Body Language in Romans, Pt. 2

I wrote yesterday that Paul’s narrative of the human body from corruption to transformation is a subtext of Romans.  It serves his analysis of the situation in the Roman church and supports his argument that no group has any basis to judge another.  Because bodies have been hijacked by the cosmic power of Sin, ethnic distinctions based on bodily practices (e.g., those that constitute an ethnic identity) don’t fix the problem and therefore don’t give Jewish Christians any basis for boasting.

Human rebellion has resulted in human bodies being given over to dishonor (Rom. 1:24), and bodies being hijacked and dominated by Sin (Rom. 3:13-18).

God’s solution in Christ addresses precisely this problem.

[God sent] his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin; he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:3-4).

Jesus took on our fallen condition, entering the human drama as a body hijacked and dominated by Sin (“sinful flesh”).  In his death, he defeated the entity called “sin in the flesh,” so that all those who are in Christ can be empowered to glorify God as bodies—and as a corporate body.

In light of this, Paul then calls on the Roman church to present their bodies (plural) as a living sacrifice (singular) to God for proper embodied worship (Rom. 12:1-2).  And this worship is a renewed set of corporate practices that embody the unity of the formerly divided groups in the Roman church (Rom. 12-15).

The narrative of the body finds climactic resolution in Rom. 15:5-7.  Paul again makes reference to a body part in his climactic statement:

Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice [literally, “tongue”] glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.

Human bodies were hijacked by Sin and corrupted by dishonor.  Embodied faithfulness to God glorifies God, as Paul notes with Abraham.  For the Roman Christians, then, embodied practices of unity as a corporate body glorify God.

The implications of this for Christian theology and practice are pretty huge, but I’ll wait to draw those out in another post.

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6 responses to “Body Language in Romans, Pt. 2

  • Terry Wilder

    Thank you for this. I think I already know what you’re going to say in your next post because I’ve been teaching these things regarding unity in the body for years. I’m glad to see that others are as well. Blessings!

  • David Westfall (@BearWFoolish)

    Thanks for this. It’s helpful to hear some of your ways of putting it, as I’ve been thinking about the nature of the atonement lately, and have been reading through T.F. Torrance’s recently published lectures (2 vols, “Incarnation” and “Atonement”), which hammer home repeatedly a lot of the same points you are making. Tannehill’s edited dissertation “Dying and Rising With Christ” has also been a great deal of help to me. I’m honestly both astonished and frustrated as I’ve studied this topic—astonished, on the one hand, because what Paul is talking about is truly glorious. The God of Israel gives us his Son, to take our sinful flesh upon himself and to exhaust sin’s power over it by his death, and justifies him (and us with him) in the resurrection, fills us with his Spirit to be rescued from sin’s dominion in our flesh and to be incorporated into a forgiven and renewed people, in whom the age of new creation has already begun by faith. Hallelujah!

    But then, I find myself frustrated over how deeply we have failed in our various traditions (my own included) to really “get” this. It seems like the demise of eschatology in the early centuries of the church has led to our inevitably bending this whole idea out of shape. We’ve splintered the cross into a bunch of different atonement theories, each and every one of which are preserved in Paul’s understanding of this singular Christ Event. Christus Victor, Penal Substitution, Satisfaction, Moral Influence, and what have you—they all have their best insights preserved here in what Paul is saying, but not in a way that totalizes one aspect to the excluding (or ignoring) of others, nor in a way that makes God look like a moral monster. I’m just eager to see the church really appropriating this more in the years to come, not least because I think it furnishes us with a rock solid basis of unity that has traditionally not been there in our theology.

    • timgombis

      Thanks for this, David. It is indeed tragic that all of our traditions have managed to cut ourselves off from the life-giving renewal of the Scriptures by muffling various aspects of it for various reasons. It’s a challenge to return repeatedly to the text to be transformed in our minds and shaped and re-shaped by it. That’s what Paul’s letter was designed to do, actually!

  • Timothy Gombis on Paul’s Letter to the Romans | Imagine with Scripture

    […] Body language in Romans, Part 2 Body language in Romans, Part 3 Paul sends Abraham to Rome Justifying the “ungodly” […]

  • Timothy Gombis on Paul’s Letter to the Romans | Imagine with Scripture

    […] Body language in Romans, Part 2 Body language in Romans, Part 3 Paul sends Abraham to Rome Justifying the “ungodly” […]

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