Lectionary Reflection—25 June 2017
Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? Absolutely not! If we’ve died to sin, how can we still live in it? Or don’t you know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we’ve been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life.
For if we’ve become united with him in the likeness of his death, we’ll certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection. We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.)
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we’ll also live with him. We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, he’s never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over him. For the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
While there is so many good things we could talk about in this passage (I mean, come on, resurrection!), I want to focus on verse 10, “For the death (Jesus) died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.” I’ll admit this verse can be trouble. Here are a few different translations of it:
Common English Bible: He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life.
Contemporary English Version: When Christ died, he died for sin once and for all. But now he is alive, and he lives only for God.
English Standard Version: For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.
Good News Translation: And so, because he died, sin has no power over him; and now he lives his life in fellowship with God.
Lexham English Bible: For that death he died, he died to sin once and never again, but that life he lives, he lives to God.
New American Bible (Revised Edition): As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God.
New King James Version: For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.
New Revised Standard Version: The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
Here’s the passage in Greek:2
ὃ γὰρ ἀπέθανεν, τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ ἀπέθανεν ἐφάπαξ· ὃ δὲ ζῇ, ζῇ τῷ θεῷ.
Here’s the transliteration:3
ho - gar - apethanen - tē - hamartia - apethanen - ephapax - ho - de - zē - zē - tō - Theō.
Here’s the translation:4
that - for - he died - the - sin - he died - once for all (once; all at once) - that - moreover - he lives - he lives - the - God.
And here’s my poor rendering:
“For [the death] he died to (the) sin, he died once for all; moreover, [the life] which he lives, he lives to (the) God.”
The word in question is ἐφάπαξ (ephapax). It’s used only 5 times in the New Testament—Romans 6.10; Hebrews 7.27; 9.12; 10.10; and 1 Corinthians 15.6. As an adverb, ἐφάπαξ means “once” or “at once” (as in a total payment, “all at once”). So, you can see that any of the ways it’s been translated above is acceptable (except for the Good News Translation). But what’s Paul getting at? Is he saying that Jesus died “all at once” or “once for all”? And if it’s “once for all” does that mean for “all people” or for “all time”?
It seems that the only time “all at once” seems appropriate is in 1 Corinthians 15.6 were Paul is talking about Jesus appearing to over 500 people after his resurrection. In the other four passages, “once for all” seems the better translation.
In the three passages from Hebrews, the writer is contrasting Jesus’ death to the blood sacrifices made by the Old Covenant priests. Those sacrifices were made every year whereas Jesus only needed to die once. So, in those places ἐφάπαξ could easily mean “once for all” time, meaning his death doesn’t need to be repeated.5
But here in Romans 6, Paul isn’t talking about the sacrificial system nor the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection. He’s been talking about the universality of sin and grace, of death and life.
While his primary audience were the non-Jews (Gentiles) following Jesus in Rome (1.5-6, 13-14), this whole letter is a universal call to both Jews and non-Jews. In the first chapter, Paul stated that God’s righteousness and justice was being revealed to all people (1.15-19). He stated that creation itself reveals God’s “invisible qualities” to all people so that no one has an excuse (vv. 20ff).
In chapter 2, Paul shows that, just like everyone else, the Jews, too, were without an excuse (2.12ff), even though there was tremendous merit and blessing afforded to the Jews (3.1-4).
In chapter 3, Paul famously states that all people are “under the power of sin” (3.9-20) and “fall short of God’s glory” (v. 23). But all people are now treated as righteous because of the work of Christ (v. 24ff). God, then, is the god of all people (3.29ff).
In chapter 4, Paul shows that faith is universal because Abraham had trust in God before any laws were given to him.
In chapter 5, Paul shows that just as death ruled over all people, life now rules over all people. He goes on to say that all people have been made righteous by the faithfulness of Christ (5.1ff).
As we can see, the context of Paul’s arguments have been about “all people.” Therefore, I think his meaning of the word ἐφάπαξ in Romans 6.10 is that Christ died “once for all” people. As he wrote in the previous chapter:
Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.…So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5.18, 21; NLT6).
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
1. Scripture quotations marked (NET) are taken from the New English Translation. Copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.
2. There are different Greek texts available online. This is the Greek New Testament (USB5) from the academic-bible.com web site.
5. “All at once” might work here as a contrast to the other sacrifices continuing annually. If those sacrifices were seen as payment toward some kind of debt, then Jesus’ death could be seen as paying the remainder of the debt “in full” or “all at once.” That is, there’s nothing left to pay; Jesus paid it all.
6. Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from The Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.