Romans 9:5

(KJV vs. NIV)

Notes © 1998, 1999 by T.L. Hubeart

Rom. 9:5 (KJV) Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.

Rom. 9:5 (NIV) Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. (Footnote gives these alternatives: "Or Christ, who is over all. God be forever praised! Or Christ. God who is over all be forever praised!")

James White (King James Only Controversy, pp. 195-6) considers this a "key passage" relating to the deity of Christ, and thus condemns the KJV as being inferior to the NIV in rendering this verse. And in fact a superficial comparison might make it seem that White has a point; it is certainly understandable for a translator or committee to wish to underline the fact of Jesus Christ's deity at every possible opportunity. But when one examines the passage more deeply, an overriding reason appears as to why the KJV declined to translate as White thinks proper. The plain fact is that the NIV's translation, in calling Christ "God over all," confuses the Persons of the Godhead and is thus theologically unsound.

Christ is indeed spoken of as "Lord" (Phil. 2:11), as "Son of God" (Heb. 4:14), and is referred to as God corporately with the Father (2 Pet. 1:1-2) and with Father and Spirit (Titus 3:4-7). And the Father is separately referred to as God (1 Cor. 8:6), but neither Son nor Spirit have been so designated in scripture, as far as I am aware--except in this passage if one reads it in the fashion advocated by the NIV.

If any one Member of the Trinity is to be spoken of as "God," it would have to be the Father, who is clearly the leading and directing Person in the Trinity; Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit are repeatedly said to act as directed by Him--e.g., John 5:30, 14:26. And cf. Phil. 2:8-11 for Christ's subordinate position to the Father. Such verses show that the Father has given Him dominion over all--meaning that it is proper to say that Christ is "over all," with the KJV, but that it is improper to call Him "God over all" without reference to the Father, implying that the Father is either subordinate or equal to the Son.

Thus to equate Christ with "God over all" is to imply a second "God," lending credence to such charges as that of the Muslims, that Christians have a plurality of Gods and not one (and to the aberrant doctrines of groups like the Mormons, who actually believe in three "Gods"). At best the NIV translators are here guilty of gross carelessness; at worst of inadvertently perverting the truth of God into abominable heresy.

But one should remark candidly that the NIV has plenty of company in so translating this verse: Tyndale, Geneva, Luther's German, and the Reina-Valera Spanish all agree with it (the 1560 Geneva with the marginal note "Christ is verie God," which was replaced in the 1599 Geneva with the even more explicit "A most manifest testimonie of the Godhead and diuinitie of Christ"). But a whole host of later versions (e.g., Douay-Rheims [both original and Challoner revision], Young, Darby, RV*, ASV, Phillips, New Berkeley, NAB, RSV/NRSV) agrees with the KJV making Christ "over all" rather than "God over all." The NAB even footnotes the alternate, but says, "However, Paul's point is that God who is over all aimed to use Israel, which had been entrusted with every privilege, in outreach to the entire world through the Messiah."

(*--However, see also RV's margin, to which Dean Burgon [Revision Revised, pp. 210-3] registered a very strong objection.)

A couple of the KJV's predecessors, the Great and Bishops' Bibles, even seem to see the theological difficulties with "over all things" and render this phrase "in all things" instead. The Great Bible reads,

"whose also are the fathers, and they of whom (as concernynge the flesshe) Christ came, which is God in all thynges to be praysed for ever Amen"

and the Bishops' Bible,


"Of whom are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came which is God, in all things to be praised for ever, Amen."


(Notice Bishops' nearly-identical wording to Great, but its placing of comma after "God," which seems a further attempt to safeguard the distinction between Father and Son.)

Dr. Thomas Holland cites the comments of White and D.A. Carson (the latter in The King James Version Debate) where they try to argue that "modern versions such as the NIV have a stronger reference to the Deity of Christ than the KJV" in this verse, although as Holland notes this is not universal because the New American Standard, for one, agrees with the KJV here. He continues (emphasis added):

". . . [T]he text reads the same in either the Alexandrian or the Traditional texts. The Greek simply says, 'o on epi panton Theos eulogetos eis tous aionas amen' ('the one who is over all God blessed for ever amen'). It is a matter of where one places the comma, and the Greek manuscripts, as the student will remember, do not have punctuation marks. It would be difficult to debate the cultist who denies the Deity of Christ using an NIV reading of Romans 9:5 based solely upon the placement of the comma, considering the Greek manuscripts did not have commas.

"There is no question that Jesus Christ is God (John 1:1). The Bible reveals God as one God in three persons (Matt. 28:19, 1 John 5:7). All three persons are one God. This is the doctrine of the Trinity. Within the Trinity, there is not only unity, but order. Paul illustrates the headship of the husband over the wife by stating that, 'But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God' (1 Cor. 11:3). Thus the Father is the head of the Son, not the Son over the Father. Jesus even refers to the Father as 'my God' in John 20:17. The Father does call the Son 'God' in Heb. 1:8, but the Father does not call Christ his God. In fact, the next verse says, 'therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows'--again calling the Father the God of the Son. They are separate persons in one Godhead and in Christ, 'dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily' (Col. 2:9). Thus, there is an order within the Trinity.

