Sunday Morning Greek Blog

March 12, 2023

A Woman, a Well, and Worshipping God (John 4; Romans 5:1–11)

I preached this message on March 12, 2023, Third Sunday in Lent, at Mt. View Presbyterian Church. The Gospel text was pretty much the entire chapter of John 4, so instead of reading all that, I showed a clip from The Chosen, Season 1, Episode 8, where Jesus encounters the woman at the well. Unfortunately, I forgot to record the message, so I do not have an audio file to share with you at this time.

Someone might think John was trying to create scandal from the very first words of his Gospel. In the first couple verses, he claims Jesus is God and was present at creation. The Jewish leaders would have considered that blasphemy. John the Baptizer, who is NOT the same John who wrote this gospel, goes on to claim he is the one sent to prepare the way for the Messiah, and upon Jesus’s baptism, John declares him to be the Son of God.

Then, instead of picking the leading religious rulers of his day, Jesus chooses a few fishermen and other average, everyday men to be in his band of disciples. After that, instead of his first miracle being a healing or exorcism, he decides to make about 180 gallons of premium wine so the party can keep going at the wedding. Then John throws in a story about Jesus cleansing the temple of the money changers and about how he’ll be able to rebuild the temple in three days if it’s destroyed. In John 3, he declares that belief in him ensures eternal life. Again, probably grounds for blasphemy if he were just an ordinary man.

And so we come to John chapter 4, and the scandalous behavior continues. How dare he travel through Samaria! His disciples would have rather walked the extra distance around Samaria rather than soil their sandals with the dust of that land. How dare he talk to a Samaritan woman, let alone ask her for a drink from Jacob’s well, especially when the rest of his followers aren’t around. Don’t you know, Jesus, that we’re not supposed to even touch the Samaritans let alone eat and drink with them?

Many of you know that the Gospel of John is unique in that it has many stories about Jesus’s ministry that are not reflected in the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Many think that John may have organized his Gospel theologically rather than chronologically. For example, the story of Jesus clearing the temple, which is found in chapter 2 of John’s gospel, is placed in the last week of Jesus’s ministry. It’s not clear whether this is the same story, or if there were two different episodes when Jesus cleared the temple.

Jesus is in the land of his ancestors, so it seems fitting, at least to John, that Jesus would want to reveal himself first to his ancestors.

For the sake of argument, then, I’m going to assume there’s a theological message John is trying to get across here: He establishes Jesus is fully divine and that God is his Father. Since he’s God’s “only begotten” on Earth, Jesus then is the primary authority in the Temple, which the Jews believed was home of God’s presence. Finally, Jesus, having been established as the authority for the Jewish religion, essentially abolishes the long-standing prejudice against Samaria by going to the place where his ancestor Judah’s father, Jacob (renamed Israel) first established himself in the Promised Land after returning from Laban’s home. I think this aspect of the story lends to its credibility and to the principle of worship he puts forth.

One of the most important things to note about this encounter with the woman is that Jesus actually takes the time to have a real conversation with the woman, although he slowly reveals that he knows more about her than she thinks he knows. Jesus is in the land of his ancestors, so it seems fitting, at least to John, that Jesus would want to reveal himself first to his ancestors. That would be like me going to the Stocking Township, named after my great, great, great grandfather in the Wahoo area, or perhaps even to the historic site of the 12th-century Stocking Abbey in England, where my ancestors likely came from and ministering to a congregation in either of those places.

So what can we learn from the encounter between Jesus and this woman? The first thing is that Jesus did not recognize the ethnic boundaries that existed in his day and age. The Samaritans followed only the Torah, the five books of Moses, but not the prophets who came later. So they were a people who had deep Jewish roots, but because the Northern Kingdom had been conquered within a couple generations of rise of the prophets and the prohibition against intermarriage had been abandoned, they had little connection to the prophets and they were no longer considered “pure” Jews. The Jews considered them unclean. That didn’t matter to Jesus, though. He wanted the Samaritans to know that a “prophet” had returned to the area after some 700 years,

Because the Jews considered Samaritans unclean, they weren’t permitted to eat or drink from any of any of their plates or vessels. And the fact that she was divorced several times, well beyond what Jewish law would have permitted to remain in good standing, added to her social stigma among her own people not to mention the Jews. This is another barrier that Jesus would shatter: that it was okay to eat and drink with “sinners” and other outcasts like tax collectors.

The other New Testament text from today’s lectionary reading is Romans 5:1–11. Verses 6–8 say this:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.[1]

Did you catch that? This is really important to understand. When we cry out to God for help, does he say “Quit your womanizing! Quit lying! Quit getting drunk! Then you can come to me and I’ll consider your request?” By no means! That passage doesn’t say Christ died for those who’ve cleaned up their lives first. It says Christ died for the ungodly, while we were still sinners! That sounds like we can have a great weight lifted from us so we can see more hope and more light at the end of whatever dark tunnel sin has led us through. God loves us even before we realize that his love is the greatest gift of all, even when we think we may not be worthy of it. That’s grace!

The offer of “living water” is the centerpiece of the story. Parts of this story hearkens back to Isaiah 49:6 and 10, a prophecy about the Servant of the Lord and the restoration of Israel:

And now the Lord says—

he who formed me in the womb to be his servant

to bring Jacob back to him

and gather Israel to himself,

for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord

and my God has been my strength—

he says:

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant

to restore the tribes of Jacob

and bring back those of Israel I have kept.

I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,

that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.

10 They will neither hunger nor thirst,

nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them.

He who has compassion on them will guide them

and lead them beside springs of water. [2]

This woman seems to have been suffering for some time because she felt like she needed to draw water in the heat of the day. We don’t know very much about her personal life aside from the divorces; no indication she had any children or what her current relationship was like. This leads us to another principle at play here: Don’t be afraid to speak to someone about whatever it is in their life that is holding them back from a full and vibrant relationship with God. Now Jesus had some special knowledge of her situation here, so he holds the advantage, but it’s for her benefit ultimately. Once he discloses what he knows about her marital status, she understands not only that Jesus is a prophet, but she also believes his claim that he is the Messiah and shared that convincingly with many people in her town.

Don’t be afraid to speak to someone about whatever it is in their life that is holding them back from a full and vibrant relationship with God.

Jeremiah mentions a couple times (2:13; 17:13) about how his listeners have “forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.” But Zechariah, when prophesying about the second coming of Christ and the consummation of history, says this in 14:8:

On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter.

The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.[3]

This is the ultimate and absolute promise of fulfillment we can look forward to when we humble ourselves before God and accept his free gifts of reconciliation and salvation. God will be in total control. No more crying, pain, or grief, just living eternally in the glory of God’s light.

Turning back to Romans 5 for a moment, Paul describes what happens when we come into that justification, and the woman seems to have experienced that, especially with respect to addressing the own suffering she had experienced for so long. Listen to verses 1–5:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. [4]

The final takeaway from this passage is how Jesus is overturning the traditions (and exclusions) about worship. The woman was upset about how the Jews thought the Temple in Jerusalem was the only place you could really worship God. In fact, it seems like she’s trying to use that to get out of talking about her marital history. But Jesus assures her that a new way of worship has arrived. The place no longer matters; what matters is expressing her true feelings and emotions from her heart, soul, and mind to praise God for all he’s done for her. It’s that joy that causes her to leave her water jars behind and hurry back to her people proclaiming, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”[5]

John notes that the woman at the well was responsible, by virtue of her testimony, for many in her town believing, and they had that testimony confirmed by Jesus himself, because he stayed there a few days preaching and teaching. They knew the joy of personal justification and reconciliation with God. They also found the hope of eternal life as well. Listen to Romans 5:9–11:

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.[6]

My prayer for you this Lenten and Easter season is that you know the salvation of God and receive it with joy just as the woman at the well did. Let us hold fast to our faith and hope and continue to reach out to those who need to experience God’s love, forgiveness, compassion and grace. Amen.

[1] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[6] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

December 21, 2022

“Rachel Weeping”: The Objectification of Gender and Children

What kind of “empowerment” for women is unfettered access to abortion when what they and their abortion doctor are taking power over is a defenseless child in the womb?

Abstract: In this article, I’ll compare the ancient practice of “exposure” to the modern practice of abortion. Then I’ll take a look at two different forms of gender confusion and argue that they are gross misrepresentations and objectifications of children and women.

(NOTE: If you like this post, you may also like μαλακός (malakos) “soft,” “weak,” “effeminate”: A Look at Classical and Biblical Greek Usage.)

The Bible tells us of three major “deliverance” events that had broad-ranging impact on world history. The first was the flood in Noah’s time. God was sorry and “deeply troubled” that he had made man, so he decided to start over again with the one righteous family he could find. God showed no discrimination in that judgment: everyone, young and old, except for the eight people in Noah’s family, died in that flood.

The second was the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt in the time of Moses. I will deal with that more below, but the point I want to make about this is that the birth of the deliverer was preceded by an edict against children. Pharaoh feared the Jews were becoming numerous enough to overthrow Egypt, so he ordered all male children drowned in the Nile. It was, in effect, a primitive and cruel attempt at population control.

The third major deliverance event was, of course, the coming of the Messiah. When the visit from the wise men spooked Herod about the birth of the Messiah, he ordered all male children under two years of age to be killed. So like pharaoh, he acted out of fear and self-preservation. This prompted Matthew to quote a prophecy from Jeremiah 31:15:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,

mourning and great weeping,

Rachel weeping for her children

and refusing to be comforted,

because they are no more.” [1]

In the prophecy, Rachel represents the nation of Israel, the northern kingdom, because Rachel’s grandsons (sons of Joseph—Ephraim and Manasseh) were the two largest tribes in that kingdom. Israel was weeping for its lost innocence.

When I see the outright abuse and evil foisted upon our most vulnerable population by powerful forces with a gruesome agenda, I must echo Rachel’s sentiment here. Is the current war on children, families, and gender the precursor to another deliverance event? Are we getting to the point again where “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart [is] only evil all the time….[and] the Lord regret[s] that he had made human beings on the earth”?[2] Has the corruption reached the limits of God’s tolerance? How close are we to the end of this era and possibly to the second coming of Christ and the new creation?

