6

Background

If you read Romans 12:6 (part of a very popular passage about "spiritual gifts") from the NASB or any similar translation, you may notice something odd: a good chunk of the verse is not present in the Greek. Note the use of italics to indicate this in the NASB translation:

Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; -Romans 12:6

As I pondered the impact that these additional words have on the interpretation of the text, I began to wonder whether the context might support any renderings of this verse which do not include these additional words.

Two possibilities

1. For reference, here is the full context in the NASB:

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; [etc.] -Romans 12:3-8

In this translation, Paul seems to jump from (A) correcting their ignorance about the diversity of the body of Christ to (B) a command to "go do stuff." The two parts are related in terminology, but the flow of the passage seems a bit unnatural with that structure. (For example, after reading v.4, in v. 5 we are expecting a second half to the sentence that explains that not all the members have the same function, but we don't get that.)

2. But I began to wonder if perhaps the following structure might be more accurate, as it does not include additional words, and seems to flow better:

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another, since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us; If prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; [etc.]

So the structure of Paul's logic would look something like this:

Don't think too highly of yourself since each person has been given a "portion" of faith.
    Just as we have many members in one body
        and the members have different functions
    We likewise are one body with many members
        **since we have gifts that differ** according to the grace given to us.
            If *the gift is* prophecy, *the grace is* faith. . . .
            *For* he who teaches, *the grace is* his teaching. . . .
            *For* he who leads, *the grace is* his diligence.
            *For* he who shows mercy, *the grace is* his cheerfulness.

My question

Is #2 a real possibility? Is it possible that (A) "since" is an extension of the previous sentence and not the beginning of a new sentence, and that (B) Paul is not actually jumping over to a command, but rather, is simply continuing his clarification of the diversity in the body of Christ?

  • I might post an answer if the possibility of #2 is challenged on the grounds that it presents theological or conceptual problems, but I am mostly hoping for some guidance on the Greek, so I don't want to jump straight to the significance as justification for the semantic structure, if that makes sense. – Jas 3.1 Jul 4 '13 at 23:24
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    The gap between diversity and "doing" may not be so wide as to present a "jump" in thought. The theme of distinct members of the body of Christ is keyed to not having "the same function". Also Paul has included the command "not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think" in this passage, and for Paul thinking and doing, while often at odds, are connected by faith. – hardmath Jul 5 '13 at 12:36
8

It is common for verbs to be implied in the Greek but not actually appear in the text. Often the context will make little sense without it or will make it clear which verb is to be used, as is the case here. This is standard in many languages even today (especially with the verb "to be"), but not in English.

Let me begin with an example in English:

I will go north, Mike south, and Ted east.

The future form of the verb "to go" is implied in the second and third phrases. It could easily be written:

I will go north, Mike will go south, and Ted will go east.

We may not write it the latter way because it is redundant, however. The 'redundancy threshold' is much lower in Greek than it is in English. If the context makes it clear which verb is to be used, it is often left out of subsequent phrases. V. 4 provides the clue as to which verb should be used in the context of v. 6. Each subsequent phrase gives its own context for the verb to be used.

The immediate preceding context (vv. 4-5, NET) states:

For just as in one body we have many members, and not all the members serve the same function, so we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually we are members who belong to one another.

The word translated as "function" is πρᾶξιν, the accusative singular form of πρᾶξις (praxis). According to the BDAG lexicon, this word means "a function implying sustained activity, acting, activity, function; ... performance of some deed, act, action, deed." It is this word which forms the context for using some form of activity ("doing") as the verb of choice in the subsequent context (vv. 6-8). The point is that we don't all serve the same purpose ("do the same activity") in the body, yet we are still one body.

So when we come to v. 6 and a list of "functions" follows, we know that the context is "doing" these "functions" within the body. Here is the text of v. 6 (from NA27):

ἔχοντες δὲ χαρίσματα κατὰ τὴν χάριν τὴν δοθεῖσαν ἡμῖν διάφορα, εἴτε προφητείαν κατὰ τὴν ἀναλογίαν τῆς πίστεως....