"If the NIV is correct in its translation of Romans 9:5, than Christ is God over all, including the Father. He becomes the God of the Father, and the order within the Trinity is broken. However, if Christ is [as the KJV renders] 'over all' then He is still God, still equal to the Father (Phil. 2:6), but not God over the Father."

One should point out in fairness that not only Carson and White, but many respected commentators have stumbled over this passage by not recognizing the plain truths set forth above by Dr. Holland. Among many writers who might be named, Thomas Scott, Adam Clarke, and Robert Haldane (Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans) seem to bolster the case for a "God over all" reading with emotional arguments rather than real substance, since these writers express concern about giving up a "celebrated testimony to the Godhead of our Lord Jesus Christ" to "Arians and Socinians" (Haldane's words; I note in passing that Burgon in the above referenced passage clearly cites the KJV's rendering as though he understands the same "celebrated testimony" to be inherent in the way it stands--contrary to James White's interpretation).


A more clear-minded approach is taken by Joseph Agar Beet (who renders "whose are the Fathers, and from whom came the Christ according to flesh. God who is over all be blessed for ever. Amen"). His comments in his Notes on Romans through Colossians and Philemon should be consulted at length, but some extracts here (emphasis and brackets added) may be in order:


"At the mention of the name and birth of Christ, Paul cannot refrain from an outburst of praise to the great Ruler of the world who chose Israel, and gave Christ to be born in Paul's own day and nation. . . .

"Two RENDERINGS of Romans 9:5b are grammatically admissible and worthy of consideration. (1) o on epi panton theos may be in apposition to o cristos, asserting that He who sprang from Israel 'is over all God blessed forever:' . . . . So Irenaeus . . . and Origen, (both preserved in Latin translations only,) Tertullian, Cyprian, very many early Christian writers, and a large majority of the writers of all ages. (2) o on epi panton theos may be the subject, and euloghtos eis tous aionas the predicate, of a new sentence [as in the KJV and Beet]. This exposition is not found in any early Christian writer; but is adopted in the Alex., Ephraim, and Clermont MSS., where we find stops marking off the words in question as a doxology to the Father and spaces proving that the stops are from the first hand. In the Vat. MS. is a stop apparently from a later hand. . . .

"I shall endeavor to show that (2) is in thorough accord with the structure of the passage, with the context, and with the thought of Paul; and that (1), though grammatically correct and making good sense, is made unlikely by the very ambiguity of the passage. . . ."

"Had Paul intended to deviate from his otherwise unvarying custom and to speak of Christ as 'God,' he must have done so with a set and serious purpose of asserting the divinity of Christ. And, if so, he would have used words which no one could misunderstand. In a similar case, John 1:1, we find language which excludes all doubt. In the passage before us, the words os estin, as in Rom. 1:25 [i.e., the "who is" in KJV's "who is blessed for ever"], would have given equal certainty. But Paul did not use them. Again, in the passages which set forth expressly the nature of the Son, e.g. Rom. 1:4; Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:15, Paul does not call Him 'God': and in each of them the subordination of the Son to the Father is very conspicuous. But here, if we adopt the traditional exposition, there is no mention whatever of the Father, and without such mention there is given to the Son the loftiest title found in the Bible; in other words, we should have here the divinity of Christ, asserted with a definiteness not found elsewhere in the writings or addresses of Paul, and not correlated to the unique supremacy of the Father. This is altogether inconsistent with the whole thought of Paul.

"Moreover, Paul is not discussing here the dignity of Christ, but mentions Him casually in an exposition of the present position of the Jews. In such a passage, it is much more likely that he would deviate from his common mode of expression, and write once 'God' be 'blessed' instead of 'To God be glory,' than that in a passage not referring specially to the nature of Christ he would assert, what he nowhere else explicitly asserts, that Christ is God, and assert it in language which may mean either this or something quite different.

"In any case, the passage before us cannot be appealed to in proof of the divinity of Christ. For even those who so interpret it admit that their interpretation is open to doubt: and it is very unsafe to build important doctrine on an uncertain foundation. On the other hand, as I interpret them, these words reveal, by making them matter of praise to God, the greatness of the privileges which the Jews had trampled under foot."

It is clear, then, that the KJV's rendering is far more sound than the injudicious one advocated by the NIV and applauded by its supporters Carson and White. And it is extremely interesting to me that men who stand ready to remove a "doubtful" verse like 1 John 5:7 from scripture ("we are in no way dependant upon the phrase for our knowledge of the Trinity . . . " [White, p. 61]) hazard everything to insist that an extremely dubious reading of this verse constitutes a "key passage" supporting Christ's deity--although there are numerous other verses which do this very thing far better!

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