July 31: 2 Corinthians 5:21

In today’s note I will be looking at Romans 8:3-4 in comparison with 2 Corinthians 5:21. These two passages connect the incarnation of Christ with God’s work of salvation for humankind. From the beginning, Christians understood the sacrificial and salvific character of Jesus’ death, and that he was God’s unique representative; but here, in these two letters, perhaps for the first time, we find a developed doctrine blending soteriology with Christology. As 2 Corinthians was likely written before Romans, I will begin with 2 Cor 5:21.

2 Corinthians 5:21

“the (one) not knowing sin, He [i.e. God] made (to be) sin over us [i.e. for our sake], (so) that we might come to be (the) justice/righteousness of God in him”

The context of this passage (2 Cor 5:11-21) is similar to that of Phil 2:1-11—an appeal for peace and unity among believers is connected with the example of God’s sacrificial and saving work in Christ. Here in 2 Corinthians, the emphasis is on reconciliationkatallagh/, vb. katalla/ssw, to make things different, mutually, between two parties. In vv. 18-19, Paul makes two statements:

    • God is “the (One) making (things) different [katalla/canto$] (for) us with Himself through [dia/] (the) Anointed” (v. 18)
    • God “was [h@n] in [e)n] (the) Anointed, making (things) different [katalla/sswn] (for the) world with Himself” (v. 19)

In both instances, a participial form of the verb is used: the first in the aorist (indicating a past action), the second in the present. In verse 18, it is “us” (believers) for whom the situation has been changed with God; in verse 19, it is the entire world. This particular work of reconciliation is glossed and interpreted by Paul as “not counting for them (the instances of) their falling alongside [paraptw/mata]”, i.e., not reckoning their sins and failures, understood as violations/transgressions of the Law, especially in its moral/ethical aspect. We also see, in each statement regarding God’s work of reconciliation in/through Christ, a corresponding declaration of the work of reconciliation God intends for believers (focused primarily in the apostolic ministry):

    • “…and (also) giving to us the service [diakoni/a] of making (things) different [i.e. reconciliation, katallagh/]” (v. 18)
    • “…and (also) placing in us the word/account [lo/go$] of making (things) different [i.e. reconciliation]” (v. 19)

It may be helpful to examine each element of verse 21:

to\n mh\ gno/nta (“the [one] not knowing”)—i.e. Jesus Christ; here the verb know (ginw/skw) probably should be understood in the sense of familiarity.

a(marti/an (“sin”)—The expression mh\ gno/nta a(marti/an is sometimes translated as “knowing no sin“; but the negative particle relates primarily to the verb, and thus the emphasis is on “not knowing sin”. Paul doubtless would affirm something corresponding to the later orthodox belief regarding the sinlessness of Christ; however, when referring to specific sins or misdeeds, he typically uses the words para/ptwma (cf. in v. 19), para/basi$, or a(marti/a in the plural. The use of the singular here could indicate the idea of sin in the more general, abstract sense; or, as often in Romans especially, of sin as a power. To describe Jesus as “the one not knowing sin” probably means, for Paul, that he was the only person who was not enslaved under the power of sin, i.e. did not know Sin has his master. The word a(marti/a fundamentally means a failure—in the conventional Israelite/Jewish religious sense, this would be a failure to observe the commands and regulations of the Law (Torah), and, in particular, moral failure. In English, the word is normally rendered as “sin”; it is generally synonymous with the corresponding afj in Hebrew.

u(pe\r u(ma=$ (“over us”)—The preposition u(pe/r literally means “over”, but often in the metaphorical sense of “on behalf of, for the sake of”, etc. What God did through Christ was done “over us”, covering us, and it was done for our sake.

e)poi/hsen (“he made”)—God is the implied subject, with “the one not knowing sin” (Christ) as the object, i.e. God made Christ to be (like/as) sin. How should we understand this “making”? I have previously suggested three possibilities:

