An Exegetical Commentary
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 24 February 2011; Revised 25 March 2016
Scripture Text: The Scripture text of used in this chapter commentary is prepared by Blaine Robison based on the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. The essentially literal translation seeks to reflect the Jewish character of the author and writing. Unless otherwise indicated other Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. The LXX with English translation may be found here.
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of this chapter commentary. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. Links to other ancient Jewish literature may be found at EarlyJewishWritings.com.
Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). The meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB," found online at BibleHub.com. Explanation of Greek grammatical forms and a pronunciation guide for New Testament Greek may be found here. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance reference numbers are identified with "SH" for Hebrew and "SG" for Greek.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Torah (Law), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
Deontology: God's Ethical Expectations, 12:1–13:14
Service to God, 12:1-13
Service in the World, 12:14-21
Anyone who thinks the Torah for Paul, while holy and good, is just a relic of Jewish history has not read chapters twelve through fifteen of Romans. Many Christian interpreters prefer to reduce God's expectations down to the two commandments for love (often turning love of neighbor into loving oneself) and avoid the actual and very specific demands that God makes upon his people. For Paul the divine ethical demands are built upon his Israelology. Chapters Nine through Eleven were not just a diversion, but lead naturally to the character God expects of the covenantal commonwealth of Israel with its grafted-in Gentile disciples.
1― I exhort you then, brothers and sisters, by the mercy of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, your reasonable service.
I exhort: Grk. parakaleō, pres., call to be at one's side. In various contexts the word can have degrees of urgency or firmness, such as exhort, entreat, comfort, or to encourage performance. The word was used in classical Greek of exhorting troops who were about to go into battle (Rienecker). Paul actually begins the verse in typical Hebraic fashion by putting the verb first. you then: Grk. oun, an inferential conj., which may (1) indicate a conclusion connected with data immediately preceding, 'so, therefore, consequently, then;' (2) indicate that one takes account of something in the narrative immediately preceding, 'then;' or (3) simply indicate a stage in the narrative, 'so, then.' The third application fits here.
brothers and sisters: pl. of Grk. adelphos, lit. "of the same womb," and in secular Greek meant "brother." Usage in the apostolic writings is generally literal, but figurative uses also abound indicating affinity in common interests or culture. In the apostolic narratives adelphos primarily refers to blood siblings or fellow Israelites (Matt 4:18; 5:22-24; Mark 3:22; Acts 1:14; 3:22; 7:13), but in the apostolic letters adelphos, often in the plural, refers primarily to disciples of Yeshua and members of believing communities (e.g. 1Cor 1:10; Gal 1:2; Php 2:25; 1Th 3:22).
The plural vocative case (direct address) used is translated as "brothers and sisters" (Danker) given that Paul is addressing all the members of believing community in Rome. It's inconceivable that the vocative case would not include the women, given the amount of hortatory material that follows. This is a tactful approach in exercising his apostolic authority as well as expressing his affection for them on the ground of their shared bond in Yeshua. No one in the congregation is allowed to think he is exempt from this exhortation.
by the mercy: pl. of Grk. oiktirmos, tender concern for one in trying circumstances or distress. The NIV translates the plural noun with the singular "mercy," which Harrison justifies due to the use of oiktirmos in the LXX to render the Heb. rachamim, an intensive plural of racham, meaning "great mercy" or "compassion." The word racham originally meant brotherhood or brotherly feeling, of those born from the same womb (BDB 933). However, racham-oiktirmos emphasizes the character of the act, not the number of times that it occurs. Indeed, as Jeremiah observed, racham is a daily experience (Lam 3:22-23). Paul's mention of mercies is meant to connect with his discussion of God's mercy in 11:30-36.
of God: oiktirmos denotes that quality in God that moves him to deliver man from his state of sin and misery and therefore underlies his saving activity in the Messiah (Harrison). Paul may be alluding to his own experience of God's great mercy on the Damascus Road and thereby God's "mercy" becomes the leverage for the appeal that follows. to present: Grk. paraistēmi, to present, a technical term for presenting a sacrifice, lit. meaning "to place beside" for any purpose (Rienecker). The verb is in the aorist tense, indicating a decisive act of the will.
your bodies: Grk. sōma, normally used of a structured physical unit in distinction from its parts. Sōma is used in the apostolic writings for both a living body and a corpse. Paul is not likely reflecting Stoic philosophy here, even though he was raised in a city where Stoicism was very popular. Stoicism emphasized seeking "the good," which in practical terms meant a life of moderation, frugality and even asceticism. For the Stoic the path to personal happiness and inner peace could be accomplished by extinguishing all desire to have or to affect things beyond ones control and through living for the present without hope for or fear of the future. See the note on 2:1. From the Jewish point of view Paul likely intended two levels of meaning, both the physical and the metaphorical. Unlike the Greeks the Hebrews viewed a person as an organic whole, so to speak of the body implied the whole person. One could not consecrate a body without also consecrating the mind, which he will go on to address in the next verse.
a living: Grk. zaō, adjective, the state of being alive. sacrifice: Grk. thusia, an offering or sacrifice made for religious purposes. In the Greek text thusia actually precedes zaō. In one respect a "living sacrifice" is an oxymoron, and although Paul does not explain what he means, the background is the sacrificial system at the Jerusalem Temple as an illustration of the kind of consecration that God expects. The animal gives its all without the ability to give consent. Whereas the heathen are prone to sacrifice in order to obtain favor, biblical faith teaches that the divine mercy provides the basis for sacrifice as the fitting response (Harrison). Little considered by commentators is that Paul is probably alluding to a particular practice, from which he draws an ethical application.
Early rabbinic discussion in the Mishnah describes a variety of mistakes and problems in animal offerings that could lead to a "living sacrifice" (Kerithoth 6.1-6; Pesachim 9:6-7; Temurah 3:1-4; Yebamoth 11:5; Zevachim 8.1-3). For example, a lamb or goat had been set aside for Passover and subsequently lost, and a substitute had been designated, but then the original animal turned up; or a female animal was picked by mistake for an offering where only a male was prescribed. In these and other kinds of situations the animals presented for sacrifice could not be un-offered. So, although they were sacrifices, the animals were kept alive as temple property until they became blemished. They could then be killed for meat and sold for the Temple funds. The description of these sacrifices in the Mishnah as "pastured till blemished" may stand behind the curious noun plus double adjectives used by Paul, thusian zōsan hagian, literally "sacrifices, alive, holy" (Brewer).
A "living sacrifice" might carry an idiomatic meaning, in that since people cannot be killed as a sacrificial animal would eventually be, a "living sacrifice" is one that keeps on being made. Yeshua exhorted his disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me" (Luke 9:23). By extension viewing oneself as a living sacrifice means a readiness to die in the service of our Master. Paul echoes this thought in 1 Corinthians 15:31 where he says, "I die daily," and he urges a discipleship of love based on the example of Yeshua who "gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling fragrance" (Eph 5:2). Paul spoke frankly about his own commitment:
"according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will no way be put to shame in anything, but with all boldness, as always, now also Messiah will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Messiah and to die is gain." (Phil 1:20-21 HNV)
"But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all." (Phil 2:17 NASB)
When it came time to write his final letter Paul once again used the language of sacrifice to depict his readiness to receive the martyr's crown:
"For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." (2Tim 4:6-7)
In addition, a "living sacrifice" may hint at the concept of giving praise to God as a substitute for animal offerings.
"Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, For you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take words with you and return to the LORD. Say to Him, "Take away all iniquity and receive us graciously, that we may present [lit. "keep on presenting"] the fruit [lit. "bulls"] of our lips." (Hos 14:1-2)
"Therefore, through Him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess [lit. "keep on confessing"] His name." (Heb 13:15 HCSB)
holy: Grk. hagios, adjective, set apart for dedication to the interests or expectations of deity. See note on 11:16. That which is considered holy is the property of God, that is, wholly his. Paul exhorts disciples to exercise their wills to choose total consecration, that is, to belong fully to God. However, in the Torah being "holy" was not just a property issue, but a moral issue as well. To be holy meant being the opposite of unclean and the most serious cause of uncleanness is sexual impurity (Lev 18:24).
