Lectionary Year A
June 23, 2002
Step IV: Context
A. Primitive Christianity
(JFC) Early Christians surely must have had questions similar to ours, re: sin,
baptism, death, Christ's death's significance for them/us, etc. So, we might guess Paul's addressing these subjects in this paragraph and this whole epistle must have gained their appreciation as much as it must have enlightened and inspired them. Colossians 3:3 paraphrases the transformation of life hidden with Christ in God after having died. I Peter 4:1 proclaims that suffering in the flesh finishes having to deal with sin. Paul states in Galatians 3:27, "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ", yet another figurative way of trying to make comprehendible what he is saying in our text at hand. See also Galatians 2:19 and 3:26ff. Paul addresses the idea of "newness" of all things that have replaced all that was old for "anyone (who) is in Christ", in II Corinthians 5:17. Verses 15-17 of that chapter speak to these ideas, too. In Mark 10:35-40, when James and John requested seating in privileged positions in Christ's glory, He told them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to be . . . baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" Here our Lord seems to be emphasizing more than a request is required for the baptism with Him and/or the living with Him and/or the new life. Colossians 2:12f veritably repeats Romans 6:4, perhaps that most significant of all sentences in this passage. I Peter 1:3 seems to give a little more data, re: the new life; it will have a "living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead". Ephesians 4:22ff say it yet a little differently still, "You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed by the spirit in your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." Acts 13:16fff report, Paul's sermon in the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia, where, in verse 39 he proclaims, "by this Jesus every one who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses." I Peter 3:18 echoes Romans 6:10b. II Corinthians 5:15 also succinctly states what this passage ends by saying, re: Christ's once for all death enables all humans to stop living for themselves/ourselves rather to do so for the risen Christ.
B. Old Testament and Judaism
(JFC) Old Testament people were concerned about life and death, living and dieing
and sinning and getting delivered from sins' blights. As well, they, more than we in our modern, relatively comfortable, convenient and healthy days, had some concerns for what even in their age was called "new life". So, this paragraph in Paul's letter to the Romans would speak their language, the images could communicate some of the mysteries of their concerns to be sure. IV Maccabees asserts that the pietists who rely on religious reason for the mastery of their passions, "like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, do not die to God, but live to God."
C. Hellenistic World
(JFC) The Hellenists viewed baptism as an initiation-sacrament. They favored group
building and maintaining. Baptism was an inclusivistic celebration, which meant much to these Greeks. They idolized both freedom and especially freedom from physical/bodily constraints. They could imagine that death could be a positive experience at least in that it brings an end to being held by concrete limitations like height, weight, energy level, etc. For them, when the soul gets separated from the body a new style of existence is availed to the ethical righteous even though deceased. So, dying to sin, which the body commits, is highly desirable for these philosophers. And, living a "new life" must be the most desirable of all states of being either in life or in death.
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