Sunday Morning Greek Blog

August 30, 2012

Obedience (ὑπακοή, ὑπακούω) in Romans

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Immersion/Baptism,New Testament,Romans,Soteriology — Scott Stocking @ 6:11 am

I can think of a number of reasons Paul’s letter to the Romans wound up at the head of Paul’s writings in the New Testament. His discussion of justification by faith is classic, strengthened by his further treatment of the subject in Galatians. The statement from 1:16 has long been hailed from pulpits to encourage the body of Christ to boldly serve, speak, and act for the cause of the Gospel. I especially like Paul’s treatment of immersion in chapter 6, where he rescues the subject from those who downplay it as a “work of the flesh” by empowering it with the blood of Christ and his resurrection to make it an important and necessary part of our salvation journey. And of course, the Romans Road has long been an effective evangelistic tool for many, although I was never sure why that always took a detour around the heart of chapter 6. But there’s a bigger picture in Romans that often gets overlooked when we focus on verses and individual sections.

An Overlooked Inclusio

In a previous post, I mentioned that Romans 1:5 and its parallel in 16:26 form an inclusio for the entire book of Romans. However, in that post, I focused on the term πιστίς (“faith”/”faithfulness”), especially as Paul builds his initial argument in the first five chapters of Romans. In some contexts (e.g., Romans 1:17), that term refers to the faithfulness of Christ But what I noticed this time through Romans is that seven of the ten occurrences of the words for “obey” (ὑπακούω) and “obedience” (ὑπακοή) in Romans are found in chapters 6 (four times) and 15–16 (three times). The four occurrences of the words in chapter 6 come in the midst of his discussion about the significance of immersion and our being released from the slavery of sin. In fact, the words are tied to the metaphor of slavery in all occurrences there.

Because πιστίς refers to Christ in several key passages, I asked myself if “obedience” might have some Christological implications as well. One of the first passages that comes to mind is Philippians 2:8: “And being found in appearance of a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross.” A few verses later (v. 12), Paul commends the Philippians for their obedience and encourages them to “work out [κατεργάζομαι] their salvation with fear and trembling.” That word for “work out” figures very prominently in Romans 7, where Paul speaks of “doing” what he does not want to “do.” What does this mean?

Breaking it Down

First, the discussion of obedience comes between the discussion of the significance of immersion and the popular conclusion to chapter 6 (cited in the Romans Road without the rest of the context of chapter 6): “The compensation for sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Here is the irony: obedience or slavery to sin and obedience or slavery to Christ both lead to death. For those who are slaves to sin, they only have eternal death to look forward to, assuming they are looking forward to anything eternally. Obedience to Christ does lead to death, death to self, but there is on the other side the gift of eternal life. What is this obedience? One only need to look back to the first part of chapter 6: obedience to immersion. Just as Christ was obedient to death on a cross, we who believe are called to be obedient to death by immersion. Immersion is our Calvary. Immersion is also our Resurrection. Paul’s conclusion in 6:23 must be viewed in the context of 6:1–10.

Second, this gives new light to the phrase “obedience of faithfulness” found in Romans 1:5 and 16:26. The whole phrase is a euphemism of sorts for the crucifixion of Christ. It’s not just about legalistic obedience or stilted faithfulness. It’s about living this life sacrificially, knowing that we have eternal life as our ultimate reward on the other side of death. Ideally, obedience to immersion is a one-time event for the Christ-follower. But obedience in general is a lifelong commitment. Salvation is not a one-time event: it is a lifelong process we “work out… with fear and trembling.” Don’t get me wrong: we become a part of the kingdom the moment we put our trust in Christ, and we can be sure of the promise of eternal life from that moment on. But we cannot sit back and expect God to do everything for us. Repentance, discipline, study, meditation on God’s Word, and faithful obedience are all part of the “working out” process. We can never become perfect in this life, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try (Matthew 5:48, 19:21).


Those of you who are fond of the Romans Road, don’t take a detour around the discussion of immersion in the first part of chapter 6. It is part of the obedience that informs the rest of the discussion in Romans. To add a little more context to Romans 6:23, you might read it this way: “The compensation for slavery to sin is death, but the gift of God for those who are obedient to righteousness is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Immersion is our physical experience and signification of the death and resurrection of Christ. It’s not just a “work” that you can do whenever you think you’re ready. It’s an important component of working out your salvation as you grow in your faith in and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.


Scott Stocking

Author note: “representation” changed to “signification” in last paragraph at 7:30 pm, 8/30/12.


December 4, 2011

Immersion (Baptism) that Saves: 1 Peter 3:18–22

I have a couple notes for blog readers before I get into the main post today.

  1. For all readers: Instead of customizing the hyperlinks or providing transliterations and pronunciations, I am going to start hyperlinking the first occurrence of each Greek and Hebrew word in my blog to the entry in That Bible study site has numerous resources available, including a link to hear the Greek or Hebrew word pronounced and the option to get a complete concordance listing of all occurrences of the Greek or Hebrew word. If you’re not already familiar with the site, I trust you will find it useful and engaging. (I am not being compensated for promoting BlueLetterBible at this time.)
  2. For those readers who use the sentence diagrams: At least once a week, it seems like the search engine feature in WordPress lets me know that someone hit on my site by looking for a diagram of a particular verse. I am pleasantly surprised to find I’m not the only one who has an interest in diagramming, in spite of how much I griped about it in junior high. For those of you who use the diagrams, I would appreciate knowing what your interest is in them so that I can get a sense if I need to do anything different with them or provide a different kind of diagram. Are you just curious? Are you a student looking for help on an assignment? (If the latter, I trust you aren’t passing off my work as yours!) Are you a preacher looking to better explain the passage? Whatever your interest, please drop me a short note in the comments. There’s obviously some interest in them, and I’m happy to share the fruit of my labor with you.


