An Exegesis of Romans 8:1-8

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(ROMANS 8:1-8)
MAY 5, 2014

            Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is one of the most theologically rich works ever written.  We know that it was written by Paul, because he tells us as much in the very beginning of the book (1:1).  There is a little bit of a debate about when the letter was actually written but for the most part scholars agree that it was written around A.D. 57. To support this assumption Carson and Moo suggest, “The date at which Paul wrote Romans will accordingly depend on the date of Paul’s three month stay in Greece; fixing this date depends, in turn, on the chronology of Paul’s life and ministry as a whole. While we cannot be certain within a year or two, A.D.  57 is the best alternative….”[1]
            Now we have an understanding of when the letter was written, but whom was it being written to? Well we know that it was to a church Paul had never visited much less founded. There has been speculation that Peter founded the Roman church; while it is much more feasible to think that Jews converted on the Day of Pentecost  (Acts 2:10) were the first to bring the gospel to Rome.[2]It is thought that by the time Paul wrote this letter that the church was made up of more Gentile believers verses Jewish ones, due to the expulsion of Jews by Claudius. That is not to say there were no Jewish believers just fewer than before.
            All of this is important because the section of Scripture we are dealing with has a huge impact on the understanding of the Law, the flesh and their places verses the Spirit. It is through the Spirit that we are no longer trapped under the power of law or condemned through the weakness of the flesh.
            In this section of the paper I will attempt to exegete Romans 8:1-8. It seems that the “therefore” found in verse one is not considered a direct link back to chapter seven, but it goes as far back as to chapter three according to some commentators. Everett Harrison says, “…he finds it hard to associate the “therefore” with anything in the immediate proceeding context. The connection must be sought in the entire sweep of the thought as developed from chapter 3 on.”[3]Moving on, we notice that Paul uses the word nyn “now” indicating that something is taking place at a particular moment in time. Moo notices that, “the combination “therefore, now” is an emphatic one making what follows a significant conclusion.”[4]The now, however plays a significant role according to Schreiner, “The vuv (nyn, now) in verse 1 signals a new era of salvation history, one in which God’s covenantal promises are being fulfilled, when his people are enjoying freedom from condemnation God promised.”[5]The adverb nyn is used 145 times in the New Testament; its semantic range varies : “adv. of time [see also 3815]; ≡ Str 3568; TDNT 4.1106—1. LN 67.38 now, at the same time (as the discourse), (Jn 16:22); 2. LN 67.39 just now, presently, a short while before, i.e., a time just before or after the discourse (Jn 11:8); used with the article the present (time), (Ro 8:22)”[6] It is clear with a closer look at the reading that Paul’s use of the term means “now, at the same time as the discourse.” The question that comes us is therefore now what? Paul answers that question when he tells the reader that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  
            The word katakrima “condemnation” appears three times in the New Testament and each time is in the book of Romans here in chapter eight and then twice in chapter five. Condemnation is a forensic term which includes both the sentence and the execution of the sentence. But for believers there is no condemnation at all.[7]Now according to Chuck Lowe:
There is only one way for the deserved judgment to be averted: through the redemptive and substitutionary death of Christ as a propitiation for sin, for all who believe (3:21-26)….For its present purposes it is enough to note that the condemnation in view is clearly the eschatological judgment of sin, which is escaped only through the alien righteousness of Christ. [8]
It is through this substitution that we no longer have to worry about the power of sin and death because the death of Christ has destroyed that bondage.  Schreiner states, “…the flow of thought here suggests that the term cannot be confined to forensic categories; believers are not under condemnation since they are no longer under the dominion of sin….The tyranny of sin under which Israel lived had been lifted by Christ.”[9]
            Taking a look at verse two, we notice two contrasting points, the Law of the Spirit and the law of sin and death. Paul purposefully draws this distinction between the two. Moo believes that, “the for indicates that this verse is the ground of the “no condemnation in Christ” announced in verse one. [10]The word nomos  or Law is used over 190 times in the New Testament and 74 of those times are found in the book of Romans, and three times in our section.  However it is disputed as to how the word is used in each sense. According to the Louw Nida :
The occurrence of νόμοςtwo times in Ro 8:2 poses certain problems of both translation and interpretation: ὁ γὰρ νόμος τοῦ πνεύματος τῆς ζωῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ἠλευθέρωσέν σε ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου τῆς ἁμαρτίας καὶ τοῦ θανάτου ‘for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus freed you from the law which leads to sin and death.’ In the second occurrence of νόμος, the meaning is clearly the rules and regulations of the OT law, but in the case of the first occurrence of νόμος, there is no such formulation of decrees. The reference in this instance must therefore be to certain basic principles. If, however, one understands νόμος in the sense of a type of abstract ‘governing power,’ it is possible that the reference in the phrase νόμος τοῦ πνεύματος τῆς ζωῆς is to this governing power of the Spirit of life which frees one from the law which stipulates sin and death.[11]
