Re: Romans 8:3

From: Jim Beale (
Date: Sat May 17 1997 - 06:52:25 EDT

At 2:26 AM -0400 5/17/97, Paul Zellmer wrote:

>Jim Beale wrote:
>> ...snip
>> (a) TO ADUNATON is cognate to ASQENEW, but this leaves me wondering
>> what sense can be made of EN hWi, which would have to be a coordinating
>> conjunction, "in which." BDF suggests that EN hWi should be rendered
>> "because" (S. 219(2)). So does Zerwick (S. 119). It seems to me
>> that if it is taken as "because" then it is more difficult to take TO
>> ADUNATON as an accusative.
>Jim, how does the explanation of the source of the lack of ability or
>power preclude the adjective from being accusative or nominative or (if
>the form had been thus) dative or genitive? It seems to me that the
>locative phrase is a description of ADUNATON.

I supposed that EN hWi as "because" stands in opposition to seeing the
accusative because I can't find anything in the previous context to which
a causal clause might be coordinate. Perhaps you do not find this a
compelling (or even a coherent) reason? I'm open to suggestions. :-)

>Perhaps I have too restrictive a usage of cognate, but is this not
>normally related to the derivation of a word? If this is the case, then
>I see no cognates to this word expressed in this verse.

I'd say that there are strict cognates, and loose cognates. Robertson
writes that,

   It may be either that of inner content, ..., objective result
   ..., or even a kindred word in idea but a different root, as
   DARHSETAI OLIGAS (PLHRAS, Lu. 12:48). Considerable freedom
   must thus be given the term 'cognate' as to both form and idea.
   ... The quasi-cognate is due to analogy where the idea, not the
   form, is cognate.
   (Long Grammar, pg. 477)

So, I take ADUNATOS and ASQENEW as substantial, not formal, cognates.

>> (b) Supposedely, TO ADUNATON TOU NOMOU can be taken in apposition to
>> the principal clause, "hO QEOS ... KATEKRINEN THN hAMARTIAN EN THi
>> SARKI," but I'm not sure how to make sense of this idea.
>If KATEKRINEN is actually the verb of the principal clause, then perhaps
>the entire concept of the action of God is promoted as the opposite of
>the action (or lack thereof) by the law. Of course, most of our English
>translations handle this difficult verse by supposing the verb, "did".
>They then make KATEKRINEN a result of God's activity.
>As far as making sense of the idea, remember that ADUNATON TOU NOMOU is
>standing in place of a noun, and a noun is a person, place, thing, or
>*idea*. A whole verbal concept could be considered as an idea, right?

I suppose that this _is_ the case. The fact that the neuter article
is supplied makes the concept seem very definite to me (cf. BDF 263).
The definite concept intended seems to be, "the specific thing that
the law could not do."

>> (c) If it must be taken as accusative, this makes the most sense to me.
>> ASQENEW is intransitive, and so an adverbial accusative is at least
>> possible. Still, it isn't very satisfying.
>> ADUNATON, as a verbal adjective, can either have an active or a passive
>> sense: either "weakness" or "impossibility". The NT usage seems to be
>> unanimous in favor of the active sense. Also, I think that if ADUNATON
>> was passive, it would rather be followed by the dative TWi NOMWi. So,
>> I think that ADUNATON is active.
>I'm sorry, but I have a problem seeing a description as being either
>active or passive. It's stative. As such, the genitive would be the
>case regardless of whether Paul is talking about the weakness, the
>impossibility, or the lack of ability, would it not? What is the
>example that you are thinking about where a description is followed by
>the dative?

Robertson has an interesting discussion in his big grammar, where he
quotes from Moulton (I, 221) who

   points out the wavering between the active and passive idea
   when the true verbal exists in the N.T., by the example of
   ADUNATON in Ro. 8:3. Is it "incapable" as in Ro. 15:1 or
   "impossible" as is usual?
   (pp. 372)

>> Last, it seems to me that TO GAR ADUNATON TOU NOMOU is best seen as a
>> nominative absolute. None of the ways to understand it as an accusative
>> are persuasive, though I'm sure there is more to be said. Either way,
>> it is a difficult verse.
>If you allow for the omission of a verb (whether it be the result of
>excitement, the strength of the contrast being made between the
>abilities of the law and of God, Paul's losing track of his train of
>thought, or whatever), then TO ADUNATON would be an accusative which is
>in apposition to the thing which was done by God. Now, I realize that
>the verb posited by most English translations is a form of POIEW, but
>that *is* just a guess.

If POIEW is supposed, that would seem to make TOU NOMOU a subjective
genitive, and TO ADUNATON would have to be an adverbial accusative.
But, oh, I just don't know... :-(

>I agree that this is a difficult verse in its grammar. I feel that the
>difficulty may well lie in the possibility that the thought is not
>completely stated. If that is the case, then we might not be able to
>solve the classification of TO ADUNATON to your satisfaction.

I'm not as keenly interested in classifying TO ADUNATON as I am in
understanding the thought of the apostle. This _may_ well be an
instance of anacoluthon, but at least it is constructio ad sensum.

Murray quotes Meyer to the effect that,

   This condemnation of sin (the latter conceived as principle
   and power) is that which was _impossible_ on the part of the
   law, owing to the hindrance of the flesh. . . Impossible to
   the law was only such a condemnation of sin, as should depose
   the latter from the sway which it had hitherto maintained;
   consequently: He made sin forfeit its dominion. This de facto
   judicial condemnation is designated by KATEKRINE
   (The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT, footnote 5, pg. 277)

In Christ,
Jim Beale

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