Christ and The Human Body United by Grace (Romans 6:1-11)

INTRODUCTION

Augustine of Hippo is considered one of the forth century Christian bishops who wrote in defense of Christian teachings while effectively refuting early Christian heresies. As a young man, Augustine was associated with the dualistic, gnostic religion called Manichaeism.[1] Manichaeism rejected material things, like the fleshly human body, as dark and sinful while exalting abstract spiritual things, like the soul, as pure and light. The pericope of interest (Romans 6:1b-11) utilizes the metaphor “death” extensively to indicate the baptized Christian’s freedom from the body of sin. Paul was not advising the baptized Christian to physically die, or to reject the physical body. In this exegesis, the metaphor of death is considered within its historical Hellenistic context of ancient Rome.

John Wesley addressed this metaphor of death well by assuring the faithful of their justification before God while encouraging the baptized Christian to continuously engage in the process of sanctification. According to The Works of John Wesley, faith remains entirely a gift of God’s grace because a human person does not contribute their own measure of faith from some self-made source of willpower or intelligence. [2] John Wesley teaches that the gift of faith is to be exercised through human affirmation and activity. The human person responds to God’s gift of grace and in this process the human person experiences sanctification.

HISTORICAL AND LITERARY CONTEXT

The Apostle Paul wrote the letter to the Romans in order to clarify his position as a Christian evangelist. Paul was hoping to persuade the Christians in Rome to support his future missionary efforts to Spain (Romans 15:24). When writing the letter to the Romans, Paul utilized philosophical, scholastic arguments and rhetorical questions which would be understood by well-educated scholars. When utilizing these arguments, Paul was connecting with the Hellenistic culture of ancient Rome. This Hellenistic culture was filled with mystery religions and dualistic philosophies which would become the foundation for the early Christian heresies like Manichaeism. The metaphor of death utilized in this pericope could be misunderstood. The Christian faith honors the human body as being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). When Paul is referring to death (Romans 6:6), he is teaching that there is a new identity given to those who are baptized into Christ. Christ becomes the authority figure in a baptized person’s life because the power of sin is dead. The physical body has not died. Additionally, the physical body should not be rejected or shamed as dark, bad, or evil as in the Manichean heresy.

The literary form of this pericope is a scholastic argument commonly referred to as a diatribe. [3] The diatribe begins with a thesis statement posed in the form of a question. The question is associated with an imaginary interlocutor to whom the speaker responds. In this pericope, Paul is the speaker and the rhetorical question (v. 1) is posed by the interlocutor. The most common setting for a diatribe was not in public preaching, but rather inside a classroom of philosophy students. Therefore, Paul’s epistle to the Romans is not a letter to a church like the letters to the Philippians or Galatians but rather a sample of Paul’s teaching within his school of delegates. [4]

Various Biblical translations may interpret the original Greek more accurately than others. However, of the four Biblical translations studied in this exegesis, the ISV translation of this pericope most accurately communicates the heart of the Christian message. The ISV maintains the integrity and sacred nature of the human body better than NRSV, NIV, or NABRE. Therefore, it is important to consider the various Biblical translations carefully by taking into consideration the historical context of the pericope.

FORM, STRUCTURE, MOVEMENT

The passage may be divided into three sections with subdivisions in each section. The entire passage is spoken by the Apostle Paul. The first section provides a rhetorical question posed by an interlocutor. Paul asks the rhetorical question, “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” (v. 1b).[5] Paul answers his question with a resounding “By no means!” (v. 2).[6] This rhetorical question and Paul’s answer make up the first section.

The second section is the main focus of this paper. Paul explains his answer by utilizing the initiation ritual of baptism into the Christian community as a distinct moment in time where the Christian dies to sin (vv. 3-7). First Paul begins with the ritual of baptism as a moment in time where the Christian is baptized into Christ’s death (v. 3). Then Paul explains how the baptized Christian partakes in both the death and resurrection of Christ (vv. 4-5). Through this experience of death and resurrection the sinful body has either: been done away with (NABRE, NIV), destroyed (NRSV), or rendered powerless (ISV) (v. 6-7).