I want to examine the three most egregious, in my mind, attacks on children, the family, and gender in modern society to make my point: abortion, genital mutilation of children, and transgenderism. My goal here is to strip away the politics and agendas that overshadow these things to both shut out dissent and “normalize” this behavior, and to take a look at it for what it really is. As Christians, if we believe these things are not only bad, but evil, we can, if we start taking a stand and pushing against the evil woke, progressive mob, recover our culture and restore righteousness to the earth. I hope and pray this article will give you courage and strength to make that stand.


“Exposure”: The Precursor to Abortion

[710] I will give you a pithy proof of this. An oracle came to Laius once—I will not say from Phoebus himself, but from his ministers—saying that he would suffer his doom at the hands of the child to be born to him and me. [715] And Laius—as, at least, the rumor goes—was murdered one day by foreign robbers at a place where the three highways meet. And the child’s birth was not yet three days past, when Laius pinned his ankles together* and had him thrown, by others’ hands, on a remote mountain.[3]

* fastened together by driving a pin through them, so as to maim the child and thus lessen the chance of its being reared if it survived exposure.[4]

The above passage from the English translation of Sophocles’s Oedipus Tyrannus (spoken by Iocasta, the mother of Laius’s exposed son) describes the ancient and often barbaric practice of “exposure.” In ancient times, if a child was unwanted, or in this case, feared because of some prophetic portent, parents or other elders would abandon the child in the wilderness to die alone, exposed to wild animals and the elements. Notice the eerie dispassionate tone she takes when speaking about the fate of her own child, a fate she seems wholly complicit in.

In the Bible, the practice is at least as old as Genesis 16, perhaps partially reflected in Sarai sending away Hagar and Ishmael. At least Sarai allowed the mother to care for the child (the angel of the Lord almost immediately restored them to Abram’s family unit). In Exodus 2, Moses is born to Levite parents under Pharaoh’s order to throw every male child into the Nile. Moses’s mother technically obeyed this command, but had put him in a papyrus basket, where he would be rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in Pharaoh’s court, with all the accompanying privileges.

The first chapter of Exodus doesn’t seem to indicate Pharaoh was concerned about any kind of prophecy, although pharaoh’s increased demands of their brick making were compelling the Israelites to cry out more to their God. Pharaoh’s fear of the Israelites was that they were becoming too numerous (Exodus 1:9), which prompted his fateful declaration. In other words, it was a form of population control imposed on an unwanted race of people. Kind of sounds like racism, right? Hitleresque? Legalized infanticide? Homicide of the innocent? Dare I say, “post-birth” or perinatal abortion?

Modern History of Abortion and Genocide

Let me preface this section by saying that I would not consider a medically necessary pregnancy termination to save the life of the mother an “abortion,” especially as that term is used today. If you’re terminating your pregnancy because it’s inconvenient or embarrassing for you, that’s the concept of abortion I’m writing about—the premeditated homicide of an infant prior to or around the time of birth with no indication of a medical emergency that threatens the life of health of the mother. If you’re terminating your pregnancy because your health or life is irreparably threatened, that’s not an “abortion” in my mind, and I’m not writing about those situations. If you’ve been in the dreadful situation of being a victim of rape or of a molestation or incest that resulted in pregnancy, I’m not writing about those situations, and it is not my place (nor anyone else’s) to pass judgment on women in those situations.

Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, was an avowed eugenicist and racist. In her twisted mind, it was necessary to leave the procreating to those who had wealth and access. Abortion is just one method the Left promotes to control population under the guise of “women’s rights.” What is even more disturbing are the attempts of the radical Left to promote and glorify abortion. Can we really say a person is “normal” if they’re celebrating the opportunity to kill an innocent child in the womb? What kind of “empowerment” for women is unfettered access to abortion when what they and their abortion doctor are taking power over is a defenseless child in the womb? How did we get here as a culture?

Abortion isn’t just about women’s rights, either. In fact, I would argue that the “antihuman” philosophy has taken over. They have no compassion for the life of the unborn or the mental and physical health of the mother. Their main goal is depopulating the earth. Why? Is it because they want to become some elite group to control all the resources? There’s your eugenics. There are certainly inequities in abortion, with women below the poverty level and women of color getting abortions at a higher rate.[5] So I think it’s fair to ask the question if abortion is being promoted among these demographic groups because of elitist or even racist attitudes.

I also think there’s merit to the idea that the Left just hates the idea of a loving, nuclear family, especially if a child is rescued from an abortion by a loving family. I refuse to believe any child is unwanted. What kind of monsters do these people think the human race is? The Left knows that every child rescued from an abortion by a loving family, regardless of their religious or political affiliation, is potentially a witness against their demand for unfettered abortion access.

All this brings me to my major point about abortion in line with the theme of this article: abortion objectifies the child in the womb. The child becomes an unwanted item when they’re deemed to be an “inconvenience.” The irony of this is that some of these women may have an “unintended” pregnancy because they themselves were objectified by an unscrupulous man who just used them for sex and split the scene. How does it solve a consequence of objectification by objectifying the consequence of objectification?

Gender Confusion

Reassignment or Mutilation?

I am not ashamed of the absolute truths of Scripture, and I hope that my Christ-following brothers and sisters share that boldness. It’s what we need in times like these. When God said “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness,” he was talking about individual human beings AND humanity as a collective whole. We, individually and together, reflect the glory and image of God’s creation, because we are the crowing piece of God’s creation. We were created to be stewards over God’s creation. Nothing else in God’s creation was given that status.

Genesis 1:27 speaks of our creation: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” “Mankind” is a singular noun in Hebrew, but it doesn’t necessarily refer to a person’s name. Here, it has the definite article associated with it, so it most likely refers to the human race, or humanity as a concept. The next two lines of the verse bear that out. The first “them” at the end of the second line is singular, and the first two lines are simply a chiasm to emphasize the point that God did the creating. The “them” at the end of the third line is plural, meaning that male and female are separate and the only two genders God created. And each has their own unique sex organs that differentiate based on the possible combinations of the sex genes. The sex organs are analogous: if they’re XX, you get ovaries, labia, and a clitoris; if they’re XY, you get testicles, a scrotum, and a penis.

The current trend of pushing kids—kids, mind you, under 10 years old in some cases—to get so-called “gender reassignment” surgery is absolutely disgusting. This is nothing more than genital mutilation akin to what we rightly condemn in other countries. These surgeries in many cases eliminate the possibility of reproduction because they remove the only sex organs they have. In other words, they’re removing the only phenotypical physical markers of gender and replacing them with a sham. I fail to understand how giving a transgender person parts that have limited functionality can help with gender dysphoria when the person knows their new parts aren’t really genuine. They can never fully realize the physical reality of being the gender they’re not born with.

Not only, then, is this push to get kids to question their gender rather than affirming the gender they were born with an objectification of children, making them pawns in a disturbing practice akin to surgical experimentation on children, it is also an objectification of gender, as if it’s something you can pick and choose or create your own variation thereof. Romans 1:26–27 says:

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.[6]

Of course, this most likely refers to consenting adult males and females. But isn’t this exactly the evil we’re foisting on children? We have subjected innocent children to a practice that describes the wrath of God. See what you think about this passage if we put it in the context of what these radical cultural thugs are doing to kids with gender dysphoria:

Because of this, God gave the adults over to shameful abuses of power. Adults coerced the young girls to exchange future natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way, adults also coerced the young boys to also abandon future natural relations with women so they would be inflamed with lust for one another. These men and women committed shameful acts upon boys and girls, abused their power and the trust of the children, and should receive in themselves the due penalty for their error.[7]

Seems pretty harsh, doesn’t it? But when what they’re doing to these kids is essentially legalized child abuse, I think the rebuke should fit the crime. These people are perpetuating a cultural lie and have deceived or convinced many that such treatment of children should be normative. If you’re a parent and concerned about how this is impacting your children, or if others are influencing your children under the guise of “trusted adults,” you must be the ones to advocate for your children if you don’t want this happening to them. My purpose in writing this is not to offer counseling advice, especially since each situation would prevent its own unique set of circumstances.

Drag Queens: Objectifying and Degrading Women

As I was preparing to write this section, Tucker Carlson had a story about “A Drag Queen Christmas” show “for all ages.” Video from the performance shows scenes of what you might see in a strip joint. They have to blur out the (apparently) boxed, oversized “breasts” of a drag queen, and there’s a sketch about “Screwdolph the Red-Nippled Reindeer,” which features two men in reindeer costumes simulating sodomy. Some of the drag queens were interviewing kids(!!) in the front row of the show as young as nine years old! Why is it even legal to expose kids to this? This smacks of grooming through and through. A similar event called “Drag the Kids to Pride” happened in Austin and Dallas this past summer, where kids are encouraged to give tips to the drag dancers. Note the signage that’s hardly appropriate for kids.

Then there’s the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. They mock the chastity and poverty of true nuns by their very name, which is nothing more than hate speech against Catholic Christians and especially against Catholic nuns. Many of them paint their faces white. I’m just wondering how that’s any less racist than those who put on black face to mock or imitate black people? Drag is little more than normalized misogyny perpetuated by biological males against genetic females. Why do so many people accept this? This is yet another example of objectifying gender, and especially objectifying women. The trouble is, under so-called diversity, inclusion, and equity, no one ever thinks to look at it for what it is because the wokaholic, “politically correct” (what an oxymoron!) crowd wants to defend their fringe behavior.

Balancing Survival and Compassion

This is going to be hard to take for a lot of people. As Christians, we typically don’t fight by burning down cities, throwing frozen water bottles at the police, or tearing down statues and memorials. We have our words, and we have The Word. The antireligious bigots out there know that, which is why they’re trying so hard to alter the traditional understanding of language, redefine the traditional meaning of words, and hide or rewrite history. This is truly Orwellian. When I read 1984 last year, I could see just about everything that was happening in that forward-looking novel was and still is happening in our world today.

Jesus reserved his harshest words for those religious leaders who oppressed the people by abusing and misusing the cultural power they had as religious leaders. Jesus also treated harshly those who insulted the character of his Father in his Father’s own house by charging a fee to convert Roman coinage into Temple money. Jesus’s kindest and most compassionate words were for those who were oppressed or manipulated by the powerful. I realize there are many people who feel trapped and are doing what they think is best for themselves, not realizing they may be missing a better way or a higher calling because they can’t bring themselves to acknowledge God, or they have a distorted view of who God is and how and why he created the world and each of us to live in it and have dominion over it according to his plan.

