Translation commentary on Romans 1:12

The Greek of this verse is difficult to translate, though the meaning is clear. Paul wants to avoid the implication that he looks upon his visit solely as a means of benefiting his readers: both you and I will be helped. The verb rendered helped is found only here in the New Testament, though a related verb is often used by Paul with the meaning “to encourage.”

Because of the rather succinct nature of verse 12, it may be necessary to employ a somewhat expanded form—for example, “what I mean is that I will help to strengthen you and you will help to strengthen me.” Similarly, the last clause may be rendered as “you will become strong because you know how I believe, and I will become strong because I know how you believe.” In both instances it may be necessary to introduce some direct goal of my faith and your faith—for example, “how I trust Christ” and “how you trust Christ.”

Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1973. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Romans 2:15

When Paul says “they show,” he evidently means their conduct shows, which may be rendered as “by what they do they show” or “by their behavior they indicate.”

“The work of the Law” may be taken either in the sense of what the Law commands (see Jerusalem Bible, An American Translation*, Revised Standard Version), or with the meaning of “the effect of the Law” (New English Bible, Moffatt).

Written in their hearts may be rendered as “exists in their hearts” or “is found in their minds.”

Show that this is true basically means “give testimony as a witness” (see New English Bible “their conscience is called as witness” and An American Translation* “their consciences will testify for them”). Paul gives three evidences to indicate that the Gentiles are a law to themselves, though they do not possess the Mosaic Law: (1) their conduct (2) their consciences, and (3) their thoughts.

It is difficult in many languages to distinguish between “heart” and “conscience.” In some instances there may be a highly idiomatic expression for conscience—for example, “the little man that stands within” or “one’s innermost.” More frequently one must combine the concepts of both thought and heart—for example, “how they think in their hearts.”

The pronoun this in the phrase this is true must refer back to the fact that what the Law commands is written in their hearts. It may be necessary to make this explicit by translating: “what they think in their hearts shows that what the Law commands is written there.”

Their thoughts sometimes accuse them and sometimes defend them is a difficult clause in Greek, though most modern translations accept the same exegesis that the Good News Translation follows. The Greek of this clause is difficult because there is no expressed object of the verb accuse or defend. It is possible to render this as the King James Version does, “their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another”; but the question is whether Paul is speaking of a person’s thoughts sometimes accusing and sometimes defending himself, or whether he is thinking of a person’s thoughts sometimes accusing and sometimes defending someone else. In light of the rest of the verse, the former of these possibilities is probably better. Accuse and defend are expressed in some languages as direct discourse—for example, “sometimes their thoughts say, You did wrong, and sometimes their thoughts say, You did right.”

Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1973. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Romans 3:25

The verb rendered offered (Revised Standard Version, Moffatt “put forward”; Jerusalem Bible, Phillips “appointed”; New English Bible “designed”) may be used with the special sense of “to offer as sacrifice” or even “to display publicly” (see An American Translation* “showed … publicly”). In 1.13 it is used in the sense of “to plan.”

The phrase by his death (Jerusalem Bible “to sacrifice his life”; New English Bible “by his sacrificial death”; An American Translation* “dying”) is literally “by his blood,” but “blood” is used in this passage in the same way that it is used in a number of other places in the New Testament, that is, to indicate a violent death. (See also the comments at 5.9.) The means by which men’s sins are forgiven (see New English Bible “the means of expiating sin”) is used in the Septuagint as a translation of “the mercy seat” that was a part of the covenant box (or ark), and so may also mean “the place where sins were forgiven” (see Hebrews 9.5, the only other occurrence of this word in the New Testament). Although this noun (and its related forms) is sometimes used by pagan writers in the sense of propitiation (that is, an act to appease or placate a god), it is never used this way in the Old Testament. There God never appears as the object of this noun (that is, the one who is placated), though God does appear as the subject with sin as the object, in which case the meaning is “God expiates (that is, forgives) sins.” For this reason, the meaning of expiation (equivalent to Good News Translation the means by which men’s sins are forgiven) is a much more accurate translation than propitiation (see Moffatt and Phillips “the means of propitiation”).

