|1Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, 2(Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) 3Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; 4And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: 5By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name: 6Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: 7To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.||1Paul, a bondman of Jesus Christ, one called as an apostle, one set apart to the gospel of God—2the gospel that he had promised previously through his prophets, in the holy scriptures 3and that is about his Son, who is from the seed of David according to the flesh 4but who was powerfully appointed to be the Son of God; in other words, he was appointed in accord with the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead (namely, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5through whom we received the grace of apostleship to bring about, for his name’s sake, trusting obedience among all the gentiles, 6among whom you are also called of Jesus Christ)—7to all that are in Rome, beloved of God and called as saints: grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.|
Most Greek letters of New Testament times began, “Claudius to Gaius, greeting,” using the names of the sender and the addressee in the appropriate places (see, for example, James 1:1; Acts 15:23; 23:26). Similarly, writers of Jewish letters usually began, “Joshua to Judah, peace be multiplied,” using the appropriate names (see Daniel 4:1).2
All the letters in the New Testament except Hebrews and 1 John begin with a variation of the standard Jewish opening. (Partly because Hebrews and 1 John do not begin in that way, we may question whether they were written as letters.) In addition to Romans, ten of the letters begin with “——— to ———, grace and peace be multiplied” or something similar (see 1 and 2 Corinthians; Galatians; Ephesians; Philippians; 1 and 2 Thessalonians; Philemon; 1 and 2 Peter). Four begin, “——— to ———, grace, mercy, and peace be multiplied” (see 1 and 2 Timothy; Titus; 2 John). Jude begins, “Jude . . . to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called: Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied,” a slight variation of the beginning seen in the other letters. James uses the standard Roman beginning, while 3 John names the writer and the addressee but uses no benediction.
The greetings of these letters were often expanded. First Peter, for example, expands the greeting, as many other letters do, by describing both the writer and the addressee in some detail: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied” (1 Peter 1:1–2). In Romans, Paul uses the most common greeting (certainly the one that characterizes his letters), but he expands it considerably more than the writers of the other letters do, taking the first six verses to say whom the letter is from. He introduces Galatians with a similar expanded greeting, though not as long. In Galatians the longer introduction seems to serve as a way of refuting what those who opposed his ministry to the gentiles said about him (see Galatians 1:6–2:21). The introduction to the letter to the Romans may have the same intent (see below, called, page 10). There seems to have been some controversy in the early church about Paul’s status in the church, a question that is not surprising given the way Paul was called and his conduct prior to that call (see Acts 9; 22). However, the beginning of Romans is not clearly a response to that controversy.
Paul writes the other letters of which we have record to churches where he had preached and had personal and ecclesiastical authority. Though Rome fell within his apostolic jurisdiction as the apostle to the gentiles, Paul had never been to Rome. Consequently, in addition to making his ecclesiastical authority clear, he may have felt more than the usual need to justify sending the Romans a letter such as this. Verses 10–13 seem to support this view.
Traditionally Paul’s two names, Paul and Saul, have been explained by the Christian custom of changing one’s name upon baptism. That tradition, which may or may not have been practiced in the early church, presumes that Paul was known as Saul until his conversion and then changed his name to Paul afterwards. However, the book of Acts does not support such an explanation. In Acts he is called Saul after his conversion (see Acts 13:1) and when the name Paul is introduced, no reason is given. It is simply mentioned as another name by which he is known (see Acts 13:9). Naming customs of the time may explain this.
Having three names was a mark of Roman citizenship.3
Those names were a personal name (praenomen), a clan name (nomen), and a family name (cognomen). In addition, it was not unusual for people to have a nickname (supernomen). Paulus, of which the Greek Paulos (Παυλοσ, Paul in English) is a variant, was a common Roman family name. It never occurs as a personal name in other documents from Paul’s time,4
so it is highly doubtful that it was Paul’s personal name. On the other hand, Saul was a relatively common Jewish personal name. Saul could have been Paul’s personal name or his nickname. Thus the two names seem to be just that, two different ways of identifying Paul, much as one could identify me as Faulconer or as James or as Jim.
Why does Acts use the name Saul more in the beginning of its discussion of Paul and the name Paul more later on, and why do most scriptural references refer to him as Paul? One explanation is that the Bible may use the personal name Saul more in reference to Paul’s activities among the Jews, and his Roman family name, Paul, more for his work among the gentiles, where Roman custom was more influential. Since Paul’s calling was to the gentiles and the extant letters are to congregations among the gentiles, if this hypothesis is correct, we would expect to see more use of his Roman name than his Jewish one, as we do.
A servant of Jesus Christ
A servant of Jesus Christ is a phrase New Testament letter writers commonly used to describe themselves. (Besides Paul’s use of the phrase in Galatians 1:10 and Titus 1:1, see James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Jude 1:1.) Jesus describes the believer’s relation to God as that of a servant (see Matthew 24:45–51; Luke 12:37–40). The word servant and related words (for example, serve) are especially important in Paul’s vocabulary. (In addition to Romans 1:1, see 1:9, 25; 6:6, 16–17, 20; 7:6, 25; 8:15, 21; 9:4, 12; 12:1, 11; 14:18; 16:18.)
The Greek word translated “servant” is doulos (δουλος). Literally, it means “slave.” However, since slavery in Paul’s day was often not accompanied by the cruelty that contemporary Americans usually associate with it, “slave” is not quite right as a translation for us.5 On the other hand, the word servant is probably too weak for what Paul means, since for him the word’s primary connotation is compulsory service by a person who is absolutely dependent on and belongs to the master of a household (using belongs in its strong, economic sense). In Paul’s day, douloi (servants) were property, in other words, slaves. In principle, during the first century A.D. the master of the house controlled, was responsible for, and had authority over everything about the slave, up to and including his or her life.6 As chapter 8 suggests, the slave that Paul has in mind is not of the lowest class and most common kind of slaves, those who do menial work. Many menial slaves may have lived under harsh conditions.7 Instead, he seems to have in mind the slaves who managed the affairs of their masters and who were sometimes freed or adopted into the family of the master.
Paul uses the word translated “servant” in a complicated context. His use of the word is in part determined by the way it is used in other scriptures. It is also determined by the conventions surrounding Greek, Roman, and Jewish slavery in his own time, as well as by the ideals of the various cultures in which he finds himself immersed, ideals that do not always square with common practice. Given his rabbinic training, Paul is surely as dependent on the Old Testament understanding of slavery as he is on the meanings of the Greek word he uses here; the members of his audience who are familiar with the Old Testament almost certainly have its use of the word in mind, along with the Greek and Roman connotations resulting from the dominance of those cultures. In fact, though Paul could not be unaware of Greek procedures for freeing slaves (see 1 Corinthians 7:20–22), he does not use the language of those practices, such as is found in the inscriptions at Delphi.8
In contrast to what the Jews in Paul’s audience would have understood, converts probably knew little about the scriptural traditions associated with the word doulos and likely depended almost entirely on the cultural practices and ideals of Paul’s day for their understanding of slavery and its associated practices. Consequently, when we wish to understand what Paul means by servant, we must keep in mind both the Old Testament use of the corresponding Hebrew word and the Greek and Roman concepts of what it means to be a slave.
Using language that is common in ancient Near Eastern religion,9 the Old Testament describes the prophets as God’s servants, as in Amos 3:7, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets,” and Isaiah 53:11, where Christ is called “my righteous servant.” (The Hebrew word for servant is ʿebed; see such passages as Joshua 14:7; 24:29; Judges 2:8; 2 Kings 17:23; Psalms 89:3; 105:6, which suggest that the word servant was used for special ministers rather than just for anyone.) The Septuagint (a third-century-B.C. translation of the Old Testament into Greek made from a manuscript that is no longer extant, also the Bible that Paul seems to use most) uses closely related Greek words in Amos 3:7 and Isaiah 53:11 (meaning “slave” and “to be a slave,” respectively). The word used in Amos 3:7 is doulos, the same word used by Paul in Romans 1:1. (For more about the Septuagint, see the discussion of verse 17, pages 65–66.)
The Greek word doulos is also common in the New Testament. It is one of a number of Greek words that can be translated “slave” or “servant,” but it emphasizes the dependence of the slave on his or her master.10 According to the New Testament, all Christians are slaves (see, for example, Matthew 6:24; Luke 12:41–46; Revelation 19:5).11 In fact, the word doulos may have been an early general title for church leaders, comparable to our use of Elder.12 In addition to the connotations of prophecy and temple service that carry over from slave (servant in the King James Version [KJV]) as it is used in the Old Testament to refer to the prophets, the New Testament use of the word adds the connotation of the service one owes to one’s fellows, as in Matthew 24:45–46; 25:21; Mark 10:42–45. We can expect the following meanings to come together in Paul’s use of the word doulos: “prophecy” (including and perhaps primarily the preaching of the gospel) and “service” (to one’s fellows and even in the temple).
Though the Old Testament makes provisions for the emancipation of slaves at regular periods (see Exodus 21:2–6; Leviticus 25:39–42; 47–54), the Jewish law of Paul’s time classed non-Jewish slaves as immobile property. Such slaves had no rights and could not own property.13 Among Jews of Paul’s time, to be called a slave was to be insulted as severely as possible; in fact, calling someone a slave could result in excommunication.14 Greek and therefore Roman ideals concerning slavery were similar and complicated.15 A slave was the property of another and owed his owner work. (That the slave was property may well account for the fact that many of the metaphors Paul uses in Romans are economic, including many words from bookkeeping, or legal.) Though slavery was common, according to Greek and Roman conventional wisdom of the time, to be enslaved was repugnant. It was so repugnant, in fact, that some readers of the New Testament may find it difficult to take seriously Paul’s use of the word slave in Romans 1:1. For them, Paul would have to mean something different than what his contemporary Greek speakers meant. As I will argue, this approach goes too far, ignoring the Hebrew background within which Paul uses the word slave and the doctrine that Paul preaches.
For Greek thinkers, and therefore for all the Mediterranean world at the time, nothing seemed worse for a human to endure than being enslaved. The point of Greek and Roman philosophy was to make freedom possible. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus taught that the point of existence was to be free, and he argued that philosophic wisdom gave one that freedom: “What makes a person free from hindrance and gives a person self rule? . . . The knowledge of how to live.”16 For the Stoic, those who are wise are not slaves, no matter what their social state, while those who are not wise are slaves. The Greek word autonomia (αυτονομια), like the English word derived from it (autonomy), means “independence.” Literally, it means “self-rule.” To the Greeks and Romans of Paul’s day, autonomy was the chief goal for human beings: “One is free who lives according to his or her decisions, who is subject neither to necessity nor hindrance, nor force, whose desires are unhindered, whose longings are fulfilled, whose dislikes do not come to pass.”17 For the Stoic, even though one may have no control over certain events or circumstances, such as being physically enslaved or having a physical disability, one always has control of one’s thoughts and desires. Those who live wisely rule their thoughts and desires, even in the face of what appear to be conditions that coerce them. No one is their master. They rule themselves by ruling their minds and controlling their desires. According to the Stoic, that is what it means to be free.
Such an understanding of freedom may seem quite modern to us. We often see parallels between Stoicism and Christianity, for example, in the Stoic emphasis on moderation and in the Stoic belief in God. On the issue of freedom, however, the contrast between Stoic philosophy and Paul’s understanding is immense. When Paul calls himself a slave—a person ruled absolutely by another—he says something shocking, both to us and to his original audience. It was perhaps especially shocking to anyone who, like his audience, was living in Rome, the cultural and political center of the Mediterranean, where Stoic ideas were so common that they were often considered simple common sense. In fact, they were so obvious that they seemed impossible to contradict.18 But, as we will see, Paul is purposely denying his autonomy, and his letter to the Romans makes it clear that he is denying not only his physical autonomy but—more importantly—his mental and spiritual autonomy. In declaring himself a slave, Paul sets himself squarely against the beliefs of most of his contemporaries and many of us, and he declares that his life is not his own in any way. Paul, unlike the Stoic, argues that true Christians, the people most developed as human beings, are ruled not by themselves, but by Another.
Paul’s understanding of slavery and of his relation to both the Father and the Son makes it entirely appropriate for him to call himself a slave of Christ. Similarly, it is also fitting to think of ourselves as Christ’s slaves (though perhaps, given the use of the term slave to refer to the prophets and the Son, we should instead aspire to be slaves rather than claim already to be slaves). One way to put the central question of this letter is, What does it mean to be owned by God? At least in part, the answer is that Christ bought us through his sacrifice and we are therefore indebted to him: we owe him our work because we owe him our very selves. He owns us. Paul’s slavery is his answer to the call given to him through the gospel.
This notion of being owned by Christ is the source of much of what is commonly misunderstood in Paul’s writings, namely, the idea that we are saved not by works, but by grace. If we think about our works as Paul does, then works are not what we do to earn our salvation, for a slave can earn nothing. A slave works, but by definition, a slave works without being paid; he or she works without earning anything.19 Thus, if we follow this understanding of what it means to be a slave of God, our works are what we do because we have become the servants, or bondmen and bondwomen, of Jesus Christ. Our works are what we owe him because he owns us; he has bought us with a price, so we are obliged to serve him. If we do not perform the works he requires then we are rebellious slaves, refusing to do what we ought, what we owe. If we do perform that service, when he gives us something, such as a present or gift of grace and kindness, it is not because we have earned it by our work. We do not earn a reward for doing what we are already obliged to do, for trying to pay back what we owe but, as King Benjamin reminds us, can never pay back (see Mosiah 2:24; see also Luke 17:7–10). Rather, we receive the reward because the Lord (in other words, our master, he who owns us) is a kind and merciful and loving lord, or owner. In these first words of his letter to the Romans, Paul introduces what will become a major theme in his letter, namely, how what we owe God is related to what God gives us.
Sometimes as we read Paul or other ancient writers, we may be tempted to read our own understanding of things into their work. For example, when we read Romans, we may wonder about free will and how it fits into Paul’s explanations, or when we read about free agency, we may assume that those words mean the same thing we mean by “free will.” We sometimes seem to think that our way of thinking is the only one, that our ideas are the standard by which all ideas should be judged. However, Paul’s metaphor of the servant explicitly questions our ideas about freedom.