A "holy body" is one that refrains from the sexual acts and consanguineous marriages prohibited in Leviticus 18. In Egypt it was lawful to marry sisters and half-sisters. With the Persians, Medians, Indians, Ethiopians and Assyrians, marriage was allowed with mother, daughter and sister. While the Greeks and Romans abhorred consanguineous marriages and practiced monogamy (one "legal" wife), men typically consorted with temple prostitutes and engaged in every form of sexual vice abhorrent to God. In his letter to the Corinthians congregation Paul rebuked the unholy use of the body and called the congregation there to holy living:
"Don't you know that your bodies are parts of the Messiah? So, am I to take parts of the Messiah and make them parts of a prostitute? Heaven forbid! Don't you know that a man who joins himself to a prostitute becomes physically one with her? For the Tanakh says, "The two will become one flesh"; but the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit. Run from sexual immorality! Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the fornicator sins against his own body. Or don't you know that your body is a temple for the Ruach HaKodesh who lives inside you, whom you received from God? The fact is, you don't belong to yourselves; for you were bought at a price. So use your bodies to glorify God. (1Cor 6:15-20 CJB)
Paul summed up the principle of a holy body in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4, "for this is the will of God your sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality, that each one of you know how to possess himself of his own vessel [i.e., body] in sanctification and honor."
acceptable: Grk. euarestos, well-pleasing or acceptable. This is part of the sacrifice terminology and refers to meeting God's requirements (Lev 19:5). to God: Grk. theos. In secular Greek writings a number of deities, always represented in anthropomorphic form, were called theos. In ancient polytheistic culture theos was not one omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, Creator and ruler of the universe and certainly not spirit as described in Scripture (John 4:24). In the LXX theos primarily renders the general names of God: El, Eloah and Elohim, but also YHVH (DNTT 2:67-70). As with many other Greek words the LXX infused new meaning into theos. The only God in existence is the God who created the heavens and the earth out of nothing (Gen 1:1) and who chose Israel out of all the nations on the earth (Isa 44:6; 45:5-6, 14, 18, 21; 46:9). Only Christians and Jews worship the true God. The deities of all other religions and cults are the product of Satan-inspired imagination.
your reasonable: Grk. logikos, pertaining to reason, rational, or spiritual (Rienecker; BAG). The word occurs only twice in the apostolic writings, the other in 1 Peter 2:2. The word does not occur in the LXX at all, but does occur in the Jewish philosopher Philo (20 BC - AD 50). In secular Greek philosophy logikos was used to describe man as a rational being (DNTT 3:1118). Thus, the KJV follows this normal meaning of logikos and translates it as "reasonable." Some versions, as the NASB, render logikos as "spiritual" (ESV, HCSB, HNV, NCV, NIV, NRSV, RSV). However, Danker gives the meaning as "characterized by careful thinking, or "thoughtful," which supports the KJV. The CJB conveys the same meaning with "logical."
As a contemporary of Paul, the philosopher Philo uses logikos in a couple of ways that could well have a bearing on Paul's intention here.
"But we must not be ignorant that when he says man here [Gen 6:9], he does not mean merely to use the common expressions for a rational [logikos] mortal animal, but that he means to indicate in an eminent degree him who verifies the name, having driven away all the untameable and furious passions and brutal wickednesses of the soul (On Abraham, VI, 32).
"In the eyes of God it is not the number of things sacrificed that is accounted valuable, but the purity of the rational [logikos] spirit of the sacrificer. (Special Laws, I, 277)
"Spiritual" seems to miss the point as far as Paul's choice of words for the original audience.
service: Grk. latreia, from the verb latreuō, normally cultic devotion, that is, service or worship of God at the sanctuary. See the note on 9:4. While Stern suggests that the usage of latreia (standing in the LXX for Heb. avodah) refers to the religious "service" performed in the Jerusalem Temple, latreia can also have the meaning of heart-service, worship and intercession.
"It shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the LORD your God and to serve [LXX latreuō] Him with all your heart and all your soul." (Deut 11:13)
Paul uses the verb in this non-cultic sense in Romans 1:9 where he says he serves "in spirit." In addition, heart-service naturally leads to worship and service on behalf of others. In Philippians 3:3 Paul refers to worship [latreuō] of God in the Spirit. Paul's use of service accords with Yeshua's own instruction that the day would come when "true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth" (John 4:23). This worship not only engages in adoration of God, but service to others in the form of intercession, as in the case of Daniel.
"Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and supplication before his God. … Then the king gave orders, and Daniel was brought in and cast into the lions' den. The king spoke and said to Daniel, "Your God whom you constantly serve [LXX latreuō] will Himself deliver you." (Daniel 6:11, 16)
The point of this discussion is that those in the Roman congregation, especially the Gentiles, can't perform the Temple service that occurred in Jerusalem. Jews and proselytes made pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the three annual mandatory feasts (Passover, Weeks and Tabernacles), but not necessarily every year. However, Paul is calling these disciples to a level of devotion to God comparable to the Temple priests who worked for God every day of the year. Disciples may not be able to go to Jerusalem, but like Daniel they can devote themselves to worship and prayer where they are and perform appropriate service for the body of Messiah.
2― And be not conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so that you may prove what is the will of God, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
And be not: Grk. mē, a particle of qualified negation. It differs from the other standard negative particle, oú, in that oú is objective, dealing only with facts, while mē is subjective, involving will and thought. With mē the negation concerns a supposition and thus prohibits or forbids (DM 265f). conformed: Grk. suschēmatizō, pres. mid. imp. verb, to give a distinctive form or style to something. The present tense combined with the negative mē ("don't be") forbids the continuance of an action in progress. Paul's concern is to discourage either pagan or prejudicial influences alien to genuine discipleship and harmful to building the body of Messiah.
to this age: Grk. aiōn, an extended period of time, and normally translated as "age" or "eternity," although in a few passages it can mean the world as a spatial entity. Most versions render aiōn as "world," because it has much common ground with kosmos, the more usual term for "world" (Harrison). HCSB translates aiōn as "age," which I think is more appropriate. In Hebraic thinking time is divided between the present age and the age to come (Matt 12:32; Mark 10:30; Eph 1:21). The present aiōn is evil (Gal 1:4) with Satan as its god (2Cor 4:4). The disciple has been delivered from this present evil aiōn (Gal 1:4), and does not rely on the wisdom of this aiōn, which is passing away (1Cor 2:6). Instead, the disciple lives by the powers of the aiōn to come (Heb 6:5) in which the Messiah rules as King. Paul's command parallels his instruction to Titus to "deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age" (Titus 2:12).
but be transformed: Grk. metamorphoō, present passive imperative, undergo complete alteration; in terms of character to be changed or transformed. The passive mood emphasizes that such transformation is received from God, not produced merely by self-effort. by the renewing: Grk. anakainōsis, noun, dative case, makeover of the mind. The noun probably should be translated as "renewal," which implies the goal or end-state rather than the process. of the mind: Grk. nous, noun genitive case, the capacity to comprehend or discern. Paul calls for disciples to be transformed both negatively by not being conformed to the world (being directed by worldly philosophy or ethics) and then positively by renewal of the mind (changing the way we think about God and ourselves).
that you may prove: Grk. dokimazō, pres. act. inf., evaluate significance or worth, which may focus either on the process or the outcome. The use of the infinitive indicates a desired attribute of discipleship and not merely a task to be performed. what is the will: Grk. thelēma, that which is carried out according to wish or purpose. of God: Grk. theos. This expression actually precedes the three adjectives as the syntax of the first verse. It's hardly surprising that Paul would give the will of God a triune character as a reflection of the nature of God. The stated purpose of this transformation is that the disciple will be able to understand and apply the will of God, an expression that refers to the moral will of God expressed in the Torah. Paul has already described the Torah with the three-fold adjectives of "holy, righteous and good" [agathos] in 7:12. This is not the sovereign will of God, which is unknowable, nor does it refer to God's will for one's vocation that one may "feel" called to do. (See my article The Will of God.)
the good: Grk. agathos, adj., pertaining to achieving a high standard of excellence in meeting a need or interest. and acceptable: Grk. euarestos, adj., pleasing or acceptable. and perfect: Grk. teleios, adj., free from any deficiency, omission or corruption; generally translated as complete or perfect. Paul's exhortation stands in contrast to Hellenistic philosophy which dominated the culture of the time. While there were several philosophical systems in vogue at the time all the philosophies were focused on "the good," which basically meant determining what was best for the individual and seeking the kind of life that was most beneficial and satisfactory for oneself. Hellenistic philosophy was thoroughly self–focused and contrary to biblical values.
