Romans 3:4 and "God Forbid!"

1997, 2005-6 by T.L. Hubeart Jr.


Rom. 3:4 (KJV) God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.


This phrase (Gk. me genoito, lit. "may it not be") occurs fifteen times in the NT, expressing "a feeling of strong aversion: 'Away with the thought.'" (Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies).The phrase is also used in secular literature (as in Epictetus; see below) and the LXX (cf. Gen. 44:17, where we find, "And Joseph said, Far be it from me [Gk. me moi genoito] to do this thing..." [Brenton's translation].) The intensity of denial is lucidly paraphrased by Thomas Scott:

"God forbid" that such a thought should be allowed in any one's mind! Let the thought be abhorred; let every man rather humbly acknowledge the veracity and faithfulness of God; though it should require him to suppose that all men were liars, hypocrites, or deceivers, as every one in some degree must be allowed to be.

Nevertheless, the translation "God forbid," which was Tyndale's innovation, has been roundly criticized. Noah Webster, in his Bible revision (p. ix), seems to have deplored it not only because "God" is inserted here "without any authority from the original languages," but because he felt that the English phrase, because of this Bible usage, was being used in "common discourse" without sufficient respect for God's name. Also, James White, never behindhand when the KJV can be accused of "errors," states that, although Paul's Greek phrase "provid[es] a very strong statement of denial," the KJV's rendering "is hardly an accurate translation" of it (The King James Only Controversy, p. 232).

It would be instructive, then, to review the improved translations of this phrase in the present verse that have been offered up within the past two centuries:

Can anyone be so blindly pedantic as to prefer any of these anemic but "correct" translations of the phrase to the forceful rendering hit upon by Tyndale (and preserved by the KJV)? It can hardly be denied that "God forbid" catches the requisite force and intensity of the denial, while none of the alternatives suggested by would-be improvers even comes close.

David Daniell's comment (in William Tyndale: A Biography, p. 141) that Tyndale's choice of words here "went through to the Authorised Version and far beyond" is perhaps truer than the author intended, since even a noted translator of a non-biblical Greek text has used it to render the same Greek phrase Paul uses here, "me genoito." See the phrase used in Arrian's Discourses of Epictetus, I.2.35; I.11.23; II.15.14; III.7.4. In the latter two cases, the Loeb Classical Library editor of Epictetus, W.A. Oldfather, gives the phrase in English exactly as Tyndale did: "God forbid!"


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