At least since the Enlightenment we have followed the Greeks in placing a high value on freedom and autonomy. The idea of a rational agent freely choosing and defining himself or herself by individual choices is an important part of our understanding of what it means to be a person.20 Thus we are likely to be as scandalized by Paul calling himself a slave as the Greek philosophers of Paul’s day would have been. However, our idea of free will is not shared by ancient Near Eastern religions, and it is clearly not an idea Paul holds. In direct contrast to the Greek philosophical ideas that have become so important to us, Paul’s understanding of what it means to be a person has little or no place for the notion of a rational agent or self-definition. When Paul calls himself a servant or slave, he does not think of himself as defined by a choice he has made. Perhaps Paul could claim to be defined by the simple but important choice to obey rather than to disobey (compare 2 Nephi 2:27). However, even those who choose to disobey are defined by their disobedience. They are negatively defined by their relation to the Savior, but they are not self-defining. Paul is defined by the one who rules him, by Christ rather than by himself. It is precisely Paul’s lack of choice that makes him who he is. As he says in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (emphasis added).21 In a very real sense Paul does not choose to serve Christ but is required to do so by his experience on the road to Damascus. He owes that service; he must serve. Choosing to obey because of his experience gives him no other real choice; Paul now has no more choices to make, for a slave is one who does the will of another rather than his own. According to this line of thought, if each of my acts is a matter of my free will, a matter of personal choice and self-definition—in other words, if I am autonomous —my obedience is idolatry, for I am the ruler whom I obey, the lord and master, and God is not. I set myself up as equal in authority to the Divine, even if what I choose to do is in accord with what he would have me do. Surely Paul would be as scandalized by such idolatrous autonomy as we are by his rejection of autonomy.22
An interesting question arises regarding both Christ’s promise in John 15:15 that the twelve apostles will henceforth be his friends, not his slaves, and what Paul thinks about slavery. John clearly shares with Paul the understanding that a Christian’s relation to Christ is a relation of service, even of servitude, but it is not clear what it means to be a friend of God. Although I risk reading too much into Paul’s categories, let me suggest that Romans 8 offers an answer to the question. There Paul explains that we are to become the children of God (see 8:16). Perhaps that is also a discussion of how we become his friends. In chapters 7 and 8, Paul seems to identify three categories of people: (1) the nonslaves or supposedly free, in other words, those who have not yet taken the name of Christ on themselves; (2) the slaves, namely, those who have joined the church and become Christ’s slaves by covenant; and (3) the children, those who have been sanctified or adopted and brought back into the family of God to become children of God.
Under Greco-Roman law, a valued slave could be adopted into the family rather than simply emancipated.23 (As Exodus 21:2–6 shows, the Hebrews had an analogous practice.) In fact, there were definite advantages to being adopted rather than emancipated, chiefly the possible right of inheritance. On the other hand, there were close similarities between children and slaves in Greek and Roman cultures. The word pais (παις) can mean either “child” (specifically “son”) or “slave.”24 Both Greek and Roman fathers had enormous power over their children: a Roman father had absolute right over his sons until he died. For example, in principle he could order that his children be exposed at birth so that they would die. He could order adult children to execute themselves or to expose their own children.25 Technically, children, even adult children, had no rights before their fathers. However, it is also true that fathers were expected to treat their children and slaves with kindness; fathers had a moral obligation to their slaves even if they had no legal obligation.26
Paul seems to be using the similarities of children and slaves to make his point. His use of the word slave and his chapter 8 discussion of becoming the children of God seem to me to point to the very center of Paul’s message: living in a fallen world, we are slaves either to God or to sin. If we are slaves to sin, we will reap only death. If we are faithful slaves to the Father, he will make us his children once again and give us an inheritance with his Son. (Compare this to Lehi’s sermon in 2 Nephi 2:27–29.) As Martin has pointed out, the idea of slavery in the New Testament connotes not only obedience, but salvation.27 Paul’s letter to the Romans will show us how that is the case.
In the meantime, since we have not yet been adopted into the divine family, being slaves of God is no small thing. The use of the word slave reflects a parallel with the use of slavery in the Old Testament, where, as mentioned, the prophets are called slaves (for example, in Joshua 14:7; 24:29). The prophets are slaves to God, but that slavery gives them a great deal of power, authority, and responsibility. Precisely because they are slaves, what they do is accomplished by the authority of God. This transfer of power from the lord to the slave is paralleled in the practice of slavery among Greeks and Romans during Paul’s time. Greek and Roman slaves, especially the slaves of powerful persons, such as the emperor, often had power, wealth, and even social status of their own because they served a powerful person. These slaves administered accounts, sometimes had free persons in their employ, and bought and sold property both for themselves and for their masters. These ancient stewards were often trusted so much that they were allowed to function, for all intents and purposes, as if they were free, though they were in charge of and responsible for the property of their master and were legally the agents of their masters rather than of themselves.28 In addition to the other connections Paul makes by calling himself a slave, he shows his relation to the Father and the Son: he is their steward and agent, one who manages the earthly affairs of the divine household.
Similarly, by referring to himself as a slave, Paul may also be drawing a parallel between his own work and that of Christ. (Recall that Isaiah 53:11 speaks of Christ as a servant, a slave if translated literally.) Writing to the Philippians and speaking of Christ, Paul says, “Who, existing in the form of God, did not think to cling to equality with God, but emptied himself, taking upon himself the form of a slave and being born in the likeness of a human being”(Philippians 2:6–7; author’s translation). This verse is worthy of considerable comment. Such things as the contrast between the form of God and the likeness of human beings and the contrast between clinging (“robbery” in the KJV) and emptying oneself (“made himself of no reputation” in the KJV) beg thought and discussion. However, I draw attention only to Jesus’ taking on himself the form of a slave. The word used here for form (morphē, μορφή) most often means “outward appearance” or “shape,” but since it contrasts the form of God with the likeness of humans in this verse and since Paul speaks of the form of a slave, which is not a matter of shape or outward appearance, Paul must be referring to something other than outward appearance or shape.
Paul hints at what he means by the word form in Galatians 4:19, where he says he will work with the Galatians “until Christ be formed in you.” In that phrase we see further evidence that form means more than “outward appearance,” and we also see evidence for the earlier suggestion that Paul’s letter to the Romans is intended to show them the possibility of becoming the children of God rather than his slaves—the possibility of being sanctified. In Galatians, the phrase form of God must refer to the substance or essence of God. According to that reading, Philippians 2:6–7 can be paraphrased as follows: “Who, already being God, did not think to cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself and took upon himself the essence of a slave to be born as a mere human being.” Two points can be made. First, if by becoming a human being Christ became a slave, then for Paul, to be a human is to be a slave. Whether we acknowledge our slavery or not, we are God’s slaves: he owns us and we owe him. Thus, another way to see the question of Paul’s letter to the Romans is to ask ourselves, Do we recognize him to whom we belong? As Leviticus 25:55 makes clear, the word slave describes not only the leaders of Israel, but also all Israelites. To be created by God is to belong to him. To enter into a covenant relationship with God is to recognize that we are his, to acknowledge that he is our master. We may recognize and acknowledge our true master, or we may rebel and pretend to choose another master, Satan.29 (Lehi teaches something similar in 2 Nephi 2; see, for example, verse 27.) To repent and covenant is to return to our real owner and to recognize him as our Lord and Master. The second point is a rhetorical one. The Savior has himself become a slave, so Paul’s reference to himself as a slave creates a parallel: as Christ is to the Father, so is Paul to Christ.
The fact that in taking human flesh on himself the Savior remained essentially God yet also became essentially a slave suggests a connection between Romans 1:1 and Moses 1:39: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” To be God is to be defined by the work, service, even servitude of a god. Thus, to be called as a slave to the Divine is, in the end, to be called to be divine. It is to be called to be holy, sanctified, though the service one performs as a slave cannot itself make one divine. No amount of work a slave does can put the slave in position to inherit the estate of his master. Similarly, our service to God does not make us his children, though we can become his children.
Paul does not think of the word Christ as a name. The Savior’s name is Jesus. The word Christ is a title, as the word order in verse 1 indicates. The phrase Jesus the Christ makes that quite clear.
The Greek word christos (Χριστός), transliterated into English as “Christ,” means “the anointed one.” It is equivalent in meaning to the Hebrew word messiah. Israelite kings were anointed by the Lord through the prophet (see, for example, 1 Samuel 9:16; 10:1; 15:1, 17; 16:3, 12–13; 2 Samuel 12:7; Psalm 89:20; 1 Kings 19:15–16; 2 Kings 9:3, 6, 12; 2 Chronicles 22:7.) To be anointed king by the Lord is to be authorized by him to act. Perhaps more importantly, to be king is to become the representative of the people before the Lord. Considering both the authority denoted by anointing and the fact that the one anointed represents his people before God, no Christian can fail to see the significance of calling Jesus the Anointed One.
In addition to the king, the high priest was also anointed (for examples, see Leviticus 4:3, 5, 16; 1 Chronicles 29:22; Daniel 9:24). It is clear that the high priest’s anointing denoted separation, consecration, sanctification, and cleansing, as well as authority. The high priest was considered the lawful successor of the Davidic king after the Babylonian exile.30 Though kingship and priesthood functioned separately in Israel, the connection between them is obviously a part of Old Testament understanding. It thus becomes especially apropos to speak of Christ, who is both King and High Priest, as being anointed.31
The King James translation, which reads “called to be an,” is misleading. In the Greek, called is ambiguous. It may mean what the KJV says it does, but it can also be translated as an adjective modifying apostle. The latter possibility seems more likely.32 The word apostle means literally “one sent out,” in other words, a messenger. Called describes what kind of messenger Paul is. He is not just any messenger and especially not a self-appointed one; he is a called messenger. Unlike other messengers, Paul is a messenger because of his calling. Paul’s language emphasizes his calling to the apostleship (compare Acts 9:1–21). His letter to the Galatians begins in a similar manner as Romans 1:1 does (see Galatians 1:1), perhaps because some doubted the authenticity of his calling (Acts 9:21 supports such a supposition).
Paul uses called several times in the opening of the letter to the Romans: in verse 1; in verse 6, where he speaks of the saints as those called by the name of Christ; and in verse 7, where he speaks of them as “called saints,” again using called as an adjective. Paul’s use of the word called implicitly compares the calling of the apostle and that of the saint. He is called as an apostle while we are called as saints. The life of a saint, and therefore the life of an apostle, is the appropriate response to the call of the gospel (see the discussion of the word saints in verse 7, pages 34–36). One of our callings is to be a saint, and Paul has particularly been called among the saints as an apostle, to be a messenger by and for Christ.
Paul may also be playing on the Greek word klētos (κλήτος), translated “called.” If we compare the writings of John to those of Paul (though John wrote some time after Paul), we may see a play on the word paraklētos (παράκλητος), paraclete in English, meaning “the comforter.” Literally, the word paraclete means “one who is called to be with another.” A paraclete—a comforter—is a restorer, a mediator, a helper, a counselor, a defense, an advocate, a convincer, and a persuader. In John 14:16 the Savior speaks of both himself and the Holy Ghost as paracletes. Even if Paul is not playing on the connection of the word klētos to paraklētos, the gospel he has been called to preach proclaims that there is one who has been called to stand at our side, as a paraclete. As we will see (verse 12, pages 47–48), and as is incumbent on one called to be an apostle, Paul will also stand beside the saints as their paraclete. (In verse 12 a variation of paraklētos and, perhaps, of klētos, [called] is translated “comforted together.”)
As mentioned, the Greek word for apostle (apostolos, απόστολος), means “one who has been sent” or “a messenger.” The Hebrew and Aramaic terms to which this Greek word corresponds mean not just “messenger,” but “authorized agent,” particularly of a monarch. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (known as the Septuagint; see page 4 and the discussion of verse 17, pages 65–66, for more on the Septuagint), apostle is used to mean not only a royal messenger, but a messenger with a special mission, as in Isaiah 6:8. In the Gospel of John, Jesus frequently uses the verb form of the Greek word (apostellō, αποστέλλω) to speak of himself as one sent from God (see John 3:17; 5:36, 38; 6:29, 57; 7:29; 8:42; 10:36; 11:42; 17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25; 20:21). Paul uses the word apostle to emphasize his authority as a slave of God and to remind those who hear his letter of his divine calling and office.
A comparison of this verse to Romans 16:7 shows that the Greek word apostolos was a title in the early Christian church, not just a description of Paul’s relation to his hearers. On the other hand, because that title was still new, people of Paul’s time would have understood its ordinary Greek meaning, “messenger,” at the same time that they understood it as a title. The word would have been meaningful in its own right in addition to being an official title.
Paul begins his letter by emphasizing that he has been called and that he is a messenger to the Romans. He has been sent from Jesus Christ to the world by being called, just as we become emissaries of Christ when we are called to serve in the kingdom. We take on ourselves the responsibility to fulfill our callings as one sent by the Lord.
One of the ironies of describing Paul as an apostle is that apostolos is a good translation of the Hebrew word shaliyha , the title used for persons who were official representatives of the Sanhedrin court. Such representatives took documents with them to show they had legal authority in outlying synagogues.33 Paul was serving as such a shaliyha, or apostolos, of the Jewish court—perhaps a constable in our terms—when he was on his way to Damascus to set in order the Jewish congregations there by persecuting the Christians. In other words, he was acting as an apostolos of the Sanhedrin when he was called to be an apostolos for the Lord. (The Greek word apostolos may have been used among Christians as a translation of the Hebrew word shaliyha.)
Separated unto the gospel of God
Before considering the phrase separated unto the gospel of God as a whole, let us think about the word separated. Paul has not only been sent, but in being sent he has been separated, set apart, or appointed. He has been set apart to the gospel (see the discussion of gospel, pages 13–14.) In the New Testament the word used in verse 1, aphorizō, (αφορίζω) has two uses: with one exception (see Galatians 1:15) it refers to either the separation of the good from the wicked or supposedly wicked (see Matthew 13:49; 25:32; Luke 6:22; 2 Corinthians 6:17; Galatians 2:12) or the setting apart of someone for divine service (see Acts 13:2; 19:9). That the same word is used for separation from the wicked and for setting apart is surely no accident. Those set apart are to be different from—separate from—the wicked.Aphorizō could also be translated “excommunicated.” Perhaps Paul has been formally excommunicated from the synagogue by the rabbinical authorities. Given his change from one of the Sanhedrin’s supporters in persecuting the Christians to a leader of the Christians, that would not be surprising. But even if Paul has not been excommunicated from the synagogue, he is no longer close to the hierarchy of Jewish ecclesiastical authority as he once was; he has been separated from them. One might suspect he has been separated from many of his friends as well, perhaps even from his family.
There is an important irony in the word separated: the word Pharisee probably means “separatist.”34 The Pharisees thought of themselves as those who had been separated or chosen. That is the origin of what, when it grew excessive, became a refusal to mingle with sinners and a denial of divine love (see, for example, Luke 15:1–2, the motivation for what we usually call the parable of the prodigal son). Like many early converts (see Acts 15:1–5), Paul is a former Pharisee (see Philippians 3:5). However, Paul has been separated from the separatists by—and to—the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The word separated may also imply more, though whether it does is arguable. The Old Testament directs that “when either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the Lord” (Numbers 6:2). Amos 2:11 indicates that Nazarites could be not only those who took a vow, but also those called of God to be Nazarites, as were both Samson and Samuel. A Nazarite is one who is consecrated to God, a person separated from the profane (ordinary) things of life for God’s purposes, whether by his own vow or by God’s calling. A Nazarite refrains from wine and any other grape products, neither cuts his hair nor shaves, and stays away from any contact with the dead because that would make him ritually impure (see Numbers 6:3–8).35 Though Paul does not say he is a Nazarite, he speaks in terms appropriate for a Nazarite, and we know that he took Nazarite vows (see Acts 18:18 and perhaps 21:23–24), once perhaps about the time of this letter. The idea of being a Nazarite or of understanding a calling from God in terms analogous to the separation of the Nazarite could not be far from any Jewish writer’s mind when using the Greek word here translated “separated.” As a Jewish writer and especially under the circumstances, Paul almost certainly has this in mind.
Notice that whereas we speak of someone being cut off from a church or other group, Paul says he has been cut off to the gospel. He has been separated from unrighteousness to the gospel. Similarly, if we will be members of Christ’s church, we must be separated from ungodliness; we must be excommunicated—separated—from the world to the gospel.
We use the phrase set apart much as Paul uses separated. We are accustomed to the phrase set apart, or we grow accustomed to it after our conversion to the church. Consequently, unless we are among those who have grown up as something other than Latter-day Saints and are still young enough in the church to be not yet accustomed to the phrase, we probably do not see that set apart to is as odd a term as separated. It is also equally meaningful. Notice that Acts 13:2 says that Paul and Barnabas were “separated for” the preaching of the gospel in Antioch. Today we would say they were “set apart.” Thinking about what the New Testament means when it says that people are separated for a calling and about the word’s connection to the vow of a Nazarite may add depth to our understanding of the things to which we have been set apart.
The entire phrase separated unto the gospel of God, like the two phrases before it (a servant of Jesus Christ and called to be an apostle), is an appositive to Paul. Each describes Paul. As a result of his calling, Paul has been separated, or set apart, to the gospel. He has been separated from his past life to the church in order to preach the gospel. Paul has also been separated within the community of the church as a messenger of Christ, as an apostle.
According to Greek thinking, a thing is what it is because of the way in which it is distinct from other things. Something is defined, therefore, by that which distinguishes it, that which separates it from other things.36 This Greek idea can be used well in consonance with the Hebrew and Christian idea that to be set apart, or separated unto, is to be made into a new person by being given a new relation to the rest of existence. Paul is who he is because a line has been drawn between him and everything else. Paul’s calling to preach the gospel has separated him from everything both within and without the church; his calling has given him his definition, or being.
The Greek word euangelion (ευαγγέλιον) literally means “good news,” “pleasing message,” or even simply “goodness.” In the Septuagint the word is used seven times to mean “good news” (see 2 Samuel 18:20, 22, 25, 27; 2 Kings 7:9). The word is used to announce such things as the birth of an heir to the throne,37 and New Testament writers used the term as an implicit expansion of that usage. Additionally, the Greek word originally referred to the reward a messenger received for bringing good news, and there seems still to be something of this implied in the New Testament usage. (Compare this use of the word euangelion to the Septuagint’s use of it in 2 Samuel 4:10 and 18:22, where it means “a reward for good news.”)
The New Testament use of the word gospel is heavily influenced by the Old Testament use of the Hebrew word basar translated “good tidings,” “tidings,” and “publish” in verses such as 1 Samuel 31:9; 1 Kings 1:42; and Jeremiah 20:15. In the Septuagint, the basic meaning of the verb from which euangelion is derived is “to announce news,” especially news of victory and, by extension, the advent of salvation, the victory over spiritual and physical death. “News of victory” is the meaning of euangelion in such verses as Psalms 40:10 and 96:3 (“declare” in the KJV); Isaiah 40:9; 41:27; 52:7; 61:1 (where the KJV has “good tidings”); 60:6 (“praises”); and Nahum 1:15 (“good tidings”). Given the meaning of the Greek word euangelion and the fact that the Greek usage in the New Testament reflects the Old Testament’s concepts, we can see that the word gospel refers to the proclamation of an event, the victory over both physical and spiritual death announced by the coming of the Heavenly King.
The content of that announcement is essential, but it cannot be reduced to a matter of dogmatic concern. The prophets of the Old Testament demanded that Israel listen, and they equated hearing with obeying: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.”38 New Testament writers consider the preaching of the gospel similarly. They announce the news that the Divine King has come, and they expect those to whom they preach to hear. They expect the response “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”39
We often think of the gospel as the beliefs, doctrines, and so on, that are taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sometimes we use the word gospel even more broadly, to refer to Christianity and the Christian message generally. However, the New Testament use of the word gospel is tied more closely to its literal meaning (pleasing message) and to its Old Testament connections. Just as Christ’s redemption is the act of redeeming us rather than the doctrinal meaning of that redemption, the gospel is for New Testament writers primarily the proclamation of that redemption, the preaching and the hearing of the pleasing message.40 The doctrinal content of the gospel is important but still secondary to the life and preaching of the gospel.41 Thus when Paul says he has been separated to the gospel, he means he has been set apart to preach the good news of Christ’s life, redemption, and resurrection.
The close connection of the word gospel (euangelion, ευαγγέλον), meaning “pleasing message,” with Paul’s calling as an apostle (literally, a messenger) can hardly be accidental. The word called and words meaning “messenger” and “pleasing message,” each associated with the voice and the use of the voice, occur almost right next to each other in verse 1, demanding that we hear the message Paul has been called to give. (After all, originally this letter was probably intended to be read aloud to the congregation rather than circulated and read as we would read a book of scripture.) Throughout the scriptures we see this connection between the preaching of the gospel message and conversion. Enos, for example, says that remembering the words his father spoke moved him to prayer and, according to one reading of Enos 1:5, to sanctification (see Enos 1:1–5, especially verse 3). Alma also tells us of the power of preaching: “The preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else” (Alma 31:5). The scriptures teach us the importance of knowledge (though not necessarily just any knowledge).42 As important as knowledge is, however, preaching and listening to the gospel are more important in that preaching and listening bring us to do what the Lord requires, and simple knowledge may not.43
In verses 2–4, Paul defines the pleasing message, or gospel, he has been set apart to deliver: it is the pleasing message of salvation that has Jesus Christ as both its author and its content.
The gospel of God
There are two ways to read the word of in the phrase the gospel of God. According to one reading, the phrase means “the good news about God.” According to the other it means “the good news from God.” As Fitzmyer argues, the second is more likely.44 Paul clarifies that the good news about Jesus Christ’s sacrifice comes from the Father: God’s good news is the news of his Son. Thus Paul’s preaching focuses on teaching us to understand our relation to the Son.
The Prophet Joseph’s version of verse 1 emphasizes Paul’s call by rearranging the verse. This arrangement makes it more clear that Paul is asserting his authority. As we saw earlier, the Greek text uses three phrases appositive to Paul, each one equal to the other: a servant, a called apostle, and one separated to the gospel. The King James translation does not make clear the equivalence of these three phrases, seeming to emphasize a servant and allowing us to read separated unto the gospel of God as an appositive to called to be an apostle. The Joseph Smith Translation divides the three descriptions of Paul into four and rearranges them: Paul is “an apostle” and he is “a servant of God.” These two noun phrases are parallel, and they are followed by two more parallel phrases, called of Jesus Christ and separated to preach the gospel. These two parallels are themselves parallel in that called of Jesus Christ can be understood to explain what it means to be “an apostle,” and separated to preach the gospel can be understood to explain what it means to be “a servant of God.”
Both the King James and the Joseph Smith versions finish the verse with two passive verb phrases that use the same two passive verbs (called and separated). However, the King James Version tells us that Paul has been called to be an apostle and separated to the gospel, while the Joseph Smith version tells us that Paul has been called by Jesus Christ and separated for preaching. In the Joseph Smith revision, the phrase called of Jesus Christ focuses on Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus, the miraculous event in which he was called to be the authoritative messenger he is. Like the first two descriptive phrases in the JST (an apostle and a servant), this phrase emphasizes Paul’s authority by shifting the emphasis from Paul’s servitude to the authority of his calling.
The second of these two passive verb phrases, separated to preach the gospel, brings the preaching of the gospel to the fore, something that is evident in the Greek but missing in the King James translation.
Verse 2 is the first verse in a five-verse parenthetical statement. Verse 1 tells whom the letter is from, and verse 7 tells whom it is to. As mentioned earlier, this is a fairly standard, though expanded, beginning for a letter of the time. In verses 2–6, however, is something that probably would have surprised Paul’s audience or at least struck them as odd: a digression in the middle of the salutation. In this digression Paul explains his gospel preaching and how the gospel came about through Jesus Christ.
A digression of this length at this particular point is an oddity in a letter of Paul’s time, but digressions in general were not unusual. Though such long digressions from the theme may impede our understanding today, many Greek writers and thinkers considered them good style. Brevity was not necessarily a virtue. The audience who first heard this letter read was sufficiently accustomed to these digressions to understand what was being said. Digressions, however, may take some work for us to get used to.
One reason that Paul’s contemporaries could keep track of digressions better than we can today is that the connectives in Greek—the words used to link sentences and phrases together—were more meaningful to them than English connectives are to us. Spoken, not written, language was the standard, both because many could not read and because the lack of a printing press made the widespread distribution of written material impossible. Greek speakers used rhetorical and grammatical conventions to connect their ideas effectively; such conventions were a kind of oral punctuation. Written Greek had no punctuation marks to show where sentences ended and how clauses related to each other, because such marks were, strictly speaking, unnecessary. The grammatical forms of the nouns and verbs kept sentences separate, as they do for us, but connectives—words like and, but, furthermore, and so on—clarified relations between clauses. Greek speakers often used these connectives between sentences to show the relation of the sentences to each other. (Sometimes they were used as pauses between sentences, much as we often use uh or you know in ordinary speech.) By paying attention to connectives, people who spoke Greek (the common language of the civilized world in Paul’s time) avoided being confused by digressions.46
A similar, frequent use of connectives is apparent in the language of the Book of Mormon, in which the writers often begin passages and even several successive sentences with and it came to pass. The function of such connectives in the Book of Mormon seems to have been different from their function in Greek, but the two languages are like each other and different from English in that good writers of both languages use connectives frequently, while good writers of English do not.
Although digressions have generally been considered poor style since the end of the nineteenth century—they are typically relegated to footnotes or left out altogether—they are more than a cultural artifact. In both speech and writing, digressions serve a useful function. Ancient writers used them because they can add depth that cannot be achieved in simple, declarative sentences. Because scientific writing requires simplicity and getting right to the point, and because in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries physical science became the model of all knowledge for us, we prize simplicity and getting to the point.47 Ancient speakers and writers prized thoroughness. Digressions allowed them to show various facets of the subject matter or other ideas the subject matter reminded them of, and digressions allowed writers to show how all these things are interconnected. Without digressions, Greek writers often found it difficult to show the fullness and depth of the gospel. Thus a Greek writer like Paul or a Hebrew writer like Isaiah might have thought that simple sentences, speeches, and letters or essays with only one real point oversimplified the truth, while complexity, including the complexity created by digressions, allowed a writer to be more true to the richness of the subject matter. The Greek language allowed writers to be complex and use digressions without getting lost. Paul likely used digressions, as well as various rhetorical and grammatical patterns, to show how rich any gospel topic is.
The Greek word translated “promised” (proepangellō, προεπαγγέλλω) is etymologically related to the Greek word translated “gospel” (euangelion): they share a root meaning, “to announce” (angellō, αγγέλλω). The apostle is the messenger, the announcer, of the promise. This conceptual connection of apostle to gospel and promised also suggests that apostle is connected to angel. The word angel is also etymologically related to the words translated “gospel” and “promised,” and like the word for apostle, the Greek word translated “angel” (angelos, άγγελος) means “announcer” or “messenger.” Paul’s message is that the promises made anciently through the prophets have been fulfilled.
The Greek word prophētēs (προφήτης), obviously a cognate of the word prophet, means “an interpreter,” one who speaks for another, one who explains what another is saying. The prophets speak to us for God, interpreting his will for us. The Old Testament contains the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, because the Old Testament prophets preach of Christ. If the Old Testament preached something other than Jesus Christ, then God would have changed his message from the Old Testament to the New Testament, because the gospel of Jesus Christ certainly is taught in the New Testament. That the gospel is the message of the Old Testament may not be readily apparent to those who read it without a knowledge of Christ. However, those who do know of him can see his gospel in it. Given what we have seen in verse 1, namely, Paul’s emphasis on his calling as a messenger of God, Paul is surely implicitly identifying himself with the ancient prophets and his message of Christ with theirs.
