Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Christian's Reasonable Service: Exegetical Treatment of Romans 12:1

That the book of Romans was written to a mixed audience of Gentiles and Jews is beyond any reasonable dispute. Scholars are not agreed on which group held the majority in Rome, but most agree that both groups had significant enough numbers within the community to make it necessary to address the church with some degree of balance. The letter begins with Paul's authority as an apostle and quickly moves toward his main subject, the righteousness of God (which is by faith in Christ). He contends that God's righteousness has been revealed in Christ, that God has shut both Jew and Gentile up under sin, and that both groups must come through Christ in order to obtain a right-standing before God. Moreover, this coming to Christ is an act of faith, of entirely trusting that Jesus is the promised Messiah, that God spoke through Him finally, that God's revelation has terminated in the person and work of Christ. Of course, this work would be recorded under the supervision and inspiration of the Holy Spirit as He presided over the record of the NT Text.

After addressing issues touching both groups, Paul spends a great deal of time devoted to the fidelity of God in His covenant dealings with the nation of Israel in Romans 9-11. Many scholars believe that Paul was concerned to elevate the covenant and fidelity of God while also giving the Gentiles some perspective on Israel's place in God's program of salvation so as to guard or address potential anti-semitism as well. It is immediately after three chapters of discussion regarding this latter subject that Paul moves into the subject text of this blog.

As we examine the final words in Romans 11, we discover that vss. 33-36 are a doxology or song by Paul given in thanks to God. This raises the question of connection between the Greek word οὖν which stands at the beginning of chapter 12 and the thought with which it should be related either in chapter 11 or someplace previous to chapter 12. Cranfield asks the same question. He agrees that οὖν "is here better understood not as a mere transition particle, but as having full force and indicating that what is going to be said follows from what has already been said." [Cranfield, ICC, Romans, v. II p. 595] Whether Paul is connecting οὖν (therefore) to the entire epistle (Cranfield) or to 9-11 (most scholars) is difficult to say. I see an immediate connection located in the final summary of Paul in 11:32: "For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all." This seems to be a central theme of the epistle, if not the central theme. Righteousness comes by faith alone in Christ alone as a result of God's grace alone...THEREFORE! 

Paul moves from theology to praxis in short order in the text of Romans 12:1. Regardless of what some incompetent men may say in modern times, theology is the sine qua non of Christian praxis. This false dichotomy of practical versus doctrinal Christianity is demonic deception in its optimum form. Paul, after pointing back to the deep theological truths of God revealed in Christ, points us forward. Because "this" is true, therefore I "Παρακαλῶ" (Parakalo) you! I urge you. Rogers says the word means to exhort, to encourage someone to do something. He says it was used of exhorting troops who were about to go into battle. [Rogers & Rogers, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, p.338] The Lemma is used 109 times in the Greek NT. It is used in 8:5 when the Capernaum Centurion "implored" Christ to heal his servant. In Luke 8, the demons "implored" Christ not to send them into the abyss. It is used again by Luke in Acts 21:12 when they were begging Paul not to go to Jerusalem for fear he could be killed. The emotional content of the word seems clear enough. Paul is urging the Roman Christians, imploring them, begging them to do something in this text that is apparently quite important.

Next, Paul employs the use of the NT vocative case to address the Roman Christians. Based on morphology and syntax, we know that ἀδελφοί, brothers, is vocative plural. The "brothers" are the subject of address. In this construction, it is a case of simple address. However, the use of the vocative, even in this context, would have served to get the attention of the Romans. It would have had the effect of someone telling their audience in modern times, "now, pay close attention to what I am about to say." This technique is designed to recapture an audience that may be on the verge of wondering off. Paul wants the Romans to listen, because what he is about to say is very important.

