Thursday, March 15, 2007

Translation Question - Romans 3:23

One of the things I hope to get out of blogging is interaction with people who are in later stages of scholarship than I. Whereas most "academic" blogs give you plenty of insightful posts and fill your head with information, I may be inclined to ask questions from time to time.

So, lo and behold, I have a question about English translations of Romans 3:23. In Greek, the verse is:

παντες γαρ ημαρτον και υστερουνται της δοξης του θεου

My question centers around ημαρτον. I realize that it's Aorist (sinned), but in most English translations it's translated into the perfect (have sinned). Is it because of the possible theological implications behind "For all sinned" (i.e. it could be said that it's a past event of generations long ago)? Are there other instances where the aorist is translated into the perfect? Is this just to satisfy something on the English end of things, or is this how the original audience would've understood it? Can one really make an entire paragraph out of questions?!


Anonymous said...

Its translated often as what Daniel Wallace calls a consummative aorist. The focus is on cessation of the act. "Certain verbs by their lexical nature, virtually require this usage. For example, 'he died' is usually not going to be an ingressive idea [stress on the beginning of the action]" (Wallace 559).

All sinned, suggested the completed act, thus it can be translated as have sinned.

Sean said...

And just for information ελεγεν is in the imperfect tense, the aorist is ειπεν.

Josh McManaway said...


Thanks a lot! I'll look up that reference in Wallace's book.



I suppose this is why proofreading before posting is important. Thanks for the correction.

Nijay K. Gupta said...

Good question. Part of me thinks that it was just translated as such because the translators felt it sounded a bit better. Not all translations follow the idea that "have/has" marks the Perfect tense. The most 'literal' translations probably would, like the NASB, but not all.

But, maybe there is something there. The Aorist does not mean that it cannot be understood as 'stative' or 'perfective'. It just means that the author was not interested necessarily in marking the verb as such. But, I think we find a clue in the next verb translated 'fall short'. Because that verb is present, and by the nature of its meaning, it is an ongoing state (literally of being in need). If the first verb is aorist (past time), and the next verb is present and stative, then the logic of the first verb could be taken to be perfective. So, if all sinned and then everyone is in need, then it stands to reason that all 'have' sinned (and thus stand in alienation from God) and as a result 'lack' the glory of God.

Josh McManaway said...


Thanks so much for the comments. I'm pretty honored that someone like you has read the blog.

And thanks for the answer!