Romans 1:2 is the only place in the New Testament where this particular Greek phrase translated “holy scriptures” can be found (2 Timothy 3:15 KJV uses the phrase holy scriptures, but it translates from a different Greek phrase than the one we find here). For Paul, the scriptures are essentially what we refer to as the Old Testament. Modern Jews divide the Old Testament into the Law, the Writings, and the Prophets, and they presumably also divided it that way in Paul’s time. However, the notion of a scriptural canon was not as rigorous in Paul’s time as it is today. As we will see from the ways in which Paul refers to the Wisdom of Solomon—Wisdom, for short—Paul uses some books as scripture that modern Christians do not presently use as scripture.48 Paul seems to implicitly refer to or paraphrase Wisdom in the following references: Romans 1:19–23 (compare Wisdom 13:1–19; 14:22–31); 1:26 (compare Wisdom 11:15–16; 12:27); 1:29–32 (compare Wisdom 14:23–26); 2:4 (compare Wisdom 15:1–3); 5:12 (compare Wisdom 2:24); and 5:14 (compare Wisdom 1:14).
Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures
By using the phrase which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures, Paul indicates he is not doing something new; the gospel he preaches was preached anciently and is available in the scriptures. Paul’s calling is to preach the gospel, to announce that Jesus is the Christ and that redemption comes through faith in him. However, Paul is not the only source of that message, nor are the others who have been called as apostles. The gospel message has already been promised to those who will read the scriptures with understanding. Part of the message of every prophet is that what he preaches is not new but was promised from the beginning. Though new to those who repent (when they were unrepentant they could not hear it), the gospel is everlasting, for it has been preached from the beginning and will always be true. It is both new and everlasting.
While the gospel is not new because it has always existed, Paul, like any other Christian apostle, is definitely introducing something new to the Jews, namely, a new way of understanding and reading the material that we call the Old Testament. Paul is introducing something that will separate Christians from Jews for millennia to come: the question of how to interpret the Old Testament. Along with other Christians, Paul says that the Old Testament, the old covenant, promises the gospel he preaches, which is the new covenant recorded in the writings that are now called the New Testament. Jews did not then and do not now agree that the New Testament is a fulfillment of the Old. One way to highlight the difference between Christians and Jews is to ask whether the books of the Law, the Writings, and the Prophets (the three traditional Jewish divisions of their scriptures, our Old Testament) testify of Christ. If they do, then they are a testament that has been available from ancient times. They are an old testament, and the records of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, and others are a new testament, a second witness for the divinity of Christ. The difference between other Christians and Mormons can be similarly highlighted by asking whether the Book of Mormon is a third testament of Christ’s divinity. Of course, Mormons believe it is, and the subtitle that was recently added, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” is as appropriate as the names Old Testament and New Testament are.
The only difference between the King James Version and the Joseph Smith Translation is the change of afore to before, a minor change. Presumably the Prophet was modernizing the language with this change.
Following Rudolf Bultmann, many scholars believe that Romans 1:3–4 uses the language of an already existing formula of confession, something like a short version of our Articles of Faith.49 These two verses together give us Paul’s definition of the gospel. It is the news that Jesus, a descendent of David the king, was resurrected and declared by God to be his holy Son.
Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord
Jesus Christ is the content of the message of the gospel. It is what Paul as well as the previous prophets has taught. In the phrase concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord we see the bone of contention between Jews and Christians: is Jesus the Anointed One, and does the Old Testament prophesy of him? This debate exists not only between Christians and Jews, but among fellow Christians. In the eighteenth century, Christian scholars took up the question of whether the Old Testament prophesies of Jesus, and that debate continues today. Many Christian scholars now believe that to read the Old Testament as prophesying of Christ is to read things into the material of the Old Testament. Obviously, Paul does not share that understanding.
The Greek word translated “son” (huios, υιός), is a familial term, just as is the English word son. It implies a father and a mother. It can also be translated more generally as “offspring,” “heir,” or “descendent.” In any case, the term clearly implies a familial, genetic relation. Of course, the use of such a term does not of itself establish the correctness of the Latter-day Saint understanding of Jesus’ sonship. It is possible to use the term metaphorically. However, we who believe that Jesus is the literal Son of God are reminded of that belief here.
Cranfield points out that the construction of verses 3 and 4 suggests that Jesus was the Son before his earthly birth.50 Paul teaches that Jesus did not become the Son of God through his ministry. It was not an earthly achievement, but a status that he held even before his birth as the literal Son of God.51
Palestinian Jews called Yahweh Lord. By using the word Lord to refer to Jesus, Paul explicitly identifies Jesus with Yahweh.52 As Peter recognizes, that identification is a scandal to the Jews (see 1 Peter 2:8). This is the lord, the master, whom Paul serves as a slave. Paul is implicitly comparing his calling to that of the Old Testament prophets.
His Son Jesus Christ our Lord
The possessive pronouns his and our in the phrase his Son Jesus Christ our Lord show the parallel between Jesus as the Son of God and Jesus as our Lord, as well as identify the emphasis of the phrase. They remind us that Jesus is the Son of God and is thus our Lord, literally “our master.” Jesus is the Son, not a slave (at least not in this context), but we are slaves. We are not yet God’s children, in spite of the fact that we are his literal spiritual offspring; we gave up our birthright as his spiritual children when we sinned. As things currently stand, we are not yet the Father’s, but as converts to Christ we are slaves of the Father’s Son (see the discussion of servant in verse 1, pages 3–9). By speaking of the Son as our owner and master, Paul draws our attention to the problem to which the gospel is an answer, namely, the relationship of divinity to humanity. There seems to be an absolute gap between God and humanity, between the sinful and the sinless, a gap that makes returning to the Father—being related to him in the way that Jesus is related to him—seem impossible. This is the problem for humans, the problem that Paul addresses in this letter by preaching the gospel.
Most religions recognize this gap between divinity and humanity, but Christianity is unique in seeing a bridge across that gap. Greek culture and Christianity both agree that our inability to bridge the gap is the substance of tragedy. The Greek tragedians explored the tragedy of separation from divinity with nuance and sophistication. There may be no better investigations of what it means to be merely human than the Greek tragedies, and the only meaning those tragedies show is suffering. To be human is to suffer, sometimes because of what we do, sometimes for no apparent reason. Christians also recognize that to be human is to suffer, and this suffering is not always, perhaps not even mostly, because of what we have done. But Christianity goes beyond that recognition. It responds to the tragedy of human existence by showing a way across the gap between the divine and the human. The gap is not crossed by the human becoming divine, but by the divine becoming human. According to Latter-day Saint theology, this is what makes it possible for the human to become divine.53 Thus when philosophy seeks to understand human suffering in the context of theodicy (the problem of how a perfect, all-loving, and all-powerful God could allow suffering), it has already misunderstood Christianity. The gospel is not an answer to the problem of suffering, nor a resolution, nor even a dissolution of it. The gospel is a response to suffering. It is the announcement that God has joined with us in our suffering (see Hebrews 5:8; D&C 122). He has condescended to become like us, and because he has, he can offer us salvation. He does not offer a surcease of suffering in this life, but he can give us strength, a lightening of our burden (see Matthew 11:28–30), and the promise of salvation.
The Greek word translated “according to” indicates purpose, fitness, or relation. In this case, the last of these seems the only possibility: “in relation to the flesh.”
Paul sometimes uses flesh as a negative term (see, for example, Romans 8:3), but it is apparent in verse 3 that he does not always do so. He also uses flesh to represent the body (see verse 3), and I think he sometimes also uses it to refer to the redeemed human being (see Galatians 2:20). Scriptural terms are almost never unequivocal. Our desire to read them as if they were is, as much as anything else, a sign of the influence of the philosophies of our time, a time in which univocity and simplicity, the marks of legalism and scientific thinking, are considered more intellectually rigorous and fruitful than richness and depth. (See the comments on digression in the discussion of verse 2, pages 15–16. Similar comments apply here.) We cannot simply equate flesh with sin or any other negative term. When Paul does use flesh negatively, it is always in contrast to the spirit, a contrast Paul makes much of as he discusses the spirit and the law, grace, and works. We should remember, however, that he begins this letter not only by noticing the contrast of the spirit and the flesh, but what is more important, by pointing out that the same supposed contrast is found in Christ. Thus though the spirit and the flesh may be opposed to one another at times, the Savior’s life shows that they do not have to be. Not only are they not opposed in the resurrected Christ (an image Paul uses in Romans 4 to illustrate the relation between faith and works), but they are also not in opposition in the mortal Jesus. Christ’s life on the earth—in the flesh—is a promise that we can overcome what seems a necessary and inescapable opposition. The gap between the divine and the human cannot be reduced to the difference between spirit and flesh. Our bodies, our mortality, can be redeemed (see Romans 8:23). Thus the contrast of flesh and spirit is a model for what life “in the Spirit” (Romans 8:9) means as well as the source for Paul’s discussion of life without the Spirit. (The two ways of understanding flesh and spirit are developed more fully in Romans 7 and 8.)
Latter-day revelation adds an interesting insight to this contrast of spirit and flesh. The soul is said to be the unity of the spirit and the body (see D&C 88:15). The life of sin, the life in which spirit and body are at odds, is thus a life in which the soul is alienated from and at odds with itself. Christ’s redemption is a promise that the alienation of spirit and body can be overcome not, as some would sometimes have it, by the negation of the body but by the perfect unity of both body and spirit. The atonement is not only a reconciliation of the human and the divine, it makes possible the reconciliation of a person with him- or herself, the reconciliation of flesh and spirit.
Note that because Paul uses this contrast between flesh and spirit without comment, he must assume that it is a contrast his audience is familiar with. Contrary to what one sometimes hears about New Testament doctrine, the contrast of flesh and spirit was not invented by Paul.
The Greek verb translated “made” (gignomai, γίγνομαι) seems to have originally referred to birth,54 as it does here, even though by Paul’s time it was not usually used to denote birth (compare Galatians 4:4, where the same Greek word is used). Cranfield has suggested that this may be Paul’s way of recognizing the virgin birth.55
Compare 2 Timothy 2:8, as well as Hebrews 7:14 and the genealogies of the Savior given in Matthew and Luke (see Matthew 1:1–17; Luke 3:23–38). Christ is a king by earthly as well as heavenly right. However, Mark 12:35–37 suggests that during Jesus’ lifetime, many were not aware that the Messiah would be a descendent of David. If they had known that doctrine, the riddle Jesus proposes in Mark 12 might not have been a riddle.
Made of the seed of David according to the flesh
Jesus is David’s heir. As such he is the king of Israel in both the flesh and the spirit. In the phrase made of the seed of David according to the flesh we see how flesh and spirit come together in the gospel in the person of Christ.
Verse 4 is a short synopsis of the pleasing message that Paul conveys: Christ, the Son of God, has power and has been resurrected, initiating the resurrection of all.
The Greek word translated “declared” (horizō, ορίζω) means “to mark out” or “to set bounds.” It is the origin of our word horizon. In the New Testament, horizō is always used to mean “define,” “determine,” or “appoint” (see Luke 22:22; Acts 2:23; 10:42; 11:29; 17:26, 31; Hebrews 4:7). The word is the root of aphorizō, translated “separated” in verse 1 and “predestinate” in Romans 8:29. Taken literally, set apart means much the same thing as does horizō, or declared.
If, by paying attention to the Greek, we understand declared to mean “to mark out,” “define,” or “determine,” Jesus is defined as the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. That event marks him out, separates him, from anyone else. New Testament writers sometimes use the resurrection as the symbol for the atonement (see, for example, John 11:25; Acts 1:22; Philippians 3:10–11; 1 Peter 1:3). Paul especially does this. Because as Latter-day Saints we make important technical distinctions between such things as salvation and exaltation, we sometimes misunderstand the New Testament way of speaking, imputing our distinctions to writings where those distinctions are not made. For New Testament writers, the resurrection is a symbol of the atonement, perhaps even the symbol of the atonement because it brings the spirit and the flesh together for eternity. In keeping with the implicit discussion of how Christ unifies the physical and the spiritual, Paul emphasizes that because of the redemption we can be made alive again, both spiritually and physically. The parts of our lives that seem at odds with each other, for example, our spirits and our bodies, can be made whole. The war in the flesh between the various aspects of our character (see Romans 7:8–23) is brought to an end through the resurrection, which is a type and symbol on the one hand and a literal fact on the other. Thus the resurrection is an apt symbol of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice. In verse 4 we see Paul saying that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, not by virtue of qualities he has but by virtue of his saving act. That he overcame both physical and spiritual death makes him the Son of God. Our Heavenly Father gave us spiritual birth, but we gave up that spiritual inheritance to come to the earth as embodied beings. The Son gave us back that spiritual inheritance; he made our rebirth, our adoption, possible. By imitating the Father in giving us spiritual birth, Jesus is the Son of the Father. Because he gives us birth, however, he also becomes our Father. (I take it that the first several verses of Mosiah 15 say something like this.)
As noted above, horizō is the root of aphorizō, translated “separated” in verse 1. Paul seems to be making a play on words, using the relation between these two words to draw a connection we might not otherwise see: Paul’s call to be an apostle is a type of Christ’s call to be the Redeemer, just as Paul’s divine service is a type of the Savior’s sacrifice. (This may say something about what it means to take up our cross. See, for example, Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; 10:21; Luke 9:23; 3 Nephi 12:30; D&C 23:6; 56:2; 112:14. It suggests that to be called to serve is to be called to imitate the Savior in doing the will of the Father without self-aggrandizement.)