My words in this article are intended for those “pharisees” who are arrogant enough to flaunt law and custom to impose a cultural fascism on the rest of us. My words are for those who have willingly “exchanged the truth of God for a lie” and “who freely strut about when what is vile is honored by the human race” (Psalm 12:8). If you’re one of the masses who have been caught up in this because it was popular or trendy or “enlightened,” and you’re just not sensing the satisfaction or peace you were promised, then I urge you to seek out a friendly church where you will be welcomed. As I said, Christians fight with words and ideas, because we know God’s Word never returns void. But we also extend love and compassion to all who desire to know the peace and security of a relationship with a living, loving, forgiving God.

My words and ideas are my own, supplemented with the sources I’ve documented herein.

Scott Stocking

[1] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] The New International Version. 2011. Genesis 6:5b–6. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Sophocles. 1887. The Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles. Edited with Introduction and Notes by Sir Richard Jebb. Lines 710–719. Edited by Sir Richard Jebb. Medford, MA: Cambridge University Press.

[4] Jebb, Richard C. n.d. Commentary on Sophocles: Oedipus Tyrannus (English). Line 718. Medford, MA: Perseus Digital Library.

[5] Dehlendorf C, Harris LH, Weitz TA. Disparities in abortion rates: a public health approach. Am J Public Health. 2013 Oct;103(10):1772-9. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2013.301339. Epub 2013 Aug 15. PMID: 23948010; PMCID: PMC3780732. Disparities in Abortion Rates: A Public Health Approach – PMC (

[6] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[7] Romans 1:26–27. Modified for emphasis.

October 3, 2022

Strength From (and for) Our Suffering: Paul’s Commissioning of Timothy (2 Timothy 1:1–14)

I preached this sermon October 2, 2022, at Peace Presbyterian Church in Omaha, NE. I forgot to bring my voice recorder, so unfortunately, I do not have an audio file for it. Peace Presbyterian opened in 1989 when the Presbytery closed down the Waterloo Presbyterian Church and my uncle, Kenneth Bunnell, Jr., moved from the pulpit there to Peace.

“Shrinking back” is the opposite of “faithfulness.”

I think most of us have had someone near and dear to us in our lives that wasn’t a blood relative. For some of us, it was someone we looked up to who was “cool” in their own way, and maybe even one who, although we couldn’t admit it out loud, we wanted as that third “parent” or our safety net when we thought our own parents didn’t understand us.

For others, maybe you were that cool one or caring one who latched on to a kid or young adult who truly needed a better environment or solid guidance and direction to get or keep their life on a good path. And when they succeeded, your heart filled with pride just as if they were your own child.

We see in the New Testament just such a relationship between the Apostle Paul and a young disciple named Timothy, and we can trace the evolution of their relationship throughout Paul’s letters. We first meet the “disciple” Timothy in Acts 16:1, in the town of Lystra, on Paul’s second missionary journey. A few chapters later, Luke calls Timothy and Erastus Paul’s “helpers.” It would seem Timothy had a strong desire help Paul spread the gospel across Asia Minor.

As we progress through Paul’s letters, we begin to see Paul’s descriptions of Timothy becoming more personal and familial: In Romans 16:21, “Timothy, my coworker”; in 1 Corinthians 4:17, “Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord”; in 2 Corinthians 1:1 and Colossians 1:1, “Timothy our brother.” In Philippians, it seems Timothy has “risen” to equal status with Paul: “Servants of Jesus Christ.”

And when we come to the letters addressed to Timothy in the New Testament, we see the depth of Paul’s love for Timothy: “My true son in the faith”; “My dear son.” The two letters to Timothy are the first of only four letters Paul wrote to an individual instead of to a church. If it was even possible then, Timothy seems to have a risen to the status of an “Apostle-come-lately” just as Paul was. Paul’s letters to Timothy, then, are guidance on how to raise up men and women who could lead in the local church. Let’s listen to the first part of 2 Timothy chapter 1 and see how Paul speaks to Timothy in the historical context, and how that applies to those of us who lead and serve in the church in the modern context.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.[1]

Paul is not just making a passing reference to the influence of his ancestors on his faith and service in verse 3; he mentions them as a comparison to the faith Timothy’s mother Eunice, who was a Jew, and her mother (presumably) Lois had and how they had passed that faith down to Timothy. In verse 4, Paul also seems to allude here to his tearful farewell meeting with the Ephesian elders in Miletus, as we read about in Acts 20. He knew suffering and prison awaited him in the future as he returns to Jerusalem, but he was set on pressing forward nonetheless.

In verse 6, Paul sets the tone for the encouragement he is offering Timothy by first reminding Timothy of his own ordination, a confirmation of his calling: “Fan into flame the gift of God!” It would seem after the personal instructions and teaching of the first letter, Paul is now commissioning Timothy to prepare him for his first located ministry. We know from 1 Timothy that Paul had appointed him to preach in Ephesus, perhaps one of the largest group of believers in Asia Minor. Timothy is apparently coming to the church on the heels of Paul’s 2+ years of ministry in Ephesus, perhaps just before he’s arrested if we can assume that from v. 8, so it would have been a daunting task for anyone to step into those shoes.

That’s why in vs. 7, Paul reminds Timothy that the Holy Spirit dwelling in us “does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.” Timothy may realize that he could face the same fate as Paul in being arrested (and indeed, we learn from the end of Hebrews that he had in fact been in prison), but Paul knows the only way to put forth a convincing gospel presentation about life in the hereafter is to proclaim it with and in the power and authority of the Holy Spirit. The message of the gospel must stand in contrast to the spiritual darkness of the world around them, full of light and truth. Otherwise, what would be the attraction of the gospel?

Also note in vs. 7 that, even though Paul is addressing Timothy personally in the whole letter, the promise of the power of the Spirit of God is not just for Timothy. When Paul speaks of “us” here, he’s not using the royal “we.” At the very least, Paul is may be referring back to his ancestors and Timothy’s mother and grandmother whom he mentioned in his opening; it’s even more likely that he is including all believers everywhere. You only need to flip back a few pages into 1 Timothy to see this is the case, where he not only gives basic instructions for praying men, modestly-dress women, and lonely widows in chapters 2 and 6 (all of which indicate some sort of submission or humility before Christ, so there’s no sexism there), but also instructions in 1 Timothy 3 for the character qualities of overseers, deacons, and women who were leading in the local church at that time.

In verse 8, Paul puts some meat on the bone as to what it means to be timid by exhorting Timothy to “not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner.” Paul is speaking here of his own “testimony,” (in the language of the New Testament, the same word from which we get the English word “martyr”), that got him thrown into prison. That testimony was not just the words Paul spoke about the gospel, but the life he lived for the gospel. It involved his whole self, mind, body, and soul, or as Paul puts it in verse 11: “herald, apostle, and teacher.” Paul then makes Timothy an offer some might not be willing to take: “You’re living in God’s power now, so go ahead and join me in my own suffering.”

Now verse 8 here sounds much like Romans 1:16–17:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”[2]

The gospel of Christ is powerful to bring salvation. But what gives the gospel, the “good news” of Christ, its power? It’s powerful because it was perfectly lived out by God’s own son, Jesus Christ. That’s the crux of the argument Paul lays out in the first 8 chapters of Romans: Jesus did not break the law of God, so he was the only one to earn the designation “righteous.” Look at the last phrase in Romans 1:17: “The righteous will live by faith.” The Hebrew of Habakkuk 2:4, from which Paul quotes this verse, is a bit more nuanced: “The righteous person will live by his faithfulness.” It’s not clear why the NT translator didn’t follow the OT translation here, but do you see the implications here? If, as Paul says in Romans 3, “There is no one righteous, not even one,” then who is the righteous one who lives by faithfulness in Romans 1:17? That could only be Jesus, right? The author of Hebrews puts it this way: “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back. But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.”

So we see more clearly now the urgent reason why Paul is so strongly exhorting Timothy here: Being timid about the Gospel; being ashamed of the Gospel; fretting about the suffering for the gospel that is difficult for sure, but for most, nothing like what Jesus himself went through, is “shrinking back” according to the author of Hebrews. “Shrinking back” is the opposite of “faithfulness.”

Getting back to the 2 Timothy passage, Paul tells us in vs. 10 that Jesus’s life and crucifixion worked to “destroy death” and to bring “life and immortality to light through the gospel.” As the perfect lamb of God, Jesus’s own physical body was “destroyed” on the cross so that in his death and resurrection, he could destroy death and its power forever! As believers, we have been made alive in Christ. Our eternal life doesn’t begin when we die. Our eternal life has already begun in Christ.

In 2 Timothy 1:12, Paul again reminds Timothy that suffering for the gospel is no cause for shame. As Jesus said, we only need faith the size of a mustard seed to move mountains. Taking that first step of faith, planting that mustard seed, if you will, can be difficult. But once we start down that road of faithfulness to what he’s called us to, it becomes difficult to turn back. We may feel unworthy like the servants in the Luke passage we read, but we have a sure hope that our own faithfulness will be rewarded. Like Paul, we can have assurance that God is with us along the way. I love the last part of vs. 12 here: “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.”

Paul closes out his charge to Timothy by calling on him to keep the faith and do his part to “guard the good deposit…with the help of the Holy Spirit.” This hearkens back to Deuteronomy, where the Lord, through Moses, repeats the refrain throughout the book to “be careful to obey what I’ve commanded. Obedience and faithfulness are not accidents. They are intentional choices we make to step toward and into the will of God.

What are some practical ways we can guard the good deposit? That’s where Psalm 37 comes in, the one we read earlier in the service. It involves both “dos” and “don’ts.”