The Greek phrase “through faith” fits very loosely into the overall sentence structure, though it is generally agreed that it goes with the entire thought of the passage rather than with the words “in his blood” (Good News Translation by his death). The Good News Translation indicates this by making the object of “through faith” explicit (through their faith in him), while the New English Bible and the Jerusalem Bible have placed “through faith” at the end of the sentence. As was mentioned earlier, verses 23-26 in the Greek text are one sentence, which the Good News Translation makes into several shorter sentences. And in order to show the connection between the thought that follows and the earlier thought in this verse, the Good News Bible introduces the second sentence with the words God did this. The verb to demonstrate (a noun phrase in Greek) includes in its meaning the idea of “to prove.” To demonstrate his righteousness is taken by some translations (Moffatt, Jerusalem Bible) to mean “to demonstrate his justice” (New English Bible). A major question of course, is what does Paul mean by his use of “righteousness” in this context? If it refers to God’s justice, then the thought is linked rather closely with what Paul says in verse 26, to demonstrate his righteousness. On the other hand, it is possible to understand the phrase to demonstrate his righteousness in light of what is said in the earlier part of verse 25 and so take it to mean “to demonstrate how God puts men right with himself.” Moreover, this would have the advantage not only of carrying through the thought begun in the first part of this same verse, but also of tying in with what is said at the end of verse 26, in this way God shows … that he puts right everyone who believes in Jesus.

The concepts expressed in the first part of verse 25 are not only difficult, but the relations between the ideas are quite complex. The first sentence, particularly, involves a number of different relations of meaning. God offered him is the means for the purpose clause which begins with the conjunctive phrase so that. By his death is a phrase which indicates the means for the result he should become. By which men’s sins are forgiven is another expression of means, and finally, through their faith in him expressed even an additional type of means. In order to express these relations in a fully intelligible manner one may have to semantically restructure this first sentence and to divide it into more than one sentence—for example, “God offered Christ so that he would become the one by whom men’s sins are forgiven. Christ would do this by his death. By people’s faith in Christ they would experience forgiveness,” or “God offered Christ so that because Christ died he would cause men to have their sins forgiven; they would have their sins forgiven because they had faith in Christ.”

In the second sentence of verse 25 the relations are not so complex; “God offered Christ” is merely the means to accomplish the purpose of showing how “he puts men right with himself.”

God … was patient (literally “because of God’s patience”) comes from verse 26, where it concludes the clause begun in this verse. However, for English readers it more naturally comes first in the clause, and so it is placed there by the Good News Translation (see also New English Bible “because in his forbearance he had overlooked the sins of the past”). Although it is possible that the verb rendered overlooked may instead mean “forgave” (see Phillips “by the wiping out of the sins of the past”), there seems to be very little support for that interpretation here. If Paul wanted to say that God has forgiven the sins of the past, he could easily have done so and make himself clear to his readers.

In the past may be translated in some instances as “before now,” “up until now,” or “in years that are gone.”

In selecting a word for overlooked it is important not to imply that “God paid no attention to” or that “God was completely unaware of men’s sins.” Rather, one must indicate that God chose to pay no attention to such sins—for example, “God passed on as though the people had not sinned,” “God refused to look at people’s sins,” or “God passed over sins.”

Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1973. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Romans 5:6

In this sentence the subject, Christ, and the main verb, died, are emphatic; they occur first and last in the structure, with all the other elements coming in between. The word rendered helpless (so also An American Translation* and Jerusalem Bible) actually means “weak,” but it is agreed that it has this meaning in the present passage (see New English Bible “powerless”; Phillips “powerless to help ourselves”).

It is important that the translator realize that we are included in the group of the wicked, and not that we and wicked are set in contrast.

It is assumed by most translators and commentators that the phrase translated at the time that God chose is connected with the verb died. This phrase is related in meaning to the one in Galatians 4.4, when the right time finally came, and is rendered in a variety of ways in different translations. Perhaps the nearest thing to a literal rendering appears in the Revised Standard Version, “at the right time” (An American Translation* “at the decisive moment”; Jerusalem Bible “at his [Christ’s] appointed time”). The New English Bible appears to connect this primarily with the time of our helplessness, though it does relate it also to the time of Christ’s death (“for at the very time when we were still powerless, then Christ died”). However one translates this phrase, in this context it refers to the time that was within God’s purpose and choice. This is the reason that the translation appears as it does in the Good News Translation.

