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.