In Scripture the concept of "the good" is totally linked with trust in God and faithfulness to God. "The good," cannot be experienced apart from the holy Creator God. The good is always a gift of God and as such is outside the control of man to produce in his own strength. God is the one, the only one, who is innately or inherently good (Mark 10:18). So, by biblical teaching, "the good life" cannot be achieved by focusing on one's self, but by doing what imitates the nature of God by the power of God. The prophet Micah defined "the good" this way, "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" (Mic 6:8 NASB).
For a disciple "the good" means living in a manner pleasing to God (Matt 5:16; Php 2:13; Col 1:10), just as Yeshua exhorted the rich young ruler that the good life could be found in keeping the commandments (Matt 19:17; cf. Rom 7:12; 1Tim 1:8). The commandments are summarized by the two greatest commandments, to love God with one's total being and to love one's neighbor as oneself (Luke 10:25-28). When Paul proclaimed the good news in Athens he called the Greek philosophers to repent and believe in the Jewish Messiah, who is the epitome of goodness (Acts 10:38).
3― For through the grace given to me I say to everyone being among you not to be high-minded above what it behooves you to be minded, but to be minded so as to be right-minded, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
For through the grace: Grk. charis, a disposition marked by inclination to generosity, frequently unmotivated by the worth of the recipient. See the note on 1:5. Charis is equivalent to Heb. hēn (favor, inclination), which is extended by God to his people. given to me: Grk. didōmi, aor. pass. part., to give or donate. Paul alludes to the great divine mercy he experienced on the Damascus Road. The transformation experience and commissioning as an apostle gave him his raison d'ētre (reason for existence) so that he often refers to it in his sermons in Acts and his writings. Shulam notes also that "grace" (Heb. chesed) when combined with this construction "I urge you therefore by the grace of God" (equal to the opening clause in the first verse where he uses "mercy") was a technical phrase in Second Temple Jewish literature for halakhic authority. Halakhah, generally considered as Jewish law, literally means "the path that one walks," and refers to the rules and practices that affect every aspect of life.
I say: Grk. legō, present tense verb, to make a statement or utterance whether in oral or written form. The present tense indicates that the following words are something that Paul has often repeated. to everyone: Grk. pas, an adjective that conveys the idea of comprehensiveness as qualified by the context and without statistical emphasis. The singular adjective is intended in a corporate sense, so Paul addresses every person in the congregation, not just the men. being: Grk. eimi, pres. part., to be, a function word used primarily to declare a state of existence, whether in the past ('was, were'), present ('are, is') or future ('will be'), often to unite a subject and predicate (BAG).
among: Grk. en, prep., lit. 'in, within.' you: Grk. humeis, 2p-pl. pers. pron. Because of both the transformative experience and his appointment as apostle to the Gentiles, Paul has the qualifications and authority to appeal to the congregation even though he has never met its members. Using this authority he exhorts the congregation from this point to the end of the letter in principles and practical guidelines, thoroughly grounded in Torah, that will strengthen relationships in the body of faith and make them more effective witnesses for the Messiah. Paul then plays on the various forms of the Greek root verb phroneō, to think, to address basic attitudes.
not: Grk. mē. See the previous verse. to be high-minded: Grk. huperphroneō, pres. inf., to think self-importantly to the point of haughtiness. Since the infinitive is a verbal noun and generally used in purpose or result clauses, its use with the negative particle mē indicates a prohibition of foolish action. It's noteworthy that Paul does not use the imperative mood in this verse to command behavior as he does in the previous verse, but rather he appeals to their spiritually enlightened reason. above: Grk. para, prep., lit. "beside," but here with a focus on position that is near or next to something and with the verb denotes that which is above. what: Grk. hos, rel. pron. it behooves: Grk. dei, pres., impersonal verb from deō ('lack, stand in need of') and thus conveys the idea of something that's necessary, something that must or needs to happen. to be minded: Grk. phroneō, pres. inf., to engage in the process of mental activity, to think, to set the mind or attention on something. Jacob cautions his readers on the use of the tongue (Jas 1:26; 3:5-8), but Paul goes to the source of what comes out of the mouth, because invariably haughtiness will manifest itself in words.
so as: Grk. eis, prep. to be right-minded: Grk. sōphroneō, pres. inf., to be in one's right mind, as opposed to being deranged, and this context means to be reasonable or sensible. In Stoic philosophy, familiar to Paul and his audience, the noun sōphrosunē meant prudence, one of four cardinal virtues (wisdom, courage, prudence and justice). The Stoics further expanded prudence into subordinate virtues of discipline, obedience, decency, propriety, modesty, temperance and self-control. As the LXX shows, there is no Hebrew equivalent for the Greek word-group, although sōphrosunē was familiar to Hellenistic Judaism (DNTT 1:501f). Shulam points out that to think reasonably is closely related to the Hebrew concept of humility and in that context Paul urges right thinking in order to produce right behavior.
as God has allotted: Grk. merizō, aor., cause to be in parts or pieces, to divide. In the LXX merizō renders Heb. chalaq (to portion, divide, share, BDB 323). In most passages of the Tanakh where chalaq occurs, something (land, Temple duties, sacrifices) is being divided at God's direction. to each: Grk. ekastos, adj., a reference to an individual person or thing. God chooses to "spread the wealth" of his grace rather than restrict it to any one person or any one people. a measure: Grk. metron, a measure, a term used both literally as an instrument for measuring and the result of measuring, and figuratively as here.
of faith: Grk. pistis, faithfulness or fidelity, as well as trust or confidence. Stern notes that pistis to Heb. emunah, faithfulness (229). Thus, biblical faith is composed of two elements, trust and faithfulness or trustworthiness. Faith is a gift of God (Acts 3:16; 1Cor 12:9; Gal 3:22; Eph 2:8; 2Pet 1:1). By a "measure of faith" Paul obviously does not mean saving faith, which is required of all in the same measure. Shulam suggests the concept corresponds to the Qumran expression a "spirit of faithfulness," according to which God has made distinctions between members of the community. Paul will go on to speak of this faithfulness in term of love, since each member is bound to his brother through the grace which God has given to every member. (cf. John 15:10 and 1Jn 2:5f which define love as faithfulness to God's commandments.)
4― For just as we have many members in one body and all members have not the same function,
For just as we have many members: Grk. melos, part of a bodily structure, used both literally of a part of physical body and figuratively as here. in one body, and all members have not the same function: Grk. praxis, engagement in performance, here referring to the distinctive function of the bodily parts. God never intended his covenantal community to be concentrated in a few parts. The incredible diversity found in every aspect of creation and the human body itself testifies to God's desire to work his glory and power in a myriad of ways.
