Exegetical Question about Romans

Several years ago I was listening to a preacher expound Romans 1:16-17 and explain how these verses set forth the theme of the entirety of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. As I listened, I had my Greek NT open in my lap, and I got to wondering about the gar [“for”] at the beginning of Romans 1:18. If you’ve studied Greek, you know that the conjunction gar most commonly introduces either a reason for what precedes or a further explanation of what precedes. So my question is this: Could it be that the gar at the beginning of Romans 1:18 serves to introduce the remainder of Romans as an explanation of Romans 1:16-17? I’ve never heard anyone say this, but if so, it would certainly support this idea that Romans 1:16-17 is indeed the theme of the entire letter. What do you think?

11 responses to this post.

  1. Interesting idea, but that seems like a lot of weight to throw on the “gar” at the beginning of verse 18. Paul actually uses a string of “gars” in this section. (There are six of them between verses 16 and 20.) So, you would need to base the argument not on the grammar of the “gar” at this point, but on the actual content of all that follows verses 16-17.

  2. I do think that “gar” is connecting the verses together. Here’s another interesting connector: notice how “the righteousness of God is revealed” in v. 17 and “the wrath of God is revealed” in v. 18. Also notice “righteousness” in v. 17 and “unrighteousness” in v. 18. God reveals his righteousness first in his present wrath on unrighteous man who suppresses and replaces his glory.

  3. I don’t know Greek, and I’m no educated theologian, so this is nothing more than uneducated opinion.

    When I recently studied this section of Romans, I “crammed” (the study method I use) from verse 16 to the end of chapter 1 because, in my opinion, it is all regarding one thing. It is regarding God’s powerful means of salvation being revealed through the Good News.

    For IN it is revealed (v. 17) how God makes people righteous in His sight, WHAT is revealed (v.18) is God’s anger toward those who suppress the truth. Verses 19-23 are the foundation of what they are suppressing (His having made his qualities known). Then verses 24-32 wrap up the WHY they have been given up to the vileness of their hearts.

    One of the first things I learned about studying the Bible is that the verse numbers and chapter breaks are all additions. It was helpful to me, as a new believer, to read the epistles as they were truly written – as letters to beloved brothers in Christ.

    As a letter, this is the way the flow of ideas occur to me at least. Again, I am untrained in Greek, so take it for what it’s worth.

    Have a blessed week.

  4. Posted by Kevin McAteer on April 7, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    Matt, I am preaching through the book of Romans. Providentially, I spoke on Romans 1:18 yesterday morning!

    I am convinced that 1:16-17 is the thesis statement of Romans; it is the “Cliff’s Notes” of the entire epistle. He will unpack the contents of those two verses in the remainder of the book.

    I agree with your assessment of verse 18; it does introduce the first bit of explanation of that thesis statement.

    There are 9 uses of “gar” in Romans 1; six of these are consecutive uses in 1:16-1:20 (twice in 1:16). Only in verse 19 does the gar not occur near the beginning of the verse.

    I agree with the earlier post by roujourlocke, how he observed the same verb (identical parsing) of “revealed” in 1:17 and 1:18. Also, the use of the “righteousness of God” and “the “wrath of God” (note that the Greek does not have the definite article before either one).

    Before Paul can branch out and discuss the beauty of the righteousness of God, he must first discuss the universal condemnation of all mankind (1:18-3:20). He summarizes the sin of the entire world under the phrase “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

    Leon Morris has a wonderful statement in his commentary on Romans, “The gospel is necessary because there is such a thing as the wrath of God, because only the gospel of salvation by grace through faith brings deliverance from that wrath” (pg. 75). Before Paul gives the good news of the Gospel, he must first give the bad news.