The principal difficulty in verse 6 is the occurrence of two expressions of time, both relating, but in different ways, to the main clause Christ died for the wicked. The first expression is a general term for time, equivalent in some languages to “during the time that we were still helpless.” The second expression of time is quite specific (sometimes called punctiliar) and is translated as “at the specific time.” In some languages the second expression of time is best treated as a separate sentence—for example, “while we were still helpless, Christ died for us who were wicked; he died just at the time that God chose.” It may be necessary to introduce “us who were wicked” in order to make it perfectly clear that Christ died for the same persons who were still helpless.

An expression for helplessness may be “we could not help ourselves.”

In rendering at the time that God chose, the idea of choosing a time may need to be expressed in quite a different manner from that of choosing an object. One may need to employ some other type of verbal expression—for example, “at the time that God decided” or “at the time that God decided was best.” In these contexts “time” must refer to an occasion, not to time as a continuity or a continuation of events. In some languages the expression of occasion may only be rendered as “on the day that God chose,” since “day” is also a generic expression for “occasion.”

In the phrase for the wicked the preposition for must be taken with the meaning of “for the sake of,” and not with the meaning “in place of.” Moreover, it is valuable to realize that in the present passage Paul is not dealing so much with the theology of redemption as he is with the extent to which God went in order to show his love for sinful man. In most languages there is a well-defined way of introducing benefactives, that is to say, persons who are benefited by some particular action or event, introduced generally in English by the preposition for. However, in some languages benefaction is expressed specifically by a purpose clause with the verb “to help”—for example, “Christ died in order to help us who were wicked.”

Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1973. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Romans 6:20 – 6:21

In these two verses Paul once again reminds the Roman believers of the situation in which they lived before they came to Christ. The meaning of the word righteousness in this verse needs some attention. In verse 18 righteousness is evidently made parallel with the truths found in the teaching you received of verse 17. But what is the meaning of righteousness in verse 19 and 20? Righteousness in these last two instances is best taken in a way related to its use in verse 18. That is, the more general meaning of righteousness in these two verses is “doing what God requires,” and in verse 18 the specific requirements that God makes are identified with the truths found in the teaching you received (from God). And because Paul speaks in this context of impurity and wickedness as the results of slavery to sin, so it is likely that the major emphasis in righteousness in this passage is on the moral and ethical demands that God makes on his people.

It is not easy to translate satisfactorily the clause you were free from righteousness. The most satisfactory equivalent in some languages is simply “you were not under obligation to do what God required.”

What did you gain? is literally “what fruit did you receive?”, a common figure for Jewish speakers, and it is translated in a variety of ways: New American Bible “what benefit did you then enjoy?”; New English Bible “what was the gain?”; Jerusalem Bible “what did you get from this?”

The question in verse 21 may be changed into a statement, “You certainly did not receive any good from the things that you are ashamed of now” or “Those things which cause you to be ashamed now certainly did not benefit you at all.” The final clause, the result of those things is death, may be translated as “these things (or experiences) cause your death” or “doing such things causes people to die.”

In verse 21 there is a problem of punctuation. The question mark may come at the point where it is in the Good News Translation (so also Revised Standard Version, An American Translation*); or the question mark may be placed earlier in the sentence (New American Bible “what benefit did you then enjoy? Things you are now ashamed of, all of them tending toward death”; see also New English Bible, Jerusalem Bible, and Moffatt).

Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1973. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Romans 8:7

This verse takes up the thought of verse 6a and gives the reason for the statement made there. For a literal translation of the first half of this verse, see the Revised Standard Version: “for the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God.” But when Paul uses the word mind in such a context, he is referring to the entire person, who is considered God’s enemy. The Jerusalem Bible expresses this thought by “that is because to limit oneself to what is unspiritual is to be at enmity with God.” It is generally agreed that law in this verse must be understood in the widest sense possible and is therefore not limited to the Jewish Law in particular.

The clause when his mind is controlled by human nature may be best interpreted in some languages as condition—for example, “and so if a man thinks only about what his body wants, he becomes an enemy of God” or “… he fights against God.”

