The Life of the Believer as Self-Sacrifice for God—Romans 12:1-2 (PART THREE)

Now we are back into our study of Rom 12:1-2. In the last two posts we introduced the pericope and are now at a good place to dig deeper into God’s Word.

[My sincere apologies for the different numeration of the foot/endnotes, as we moved from Chicago back to Germany I do not have the right program to write in yet. And since my knowledge of the current program is minimal I have not figured out how to convert everything into footnote. The i. Still corresponds to i. and 1 to 1, yet they might appear in different order.]

For sure this sacrifice picture does have Graeco-Roman parallels as well as Jewish ones,ibut I would like to to look at Torah to see what it says about sacrifices. Hence, we also need to look into the other terms being used—i.e., holy and pleasing to God and finally to the appositional clause “reasonable service” (τὴν λογικὴνλατρείαν).

Most Christians when they think of holiness picture the heavenly theme described in Isa 6 or even Rev 4-5, yet Timothy M. Brunk advices us to turn to the Holiness Code of Leviticus because here “the clearest Old Testament expression of what God’s holiness entails for those who believe in God” is described.iiBy reading passages like Lev 11:45 (“For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy”), Lev 19:2 (“Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy”),iiiand Lev 20:26 (“You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine”) we are able to see that “holiness is linked to the end of one period of servitude/belonging (i.e., to the Egyptians) and the beginning of another period of servitude/belonging (i.e., to God).”ivWe have the same imagery in Rom 6 where the Christian has been freed from sin, death, and the Law to serve God in obedience and righteousness. We are set free to be “slaves of righteousness” (Rom 6:18).

Further, in the Holiness Code of Leviticus 19 we also have ethical instructions coming right after the passages cited above. Thus we read e.g. in Lev 19:3-4: “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the Lord your God. Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am the Lord your God;” in vv. 11-12: “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.” A similar scenario takes place in Rom 12. After 12:1-2 many ethical instructions concerning daily living (inside and outside the faith community) are written down. Brunk argues that “the ‘living’ sacrifice of Christians is living with the very life of God within them and that holiness, both in the Old Testament and in the Letter to the Romans, is inextricably bound up with codes of right conduct that govern both individuals and the believing community.”vThere are external “codes of right conduct” or moral norms to which the Christian needs to conform. The Christian is to conform to those not by mere consent but by a life lived by God’s mercies, shown specifically in Jesus death and resurrection, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit within.

So what is holy and pleasing to God? We need not make the mistake and think that in the OT we have merely external demands made by God to His covenant people.viWe already see e.g. in Isa 1:10-16; 29:13; and Mic 6:6-8 that “God was honoured, not merely by ritual observance, but by a genuine spiritual and moral engagement with him … God’s essential requirement was repentance, faith and obedience, especially expressed in the concern to establish righteousness and holiness in the community of his people.”viiFurther, Deut 10:12-13 states: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve [LXX: λατρεύειν] the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?” [emphasis added]. Yes, keeping the commandments and statutes are necessary for a holy God to live with His people, but not to the exclusion of an intimate relationship.

Therefore the Israelites were to circumcise their hearts (10:16; cf. Rom 2:28-29). What is holy and “pleasing to God” is also the “common way to describe conduct that conforms to the Law … a common phrase in the Old Testament and Jewish literature for sacrifices and behavior that are acceptable to God.”viiiThe call to worship God is “similar to Old Testament passages like Exodus 19:4-6; 20:1-3; Deuteronomy 10:14-22, where the redemptive initiative of God establishes and dictates the sort of ‘divine service’ that was required of Israel,” writes Peterson. But he goes on to state that “[t]he novelty of Paul’s approach is that acceptable worship in the messianic era is essentially the presentation of ourselves to God on the basis of the single, atoning sacrifice of the death of Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit.”ixThe phrase εὐάρεστον τῷθεῷ is “a term of the koine.xPaul uses this term “to depict actions consistent with the divine will.”xiDunn observes that a “figurative use of the sacrificial language” is oftentimes used to criticize (either implicitly or explicitly) against a “reliance on a superficial ritual performance.”xiiWe see this clearly among many OT passages (see treatment above) but one example should suffice to summarize this way of thinking. After God explains that He does not need bulls and goats for some kind of physical nourishment, we read in Ps 50:14 that the worshiper is to “offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving” and to “perform [her] vows to the Most High.” This Psalm then ends (v. 23) in a similar vein when it states: “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” Ultimately what is holy and pleasing to God is our τὴν λογικὴνλατρείαν. Two questions are raised by the interpreter: (1) How are we to translate this phrase? and (2) What is the background for such?1Obviously, these are interrelated and cannot be resolved apart from each other. Yet, the precise answer to such is ultimately not of utter significance as we are seeing the expression in apposition to θυσίαν ζῶσανἁγίαν εὐάρεστοντῷ θεῷ and therefore it cannot be divorced from that which comes before.