  5. Posted by Matt Waymeyer on April 7, 2008 at 11:03 pm

    Ray: I’m not sure what it means to base an argument on the grammar of the gar, but in any event, let me clarify my question. A conjunction is a word that is used to connect words, phrases, clauses, and even larger blocks of discourse. When we encounter a conjunction, we need to examine the surrounding context to determine (a) which two elements in the context are being connected by the conjunction, and (b) the relationship that is being established by the conjunction. When the conjunction gar is used to connect elements A and B, it most commonly introduces B as either a reason for A (causal use) or a further explanation of A (explanatory use). Most of the time, the nature of the relationship established by the conjunction gar is obvious. For example, consider the uses of gar you alluded to in Romans 1:16-20:

    (1) The gar in verse 16a is causal, introducing the reason why Paul is eager to preach the Gospel to those in Rome; (2) the gar in verse 16b is causal, introducing the reason why Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel; (3) the gar in verse 17a is causal, introducing the reason why the gospel is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes; (4) the gar in verse 19b is causal, introducing the reason why that which is known about God is evident within people; and (5) the gar in verse 20a is explanatory, introducing an explanation of how it is that God makes this truth about Himself evident within people.

    In contrast to these five uses of gar in Romans 1:16-20, I believe the significance of the conjunction gar at the beginning of verse 18 is not as immediately obvious. In other words, the content of verse 18 alone does not seem to provide either a reason or further explanation of what immediately precedes verse 18. This is what initially got me thinking that it may introduce a larger block of material, perhaps even remainder of the epistle, as that which explains the thesis statement in Romans 1:16-17. I haven’t checked the commentaries yet—I like to wrestle with these things on my own first—but I am inclined to agree with Kevin who writes above that the gar introduces “the first bit of explanation of that thesis statement.” (Kevin, were you thinking specifically of 1:18-3:20?)

    Anyway, to clarify my question by wording it more broadly: What is the significance of the gar in Romans 1:18a? As exegetes and preachers of the Word, these are the kinds of questions we need to wrestle with if we are to understand and proclaim the Scriptures with precision.

  6. I can’t give you a clear definite answer, because I would still be undecided on that gar conjunction. However, I might guide you to consider the BAGD lexicon especially looking at the category of 1c. Because there are several of these conjunctions, they may be functioning in the same manner. That is to promote the argument that is being established in verses 16 & 17. Chew on it and see if this jives with the tenor of the passage.
    – Steve

  7. My pastor preach on this a while back. I think he did 94 sermons through Romans. The link to the sermon is still on the website: http://www.vgbc.org

  8. Matt – Thanks for the clarification. Interestingly, NIV treats the gar at the beginning of verse 18 different from the other five in 16-18 by leaving it untranslated. Did the NIV translators also see a lack of connection to the immediate context in this particular gar? NAS, ESV and KJV all translate it.

  9. Posted by Dante Spencer on April 9, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    At the SBL conference last Nov, Mark Reasoner contended that Rom 1:15 should be included along with vv.16-17 as the theme of Romans on account of Paul’s use of gar there. The “for … for … for …” structure beginning in v.15 makes vv.16-17 subordinate to the main idea, which is “So my purpose is to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome.” The affect this has on the letter is to buttress the fact that it, like Paul’s other letters, had a pastoral intent, namely, to address Jew-Gentile relations in the church of Rome. I am hoping Longenecker, who was pretty excellent in his Gal comm, will detect this in his forthcoming Rom comm.
    As Luther rightly noted, the righteousness of God here is not the righteousness that moves him to wrath upon sin, but is the righteousness that he reckons as our through faith in Christ who is our righteousness and who is the only One who could withstand the judgment of God. We can approach God in Christ because he was righteous; our obedience adds nothing to our standing before God. To imagine otherwise is to deny grace and blaspheme the merit of Christ.

  10. Posted by Flathead on April 22, 2008 at 8:33 am

    I agree with your concerns grammatically. There are six “gars” and all of them are dependent on the one before it (“tail-hook”). The head clause and emphasis of the section, therefore, must be: “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (1:15).

    If all of these “gars” are subordinate to this leading statement, then it seems according to grammar that 1:16-18 is not the central theme of the letter. Perhaps a better place to locate the theme of Romans is found in 1:2-5 which is then repeated in 15:14-20.

  11. Posted by Matt Waymeyer on May 1, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    Flathead: That still leaves my primary question unanswered: How do you interpret the significance of the gar in Romans 1:18a?

    But more importantly, is that you, Jeff? If so, I’ve been trying to track down either your phone number or email address. Can you email me one or the other? I just updated planners and lost some contact info in the process.

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