That Pesky γάρ (Rom 5:6) – Mondays with Mounce 280
By now we should all recognize that γάρ means much more than “for,” and yet so often I hear people complaining that translators don’t always translate γάρ.
Someday we will get away from the simplistic attitude that the connecting tissue in Greek corresponds to words in English. Because of how English views words in sequence, and because of our use of punctuation and paragraphing, we can often convey the meaning of γάρ without using an English word.
BDAG gives these three basic meanings for γάρ.
1. marker of cause or reason, for
2. marker of clarification, for, you see
3. marker of inference, certainly, by all means, so, then
But our passage is even more complicated than this. Paul has gone through his list of the benefits of true peace within the context of suffering, concluding that “hope does not disappoint us, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (v 5).
V 6 then starts with γάρ. “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” The problem is that the γάρ connects not just v 6 to the preceding discussion, but vv 6–8 (see Moo, 306n60). In v 5 Paul writes that the “love of God has been poured out into our hearts,” and the evidence of that is vv 6-8, not just v 6.
The added problem is that you don’t read mention of God’s love until v 8. “But God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
This explains several things in the NIV. In many Bibles, vv 6-8 are a single paragraph; this goes a long way in helping to explain the flow of thought. It also explains the NIV’s unique, “You see.” The full verse is, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” “You see,” along with the paragraphing of vv 6-8, helps you see how γάρ introduces the paragraph and not just v 6.
While we are looking at the verse I should point out the unusual repetition of ἔτι. “For while we were still helpless [Ἔτι γὰρ Χριστὸς ὄντων ἡμῶν ἀσθενῶν ἔτι], at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” The standard position is that ἔτι is both moved forward in the sentence and repeated to emphasize the astonishing truth that even though we were powerless, at that very time, Christ died for us. Certainly not normal Greek, but a wonderful truth.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language and exegesis on the ZA Blog. He is the president of BiblicalTraining.org, a ministry that creates and distributes world-class educational courses at no cost. He is also the author of numerous works including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek and a corresponding online class. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV.
Learn more about Bill’s Greek resources at BillMounce.com.