This post and the ones to follow are more to meet my own needs for Greek review before the start of the new semester in a little over 6 weeks than they are for the edification of my readers; nonetheless, they may, in fact, be incredibly helpful to those who are interested in how we arrive at a given English translation of a New Testament text.
Secondarily this will serve as something of a continuation of my posts regarding homosexuality and the Bible. Since Romans 1:24-27 is the raging storm center of debate regarding the Bible’s ethical teaching where homosexuality is concerned, a close examination of the Greek text which underlies our English translations is a fruitful vein for study and reflection.
Finally, where methodology is concerned, I will be presenting the Greek text as it appears in the Novum Testamentum Graece, edited by Eberhard Nestle and Kurt Aland (Universität Münster, 27. Aufl., rev. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelstiftung, 1993), followed by my translation of the text. From there I will provide my translational notes, including an English transliteration of the Greek text for my non-technical readers.
In addition to consulting the standard Greek-English lexicons (e.g., BDAG, LSJ, Louw-Nida), I will also be consulting various commentaries on the text, such as the works of Cranfield, Murray, Moo, Barth, and Käsemann.
We will begin with Romans 1:24:
Διὸ παρέδωκεν αὐτοὺς ὁ θεὸς ἐν ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις τῶν καρδιῶν αὐτῶν εἰς ἀκαθαρσίαν τοῦ ἀτιμάζεσθαι τὰ σώματα αὐτῶν ἐν αὐτοῖς·
Therefore (i.e., because of human preference for idols over the living God), in the context of these desires of their hearts, God gave them over to an uncleanness consisting of their bodies being dishonored among themselves.
Διὸ (‘dio’ – “for the reason, on this account, therefore.”)
The paraphrase found in Sanday and Headlam’s Commentary on Romans captures well the connection with the preceding line of thought: “Such were the beginnings of idolatry. As a punishment for it…”
ἐν ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις τῶν καρδιῶν αὐτῶν (‘en tais epithymiais ton kardion auton’)
ἐν (‘en’ – “in the context of.”)
The sense of this preposition could be:
- concomitant circumstances (“entangled as they were in); this would be the sphere, moral condition, or state in which Gentiles were found or involved in at the time of God’s giving them over;
- cause (“because of, on account of”);
- instrumental means (“through”); or
- a pleonastic use of ἐν as a simple dative, referring to that to which people are given over to (“to”), which would make the translation, “Therefore God gave them over to the lusts of their hearts”.
In this case, the first option (concomitant circumstances) seems to fit best.
ἐπιθυμίαις (‘epithymiais’ – “desire, yearning, especially sexual desire, lust [LSJ]; craving [BDAG]).
In Greek thought, generally speaking, the word can have a neutral or positive sense, though from the time of Plato onward, and particularly with the Stoics, the word typically acquires the sense of a desire for what is not one’s own, forbidden, and outside of one’s moral purpose.
Paul usually uses the term epithymia in a negative sense to refer to the desires of the sinful impulse operating in the Spirit-less flesh of human existence (see Romans 6:12; 13:14; Galatians 5:16-24). Like every other Jew, Paul could summarize the Mosaic law with the opening phrase of the Tenth Commandment: “You shall not desire…”, from which commandment, “sin produced in me every kind of desire” for forbidden things. Thus sinful epithymia was by no means restricted to unbridled sexual desire or illicit forms of sexual desire, though it is the manifestation of such sexual desires that stand first or second in Pauline vice lists, and is obviously foremost in Paul’s mind here in Romans 1:24-27.
It is also important to be clear that the negative element of epithymia is mandated by the context, not by the use of the term in Platonic and Stoic thought.
More to follow tomorrow…