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NA 28

Romans 4:19

19καὶ μὴ ἀσθενήσας τῇ πίστει κατενόησεν τὸ ἑαυτοῦ σῶμα [ἤδη] νενεκρωμένον, ἑκατονταετής που ὑπάρχων, καὶ τὴν νέκρωσιν τῆς μήτρας Σάρρας·

American Standard Version

Romans 4:19 (ASV)

And without being weakened in faith he considered his own body now as good as dead (he being about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb;

Romans 4:19 KJV

19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb:

In the above text the ASV seems to allude to Abraham as having considered his body whilst the KJV seems to be saying otherwise.

In the light of these different translations how can we understand the above text?

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  • Is this a case of "I couldn't care less" vs. "I could care less", which have completely opposite literal meanings but are commonly used to convey the same meaning? Nov 15, 2023 at 23:39

4 Answers 4

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The KJV is translated from the Received Text. The ASV Greek text omits ου and ηδη (as catalogued by Scrivener).

This is the TR - Stephens, Beza, Elzevir and Scrivener are all identical -

και μη ασθενησας τη πιστει ου κατενοησεν το εαυτου σωμα ηδη νενεκρωμενον

The ASV is expressing that Abraham considered the deadness of his body and proceeded. The ASV states that this activity was without being weakened in faith.

The KJV is expressing that Abraham gave no consideration to the deadness of his body and proceeded. The KJV states that Abraham was not weak in faith.

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The ASV attributes faith to someone who gives consideration to a negative factor, and proceeds, having considered it.

The KJV attributes faith to someone who does not give any consideration to a negative factor and proceeds without considering it.

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The Outline of Biblical Usage provides the following usages of κατανοέω:

  1. to perceive, remark, observe, understand
  2. to consider attentively, fix one's eyes or mind upon

LSJ, of course gives a lot more detail and additional usages. I was inclined to think it meant "wasn't influenced by" but after consulting the helps it is clearly a word concerned with "considering attentively" so I would offer:

"Abraham did not fixate on the obstacles" or probably the more simple "Abraham did not pay any attention to the obstacles".

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These words contain an apparent contradiction, since the the textual streams diverge here.

  • On the one hand, we have a very reliable set of manuscripts that omit "ⲟⲩ" (not). The list is a pretty impressive list: 01 02 03 04. These manuscripts contain the reading, "He did not consider his body as being dead."
  • On the other hand, there is another set of manuscripts which preserve the "ⲟⲩ" (not). These are the main manuscripts: 06 010c 012 044 049 33 945 1720 1735 1874 MT. This then is the reading in those manuscripts: "He considered his body as if it were dead."

Which variant is the original? The more reliable set of manuscripts preserves the shorter reading ("he considered his body as if it were dead.") This also conforms to one of the principles of Textual Criticism, Lectio brevior præferenda est (The shorter reading is to be preferred).

But, whether you go with the shorter or longer reading, both readings make sense and are perfectly in line with the content and context we have in Genesis. With one reading despite the fact that he was beyond the age of fathering children, nevertheless, through the gift of faith given to him, he trusted in God's promises. With the other reading because he was beyond fathering years, he trusted that God could perform miracles and keep his promises.

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The KJV Greek source TR lacks adds the negative particle, likely to suit the sentence according to the scribe's misinterpretation or expectation. The older mss or the critical text says that Abraham did not weaken his faith despite his old self, already as good as dead. For some reason the scribe must have thought the second clause should mean that he did not consider or pay attention to the old age, and did not weaken his faith. This could be due to a different interpretation of the Greek word for "consider/observe" G2657 κατανοέω katanoeo by the scribe.

The scribe is trying to justify and be apologetic for his own interpretation by this interpolation, as it was very common among the late manuscripts. He thinks that the statement of Abraham considering his old age somehow present him as a weak man, when the text describes it as a fact which is unobjectionable as it was the truth.

The addition of the second negative (KJV) to mean that Abraham did not actually trust his old body as dead convey the same meaning as the ASV; the only difference is that this additional negative clause is superfluous, since we can understand the meaning quite alright without it. He knew his body was as old as already dead, yet he continued to have faith in God.

The NET Bible note is right:

Most mss (D F G Ψ 33 1881 Maj. it) read “he did not consider” by including the negative particle (οὐ, ou), but others (א A B C 6 81 365 1506 1739 pc co) lack οὐ. The reading which includes the negative particle probably represents a scribal attempt to exalt the faith of Abraham by making it appear that his faith was so strong that he did not even consider the physical facts. But “here Paul does not wish to imply that faith means closing one’s eyes to reality, but that Abraham was so strong in faith as to be undaunted by every consideration” (TCGNT 451). Both on external and internal grounds, the reading without the negative particle is preferred.

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