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Sunday, December 6

Does the order of phrases matter? (Rom 1:5)

One of the harder things to do in translation is line up the phrases properly. Since English uses sequence and proximity, related phrases need to go together. Greek doesn’t care (as much).

Take for example Rom 1:5. Speaking of Jesus, Paul writes, “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (ESV). The Greek is, δι᾿ οὗ ἐλάβομεν χάριν καὶ ἀποστολὴν εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως ἐν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν ὑπὲρ τοῦ ὀνόματος αὐτοῦ.                         

The prepositional phrase translated “to bring about the obedience of faith” (εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως) is adjectival, modifying “grace and apostleship” (χάριν καὶ ἀποστολήν); it is the end result of God’s grace and his apostolic call.

“Among all the nations” (ἐν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν) modifies πίστεως showing the extent of the working of grace, that extends through Jews to Gentiles (or it too goes back to χάριν καὶ ἀποστολήν as the second modifier).

So why did the ESV separate “for the sake of his name among all the nations” and move it to the end of the sentence?

The answer is in the prepositional phrase, “for the sake of his name” (ὑπὲρ τοῦ ὀνόματος αὐτοῦ). Even though it comes at the end of the Greek sentence, contextually we can see that it is not telling us something about the Gentiles (ἔθνεσιν) but rather the ultimate reason for faith; our faith is ultimately for Christ and his name (or ὑπὲρ τοῦ ὀνόματος αὐτοῦ could be the third modifier of χάριν καὶ ἀποστολή).The Greek prepositional phrase can be moved to the end of the sentence without a problem, and the Greek reader will connect it to the right word.

English can’t do that. We have to keep modifiers close to the word they modify, if not right next to it. So the ESV moves it forward in word order, “the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.”