Body Language in Romans, Pt. 1

Paul writes quite a bit about bodies in Romans, both the human body and “the body” of gathered Christians in Rome.

“Body” language pops up throughout the letter, and in some very interesting places.  One could even argue that at the subtextual level, Paul narrates the journey of the human body from corruption to transformation.

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Paul begins his argument by noting that all humanity has become corrupted in their orientation.  Human rebellion against God—refusal to honor God and give thanks—has brought about dishonorable bodily behavior (Rom. 1:24).

In the climax of this section on the universality of human sinfulness, Paul cites Scriptural texts that mention body parts hijacked by Sin for misuse (Rom. 3:13-18):

Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,
The poison of asps is under their lips;
Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness;
Their feet are swift to shed blood,
Destruction and misery are in their paths,
And the path of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes. 

The fundamental human predicament, therefore, is that human bodies have been hijacked by Sin.

After noting how God has acted to set things right in Rom. 3:21-31, Paul cites Abraham to speak of human faithfulness that rightly orients the human toward God.

In doing so, he speaks of Abraham’s conduct in the body.

When Abraham received the promise from God that Sarah and he would have a child, he didn’t weaken in his faith (Rom. 4:19).  It would have been understandable if he did.  After all, Abraham received this promise when he was about one hundred years old—not exactly prime childbearing years!  And Sarah was about ninety.

It’s no wonder that Sarah laughed when she heard this (Gen. 18:12)—such news is indeed laughable when you’re 90!

To explain the radical character of biblical faith as believing God’s promise in the face of what seems impossible, Paul makes explicit—if impolite—reference to Abraham’s embodied behavior.

Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God (Rom. 4:19-20).

Adam and Eve failed to rightly “image” or glorify God and suffered the consequences of bodies hijacked by Sin.  Abraham epitomizes genuine faith in God, being rightly oriented to God in his body, thus glorifying God—imaging God rightly.

For next post: How Paul articulates God’s solution (hint: Jesus Christ did something bodily, affecting bodies and the corporate body, so that Christians might reconceive how to use their bodies and participate in the body).

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