This word has a very varied semantic range. At one point it means a feeding place for cattle, or food; or it can mean law, ordinance or custom.   What kind of law is Paul referring to here when he says “law”, is it the Law of Moses or is it some kind of moral Law we all should have knowledge of. In regards to the first occurrence nomos cannot refer to the Mosaic Law.[12]On this point Schreiner disagrees with Moo. What is the Law of the Spirit? The best way to identify what it is, is to define what it is not. We know that the law of the Spirit does not result in sin nor death, but the Mosaic Law does. Schreiner points out, “That the Mosaic law results in sin and death is evident from Paul’s discussion of the law in Rom. 7. These twin powers are the inevitable result when unregenerate people encounter God’s law.”[13] 
            In regards to this, Morris believes that, “Paul is saying that when the Holy Spirit comes into a person that person is liberated from bondage to evil and finds a new power within, a power that causes the defeat of sin and leads the liberated person into goodness and love.”[14]So the law of the Spirit is not of any Spirit but that of the Holy Spirit, which brings forth a liberation that cannot be found under the law of sin and death, otherwise known as the Mosaic law. With regards to the first use of nomos Moo takes the stance that, “to make the Mosaic law the liberating agent in v.2 would be to make v. 2 contradict v.3 . But, more seriously giving the law this kind of role would contradict and oft-repeated tenet of Paul’s theology.”[15]Keep in mind that some commentators do not feel the law mentioned the second time has anything to do with the Mosaic law. This author would disagree after seeing all of the evidences put before me.
            It is encouraging to know that we have been set free from the law of sin and death by the law of the Spirit. One should ask, “How has this taken place?” Verse three give us that answer; that God has done what the law was unable to do because it was weakened by the flesh. The Law held up its perfect standard, but was unable to empower us to live up to that standard because of the weakness of our flesh. There was nothing wrong with the Law. The problem lay with the weakness of our flesh.[16]Schreiner and Moo share similar points of view on this topic, however, this author prefers how Schreiner describes the situation. He says, “The inadequacy of the law is not due to its content (cf. 7:12); the weakness of the law is located in the flesh, the unregenerate nature of human beings.”[17]But we should not have a negative view of the law because it has done its job it has shown us what sin is. We shouldn’t think of the flesh as frustrating the law, because the law was never meant to be the means of attaining righteousness.[18]A word that is important in this discussion is flesh (sarx). While it would seem simple that flesh means flesh, the meat on bone, I do not believe that is what Paul is referring to.  So if that is the case then what is the words semantic domain (or words it could mean)? According to the Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon, sarx has “…151 occurrences; AV translates as “flesh” 147 times,[19]….”That is not all it translates as, here are some of the other translations and definitions:
flesh, corporeal mass of human and animal (Rev 19:18; Eph 5:30 v.r.); 2. physical body (1Ti 3:16); 3. people, a physical human being (Jn 1:14; 1Pe 1:24); 4. human, physical nature (Heb 12:9); 5. nation, ethnic group (Ro 11:14); 6. human nature, the psychological human nature (1Co 1:26; Gal 5:19; 6:8); 7. physical nature, as a result of its natural development (Gal 4:23); 8. physical life (Heb 5:7); 9. σὰρξ καὶ αἷμα (sarx kai haima), human being (Mt 16:17; Gal 1:16); 10. κοινωνέω αἵματος καὶ σαρκός (koinōneō haimatos kai sarkos), be a person (Heb 2:14+); 11. have homosexual intercourse (Jude 7+), see 599; 12. trouble (2Co 12:7+), see 5022; 13. sexual desire (Jn 1:13+), see 2525[20]
In Judaism, “Flesh is sometimes neutral, but it also denotes human creatureliness. This is bound up with sinfulness and ignorance, but it does not itself stand in contrast to spirit; instead it is the battleground of conflict between the spirit of evil and the Holy Spirit.”[21]          Paul and his uses tend to focus more contrast between the natural and the spiritual. According to the Louw-Nida, “the psychological aspect of human nature which contrasts with the spiritual nature; in other words, that aspect of human nature which is characterized by or reflects typical human reasoning and desires in contrast with those aspects of human thought and behavior which relate to God and the spiritual life—‘human nature, human aspects, natural, human.’” [22]  Now that we have an understanding of what flesh means to us here in this passage, what does Paul mean when he says “By sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh…”v.3b? There are some who would say that Christ came in something like flesh and therefore couldn’t really be a man. While more conservative scholars agree that he was fully man and fully God. Morris quotes John Stott in saying, “Not ‘in sinful flesh’, because the flesh of Jesus was sinless. Nor ‘in the likeness of flesh’, because the flesh of Jesus was real. But ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’, because the flesh of Jesus was both sinless and real. We must bear in mind that Paul is not giving us a full explanation of his understanding of the incarnation; he is talking about the way Christ saved us in his death.”[23]
