ESV, RSV, and Romans 5:3

While reading Romans 5 today I was struck with something that I had never seen before in verse 3. At the end of verse 2, Paul says, “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Then in verse 3 he says, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings.” We rejoice more in our sufferings than in the hope of the glory of God? Hmm. Why had I missed that all the previous times I read through Romans? I was curious. I immediately went to the Greek, which reads, “καυχώμεθα ἐπʼ ἐλπίδι τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ. οὐ μόνον δέ, ἀλλὰ καὶ καυχώμεθα ἐν ταῖς θλίψεσιν.” The phrase οὐ μόνον δέ, ἀλλὰ καὶ would be literally translated, “And not only [this], but we also . . . .” So Paul is not saying that we rejoice in sufferings more than we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. He’s simply saying we also rejoice in sufferings.

The ESV’s translation could simply mean something like this, “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. But there’s more [or what’s more], we also rejoice in sufferings.” In other words, I think they are just using an idiomatic expression to communicate that there is something else, something additional, that we rejoice in. But I do think there is considerable potential to confuse, rather than clarify, by using this expression. Both expressions I used to clarify their meaning, would, in my opinion, be better than more than that (unless, perhaps, they really are trying to communicate that we should rejoice in our sufferings more than in the hope of God’s glory; but I don’t think the Greek supports such an idea, nor do I think that that’s what they intended).

Still curious I checked the other major English translations. None but one translated it the way the ESV does. You guessed it: the RSV. (Interestingly, the NRSV corrects this.) All the others have a more literal translation here: not only that or not only so. I love the ESV, but here’s an example of where I don’t like their translation choice. The literal translation would work just fine and, in my opinion, would be quite a bit better, for the simple reason that there’s only one way to interpret it—the right way! (Cf. verse 11 where they do the exact same thing. This time, the translation more than that occurs in the ESV, the RSV, and the NRSV.)

Am I missing something here? I’d appreciate any feedback if you see something obvious that I’ve simply overlooked.

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4 Responses to ESV, RSV, and Romans 5:3

  1. Mike February 9, 2007 at 5:42 pm #

    Thanks for pointing that out. What a curious choice by the ESV committee. It would be interesting to know their reasoning.

  2. Peter Scholtens March 19, 2007 at 9:27 pm #

    They also claim to be consistent in translating a Greek word with the same English word no matter where it is found. Yet 1 Tim 3:16 translates dik . . . with vindicate rather than justify.

  3. Stephen Fix April 16, 2010 at 1:45 pm #

    I agree with you. While I was working on my dissertation the other night, I found this same problem. The ESV and the RSV are the only translations that translate μόνον δέ as “More than that.” When you move on the the next phrase you find the preposition ἀλλὰ. If you translate ἀλλὰ as “but” (as every other translation I checked does except the ESV and the RSV who omit it) this will keep you from the “More than that” problem. One criticism from the “essentially literal” group (of which I am a member) is the omission of conjunctions in dynamic equivalent translations. Here it appears to have backfired.

  4. Sylvia June 22, 2014 at 3:02 am #

    For the benefit of others like me who may not know, this verse has been revised to become “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,” in the ESV 2011 edition.

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