Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Romans 6:1-14

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, year A (Most recently, May 17, 2015)

Summary:  Paul has just "let the people off the hook", telling them how they are forgiven in Jesus Christ (Romans 4 esp Romans 5).  They are free!  In this part of Romans, Paul takes up the question:  Does freedom in Christ give license for more sin?  HECK NO!  For Paul, the forgiveness of sins, that is justification, brings about a new reality in Christ, a new creation ready to worship and serve.  This should not be surprising for any of us familiar with the New Testament, much less, like me, a student of Luther!  Freedom from sin for service! 

Some reflection on preaching:  The question I have been wrestling with recently is this:  How does Paul go about achieving this reality of creating servants for Christ?  This is probably a universal goal of pastors!  I maintain that Paul here preaches both law and Gospel; law in the didactic sense of presenting an image of renewed life in Jesus Christ (esp Romans 12 onward); law in the theological use as that which exposes sin (Romans 7); Gospel in its purity of what God has done for us (Romans 8).  While plenty of august theologians have tried to carve out Law from Gospel in Paul and then order then...my sense is that we should feel free to preach the Word, in its fullness, both Law and Gospel.  Throughout Paul's letters, he is simultaneously exhorting, witnessing, admonishing and proclaiming.  While Paul fully trusted in God to bring about the new creation (by no human work of the law, I add), he also had no problem exhorting people.  Neither should we.   

Key words:

μη γενοιτο ("may it not come to pass!"; 6:1)  This expression, literally "no - become", means something like "Heaven Forbid!"  It is a very strong expression of rejection of the situation (see Luke 20:16 for another example of this).  I once heard a terrible sermon that basically exhorted us to sin so that we could experience God's grace.  Paul here says: no!

δεδικαιωται (past participle of δικαιοω, meaning "to justify"; 6:7).  No major translation translates this as justify, instead choosing, "freed".  This is disappointing given how important justification is for Paul's thinking, certainly in Romans.  Often justification is seen as a transaction (ie, forgiveness) but when Paul uses justification language, he presents justification as resurrection from death to life.  The one who has died has been justified from sin; has been restored apart from sin.

οπλα (hoplon, meaning "tool"; 6:13)  The word hoplon has clear military meaning, as hoplon was the word for a military shield (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoplite).  Paul elsewhere uses this word within a military framework (2 Cor 10:4 or Romans 13:12).  But warfare is not the only meaning of this word.  Liddell-Scott describes this as:

I. a ship's tackle, tackling
II. tools, of smiths' tools
III. implements of war, arms,

Does God need me in his army?  Perhaps another way to consider this passage is in terms of the first two meanings.  How can I be like a tool for a smith to produce a full harvest for God?  How can I be like the tackling of a ship that can allow the church boat to set sail?

παραστησατε ("present"; 6:13)  I find this an incredibly powerful image of presenting ourselves to God.  Paul repeats this idea of presentation ourselves to God in Romans 12:1.  He returns twice in this section (16 and 19).  This is an incredibly strange and powerful idea of standing before the living God reporting for duty.  Who can abide his presence?  One whom has been justified; one who has been baptized; one has been put to death, because only then has the power of sin be extinguished.  Only those who have died are ready to live for Christ!

Grammar concept
συν:  A number of verbs in this section have the prefix συν/"syn" in front of them.  This prefix in Greek means "with" or "together"; some English words use this prefix, such as "synthesis" or "syntax."  More often we see English words with the Latin prefix for "with" or "together", namely, "co."  Literally Paul is saying things like this:
co-buried (6.4)
co-united (6.5)
co-crucified (6.6)
co-live (6.8)
Worth pointing out:  This is tough to capture in English because Paul uses the prefix for the verb and a preposition:  Christ co-buried with us.  In short, Paul is driving home the "cooperative" nature of Christ's work on our behalf.  Christ does not die in our place; there is nothing vicarious about this.  We too die, but we die in the cross given to us in our Baptisms instead of on a cross on  a hill in Jerusalem.
Further - Paul will use a series of συν verbs in Romans 8 (Holy Trinity text)

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