Faith does not come by hearing (Rom. 10:17)

A number of English Bible versions translate Rom. 10:17 inappropriately, as, for instance:

  • So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (KJV)
  • So then faith does come from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (NASB)
  • So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (ESV)
  • So then faith does come from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (REB)

There are several problems with these translation wordings. Taken literally, they claim that when someone hears they come to have faith. Presumably, those who are deaf do not come to have faith. But we know many deaf people do have faith, so something must be wrong with the translation. And here is what it is: in the context of Rom. 10:17, the first Greek noun (akoke) behind the English gerund “hearing” was semantically, but not syntactically, transitive. That is, there was an object of hearing. That is what is meant by a semantic object. But that object could be ellipsized (not physically present) in this context in Greek. The object is implicitly understood. That object is “the word of Christ” (or, “word of God” in some Greek manuscripts). English syntax, however, unlike Greek, does not allow the “hear” to be left implicit in this context. English requires that the object of hearing be stated if there is one. (For those who might wonder if a noun can be transitive or intransitive, the answer is yes; nouns referring to actions can be semantically transitive or intransitive. I realize that this is not the way English is normally taught in school, but it is a sound principle of modern linguistics which can inform how English is taught in school.)

The moral of the story, here, then, is that we must pay just as much attention to the language we are translating into as we do the language we are translating from. If we do not, we create translation problems, including, sometimes, as in Rom. 10:17, inaccuracy. In the original Greek, there was a semantic object of hearing, the word of Christ. Greek speakers could understand that that object was there because it is clearly stated in the context, although it does not explicitly appear as the syntactic object of the verb. But English, which requires that semantic object to be explicitly present, gives us a wrong meaning if that object is omitted, namely, that faith can come about from hearing.

There are English versions which accurately translate the meaning of the Greek while following the rules of English for the syntactic frame of “hear,” for instance:

  • So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ. (RSV)
  • So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ. (NRSV)
  • Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (NIV)
  • Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (TNIV)
  • So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ. (HCSB)
  • Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ. (NET)
  • So then, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message comes through preaching Christ. (TEV)
  • So faith comes from hearing the Good News, and people hear the Good News when someone tells them about Christ. (NCV)
  • So faith comes from hearing the message, and the message that is heard is what Christ spoke. (GW)

I suspect that the Greek of this verse was a particular rhetorical form (something like a chiasm) which Greek scholars have probably given a technical label, but I don’t know what that label is. The form is something like: If A then B, and if B then C. With this form, I suggest, there are not two different (independent) statements being made in Greek, but, rather one single message using the particular rhetorical form.

The NLT translates the meaning of the Greek by having the second clause clarify the first one:

So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.

The CEV makes the Greek meaning clear in English while reducing the two clauses to the most natural English, a single compressed sentence with one independent clause followed by a dependent clause:

No one can have faith without hearing the message about Christ.

There are also translation problems with the second clause of this verse, as in “hearing by the Word of God.” But those can wait to be discussed in another post.

45 Comments

  1. Tim Chesterton
    Posted October 24, 2008 at 2:37 am | Permalink

    Wayne, this sort of post is the reson I keep coming back to the Better Bibles Blog. Thank you!

  2. Dan Sindlinger
    Posted October 24, 2008 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Good post, Wayne.
    My (and I think the Jewish) understanding of “faith” is that it involves action. That’s why I translated the first part of this verse as “Obviously, people need the right information before they can act on it.” Here’s a bit more of the context:

    “Another of God’s spokesmen explained long ago that whoever follows God’s advice will enjoy a better life, no matter what religious background they have. Obviously, people need the right information before they can act on it. That’s why God’s spokesman Isaiah indicated long ago how important it is for people to share God’s advice with others…” http://www.BetterLifeBible.com

  3. mwh
    Posted October 24, 2008 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    I’m neither a linguist nor a translator, so please forgive me for speaking out of turn. But, is it really true that English won’t allow for ellipsized objects? It seems like it is human nature to truncate things that are implicit, and that at least in practice (in English) we ellipsize things all the time. I realize it may not be grammatically correct in the technical sense, but is it not idiomatically common?

  4. Wayne Leman
    Posted October 24, 2008 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    But, is it really true that English won’t allow for ellipsized objects?

    Thanks for asking this important question. The answer depends on what the verb is. Each verb takes a particular syntactic frame. Some verbs, such as “hear,” require an explicit object if there is a semantic (notional) object present.

    I’d be happy to be corrected, if you can think of a natural English sentence where the object of “hear” can be omitted.

  5. Peter Kirk
    Posted October 25, 2008 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Wayne. The revised version of this is much better.

    I would dispute that the English verb “hear” always needs an object. It does have an intransitive sense, meaning to have the sense of hearing, not to be deaf or temporarily deafened. In this sense the gerund “hearing” can function fully as a noun with no object required, meaning “the sense of hearing”. As you point out, this cannot be the meaning of this verse, because deaf people can believe – and indeed I understand some deaf people are offended by this translation, or how it is expounded, which can be taken as implying that they cannot believe.

    The Greek noun here, akoue, can also mean “the sense of hearing”, but in this context it is surely being used in its other sense, “(heard) report, message”. So the rendering in several translation “what is heard” is much better, in my opinion. “Hearing the message” also gets the right idea.

    The point of the second half of the message is that there can be no heard message (akoue) unless there is a spoken message (rhema).

  6. Wayne Leman
    Posted October 25, 2008 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Peter wrote:

    I would dispute that the English verb “hear” always needs an object.

    I would also, Peter. I intended to say that in the post, if I didn’t. I see that I should have said it earlier in the post to indicate that in the context of Rom. 10:17 we have a semantically transitive form. In other contexts “hear” can indeed be intransitive.

  7. Wayne Leman
    Posted October 25, 2008 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    Peter wrote:

    I would dispute that the English verb “hear” always needs an object.

    I would also, Peter. I intended to say that in the post, if I didn’t. I see that I should have said it earlier in the post to indicate that in the context of Rom. 10:17 we have a semantically transitive form. In other contexts “hear” can indeed be intransitive.

    I have added a phrase to the post to make my intended meaning clearer.

  8. Michael Marlowe
    Posted October 26, 2008 at 4:21 am | Permalink

    Wayne, I don’t see why anyone should feel a need to make the “object” here explicit, because it is obvious enough from the context. No one reading the passage is going to think the statement “faith comes by hearing” means that faith springs from the mere sense of hearing, or from hearing about things in general. The context makes it very clear that the thing being preached and heard is the gospel. This is not an example of mistranslation in the more literal versions. It is just another example of how DE versions tend to make implicit things explicit, whether or not there is any compelling reason to do so.

  9. Wayne Leman
    Posted October 26, 2008 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    Michael wrote:

    Wayne, I don’t see why anyone should feel a need to make the “object” here explicit, because it is obvious enough from the context.

    Yes, Michael, you’re right about the object being obvious from the context, as I blogged. The issue is not one of FE vs. DE here, but of whether or not we will follow English syntactic rules. The English syntactic frame for “hear” or “hearing” in this context (esp. since the context of the next clause supplies that object) requires an explicit object. If the notional (semantic) object is omitted in English, “hearing” is intransitive, unlike the Greek noun which could be either semantically transitive or intransitive depending on the context.

    Compare:

    1. Can you hear?
    2. Can you hear it?

    In English (1) and (2) have very different meanings. We do not want such difference in meaning to cause any part of an English translation to be inaccurate, not even a single clause such as the first clause of Rom. 10:17.

    The question is not a matter of formal equivalence to the original, but of accuracy to the original Greek. Leaving out the object in English gives an inaccurate meaning. Leaving it out in Greek does not, when the object is implicit (understood from context).

  10. J. K. Gayle
    Posted October 26, 2008 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Wayne,
    Good post to point out that English needs more than just to mirror Greek syntax.

    Here’s three other good translations to illustrate your point. They are (1) J.B. Phillips, (2) Richmond Lattimore, and (3) Ann Nyland:

    (1) “(Belief you see, can only come from hearing the message,
    and the message is the word of Christ.)”

    (2) “Faith comes from what they hear,
    and what they hear is of the word of Christ.”

    (3a) “So it is then, that faith comes from hearing the anointed spoken word.”

    (3b Nyland has this in her footnotes):

    “ῥῆμα, rhema, and not λόγος, logos.

    ‘So it is then, that faith comes from that which is heard,
    and that which is heard comes through the spoken word.’