The third section consists states that the baptized Christian is dead to sin (v. 8). This statement is justified by Paul’s argument stating the resurrected Christ cannot die again (vv. 9-10). The section concludes with the same imperative that Christians should consider themselves dead to sin (v. 11).

The pericope is organized in such as a way that a rhetorical question is posed relating to God’s gift of grace. Next, Paul responds to this question in the negative offering both an explanation followed by a justification for why the answer to the question in false. This indicates Paul was educated in the form of rhetoric commonly associated with Greek philosophy during this time period in history. The argument gains momentum throughout the diatribe.

EXEGESIS

Paul Asks a Rhetorical Question and Provides an Answer (vv. 1b-2)

The structure of a diatribe begins with a thesis statement. In the book of Romans, the main thesis statement is given (Romans 1:16-17) where Paul states that the Gospel is for all people, both Jews and Gentiles. There is no partiality with God is the key thesis to the book of Romans.[7] In this pericope, Paul is answering objections to this thesis statement. The objection being addressed is how grace can be expressed through antinomianism. Antinomianism is a false belief indicting that a person does not have to live a moral life because one’s works do not affect one’s status of justification.[8]

Paul is addressing an extreme form of antinomianism which states God’s grace is actually increased the more a person keeps sinning (v. 1). This pericope is all about scholastically defending the gospel of grace. Immediately before this pericope, Paul describes two domains over all humanity (Romans 5:12-21).[9] A person is either under the authority of sin represented by Adam, or under the authority of grace represented by Christ. Paul writes, “where sin increased, grace abounded” (Romans 5:20). The implication of grace abounding means Christ conquered the dominion of sin. Earlier in the book of Romans, Paul condemns the same rationalization “And why not say (as some people slander us by saying that we say),  ‘Let us do evil so that good may come?’ Their condemnation is deserved!” (Romans 3:8). These two competing domains require two different ways of responding to life. A person can respond in fearful, selfish ways representative of the human ancestor Adam, or in graceful, generous ways representative of Christ the Savior. [10]

Paul Explains the Gospel of Grace (v. 3-7) 

This pericope falls into the first section of the book of Romans where Paul is establishing how God’s grace makes human beings righteous. Regarding the first eight chapters of Romans, Johnsons writes, “Paul first demonstrates God’s way of making humans righteous; the premise underlying his argument is the lack of partiality in God.”[11] In this pericope we learn that God makes humans righteous through the initiation ceremony of baptism (vv. 3-4). It is through baptism that the human person dies to sin (vv. 6-7). The Oxford Bible commentary acknowledges that Romans 6:6 does not mesh well with what Paul writes later (Romans 7:14-25).[12] Paul states that the baptized Christian is no longer enslaved to sin (Romans 6:7) but a few sentences later Paul states that he keeps on sinning (Romans 7:19). The commentary calls this discontinuity a tension between the “already” and “not yet.”[13]

The metaphor of death is an important facet to this chapter of Romans and is the main emphasis of this paper. Historically speaking, the Roman world utilized metaphorical language in many different spiritual writings besides Christianity. In his book, Between Horror and Hope Paul’s Metaphorical Language of Death in Romans 6:1-11, author Sorin Sabou cites the previous work by David E. Aune who writes that it is important to have an understanding of the Hellenistic philosophical background in which Romans 6 was written.[14] According to Aune, the idea of commentatio mortis was a relatively widespread philosophy in the Roman Empire based on Plato’s Phaedo, and the Stoics. Commentatio mortis is Latin and translates to “history of death.” The philosophy around commentatio mortis relates to the soul separating from the body at the time of death. But the Stoics and Plato utilized the metaphor of death to mean a transformed life where a person is set free from the concerns of the body.[15] It is clear, in this pericope, that Paul was not referring directly to physical death, but rather a death to sin. The Hellenistic philosophy of commentatio mortis helps to explain Paul’s use of death as a metaphor.

