Exegetical Commentary on Romans 12: 1-13

Categories: Judith Wright

Paul’s Letter to the Romans has proved itself to be one of the important letters of Paul because it is the longest at the same time the most systematic of the letters in terms of the unfolding of the thoughts of the apostle. As such, this gospel has attracted a number of Catholic and Protestant theologians and clerics. Martin Luther himself gave an extensive commentary on this Letter precisely because some of the important tenets of Protestantism could be found in it.

In this paper, we will attempt to look at a slice of this Letter. Specifically, we will attempt to speculate on the reason why Paul wrote Romans 12:1-13.

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After which, we would attempt to give an exegetical commentary of the relevant verses. Both the Greek and the English text versions shall be used. For the English versions, the New King James Version (NKJV), the King James Version (KJV), and the New American Bible (NAB) shall be used. Let us first speculate on the reason why Paul wrote Romans 12:1-13. Paul’s Letter to the Romans was written between 56 and 58 A. D. and was probably written by Paul when he was in Corinth, Greece. He wrote it before he reached Rome, and has written a Letter for a group of Christians he has not yet met.

He planned to go to Rome to collect some funds for the impoverished Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, and to enlist support from Rome for a mission in Spain (NAB, p. 1261). The fact that he wrote this letter to gentiles whom he never met may explain why he wrote it in such a way that he had to speak of the place of both Jews and gentiles in God’s plan.

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The Letter is so written in such a way that the foundations of the faith are first provided, and only after the establishment of this foundation did Paul speak of the duties of a Christian.

It should also be noted that the foundation is written in such a way that there is no assumption that the readers of the Letter share the same foundations as the Jews. Instead, the fact that both Jews and gentiles are justified through faith in Christ is emphasized. Romans 12 onwards speak of the duties that a Christian has. Chapter 12: 1-13 specifically talks about the need for sacrificing one’s mind, body, and will (Wiersbe, 1989, p. 554). In this sacrifice, a Christian is asked to see how she/he is a part of the body of Christ and in the process do his/her role in this mystical body.

Christians are also asked to love one another genuinely in this Chapter. Now, given this content, we could speculate on the reason why he wrote this Chapter. The obvious answer is that this Chapter is most needed to provide the praxis of all the theories that he provided in the previous chapters. After stating what a Christian is, he has to tell the gentiles what acts and/or characteristics embody a Christian. Hence, it aims at doctrine and practical ethics, ideas of faith and practical consequences of such ideas. With this, let us now take a closer look at the relevant chapter verses.

In Romans 12:1, we read, “PARAKALW OUN hUMAS ADELFOI DIA TWN OIKTIRMWN TOU QEOU PARASTHSAI TA SWMATA hUMWN QUSIAN ZWSAN hAGIAN EUARESTON TWi QEWi THN LOGIKHN LATREIAN hUMWN,” translated in the King James Version in the following manner: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. ” In this verse, J. B. Phillips (in Guzik, 2002) pointed out that Gk. arakalw means to appeal to one’s will. Hence, for Paul, offering oneself to God ought to be a free act, a volitional act, an act that results from one’s choice. In this sense, Gk parakalw is different from the Gk. ezanagkasmos which refers more to coercion. Gk. parakalw implies an appeal to the intellects and wills of the faithful. Hence, the request or the appeal to offer oneself as a sacrifice to God is an appeal to knowingly and willfully choose God to be the master of one’s life. It is far from a blind and fanatical religiosity.

This beseeching of Paul is, according to Bayliss (2006), a beseeching for the response of the faithful towards the fulfillment of the scriptures, the attainment of justification through Jesus Christ. What is being beseeched, as we could read, is the presentation of the faithful’s body as a living sacrifice. Now, before we even go through this sacrifice that is being asked from the faithful by Paul as an expression of reasonable service, we have to understand what Paul means when he says that he beseeches the faithful by the “mercies” of God. In Greek, the term oiktirmos refers to a specific type of mercy different from eleos and splanchnon.