    The prepositions in both clauses are different. In the first part of the sentence, faith comes ἐξ ἀκοῆς, ex akoes, from the source of that which is heard, and in the second part of the sentence, that which is heard comes διὰ, dia, with the genitive through the anointed spoken word.”


    As Rich points out in the comment on your second related post, there is the explicit “object.” But it does not show except on that second clause.

    It’s always helpful, I think, to show the Greek:

    ἄρα ἡ πίστις ἐξ ἀκοῆς
    ἡ δὲ ἀκοὴ διὰ ῥήματος Χριστοῦ

    ara he pistis eks akoes
    he de akoe dia rhematos ch-ristou

    Nyland gets away with conflating the two Greek clauses into one English clause because the object is implied for both.

    I think you might have been thinking of “syllogism” or rhetorical “enthymeme” when you were suggesting this might be a “chiasma.” I also believe you were right not to belabor this technical form!! That’s the pedantic stuff academic argue over.

    To be sure, the academic arguments started with the Greek philosophers and Aristotle develops them, probably, more than anyone. This academic stuff makes Nyland add two additional footnotes, also to try to explain the difference between ῥῆμα, rhema, and λόγος, logos. Until Aristotle’s λογική, logic, the distinctions were not as stark as Nyland must make them.

    Aristotle’s logic, syllogism (i.e., ordered λόγος, logos set including a major premise, minor premise, and conclusion), and enthymeme (i.e., a syllogism with an “implied” premise) are not entirely tangential to your post. The whole notion of an “implied” or “understood” term was rather frustrating to early Greek grammarians, like Aristotle. He felt it necessary to explain, to describe, and to prescribe, things like “implied” objects. He was interested in noting what good Greek “required.”

    This is my only caution with what you’re doing in the post. By describing an “English [that] requires that the object of hearing be stated if there is one,” I wonder if you’re not just prescribing good English (i.e., even prescribing that pattern you see that “is not the way English is normally taught in school”). Language is so much more sloppy than the patterns linguists describe. And users of English (both speakers and hearers, also readers and writers) are so much more creative than we often, at first glance, give them credit for.

    In other words, without just going for faithfulness and accuracy in terms of “dynamic [semantic] equivalence,” I think a clever English translator could bring out “equivalence” with respect to syntax as well. Might there be something in this little Greek construction that Paul uses to defy Aristotelian grammar, for example? And isn’t a mere translation into English that goes for semantic equivalence going to lose that defiance against the “required” rules of Greek grammar, rhetoric, and logic?


    The only other point here is that Paul, in the first clause with the implied (or delayed) object, is using the prepositional construct that Matthew uses in his genealogy that opens his gospel. Each of the four times that Matthew mentions a woman in the genealogy of men, he uses τὸν . . . ἐκ τῆς . . . , ton . . . ek tes. . .. It’s “the man (named) ____ out of (i.e., from the source) the woman (named) ____.”

    It could be that Paul implying that “the word of Christ” is a sort of mother to “faith.”

  11. J. K. Gayle
    Posted October 26, 2008 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Oops! I meant to say Matthew mentions five women, but as so many often do, I overlooked Mary. Μαρίας ἐξ ἧς ἐγεννήθη Ἰησοῦς.

    Matthew, for all the men, uses the genitive that Paul uses in his second clause (i.e., the one with the overt object). But Matthew, for the five women, uses the ἐξ eks prepositional construct, which Paul uses for the first clause (i.e., the one in which the object is only implied in his Greek).

  12. Wayne Leman
    Posted October 26, 2008 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Michael, in addition, the two groups of translations cited in my post do not differentiate according to FE vs. DE. Note that all of the translations in both groups supply English “comes” (or some equivalent) when there is no such explicit verb in the Greek. Also note that the HCSB, which is just as essentially literal a translation as the ESV, uses the grammatical syntactic frame for English “hear” while the ESV does not.

  13. Wayne Leman
    Posted October 26, 2008 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Kurk, it is true that speakers of English are creative and often messy with regards to grammaticality. But they still know syntactic rules; if they didn’t they could not understand each other. All English speakers know that “John kissed Mary” does not mean the same as “Mary kissed John”. It’s not a matter of prescription, but of description, discovering what rules speakers know. Note the discovery procedure contrasting sentences (1) and (2) in my response to Michael.