In discussing the phrase separated unto the gospel of God (verse 1), I pointed out that according to the Greek way of thinking, a thing is defined or determined by its delimitation from other things. The perfection of something is what makes it what it is rather than something else—the specific difference, to use the language of Aristotle.56 Because we as Latter-day Saints are part of a twentieth-century culture, we tend to think of being perfect in terms of how perfection is conceived in the twentieth century rather than how it was conceived anciently; we think that to be perfect is to be without flaw. We also tend to think that a perfect being is able to exceed all bounds and limitations. In contrast, for ancient Greek thinkers and in the Greek language, a person or object is perfect by being circumscribed within a whole, by having definite boundaries that clearly distinguish it from other things. The perfect vase, for example, is the vase that most perfectly fits the definition, the boundaries set for vases. The boundaries of the vase, the elements of its definition, tell us what the perfect vase is. They distinguish it from every other thing and they show how it relates to each other thing, giving it its place in the world. Thus for someone like Paul, a Greek speaker in a predominantly Greek culture, the perfect thing is the thing that is in its assigned place and order. In this way of thinking, Christ’s perfection is found in his appointment as the Son of God. He is perfect because he fulfills the measure set out by that declaration, by that marking of boundaries. Presumably, we can similarly understand what it means for us to be perfect: it is to fill the measure to which we have been appointed, whatever that measure is (and it may differ from person to person as well as from time to time).
This Greek understanding of perfection, an understanding Paul alludes to in verse 4, should make us reconsider at least some of what we say about scriptures such as Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” I believe that this scripture is a quotation of Leviticus 19:2 or at least a reference to it: “Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy,” and holiness is a major theme of this letter to the Romans. (For more about holiness, see the discussion of saints in the commentary on verse 7, pages 34–36.) It may even be that this letter is an interpretation of Leviticus 19 for the Roman saints. If so, still other ways to put the question of this letter are, What does it mean to be holy? and What does it mean to be sanctified?
Perhaps surprisingly, neither Leviticus 19:2 nor Matthew 5:48 is necessarily a commandment. In Hebrew and Greek, each is in the simple future tense: you will be holy; you will be perfect. In both languages, as in English, the simple future can be used to express a command (for example, “You will do the dishes”), or it can be a simple statement of fact (for example, “You will get cold if you don’t wear a coat”). When written in verses such as these, the simple future is ambiguous: it may be a command or it may be a statement of what will be in the future.57 I think we can take that ambiguity to indicate that the Lord’s commandments are also statements of future facts: he will have a holy and perfect people.
If we consider this ambiguity seriously, we can read Leviticus and Matthew differently than we are accustomed to, but still profitably. (That different reading may also apply to 3 Nephi 12:48.) If we take Leviticus and Matthew to be expressing statements of future facts as well as commandments, then we see the Lord describing his people in those verses—not as they now are, but as they will be. According to this reading, Leviticus 19:2 and Matthew 5:48 are as much promises as they are commandments. (See Mosiah 4:12, which suggests that the subsequent “commandments” in verses 13–16 are as much blessings as commandments; and D&C 59:4, in which blessings, commandments, and revelations seem to be equated with one another.) Paul will address the question of how the saints are, as yet, unholy and imperfect. Eventually he will tell them how they can be holy and perfect. As the Lord does in Leviticus 19, Paul will show them how, though they have been converted and baptized, they are not yet the people of the Lord (“the children of Christ,” to use King Benjamin’s language [Mosiah 5:7]; “perfect,” to use the language of Matthew). Paul will then show them what it means to be holy or perfect, in other words, how they can be made the children of Christ and the Father.
Though we cannot legitimately substitute the word perfected for the word declared in the phrase declared to be the Son of God, it is important to see the connection of this declaration to being perfected. It is as if Paul is saying, “And perfected (or perfectly defined) to be the Son of God.” Christ is already perfect and, in so being, is already a child of God in the fullest sense, or scriptural sense. In spite of their divine heritage, those in Paul’s audience are imperfect because of sin. They have yet to become children of Christ and, as such, children of God. The question is how that imperfection is to be overcome.
Though it is important to understand how the Greek word horizō (translated “declared”), is related to the word aphorizō (translated “separated”) in verse 1, and though it is important to see what the word horizō may imply about perfection and the theme of the letter, it is also important to recognize that “declared” is a useful and informative translation. In raising Jesus from the dead, in bringing the flesh and the spirit together again, the Father declared—announced—Jesus to be his Son, the Christ. In addition, it is historically accurate to say that the resurrection itself declared Jesus to be the Son of God. To a real extent, many, including the apostles, did not understand who Christ was until the resurrection. Even the foremost apostle, Peter, seems not to have understood, in spite of the testimony he gave of Jesus’ messiahship (see Matthew 16:13–20; 26:35, 69–75; Luke 24:12). For those in the ancient church and for us, Jesus’ resurrection declared his relation to the Father. Finally, Christ’s resurrection is a type of our redemption, physical as well as spiritual, that by which we will be declared to be the children of God.
The Son of God
Jesus’ inheritance is dual. Not only is he David’s heir and therefore Israel’s rightful earthly king, but he is also, and most importantly, the Son of God, the spiritual king of Israel. The image of the physical and the spiritual coming together in Christ is continued in the phrase the Son of God. In Christ, the spirit and the body come together; in him, spiritual and earthly power are united. In Christ, these seeming dichotomies are no longer at odds with one another.
Throughout the letter, Paul plays with the idea of dichotomies. He often uses a word so that it entails its opposite. For example, he sometimes uses the word death to refer to our coming into life in Christ, in other words, to refer to spiritual life (see, for example, Romans 6:2–7). At other times he uses the same word to mean spiritual death (see, for example, Romans 1:32). Though we sometimes find his multivalent use of words confusing, he uses them because they allow him to illustrate the points he wants to make. Paul’s point seems to be, among other things, that in the gospel the oppositions between life and death, spirit and flesh, peace and wrath, and so on, are overcome (see also the discussion of resurrection, page 26).
As the alternate translation indicates, “powerfully” or “in power” is probably a preferable translation to “with power.” Like the English word power, the Greek word can indicate strength, might, power, and ability, and it is important to remember not only the first three of these, but the last one as well. Christ is the Son of God because of his ability, presumably the ability to carry out the will of the Father, the ability to save us. I think his might and power are best understood in terms of that ability to save, rather than the reverse.
In translating the phrase with power, one must ask what it modifies. We can read it as modifying either declared or Son of God. In the first case, Paul is saying that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God by a mighty act of God, namely, the resurrection. In the second case, Paul is saying that Christ has power, that he is a source of power. Both Fitzmyer and Cranfield prefer the second interpretation. For example, Fitzmyer argues that since the power in question is the power by which the Father brings about the resurrection and by which the Son gives life to human beings, it makes the most sense to understand in power as modifying Son of God.58 I disagree. Of course one must grant that the Father and the Son have power. That is not in question. However, to read the power as the power of the Son rather than as the power of the event by which Jesus’ sonship is announced seems odd. The topic under discussion is the appointment of Jesus as the Son of God rather than Jesus himself. To read in power as modifying declared lends force to that topic. To read it as modifying Son of God is to take in power to be a digression. Because the first is a stronger reading than the second, I think the first fits the context better.
According to the spirit of holiness
In the phrase according to the spirit of holiness is the same Greek word translated “according to” in verse 3 (kata, κάτα). Paul is using the same word to make sure that his audience sees the parallel he is creating. In verse 4, there seems to be two ways to understand the phrase. One is to take this to mean that Christ was appointed to be the Son of God through the power of the spirit of holiness. The other is to take it to mean that his appointment is guaranteed by the spirit of holiness.
However, there is a problem in deciding which ideas the connective word translated “according to” joins. It is possible that it connects spirit of holiness to the word declared: “declared to be the Son of God according to the spirit of holiness.” Or it may connect the word power to the phrase spirit of holiness: “powerfully, in other words, according to the spirit of holiness.” Though the first case is possible, it is less likely than the second.
Spirit of holiness
One of Paul’s themes is the connection of the spirit to holiness. Given that theme, it may be helpful to notice that the phrase spirit of holiness is a pleonasm (a redundancy), since what is truly of the spirit is holy.
It is not obvious here whether spirit (pnuema, πνευμα) refers particularly to the Holy Ghost. It may be a Greek translation of a Hebrew phrase that refers specifically to God and to any person whose spirit is holy as God is holy. (For Old Testament uses of the Hebrew phrase—ruach qadosh—see, for example, Psalm 51:11; Isaiah 63:10–11.) If this is the case, Paul uses the word spirit in contrast to flesh (as in verse 3). Christ is the son of David in terms of his flesh, and Christ is the Son of God in terms of his spirit, which is a holy spirit. The contrast of the spirit and the flesh is one of Paul’s most important themes, and Paul introduces that contrast by reference to both the body and the spirit of Christ, in whom the two are not in conflict.
On the other hand, this phrase may refer to the Holy Ghost rather than to the personal spirit of the Savior. There are two problems with this interpretation, however. First, if this phrase is intended to refer to the Holy Ghost, then we would expect the wording to be different. We would expect the Greek equivalent of Holy Ghost rather than of spirit of holiness. The Greek phrase translated “Holy Ghost” is pneuma hagion (πνευμα άγιον), literally “Holy Spirit.” Here, however, Paul uses pneuma hagiōsunēs (πνευμα αγιωσύνης), literally “spirit of holiness,” as the King James translation has it. If this phrase refers to the Holy Ghost, this is the only case where that wording is used to do so. Nevertheless, Paul may be referring to the Holy Ghost, using the phrase of holiness (hagiōsunēs) rather than the word holy (hagios) to emphasize the purifying nature of the Holy Ghost’s work. The second problem is that if we understand this phrase to refer to the Holy Ghost, then it is difficult to know how to read the Greek word translated “according to.” What does it mean to say that Jesus has been determined or appointed to be the Son of God according to or by the Holy Ghost? As we saw in the discussion of according to, above, there are two possible answers. First, it could mean that the appointment to sonship was made through the power of the Holy Ghost. Second, it could mean that Jesus’ appointment is guaranteed by the Holy Ghost. I prefer the second answer, since it fits with the belief that any declaration of Christ’s sonship comes through the Holy Ghost. The fact that this verse cites the resurrection as the means of that declaration is only a small problem, for it could still be true that the Holy Ghost declares Jesus to be the Son of God by means of the resurrection. In addition, if a reference to the Holy Ghost is intended, then the verse very nicely brings together each member of the Godhead in their work to save us. In spite of the odd phrasing, I think it reasonable to believe that Paul may be referring to the Holy Ghost here.
We have seen three possible ways of understanding the phrase spirit of holiness: It could tell us that Christ was appointed to be the Son of God because of his holy spirit. It could tell us that his appointment came by the power of the Holy Ghost. It could say that his appointment is guaranteed, or witnessed, by the Holy Ghost. The textual parallel of spirit of holiness with flesh suggests that the first of these three possibilities is the best. However, if one of the others is better, I think, as suggested above, that the last is most likely.
Given the ambiguities of the Greek text, there are at least two equally legitimate ways to translate this verse. Rather than insist on one or the other of them, consider each of them for its own merits:
. . . who was declared to be the Son of God in a power that is in accordance with a spirit of holiness through the resurrection of the dead . . .
. . . who was declared to be the Son of God in power, according to the Holy Spirit by means of the resurrection of the dead . . .
Other ambiguities might also alter the reading we could give this verse. As we have seen, for example, we can question what the phrase in power modifies. The KJV leaves this phrase ambiguous.
Ultimately, we cannot decide definitively how to read the phrase spirit of holiness or the other ambiguous phrases in this verse. Whatever other translations are possible, it remains true that the verse, like most scripture, is rich in material for thought and should not be reduced to an easy aphorism that we can master and memorize. The indeterminacy of this verse is not a defect, but a blessing. There is no reason to assume that one, and only one, appropriate reading of scripture exists. In fact, if we make that assumption, then the advice that we should continue to read and reread scripture is poor. If that assumption is true, then presumably, we could eventually discover the one correct reading. Having found that and understood it, there would be no further need of reading.
Jesus Christ our Lord
The phrase Jesus Christ our Lord is found in verse 3 of the King James translation and at the end of verse 4 of the alternate translation. This reflects a difference in the manuscripts used for translation. The King James translators used different manuscripts than those now generally believed to be authoritative. Though the King James translation places the phrase at the end of verse 3, the evidence, both textual and historical, supports the belief that this phrase belongs at the end of verse 4. Placed at the end of verse 4, the phrase stands in apposition to his Son (verse 3), with a long interjection between the two phrases. As we will see, Jesus Christ our Lord marks the end of a chiasm. To better understand why the phrase probably belongs at the end of verse 4, consider this diagram of verses 3 and 4, given the alternate translation:
|3which [gospel] is about his||Son,|
|who is from the seed of David according to the flesh,|
|4but who was defined . . . according to the spirit . . .|
|namely Jesus Christ our Lord|
The end of verse 3, the beginning of verse 4, and the end of verse 4 are all appositive to the word Son in verse 3. If Jesus Christ our Lord is appositive to the beginning of verse 4, then the word order is significant. The apposition draws attention to the difference between his Son and our Lord. The Savior’s relation to God is that of son; his relation to us is that of master. (For more about the word Lord, see Romans 10:9.)
The resurrection from the dead
The alternate translation gives a preferable reading of the phrase the resurrection from the dead: “the resurrection of the dead.” Christ has been resurrected, as the King James translation indicates, but the point is that Christ’s resurrection exemplifies and guarantees the resurrection of all others. By saying “resurrection of the dead,” Paul indicates this. As Acts 4:2 and 23:6 show and as Latter-day revelation teaches, ancient Christians believed that Christ’s resurrection was the first resurrection, the one that began the resurrection of all.
