Interpretation of Rom 4:1

Glenn Blank glennblank at
Sat Jan 26 02:53:47 EST 2002

>From: "Moon-Ryul Jung" <moon at>
>To: Biblical Greek <b-greek at>
>Subject: [b-greek] Interpretation of Rom 4:1
>Date: Fri, 25 Jan 2002 23:39:12 -0500
>  In the article titled
>     in New Testament Studies 41 (1995): 71-88,
> Hays surveys Paulís other uses of Ti oun eroumen, an expression which
>occurs only in Romans (3.5; 6.1; 7.7; 8.31; 9.14; 9.30).14 In every case
>but 8.31 this expression constitutes a complete sentence which is
>punctuated by a question mark after eroumen. [snip] Hays recommends
>punctuating Ti oun eroumen in 4.1 analogously: Ti oun eroumen? heurekenai
>Abraam ton propatora hemon kata sarka? 16 Hays then offers the following
>translation: ëWhat then shall we say? Have we [Jews] found (on the basis
>of scripture) that Abraham [is] our forefather according to the flesh?í


>Hays takes the sentence as follows:
>Ti oun eroumen? [Eroumen] heurekenai Abraam ton propatora hemon kata
>What then shall we say? [Shall we say]  to have found Abraham [to be]
>our forefather according to flesh?
>The debate comes down to: Is it reasonble to assume the ellipsis of
>Eroumen in front of the infinitive clause "heurekenai ....."?
>It is possible, but is it quite probable? Usually ellipsis is obvious
>to detect. But here it does not seem so.
>To me, Hay's suggestion makes Romans 4 more understandable.
>So, I would like to suggest another analysis in the spirit of Hays:
>Ti oun? Eroumen heurekenai Abraam ton propatora hemon kata sarka?
>Ti oun can be a sentence in its own. For example, in Rom 6:15, we have:
>Ti oun; Hamarteswmen hoti ouk esmen hupo nomon alla hupo xarin;

The question then, is whether the punctuation is to be before or after
EROUMEN.  There is clearly ellision in either case -- in the former case in
the TI OUN clause, and in the latter case, the following clause.  It seems
also clear what verb has been elided -- EROUMEN.  So I am not sure what you
mean by the ellision being not "obvious to detect" here.  But as to the
question of which analysis is more probable, that truly does seem difficult
to determine.

One approach would be to collect all the instances of TI OUN from Romans
through Hebrews and see whether it is more common for the TI OUN clause to
contain the ellision or the following clause, and in how many cases a finite
verb occurs in both clauses.  The 16 cases I found (including the 6
considered by Hays) I would analyze this way:

1)  TI OUN (with no explicit verb), followed by a clause with a finite verb
(as you pointed out, TI OUN as a "sentence on its own")

Ro 3:9
Ro 6:15
Ro 11:7
Rom 9:19 (but TI gets translated "why" in this verse, so one might discount
this example)
Ga 3:19

2)  TI OUN EROUMEN with no finite verb in the following clause

Romans 8:31  (although in this case, the elided verb is a copula, which is
so common a clause construction in NTG that it maybe should not be
considered a case of ellision, but rather be categorized under 4 below)

3)  Four seemed ambiguous in a manner similar to Romans 4.1

Ro 7:7
Ro 9.14
Ro 9:30
1Co 10:19

If in Rom 4.1 EROUMEN is taken with the TI OUN clause, then one is left with
an infinitival clause which must be the complement of some elided finite
verb.  The last two examples above are similar except that the complements
are hOTI clauses rather than infinitival clauses.

Rom 7.7 and Rom 9.14 are different, though, in that the "complements" are
themselves verbless clauses, but since elided verbs are copulae, the clauses
could considered independent clauses, in which case these two references fit
under 4) below.

4)  Both the TI OUN clause and the following clause containing a finite verb

Ro 6:1  (the verb in the TI OUN clause is EROUMEN)
1Co 14:15  (the verb in the TI OUN clause is ESTIN, but a nominal has been
1Co 14:26  (likewise)

And so it seems a very slight preference, if a verb is elided, to drop it
from the TI OUN clause.  But 16 cases is a paltry number for "statistical
analysis" -- wonder what looking at all 104 cases of TI (not limited to TI
OUN) in the Pauline writings would yield.

Two other cases, however, suggest a third alternative:

TI(S) OUN as a constituent embedded within a full finite clause

Ro 3:1* ti oun to perisson tou ioudaiou h tiv h wfeleia thv peritomhv
1Co 3:5* ti oun estin apollwv ti de estin paulov diakonoi di wn episteusate
kai ekastw wv o kuriov edwken

What then, is the possibility that there should be no punctuation between TI
OUN, EROUMEN, and hEURHKENAI, Parsing the sentence this way:

"What then shall we say that Abraham our forefather . . . has found?"

with the hEURHKENAI clause serving as the complement of EROUMEN, ABRAAM as
the subject of hEURHKENAI, and TI as the complement of hEURHKENAI but, as an
interrogative, moved outside the matrix sentence.  Abraham discovery
something is more consistent with the following verse anyway ("Abraham not
having something to boast about") then we discovering something, and this
analysis seems less clumsy than Hays' approach.

But this needs to be confirmed by considering how often EROUMEN (ERW?) takes
an infinitival clause as a complement.

Returning, though, to Moon-Ryul's proposal, another approach may be to
consider whether there is complementary distribution of the two patterns
within some discourse structure.  That is, is TI OUN [elided verb] + full
finite clause more likely to occur in certain discourse settings and TI OUN
EROUMEN + clause with elided verb more likely to occur in other settings?

glenn blank
Pensacola FL

More information about the B-Greek mailing list