            I think that it is important to note that Paul specifically chose the words in likeness of sin meaning that Christ was still human and had to deal with human issues as long as he walked this earth.  Schreiner asserts, “The word homoiomati was inserted to stress the identity between Jesus and sinful flesh, yet at the same time it also suggests that he is unique. That is, his body was subject to the disease, death, and weakness of the old order, yet the Son himself was not sinful, nor did he ever sin.”[24]While he was in the flesh he was still free from sin. If he had not been free from sin there is no way that he could be our propitiation for our sins. The end of verse three ties back into verse one in helping us to understand why there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. In regards to Christ coming in the likeness of sinful flesh Moo suggests:
In his doing so, of course, we may say that sin’s power was broken, in the sense that Paul pictures sin as a power that holds people in its clutches and brings condemnation to them. In executing the full sentence of condemnation against sin, God effectively removed sin’s ability to “dictate terms” for those who are “in Christ” (v.2). The condemnation that our sins deserve has been poured out on Christ, our sin-bearer; that is why “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v.1).[25]
            Verse four further explains the meaning behind the first three verses. Morris points to the fact that, “In order thatintroduces the divine purpose, and since that purpose never fails of fulfillment, it points to the result as well.”[26]Next, Paul goes on to speak about the righteous requirement of law. There is no way apart from Christ and his sacrificial work on our behalf that we would ever be able to do anything to meet that requirement (Eph 2:8-9). We should note that Paul says the laws righteous requirement is filled in us and not by us, pointing to the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life.[27]Schreiner points out that, “…it would be a serious mistake to conclude from this that the actual obedience of the believer is to be excluded. The obedience of believers has its basis in the work of Christ on the cross, and this provides the platform on which believers receive the ability to keep the law (Reinmuth 1985:70).”[28]
            Paul goes on to tell us that we are no longer living according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. It is only by the power of the Spirit inside of us that we are able to live a life pleasing to God and no longer seeking after the desires of the flesh. “Thus when we yield to the power of the Holy Spirit, we are liberated. We no longer have to sin. Through the Holy Spirit the virtue and perfection and power of Christ’s life is communicated to us. We actually do the Law of God from the heart. We love him with all our hearts, and we love our neighbors as ourselves.”[29]
            Verses five through eight make a very neat and tidy section dealing with the contrast of the flesh verses the Spirit. According to Moo in the NIVAC, “’ Mind’ translates phronema, which can be rendered “mind-set”; it denotes the basic direction of a person’s will….”[30] As Paul argues in this verse we cannot have our mind set on one thing and do another. We are unable to have our mind set on fleshly things and seek to do things of the Spirit. The mind-set of those without Christ has distinct characteristics: death, hostility toward God, and an inability to subject itself to God. These govern its orientation to all of life.[31]
            Paul is clear in the last three verses of this selection that there is a huge discrepancy between those who are in the flesh and those who are in the Spirit. The man who chases after the flesh is chasing after his own demise. While the man who seeks the path of the Spirit is looking at a life with peace in it. Morris makes the point that,  “When the things of God dominate one’s outlook, when one is constantly responsive to the direction of the Spirit, then there is life. This is the opposite of the death that concentration on the flesh means.”[32]
            Verse seven is very curious in the way that it is written. It says that “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, and does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot.” It is hostile to God. The word echthra has, “Six occurrences; AV translates as “enmity” five times, and “hatred” once. 1 enmity. 2cause of enmity.”[33]And this is the only occurrence of it here in Romans. By being an enemy of God why would one even want to keep God’s laws? We don’t and without the Spirit in our lives we would never be able to think about keeping God’s law. R.C. Sproul expresses it like this, “The life of the flesh is lived not in neutrality but in opposition to God, which is Paul’s point. To be carnally minded is to be at enmity with God.”[34]When we delve deeper into why a person cannot submit to God’s law and look further at the word hostility there is another meaning that comes up and it is selfish ambition. Selfish ambition will keep a person separate from God and everything that is pleasing to Him. Moo suggests, “The various sins to which we are attracted – desire for riches, or station in life, or power, or sexual pleasure—are but different symptoms of the same sickness this idolatrous bent toward self-gratification.”[35]
Therefore those who are in the flesh are never going to be capable of pleasing God because they are too busy seeking to please themselves.