Allow me to propose a literal translation:

And having grace-gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, if prophecy according to the proportion of faith....

This sentence really doesn't make much sense without helping verbs. Granted, it may appear to make sense by piecing together non-italicized fragments from English translations, but the Greek is missing a verb in each clause, indicating that one is implied. "To be" doesn't make sense here, so we should look at the context. As I've already explained, the context is doing some form of activity in the one body.

The first clause in v. 6 is generally translated in two different ways. Some add an entire phrase to the first clause of v. 6 ("let us use them"), and others treat the participle as a verb such as the NET translation. It is standard to use temporal clauses such as "since we have," "while we have," or (less common) "having then" to translate the progressive participle along with the basic conjunction δὲ, but those who allow the participle to remain in effect must supply a helping phrase to make sense of the sentence, hence "let us use them." This is consistent with the context:

Since we have grace-gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, we should do something with them.

As for the second phrase and consequent phrases through the end of v. 8, this verb is simply implied each time:

...if the gift is prophecy, use it according to the proportion of faith....

And so on:

*If the gift is service, do something in the body by serving; if teaching, by teaching; if exhortation, by exhorting; if giving, by giving with sincerity; if leading, by leading diligently; if showing mercy, by doing so cheerfully.*

Note the italics: verbs are implied everywhere. The verb from the immediate context can be used (as I did in most cases above), or the general verb "to do/use" can be supplied. In all of these phrases, the basic pattern is as follows:

If the gift is _____, do something with/use it according to/by _____.

Sentences without verbs usually imply them, as is the case all throughout this passage.

Option 1 or 2?

That leaves us to now to address whether or not option 2 is a good translation. It should be kept in mind that most translators follow option 1, and we should heed this. The majority of translators do not believe anything is missing in the argument that requires annexing v. 6 into the sentence to complete it. In fact, the meaning may actually change and/or become unclear if this is done.

You mentioned that "after reading v. 4, in v. 5 we are expecting a second half to the sentence that explains that not all the members have the same function, but we don't get that." I don't think that is the case. The idea is that just as a physical body has many limbs and organs that serve different functions, so also we who are many (with our many different functions) are also one body and we all belong to one another. I believe the functions are implied by indicating that we are many (πολλοὶ), and most translators seem to agree.

Option 2 will take one of three routes:

  1. If the progressive participle in v. 6 is translated literally (completely leaving out the conjunction since it would not make sense in English), then v. 6 would further modify "us" but the sentence would not resolve correctly, it would be a fragment: ("For just as in one body we have many members, and not all the members serve the same function, so we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually we are members who belong to one another, having grace-gifts that differ according to the grace given to us; if prophecy..."). Technically this could be resolved (as I did by placing a semicolon after 'us'), but this leaves out the conjunction and thus ignores a 'break' in the flow of the sentence which is implied by the Greek.
  2. The other route is to translate the progressive participle and conjunction by adding in a temporal clause in English to make sense of it ("while/since we have"). This is the route you took in your question. The problem is that without adding a sentence break, this introduces an argument which changes the meaning of the paragraph. Option 1 is saying that we are members of one body and belong to one another, serving different functions. It goes on to say that if our gift is X, we should serve/do that function appropriately within the body. This route is actually saying that vv. 4-5 are only true because we have different gifts/functions. In other words, because we have different gifts (or only while we have them), we are one body who belongs to one another just like a physical body with its many functions. This is too much of an interpretive stretch and is also easily misunderstood.
  3. The third route is to make a distinction between "us" exercising different grace-gifts in the one body vs. differing functions among members of a physical body. The problem with this approach is that I believe it creates a superfluous dichotomy rather than showing a comparison of similarities. This translation is shown below:

For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, to each as God has distributed a measure of faith. For just as in one body we have many members, but not all the members serve the same function, so we the many are one body in Christ, and each one members of one another, but having different grace-gifts according to the grace given to us, whether prophecy, according to the proportion of faith....

