Translating Rom 11:17

The Revised Standard Version (also International Standard Version and God’s Word Translation), when it came regarded as a liberal translation, has this fatal mistranslation of  Rom 11:17:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the richness of the olive tree (my italics)

The old Russian (Synodal) Bible translation, still important in the Russian Orthodox church, has a similar one, even though I cannot judge whether or not a supersessionist reading was intendended:

that some of the branches were broken away from the tree,
and you, the wild olive, was grafted on the place, were they were, to
become the partaker of the root and the juice of the olive… (translation into English by my friend Aleksander Shaposhnikov)

Both these translations fail to render the Greek text correctly.  ‘In their place’ (RSV) and ‘on the place, where they where’ (Synodal version) translate the Greek en autois, the natural translation of which is ‘among them’.  RSV is clearly wrong and presents a rendering which, to my knowledge, has no support in Greek literature. the Synodal Version is also incorrect.

These translations mean that the gentiles are  grafted in instead of the Jews, whereas the correct translation means that they now are among the Jews, quite the opposite. The understanding of this verse makes a whole world of difference! ‘Instead of the Jews’ and the following verse means that gentile believers must respect the advantage of the Jews, which runs through all of the letter. Romans 9–11 speaks this message with one voice. It is clear that the concern of Paul is that God’s people Israel also should heed God’s Messiah. But even if they as individuals do not receive Jesus as the Messiah, the calling upon Israel is, according to Paul in Romans, nevertheless in force.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

3 thoughts on “Translating Rom 11:17

  1. Thanks for sharing this discovery.
    One question that arises as I read this is; could it be that Paul is talking about the messianic jews? After all, “christianity” at that time contained probably more than 50% jews. The audience of the letter to the Romans was messianic jews in Rome, right?

    Considering this, How do you conclude that jews that do not acknowledge Jesus as Messiah are still part of the real tree?

    (I am not in the business of judging jews or being “highmined” (v20). This is just for the sake of the debate;)

    Regards, Martin

  2. From the Orthodox New Testament, Published by Holy Apostles Convent, 1999;
    Rom. 11:17 “And if some of the branches were broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in AMONG THEM, and became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, cease boasting against the branches”. Archbishop Theophylact of Bulgaria, an 11th century Byzantine scholar and royal tutor to the son of Emperor Michael VII, comments on verse 25 that “the hardness hath not happened to the whole of Israel, but a part of it. For many believed, whom God forknew, as he says earlier, and again in the future they shall believe” (Theophylact’s commentaries are a reflection of John Chrysostom’s teaching).

    The Orthodox New Testament is a translation of the Official Greek New Testament text as published and approved by the Patriarch of Constantinople 1912, compared to the Textus Receptus. It includes a verse by verse patristic commentary from many Church Fathers.

  3. Dr. Gerdmar

    THE HOLY GOSPELS or EVANGELISTARION ISBN 0-944359-17-5 and ACTS, EPISTLES, AND REVELATION or PRAXAPOSTOLOS ISBN 0-944359-18-3 are published in the US. The documentation in the volumes themselves state that it is a translation from the New Testament approved by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1902 (printed in 1912). It cites the following authorities; Theological School of Halki, Metochion of the Holy sepulchre in Constantinople, St George by the Gate of Adrianoupolis (from Aghia Sophia), St Demetrios Tatoulos( one from 1550, the other an ancient Byzantine text, manuscripts from the monasteries of Koutloumousiu, Karakallou, Xeropotamou, Iveron, Lavra all in Mt Athos, National Library of Greece, Library of Jerusalem ( Byzantine texts), Eclesiastical Academy of Petroupolis and the Textus Receptus. It seems the translators also used as reference many sources like the papyri, the uncial codices, the miniscule codices, the Nestle Aland’s Greek New Testament, etc.
    I am not a New Testament scholar so I think it would be interesting if a scholar with your qualifications could evaluate this translation into English.
    Of course,because of their humility, I am unable to look into the academic qualifications of the monks and nuns doing the translation. But I would not be surprised if the ones doing the translation are of course scholars themselves.

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