The following translations are given: “spiritual worship” (ESV, NRSV, HCSB), “reasonable service/vernünftiger Gottesdienst” (NET, LUT’84, Elberfelder, Schlachter 2000), “true worship/wahrer Gottesdienst” (TNIV, NGÜ). Commentators too render the words differently.2The noun λατρεία is translated: “worship/Gottesdienst” (Cranfield, Schmithals, Stuhlmacher, Wilckens, Dunn, Moo, Matera, Jewett, Hultgren), “religion” (Dunn), “service”3(Schreiner), and “cult” (Fitzmyer). The adjective λογικός in the following way: “understanding” (Cranfield), “spiritual/geistiger” (Dunn, Wilckens, Matera, Hultgren) or “reasonable” (Dunn, Stuhlmacher, Jewett) or “suited to your rational nature/der euch angemessene” (Fitzmyer, Schmithals), “rational” (Schreiner), and “true” (Moo).

The only other instance where λατρεία is used is found in 9:4 where Paul talked about Jewish worship; “[n]evertheless, there are verbal and conceptual links with earlier parts of the letter which are not focused on Judaism” (see introduction to this section).4In 1:9 we have the following statement: “God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit” ( θεός, λατρεύωἐν τῷπνεύματί μου) which one might take as a parallel and thus λογικός would be parallel to ἐν τῷπνεύματί. Another parallel which is often shown is that of 1 Pt 2:2 where believers are to yearn for τὸ λογικὸν ἄδολον γάλα in connection to 2:5 where they present themselves as πνευματικὰς θυσίας. In that instance λογικός and πνευματικός are closely related. If such parallels are taken in our consideration of Rom 12:2 then the phrase λογικός would result in the translation of “spiritual.”5

Yet, I think the term should be rendered “rational” as it would be befitting for one whose mind is to be changed to worship in accordance with that which is known.6The cognitive language of v. 2 lends itself for such a translation. The issue of translation, however, does not necessarily shed doubt on the overall meaning here. Many different backgrounds have been suggested but this should not detract us here. What is of interest is the contrast Paul is picturing. Jewett writes that “[i]n place of the latreia of the Jewish cult (9:24) or the worship of finite images in Greco-Roman cults (1:23), Paul presents the bodily service of a community for the sake of world transformation and unification as the fulfillment of the vision of worship that would be truly reasonable.”7Paul’s aim is to urge or admonish the Roman Christians to live their Christian lives where the sacred and the common are intertwined.8Schreiner writes that Paul’s purpose of using such language is “to emphasize that yielding one’s whole self to God is eminently reasonable. Since God has been so merciful, failure to dedicate one’s life to him is the height of folly and irrationality.”9A “rational service” is then described further in Rom 12:3-15:13.
1J. Gerald Janzen, “A New Approach to ‘Logikēn Latreian’ in Romans 12:1-2,” Encounter 69, no. 2 (2008): 45–46 starts out the discussion with the approach I adopted here (i.e., the different renderings of the terms at hand). He sees a strong relationship between 4 Macc where “true or devout reason is grounded in torah” (p. 55; emphasis his.)

2The renderings are taken from the following commentaries in the corresponding section: Cranfield, Romans, 2:; Dunn, Romans 9-16; Walter Schmithals, Der Römerbrief: Ein Kommentar (Gütersloh: G. Mohn, 1988); Fitzmyer, Romans; Stuhlmacher, Paul’s letter to the Romans; Moo, The Epistle to the Romans; Wilckens, Der Brief an die Römer (12-16); Jewett, Romans; Hultgren, Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

3Janzen, “A New Approach to ‘Logikēn Latreian’ in Romans 12:1-2,” 46 points out that “no one seems to carry forward KJV’s ‘service,’” although this is semantically possible as the “English noun and its verb function in contemporary language in much the same way as the Hebrew terms translated in LXX as latreia and latreuō.” But as we see above, Schreiner actually did carry forward that meaning.

4Thompson, “Romans 12:1-2 and Paul’s Vision for Worship,” 122. The verb λατρεύω is also used in 1:9, 25.

