Romans 8:1-16

Sep 7, 2009


The structure of Romans 8 is intricate to say the least.  I realize that the multiple abbreviations within the outline above may tend to crowd out clarity at first glance.  At times it is apparent that Paul artfully layers several types of parallelism together.  In order to get the best picture of what was on Paul’s mind, it is necessary to understand as much of these layerings as possible.  However, in order to keep this blog entry at a reasonable size I will not go into too much detail.  It is my hope that, with a little effort, the outline will reward the student with a handy reminder of Paul’s rhetoric.

Note the following regarding the larger balance of the structure. The plea of Saul the Pharisee in Romans 7 “Who will deliver me from this body of death” was briefly answered even there by St. Paul (“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord”).  That brief answer is explained here in terms of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The first four verses of chapter 8 reaffirm that a state of slavery to sin is not something we must struggle with until the resurrection (per the only hope of Saul).  Deliverance is a present reality because of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.  There is no longer any verdict of future condemnation (“death” vs 2) looming over us.  We have been set free from the law of sin and death by the law of the Spirit of Life (referring to God’s subjective work of the Spirit in the believer - redemption applied). Simply put, Christians are no longer under condemnation for their sin because:

vs 2  They have received and are led by the Spirit “of life.” The distinction between having the Spirit and being led by the Spirit is not apparent in Romans 8 (as it is in Gal 5:24). Paul assumes that the law of the Spirit that released us (past tense) will accomplish its purpose.  The Spirit leads to eternal life, just as sin results in death.  Grace reigns through righteousness leading to eternal life (Rom 5:21). Thus we have been set free from a life of enslavement to sin leading to death. 

vs 3-4 This spiritual state of affairs has come about because God sent his Son as a sin offering (a reference to God’s objective work -  redemption accomplished).  Sin in the flesh has been condemned at the cross.  Christ became a sin offering on our behalf that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor 5:21).  This was made effective for us when we believed since that is when we also died to sin through our identification with the sacrificial death of Christ for our sins.  The order between vs 2 and vs 3 is logical, not chronological.

The last five verses of this pericope also emphasize our freedom from sin in the flesh through the Spirit.  Just as the first section introduced and explained the topic in terms of the Spirit and Flesh as the center of the chiasm (vs 2-3), so also Paul explains and summarizes in the same manner (but note the reverse order).  In his concluding structure (vs 14-16), Paul explains briefly several aspects of what it means to be led by the Spirit.  We have not received a Spirit of slavery again (so as to fear condemnation for sin (per vs 1-2).  On the contrary, we, who are led by the Spirit, are the free born Sons of God.  Note that Paul includes a reference here to “Son’s of God” and this coincides with the reference to God’s Son (vs 3).  Being led by the Spirit is characterized by its ultimate expression - the worship of God, our father. This is based on its ultimate inward stimulus - the confirming realization, via the Spirit, that we are God’s children.

Regarding the main middle section of the chiastic structure, note that it is also cast in terms of an explanation of flesh and then Spirit.  These two main terms form an inner chiastic structure that allows Paul to begin with a contrast between flesh and Spirit and end with an explanation of the resurrection using the ideas of body and Spirit.  The most inward sections get to the heart of what it means to be a Christian (or not).  They are primarily ordered in chiastic fashion, although vs 7-8 are also ordered with synonymous parallelism.  The outer sections simply alternate in ABAB form.

Remember that this section begins Paul’s conclusion which is crafted using the concepts of the Christian triad: faith hope and love.  This may, at first, sound like a surprising assertion, since the word “faith” and its cognates is completely absent from this section.  Indeed, the word is absent from its last occurrence at the beginning of chapter 5 until it reappears in chapter 9.  But it would be fallacious to assume that the absence of the word precludes the presence of the concept.  The lesson of the entire second half of the righteousness section (Rom 5:12 - 8:39) is that those who have believed are “in Christ” and so must live accordingly (through our participation by faith, implicitly).  The obedience that Paul is so concerned about, is none other than the obedience of faith.  The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, which has released us from slavery to sin, is not unrelated to the last non-mosaic “law” reference that Paul spoke of - the the law of faith from Rom 3:27 and thus also the “faith of Jesus Christ” (3:220.  Once the concept of faith is recognized in this section, it is not difficult to see “hope” and then “love” in the sections to follow.