W. E. Vine (in Bayliss, 2006) provides the distinction this way: oiktirmos refers to the “inward feeling of pity and compassion towards others” while eleos refers to the “outward display of pity in the meeting of someone’s need” and splanchnon as “the feelings of affection and goodwill towards others. ” As we could see, the Greek version used the term oiktirmos. Hence, this would mean that “the actual basis of the reaction” (Bayliss, 2006), the motivation of the faithful’s reaction for the appeal made by Paul, would have to be the pity and compassion that God “feels” for us. Because God is merciful, i. . , because God feels for us, such would be enough motivation for us to heed Paul’s appeal and offer our bodies as living sacrifice. Now at this point, it is unclear why Paul used oiktirmos and not eleos nor splanchnon. Why should the motivation be God’s inward feelings and not his outward display of pity nor his feelings of affection and goodwill towards us? Also, why was the plural used (i. e. , mercies) and not the singular form? What does it mean for God to feel pity for us in a plural way? I cannot press on these questions as the answers seem not apparent at this point.

Instead, I will leave that question unanswered and proceed to the next point. Paul beseeches the faithful to offer their bodies as living sacrifice. This exhortation to offer one’s body as a living sacrifice is an analogy to the Old Testament’s sacrificial system (Sailhamer, 1994, p. 530). Nevertheless, unlike the old Mosaic code where sacrifices had to follow directions, the sacrifice being asked in the New Testament is a sacrifice that entails the use of one’s good judgment on how one would offer one’s body as a living sacrifice.

The contrast between the Old Testament sacrifice and the New Testament sacrifice is presented in the NAB footnote this way: The Mosaic code included elaborate directions on sacrifices and other cultic observances. The gospel, however, invites believers to present their bodies as a living sacrifice. Instead of being limited by specific legal maxims, Christians are liberated for the exercise of good judgment as they are confronted with the many and varied decisions required in the course of daily life. (NAB, p. 1276)

Hence, the call to offer one’s body as sacrifice is an analogy to the Old Testament version of offering sacrifices, though this time, what is asked to be sacrificed is one’s own body, and sacrificed in a “living” way. This sacrifice, as explained in the NAB, is the sort where Christians are given the freedom to judge how the one’s living sacrifice may be exercised in everyday life. Bayliss (2006) is more concrete when he said that offering one’s body as a sacrifice meant letting the “rubber hit the road,” to make one’s dedication truly felt in one’s life.

Hence, the sacrifice of one’s body means living a life where one’s faith may be witnessed. This also means taking the consequences of one’s embracing of one’s faith to its logical conclusions, without waivering especially in times of trials. Now, sacrificing one’s body has to be done in such a way as offering it as a living sacrifice. At this point, varied interpretations emerge. I would present two. J. B. Phillips explains the term this way: the sacrifice is living because it is brought to the altar alive, and it stays alive in the altar, i. e. , it is ongoing (in Guzik, 2002).

In this interpretation, the term “living sacrifice” refers to our ongoing daily sacrifice of our bodies, a continuous witnessing of our faith via our bodies. It is also possible to interpret the term to refer to a sacrifice that is similar to that of Christ. In our case, this may refer to dying from sin and being reborn into a new life (Bayliss, 2006). This would then mean that by making our bodies living sacrifices means living a new life that is dedicated to God. It would mean forgetting worldly vices and instead living a life where one’s body may truly be the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Though the term “living sacrifice” may not have a clear meaning, Paul nevertheless gives us “properties” of this “living sacrifice”: it has to be both holy and acceptable. One’s living sacrifice of one’s body ought to be “holy. ” By “holy” we refer to the Greek term hagiasmos which means “set apart” (Bayliss, 2006). Hence, this would mean that it would be necessary that our bodies be set apart from the others whose bodies are not in the service of God (Bayliss, 2006). Not only is our living sacrifice a holy one (i. e. , a sacrifice that is set apart), it is also acceptable.

Again, at this point, there seems to be opposing opinions. J. B. Phillips interprets “acceptable” in terms of what is acceptable in Leviticus 1:10 and Deuteronomy 15:21, i. e. , that the sacrifice ought not to have any blemish. Now, if this is the interpretation of what is acceptable, it would not seem to make sense to say (as we have above) that sacrifice in the New Testament is different compared to sacrifice in the Old Testament. We have to always bear in mind that the sacrifice being called for in Romans is our response to Christ’s justification of us.

As such, it seems that Bayliss (2006) seems to be more accurate in saying that the term “acceptable” isn’t conditional, and as such, “if we offer ourselves then the offering is acceptable. ” Lastly, we ought to look at the term “reasonable” service. The Greek text used the word logikhn, logikos. By logikos, it may either (or both) refer to one’s living sacrifice of one’s body as the logical service given that we have been justified by Christ or that our sacrifice ought to be a mindful one.