The phrase διὰ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν τοῦ θεοῦ, which translates "by the mercies (mercy) of God" serves either as Paul's basis for his appeal or as the means by which this offering, this living sacrifice can and must be made. "What he is appealing to as the basis of his exhortation is the compassion of God revealed in God's dealing with men through Jesus Christ." [Cranfield, ICC, Romans, V. II p. 596] "But this exhortation teaches us, that until men really apprehend how much they owe to the mercy of God, they will never with a right feeling worship him, nor be effectually stimulated to fear and obey him." [Calvin, Romans, p. 450] Paul here is pointing us up to the great mercy and compassion in God as the basis for why we should do as he is about to command. In light of such gracious and merciful acts and gifts on the part of God, what does a reasonable response look like? Here is one example of a "patron-client contract." This relationship predominated in Greco-Roman culture. The contract tied two individuals of different social standings together. The patron would provide a gift to the client who in return would respond in an honorable manner. While the response was not a legal part of the contract, it was the only way a person in that culture could preserve their honor. Perserving honor in Greco-Roman culture was of the utmost importance. It was, after all, a predominatly honor-shame based culture. Few things were worse than public shame in Greco-Roman times. Paul uses this kind of thinking to urge the Romans to respond to God's gracious acts of mercy which may be seen as the kind benevolence of a patron toward undeserving patrons. The greater the gift or kindness extended by the patron, the more profound the response for the client.

παραστῆσαι τὰ σώματα ὑμῶν, translated is "to present your bodies." παραστῆσαι is an aorist infinitive. When we think of verbs, we think of type and time of action. Johnny hit the ball. The type of action here is active. Johnny "hit" the ball. The subject acted on the object, he HIT the ball. We also think in terms of time. When did this action take place? Was it past, present or future. In Greek, verbs also have aspect. In fact, recent studies indicate that it is possible that aspect concerned the writer more than the time of the action. By aspect we mean the kind of action. This refers to the writers perspective of the kind of action he is writing about. The aorist tense used by Paul looks at the action in its entirety. This tense expresses the entire act of hitting the ball. It does not emphasize the when or express the how, and it does not focus on the act as completed or even the consequences as a result of hitting the ball. Paul is concerned that the Romans respond to God in a way that not only reflects honor, but that reflects honor as the Christian ethic would define honor from beginning to end as a completed whole. The aorist infinitive, is controlled by the main verb of this text, which is
Παρακαλῶ. Paul is strong urging or exhorting the Roman Christians. But what is he exhorting them to do? The Aorist infinitive παραστῆσαι tells us that Paul is exhorting the Roman Christians "to present." Dan Wallace uses the analogy, "I told you to do the dishes." I told" is the controlling verb and "to do" is the infinitive which is the main verb of the clause "to do the dishes."

"It is much more likely that παραστῆσαι is here used as a technical term of religious ritual with the meaning "to offer." Paul's use here reminds us of his use just a few pages back where in 6:19 he contrasts presenting our members as slaves to unrighteousness with that of presenting them as slaves to righteousness. Again, in 6:16 he points out that when a person presents themself as a slave for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey. And again in 6:13 he commands, "do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as intruments of unrighteousness." Now, here is 12:1, the Romans are commanded to present their bodies, not part of their bodies, not some of their bodies, but their bodies en toto. The Christian is to offer to God himself entire - himself in the whole of his concrete life." [Cranfield, ICC, Romans, p. 599] In order to inform our minds of what Paul means here, I think it prudent for the Christian to harken back to Romans 6 where Paul uses similar language to describe the Christians relationship to sin and to righteous living. It is here that we see the lines of the painting filled in with the glorious colories of Paul's thoughts. It is in Romans 6 that Romans 12:1 finds its concreteness.

