[B-Greek] Rm. 13:3b: "QELEIS..." WHY is it a question?

Carl Conrad 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)
>>> 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
>> question.
> 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  
> question.

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  
> want.

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  

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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