In the Greek text of verses 3 and 4 is an instance of a rhetorical convention called chiasmus.59 Chiasmus is one of the many literary devices (rhetorical conventions) used by ancient writers to make speeches more pleasing and easier to understand and remember, as well as to emphasize elements of the speech. (This chiasm is evidence that verses 3 and 4 may have been part of an existing confession that Paul is quoting. Other Christians used such confessions and would have been familiar with the one that Paul is quoting here.) Ancient writers used many literary devices, but chiasmus is common and probably the one best known among Latter-day Saints. Chiasmus repeats ideas in inverted order, often using the same or similar words to mark the repetition. Chiasms are sometimes described as patterned ideas in the form a-b-b'-a', though longer chiasms are possible and common. We find a chiastic pattern in verses 3 and 4, outlined as follows:
A his Son
B from the seed of David
C according to the flesh
X but who was declared/defined/ appointed to be the Son of God in power
C' according to the spirit
B' from the resurrection of the dead
A' namely Jesus Christ our Lord
Note that I have translated the Greek text very literally to show the chiasm more clearly. Because the King James translation and my alternate translation are made to be readable in English, neither matches the chiastic pattern exactly. Note too that only the parts of this chiasm from A through B' are included in the King James Version, but the currently accepted edition of the manuscript allows us to add part A'. (See the discussion of Jesus Christ our Lord on page 26.)
This chiasm defines (or declares, see page 21) Christ by giving him a double genealogy, establishing the foundations of his sonship: it begins and ends by referring specifically to him. Its center point is the declaration or determination of him as Christ. Surrounding the center point are the elements that make up his being: flesh and spirit. The center point suggests what will overcome the gap illustrated by C and C', namely, the gap between the flesh and the spirit, the gap between being a child of God and being, at best, the servant of the Son. This gap is overcome by the Son, in whom the spirit and the flesh come together. The Son was defined and appointed to be the one with the ability to bring us back to the Father, in the spirit and in the body, to be his children once again.
Though I find this proposed chiasm convincing, there are some who feel that chiasms do not occur at the phrase level. They feel that chiastic analysis is legitimate only insofar as it relates to clauses. Thus they would feel uncomfortable calling this a chiasm and would prefer to see it as a simple parallelism:
his Son, from the seed of David, according to the flesh,
but . . . the Son of God in power, according to the spirit.
We will see that those who believe this is a simple parallelism have prophetic evidence on their side.
And declared // the Son of God with power, by the Spirit according to the truth through the resurrection from the dead;
Before looking at verse 4 by itself, consider Joseph Smith’s revision of verses 3 and 4. Joseph Smith’s version makes the structure of these verses a parallelism instead of a chiasm:
A made of the seed of David
B according to the flesh;
A declared the Son of God
B by the Spirit
In this parallel, the phrases with power and according to the truth through the resurrection from the dead play subsidiary roles in the meaning of the two verses. The first modifies declared or the Son of God (but is ambiguous as to which). The second modifies by the Spirit.
The Greek version of verses 3 and 4 centers on the declaration of Jesus as the Son of God. This declaration is the focal point of the proposed chiasm. In contrast, Joseph Smith’s revision centers on the parallel between Christ’s physical and spiritual genealogies. By deleting to be, the Prophet’s version makes the word declare function more as the Greek word translated “declared” in the KJV functions—as a defining term rather than simply an annunciatory one. Joseph Smith removes the ambiguity of the phrase spirit of holiness, reading it as a reference to the Holy Ghost. He also clarifies that the Spirit is the means by which the declaration of Christ’s sonship is made (see Romans 8:16), and by changing by the resurrection to through the resurrection, Joseph further clarifies that the Spirit makes this declaration by means of the resurrection.
Now consider verse 4 individually. In the Greek and King James versions of verse 4, the declaration of Jesus’ sonship is made “according to the spirit of holiness.” In the Prophet Joseph’s version of the verse, declaration is made “according to the truth.” In Joseph’s rendering, according to seems to function like “in accordance with” rather than “in terms of” or “in relation to.” The King James and Greek versions seem to favor the latter two meanings, though it is also possible to read the Joseph Smith version as saying that the declaration was made “in relation to the truth.”
One way of reading the introduction of the notion of truth into verse 4 is as a further disambiguation of the ambiguous phrase spirit of holiness. Recall that the phrase can be read as both a name of the Holy Ghost and a description of Christ’s spirit. As we have seen, Joseph Smith’s translation indicates that the means by which Christ is declared the Son of God is the Holy Ghost rather than Christ’s character. Perhaps “according to the truth” captures the other side of the ambiguity, the reference to Christ’s character. After all, Christ refers to himself as “the truth” (see John 14:6; Ether 4:12), and many scriptures characterize him with truth (see, for example, John 1:14; Ephesians 4:21; Enos 1:26).
Though I find this solution to the question of by what means Jesus was declared the Son of God appealing, it is not conclusive. Both Christ and the Holy Ghost are called “the Spirit of truth” (see, for example, John 14:17; 15:26; and D&C 6:15 on the one hand and D&C 93:9 on the other hand). This indicates that the phrase according to the truth might be a continuation of the idea expressed by the phrase by the Spirit rather than a reference to Christ’s character.
Like any other calling or blessing, apostleship brings duties and it requires faithfulness. The Lord was faithful in giving Paul the apostleship. Now Paul must in turn be faithful in receiving that gift.
We have received
In the phrase we have received, Paul could be using the plural we to include reference to his audience, but he is probably using the so-called writer’s we that writers use to give their writing authority. Since Paul’s authority is an issue in these opening verses, I believe that this is the most likely explanation of the plural pronoun.
Grace and apostleship
Paul has received grace and apostleship through Jesus Christ so that he can encourage faithful obedience among the gentiles for the sake of Christ’s name. (Paul’s calling is particularly to the gentiles. Of course, that does not mean he cannot preach to the Jews too. For other places where Paul connects grace with apostleship, see Romans 12:3; 15:15; 1 Corinthians 3:10; Galatians 2:9.) Paul begins and ends this letter by pointing out that the gospel leads people to faithful obedience: “Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith” (Romans 16:25–26; italics added).
Not taking this connection seriously—either by thinking that faith does not require obedience or by assuming that obedience is enough for salvation—is the same as ignoring Paul’s message.
The word translated “grace” (charis, χάρις) comes from a verb meaning “to show favor” or “to bestow a free gift.” It has two senses: for the doer it means kindness or goodwill, and for the receiver it means thanks or gratitude.60 Paul says he has received Christ’s loving-kindness, in the form of a call to the apostleship (see Acts 9, 22; compare Romans 12:3; 15:15) so that he can work among the gentiles to bring about faith and the obedience that results from that faith.
Most Latter-day Saints understand what apostleship means (see the discussion of verse 1, pages 10–11), but the meaning of grace is less clear. Many both in the church and outside it use the word grace in contradistinction to works, as some interpretations of this letter assume. This verse shows the difficulty of making that distinction confidently. Paul has received grace (“kindness” or “goodness,” see above) so that obedience—works—can come about in the world. Paul does not see any opposition between grace and works, in other words, between faith—trusting the Lord so as to accept his gift—and obedience, when the grace and works come from Christ. Grace and works are both aspects of exactly the same thing, namely, the godly life.
Rather than speaking of grace and apostleship as two gifts given him by the Lord, Paul may be using a pleonastic pair, another rhetorical device that is sometimes also called hendiadys. A pleonastic pair is the use of two nouns connected by and to express one idea. Genesis 1:2, for example, says that the earth was “without form, and void.” This is probably not a way of saying the earth was not only “without form, it was also empty.” Rather, it is probably a way of saying, “without form; in other words, empty.” Sometimes a pleonastic pair indicates a modifying relationship between two words. For example, Genesis 3:16 includes the phrase thy sorrow and thy conception. This is probably a pleonastic pair that could be translated, “the sorrow of thy conception.” Similarly, grace and apostleship may be a pleonastic pair. Paul may be identifying God’s grace with his call to the apostleship. We might also read the phrase as “the grace of apostleship,” as it appears in the alternate translation. Given the miraculous nature of Paul’s call, it would not be surprising for him to think of his calling in terms of grace (compare Acts 9:1–9).
The New Testament uses the Greek word charisma (χάρισμα), a variant of charis (χάρις), which is the word translated “grace,” to describe the blessings and callings one receives by the laying on of hands, particularly the gift of the Holy Ghost (compare 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6). Grace is what we receive by being separated or set apart, as in the ordinance of confirmation or being set apart for a calling. Grace is a gift, a blessing (see the discussion of verse 1). This supports the view that grace and apostleship is a pleonastic pair. We could read this phrase to mean “the blessing of apostleship.” According to this view, a calling is a spiritual gift. This may be surprising to those who tend to think of callings as spiritual obligations. Not only can those who receive callings be given gifts of the Spirit, but from Paul’s point of view, a calling is itself a spiritual gift.
As used here, the Greek word translated “for” means “in order to bring about.” Paul has received grace and apostleship to bring about obedience among all humankind. Not only has the Lord decreed that Paul must obey and then help others obey, but God’s loving-kindness to Paul has put Paul under a moral obligation to obey, and he must in turn give that loving-kindness to others, thereby putting them under the same moral obligation.
For example, if a person saves my life, then I am morally obliged to him, whether or not he asks for something in return. If I do something he asks of me, it is because I already owe him, not because I will receive something. He may in fact give me a gift in response to my service, but I have not earned it. I am actually more in his debt if he rewards me for what I have done for him. To use Paul’s metaphor of slavery, the slave is obliged to obey not because of what he or she will get, but simply because that person is a slave. The slave is owned by the master and therefore owes whatever the master demands. If the master, being kind and loving, gives the slave a gift, that gift cannot be construed as something earned, for a slave can earn nothing from the master. Even if the master rewards the slave in proportion to the work done or promises to reward the slave for his or her work, the slave has not earned that reward; the slave has acted as a slave acts, obediently, and the master has acted generously. Similarly, because we belong to the Father who created us and have been saved by Christ’s loving-kindness, we are obliged to serve Christ and the Father. Paul’s conversion experience shows us that contrary to popular wisdom, love and obey can be equivalents. Paul obeys because he loves. If we love fully, we will want to do the will of the Father; we will respond to Christ’s loving-kindness with love. Conversely, when we do not want to do his will, we do not yet love fully.
The Savior connected love and obedience in John 14:15: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” The other side of this connection can be found in John 15:10: “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love.” We may be tempted to read the latter scripture to say that if we keep the commandments, then the Lord will love us, but the connection between obedience and love helps us see that this reading of the passage may be misleading. The Father loves us because we are his children, not because we serve him. If it were not so, few would be loved because few, if any, serve him sufficiently. John 15:10 speaks of Christ’s love as if it were a home, a place of abode and protection. Christ tells us that we can remain in that place by keeping his commandments. He does not cease to love us when we disobey, but by disobeying we reject that love and refuse to abide in it. We cease to love him, and we leave him. In contrast, we continue to accept and thus to abide in his love when we obey.
In addition, “my love” is ambiguous in John 15:10. The most obvious way to read it is as referring to the Savior’s love for us. It can also, however, be read as referring to our love for him, as if it said “love of me” instead of “my love.” According to this reading, John 15:10 is a variation of John 14:15: we love Christ by obeying him.
Like grace, the word faith sometimes causes problems. We cannot define faith in short, simple terms because the word implies so much. Sometimes we hear it spoken of as if it were something absolutely foreign to our ordinary experience, perhaps akin to magic. But faith is not as mysterious as many would have it seem.
In the letter to the Romans, Paul uses various forms of the word faith that are often translated into English in other ways. For example, “belief” is a good translation for some of these cognate words (the King James translators use it often), and “trust” is another good translation. “Trust” is probably the most important meaning of the Greek word translated “faith” in verse 5 (pistis, πίστις). Unbelievers do not trust in God. Paul’s message will bring them back to trusting him—if they will repent.
Even when it is appropriate to translate pistis as “faith” or “belief,” the word also carries the connotation of trust.61 To remind us of that connotation, the alternate translation uses the translation “trust” most often. If we keep the connections of “faith,” “belief,” and “trust” in mind as we read, we can see the connections Paul is making, connections that are not always obvious because the English words are not as clearly related to each other as the Greek words are. The alternate translation may help these relations stand out.
Obedience to the faith
There are a variety of ways to understand the phrase obedience to the faith. The King James translators show one understanding by translating the phrase this way rather than more literally. Literally, the Greek text says, “for obedience of faith.” The question is, How are we to understand the word of? For example, we can speak of a religion as a faith, so one reading of this phrase is “obedience to the precepts taught in Christianity.” But that seems not to be a New Testament use of the word faith, and the phrase can also mean “the obedience that is constituted by faith,” “faithful obedience,” or “obedience, in other words, faith.” Given the content of the letter that follows this greeting, the first of these alternatives, “the obedience constituted by faith,” seems most likely to me. If we have faith—in other words, trust—in the Lord, then we will do what that trust dictates. We will do what our Lord asks because we trust him. We will be obedient to our faith.
Among all nations
The Greek word translated “nations” literally means “nations”; the King James translation is literally correct. However, the Greek word is a translation of a Hebrew term having the specific meaning “gentiles.” “Gentiles” has a good deal more content, for both Jews and Latter-day Saints, than does “nations.” Hence, I have used “gentiles” in the alternate translation. Paul is speaking of his calling here. He has been called to preach the gospel among all the gentiles in order to bring about obedience to Christ among all people.
For his name
The Greek word translated “for” can mean “on behalf of,” “concerned with,” and “for the sake of” or “for his glory.” Each of these seems applicable to Paul’s work: he preaches on behalf of Christ, what he preaches is the good news that Christ has come to save us, and he preaches for the Savior’s glory rather than his own.
By whom we have received grace and apostleship, through obedience, and faith in his name, to preach the gospel among all nations //;
Joseph Smith changes the preposition for to through. The Greek preposition indicates that obedience is the object or goal of Paul’s receipt of grace and apostleship. Joseph Smith’s translation makes obedience the means by which Paul obtained grace and apostleship, though that is strange, considering his former persecution of the Christians. The other changes in the verse, however, make it clear that Paul’s call was a consequence of obedience and faith. The Prophet has changed the verse so that it unmistakably says that Paul received his call as an apostle to the gentiles through his obedience and faith in Christ. Strange as it may seem at first glance, the Prophet Joseph Smith’s revision of this verse seems to indicate that Paul was obedient and had faith in Jesus’ name before his conversion.
