Romans 6:15-23

Apr 25, 2009


There is much that could be said about the structure of this passage.  The overall structure is quite simple.  The concepts are introduced in section A, then elaborated in the central B sections.  The conclusion A’ summarizes and synthesizes these ideas in a simple and effective way.  Regarding more specific observations, note my (admittedly different)  translation of the second main clause of 6:17.  The usual translation (where believers are portrayed as obeying the pattern of teaching to which they were delivered) doesn’t ultimately seem to be in keeping with the main tenor of the passage.  Paul is talking about a transfer of enslavement from to sin to God.  It seems much more likely that the relative pronoun ought to be interpreted as “whom” referring to God to whom we were delivered (not “which” referring to the pattern of teaching to which we were delivered).  At first, I am sure the reader will recoil at my translation because the sentence doesn’t flow very smoothly and the idea seems so different from the norm.  However, some of this is due to my desire to maintain a more wooden translation that can be readily associated with the structure of the sentence.  It is quite common to rearrange for continuity of thought in English translations.  In this case, Paul’s own writing in this verse is also a bit unexpected.  The relative pronoun portion would normally be reserved for last, whereas it is penultimate (so that it is more closely associated with it kindred thought in the phrase (from the heart).  It should not be surprising that the translation will reflect this unusual ordering.  In addition, there are several clues that should be taken into account to support my proposal.  First, the structure of the this clause appears to be chiastic.  As Just mentioned, the two inner terms are related to one another in that they reference the obedience of faith.  Indeed, they are even phrased, using the prepositions in an analogous fashion to that which is found in “from faith leading to faith” of 1:17.  The righteousness of God revealed in the Gospel (the most probable referent of “the example of teaching”) is from faith and this subjective faith on the part of the hearer is the same as the “from the heart” reference here.  Paul uses the preposition eiß (usually translated “into” or “for”) in the same way that he has just used this preposition in 6:16 (sin “leading to death” or obedience “leading to righteousness”).  He also references the fact that they “obeyed” as he also did in the latter portion of 6:16.  There, because of its near context, it is probably shorthand for the “obedience of faith” as distinguished from the reference to obedience earlier in that verse (which, because of its own near context, takes the more general conceptual meaning of the term).  Here, in 6:17, he makes the reference to faith clear and, by use of the preposition, he adds, parenthetically - for emphasis, that this faith is the actual means of the transfer in enslavement. For more occurrences of this “leading to” (or “resulting in”) meaning and usage of the preposition, see Rom 5:12-21.  The bottom line is that “leading to” is placed with the relative pronoun “who/whom” and these, the way I see it, go with the 2nd person plural, aorist passive verb “you were delivered” (optionally translated “handed over” or “given”).  The outer terms would be the the two main parts of the sentence, “you obeyed...the example of teaching” (meaning they obeyed the Gospel).  Also, note that Paul’s reference “thanks be to God” in the first clause of 6:17 ought to be regarded as a clue to the usage of the relative pronoun in the next clause. We should almost expect to see an reference to God as the one we are enslaved to.  In fact, we do see it here, but it is more implicit.  Paul saved his explicit reference to this enslavement to God for the climactic middle portion  of the concluding section even though it was clear enough before being explicitly stated (see 6:22).

The next two sections (vs 18-20 and 21-23) contain some interesting structures which combine chiastic (ABBA) and regular ABAB parallelism.  The outline above should serve as a full enough explanation of these structural stylings.