Re: Romans 8 and FRONHMA

From: James H. Vellenga (
Date: Tue Aug 05 1997 - 09:27:05 EDT

> Date: Tue, 05 Aug 1997 00:01:02 -0500
> From: Eric Weiss <>
> Romans 8:6-7, as well as Romans 8:27 uses the phrases TO FRONHMA THS
> PNEUMATOS almost certainly means "the way the Spirit thinks/what the
> Spirit intends," etc. - i.e., a SUBJECTIVE genitive. Many translations
> which directly translate this verse with this meaning - or indirectly do
> so by translating it quite literally (i.e., "the mind of the Spirit,"
> which would usually be understood as "the way the Spirit thinks" or "the
> mind the Spirit has") - change their tune when they come to 8:6-7, where
> they treat the phrases as OBJECTIVE genitives or as something else
> entirely, i.e.,
  < ... numerous sample translations not repeated -- j.v.>
> I ask: Is it a reluctance by translators to accept - as Paul seems to -
> that the flesh has a mind of its own that causes them to translate TO
> FRONHMA THS SARKOS in 8:6 as "the [person's/human's] mind [which is]
> set on the [things of the] flesh" - and hence because of its immediate
> proximity to translate the following phrase in the same way as "the
> [human] mind set on the Spirit" - instead of as the quite plain "for the
> flesh's way of thinking is death, but the Spirit's way of thinking is
> life and peace"? Or is it because 8:5 states that persons who are
> "according to the flesh" FRONEW "the things of the flesh" - and persons
> who are "according to the Spirit" FRONEW "the things of the Spirit" -
> that inclines translators to assume that FRONHMA in 8:6 and 8:7 refers
> to the subjects of FRONEW in 8:5?
> Granted, 8:27 is several verses away, and the context is different - but
> the fact that Paul uses the exact same words indicates to me that
> translators ought to at least consider translating 8:6-7 the same way
> they translate 8:27 before deciding to translate them quite differently.
> For it is VERY different to view and translate 8:6 and 8:7 as talking
> about the results of the mindset a person chooses or lives by, rather
> than to translate them as statements about what "the flesh" and what
> "the Spirit" - not "humans" - by nature think about or strive for.

My own opinion is that your observations are excellent. My own
resolution of the question is that the words FRONEW, FRONHMA, and for
that matter FRONHSIS are generally misunderstood and mistranslated.

FRONEW, I believe, generally has the sense of "to wish (for)." It's
often translated as "to be minded," which doesn't convey much to the
modern English speaking mind, but the meaning seems to be much simpler.
You can try this in a number of NT contexts, and it makes a lot of
sense; Rom. 12.3, for example, then asks the hearers "not to be
over-wishing beyond what one has to wish for, but to wish for being
sound-wishing," or less hyperliterally, "not to be ambitious beyond what
you need to wish for, but to wish for a clear focus."

As for FRONHMA and FRONHSIS, my observation is that noun endings added
to a verbal stem impart an "aspect" of their own to the meaning of the
word. "-MA" generally seems to denote a punctiliar action, while "-SIS"
seems to denote an ongoing activity. Thus, for example, "KRIMA" is more
of a verdict or ruling, while "KRISIS" denotes the ongoing activity of
judgment. I don't have my index cards with me, but I think I decided
that a good general equivalent for FRONHSIS (except as otherwise
modified by context) is "concern." FRONHMA, if I remember correctly,
appears in the NT only in Romans 8, but if we think of a punctiliar
analog for "concern," we come up with something like "impulse."

I have checked this against the LSJ lexicon on the net at Tufts, which
indicates that FRONHMA can mean not only "mind" but also "spirit,
thought, purpose, will," or even "high spirit, resolution, pride,
presumption, or arrogance." These are close enough to the basic meaning
that I'm proposing so that I don't think I'm too far off.

At any rate, when I feed these interpretations back into Romans 8, I get
the following "forced radically literal" translation:

vv. 5-7:

"Because the ones [who keep] being in accordance with flesh wish for the
things of the flesh, while the ones in accordance with spirit [wish for]
the things of the spirit. Because the impulse of the flesh [is] death,
while the impulse of the spirit [is] life and peace. Therefore, the
impulse of the flesh [is] hostility toward God, because it doesn't
subordinate itself to God's law -- because it isn't even able to."

You will see that I do take "of the spirit" and "of the flesh" in this
case as subjective genitive -- it sort of falls out of the method. I'm
not sure I would agree that the flesh and the spirit have "minds of
their own," but they are certainly capable of having impulses.

The translation "impulse" also fits nicely in v. 27, where we have a
spirit uttering unspoken (unspeakable?) groans -- a Pauline oxymoron? --
but then Paul goes on to say,

"Yet the one [who keeps] investigating the hearts knows what the impulse
of the spirit [is] -- that it intercedes in accordance with God['s
desire] on behalf of saints."

The spirit (or Spirit), groaning without speaking, can't articulate in
words what it wants, but God understands and interprets the impulse.


James H. Vellenga |
Viewlogic Systems, Inc. __|__ 508-303-5491
293 Boston Post Road West | FAX: 508-460-8213
Marlboro, MA 01752-4615 |

"We all work with partial information."

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:24 EDT