    • he was made into the form of (sinful) human “flesh” (Rom 8:3, cf. below); the idea of incarnation, cf. Gal 4:4; Phil 2:7
    • he was made like unto the (enslaving) power of sin, in order to conquer and destroy it (cf. Rom 8:2-3; Gal 3:13-14)
    • he was made into a sin-offering; note the similar double meaning of afj in Hebrew, which can be used both for sin and the offering made on behalf of sin

i%na (“that”)—the particle here introduces a final clause, indicating either purpose or result (or both), i.e. “so that…”

genw/meqa (“we might come to be”)—the common existential verb indicating becoming, i.e. the purpose and result of God’s work is that we (believers) will come to be something new. The aorist subjunctive form could here could also be rendered: “that we should come to be…”

dikaiosu/nh qeou= (“[the] justice/righteousness of God”)—Paul’s use of this expression is familiar from Romans, where it appears numerous times (Rom 1:17; 3:5, 21-22; 10:3, also 3:25-26; 6:13, etc). More than half of the instances of the noun dikaiosu/nh come from the undisputed Pauline letters (34 times in Romans). I have discussed dikaiosu/nh (and the dikaio- word-group) extensively in the articles on “Paul’s View of the Law” (note also the article on Justification). Where this particular expression is used in Romans, it should be taken fundamentally as a characteristic or attribute of God Himself, but which is expressed primarily in the person and work of Christ.

e)n au)tw=| (“in him”)—that is, “in Christ”, e)n Xristw=| being a favorite Pauline expression, indicating the union (and unity) of believers with Christ (and with God through Christ). Here it should also be understood as the focus of our becoming the “justice/righteousness of God”—it takes place in Christ. Elsewhere, Paul refers to Jesus as the very embodiment of justice/righteousness. The parallel in 1 Cor 1:30 is especially noteworthy:

1 Cor 1:30: he came to be the justice/righteousness from God for us
2 Cor 5:21: we come to be the justice/righteousness of God in him

The interplay reflected in these two verses is fascinating indeed!

What does it mean precisely, that believers should “become” or “come to be” the justice/righteousness of God? I will leave this question until I have discussed Romans 8:3-4, which I will do in the next daily note.

Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (3:21-5:21, Part 2)

This is the second part of the article on Romans 3:21-5:21 (cf. part 1), according to the following outline:

  • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah)
    —3:21-31: A description of God’s justice and on being made/declared just
    —4:1-25: Argument from Scripture: The blessing/promise to Abraham (by trust/faith)
    —5:1-11: The effect/result of being made/declared just: salvation from the coming judgment
    —5:12-21: Argument/Illustration from Scripture: Sin and Salvation (Adam/Christ)

Two discussions on the twin theme of Justice/Justification (3:21-31; 5:1-11) alternate with expository arguments (or illustrations) from Scripture (4:1-25; 5:12-21). This concluding part examines Rom 5:1-11 and the argument from Scripture in 5:12-21.

Romans 5:1-11

This section runs parallel to that of Rom 3:21-31 (discussed in part 1); while the emphasis there was on the justice/righteousness of God and the manifestation of it in action (“justification”), here it is on the effect of justification—believers being made (or declared) just/right before God. We can also see this parallel in its relation to the esteem (do/ca, or “glory”) of God—i.e. the honor/glory which He intrinsically possesses, and which should be shown to him:

    • the justice/righteousness of God—the esteem/glory of God (Rom 3:23)
    • justification of believers—the hope (e)lpi/$) of the glory of God (Rom 5:2)