  14. Michael Marlowe
    Posted October 26, 2008 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Wayne, English grammar does not require an explicit object here anymore than Greek grammar does. Your objection to the literal English translation here could just as well be made against the original Greek. It’s the kind of punchy eliptical form of expression that we often see in Paul, whose very rapid style often creates problems for people who are reading too slowly. The literal translations reflect this feature of Paul’s style, and expect the reader to supply the elided words, just as Paul expected his Roman-Greek readers could do.

  15. Wayne Leman
    Posted October 26, 2008 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Michael wrote:

    Wayne, English grammar does not require an explicit object here anymore than Greek grammar does.

    No, Michael, English grammar does require an explicit object when there is an implicit object. Greek grammar does not. Greek and English grammars are similar in some ways, but differ in many ways. This is one where they differ.

    Again, note the difference between “Can you hear?” and “Can you hear it?”

    Please cite any English sentence from any natural composition where there is a specific implicit object which is not stated explicitly and I’d sure be willing to take a second look.

  16. Michael Marlowe
    Posted October 26, 2008 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Wayne wrote: “English grammar does require an explicit object when there is an implicit object.”

    That doesn’t seem to make sense, Wayne. If something is implicit, then by definition it is not explicit. And obviously both Greek and English allow elisions.

    What makes you think the elisions here are more “grammatical” in Greek than they are in English?

    Again, I say this is a matter of style, not grammar.

  17. Wayne Leman
    Posted October 26, 2008 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    Michael wrote:

    That doesn’t seem to make sense, Wayne. If something is implicit, then by definition it is not explicit. And obviously both Greek and English allow elisions.

    It makes perfect sense linguistically, Michael. There is an important different between notional (or semantic) entities and how we refer to them syntactically. There is not a one-to-one mapping between semantics and syntax.

    Again, please show me any English sentence, uttered or written by a native speaker of English, which refers to an object but elides explicit reference to it and I’ll believe you. We need data to be able to be sure we are talking about the same thing things.

  18. Wayne Leman
    Posted October 26, 2008 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Michael wrote:

    That doesn’t seem to make sense, Wayne. If something is implicit, then by definition it is not explicit. And obviously both Greek and English allow elisions.

    It makes good sense linguistically, Michael. There is an important different between notional (semantic) entities and how we encode language syntactically to refer them syntactically. There is not a one-to-one mapping between semantics and syntax.

    Again, please show me any natural English sentence, uttered or written by a native speaker of English, which refers to an object of hearing but elides explicit reference to it and I’ll be willing to revise my claim. I do want my understanding of English syntax, as it is spoken and written by native speakers, to be correct. If I’m wrong, I’m glad to be shown that I am. But like doubting Thomas, I truly need to see the data.

  19. J. K. Gayle
    Posted October 26, 2008 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    >>But they still know syntactic rules; if they didn’t they could not understand each other.

    Wayne, I’m quite sure that by “pragmatics” and “relevance theory” what you’re saying is true. “Understanding” really is the concern with these approaches to language and communication. But sometimes shared syntax does not create understanding, as with Chomsky's "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously." And sometimes there's understanding without shared syntax, as when my kids often say to me, "I know what you mean but you're saying it wrong" (when I'm trying to use English teen-speak with them but botch the syntax.) My wife sometimes tells me just to use plain English (when she gets what I'm trying to say but figures my syntax is about as rough and convoluted as Thomas Jefferson's opener to the Declaration of Independence.)

    >>please show me any English sentence, uttered or written by a native speaker of English, which refers to an object but elides explicit reference to it and I’ll believe you.

    Michael may have many more of these sorts of sentences, but here are some:

    "Michael will write (to) Wayne." (The object, of course, is a letter or email or other written message.)

    "Can David spell? " (The object is a "word.")

    "Is it time to buy or to sell?" (The object is "stocks.")

    "Come worship with us." (This is a sentence on a church marque I've seen–and I hope the object implied is God.)