Growing up as a sprinkled Presbyterian, I was understandably intrigued when I came to understand my need for a personal relationship with Christ and discovered the concept of “believer’s baptism.” It was a completely new concept to me, as I had never been exposed to it before my high school years. In college, when I got involved with the restoration movement, I still had many questions about the practice when I went to that first meeting at 1633 Q Street (now a parking lot) just off the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. That night, just a little over 30 years ago, I got shuffled off to the pastor’s office, where I met Terry & Kris Christlieb. I had several questions about baptism, and they answered them to my satisfaction that night, so much so that we invaded Capitol City Christian Church at 9 p.m., where I got immersed. I was sold from that point on.

I’ve had my ups and downs on immersion theology through the years. Is it an absolute necessity? Is it just a “work of the flesh”? When is the right time? Just what is the “effectiveness” of immersion when it comes to salvation? But when I ran across such passages as Romans 6 and 1 Peter 3:18–22, it was hard for me to diminish the importance of immersion in the life of a Christ-follower. And when I discovered the connection between Acts 2:38 and Matthew’s Last Supper account, I was convinced of the efficacy of immersion as part of the salvation and maturing experience of the Christ-follower.

1 Peter 3:18–22

Of all the passages on immersion, or baptism as many call it (βάπτισμα, βαπτίζω), 1 Peter 3:21 is the only one that comes out and says directly that immersion saves. Yet this gets overlooked so much, because those who are not convinced of the efficacy of immersion seem to think it means something other than what is plainly written on the page. But what is the author trying to communicate by connecting it to the Noahic flood? Is the flood what saves us, or the ark? The verse diagram in Figure 1 below places 1 Peter 3:21 in its larger context so that you can see what the connections are.

I want to jump down to 20b, where Peter says (my translation): “In the ark, a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water.” In this case, the water was destructive (see 2 Peter 2:5), but it had the power to save Noah by supporting the ark on its year-and-a-half voyage. The flood destroyed all living creatures except those on the ark and those that could already live in water, but the ark was the vessel that protected Noah, his family, and the other living creatures “through the water.”

Now for verse 21: The word for ark (κιβωτός) is feminine, but the relative pronoun that begins verse 21 is neuter, so it can’t refer to the ark. The most immediate antecedent to the relative pronoun is “water” (ὕδωρ; genitive is ὕδατος), which is neuter, so Peter is referring to the waters of the flood with this pronoun. So in verse 21, Peter says, “This water corresponds to immersion.” The word “corresponds to” (ἀντίτυπος) is actually an adjective in Greek that modifies βάπτισμα, so the phrase might be more accurately rendered, “This water is functional baptism” or more literally, “This water is typical baptism.”

Peter goes on to say that this baptismal water “now also saves you.” The “now also” is relative to the previous verse. Not only does the ark, then, typify salvation, but water does as well. Water is what destroyed sinful humanity, which is exactly what happens when someone is immersed into Christ. Romans 6:3–4 says, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were immersed into Christ Jesus were immersed into his death? We were therefore buried with him through immersion into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

What I found interesting is that the part that follows “now also saves you” has two nominative case nouns. “Removal” (ἀπόθεσις) and “appeal” (ἐπερώτημα) are both nominative case, agreeing with the nominative case of βάπτισμα, so they are essentially appositives to βάπτισμα. Here’s how a literal translation might look: “This immersion now saves you, not the body-dirt removal immersion, but the clear-conscience-pledge to God immersion.” But this rendition is missing the most important part of the verse, the final phrase.

The last phrase of verse 21 parallels the “through water” at the end of verse 20. “Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” is the qualifier that gives the water its power to save. Just as the ark saved Noah and his family through the flood waters, the resurrection is what carries us through the act of immersion. Again, I refer you back to Romans 6:3–4, where this is made abundantly clear. So if I complete my literal translation with that phrase, it would look something like this: “This immersion now saves you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, not the body-dirt removal immersion, but the clear-conscience-pledge to God immersion” (emphasis mine).

So immersion is really a two-way street to God. If we just get immersed for show (the “body-dirt removal immersion”), immersion is ineffective. God is not into rituals without substance. But if we come to the waters of immersion pledging ourselves to live for him with a clear conscience, he effects the power of the resurrection in immersion and destroys the old self. He renews us and rescues us from the wages of sin.

A quick note on βαπτίζω

Some have tried to argue that βαπτίζω does not mean “completely immerse,” because that is what the related word βάπτω means. But the –ίζω ending on βαπτίζω is an intensifier. It is quite similar, in sound and function, to the difference between the musical directions forte (loud) and fortissimo (very loud). So βαπτίζω is an intense form of dipping, or immersion. I don’t have to time to list the many verbs in Greek that indicate a similar pattern, but I assure you, they are quite common in the NT.


So immersion is certainly not just a work of the flesh. Just as the ark supported and sustained Noah and his family through the flood, so too the resurrection sustains us through the act of immersion. But beware of the “dunk ’em and ditch ’em” philosophy. Noah and his family certainly did not sit idly by on the ark for a year and a half. They worked hard daily to keep the animals and themselves fed and healthy. Immersion is not a terminal point in the life of a Christ-follower. On the contrary, it is a watershed moment (pun intended) where we tell God, “I’m sold out for you.”


