1

The letter to the Romans is concluded with the words: "to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen." (Rom. 16:27, ESV) Does this mean there are other gods who are not wise?

There may be a translation issue here, as KJV has: "To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen." The issue, however, does not involve a manuscript variation.

Textus Receptus reads: μονω σοφω θεω δια ιησου χριστου ω ω η δοξα εις τους αιωνας αμην.

SBL Greek NT reads: μόνῳ σοφῷ θεῷ διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ᾧ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας· ἀμήν.

The Greek is the same, but the preponderance in modern translations favors "the only wise God" (see NASB, NIV, RSV, NRSV, etc.) So the question remains, Are there other gods who are not wise? If, however, you wish to argue in favor of the KJV rendering, you may.

  • "The only wise God" does not necessarily imply other deities who are not wise, but this wording can stand even if no such existed at all. E.g., if there existed the only fast-running unicorn and one exclaimed: "lo, our only fast-running unicorn!", this would not imply that there are also slow-running unicorns, rather, the phrase simply acknowledges that there is a unicorn and that it is fast, without any spitefulness to other slow-unicorns, granted the latter do not exist. Yet, Paul could mean this counter-position too: our God - wise; pagan gods - unwise. Greek could be taken in both ways. – Levan Gigineishvili Oct 12 '17 at 1:17
  • See also John 17:3, for a similar expression. – Lucian Oct 12 '17 at 5:34
6

This text is just talking about God and his attributes. It's not trying to make a distinction between God and other gods.

Both adjectives, μόνῳ and σοφῷ, are in the attributive position. In fact, μόνῳ σοφῷ θεῷ is an anarthrous adjetive-noun construction. On this construction, Wallace (1996, p. 309) mentions the following:

Thus when it has been determined from the context that an adjective in an adjective-noun construction (note the order: adj., then noun) expresses an attributive relation to the noun, it is in the first (anarthrous) attributive position (e.g., ἀγαθὸς βασιλεύς = a good king). This is common enough, occurring hundreds of times in the NT.

So the adjectives μόνῳ ("only") and σοφῷ ("wise") modify the noun θεῷ ("God"). Something similar also say Mathewson & Emig (2016, p. 59):

In the doxology of Rom. 16, "only" and "wise" contribute additional attributes to "the eternal God" (v. 26). They precede θεῷ and thus should be considered emphatic.

On the basis of the above, "to the only wise God" follows the same word order as in the Greek and it's an appropriate translation of the text. Nevertheless, KJV makes a possible emphasis, "represents God as the only wise being" (Haldane, 1874, p. 251).

An alternative translation could make use of something known as coordinated adjectives. The coordinated adjectives are adjectives that equally and independently modify the same noun. They are typically separated by commas, and very rarely, by the word and (Einsohn, 2005, p. 100). e.g. the phrase the blue, clear sky. The adjectives blue and clear both modify, or describe, the noun sky, or using the word and, the sentence would read: the blue and clear sky. With this in mind, μόνῳ σοφῷ θεῷ it can be translated as:

to the only and wise God or to the only, wise God


References

  • Mathewson, D. & Emig, E. (2016). Intermediate Greek grammar: syntax for students of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

  • Wallace, D. B. (1996). Greek grammar beyond the basics: An exegetical syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

  • Haldane, R. (1874). Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, London: W. Oliphant and Co. https://archive.org/details/expositionofthee00halduoft

  • Einsohn, A. (2005). The Copyeditor's Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications. University of California Press.

3

I am afraid this is ultimately a linguistic (rather than hermeneutic) question. To better understand this, let us take a look at John 17:3 and Romans 16:27, in both Greek and Romanian (if for no other reason, than merely because the latter is not English) :

John 17:3 ton monon alethinon theon

Romans 16:27 mono sofo theo


John 17:3 singurul adevaratul Dumnezeu

Romans 16:27 singurului inteleptului Dumnezeu

Notice how in each case, in both languages, the endings of all adjectives are the same ? Now, if I were to translate what you're proposing into Romanian, it would read as follows :

Romans 16:27 singurului Dumnezeu intelept

Notice the difference ? :-)

Now, the trouble consists in the fact that both Romanian renditions of Romans 16:27 translate the same into English, despite having two partially overlapping but ultimately distinct meanings. The difference consists in the fact that the former, despite being sometimes synonymous with the latter, usually (but not always) acts as if an and or a comma were introduced between the two adjectives, whereas the latter better fits your interpretation. Nevertheless, it is painfully clear that the former, rather than the latter, is intended by the Greek; i.e., that God is both only (or unique) and wise, rather than God being the only wise deity, as you seem to suggest.

  • The confusion seems to stem from the fact that in English the adjective must precede the noun, thus rendering the speaker unable to distinguish between the (only wise) God and the only (wise God). – Lucian Oct 12 '17 at 8:04
1

The phrase, μονω σοφω θεω, occurs in the middle of a sentence.