And in fact he cannot obey it is literally “neither is it (the mind) able.” Here also “mind” is equivalent to the entire person, and so appears in the Good News Translation as he. At the same time the Good News Bible makes explicit the meaning of “is not able”: cannot obey it (“God’s law”). The Jerusalem Bible translates: “never could … submit to God’s law.”

Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1973. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Romans 9:3

I myself is an emphatic construction in Greek and the Good News Translation seeks to indicate the emphasis.

Under God’s curse renders one word in Greek (Revised Standard Version “accursed”; New English Bible “outcast”; Jerusalem Bible “condemned”). In the Septuagint this translates a Hebrew word describing persons or things that could not be put to ordinary use, since they were set apart to God and so had to be destroyed. In Greek this word is anathema, and Paul says, literally, “I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ.” The Good News Translation and others (Revised Standard Version, Jerusalem Bible, An American Translation*, Moffatt) indicate this statement as having two elements: under God’s curse and separated from Christ. Others take it as having only one element: “outcast from Christ” (New English Bible) and “separated from Christ” (New American Bible). For the use of this word in the Septuagint, see such passages as Leviticus 27.28; Deuteronomy 7.26; Joshua 6.17-18; 7.12-13; Zechariah 14.11. In the New Testament this term occurs also in 1 Corinthians 16.22 and Galatians 1.8-9.

It is important that the introductory phrase for their sake be clearly related to what follows. This may be expressed in some languages as “if I could help them I would wish” or “in order to help them I would be glad to.” In many instances it is best to treat this introductory statement as a condition of probability, certainly not of actual fact, since Paul is not stating that his being cursed by God would, in fact, be of benefit to his kinsman. Therefore, “if I could help them I would wish” or “if it would be of help to them I could wish.”

That I myself were under God’s curse may be restructured as “that God himself would curse me” or “that the curse from God’s power would be upon me.”

The last phrase, separated from Christ, may be translated as “no longer belong to Christ” or “no longer have a part with Christ.”

Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1973. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Romans 10:5

Paul now speaks of the two ways of seeking salvation, the way of the Law and the way of faith, and illustrates these from Old Testament passages.

About being put right with God by obeying the Law is literally “about the righteousness which is from the Law.” Here again “righteousness” is taken to mean the act of being put right with God, while the phrase “which is from the Law” is best understood in the sense of “which comes from obeying the Law.” It is obvious that Law here refers specifically to the Jewish Law.

This verse has a textual problem, and one solution is reflected in the Good News Translation (cf. Moffatt, New English Bible, Jerusalem Bible, New American Bible), while another solution is reflected in the Revised Standard Version (cf. An American Translation*). The question is whether the words rendered in the Good News Translation as about being put right with God by obeying the Law are to be taken as a part of what Moses wrote, or as an introduction to the words which Moses wrote. If the solution of the Revised Standard Version is followed, then the translation into current English would read: “Moses wrote, Whoever does what the Law commands in order to be put right with God will live by it.” Although the manuscript evidence is fairly well divided, the solution of the Good News Translation is favored, because its manuscript support is early and diversified, and because it is easier to see why the scribes would tend to make changes in one direction rather than in the other.

The pronoun this in the introductory expression this is what Moses wrote about being put right with God by obeying the Law refers to what follows, and in many languages it must be placed immediately before the direct discourse, or else the introductory expression must be rather radically modified—for example, “Moses wrote about how God puts men right with himself because they obey the Law [or “by their obeying the Law”]. He had this to say…” or “When Moses wrote about how people are put right with God by obeying the Law, he said….”

The quotation in this verse comes from Leviticus 18.5, but the words what the Law commands are not explicit in this quotation. However, in light of the first part of this verse, it is important to make this information explicit in a translation (note Jerusalem Bible “when Moses refers to being justified by the Law, he writes: those who keep the Law will draw life from it”).

The direct quotation “Whoever does…” is a general statement and may apply to any and all persons. As such, it may also be considered as a conditional—for example, “If a man does what the Law commands, he will live by it.” However, the reference to the Law in the phrase by it, as an expression of the means by which a person lives, may require considerable modification in languages in which such an expression of means becomes the agent of a verb of cause—for example, “If a man does what the Law commands, the Law will cause him to live.” One must avoid the meaning of “live in conformity to the Law,” which could be the meaning of the English expression live by it.

Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1973. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .