Monday, May 16, 2016

Romans 5:1-11

This passage (or portions of it) occur frequently in the Revised Common Lectionary, including Holy Trinity Sunday in Year C.

The English reader will catch what Christ does:  In an unjustified act of love, Christ justifies us and the Holy Spirit pours out love into every aspect of life.  The Greek helps the reader see when this all happens.  For example, whenever Paul refers to Christ's death in this passage, he uses the aorist tense.  This allows him to reference this event with great subtlety.  Yet the past event of Christ's death is not without present and future implications:  Having peace, having access, standing in grace and boasting in hope. Faith is connecting the past event of our justification and our current reality of peace, grace and even pride in God with the future hope of our salvation.

(Challenge:  Go through and highlight each verb in a different color based on tense. A very interesting pattern emerges, especially with the aorist tenses…It may be tough to explain in a sermon, but for your own personal good, this is a worthwhile exercise.)

Key Words:
διακιαωθεντες ("make right," passive aorist participle of διακιοω, 5.1)  Paul begins the whole train of thought with the verb “justify.” Because it is in participle form, most translators make it an adverbial phrase, “Since we are justified…” But I think any phrasing here loses a bit of steam. It can and should just read: “Justified therefore by faith we have peace with God through our lord Jesus Christ.”  In other words, Paul does not mess around, but simply begins with justification.  Also worth noting that the verb justify, as always, is in the passive.  We do not justify ourselves; only God justifies.  It is also in the aorist, pointing toward an event in the past, namely, Christ's death.

A further note on the meaning of the word:  The verb justify in English often means to make an excuse for or rationalize away.  This distorts the English ear from hearing Paul's intended words!  The word justify in Greek here has a deeper sense of making right, bringing into right relationship, bringing about righteousness.  (English has two words "righteousness" and "justification" for one Greek word!)  My sense is that while people do not articulate Luther's problem of a lack of righteousness before God, we still live in a world hungry for right relationship with God and with others.  Unfortunately, we have robbed God of his judgment role, but not gotten rid of the role of judgment in our lives; we simply have transferred it to other people - our boss, our neighbors, our family, our kids, the person down the street with the nice car.  It seems that true peace, acceptance of ourselves, God's role in our lives and fellow humans, requires us to let God be the judge...the only judge...the only judge in whom there is mercy.

εκ πιστεως ("of faith" 5.1)  We are justified out of or as a result of faith; See my post on Romans 1 for more about translation issues with this phrase .  Fine, but whose faith is Paul talking about? Jesus or ours? This is a trickier question in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In this case though, especially in light of 4.24, I would argue Paul seems to be speaking about the faith of humans in God.

καυχωμεθα  ("boast", from καυχαομαι, 5:2, 3, 11)  Only Paul boasts; James specifically tells us not to!  Clearly we are not supposed to be braggerts, but Paul is okay with us boasting in the Lord.  Have you bragged about God recently?  As Psalm 107:32 says, "Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people and praise him in the council of the elders."

δoθεντος (διδωμι, aorst paritiple, "give" 5.5) Paul uses an interesting tense here with the word “given” in that “we are given the Holy Spirit.” One would have expected a present or perhaps a perfect tense, but Paul again puts it in the aorist. Throughout this section, Paul is using the aorist tense to point toward the event of our justification – the cross.  It might seem that Paul is suggesting we get the spirit at Christ's death.  However, the spirit is not given to us in Christ's death, but rather through our Baptisms, as Paul will suggest in 1 Cor 12:13.  I believe Paul here is setting up his argument in Romans 6, that our Baptism and Christ's death are linked.

συνιστησιν ("present" or "demonstrate"  5:8)  This verb is significant not for its meaning, but for its tense. The cross was not but IS a show of God’s love for us. A reminder than even if it is a once and done matter, we always need this demonstration of God’s love.

σωθησομεθα  ("will be saved", future passive of σωζω, 5:9)  The verb save is in the future here. The cross did not save us but will save us! In fact Paul generally avoids the idea of salvation as a past activity, but views it as a present, on-going reality that will reach culmination in the future. Yes, the cross did save us from hell.  But it did more than this!!!

οργης ("wrath" from οργη, 5:9)  The word God is not used here; although it is hard to understand where the wrath comes from if its not from God.

κατηλλαγημεν (aorist form of "reconciliation"; 5.10) Reconciliation (katallass-oo)…the favorite metaphor for liberals in the church! Worth pointing out: Reconciliation required Jesus’ death.  I think it is also worth pointing out that reconciliation is more of a personal and judicial term.  This is not to argue against forensic justification, but that Paul wants to press beyond simply an easing or erasing of previous sins/tension in the relationship.  Too often forgiveness on the cross can become a past event that gives a future hope, rather than leading to what Paul sees it as, namely a past event with a future hope that creates a present reality.

Grammar Review:  Past tense:  Aorist, imperfect and perfect

This passage is an excellent passage to examine verb tenses. Go through and highlight each verb in a different color based on tense. A very interesting pattern emerges, especially with the aorist tenses…It may be tough to explain in a sermon, but for your own personal good, this is a worthwhile exercise.

Moreover, Greek has three ways to speak about past action.  Technically, four, but the pluperfect is rarely ever used.  The most basic way is through the aorist.  The aorist describes an event.  Within in a narrative, this normally describes a simple action most easily translated by the simple past (Christ died).  The aorist can be more flexible than this, but 90% of the time, it is describes a simple event that occured in the past.  In geometic terms, think "point."

The imperfect describes an event start started in the past and whose action continues.  "Jesus began to teach them" or "Jesus was preaching."  In geometry, think a "ray."

Most interestingly, Greek's perfect tense functions in a past-present manner.  It refers to a completed past action than still has a present impact.  Like "I got dressed."  The action is past but the state of being continues.  So in this passage, the love is poured out (5.5); the love is still flowing from our hearts.  The past action creates the current state of love that is being poured out. 

The present tense is almost always the most interesting because the writer is intentionally connecting two time frames in a manner difficult to convey in English.  However, in this section the aorist might be the most interesting because Paul uses it always to refer to Christ's action onthe cross.

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