Thursday, April 22, 2010

χωρὶς in Romans 3:28

χωρὶς in Romans 3:28; apart from in Romans 3:28

I would like some insight from readers concerning use of the Greek word choris (χωρίς) in Romans 3:28. At the various levels of my learning of Greek grammars and grammarians have reinforced the point that in the Greek New Testament χωρίς normally follows the word to which it is grammatically attached. Once in the GNT choris (χωρίς) follows the word it governs (Hebrews 12:14). Also, in the New Testament, choris (χωρίς) functions principally as an improper preposition. A. T. Robertson observes, "In the N.T. we have only one pure adverbial use (Jo. 20:7), while as a preposition with the ablative we find it 40 times" (A Grammar of the Greek New Testament, 648). 

My question concerns the placement and use of choris (χωρίς) in Romans 3:28 because of the way English translations connect the improper prepositional phrase (choris ergon nomou; χωρίς ἔργων νόμου) to the verb dikaiousthai (δικαιοῦσθαι), essentially rendering choris (χωρίς) as an adverb, rather than maintaining the syntactical connection that the Greek text itself actually shows, anthropon choris (ἄνθρωπον χωρίς), with choris (χωρίς) functioning as an improper preposition introducing the prepositional phrase choris errgon nomou (χωρὶς ἔργων νόμου) modifying anthropon (ἄνθρωπον) adjectivally.

Here is Romans 3:28 in the Greek New Testament.
λογιζόμεθα γὰρ δικαιοῦσθαι πίστει ἄνθρωπον χωρὶς ἔργων νόμου.
Here are a few English translations of the passage under question.
(NIV) For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

(NRSV) For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

(ESV) For we hold that one is justified by faith papart from works of the law.

(NASB 1995) For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.

(RSV) For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.

(KJV) Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
All the translations follow the lead of the KJV. Why? Are the translations reflecting an exegetical predisposition rather than the syntax of the sentence? Are the translations showing how an exegetical-theological predilection governs how one translates a passage? Or, is there something about the text that I am missing, that I do not see, or that I do not understand?
So, here is my question. Given the placement of χωρίς following the noun anthropon (ἄνθωπον) rather than the verb dikaiousthai (δικαιοῦσθαι) or the noun pistei (πίστει), why do our English translations not translate Romans 3:28 as follows? "For we reckon a man apart from the deeds required by the law to be justified by faith (by faithfulness)."

I have consulted several major commentaries on Romans (Cranfield, Dunn, Godet, Moo, Schreiner). Not one mentions anything about the syntax. All proceed as if there were nothing to address. Is this an example of a glaring exegetical issue in plain sight that receives no commentary attention? Or, is this an example of my seeing an exegetical phantom, an syntactical issue that does not exist?

Your exegetical insights and comments will be welcomed.

For quite a different understanding of Romans 3:28 see Dan Wallace's "Romans 3:28 and Jas 2:24: A Comparison."


  1. Earlier translations also have failed to address this syntactical issue...

    Latin Vulgate (5th Century)
    arbitramur enim iustificari hominem per fidem sine operibus legis
    Consider indeed justify man through faith without work law

    Wycliffe (1382)
    28 For we demen a man to be iustified bi the feith, with outen werkis of the lawe.

    Roemer 3:28 (Luther Bibel 1545)
    28So halten wir nun dafür, daß der Mensch gerecht werde ohne des Gesetzes Werke, allein durch den Glauben.

    (Luther Translation to English via Google)
    So we hold it that a man is justified without works of law, by faith alone

  2. Ardel---

    Hello. Interesting question here. I checked Leon Morris' Romans commentary (Eerdmans; 1988) and he mentions that this phrase literally construed is "virtually equivalent to 'apart from the law'(v21)"(187). Morris does not say anything with regard to χωρίς.

    I also checked Jewett's commentary and he says much the same as Morris and also notes that χωρίς "appears nowhere else in the NT in connection with law or works aside from Jas 2:26..."(28).

    With Fitzmyer, and I may be reading into his explanation, he states that the emphasis is on πίστει and not ἄνθρωπον, but once again there is no discussion of χωρίς.

    In the end I think your translation may not be much different than the major ones listed.

