Romans 1:20

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Robert S. Daniel
Posts: 35
Joined: May 27th, 2020, 6:20 pm

Romans 1:20

Post by Robert S. Daniel »

τὰ γὰρ ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ κτίσεως κόσμου τοῖς ποιήμασιν νοούμενα καθορᾶται ἥ τε ἀΐδιος αὐτοῦ δύναμις καὶ θειότης εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτοὺς ἀναπολογήτους

I need help parsing this phrase. I have several questions:
1. Since ἀόρατα is technically an adjective, it might be being used here either as a substantive or as a modifier of something else, so which is it?
2. Before answering (1) please consider whether it might be modifying νοούμενα, the latter being used as a substantive. There is agreement between the two in gender and number, isn't there?
3. If ἀόρατα isn't modifying νοούμενα, then how does νοούμενα fit into the sentence?
4. If ἀόρατα is modifying νοούμενα, then we can think of τὰ ἀόρατα νοούμενα as the subject of the sentence, right?
5. And in that case, the phrase ἥ τε ἀΐδιος αὐτοῦ δύναμις καὶ θειότης as being an expansion of τὰ ἀόρατα νοούμενα, in other words it is spelling out exactly what τὰ ἀόρατα νοούμενα refers to.
6. There is also the question of τοῖς ποιήμασιν: is it "in the created things" or "to/by the creatures", i.e. are the invisible things being perceived IN the things that have been created or are they being perceived BY the created things, i.e. the people?
7. I'm not sure the syntax can be taken to be independent of the semantics in this whole phrase (all of Rom 1:20), since we have to consider what meaning you get when ἀόρατα modifies νοούμενα. I'm thinking that in such a construal, νοούμενα are objects of thought, that is, not the thoughts themselves but what those thought are of, or about. So then the invisible things, the power and deity of God, are a matter of how created things are perceived. An analogy to make this clearer would be a written sentence in some language, say, Chinese. The characters on paper are visible, but the meanings of the characters are not visible, although to a person who knows Chinese, the meanings are perceptible in those characters. Similarly, created things are visible, but the fact of their being creations of God is something that is perceptible in those things to a person who knows YHWH, the Creator God, even though YHWH is not visible nor is the fact of his having created the visible things itself visible.

So maybe after reading my questions, you can see that I'm advocating for a particular parsing of the phrase, in which the subject is τὰ ἀόρατα νοούμενα, which is expanded on and clarified by the paraphrase ἥ τε ἀΐδιος αὐτοῦ δύναμις καὶ θειότης. I'm not sure if that is the way that translators usually take it. If you don't think the parsing I'm suggesting is correct, then please say what you think the correct parsing is, and what meaning you attach to the words on that basis, since the syntax and semantics seem to be intertwined here.

Here is an interesting (at least I think so) factoid for you: I looked up "noumena" in my Webster's Collegiate dictionary, and it says that it derives from the Greek νοούμενα. The word "noumena" was used by Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason, at least in my English translation. So I'm guessing that it was the same in the German. In Critique of Pure Reason, noumena are contrasted with phenomena, phenomena being things AS THEY APPEAR to us, that is, the products of our minds acting on raw sense data. Noumena, on the other hand, are the things in themselves, as opposed to as they appear to us. We can know that they exist but they are outside of our experience, as they can't be known directly, but only as they appear to us. I don't think we should take this understanding of Kant's as a guide to what Paul may have meant by νοούμενα, although I suspect that Kant got the word from Romans 1:20. But Kant's understanding is perhaps suggestive of what Paul may have meant in distinguishing between things that can be perceived vs. things that can be known about those things but that can't be directly perceived.
Barry Hofstetter
Posts: 2017
Joined: May 6th, 2011, 1:48 pm

Re: Romans 1:20

Post by Barry Hofstetter »

It's the other way round. Notice the article -- the substantive is τὰ ἀόρατα, which is modified by the predicate participle νοούμενα. τοῖς ποιήμασιν is most likely an instrumental dative taken with νοοῦμενα.