Scott Stocking

Figure 1: Diagram for 1 Peter 3:18–22 (Greek and English)

October 12, 2011

Called to Suffer? A Quick Word Study of πάσχω in Greek

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Greek,Romans — Scott Stocking @ 8:47 pm

A friend of mine asked me about the Greek words for “suffering” in Romans 8:16–17 and 1 Peter 2:21. I’ll give a brief excursus here on what I found.

Romans 8:16–17 says this in the NIV:

16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

The word for “share in [his] sufferings” in vs. 17 is συμπάσχω (sympaschō, \soom PAHSS khoh\), which is only used twice in the entire NT, here and in 1 Corinthians 12:26 with reference to the whole body suffering when one part suffers. This is a compound word from the preposition σύν (syn, \SOON\ “with”) and πάσχω (paschō, \PAHSS khoh\ “suffer”). The σύν- prefix is a favorite tool of Paul’s to indicate “together with,” often in the context of fellowship with other Christ-followers or sharing something with Christ. Ephesians has over 20 σύν-prefixed words that reveal that meaning. Although the gospels and some of the general (=non-Pauline) epistles frequently use the word πάσχω for the suffering and death of Christ, Paul himself only uses the word to reference the suffering of Christ-followers. Romans 8:17 is an exception with his use of the compound.

My friend was concerned that the passage was taken out of context. There is no question that Paul is saying we must share in the sufferings of Christ to share in his glory, but since he never uses either of the words (the root or the compound) elsewhere to refer to those sufferings, what does he mean by the phrase? I think little else can be meant by Christ’s sufferings than his passion and crucifixion. In the context of Romans, however, I believe there is a connection, at least in part, between this passage and the discussion of baptism/immersion in Romans 6. Romans 6 contains several σύν-prefixed words (4 in 11 verses, by my count, plus one occurrence of the preposition itself), and 6:4 has the verbal connection of the word “glory” (a σύν-prefixed form in 8:17). Other verses like Galatians 2:20 (“I have been crucified with Christ”) and Romans 6:6 (“our old self was crucified with him”) confirm in my mind that Paul’s reference in 8:17 refers to our identification with the death of Christ. Paul also speaks of the battle between the law and sinful humanity in Romans 7 and 8 (see esp. 8:3–4), so I think another part of the suffering reference is to that battle we face in the flesh, just as Christ did, even though he never sinned.

I want to quote the larger context of 1 Peter 2:21. Peter uses the word πάσχω 11 times in his first epistle, with 4 of those coming in 1 Peter 2:18–23 (NIV):

18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

There is no “call to suffer” here, but only a call to endure, especially if it comes upon us unjustly. The word πάσχω here refers both to our own “suffering” as well as Christ’s suffering, and primarily to the former in the rest of 1 Peter. It’s not something we should seek out, as if suffering is an end unto itself. Paul is just recognizing that suffering happens, and it’s to our credit if we bear up under it and don’t sin.

I hope this helps my friend, and I hope my quick study helps you as well.


Scott Stocking

August 27, 2011

πιστίς (pistis, ‘Faith’/‘Faithfulness’) in Romans 1–5

The following is an updated version of an assignment I did way back in the late 90s as I was finishing up my Master’s degree at (then) Lincoln Christian Seminary. It is rather lengthy and was written for Dr. Walt Zorn, who is a phenomenal biblical languages scholar, so it might be a tad more heady than my usual blog posts, but I hope I’ve clarified and summarized Paul’s argument in Romans 1–5 so you can get a handle on it. Some of this was in my blog post from two weeks ago, but this is a fuller treatment of the subject. I hope you are challenged to think more deeply about the Scriptures and your own faith through this post.


Paul’s letter to the Romans has been a seminal letter for Paul’s development of the themes of faith or faithfulness and righteousness in his theology. The themes are connected by Paul in this letter in several places and with several nuances. I would hazard a guess that the prominence of these two themes was an important consideration in placing this letter at the beginning of the Pauline epistles in the New Testament.

When studying Paul’s use of πιστίς in Romans, one finds a richer, fuller expression of faith than appears on the surface. Much has been said about the thematic nature of 1:17: δικαιοσύνη γὰρ θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ ἀποκαλύπτεται ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν, καθὼς γέγραπται, Ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται. (dikaiosynē gar theou en autō apokalyptetai ek pisteōs eis pistin, kathōs gegraptai, Ho de dikaios ek pisteōs zēsetai, “God’s righteousness in [the Gospel] is being revealed from the faithfulness [of Christ] to faith(fulness), just as it is written, ‘The Righteous One will live from faithfulness'”).

It would seem that the traditional translation of “faith” falls short of the sense of πιστίς in Romans. In the following analysis, I will defend my contention that “faithfulness,” rather than “faith,” is a more appropriate translation in many instances. A presupposition (which I also intend to demonstrate) is that the subjective genitive dominates Paul’s discussion of [the] faith[fulness of Christ] and [the] righteousness [of God].

Some structural considerations are worthy of note when it comes to Paul’s use of πιστίς in Romans. The most pronounced structural consideration is the inclusio of the phrase εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως (eis hypakoēn pisteōs, “into obedience of faithfulness”), found in both 1:5 (the first occurrence of πιστίς) and 16:26 (the last occurrence of πιστίς). This phrase helps both to define and to qualify the relationship between faith and righteousness. By far, the heaviest concentration (20 of 40 times in Romans) of the word is in 3:21–5:21, especially 3:22 through the end of chapter 4. It occurs 6 times in his introductory section (1:1–17).

What one finds when examining the usage is that, in the first five chapters, Paul essentially builds three arguments explaining justification by “the obedience of faithfulness:” one from a negative perspective (the wrath of God revealed in the Law, 1:18–3:20); and two from a positive perspective (Jesus, 3:21–31, and Abraham, ch. 4). He then concludes this section with application (5:1–11) and a historical illustration, an inclusio of Adam and Christ (5:12–21).

Since 1:5 seems to be the thesis statement for the whole book, I would argue that 1:16–17 is a secondary thesis statement for the section that follows, namely 1:18–5:21. I suggest the following structure:

A 1:16

Paul’s declaration of the Gospel’s ability as the power of God for salvation

B 1:17

Paul’s declaration of the righteousness of God for faithfulness

–A 1:18–3:20

Paul’s declaration of the Law’s inability to save or justify

B 3:21–5:21

Paul’s demonstration of “the obedience of faithfulness” of Jesus and Abraham and its power to justify

1:18–3:20: Justification and Righteousness not Obtainable through the Law

An interesting feature of 1:18–3:20 is that πιστίς occurs only once, in 3:3, in reference to God’s faithfulness (interestingly enough, not “the faith that comes from God,” which would parallel other similar constructions in the NIV [1984 version] translation!). The verb πιστεύω (pisteuō, \pee-STOO-oh\) is found in 3:2, with the sense of “entrusted,” while in 3:3, the negative form of the verb (ἀπιστέω apisteō, \ah-pee-STEH-oh\) and the negative form of the noun (ἀπιστία apistia, \ah-pee-STEE-ah\) are found. These four occurrences form a chiasmus:

A First, on the one hand, they were entrusted (v) with the words (τὰ λόγια ta logia, \tah LAW-ghee-ah\) of God

B What is it then? If some did not have faith (v),

B′ would their faithlessness (n)

A′ nullify the faithfulness (n) of God? (The question expects a “no” answer.”)

Verse 4 completes the thought: “May it never be! On the other hand [note the contrast with vs. 3], let God be true and ‘everyone else liars’ [Psalm 116:11], just as it is written, ‘In order that you be justified in your words and be victorious when you judge’ [Psalm 51:4].”

This section (Romans 1:18–3:20) begins with the continual revealing of the wrath of God. I believe what Paul is referring to here is the Law (cf. 4:15) and the punishments contained therein that are being applied even in his own time against the wicked. In 1:18–32, Paul says that these people have no excuse, because they know of his “righteous decrees” both through “natural law” and from God himself through the Law of Moses.

In chapter 2, then, Paul demonstrates that those “stubborn and unrepentant” (vs. 5) Jews who still insist on living by the Law, or at least resting on their laurels as God’s chosen people (vs. 13), are in danger of experiencing God’s wrath as well. In the latter part of verse 13, he declares that the only way to be justified is to obey the Law. It is safe to assume that he means a complete obedience here (2:23, 25, cf. Gal 5:3, James 2:10). The reality is that no one is capable of such complete obedience, therefore he can quote the Psalmist in his conclusion (3:9–20); “There is no ‘righteous one'” (3:10, par. Psalm 14:1–3; 53:1–3; Eccl. 7:20), at least according to the Law, and thus no one can be justified by the works of the Law (3:20).

Romans 3:2–3 serves as a crucial turning point for 1:18–3:20. In addition to the chiasmus in those two verses, it is interesting to note that τὰ λόγια (‘word’) and πιστίς (‘faithfulness’) are parallel with respect to God. God has been and is faithful in carrying out his wrath against lawbreakers, regardless of the degree of violation (1:18, 3:5). Thus God’s faithfulness in carrying out his wrath against lawbreakers would imply in this case a subjective genitive construction. The phrase τὴν πίστιν τοῦ θεοῦ (tēn pistin tou theou, ‘the faithfulness of God’) in 3:3 is parallel to (and has profound implications for) the next section, especially in 3:22, where we find the phrase πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (pisteōs Iēsou Christou, ‘the faithfulness of Christ’).

3:21–31: The Faithfulness of Christ and God toward Mankind

Because Paul here resumes a concentrated discussion on faith/faithfulness, I understand the key phrase in 3:22 (πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) to inform most occurrences of πιστίς in 3:21–5:21, and most likely in the whole book of Romans. I believe this phrase and “the faithfulness of God” in 3:3 are both what grammarians call “subjective genitive.” Subjective genitive means that the noun in the genitive case (in these verses, “God” and “Jesus Christ”) serve as the “subjects” of the verbal action of the accompanying noun (“faithfulness”). So we could turn these around and say “God is faithful” and “Jesus Christ is faithful.” The opposite category here (which is the way 3:22 is usually treated in contrast to 3:3) is objective genitive. This means the nouns in genitive case would be objects of the verbal action implied by the accompanying noun. If these phrases were treated as objective genitive, then they would be rendered “trust/have faith in God” and “trust/have faith in Jesus.” The implication of the subjective genitive is that the faithfulness of Christ is an activity Christ performs, primarily his death on the cross.

But there is another implication here that may escape the casual reader. Remember that Paul wrote in 1:17 that “the Righteous One (δίκαιος dikaios) will live by faithfulness,” but in 3:10 he says, Οὐκ ἔστιν δίκαιος (ouk estin dikaios, “there is no righteous one”). In both places, he uses the adjective substantively. The context here suggests that it was not only Jesus’ faithfulness to his suffering and death on the cross, but his faithfulness to the Law as well. Jesus is the exception to 1:18–3:20. This is a key conclusion: Jesus is “the Righteous One” of 1:17.

