King James Bible Romans 1:14

I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.

In https://biblehub.com/romans/1-14.htm, 19 out of 27 versions translate Βαρβάροις as Barbarians. It sounds derogatory to me. Is there better translation that would satisfy most? Should I modify my understanding of the word Barbarians.

  • It is perhaps worth pointing out that 'Barbarian' is simply a transliteration of the Greek βάρβαρος, barbaros Strong 915 and the English word has taken on a meaning which is probably derived from the usage in the Authorised Version. (+1).
    – Nigel J
    Aug 14, 2020 at 21:06

1 Answer 1


The Greek of Rom 1:14 is:

Ἕλλησίν τε καὶ Βαρβάροις, σοφοῖς τε καὶ ἀνοήτοις ὀφειλέτης εἰμί·

I would translate this rather literally as:

Both to Greeks and to Barbarians; to wise and to foolish, I am a debtor.

Concerning the operative word here: Βαρβάροις = barbarians (literally) is a pejorative term for non-Greeks. According to Thayer:

properly, one whose speech is rude, rough, harsh, as if repeating the syllables βαρβαρ (cf. Strabo 14, 2, 28, p. 662; ὠνοματοπεποίηται ἡ λέξις, Etym. Magn. (188, 11 (but Gaisf. reads βραγχός for βάρβαρος); cf. Curtius, § 394; Vanicek, p. 561)); hence, ... The Greeks used βάρβαρος of any foreigner ignorant of the Greek language and the Greek culture, whether mental or moral ...

Hence the various Bible versions are divided between "barbarians" and "non-Greeks", except YLT which has "foreigners" (rather interpretive for Young!)

Paul here uses a very common literary device called a hendiadys, which employs two opposites to mean "everything" in some sense. Such a very common in most languages; for example, in English we have: Day and night = continually, all the time; Searched high and low = searched everywhere; Time and again = repeatedly; Neither one nor the other = nothing; Turn neither to the right nor the left = do not deviate from the current path; For better or worse = under all circumstances, etc, etc.

In Rom 1:14 Paul uses a hendiadys twice:

  • Greeks and non-Greeks (ie everyone)
  • Wise and foolish (ie, everyone)

Thus, Paul affirms that he is a debtor to everyone, all people, twice!

  • (+1) So you would not say that the term 'Barbarian' is pejorative ?
    – Nigel J
    Aug 14, 2020 at 21:58
  • 1
    NigelJ - That is the clear origin of the term as used by "upper-crust" Greeks. However, it is not clear if Paul intends this overtone of meaning here. In any case, the intent is "non-Greeks" to create the hendiadys. Further, "foolish" here also has similar pejorative overtones.
    – Dottard
    Aug 14, 2020 at 22:03
  • 1
    There was a non-pejorative word for this in 1st century Ancient Greek: ξένος: stranger, foreigner,
    – Codosaur
    Aug 15, 2020 at 1:56

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