Sunday, October 03, 2010

Romans 6:7 and the Matter of Being "Free from Sin"

We commenced Romans 6 this morning, and there is a controversy about how to translate verse 7. Here is the NIV translation, but I need to quote both verses 6 and 7, because verse 7 alone is a sentence fragment in the NIV:

"6For we know that our old self was crucified with him, so that the body of sin might be done away with; that we should no longer be slaves to sin - 7because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. [My italics.]"

I think you can see the problem when you read how N.T. Wright translates verse 7 (again, in the context of vss 6 and 7) in Paul for Everyone, Romans: Part One at page 102, a translation with which John Stott would agree, according to his The Message of Romans at page 177. Thus, Wright's translation:

"This is what we know; our old humanity was crucified with the Messiah, so that the solidarity of sin might be abolished, and that we should no longer be enslaved to sin. A person who has died, you see, has been declared to be free from all charges of sin. [Again, my italics.]"

Are we "free from sin" or are we "declared to be free from all charges of sin." The NIV's Romans 6:7 would say we are "free from sin." Now why didn't my parents, good Southern Baptist readers of the Bible, have that firmly in mind when I was a teeneager? They insisted on setting certain limits, as if I might somehow fall short of the glory of God. But I had accepted Christ at nine years. My parents had a teenager who had been "freed from sin." What was wrong with them?

If they didn't have the NIV at that point, they did have KJV, which, as John Stott notes, translates verse 7 the same way as the NIV. (The RSV has the "freed from sin" translation too, as does the NRSV, and even the NET Bible.)

The New American Standard Bible at least has a textual footnote at the word "freed." It is "acquitted," a legal term. And that's the point, Christ paid the penalty for sin, he didn't make us impervious to sin itself. Sin no longer enslaves us but it certainly hangs around and entices us. From time to time sin successfully does so, but even then we hope it does so to our Godly shame. (The idea of Godly shame carries us to a discussion of sanctification, which I won't discuss here, although Chapter 6 in Romans is where Paul starts to talk about sanctification.) Stott points out that the Greek word that is translated "freed" in verse 7 of the NIV and similar translations is the same word that elsewhere is translated "justified" (that word is dedikaiotai.) In the Cross, we are justified, meaning Christ pays the penalty, not us.

{My thanks to Austin for forwarding to me an email from Dave Seivright of Campus Crusade in which Dave notes this translation problem. Thanks also to Van for describing the distinction this morning in his sermon between Godly shame and worldly shame.)

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