Several Scriptures help to make this point. In Matt 5:17, Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (emphasis mine). In Romans 10:4, Paul says that Jesus is the τέλος…νόμου (telos…nomou), that is, the ‘perfection,’ ‘completion,’ or ‘fulfillment’ of the Law. Hebrews 5:8–9 (NIV 2011) says: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Although Hebrews was most likely not written by Paul, the connection here of learning obedience (Romans 1:5) through his faithful enduring of suffering drives home the fact that Romans 3 should be read in the light of the subjective genitive.

My own translation of Romans 3:21–31 reads differently from the traditional reading in many translations, for every reference to “faith/faithfulness” is a reference to the “faithfulness of Christ” in v. 22. Here is how the passage might be rendered:

But now God’s righteousness, apart from the Law, has been revealed, being testified to in the Law and the Prophets, God’s righteousness through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to all who are believing. For there is no difference. For all who are being justified freely by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus sinned and are falling short of the glory of God. whom God presented the Messiah as an atoning sacrifice through [his] faithfulness in his blood into a demonstration of his righteousness because God overlooked of the sins committed beforehand in his forbearance, towards a demonstration of his righteousness in the present time, in order that [Christ] himself would be the “Righteous One” and the one justifying those of the faithfulness of Jesus.

This also demonstrates God’s faithfulness. God required a blood sacrifice for the atonement of sin. Under the Law, that happened in the sacrificial system. But now, “apart from the Law,” a new method of atonement is achieved through Christ. God’s faithfulness is vindicated in Christ, for now God can “set aside” the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant because of what he accomplished through Jesus on the cross.

Romans 4: Abraham’s Faithfulness Demonstrated

If the last half of chapter 3 was not enough to convince the Jews that it is possible to be justified “apart from the Law,” then Paul hopes the example of Abraham in chapter 4 will irrefutably drive home the point. Actually, Abraham lived “apart from the Law” that did not yet exist (i.e. “prior to” the Law). But the quote from the LXX is revealing (Romans 4:9, see also vs. 3 for a variation): Ἐλογίσθη τῷ Ἀβραὰμ ἡ πίστις εἰς δικαιοσύνην (elogisthē tō Abraam hē pistis eis dikaiosynēn, “Faithfulness into righteousness was reckoned to Abraham.”)

Although the context of this quote (Genesis 15:6) suggests at first glance Abraham’s simple belief in the promise from God that he would have many descendants, Abraham later demonstrated his faithfulness to the promise (because he knew God would be faithful to the promise) by taking Isaac up on Mt. Moriah and raising the knife to sacrifice his only son through whom that promise (presumably) would come.

James would want to speak up at this point. Of course James is famous for arguing that “faith without works is dead.” It would seem, then, that James and Paul converge here. James’s concept of faith-based works seems similar to Paul’s concept of faithfulness (cf. Eph 2:10): faithfulness involves obedience not to the Law, but to Christ who fulfilled the Law.

δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ and the Subjective Genitive

Just as 3:22 informs us that Paul is talking about Christ’s faithfulness throughout the last part of chapter 3, and not our faith in Christ; and God’s faithfulness to his promise to Abraham in chapter 4; so also δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in 1:17 (a subjective genitive) helps to inform us of God’s righteousness (even though “God’s” does not always modify “righteousness”) in most places in Romans.

No one save Christ could have obtained the justification or righteousness from total obedience to the Law, so that now we who believe can be justified not through the Law, but through Christ “apart from the Law.” Not only can we be justified, but God is just in doing so through Christ, because Christ fulfilled the Law (3:26).

Application & Conclusion

Often I have struggled with whether or not my own “faith” was a work, and if I did not have enough “faith,” what would God do to me? Often I hear horror stories of pastors or ill-informed Christians telling people going through a bad time that they are suffering because they do not have enough faith. With the above interpretation, the amount or quality of our faith is not necessarily a factor. God’s faithfulness stands firm even if we are faithless. Does this imply universalism? No. Eternal security? No. But it does call us to trust all the more in his promises, because he has demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt his ability and willingness to faithfully follow through on his promises. This is an assurance that all of us could use.

As for the translation of πιστίς, I would suggest that many occurrence of the word in Romans (and perhaps everywhere in the Pauline corpus) be filtered through the important phrase in his inclusio of 1:5/16:26, phrase εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως (eis hypakoēn pisteōs, “into obedience of faithfulness”). When Paul speaks of “faith,” even when he personalizes it in the first or second person, he has in mind a faithful obedience to Christ, and the good works that “God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10).

All Greek Scripture quotations taken from Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Carlo M. Martini et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (With Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993; 2006), Logos electronic edition, unless otherwise indicated.

The NIV (1984 edition) translated this identical phrase two different ways. In 1:5, the translators chose “to obedience that comes from faith,” and in 16:26, they chose “so that [all nations] might believe and obey him.” In both places, also, ἔθνη (ethnē ‘Gentiles’) is translated differently: “Gentiles” in 1:5 and “nations” in 16:26. It would seem in 16:26 that Paul puts his Q.E.D. on at least one of his purposes (1:5) for writing this letter to the Romans. The 2011 edition of the NIV fixes this inconsistency, having “the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith” in both places. Many other modern translations, such as the NRSV and ESV got the consistency right in the interim, translating the phrase “obedience of faith” in both verses. I would still maintain, however, that “faithfulness” is the better translation.