    >>There is not a one-to-one mapping between semantics and syntax [i.e., in translation of Greek to English]

    I’m not sure anyone is arguing this. Rather, I think there can be attention in English to the semantics of Greek and / or there can be attention to the syntax in translation. Sometimes, as with Chomsky’s famous abstract sentence above, the point is not semantics at all–I’ve seen a few claim that the French translation works (syntactically but not semantically) just fine: “d’ incolores idees vertes dorment furieusement.”

    The mapping that DE seems after purely is an idealized, abstracted semantics mapping. But why can’t and why shouldn’t translators be allowed to map syntax, grammar (including gender), phonology, rhetoric, logic, and lexicon as well as what the linguist imagines is the source text referent?

    What Paul is doing in Rom. 10:17 is not simply making a single meaning in Greek that the translator can reduce to a single meaning in English.

    Don’t you think, for example, that J. B. Phillips decision to put parentheses around his translation of the verse really emphasizes the fact that he sees Paul’s double clause (i.e., 10:17) as noting something parenthetical to the overall paragraph? Phillips is doing the kind of thing that Bob Longacre, with discourse tagmemics, tries to get Bible translators to do more. There is “grammar,” he says, above the level of the clause and the sentence. Phillips, of course, chooses to supply “the message” as Paul’s intended object of the first Greek clause. But my point is that Phillips is doing more than that. The translator gets to attend to more in the text than the simple DE effort of one-to-one semantic mapping.

  20. Michael Marlowe
    Posted October 26, 2008 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    Wayne wrote: “There is an important different between notional (or semantic) entities and how we refer to them syntactically.”

    Sure, but why do you think this supports your statement that something “implicit” in an English sentence must be “explicit”? That still doesn’t make sense to me. It even looks like a bald contradiction of terms. And it seems you are denying that the English language permits any elisions such as we find in “faith comes by hearing [the gospel], and hearing by [our preaching] the word of God.” But this is not obvious to me.

    “please show me any English sentence, uttered or written by a native speaker of English, which refers to an object but elides explicit reference to it and I’ll believe you. We need data to be able to be sure we are talking about the same thing things.”

    Proverbial expressions are often eliptical. For instance, “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Does anyone need to ask, Loved what? Obviously it’s about love for a woman, if you’re a man, and vice versa. But by leaving out the object the emphasis is thrown on the value of loving, which is the point of the proverb. And the omission of the object also gives the saying the kind of incisive brevity that we require in proverbs.

    Paul often wraps up his arguments in proverb-like sayings. It’s a feature of his didactic style. Why not try to preserve it in a translation, instead of making everything so ploddingly explicit and wordy? I think your particular school of linguistics must have little appreciation for this kind of thing.

  21. Wayne Leman
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 1:35 am | Permalink

    Michael wrote:

    Sure, but why do you think this supports your statement that something “implicit” in an English sentence must be “explicit”?

    Michael, that statement only refers to my blog post which is about the word “hearing” in Rom. 10:17. My claim is that the English words “hear” and “hearing” require an syntactic object if there is a notional semantic object. Some other English verbs, but by no means all, have a similar requirement.

    It is important to try to determine if my claim is accurate or not because that claim and many other claims about English grammaticality determine what syntactic forms can appear in English Bible versions.

    If you wish to support evidence which disproves my claim, I would welcome that. I don’t want to make claims which are not true. If you do not wish to present data which disproves my claim, then, as in the past, I’ll have to stop my end of our dialogue because we are repeating ourselves. And your time and mine are too valuable to do that.

  22. Michael Marlowe
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 2:36 am | Permalink

    “From hearing comes wisdom; from speaking, repentence” (Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, p. 363).

  23. Wayne Leman
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 3:59 am | Permalink

    “From hearing comes wisdom; from speaking, repentence” (Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, p. 363).

    Good proverb, Michael. Thanks. But there’s no semantic object as there is in Rom. 10:17. There needs to be something that is heard, but where that something is not encoded syntactically, not even with a pronoun such as it, as in:

    “I hear it.”

    Or any sentence such as

    “They hear”

    where the context lets us know what it is that they hear.