The whole sentence, taken from the literal translation in the EGNT [Englishman's Greek New Testament], starts back at the beginning of verse 25 :

Now, to him, .........

and continues :

. . . according to commandment of the eternal God, for obedience of faith to all the nations having been made known, only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory . . . ..

It is quite clear, in the context of the entire sentence, that God is in focus right from the start and all the way through and it is quite clear, in the grammar and construction of the sentence, that there is one 'only wise God' and no other.

He is 'the eternal God, only wise God'.

His wisdom, in this place, is linked to his eternal being. He is eternal spirit, timeless, from the beginning, not of time. His wisdom is not of nature. His wisdom is of an eternal existence that is not of anything created. His wisdom is from himself and within himself, for it could not be otherwise.

0

As I have said in the comment as well, "The only wise God" does not necessarily imply other deities who are not wise, but this wording could be correct also in case no other deities existed at all, or, even if they existed, still with no reference to them. If something exists as unique in its kind, say, "the only genius painter of Mona Lisa", with saying this sentence, I do not imply at all that there are other, non-genius painters of Mona Lisa, but just praise Leonardo da Vinci for what he is, without any competitive/comparative reference to other painters. However, contextually, if it is commonly known that, for example, Mona Lisa was also painted by less gifted artists, the same phrase could indicate to such a competition/comparison. Greek of the sought passage is open to both interpretations.

However, at a deeper theological level one can say, that "wise" is said here in an absolute, universal and not relative, particular sense, as an attribute of somebody, who cannot be not-wise, who is always perfectly wise, and whose wisdom was a foundation of all creation (Prov. 3:19; Psalm 104:24). Now, such a never shaken and always perfect wisdom is a property only of God, while no human or angel can have it.

In this sense, it is also important to notice that the phrase "the only wise God" is preceded in the same sentence by the "αἰωνίου θεοῦ" - "the eternal God", that is to say, in order to intimate that the wisdom of God is as eternal as God himself, or to put it otherwise, God is eternally wise. Humans can by no means have such a wisdom properly, but only by participation; in this sense, Jesus is also possessor of the same unshakable wisdom, which believers possess not properly but by participation (1 Cor. 2:16), while Jesus himself surely possesses it properly, just as God does. And just as God cannot deny himself and be otherwise than God, so also Jesus, in the identical way, cannot deny Himself and is always unshaken, when the greatest of men (and even angels) can be shaken and fall (2 Tim. 2:13), for that very reason He is the Principle of judgment and forgiveness.

The context of the Romans 16:25-27 also indicates that the mystery hidden from the beginning of the world, i.e. God's mystery, which semantically can be closely related to if not identified with His wisdom, is revealed through Jesus Christ, and then in the 16:27 also, διὰ Χριστοῦ can be understood as "God who through Jesus Christ has shown Himself to be alone wise (in the absolute sense)" (see: Mayer's NT commentary http://biblehub.com/commentaries/romans/16-27.htm) - thus, like the mystery is revealed through Jesus Christ, so also His being the only wise God is also revealed through Jesus Christ; and Paul is emphatic here that God is absolutely powerless to reveal His being wise but through Jesus, who as necessary and co-eternal principle of this revelation is elsewhere also called by Paul the very Power and Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24).

0

An above comment about "coordinated adjectives" was informative and interesting, but it appears that such a situation would require there be a definite article involved; of which there isn't one...

"μόνῳ σοφῷ θεῷ" can be translated as:

to THE only and wise God, or to The only, wise God"

Also, being a linguistic concern doesn't necessarily mean that it isn't also a hermeneutic question, especially when it leads to different conclusions about what the verse is actually saying.

And, despite one of the above comments, there is, in fact, a text source variation involved with this verse; that is, just to be accurate, this verse could be found in either 14:26 or 16:27.

One other above comment is based on the reasoning that this should be read in a particular way because the phrase "μονω σοφω θεω" occurs in the middle of a sentence, which starts back at the beginning of verse 25 ...however, this is questionable, because of the above-mentioned source text variation(s); that is verse 16:25 is verse 14:24 in other source texts, so before that argument could be considered possible, the poster should first address whether or not the verse placement effects his conclusions?

And finally, I also find the peculiarity of this Greek syntax to be intending to convey that God is both unique, and wise, rather than God being the only wise deity, so I suggest that ..."[16:27] μόνῳ σοφῷ θεῷ..." unto~only [One] {3441 A-DSM} unto~wise [One] {4680 A-DSM} unto~God {2316 N-DSM} ...be read as:

"unto~only, unto~wise, unto~God,

through Yeshua Anointed,

unto~Which [be] the glory into the eons. Amen." (~Robin)

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