N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 56 (slaves of righteousness)

dayrevolutionbegan

N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.

Romans 6:15-18

Paul next shifts gears, only slightly, to speak in terms of the slave market. This fits well, of course, with the Exodus metaphor Paul works within.

(Rom. 6:15 NET)  15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not! 

Notice that Paul is now speaking of law (Torah) as though it were Sin and Death. