Word of the Week
April 29, 2023
Proēgeomai: Can You Top This?
Give preference to one another in honor.
Romans 12:10b NASB95
Romans 12 provides a playbook for human relationships.
It begins with the fundamental command to offer our bodies to God as an act of worship. Then it explains specifically how we can serve Him, using the gifts He has given us.
Starting in verse 9, we find a string of short instructions on how to live with other people:
Let love be without hypocrisy.
Abhor what is evil; cling to that which is good.
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.
And then we come to a command that comes with a riddle attached.
The New American Standard reads, “Give preference to one another in honor.”
But the margin says, “Outdo one another in showing honor.”
Which one is right?
The Greek word is proēgeomai, and it appears nowhere else in the New Testament. We can’t solve the mystery by looking at other verses where the word is used. But we can get deeper insight by going back the word that forms the root of this word. The Greeks built this word by combining pro (“before”) with hēgeomai (“consider” or “lead”).
In an earlier Word of the Week study, we studied hēgeomai as it is used in James 1:2 and discovered that it has two separate meanings.
It can mean “consider, think, suppose.” When we encounter trials, we choose how to think about them.
It can mean “lead.” It is used to describe people who take the lead.
When you add pro to form the word in Romans 12:10, those two meanings lead to the two different translations that we found. Let’s take them one at a time.
- “Give preference to one another in honor.”
This builds on the idea of “considering.” In my dealings with other people, I should consider them worthy of honor. I should treat them with a high level of respect, recognizing their great worth as children of God.
Paul expresses a similar thought in Philippians 2:3 – “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.”
- “Outdo one another in showing honor.”
This translation builds on the concept of leadership. When it comes to showing honor to others, I should take the lead. In every situation, my goal is to take the initiative in giving maximum honor to the other guy.
It reminds me of a dear friend in Birmingham, Alabama (and now in heaven) who would simply not let you out-give him. He always picked up the check, always picked up your bag, always picked up your spirit. He refused to be outdone.
So which translation is better?
Both are quite possible in the context of Romans 12. That’s why both renderings appear in various translations; the experts can’t come to a conclusion.
Personally, I think that the first one – “give preference to one another in honor” – fits the context a little better. Paul is explaining how to live lovingly with others, and one key to good relationships is to treat the other person with honor. It’s only appropriate, since everyone you meet was made in the image of God and will exist eternally in heaven or hell. God thought that each person was worth dying for, so I should never treat them with contempt.
Having said that, I love the imagery of outdoing one another in honor. After all, this is the pattern for “one another.” Whenever you see “one another” in the New Testament, you are looking at a reciprocal relationship, one where each person gives and each person gets. There is no division between the “have’s” and the “have not’s.” Whenever believers get together, love and honor flow back and forth. What could be more fun than trying to ensure that you excel in the sport of tossing honor to everyone in the room?
Looking at the origin of a word is called etymology. That’s what you are doing when you say, “This word was formed by combining two other words.” It is a legitimate pursuit, but one that you must use with discretion. Centuries may have passed since a word was first coined, and the meaning may have shifted over the years Whenever possible, spend your time observing the way a word was actually used in the New Testament, so you can tell what it meant in the first century. However, when a word only occurs once in the New Testament, you have to use other tactics to determine the meaning. That’s when etymology can be especially useful.
Q: I notice when I read Colossians 3:14 that the King James says that love is “the bond of perfectness,” while the New American Standard says “the perfect bond of unity”? What does the Greek say?
A: Here’s what it looks like, one word at a time: agape [love] – ho estin [which is] – sundesmos [bond, that which binds something together] – tēs [“of the”] – teleiotētos [completeness]. One of my dictionaries explains the phrase as “the bond which unites everything in complete harmony.” The NIV says, “love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” The translators of the NASB are interpreting that last phrase “of completeness” as a description of the bond – possible, but I think the King James is closer to the Greek.
Next week we will look at another verse in John 1 which is translated in two different ways. We will help you understand why different Bible translations render it with more than one meaning.
©Ezra Project 2023