Trust in the Lord (2x)Do not fret (3x)
Dwell in the landDo not be envious
Do goodRefrain from anger
Commit your way to the LordTurn from wrath
Take delight in the LordTurn away from godless chatter (1 Timothy 6:20)
Be stillTurn away from the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge (1 Timothy 6:20)
Wait patiently 

Most of us have heard the phrase, “Let’s get ready to rumble.” Michael Buffer, the famous professional ring announcer for boxing matches, coined and trademarked the phrase to kick off boxing matches. As Christians, we face a “rumble” of our own when it comes to the world. Even in Timothy’s day, he needed the encouragement of his mentor and coworker Paul to not get discouraged in the face of the spiritual battles they faced with respect to persecution. This is why it is so important to hold onto the fellowship we have with one another. As Paul did for Timothy, we can encourage each other and draw strength from one another when the rumble comes our way. The scriptures we looked at this morning lay out a strategy for us to stand strong and keep the faith. Let’s go from here and advance the kingdom in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

January 12, 2019

Mystery of Immersion (Baptism), Part Two

Filed under: Greek,Immersion/Baptism,Romans,Soteriology,Spiritual Warfare — Scott Stocking @ 3:37 pm

In my post from 6.5 years ago (has it been that long!), The Mystery of Immersion (Baptism), I argued that there is a “mystery” (in the classical sense) in immersion (a more accurate translation of the Greek word typically translated “baptism”) akin to what the Catholics attribute to the Eucharist (Communion or the Lord’s Supper to us Protestants). In reading through Romans this time around, I still believe immersion must have a special place in the life of a Christ-follower, but I am even more convinced of the efficacy (and practicality) of immersion to bond us to Christ.

The Blood of Christ

Many Christ followers know Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But the real hope is found in the two verses that follow: “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.” Christ’s faithfulness to death on the cross, that is, to submitting to the shedding of blood, is the foundation for our forgiveness. As Hebrews 9:22 says, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.”

Throughout Romans, Paul makes contrasts between death and life. Romans 5:9–10 is quite striking in this contrast: “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” [Note the “how” statements are NOT questions!]

I have argued elsewhere that Christ’s complete, unfailing obedience to the Law qualifies him as “the Righteous one.” It is because he is righteous that his sacrifice can impart righteousness to us. Paul says as much in Romans 7:4: “So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” Hebrews 9:14 says it in a different way: “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we my serve the living God!”

The Waters of Immersion

I believe the centerpiece of Romans 1–11 is chapter 6, Paul’s discussion about immersion. Romans 1–11 is an intense theological statement on how God, through Christ’s shed blood, not only purchased salvation for us, but also restores us to a right relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters in the faith. When Paul says in Romans 6:3: “Or don’t you know that all of us who were immersed into Christ Jesus were immersed into his death?” he’s making a solid connection between the blood of Christ and the waters of immersion. It is almost as if Paul is declaring the act of immersion to be a reverse typology.

Typology, in the biblical sense anyway, looks at an event in the past and shows how that points to Christ. Here, Christ’s death has already happened, and the significance of that requires a significant event in our own lives to make the connection. Immersion, then, is not merely (not even?) a symbolic act that we can dismiss as merely a “work of the flesh,” as some try to do, but it is an event oozing with meaning and purpose, so much so that it is foolish for a Christ-follower to ignore it or think it’s not for them. Setting aside for a moment the debate about whether immersion is a sine qua non event for salvation, let’s look at what else we glean about immersion from this section of Scripture. These gleanings fall into two categories: how Christ’s death benefits us spiritually, and how Christ’s resurrection benefits us practically.

United with Christ’s Death (Romans 6:5a)

Justified by his blood: Romans 5 is truly amazing in that it demonstrates beyond a shadow of doubt what God’s grace is. In 5:6, Paul says “When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Rewind. Repeat. Yes, we had absolutely nothing to do with it. We were powerless, Paul says. We couldn’t effect any spiritual benefit to ourselves if we tried. But not only that, and this is the real kicker, Christ died for the ungodly. What? He says it again in a different way (v. 8b): “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” You mean we don’t have to “get right with God” first before Christ’s death becomes effectual for us? Now that is grace! Weak and undeserving as we were, enemies of God (v. 10), Christ still died for us. And the end result of that is we are justified; “just as if I’d” never sinned. Christ grants us his right standing—a result of his perfect obedience to the Law—before God

Reconciled to God: In 5:10, Paul speaks of being reconciled to God. This means that our relationship with God is mended, restored. We’re no longer enemies, no longer slaves to sin, no longer considered ungodly; God looks at us and sees Christ.

Dead to the Law: The Law is good because it makes us aware of sin, but it is also the source of condemnation. As I said above, because Christ fulfilled the Law, those of us in Christ have the full credit of fulfilling the Law through him. As Romans 8:1 says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Dead to sin: In 7:14ff, Paul speaks of the hypothetical “I” who is “unspiritual.” Without the Spirit, Paul has little to no control over the sinful nature. The law of sin wages war against God’s law. But as with the previous point, Paul clears this up in Romans 8:2: “Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set your free from the law of sin and death.” You can live for God unencumbered!

Cleanse our conscience: Hebrews 9:14a reemphasizes these points from Romans. “The blood of Christ… [will] cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death.” The author of Hebrews further brings home the point in 10:22: “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” Could that be the waters of immersion?

United in Christ’s Resurrection (Romans 6:5b)

Bear fruit for God: Along with the benefits linked to the death of Christ in Romans 5–7 and elsewhere, we also see benefits linked to the resurrection. Romans 7:4 sounds a bit like Ephesians 2:10 and the good works God prepared in advance for us to do: “That [we] might belong…to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.”

Death has no power over us: Romans 5:9 and 10 tell us we are saved from God’s wrath and saved through Christ’s life (post-resurrection). In 6:8–9, Paul emphasizes that death no longer has mastery over Christ, and since Christ-followers are united with Christ in his resurrection, they also share that victory over death.

Seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6): The first part of Ephesians is a glorious picture of our position in Christ in the heavenly realms. Not only are we made alive with Christ (even when dead in transgression!), but we are raised up with him and seated with him in the heavenly realms. And if there was any doubt how that happens, the grace of God pervades that passage of Scripture as it does through the first three chapters of Ephesians.

Serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14b): Most of us, regardless of our age, heard or have heard JFK’s quote: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Just change “country” to “God” and you’ve got the idea of Hebrews 9:14b. What a glorious privilege to serve in the courts of the eternal, living, gracious God. Can you think of any service that would lead to any greater eternal reward or greater feeling of satisfaction and personal fulfillment?

Living Sacrifice

Because Romans 1–11 ends with a glowing doxology, we can safely assume that Paul is closing out his theological argument and moving into the realm of practical application in 12–16. The “therefore” in 12:1, then, refers back to the entire argument, especially with immersion as the centerpiece. When Paul says: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship,” it becomes quite clear that he’s making an altar call to immersion and all that goes with it, as I have just described above.

Paul begins and ends Romans with a curious phrase: “the obedience of faithfulness” (1:5, 16:26; for more on this, see my Obedience in Romans post). But in 5:19, right before Paul launches into his treatise on baptism, he seems to revisit that idea, giving us a clue that he has reached the point where he’s delivering the main thrust of his argument. “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Jesus is that one man who was obedient to God’s law, and as a result, his death and resurrection purchased our forgiveness and salvation, and our unity with those two events in immersion absolutely solidifies our connection with the Savior.


When you examine the context around Paul’s treatise on immersion in Romans 6, you begin to see that chapter 6 is not an isolated excursus on one theological point, but that immersion is the glue that ties the two “pillars” of the faith (Christ’s death and his subsequent resurrection) together in a neat theological “type.” Not only that, but the many blessings that Christ-followers experience are linked to immersion by virtue of their inclusion in the broader context of chapters 5–7. Immersion, then, is not something to be taken lightly, or sluffed off as a mere work of the flesh, but it is a near-complete picture of who we are and what we have in Christ. When the implications of immersion are rightly understood, there can be no doubt that it is an essential event in the life of a Christian, not just a reference point for salvation, but an expression that we’re all-in for Christ.


Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the 2011 version of the NIV.


August 30, 2012

Obedience (ὑπακοή, ὑπακούω) in Romans

I can think of a number of reasons Paul’s letter to the Romans wound up at the head of Paul’s writings in the New Testament. His discussion of justification by faith is classic, strengthened by his further treatment of the subject in Galatians. The statement from 1:16 has long been hailed from pulpits to encourage the body of Christ to boldly serve, speak, and act for the cause of the Gospel. I especially like Paul’s treatment of immersion in chapter 6, where he rescues the subject from those who downplay it as a “work of the flesh” by empowering it with the blood of Christ and his resurrection to make it an important and necessary part of our salvation journey. And of course, the Romans Road has long been an effective evangelistic tool for many, although I was never sure why that always took a detour around the heart of chapter 6. But there’s a bigger picture in Romans that often gets overlooked when we focus on verses and individual sections.

An Overlooked Inclusio

In a previous post, I mentioned that Romans 1:5 and its parallel in 16:26 form an inclusio for the entire book of Romans. However, in that post, I focused on the term πιστίς (“faith”/”faithfulness”), especially as Paul builds his initial argument in the first five chapters of Romans. In some contexts (e.g., Romans 1:17), that term refers to the faithfulness of Christ But what I noticed this time through Romans is that seven of the ten occurrences of the words for “obey” (ὑπακούω) and “obedience” (ὑπακοή) in Romans are found in chapters 6 (four times) and 15–16 (three times). The four occurrences of the words in chapter 6 come in the midst of his discussion about the significance of immersion and our being released from the slavery of sin. In fact, the words are tied to the metaphor of slavery in all occurrences there.

Because πιστίς refers to Christ in several key passages, I asked myself if “obedience” might have some Christological implications as well. One of the first passages that comes to mind is Philippians 2:8: “And being found in appearance of a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross.” A few verses later (v. 12), Paul commends the Philippians for their obedience and encourages them to “work out [κατεργάζομαι] their salvation with fear and trembling.” That word for “work out” figures very prominently in Romans 7, where Paul speaks of “doing” what he does not want to “do.” What does this mean?

Breaking it Down

First, the discussion of obedience comes between the discussion of the significance of immersion and the popular conclusion to chapter 6 (cited in the Romans Road without the rest of the context of chapter 6): “The compensation for sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Here is the irony: obedience or slavery to sin and obedience or slavery to Christ both lead to death. For those who are slaves to sin, they only have eternal death to look forward to, assuming they are looking forward to anything eternally. Obedience to Christ does lead to death, death to self, but there is on the other side the gift of eternal life. What is this obedience? One only need to look back to the first part of chapter 6: obedience to immersion. Just as Christ was obedient to death on a cross, we who believe are called to be obedient to death by immersion. Immersion is our Calvary. Immersion is also our Resurrection. Paul’s conclusion in 6:23 must be viewed in the context of 6:1–10.