While this could also be read in the way I believe you were insinuating by option 2, the ambiguity creates a lot more room for confusion. This translation flows well in English, but it seems to imply an unnecessary dichotomy and thus could be understood as an illogical argument (a false or redundant comparison).

With these objections in mind, I believe option 1 is still the best translation choice. I've shown how three "routes" are plausible for option 2 (with route three being the most plausible), but neither seem as strong as the reasoning for option 1 to me. Again, it should be borne in mind that modern scholarly translations all follow option 1, and the phrases are missing verbs which begs them to be filled by the context.

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  • I hope my update makes more sense. The distinctions are often subtle, which makes it harder to explain them. – Dan Jul 7 '13 at 23:59
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    Thanks Dan. This was a nice summary of the possibilities, and a good argument in favor of Option 1. (+1) – Jas 3.1 Jul 8 '13 at 2:56
  • There is no need for an implied verb if you accept the supplied verb: "...I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, to each as God has distributed a measure ["measuring device"] of faith. Please see my answer for the BDAG entry for μέτρον. – Ruminator Aug 14 '18 at 12:47
  • that would be route 1 under option 2, which I am not advocating. I am advocating option 1. Concerning the mistranslation of the word, the translation of that word is not at issue in this question (and I never finished translating that sentence because it was not the point of the translation) - and thus your answer does not answer the question. I'll address that in a comment on the question itself. – Dan Oct 1 '18 at 1:41
  • Oh P.S. most importantly, vs. 6 uses "ἀναλογία", which literally means "proportion", which is what I was translating in option 1 (I was translating v. 6, not v. 3 in my answer under option 1). Check out the definition of ἀναλογία in BDAG as he elaborates on this very text (including both vv. 3 and 6). – Dan Oct 1 '18 at 2:41
-1

Paul is not speaking of each having a "portion" of faith but rather of each having a "measuring device" of faith:

Westcott and Hort / [NA27 variants] Romans 12:3 Λέγω γὰρ διὰ τῆς χάριτος τῆς δοθείσης μοι παντὶ τῷ ὄντι ἐν ὑμῖν μὴ ὑπερφρονεῖν παρ' ὃ δεῖ φρονεῖν, ἀλλὰ φρονεῖν εἰς τὸ σωφρονεῖν, ἑκάστῳ ὡς ὁ θεὸς ἐμέρισεν μέτρον πίστεως.

μέτρον, ου, τό (Hom.+; ins, pap, LXX, En, TestSol 15:5; TestAbr A; Test12Patr; GrBar 6:7; ApcMos 13; Sib Or 3, 237; EpArist, Philo; Jos., Ant. 13, 294, C. Ap. 2, 216; Just., 112, 4; Tat. 27, 3; Ath.) **gener. ‘that by which anything is measured’.
① an instrument for measuring, measure**
ⓐ of measures of capacity ἐν μέτρῳ μετρεῖν Mt 7:2; Mk 4:24; 1 Cl 13:2b. μέτρῳ μετρεῖν (Maximus Tyr. 32, 9c; 35, 2i) Lk 6:38b; 1 Cl 13:2a; Pol 2:3. W. heaping up of attributes μ. καλὸν πεπιεσμένον σεσαλευμένον ὑπερεκχυννόμενον good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over Lk 6:38a. In imagery: πληροῦν τὸ μ. τινός fill up a measure that someone else has partly filled Mt 23:32.
ⓑ of linear measure Rv 21:15. μέτρον ἀνθρώπου, ὅ ἐστιν ἀγγέλου a human measure, used also by angels vs. 17.
② the result of measuring, quantity, number
ⓐ lit. τὰ μ. τῶν τῆς ἡμέρας δρόμων φυλάσσειν keep the measure of its daily courses Dg 7:2.
ⓑ fig. (Maximus Tyr. 40, 3c ὑγείας μ.; Alex. Aphr., Quaest. 3, 12 II/2 p. 102, 2 μ. τῆς ἀληθείας; Ath. 32, 2 δικαιοσύνης μ.; 33, 1 μ. ἐπιθυμίας ἡ παιδοποιία) ὡς ὁ θεὸς ἐμέρισεν μέτρον πίστεως as God has apportioned the measure of faith Ro 12:3 (CCranfield, NTS 8, ’62, 345–51: Christ is the measure of faith). ἑνὶ ἑκάστῳ ἐδόθη ἡ χάρις κατὰ τὸ μ. τῆς δωρεᾶς τοῦ Χριστοῦ grace was given to each one according to the measure (of it) that Christ gave Eph 4:7. κατὰ τὸ μ. τοῦ κανόνος οὗ ἐμέρισεν ἡμῖν ὁ θεὸς μέτρου according to the measure of the limit (=within the limits) which God has apportioned us (as a measure) (s. B-D-F §294, 5; Rob. 719) 2 Cor 10:13. κατʼ ἐνέργειαν ἐν μέτρῳ ἑνὸς ἑκάστου μέρους according to the functioning capacity of each individual part Eph 4:16 (ἐν μ. as Synes., Ep. 12 p. 171c). καταντᾶν εἰς μ. ἡλικίας τοῦ πληρώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ attain to the measure of mature age (or stature of the fullness) of Christ vs. 13 (s. ἡλικία 2a and cp. μ. ἡλικίας Plut., Mor. 113d; μ. ἥβης Il. 11, 225; Od. 11, 317).—οὐκ ἐκ μέτρου J 3:34, an expr. not found elsewh. in the Gk. language, must mean in its context not from a measure, without (using a) measure (the opp. is ἐν μέτρῳ Ezk 4:11, 16; Jdth 7:21).—DELG. M-M. TW. Sv.


Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 644). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

He's saying, for example, if your gift is teaching, don't measure your teaching gift by comparing it to others who lack the gift and thus imagine (overestimate) yourself better than others. Rather, measure by how accurate you are. If giving, measure by how free your giving is from "strings". And so on.

He speaks of the same subject here:

2Co 10:12  For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.  2Co 10:13  But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you.  2Co 10:14  For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure, as though we reached not unto you: for we are come as far as to you also in preaching the gospel of Christ:  2Co 10:15  Not boasting of things without our measure, that is, of other men's labours; but having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly,  2Co 10:16  To preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man's line of things made ready to our hand.  2Co 10:17  But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.  2Co 10:18  For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.

Update

Below I show how smoothly this passage flows when we understand that Paul is concerned with evaluating ourselves according to the standard God has supplied (and I answer the original question).

First, Paul is concerned with "thinking in a new way" so that the Romans will be able to properly "test and approve God's will":

NIV Romans 12:

2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

He is concerned with how the Corinthians think of themselves. They should think with a disciplined methodology:

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the [μέτρον = standard of] faith God has distributed to each of you.

His concern is not having more faith or less but to respect the difference of function:

4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Here I depart from the NIV so I can show you how I parse it. I lack formal education so I may make some bloopers but hopefully you can get the idea:

SBLGNT 6 ἔχοντες δὲ χαρίσματα κατὰ τὴν χάριν τὴν δοθεῖσαν ἡμῖν διάφορα, εἴτε προφητείαν κατὰ τὴν ἀναλογίαν τῆς πίστεως, 7 εἴτε διακονίαν ἐν τῇ διακονίᾳ, εἴτε ὁ διδάσκων ἐν τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ, 8 εἴτε ὁ παρακαλῶν ἐν τῇ παρακλήσει, ὁ μεταδιδοὺς ἐν ἁπλότητι, ὁ προϊστάμενος ἐν σπουδῇ, ὁ ἐλεῶν ἐν ἱλαρότητι.

6 but having spirit-gifts corresponding to the different grace given to us. If prophesy then by consistency with the faith. 7 If service then by the serving. If teaching then by the [quality of the] teaching. 8 If providing support for others by the support you provide. If it is giving then by how your giving is without any strings attached. If it leading, then in the quality of the leadership. If caring for people then in how cheerful you are.

KJV unless otherwise noted.

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