I wouldn't use Kant as a commentary on Rom 1.
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
καὶ σὺ τὸ σὸν ποιήσεις κἀγὼ τὸ ἐμόν. ἆρον τὸ σὸν καὶ ὕπαγε.
Bill Ross
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Joined: August 12th, 2012, 6:26 pm

Re: Romans 1:20

Post by Bill Ross »

It seems to me that if you want to understand the NT you can probably well dispense with the middle man (Kant) and go directly to Plato. Or perhaps even better, Jewishly digested Plato, Philo. Either way, it is the fundamental proposition of Plato that the true god is not directly knowable, observable or even nameable and can only be known, seen, experienced etc. through his LOGOS, who also happens to be exemplified in "the Angel of the LORD" (that in Greek, he would know as "the messenger of the Lord"). The invisible, unknowable and ineffable God is known metaphorically in the things he has made. Barry's analysis of that, as well as yours, both confirm that idea.
What I lack in youth I make up for in immaturity.
Robert S. Daniel
Posts: 35
Joined: May 27th, 2020, 6:20 pm

Re: Romans 1:20

Post by Robert S. Daniel »

OK, I'm sorry I even mentioned Kant. I didn't mean to suggest that I take him to be my guide to understanding Rom 1:20, or that anybody else should.

What I'm really after is how the word νοούμενα fits into the sentence. Various translations I've looked at would seem to read the same even if that word were left out of the Greek. I was suggesting that it is the substantive modified by the adjective ἀόρατα. Barry is saying that it is the other way around, that ἀόρατα is the substantive and νοούμενα the modifier. In either case, these two words are paired together, so that's progress towards understanding how νοούμενα fits into the sentence. I don't know that there is a lot of difference between these two cases anyway.

But when you put those two words together, namely, ἀόρατα and νοούμενα, what do you get? Things that are invisible, so not perceived by the senses, but that are objects of thought? Is that the meaning that is expressed by the juxtaposition of these two words?

The phrase τοῖς ποιήμασιν, if it is, as Barry suggests, an instrumental dative, means that these things are discerned (καθορᾶται) by means of the created things, not that the created things are doing the discerning as some translations seem to suggest. I'm not sure I understand what this means, either, but perhaps it is that in the act of seeing visible, created things, we discern the power and deity of God, because we understand those things as creations of God. That is how God's power and deity are manifest in creation.

Does that sound like a plausible way to unpack the meaning? Is there another, more plausible way?
Barry Hofstetter
Posts: 2017
Joined: May 6th, 2011, 1:48 pm

Re: Romans 1:20

Post by Barry Hofstetter »

Robert, the syntax is such that τὰ ἀόρατα has to be the substantive. I hate to resort to a translation, but the NAS reflects the structure of the Greek:
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
καὶ σὺ τὸ σὸν ποιήσεις κἀγὼ τὸ ἐμόν. ἆρον τὸ σὸν καὶ ὕπαγε.
Daniel Semler
Posts: 243
Joined: February 18th, 2019, 7:45 pm

Re: Romans 1:20

Post by Daniel Semler »

Hi Robert,

I took this apart yesterday as an exercise, but today read your initial questions again. Here are my thoughts on this having gone through it - perhaps they are of some help.

A few references that help with the Greek in general or of this passage in particular include:
τὰ γὰρ ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ κτίσεως κόσμου

As an explanation (γάρ) of 1:18–19 Paul describes the way in which humankind suppresses what can be known about God (1:20–23). The neuter plural article is generic and allows the adjective to function as a noun. Ἀόρατος, -ον (“invisible”) denotes that which is not subject to being seen (BDAG 95a); the possessive pronoun is common after adjectives ending in -τος (e.g., 1:21; 2:4; 6:12; 8:11; 9:22). NASB, NEB, and ESV translate the phrase “his invisible attributes,” while GNB and NIV render it “his invisible qualities.” Robertson notes that the phrase makes what follows more concrete (654). The prepositional phrase ἀπὸ κτίσεως κόσμου is temporal (ἀπό + gen.) and best translated as “since the creation of the world” (Cranfield 114; Longenecker 208). Κτίσις, -εως, ἡ describes the act of creation (BDAG 573a); κόσμου is an objective genitive; although anarthrous, both genitive nouns are definite (cf. Wallace 250–51).

τοῖς ποιήμασιν νοούμενα καθορᾶται

Τοῖς ποιήμασιν (dat. pl. neut. of ποίημα, -ατος, τό, “what is created/made”) is an instrumental dative (“by means of the things that are being made”) and modifies νοούμενα (nom. pl. neut. of pres. pass. ptc. of νοέω, “understand”). The participle, in turn, is adverbial of attendant circumstance (“and are being understood”) and modifies καθορᾶται (3 sg. pres. pass. indic. of καθοράω, “perceive, notice”). The prefix intensifies καθοράω (“clearly seen”), which echoes τὰ ἀόρατα and creates the rhetorical device annominato by using words with both similar sound and similar sense (R 1201)—“His unseen attributes … are being clearly seen.”

