Negation and discourse prominence (was Romans 7:15)

From: Micheal Palmer (
Date: Sat Apr 18 1998 - 23:14:07 EDT

At 11:54 AM -0500 4/14/98, Carl W. Conrad wrote:
>At 10:49 AM -0500 4/14/98, Williams, Wes wrote:
>>In Romans 7:15,
>>For what I do not wish, this I practice vs
>>For what I wish, this I do not practice.
>>At first glance, it looks like the OU should modify QELW (I do not
>>want). But a cursory glance at fifteen English translations reveals that
>>almost all of them take the OU with PRASSW (I do not practice). Why do
>>most translations take the OU with PRASSW?
>>Now that I typed the question I think I see the answer, but will pose
>>the question anyway (many problems are solved by merely identifying the
>>question). Is it due to the ALLA clause that follows, which contrasts
>>the above clause with "rather, that which I hate, this I practice?
>>Therefore, since a contrast is present, it argues that the OU should go
>>with PRASSW since this would form a contrasting statement. Is this the
>>reason or is there another?
>I'd say that the word-order itself and standard usage of hOUTOS forms,
>especially neuter sg. or pl., to refer to something already mentioned, are
>pretty solid indications here. The fact that the GAR follows immediately
>upon the OU, which most normally immediately precedes what is negated, also
>should be viewed as an indication that it is the whole proposition that is
>negated here. The force of the word-order is something like: "For it's not
>what I WANT--not THAT--that I do ..."

While Carl's translation seems reasonable to me (Doesn't it always?), my
sense of clause-initial OU in the Hellenistic period is that it negates the
entire clause in a slightly different way, giving a sense more like this:

        For it's not true that hO` QELW TOUTO PRASSW
        For it's not the case that I do what I wish to do OR
        The proposition "I do what I want to do" is incorrect

Does this seem wrong to you Carl? Here the entire main clause (including
both the relative clause hO` QELW and TOUTO PRASSW) is negated, not just
the relative clause which OU immediately precedes.

As to the word order, OU falls immediately before the relative clause
(except for GAR), but this position is also the beginning of the larger
main clause. The relative clause appears in this initial position because
it is thematic (a discourse analysis term meaning roughly that even though
it is not the grammatical subject, it is the focus of of the sentence). The
presence of the demonstrative TOUTO referring back to the relative clause
strenghthens this thematic status.

The placement of OU, then becomes ambiguous. It *could* be negating only
the relative clause, or the entire main clause (including the relative
clause). If the author had meant to negate only the relative clause, this
could have been accomplished by placing it (along with OU) after the the
main verb, PRASSW, or by placing some other element, such as a subject
pronoun, before OU to occupy the cause-initial position. Each of these
strategies would have had a negative impact on the thematic status of the
relative clause, though.

Micheal W. Palmer
Religion & Philosophy
Meredith College

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