    (NIV) For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

    Yours: "For we reckon a man apart from the deeds required by the law to be justified by faith (by faithfulness)."

    Maybe there is a slight difference in emphasis, so I can see that following Greek syntax your translation is viable. I'll ask around and see what I come up with.

    Good stuff!

  3. I'm presently teaching a seminary extension course on Romans to a couple of ministers who have not been to seminary and I've been doing my own translation for the course.

    I have to admit I have continued the tradition like the other translations "For we think (credit-to-the-account) a person to be declared-righteous by faith without works of law."

    Your question here, I think has some merit.

    "For we think a person without works of law (i.e. Gentiles) to be declared-righteous by faith."

    Contextually that seems to fit the following question in 3:29 "Or is God only of Jews?"

    Thanks for raising the issue.

    Rev. David H. Rogers, FBC Biscoe, AR

  4. David,

    You took the discussion precisely where I hoped someone would take it, which is where I was planning to take it. I wanted to give others an opportunity to tease the matter out instead.

    You have, in my estimation, correctly identified Paul's designation in taking ἄνθρωπον χωρὶς ἔργων νόμου as referring to a Gentile ("a man apart from the works required by the law, which is to say, a man who is not under the law covenant's jurisdiction").

    Thus, you have also rightly recognized that taking 3:28 this way actually and naturally leads to Paul's questions of 3:29. Otherwise, Paul's questions of 3:29 seem quite intrusive.

  5. Dr. Caneday,

    What do you see this slight change of focus leading to in the extended passage?

    Is it, as Rev Rogers suggests, a focus between Gentiles and Jews coming to faith. Or do you see it being a focus on the means of justification? ("By faithfulness.")


  6. Ben Witherington III renders it "For we reckon to be righteous believing human beings without works of the Law."

    However, he doesn't really highlight the implications of that rendering.

  7. While I missed this rendering in my initial translation of Romans and in my subsequent teaching, I can see how this suggestion by Dr. Caneday works in the rhetorical flow of the argumentation that Paul has been making.

    He has been contrasting Jew and Gentile in previous statements and making the case that both groups are affected by sin. The Jews had the Law (which is indeed a blessing) but that blessing did not have the effect of making them sinless, also he has pointed out that Gentiles have a kind of law-adherence when they act in accordance to the Law's moral requirements by means of their conscience (He isn't saying that makes them pure and holy, however.) He will later argue that the combination of Law with the sinful heart results in trouble.

    Paul thus needs to introduce another means for a person to be right with God since both Jew and Gentile, with or without Law, are still sinful. He recognizes that the Gospel of Jesus Christ shows the righteousness of God and that is accessed by faith. Abraham in a Gentile-ish state (uncircumcision) was declared righteous through faith. David declared the blessing of forgiveness even for those who were practically "lawless" shown by the fact that they practiced "lawless deeds" (anomiai).

    The only hope for people (with Law or "lawless") has to be in association with faith since deeds are tainted.

    Paul seems to be making his rhetorical case that even those "choris ergon nomou" have God as their God. Faith in that God is the only key that would work to open the door of accessing the righteousness of God.

  8. Very interesting. But how are you understanding χωρίς in Rom 3:21? There it certainly isn't coming immediately after the word it governs (νυνἰ δέ).

  9. BDAG and BDF both indicate that the genitive object of χωρις follows the preposition except in the instance of Heb 12.14.
    >>> In Rom 3.28, it really is "apart from works / εργων"

  10. I'm sorry for my absence today. My teaching schedule has kept me away.

    MGVH, you're right on both matters, (1) that Hebrews 12:14 is an exception to the fact that the genitive object follows χωρίς, and (2) that ἔργων νόμου really does follow χωρίς in Romans 3:28.

    These are not my concerns. Instead, my concern is with the word that χωρίς follows. In Romans 3:28 χωρίς follows and thus modifies ἄνθρωπον. Χωρίς, as an improper preposition, attaches to ἄνθρωπον, a noun, rather than to δικαιοῦσθαι, the verb. Thus, the improper prepositional phrase, χωρίς ἔργων νόμου, modifies ἄνθρωπον adjectivally rather modifies δικαιοῦσθαι adverbially. Thus, χωρίς ἔργων νόμου is modifying who is justified rather than how one is justified. Paul is explaining what he says in 3:27, "We reckon a man-apart-from-the-deeds-required-by-the-law to be justified by faith (faithfulness)." In other words, Paul is saying, "We reckon a Gentile to be justified by faith (faithfulness)."