            After looking closely at this passage of Scripture this author has come to realize that the only way to come close living a Godly life is by the power of the Spirit. It is through the work of Christ on the cross that we can inherit his Spirit. And if I want to be pleasing to God I should rely heavily upon the Spirit and not upon the flesh, because the flesh leads to death and I want to live a life full of peace that can only come through the power of God’s Spirit.  
Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition Notes. Biblical Studies Press, 2006.
Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.
Gillman, Florence Morgan. “Another look at Romans 8:3 : “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 49, no. 4 (October 1, 1987): 597-604. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost(accessed March 12, 2014).
Harrison, Everett F. Romans. Vol. 10, in Expositors Bible Commentary , by Frank E. ed. Gaebeliein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976.
Hughes, R. Kent. Romans: Righteousness from Heaven. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991.
Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.
Kittel, Gerhard, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985.
Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.
Lowe, Chuck. “There Is No Condemnation” (Romans 8:1) : But Why Not?.” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 42, no. 2 (June 1, 1999): 231-250. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 12, 2014).
MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 1-8. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1991.
McFadden, Kevin W. “The fulfillment of the law’s dikaiōma: another look at Romans 8:1-4.” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 52, no. 3 (September 1, 2009): 483-497. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 12, 2014).
Moo, Douglas J. NIVAC: Romans. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.
— NICNT: The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1996.
Morris, Leon. PNTC: The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1988.
Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933.
Schreiner, Thomas R. BECNT: Romans. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.
Sproul, RC. Romans: St. Andrews Expostional Commentary.Wheaton: Crossway, 2009.
Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001.
Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.
Vincent, Marvin Richardson. Word Studies in the New Testament. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887.
Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.
Winter, Sean F. “‘The law of the spirit’: experience of the spirit and displacement of the law in Romans 8:1-16.” Journal For The Study Of The New Testament 29, no. 5 (January 1, 2007): 91. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 12, 2014).

            [1] D. A.Carson, and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005)394.
            [2]Ibid., 395
            [3]Everett F.Harrison, Romans. Vol. 10, in Expositors Bible Commentary , by Frank E. ed. Gaebeliein.(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976)86.
            [4]Douglas J. Moo, NICNT: The Epistle to the Romans. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1996)472.
            [5]Thomas R Schreiner, BECNT: Romans. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998)397.
            [6] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
            [7]Leon Morris, PNTC: The Epistle to the Romans. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1988)300.
            [8] Lowe, Chuck. “There Is No Condemnation” (Romans 8:1) : But Why Not?.” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 42, no. 2 (June 1, 1999): 231-250. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 12, 2014)233.
[9] Schreiner, Romans, 399.
            [10]Moo, Romans, 473.
            [11]Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 425–426.
            [12]Moo. Romans, 474.
            [13]Schreiner, Romans, 400.
            [14]Morris, Romans, 301.
            [15]Moo. Romans, 474.
            [16]R. Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness from Heaven, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 149.
            [17]Schreiner, Romans, 401
            [18]Moo, Romans., 478.
            [19] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001).
            [20]James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
            [21]Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament(Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985), 1002.
            [22] Louw, Greek-English Lexicon, 321.
            [23]Morris, Romans., 303.
            [24]Schreiner, Romans., 403.
            [25]Moo. Romans., 481.
            [26]Morris. Romans.,303.
            [27]Ibid., 304.
            [28]Schreiner, Romans., 405.
            [29]Hughes, Romans, 150.
            [30]Moo. Romans., 250.
            [31]Hughes, Romans, 151.
            [32]Morris, Romans., 306
            [33] Strong, ESL.
            [34]R.C .Sproul, Romans: St. Andrews Expostional Commentary.(Wheaton: Crossway, 2009)253.
            [35]Moo, Romans., 489.

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