Re: Romans 8 and FRONHMA

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Aug 05 1997 - 15:00:45 EDT

At 9:27 AM -0400 8/5/97, James H. Vellenga wrote:
>> 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."

I'm afraid I'd have to dissent from this. FRONEW is a verb of long and
venerable history in Greek, even if one want to argue that much of that
history is irrelevant to NT usage. In the archaic era and in tragedy it
tends to mean "to exercise moral wisdom"--in which case it is synonymous
with SWFRONEIN, "to be of sound mind." FRONEIN is what, according to
Aeschylus in the Agamemnon, Zeus leads humanity toward through suffering.
In Aristotle, FRONHSIS is the word for moral virtue as an exercise of
intelligence in the consistent choice of the mean between excess and
deficiency. In the NT FRONEW more or less consistently means "to think" in
the sense of "focus one's thinking." FRONHMA is fundamentally a "mind-set."
In my view all the genitives that Eric has asked about are subjective
genitives. It should not be so puzzling that SARX has a FRONHMA, if one
considers that SARX is not itself the "material" aspect of selfhood so much
as it is the MENTALITY of a selfhood alienated from one's PNEUMA as a
consequence of sin. Gal 5:19-21 is a loose catalogue of ERGA THS SARKOX
from which it can be seen that most of these ERGA are clearly identifiable
as self-destructive and other-destructive urges--they are aspects of a
self-destructive mind-set.

FRONHMA as "mind-set" or "mentality" is perhaps best of all seen in Phil
understand the TOUTO and hO as implicitly governing TO FRONHMA, and I'd
translate pretty much as tradition does: "Sustain within yourself the
mind-set that even in Christ Jesuus ... "

>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."

Again, I would have to respectfull dissent from this; I don't think
"aspect" has anything to do with these verbal endings. Rather -MA is the
Greek equivalent of the Latin -MEN, and -MENTUM endings which regularly
indicate the RESULT or PRODUCT of the activity designated by the verb root,
so that POIHMA is a "thing created," PRAGMA is an "act performed," etc. The
-SIS verbal suffix, on the other hand, regularly indicates the process or
performance of the activity designated by the verb root, so that POIHSIS
means "creating," or "producing," while PRAXIS means "acting" or
"performing" or "execution." If FRONEW is understood as meaning "exercise
judgment," then FRONHSIS is going to refer to the process or faculty of
exercising judgment, while FRONHMA is going to mean a mental stance that
has been adopted, a mind-set.

>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.

One needs to be very careful when consulting LSJ to see what authors are
using the words in a particular sense and to observe the context in which
their cited uses occur.

>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.

Now here in the upshot I find myself more in agreement with James; I think
"impulse" works pretty well here, so long as one doesn't think of it as a
"blind" impulse; in each instance we have a moral choice or a tendency
toward a certain type of moral choice, a MIND-SET.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(704) 675-4243 OR

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