 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.
> I didn't want to deal with interpretational matters, since this does
> take us
> beyond the scope of B-Greek. However, when you arrive at the
> conclusion you
> do on *contextual* grounds--that it was *Abraham* who did the
> finding--you
> unwittingly support what I have contended on *grammatical* grounds.
> Positing
> Abraham as the "finder" is practically an admission that the readers
> would
> indicating
> that Paul was asking *what Abraham found*, not what the
> readers/hearers have
> found.

I certainly was not "unwittingly" supporting your rendering; I agree
with it!  And it isn't "practically" an admission; it unblushingly *is*
an admission!  This is precisely my point:  Paul's original audience
certainly *would* have understood verse 4:1 as an inquiry into what
*Abraham* found--but *only* after reading/hearing the surrounding
verses (i.e., the *context*, not the grammar).  I would still argue
that any contention on mere grammatical grounds is inconclusive.  

That is all I am asserting :).


Matt Eby
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

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