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I am puzzled about the placing of a comma.

Romans 12:2 says:

"And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." (KJV)

Why is there a comma after the word perfect?

When I look at the Greek I am even more confused, because I see that the three adjectives are placed behind the noun, which strikes me as odd. But could that somehow clarify that the KJV doesn't talk about 'the good and acceptable and perfect will of God'?

καὶ μὴ συσχηματίζεσθε τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ ἀλλὰ μεταμορφοῦσθε τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοός ὑμῶν εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον καὶ τέλειον (TR)

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Punctuation, like spelling, changes with time. In this case there is no significance that you should be using to interpret the verse, unless you happen to be a student of historical English usage.

The verse you cited is actually not even the original King James Version as published in 1611. In that version the verse reads like this:

And bee not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renuing of your minde, that ye may proue what is that good, that acceptable and perfect will of God.

1611 KJV, Romans 12:2

As you'll notice "be" is spelled "bee", "renewing" in "renuing", "mind" is "minde", "prove" is "proue", and so forth. While the general grammar of the sentence is the same, the version you cited from is actually an updated rendering of the KJV. You probably used what is known as the "Pure Cambridge Edition" that was published circa 1900 — itself based an a 1769 revision. It contains a considerable number of modernized spellings.

You'll also note that between the 1611 edition and the 1900 edition there are actually tons of differences in comma usage. Even the verse you asked about has several differences besides the one you asked about. The point is that orthography changes over time. Words take on different connotations and loose old ones, spelling conventions change, and even punctuation conforms to the demand of popular usage.

Ironically the comma you asked about was an addition in the later KJV revision. That's not to say it is a bad or corrupt version, just that the normal rules of punctuation that helped readers understand the text were not the same over a 100 years ago as they are today. Funnily enough today's usage appears to be more like the original of 400 years ago than the interim period. This is actually more common in the history of languages than I would have expected, but I've run into similar things in Turkish: some modern usages are more similar to 18th century usage than to early 19th century usage. Others of course are radically different.

The KJV is a very good translation that has stood the test of time and even anchored the English language — it is in fact partly due to the King James Bible that English has changed as little as it has over the years. But it would behoove anyone reading it to remember that the translators were working with the language usage of their era(s), not ours. Even for die hard KJV readers it is probably a useful exercise to keep a modern English translation around (such as the ESV which actually hangs onto some of the linguistic heritage of the KJV while substantially reworking it using this century's English) for reference.

P.S. Oxford commas are forever.

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  • Kind of oblique, no? What is the significance? That is the question which you don't seem to have answered, at least not directly. -1
    – Ruminator
    Jan 31 '19 at 12:26
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Here is my (rather literal) translation of the last half of Rom 12:2, " … for you to prove what[is] the will of God, the good and well-pleasing and perfect."

The commas in the KJV reflect an older English orthography that is no longer used. Modern practice with commas is more restrained as reflected in modern versions which all have something like, "so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." (NASB). Most others have something similar.

One might be able to debate to what the three adjectives refer - is it the will of God or what we decide on the basis of access to God's will. Modern versions appear divided on this point. My personal preference is the latter because the text is discussing the renewing of our minds which makes us better able to make good, acceptable and perfect decisions. Ellicott summarises this view.

Prove.--As elsewhere, "discriminate, and so approve." The double process is included: first, of deciding what the will of God is; and, secondly, of choosing and acting upon it.

What is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.--The "will of God" is here, not the divine attribute of will, but the thing willed by God, the right course of action. Are we to take the adjectives "good, and acceptable, and perfect" (with the Authorised version), as in agreement with this phrase, or are they rather in apposition to it, "that we may prove the will of God, that which is good, and acceptable, and perfect"? Most of the commentators prefer this latter way of taking the passage, but it is not quite clear that the former is impossible, "that good, and acceptable, and perfect thing, or course of action which God wills." "Acceptable," that is to say, to God Himself.

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