Another influencing factor on early Christianity were the mystery religions. Paul states that through the initiation ritual of baptism, the baptized person partakes in the death and resurrection of Christ (vv. 3-4). The mystery cults of the time also practiced initiation rituals to impart to the initiates a share in the fate of the cult-deity, such as Adonis or Osiris, who has suffered and reawakened to new life.[16] The mystery religions would have had some cultural influence on the early Christians’ interpretation and understanding of spiritual worship practices.[17] With this historical understanding, the Apostle Paul is a well-educated Roman citizen, and converted Jew, who is writing to the Gentile Christian community in Rome. In the book of Romans, Paul is clearly communicating how he is culturally part of the Gentile Christian community and a competent evangelist.

A few notable differences in wording between translations (NRSV, NABRE, ISV, NIV) include how the different translations refer to the human body in (v. 6).[18] The NRSV refers to the body of sin and NABRE refers to our sinful body. Meanwhile the ISV states our sin-laden bodies and NIV states the body ruled by sin. It is interesting to note how the NRSV and NIV translations do not use the pronoun “our” which implies ownership of the sinful body. The NRV and NIV translations leave the reader with a perspective that the body ruled by sin is more detached, or even severed, from the identity of the human person. However, the ISV translation states, our sin-laden bodies might be rendered powerless. This does not give the reader the perspective that one’s sinful body is destroyed but rather still exists having no power.

The NABRE and NIV translations state the body might be done away with, while the NRSV states, the body of sin might be destroyed. The NRSV is the most detached and utilizes the harshest word destroyed to describe the body of sin. This leads to the question: What happens to the sinful body? Is it completely destroyed, or does it still exist without any power? Is this sinful body still a part of us, or is it somehow detached from our new identity in Christ after baptism? How are we to relate to the physical body we inhabit on Earth after being baptized?

The ISV is the only translation that utilizes the word “union” (v. 3). The ISV translation states, baptized in union with Christ. The NRSV, NIV, and NABRE all state, baptized into Christ. This is significant because the reader might interpret that there are different boundaries between Christ and the baptized person. To be in union with Christ implies that Christ is one entity whereas the baptized person is a separate entity. Union communicates the preservation of freewill where both entities are united together as one, like in marriage. Being baptized into Christ could imply there is an end to the baptized person’s freewill and one somehow dissolves into Christ. The SIV use of the word union provides a significant difference between translations because the freewill of the baptized person is at stake.

Like the ISV, the Africa Bible Commentary utilizes the word “union” repeatedly when addressing this pericope. “Baptism is a visible demonstration of believers, death, burial and resurrection with Christ. This union with him in his death and resurrection allows them to share the blessing of his resurrection, namely a new life. Christians die to sin (their old self) in the body of Christ with whom they have been united in faith and baptism.” [19]

The ISV translation is the only translation which does not destroy, or do away with, the human body (v. 6). It is also the only translation which implies union with Christ instead of essentially dissolving into Christ (v. 3). Regarding this pericope, the ISV translation is the best of the three translations studied for this paper because the ISV states that our old natures were crucified with Christ so our sin-laden bodies might be rendered powerless (v. 6). The other translations include hints of the mystery religions which became the basis to heresies like Manichaeism. NABRE, NIV, and NRSV all imply a complete destruction or detachment from the human flesh. Both NABRE and NIV state, the body ruled by sin might be done away with (v. 6). Meanwhile NRSV states, the body of sin might be destroyed (v. 6). These translations might be an accurate interpretation of the Greek written by the Apostle Paul; however, the truth of the Gospel is most apparent in the ISV translation where the human person maintains a separate identity and access to their own freewill while living in union with Christ.

