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EXEGESIS OF ROMANS 8:5-11
SUBMITTED TO DR. ELIZABETH SHIVELY IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF NT504- INTERPRETING THE NEW TESTAMENT
BY LARRY HACKMAN 3 MAY 2010
INTRODUCTION What is the nature of the life and death that Paul uses to describe the twin realms of Spirit and flesh in Romans 8:5-11? Are life and death only metaphorical concepts, constructs designed to illustrate opposing ways of living, or do they point to a more elemental, spiritual state of being? I intend to argue that while Paul uses the stark dichotomy of life and death to illustrate that Spirit and flesh are ontological states that oppose each other, both indicate a future destination as well as a current way of life for believers and unbelievers respectively. TRANSLATION 5 For those who are living according to the flesh1 are thinking the thoughts of the flesh,2 but those who are living according to the Spirit are thinking the thoughts of the Spirit. 3 6 Then the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace; 7 therefore the mind of the flesh is hostility towards God, for it is not submitting itself to the law of God, 4 for it is not even able to; 8 and those who are living in the flesh5 are not able to be pleasing to God. 9 But you are not living in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God is dwelling in you. But if someone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person is not His. 6 10 But if Christ is in you, indeed the body is dead on account of sin, but the Spirit is life on account of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit is dwelling in you, (that is, the One who raised up Jesus from death), then the one who raised up 7 Christ from death8 will give life even to your mortal bodies, through His Spirit, the one who is living in you.9
This phrase appears to be a combination of a substantival participle (onteς) and a prepositional phrase (kata sarka) that could roughly be translated “the living according to the flesh ones.”
The UBS Lexicon entry on fronew identifies this phrase as “φ. τὰ with gen. think the thoughts of, have one’s mind controlled by” i.e. an idiom.
The participle and main verb are implied from previous clause by the orphaned article oi and relative pronoun ta.
It seemed that the verb here was in the middle voice, as the mind is not “not being submitted” as the passive voice would say, but is “not submitting itself”.
5 6 7 8
This is onteς as in 8:5. It is translated similarly. This is an almost idiomatic phrase that translates literally as “this is not his.” The second of two participles from ejgeirw, but in the nominative case this time functioning as the subject.
NA27 shows that there are three variations in the manuscript here, from Χριστὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν to ἐκ νεκρῶν Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν and two other similar variations, none of them which significantly change the meaning of the text but only introduce an article, Jesus’ proper name or rearrange the wording.
The B, D, F, G, and Majority text, among others, have the case of the prepositional phrase here to be accusative instead of genitive, making the meaning “according to” or “because of” instead of “through”. I agree with the NA27 that the critical text has a stronger witness, and in addition, makes more sense in the context of the passage. (The one who raised Jesus from the dead isn’t merely the cause of resurrection, but is the means by which they will be given life just as it was the means by which Jesus was given life.) 2
HISTORICAL CONTEXT The Epistle to the Romans is widely agreed among scholars to be written by the Apostle Paul. The end of the letter does mention “I Tertius, who wrote this letter…” in 16:22, but this is likely to be Paul’s amanuensis.10 Romans 1:7 makes clear that the letter is addressed to “all those in Rome” and because of numerous contextual clues throughout the book, it is clear that Paul wrote the letter near the end of his third missionary journey from Corinth around A.D. 57.11 While there are hints of some tension between Jews and Gentiles in some passages of Romans (9:1-11:36 being the most obvious)12 it is far less occasional than other Pauline epistles (such as the Corinthian letters) and instead reads like a treatise, perhaps meant to lay out Paul’s beliefs to a church that was unfamiliar with him. Paul explains his plans to visit the church in Rome in 15:22-29 on the way to Spain, and through this it becomes apparent that Paul hopes that the Roman church will be a home base for his further missionary exploits in Spain. This may be why Paul lays out “his Gospel” at length (2:16); so that the Roman church will know and understand what he intends to preach to those in Gaul, as well as accept his call as an apostle (1:1). In short, Paul writes an introductory letter/treatise to a diversified (and possibly contentious) Jewish and Gentile church in Rome in hopes of preparing that church to support him in further missionary endeavors.13
D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament-Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 393.
Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament-Second Edition, 394.
Thomas R. Schreiner, “Introduction to the Letter of Paul to the Romans” in English Standard Version Study Bible (eds. Lane T. Dennis et al.; Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2152.
Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament-Second Edition, 407. 3
LITERARY CONTEXT It is immensely important to understand that no one passage necessarily stands alone in Romans 14 but that all of the epistle stems from the thesis introduced in 1:16-17 and progressively defended and expanded upon in the rest of the book.15 Paul used a number of rhetorical devices common among Greco/Roman culture of the time to progress his argument (such as the diatribe, “an informal conversation between a teacher and his students”).16 More importantly, contemporary and past rhetorical giants Quintilian and Cicero illuminate the technical elements of rhetorical argument likely used by Paul and familiar with his audience in Rome. These included exordium (introduction 1:1-12), a narratio (narration of background 1:13-15) immediately followed by the partitio (thesis of the argument 1:16-17), probatio (the “proof of the case being argued” 1:18-15:13), and finally the peroratio (the conclusion 15:14-16:27).17 The probatio section itself divides into a number of different subsections. The first subsection of 1:18-4:25 proves Paul’s argument from 1:16-17 and the rest of the probatio simply broadens the scope of different aspects of this first section18, repeating and expanding on parts of the argument (repetition with variation being another common rhetorical device used in the time).19 Romans 8:5-11 falls within a subsection dealing with several objections in the form of diatribes from 5:1-8:39. In particular, this passage is answering an objection from a rhetorical opponent (7:7, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin?”) responding to a propositional
14 15 16
Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans (London: Oxford University Press, 1933), viii. Robert Jewett, "Following the argument of Romans," Word & World 6, no. 4 (September 1, 1986): 384.
Paul A. Holloway, "The rhetoric of Romans," Review & Expositor 100, no. 1 (December 1, 2003): 117, 119. A diatribe can be seen in in 7:7 previous to the passage in discussion among many other places.
17 18 19
Jewett, “Following the argument of Romans,” 383. Jewett, “Following the argument of Romans,” 385-386.
Charles H. Talbert, "Tracing Paul's train of thought in Romans 6-8." Review & Expositor 100, no. 1 (December 1, 2003): 54. 4
statement in 7:6. Paul returns to his inciting statement in 7:6 with an echoing statement in 8:4 about those “who walk not according to flesh but according to the Spirit”. In sum, 8:5-11 is an elaboration of 8:4, which is a response to 7:7, itself a part of an expansion on 1:18-4:25, which is an argument based on the thesis in 1:16-17. In other words, as stated earlier, no passage truly stands in isolation within the Epistle to the Romans. ARGUMENT In Romans 7:6 Paul makes his first mention in the epistle of a “new way of the Spirit” but does not explore what this way is until he picks back up the subject in 8:4. In fact “Spirit” is mentioned more times in chapter 8 than anywhere else in Romans, and indeed, the whole New Testament.20 Thus, 8:5-11 is part of a larger discussion in chapter 8 on the Spirit, but also of its counterpart, “flesh.” The topic of “flesh” is something explored previously by Paul starting with 7:5 as something that dwelled within him, a “law of sin” that is provoked by the Mosaic law to bring about evil “in his members” (7:23). It is, in essence, the place within mankind from which arises rebellion to God. So when the discussion turns to “those who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” in 8:4, the reader has some idea of what effect flesh has on one’s life, but not yet of Spirit. By using the verb “walk” (peripatew) Paul is necessarily making this a discussion on how one lives because, as Moo points out, “peripatew [the verb used to mean ‘walk’ in 8:4]… is one of Paul’s favorites to depict the daily behavior, or moral direction, of the believer.”21 Paul then sets out to expand on what flesh and Spirit are by identifying two different groups of people who are “living according to the flesh/Spirit” and thus “thinking the thoughts of
C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985), 172.
Douglas Moo, Romans 1-8 (The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary; Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 517. 5
the flesh/Spirit” in 8:5. This last phrase is an idiomatic phrase that could also mean “to be of someone’s mind, to be on someone’s side or party,”22 which denotes not merely the way of “thinking” but of “the will, encompassing ‘all the faculties of the soul - reason, understanding, and affections’...”23 Paul appears to be describing the whole of a person who not only lives one way or another, but also thinks, wills, and is even controlled by either the Spirit or the flesh. He continues24 in 8:6 with these two alternatives of thinking (fronousin) as two different minds (fronhma)25 who simply are either death or life and truth. In essence, the two ways of thinking, or living, are also two states of being. While 8:5 is a statement of how these two dichotomies are lived out in the present, 8:6 is an ontological statement that encompasses both the future and the present state of being of the two. Paul then defines the “mind of flesh” in 8:7 as being “hostility towards God” because it “is not submitting itself to the law of God,” and indeed both the “mind of the flesh” and “the ones who are living in the flesh” are “not even able to [submit themselves]” (8:8). This is actually a progression of ground statements ending on the two “mind of the flesh” and “those living in the flesh” statements. These two statements echo 8:5-6, creating a vaguely chiastic structure26 to the passage from 8:5-8 with the climax being 8:6. The hostility of the “mind of flesh” toward God is simply because it is a realm of being, totally separate from that which God is, i.e. “life and peace.” The dichotomy between flesh and Spirit is complete. “Flesh” is completely unable to please God and Paul’s statements leave it no gray space, no room for
Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary, 179. Jesus uses this same phrase in Mark 8:33 when he rebukes Peter, echoing a similar man/God or flesh/Spirit dichotomy.
