Rom 4:1

This verse has been cited as an example of the challenges of Bible translation, so I thought it would be helpful to approach the question of accuracy in translation and some of the linguistic and theological assumptions we bring to a text by looking at the verse in some detail.

Step 1: Deciding on the Greek text.

There are several differences in the textual tradition, but let me limit myself to the two major competing ones:

NA: Τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν εὑρηκέναι Ἀβραὰμ τὸν προπάτορα ἡμῶν κατὰ σάρκα;

Byz: Τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν Ἀβραὰμ τὸν πατέρα ἡμῶν εὑρηκέναι κατὰ σάρκα;

My focus here is not textual criticism, so I won’t go into the reasons for my conclusion that the NA is most likely to represent the original text, and therefore is the text I as a translator shall work from. In this case, however, there is no significant difference in meaning between the two text options.

Step 2: What does this text mean.

A very literal word-for-word rendering (which I would not call a translation) is: What then shall-we-say to-have-found Abraham the forefather of-us according-to flesh?

Few people would call this an accurate translation because it violates the grammar and usage of the English language. It is at one extreme end of the translation spectrum. In fact, one should never first make a literal rendering into another language and then base one’s exegesis on that literal rendering. Rather, we need to look carefully at the Greek text in its context before even attempting a translation.

The sentence is a rhetorical question of the kind that I call a pedagogical question. Its function is to introduce the topic of how Abraham came to be considered a person whom God could accept in the sense that he did what was good in the eyes of God. In theological jargon: How was he justified? The translator needs to consider whether the target language prefers to use a question or a statement to introduce a new topic. It is possible that in some languages it would be better to start off with: Let me take our forefather Abraham as an example. What was his experience? This is somewhat similar to what GNB and NLT have done.

The discourse connector is οὖν. It links the preceding verse(s) to the new topic that Paul is introducing. It basically denotes consequence, but here it is not a logical consequence, but rather the next step in the argumentation. Therefore “therefore” is not appropriate as a translation, but “then” is fine as most English versions have. A few have made it implicit, since English is a language (and culture) with assumed linear and rational progression of thoughts – unlike Hebrew. Both options are acceptable.

The main verb is “we-shall-say”. The “we” is a pedagogical “we” which goes well with the pedagogical question. The purpose is to include the hearer/reader in the thinking process. If the pedagogical question is kept in translation, the “we” can probably also be kept. If not, it may be better to use “I”. Some languages distinguish an inclusive “we” referring to speaker and addressee and an exclusive “we” referring to the speaker and associates but excluding the hearer. This means that the translator needs to make a decision about which form to choose.

The verb “to say” often has a content clause which in Greek sometimes is indicated grammatically by an accusative with infinitive. This is the case here. In this content clause, Abraham is the subject and “to have found” is the corresponding verb. I don’t have access to the article by Hays, but it appears he has suggested that a possible translation is “(What shall we say?) Have we found Abraham to be our forefather according to the flesh?” However, this is not a possible rendering of the Greek text, and certainly not accurate. In addition, it makes no sense whatsoever. I do not know what kind of assumptions lie behind it, but I did find another link here. If I remember correctly, N.T. Wright followed Hays down this wrong path, and even God’s Word translation was carried away. In English a content clause is introduced by “that”, and that is what we find in most English versions.

The verb in the content clause has the basic sense of “find”, but it is often used in the extended sense of “discover, consider, experience”. The most literal versions like the KJV tend to be consistent in translating the same Greek word with the same English word. Some people consider this a mark of accuracy, but in fact it is based on a lack of understanding of how language and communication works. It is a betrayal of basic communication principles.

The subject Abraham has an apposition “our forefather according to flesh”. A common contrast in the words of Paul is between the spiritual (PNEUMA) and the non-spiritual (SARKS). However, the non-spriritual has two different senses or applications: The physical or the ungodly. In this context, the sense is the physical. This is mirrored in another contrast that is common in the words of Jesus, Luke and Paul, namely the physical “sons of Abraham” and the spiritual “sons of Abraham”. All Jews consider themselves to be physical descendants of Abraham. He is their forefather, progenitor, founding father. All believers in Jesus are considered in the NT to be the spiritual “sons and daughters of Abraham” (Lk 3:8, 13:16, 19:9, Rom 9:8, Gal 3:7 etc.).   Paul is in Rom 4:1 speaking as a Jew to other Jews who have a high regard for the patriarch Abraham as the founding father and prime example of a person of faith. It is an opinion they share, whether they believe in Jesus or not. So, Paul is creating rapport with his audience.

How to translate “according to flesh” depends on your translation philosophy. Those who see translation as a springboard to the original words for those who do not know Greek, will prefer to keep the literal “flesh” even though it is not how anyone would ever say that in normal English. Those who prefer a meaning-based translation that follows normal translation principles, will use a word like “physical” or they may decide to make it implicit in “forefather” as the NIV has done. In translation, you do NOT need to translate every word as long as the meaning is clearly communicated by other words. The word “forefather” implies physical descent. NLT uses “humanly speaking” which I consider an inappropriate carry-over from the Living Bible.

Iver Larsen

107 thoughts on “Rom 4:1

  1. kirsty says:

    This is really interesting – even for someone who knows no greek!

    I would suggest that the word ‘physical’ is needed, as forefather does not necessarily imply physical descent, though that may be its primary meaning. I looked it up in Google and got:
    1. A member of the past generations of one’s family or people; an ancestor.
    2. A precursor of a particular movement: “the forefathers of rock ‘n’ roll”.

    So, Abraham is the physical forefather of the Jews, and the spiritual forefather of Christians.

  2. jkgayle says:

    For one “who knows no greek,” kirsty, you make a great proposal. There’s a great emphasis here on physicality.

    Iver, Thanks for the detailed walk through the Greek phrases. Paul is playing with words and won’t be easily pinned down. Yes, his “Τί ἐροῦμεν” is a classic Demosthenesian and Socratic rhetoric (with the οὖν for emphasis): “What’re we to say?!” (See On the Chersonese, and Crito, Phaedo, Theaetetus, and The Republic). Those reading in Rome would get this. The Romans were obsessed with Latinizing the Greek, and especially appropriating Greek theology, politics, and rhetoric. Notice Paul, who speaks Latin fine it seems, is not writing in the official language. He’s not writing to Romans, not to Italians. Rather, his back and forth, his dialectic (as if he’s Plato or Plato’s Socrates) gets at what makes the Jew Jewish and the Greek Greek. The physicality of κατὰ σάρκα screams out in the extreme here to the Greek and the Jew, in the mocked impotence of Rome without pedigree. There’s no concern here with Christianity qua Christianity in his wordplayful language. So, very interesting points vis-à-vis Christian histories and theologies (of Wright and Hays).

    Whose accuracy? I like the translational accuracy of Willis Barnstone, who lets Paul speak as a Jew writing Greek (ignoring Rome):

    What shall we say that our forefather Avram
    Discovered by way of the flesh?

  3. iverlarsen says:

    Barnstone is a poet, and that may be why he can make a translation that makes little sense, even though he is very competent in Greek, both modern and ancient.
    At least I cannot understand what it is to discover something “by way of the flesh.”
    Maybe you can explain it to me?

    By the way, Hays is not the first to suggest this peculiar reading of the verse. Lenski did the same in 1936.

    There was considerable discussion of the verse on July 20-21, 2009 on the b-Greek list. (

  4. jkgayle says:

    Barstone’s translation really does sound “both modern and ancient” doesn’t it?

    I’m only beginning to discover the clause, “discover by way of the…,” by way of google. Googling it helps me understand it some, even in many non-Poetic contexts. Here’s one literally close: “With time and practice, yoga allows you to discover, by way of the body, the subtle relationship of body, mind and spirit.” What do you think then?

    Thank you for sharing the b-Greek list discussion. Did you say there that you “do not find the sentence ambiguous”? Do you find it to be poetic in the least? Is phrase order significant?

  5. WoundedEgo says:

    I would be tempted to add a few words to bring out some of what he is talking about:

    “What should we who are Jews say in light of the things I’ve just described? We who have Abraham as our natural forefather? How shall we describe his experience?”

    I’d want to bracket the supplemental material, but I’m too lazy right now.

    By the way, my take on Romans is that it was written to the gentile believers who were tempted to believe rumors that Paul avoided coming to Rome (as he said he would) because of reluctance because they were all gentiles (the Jews and Jewish Christians having been expelled by the emperor). By saying “what should we say then” is describing what he believes is the proper way to view Abraham: He was uncircumcised, had no torah, etc, so he had no reason to glory before God.

  6. Mike Sangrey says:


    I’m with Iver here. I have no idea what by way of the flesh might mean.

    Your example uses yoga and body, mind, and spirit and even practice and subtle which together provide a frame within which to understand by way of the body. The sentence What shall we say that our forefather Avram discovered by way of the flesh? nor the surrounding text, provide no frame in modern English.

    This illustrates one of the balancing acts a translator must perform as he or she weighs the alternative choices. If it is absolutely vital that the translator translates σάρξ as “flesh”, then he or she has little choice but to modify other words and phrases in the surrounding text in order to build up the frame necessary so the reader correctly understands “flesh”. I don’t see how that can be done here.

  7. jkgayle says:


    Barnstone is imagining what Paul in the Greek sounds like in English. “Flesh” is pretty old English, as σάρξ is old Greek. If his were not so theological but more biological, then, as Aristotle writes the phrase, we might revise, or update, the translation as more technical. It could be

    What shall we say that our forefather Avram
    Discovered by way of the bodily tissue?

    And yet, aren’t we unnecessarily making the assumption that the recipients of Paul’s letter understood what it is to “εὑρηκέναι κατὰ σάρκα”? We’re also letting ourselves assume that Paul controlled what they understood by it (by way of his intending to write it), aren’t we? If these assumptions are ours, then are these the best first assumptions? Can’t we assume that others reading – though not the recipients of the letter – might have legitimately different ways of reading (i.e., technical biological understandings at this point), and really aren’t we interpreting Paul’s letters (as Richard Hays puts it) by way of “reading somebody else’s mail”? Aren’t we overhearing so to speak? And why would it have to sound naturally addressed to us?

  8. Ounbbl says:


    You said: I like the translational accuracy of Willis Barnstone, …

    Frankly dear, I have never seen an example of how one can translate inaccurate (deliberately for that matter) 😉

    His is with a pure poetic license (aka baloney), antithesis of accuracy.

    If one cannot come close to the original Greek when back-translated, all the claims of accuracy and reliability are just commercial hype and personal hubris.

  9. Peter Kirk says:

    Kurk, the problem I see with Barnstone’s reading is that it takes κατὰ σάρκα as going with εὑρηκέναι. You seem to agree when you quote these words together as if they form a phrase. But this seems unlikely (even if we follow the Byzantine text which puts these words together – as Greek is well known for using discontinuous phrases).

    In fact Barnstone’s rendering does not seem all that obscure to me, as I take his “way” as synonymous with “means”, and so for him the flesh is the means by which Abraham discovered something. This is I suppose a meaningful statement – a piece of meat can be used as an instrument! The only problem is, it is very unlikely that this is what Paul meant (whichever text is correct), which would make it an inaccurate rendering. Far more probably κατὰ σάρκα is intended to go with τὸν προπάτορα ἡμῶν, i.e. “according to the flesh” goes with “our forefather”. In this place the idea comes over well in WoundedEgo’s words “our natural forefather”, although there might be problems with “natural” as a more general rendering for κατὰ σάρκα.

  10. Paul Franklyn says:

    The CEB reads: “So what are we going to say? Are we going to find that Abraham is our ancestor on the basis of genealogy?” I will stay out of the details above except to mention that Richard Hayes translated this verse and editor Cindy Westfall contributed the meaning on sarx.

  11. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>…although there might be problems with “natural” as a more general rendering for κατὰ σάρκα…

    Agreed. Perhaps “his biological offspring”?

  12. Dannii says:

    “Discover by way of the flesh” makes sense to me… it sounds like you had an epiphany at a strip club. I agree with Peter that it’s paired up with the wrong head, and should go with forefather instead.

    Kurk, for what I call a “general purpose (GP) translation” it is good to assume that the original audience understood what was written to them because we also assume that the author intended it to be understood! For sure there could be translations that don’t make either of those assumptions, but I don’t think they come under the scope of this blog.

    That said, I think it’s very possible that your insights of the differences between us and those of the first century, that we’re eavesdropping and reading their mail, could be helpful in producing a better GP translation. If you believe that’s the case, please explain more! What changes will a “technical biological” understanding lead to?

    Lastly, who is saying that is should sound naturally addressed to us? I don’t know of any mainstream GP translation that has been written like that. The message does, but it’s trying to do something unusual.

  13. Rick Ritchie says:

    “κατὰ σάρκα” is also used in Romans 1:3 in a way that better fits with the NA reading. Jesus is a descendant of David κατὰ σάρκα. This seems to mean he was physically descended from David. And the Jews had physical descent from Abraham. And Paul will use this to argue further that both Jews and Gentiles also have spiritual descent from Abraham.

    κατὰ σάρκα can be pejorative when discussing a way of life. Romans 8:5 makes such a use, and if that passage is close to mind, we may imagine the term is pejorative in 4:1. But I think we need to look at 1:3 before we decide that.

  14. iverlarsen says:

    Paul Franklyn,

    Thank you for the information that Richard Hays translated this verse. Did he translate the whole of Romans? It is fairly clear from the CEB translation that he did not translate Galatians. The translator is often able to push his or her interpretation, even if others may give alternative suggestions.

    I remember how the coordinator, who was also one of the translators, for the Danish authorized Bible of 1992 was able to push her translation of Ruth 3:4,7 partly because she was a professor of OT at the university and because she had published her exegesis in a theological journal. She translated 3:4 as “When he lies down, you must notice where he is lying. Then you shall go there, take off your clothes and lie down at his feet.” There were objections, of course, but she managed to push her version into the published Bible.

    It was interesting to see the list of translators on the website. Many theologians, apparently no professional Bible translators or consultants. Many Methodists, a few Jews and SDAs, but no Pentecostals as far as I can tell. I wish Douglas Moo had translated Romans. As it is, I cannot endorse the CEB as a reliable translation.

