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

     Coming from the body, Paul now turns to the mind1—i.e., the renewal thereof (τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοὸς).2 Timothy Sensing, however, is right in observing that “[t]here is no dualism here between the mind and body,” as the “renewal of the mind” is combined with “presenting the body.”3 In reference to transformation language and its linkage to 2 Cor 3:18 Thompson observes: “Although he [i.e., Paul] does not specify the goal of transformation (μεταμορφοῦσθαι), that is, the form or image (ἐικών) his readers are to assume … Christians are being transformed into the same image (τὴν αὐτὴν εἰκόνα μεταμορφούμεθα) as that of the Lord who is beheld.”4 Yet, this is not a purely a matter of the individual but of the entire community (seen also by the sg. λατρεία and the pl. pron. ὑμῶν in the previous verse). Thompson further links the renewal of the νοῦς to the φρόνημα τοῦ πνεύματος (8:6) and the νοῦς Χριστοῦ (1 Cor 2:16).5 Bond argues “that Paul uses cognition language to link his theological propositions to his ethical admonitions. Moreover, the apostle’s ethical exhortations were directly based on the message and known character of Christ which Paul proclaimed…. According to Paul, believers are to reason theologically” as well as “Christocentrically.”6

     The renewal of the mind is necessary as we saw in 1:28 that humans have “a debased mind” (ἀδόκιμος νοῦς) and “do what ought not to be done” (ποιεῖν τὰ μὴ καθήκοντα).7 This also has parallels in Jewish apocalyptic writings.8 The context of the eschaton, introduced by τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ in Rom 12:2, also shows much more reliance on Jewish tradition than anything else. The most striking parallel is to be found in the Shema Israel. There we read that the worshipper is to love God with all her heart, soul, and strength (Deut 6:5). Though the word “heart” (Hebr.: לֵבָב; Gr.: καρδία) is not rendered with νοῦς we need to reckon that in Hebrew the term לֵבָב does “have a dominant metaphorical use in reference to the center of human psychical and spiritual life, to the entire inner life of a person.”9 The connection to Jer 31:31-34 and Ezek 36:26-27 are also established via the preaching o the new heart.

     As pagan and Jewish people put their faith in Jesus Christ “the understandings and practices of the old polities, whether pagan or Jewish, are still deeply ingrained in the human heart and in the established polities of human communities, Christians are confronted with the challenge to undergo continual transformation, in mind and in bodily practice.”10 This transformation needs to take place “so that”11 Christians are able to approve after testing12 what “the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον καὶ τέλειον). In pointing to 2:18 (γινώσκεις τὸ θέλημα καὶ δοκιμάζεις) Dunn observes that Paul holds a different ethical norm than Jewish contemporaries, yet “[t]hat is not to say the he encourages an antinomian ethic” because “the objective is still ‘the will of God’” which finds parallel emphases in Jer 31:31-34 and Ezek 36:26-27. Dunn goes on to say: “Paul recognizes that a personally prescriptive motivation has to come from constant inward renewal, without, however, denying the law its role as moral yardstick and norm.”13 We will specifically see this in Rom 12:19 (as well as v. 20).

     In light of the eschatological framework (cf. 13:11-14) Paul exhorts the faith community to give themselves as a living sacrifice to God and be renewed in their mind. Many OT allusions have been seen in these short but pregnant verses and we already got a glimpse into the thoroughly Torah-drenched understanding of Paul’s ethics.14 What Paul has not done in this center piece of Romans is to show how such a transformed life—individually and communally—looks like. This is the purpose of the sections to follow.

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1Jewett, Romans, 731 points to 1:24 and 1:20 respectively were σώματα is contrasted to νοούμενα, “[t]wo imperatives concerning nonconformity and transformation are developed in antithetical fashion.”

2Alister McGrath, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2009), 19 states: “The human mind is not replaced or displaced by faith; rather, it is illuminated and energized through faith, understood as a transformed disposition of the knower, which leads to a new way of thinking that enables the discernment of deeper levels of reality than unaided human reason or sight permit. The world thus takes on a new significance, It has been transsignified, in that it now points to something beyond itself” [emphais his].

3Sensing, “From Exegesis to Sermon in Romans 12,” 40:175.

4Thompson, Clothed with Christ, 84.

5Ibid., 86.

6Lee S. Bond, “Renewing the Mind: The Role of Cognition Language in Pauline Theology and Ethics,” Tyndale Bulletin 58, no. 2 (2007): 317 [emphasis his]. In this article he outlines his dissertation “’Renewing the Mind: Paul’s Theological and Ethical use of Φρόνημα and Cognates in Romans and Philippians,” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Aberdeen, 2005). The quotations are taken from pp. 317 and 320 respectively.

7Horace E. Stoessel, “Notes on Romans 12:1-2: The Renewal of the Mind and Internalizing the Truth,” Interpretation 17, no. 2 (1963): 163 argues that “[i]t is clear … then, that when Paul exhorts the Romans to be renewed in mind he addresses not merely individuals but these individuals in their solidarity.” Again we do not have a purely individualistic transformation. Cf. also Dunn, Romans 9-16, 715; Jewett, Romans, 733.

8See Dunn, Romans 9-16, 713; he also to be credited with the observations above.

9Alex Luc, “לֵב, לֵבָב” ed. Willem VanGemeren, New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 2:749.

10Janzen, “A New Approach to ‘Logikēn Latreian’ in Romans 12:1-2,” 69:61. Dunn, Romans 9-16, 712 similarly states in light of the passive form συσχηματίζεσθε that “Paul…recognizes the power of social groups, cultural norms, institutions, and traditions to mold pattern of individual behavior;” cf. also Sensing, “From Exegesis to Sermon in Romans 12,” 40:174. In reference to Paul’s missionary goals Eckhard J. Schnabel, Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 225 writes: “The goal of Paul’s missionary work is the conversion of Jews and pagans to faith in Jesus Messiah, Savior and Lord, the transformation of traditional patterns of religious, ethical and social behavior, and their integration into the community of fellow believers” [emphasis mine].

11The preposition εἰς is seen as a marker of result.

                        12William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 255: defines δοκιμάζω as “to draw a conclusion about worth on the basis of testing.” We have the exact same language in Phil 1:10 εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς as pointed out by Jewett, Romans, 734.

13Dunn, Romans 9-16, 715 [emphasis mine]. He also points to Wis 9:9-10, 17-18.

14 Though Torah is not the only ethical standard Paul applies to the faith communities he wrote to (see Chapter 1).

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