Second, this gives new light to the phrase “obedience of faithfulness” found in Romans 1:5 and 16:26. The whole phrase is a euphemism of sorts for the crucifixion of Christ. It’s not just about legalistic obedience or stilted faithfulness. It’s about living this life sacrificially, knowing that we have eternal life as our ultimate reward on the other side of death. Ideally, obedience to immersion is a one-time event for the Christ-follower. But obedience in general is a lifelong commitment. Salvation is not a one-time event: it is a lifelong process we “work out… with fear and trembling.” Don’t get me wrong: we become a part of the kingdom the moment we put our trust in Christ, and we can be sure of the promise of eternal life from that moment on. But we cannot sit back and expect God to do everything for us. Repentance, discipline, study, meditation on God’s Word, and faithful obedience are all part of the “working out” process. We can never become perfect in this life, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try (Matthew 5:48, 19:21).


Those of you who are fond of the Romans Road, don’t take a detour around the discussion of immersion in the first part of chapter 6. It is part of the obedience that informs the rest of the discussion in Romans. To add a little more context to Romans 6:23, you might read it this way: “The compensation for slavery to sin is death, but the gift of God for those who are obedient to righteousness is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Immersion is our physical experience and signification of the death and resurrection of Christ. It’s not just a “work” that you can do whenever you think you’re ready. It’s an important component of working out your salvation as you grow in your faith in and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.


Scott Stocking

Author note: “representation” changed to “signification” in last paragraph at 7:30 pm, 8/30/12.

December 4, 2011

Immersion (Baptism) that Saves: 1 Peter 3:18–22

I have a couple notes for blog readers before I get into the main post today.

  1. For all readers: Instead of customizing the hyperlinks or providing transliterations and pronunciations, I am going to start hyperlinking the first occurrence of each Greek and Hebrew word in my blog to the entry in That Bible study site has numerous resources available, including a link to hear the Greek or Hebrew word pronounced and the option to get a complete concordance listing of all occurrences of the Greek or Hebrew word. If you’re not already familiar with the site, I trust you will find it useful and engaging. (I am not being compensated for promoting BlueLetterBible at this time.)
  2. For those readers who use the sentence diagrams: At least once a week, it seems like the search engine feature in WordPress lets me know that someone hit on my site by looking for a diagram of a particular verse. I am pleasantly surprised to find I’m not the only one who has an interest in diagramming, in spite of how much I griped about it in junior high. For those of you who use the diagrams, I would appreciate knowing what your interest is in them so that I can get a sense if I need to do anything different with them or provide a different kind of diagram. Are you just curious? Are you a student looking for help on an assignment? (If the latter, I trust you aren’t passing off my work as yours!) Are you a preacher looking to better explain the passage? Whatever your interest, please drop me a short note in the comments. There’s obviously some interest in them, and I’m happy to share the fruit of my labor with you.


Growing up as a sprinkled Presbyterian, I was understandably intrigued when I came to understand my need for a personal relationship with Christ and discovered the concept of “believer’s baptism.” It was a completely new concept to me, as I had never been exposed to it before my high school years. In college, when I got involved with the restoration movement, I still had many questions about the practice when I went to that first meeting at 1633 Q Street (now a parking lot) just off the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. That night, just a little over 30 years ago, I got shuffled off to the pastor’s office, where I met Terry & Kris Christlieb. I had several questions about baptism, and they answered them to my satisfaction that night, so much so that we invaded Capitol City Christian Church at 9 p.m., where I got immersed. I was sold from that point on.

I’ve had my ups and downs on immersion theology through the years. Is it an absolute necessity? Is it just a “work of the flesh”? When is the right time? Just what is the “effectiveness” of immersion when it comes to salvation? But when I ran across such passages as Romans 6 and 1 Peter 3:18–22, it was hard for me to diminish the importance of immersion in the life of a Christ-follower. And when I discovered the connection between Acts 2:38 and Matthew’s Last Supper account, I was convinced of the efficacy of immersion as part of the salvation and maturing experience of the Christ-follower.

1 Peter 3:18–22

Of all the passages on immersion, or baptism as many call it (βάπτισμα, βαπτίζω), 1 Peter 3:21 is the only one that comes out and says directly that immersion saves. Yet this gets overlooked so much, because those who are not convinced of the efficacy of immersion seem to think it means something other than what is plainly written on the page. But what is the author trying to communicate by connecting it to the Noahic flood? Is the flood what saves us, or the ark? The verse diagram in Figure 1 below places 1 Peter 3:21 in its larger context so that you can see what the connections are.

I want to jump down to 20b, where Peter says (my translation): “In the ark, a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water.” In this case, the water was destructive (see 2 Peter 2:5), but it had the power to save Noah by supporting the ark on its year-and-a-half voyage. The flood destroyed all living creatures except those on the ark and those that could already live in water, but the ark was the vessel that protected Noah, his family, and the other living creatures “through the water.”

Now for verse 21: The word for ark (κιβωτός) is feminine, but the relative pronoun that begins verse 21 is neuter, so it can’t refer to the ark. The most immediate antecedent to the relative pronoun is “water” (ὕδωρ; genitive is ὕδατος), which is neuter, so Peter is referring to the waters of the flood with this pronoun. So in verse 21, Peter says, “This water corresponds to immersion.” The word “corresponds to” (ἀντίτυπος) is actually an adjective in Greek that modifies βάπτισμα, so the phrase might be more accurately rendered, “This water is functional baptism” or more literally, “This water is typical baptism.”

Peter goes on to say that this baptismal water “now also saves you.” The “now also” is relative to the previous verse. Not only does the ark, then, typify salvation, but water does as well. Water is what destroyed sinful humanity, which is exactly what happens when someone is immersed into Christ. Romans 6:3–4 says, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were immersed into Christ Jesus were immersed into his death? We were therefore buried with him through immersion into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

What I found interesting is that the part that follows “now also saves you” has two nominative case nouns. “Removal” (ἀπόθεσις) and “appeal” (ἐπερώτημα) are both nominative case, agreeing with the nominative case of βάπτισμα, so they are essentially appositives to βάπτισμα. Here’s how a literal translation might look: “This immersion now saves you, not the body-dirt removal immersion, but the clear-conscience-pledge to God immersion.” But this rendition is missing the most important part of the verse, the final phrase.

The last phrase of verse 21 parallels the “through water” at the end of verse 20. “Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” is the qualifier that gives the water its power to save. Just as the ark saved Noah and his family through the flood waters, the resurrection is what carries us through the act of immersion. Again, I refer you back to Romans 6:3–4, where this is made abundantly clear. So if I complete my literal translation with that phrase, it would look something like this: “This immersion now saves you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, not the body-dirt removal immersion, but the clear-conscience-pledge to God immersion” (emphasis mine).

So immersion is really a two-way street to God. If we just get immersed for show (the “body-dirt removal immersion”), immersion is ineffective. God is not into rituals without substance. But if we come to the waters of immersion pledging ourselves to live for him with a clear conscience, he effects the power of the resurrection in immersion and destroys the old self. He renews us and rescues us from the wages of sin.

A quick note on βαπτίζω

Some have tried to argue that βαπτίζω does not mean “completely immerse,” because that is what the related word βάπτω means. But the –ίζω ending on βαπτίζω is an intensifier. It is quite similar, in sound and function, to the difference between the musical directions forte (loud) and fortissimo (very loud). So βαπτίζω is an intense form of dipping, or immersion. I don’t have to time to list the many verbs in Greek that indicate a similar pattern, but I assure you, they are quite common in the NT.


So immersion is certainly not just a work of the flesh. Just as the ark supported and sustained Noah and his family through the flood, so too the resurrection sustains us through the act of immersion. But beware of the “dunk ’em and ditch ’em” philosophy. Noah and his family certainly did not sit idly by on the ark for a year and a half. They worked hard daily to keep the animals and themselves fed and healthy. Immersion is not a terminal point in the life of a Christ-follower. On the contrary, it is a watershed moment (pun intended) where we tell God, “I’m sold out for you.”


Scott Stocking

Figure 1: Diagram for 1 Peter 3:18–22 (Greek and English)

October 12, 2011

Called to Suffer? A Quick Word Study of πάσχω in Greek

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Greek,Romans — Scott Stocking @ 8:47 pm

A friend of mine asked me about the Greek words for “suffering” in Romans 8:16–17 and 1 Peter 2:21. I’ll give a brief excursus here on what I found.

Romans 8:16–17 says this in the NIV:

16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

The word for “share in [his] sufferings” in vs. 17 is συμπάσχω (sympaschō, \soom PAHSS khoh\), which is only used twice in the entire NT, here and in 1 Corinthians 12:26 with reference to the whole body suffering when one part suffers. This is a compound word from the preposition σύν (syn, \SOON\ “with”) and πάσχω (paschō, \PAHSS khoh\ “suffer”). The σύν- prefix is a favorite tool of Paul’s to indicate “together with,” often in the context of fellowship with other Christ-followers or sharing something with Christ. Ephesians has over 20 σύν-prefixed words that reveal that meaning. Although the gospels and some of the general (=non-Pauline) epistles frequently use the word πάσχω for the suffering and death of Christ, Paul himself only uses the word to reference the suffering of Christ-followers. Romans 8:17 is an exception with his use of the compound.

My friend was concerned that the passage was taken out of context. There is no question that Paul is saying we must share in the sufferings of Christ to share in his glory, but since he never uses either of the words (the root or the compound) elsewhere to refer to those sufferings, what does he mean by the phrase? I think little else can be meant by Christ’s sufferings than his passion and crucifixion. In the context of Romans, however, I believe there is a connection, at least in part, between this passage and the discussion of baptism/immersion in Romans 6. Romans 6 contains several σύν-prefixed words (4 in 11 verses, by my count, plus one occurrence of the preposition itself), and 6:4 has the verbal connection of the word “glory” (a σύν-prefixed form in 8:17). Other verses like Galatians 2:20 (“I have been crucified with Christ”) and Romans 6:6 (“our old self was crucified with him”) confirm in my mind that Paul’s reference in 8:17 refers to our identification with the death of Christ. Paul also speaks of the battle between the law and sinful humanity in Romans 7 and 8 (see esp. 8:3–4), so I think another part of the suffering reference is to that battle we face in the flesh, just as Christ did, even though he never sinned.

