Re: Romans 2:14(a)

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sun Aug 25 1996 - 07:31:04 EDT

At 8:59 PM -0500 8/24/96, Marty Brownfield wrote:
>I've been wondering about this for a long time.

I've been wondering about it overnight at least: it is an interesting puzzler.

>Romans 2:14(a) reads:
>All major English translations that I am aware of take FUSEI with the phrase
>following it. The RSV is typical:
>"When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires"
>However, Cranfield prefers to take FUSEI with the preceding phrase. Here is
>his translation (taken from his "Romans: A Shorter Commentary"):
>"When Gentiles who do not possess the law by nature actually do the things
>which the law requires"

Well, his translation actually preserves the ambiguity of the positioning
of FUSEI between the two; this has always seemed to me the virtue of an
honest translation. Here "by nature" does "naturally" modify the verb in
the preceding relative clause, it COULD be construed even so with the
clause that follows, just as FUSEI does in Paul's original Greek. But then,
of course, he explains how he understands it with that preceding clause.

I am reminded a little of our previous discussion a few months back of the
way Paul seems to understand his key proof text from Hab 2:4 in Rom
1:17--hO DE DIKAIOS EK PISTEWS ZHSETAI. It would certainly appear from his
argument that he wants to construe EK PISTEWS as attributive with DIKAIOS,
even though normal (classical Attic) grammatical usage would prefer such an
attributive adverbial expression to take a second article: hO DIKAIOS hO EK
PISTEWS. I don't have the dates of that B-Greek discussion ready to hand,
but I recall we did discuss it, and on more than one occasion, for that
matter. So here too we have a standard interpretation involving an
adverbial expression (FUSEI) that would seem to construe logically with the
clause that follows; Cranfield, however, prefers to construe FUSEI with TA
EQNH TA MH EXONTA NOMON. So far as word-order is concerned, I see less
objection here than to the standard reading of 1:17's Habakkuk citation,
ALTHOUGH Paul's intention to mean what Cranfield interprets would be
clearer had he written TA EQNH TA MH FUSEI EXONTA NOMON.

>Cranfield explains "by nature" here as "by virtue of their birth".
>Cranfield's suggestion parallels what Paul will say later about
>circumcision in
>v. 27, where it is clear that the phrase EK FUSEWS (is this vastly different
>than FUSEI?) modifies H AKROBUSTIA ("the uncircumcision") and not TON NOMON
>TELOUSA ("fulfill the law"). In other words, no one would say that in v.27
>has the uncircumcision "fulfilling the law by nature" (this is due to the word
>order in v.27; EK FUSEWS is in the attributive position).
>Is Cranfield way off base here? In particular, is FUSEI = "by birth"
>outrageous? (In my mind this was the weak link in his argument, but maybe the
>meaning is more natural (pun intended) than I see.)

It's not outrageous, but if I may pun also, it seems to suggest a kind of
inversion of nature. Does the parallel in v. 27 really help? At least the
phrase EK FUSEWS there is better positioned as an attributive (hH EK FUSEWS
AKROBUSTIA), but on the other hand uncircumcsion IS the natural state of
the male, while circumcision is an ethnic (albeit not "Gentile")
self-identifying rite. It's quite clear that he's not declaring
circumcision to be natural, but he's saying, I think that observance of the
Law depends upon the will, not upon natural endowment.

Now what actually is meant by FUSEI in 2:14? I think Paul explains this in
the remainder of 14 and in 15. ... hEAUTOIS EISIN NOMOS: hOITINES
always thought that Paul was here relying upon the Stoic conception of
LOGOS as the law of nature which, when it becomes articulate and
intelligible in the mind of the individual rational creature, effects the
fulfilment of the individual's moral obligations so that the individual
lives "the life according to nature," i.e. KATA FUSIN ZHi. I think then
that FUSEI more properly equates to the stoic adverbial phrase KATA FUSIN
and should not be understood as meaning "by birth."

Furthermore, can either Jews or Gentiles be said to "have the law" BY
BIRTH? Doesn't it depend fundamentally upon rigorous religious and moral
education? It would better fit the Stoic argument--or even a Socratic
understanding of moral EPISTHMH as innate in the mind but UNCONSCIOUS and
in need of education to bring the individual to self-knowledge.

So, I don't think that Cranfield's interpretation fits the text and the
logical sequence of Paul's argument adequately. I this rather that we must
see the Stoic doctrine of natural morality behind Rom 2:14-15. On the other
hand, I also think we should understand this whole endeavor in Rom 1 and 2
to place Jews and Gentiles on the same moral plane as purely
theoretical/hypothetical. In fact Paul does not concede that either Jews or
Gentiles observe the Law in a fashion that will win their salvation.
Rather, Jews and Gentiles alike are utter failures at keeping the Law, as
he states clearly in chapter 3. His point in chapter 2, I think, is that
the Law WOULD save Gentiles as soon as it WOULD save Jews, IF, in fact,
Gentiles OR Jews really DID observe the Law--but in fact, NEITHER Gentile
NOR Jew observes the Law.

It will be interesting to read what others think about Cranfield's
interpretation of the verse. And thanks to Marty Brownfield for the

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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