In one way or another, it implies that since we have been given this much, it makes sense that we sacrifice our bodies because of what we have been given. Hence, the sacrifice is a logical one. Though, we may also look at it in the vantage point of logikos” meaning rational. One’s service ought to be rational, i. e. , mindful. As Bayliss (2006) says, our service ought to be a “mindful cooperation” with God. So far, we have looked at Paul’s exhortation that we make a living sacrifice of our bodies mindfully and willfully.

Now, let us look at Romans 12:2: KAI MH SUSCHMATIZESQE TWi AIWNI TOUTWi ALLA METAMORFOUSQE THi ANAKAINWSEI TOU NOOS EIS TO DOKIMAZEIN hUMAS TI TO QELHMA TOU QEOU TO AGAQON KAI EUARESTON KAI TELEION, which in KJV English translation reads, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. ” Romans 12:2 may only be understood by looking closely at the relevant words: conform (Gk. suschmatizesqe, suschematizo), world (Gk. aiwni, aion), transform (Gk. metamorfousqe), renewing (Gk. nakainwsei), and prove (Gk. dokimazein, dokimazo). Suschematizo refers to a conforming wherein one “takes on the outward appearance of something that is not really true to the object’s nature” (Bayliss, 2006). This is distinct from morphe which refers to the metaphysical form (otherwise known as “nature”) of an object. By not conforming to the world, Paul probably refers to not taking in the ways of the World, a way that is not really in accordance to our nature as human beings. Simply, the way of the world ought not to be our way. Now, by world here, i. e. , aion, we refer to age in which we live (Bayliss, 2006).

Hence, Paul concretely tells the faithful not to conform their lives according to their society’s norms and culture. This is something we could easily understand since Rome’s dominant culture at that time was neither Jewish nor Christian but still largely pagan. Instead of conforming oneself to the world, Paul asks the faithful to be transformed, i. e. , metamorfousqe. Here, we have the essence of the word morphe. As stated above, this refers to form or nature. To be able to understand this better, let us take a short look at how the word “form” and “nature” has been used in the Ancient times.

By morphe, philosophers referred to that which makes something what it is. Hence, the morphe of a table is table-ness and the chair would be chair-ness. Simply, form refers to the very essence of a being. As such, when Paul says that the faithful ought to be transformed by the renewing of their minds, he refers to a change that entails touching one’s nature, that by renewing one’s mind, one’s essence is changed to that which is pleasing to God. Now, this would not be understood not unless we know what is meant by renewal (anakainwsei).

The term anakainwsei refers to moving to a totally different thing, which nevertheless entails an ongoing process of adjustment (Bayliss, 2006). Hence, the renewal that is being asked in not some sort of going back to the old days but moving one’s thought to something new at the same time continuously being formed towards that new direction. Simply, this means that “the transformation is radical, (but) the process is gradual” (Bayliss, 2006). Hence, the process of transforming oneself by changing the direction of one’s mind may strike a person in an instant; nevertheless, the process of change will always be ongoing.

This changing of mind to transform oneself is to be done so that one could prove what is good, acceptable, and perfect will of God. Again, we need to define what is meant by proving (dokimazo). By dokimazo the Greeks meant “testing with an expectation of approval” (Bayliss, 2006). By this it is meant that knowing what is good, acceptable, and perfect will of God entails testing, i. e. , experiencing, with an expectation that performing the test will result in something that is worth approving.

At this point, Paul may probably be saying that in transforming one’s mind, one is made capable of truly experiencing that which is good, acceptable, and perfect and actually finding out that living a life in accordance with God’s will results in a life that is worth approving. If we were to formulate a summary of Romans 12:2, it would mean that the faithful ought not to live their lives conforming to one’s age (especially if one’s society is an unhealthy one); instead, the faithful ought to experience some sort of transformation that is a product of a change of mind, which in turn, continues to be changed because of the transformation.

Now, such a transformation makes the faithful ready to experience that which is good, acceptable, and perfect will of God. This experiencing result in the approval of God’s way, a way that cannot be grasped better without experiencing it. It is one thing knowing it theoretically; it is another experiencing it. Romans 12:3 exhorts the faithful to have a balanced perception of oneself, to be sober when one thinks of oneself. This is very important especially because the next verses talk about our different functions in Christ’s body.

Romans 12:4-5 talks about our individual roles in Christ’s body, as we all form part of this body. Just like any body, we may all be members of the same body (i. e. , Christ’s), nevertheless, we hold different functions in the same way that different body parts do different things. Now, precisely because of these differences in functions should we have an honest perspective of oneself. One cannot truly serve well in Christ’s body if one displaces oneself from one task to another. Romans 12:3-5 speaks of one’s place in Christ’s mystical body that is further elaborated on in Romans 12:6.

Romans 12:6-8 reads ECONTES DE CARISMATA KATA THN CARIN THN DOQEISAN hHMIN DIAFORA EITE PROFHTEIAN KATA THN ANALOGIAN THS PISTEWS EITE DIAKONIAN EN THi DIAKONIAi EITE hO DIDASKWN EN THi DIDASKALIAi EITE hO PARAKALWN EN THi PARAKLHSEI hO METADIDOUS EN hAPLOTHTI hO PRO EN SPOUDHi hO ELEWN EN hILAROTHTI, which in English reads, “Having the gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy let us prophesize in proportion to our faith, or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches is teaching; he who exhorts in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheefulness” (NKJV). Hence, the gifts given to us by God, in this verses refer to the different capabilities that make us be capable to do the different jobs mentioned, are to be performed in different ways by different people who all form part of the same body of Christ.

Now, an important note that Paul inserted, which is easily left out, is the note that the gifts are to be used. This means that a person ought to know one’s gifts and to use these gifts. Using these gifts is actually functioning well in Christ’s body. Before we move on, let us gloss through the different tasks mentioned. A prophet ought to be one only within the limits of the prophet’s faith. What Paul here means by prophet we are not so sure, nevertheless, his limitation of the act of prophesy to the prophet’s faith seems to call on prophets to be true to themselves and to others. A prophet could not be a prophet of a faith that is not his/hers. This probably would be what differentiates true from false prophets.

Aside from ministering, teaching, exhorting, giving, and leading, Paul also speaks of the job of showing mercy. The act of showing mercy has a special connotation to it that seems to be largely neglected, and it is that the act of showing mercy entails being cheerful, hilarotes. One could not show mercy and give comfort if one is attracted to misery and negative thoughts. One could show mercy and successfully comfort others only with cheerfulness. Hence, in this sense, misery could be solved by or through the help of someone who has a positive outlook on life. Romans 12:9 speaks of loving. The faithful is exhorted to love without hypocrisy, to abhor evil, to stick to what is good, and to give each other brotherly love by being kind and affectionate.

This entire verse asks the faithful to truly love, to genuinely love. This may have many meanings but probably, this could also mean loving at the same time upholding the truth. Loving our fellows means to know their good and their bad characteristics, aiding them in changing their bad characteristics, but still always loving them, thinking of what is good for them. As such, a true Christian, not being a hypocrite, abhors evil, even if the doer is someone he/she loves. Of course, the love for one’s fellowmen should always be there; nevertheless, evil acts should be acknowledged as such at the same time helping one’s fellowmen overcome these evil tendencies.

Now, the treatment we extend to our fellowmen would be the same treatment we extend to our blood siblings: we ought to be kind and affectionate.

Romans 12:11-13 exhorts the faithful to be diligent, fervent, and serving the Lord; the faithful ought to rejoice in hope, patient in tribulation, and continuing steadfastly in prayer; they are to distribute to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. If there is something that ought to be clarified in the text, it is what is meant by the faithful distributing to the needs of the saints and given to hospitality. Again, the Greek word used was koinonero, meaning to share in. As such, the Christian is expected to share with other Christians in their daily needs.

The sharing implied here is nothing occasional; what is meant is the sharing of one’s means to meet the daily needs of others. To be hospitable, on the other hand, refers to “loving strangers. ” Bayliss (2006) interprets it this way: “we are supposed to be caring outgoing people to everyone the Lord places in our path. ”

We have seen that Romans 12:1-13 is all about making oneself a living sacrifice in a conscious and volitional way. The believer is also called to transform and have a sober knowledge of oneself which is very much needed if one is to perform well in Christ’s mystical body. The Christian is also called to love one another as brothers/sisters, caring for them and giving them affection.

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Exegetical Commentary on Romans 12: 1-13. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/exegetical-commentary-romans-12-1-13-new-essay

Exegetical Commentary on Romans 12: 1-13

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