5See also the parallels in 1 Pet 2:5, 5. Jewett, Romans, 730; see also Gerhard Kittel, “λογικός,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1967).

6Cf. also the language of 12:3 where self-evaluation needs to be done in accordance with reasonableness (εἰς τὸ σωφρονεῖν) which is now possible due to the renewal of the mind (τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοὸς).
7Jewett, Romans, 730–731. Corriveau, The Liturgy of Life, 179 [quoted in Peterson, “Worship and Ethics in Romans 12,” 274] writes: “Paul would thus be taking up, in quotation marks as it were, a religious slogan common in certain circles at the time. In so doing he completely transforms the saying, while opposing it to those conceptions of spiritual worship so much in vogue at the time. Certainly no more the bloody animal sacrifices of the past, but nor either the pure interiority of the Mystic. The Christian’s spiritual worship involves an extreme of realism—the bodily offering of himself.” Yet we also need to see the corporal nature of Paul’s language. Smiga observes that this sacrifice is “communal rather than factional” as “the situation at Rome [demands] which struggles with the tension between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians;” “Romans 12:1-2 and 15:30-32 and the Occasion of the Letter to the Romans,” 270.

8Roetzel, “Sacrifice in Romans 12-15,” 416 writes that Paul “aims to sacralize everyday conduct and thus to remove the barrier between worldly and ‘spiritual’ behavior for those in Christ.” Thompson, “Romans 12:1-2 and Paul’s Vision for Worship,” 131–132 states: “Paul’s vision for worship includes more than everyday obedience and self-offering, inasmuch as the experience of ‘church’ gathers praise and thanks, provides a setting for the use of gifts for transformation and proclamation, and summons the body of Christ to an interdependence which reflects the very life of God;” cf. Rom 12:3-21.

9Schreiner, Romans, 645. Gennadius of Constantinople wrote: “[T]he offering of rational creatures is much more valuable than that of dumb ones;” Bray, Romans, 307.

iSee e.g. T. Levi 3:6; Philo, Spec. Laws 1.277; Epictetus 1.16.20-21; Corp. herm. 1.30-32; 13.18; Isocrates, Ad Nic. 6 listed in Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies, 582.

iiBrunk, “A Holy and Living Sacrifice,” 18:60.

iiiJohn E. Hartley, Leviticus, Word Biblical Commentary 4 (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1992), 308 states that all the laws found in the Holiness Code (i.e., Lev 17-26) “reveal God’s desire that Israel bring every area of her life in conformity with his holy character.” This is clearly Paul’s purpose in Rom 12:1-2.

ivBrunk, “A Holy and Living Sacrifice,” 18:60–61. He also sees the link to Rom 6:11-13 and states: “As was the case in Leviticus, here in Romans being holy is connected to the notion of being liberated by God from servitude and being placed in the position of servant vis-à-vis God” (p. 61). Brunk is to be credited with the observations and comparison of Lev 19 and Rom 12.

vIbid., 18:66.

viRoetzel, “Sacrifice in Romans 12-15,” 415 also states: “Jacob Neusner has taught us how the Pharisees without repudiating the cult universalized its rule by extending the Levitical code into everyday life. Thus for the Pharisees and for Paul as a Pharisee, the liturgy of sacrifice extended beyond the Temple to embrace work and leisure, eating and sex, and teaching and learning. The arena for sacrifice expanded beyond the sacrificial altar in the Temple to encircle street and home, kitchen and bed, shop and school, and field and sea.” We can see that for some in Judaism worship was not a pure cultic or ritual event. Similarly Seifrid, “Romans,” 680 observes: “The concept of surrender of bodily life as a sacrifice, which transcends and supplants any offering of grain or animal, has its roots in the prophets and psalms (see, e.g., Ps. 40:6-8).”

viiPeterson, “Worship and Ethics in Romans 12,” 44:274.

viiiThompson, Moral Formation, 170; Thompson points e.g. to Exod 21:8; Pss 55:14 LXX; 114:9 LXX; as well as Wis 4:10; 9:10; 17:1; Philo Spec. Laws 1.201.

ixPeterson, “Worship and Ethics in Romans 12,” 44:280.

xWerner Foerster, “εὐάρεστος, εὐαρεστέω,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 1:456. Jewett, Romans, 729 also points to LXX Wis 4:10; 9:10.

xiJewett, Romans, 729.

xiiDunn, Romans 9-16, 710.

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