    One of my responsibilities as a Bible translation consultant is to evaluate translations.

  15. Wayne Leman says:

    W.E. wrote:

    Agreed. Perhaps “his biological offspring”?

    Very good. Yes, I think in current English “biological” works better than “natural” here. Adoptive parents sometimes refer to their biological children and their adopted children. I don’t know if they would refer to any of their children as natural except maybe when referring to them as natural at some activity such as a natural musician or a natural artist.

  16. iverlarsen says:

    Rick had an important comment on κατὰ σάρκα “according to flesh”, “in a fleshly sense”.
    This is a Pauline expression that does not occur elsewhere in the NT in this form. Paul uses it no less than 20 times, 8 in Romans, 2 in 1 Cor, 6 in 2 Cor, 2 in Gal, One in Eph and one in Col.
    Here I can see an advantage of a literal translation, since it allows the Bible student to find all these references and then draw out the meaning from context. However, word studies really ought to be done from the Greek text, not a translation.
    A translator or exegete need to do such Greek word studies before attempting a translation.

    I would need another full post to compare and discuss all these places, but some of the occurrences are in Rom 1:3 (physical descent), 8:4-13 (selfishness/unspiritualness), 9:3,5 (physical descent), 1 Cor 1:26, 2 Cor 1:17, 5:16 (human standards/habits apart from the Spirit), 1 Cor 10:18 (physical, ethnic Israel/people of God as opposed to the spiritual Israel/people of God.

  17. jkgayle says:

    for [Barnstone] the flesh is the means by which Abraham discovered something…. Far more probably κατὰ σάρκα is intended to go with τὸν προπάτορα ἡμῶν

    Well, let me not worry with defending Barnstone’s translation; but I do want to defend our ability to read it as ambiguous. (This is why I was asking Iver, “Did you say there that you ‘do not find the sentence ambiguous’? Do you find it [the Greek phrasing] to be poetic in the least? Is phrase order significant?”)

    No one knows how Paul wrote these words (or even which of the variant words he wrote). The Greek order of phrases is less rigid for readers (than English syntax can be), hence your hedging here Peter: “Far more probably.” The fact is, no one can be certain that κατὰ σάρκα is intended by Paul “to go with” only one phrase. In the discussion here, the assumption seems to be that it must go with one phrase but not the others. With Barnstone’s English, the poetic verse, the line break, the capitalization of the first letter in “Discovered” lead our English eye to the conclusion that you make Peter. But it’s not a necessary or a foregone conclusion that “by way of the flesh” (at the end of a line of poetry especially) can’t be understood differently if English syntax were read as if as flexible as Greek syntax. So, why not read Barnstone also as follows:

    What shall we say, by way of the flesh, that our forefather Avram

    What shall we say that, by way of the flesh, our forefather Avram

    What shall we say that our forefather Avram, by way of the flesh,

    What shall we say that our forefather, by way of the flesh, Avram

    Rhetoric scholar Krista Ratcliffe has done a good bit of work on the notions of “eavesdropping” and of what she calls “Rhetorical Listening.” But a number of feminist translation scholars and practitioners approach their translated texts as outsiders and find the position of the translator to be hugely important. I hate to name drop, but if you’re serious about looking into these, there’s Anne Carson, Sherry Simon, Luise Von Flotow, Lydia H. Liu, Jacqueline Jones Royster, and (anthropologist) Ruth Behar. I also hate to keep treading on older ground here, but the things that Ken Pike (and even material anthropologist Marvin Harris) did with “emics” and “etics” is, likewise, hugely important for positioning the outside observer.

    Dannii, What Rick Ritchie suggests (a sort of corpus linguist approach) is very much how Pike (and Harris) and the feminists named here tend to begin. Noting Ivers’ caution that this “really ought to be done from the Greek text, not a translation,” I’ll just go back to that translation here of Barnstone’s. It sounds, as Iver admits, both new and old. It keeps us, with respect to time at least, at a distance then. And I haven’t checked, but if Barnstone does a good job, then the connections Rick sees in Paul’s Greek phrase would be retained by Barnstone with his. We readers, in English then, would be free to do what we also can do in Paul’s Greek.

  18. iverlarsen says:


    You asked 3 questions which I’d better respond to.

    1. No, I do not find the sentence ambiguous at all.

    2. I do not consider the Greek sentence poetic.

    3. Phrase order is always somewhat significant. But I do not consider the different order found in the Byz text to be particularly significant. Whatever the text was, κατὰ σάρκα has to be connected syntactically to τὸν προπάτορα ἡμῶν (our forefather) or τὸν πατέρα ἡμῶν (our father/ancestor). To find/discover something in a fleshly manner or in a human way as opposed to a spiritual way could work in another context like Rom 8:12-13, 2 Cor 1:17 or 2 Cor 5:16, but it does not fit here.

  19. Peter Kirk says:

    Yes, I agree that “his biological offspring” sounds good, although somehow “biological” seems a bit anachronistic in a Bible translation. I would in fact tend to understand “natural children” as a euphemism for “illegitimate children” – this is also one of the legal definitions according to

    Rick, thanks for mentioning Romans 1:3, which was at the back of my mind when I argued that that kata sarka meant “natural” or “biological”.

    Kurk, the problem with your argument is that English syntax is not as flexible as Greek. I accept that there is some flexibility in poetry – but is Barnstone’s translation supposed to be poetry? I’m sorry, but I read his version of this verse, and I would be 99% certain that 99% of English speakers would do so, with “by way of the flesh” going with “discovered”. There just is no real ambiguity here. So I have to say that at this place Barnstone does not do a good job. The only way you can dispute that is by disputing my “far more probably” concerning the meaning of the Greek, but I don’t see you disputing that.

  20. Wayne Leman says:

    W.E. asked:

    What about “our ancestor, humanly speaking”?

    Reasonable suggestion, but isn’t it close to being redundant? Can there be any ancestor who isn’t human?

    Perhaps for English, in this context of discussing humans, the word “ancestor” is sufficient since it contains within it the meaning component of humanness.

    IF Paul was saying something more than just human (ancestry), then we should get at that with some other wording.

  21. Dannii Willis says:

    How about “Abraham, our blood relative”?

    It looses the directionality of relationship, but it’s not like there’s any doubt in this case.

  22. Yancy Smith says:

    Iver should note that the textual problem is not independent of the textual exegetical problem. Rather, it reflects the grammatical infelicity (ambiguity, incompleteness) of the sentence. Scribal probablilities and internal probabilities are important exegetical concerns for the translator. Translators, however, often practice in an egregious ignorance of the way the text impinges on exegesis.

    Also, I think that he has missed the linguistic ambiguity or infelicity of Paul’s statement, preferring to see this as unambiguous. If this is so, why all the scholarly debate among linguistically competent scholars?

    The opening verse in this pericope seems to me grammatically incomplete because the question “what then shall we say?” that recurs from 3:5 is not followed by “that” (as Paul’s usage would lead the reader to expect) and because the infinitive εὑρηκέναι (“has found, to have found”) followed by the accusative Ἀβραὰμ τὸν προπάτορα ἡμῶν (“Abraham our forefather”) has no proper object. In the other instances where the question τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν (“what then shall we say?”) appears in Romans (7:7; 8:31; 9:14, 30), the rhetorical question is followed either by a statement and an answer or a second rhetorical question. Although it is clear from οὖν (“therefore”) that this pericope carries forward the thought of the preceding sections of Paul’s first long argument, the several renditions of this verse remain a matter of exegetical choice.

    The problem of how to translate “according to the flesh” (does it go with “Abraham” as Iver seems to think or as an adverbial with “found” is debatable. Flexible Greek word order allows for both translations. Paul’s use of “according to the flesh” usually carries a negative connotation. If that is true in this case, it would be better to construe this prepositional phrase with the verb “to have found.”

    In terms of linguistic habits, Paul’s use here corresponds to his normal habit with κατὰ σάρκα (“according to flesh”). He uses it as an adverbial rather than an adjectival thirteen out of sixteen times in his authentic letters. The phrase provides a vital link to the discussion that follows, which zeros in on whether Abraham performed works of the law prior to being set right by God.

  23. Yancy Smith says:

    Oops, I should have said, “the textual problem is not independent of the exegetical problem.”
    [Yancy, I have edited your comment above to reflect your “oops”. I think that might make it nicer for other readers. — Mike Sangrey]

  24. Peter Kirk says:

    Presumably the distinction being made is between kata sarka and kata pneuma, as explicitly (perhaps in rather different senses – but perhaps not) in 1:3-4 and 8:4,5 (see also 2:28,29 en sarki vs. en pneumati). As Gentile Christians we might say that Abraham is our forefather spiritually (kata pneuma) but not naturally/biologically (kata sarks). But what is the most natural language in which to express that distinction? I don’t think “humanly speaking” would work here, any more than “by way of the flesh”.

  25. Peter Kirk says:

    Yancy, on the kind of analysis which Iver is making εὑρηκέναι does have a proper object, the τί at the beginning of the clause. The situation is exactly parallel to the English sentence “What shall we say that Abraham found?”, in which the object of “found” is “What”. and the object of “say” is the discontinuous clause “What … that Abraham found”. Now quite often in Greek, as occasionally in English, such sentences can be re-expressed with an infinitive. In English this doesn’t work with “say”, but it does with some other verbs like “report. Thus “What shall we report Abraham to have found?” would be grammatical English although not elegant. And that is the precise analogy to how Iver and others have parsed this verse.

  26. Yancy Smith says:

    Of course your analysis confirms my use of “proper” as meaning “belonging to itself,” since τί “properly” belongs with ἐροῦμεν. So, on your analysis, τί does double duty, which is precisely my point. Sparing words leads to ambiguity.

  27. Paul Franklyn says:

    Yes, Richard Hayes of Duke was the lead translator of Romans for CEB. Marion Soards of Louisville Presbyterian was the lead translator of Galatians. He will release an important commentary on Galatians in the next couple of months. But at least six more points of view were brought to bear on these books, especially that of the Greek linguist, Cynthia Westfall. As you know, all translation is interpretation, and every translation by a complex team involves millions of interpretive choices. I mention that because bias is always present in every interpretation–especially mine and yours. In the CEB on average approximately 25 to 50% of a lead translator’s draft was present in the final draft after the other translators and editors were done.

    The comment about “professional Bible translators” vs. “theologians” also deserves more accuracy. I see in another comment for this thread that you value both skills. Others on the blog have made this comment in various posts about other translations. I can’t let it pass today, since I got more sleep last night. As a result this blog sometimes has an “us against them” tone that is disappointing. An accurate and accessible translation requires persons who are trained Hebrew and Greek linguists AND trained biblical exegetes to do the interpretive work that is required. It is not an either/or type of qualification. THE CEB was intentional about hiring skilled translators who also had a published track record with exegesis on the assigned book.
    Doug Moo (I edited some of his first work 26 years ago at Nelson) would be a great translator for many biblical books. He has unfortunately been occupied at the proprietary level with the NIV/TNIV compilation. We are facebook friends!
    Finally, the generalization about theological identities or labels for translators (which was not understood as a compliment) on the CEB needs a response. The diversity of translation is based on the premise that it helps manage bias. For example, some Pentecostals are indeed involved. The project director is proudly raised and trained in the Assemblies of God and got a marvelous unsolicited letter about the CEB this week from the general superintedant of the AG. One of the nine editors (emerson Powery, who was lead translator on Mark) is a Pentecostal who moved this year from Church of God School of Theology to become chair of department at Messiah College.
    Perhaps the tribal and theological labels don’t divide like they once did divide us. For that dialogue we can pray.

  28. Peter Kirk says:

    No, Yancy, on my analysis τί does not do double duty. It is the object of εὑρηκέναι but NOT the object of ἐροῦμεν. It is common, in Greek as well as in English, for interrogative pronouns to be fronted even out of subordinate clauses. You seem to assert that “τί “properly” belongs with ἐροῦμεν” but do you have any evidence to back up this assertion?

  29. jkgayle says:

    “τί “properly” belongs with ἐροῦμεν”

    As Rick suggests (with “κατὰ σάρκα” in Rom 1:3), there’s a pattern here for the other frozen phrase:

    Rom 3:5, Rom 4:1, Rom 6:1, Rom 7:7, Rom 8:31, Rom 9:14, Rom 9:30

    Compare Paul’s repetitive appeals with the famous one of Demosthenes (in “On the Chersonese”):

    ἂν ταῦτα λέγωσι, τί ἐροῦμεν ἢ τί φήσομεν, Ἀθηναῖοι

  30. iverlarsen says:


    It might be too long and technical to counter your arguments thoroughly, so I’ll try to be brief.

    Textual criticism is notoriously subjective, but I agree with Metzger that the few extant mss (starting with B) that lack the verb have suffered from an accidental mistake. The rare προπάτωρ (forefather) was probably replaced by the common πατήρ (father/ancestor). The movement of “our father Abraham” to come before the verb was probably caused by some copyists wanting to put more emphasis on Abraham as the main topic. None of these are exegetically significant, nor do they alter the sense of the whole sentence.

    Much theological debate is caused by people not being trained in logical thinking. Hays’ title “Have We Found Abraham to Be Our Forefather
    according to the Flesh?” is meaningless. Paul would never say that. Lenski had to add many words to put some sense into it, e.g. adding “only” before “according”. Some debates are caused by people ignoring context and/or adding their own words or presuppositions. It is common among commentators to impute ambiguity where there is none. The simplest meaning is usually the correct meaning.

    It is correct that Paul uses τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν in other places, but for all of them there is no infinitive following. They are all complete sentences in their own right. It is impossible to see these three words as a complete sentence here because it would leave the infinitive hanging. And to add another ἐροῦμεν just because one has truncated the sentence is unnecessary and misleading. Paul does not write the kind of poor Greek that Hays and others impute to him. The verb “to say” is often followed by an accusative with infinitive. The sentence as it stands with the punctuation of both NA and the Byz. is perfectly good Greek.

    It is not the case that “according to flesh” carries a negative connotation here. There is no evidence for that, and the context is clearly against it. It is not a question of word order, but of collocations.