  24. Michael Marlowe
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    “In order for a student to develop competencies, there must exist a firm foundation of facts and knowledge. Certain facts must be memorized and used as tools in gaining other knowledge and in developing competencies. Other knowledge is gained by building upon and combining fundamental facts and bits of knowledge. This happens by hearing, seeing, and experiencing in learning situations, followed by practice and repeated exposure.” (http://www.qsi.org/exitoutcomes.htm)

    “Teaching is a stage. You have to be comfortable in front of people and not afraid to use you body to demonstrate things. Teaching comes from hearing; it comes from seeing and talking. The more I’m moving the more they are engaged” (http://www.knox.edu/x21465.xml)

    “A child can as easily acquire one language as another. It is only after our habits of speech are formed that acquisition of a new language is difficult ; but at no time in our lives is it impossible. Speech comes by hearing; if one leaves one's native land and resides for a long time in a foreign land, one will almost of necessity acquire the speech of one's residence and lose that of one's birth." (http://books.google.com/books?id=xF0AAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA231)

    "God, then, must have taught that man to speak viva voce; inasmuch as language comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of another." (http://books.google.com/books?id=wsRNAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA267)

    "Knowledge comes by hearing and reading, which are outward acts involving certain external circumstances …" (http://books.google.com/books?id=UMYCAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA419. The context shows that Scripture is the thing to be heard and read)

  25. J. K. Gayle
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Wayne writes in the post:
    But English, which requires that semantic object to be explicitly present, gives us a wrong meaning if that object is omitted

    Wayne, What about Rom. 10:18?

    Paul asks, with an implicit (not explicitly present) semantic object:

    ἀλλὰ λέγω μὴ οὐκ ἤκουσαν

    Following your logic for Rom. 10:17, “A number of English Bible versions translate Rom. 10:[18] inappropriately, as, for instance:”

    But I ask: Did they not hear? (NIV / TNIV)
    But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? (NASB)
    But I ask, have they not heard? (ESV)
    I ask, then: Can it be that they never heard? (REB)
    But I ask, have they not heard? (RSV / NRSV)
    But I ask, “Did they not hear?” (HCSB)
    But I ask, have they not heard? (NET)
    But do I say, they did not hear? (Lattimore)
    But I say, didn’t they hear? (Nyland, Source)
    But when I ask myself: “Did they never hear?” (Phillips)

    And by the logic of your post, “There are English versions which accurately translate the meaning of the Greek while following the rules of English for the syntactic frame of ‘hear,’ for instance:”

    But I ask: Didn’t people hear the Good News? (NCV)
    But I ask: Is it true that they did not hear the message? (TEV)
    But I ask, “Didn’t they hear that message?” (GW)
    But haven’t there been plenty of opportunities for Israel to listen and understand what’s going on? (Message)
    But I ask, have the people of Israel actually heard the message? (NLT)

    Now, you might protest that the object implied in 10:18 is so clear because of the explicit object in the second clause of 10:17. But I’d respond by saying the earlier sentences before the first clause in 10:17 (i.e., the one with the implied object) make the implied object clear enough, even in “natural” English.

    So you might protest that in 10:18 something altogether different is going on. That, for instance, Paul does not need an object, even an implied one. You might think that it’s the difference between
    1. Can you hear?
    2. Can you hear it?
    But how can you, the Greek reader, really know whether Paul intends no object or intends but only implies it? And would you then say, with respect to 10:18, that NCV, TEV, GW, the Message, and NLT are better or worse in terms of “pay[ing] just as much attention to the language we are translating into as . . . [to] the language we are translating from”?

  26. Wayne Leman
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Michael cited:

    This happens by hearing

    Thanks, again, Michael, for these additional examples.

    None of them, however, are examples of where there is a semantic object of hearing, namely, something that is heard.

    Let’s examine “Teaching comes from hearing.” To find out if teaching is the semantic object of hearing we can do the paraphrase test and see if the paraphrase has the same meaning:

    “Hearing teaching”

    Does “Teaching comes from hearing” mean that someone has heard teaching? No. Teaching does not have the semantic role of object of hearing. Instead, in each of the examples of something coming from teaching, the semantic role of that something is one of result.

    The kinds of data to look for are sentences where there is something that is heard (such as music, a person’s voice, the gospel) but that something is not explicitly uttered as the syntactic object of “hear” / “hearing”.

  27. Wayne Leman
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Kurk, your discussion of Rom. 10:18 is right on topic. The questions you raise are appropriate for my post. I confess that I don’t know if there is a grammaticality issue for 10:18, whereas I still believe that there is one for the first instance of “hearing” in 10:17.