August 21, 2011

Doing What I Don’t Desire to Do (Romans 7:13–25)

Filed under: Biblical Studies,New Testament,Repentance,Romans,Theology, Biblical — Scott Stocking @ 9:57 pm

Anyone who has ever read Romans has come across the interesting, seemingly repetitive passage in 7:13–25 (specifically vv. 15–21) where Paul says “I do not do what I want to do.” The TNIV has the word “do” (or a form of it) 24 times in those seven verses, and 6 of those come in verse 15! I would hazard a guess that the verb “do” in English is used almost as much as the “to be” verb. Perhaps a better comparison would be to the use of the verb “have” when forming the perfect tense in English. Just as in those cases “have” does not mean “to possess,” so the modal function of “do” doesn’t necessarily mean “to act”. So we shouldn’t be surprised to find the word used numerous times in any English text. But such a high concentration in the current text suggests that something is up.

When I read through this passage this week, I was surprised to find that Paul used not one, but three words that have been translated as “do” (modal uses aside) in many English Bible versions. In order to set this up, I think it will be beneficial to review those words and see how they impact the meaning of the passage. If we can “undo” the multiple uses of “do” to some extent, we might see a slightly different view of the passage emerge.

The Word Studies


The first word for “do” Paul uses is κατεργάζομαι (katergazomai, \kat air GAH zaw my\). This word is found 22 times in the New Testament: eleven of those occurrences are in Romans; six are in chapter 7, and five are in the immediate context of this passage. In this context, the word carries the implication of the results of what is “done.” In 7:8, for example, Paul says that “sin…produced in me every kind of covetousness” (TNIV). Later, in verse 13 (which is the beginning of the paragraph in the Greek text), Paul says that sin’s purpose was “to produce death in me” (my translation). If it weren’t for these two uses, I was almost ready to translate the other 4 occurrences in this passage as “motivate” or even “influence,” because that seems to be what the context implies. By “produce”, I mean “accomplish” or “result in” (see Louw & Nida). However, I will defer to the primacy factor here and go with the translation “produce” when I give my version of the passage below.

I do want to lay out for you how this word is used in its other four occurrences in this passage so you can compare them for yourselves.

A 15: I know not what I am producing. (Perhaps another way to render this is, “I don’t know what the end result is,” or “I don’t know what I’m accomplishing.”)

B 17: For I myself am no longer producing it, but the sin living in me is. (This is where I get the idea of “motivation” in the word.)

C 18: For my desire is present, but my production is not honorable. (This may be the crux verse. Paul uses a different word for “good” here: καλός instead of ἀγαθός; more on that later.)

B′ 20: (same as 17): For I myself am no longer producing it, but the sin living in me is.


The second word for “do” we come across is πράσσω (prassō, \PRAHSS soh\). Those of you who know something of Greek roots may recognize this as the root from which “practice,” “praxis,” and “pragmatic” are all derived. This word is found 39 times in the NT, with 10 of those occurrences in Romans, and even more in Acts. By a factor of about 7 to 1, the word is used in a negative or neutral context rather than referring to anything good, that is, practicing sin, evil, or wickedness. For example, Paul uses the word twice in Romans 1:32 to describe the practice of those who have given themselves over to their base desires. Christian Maurer, in his article on the word in the TDNT (summarized in the TDNTA, “Little Kittel”), says that the word “denotes the activity rather than the outcome,” which I contrast with κατεργάζομαι above. The word is used twice in near parallel construction in vv. 15 and 19, but there is one significant difference, and here, the Greek word order is important:

15: οὐ γὰρ ὃ θέλω τοῦτο πράσσω (E), ἀλλʼ ὃ μισῶ τοῦτο ποιῶ (F). (“For I practice not the thing that I desire, but I do the thing that I hate.”

19: οὐ γὰρ ὃ θέλω ποιῶ (F′) ἀγαθόν, ἀλλὰ ὃ οὐ θέλω κακὸν τοῦτο πράσσω (E′). (“For I do not the good thing that I desire, but I practice the evil thing I desire not.” Notice he adds the moral qualifiers in vs. 19 as well.)

(I realize my translations sound like Yoda’s “Do or do not, there is no try,” but I’m trying to be literal and not use “do” more than necessary.) These two phrases serve as a chiastic inclusio for the passage. If you don’t remember what a chiasm is, that’s when a series of items is repeated in reverse order, a common structural feature of the biblical text in both testaments. “I don’t practice the thing I desire…I practice the evil thing I don’t desire”; “I do the thing that I hate…I don’t do the good thing that I desire.” I find it interesting that in vs. 15, he breaks from using the word for “desire” (θέλω thelō, \THEH loh\; used 7 times in this passage) and uses the word for “hate” (μισέω miseō, \miss EH oh\), telegraphing how he feels about doing the thing he doesn’t desire to do (compare with the first phrase of vs. 16).


The Greek word most frequently used for “do” or “make” in the NT (568 times) is the third word we encounter here: ποιέω (poieō, \poi EH oh\). This word is found five times in this passage. Verses 15, 16, and 20 are nearly parallel: “I do the thing that I hate. If I do the thing that I do not desire….” Verse 19 is slightly different, as already seen above. Verse 21 is the only place in this passage where this word is connected with doing something “honorable,” but its use throughout the NT is widely varied as you might guess. There is nothing unusual about the translation of the word in this passage, so in my translation of the passage, I will render it as “do”.

ἀγαθός and καλός

One final bit of word study should be added to this discussion as well. Paul goes back and forth between using the typical Greek word for morally good (ἀγαθός agathos \ah gah THAWSS\) and the typical Greek word for aesthetically good (καλός kalos \kah LOSS\). There is some overlap of meaning between the two words (both words are contrasted with κακός kakos “evil”, the former in vs. 19, the latter in vs. 21), but καλός tends to be slightly more abstract and doesn’t have quite the moral load that ἀγαθός does. For the purposes of my translation, where ἀγαθός is used, I will use “good,” but where καλός is used, I will use “honorable.”