    One should not make pseudo-statistical arguments and say that since Paul uses kata sarka in other contexts, he should have intended the same sense here. Context is king. Some contexts are similar (like Rom 1:3), others are not similar (like Rom 8:4).

  31. Peter Kirk says:

    Yancy, to me this is by no means obvious. Evidence, please! Well, Kurk has offered some, thank you. But it is wrong to assume that a repeated phrase should always be parsed in the same way. In English, if a writer in one place says “What shall we say?” and in another “What shall we say that Abraham found?”, does that imply that “What” has the same grammatical function in both cases? I would have thought it obvious, at least to someone with an elementary knowledge of English grammar, that it does not.

  32. jkgayle says:

    Evidence, please! Well, Kurk has offered some, thank you.

    Your analogy with the English examples is compelling: “‘What’ has [not] the same grammatical function in both cases. Likewise, Iver’s point about Paul’s Greek is strong: there are instances of “τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν in other places, but for all of them there is no infinitive following.” Indeed, Rom 4:1 may be exceptional with respect to “τί” (perhaps because of the infinite after).

    I have to confess that my reading of Paul’s phrase here doesn’t take into account what you and Iver point out. My reading is influenced by the strong repetitions of the phrase in Demosthenes and in Plato’s Crito, Phaedo, Theaetetus, and The Republic. It’s also used by the LXX translators in 1 Esdra 8:79. In these instances, isn’t it always a rhetorical question? Socrates classically uses it in his dialectic (as follows, Crito [50b-c] with my literal translating):


    τί ἐροῦμεν, ὦ Κρίτων
    πρὸς ταῦτα καὶ ἄλλα τοιαῦτα;
    πολλὰ γὰρ ἄν τις ἔχοι,
    ἄλλως τε καὶ ῥήτωρ,
    εἰπεῖν ὑπὲρ τούτου τοῦ νόμου ἀπολλυμένου
    ὃς τὰς δίκας τὰς δικασθείσας
    προστάττει κυρίας εἶναι.

    ἢ ἐροῦμεν
    πρὸς αὐτοὺς ὅτι
    “Ἠδίκει γὰρ ἡμᾶς ἡ πόλις καὶ
    οὐκ ὀρθῶς τὴν δίκην ἔκρινεν;”

    ταῦτα ἢ
    τί ἐροῦμεν


    Ταῦτα νὴ Δία, ὦ Σώκρατες.


    What’re we to say, O Crito?!
    To this and otherwise to that
    There’s much, in fact, one should have,
    (Especially if also a rhetor),
    To say about that law’s destruction,
    Which the justifying justice
    Orders in order to be the rule.

    What’re we to say?!
    To them it’s that
    “Justice, in fact, for us by the City State
    is also not correct Justice judged.”

    This, or
    What’re we to say?!


    This, Yes Zeus, O Socrates

    But I’m aware, translating, that there’s ambiguity in the first two instances of ἢ ἐροῦμεν. The πρὸς that follows both can be read as a continuation of a question, a longer flowing question.

    (Does Plato intend that ambiguity? What’re we to say? What’re we to say to the evidences?)

  33. Peter Kirk says:

    Kurk, thanks for the support, if that is what it is. But I am surprised at your translation of the second stanza of Socrates’ speech, which has no τί but does have ἢ. Shouldn’t this be more like “Or are we to say // To them that //…”, with the ὅτι clause as the object of ἐροῦμεν?

  34. jkgayle says:

    Yes, Peter. You’re exactly right about what I missed there! It really should be something like “Or are we to say.” And this difference (i.e., τί ἐροῦμεν, ὦ Κρίτων / πρὸς … VS. ἢ ἐροῦμεν /
    πρὸς … VS. ἢ / τί ἐροῦμεν) makes us etic outsiders wonder whether the differences are significant emically. You, and Iver, have made me reconsider Rom 4:1 as perhaps a significant variant from Paul’s general pattern with the phrase. But I agree with Yancey, then, that there’s ambiguity here. We outsiders see the differences (i.e., with the infinite perhaps stretching the phrase into a meaningfully different one, for insider native readers of this Greek); but how can we ever tell if the native readers could have it both ways, or favor one reading over the other?

  35. jkgayle says:

    Ugh. Oops, another mistake: “with the infinitive verbal perhaps stretching the phrase into a meaningfully different one, for insider native readers of this Greek”

  36. Yancy Smith says:

    Of course my point in posting is only that this text is legitimately ambiguous and that one should, accordingly, be kind to those who disagree with whatever our exegetical preferences may be in reading the text. In translation we find occasion to be kind to other readings at times by footnoting the minority opinion, which is a tacit admission that our own reading is not as sure as some might think it is.
    As to the emic reading, Origen, Chrysostom, Photius and the Greek fathers are in agreement with Iver “to have discovered Abraham our [x]father according to the flesh.” But Origen admits it is problematic, an exegetical “tight place” in terms of understanding Paul’s argument, since in this very text Paul argues that Abraham is the father of everyone who believes in Christ, no matter the nation they are from. For that reason he is gleeful about resorting to an allegorical interpretation to escape the difficulty. Origen and the rest of the fathers are in agreement about the significance of the text, focussed on verse 2. Viz., that Abraham had something to boast about (but not before God) is proof he was justified by faith. Because, those who are justified by faith have an advantage before God over those who attempt to be justified by works. The first are, in fact, justified; the others, well … too bad. It is a simple argument: Gentiles who believe in Christ are better off than Jews who don’t. And Abraham’s case proves it. It can’t help but think the argument less subtle than Paul’s.

    As to the phrase Τί … ἐροῦμεν εὑρηκέναι it is only found here in all of Greek literature.
    And I have not been able to find a single instance outside this one of τί … ἐροῦμεν followed by an infinitive.
    Even an infinitive following ἐροῦμεν (not in question) is rare. I haven’t had time to search all forms of the verb with infinitives.
    Please help if you can find one.
    The fact that the text reads in several different ways suggests to me that Paul’s phraseology might, just might be a bit club footed, a bit infelicitous.
    The overwhelming pattern of usage is Τί … ἐροῦμεν by itself or followed by prepositional phrases. Photius himself suggests that the phrase “κατὰ σάρκα” in Roman 4:1 is a case of hyperbaton (ἐν ὑπερβατῷ κεῖται). But the hyperbaton, he suggests is that “according to the flesh,” even though it seems to refer to “physical appearance” refers to “origin.” He also uses the smoother Byzantine ordering: τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν Ἀβραὰμ εὑρηκέναι τὸν κατὰ σάρκα ἡμῶν πατέρα.
    I am not vehemently opposed to Iver’s reading, just wondering if his case is overstated. I see how he can read the text as he does, but his reading does not inspire the kind of confidence that sweeps away all the other readings for some who are reading Iver, such as Hays’ et al. A more modest approach might be more convincing.

  37. WoundedEgo says:

    Okay, I was thinking that Paul’s usage of SARX here was atypical of Paul thinking perhaps that he was using a common expression of the day for “biological ancestor.” But, as I have pointed out before, Paul’s writings are **full** of the breath/body dichotomy (mistranslated “spirit/sinful nature” by most translators). Obviously he *is* referring to “biological ancestor” but perhaps his word choice is “flavored” in the direction of Romans 7, where he says that “[Mr.] Sin is an evil alien who lives in our members.” To Paul, SARX is a dirty word, and for him to use it to qualify one’s heritage from Abraham might be to suggest that it is a mixed blessing. God took great pains to be sure that Jesus was not Abraham’s physical descendant, no?

  38. iverlarsen says:

    Thanks, Yancy, for the added background from the church fathers.

    I accept your point in the first and last paragraph. I realize that it is not very acceptable in American culture and theological debates to express oneself strongly. I sometimes get carried away and speak like Paul or Jesus would probably have done, not being sensitive to your culture.

    My big concern is that recent translations like God’s Word and CEB have adopted a reading that I am 99% sure is wrong. This might spread to other versions and even to translations in other languages. There is no footnote in GW giving the majority reading. I don’t have a printed version of CEB, but the Internet look-up has no footnote. I am especially concerned that N.T. Wright has popularized several such misunderstandings with regard to the important book of Romans. I get upset when I read N.T. Wright who wrote in a book aimed at people who may not be able to check it for themselves: “The following translation works extremely well with the Greek: ‘What then shall we say? Have we found Abraham to be our forefather according to the flesh?'”
    Such a statement is simply not true. This translation seriously misrepresents the Greek text and betrays what Paul actually wrote.

    For infinitives after “say” you might look at Matt 16:12, Mark 5:43, Luk 19:15. I am sure there would be many more if you look beyond the limited text of the NT. Peter pointed out that infinitives are not used after “say” in English, and that is one reason why English versions do not use the word “say” here to translate the Greek εἶπον. “Tell” and other words of saying can be followed by an infinitive in English.

  39. jkgayle says:

    So (as Yancy points out), Paul’s Greek at this point “just might be a bit club footed, a bit infelicitous.” And at least two English translations “have adopted a reading that [Iver is] 99% sure is wrong.”

    Theophrastus started the questions by asking, “what is the accurate ‘first-order of meaning’ translation of Romans 4:1 (which is not even in grammatical Greek!) I know what the translations say it is — but do you feel that this verse is unambiguous (in the grammatical — not theological — sense)? Do the translations capture all of the senses of the Greek?”

    If we can ignore the theological import of and the varying Christian claims about this particular text, and if we all here can agree to sift out certain interpretations (some just don’t work!), then what?

    Can’t we agree that there is (or at least might be) ambiguity in the Greek?

  40. WoundedEgo says:

    Jewish soteriology is based on physical descent from Abraham:

    Mt 3:9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

    John 8:39 They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.

    There is the notion that Abraham is at the gates of the kingdom of God to welcome every Jew into the kingdom:

    Luke 16:
    22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;

    This story is intended to dismiss that notion:

    23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
    24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.

    Note that Abraham refers to the rich mand as his son, but Lazarus does not welcome him into the kingdom:

    25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

    That seems to be Paul’s aim in Romans 4… to say that imitating Abe’s faith makes you a son and heir, not just being physically descended.

    What of the idea of the infinitive of EURISKH carrying the idea of “received”? What “reception” did he find?

  41. Paul Franklyn says:

    NT Wright wrote the commentary on Romans for the New Interpreter’s Bible. Here is his response, with citations below to Hays, at length (reproduced here by permission of Abingdon Press):
    4:1. “What then shall we say? Have we found Abraham to be our forefather according to the flesh?” This is not, of course, what any of the commentaries or translations say, but it has a strong claim to represent Paul’s mind.142 Three reasons stand out. First, it introduces the chapter Paul is writing, as opposed to the one that many think he should have written; in other words, a chapter about the scope and nature of Abraham’s family, rather than a chapter about “justification by faith” as a doctrine about how people become Christians. This, as we shall see, results in the straightforward solution of at least one major exegetical problem. Second, it recognizes that when Paul introduces an argument with ti”v ou\n ejrou’men ti oun eroumen, “what then shall we say?” this phrase is frequently complete in itself, requiring a question mark at once. (There is, of course, no punctuation in the earliest mss.)
    Obvious examples are 6:1; 7:7; see also tiv ou\n (ti oun) in 3:9. Third, it avoids at a stroke the awkwardness of sense, and hence of translation, in the usual readings (of which the NRSV and the NIV are typical) in which Abraham is the subject of euJrhke”nai heure kenai, “to have found,” rather than the object as in the reading proposed; since it is not clear what “to have found” could possibly mean in this context, the sense of the verb has to be stretched as in the NRSV (“was gained by”) and NIV (“discovered”), neither of which lead in to what Paul is actually going to say.143 The proposal, then, is that Paul raises in v. 1 a possible conclusion that could be drawn from what has been said so far, in order to argue against it.
    At this point, however, I diverge from the meaning Hays gives to his own proposed reading. He suggests that Paul wants to say “Have we Jews normally considered Abraham to be our forefather only according to the flesh?” I suggest, rather, that the whole of Romans 4 hinges on the question, whether 3:21-31 means that we Christians, Jews and Gentiles alike, now find that we are to be members of the fleshly family of Abraham (note how the word “find” suddenly makes perfect sense).144 In other words (Paul is proposing this as a hypothetical question), if in Christ God has been true to the covenant with Abraham, might that not mean, as the Galatians had been led to believe, that members of the Christ-family in fact belong to Abraham’s fleshly family? When we read Romans 4 as the answer to this question, it gains in coherence and force.145
    4:2. Verses 2-8 are regularly appealed to by those who still argue that Paul was after all attacking a theology of self-help legalism, in which “righteousness” is earned by moral effort. By themselves these verses might indeed bear that sense. But within the present argument they are much better understood as a further metaphorical expansion, rather than the inner substance, of Paul’s point.
    Paul’s main argument is that “works” (i.e., of Torah) were not the reason for Abraham’s justification; and the idea of “working” is then expanded metaphorically in vv. 4-5 into the idea of doing a job for which one earns wages. The critical connection is established with “for” at the start of v. 2 (“in fact” in the NIV is a loose way of making the same point) and depends on the link between “works of Torah” and “Jews only” that Paul had established in the immediately preceding verses. It is ethnic Jews who possess Torah; so if Abraham were the forefather of an ethnic family only, this family would be defined by Torah, and hence defined visibly by Torah’s “works.” Thus (v. 2a) if Abraham was reckoned to be in covenant with God (i.e., was justified) on the basis of works of Torah, he and his family would be able to “boast,” in the way that Paul described in 2:17-20 and then firmly excluded in 3:27-30. Verse 2a, in other words, explains the question of v. 1, as follows: If Abraham’s covenant membership was indeed defined in terms of “works of Torah” (v. 2a), then he and his family would be able to sustain an ethnic boast, and so (v. 1) any Gentiles wishing to belong to this family would then have to consider themselves ethnic Jews–would, in other words, need to become proselytes, with the males among them becoming circumcised.
    Paul’s response, to be filled out as usual in what follows, is brusque: “but not before (lit., “toward”) God,” i.e., “not as far as God is concerned.” Verse 2b is thus Paul’s initial reaction to the suggestion, rather than part of the “if . . . then” clause of the earlier part of the verse.146 This now forces Paul into saying what is true “before God,” to cut the ground from under any potential ethnic boast, and to establish once and for all the non-ethnic nature of Abraham’s true family, on the basis of the original covenant itself.

    142. See esp. Richard B. Hays, “ ‘Have We Found Abraham to Be Our Forefather According to the Flesh?’ A Reconsideration of Rom 4:1,” NovT 27 (1985) 76-98. See also Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989) 54-55. The suggestion goes back at least to J. A. Bain, “Romans iv. 1,” Expository Times 5 (1893—94) 430. It is not clear that subsequent commentators (e.g. Byrne, Fitzmyer, Moo, Bryan) have recognized the force or point of Hays’s proposal; the same is true of S. K. Stowers, A Rereading of Romans: Justice, Jews, and Gentiles (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994) 234, 242, who unlike them claims to follow it.
    143. Abraam is indeclinable in Greek, and hence its grammatical role in the sentence is unclear until defined from elsewhere.
    144. R. B. Hays, “Adam, Israel, Christ,” in Pauline Theology Volume III: Romans, ed. D. M. Hay and E. E. Johnson (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995) 81, has graciously accepted my amendment of his proposal.

  42. Mike Sangrey says:

    Here are the occurrences in the NT corpus of λέγω followed by an infinitive:


    τότε συνῆκαν ὅτι οὐκ εἶπεν προσέχειν ἀπὸ τῆς ζύμης τῶν ἄρτων ἀλλὰ ἀπὸ τῆς διδαχῆς τῶν Φαρισαίων καὶ Σαδδουκαίων

    Then they understood that he didn’t say to watch out for the yeast in bread, but to watch out for the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (GW)

    Then understood they that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (ASV)


    λέγει αὐτοῖς ὑμεῖς δὲ τίνα με λέγετε εἶναι

    He asked them, “But who do you say I am?” (GW)

    He saith unto them, But who say ye that I am? (ASV)


    καὶ διεστείλατο αὐτοῖς πολλὰ ἵνα μηδεὶς γνοῖ τοῦτο καὶ εἶπεν δοθῆναι αὐτῇ φαγεῖν

    Jesus ordered them not to let anyone know about this. He also told them to give the little girl something to eat. (GW)

    And he charged them much that no man should know this: and he commanded that something should be given her to eat. (ASV)


    καὶ αὐτὸς ἐπηρώτα αὐτούς ὑμεῖς δὲ τίνα με λέγετε εἶναι ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Πέτρος λέγει αὐτῷ σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστός

    He asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah!” (GW)

    And he asked them, But who say ye that I am? Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ. (ASV)


    εἶπεν δὲ αὐτοῖς ὑμεῖς δὲ τίνα με λέγετε εἶναι Πέτρος δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν τὸν Χριστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ

    He asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, whom God has sent.” (GW)

    And he said unto them, But who say ye that I am? And Peter answering said, The Christ of God. (ASV)


    καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ ἐπανελθεῖν αὐτὸν λαβόντα τὴν βασιλείαν καὶ εἶπεν φωνηθῆναι αὐτῷ τοὺς δούλους τούτους οἷς δεδώκει τὸ ἀργύριον ἵνα γνοῖ τί διεπραγματεύσαντο

    “After he was appointed king, he came back. Then he said, ‘Call those servants to whom I gave money. I want to know how much each one has made by investing.’ (GW)

    And it came to pass, when he was come back again, having received the kingdom, that he commanded these servants, unto whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by trading. (ASV)


    ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ Πέτρος καὶ οἱ ἀπόστολοι εἶπαν πειθαρχεῖν δεῖ θεῷ μᾶλλον ἢ ἀνθρώποις

    Peter and the other apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than people. (GW)

    But Peter and the apostles answered and said, We must obey God rather than men. (ASV)


    τότε ὁ Παῦλος πρὸς αὐτὸν εἶπεν τύπτειν σε μέλλει ὁ θεός τοῖχε κεκονιαμένε καὶ σὺ κάθῃ κρίνων με κατὰ τὸν νόμον καὶ παρανομῶν κελεύεις με τύπτεσθαι

    Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you hypocrite! You sit there and judge me by Moses’ Teachings and yet you break those teachings by ordering these men to strike me!” (GW)

    Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: and sittest thou to judge me according to the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law? (ASV)


    τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν εὑρηκέναι Ἀβραὰμ τὸν προπάτορα ἡμῶν κατὰ σάρκα

    What can we say that we have discovered about our ancestor Abraham? (GW)

    What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, hath found according to the flesh? (ASV)

    λέγω as a Participle:


    πρὸ γὰρ τούτων τῶν ἡμερῶν ἀνέστη Θευδᾶς λέγων εἶναί τινα ἑαυτόν ᾧ προσεκλίθη ἀνδρῶν ἀριθμὸς ὡς τετρακοσίων ὃς ἀνῃρέθη καὶ πάντες ὅσοι ἐπείθοντο αὐτῷ διελύθησαν καὶ ἐγένοντο εἰς οὐδέν

    Some time ago Theudas appeared. He claimed that he was important, and about four hundred men joined him. He was killed, and all his followers were scattered. The whole movement was a failure. (GW)

    For before these days rose up Theudas, giving himself out to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were dispersed, and came to nought. (ASV)


    ἀνὴρ δέ τις ὀνόματι Σίμων προϋπῆρχεν ἐν τῇ πόλει μαγεύων καὶ ἐξιστάνων τὸ ἔθνος τῆς Σαμαρείας λέγων εἶναί τινα ἑαυτὸν μέγαν

    A man named Simon lived in that city. He amazed the people of Samaria with his practice of magic. He claimed that he was great. (GW)

    But there was a certain man, Simon by name, who beforetime in the city used sorcery, and amazed the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: (ASV)


    οὓς ὑποδέδεκται Ἰάσων καὶ οὗτοι πάντες ἀπέναντι τῶν δογμάτων Καίσαρος πράσσουσι βασιλέα ἕτερον λέγοντες εἶναι Ἰησοῦν

    and Jason has welcomed them as his guests. All of them oppose the emperor’s decrees by saying that there is another king, whose name is Jesus.” (GW)

    whom Jason hath received: and these all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus. (ASV)

  43. Peter Kirk says:

    Mike, that is an interesting list. Some are not really relevant because the infinitive is one of purpose, or is governed by some other word like δεῖ or μέλλει. But it seems quite common for εἶναι to follow λέγω, and the sense here is not telling someone to be but saying who they are. It is this sense which would be relevant to Romans 4:1, which appears to be grammatical on this basis.

    And this is where I take issue with N.T. Wright. The verse as we have it is correct grammatical Greek, but Wright wants to re-parse it in a way which is ungrammatical. Why? Because, he writes, “this phrase [τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν] is frequently complete in itself, requiring a question mark at once” – not “always” but “frequently”. And because the corrected sense fits better with the chapter which Wright thinks Paul should have written, as opposed to “the one that many think he should have written”.

    Yes, there are some interpretive and theological difficulties with fitting this verse as traditionally understood into its context. But that is no excuse for emending it to say something which fits in better with one’s own interpretation of the context.

  44. Mike Sangrey says:

    Regarding NT Wright’s comment of First, it introduces the chapter Paul is writing,…, a chapter about the scope and nature of Abraham’s family, :

    Flavious Josephus uses προπάτωρ (“forefather”) in exactly this sense in Antiquities of the Jews in Book IV, Ch 2, section 4.

    [26] καὶ νῦν Ἀαρῶνι τὴν ἱερωσύνην οὐκ ἐπειδὴ πλούτῳ προεῖχε, σὺ γὰρ καὶ ἀμφοτέρους ἡμᾶς μεγέθει χρημάτων ὑπερβάλλεις, οὐ μὴν οὐδ᾽ εὐγενείᾳ, κοινὸν γὰρ ἡμῖν τοῦτο ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν αὐτὸν δοὺς προπάτορα, οὐδὲ διὰ φιλαδελφίαν ὃ δικαίως ἂν ἕτερος εἶχε τοῦτο φέρων ἔδωκα τἀδελφῷ:

    …nor indeed because he was of an eminent family, for God, by giving us the same common ancestor, has made our families equal…[translation somewhat abbreviated]

    Moses argument, as retold by Josephus, was that he and Corah were equal because of their ethnic relationship established by a single common ancestor. This not only speaks to the use of προπάτωρ, but also to the “mindset” of the Jews at the time of Josephus writing.

    I’d like to also add that “not as far as God is concerned” is a beautiful translation of ἀλλ’ οὐ πρὸς θεόν.

  45. WoundedEgo says:

    I’m warming up to the idea of:

    “What shall we say in light of this? that Abraham is our special forefather down through flesh?”

    This presumes the variant reading of “say” rather “found.”

    Notes, from

    Romans 4:1:
    TEXT: “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?”
    EVIDENCE: S*,c {Sa} A C* {C3 D G Psi} 81 {lat vg} syr(pal) cop
    RANK: B

    NOTES: “What then shall we say about Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?”
    EVIDENCE: B 1739 (“father”)

    NOTES: “What then shall we say that Abraham, our father, has found according to the flesh?”
    EVIDENCE: K P 33 104 614 630 1241 1881 2495 Byz Lect syr(p,h)

    COMMENTS: The evidence for the text that is in braces reads “father” instead of “forefather.” The word for “has found” was perhaps accidently omitted because the word before it begins with the same letter. Although it is possible that its omission from two manuscripts and that fact that it is found in two different places in the others means that it was not original, it is not the sort of word that a copyist was likely to add. The rare word “forefather” (found only here in the New Testament) was changed to the much more common word “father” (used of Abraham in Luke 16:24, 30; John 8:53; Acts 7:2; and Romans 4:12). The second reading in the notes can be translated like the text reading.

    But, the sands of history have been subjected to many winds, so who can say with any assurance?

  46. Mike Whitney says:

    Can the question of 4:1 be an invitation of Paul to think through the discussion of chapter 3 based upon a hypothetical question? The hypothetical sense is obtained by the idea “what then shall we say…” is asking for an analysis or summary of the preceding section. Then also if Paul was inviting the audience to join in with him in reasoning out the ideas of chapter 3, this is proposed in a hypothetical sense “what shall we say Abraham has found?” In such wording, the question doesn’t seek Abraham’s actual discovery but just what “we” might speculate that Abraham could have found.

    We could add the idea that Abraham had found something according to fleshly means. The short question is “What benefit did Abraham find according to fleshly means?” which is hypothetical in and of itself. (For we do not know, from scripture, any answer to this question.) The longer question is “What [benefit] then shall we say that Abraham has found according to fleshly means?” This question would be purely hypothetical on three levels: 1) the involvement of the audience’s opinion “What shall we say?” 2) the question of what Abraham could have found and 3) the framing of the question in the manner of “according to fleshly means”

    This third idea, the framing of the question, possibly could be used with dual meaning. We should expect that the preceding or subsequent discussion would clarify the meaning.

    Anyhow, this third idea, concerning the framing of the question, would make the answer a bit more obvious. Paul has asked a rhetorical question to which the answer is “nothing.” There indeed is no benefit gained by fleshly means. But we must also ask whether the discussion of fleshly means is presented at all in chapter 3. The idea may be affirmed by the sense there was boasting based on fleshly means, namely the works of the law. The works of the law would include circumcision (if we want to develop the analogy further). Another element of the flesh that is found in Rom 3:27 in the rebuke of boasting “Where then is boasting?”

    I should note that the hypothetical nature of the question would still stand even if “according to the flesh” were speaking merely of descent from Abraham. Yet another issue suggests that the discussion of Abraham’s benefit of the flesh (i.e. my proposal) is supported by the contrasting phrase of verse 3 “What does scripture say?” So Paul may be showing a contrast of benefits between benefits found/obtained through the flesh and benefits described in scripture.

  47. Theophrastus says:

    Well, I hope that this example and subsequent discussion demonstrates that topics of “accuracy” in translation are anything but straightforward.

    If anyone is interested in reading Hays’s discussion on the topic, I found a copy of his paper (which directly counters some of the arguments made above) here.

    Of all the translations presented, I by far prefer Barnstone’s. His translation, alone of all the translations discussed, suggests something of the difficulty and unnaturalness of this verse in Greek. In that sense, it is a literary translation — trying to capture the experience of a Koine reader in English.

    I regret that recent translations of this verse (at least the ones I have seen) do not include footnotes indicating that multiple interpretations are possible. I saw a quote the other from the novelist Nick Hornby to the effect that scholars are bullies — always telling other people how to read a text. I think that this is especially true in this case: by using English (or another target language) to hide the multiple nuances and possibilities in this verse, a scholar bullies people into a reading that she prefers, closing the text instead of opening it up.

    Finally, in the predecessor comment thread that lead directly to this one, Rich suggested that the NT was “mostly NOT literature anyway” — analogizing it “contracts, laws, diplomacy”. While there is certainly a strong element of truth in what Rich says, I conclude the opposite: that the NT contains large elements of literature (although it is, in my opinion, less literary than the most literary section of the Hebrew Bible). When one reads a work such as the Book of Mark, one can see that the author not only cared about the substance of the Book but also the way in which he expressed himself.

  48. Ounbbl says:

    Would you mind giving me any straightening I need on my (paraphrased) understanding of this verse?

    “So then, let’s turn to Abraham for an illumination: what can be seen from the life of him?
    He is the very father of us when we follow a human norm!”

  49. David Ker says:

    Probably a third of Paul’s uses of SARKS and derivatives occur in this single book. The NET Bible translates all 28 as “flesh” with the exception 9:3, 9:5, 11:14, 15:27. AT Robertson at 7:5 has this wonderful understatement, Paul “uses σαρξ in a good many senses.” How we translate it here depends on how alien we want our translation to sound.

    I’m still waiting for a Eureka Moment on εὑρηκέναι. WH omits it.

  50. Mike Whitney says:

    As a user of translated bibles, I would think any alternate word for ‘flesh’ would just obscure the meaning and remove reasonable ambiguity in the passage, ambiguity as to the application of ‘according to the flesh’ as referring to Abraham or to what Abraham might find.
    One thing is missing the object which Abraham has found. Does it go beyond the task of translation to fill in the missing object with a word such as ‘benefit’ or ‘advantage’ or ‘boast’ (thoughts that may be found in 3:9 or 3:27, for example)?

