Where did the verse go? (Rom 8:2)

by Bill Mounce 

In class the other day a student commented that the NIV had dropped out half a verse. My immediate reaction was to assume the student was correct, and I checked the textual notes to see the variants in the manuscripts. No, the Greek text was fine.

He was reading the NASB. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Pretty much word for word. ὁ γὰρ νόμος τοῦ πνεύματος τῆς ζωῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ἠλευθέρωσέν σε ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου τῆς ἁμαρτίας καὶ τοῦ θανάτου.

When I first glanced at the NIV, it did look like something was missing. They write, “because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

The first obvious difference is that the NIV treats v 2 as part of v 1, properly strengthening the role of γάρ. But apparently, the NIV thought that the meaning of a string of genitive phrases and a prepositional phrase was insufficiently clear. In their attempt to clarify meaning, phrases get moved around, which gives the initial impression of omitting something.

ὁ γὰρ νόμος For the law because … the law
τοῦ πνεύματος of the Spirit of the Spirit
τῆς ζωῆς of life who gives life
ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ in Christ Jesus through Christ Jesus

What has the NIV done?

  1. They interpreted the genitive phrase τῆς ζωῆς to mean, “who gives life.” I am not sure if “the Spirit of life” means anything, so the NIV is helpful.
  2. English grammar requires the subject to be somewhere in the vicinity of its verb, and so by placing “through Christ Jesus” earlier, they bring “law … has set you free” a little closer. Again, a helpful translation.
  3. Perhaps most importantly, and I would assume the primary motivation of the NIV, is that the Greek word order suggests to English ears that Paul is claiming that “life [is] in Christ Jesus.” But the Greek is saying that we have been set free in Christ Jesus, that Christ Jesus is the agency (if that is the right word) through which the Spirit effects his work.


Moo, the chair of the CBT, writes, “This suggests an intentional play on the word, as Paul implicitly contrasts the law of Moses with a different ‘law,’ in this case the ‘“law” of the Spirit who confers life.’ The actor in the situation is, then, the Spirit himself. It is God’s Spirit, coming to the believer with power and authority, who brings liberation from the powers of the old age and from the condemnation that is the lot of all who are imprisoned by those powers.”

His footnote on “life” says, “We are taking τοῦ πνεύματος as an epexegetic genitive and τῆς ζωῆς as an objective genitive (cf. Cranfield).” In other words, the “law” is the “Spirit.”

So much for the details of the passage. But what I wanted to stress today is that Bible translations don’t simply “drop out” half a verse. They just don’t. Unless there are textual issues (like John 5:4), no Bible I have ever read simply drops out that much of the text. So if you are tempted to think that, think again. Something else is going on.

William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek

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