    Peter, as for Romans 3:21, I would suggest that χωρίς does modify the word it follows. In 3:21, because δέ is post-positive, χωρίς actually attaches to νυνί. Thus, Paul's point is "now, apart from the law God's righteousness is made visible. . . ."

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  12. Dr. Caneday,

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding here, but it seems that the linchpin of your argument here is: "At the various levels of my learning of Greek grammars and grammarians have reinforced the point that in the Greek New Testament χωρίς follows the word to which it is grammatically attached." I did a BibleWorks search on χωρίς, and it seems to me that if this means that χωρίς directly follows the word that it modifies, this claim cannot be upheld. I don't know how to paste Greek into this box, so I will leave the exploration of the verses in Greek to you, but consider Matt 13:34; 14:21 and 15:38 (when put beside one another, I think it becomes clear that χωρίς modifies the verb in these two verses); Mark 4:34; Luke 6:49; John 1:3; 15:5; Rom 4:6 (which should perhaps inform our reading of 3:28); 7:8; 1 Cor 4:8; 2 Cor 12:13; 1 Tim 2:8; Philemon 1:14; Heb 4:15; 9:7, 18, 22; 10:28; 11:6, 40. Some of these you may disagree on, but in many, it is impossible for χωρίς to modify the word that immediately precedes. Thus, I think you can legitimately argue that "without works of law" may modify "man," but I don't think that you can argue that it must modify "man" because of its placement in the sentence. I think it is equally possible grammatically for it to modify the infinitive "to be justified."

  13. Andrew,

    Thanks for your thoughtful note. You're right. One cannot argue that χωρίς must modify ἄνθρωπον. All I can argue is that it is plausible that it does.

    I have looked at uses of χωρίς in passages such as those you list. The connections are often not obvious. One problem with appealing to other uses of χωρίς in the NT, including Romans 4:6, is that none of the other examples quite fit the pattern of Romans 3:28.

    As I read the passage, then, it seems to me that it has the added advantage of providing the basis for the questions of 3:29. The flow is natural not forced as with the usual translations.

  14. "Where is boasting?"
    Commentators often assert that the very nature of faith eliminates boasting. But what keeps the Gentiles from boasting in their faith? The way these passages are rendered it seems they are justified by their own faith. I notice that in verse 30 the circumcised are justified "ek pistewn." Why don't the translations use "from" or "out of" for "ek"?

    He will justify the circumcised from faith(fulness) and the uncircumcised through faith(fulness).

    Is there a reason why ek is used for circumcised and dia is used for the uncircumcised?

    Shouldn't this text map to 4:25 where Jesus' sacrificial death and resurrection are clearly stated as the ground of justification?

  15. "In 3:21, because δέ is post-positive, χωρίς actually attaches to νυνί. Thus, Paul's point is 'now, apart from the law God's righteousness is made visible. . . .'"

    But your comma ("now, apart from...") seems to betray the fact that χωρίς is still modifying πεφανέρωται in your translation. The only way I can think to render χωρίς as a modifier of νυνί is something like "apart from right now." But then I would expect a article with νυνί.

  16. I accept that in Romans 3:21 χωρίς νόμου is functioning adverbially. However, it seems to me that it is adverbially modifying νυνί, another adverb that is modifying πεφανέρωται. Thus, my translation of 3:21 to show the word connection is--"God's righteousness has been revealed now apart from the law being testified to by the Law and the Prophets. . . ."

  17. Hmm, I'm still puzzled as to how χωρίς can modify νυνί in Rom 3:21. Are you taking νυνί as temporal ("now in time") or as logical ("now in my argument")? Either way it seems like taking χωρίς with νυνί would lead to the meaning "except" ("with the exception of right now") which seems odd.

  18. I take νυνί with both senses. It signals a logical transition but even more, it signals a temporal shift.

    I take it that apart from deeds required by the law (χωρίς ἐξ ἔργων νόμου) further elaborates or explains now (νυνί). God's righteousness is revealed now, apart from the deeds required by the law.


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