23 24 25 26
Moo, Romans 1-8, 519-520. Moo, Romans 1-8, 520. “Gar [here] is neither causal nor explanatory, but continuative…” This noun only appears in Romans 8 in the N.T. See appendix C. 6
neutrality.27 Indeed, hellenistic thought used qanatoς (death) from 8:6 in a manner that described the wicked as basically walking dead, only living in the most negligible of senses. 28 How can that which is dead do anything, much less anything that pleases the antithesis of death, Life Itself? Hence, “flesh” is death and cannot find common ground with the Spirit, which is life. But in 8:9, Paul’s argument takes a twist. Up to this point, Paul has been using substantival participles and third-person verb cases to describe the two alternatives of flesh and Spirit in an abstract, descriptive manner. Now he turns to his audience, the church of Rome, and directly addresses them as those “not living in the flesh but in the Spirit….” He has described one side of the coin (living in the flesh) and now he begins to describe the other (living in the Spirit). In Romans 7:17,18 and 20 Paul has already described evil as “dwelling (oikei) in my flesh” but in 8:9 he speaks of the Spirit of God as “dwelling (oikei) in you.” Is there an apparent discrepancy here, hinting that perhaps Paul is leaving some room for sin to indeed “dwell in his members”? Is he describing some kind of duality of natures? No, rather Paul is speaking from the perspective of unregenerate man in chapter 7 (or Paul would think that he cannot please God, which would be the case as someone “in the flesh”), but is clearly describing in chapter 8 the regenerate believer as the one in whom the Spirit dwells. Because the struggle Paul describes in 7:7-20 is easy to identify with, some readers may be tempted to blur the sharp dichotomy that has been put forth in 8:5-8. But “[f]or Paul, possession of the Spirit goes hand-in-hand with being a Christian.”29 The only other time Paul uses the specific phrase, “Spirit of God dwelling (oikei) in you” is in 1 Corinthians 3:16, specifically in the context of reprimanding the Corinthian church
27 28 29
Moo, Romans 1-8, 520. “thanatos,” TDNT, 313. Moo, Romans 1-8, 522. 7
for its behavior. Yet even in the midst of their quite apparent sins he is convinced that they are just as the Romans are: “temples of God.” He reinforces this importance of the indwelling of the Spirit to the Christian existence by stating firmly in 8:9 with the negative statement that “if someone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person is not [Christ’s].” As Ernst Kasemann says, “…believers have put on Christ like a garment which cannot be simply slipped off. A change in existence has taken place…. As the kingdom of Christ, the community stands in conflict with the flesh as the sphere of subjection to the world.”30 Thus, Paul starkly splits the world into two: either evil dwells in your flesh or the Spirit dwells in you. Barth puts it, “As the sin that dwelleth in me is the pre-supposition of my rebellion against God, whatever human action or inaction may subsequently take place; so Christ in us is the divine pre-supposition of our existence, whatever human action or inaction may subsequently take place.”31 If Paul has already described what the state of the one “living in the flesh” is, then we would now expect him to describe the state of the one “living in the Spirit.” Indeed, he does in 8:10-11. He sets the stage by using the contrasting, dichotomistic language so prevalent in the passage and describes the “body [which] is dead on account of sin” as opposed to the “Spirit [which] is life on account of righteousness.” Already we have seen that “if you live according to the flesh you will die,” (7:21) and therefore, it is only natural that the opposite condition of the Spirit is “life in all senses, delivery from bondage now and resurrection later…”32 But here, by using the noun “body” (swma) instead of the metaphorically loaded “flesh” (sarx), Paul is hinting not only at mankind’s fallen nature, but at the physical life and death of the body. This
30 31 32
Ernst Kasemann, Commentary on Romans, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), 222. Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 285. Moo, Romans 1-8, 525. 8
becomes clear in the next verse (8:11) when Paul makes his case by pointedly repeating virtually the same participle phrase twice: “the One who raised Jesus from death” (tou egeirantos ton
Ieœsoun ek nekroœn). He is in effect shouting to the reader that this same Spirit, having affected