Thus far, Paul has strongly exhorted the Roman Christians to present their bodies. But what and how are they to present their bodies? Moreover, to what or whom are they to present their bodies? This brings us to our next few words, θυσίαν ζῶσαν ἁγίαν εὐάρεστον. This series of words appearing in the Greek text of Romans are not without some difficulty. However, the context in which they appear affords a great deal of help in understanding what Paul is getting at. As Cranfield notes, "So we take  θυσίαν to mean 'as a sacrifice' in the sense of the material of the sacrifice, the victim." The audience would have been intimately familiar with the cultic idea of sacrifice. Greco-Roman culture along with its Judaism were both immersed in the idea. "But the centrality of sacrifice in ancient religion made it a natural and inevitable vehicle for the early Christians to express their own religious convictions. At the same time, the NT use of the cultic language has an important salvation-historical and polemical function, claiming for Christianity the fulfillment of those institutions so central to the OT and to Judaism." [Moo, NICNT, Romans, p. 750]

The adjective ζῶσαν contrasts the typical results of animal sacrifies which is death. This adjective modifies θυσίαν and hence indicates that even though a sacrifice has been made, this sacrifice is a living one. It is not a presentation of living bodies, but a presentation of our entire bodies as a living sacrifice. "The sacrifice of which Paul writes demands not the destruction but the full energy of life." [Morris, PNCT, Romans, p. 434] At the same time, we cannot, we must not lose sight of death in discipleship. Christ spoke of losing one's life to find it and Paul also mentions that he is crucified with Christ. The language of dying and death serve throughout the NT as a metophor of this living sacrifice and of what it means to exit the secular group and cross over into the Christian group, the Jesus sect. The contrast of life in the world and life in the Christian community could not be more obvious.

Finally, this offering is holy and acceptable to God. The phrase is ἁγίαν εὐάρεστον τῷ θεῷ. This act is holy and pleasing to God. That is to say, it is set apart from the profane and especially devoted to serve the true and living God. The idea of this last phrase is threefold: 1) it is living, 2) it is holy, 3) it is pleasing to God. [Cranfield]

Finally, we come to τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν. Paul says that such an act on our part is our reasonable or rational service or worship. But is this idea anachronistic? Are we reading our idea of 'reasonable' back into Paul's use of this word? "This self-offering is our "reasonable" or "logical" worship (cf. 1 Pet. 2:2, 5). Here the Jerusalem Bible is helpful with its paraphrase: "worship worthy of thinking beings." Worship, that is, reflective of what we know and recognize to be true of God and what God has done. Humans are capable of being rational and recognizing that God is worthy of worship. Paul here is again perhaps drawing on a connection with thought that would be familiar to his Roman audience. Epictetus 1.16.20–21 says: "If I were a nightingale, I should be singing as a nightingale; if a swan as a swan. But as it is I am a rational (logikos) being, therefore I must be singing hymns of praise to God." Paul is also in some respects close here to Philo, who says "The soul … ought to honor God not irrationally nor ignorantly, but with knowledge and reason" (Special Laws 1.209)." [Witherington III, Ben. Paul's Letters to the Romans, p. 285]

Paul's transition from theology to praxis could not be more sacrosanct. Hence, the connection between rich theology and passionate Christian living could not be more solidified that it is in this text. Christians, on the basis of God's mercy, compasion, love, and grace are to respond to the divine Patron like an honorable client. The presentation of Christ as the gift of God to the undeserving demands a response commensurate with the quality and nature of gift that it represents. So often we are told in Scripture to live in a manner worthy of our calling. Every time I read these texts, I am left feeling like such a state is far beyond my grasp. Yet, the measure of that living is not found in the end results themselves, but in the energy required to even put forth the attempt. And that is what matters. We know we will fall short and we will do so repeatedly. But the energy we spend getting back up, acknowledging our sinfulness, and re-engaging in the effort to shake the profane thing from our lives this time is really where this living matters. In the end, we recognize that humans could never offer a response commensuate with such a gift no matter the energy and effort spent on the endeavor. And we rest, on the hand, on the resolve to do our best, and on the other hand, on the knowledge of the fact that here too, as in every other area, we fall short and are reminded that grace is pouring out upon us even as we fail to respond as we desire. (Romans 7 is a good place to see this in Paul)

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