5― so we, the many, are one body in Messiah, and individually members one of another.
so we, the many, are one body: While the epistles contain references to offices and hierarchy in congregations, Paul's ecclesiology is essentially organic and functional, not organizational. The distinctions in the body of Messiah are not based on levels of power but of divinely appointed roles designed for the good of the whole. Paul further develops this theology in 1 Corinthians 12 & 14, and Ephesians 4.
in Messiah: Grk. Christos, the expected fulfiller of the hopes of Israel for an end-time deliverer, the Anointed One or Messiah. The English "Christ" transliterates the Greek title, but does not translate it. In Greek culture christos comes from chriein, to rub lightly, and in its secular use had no religious connotation at all. Christos as an adjective described someone smeared with whitewash, cosmetics or paint, and was anything but an expression of honor. As a personal reference it even tended toward the disrespectful (DNTT 2:334). Jewish translators of the LXX chose Christos to render Heb. Mashiach and in so doing infused new meaning into the Greek word. For an expanded discussion on the Jewish title and Jewish expectations of the Messiah see my commentary on Mark 1:1.
and individually members one of another: Not only did God created incredible diversity in nature and man, but he also made all systems with interdependent parts. Just as the optimum performance of the physical body depends on all its parts working as designed by the Creator, so too disciples should recognize their need of fellow disciples. The body of Messiah is not an individualistic Lone Ranger religion.
But having: Grk. echō, pres. act. part., to have or possess. In verses 6 through 13 Paul uses no regular verbs, only participles, reflecting Hebraic grammar (Stern). This manner of using participles is very uncommon in Koine Greek, which indicates that the apostolic writings is really Jewish Greek akin to the LXX. A participle is a verbal adjective, so it not only describes action, but also the character of the one performing the action. different: Grk. diaphoros, adj., dissimilar, differing, various. gifts: pl. of Grk. charisma, that which results from the activity of generosity and in the apostolic writings always in connection with divine generosity bestowed on believers. In the previous chapter Paul asserted that the "gifts [charisma] of God…are irrevocable," which include the gifts to the covenant people Israel mentioned at 9:4-5.
All disciples share in the covenant gifts, but God also assigns personal gifts as described in this chapter and in 1 Corinthians 12. Of interest is that charisma occurs five times in 1 Corinthians 12, three of which refer specifically to gifts of healing (12:9, 28, 30). Rabbi Wolkenfeld at the Messianic Jewish congregation where I attend suggests that the personal gifts are also irrevocable. However, as he also pointed out the receipt of a gift does not automatically make it spiritual. according to the grace: Grk. charis. See verse 3 above. given to us: Grk. hēmeis, 1p-pl. pers. pron. Paul does not list gifts of service to create a hierarchy in the body of Yeshua (Shulam 425). Peter offers similar instruction: "As each one has received some spiritual gift (charisma), he should use it to serve others" (1Pet 4:10). Commentators on spiritual gifts generally divide them into two types: Word Ministries (prophecy, teaching, exhortation, leading) and Table Ministries (serving, giving and mercies).
Paul lists seven gifts, only two of which are repeated in 1 Corinthians 12 (prophecy and teaching). Paul may have selected seven for symbolic purposes, since these seven are the basic functions needed for cohesiveness and effective ministry in any congregation. The diversity of gifts illustrates that God does not have the same expectations of all disciples in terms of ministry. The congregation is multi-functional to better serve the needs of everyone in the Body of Messiah. The general nature of this list also suggests that these gifts may be found in every congregation, and that while individuals might normally minister within one area, there may be occasions when a disciple might by the direction of the Spirit exercise a different gift. Some versions insert "let each exercise them accordingly" at this point for the sake of expressing the sense of the exhortation.
whether: Grk. eite, a conjunction that introduces a conditional statement; if, or if, whether. prophecy: Grk. prophēteia, a feminine noun derived from the verb prophēteuō (to foretell, tell forth or prophesy), with three functional meanings: (1) the act of stating or disclosing divine will and purpose; (2) gift for disclosure of divine will or purpose; (3) or a disclosure made under divine authority or direction. Danker assigns the second meaning to this verse. Prophēteia occurs 19 times in the apostolic writings, nine of which are in Paul's writings and seven times in Revelation.
Prophēteia also occurs seven times in the LXX: once in 2 Chronicles 32:32 for Heb. chazōn ("vision"); twice for nevuah ("prophecy") in 2 Chronicles 15:8 and Nehemiah 6:12; once for the corresponding Aram. nevuah in Ezra 6:14; once in Daniel 9:24 for Heb. navi ("prophet"); and once in Ezra 5:1 for the corresponding Aram. noun neva ("prophet"). The LXX also inserts prophēteia into Jeremiah 23:31 to amplify the meaning of "tongues." The equivalent Heb. nevuah is also found in 2 Chronicles 9:29, but in that verse is translated with logos.
Prophecy is speaking on God's behalf, like the prophets of Israel described in the Tanakh. Some left literary works that later became Scripture. Others left no writings. Some gave advice to kings. Some prophesied in worship settings. Some saw visions. Some proclaimed a message in startling symbolic actions. Some were gentle, some were fiery, some were confrontational, some worshipful, some full of joy, others full of sadness. But, they all spoke for God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2Pet 11). The Hebrew prophets provided four types of messages: (1) They warned Israel and Judah of the sins that lead to judgment; (2) They announced in advance various disasters and consequences for specific sins; (3) they taught the people about how to avoid judgment and turn back to him; and (4) they gave hope for the future when Israel and Judah would be restored and revived.
Almost all of the Hebrew prophets were men, the first mentioned being Abraham (Gen 20:7). Some were women, such as Miriam (Ex 15:20), Huldah (2Kgs 22:14), and the wife of Isaiah (Isa 8:3). As early as 3 BC the Sages had declared, "Our Rabbis taught: Since the death of the last prophets, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, the Holy Spirit [of prophetic inspiration] departed from Israel" (Sanhedrin 11a). Yet, the prophetic voice returned in power with John the Immerser (Matt 11:13). Several others followed him in this role: Yeshua (Matt 21:11), Anna (Luke 2:36), Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32), the four daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9), and Agabus (Acts 21:10).
Prophesying leads the list of gifts here whereas in his Corinthian letter it is second to apostleship (1Cor 12:28). In 1 Corinthians 14:3 Paul identifies three specific benefits of prophesying: (1) edification - building up, strengthening, fitting together as in construction; (2) exhortation - encouragement, challenge, appeal to moral excellence, as well as comfort and consolation; and (3) consolation - encouragement, comfort, support. The ultimate purpose of prophesying is to increase one's passion for serving God. according to the proportion: Grk. analogia, proportion or measure and refers to the distribution of faith or the commitment necessary to implement spiritual gifts.
of his faithfulness: Grk. pistis. See note on verse 3 above. The CJB makes the clause a direct address with "use it to the extent of your trust." In this context faithfulness works two ways. First, God shows trust and faithfulness by granting these treasures of divine power to his disciples. Second, the disciple is expected to be faithful to use the gift according to God's will and with the anointing of the Holy Spirit, which is what makes a gift "spiritual" (cf. 1Cor 2:4, 14; 12:7). The Torah provides a standard for judging a prophet:
"But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.' You may say in your heart, 'How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?' When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” (Deut 18:20–22)
To this end Paul advises in 1 Corinthians 14:29, "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment."
7― or if service, in serving; or if the one teaching, in instruction;
or if: Grk. eite. See the previous verse. service: Grk. diakonia, service or ministration, especially in meeting the needs of others. Sometimes the term is used in the apostolic writings of dedication to a specific divine assignment, such as prayer and teaching. Other examples include special ministrations like that of Martha (Luke 10:40) and the collection for famine relief (1Cor 16:15; 2Cor 8:4). in serving: Grk. diakonia. Some versions have "serving" to make a distinction from the duplication, but it is a noun, not a participle. Diakonia is first and foremost service to God, as Yeshua said of the practical help provided in the parable of sheep and goats, "you did it to Me" (Matt 25:40). Diakonia does occur in 1 Corinthians 12:5, but there it is not identified as a gift and occurs in the plural in a generalizing sense of all ministries conducted in the community. Diakonia became an official office in the early congregation with the appointment of the seven in Acts 6:1-6 and Paul provides instructions for their work in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. In relation to spiritual ministry diakonia is always done without thought of personal gain.
or if: Grk. eite. the one teaching: Grk. didaskō, pres. part. with the definite article, to teach or instruct. in instruction: Grk. didaskalia, the act of imparting information or instruction. The role of teachers is deepen the believers' knowledge of God's truth. The office of teacher (Heb. moreh) was central in Torah-oriented society of Second Temple Judaism (Shulam). Teaching was the principal feature of synagogue worship. Biblical teaching is grounded in the principle that God's Word was given in order to teach man to walk in His ways (Ex 4:15; Deut 33:10; Ps 25:12). Scripture is the source of teaching (2Tim 3:16). The way to know God's will is through interpreting and applying his words and commandments recorded in Scripture.
