The translation of Romans 11:31 has me baffled. Starting with v. 30:1

ὥσπερ γὰρ ὑμεῖς ποτε ἠπειθήσατε τῷ θεῷ
Just as you were then disobedient to God

νῦν δὲ ἠλεήθητε τῇ τούτων ἀπειθείᾳ
but now have received mercy because of their disobedience

οὕτως καὶ οὗτοι νῦν ἠπείθησαν
so they too have now been disobedient

τῷ ὑμετέρῳ ἐλέει
by the mercy shown to you

ἵνα καὶ αὐτοὶ [νῦν] ἐλεηθῶσιν.
in order that they might also now receive mercy

The bolded phrase gets tucked into the dependent clause of the last line in nearly all translations:

so they too have now been disobedient
in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.

Despite the looseness of Greek word order, I'm not accustomed to phrases that are part of a dependent clause occuring before the subordinating conjunction (ἵνα, "in order that"). I would have expected that we would need to construe it as part of the previous clause, modifying the verb "have been disobedient":

so they too have now been disobedient because of the mercy shown to you
in order that they might also now receive mercy

I'm not claiming that this makes good sense to me,2 only commenting that I can't figure out how to avoid it. Can anyone outline and/or point me to a discussion of the grammatical points that favor understanding τῷ ὑμετέρῳ ἐλέει as part of the ἵνα clause?

1. I have followed the ESV to the level of the phrase but used the Greek order for the final two lines. ESV is quoted in the second box.
2. . . . ὡς ἀνεξεραύνητα τὰ κρίματα αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀνεξιχνίαστοι αἱ ὁδοὶ αὐτοῦ.


2 Answers 2


30 ὥσπερ γὰρ ὑμεῖς ποτε ἠπειθήσατε τῷ Θεῷ νῦν δὲ ἠλεήθητε τῇ τούτων ἀπειθείᾳ 31 οὕτως καὶ οὗτοι νῦν ἠπείθησαν τῷ ὑμετέρῳ ἐλέει ἵνα καὶ αὐτοὶ νῦν ἐλεηθῶσιν

30 Just as you formerly were disobedient toward God, but have now recieved mercy on account of their disobedience, 31 so now these are disobedient, that by the mercy shown you they too might have mercy shown them.

I'm no Greek scholar but couldn't this (the dative along with the hina here) just be a case of a kind of virtually untranslatable "the mercy shown you being now to their mercy-being-shown-them" situation?


The context of Romans 11:31

Paul is endeavouring to explain Israel's blindness:

For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
-- Romans 11:25

Paul goes on to say, Israel will be saved because God has promised to take away their sins [vv. 26,27]. Concerning THE GOSPEL they are enemies, but concerning THE PROMISE to their fathers' they are beloved (since God doesn't renege on His promises) [vv. 28,29]. Now, because they have not believed God in the past, His mercy has come to you [v 30].

Which brings us to verse 31, which I would translate like this:

Even so, these refuse now to be persuaded by the mercy shown to you, that they, themselves, might now be shown mercy also.


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Focussing on the minutia of the Greek language can blind one to the substance of what is being communicated. Surely, the sensible approach to translation has to be: big picture first, then the minutia.

You only need as much of the minutia as is necessary to make sense of the big picture (Occam's razor). If you are spending too much time bogged down in the minutia, then the chances are very high that you have missed the substance of the message, and need to back out and try again.

  • 2
    IMO, the problem with "You only need as much of the minutia as is necessary to make sense of the big picture" is an epistemological one. I have a big picture that makes sense to me; shall I now eschew the text itself in favor of what I think the big picture suggests it ought to say? How am I to know which minutia might demand reappraisal of my big picture if I refuse to deal with them?
    – Susan
    Apr 7, 2016 at 2:29
  • I didn't say you should refuse to deal with the minutia. I said, "If you are spending too much time bogged down in the minutia". My assumption, of course, is that one wouldn't want to be bogged down ;). So, you have to evaluate your effort at various stages to determine whether your original assumptions need to be modified.
    – enegue
    Apr 7, 2016 at 3:21
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    @enegue - A.) Please be respectful of people in our community. Accusing people of being "bogged down in in the minutia of Greek" - is inappropriate. B.) This is an academic community, not a religious organization; When we want to discuss topics outside of the "minutia of what the texts actually say" - we use other sites; C.) Given all of your comments, you may be more comfortable in the Christianity.Stack, or other sites; Apr 7, 2016 at 13:30
  • @elikakohen you are confused. This is not an academic community. It is a Q & A site. What comments in particular are you referring to? It can't be my answer, because it was appropriate to the question.
    – enegue
    Apr 7, 2016 at 14:03
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    @enegue - I advise you to look at: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/tour and also Is the scope of BH.SE too narrow to make the site fully viable?. Apr 7, 2016 at 14:06

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