    In all of this, it may seem that I’m straining at a gnat, since it’s obvious, as I wrote in my post, what the object of the first instance of “hearing” is in 10:17, and, as you point out, it should be fairly obvious in 10:18 that Paul is maintaining the same object of hearing.

    All of this that is obvious has to do with semantics. My post is about what is syntactically proper for English, as determined by discovery procedures with English speakers. Without data that disproves my claim, I continue to claim that the first instance of “hearing” in 10:17 syntactically requires an explicit object. I think that the very tight rhetorical form of 10:17 may be one reason why there is, I claim, that requirement for English.

    Now, this is a different matter from the fact that English does allow ellipsis in many contexts. My post says nothing about ellipsis which English allows syntactically. We can discover what those contexts are. For instance, it is perfectly good English to say:

    “When I was walking in the forest, I heard birds, squirrels, and the fall leaves rustling.”

    In this sentence the verb “heard” is ellided before “squirrels” and “fall leaves rustling.” It is not good English style to repeat the verb in each place.

    But we can’t ellide objects of “heard” in English and come up with syntax that allows others to know what the semantic objects are. For instance, I can’t say the following sentence and expect my hearers to know what is was that I heard:

    “When I was walking in the forest, I heard.”

    Since what I just wrote may sound so true as to be silly, let me supply the semantic objects in the context to see if a sentence with those object ellided will have proper English syntax:

    “When I was walking in the forest, there were birds, squirrels, and fall leaves rustling. I heard.”

    In this context “I heard” does work for me syntactically. There is something odd about the sentence, as if I’m not a native speaker of English, but I speak a language (such as Greek) which does allow syntactic ellision of semantic objects.

    Does “I heard” in this sentence sound to you like grammatical English for communicating each of the things that was heard?

  28. Peter Kirk
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    “Did you hear? The Anchorage Daily News has endorsed Obama.”

    “Yes, I heard.”

    Examples like this one I just made up show that while “I can hear” without an object refers to the sense of hearing, “I heard” and “I have heard” usually refer to a specific object implied in the context – at least in my dialect of English.

  29. Wayne Leman
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Peter offered:

    Examples like this one I just made up show that while “I can hear” without an object refers to the sense of hearing, “I heard” and “I have heard” usually refer to a specific object implied in the context – at least in my dialect of English.

    In my dialect, also, Peter. And I had a similar reaction to Kurk’s noting Rom. 10:18 which sounds better to me than the first instance of “hearing” in 10:17.

    I *suspect* that there is an interplay with discourse matters here, where if a referent is already established in the discourse, ellision of an object of hearing becomes (more) acceptable.

    Thanks to each of you, Peter, Kurk, and Michael, for wrestling over these issues with me.

    Iron still sharpens iron!

    It *is* interesting that the biggest newspaper in Alaska has not endorsed their native daughter and her running mate. I had not heard that (!) until I got an email message from a friend an hour or so ago, and then your used of that info in your comment.

  30. Peter Kirk
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Wayne. I chose that example by looking on the Americas page of the BBC website for a specific piece of news which might be of interest.

  31. Michael Marlowe
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Wayne wrote: “Without data that disproves my claim, I continue to claim …”

    I’m pretty sure there are implied “objects” of the “hearing” in at least three of the examples I cited, Wayne. And ISTM you misunderstood the “teaching comes from hearing” one that you commented on. But either way, it doesn’t matter, because you just haven’t presented any persuasive argument for your contention that “faith comes by hearing” is ungrammatical in English. It does not seem ungrammatical to me, at least. To me it seems quite normal and unproblematic. And I really doubt that many English-speaking people would agree with you on this. Certainly your contention is not entitled to any a priori assumption in its favor.

  32. Wayne Leman
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    Michael responded:

    you just haven’t presented any persuasive argument for your contention that “faith comes by hearing” is ungrammatical in English.

    Michael, it is *not* ungrammatical if it means hearing in general. It is only ungrammatical if we want the clause to communicate the meaning that there is something specific that is heard.

  33. Michael Marlowe
    Posted October 28, 2008 at 4:13 am | Permalink

    Well, I’ll grant that you’re right only if you are talking about a clause which must communicate “the meaning that there is something specific that is heard” all by itself, apart from any context of discourse which would indicate the object. If that’s what you’ve been talking about, your point is true, but trivial.

