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Question:

In Romans 2:4, is καταφρονέω more properly translated into English as 'presume' or 'despise'?

Details:

This is a key point that Paul is making, but since 'presume' and 'despise' are two related, but not identical, concepts I would really like to understand the choices behind these two translations. In English there is a relationship between the words, i.e. to presume upon something or someone is to show contempt for them, however this link is not automatic or even the default.

In my preferred translation, the ESV, Romans 2:4 is rendered:

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

In contrast, the KJV translation renders it:

Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

The NIV renders it:

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

The Dictionary of Biblical Languages defines the word as:

2969 καταφρονέω (kataphroneō): vb.; ≡ Str 2706; TDNT 3.631—LN 88.192 despise, look down on, scorn, show contempt (Mt 6:24; 18:10; Lk 16:13; Ro 2:4; 1Co 11:22; 1Ti 4:12; 6:2; Heb 12:2; 2Pe 2:10+; Tit 2:15 v.r. NA26)

Additionally the ESV Study Bible has this note on the verse:

Do you presume is probably directed against Jews who thought that their covenant relationship with God would shield them from final judgment. After all, they had often experienced his kindness and forbearance and patience. They thought such blessings showed that they were right with God and had no need to trust in Christ, but Paul says the opposite is true: God’s blessings should have led them to repent of their sins.

Given these items, I am not sure how to properly view Paul's use of this word.

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1 Answer 1

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This is a good question. Of the following Lexicon's, only the Liddell-Scott has "presume" as a possible translation. Louw-Nida has "to reckon something as being worthless" which could be short hand to say "presume" but in that entry it cites Rom 2:4 to mean "contempt for (God's) patience." Gingrich cites Rom 2:4 as "Entertain wrong ideas about" which maybe short hand may mean "presume". Below are a few different entries on καταφρονέω (taken from BibleWorks 8)

Friberg Lexicon

15404 καταφρονέω fut. καταφρονήσω; 1aor. κατεφρόνησα; (1) as treating with scornful contempt look down on, despise, disparage (1T 4.12); (2) as treating with neglect disregard, slight, despise (HE 12.2)

Louw-Nida Lexicon

88.192 καταφρονέω: to feel contempt for someone or something because it is thought to be bad or without value - 'to despise, to scorn, to look down on.' καὶ τῆς μακροθυμίας καταφρονεῖς 'and do you have contempt for (God's) patience' Ro 2.4; ὁρᾶτε μὴ καταφρονήσητε ἑνὸς τῶν μικρῶν τούτων 'see that you do not despise one of these little ones' Mt 18.10. In a number of languages the equivalent of 'to despise' is 'to think that something has no value' or 'to reckon something as being worthless.'

Liddell-Scott (Abridged) Lexicon

23233 καταφρονέω f. ήσω, to think down upon, i.e. to look down upon, think slightly of, τινός Hdt., Eur., etc.

2. c. acc. to regard slightly, despise, Hdt., Att.:-Pass. to be thought little of, despised, Xen., etc.

3. absol. to be disdainful, deal contemptuously, Thuc.

4. c. inf. to think contemptuously that, to presume, καταφρονήσαντες κρέσσονες εἶναι Hdt.; καταφρονοῦντες κἂν προαισθέσθαι Thuc. II. c. acc. rei, only in Ion. writers (cf. κατανοέω), to fix one's thoughts upon, aim at, Lat. affectare, τὴν τυραννίδα Hdt.: also to observe with contempt, τι Id. Hence καταφρόνημα

Thayers Lexicon

2859 καταφρονέω, καταφρόνω; future καταφρονήσω; 1 aorist κατεφρόνησα; (from Herodotus down); to contemn, despise, disdain, think little or nothing of: with the genitive of the object (Buttmann, sec. 132, 15), Matt. 6:24; 18:10; Luke 16:13; Rom. 2:4; 1 Cor. 11:22; 1 Tim. 4:12; 6:2; 2 Pet. 2:10; Heb. 12:2.*

Gingrich Lexicon

3539 καταφρονέω—1. look down on, despise, scorn w. gen. Mt 6:24; 18:10; Lk 16:13; 1 Cor 11:22; 1 Ti 4:12; 2 Pt 2:10; Tit 2:15 v.l. Entertain wrong ideas about Ro 2:4; 1 Ti 6:2.—2. care nothing for, disregard, be unafraid of Hb 12:2.* [pg 105]

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