Too brief of an exegesis on Romans 8.1-17

No, I’m not happy with being only to write a 1000 word max exegesis/paper, but I have to. Anyway, this is something I’d like to come back to, but for now…


In Romans 8.1-17, Paul is employing a form of rhetoric which repeats the same thought several times, albeit in different ways so that deeper explanations may be delivered. This exegasia of the dying with Christ and the hope of living with Christ is given with signs (semeia) following the forensic oration of Aristotle. In effect, 8.1-17 is the second part of a two-part repetition, with the first part being found in 7.1-6, of Paul’s initial argument stated in Romans 6.1-13, meant to establish the meaning of justification for the believer.


  1. The Need for the Resurrection (8.1-11)
    1. Comparison of the Spirit and the Flesh via the Law(s) (8.2-4)
    2. The person will walk either in the Spirit or the Flesh (8.5-8)
    3. The Spirit brings resurrection (8.9-11)
  2. The Resurrected Life of the Believer (8.12-17)
    1. The Flesh leads to death, the Spirit leads to life (8.12-13)
    2. The Spirit transforms believers into children of God (8.14-16)
    3. The New Life comes through Suffering with Christ (8.17)

At the beginning of chapter 8, Paul begins by drawing the comparison between the flesh and the Spirit. For Paul, the flesh is our human-centered weaknesses (cf 6.19) while the Spirit is the empowering force of God. The argument, however, doesn’t begin here, but in 6.1-13, in which Paul opens up his teaching on what brings justification, which is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and our participation in it through baptism. Just as 6.1-13 is framed by the previous section on justification, and our introduction to Grace, it also serves to frame the following two chapters as they serve to supplement Paul’s argument there. Further, 6.14-23 serves as the results of the plea in 6.1-13, providing a formula Paul uses in chapters 7 and 8. Chapter 8 is not an argument to itself, but only a sub-topic to 6.1-13, just as is 7.1-6.

In speaking of Gorgias, Aristotle (Rhet 1418a 4-37) notes that the ancient orator is able to deliver several of these subtopics on any given subject, allowing them to serve as sources of arguments. Further, in his work, Topics, he goes into the use of Question and Answer (we see something like this with Paul’s use of prosopopeia throughout the book of Romans), in which an argument is presented, but subtopics are developed. All of this, however, has to follow a certain logous eikotas, which I believe we can find if we see Paul as building upon a previous argument, and dividing out the salient points. JDR Kirk writes,

“A discussion of salvation in forensic terms in chs. 3-4 has gradually morphed through ch. 5 into the participationst categories of chs. 6 and 7. By logically grounding the freedom of condemnation (8:1) on the freedom from the reign of sin and death (8:2), Paul has shown that justification and condemnation are, themselves, categories that derive their meaning from their function at the turn of the ages.

The argument in chapter 8, then, is one which is a subtopic of the argument begun in chapter 6. In 6.1-13, baptism is seen as the entire act of dying and rising with Christ to the hope of a resurrected life (6.4-5). Or, in another way, 6.1-13 encompasses both the dying in Christ and the hope of resurrection. In chapter 7.1-16, the act of dying and what place it has in respect to the Law of Moses is explained using the role of a wife who is no longer bound to her husband upon his death. She is free to marry again and to live a new life. This is used to explain the role in which the dying of and in Christ frees the believer from the necessity of the Law which allows sin and death to reign. With the first meaning of the act of baptism explained, Paul moves into the second meaning, the resurrection.

Many Jews believed that the Spirit would signify the eschatological end of the Exile, in which God’s power would enliven the children of Israel. We see this view expounded in Isaiah 44.3, 59.21; Ezekiel 39.29; and Joel 2.28-32 in which the Spirit is promised at the end of the Age. Further, there is the notion of the Resurrection of the Righteous as the end of age found in certain sects of Judaism (2 Macc 7.14-15, 12.43) in which at the End of the Age, the pious would be resurrected to rule over the earth. Paul, deeply entrenched in the faith of the resurrection, could then clearly state that the Spirit was life as he did in 8.10, which for him connected together the resurrection and the Spirit. With this, it behooves us to say that 8.1-11 is Paul’s subtopic in which he discusses the resurrection from the common argument began in Romans 6, while 8.12-17, just as 6.14-23 and 7.7-25 does, serves to provide for the audience the actual benefit of the action just enumerated.

For Paul, the justification of the believer was the key theological dogma of the early believing community; however, it wasn’t as simple as we often make it out to be. As with other doctrines, they tend to get tired, and thus we dispose of them readily, forgetting the greatness of thought which went into producing them. For Paul, justification wasn’t just a word, but a sum total of the Christian experience in Christ. By participating in baptism, we are participating in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. By participating in that act, we are actively participating in the Age to Come, inaugurated by Jesus. There is, then, a necessity to baptism, in which we die and come to receive the Spirit which is life. It is not enough then to just preach about salvation or justification, or ensure the proper translation, but we must partake of the very act through baptism.

MP, 364)

Kirk, J R. Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2008.

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