Verses 1-11 can be divided into three sub-sections, each of which describe the result of justification for believers in terms of boasting (vb. kauxa/omai, n. kau/xhma, kau/xhsi$). Nearly all of the NT occurrences of these three related terms are found in Paul’s letters—it was a favorite of his, and one that can be difficult for other Christians to appreciate in the way that he clearly did. It is possible that it reflects his previous religious zeal and devotion (to the Law and Jewish tradition, etc), as expressed in Gal 1:13-14; 2 Cor 11:22; Phil 3:5-6. Paul was well aware, even from his own experience perhaps, that the flesh (as he would put it) can tend to take pride and exult in one’s religious status and accomplishments. Several times in his letters, Paul makes the point that “boasting” ought to be centered on God’s grace, on the Gospel and the person and work of Christ (Gal 6:13-14; Phil 3:3, etc), doubtless influenced by the famous passage in Jer 9:23-24 (cf. 1 Cor 1:31; 2 Cor 10:17). More often, however, he uses the term in association with the missionary work—his own, and that of other believers—and it is this context that can be hard for modern readers to understand entirely (see esp. the many references in 2 Corinthians). He appears to use the terminology in two basic senses:

    1. In terms of confidence (including the idea of rejoicing) before God—context of divine judgment
    2. In terms of personal pride and satisfaction regarding one’s accomplishments, etc.

Both of these can further be understood in either a positive or negative sense—Paul’s line of argument and rhetoric in the letters often moves between these, playing one off against the other. For his use of the verb, in Romans and Galatians, see Gal 6:13-14 and Rom 2:17, 23, apart from the three occurrences in 5:1-11; for the two nouns (kau/xhma, kau/xhsi$), cf. Rom 3:27; 4:2; 15:17; Gal 6:4.

Verses 1-2: Boasting in the hope of glory—”we boast upon (the) hope of the honor/esteem [i.e. glory] of God” (kauxw/meqa e)p’ e)lpi/di th=$ do/ch$ tou= qeou=). This is prefaced by several statements predicated upon “justification by faith”—”being made just/right out of trust” (dikaiwqe/nte$ e)k pi/stew$):

    • we have/hold [e&xomen] peace toward [i.e. with, before] God (through the Lord Jesus Christ) [v. 1]
    • we have/hold [e)sxh/kamen] the way leading into the favor (of God) [v. 2a]
    • we stand [e)sth/kamen] in this favor (of God) [v. 2b]

Note the word play and assonance of the three verbs (in Greek); the first is in the present tense/aspect, the last two are perfect forms, indicating past action which continues into the present (or is a permanent condition).

Verses 3-5: Boasting in hope through affliction—”we also boast in the (moment)s of distress” (kai\ kauxw/meqa e)n tai=$ qli/yesin). The word qli/yi$ fundamentally refers to pressure, stress, constriction, etc.—it can mean suffering or trouble generally, or affliction and oppression specifically. Verses 1-2 started with believers’ status before God (through justification), and ended with the boast; here vv. 3-5 has an inverse structure, beginning with the boast, and concluding with the presence and work of God in believers (through the Spirit). This structure in vv. 3-5 follows a memorable chain of development:

    • distress/affliction (qli/yi$) which produces…
      • endurance (lit. “remaining under” u(pomo/nh), which produces…
        • proving/testing (“being accepted/received” dokimh/), which produces…
          • hope/expectation (e)lpi/$)

Finally, hope will never shame or embarrass (i.e. disappoint) us (v. 5); the reason for this confidence (“boasting”) is, according to Paul, that “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the holy Spirit th(at) is given to us”. Love (a)ga/ph) is parallel to God’s favor (xa/ri$) in v. 2; more notable is the parallel between the “honor/esteem of God” (do/ca qeou=) in v. 1 and the “love of God” (a)ga/ph qeou=) here in v. 5.

Interestingly, we may also find an organizing principle in these verses reflecting the famous triad of 1 Cor 13:13faith (v. 1), hope (vv. 2-5a), and love (v. 5b).

