How To Translate Romans 1:17

I just answered the following question at the “Perspectives in Translation” forum: “How Should a Translation Render Rom. 1:17?” My answer is an interaction with Doug Moo’s contention that a “literal” translation of Romans 1:17 is impossible. I disagree with Moo, and you can read why here.

10 Responses to How To Translate Romans 1:17

  1. Micheal J November 3, 2010 at 11:23 am #

    I would have to agree with the venerable Dr. Metts here – the phrase carries semantic density, so wouldn’t a literal translation have to draw out the three or four ideas connoted within the phrase?

  2. Bill Blair November 3, 2010 at 12:25 pm #

    After reading the two discussions (yours and Moo’s)my main reaction is that I am shocked that I understand what both of you are talking about. ;-)This made me realize that Dr. Plummer does a great job teaching the Greek online classes I am currently wrapping up at SBTS. Interesting discussion.

  3. Ron November 3, 2010 at 1:04 pm #

    Good stuff, DB,as always.

  4. Donald Johnson November 3, 2010 at 6:26 pm #

    I agree “righteous of God” is a pretty good translation, preserving the possibilities in the Greek.

  5. Daniel November 3, 2010 at 7:58 pm #

    Would you say “faith of Jesus Christ” is the literal rendering of that genitive expression?

  6. Charlton Connett November 3, 2010 at 8:44 pm #

    Would you care to give a contextual example of the question? In Romans 1:17 “Righteousness of God” is a good translation. What specific instance of “faith of Jesus Christ” are you thinking of, Daniel?

  7. Daniel November 3, 2010 at 10:34 pm #

    Romans 3:22; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 2:20; Galatians 3:22; Philippians 3:9.

    In each of these texts translators have to make a decision in regard to the genitive–subjective or objective.

    I think that Moo’s point fits quite well in this regard. There is no “literal” translation. The English language doesn’t have a literal equivalent to the Greek genitive. The translator must make a decision. Both “faith in Christ” and “faith of Christ” are valid literal translations.

  8. Brent Hobbs November 3, 2010 at 10:58 pm #

    I agree with both of you, for the most part. You’re both right, but Moo is a little more right. 🙂

    There really are both good aspects and drawbacks to either translation of “righteousness of God.” I think the audience has more to do with which ends up better conveying the meaning.

    To an educated reader, one familiar with the issues and possibilities in 1:17, I think the more general “righteousness of God” is better.

    For the unchurched or casual reader, “righteousness from God” does a better job of conveying the main sense of the phrase, though admittedly (and unfortunately) excluding some of the nuance.

  9. MatthewS November 4, 2010 at 8:07 am #

    Good explanation, Brent.

    The ideal case is that the reader will stop and think through the possibilities of a genitive phrase like “righteousness of God.” For the reader who does so, a more interpretive translation actually can take something away.

    But the reality is that most people are very busy with their lives and don’t study either grammar or the Bible very deeply and have very little idea what a genitive even is. Even those who know might not take the time to think about it. In that case, a more interpretive translation does make some decisions for them and it narrows the field but it also helps them not jump to conclusions (or at least, it helps them jump to different conclusions).

    This gets back to the fact that knowing which is the best translation depends somewhat on knowing the audience and how they will use it.

  10. Charlton Connett November 4, 2010 at 9:42 am #

    The above mentioned is why I think it is important to note that Denny is here talking about Romans 3:17, and not “righteousness of God” in general. In certain verses a less interpretive translation is better, in others a more interpretive translation is better, depending on the actual context of the passage. As was previously noted in the NIV 2011 thread, in order to address these issues we should go verse by verse through Scripture as no one rule will cover every situation. I think this is also a major reason that expository preaching is so important. A pastor who is devoted to the text can explain a passage and the various implications of that passage so that those without training can learn to better read and understand Scripture themselves, thus leading to more theologically informed Christians.

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