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Romans 9:20 ESV

"But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" [me to plasma erei-will what is molded say].

A. "Will what is molded say to its molder", has become a question to which the answer might be, "It depends on how it was molded".

Romans 9:20 NASB 1977

"On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? [My emphasis].

B. Possible explanation: A time is coming when the thing molded will not say to its molder "why", because all will have been revealed. At some point in the future everything will know why it was created.

["will it" seems to me to have come not from the Greek but from some need for assurance as in - "The economy won't crash , will it?" Hoping for the answer , "of course not dear"].

Romans 9:20 New Living Bible

"Should that thing that was created say to the one who created it..".

C. The meaning here I think is the thing formed ought not to ask in an answering back tone of voice.

What might be the reasons to include or exclude "not/me" in translation of this verse? What is its status?

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  • Aren't verses 18-19 enough to explain verse 20? Think Job 38. Nov 21, 2022 at 20:44

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Rom 9:20 contains a classic rhetorical device - asking a question that contains its own answer. Here is my very literal translation:

But rather, O man, who are you answering-against (= contradicting) God? Will not the formed say to the One forming, "Why have you made me thus?"

The answer is formulated in the Greek grammar to demand an obvious answer "No!" Strictly speaking, in English, this particle of negation need not be translated as it does not serve the same purpose in English (eg, NIV, ESV, BSB, BLB, KJV, CSB, etc.) but Paul's intention in Greek is crystal clear - the rhetorical question demands a definite "No!"

Perhaps a slightly clearer way to translate the last half of Rom 9:20 is:

The formed will not say to former, "Why have you made me thus?" (cf, NASB)

However, this does not capture the rhetorical force of Paul's question. In either case, the Greek rhetorical device.

Indeed, BDAG specifically lists this meaning for the word μὴ used in this construction, when it says:

  1. marker of expectation of a negative answer to a question

It then lists numerous other examples of this construction such as, Luke 22:35, Matt 7:9, 10, 9:15, Mark 2:19, Luke 5:34, 11:11, 17:9, John 3:4, 4:12, 33, 6:67, 7:35, 51, 21:5, Acts 7:28, 42, Rom 3:3, 5, 9:14, 20, 1 Cor 1:13, 9:8, etc.

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  • You say, "will not". Forgive me I'm still confused. Is this "will not" as in 3+3 will not/never can make 7 i.e. this thing will not happen. Or, does it mean the formed thing could but will/ought not say "Why have you made me like this" if it is to please God?
    – C. Stroud
    Nov 21, 2022 at 17:49
  • @C.Stroud - that is quintessential Greek - the "not" implies the answer to the rhetorical question and thus is not normally translated. The NASB attempts to give this sense: "The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?" Look at some of the other instances where this same construction is used.
    – Dottard
    Nov 21, 2022 at 20:15

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