I want to quote the larger context of 1 Peter 2:21. Peter uses the word πάσχω 11 times in his first epistle, with 4 of those coming in 1 Peter 2:18–23 (NIV):

18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

There is no “call to suffer” here, but only a call to endure, especially if it comes upon us unjustly. The word πάσχω here refers both to our own “suffering” as well as Christ’s suffering, and primarily to the former in the rest of 1 Peter. It’s not something we should seek out, as if suffering is an end unto itself. Paul is just recognizing that suffering happens, and it’s to our credit if we bear up under it and don’t sin.

I hope this helps my friend, and I hope my quick study helps you as well.


Scott Stocking

August 27, 2011

πιστίς (pistis, ‘Faith’/‘Faithfulness’) in Romans 1–5

The following is an updated version of an assignment I did way back in the late 90s as I was finishing up my Master’s degree at (then) Lincoln Christian Seminary. It is rather lengthy and was written for Dr. Walt Zorn, who is a phenomenal biblical languages scholar, so it might be a tad more heady than my usual blog posts, but I hope I’ve clarified and summarized Paul’s argument in Romans 1–5 so you can get a handle on it. Some of this was in my blog post from two weeks ago, but this is a fuller treatment of the subject. I hope you are challenged to think more deeply about the Scriptures and your own faith through this post.


Paul’s letter to the Romans has been a seminal letter for Paul’s development of the themes of faith or faithfulness and righteousness in his theology. The themes are connected by Paul in this letter in several places and with several nuances. I would hazard a guess that the prominence of these two themes was an important consideration in placing this letter at the beginning of the Pauline epistles in the New Testament.

When studying Paul’s use of πιστίς in Romans, one finds a richer, fuller expression of faith than appears on the surface. Much has been said about the thematic nature of 1:17: δικαιοσύνη γὰρ θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ ἀποκαλύπτεται ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν, καθὼς γέγραπται, Ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται. (dikaiosynē gar theou en autō apokalyptetai ek pisteōs eis pistin, kathōs gegraptai, Ho de dikaios ek pisteōs zēsetai, “God’s righteousness in [the Gospel] is being revealed from the faithfulness [of Christ] to faith(fulness), just as it is written, ‘The Righteous One will live from faithfulness'”).

It would seem that the traditional translation of “faith” falls short of the sense of πιστίς in Romans. In the following analysis, I will defend my contention that “faithfulness,” rather than “faith,” is a more appropriate translation in many instances. A presupposition (which I also intend to demonstrate) is that the subjective genitive dominates Paul’s discussion of [the] faith[fulness of Christ] and [the] righteousness [of God].

Some structural considerations are worthy of note when it comes to Paul’s use of πιστίς in Romans. The most pronounced structural consideration is the inclusio of the phrase εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως (eis hypakoēn pisteōs, “into obedience of faithfulness”), found in both 1:5 (the first occurrence of πιστίς) and 16:26 (the last occurrence of πιστίς). This phrase helps both to define and to qualify the relationship between faith and righteousness. By far, the heaviest concentration (20 of 40 times in Romans) of the word is in 3:21–5:21, especially 3:22 through the end of chapter 4. It occurs 6 times in his introductory section (1:1–17).

What one finds when examining the usage is that, in the first five chapters, Paul essentially builds three arguments explaining justification by “the obedience of faithfulness:” one from a negative perspective (the wrath of God revealed in the Law, 1:18–3:20); and two from a positive perspective (Jesus, 3:21–31, and Abraham, ch. 4). He then concludes this section with application (5:1–11) and a historical illustration, an inclusio of Adam and Christ (5:12–21).

Since 1:5 seems to be the thesis statement for the whole book, I would argue that 1:16–17 is a secondary thesis statement for the section that follows, namely 1:18–5:21. I suggest the following structure:

A 1:16

Paul’s declaration of the Gospel’s ability as the power of God for salvation

B 1:17

Paul’s declaration of the righteousness of God for faithfulness

–A 1:18–3:20

Paul’s declaration of the Law’s inability to save or justify

B 3:21–5:21

Paul’s demonstration of “the obedience of faithfulness” of Jesus and Abraham and its power to justify

1:18–3:20: Justification and Righteousness not Obtainable through the Law

An interesting feature of 1:18–3:20 is that πιστίς occurs only once, in 3:3, in reference to God’s faithfulness (interestingly enough, not “the faith that comes from God,” which would parallel other similar constructions in the NIV [1984 version] translation!). The verb πιστεύω (pisteuō, \pee-STOO-oh\) is found in 3:2, with the sense of “entrusted,” while in 3:3, the negative form of the verb (ἀπιστέω apisteō, \ah-pee-STEH-oh\) and the negative form of the noun (ἀπιστία apistia, \ah-pee-STEE-ah\) are found. These four occurrences form a chiasmus:

A First, on the one hand, they were entrusted (v) with the words (τὰ λόγια ta logia, \tah LAW-ghee-ah\) of God

B What is it then? If some did not have faith (v),

B′ would their faithlessness (n)

A′ nullify the faithfulness (n) of God? (The question expects a “no” answer.”)

Verse 4 completes the thought: “May it never be! On the other hand [note the contrast with vs. 3], let God be true and ‘everyone else liars’ [Psalm 116:11], just as it is written, ‘In order that you be justified in your words and be victorious when you judge’ [Psalm 51:4].”

This section (Romans 1:18–3:20) begins with the continual revealing of the wrath of God. I believe what Paul is referring to here is the Law (cf. 4:15) and the punishments contained therein that are being applied even in his own time against the wicked. In 1:18–32, Paul says that these people have no excuse, because they know of his “righteous decrees” both through “natural law” and from God himself through the Law of Moses.

In chapter 2, then, Paul demonstrates that those “stubborn and unrepentant” (vs. 5) Jews who still insist on living by the Law, or at least resting on their laurels as God’s chosen people (vs. 13), are in danger of experiencing God’s wrath as well. In the latter part of verse 13, he declares that the only way to be justified is to obey the Law. It is safe to assume that he means a complete obedience here (2:23, 25, cf. Gal 5:3, James 2:10). The reality is that no one is capable of such complete obedience, therefore he can quote the Psalmist in his conclusion (3:9–20); “There is no ‘righteous one'” (3:10, par. Psalm 14:1–3; 53:1–3; Eccl. 7:20), at least according to the Law, and thus no one can be justified by the works of the Law (3:20).

Romans 3:2–3 serves as a crucial turning point for 1:18–3:20. In addition to the chiasmus in those two verses, it is interesting to note that τὰ λόγια (‘word’) and πιστίς (‘faithfulness’) are parallel with respect to God. God has been and is faithful in carrying out his wrath against lawbreakers, regardless of the degree of violation (1:18, 3:5). Thus God’s faithfulness in carrying out his wrath against lawbreakers would imply in this case a subjective genitive construction. The phrase τὴν πίστιν τοῦ θεοῦ (tēn pistin tou theou, ‘the faithfulness of God’) in 3:3 is parallel to (and has profound implications for) the next section, especially in 3:22, where we find the phrase πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (pisteōs Iēsou Christou, ‘the faithfulness of Christ’).

3:21–31: The Faithfulness of Christ and God toward Mankind

Because Paul here resumes a concentrated discussion on faith/faithfulness, I understand the key phrase in 3:22 (πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) to inform most occurrences of πιστίς in 3:21–5:21, and most likely in the whole book of Romans. I believe this phrase and “the faithfulness of God” in 3:3 are both what grammarians call “subjective genitive.” Subjective genitive means that the noun in the genitive case (in these verses, “God” and “Jesus Christ”) serve as the “subjects” of the verbal action of the accompanying noun (“faithfulness”). So we could turn these around and say “God is faithful” and “Jesus Christ is faithful.” The opposite category here (which is the way 3:22 is usually treated in contrast to 3:3) is objective genitive. This means the nouns in genitive case would be objects of the verbal action implied by the accompanying noun. If these phrases were treated as objective genitive, then they would be rendered “trust/have faith in God” and “trust/have faith in Jesus.” The implication of the subjective genitive is that the faithfulness of Christ is an activity Christ performs, primarily his death on the cross.

But there is another implication here that may escape the casual reader. Remember that Paul wrote in 1:17 that “the Righteous One (δίκαιος dikaios) will live by faithfulness,” but in 3:10 he says, Οὐκ ἔστιν δίκαιος (ouk estin dikaios, “there is no righteous one”). In both places, he uses the adjective substantively. The context here suggests that it was not only Jesus’ faithfulness to his suffering and death on the cross, but his faithfulness to the Law as well. Jesus is the exception to 1:18–3:20. This is a key conclusion: Jesus is “the Righteous One” of 1:17.

Several Scriptures help to make this point. In Matt 5:17, Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (emphasis mine). In Romans 10:4, Paul says that Jesus is the τέλος…νόμου (telos…nomou), that is, the ‘perfection,’ ‘completion,’ or ‘fulfillment’ of the Law. Hebrews 5:8–9 (NIV 2011) says: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Although Hebrews was most likely not written by Paul, the connection here of learning obedience (Romans 1:5) through his faithful enduring of suffering drives home the fact that Romans 3 should be read in the light of the subjective genitive.

My own translation of Romans 3:21–31 reads differently from the traditional reading in many translations, for every reference to “faith/faithfulness” is a reference to the “faithfulness of Christ” in v. 22. Here is how the passage might be rendered:

But now God’s righteousness, apart from the Law, has been revealed, being testified to in the Law and the Prophets, God’s righteousness through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to all who are believing. For there is no difference. For all who are being justified freely by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus sinned and are falling short of the glory of God. whom God presented the Messiah as an atoning sacrifice through [his] faithfulness in his blood into a demonstration of his righteousness because God overlooked of the sins committed beforehand in his forbearance, towards a demonstration of his righteousness in the present time, in order that [Christ] himself would be the “Righteous One” and the one justifying those of the faithfulness of Jesus.

This also demonstrates God’s faithfulness. God required a blood sacrifice for the atonement of sin. Under the Law, that happened in the sacrificial system. But now, “apart from the Law,” a new method of atonement is achieved through Christ. God’s faithfulness is vindicated in Christ, for now God can “set aside” the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant because of what he accomplished through Jesus on the cross.