ἥ τε ἀΐδιος αὐτοῦ δύναμις καὶ θειότης

The noun phrase stands in apposition to τὰ ἀόρατα (Jewett 155). The correlative conjunctions (τέ … καί) continue the style Paul used earlier (1:12, 14, 16), and the article establishes a close connection between the two nouns that follow (R 787). In this instance, the first noun is a subset of the second (cf. Wallace 287). The adjective ἀΐδιος (nom. sg. fem. of ἀΐδιος, -ον, “eternal”) modifies both nouns; the genitive of αὐτοῦ is possessive. See 1:4 for δύναμις. Θείοτης, -τος, ἡ, denotes a quality or characteristic pertaining to deity and can be translated “divine nature” (BDAG 446d). Dunn suggests that Paul uses the language of Hellenistic Judaism (ἀόρατος, ποίημα, καθοράω, ἀΐδιος, θείοτης) to build a bridge to non-Jewish philosophy (58).

John D. Harvey, Romans, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2017), 36-37.
https://accordance.bible/link/read/EGGNT-9#19922
Richard N. Longenecker in NIGTC is also useful but goes beyond just treating the Greek language and as a consequence you have to work harder to extract the bits you want. But he has lengthy notes on the passage's Greek. But he does not consider or treat νοούμενα being a substantive. And I suspect that is what you will find everywhere because the Greek here just doesn't work that way.

Eleanor Dickey's "An Introduction to the Composition and Analysis of Greek Prose". This book is aimed at Attic but the Greek here is close enough. In this book Appendix C gives a very good model for analysis of Greek prose, with worked examples. In particular I find splitting up the text by verbs very helpful.

Barry has said that the ἀόρατα must be substantivized here and Dickey's analysis rules lead to the same conclusion. She gives in chapter 2 a set of rules for handling the article and modifiers and a general rule for deciding on which thing is being substantivized. Of course there are always exceptions but exceptions really need compelling reasons to be adopted. Further one needs to be able to construct a reasonable understanding of that exceptional case. Your point 7 suggests you are having some difficulty constructing an understanding for the substantive τὰ ἀόρατα νοούμενα which suggests that another approach might be more fruitful.

It would be worthwhile studying how the participle works in a non-substantive manner. If one dispenses with the idea that it is a substantive there are two basic options; it's modifying τὰ ἀόρατα in some way - it is adjectival or predicative in function, or it is subordinate to the finite verb. Absent the article it would be predicative here if not subordinate to the verb. The fact that its number and gender agree with τὰ ἀόρατα indicates what it refers for sure but that doesn't make it a substantive. Curiously I tried using the predicative sense and ended up in a not too different place from the place I ended up when considering it subordinate to καθορᾶται but overall it makes more sense modifying the finite verb.

So to answer 3 then, the place of νοούμενα is to explain how or in what way τὰ ἀόρατα is καθορᾶται. From a grammatical point of view it is entirely redundant and the clause could be removed. The sentence would be grammatical. It would however be hard to understand how τὰ ἀόρατα is καθορᾶται without it.

Your point 5 is basically correct but I would simply say that ἥ τε ἀΐδιος αὐτοῦ δύναμις καὶ θειότης is appositional to τὰ ἀόρατα.

I don't think 6 can be decided from syntax. Here I would appeal to context and I would read more than this half-verse to get that context. Instrumental seems better overall, though the translations are split and unevenly so in favor of instrumental in my sample. On this point I often find that a single snatch of text like this is insufficient to arrive at a full understanding of the passage.

Thx
D
Barry Hofstetter
Posts: 2017
Joined: May 6th, 2011, 1:48 pm

Re: Romans 1:20

Post by Barry Hofstetter »

Daniel Semler wrote: November 29th, 2020, 4:58 pm Hi Robert,

I took this apart yesterday as an exercise, but today read your initial questions again. Here are my thoughts on this having gone through it - perhaps they are of some help.

A few references that help with the Greek in general or of this passage in particular include:
τὰ γὰρ ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ κτίσεως κόσμου
Does Harvey then take the prepositional phrase as adjectival with τὰ ἀόρατα or adverbially with νοούμενα? I've always seen it as the latter.
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
καὶ σὺ τὸ σὸν ποιήσεις κἀγὼ τὸ ἐμόν. ἆρον τὸ σὸν καὶ ὕπαγε.
Daniel Semler
Posts: 243
Joined: February 18th, 2019, 7:45 pm

Re: Romans 1:20

Post by Daniel Semler »

Barry Hofstetter wrote: November 30th, 2020, 7:36 am
Daniel Semler wrote: November 29th, 2020, 4:58 pm Hi Robert,

I took this apart yesterday as an exercise, but today read your initial questions again. Here are my thoughts on this having gone through it - perhaps they are of some help.

