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[Rom 16:3-4 KJV] 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: 4 Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.

I have recently been struck with the absence in the scriptures of gratitude TO people. It appears to be the scriptural pattern to thank God FOR people rather than to thank people.

The notable exception is the passage here in Romans 16:3-4 which is normally treated to "to whom I give thanks". Is this indeed "the exception that proves the rule" or should it read "for whom I give thanks"?

  • Is there any particular reason for which Christian Gentiles would not be grateful to Christ ? The sentence more logically reads greet my helpers, unto whom not only I give thanks. – Lucian Jan 2 '19 at 22:45
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The person to whom thanks is given is indicated by the dative (no preceding preposition is necessary). The person(s) for whom thanks is given is most often indicated by the preposition περί followed by the object of the preposition declined in the genitive (i.e., περί τίνος).

For example:

  • 1 Thes. 1:2

«Εὐχαριστοῦμεν τῷ θεῷ πάντοτε περὶ πάντων ὑμῶν»
“We give thanks to God always for you all...”

  • 2 Thes. 1:3

«Εὐχαριστεῖν ὀφείλομεν τῷ θεῷ πάντοτε περὶ ὑμῶν»
“We are obligated to give thanks to God always for you...”

  • 2 Thes. 2:13

«Ἡμεῖς δὲ ὀφείλομεν εὐχαριστεῖν τῷ θεῷ πάντοτε περὶ ὑμῶν»
“But we are obligated to give thanks to God always for you...”

  • 1 Cor. 1:4

«Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου πάντοτε περὶ ὑμῶν»
“I give thanks to my God always for you

Seldomly, we encounter ὑπέρ τίνος instead of περί τίνος:

  • Eph. 1:16

«οὐ παύομαι εὐχαριστῶν ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν»
“I do not stop giving thanks for you...”

Since Rom. 16:4 has the dative οἷς rather than περὶ ὧν or ὑπὲρ ὧν, then it is more probable that Rom. 16:4 should be translated as “to whom” rather than “for whom,” even if it is unprecedented in the NT corpus to give thanks to someone other than God.

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The Greek says,

οἵτινες ὑπὲρ τῆς ψυχῆς μου τὸν ἑαυτῶν τράχηλον ὑπέθηκαν, οἷς οὐκ ἐγὼ μόνος εὐχαριστῶ ἀλλὰ καὶ πᾶσαι αἱ ἐκκλησίαι τῶν ἐθνῶν,

Holmes, M. W. (2011–2013). The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Ro 16:4). Lexham Press; Society of Biblical Literature.

οἷς means "who" or "which", but it's in the dative plural case. In Greek, the dative case can either mean "to" or "for".

The phrase, "οἷς οὐκ ἐγὼ μόνος εὐχαριστῶ ἀλλὰ καὶ πᾶσαι αἱ ἐκκλησίαι τῶν ἐθνῶν" interlinearly translates as

to/for whom (pl) not I only thank but also to/for all the church of the Gentiles

I haven't searched every instance of the time that the word for thanks (εὐχαριστῶ) is used in the NT, but it seems to always mean "thanks to person" when paired with the dative case. Usually it is used as "I thank God" or "I give thanks to God" (in both cases, "God" is dative, but it doesn't mean "for God" as in "I give thanks for God"). For that reason, I would say that this verse probably means that Paul is thanking the people and the church of the Gentiles rather than God for them. That's not to say that Paul never gave thanks to God for them, but I just believe that Paul is currently saying that he thanks the people. However, the Greek is somewhat ambiguous.

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I think the reason for the exception in the case of Priscilla and Aquila is that they went above and beyond that which was required of them:

[Luk 17:7-10 NKJV] (7) "And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and sit down to eat'? (8) "But will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink'? (9) "Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. (10) "So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.' "

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Interesting detail.

“But thanks be to G-d who puts the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus.” ‭‭II Corinthians‬ ‭8:16‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Titus doesn’t get the credit G-d does.