My Translation

To this point, I’ve given very stiff, literal translations of the Greek text, and I’m guessing some of you who don’t have a Greek background are scratching your heads. But I want to try to give a dynamic equivalence (which will probably sound more like something out of The Message) of this passage, focusing on vv. 15–21. So here it goes:

I don’t understand what this battle between good and evil is going to produce in me in the end or why I’m even going through it. For I don’t practice what I really want to do: please God. Instead, I just blindly do the thing I hate. And if I blindly do what I really don’t want to do, I agree with the law that it is honorable in pointing out the sinfulness of my thoughtless deed. But now it’s no longer I myself producing the action I didn’t want to do, but it’s the unwelcome, indwelling sin that’s doing it. For I know that good doesn’t dwell in me, that is, in my sinful, fleshly nature; my desire to do a good thing is there in my mind, but my sinful, fleshly nature produces nothing honorable. I don’t do the good thing I want to do; instead, I practice the evil thing I really don’t want to do. If I blindly do what I don’t really want to do, it’s no longer I myself producing the action I didn’t want to do, but it’s the unwelcome, indwelling sin that’s doing it. Consequently, I find the law that evil is present with me when I desire to do what is honorable.

Paul goes on to talk about how his mind and inner man (are they one and the same?) are sold-out to God, but his sinful, fleshly nature still has a strong pull on him. He, like the rest of us, understands the daily struggle with sin. But here’s the kicker: even though this passage is written in the first person, Paul really isn’t speaking of himself here. The “I” of the passage must be discerned from vs. 14, where Paul says “I am unspiritual/fleshly.” He’s really putting on a persona of “everyman” or a man who still finds himself enslaved to sin or trying to be justified by the law. Craig Keener, in his IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, says that Paul is using a rhetorical method here known as “diatribe style,” which employs a fictitious speaker (“I”) and poses numerous rhetorical questions. He’s not writing about himself, at least not in the present. He could, however, be referring to his own struggle following the law prior to his conversion.

The reality is, if we have the Holy Spirit, we’ve put to death the persona that Paul has put on here. In chapter 6, Paul says we died with Christ in immersion (baptism) and were raised up with him in newness of life, so how can we live any longer in sin? The very first verse of chapter 8 can’t be ignored either, because it falls right on the heels of this section: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And the rest of chapter 8 bears out how God has once and for all dealt with the sinful nature that wars against our desire to do good. The Holy Spirit, the one who empowers us to live victoriously over sin, will not leave us wanting in the battle with sin, “because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2, TNIV).

Well, I think that’s enough for now. I’ve spent all day on this, so it looks like I’m going to have to start writing Saturday night if I want to get these published on Sunday mornings. Peace to you. Have a great week!

Scott Stocking

August 14, 2011

Redemption and Faithfulness (Romans 3:23–24)

(Media Note: We tackled 1 Timothy 2:9–12 in Sunday School this morning, which reminded of the YouTube video “All Things Are Better in Koine. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!)

I have finally caught up with my reading schedule and find myself in Romans this week. I think there’s a good reason why Romans was placed at the head of Paul’s letters in the New Testament (NT): he lays out a detailed description of the connection between faith, justification, and redemption that is foundational for understanding not only his letters (Romans through Philemon), but for the entire Bible, as he brings into the discussion the relationship of Jews and Judaism to God’s plan of salvation.

I am working on simplifying and updating an assignment I did 15 years ago for a class I had with Dr. Walt Zorn at Lincoln Christian Seminary where I summarized Paul’s argument in the first five chapters of Romans. It is rather detailed and heady (it was a seminary class, after all), but I want to simplify it for my blog readers, because I think understanding the flow of the argument will help us understand just what Paul meant when he wrote it. The basic question of the assignment (and I’ll leave you to explore this on your own for a time if you wish) is, “Who is the righteous who will live by faith (Romans 1:17) if Paul in Romans 3:10–12 quotes the Psalms (14:1–3, 53:1–3) and Ecclesiastes 7:20 saying, ‘There is no one righteous, not even one’?” If you figure out the answer to this, then consider why that is significant for your own Christian walk.

Translations of Romans 3:23–24

I will give you a little hint of it here this morning, as I want to focus on what is arguably the most familiar salvation passage in Romans, 3:23–24, the first step on the “Romans Road.” Before I go into the Greek text, I want to give you a few different English translations of the passage: depending on your background, you may have a slightly nuanced understanding of the passage, so I want to make sure I respect whatever differences there may be. After these English translations, I’ll give the Greek text and transliteration. Later in the post, I will do a phrase-for-phrase comparison with another key salvation passage, Ephesians 2:8. (All passages are from the Logos electronic versions of the respective editions.)

‎‎NIV (1984): For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

‎‎NIV (2011): For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

‎‎TNIV: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

‎‎NLT: For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

‎‎AV (KJV 1769): For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

‎‎ESV: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

‎‎NASB95: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;

‎‎The Message: Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

NA27: πάντες γὰρ ἥμαρτον καὶ ὑστεροῦνται τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ δικαιούμενοι δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (pantes gar hēmarton kai hysterountai tēs doxēs tou theou dikaioumenoi dōrean tē autou chariti dia tēs apolytrōseōs tēs en Christō Iēsou; see my English translation below).