A few references that help with the Greek in general or of this passage in particular include:
τὰ γὰρ ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ κτίσεως κόσμου
Does Harvey then take the prepositional phrase as adjectival with τὰ ἀόρατα or adverbially with νόούμενα? I've always seen it as the latter.
Funny you should light on that. I was wondering the same thing yesterday. I nearly commented on it actually but Harvey doesn't seem to take a position on it, or at least he doesn't say. I don't see why he would break it up this way if he took it adverbially though. Personally it makes more sense to me as adverbial to νοούμενα.

Longenecker does describe some options a little more:
The expression ἀπὸ κτίσεως κόσμου (“from the creation of the world”) could be read in a number of ways, for the preposition ἀπό (“from”) is used in the NT to signify a number of things — most commonly (1) separation, (2) source or origin, or (3) means or cause, but also (4) the temporal idea of duration. And since a number of parallel NT constructions use ἀπό in this temporal sense,71 it seems best to view the preposition in this first part of 1:20 as signifying the temporal idea of “since” and to understand that what is said here is that “ever since the creation of the world” all people have had some knowledge of “God’s invisible attributes” — that is, “his eternal power and divine nature.” This is not to deny that a general knowledge of God can be derived from the fabric of the created universe, for that is what is declared in the very next statement of this verse (“they have been seen, being understood by what has been made”). But it is to say that to view ἀπό here as having reference to source is to set up a redundancy with the statement that immediately follows, and therefore it seems best, for both lexical and logical reasons, to understand the preposition in this statement of 1:20a in a temporal sense.72

Richard N. Longenecker, The Epistle to the Romans: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), 208.
https://accordance.bible/link/read/NIGTC-13#30836
Thx
D
Robert S. Daniel
Posts: 35
Joined: May 27th, 2020, 6:20 pm

Re: Romans 1:20

Post by Robert S. Daniel »

Daniel Semler wrote: November 29th, 2020, 4:58 pm
The participle, in turn, is adverbial of attendant circumstance (“and are being understood”) and modifies καθορᾶται (3 sg. pres. pass. indic. of καθοράω, “perceive, notice”). The prefix intensifies καθοράω (“clearly seen”), which echoes τὰ ἀόρατα and creates the rhetorical device annominato by using words with both similar sound and similar sense (R 1201)—“His unseen attributes … are being clearly seen.”
Hi Daniel, thanks for your careful reply to my questions. I think what you say above is the thing that helps me the most. I was thinking that a participle would modify a substantive, but I guess they do function as adverbs also. So then if we remove some of the verbiage to focus in on the crux (for me) of the issue we get:

τὰ ἀόρατα νοούμενα καθορᾶται

which would differ in meaning from:

τὰ ἀόρατα καθορᾶται

in that the invisible things being perceived raises the question of how they can be perceived if they are invisible, and adding the word νοούμενα helps us to make sense of it by giving us a clue as to in what manner the invisible things are perceived. So what would you think about a translation that goes "the invisible things are mentally/intellectually perceived". That is, there is more than just raw sense data involved in this perception (in fact there aren't any sense data since they things perceived are invisible) so it is our understanding that enables our perception. If only wrong thinking doesn't get in the way, which is what Paul is saying happened.
Daniel Semler
Posts: 243
Joined: February 18th, 2019, 7:45 pm

Re: Romans 1:20

Post by Daniel Semler »

Robert S. Daniel wrote: November 30th, 2020, 7:48 pm
in that the invisible things being perceived raises the question of how they can be perceived if they are invisible, and adding the word νοούμενα helps us to make sense of it by giving us a clue as to in what manner the invisible things are perceived. So what would you think about a translation that goes "the invisible things are mentally/intellectually perceived". That is, there is more than just raw sense data involved in this perception (in fact there aren't any sense data since they things perceived are invisible) so it is our understanding that enables our perception. If only wrong thinking doesn't get in the way, which is what Paul is saying happened.
The general practice on BGreek is to discuss the Greek rather than translations. That said, this is just a fragment and is hard to assess absent a little more text. However if you are compressing the two Greek verbs into one verbal expression in English there is approximate precedent for that in the ESV translation of the passage. It's not a common way to handle it though.

“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
(Romans 1:20 The Holy Bible, English Standard Version)
https://accordance.bible/link/read/ESV#Rom._1:20

Here the adverbial participle is suppressed, perhaps only being implied in the English where it was explicit in the Greek. It appears that the ESV translators decided that νοούμενα was not essential to bring out directly in the English.

Thx
D
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