Paul Justifies the Gospel of Grace (v. 8-11)

By the time the book of Romans was written, the Apostle Paul had already founded various Christian communities in the East such as Philippi. Paul was seeking to move his missionary work westward while utilizing the Christian community in Rome as a new base of operations in the West.[20] Paul was not considered a founding father of the Christian Church in Rome. Therefore, Paul had to promote himself to the Romans through this letter. Paul was hoping to receive support, especially financial support, from the Roman Christian community to fund his missionary efforts in Spain (Romans 15:24). Paul emphasizes the resurrection as a key part of his evangelization efforts. Paul states that since Christ has died, and cannot died again, death has no power over Christ anymore (v. 9, 10). Paul argues that baptized Christians make up Christ’s resurrected body on Earth; and by being united to Christ, one becomes dead to sin (vv. 8, 11). Paul is passionate about spreading the Gospel of Grace so that many others can live free from the power of sin and part of the resurrected body of Christ.

Paul’s letter to the Romans clarifies Paul’s perspective on evangelization. Before supporting Paul financially, the Roman Christians would want to know more about Paul as an evangelist. The book of Romans is not a summary of Paul’s theology. Rather, the book of Romans is a mature expression of Paul’s religious interpretation of his work towards evangelizing and reconciling the Gentile Christians in the East.[21]

According to the Oxford Bible Commentary, the point of this pericope is three-fold. First, humanity deserves death as a fitting wage for sin which came through Adam. Second, the alternative to sin is holiness, or sanctification, which comes through Jesus Christ and leads to eternal life. Third, believers are to be sanctified, or made pure and holy through the gift of God’s grace.[22]

MINISTRY APPLICATION

The Christian faith acknowledges both the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ. Nowhere in Christian teachings does Christ reject the human flesh. Instead, Christ elevates the human flesh as sacred. According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus said, “’This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’” [23]

In the third century, Augustine of Hippo became a prolific writer and Christian bishop who refuted several early Christian heresies. Before becoming a Christian, Augustine of Hippo was part of a religious community associated with Manichaeism. Manichaeism was a dualistic heresy which separated the sinful material body of flesh from the pure spiritual body of the soul. The Manichean heresy of material darkness and spiritual light denied the humanity of Christ. After Augustine of Hippo came to experience the Gospel of Grace, he rejected his association with the Manichaeans. This pericope could unintentionally promote this early form of heresy where anything associated with the flesh is rejected while the abstract spiritual world of light is exalted.

Augustine carefully balanced the Gospel of Grace with freewill. Augustine defended the precept that without God’s grace humankind cannot do anything good, but because God never takes away one’s freewill, humankind must be given the grace to choose to cooperate with this gift of grace. Thereby God’s grace continuously compounds as a dance between God as the giver, and the human person’s cooperation with the gift. Augustine writes in Retractions, “Therefore, my dearly beloved, as we have now proved by our former testimonies from Holy Scripture that there is in man a free determination of will for living rightly and acting rightly; so now let us see what are the divine testimonies concerning the grace of God, without which we are not able to do any good thing”[24] John Wesley agreed with Augustine. Wesley taught that grace was a gift from God alone and human beings were called to actively respond to this gift of grace.

Through our baptism, God provides us the grace to live a self-disciplined life while alive inside our human flesh. Our human flesh is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Extreme spiritual practices which are abusive to the human body have no place inside genuine Christianity. At the moment of baptism, there is a change in authority. At baptism, the fearful, animalistic, selfish, greedy human nature is put to death while the nature of the resurrected Christ is awakened to life. Christ’s resurrected nature is all inclusive, merciful, grace-filled, and fosters interdependency amongst others. The early Christian communities shared and supported each other’s needs. This included the basic human needs for food and shelter, as well as the need for love and belonging. Therefore, the metaphor of death in this pericope must be understood in the context of the Lord’s Supper. The focus of a Christian’s spiritual practice needs to place emphasis on how one is caring for one’s local community, not on aesthetic spiritual disciplines.