Figure 1: Sentence Diagram for Romans 3:23–24

The sentence diagram in Figure 1 makes the following clear: the participle δικαιούμενοι (present passive, from δικαιόω, “who are being justified”) is directly connected to the subject of the main clause, πάντες (“all”). I’ll come back to this in a moment. The main verbs of the passage are those in verse 23, so this is the primary point being made: we “sinned” (aorist, or simple past tense) and “are falling short of” or “are lacking” (present tense) the glory of God. It is important to note that the verb for “sinned” (from ἁμαρτάνω) is in the aorist tense, which is the basic, workhorse past tense in the Greek language. English translations are not wrong to render this in the perfect tense (“have sinned”), but it may be that Paul is just making a general statement (based on the quotations from the Psalms in 3:10–20) that we “sinned.” The second verb, ὑστεροῦνται, is present tense, so it denotes a current, ongoing state, but as we will see, it is one that is being reversed by the justification taking place at the same time.

Before offering my translation, however, I need to deal with the participle δικαιούμενοι. This is a present passive participle, which generally means the action is going on at the same time as the main verb(s). But with one main verb past tense and the other present, which is it? My decision is admittedly theological, but because I believe that salvation is not just a “one-and-done” event, but a lifelong process that includes sanctification and justification, I would argue that we are currently being justified because we currently lack the full glory of God. Our salvation, although effective at whatever stage of spiritual growth we are at, is not “full and complete” until we stand before our Maker. The phrase that follows this participle modifies (or is an extended adjective of) the word for “all”. If I rearrange the word order slightly, the passage has a very different nuance to it in English: “For all who are being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came through Messiah Jesus sinned and are lacking the glory of God.” (I should note in Romans 5:1, δικαιόω is an aorist participle, but that does not mean the process is done, necessarily, only that the process of justification precedes the peace that we have with God as a result.)

Comparison to Ephesians 2:8

So what does all this heady grammatical talk have to do with living the Christian life? In order to help make a little more sense of things, I want to bring Ephesians 2:8 into the mix. As you will see in Table 1 below, Ephesians 2:8 is actually a parallel passage to Romans 3:24, with one revealing comparison. Ephesians 2:8 says: τῇ γὰρ χάριτί ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι διὰ πίστεως καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν, θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον·tē gar chariti este sesōsmenoi dia pisteōs kai touto ouk ex humōn, theou to dōron, “For it is by this grace you are being saved through faithfulness, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God.”

Table 1: Comparing Ephesians 2:8 with Romans 3:24

Romans 3:24

Ephesians 2:8


are being justified

ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι

are being saved

δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι

freely by his grace

τῇ γὰρ χάριτί… θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον

by this grace… it is the gift of God

διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ

through the redemption which [is] in Messiah Jesus

διὰ πίστεως καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν

through faithfulness, and this not from yourselves

I am guessing that most of you were able to follow the first two comparisons between the verses. Being justified and being saved, while not strictly synonymous legally or technically, essentially represent the restoration of our relationship with God. The second pair about grace is straightforward enough. It is the third pair that tends to raise people’s hackles, because most of us have been taught that it is through our “faith” that we are saved. But the word for faith in Greek, πίστις, can also mean “faithfulness.” But whose faithfulness is it, really? If there is anything to the comparison, then the faithfulness is not ours (“this salvation by grace through faith is not from yourselves”), but it is the faithfulness of Jesus to go to the cross and purchase our redemption. Not convinced? Look at Romans 3:25, where Paul uses the identical phrase from Ephesians 2:8: ὃν προέθετο ὁ θεὸς ἱλαστήριον διὰ [τῆς] πίστεως ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι hon proetheto ho theos hilastērion dia [tēs] pisteōs en tō autou haimati, “whom [Jesus] God presented as an atoning sacrifice through the faithfulness in his blood” (emphasis mine).

Suppose for a moment that this faith is ours: How much faith do I need to be saved? We know faith is quantifiable, because Jesus talked about having faith the size of a mustard seed, while in Hebrews 11, the faith of the saints who have gone before us is exemplified in numerous ways. If it is our faith, then salvation by “our” faith becomes a relative statement, not an absolute. If it is relative, then we can get caught up in asking ourselves if we have enough faith, but simply asking that question denies the grace aspect of salvation. It’s a gift: we can’t earn it; it’s not dependent on the quantity of our faith. But if this faithfulness refers to the sacrifice of a perfect savior, then the statement becomes absolute, and we never have any reason to question the amount of faith we have relative to the state of our salvation.

Faith, Works, and Salvation

This is not to deny the importance of our own faith and trust in Jesus, however. Our own faith or trust in Jesus is not so much for the purpose of being saved but the result of being saved. Because we know God is with us, because we know God has our back, because we know we have the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we can “walk in the good works that God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). We show our faith by the fruit we bear (Matthew 7:15–20; John 15:1–16; Romans 7:4). We demonstrate our faith by what we do (Romans 4; James 2:14–26).

We hear much about faith and salvation, but I think there is an equal, if not greater emphasis on “confession” or “profession” in many salvation passages. Now I do not here mean only confession of sins (see, for example, 1 John 1:9). In Matthew 16:16, Peter declares his belief that Jesus is the Messiah, a confession that is made by many new Christians before joining a congregation or getting immersed (at least in our own Restoration Movement congregations). In Acts 2:38, the would-be converts had to repent, which essentially meant renouncing their old lifestyles, and make the public statement of being immersed. Romans 10:9–10 speaks of confessing (or “professing”) that Jesus is Lord. Toward the end of Ephesians 6, Paul asks for prayers that he might boldly profess Christ, and in the opening chapter of Romans, he says, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.”

Romans 3:23–24 is a beautiful passage that says God doesn’t give up on us just because we sinned. God continues his work of justification in us in spite of our shortcomings (see also Romans 4:5, 17; 5:6–10). We don’t have to perfect ourselves first; we just need to let God do the perfecting.


Scott Stocking

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