8― or if the one exhorting, in exhortation; the one giving, with liberality; the one leading, with diligence; the one showing mercy, with cheerfulness.
or if: Grk. eite. See verse 6 above. the one exhorting: Grk. parakaleō, pres. part. with the definite article, to exhort or encourage performance. See verse 1 above. In 1 Corinthians 14:31, exhortation is an outcome of proper use of the prophetic gift. in exhortation: Grk. paraklēsis, emboldening for facing or carrying out a responsibility or task, exhortation or encouragement. The Greek phrase is lit. "in the exhortation." Paul is exhorting the congregation in accordance with the faith he has, so indirectly he provides an example of what the one with this gift should do. Paul's distinction between "teaching' and "exhortation" reflects the rabbinic distinction between halakhah and 'aggadah. The former dealt with teaching principles and rules of living derived from Torah. The latter was primarily an exposition of the biblical text, but in its homiletical function served to provide diverse expositions.
the one giving: Grk. metadidōmi, pres. part. with the definite article, to provide out of resources, to share, contribute or distribute. The act of "giving" includes contributions, charity and alms, as well as hospitality to strangers (Shulam). with liberality: Grk. aplotēs, quality or state of unmixed motivation or without mental reservation. This is an attitude of being open-handed and open-hearted, giving out of compassion, not ambition. The focus is on the sincerity of the act and not the specific form or amount it takes. This is the measure of "faithfulness" God expects.
the one leading: Grk. proistēsmi, pres. mid. part. with the definite article, be in a position of leading. While Shulam suggests that the verb reflects the function of the "elders" (Grk. presbuteroi, 1Tim 5:17), Paul makes no specific connection here with a principal office, whether pastor, elder or deacon, even though the early congregations mimicked synagogue organization. Ministry, of whatever nature, by design is a team effort and every team needs a leader. with diligence: Grk. spoudē, zealous commitment for carrying out an obligation or an opportunity for service.
the one showing mercy: Grk. eleeō, pres. act. part. with the definite article, to show concern for one who is in a bad situation or condition. The showing of mercy dominates Paul's thought for the remainder of the chapter. with cheerfulness: Grk. hilarotēs (from hilaros, "being favorably disposed") means gladness or wholeheartedness. Helping those in need should not proceed out of guilt but from the joy of the Lord.
9― love without hypocrisy, abhorring the evil; clinging to the good.
This verse continues the thought that began in verse 6 above. love: Grk. apapē, a relatively high level of interest in the welfare of another and may be translated as esteem or love. 1 Corinthians 13 outlines the key characteristics of a life dominated by this virtue. Conversely, several passages use agapē word group is used in a thoroughly negative sense (Matt 24:12, Luke 6:27; 11:43, John 3:19, 2Tim 4:10). The common factor in every passage employing agapē is the willingness to sacrifice, which sets it apart from the affection of phileō and the passion of eros. Agapē is that devotion of "heart, soul, mind and strength" that God expects to receive from the sons of Israel (Deut 6:5) and the New Covenant promises the ability to fulfill the command.
Such heart commitment yields an unwavering loyalty to the Lord who has provided so great a salvation. Agapē also manifests an empathy for others caught in the bondage of sin and fuels zeal for the Great Commission. The disciple's love can only be patterned after the Father who "first loved us" (1Jn 4:19) and gave his Son (John 3:16), and Yeshua who so loved his people Israel that he sacrificed his life (Eph 5:25). If God does not receive the total love demanded by the first commandment, then no one is likely to benefit from the second commandment to love others. without hypocrisy: Grk. anupokritos, adj., without pretending like an actor. Faithfulness requires love that is genuine and sincere.
abhorring: Grk. apostugeō, pres. part., to despise, to hate bitterly, lit. "shrinking from" (Marshall). It expresses a strong feeling of horror and the prepositional compound emphasizes the idea of separation (Rienecker). As noted above Paul (verse 6) makes a significant use of the participle and in particular verses 9-19 feature the participle used as an imperative. Scholars have long been puzzled over this particular usage of the participle in hortatory instructions concerning rules of social behavior within the community of faith and in families (also in Ephesians, Colossians and 1 Peter). Davies says that non-biblical Jewish writings used the participle in exactly the same manner, and thus Paul's use of the participle as imperative probably reflects Jewish sources (130f). Stern concurs in this information (428). Be that as it may, whatever Paul may owe to Jewish Sages or even his own Pharisee mentor, the form of his exhortations flow from his Messianic theology. With the use of the participle Paul is appealing to the conscience rather than commanding the will.
the evil: Grk. ponēros with the definite article. marked by lowness in social worth or deviation from an acceptable moral or social standard, particularly as prescribed by God in his Word. While the term has a broad application in Scripture, it's use with the definite article ho as here often refers to Satan (Matt 13:19; John 17;15; Eph 6:16; 1Jn 2:13f; 5:18f). Paul may intend a general homiletical meaning of anything that could be identified as evil, and he could be alluding to the principal agent in promoting wickedness, the Evil One. cling: Grk. kollaō, pres. pass. part., adhere to, stick to or attach to. to the good: Grk. agathos. See verse 2 above. Agathos also has the definite article. Just as ho ponēros can refer to Satan, so ho agathos can refer to God, as Yeshua said to the rich young ruler: "Why do you call me good [ho agathos]? No one is good [ho agathos] but one, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the mitzvot" (Matt 19:17 CJB). Paul could intend a focus on good works that fulfill Torah (e.g., 2:7, 10; 7:12; 12:2), but he could just as likely be speaking metaphorically in a typical Hebraic manner to contrast of our worst enemy and our greatest ally.
10― devoted to one another in brotherly love; preferring one another in honor;
This verse continues the thought that began in verse 6 above. devoted: Grk. philostorgas, adj., with special tender concern. The noun is a combination of philos and storgē, a word that does not occur in Scripture. In Greek culture storgē was used for the love of a people for their ruler, or for the love of a nation or household for their patron god; but the regular use had especially to do with family affection, the love of parents for children and children for parents (Barclay-NTW 18). Philostorgas occurs only here in Scripture and serves to emphasize that the community of believers in its essence is not a society, but a family. one to another: Grk. allēlōn, a reciprocal pronoun that emphasizes the plurality of the congregation and the connectedness of individual members to the rest. in brotherly love: Grk. philadelphia, from a combination of philos ("in a close relationship with another") and adelphos ("of the same womb," "brother").
In usage in the apostolic writings philadelphia has the sense of treating the members of one's group with the kind of affection felt for a brother or sister (cf. 1Pet 3:8). preferring: proēgeomai, pres. mid. part., lead onward by example, go before, prefer. one another: Grk. allēlōn is repeated as in a poetic synonymous parallelism. "Preferring one another" could have the sense either of being ahead of one another in showing honor or when it comes to honor each one considering another more worthy than oneself. Shulam observes that Paul's list of ethical admonitions interprets and applies the meaning of the second great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. in honor: Grk. timē denotes recognition of another's work by giving him the position and honors he merits. Timē is always something given to God or one's fellowman, though not necessarily one's social superior (DNTT 2:44).
