Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

You are here

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Is Paul’s apostolic call for God’s sake? (Rom 1:5)

One of the difficult tasks in translation is how to order phrases. In English, we use proximity to connect ideas. Consider the NIV on Rom 1:5.

“Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.”

In English, “for his name’s sake” must modify “the obedience that comes from faith.” But in Greek, this is probably not the case. As you know, Greek’s phrases do not have to be next to the word they are modifying. Sometimes there are grammatical “hooks” such as a relative pronoun agreeing with its antecedent in gender and number. But other times the hooks are more subtle.

In his commentary, Doug Moo makes a good case for seeing χάριν καὶ ἀποστολήν as the main statement, modified by three prepositional phrases. Paul’s apostleship was for the obedience of faith (εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως), it was for all Gentiles (ἐν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν), and it was on behalf of God’s name (ὑπὲρ τοῦ ὀνόματος αὐτοῦ). The final phrase sits at the end of the sentence, but the Greek structure makes it clear that all three prepositional phases modify χάριν καὶ ἀποστολήν. The parallel structure is the hook the original readers would have seen.

That is why the NIV needs to be adjusted, since it means that our faith is for God’s sake. By switching the order of the first two phrases (to make it clear that the Gentiles were called to faith), it obscures the meaning of the final phrase. This could be remedied by placing a comma after “Gentiles” (see the HCSB).

It is interesting to see how other translations try to handle this. The ESV swaps the final two phrases. “We have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.” The NET keeps the word order, but doing so obscures the connection of the phrase in question to Paul’s apostolic call. “Through him we have received grace and our apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles on behalf of his name.” The expansive NLT makes its meaning clear: “Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority as apostles to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him, bringing glory to his name.”

Another way would be to use a relative clause. “Through him we received grace and apostleship, which was about faith and obedience, for all the Gentiles, and for his name’s sake.” Not very eloquent English, but it is accurate.

There are a lot of other interesting Greek questions in this verse, such as the relationship of “grace” and “apostleship,” but that remains for another post.