Questions From Readers
The context recommends the two renderings chosen.
The Foreword of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures (1950) stated: “To each major word we have assigned one meaning and have held to that meaning as far as the context permitted.” Some would not consider phroʹne·ma a major word, since it occurs only four times. It is, though, related to words that are used more often. One is phro·neʹo, meaning “to think, to be minded in a certain way.” (Matthew 16:23; Mark 8:33; Romans 8:5; 12:3; 15:5) Other related Greek words convey the idea of using practical wisdom, sense, or discretion.—Luke 1:17; 12:42; 16:8; Romans 11:25; Ephesians 1:8.
The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures shows that phroʹne·ma occurs four times at Romans 8:6, 7, 27 and that its literal meaning is consistently “minding.” Greek scholars Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich explain phroʹne·ma as: ‘way of thinking, mind(-set), aim, aspiration, striving.’—A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.
In Romans chapter 8, the apostle Paul counseled Christians not to walk according to the imperfect human flesh. To succeed in this, they should guard against the tendencies or impulses of the flesh, as well as the reasonings of an imperfect heart. ‘Setting their minds’ on the things in accord with God’s holy spirit will help in this.—Romans 8:1-5.
Paul offered this contrast: “The minding of the flesh means death, but the minding of the spirit means life and peace; because the minding of the flesh means enmity with God, for it is not under subjection to the law of God.” (Romans 8:6, 7) Humans are the subjects in these two verses. Humans, particularly Christians, ought not set their minds on, or be “minding,” the things of the fallen flesh. Instead, they ought to set their minds on, or be “minding,” the things that are in harmony with and stimulated by the spirit.
In contrast, Ro 8 verse 27 is dealing with God himself. We read: “Yet he [Jehovah] who searches the hearts knows what the meaning of the spirit is, because it is pleading in accord with God for holy ones.” Yes, the “he” here is Jehovah, the Hearer of prayer.
The word phroʹne·ma could have been rendered in Ro 8 verse 27 as “minding.” But holy spirit is not a person that actually thinks or has its own thinking. The spirit is the active force of God, who knows how his holy spirit works in accomplishing his will. Further, the import of this verse differs from that of Romans 8:6, 7. Those earlier verses highlighted the need humans have to control their thinking and actions. But Jehovah does not have to work, or struggle, to control himself. He knows what was recorded in the Bible under inspiration, such as Biblical expressions that indicate his will for his earthly servants. Dr. Heinrich Meyer comments on Romans 8:27: “God would in every case know the purpose of the Spirit.”
Hence, the rendering “meaning” is in line with the context or thrust of Romans 8:27, and it is allowed by the Greek. The Translator’s New Testament renders it: “He who searches hearts knows what the Spirit means.”
◼ Why does the New World Translation at times render the Greek word pi·steuʹo as “believe” (like most translations) and at other times as “exercise [or put] faith in”?
This is done to reflect different shades of meaning that are expressed by the Greek word pi·steuʹo.
For example, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, by James Moulton, notes that early Christians clearly recognized “the importance of the difference between mere belief . . . and personal trust.” Both these thoughts can be expressed using the Greek word pi·steuʹo.
Often, the different shades of meaning of pi·steuʹo must be discerned from the context. At times, though, different grammatical constructions help us to see what the writer had in mind. For example, if pi·steuʹo is followed merely by a noun in the dative case, the New World Translation usually renders it simply as “believe”—unless the context indicates something different. (Matthew 21:25, 32; but see Romans 4:3.) If pi·steuʹo is followed by the word e·piʹ, “on,” it is generally rendered “believe on.” (Matthew 27:42; Acts 16:31) If it is followed by eis, “to,” it is usually translated “exercise faith in.”—John 12:36; 14:1.
This latter rendering (which reminds us that pi·steuʹo is related to the Greek word piʹstis, “faith”) is in harmony with a comment in An Introductory Grammar of New Testament Greek, by Paul Kaufman. This work says: “Another construction which is common in the New Testament (especially in John’s Gospel) is πιστεύω [pi·steuʹo] with εἰς [eis] and the accusative case . . . The whole construction of εἰς plus the accusative must be translated rather than attempting to translate the preposition εἰς as an isolated word. Faith is thought of as an activity, as something men do, i.e. putting faith into someone.”