11― not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;
The Greek text says lit. "in zeal not slothful, in spirit burning, the Lord serving" (Marshall). not lagging behind: Grk. oknēros, adj., hesitant about doing something, sluggish. Marshall renders as "not slothful." In the English vernacular it would be comparable to "dragging one's feet." in diligence: Grk. spoudē, a zealous commitment for carrying out an obligation or opportunity for service. Marshall renders as "zeal." Paul alludes to the reality that often when there is a fervor to do something for the Lord we may be overcome with inertia and it takes a decisive act of the will to carry through with the desire to serve. fervent: Grk. zeō, pres. part., bubble or boil, used of one lively or sparkling in spirit (cf. Acts 18:25).
in spirit: Grk. pneuma (for Heb. ruach), wind, breath or spirit as the animating force for bodily movement (Luke 8:55). The spirit of man is that which man has in common with God who is Spirit (Gen 1:2; John 4:24). Pneuma is used frequently for transcendent beings (Matt 8:16; Heb 1:14), particularly the Holy Spirit as God's self-expression (Gen 1:2; Mark 1:10). The use of pneuma here in reference to disciples represents a full inner devotion. Good works must spring from conviction so that one's body is not just going through the motions. Paul knew the difference between keeping traditions out of legalistic duty and serving the Messiah out of passion.
serving: Grk. doulouō, pres. part., to function in total obedience to the master. the Lord: Grk. kurios, used of supreme power of one in control through possession, and thus may be translated as owner, lord or master. A number of variant texts have kairō ("time"), which Shulam argues in favor of because of a supposed dependence on a Qumran principle of serving the "decree of time" while they waited for the final day of judgment. However, the earliest and overwhelming majority of manuscripts has kurios (GNT; Metzger). The reference is clearly to Yeshua. See the note on 1:4. The phrase "serving the Lord" hearkens back to the first verse of this chapter in the call to present oneself to God as a holy sacrifice. As a Messianic Jewish rabbi said, "Yeshua gave all, so he wants all."
12― rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, persisting in prayer,
The Greek text says lit. "in hope rejoicing, in affliction showing endurance, in prayer steadfastly continuing" (Marshall). The order of the Greek construction is important for proper interpretation. Paul identifies three areas of the disciple's life (hope, affliction and prayer) and suggests what should characterize each of those areas. rejoicing: Grk. chairō, pres. part., be in a state marked by good feeling about an event or circumstance. Paul encourages an activity similar to the Psalmists who even in the worst of times blessed and praised the Lord.
in hope: Grk. elpis, the state of looking forward to something that is desirable. Hope anticipates what is not seen (8:25). But to be specific Paul says that disciples are "looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus" (Titus 2:13) and Peter says that disciples are "looking for new heavens and a new earth" (2Pet 3:13). persevering: Grk. hupomenō, pres. part., to stay in a place when others are leaving, i.e., remain (e.g., Luke 2:43; Acts 17:14) or to be steadfast in face of difficulty, to endure. While Danker favors the latter meaning for this verse, the former meaning can also apply. The disciple must be faithful to the Lord regardless of the circumstances or the faithlessness of others.
in tribulation: Grk. thlipsis means distress from outward circumstances, affliction, pressure or oppression, tribulation and is a word picture of being crushed under a weight. The term tribulation is used in two ways in the apostolic writings: first, the persecution directed by the world at the saints (Matt 13:21; 24:9; John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Rom 5:3; 8:35; 12:12; 2Cor 1:4; 7:4; 1Thess 3:4; and Rev 2:9-10), and, second, the punishment meted out by God on his enemies commencing at the Second Coming and continuing for eternity (Rom 2:9; 2Thess 1:6). The kingdom would suffer violence (Matt 11:12) and disciples would have to endure to the end to be saved (Matt 24:13). The first disciples were promised no secret escapes.
Yeshua warned his disciples that as they served God's purposes they would suffer persecutions, tribulations, privations, family desertions, hatred from adversaries and finally death by cruel hands. Likewise, Paul promised that all who are godly would suffer persecution (2Tim 3:12). Tribulation against the saints is the visible reality of an unseen warfare between the Kingdom of God and the rebellious forces of Satan. Disciples of Yeshua are not destined to suffer God's final wrath on the end time tyrant or his eternal wrath (1Thess 5:9), but tribulation is a reality in this life and no one should be surprised when it occurs. Persecution may seem ironic for children of the King, but true discipleship means to follow in the steps of the suffering Savior (Phil 3:10). Scripture provides no justification to retaliate against those who cause persecution. Disciples can bless the Lord because the end of the story has already been written.
persisting: Grk. proskartereō, pres. part., attend to with continuing resoluteness. The term is used particularly for religious obligations and the call is to persistence. in prayer: Grk. proseuchē, a general word for prayer in the apostolic writings, appearing in contexts of worship, personal requests and intercession for others. In the LXX proseuchē renders Heb. tephillah (occurring numerous times in the Psalms) a derivative of the verb palal (DNTT 2:863). Palal lit. means "to intervene or to interpose" and has a wide range of usage in the Tanakh, including to arbitrate, to judge, to intercede or to pray. The context of palal in the Tanakh is pleading before a judge. The implication of this meaning is significant. What does it mean to approach the holy God in prayer? Biblical prayer requires self-judgment because prayer automatically invokes God's judgment (Punton 79).
Self-judgment means asking some hard questions. Do we meet the conditions for God to answer our prayers? (cf. 1Jn 3:22). Can we cope with certain prayer commitments? Can we be trusted with the answer? Will we give glory to God or overestimate the worth of our own contribution? We must also judge the content of our prayers in light of God's Word. Some things should not be asked for and God is not a vending machine to satisfy our pleasures. Will we let God be the final arbiter in answering prayer? The apostles, being Jews, certainly understood proseuchē according to the Hebraic idea.
Persistence in prayer for Paul is not a schedule for prayer similar to the regular times for prayer at the Jerusalem temple, but a commitment to keep on praying for what is important. Yeshua told his disciples a parable to illustrate that they should pray at all times and not give up (Luke 18:1). The promise of persistent prayer is that God will see (Matt 6:6), God will hear (Ps 5:3; 2Chr 7:14) and God will answer (Isa 65:24; Jer 33:3; 1Jn 5:15). The outcome of persistent prayer is more than you ask, more than you can imagine, and more than you're able to do (Eph 3:20; Jas 5:16).
13― contributing to the needs of the holy ones; practicing hospitality.
contributing: Grk. koinōneō, pres. part., to have a part in and in this verse to share common cause with, to impart to another. to the needs: Grk. chreia, state or experience of necessity with the focus on well-being or the lack of everyday things. of the holy ones: Grk. hagios, adj. See the note on verse 1 above. Christian versions translate the word as "saints." The plural noun would be a collective designation for those who have set themselves apart as followers of Yeshua. Paul uses the term as a general reference to address all the members of the congregations to which he addressed letters, except for Galatia. practicing: Grk. diōkō, pres. part., to pursue or run after. The verb often has a negative meaning in the apostolic writings, but in a number of passages, including here, it has a figurative meaning of striving for or seeking after in a good sense (BAG). hospitality: Grk. philoxenia, regard for one who comes from outside one's group, in keeping with the cultural tradition that the stranger or visitor is to be recognized as a guest and entitled to hospitality.
The first part of the exhortation refers to the charitable work of the congregation to care for needy saints, particularly widows and orphans. The Torah mandated such care and the early believers organized themselves to care for the widows (Acts 6:1-6). The second part of the exhortation is broader in scope and would not be limited to members of the congregation. Since hospitality is to be actively pursued, then this could be a non-threatening way to make friends as preparation for sharing one's faith.
14― Bless the ones persecuting you; bless, and curse not.