Verses 6-11: Boasting in the sacrificial work (death) of Christ—”we also are boasting in God through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, through whom we now (have) received the katallagh/” (v. 11). This last verse of the section sums up the sacrificial work described in vv. 6-10. The elements are clear—it is: (1) the work of God, (2) that takes place through Christ, (3) resulting in katallagh/ for believers. The Greek word katallagh/ (katallag¢¡), from the verb katalla/ssw (katallássœ), fundamentally means making (something to be) other, or different, i.e. a change, often in the sense of a (mutual) exchange or reconciliation between two parties. Just as God makes the situation right (dikaio/w, i.e. “justification”) for human beings (believers), so he also has made things different—he has eliminated the separation and hostility which existed under the power of sin. Note the elements of this sacrificial work as expressed in vv. 6-10:

    • It involves Christ’s death, which was over (u(pe/r, i.e. on behalf of, for the sake of) those who lacked proper fear/reverence (a)sebh/$) toward God (i.e. the impious/wicked–all human beings, cf. Rom 3:9-20, 23, etc)—V. 6
    • It took place especially for human beings who are wicked/impious (a)sebh/$), and not just/righteous (di/kaio$) or good (a)gaqo/$)—this makes the sacrificial act all the more noteworthy and significant (V. 7)
    • The character of this sacrificial act reflects and expresses the love (a)ga/ph) of God for (“unto”, ei)$) human beings (V. 8)
    • Its result and effect is that people (believers) are:
      • made just/right, i.e. “justified” (dikaio/w), by means of Christ’s very death (e)n tw=| ai%mati au)tou=, “in his blood”), V. 9a
      • saved (sw/zw) from the passion/anger (o)rgh/, i.e. “wrath”) of God which is about to come upon humankind—this also takes place through Christ (di’ au)tou=, “through him”), V. 9b
    • Ultimately, its effect is to make different (katalla/ssw) the situation of separation and hostility between human beings and God, who were effectively enemies (e&xqroi) to each other (V. 10)
      • this reconciliation also is understood specifically as a result of Christ’s death (v. 10a)
      • however, ultimately salvation also comes as a result of Christ’s life, i.e. his resurrection (v. 10b)

Romans 5:12-21

Just as Rom 4:1-25 contained an argument from Scripture, centered on Abraham (Gen 15:6), and God’s blessing and promise to him, so in this section we find a parallel sort of argument, based on Adam, the first human being (according to Scripture and tradition). Paul does not cite a specific verse; rather, he draws generally upon the narrative in Genesis 2-3. It is similar, in some respects, to the ‘allegory’ he uses in Gal 4:21-31, though the argument here in Rom 5:12-21 would better be described as a kind of parallelistic and synchronistic typology—between Adam and Christ. Paul has already used a typological comparison along these lines in 1 Cor 15:21ff.

Romans 5:12-21 is perhaps the best known section of the letter, and is justly famous. However, for good or for ill, it has also served as a springboard for all sorts of speculative exposition, on theological and other matters—from the historicity of the Genesis narrative, to questions on the origin and nature of the human soul, to specific and elaborate ‘theories on the atonement’, etc—most of which are rather far removed from Paul’s original purpose and intent. A good deal of confusion, I believe, stems from difficulty in understanding Paul’s view regarding sin, and the language with which he expresses it. I will be discussing this briefly in a separate supplementary article. Here, I focus strictly on the context of the passage in Romans, with a careful examination of its structure. I would divide it as follows:

    • Vv. 12-14: The first man (Adam)—sin
    • Vv. 15-17: The second man (Christ)—the favor (“grace”) shown (by God)
    • Vv. 18-19: Contrast of sin vs. justice
    • Vv. 20-21: Contrast of Law vs. favor (“grace”)

Verses 12-17 set the comparison (and contrast) between Adam and Christ; verses 18-21 expound and apply the contrast theologically. The comparison works on two levels: (1) the historical/traditional narrative regarding Adam, and (2) a kind of narrative regarding sin personified. God’s responsive action, in the person and work of Christ, relates to both levels.

Verses 12-14: The first man (Adam)—sin. Interestingly, Paul actually says very little about Adam; the story is really one about sin, which takes place (at a deeper level) through (dia/) the first man. The story can be outlined fairly clearly and simply:

    • sin enters (“comes into”, ei)se/rxomai) the world (death also enters through sin) (v. 12)
    • sin was in (h@n e)n) the world, exercising power, prior to the Law (a&xri no/mou, “until the Law”) (v. 13)
    • sin rules as king (basileu/w), with/through death (“death reigned”), until the Law (me/xri Mwu+se/w$, “until Moses”) (v. 14a)

This is set temporally, in the period before the Law and the Mosaic/Sinai covenant, which is important to keep in mind; the entry of the Law is a climactic moment, serving to increase and enhance the reign of sin (vv. 20-21). Verse 14b is transitional, establishing the typology between Adam and Christ—Adam being “the stamp/pattern [tu/po$] of the (one) about to come”.