    The wording may then be:
    What [benefit/advantage/boast] then (with respect to the preceding conversation regarding justification and boasting) shall we speculate that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?

    This wording of course has replaced the word ‘say’ with ‘speculate’ which is interpretive by nature yet at the same time may clarify the speculative nature of the whole question. The question of course is speculative in making an assumption about what Abraham has found regarding justification and boasting since we don’t know Abraham’s theological interpretation of any issues.

    I’m trying to figure out the theological aspects of the verse and this is what I’m finding out about the wording thus far. If there has been wording too much different from the NASV or ASV, there would be difficulty in obtaining the results I have gotten.

  51. Mike Sangrey says:

    From a linguistic viewpoint, I find the meaning of the phrase κατὰ σάρκα (“according to flesh”) intriguing. Obviously, it’s enormously difficult to analyze that phrase without the theologians of one’s mind making a near continuous stream of comments (usually objections).

    The frequent use in Romans 8 needs considered, of course. But, the use there seems so very different than the one in Romans 1:3 with its description of who Jesus Christ is. And the one in 1:3 seems to me to synch quite well with the use in Rom. 4:1.

    I balk at the apparent polysemic nature since the phrase appears to me to be used by Paul as a very important technical term. That argues against polysemy. If it is a technical term, then the uses should coalesce into a single meaning. But, I hear the cacophonous chorus of theologians again.

    There’s also an intriguing use in Col. 3:22.

    οἱ δοῦλοι ὑπακούετε κατὰ πάντα τοῖς κατὰ σάρκα κυρίοις…
    Servants, obey in all things them that are your masters according to the flesh… (ASV)

    So, servants are to make a judgement call on whether or not to obey masters who are not according to the flesh? When does not according to flesh happen?

    Things that make you go, “Hmmmmmm.”

  52. WoundedEgo says:

    Well, this discussion is quite a rollercoaster ride. The mention of an occurence of “find” in Gen 18:3 LXX has definitely got me going “hmmmmm!” I think that’s a key.

  53. jkgayle says:

    by using English (or another target language) to hide the multiple nuances and possibilities in this verse, a scholar bullies people into a reading that she prefers, closing the text instead of opening it up.

    Theophrastus, Barnstone not only theorizes that Bible translators through the centuries have participated in this sort of hiding of the multiplicities but he has also been willing to attempt a fresh reading. Some of his goals seem overlapping with BBB goals (as I understand them): “a book that avoids Biblespeak [or ‘biblish’ as described here at BBB], the half-lovely archaized speech that most translations fall into after the King James Version, or really infelicitous lowbrow talk that floats like lead when the scripture is gold.” Although some might read “The Restored New Testament” as a push back against one-way-only interpretive bullying (which it certainly is), B’s is “a restoration of the probable names of persons and places.” He really is after opening things up: “I hope for a general reader, lowbrow, highbrow, even nobrow.”

    The problem Iver is addressing here is our readerly problem with Paul before we ever get to a more open translation. Can we tolerate ambiguity (or uncertainties of any sort, what sort?) in the original “gold” of scripture? What if such gold is to be appreciated as much for its beauty as for its meted out standard of value (hence purity)? Can we imagine Paul’s writing with all of its textual and lexical and syntactic variables (as B seems to) as “a fascinating read, with verve and freshness”?

  54. iverlarsen says:

    Hi, Mike,

    In my view several Greek terms become technical terms in Biblical English because they are not normal English. This has happened to “flesh”. Paul uses SARKS frequently in the sense of ungodly or unspiritual, but he also uses it in the other sense which is common in John and other places, namely “human being” or “physical state”. Often I find it easier to think of the word as the opposite of “spiritual”, since that word, too, has a number of different senses in English as well as in Greek. In Col 3:22, the contrast is clear and unambiguous between an earthly/human master and the heavenly/spiritual master, Jesus. RSV and many other translations did well in changing the “masters according to the flesh” of KJV to “earthly masters”.

    Much so-called ambiguity is imaginary, caused by ignoring context and thinking that communication is restricted to individual words. We don’t communicate in isolated words, we communicate in discourse, paragraphs and sentences. You don’t get the meaning by looking at each word or phrase in isolation, add up those meanings, and voila, then you have the total meaning! To take a word out of context is like cutting a leg or an arm from a person.

  55. Dannii says:

    Mike Whitney, “flesh” is only a good translation choice if the English word has the same range of meanings as the Greek, and I very much doubt that it does, at least in today’s English. In cases like this I think using the word “flesh” would obscure the meaning more!

  56. Yancy Smith says:

    I’m with David and U-2, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” on εὑρηκέναι. Among all the uses of the set phrase τί … ἐροῦμεν I have also not been able to find a single instance outside Rom 4:1 followed by an infinitive. So Paul’s phraseology is unique and probably awkward. As Hays argues, the textual history of the verse may well be a result of the awkwardness of the phrase. Not only is it unique and probably awkward, it is also ambiguous, and the divergent responses to Iver’s post join the litany of exegetes that tacitly admit this. Hays makes a good point about the problems involved: “Even if we grant that the discussion in the following verses is concerned with Abraham’s “finding” of something, the point at issue, as Ulrich Luz points out, is not what Abraham found but how he found it.10 In view of these considera­tions, we may concur with Matthew Black’s observation: ‘No solu­tion hitherto proposed is without serious difficulties.'” His own solution is to argue that the question revolves around what Paul and his Jewish readers have any advantage over Gentiles, theme already introduced in Rom 2-3. The response is tacitly equivocal. Abraham is the father of his physical descendants, but he is especially the father of his spiritual descendants. As it turns out, Hays is not the exegetical fool he is made out to be. While the reading proposed in the above post is not as elegant in solving the difficulties of the text as the author has assumed it was. And Tom Wright does not uncritically appropriate Hays, as Iver has suggested on another on-going discussion of this post on the B-Greek lists. He suggests, rather, that Romans 4:1 is a hypothetical question concerning whether both Jews and Christians together find that they are to be members of the fleshly family of Abraham. (The implication of a “yes” answer would be that Gentiles would need to seal the deal through circumcision.) Rom 4:2ff then answers this question in the negative, showing that Gentiles are members of the family of Abraham already, by faith with no need whatsoever of circumcision or Jewish Torah observance.

  57. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>…RSV and many other translations did well in changing the “masters according to the flesh” of KJV to “earthly masters”…

    I have a different view of the nuance here. I’m thinking that he intends that it is only their bodies that are slaves as opposed to their breath. This is in keeping with Paul’s grand dichotomy between the body/flesh and the breath (which for Paul is an intelligent organ, see Genesis 2:7).

    “body masters” or “masters of your bodies.”

  58. WoundedEgo says:

    I’m not sure about the textual issues or the grammar, but I’m dazzled by the allusion to “what Abe found” in Genesis 18:3. He asks the lord [YHVH]:

    “And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant:”

    And, of course, they do not pass away but instead stay, eat and bless him with a son in his old age, implying that he has **found XARIS**.

    So the question is, what did he “find”? Did he find “approval” for his “works” or “law keeping” etc? Well, if he did, then he has something to glory about, right? (Though not while he is standing in front of the lord!)

    So we are left to understand that what he “found” was “generosity.”

    And Paul uses David’s assertion that the forgiveness of sins is a “blessing” and not one’s due.

    If I am correct, that this is the background and logic, the passage is clear, even in the KJV :

    1 ¶ What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath “found”?
    2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. [ie: “but he wouldn’t glory like that before God”]
    3 For what saith the scripture? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”
    4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace [“generosity”], but of debt [“because it is due”].
    5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
    6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
    7 Saying, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
    8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”

    This is the immediate argument, but he continues with the passage when he refers to Sarah’s conception in their old age:

    19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb:
    20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;
    21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
    22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.

    I think this gives tight cohesion to the whole chapter.

  59. Peter Kirk says:

    Theophrastus, is it wrong for a scholar to “bully” a naive reader into reading a text according to the grammar of the original language, rather than in a way which the original text cannot mean, but perhaps better fits that reader’s presuppositions? OK, N.T. Wright is not a naive reader, but that is his mistake as well as that of several other people mentioned here.

    Yes, texts can be ambiguous, but Greek has a rather precise grammar which has the effect of ruling out many ambiguities which might have been there if the precise forms had been ignored – as they seem to be ignored by Wright et al.

    Mike W, I think you were making this kind of mistake when trying to distinguish fleshly finding from spiritual. Nevertheless this is a good question to ask: what did Abraham find, or not find? That is answered in the following verses. He did not find a kauchema, something to boast about (v.2), but he did find righteousness (vv.3-6). Although the “find” word is not used again, the whole chapter is about what Abraham found, or discovered. That’s why I’m convinced that Wright’s reading here is wrong.

  60. Theophrastus says:

    Peter: I refer you to pp. 77-78 of Hays’s paper for a concise grammatical critique of the traditional approach.

    Matthew Black wrote: “No solution hitherto proposed is without significant difficulties”, and a scholar no less than Bultmann regarded the text as “hopelessly corrupt.”

  61. Mike Whitney says:

    Peter K.: I see more of a comparison between the hypothetical discovery of Abraham according to the flesh — as if there is a benefit to have a boast before God — against the true finding we now have from what “scripture say[s]” (vs 3). Note also that the boast of verse 2 would be fleshly in nature. Still my emphasis would be more upon flesh/scripture contrast with some residual acknowledgement that a flesh/spirit contrast is loosely implied. In light of this flesh/scripture contrast, is it reasonably possible that Paul was modifying “found” with the “according to the flesh” phrase yet only giving the flesh phrase less emphasis than mention of Abraham’s name?

    Also, Peter, I don’t think the passage says Abraham found anything. The idea presented is that we were asked to speculate whether Abraham found something (according to the flesh). Paul then rejects this discovery to be a benefit of works. Instead Paul presents the scriptural basis for benefits from God. Please note though that I am seeing a different emphasis of Rom 3 and 4 than the commentators have presented.

    Iver L.: You mentioned “Paul is in Rom 4:1 speaking as a Jew to other Jews who have a high regard for the patriarch.” Yet there is much discussion about the idea that Paul has been writing to a gentile audience, as presented by Stowers and Das. Stowers sees this verse as still being a dialogue with a Jewish interlocutor whereas it seems more of a rhetorical question directed to a gentile audience, in my estimation. If such is potentially true, I think the “according to the flesh” phrase should be left in the ambiguous phrasing, otherwise, with a different translation, the reader may be forced to think only as if Paul could be addressing Jews here.

  62. WoundedEgo says:

    Here is the Latin Vulgate:

    quid ergo dicemus invenisse Abraham patrem nostrum secundum carnem

    and the Douay-Rhiems:

    What shall we say then that Abraham hath found, who is our father according to the flesh?

  63. Mike Sangrey says:


    Let me present a couple of points of clarification…

    1. I was referring to the phrase κατὰ σάρκα and not the word σάρξ. I think it’s beneficial to look at the phrase as a unit because of the instances of ‘article-κατὰ-σάρξ-noun’. That construction appears to me to support viewing κατὰ σάρκα as a single lexical unit.
    2. I’m thinking (cogitating) about the use of κατὰ σάρκα as a technical term in Greek, not as a form in Biblish. In other words, I’m not suggesting we construct a modern technical term and then import it into the text. I’m interested in the Greek. (Let me add here parenthetically, that I’m now thinking less in terms of technical term and more in terms of simply specific meaning.)

    I don’t have a ready means of pulling together extra-Biblical occurrences of κατὰ σάρκα. Does anyone have that ability? Something from the 1st century would be great!

    Lastly, I’m in complete agreement with “You don’t get the meaning by looking at each word or phrase in isolation, add up those meanings, and voila, then you have the total meaning!

    To underscore my agreement: I’ve used the metaphor of “building a wall, brick by brick.” That is NOT how communication works–individual “word-bricks” built together to make a text-wall. To illustrate how communication actually works, I’ve used a metaphor of each word acting like a drop of color being dropped into a flowing stream of context. Each drop adds to and also changes the context and adds to and changes the other drops of color as one proceeds through the development of the text. Since communication within a text is so very dynamic as it is happening, word-focused discussion of the text is inherently problematic.

    This dynamic flow of context, I believe, is Pike’s wave idea. If one photographs the stream at any point in time, you have Pike’s field. The individual colors are Pike’s particles. Hi Kurk. LOL.

    In order to proceed toward the goal of accuracy, all three dimensions need to be addressed within any exegetical exercise.

  64. WoundedEgo says:



  65. Mike Sangrey says:

    If such is potentially true, I think the “according to the flesh” phrase should be left in the ambiguous phrasing, otherwise, with a different translation, the reader may be forced to think only as if Paul could be addressing Jews here.

    Mike W.

    I think you’re right in not to want a translation to force the reader to think Paul is addressing only the Jews. However, “according to the flesh,” is so non-English that it generally communicates nothing.

    I study this stuff, and from an English perspective, I have no idea what that phrase means. In Greek, however, things get a whole lot more interesting.

  66. Peter Kirk says:

    And, Mike S, if you continue to follow the dynamic flow of context, you may end up photographing Pike’s Peak, as I did recently. 😉 Different Pike, of course. And just to confuse matters, here in northern England “pike” can mean “peak”.

    Theophrastus, I refer you to Iver’s thorough demolition of Hays’ exegesis. Scholars of the Bultmann school are notorious for calling texts “corrupt” if they didn’t say what the scholars thought they ought to say.

    Mike W, I see some sense in what you are saying. I suppose your translation might be something like “What shall we say? Did our forefather Abraham find anything in a fleshly way? If he had been justified by works, he would have found something to boast about.” But that interpretation fails simply because it is not what the Greek text says. Most obviously, the grammatical object of “find” has to be the interrogative “what” (and as it is sentence initial it cannot be re-accented as the indefinite “anything”). And I don’t think that kind of rhetorical question can have an implied answer “nothing”.