Bless: Grk. eulogeō, pres. mid., to invoke divine favor or express high praise, to bless, to offer a blessing; in this case the latter meaning. The corresponding Heb. verb is barakh, which lit. means to kneel or to bless (BDB 138). In the Tanakh barakh is an endowment of favor or beneficial power (cf. Gen 1:28), ordinarily transmitted from the greater to the lesser, either from God to man, from man to man or parent to child. Paul calls for an action that will become part of discipleship. Paul is not suggesting a religious formula. In this context to bless is both vertical and horizontal, the vertical being to seek God's grace for the object and the horizontal for the conversation coming out of the mouth to be constructive and positive.
the ones persecuting: Grk. diōkō, pres. part. with the definite article, to put to flight, to pursue, to persecute. The verb represents a zealous interest in attaining something. Paul essentially repeats the command of Yeshua of how to react to enemies (Matt 5:44). you: Grk. humeis., 2p-pl. pers. pron. Although all Bible versions include the pl. pronoun, it is absent from the earliest manuscript P46, as well as Vaticanus (4th Cent.), the Vulgate (4th Cent.), and quotations in Clement of Alexandria (215) and Origen (254) (GNT). The pronoun is found in other 4th cent. manuscripts, but due to the divided readings, the translation committee of the Nestle text gave it a "C" rating, which means the committee had difficulty deciding which variant to follow for the published text (Metzger). Having the pronoun would make obvious sense in later generations as Christians faced relentless persecution from the Roman state.
However, Paul's situation was different. There is no record of persecution directed at disciples at this time. The only incident that might have a bearing on Paul's instruction is when all the Jews in Rome, including those in the congregation, had been forced to leave Rome (Acts 18:2), ostensibly involving a controversy in connection with someone called Chrestus (see the Introduction to Chap. One). The expulsion had occurred only a few years before this letter and no doubt there was still lingering resentment because of the ordeal, and perhaps even continued negative treatment from antisemitic authorities. Paul's command is important regardless of whether one is personally affected by persecution.
bless: Grk. eulogeō, pres. mid. Paul repeats the exhortation for effect. Other exhortations in this section have the sense of a strong urging, but in this matter Paul uses apostolic authority to command behavior. Paul does not tell the congregation how to bless persecutors, but we bless them by praying for their salvation (1Tim 2:1-4). The practical exhortations of the next chapter could well be another form of blessing those in power. and curse: Grk. kataraomai, pres. mid. imp., to call down curses on someone. not: Grk. mē, adv. The imperative mood of the verb "curse," combined with negative particle mē indicates a strong prohibition against continued behavior or possibly commencing behavior.
The worst thing the disciples could do would be to exhibit any kind of negative reaction against the government. Cursing an enemy has ancient origins in pagan religion as illustrated by Balak hiring Balaam to curse Israel (Num 22:17). Paul's words echo the Torah, "You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people" (Ex 22:28 NASB). The Romans used to inscribe their curses on soft sheets of lead, then fold or roll them and throw them into a well, a grave, a spring, or some other place they thought to be close to the underworld. (See the article in New Scientist on an archaeological find in Israel.) Just as Yeshua counseled, disciples are not to be like our enemies.
15― Rejoice with rejoicing ones, weep with weeping ones.
Rejoice: Grk. chairō, pres. inf. See note on verse 12 above. rejoicing ones: Grk. chairō, pres. part. The verb is plural. weep: Grk. klaiō, pres. inf., to express grief or sorrow aloud. This is not a silent dropping of tears, but an open expression of anguish. with weeping ones: Grk. klaiō, pres. part. The verb is plural. Beginning these two clauses with an infinitive (a verbal noun) may seem strange, but it frequently occurs in idiomatic sayings and in this case no doubt reflects a Hebraic proverb. Rejoicing or weeping cannot be produced on command, but Paul is pointing out what should characterize the community of Yeshua's disciples. Disciples should care about what happens to each other. We should be able to sincerely bless God when another experiences prosperity and personal success without becoming envious and sympathize with someone who suffers misfortune without being presumptuous like Job's friends. Stern compares Paul's exhortation to a Talmudic saying, "A person should share in the distress of the community" (Ta'anit 11a).
This proverb has another application. Hillel (110 BC to AD 10), the great Jewish leader and founder of the school in which Paul was a student, is quoted in Rabbinic writings as saying that in order to "win converts," a person should weep when he weeps and rejoice when he rejoices, based on the verses in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (Shulam). According to this principle the members of the believing community are encouraged to respect the norms of the society at large in order to bring unbelievers to faith. One doesn't rejoice when others are weeping or weep when others are rejoicing. "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" captures the sense of the proverb (as long as it isn't sinful). Hillel had another related saying, "Don't judge your fellow man until you have reached his place" (Avot 2:4).
16― minding the same toward one another; not haughty minding, but associating with the lowly; not becoming wise in yourselves.
minding: Grk. phroneō, pres. part. See verse 3 above. the same: Grk. autos, pers. pron. The pronoun in this usage may suggest agreement (HCSB) or harmony (NIV, NLT, ESV, NRSV). toward one another: Grk. allēlōn, reciprocal pron., each other or one another. not haughty: Grk. hupsēlos, adj., positioned at a point that is higher. The adjective refers to something highly valued or esteemed, in this case a special status or sense of self-importance. minding: Grk. phroneō, pres. part. Paul repeats the exhortation for effect.
but associating: Grk. sunapagomai, pres. pass. part., to lead along, but the passive voice means to be carried along with, as by a flood which sweeps everything along with it and then to give one's self up to it (Rienecker). Ordinarily the verb refers to being deceived (Gal 2:13; 2Pet 3:17), but here the imagery is set in a positive context of being impressed by what is humble or lowly (Danker). with the lowly: Grk. tapeinos, adj., modest in one's manner or expression. The plural adjective could refer to either persons or things. not: Grk. mē, "not." See note on verse 2 above. becoming: Grk. ginomai, pres. mid. imp., to transfer from one state or condition to another, to become. The present tense command combined with mē forbids the continuance of an action in progress. wise: Grk. phronimos, adj., using one's wits effectively, being prudent or judicious. in yourselves: Grk. heautou, reflexive pron.
Paul's exhortation does not reflect the modern individualistic values of self-esteem and self-worth. Contrary to the popular assumption that multitudes suffer from chronically low self-esteem, Paul observed, "no one ever hated his own flesh" (Eph 5:29). Man's problem is not low self-esteem, but sin that prevents loving others as God commanded. The antidote to such self-absorption is careful self-evaluation. All of the virtues Paul has been urging are to be found in relationships and to experience joyful, fruitful relationships in the body of Messiah requires esteeming others more than we esteem ourselves.
17― repaying no one evil for evil; providing right things before all men.
repaying: Grk. apodidōmi, pres. part., to engage in reciprocity. no one: Grk. mēdeis, adj., no one. evil: Grk. kakos, adj., may mean (1) morally or socially reprehensible, something that violates community standards, thus bad, wrong or evil; or (2) causing harm with focus on personal or physical injury, bad, injurious or harmful. In the LXX kakos is used predominately to render Heb. ra, which has the same dual meaning (DNTT 1:562). Kakos here refers to evil as a moral quality. for evil: The same Greek word is repeated. Paul is not criticizing the Lex Talionis ("Law of Retribution") of the Torah, which provides proportional justice for crimes (Ex 21:22-24; Lev 24:17-22; Deut 19:21). Man's revenge is typically not "eye for eye" but "head for eye," thus resulting in greater harm than was inflicted.
providing: Grk. pronoeō, pres. part., to think before, to have regard for, to be preoccupied with (Rienecker). right things: pl. of Grk. kalos, adj., meeting a high standard. before: Grk. enōpion, prep., from a word meaning "facing" or in the vernacular "eye to eye." The preposition is normally translated as "before" and would have the sense of what is publicly known. all men: Grk. anthrōpos, characteristic of a human being, used generically of male or female. Disciples need to consider not only the standards of the community of faith but the larger community where one lives. Bad behavior by disciples puts the evangelism at risk.
18― If possible of you, keeping peace with all men.
