[B-Greek] Rm. 13:3b: "QELEIS..." WHY is it a question?
cwconrad2 at mac.com
Sat May 30 19:02:19 EDT 2009
There have been three responses to my call for a reason why the QELEIS
clause in Rom 13:3 should be understood as a question.
(a) Mark Lightman says that the usage is Yiddish; it must be something
Jesus learned in the shtetl -- Nazareth? I think, however, that "you
want that X should do Y?" is not comparable to this "You want not to
be afraid of ... "
(b) Richard Ghilardi has a gut feeling that what is acceptable as a
proposition in (A) below really has the ring of a question:
> RG: Rm 13:3 may be interpreted in the following two ways differing
> in punctuation:
> A) Rulers are no threat to those who do right, but to those who do
> wrong. You want to live without fearing rulers. Do what's right and
> they will praise you.
> B) Rulers are no threat to those who do right, but to those who do
> wrong. You want to live without fearing rulers, don't you? Do what's
> right and they will praise you.
> Both renderings seem acceptable to me. But as I read (A) over and
> over again and especially as speak it out loud again and again I
> keep on hearing a "don't you" after line 2. Is this just my
> experience or does anyone else hear this? If I try mightily to shut
> out this voice that keeps saying "don't you," I begin hearing
> another that changes the "want" of line 2 to "should want": "You
> should want to live without fearing rulers." In other words line 2
> begins to sound prescriptive to me. And I can't believe Paul meant
> line 2 to be prescriptive.
> The above, of course, is not an argument. It's simply my gut
> reaction to reading and hearing interpretation (A) again and again.
I rather think that the natural phrasing for "You want t live without
fearing rulers, don't you?" would be, OU QELEIS MH FOBEISQAI THN
EXOUSIAN? Classicall Greek might even have had an ARA: AR' OU QELEIS
MH FOBEISQAI THN EXOUSIAN? -- "What you want is not to live in fear of
rulers, isn't it" The effect of this interrogative OU or ARA OU is
equivalent to that of a continental European "N'est-ce pas?" or "Nicht
wahr?" or "Non è vero?"
(c) Iver Larsen offers what seems to me much the same argument as
Richard: a feeling for what is more natural expression.
On May 30, 2009, at 10:04 AM, Iver Larsen wrote:
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Carl Conrad" <cwconrad2 at mac.com>
> To: "A. J. Birch" <AJB1212 at ono.com>
> Cc: "B-Greek" <b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org>
> Sent: 30. maj 2009 14:34
> Subject: Re: [B-Greek] Rm. 13:3b: "QELEIS..." WHY is it a question?
>> On May 29, 2009, at 2:15 AM, A. J. Birch wrote:
>>> οἱ γὰρ ἄρχοντες οὐκ εἰσὶν φόβος
>>> τῷ ἀγαθῷ ἔργῳ ἀλλὰ τῷ κακῷ.
>>> θέλεις δὲ μὴ φοβεῖσθαι τὴν
>>> ἐξουσίαν· τὸ ἀγαθὸν ποίει, καὶ
>>> ἕξεις ἔπαινον ἐξ αὐτῆς· (Romans 13:3)
>>> "hOI GAR ARCONTES OUK EISIN FOBOS TWi AGAQWi ERGWi ALLA TWi KAKWi.
>>> QELEIS DE MH FOBEISQAI THN EXOUSIAN· TO AGAQON POIEI, KAI hEXEIS
>>> EPAINON EX AUTHS·" (Romans 13:3)
>>> My question is about the phrase, "QELEIS DE MH FOBEISQAI THN
>>> EXOUSIAN·": all the Bible-versions I've consulted treat this phrase
>>> as a question, but my Greek text punctuates it as a statement; is
>>> there any GRAMMATICAL basis for either of these 'readings'?
>> Upon reviewing the question and the responses from list-members that
>> have been offered, it occurs to me that nobody has yet really offered
>> an answer to A.J. Birch's question. Everybody has accepted the
>> proposition that the clauses in question must be a question, but
>> nobody has (adequately) explained WHY it must be interpreted as a
> If almost everyone thinks it is a question, that must be the natural
> and expected interpretation.
I think this is what we always say, if almost everyone agrees with us.
My chief point was simply: if there's a question about whether it's a
question, then there ought to be factors governing the likelihood.
> In my view, the following support the question option: DE, the
> negative MH and TO AGAQON POIEI, which fits best as an answer to a
I'm not sure I follow this; the DE adds the next point in the
argument; the MH is appropriate to the infinitive representing a
possibility rather than a fact.
> If it was to be a statement, it would be something like: You want to
> not be fearing the authority. It is unusual to tell somebody what he
> wants. You could tell him what he should want, but not what he does
I think the sense might well be: "What you want is to be free from
dreading the powers that be." And quite frankly, I think that would
serrve the same function as a rhetorical question.
> If it was to be a statement, I would have expected it to be
> something like KAI OU QELEIS FOBEISQAI THN EXOUSIAN (The rulers are
> a threat to evil, and you don't want to be fearing the authority).
Actually I think that using OU with QELEIS would make a more natural
question; as you've worded it, I'd understand it to mean, "And don't
you want to be afraid of authority?"= "You do want to be afraid of
authority, don't you?"
> I was not able to find any example of "X wants to not do Y" as a
> statement. It seems normal to say "X does not want to do Y", e.g. 2
> Th 3:10 - εἴ τις οὐ θέλει ἐργάζεσθαι
> μηδὲ ἐσθιέτω EI TIS OU QELEI ERGAZESQAI MHDE ESQIETW
True enough. I think that MH FOBEISQAI THN EXOUSIAN is a very forceful
expresion: "not having to be afraid of the powers that be." It reminds
me of that line from Erich Segal's novel-turned-into-screenplay, "Love
Story": "Love means not ever having to say you're sorry." I think the
sentiment is a bit romantic, but the expression is certainly forceful.
> I suppose a native speaker of Greek could give better reasons than I
> can. Or maybe a native speaker finds it easier to say how it should
> be understood than give reasons for why that is the case?
Yes. Wanted: a native speaker of Koine Greek.
I really don't mean to suggest that I've settled the question of the
question -- or that I really object to TRANSLATING the clause as a
question. I think the rhetorical force is pretty strong either way and
the argument is persuasive. I sometimes wonder whether we're making
judgments about what's "natural" in the Greek text on the basis of
what we think is "natural" in our own languages.
I really have no interest in extending this thread, unless someone
wants to offer still another alternative reason why we should read the
QELEIS clause as a question.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
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