    As for the audience, it would appear that in 2:17-24 Paul is primarily addressing Jews. Anyway, who is the “we” of 3:5,8,9,19,28,31, and the first occurence (“what shall we say”) in 4:1? Is this Paul, or Paul and his associates, or Paul and his fellow Jews? In 3:9 it clearly excludes Gentiles. We can probably assume that in the second occurrence in 4:1 (“our forefather”) it has the same meaning – perhaps Paul and his Jewish readers but excluding the Gentile readers. So allowing that the readers included Gentiles does not rule out the simple interpretation “our biological ancestor”.

  67. Theophrastus says:

    Peter: Thanks for the link to Iver’s essay. I understand that you feel it “demolishes” Hays’ paper; but it seems a bit strong to then jump to the conclusion that the scholarly consensus agrees with you. For example, have you shown it to Hays’ for reaction yet?

    His e-mail is and his phone number is (919) 660-3434.

  68. Mike Sangrey says:


    You finished the BGreek posting by saying: “My concern is that Hays’ theories are adopted uncritically by people who may find it difficult to evaluate them from the Greek text itself. N.T. Wright is the most famous of these.”

    NT Wright is anything but a person who might find it difficult to evaluate a theory from the Greek text itself. That’s not my assessment alone. That’s the sentiment of internationally known scholars who disagree with him as well as his proponents.

    That’s not to say therefore your rebuttal is ipso facto wrong. It’s just that this is the second reference you’ve made to Wright that seems like you got your impression from the “X for Everyone” series of commentaries. Those books bloom from his pastoral heart, for which he is also well known. And the audience for those books is ‘everyone’. His scholarly books, however, are quite hefty in depth and breadth. And show an obvious facility with the original Greek. I recall someone closer to Wright telling me he can quote and exposit significant portions of the Romans Greek text, quoting the text from memory.

  69. Mike Sangrey says:

    Here is another piece in Wright’s own words regarding Hays viewpoint:

    This is from ROMANS AND THE THEOLOGY OF PAUL . I start the quote at page 8.

    Hays suggests that the “we” refers to Jews: “Do you think that we Jews have considered Abraham our forefather only according to the flesh?” I suggest, rather, that the whole of Romans 4 hinges on the question: Does this (i.e., 3:21-31) mean that we Christians, Jews and Gentiles alike, now discover that we are to be members of the fleshly family of Abraham? It is the question, in other words, of Galatians, which explains why there are so many echoes of that letter just here. Paul imagines that some Roman Christians will want to say: if you are right, and the covenant faithfulness and promises of Israel’s god— yes, and the Torah itself—are fulfilled in Jesus, then you must be saying that Christians belong to the physical, fleshly family of Abraham. Romans 4 gains a new coherence, I think, when read as the answer to precisely this question. Verses 2-8: no, since “works of Torah” are clearly not involved as demarcating Abraham (or, for that matter, David) as god’s covenant people. Verses 9-15: no, for Abraham was declared to be in the covenant when uncircumcised; after all, Torah was not involved in the process, and could not have been, since it would nullify the promises by calling down wrath. Verses 16-22, whose thesis, the real thrust of the chapter, is stated emphatically and cryptically in v. 16: “therefore by faith, so that according to grace, so that the promise might be valid for all the family, not only ‘those of the Torah’ but also those by the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.” We have not found Abraham to be our father “according to the flesh,” but rather “according to grace”; the (“according to grace”) of 4:16 is the direct answer to the  (“according to the flesh”) of 4.1.

  70. Theophrastus says:

    I need to correct my earlier statement. I previously implied both in this thread (and in the comment that kicked off this thread in a discussion with Rich in which I mentioned Romans 4:1 as a test case) that there was no recent single-volume Bible that contained both translations. Several translations follow Hays; several follow the traditional approach, but none follow both.

    I have found a single exception to this statement. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (in the 3rd edition [2001], 3rd Augmented Edition [2007], and the 4th Edition [2010]) contains the NRSV translation and then a footnote giving Hays’ translation.

    The other prestigious single volume academic study Bibles (HarperCollins, New Interpreter’s [single-volume]) either omit the alternative translation or (Jewish Study Bible) omit the New Testament altogether. Non-academic Evangelical study Bibles (ESV SB, NLT SB, HCSB SB) don’t touch the question.

    I mention the NOAB as an exemplar; and perhaps this helps explain why the New Oxford Annotated Bible continues to be by far the most popular study Bible for university study (with the Jewish Study Bible, which only addresses the Hebrew Bible, apparently coming in second.)

  71. Theophrastus says:

    Mike — it is true that Hays in 1985 originally opposed Wright’s reading that Romans 4:1 was addressed to both Jews and Christians; since then, Wright has convinced Hays and he now is in full agreement with Wright on this verse.

  72. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>…(“according to grace”) of 4:16 is the direct answer to the (“according to the flesh”) of 4.1…

    While it is clear from Paul’s writings that he does not conceive of gentiles being grafted into Israel, but rather into the uncircumcised Abraham, I don’t think precisely what he is contrasting here. The contrast he belabors is “works” (activities) versus faith, which then feeds into his main argument, which is what Abraham found: “grace” versus “reward”.

    Let me illustrate.

    2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
    3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
    4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

    Note that there is not one word there of lineage. Not one word. The allusion is to Abraham standing before God and saying, “If I have found KARIS, then don’t pass me by” (in Genesis 18:3) and standing before God justified by tacit KARIS, with no hint of boasting.

    He goes on to show that what Abraham found was KARIS, spilling lots of ink to show that it was undeserved generosity:

    5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
    6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
    7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
    8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

    Again, not a hint about lineage. Not one word.

    He refers to what Abraham found (KARIS) as “blessedness” and ask whether this blessedness is only conferred upon the circumcision:

    9 ¶ Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.

    He answers the question with another question, then gives the answer:

    10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.

    I’ll skip some for the sake of brevity, where he sums up. Here he shows that even the promise of the land hinges on faith so that it would be what Abraham was said to find: generosity:

    16 Therefore it [the promise of the promise land] is of faith [not of activities], that it might be by grace [generosity rather than reward for approval]; to the end [to accomplish the goal that] the promise [of the promised land] might be sure to [secured for] all the seed; not to that only which is of the law [faithful Jews], but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham [gentiles]; who is the father of us all [Jews and gentiles],

    generosity versus reward for works
    faith versus works

    By the way, this passage clearly teaches that the eschatological hope is not “going to heaven” but rather “inheriting the promise of the land” (as we see at the end of Revelation).

    The thrust of his argument is that if Abraham had received the promise on the basis of circumcision and keeping of the law then only the physical seed would have inherited the land. But since it was by generosity on the basis of faith while uncircumcised, it is secured for all of his seed, both physical descendants and those who share his faith.

  73. WoundedEgo says:

    Paul is saying, “It was generosity (KARIS) that he found [before God], not reward, so it was by faith, not works.”

    And, “since it was generosity not reward, it is by faith, not works, because works are for approval for works, and faith is for generosity.”

    And, “since it was by generosity, not reward for works, the promise of the promised land is secured for all of the seed.”

  74. iverlarsen says:

    Mike S,

    You are correct in saying that I have mainly read his popular books, but that is where he reaches most people. And that is my concern. He is misleading a lot of people by his misunderstandings of crucial concepts in Romans and Galatians, including the disputed “righteousness of God”. I only started reading these books after a pastor friend of mine at a national convention started “re-teaching” some of Wrights teaching, and my friend did not have the background to check the Greek text that Wright was commenting on. I feel somewhat like Paul did in Gal 2:5-6, not to mention 1:10. (I have been more or less living in Galatians for decades.)
    If Wright is so competent in Greek as you say, why did he write in one of his popular books about Rom 4:1: “The following translation works extremely well with the Greek: What then shall we say? Have we found Abraham to be our forefather according to the flesh?”
    What are the average readers going to think about that? They do not know that this translation does not work extremely well with the Greek. In fact, it is a questionable translation of an unjustifed change to the Greek text. If he had said: It might be possible to translate Rom 4:1 as follows, he would not have received the comments he gets from me.

  75. iverlarsen says:

    Mike S,

    Thanks for the quote from Wright. It looks like Hays has changed a bit, and that Hays and Wright are working closely together. I can see that “only” has been added, and “found” is now “consider”. He is here suggesting which is less final, but still in my view a misunderstanding, even if Wright here disagrees with Hays. It looks to me like Wright things the “we” in 4:1 refers to Jews and Gentiles together, while Hays now thinks it refers to ethnic Jews. It is true that the question of circumcision of Gentiles is a key contention in Galatians. But even circumcision does not mean that a Gentile becomes an ethnic Jew who can trace his ancestry to Abraham. It is more like adoption.

    Wright is right to see the connection between 4:1 and 4:16. In fact, it is quite illuminating. However, he apparently fails to see the progression in the chapter. In 4:16 Paul is saying that the promise of God to Abraham (or at least the promise in focus) applies to all who have the kind of faith that Abraham had, whether Jew or Gentile. Therefore, “Abraham IS the faith-father of us all.” Paul uses PATHR here and by saying “us all” it is clear that he wants to include the whole of his audience, both Jews and Gentiles. But it is equally clear that 4:1 talks about ethnic Jews who have Abraham as their biological PROPATWR, forefather, not just PATHR, father. Wright misses that progession in his last sentence, because the “we” in 4:1 is different from “us all” in v. 16. But if he wants to say that the Christian Jews need to see Abraham as their father of faith in addition to their biological forefather, then I agree. However, the main point of the chapter (and much of Romans) is to discover how one is made righteous with God, and that is by coming to faith in Jesus before trying to follow God’s laws.

  76. iverlarsen says:

    Mike W raised the question of the audience for Romans.
    I don’t think there is any doubt that the church in Rome at the time included both Jewish and Gentile Christians. I also think that some of the Jews had not properly understood salvation by grace alone, but were continuing much in their Jewish thought patterns, which is understandable, humanly speaking. They may not have had a dramatic Damascus experience like Paul, nor might they have had the Holy Spirit revelations that Paul had in the Arabian desert.
    Paul does clarify here and there in Romans, when he is speaking to the Jews and when he is speaking to the Gentiles. It is the “forefather according to flesh” that indicates that Paul is here primarily adressing the Jews, of course with the Gentiles listening in.

    I am not suggesting that the translator should say: “What shall we Jews say that our forefather Abraham discovered?”. However, translation is complex, and it is a two-step process. The first step is the exegesis. Now, if the exegete decides that the intended reference is Jews, that will probably be reflected in the choice of words in the translation. If the exegete decides that the intended reference is both Jews and Gentiles, that assumption is likely to be reflected in the choice of words, either in this verse or the following ones. The exegetical choice influences how you understand KATA SARKA and what you connect it to. It is a bit like a circle. The Greek text is the basis for your exegesis, but your exegesis and especially the host of assumptions you bring to the text influences how you process the Greek text.

  77. iverlarsen says:

    The Vulgate was quoted:

    quid ergo dicemus invenisse Abraham patrem nostrum secundum carnem.

    My Latin is a bit rusty, so I was not sure about the meaning of invenire. So I looked it up here

    It is very literal rendering, but it is still interesting to discover how Jerome managed.

  78. Theophrastus says:

    Iver — just to be clear: In 1985, Hays thought Romans 4:1 was addressed only to “Jewish-Christians” in Romans.

    By 2005 (and in large part because of N. T. Wright’s arguments) Hays changed his opinion: Hays now feels that Romans 4:1 was addressed both to “Jewish-Christians” and “Gentile Christians” in Rome. For example, when Hays revised his essay for publication in his The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture he retitled the essay “Abraham as Father of Jews and Gentiles.”

    There are a wide, wide range of different translations of this verse. For example, Mike Whitney mentioned Stanley Stowers of Brown University. Stowers believes Romans was exclusively addressed to a gentile audience — and thus translates this verse as:

    What then will we say? Have we found Abraham to be our forefather by his own human efforts [that is, according to the flesh]? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has reason for boasting.

    (See A Rereading of Romans: Justice, Jews, and Gentiles.) However, unlike Hays’ work which has found significant support from several quarters, I am not aware of Stowers’ reading being incorporated into any major translation — and Stowers’ view definitely remains a minority opinion.

  79. Mike Whitney says:

    Theophrastus: One additional point should be noted on the analysis by Stowers. He saw verse 1 and and most of verse 2 as the words of a Jewish interlocutor. So 4:1 still could be interpreted without being intepreted to include a gentile’s claim to Abraham as being the forefather according to the flesh.

  80. Peter Kirk says:

    Theophrastus, I didn’t say that the scholarly consensus was with me. What I said was that some scholars, including Iver and the translators of most but not all well known English Bible translations, are with me. And I implied that the scholars who disagree either don’t understand Greek or believe that they can use thoughts like “hopelessly corrupt” as an excuse to adjust it to say what they want it to say.

    Mike S, since N.T. Wright is clearly not one of those who don’t understand Greek, I think in this case he has to be put in the other category – and as deceiving his readers in the passage Iver quotes. As for the section you quote from his works, what does he mean by “physical, fleshly” in “Christians belong to the physical, fleshly family of Abraham”? He cannot mean “biological” as it must have been clear to all, not a matter of dispute, that Gentile Christians are not biological descendants of Abraham. The usually logical former bishop has here put forward an incoherent argument.

  81. jkgayle says:

    Because of Jerome’s Latin (and the order of the phrase “secundum carnem”), Erasmus goes back to the Greek, examining what’s in “most Greek codices.” “Ad fontes”! He declares the Greek ambiguous or, at least, “uncertain.” Thus, he takes to task the views of Origen, Ambrose, Theophylact, and Chrysostom. He asserts the following:

    “the word order in Greek suggests a different sense in which we must assume a hyperbaton; otherwise the reading would have to be τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν Ἀβραὰμ τὸν κατὰ σάρκα πατέρα ἡμῶν εὑρηκέναι. Accordingly I was not afraid [with Latin] to return this passage to its original order of words. And yet I was aware that when Ambrose explains this passage, he makes ‘according to the flesh’ modify ‘found’, giving us to understand that the Mosaic law is so far from being able to confer salvation that not even Abraham himself would have gained anything ‘according to the flesh,’ that is, through circumcision, if he had not pleased God by the merit of his flesh.”
    Collected Works on Erasmus: Annotations on Romans, trans by Robert Dick Sider (et al), page 106.