CONCLUSION

The baptized Christian has transferred their loyalty away from the authority of sin and self-absorption, into the authority of grace. Due to baptism, there is a change in identity. The way the baptized Christian acts amongst others in society is different from the way the unbaptized, non-Christian may act. The baptized Christian acknowledges and fosters a healthy interdependence amongst other people while honoring one’s dependence upon creation by caring for the environment. The physical body of the baptized Christian is not destroyed through the sacrament of baptism. The basic human needs for food, love, belonging, and affection are not denied or considered sinful indulgences for the baptized Christian. Instead, the baptized Christian professes loyalty to living the way Christ lived. In breaking the bread, Christ gave all he had to others. Thus, all Christians are called to do the same in remembrance of him.

 

Bibliography
Adeyemo, Tokunboh, ed., Africa Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006.

 

Aune, David E. “Human Nature and Ethics in Hellenistic Philosophical Traditions and Paul:
Some Issues and Problems,” Paul in His Hellenistic Context, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994, 305.
Barton, John, and John Muddiman ed., “Romans,” The Oxford Bible Commentary, Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2001.
Bright, Pamela, “Augustine,” in Reading Romans Through the Centuries From, the Early
Church to Karl Barth, ed. Jeffrey P. Greenman and Timothy Larsen, Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005.
Coogan, Michael D. ed, Marc Z. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins. The New Oxford Annotated Bible New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha: an Ecumenical Study Bible. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Writings of the New Testament Third Edition, Minneapolis, MN:
Fortress Press, 2010.
Kwon, Youngju, “Baptism or Gospel of Grace ?: Romans 6 Revisited,” The Expository Times
 128, no. 5 (2017): 222-230.
Sabou, Sorin, Between Horror and Hope Paul’s Metaphorical Language of Death in
Romans 6:1-11, Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2005.
Shepherd, Victor, “John Wesley.” Reading Romans Through the Centuries From the Early
Church to Karl Barth. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005.
[1] Pamela Bright, “Augustine,” in Reading Romans Through the Centuries From, the Early Church to Karl Barth, ed. Jeffrey P. Greenman and Timothy Larsen, (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005), 63.
[2] Victor Shepherd, “John Wesley,” in Reading Romans Through the Centuries From the Early Church to Karl Barth, ed. Jeffrey P. Greenman and Timothy Larsen, (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005), 151.
[3] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament Third Edition, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010), 305.
[4] Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament Third Edition, 305.
[5] Michael D. Coogan, “Romans,” The New Oxford Annotated Bible New Revised Standard Version with The Apocrypha: an Ecumenical Study Bible. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 1984.
[6] Romans 6:2 The New Revised Standard Version translation by Coogan will be used throughout this paper unless noted otherwise.
[7] Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament Third Edition, 305.
[8] Youngju Kwon, “Baptism or Gospel of Grace ?: Romans 6 Revisited,” The Expository Times 128, no. 5 (2017): 222.
[9] Kwon, Baptism or Gospel of Grace, 223.
[10] Kwon, Baptism or Gospel of Grace, 224.
[11] Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament Third Edition, 305.
[12] John Barton and John Muddiman, “Romans,” The Oxford Bible Commentary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 1095.
[13] Barton, Romans, 1095.
[14] Sorin Sabou, Between Horror and Hope Paul’s Metaphorical Language of Death in Romans 6:1-11, (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2005), 6.
[15] David E. Aune, “Human Nature and Ethics in Hellenistic Philosophical Traditions and Paul: Some Issues and Problems,” Paul in His Hellenistic Context, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), 305.
[16] Sabou, Between Horror and Hope, 20.
[17] Sabou, Between Horror and Hope, 20.
[18] Translations for Romans 6:1b-11 were accessed through biblegateway.com
[19] Tokunboh Adeyemo ed., “Romans” Africa Bible Commentary. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006), LOC 55989.
[20] Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament Third Edition, 304.
[21] Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament Third Edition, 305.
[22] Barton, Romans, 1095.
[23] Luke 22:19-20, The New Revised Standard Version
[24] Bright, Augustine, 67.

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