If: Grk. ei, conj., a contingency marker used to introduce a course of action that may be taken for granted. possible: Grk. dunatos, adj., having power, competence or ability. of you: Grk. humeis, pers. pron. In other words, "if it is in your power." keeping peace: Grk. eirēneuō, pres. part., to keep the peace or be on good terms. with all men: See the previous verse for "all men." Hillel had taught "Be a disciple of Aaron, love peace, pursue peace, love all men too, and bring them nigh unto the Law (Avot 1:11). Disciples might have argued that "peace with all men" is an impossible standard. Yeshua said he came to bring a sword in relationships (Matt 10:34) and promised his disciples would face persecution (John 15:20). Disciples may become the object of conflict in a heathen society merely by living by godly standards. This is probably why Paul made the exhortation conditional. However, disciples have sometimes made their relations with unbelievers worse by negative reactions to ungodly behavior or assuming the moral high ground to judge everyone else. Disciples may be citizens of God's kingdom, but as citizens of a nation we have a responsibility to do what will make for good community relations. (See my article Biblical Values and Social Evils.)
19― Never avenging yourselves, beloved, but give place to the Wrath; it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay," says the Lord.
Never: Grk. mē, "not," a negative particle. See the note on verse 2. avenging: Grk. ekdikeō, pres. part., exact satisfaction for wrongdoing. yourselves: pl. of heautou, refl. pron. beloved: pl. of Grk. agapētos, adj., held in affection, esteemed, dear. The adjective is drawn from the verb agapaō, which means to have such an interest in another that one wishes to contribute to the other's well-being, even if it means making a personal sacrifice to do so. The use of agapētos in direct address to the whole congregation (cf. the personal use in 16:5, 8, 9) occurs at the beginning of the letter in 1:7. Its use here indicates his conciliatory tone even as he is advising them on ethical conduct.
but give: Grk. didōmi, aor. mid., to give, often with the focus on generosity. In the LXX didōmi generally renders Heb. natan, to give, used in one of three settings (1) by men one to another; (2) by men to God; and (3) by God to men (DNTT 2:41). place: Grk. topos, a spatial area, which may be (1) a geographic location; (2) a position with obligation or (3) a circumstance that offers a chance to do something. In this case the meaning could be a combination of (1) and (3). In other words, where you are give God a chance to work.
to the Wrath: Grk. orgē, a strong condition of displeasure with behavior of another and may be translated as anger, indignation or wrath. Many versions insert "God," since the phrase is in contrast to man's wrath, so it presumptively refers to God's wrath. The reference to wrath could be temporal or the final judgment or both. The phrase "give place to God's wrath" would have the functional meaning, "move aside so you won't be harmed when God pours out his wrath." God will punish the wicked for their maltreatment of his people (cf. Jer 25:12), but sinning could put the offenders of God's people in the "line of fire."
it is written: the standard formula in the apostolic writings for attesting an assertion of truth and divine inspiration of Scripture, followed by a quote from the Tanakh. See the note on 1:17 for this phrase. This is the twelfth time the formula is used in the letter. Vengeance: Grk. ekdikēsis, carrying out justice, righting of wrong. God's justice will be exacted according to his promise in the Torah. is mine, I will repay: Grk. antapodidōmi, fut., to give back as an equivalent. God's justice will also be exacted according to the proportional standard of the Torah (see verse 17 above). says the Lord: Grk. kurios, lord master. In the text of Deuteronomy 32:35 "Lord" is the tetragrammaton. Paul quotes the Torah which gives the sole right of vengeance to God. However, God delegates this right as indicated in chapter thirteen.
Paul exhorts disciples to refrain from plotting personal revenge, but instead to trust God for justice, and in the next verse consider the needs of the adversaries. Disciples must never forget that they are always witnesses for the Messiah. Negative reactions to offensive behavior could cause a serious impediment to sharing the good news of the Messiah. Stern observes that apostolic ethics do not differ from Tanakh ethics, since God does not change. All the advice found in these verses is implicit in the Torah and the Prophets, and frequently explicit as well. Paul draws out for believers the core principles of right action, confident that persons with transformed minds (v. 1) will, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be able to apply those principles in particular situations.
20― "But if your enemy should hunger, feed him; if he should thirst, give drink to him; for doing this you will heap coals of fire on his head."
Paul quotes Proverbs 25:21-22, but leaves off the last phrase of verse 22. But: Grk. alla, an adversative conjunction used adverbially suggesting other matter or varying viewpoint for consideration. The nuance of contrast may be expressed with "but, on the other hand, yet, nevertheless, indeed or certainly." Given what Paul has just said in the previous verse, then the conjunction probably carries the meaning of "on the other hand," or even "instead." if your enemy should hunger, feed him: Grk. psōmizō, pres. imp., cause to eat by doling out, which differs from the LXX, which has trephō, to take care of by providing food, to nourish. Paul's choice of one word to translate the longer Hebrew phrase "give bread (lechem) to eat (akal)" is purposeful, perhaps because trephō was also used of nourishing a child in his early years (Luke 4:16). In addition, Paul is advising provision for an immediate need, not the assumption of a life-long responsibility for the person's welfare.
and if he should thirst, give drink to him: Grk. potizō, pres. imp., to furnish liquid for drinking, most often in reference to water. The Hebrew text includes the specific mention of water (mayim), so presumptively this is Paul's meaning. Unlike other beverages water could generally be obtained without cost, so the investment is compassion and time. for doing this you will heap: Grk. sōreuō, fut., to heap on or to load with. At first this seems a strange word to use in the LXX when the Hebrew text has chatah, which means to snatch up or snatch away from, usually from fire (BDB 367). coals of fire on his head: The word picture is of taking ("snatching") coals from a fire and placing them on the head. (In a literalistic sense how does one perform this act without becoming burned, too?) The snatching/heaping coals of fire is most likely an idiomatic phrase for inflicting shame (so CJB). In other words, receiving kindness instead of retaliation may cause the offender to be ashamed of his actions.
The present tense of the principal verbs indicate that practical help should be a ongoing activity of the community of faith. Since "coals of fire" is figurative language then the commands to provide bread and water should not be limited to their literal meaning. The principle is to respond to needs and so demonstrate the second great commandment. Paul may have omitted the mention of reward, because disciples should do the right thing because it is right and God commands it and not because there might be some kind of payback.
21― Be not overcome by the evil, but overcome the evil with the good.
Be not: Grk. mē. See note on verse 2. overcome: Grk. nikaō, pres. pass. imp., to win victory over, to overcome or defeat. by the evil: Grk. kakos with the definite article. See note on verse 17. Paul refers to the evil people do. but overcome: Grk. nikaō, pres. act. imp. the evil with the good: Grk. agathos, adj. with the definite article. See verse 2 above. The Greek construction is important to grasp Paul's meaning. Paul is not saying that state-sponsored (or terrorist-sponsored) persecution can be overcome with love. At some point the sword must be employed to punish the wicked and do justice for their victims (13:3-4). Paul is saying that we overcome in ourselves negatively by not allowing the evil to shape our responses and positively by continuing to engage in good works.
ABP: The Apostolic Bible Polyglot, trans. Charles Van Der Pool. The Apostolic Press, 2006. An interlinear of the Septuagint with English translation. Online.
BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981.
Davies: W.D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism: Some Rabbinic Elements in Pauline Theology. rev. ed. Harper Torchbooks, 1967.
DM: H.E. Dana & Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. The Macmillan Co., 1955.
DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 Vols., ed. Colin Brown, Zondervan Pub. House, 1975.
Harrison: Everett F. Harrison, Romans, Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 10, Software version 2.6. Zondervan Corp, 1989-1999.
Marshall: Alfred Marshall, NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English. Zondervan Pub. House, 1986.
Rienecker: Fritz Rienecker, "Romans," A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Vol. 2, Zondervan Pub. House, 1980.
Shulam: Joseph Shulam, A Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Romans, Lederer Books, 1997.
Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
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