  82. jkgayle says:

    Mike S,
    I’m interested in “κατὰ σάρκα” as a frozen, technical phrase. The Latin “secundum carnem” gets moved around as its equivalent. (Like a loose brick in a house, you imagine). Although I can’t find Cicero or Quintilian translating this particular phrase from Greek to Latin (in any extant text), we should be aware that it’s a repeated phrase of in the biology of Aristotle, whom they followed carefully. It’s also a phrase thrice used in the extant texts of Epicurus (whom Paul seemed to know, at least through his disciples). Can’t find extra-biblical uses of the Greek phrase in the first century.

    Sider adds this note to his translation of Erasmus’ commentary on Romans, suggesting that the interpretation remained difficult:

    “In 1516, Erasmus’ translation had followed closely the word order in his Greek codices – Quid ergo dicemus Abraham patrem nostrum invenisse secundum carnem ‘What then shall we say that Abraham our father found according to the flesh’ (For this word order, which is not that of the preferred reading, see Tischendorf II 379 1n.) In 1519, influenced evidently by Origen, Ambrosiaster, and the Latin manuscripts, he decided that the Vulgate read the passage properly, and so restored the Vulgate reading in his own text.”

  83. Yancy Smith says:

    OK, I admit I’m going over the edge on this, but Iver and Peter have driven me to it. I am a translation consultant and so risk averse when it comes to actually proposing something unpublished in another translation. I am going to propose a concrete reading of Rom 4:1, even though I think the text ambiguous beyond resolution. I feel like Paul in 2 Corinthians, but I haven’t been living in Corinthians forever, nor do I expect to do so for long. As soon as I hit “Post Comment” I will revert to my habitual ambiguity.
    Iver seems to indicate in his discussion above (and on in his “devastating” B-Greek post) that if one punctuates Romans 4:1 τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν; εὑρηκέναι Ἀβραὰμ τὸν προπάτορα ἡμῶν κατὰ σάρκα; that the sentence is thereby rendered ungrammatical and incomprehensible. I wonder what the evidence for this would be (besides personal subjective reaction of incomprehension, which should not be taken as evidence of anything)?
    I suggest some notes in Smyth’s Greek Grammar might clear this up. Smyth suggests that the subject of an infinitive may be omitted when it is the same as the principle verb. So, what rule of usage hinders the person of ἐροῦμεν from carrying over to the second question or the next part of a complex question? This is especially apropos in view of the fact that, in lively Greek discourse, exemplified by Romans, the form of a verb signifying “to do, to speak, come, go, etc,” may be omitted for brevity. The ellipsis is often unconscious and it is frequently uncertain what is to be supplied to complete the thought. (See Smyth, 947, 937). So much for Peter’s “rather precise grammatical rules” that conveniently steer the reader of the Sacred Text clear of most ambiguities! Rather, Greek has as many ambiguities as the next man’s language. So, as far as I can tell several translations of Romas 4:1 are plausible, for example the one I’m thinking of right now: “What shall we say, then? Will we say we have found the forefather Abraham [to be] ours (exclusive) by birthright/by his meritorious works?”
    OK, so I’m fudging a little, keeping a little ambiguity. Whichever way one translates κατὰ σάρκα the result would be, of course to insult the non-Jews in the audience, which is how boasts often work. This is as plausible as most of the others offered. And, “The father Abraham is OURS according to the flesh!” could well be a meaningful boast for a Jewish person. In fact, I recall a boast like that presented to Jesus, “We have Abraham as our father!” On this reading, the boast would imply that the believing Jews have an inherited advantage over believing Gentiles by means of physical descent.
    Both Peter and Iver are, perhaps, practicing a bit of hortatory warning, rather a shot across the bow for anyone with the temerity to suggest an alternative translation to the traditional reading of Rom 4:1. One, by way of his feeling like Paul in Galatians 2:5-6, casts himself in the role of defender of the truth of the gospel. His approach as a translator of this verse is birthed in what appears to be polemic. That seems logical in view of the fact that he has been “living in Galatians for decades.” We should be thankful that Paul moved on from Galatians and wrote Romans, a letter which shows a clear development in his approach to the Gentile-Jewish issue (See Tobin, _Paul’s Rhetoric in its Contexts_). Peter now seems to accuse Wright of deception. (I’m not sure from Peter’s words if he sees this as disingenuous deception or self-deception.) Perhaps Peter could clarify what he means. Strong words, indeed! Especially since the silent interlocutors likely do not read BBB and would not likely respond in this forum. But before we consign these able exegetes to the nether realms as sacrificial scape-goats for the sake of translation orthodoxy, perhaps we should take a step back from that precipice and consider. Scholars worth their salt help us to take stock of the “tried and true” and to see old, familiar things in a new light. In bringing out both new things and old from their storehouse they help us break free from unthinking repetition. New paradigms, however, are often unwelcome in Bible translation circles. Translators tend to be conservative, slow at adopting new thoughts, aversive to sticking their necks out in anyway that might call into question a point of Protestant dogma. Such aversion is especially true of commercially published translations. Publishers and stake-holders exercise a sort of monetary conservatism on the one hand, while hoping for something new and different enough in the translation to justify the appearance of a new commercial product. But individual scholars can float trial balloons and work toward various new points of consensus. Getting whacked by the likes of us is the least of their worries, usually. Two cheers for the scholars, one for the translators.

  84. Mike Sangrey says:

    I’m working down through the comments…let me make a quick one here which might help put some of the above comments in historical context.

    Richard Hays and N.T. Wright are, to quote Wright, “good friends.” He says they became good friends in the early 1980’s. Though he also mentions that becoming good friends “has not prevented us going on seeing some things quite differently.”

    I was on the ‘wrightsaid’ email list for a while, and N.T. Wright would occasionally take a list of questions he would respond to. This information was in one of the answers to a question relating to Rom 3:22 and the whole objective vs subjective genitive question (which is a whole ‘nuther kettle of controversy).

  85. Peter Kirk says:

    Kurk, just to clarify what you wrote, I think you are saying that Erasmus read the Byzantine text and found that it supported reading kata sarka with “found” rather than with “father” – but he rejected this sense and proposed an emended Greek sense unambiguously taking the other reading. Sadly it seems that many more modern scholars are doing the opposite – reading the critical text as if it should be emended to the Byzantine text.

    Yancy, the evidence for εὑρηκέναι Ἀβραὰμ τὸν προπάτορα ἡμῶν κατὰ σάρκα; as a sentence on its own being “ungrammatical and incomprehensible” is very simple: it does not have a finite verb. OK, there are some Greek sentences without finite verbs in the NT. But can you show me any, at all, with an infinitive but no finite verb? Also it lacks a subject, but I accept that that could have been omitted if there was an appropriate finite verb. But in the absence of one I really don’t see how anyone can imagine that this is grammatical and meaningful, apart from any textual emendation.

    As for Wright practising deception, I refer to his words in a popular work quoted by Iver (and I assume that the quotation is accurate): “The following translation works extremely well with the Greek: What then shall we say? Have we found Abraham to be our forefather according to the flesh?” I’m sorry, but that is simply not true with “extremely well” (although like Iver I would accept “possibly”). The Greek word εὑρηκέναι is an infinitive, not a 1st person plural finite verb. Wright surely knows that very well. So why does he tell his naive readers that the Greek can be translated properly and “extremely well” with a finite verb here? The most charitable I can be to Wright here is that he could be working from his memory of the Greek text rather than from a written copy, and that his memory is faulty at this point.

    I’m sorry, but as a (now former) translator of the Bible I am proud to be “conservative” in insisting on translating the Greek text that is actually in front of me (with due regard for real textual variants), rather than an imagined one which better fits my broader theology. I am happy to bring new things out of the storehouse of the text (and actually in many cases I have done that or proposed it myself), but not to welcome new things which have been smuggled into the storehouse and never should have been there.

  86. Yancy Smith says:

    Well, Peter, I’m just a little embarrassed, then, to suggest that you take a look a the many examples of this sort of thing under the heading “Brachyology” in Smyth, p. 674 (3017). But surely you are familiar with it. This is beginning Greek stuff, really. Even BDF has a note on brachyology at §483. I note that BDF follows the reading of B and 1739, omitting εὑρηκέναι and suggests that it is an interpolation. That is why BDF classifies this verse under “ellipsis,” when it just as well could have been classed under brachyology. I suggest as much because of the overlap in Hellenistic Greek between ἵνα clauses and infinitives. Be that as it may, the grammar is problematic either you slice it.
    For the benefit of those who do not have access to Smyth, brachyology is an “abbreviated expression”… “by which an element is not repeated when its repetition or use would make the thought or the grammatical construction complete.”
    So, the grammatical difficulties, the ambiguities of this verse have led many scholars to conclude that either ellipsis or brachyology is going on here.
    I notice that Peter did not interact with the other Smyth quotes I put out there. Are they irrelevant?

  87. Mike Sangrey says:


    I was exploring the same idea as Yancy but with the idea that the infinitive may be the subject of a sentence. The need for a finite verb obviously popped up. So, I consulted Smyth, just like Yancy did. Smyth lists several examples of an elided finite verb. An implied εἰμί is common.

    1. πᾶσιν ἁδεῖν χαλεπόν. To please everybody is difficult.
    2. δεῖ. It is necessary.

    There are others. What can I say, συμβαίνειν. It happens (this would be ‘3’ 🙂 )

    Here’s where I’m currently at, for what it’s worth.

    What then should we say? Are[1] we all[2] to have gained[3] Abraham as[4] our ethnic head[5]?

    The answer is an implied, “No, of course not.” And Paul goes on to explain why that is in verses 2-16 in several parts: εἰ γὰρ Ἀβραὰμ…

    Paul brings this argument to a climax and conclusion in 4:16 with the statement, “Abraham is the father of us all.” Not in an ethnic sense, so he doesn’t use προπάτωρ, but simply πατήρ. It wouldn’t make sense for him to use προπάτωρ in 16 since he has just demolished the whole idea of Christ-focused faith being limited to an ethnic group. He used προπάτωρ to begin the section since the Jewish view (and the Gentile view of what the Jews view was) was that a certain ethnic group was in, everyone else was out. The exclusivity, so they thought, was determined by ethnicity. Not so, says Paul. It’s determined by grace working through faith because of the promise. And this faith and promise takes us right back to Abraham, the father of many nations. It’s now faith in Christ that demarcates who is in and who is out. Ethnicity is irrelevant.

    Paul had to dismantle the ethnic framing inherent in the Jewish mind when it thought about the term προπάτωρ. Gentiles well understood this ethnic framing the Jews had. That’s the whole point, at least in my mind, of this section–Paul dismantles the linguistic framing.

    A couple of points to ponder from Smyth. Yancy made this point, too. But, I think it bears repeating.

    …when it [the subject of the infinitive] has already been made known in the sentence, it is not repeated. Section 1972. τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν is so close that repeating the subject would probably bring an unintended emphasis to the subject.

    In fact, Smyth points this out in section 1974, A pronoun subject of the infinitive, if (wholly or partially) identical with the subject of the main verb, is generally expressed when emphatic, and stands in the accusative (cases of the nominative are rare and suspected).

    An indefinite or general subject of the infinitive (τινὰ, τινὰς, ἀνθρώπους) is commonly omitted. Section 1980.

    [1] Implied.
    [2] Impersonal and generic.
    [3] The perfective nature of the infinitive will cause εὑρίσκω to be the verbal idea expressed by the noun εὑρησµα. ‘Gain’ is an active (not passive) thing and so Paul choses the active infinitive.
    [4] The two accusatives are appositional.
    [5] I think the combination of προπάτωρ with κατὰ σάρκα creates the meaning we refer to by the single word ‘ethnic’. And, therefore, “according to the flesh”, or “physically”, or “humanly” are all unnecessary adverbs in an idiomatic translation.

  88. J. K. Gayle says:

    he rejected this sense and proposed an emended Greek sense unambiguously taking the other reading

    Peter, There’s little question Erasmus reversed himself; but why? That isn’t clear. I believe he could have remained constant in and perhaps even strengthened in his observation that the Greek (not just the Byz.) was “uncertain.” Sider doesn’t explain, but just suggests, Erasmus’ decision based on the influence of the other commentators.

    Things we all can agree on are the following: Paul himself did not write this sentence in Latin. Nor did he use Hebrew Aramaic. (There would have been nothing peculiar about writing in Latin to those in Rome. There would have been nothing odd about writing what he wrote in Aramaic. We could argue that Greek was the lingua franca for his dual audience, but that’s a little like a Jew writing in French to Jews and Germans in Berlin during the Third Reich.) The Greek of Rom 4:1 is marked (or linguistically peculiar) regardless of the variant text we look at.

    As for translation, I like what Thomas Christensen has observed:

    The notion of “equivalence” in translation is imprecise and falls upon the translator to determine as a personal judgment.

  89. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>…Paul brings this argument to a climax and conclusion in 4:16 with the statement, “Abraham is the father of us all.”…

    One very clear structural feature of Romans is how he introduces each new point with a question. Agreed? If so, then the point is compassed in verses 1-8. That doesn’t mean that he can’t harp back to verse 1 in verse 16, but verses 1-8 ought to make some sense. I think that my reading is extremely cohesive, and makes to at least 5:1 cohere nicely.

    For example, note other indications about “standing before God” and even the specific reference to Sarah’s immaculate conception.

  90. Yancy Smith says:

    1. Both Mike’s reading and mine make sense of both the grammar and the context.
    2. Linguistic evidence, a principled explanation of the grammatical awkwardness of the question is readily available in commonly received explanations of Greek usage supports the viability of either reading.
    3. Reading the initial question as as leading to another question conforms to Pauline habits.
    4. No example of a single TI EROUMEN question extended in the way the verse is traditionally read (as in the TNIV) is available in
    all of Greek literature.
    5. These factors suggest that readings which recognize TI OUN EROUMEN? as followed by a successive question (with brachyology) are neither ungrammatical nor deceptive.
    6. Rather, more than one reading is perfectly, arguably plausible due to the ambiguity often resulting from such linguistic habits.

  91. iverlarsen says:

    Thank you for the references to Smyth and BDF. I’ll respond to your three comments by way of your last one with numbers. You say:

    1. Both Mike’s reading and mine make sense of both the grammar and the context.

    Thas it a claim which I cannot see that you have given evidence for. Your reading violates the grammar and can only be made some sense of by adding words not in the text.

