What is “Genuine” Love? (Rom 12:9–13) - Mondays with Mounce
Romans 12:9 and the following verses give us an interesting challenge as to what it means and how to translate it. Specifically, where did all the indicative verbs go, and what is the relationship of 12:9a to the following verses?
If you just read English, you would assume they are a series of relatively unrelated exhortations. After all, that’s how the verses are generally translated. For example:
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor; do not lag in zeal; be enthusiastic in spirit; serve the Lord; rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, devote yourself to prayer; contribute to the needs of the saints, seek to show hospitality.
The semicolons in my translation above are an attempt to hold the passage together, and perhaps the period after “good” should also be a semicolon. Why? Because vv 9–13 are one long sentence in Greek — regardless of the punctuation of the Greek text, which has a period after “genuine” (ἀνυπόκριτος), and regardless of the punctuation of most English translations. The ESV breaks the passage down into seven sentences, mostly following the versification.
If you check my phrasing above, you can see the issue.
- ἡ ἀγάπη ἀνυπόκριτος has no verb, so the imperative ἴσθι has to be supplied.
- There are two participles, ἀποστυγοῦντες and κολλώμενοι.
- There is no verbal form with τῇ φιλαδελφίᾳ εἰς ἀλλήλους φιλόστοργοι.
- And then for the most part we have a series of participles, except for τῇ σπουδῇ μὴ ὀκνηροί.
It seems to me that the first phrase, “Let love be genuine,” stands as the heading for the paragraph, and the fact that it is followed by two participles must, in my opinion, mean they are qualifiers of what it means to have genuine love. Genuine love abhors evil and holds fast to the good.
Because v 10 starts with the same construction as v 9 — no verb — it could be that it is Paul’s way of breaking the flow and beginning a series of exhortations that are not as tightly tied to defining genuine love as is v 9b. This is why I wouldn’t but a colon after “genuine” and a semicolon after “god.”
Nevertheless, the remaining exhortations are all expressions of love for the other person. We talk so much today about “love,” especially in our modern worship songs, but here is a concrete list of what love looks like. Perhaps we should take some time and self-evaluate if our love is truly genuine. And if not, then our prayer is that we:
- move in the direction of hating evil
- loving good
- putting the needs of our brothers and sisters ahead of our own
- only speaking in ways that honor the other person
- being zealous
- serving the Lord
- rejoicing in hope
- being patient in suffering
- fully-devoted to prayer
- giving to those in need
- and inviting people into our homes, apartments, or at least meeting them for a meal after church.
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