the most significant event in human history, now “dwells in you” (a phrase which is also repeated twice) and will in the future affect that same resurrection power in believers. If the effect of “the mind of the flesh” is death (qanatoς), a walking zombie death, then the effect of “the mind of the Spirit” is truly resurrection life. This life allows the believer to be pleasing to God and live submitted to the law of God now, as well as enables Christians to some day see the “glory that is to be revealed to us” (8:18). The hope of resurrection is a lynchpin of Paul’s theology throughout his epistles33 and the thrust of his argument of what it means to be “living according to the Spirit” lands on this hope. For Paul, the “mind of the Spirit” is all about “the Resurrection of the Body, which is the most outrageous, but most indispensable, interpretation of what the Spirit means for our life.”34 CONCLUSION To walk according to the flesh or Spirit means to express an attitude of either rebellion or submission to God in one’s way of life, but it is also a statement of a spiritual reality (either death or the Spirit of life indwelling) and a marker, ultimately, of one’s future destiny. Paul lays out this progression of thought (way of life - statement of spiritual reality - ultimate destiny) in the meeting between two different passages about either flesh (7:7-8:2) or Spirit (8:3-17) to show his readers that they themselves are indwelt with the Spirit and thus alive and destined to resurrection, all against the stark relief of the qanatoς of the flesh. It is no mistake that much of
See Rom 6:5; 2 Cor 4:10-11; Phil 3:8-11; 2 Tim 2:11. Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 291. 9
the rest of chapter 8 is concerned with the believer’s future hope of redemption culminating with an ecstatic exultation of God’s love; the reader gets a sense of climax based around the revelation that “the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you” (8:11) which is ultimately “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (1:16). For many believers, the reality of their way of life is based around Paul’s discussion of the flesh in chapter 7. They identify with Paul’s description of a struggling man, defeated by his own flesh and unable to do anything good. This is a tragic mistake, a misunderstanding of Paul’s rhetorical skills. In fact, Paul has dramatically and directly 35 revealed the Christian’s rescue from death into life to show that believers are able to do what God has asked of them through the power of God’s own resurrection Spirit. In fact, he needs to show this or his later paraenesis in chapters 12-15 would fall flat as the reader responds, “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (7:18). But Paul has unequivocally shown that the believer has the resurrection Spirit within them to enable them to be free, and free indeed. 36
Romans 8:9 “But you (umeiς) are not living in the flesh but in the Spirit...” John 8:36 10
APPENDIX A SENTENCE DIAGRAM
APPENDIX A SENTENCE DIAGRAM (CONTINUED)
APPENDIX B DISCOURSE ANALYSIS
APPENDIX C ROUGH CHIASM OF ROMANS 8:5-8 A 5a For (γὰρ) those who are living according to the flesh are thinking the thoughts of the flesh A 5b but (δὲ) those who are living according to the Spirit are thinking the thoughts of the Spirit. B 6a Then (γὰρ) the mind of the flesh is death, C 6b but (δὲ) the mind of the Spirit is life and peace; C 7a therefore (διότι) the mind of the flesh is hostility towards God, B 7b for (γὰρ) [the mind of the flesh] is not submitting itself to the law of God, A 7c for (γὰρ) [the mind of the flesh] is not even able to [submit itself]; A 8 and (δὲ) those who are living in the flesh are not able to be pleasing to God.
Barth, Karl. The Epistle to the Romans. London.: Oxford University Press, 1933. Bauer, W., W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. W. Danker. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979. Carson, D.A. and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament-Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. Cranfield, C.E.B. Romans: A Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985. Holloway, Paul A. "The rhetoric of Romans." Review & Expositor 100, no. 1 (December 1, 2003): 117, 119. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 1, 2010). Jewett, Robert. "Following the argument of Romans." Word & World 6, no. 4 (September 1, 1986): 384. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 1, 2010). Kasemann Ernst. Commentary on Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980. Kittel G., and G. Friedrich, Editors. Translated by G.W. Bromiley. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964. Moo, Douglas. Romans 1-8. The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press, 1991. Schreiner, Thomas R. “Introduction to the First Letter of Peter.” Pages 2401-04 in English Standard Version Study Bible. Edited by Lane T. Dennis et al. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008. Talbert, Charles H. "Tracing Paul's train of thought in Romans 6-8." Review & Expositor 100, no. 1 (December 1, 2003): 54. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 1, 2010).
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