It is possible to see this as an early version of a theme that Paul takes up in detail in verse 19 and continues to discuss into chapter 2, namely, how those who do not keep the law can be saved. If those who disobey the law can have a knowledge of God, then it is reasonable to say that non-Christians live by obedience—and even by faith in the name of Christ, since they have the light of Christ—when they live by their best lights. In spite of his persecution of the Christians, Paul was clearly faithful prior to his conversion in that he did what he sincerely believed was in accordance with the law of God. In fact, Paul’s conversion is a good indication that his persecution of the Christians was motivated by his obedience to the law and his faith in God rather than by personal gain. Immediately after seeing that he was mistaken, Paul changed his allegiance. It might be better to say that Paul changed the outward form of his allegiance but remained as faithful as he had ever been. That he was immediately willing to obey and be faithful to Christ after receiving a revelation that he had been persecuting God the Son is strong evidence that by being faithful to what God had manifested to him (see verse 19), Paul was already, though unknowingly, obedient and faithful to Christ.
If such an understanding of Joseph Smith’s translation of this verse is correct, it sheds a different light on our judgments of one another. We can assume very little about the faithfulness of others, even of those who are our persecutors. The admonition not to condemn others (see Matthew 7:1; Luke 6:37; 3 Nephi 14:1; John 7:24) and the command to pray for those who persecute us (see Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28; 3 Nephi 12:44) take on new meaning when we see that even our persecutors may be obedient and faithful in their persecution. Those we think of as our enemies may, like Paul, be exercising exemplary obedience and faithfulness, misguided though it may be.
Verse 6 is the last verse of the parenthetical comment that began in verse 2.
The word among is equivocal. It could mean either “living amidst” or “one of.” As we will see shortly, Paul’s sermon provokes the complacent Roman saints. Paul begins this provocation by being unclear about whether he means that the Roman saints are among the gentiles merely because that is where they live or because they are in a spiritual sense “among the nations” rather than in the community of the children of God.
The called of Jesus Christ
The idea of the phrase the called of Jesus Christ is parallel to that of a similar phrase in verse 1 (see called to be an apostle, page 10) and also appears in verse 7 (see called to be saints, pages 36–37). The saints in Rome are called of Jesus Christ; their membership in the Lord’s church is a calling.
There are several ways to read the phrase the called of Jesus Christ. It could mean “those called by the name of Christ,” “those called by Christ,” or “those called who belong to Jesus Christ.” In this phrase, as we have already seen in other places, the ambiguity is fruitful. It opens up the verse to our thought rather than closing it off.
Among whom are ye also // called of Jesus Christ;
Joseph Smith changes only the word order and drops the word the. He seems to be making the King James English fit the usage of nineteenth-century America more closely and thus making it more readily comprehensible to the saints.
In verses 1–6 there is an interesting progression of ideas. Paul mentions in verse 1 that he is an apostle. In verse 2 he explains obliquely that being an apostle or prophet means preaching the gospel. In verses 3 and 4 he tells us what that gospel is. Finally, in verses 5 and 6, he comes back to his calling as an apostle and says that it is particularly a calling to the gentiles, including the Roman saints. Paul begins with himself and moves toward increasingly wider spheres—to apostleship, to the gospel, and to the Lord and his work, including the rest of the members of the church.
Notice how the themes of separation, spirit and spirituality, and holiness run through these verses. We can see at least five related claims:
1. What is separated within or to the gospel is spiritual.
2. What is spiritual is holy.
3. Christ has been set apart, defined, or declared to be the Son of God “in accordance with” the spirit of holiness.
4. Paul has been separated or defined (presumably by his calling) to the gospel as a servant to preach the good news of Christ.
5. The saints are called in the gospel to be holy.
To all that be in Rome
After the long digression in verses 2–6, we finally come to Paul’s address of those to whom he is writing. Presumably he is writing to the Roman saints, but the phrase to all that be in Rome leaves open the possibility that his address is, at least in principle, meant for everyone in Rome. In addition, as a synecdoche (using a part of something to stand for the whole), Rome may stand for the world as a whole.
Beloved of God
The phrase beloved of God means “Christians.” The word translated “beloved” (agapētos, αγαπητός) is used in three ways in the New Testament: as a description of Christ (see Matthew 3:17), as a description of fellow saints (see 1 Corinthians 4:14), and as a term of address or salutation (see 1 John 2:7, where the King James translation has “brethren”). In Greek sources outside the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, the root of the word translated “beloved,” namely, agapē (αγάπη), is not particularly interesting.62 It denotes satisfaction and preference and a love that makes distinctions. Possibly because the Septuagint favors the word beloved in its translation of the Old Testament, Christianity emphasizes the word and its relatives. (See the discussions of verse 1, page 4, and verse 17, pages 65–66, for more on the Septuagint.) The Greek word agapē denotes what in the Old Testament is usually denoted by the Hebrew word ʾaheb. In the Septuagint the word agapē is used for marital love (as in Genesis 29:32), for the love of God (as in Exodus 20:6), and for one’s obligation to one’s neighbor (for example, Leviticus 19:18). Though the meaning of agapē varies, the love denoted is usually particular rather than universal and is concrete rather than abstract.
Sometimes people say that the New Testament distinguishes between agapē (αγάπη) and erōs (έρως) and that the former is Christian love while the latter is erotic love. The point seems to have reached almost canonized status in Latter-day Saint Sunday School teaching. Nevertheless, I believe that distinction was made by well-meaning clerics and adopted by us but is not a distinction in New Testament Greek. After all, the translators of the Septuagint use the word agapē for the Hebrew word ʾaheb in each of its senses, including marital or sexual love (see for example, Song of Solomon 7:6 [verse 7 in the Septuagint]; 8:6–7.) It would be surprising if the variety of meanings in the Old Testament did not carry over into New Testament use. Little evidence exists for the distinction in the New Testament.
However, the New Testament gives a new reading of the Old Testament notion of love, particularly in its emphasis on God’s love as pardoning and in its insistence that love of the neighbor is not preferential. As the parable of the good Samaritan shows, the love recommended in the New Testament is particular and concrete rather than universal and abstract. It is not enough to love everyone in a general sense. We must love those with whom we associate personally, our neighbor. As the parable of the good Samaritan also shows, Christian love is not restrictive as to who the neighbor is. Proximity seems enough to make someone our neighbor.
The phrase beloved of God continues the connotation of preference. Though in one sense God loves every person, in another sense beloved of God applies exclusively to the saints, not by virtue of their purity, but by virtue of their calling as saints (see, for example, Deuteronomy 7:13, where the Lord speaks of Israel as those whom he loves). On the other hand, the ambiguity of among all nations (verse 5) may be repeated here: though the obvious referent is the church in Rome, those not yet in the church may also be implied.
It is interesting that Paul identifies the saints not by their love for God or by their love for each other, but by the divine love for them. We must love both God and our neighbor (Matthew 22:37–39), but as we will see, our love for God and our neighbor is made possible by God’s love for us. Our love for him does not make us saints; rather, his love calls us to be saints.
The Greek word translated “saint” (hagios, άγιος) means “one devoted to the gods” and indicates purity of character. It is a cognate of the Greek word for holy. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for holy (qodesh, the same word used in the phrase spirit of holiness [see pages 24–25]) is used mostly to refer to God, but it can also be used in other ways. The Old Testament refers not just to God, but to both people and things as being holy (see, for example, Exodus 3:5; 19:14 [translated “sanctified”]; 26:33; Leviticus 19:2; Isaiah 48:2; 62:12; 64:10). When used to refer to people or things, the word holy means something like “set apart for holy purposes,” often purposes of temple ritual.63 Because holy objects have been set apart, they can be used properly only in certain ways. Holiness derives from being set apart, not from the character of the object in question. For example, the altar is holy because it has been set apart for use in the temple, not because it has a certain shape or is made of a particular material. Any use of the altar not in line with its prescribed use as a holy object is forbidden.64 Similarly, Israel is holy because it is chosen, not the reverse. Being called and set apart for particular divine purposes makes Israel holy, and that holiness puts her under the solemn and divine obligation to live up to the holiness to which she has been set apart. If Israel obeys God, that obedience is the proper response to her calling—to the fact that she is holy—but it is not what makes her holy. This interpretation of the Old Testament concept of holiness is crucial to understanding what Paul has to say in his letter to the Romans, because he develops that notion and shows how it applies within the new context created by the coming of Christ and his atonement. The subtitle of Paul’s letter could easily be “On Sanctification” or “On What It Means to Be Holy.”
We can see this interest in and emphasis on sanctification throughout the greeting that ends in verse 7. Verse 2 notes that the holy scriptures testify of the gospel. Verse 4 speaks of the holy spirit, meaning either Christ’s character or the being who testifies of Christ. Now verse 7 says that Paul’s audience is called to be holy.
Surely the purity of character identified with saintliness is at least part of what Paul intends. Those in Rome have been called to be pure. That is expected of them. But given the connotations of the word saint in the Old Testament, we must remember that saint describes not just moral cleanliness (in the broadest sense), but also and especially a particular covenant relation to God. The chosen people—saints in the New Testament and today—are those who enter into covenant. In Exodus 19:3–6, the Lord covenants with Israel. Those verses teach that by entering into the covenant (rather than because of their purity) Israel will become a holy nation. Holy nation in Exodus 19:6 could also be translated “nation of saints” (goy qadosh). Just as holy objects are those set aside for holy purposes, the saints are set aside for God’s holy purposes. Therefore, a reasonable translation of the Greek word hagios might be “one of God’s people.” It may be that Paul is using saint as a parallel to bondman or slave, which appear in the first verse: a saint is a bondman of God, one who belongs to him and who owes him work. As such, the saint is holy and, therefore, is obligated to God to be pure.
Though in scripture holiness has more to do with being called than with actions, the calling to be a saint carries with it the obligation to be pure. As we have seen from verse 6 and as King Benjamin teaches (see Mosiah 5), to be a saint means to be worthily called by the name of Christ. That the Greek word for saint indicates purity shows that there is more to being a saint, to taking Christ’s name upon ourselves, than membership in the formal organization of the church. We become saints by being called and set apart for God’s purposes, and we remain saints by striving to meet the obligation of purity that such a calling entails. Severance from among the saints, formal excommunication, is therefore not a matter of saying that the excommunicated person is no longer pure. That implies the obviously false claim that those in the church are pure. Rather, excommunication is a pronouncement that the excommunicate has in some way given up his or her calling as a saint. To excommunicate a person is to judge that the person has gone beyond the limits that define membership in the church. It is to judge that the person has ceased to work to fulfill God’s purposes by refusing the obligation of obedience that comes with the call to saintliness. Only by being purified can anyone be worthy of Christ’s name, and we cannot purify ourselves. However, accepting the call to fulfill divine purposes qualifies a person for a token of purity, the token we share by being formal members of Christ’s church, by being called saints. As part of our calling as saints, we are set apart to holy callings.
Interestingly, the word saint does not appear in the New Testament in the singular. In fact, in all the standard works, saint occurs in the singular only once, in Mosiah 3:19. As Benjamin makes clear, Christ’s redemption and our humble submission to him make us saints. Perhaps the word is used almost exclusively in the plural to remind us that our membership in the community of saints is a token of the possibility that we can become true saints, though we are not yet saints as individuals. Or perhaps it is plural so that we will not forget that we cannot become saints alone. We can become pure only through Jesus Christ and with the help of other saints, particularly our ancestors (see D&C 128:15). An individual would be presumptuous to claim to be a saint, because such a declaration implies a claim to purity that is not in keeping with acknowledging our nothingness before the Lord (see Mosiah 4:11). Saintliness requires humility and a recognition that we are utterly dependent on God. It is even more presumptuous to declare any individual besides Christ to be a saint if by saint we mean “one who is pure.” However, if by calling ourselves saints we indicate our membership in the church, our communion with the rest of those who intend to live as God’s people, and our calling to the service of God, it is not presumptuous to claim to be saints.
Called to be saints
The phrase called to be saints is literally translated “called saints.” It is grammatically parallel to a phrase like green bench. As we have just seen, the saints in Rome are saints by virtue of their calling, not by virtue of their purity. Grammatically, the Greek phrase is exactly parallel to “called apostle” in verse 1: Paul compares his calling as an apostle to the Romans’ calling as saints. The parallel suggests something like “You are called to be saints, just as I am called to be an apostle.” Compare Romans 8:28–29; 9:24; 1 Corinthians 1:9; and especially 2 Timothy 1:9–10: “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” To what have both Paul and the Roman saints been called? Certainly not to Christianity. The callings to be an apostle and to be a saint come to those who are already Christians. The answer seems to be that each is ultimately called to sainthood, to holiness, to purity, to sanctification. Along with slave, the word saints (and its cognates, seen in words translated “holy” and “holiness”) is one of the key words of Paul’s introduction. Slave and saints set the themes that Paul will explicate in the letter: how by being God’s slaves we may become his saints, his holy children.
The gospel is the good news that we can overcome the bad news of the fall, which alienated us from God because of sin. It is the good news that we are already holy in an important sense, namely, as God’s instruments. We are called and set apart by our baptism and confirmation to be servants of God. The gospel is the promise that we can be purified and eventually become once again the sons and daughters of God. As verse 6 points out, when we hear that news, we receive a call to participate in a life that is reconciled to our Heavenly Father and to become one of his people, one of the saints. When we hear the gospel message, the only appropriate life is a saintly life. Any other life (any life that includes sin) insists on continuing the alienation from God and from our spiritual selves (see the discussion of flesh in verse 3, pages 19–20). Since alienation from God is overcome through the gospel and since the gospel is freely given to us, if we insist on anything other than a life of obedience, we deny the atonement.
