In church this morning, I stumbled across Romans 4:9 in my bilingual English/Spanish NIV/NVI Bible, and was puzzled by the Spanish translation of this verse.1 (Emphasis added for sake of comparison)

In English, the text reads:

Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness.

The part that interests me is the second sentence in the Spanish translation, which, in English, would translate to "Is it not also for the gentiles?"

The question is: Why is the word translated as "uncircumcised" in English, but "gentiles" in Spanish yet there is a footnote in the Spanish translation that says the literal translation is "uncircumcised?"

Or the other possible question is: Why didn't the English translation say "gentiles" instead?

Considering these are both the NIV (aka NVI in Spanish) translations, I would have expected the translators to come up with a more similar translation.

I'm sure this proves my ignorance of the translation process. :)

1 And in Spanish:

¿Acaso se ha reservado esta dicha sólo para los que están circuncidados? ¿Acaso no es también para los *gentiles?[a] Hemos dicho que a Abraham se le tomó en cuenta la fe como justicia.


a. Romanos 4:9 los *gentiles. Lit. la *incircuncisión.

  • From memory, and someone else may be able to cite an authority on this, the NVI uses the same interpretative decisions as the NIV in matters of textual criticism and polysemy, but is otherwise a translation from the original languages to Spanish. Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 15:20
  • I tagged this with the book of Romans and footnoted the Spanish language portion as we deal with translation from the original Biblical languages only into English.
    – Dan
    Commented Jun 19, 2014 at 22:04

1 Answer 1


Going back to the Greek, the word translated "circumcised" or "circuncidados" is peritome <4061>, which means "circumcised". It comes from peritemno <4059>, which means "to cut around" so the word is talking about the ritual, surgical act that is a unique tradition of the Jews. The other word ("uncircumcised" or "gentiles") is akrobustia <203>, which means "having the foreskin, uncircumcised". The note in Strong's says:

from 206 and probably a modified form of posthe (the penis or male sexual organ); the prepuce; by implication, an uncircumcised (i.e. gentile, figuratively, unregenerate) state or person:—not circumcised, uncircumcised (with 2192), uncircumcision.

Again, the sense is medical first and figurative second. So "gentiles" is a good, but not strictly literal translation. Including the footnote seems like a good move on the NVI's part.

Neither the NIV nor the NVI are committed to being "literal" translations in the sense of using words in the target language that are equivalent to the original Greek. The NVI claims:

In addition, the exegetical and hermeneutic principles used in today’s most well-known, accepted and used English Bible, the New International Bible (NIV), were closely observed.

So the difference must come down to a difference in the target language and how its speakers might read the text. To be precise, here's what the NVI translators say on the subject:

The NVI reproduces in today's Spanish what the sacred writer, inspired by God, wanted to convey to the people of that time in the then current languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek). A faithful and accurate translation must take into account not only the original language, but the target language as well. This means to transfer the total content of the message to the grammatical forms and expressions of the target language.

My guess in this particular case is that the translators assumed less familiarity with the Jewish traditions among Spanish speakers than was assumed of English speakers. If so, it would be important to make clear that Paul isn't just talking about the medical meaning, but also the metaphorical one.

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