“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to G-d the Father through Him.” ‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:17‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

It appears evident to me that G-d gets all the credit, all the time. For whom seems to fit best because the churches are also showing gratitude. If it were to whom, I would have found it reasonable to see Paul follow up and express the thankfulness the churches want to communicate to the couples because they don’t have contact with the couple. Yet in the case that the churches are being thankful to G-d the churches can do the thanking directly to G-d not needing an intermediary like Paul to communicate their message to G-d of thanksgiving.

It isn’t obvious enough to me that this could be an exception, even though multiple translations including non English translations say to whom.

““Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?” For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭11:35-36‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

It is only fitting that if the Spirit is given dominion over our bodies, that the Spirit receive the gratitude for the deeds He executes through our complete surrender, unless we believe there is something we can do outside or apart from the vine.

““I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” ‭‭John‬ ‭15:5‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

If we can do nothing, then it’s clear it’s He who deserves the gratitude.

Also it’s not both the couple and G-d being thanked it’s either one or the other in this passage. So it would stand to reason that the causing agent should receive the gratitude not the instrument He is using, which in this case He also happened to have being the Creator of and has imputed His Spirit to transform them, guide and direct.

Furthermore so far I’ve not found one instance in the OT or the NT where a human gives thanks to another human. All the thanking is directed to G-d.

I’ll use an illustration to make a point from logic to hopefully bring all this home. Obviously illustrations are limited so please take it for what it’s worth.

If I’m trapped in a car that just plunged into a lake taking in water and a farmer with a stock horse is close by with a rope, in the event that the farmer ties the rope to the car hitch and pulls the car out of the water before I drown trapped inside: if I am going to thank one and only one, would it be the horse who did the work or the farmer who saw the need, created a solution, utilized his resources and directed the horse?

It’s for this reason I cannot see this text being interpreted both ways, you cannot equally interpret it either way, thanking both the couple or G-d. And since it is a little ambiguous, and only one party is receiving gratitude from two sources (Paul and the churches), and G-d is much more Other than the couple, and He gave the couple the resources and changed life, I reason that it was directed toward G-d and not the couple which if it were the couple would be to my knowledge the first instance and the exception where a human received thanks from another human in the Bible.

Also to reemphasize,

for it is G-d who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” ‭‭Philippians‬ ‭2:13‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Why would the couple be thanked for that which G-d was at work for in their lives?

“A text without a context is a pretext for whatever you want it to mean”. That’s why to me I place a lot of value of contextual analysis both narrow and wide scope context. Individual word analysis especially ambiguous ones are open to personal interpretation/opinions/preferences without a broader context

(I am open to being corrected and have no issue being critiqued in fact I find it helpful and loving of someone to point out my blind spots.)

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  • Just so you know, you do the yellow blockquotes by placing a > before the quote (on every line). You can read more in the formatting tips. When you write an answer, there is a little pale-yellow header that says, "Links Images Styling/Headers Lists Blockquotes Preformatted HTML". If you click on one of those tabs, it will show you how to style for them. You can also click "advanced help >>" in the yellow header in the right corner. – ElliotThomas Dec 29 '18 at 0:21
  • I am not sure how this answers the question asked and how it is based on the text at hand. Please re-focus your question. – user25930 Jan 15 '19 at 9:43
  • I’ve updated my response as your kindly requested. If I’m still not clear please advise and if you reason I’m wrong please indicate what I am overlooking. If you’re interested in textual criticism, I would suggest that the language is open to both to and from, so I’m drawing from other sources to make my argument for “from whom”. Thank you – Nihil Sine Deo Jan 15 '19 at 13:21
  • Also I don’t think one has a sufficiently strong enough argument from the text alone and from the Greek to conclude its “to whom”. It’s just not clear cut enough (in my view) and you’d be obliged to give several other sources and examples where the same phrasing is used and it’s not ambiguous but it is interpreted clearly as “to whom”. I went a different route and instead of using textual criticism of other texts I reasoned contextually. – Nihil Sine Deo Jan 15 '19 at 13:40
  • Thank you for the downvote, could you please provide a reason. There’s no need for me to perpetuate bad practice or wrong ideas. Please enlighten me. – Nihil Sine Deo Jan 15 '19 at 14:30

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