Romans 4: Abraham’s Faithfulness Demonstrated

If the last half of chapter 3 was not enough to convince the Jews that it is possible to be justified “apart from the Law,” then Paul hopes the example of Abraham in chapter 4 will irrefutably drive home the point. Actually, Abraham lived “apart from the Law” that did not yet exist (i.e. “prior to” the Law). But the quote from the LXX is revealing (Romans 4:9, see also vs. 3 for a variation): Ἐλογίσθη τῷ Ἀβραὰμ ἡ πίστις εἰς δικαιοσύνην (elogisthē tō Abraam hē pistis eis dikaiosynēn, “Faithfulness into righteousness was reckoned to Abraham.”)

Although the context of this quote (Genesis 15:6) suggests at first glance Abraham’s simple belief in the promise from God that he would have many descendants, Abraham later demonstrated his faithfulness to the promise (because he knew God would be faithful to the promise) by taking Isaac up on Mt. Moriah and raising the knife to sacrifice his only son through whom that promise (presumably) would come.

James would want to speak up at this point. Of course James is famous for arguing that “faith without works is dead.” It would seem, then, that James and Paul converge here. James’s concept of faith-based works seems similar to Paul’s concept of faithfulness (cf. Eph 2:10): faithfulness involves obedience not to the Law, but to Christ who fulfilled the Law.

δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ and the Subjective Genitive

Just as 3:22 informs us that Paul is talking about Christ’s faithfulness throughout the last part of chapter 3, and not our faith in Christ; and God’s faithfulness to his promise to Abraham in chapter 4; so also δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in 1:17 (a subjective genitive) helps to inform us of God’s righteousness (even though “God’s” does not always modify “righteousness”) in most places in Romans.

No one save Christ could have obtained the justification or righteousness from total obedience to the Law, so that now we who believe can be justified not through the Law, but through Christ “apart from the Law.” Not only can we be justified, but God is just in doing so through Christ, because Christ fulfilled the Law (3:26).

Application & Conclusion

Often I have struggled with whether or not my own “faith” was a work, and if I did not have enough “faith,” what would God do to me? Often I hear horror stories of pastors or ill-informed Christians telling people going through a bad time that they are suffering because they do not have enough faith. With the above interpretation, the amount or quality of our faith is not necessarily a factor. God’s faithfulness stands firm even if we are faithless. Does this imply universalism? No. Eternal security? No. But it does call us to trust all the more in his promises, because he has demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt his ability and willingness to faithfully follow through on his promises. This is an assurance that all of us could use.

As for the translation of πιστίς, I would suggest that many occurrence of the word in Romans (and perhaps everywhere in the Pauline corpus) be filtered through the important phrase in his inclusio of 1:5/16:26, phrase εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως (eis hypakoēn pisteōs, “into obedience of faithfulness”). When Paul speaks of “faith,” even when he personalizes it in the first or second person, he has in mind a faithful obedience to Christ, and the good works that “God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10).

All Greek Scripture quotations taken from Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Carlo M. Martini et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (With Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993; 2006), Logos electronic edition, unless otherwise indicated.

The NIV (1984 edition) translated this identical phrase two different ways. In 1:5, the translators chose “to obedience that comes from faith,” and in 16:26, they chose “so that [all nations] might believe and obey him.” In both places, also, ἔθνη (ethnē ‘Gentiles’) is translated differently: “Gentiles” in 1:5 and “nations” in 16:26. It would seem in 16:26 that Paul puts his Q.E.D. on at least one of his purposes (1:5) for writing this letter to the Romans. The 2011 edition of the NIV fixes this inconsistency, having “the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith” in both places. Many other modern translations, such as the NRSV and ESV got the consistency right in the interim, translating the phrase “obedience of faith” in both verses. I would still maintain, however, that “faithfulness” is the better translation.

August 21, 2011

Doing What I Don’t Desire to Do (Romans 7:13–25)

Filed under: Biblical Studies,New Testament,Repentance,Romans,Theology, Biblical — Scott Stocking @ 9:57 pm

Anyone who has ever read Romans has come across the interesting, seemingly repetitive passage in 7:13–25 (specifically vv. 15–21) where Paul says “I do not do what I want to do.” The TNIV has the word “do” (or a form of it) 24 times in those seven verses, and 6 of those come in verse 15! I would hazard a guess that the verb “do” in English is used almost as much as the “to be” verb. Perhaps a better comparison would be to the use of the verb “have” when forming the perfect tense in English. Just as in those cases “have” does not mean “to possess,” so the modal function of “do” doesn’t necessarily mean “to act”. So we shouldn’t be surprised to find the word used numerous times in any English text. But such a high concentration in the current text suggests that something is up.

When I read through this passage this week, I was surprised to find that Paul used not one, but three words that have been translated as “do” (modal uses aside) in many English Bible versions. In order to set this up, I think it will be beneficial to review those words and see how they impact the meaning of the passage. If we can “undo” the multiple uses of “do” to some extent, we might see a slightly different view of the passage emerge.

The Word Studies


The first word for “do” Paul uses is κατεργάζομαι (katergazomai, \kat air GAH zaw my\). This word is found 22 times in the New Testament: eleven of those occurrences are in Romans; six are in chapter 7, and five are in the immediate context of this passage. In this context, the word carries the implication of the results of what is “done.” In 7:8, for example, Paul says that “sin…produced in me every kind of covetousness” (TNIV). Later, in verse 13 (which is the beginning of the paragraph in the Greek text), Paul says that sin’s purpose was “to produce death in me” (my translation). If it weren’t for these two uses, I was almost ready to translate the other 4 occurrences in this passage as “motivate” or even “influence,” because that seems to be what the context implies. By “produce”, I mean “accomplish” or “result in” (see Louw & Nida). However, I will defer to the primacy factor here and go with the translation “produce” when I give my version of the passage below.

I do want to lay out for you how this word is used in its other four occurrences in this passage so you can compare them for yourselves.

A 15: I know not what I am producing. (Perhaps another way to render this is, “I don’t know what the end result is,” or “I don’t know what I’m accomplishing.”)

B 17: For I myself am no longer producing it, but the sin living in me is. (This is where I get the idea of “motivation” in the word.)

C 18: For my desire is present, but my production is not honorable. (This may be the crux verse. Paul uses a different word for “good” here: καλός instead of ἀγαθός; more on that later.)

B′ 20: (same as 17): For I myself am no longer producing it, but the sin living in me is.


The second word for “do” we come across is πράσσω (prassō, \PRAHSS soh\). Those of you who know something of Greek roots may recognize this as the root from which “practice,” “praxis,” and “pragmatic” are all derived. This word is found 39 times in the NT, with 10 of those occurrences in Romans, and even more in Acts. By a factor of about 7 to 1, the word is used in a negative or neutral context rather than referring to anything good, that is, practicing sin, evil, or wickedness. For example, Paul uses the word twice in Romans 1:32 to describe the practice of those who have given themselves over to their base desires. Christian Maurer, in his article on the word in the TDNT (summarized in the TDNTA, “Little Kittel”), says that the word “denotes the activity rather than the outcome,” which I contrast with κατεργάζομαι above. The word is used twice in near parallel construction in vv. 15 and 19, but there is one significant difference, and here, the Greek word order is important:

15: οὐ γὰρ ὃ θέλω τοῦτο πράσσω (E), ἀλλʼ ὃ μισῶ τοῦτο ποιῶ (F). (“For I practice not the thing that I desire, but I do the thing that I hate.”

19: οὐ γὰρ ὃ θέλω ποιῶ (F′) ἀγαθόν, ἀλλὰ ὃ οὐ θέλω κακὸν τοῦτο πράσσω (E′). (“For I do not the good thing that I desire, but I practice the evil thing I desire not.” Notice he adds the moral qualifiers in vs. 19 as well.)

(I realize my translations sound like Yoda’s “Do or do not, there is no try,” but I’m trying to be literal and not use “do” more than necessary.) These two phrases serve as a chiastic inclusio for the passage. If you don’t remember what a chiasm is, that’s when a series of items is repeated in reverse order, a common structural feature of the biblical text in both testaments. “I don’t practice the thing I desire…I practice the evil thing I don’t desire”; “I do the thing that I hate…I don’t do the good thing that I desire.” I find it interesting that in vs. 15, he breaks from using the word for “desire” (θέλω thelō, \THEH loh\; used 7 times in this passage) and uses the word for “hate” (μισέω miseō, \miss EH oh\), telegraphing how he feels about doing the thing he doesn’t desire to do (compare with the first phrase of vs. 16).


The Greek word most frequently used for “do” or “make” in the NT (568 times) is the third word we encounter here: ποιέω (poieō, \poi EH oh\). This word is found five times in this passage. Verses 15, 16, and 20 are nearly parallel: “I do the thing that I hate. If I do the thing that I do not desire….” Verse 19 is slightly different, as already seen above. Verse 21 is the only place in this passage where this word is connected with doing something “honorable,” but its use throughout the NT is widely varied as you might guess. There is nothing unusual about the translation of the word in this passage, so in my translation of the passage, I will render it as “do”.

ἀγαθός and καλός

One final bit of word study should be added to this discussion as well. Paul goes back and forth between using the typical Greek word for morally good (ἀγαθός agathos \ah gah THAWSS\) and the typical Greek word for aesthetically good (καλός kalos \kah LOSS\). There is some overlap of meaning between the two words (both words are contrasted with κακός kakos “evil”, the former in vs. 19, the latter in vs. 21), but καλός tends to be slightly more abstract and doesn’t have quite the moral load that ἀγαθός does. For the purposes of my translation, where ἀγαθός is used, I will use “good,” but where καλός is used, I will use “honorable.”

My Translation

To this point, I’ve given very stiff, literal translations of the Greek text, and I’m guessing some of you who don’t have a Greek background are scratching your heads. But I want to try to give a dynamic equivalence (which will probably sound more like something out of The Message) of this passage, focusing on vv. 15–21. So here it goes:

I don’t understand what this battle between good and evil is going to produce in me in the end or why I’m even going through it. For I don’t practice what I really want to do: please God. Instead, I just blindly do the thing I hate. And if I blindly do what I really don’t want to do, I agree with the law that it is honorable in pointing out the sinfulness of my thoughtless deed. But now it’s no longer I myself producing the action I didn’t want to do, but it’s the unwelcome, indwelling sin that’s doing it. For I know that good doesn’t dwell in me, that is, in my sinful, fleshly nature; my desire to do a good thing is there in my mind, but my sinful, fleshly nature produces nothing honorable. I don’t do the good thing I want to do; instead, I practice the evil thing I really don’t want to do. If I blindly do what I don’t really want to do, it’s no longer I myself producing the action I didn’t want to do, but it’s the unwelcome, indwelling sin that’s doing it. Consequently, I find the law that evil is present with me when I desire to do what is honorable.