Verses 15-17: The second man (Christ)—the favor of God. I have translated xa/ri$ as favor, though it is typically rendered as “grace” or “gift”; properly, it relates better to the idea of God showing favor on human beings. In verse 15, Paul again sets the comparison, this time between sin and the favor of God. The word here, however, is not a(marti/a (“sin”), but para/ptwma (“falling alongside”). Paul generally does not use the singular a(marti/a to refer to individual misdeeds (though he will, on occasion, use it this way in the plural); rather, he prefers para/ptwma or para/basi$ (“stepping alongside”). The force of the prefixed particle para/ in these two words can be understood either in the sense of “falling/stepping away” or “falling/stepping over (the line)”. Note the similarity of outline with vv. 12-14 (above):

    • the favor (xa/ri$/xa/risma) of God enters (the world), by/through Christ, unto (ei)$) many people (v. 15)—it is a gift offered without charge or cause (dwrea/)
    • the favor is in the world, working/multiplying, coming “out of” (e)k) many sins, “unto” (ei)$) justice/justification (apart from the Law) (v. 16)—note the contrast between “judgment against” (kata/krima) and “justification” (dikai/wma)
    • the favor—through its abundance, believers reign, in life (v. 17)

In both instances, this three-stage development reflects the transition of the “one” to the “many” (“abundance”, etc):

    • initial act/work which creates an ‘opening’ for sin/favor
    • ongoing work (and its effect), multiplying and increasing
    • ruling/reigning in abundance

Yet Paul also indicates that the gift (work of Christ) is not like the sin (of Adam)—being effectively the opposite and a reversal of the former, ultimately surpassing it. This provides the basis for the exposition in vv. 18-21, building upon the contrast.

Verses 18-19: Contrast of sin vs. justice/righteousness. Verse 18 sets the contrast:

the transgression (para/ptwma) through one (di’ e(no/$)
unto all men (ei)$ pa/nta$ a&nqrw/pou$)
unto judgment against (them) (ei)$ kata/krima)
the (act of) justice (dikai/wma) through one (di’ e(no/$)
unto all men (ei)$ pa/nta$ a&nqrw/pou$)
unto (their) being made/declared just (ei)$ dikai/wsin)

In verse 19, this contrast is defined in terms of disobedience (parakoh/, lit. “hearing alongside [i.e. incorrectly, neglectfully]”) and obedience (u(pakoh/, “hearing under” [i.e. under submission/authority]).

Verses 20-21: Contrast of Law vs. favor. In verse 20, the Law (no/mo$) is said to enter in alongside sin, causing sin to increase and become more abundant. This connection between the Law and sin is unique to Paul’s teaching, and will be expounded further in chapters 6-7. Just as sin reigned through death (v. 14), in verse 21 it is said to reign “in death” (e)n tw=| qana/tw|). By contrast, the favor (xa/ri$) or “grace” of God also has entered (through Christ) and increased and multiplied even more than did sin (v. 20b); and, while sin reigned in death, the favor of God reigns (through justice/righteousness) “into/unto life” (ei)$ zwh\n)—this is eternal life (lit. “life of the ages”). An outline diagram of this contrast may be helpful:

Law (no/mo$)
|
the power/reign of sin
|
death
Favor (xa/ri$) of God
|
the reign of justice/righteousness
|
(eternal) life

It is this last contrastive comparison, of course, which is most relevant to the question of Paul’s View of the Law, the subject of these articles. And it is the relationship between the Law and sin which is a primary subject in the next section of Romans (Rom 6:1-7:25)—to be discussed in the next article.