    But if we are talking about the “faith comes by hearing” clause in its context, that is another matter, isn’t it? I don’t see any good reason why it should be called ungrammatical when the word “hearing” is used with an implicit object to be inferred from the context, and I think I quoted some decent examples of this usage from printed sources that generally adhere to standard English.

  34. Wayne Leman
    Posted October 28, 2008 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Michael asked, probably rhetorically:

    But if we are talking about the “faith comes by hearing” clause in its context, that is another matter, isn’t it?

    Yes, it is, Michael. Hopefully, readers would at least understand the meaning that is intended. Understand, of course, doesn’t make something grammatical.

    Why don’t you field test the entire verse, or even the verse in the entire discourse section. And then you can ask people what they think is heard in 10:17a. Let us know the results.

    I’m always glad to be proven wrong. There’s nothing like getting closer to the truth, and the One who is the Truth. What a privilege we have. What a challenging, interesting journey we are on.

    Have you heard? Have you read? :-)

  35. Dru
    Posted October 28, 2008 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    I know this is a bit late, but if the object in Greek is elided, and something should be added as an object to make this a proper translation, aren’t most of the examples cited being too presumptuous in selecting what is heard, such as ‘the message’ or ‘the good news’. Shouldn’t the elided object be something neutral as in the RSV or the following -

    ‘Faith comes by hearing something, and that something is by hearing the words of Christ’

    - note, I also prefer not to use ‘word’ (singular) in the NT to translate anything else other than logos. That though is probably an oddity of my own.

  36. Dimitri Grekoff
    Posted October 31, 2008 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    I started reading this article through a search and it reminded me of my old friend Wayne… no surprise to find your name at the end of it! Great site! My rusty Greek has always appreciated Phillips’ treatment of this verse, “Faith, you see, can come only from hearing the message, and the message is the word of Christ.” The semantic object he includes in his translation as “the message,” which is ellipsized in the Greek. Is “ellipsize” even a proper English verb? I don’t think so, but it makes perfect sense and to me, so does Phillips.

  37. Posted October 31, 2008 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Just throwing another branch on the fire:

    We conclude that faith is awakened by the message, and the message that awakens it comes through the word of Christ. (NEB)

  38. Posted October 31, 2008 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Dimitri, great to see your name and words from you again, esp. a word such as ellipsize, which I understand perfectly.

  39. Posted October 31, 2008 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Ellipses are as common in English poetry and prose as they are in other languages. Explanations are dangerous because they exclude the reader’s engagement. In all translations, I maintain that we should not fill in the blanks when it is supposed to be the reader’s job to do that. God uses the fill in the blanks method for God’s own methods of the Teaching of the Anointing or the Torah of the Spirit.

    The worst example of blotting out the ellipses is a translation of Psalm 84 (noted in this post). One day in they courts is better than a thousand in my own room!!! ‘In my own room’ is not in any original text. Sure it might mean ‘than anywhere else’. But let the reader do his or her own work. Don’t keep us in a dependency mode. And I say this even for the children and the disabled. The only real motivating factor I can name is an unanswered question. It is presumptuous to fill in God’s blanks.

  40. Posted October 31, 2008 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Bob. Yes, ellipses are very common in English. But English ellipses follow English rules of syntax. Greek ellipses follow Greek rules. The rules for what can be ellipsized in Greek and English are different.

    It is vitally important that Bible translations into English follow the syntactic rules of English.

  41. Posted November 1, 2008 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Aren’t ellipses the shapes of the orbits of planets?

  42. Posted November 1, 2008 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Peter, ellipses are also those shapes! :-)

  43. Posted November 1, 2008 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    yeah but going around in circles is more perfect

  44. Posted November 1, 2008 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Perfect, Bob, but tedious, and that’s what sometimes happens to comment threads here. ;-)

  45. Posted February 6, 2010 at 1:46 am | Permalink

    Anadiplosis must be the fancy word you’re looking for.


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  1. [...] of Christ (Rom. 10:17) I recently blogged on translation of the first half of Romans 10:17, Faith does not come by hearing. It’s time to blog on the second half of the verse, which has traditionally been translated [...]

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