Paul goes on to talk about how his mind and inner man (are they one and the same?) are sold-out to God, but his sinful, fleshly nature still has a strong pull on him. He, like the rest of us, understands the daily struggle with sin. But here’s the kicker: even though this passage is written in the first person, Paul really isn’t speaking of himself here. The “I” of the passage must be discerned from vs. 14, where Paul says “I am unspiritual/fleshly.” He’s really putting on a persona of “everyman” or a man who still finds himself enslaved to sin or trying to be justified by the law. Craig Keener, in his IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, says that Paul is using a rhetorical method here known as “diatribe style,” which employs a fictitious speaker (“I”) and poses numerous rhetorical questions. He’s not writing about himself, at least not in the present. He could, however, be referring to his own struggle following the law prior to his conversion.

The reality is, if we have the Holy Spirit, we’ve put to death the persona that Paul has put on here. In chapter 6, Paul says we died with Christ in immersion (baptism) and were raised up with him in newness of life, so how can we live any longer in sin? The very first verse of chapter 8 can’t be ignored either, because it falls right on the heels of this section: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And the rest of chapter 8 bears out how God has once and for all dealt with the sinful nature that wars against our desire to do good. The Holy Spirit, the one who empowers us to live victoriously over sin, will not leave us wanting in the battle with sin, “because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2, TNIV).

Well, I think that’s enough for now. I’ve spent all day on this, so it looks like I’m going to have to start writing Saturday night if I want to get these published on Sunday mornings. Peace to you. Have a great week!

Scott Stocking

August 14, 2011

Redemption and Faithfulness (Romans 3:23–24)

(Media Note: We tackled 1 Timothy 2:9–12 in Sunday School this morning, which reminded of the YouTube video “All Things Are Better in Koine. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!)

I have finally caught up with my reading schedule and find myself in Romans this week. I think there’s a good reason why Romans was placed at the head of Paul’s letters in the New Testament (NT): he lays out a detailed description of the connection between faith, justification, and redemption that is foundational for understanding not only his letters (Romans through Philemon), but for the entire Bible, as he brings into the discussion the relationship of Jews and Judaism to God’s plan of salvation.

I am working on simplifying and updating an assignment I did 15 years ago for a class I had with Dr. Walt Zorn at Lincoln Christian Seminary where I summarized Paul’s argument in the first five chapters of Romans. It is rather detailed and heady (it was a seminary class, after all), but I want to simplify it for my blog readers, because I think understanding the flow of the argument will help us understand just what Paul meant when he wrote it. The basic question of the assignment (and I’ll leave you to explore this on your own for a time if you wish) is, “Who is the righteous who will live by faith (Romans 1:17) if Paul in Romans 3:10–12 quotes the Psalms (14:1–3, 53:1–3) and Ecclesiastes 7:20 saying, ‘There is no one righteous, not even one’?” If you figure out the answer to this, then consider why that is significant for your own Christian walk.

Translations of Romans 3:23–24

I will give you a little hint of it here this morning, as I want to focus on what is arguably the most familiar salvation passage in Romans, 3:23–24, the first step on the “Romans Road.” Before I go into the Greek text, I want to give you a few different English translations of the passage: depending on your background, you may have a slightly nuanced understanding of the passage, so I want to make sure I respect whatever differences there may be. After these English translations, I’ll give the Greek text and transliteration. Later in the post, I will do a phrase-for-phrase comparison with another key salvation passage, Ephesians 2:8. (All passages are from the Logos electronic versions of the respective editions.)

‎‎NIV (1984): For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

‎‎NIV (2011): For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

‎‎TNIV: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

‎‎NLT: For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

‎‎AV (KJV 1769): For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

‎‎ESV: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

‎‎NASB95: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;

‎‎The Message: Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

NA27: πάντες γὰρ ἥμαρτον καὶ ὑστεροῦνται τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ δικαιούμενοι δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (pantes gar hēmarton kai hysterountai tēs doxēs tou theou dikaioumenoi dōrean tē autou chariti dia tēs apolytrōseōs tēs en Christō Iēsou; see my English translation below).

Figure 1: Sentence Diagram for Romans 3:23–24

The sentence diagram in Figure 1 makes the following clear: the participle δικαιούμενοι (present passive, from δικαιόω, “who are being justified”) is directly connected to the subject of the main clause, πάντες (“all”). I’ll come back to this in a moment. The main verbs of the passage are those in verse 23, so this is the primary point being made: we “sinned” (aorist, or simple past tense) and “are falling short of” or “are lacking” (present tense) the glory of God. It is important to note that the verb for “sinned” (from ἁμαρτάνω) is in the aorist tense, which is the basic, workhorse past tense in the Greek language. English translations are not wrong to render this in the perfect tense (“have sinned”), but it may be that Paul is just making a general statement (based on the quotations from the Psalms in 3:10–20) that we “sinned.” The second verb, ὑστεροῦνται, is present tense, so it denotes a current, ongoing state, but as we will see, it is one that is being reversed by the justification taking place at the same time.

Before offering my translation, however, I need to deal with the participle δικαιούμενοι. This is a present passive participle, which generally means the action is going on at the same time as the main verb(s). But with one main verb past tense and the other present, which is it? My decision is admittedly theological, but because I believe that salvation is not just a “one-and-done” event, but a lifelong process that includes sanctification and justification, I would argue that we are currently being justified because we currently lack the full glory of God. Our salvation, although effective at whatever stage of spiritual growth we are at, is not “full and complete” until we stand before our Maker. The phrase that follows this participle modifies (or is an extended adjective of) the word for “all”. If I rearrange the word order slightly, the passage has a very different nuance to it in English: “For all who are being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came through Messiah Jesus sinned and are lacking the glory of God.” (I should note in Romans 5:1, δικαιόω is an aorist participle, but that does not mean the process is done, necessarily, only that the process of justification precedes the peace that we have with God as a result.)

Comparison to Ephesians 2:8

So what does all this heady grammatical talk have to do with living the Christian life? In order to help make a little more sense of things, I want to bring Ephesians 2:8 into the mix. As you will see in Table 1 below, Ephesians 2:8 is actually a parallel passage to Romans 3:24, with one revealing comparison. Ephesians 2:8 says: τῇ γὰρ χάριτί ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι διὰ πίστεως καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν, θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον·tē gar chariti este sesōsmenoi dia pisteōs kai touto ouk ex humōn, theou to dōron, “For it is by this grace you are being saved through faithfulness, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God.”

Table 1: Comparing Ephesians 2:8 with Romans 3:24

Romans 3:24

Ephesians 2:8


are being justified

ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι

are being saved

δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι

freely by his grace

τῇ γὰρ χάριτί… θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον

by this grace… it is the gift of God

διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ

through the redemption which [is] in Messiah Jesus

διὰ πίστεως καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν

through faithfulness, and this not from yourselves

I am guessing that most of you were able to follow the first two comparisons between the verses. Being justified and being saved, while not strictly synonymous legally or technically, essentially represent the restoration of our relationship with God. The second pair about grace is straightforward enough. It is the third pair that tends to raise people’s hackles, because most of us have been taught that it is through our “faith” that we are saved. But the word for faith in Greek, πίστις, can also mean “faithfulness.” But whose faithfulness is it, really? If there is anything to the comparison, then the faithfulness is not ours (“this salvation by grace through faith is not from yourselves”), but it is the faithfulness of Jesus to go to the cross and purchase our redemption. Not convinced? Look at Romans 3:25, where Paul uses the identical phrase from Ephesians 2:8: ὃν προέθετο ὁ θεὸς ἱλαστήριον διὰ [τῆς] πίστεως ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι hon proetheto ho theos hilastērion dia [tēs] pisteōs en tō autou haimati, “whom [Jesus] God presented as an atoning sacrifice through the faithfulness in his blood” (emphasis mine).

Suppose for a moment that this faith is ours: How much faith do I need to be saved? We know faith is quantifiable, because Jesus talked about having faith the size of a mustard seed, while in Hebrews 11, the faith of the saints who have gone before us is exemplified in numerous ways. If it is our faith, then salvation by “our” faith becomes a relative statement, not an absolute. If it is relative, then we can get caught up in asking ourselves if we have enough faith, but simply asking that question denies the grace aspect of salvation. It’s a gift: we can’t earn it; it’s not dependent on the quantity of our faith. But if this faithfulness refers to the sacrifice of a perfect savior, then the statement becomes absolute, and we never have any reason to question the amount of faith we have relative to the state of our salvation.

Faith, Works, and Salvation

This is not to deny the importance of our own faith and trust in Jesus, however. Our own faith or trust in Jesus is not so much for the purpose of being saved but the result of being saved. Because we know God is with us, because we know God has our back, because we know we have the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we can “walk in the good works that God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). We show our faith by the fruit we bear (Matthew 7:15–20; John 15:1–16; Romans 7:4). We demonstrate our faith by what we do (Romans 4; James 2:14–26).

We hear much about faith and salvation, but I think there is an equal, if not greater emphasis on “confession” or “profession” in many salvation passages. Now I do not here mean only confession of sins (see, for example, 1 John 1:9). In Matthew 16:16, Peter declares his belief that Jesus is the Messiah, a confession that is made by many new Christians before joining a congregation or getting immersed (at least in our own Restoration Movement congregations). In Acts 2:38, the would-be converts had to repent, which essentially meant renouncing their old lifestyles, and make the public statement of being immersed. Romans 10:9–10 speaks of confessing (or “professing”) that Jesus is Lord. Toward the end of Ephesians 6, Paul asks for prayers that he might boldly profess Christ, and in the opening chapter of Romans, he says, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.”

Romans 3:23–24 is a beautiful passage that says God doesn’t give up on us just because we sinned. God continues his work of justification in us in spite of our shortcomings (see also Romans 4:5, 17; 5:6–10). We don’t have to perfect ourselves first; we just need to let God do the perfecting.


Scott Stocking

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