    2. Linguistic evidence, a principled explanation of the grammatical awkwardness of the question is readily available in commonly received explanations of Greek usage supports the viability of either reading.

    I have read that sentence several times, but find it difficult to understand. I have not seen linguistic evidence supporting the viability of your reading.

    3. Reading the initial question as leading to another question conforms to Pauline habits.

    No, Paul is not in the habit of writing the kind of poor Greek you impute to him. Instead, one should look at the function of these questions and respect the contexts in which each was written. Paul has the right to vary the way he expresses himself.

    4. No example of a single TI EROUMEN question extended in the way the verse is traditionally read (as in the TNIV) is available in
    all of Greek literature.

    Why should there be another example? We are not talking about individual words, but a combination of words or maybe even a whole sentence. Paul has used hundreds of word combinations in Romans that are not attested anywhere else in Greek literature. That is the richness of language.

    5. These factors suggest that readings which recognize TI OUN EROUMEN? as followed by a successive question (with brachyology) are neither ungrammatical nor deceptive.

    I am not aware of brachyology. I assume you meant brachylogy, but you are not familiar with the term. It is true that BDF §483, Smyth §3017-18, and Robertson pp. 1203-4 discuss these phenomenons. The two paragraphs you mention (§347, 337) do not address the grammar of Rom 4:1. If you read carefully their descriptions, especially Robertson as the most extensive, you will notice that none of them include Rom 4:1 in their many examples. Furthermore, the examples they give are not similar to Rom 4:1. Smyth has 15 sub-sections in §3018. Which one are you suggesting that Rom 4:1 could come under? I think the closest is b (but it talks about coordinate or dependent clauses, not separate sentences). Another possibility is g, but again here we are dealing with clauses as part of a sentence, not separate sentences. Robertson mentions hINA plus a finite verb. Paul himself used brachylogy in Rom 9:30 with hOTI. None of this is disputed, nor does it apply to Rom 4:1. It is especially common to have brachylogy before ALLA hINA. You propose an invalid argument by claiming without evidence that an infinitive can substitute for a hINA.

    6. Rather, more than one reading is perfectly, arguably plausible due to the ambiguity often resulting from such linguistic habits.

    You have not established any linguistic habits relevant to Rom 4:1. The various textual variants create the problem that we are not absolutely sure what the original text is, but there is scholarly consensus nowadays – apart from the proponents of the Byzantine text – about the most plausible text. Granted that text there is no reasonably argued ambiguity. The ambiguity is imputed to the text by various commentators, who like you emend the text or add words to it that are not there nor can they reasonably be said to be implied. The text makes perfect sense as it stands and as it is traditionally understood by the vast majority of Greek scholars. By the way, if you knew me better, you would know that I by no means am a defender of tradition. But I want to see coherent and plausible arguments for a new interpretation that goes against the majority tradition. Hays has failed to present any plausible arguments, as has others who support him.

  92. Peter Kirk says:

    Yancy, I’m afraid I don’t have access to Smyth’s book. As you obviously do, perhaps you can give me just one of his NT examples of an infinitive being used in the sense of a 1st person plural past tense verb, in an independent sentence. Or is there perhaps “No example of [exactly this] available in all of Greek literature”?

    I note that the translation you are looking for is not a purpose clause “We should find…” but a past indicative one “We have found…”. So your point about ἵνα is irrelevant even if true.

    I accept that there could be an ellipsis for a repeated ἐροῦμεν. But surely if the sentence were ἐροῦμεν εὑρηκέναι Ἀβραὰμ τὸν προπάτορα ἡμῶν κατὰ σάρκα, in the more straightforward reading the subject of the infinitive would be “Abraham”, not “we”, although I could accept some ambiguity in this case.

    I accept also that the B textual reading without εὑρηκέναι could be understood as ellipsis for “What shall we say? That Abraham is our father… ?”

    In any case Wright’s “extremely well” reading does not imply any kind of ellipsis or brachylogy, as he has not supplied any missing words, but offers a simple misreading of an infinitive as a finite verb. If Wright’s rendering has been “What then shall we say? Shall we say that we have found Abraham to be our forefather according to the flesh?”, then I would not have accused him of deception, just said that he ought to have admitted to adding “Shall we say”. But he implies that his version is a straightforward rendering of the Greek, when it is not.

    Mike S, thank you for your examples. But δεῖ is a finite verb in itself, as is clear from it having for example a past form ἐδει etc. And in πᾶσιν ἁδεῖν χαλεπόν the infinitive is the subject of an implied copula, not a replacement in itself for a finite verb. I’m sure you don’t want to translate Romans 4:1 on this same basis as something like “To find is Abraham our forefather” or even “(To find Abraham) is our forefather” (parentheses to force the parsing I want of my bad English). And in response to your “τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν is so close that repeating the subject would probably bring an unintended emphasis to the subject”: it is absolutely necessary to specify a subject, even repetitively, if there is any kind of ambiguity as there certainly is here.

  93. Mike Sangrey says:

    Let me be concise since it appears what I said above was not clear.

    What then should we say? Are we all to have gained Abraham as our ethnic head?

    This is a translation of:
    τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν; [ἐσμὲν τινὰς] εὑρηκέναι Ἀβραὰμ τὸν προπάτορα ἡμῶν κατὰ σάρκα

    The finite verb ‘are’ is implied. I don’t think anyone would argue that an implied εἰμί is unusual. However, this may be the most difficult thing to show as viable. I need examples of a question started with an implied εἰμί. However, since τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν is a Greek idiomatic expression on its own, and generally followed by a question, an implied εἰμί is easily acceptable.

    The ‘we’ is implied. This easily follows from Smyth’s “An indefinite or general subject of the infinitive (τινὰ, τινὰς, ἀνθρώπους) is commonly omitted. Section 1980. This ‘we’ is very indefinite. It works very much like τίς. English ‘some’ implies “some, but not all” which is certainly very consistent with Paul’s intent here. However, English ‘some’ raises the question of “some gain one way, others gain another way?” which is not Paul’s intent. There’s nothing unusual in the translation here.

    The ‘all’ is to assure the ‘we’ remains indefinite, that is, it is required by the English idiom. Again, straight forward translation.

    ‘To have gained’ is straight translation. ‘Found’ or ‘discovered’ might be more common; however, the infinitive is the more unusual perfect. If one completes the action of ‘find’, one ‘gains’. Liddell & Scott offer as secondary, “to find, gain, get, win, obtain.” This isn’t unusual.

    ‘Abraham’ is straight translation.

    ‘As’ presents the apposition between the two accusatives. This is not unusual at all.

    ‘Our’ is straight translation.

    ‘Ethnic head’ is an idiomatic translation of the προπάτωρ κατὰ σάρκα. While this is straight forward translation, this is certainly a discussion point.

    While some might argue with the exegesis; I don’t think anyone can argue with this understanding of the grammar. And, given the grammar, I don’t think anyone can argue with the suggested translation.

    I won’t pursue this any farther; it just seemed to me that somehow I wasn’t clear.

    Peter, you’re right about the δεῖ.

  94. Yancy Smith says:

    Thanks, Peter, I agree. Rom 4:1 contains more than one ambiguity, but I would suggest that, after a verb of speaking, especially a frozen deliberative question like TI OUN EROUMEN, beginning a follow up utterance with an infinitive and an accusative noun in indirect statement leads inevitably to an infelicitous ambiguity. Indeterminate is who is the subject of EUREKENAI?

    I suggest that extending TI … EROUMEN with infinitives either in a follow on question or an extension of the question is rare in written Greek because they are ambiguous, and to potentially unsuccessful. In fact, this question of Paul’s is grammatically unique. There are LOTS of cases of TI OUN EROUMEN, and they could all be classified, but this one would be in a class by itself. This is what I mean by “club-footed;” it is an oddity.

    Iver said:
    Your reading violates the grammar and can only be made some sense of by adding words not in the text.

    My reply: The essence of brachylogy is that it requires a translator to supply words that are not in the text. The resulting text may well be ungrammatical and ambiguity often results.

    Perhaps we are not on the same page in understanding that, in Greek rhetoric, “ellipsis” is where missing material is recovered pragmatically and “brachylogy” where it is recovered structurally, i.e. on the basis of material elsewhere in the utterance or context. The result is sometimes a “fragment,” an incomplete, broken structure in the surface syntactic string.

    Iver suggested I offered no linguistic evidence of my reading of the text. I and others on the list have repeatedly pointed to the overwhelming linguistic habit of Greek speakers (including Paul) to use this phrase as an complete question: TI OUN, TI … EROUMEN, and TI EROUMEN questions plus a prepositional phrase. A follow up question is common. These are linguistic habits. They are evidence. They speak to probability in difficult cases. Of course ambiguous cases are precisely cases where the evidence piles up on either side of the issue. No other example of such a question extended with an infinitive exists. However, there are a lot of cases in which the subject of finite verb of speaking is assumed for an infinitive in an indirect statement. Therefore it is plausible to read TI OUN EROUMEN as an initial question, with a follow on question in which the subject of the verb of speaking is assumed for the infinitive. It is also plausible to read the infinitive with Abraham as subject. That is the problem with this verse that won’t go away, no matter how much we wish may wish it away.

    Iver also stated unequivocally:
    …. it is absolutely necessary to specify a subject, even repetitively, if there is any kind of ambiguity as there certainly is here.

    I would agree with Iver if he had said, “I absolutely wish Paul had specified his subject when there was any kind of ambiguity.” However, Iver has not presented any evidence of this categorical statement. Again, this seems to be a serious misunderstanding of brachylogy.

  95. Yancy Smith says:

    Mike, I’m afraid your Greek is not intelligible. Instead of
    τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν; [ἐσμὲν τινὰς] εὑρηκέναι Ἀβραὰμ τὸν προπάτορα ἡμῶν κατὰ σάρκα.
    It would need to be
    τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν; [ἡμᾶς] εὑρηκέναι Ἀβραὰμ τὸν προπάτορα ἡμῶν κατὰ σάρκα.

    Best regards,

  96. Peter Kirk says:

    Yancy, the unequivocal statement you quote is mine, not Iver’s. Now I accept that there are sentences in Greek which are formally ambiguous as to their subjects, or in other ways. But in the majority of cases that ambiguity is easily resolved from the context. Other cases may be examples of sloppy writing – it is one of the jobs of a modern copy editor to resolve such ambiguity. My point was that in such cases if authors want to be clear it is an absolute requirement to specify the subject, because if they do not the text is unclear and ambiguous – as it is in this case. At least I am glad that you don’t claim that the text is unambiguous in your sense, as Wright seems to have done, for that is clearly not true.

    Mike, you don’t just “need examples of a question started with an implied εἰμί.” You need examples of questions started with an implied εἰμί followed by a perfect infinitive, a construction that is surely very rare even with an explicit verb. You also need examples of where εἰμί is left implied in the 1st or 2nd person where the person is not otherwise made explicit. Otherwise you have a doubly unique construction which I’m afraid I can’t see as a real possibility here.

  97. Theophrastus says:

    Other cases may be examples of sloppy writing

    How do you resolve a high view of scripture with sloppy writing? Wouldn’t it be more natural to assume that ambiguity was deliberate?

  98. Peter Kirk says:

    Theophrastus, I do indeed have a problem with finding sloppy writing in Scripture. But unintentional ambiguity is sloppy writing. And I don’t think anyone would suggest that Paul is being deliberately ambiguous here. So I suggest that the ambiguity here is not real but is based on our limited knowledge of Greek. As I think it is clear that the traditional interpretation is a possible understanding of the Greek, but no one has demonstrated that the novel one has any parallel in surviving Greek literature, I would suggest that the latter is ungrammatical and the former would have been unambiguously correct to the original audience. But I can’t prove that.

  99. Mike Whitney says:

    I was reflecting on the sense of the use of ‘flesh’ in scriptures. This was aided by skimming through Moo’s analysis “‘Flesh’ in Romans” in The Challenge of Bible Translation (Zondervan 2003) which is available at From the article by Moo I was able to consider various passages where ‘flesh’ could be found. The general sense of the word ‘flesh’ could be conveyed as ‘animalistic characteristics’ or ‘animal essence.’ And there probably could be other phrases developed on the concept on use of ‘animalistic.’ My impression of ‘flesh’ going back to Gen 6:3 is that the concept is one of mankind living as an animal rather than the distinct features of mankind in God’s image. This sort of idea is conveyed in 2Pe 2:12 “But these, as creatures without reason, born mere animals to be taken and destroyed, railing in matters whereof they are ignorant, shall in their destroying surely be destroyed,” (ASV)
    My proposal or thought is simply that man, in the fallen state, lives basically as any other animal based upon instincts, as one feature. Another feature just common among animals is that of bearing offspring — which is not particularly a sinful act, but just a characteristic of animals (or of the flesh).
    I don’t know that my idea would lead to the best translation.

  100. White Man says:

    “The most literal versions like the KJV tend to be consistent in translating the same Greek word with the same English word.”

    On the contrary. I wish scholars who haven’t even read through the KJV in the original would just leave it out of the discussion.

    “Another thing we think good to admonish thee of (gentle Reader) that we have not tied ourselves to an uniformity of phrasing, or to an identity of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done, because they observe, that some learned men somewhere, have been as exact as they could that way. Truly, that we might not vary from the sense of that which we had translated before, if the word signified the same thing in both places (for there be some words that be not of the same sense everywhere) we were especially careful, and made a conscience, according to our duty. But, that we should express the same notion in the same particular word; as for example, if we translate the Hebrew or Greek word once by Purpose, never to call it Intent; if one where Journeying, never Traveling; if one where Think, never Suppose; if one where Pain, never Ache; if one where Joy, never Gladness, etc. Thus to mince the matter, we thought to savour more of curiosity than wisdom, and that rather it would breed scorn in the Atheist, than bring profit to the godly Reader. For is the kingdom of God become words or syllables? why should we be in bondage to them if we may be free, use one precisely when we may use another no less fit, as commodiously?”

    . . . and so on, for 2 paragraphs, in the introduction to the KJV

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