Much of Paul’s discussion in this letter seems to be an attempt to explain to those called to be saints what that calling entails. As mentioned earlier, the etymological connection between the Greek words translated “holy” and “saint” suggests that the calling to be a saint may be a reference to Leviticus 19:2: “Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.” (See the discussion of verse 4, page 22.) Paul wants us to be saints in fact as well as in name, and in this letter he strives, in the words of verse 5, to show us what the obedience of faith is. He does this by showing what the relation between faith and works is and how many dissemble faithful obedience, as if they could wrest salvation from God by their works. When he speaks negatively of works, as is clear in the other chapters of Romans, he is speaking of the dissimulation of faithful obedience.
If we pay attention to the word peace in a later reading of the letter, it changes character. In the first reading, it is possible to read Paul’s prayer for peace quite straightforwardly: Paul wishes them peace. But once we have read the whole letter and see that much of it criticizes the present character of the saints, the word peace becomes ironic. It is as if Paul is saying, “I bring you peace, but when all is said and done, many of you may not recognize what I bring as peace. It may seem much more like war.” The peace that Paul offers the Roman saints is what will come through his call to repentance, something that may not make them very comfortable. He preaches a peace that disrupts the complacent and comfortable “peace” into which they may have fallen.
Grace to you and peace
Fitzmyer suggests that the phrase grace to you and peace may be an echo of the Levitical blessing found in Numbers 6:24–26: “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace,” a blessing still used formally in many Christian churches.65 However, it may not be a direct echo of that passage. Perhaps the standard Hebrew greeting (see page 2) is an echo of the blessing in Numbers and Paul is varying the standard greeting.
In any case, Paul’s usage is not standard, suggesting that this may be a pleonastic pair: perhaps grace and peace are to be understood as synonyms, or perhaps we should read this as “the grace of peace to you” (see the discussion of the pleonastic pair grace and apostleship in verse 5, page 29). Presumably, the grace that Paul offers consists of his kindness or goodness and the kindness and goodness of Christ that he brings as the Lord’s messenger. As we have seen, the peace he offers is the peace of the gospel.
Compare this mention of grace and peace to verse 5: Paul has received grace and apostleship, and he now offers grace and peace. The parallel this creates between apostleship and peace may suggest several things. For example, it may remind us that Paul received spiritual peace through his call to be an apostle, a messenger of Christ. That peace is something he can now give to others by being faithful to his calling as an apostle, and it is something that they can receive by being faithful to their calling as saints. The parallel may show that just as the gift of apostleship that Paul received necessitated his service, so the grace that the Roman saints have received—the gift of the gospel—and what they will receive from Paul in this letter necessitates their service. Similarly, perhaps the parallel can remind us that just as Paul was made into something new by the grace he received, so are we made into something new—sons and daughters of Christ—when we genuinely receive the grace that Christ offers. If we remember the meaning of the word apostle, namely, “messenger,” the parallel between peace and apostleship may remind us that peace comes through preaching and living the gospel.
Whatever we make of this parallel, to be a Christian is to receive grace and peace. Paul’s letter is a discourse on grace and peace: the grace—gift or favor—available from God through his son, Jesus Christ, and the peace that comes through accepting that grace.
In addition, as mentioned in the discussion of verse 1 (see page 2), Jewish letters usually began with an offer of peace: “from ——— to ———, peace.” By adding grace to the usual salutation, Paul emphasizes his relationship to Christ, which distinguishes him from the Jews who do not believe. Given the connection of grace and apostleship in verse 5, by adding grace to the usual greeting, Paul offers them his work as an apostle. He offers to bear witness of Christ by preaching the gospel. By referring to his call, Paul offers to others what he has received.
From God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ
As evident in the phrase from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul refers to the Father and the Son as distinct entities. The blessings of the gospel come from both.
To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called // saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Prophet Joseph’s version of this verse deletes to be, making more obvious what we have noticed in the Greek text, that called is an adjective describing saints.
1. As noted in the introduction, the alternate translation is one I have composed using The Greek New Testament, 4th ed., rev. (Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1993).
2. See, for example, William G. Doty, Letters in Primitive Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1973), 27–31.
3. See Dale B. Martin, Slavery as Salvation: The Metaphor of Slavery in Pauline Christianity (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990), 33.
4. See Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, trans. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed. rev. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 637.
5. For example, Roman slavery seems not usually to have broken up families in the way that American slavery did. See Martin, Slavery as Salvation, 3.
6. See Zvi Yavetz, Slaves and Slavery in Ancient Rome (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1988), 1; Mary Ann Beavis, “Ancient Slavery as an Interpretive Context for the New Testament Servant Parables with Special Reference to the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1–8),” Journal of Biblical Literature 3/1 (1992): 39.
7. See K. R. Bradley, Slaves and Masters in the Roman Empire: A Study in Social Control (Brussels: Latomus Revue d’Études Latines, 1984), 18–20, 139–40.
8. See Martin, Slavery as Salvation, xvi.
9. See Muhammad A. Dandamayev, “Slavery: Ancient Near East,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 6:58–62.
10. See Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1964–74), 2:261, 266.
11. See also Matthew 21:33–41; 22:1–14; 24:45–51; Luke 2:29; Acts 2:18; 4:29; 16:17; 1 Peter 2:16.
12. See Martin, Slavery as Salvation, 51–52.
13. See Kittel, Theological Dictionary, 2:271.
14. See ibid., 2:271–72.
15. See Martin, Slavery as Salvation, 49, 51.
16. Epictetus, Discourses 4.1.62–64.
17. Ibid., 4.1.1–3.
18. The shock may have been lessened by the fact that Greeks and Greek-speaking people could also think of a king or other leader as a slave (see Martin, Slavery as Salvation, 86–88). However, that seems not to be the way that Paul is using the term, for rather than speaking of himself as one enslaved by his people and responsibilities, he speaks of himself as enslaved by Jesus Christ.
19. I take it that this is Hugh W. Nibley’s point in “Work We Must but the Lunch Is Free,” in Approaching Zion (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1989), 202–51.
20. For a brief overview of the history of the self and some criticisms of the contemporary view of the self, see James E. Faulconer and Richard N. Williams, “Reconsidering Psychology,” in Reconsidering Psychology: Perspectives from Continental Philosophy, ed. James E. Faulconer and Richard N. Williams (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1990), 9–60.
21. Also notice that the next verse (1 Corinthians 9:17) makes clear that Paul does not do his own will but the will of another, and that doing so marks his work as a stewardship, or oikonomia (οικονομία; translated “dispensation” in the KJV), that has been entrusted to him, rather than a paid job. The steward, or oikonomos (οικονόμος), is the slave who manages or rules the affairs of the household, or oikos (οικος). For more on stewardship and the use of that idea in early Christianity, see Martin, Slavery as Salvation, 15–22.
22. Elder Neal A. Maxwell agrees with Paul rather than with contemporary culture: “The submission of one’s will is placing on God’s altar the only uniquely personal thing one has to place there” (Neal A. Maxwell, If Thou Endure It Well [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 54). As Michael Wyschogrod says, “A slave who is totally enslaved is an inanimate object” (as quoted in André LaCocque and Paul Ricoeur, Thinking Biblically: Exegetical and Hermeneutical Studies, trans. David Pellauer [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998], 73). As André LaCocque says, “The Bible emphasizes the ‘need for a continual surrender of autonomy,’” something that requires one’s will (ibid.).
23. See Frederich W. Knobloch, “Adoption,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1:78; Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible, vol. 33 (New York: Doubleday, 1993), 499–500.
24. See Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 604.
25. In contrast, Israelite fathers seem not to have had the absolute authority that other ancient fathers had. Though children were considered property, Deuteronomy 21:18–21 shows that a father’s power over his children (at least over his sons) was sometimes limited and required court approval. See Christopher J. H. Wright, “Family,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, 2:767.
26. See Beavis, “Ancient Slavery as an Interpretive Context,” 37; Bradley, Slaves and Masters, 19. Note, too, that besides kindness and custom, there were economic incentives for masters to treat their slaves kindly. It makes no sense to abuse or destroy valuable property. Evidence suggests that masters might manumit slaves to control their other slaves better by holding out the hope of manumission and also to gain social and political advantages among their peers. See Bradley, Slaves and Masters, 21–22.
27. See Martin, Slavery as Salvation, xix, 60–68.
28. See ibid., 15–22.
29. It may seem that we do, indeed, choose another master if we choose to follow Satan. However, since his claim to mastery is at best temporary and ultimately illegitimate, if we choose to follow him, we really only refuse our real master, the Father. Perhaps that is why sons of perdition become masters of Satan rather than the reverse. See Moses 5:23, where Cain is told that he will rule over Satan. To choose to follow Satan is to choose against divine mastery and the order that follows from mastery and to choose mere chaos instead.
30. See Salo Wittmayer Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, 2nd ed. rev. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1952), 1:73–81, 149–51; E. Mary Smallwood, “High Priests and Politics in Roman Palestine,” Journal of Theological Studies 13 (1962): 14–34.
31. It is worth considering the connection between the use of the word anointing in the Old and New Testaments and its use in the latter days, and it may be especially fruitful to consider the connection between ancient and modern anointings and Jesus’ title the Anointed One.
32. See A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville: Broadman, 1934), 496.
33. See Kittel, Theological Dictionary, 1:414–19.
34. See ibid., 9:12–13.
35. Perhaps one aspect of the Word of Wisdom is its typological identification with the Nazarite vow, as well as with the fact that the Savior will refrain from drinking wine until he can drink it again with the saints (see Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18; D&C 27:3–5; 89:5).
36. For example, see Aristotle’s discussion of essence in Posterior Analytics 73a35–b24 and, especially, Metaphysics 1022a14–36.
37. See Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 317; Kittel, Theological Dictionary, 2:724.
38. Deuteronomy 6:4; see 5:1; 9:1; 20:3; 32:1; Judges 5:3; Psalms 50:7; 81:8; Proverbs 4:10; Isaiah 1:2; 44:1; Jeremiah 6:19; Daniel 9:19; as well as a related idea in latter-day scripture, such as D&C 41:1; 76:1; 109:78; 133:16.
39. Psalm 118:25–26; Matthew 21:9; 23:39; Mark 11:9; Luke 13:35; compare 1 Nephi 11:6 and especially 3 Nephi 4:32; 11:17; D&C 19:37; 36:3; 39:19; 109:79; 124:101.
40. See Kittel, Theological Dictionary, 2:729–35.
41. This emphasis on the activity of preaching rather than the content of preaching is something that marks Christian self-understanding until approximately the time of the Reformation. For more on this, see my “Scripture as Incarnation,” forthcoming in Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2000).
42. See D&C 1:28; 4:6; 19:21–23; 46:18; 50:40; 88:78–80; 93:24; 130:19; 131:6; 132:24.
43. For more about the importance of preaching and hearing, see 1 Corinthians 1:18 and such Book of Mormon passages as Alma 53:10 and Helaman 3:29. For additional Old Testament background on the belief in the power of God’s word itself and not just the meaning found in that word, see passages such as Genesis 1:3; Psalm 147:15; Isaiah 40:8; 55:10–11; Jeremiah 23:29. See also passages such as 3 Nephi 28:20 and 4 Nephi 1:30.
44. See Fitzmyer, Romans: A New Translation, 232.
45. As noted in the introduction, words in the JST that have been added to the KJV or changed in some way are underlined, and deletions are marked by two slashes (//) at the point of the deletion.
46. It is also probably true that because the people of Paul’s day could not depend on written texts, they were good listeners and good at remembering what they heard. Plato’s Phaedrus points out that writing robs us of our memory (see 274e–275b, especially 275a).
47. For an excellent discussion of various kinds of knowledge, kinds that cannot be reduced to or modeled on scientific knowledge, see Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, 1139b14–1143b17, also 1094b12–27. For a contemporary discussion of many of the issues, see Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald Marshall, 2nd ed. rev. (New York: Continuum, 1993).
48. Wisdom is part of what we commonly call the Apocrypha, but because Joseph Smith said that these works contain much in them that is for our profit and that we should read them with a discerning spirit (see D&C 91), we might do better to call them the deuterocanonical works, as others do who think of them as at least partly inspired but not on par with the scriptures. Deuterocanonical means that they are secondary in importance to the canonized works, the scriptures.
49. See Rudolph Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, trans. Kendrick Gobel (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951–55), 2:121.
50. See C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 6th ed. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1975–79), 1:58.
51. Some understand Philippians 2:5–9 to teach that Christ became the Son of God through his ministry. Though there is not space here to deal with the issue fully, suffice it to say that latter-day revelation teaches otherwise.
52. See Fitzmyer, Romans: A New Translation, 112.
53. This should make it more clear why most non–Latter-day Saint Christians are scandalized by Latter-day Saint belief. They believe we implicitly deny the atonement when we believe that the gap between the human and the divine can be crossed by the human’s becoming divine. They do not understand that humans can become divine only because the Son first crosses that gap and then brings us across to him. They also do not understand that to become divine is not to become equal to God.
54. See Fitzmyer, Romans: A New Translation, 234.
55. See Cranfield, Critical and Exegetical Commentary, 1:59.
56. For example, see Aristotle’s discussion of essence in Posterior Analytics 73a35–b24 and, especially, Metaphysics 1022a14–36.
57. Similarly, “the fundamental verbal tense of the Decalogue is the indicative present, and the negation—that precedes most of the Ten Words [i.e., the Ten Commandments]—does not introduce a prohibition (ʾal), but an ordinary statement in the indicative (loʾ)” (LaCocque and Ricoeur, Thinking Biblically, 85).
58. See Fitzmyer, Romans: A New Translation, 235.
59. The first examination of chiasmus in scripture by a Latter-day Saint was by John W. Welch. See his “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 10/1 (1969): 69–84.
60. See Kittel, Theological Dictionary, 9:373; Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 877.
61. See Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 662; Kittel, Theological Dictionary, 6:175–77, 203–4.
62. See Kittel, Theological Dictionary, 1:36.
63. See ibid., 1:11, 88–97.
64. See Robert D. Haak, “Altar,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1:162–65, for a discussion of altar use in Israel.
65. See Fitzmyer, Romans: A New Translation, 228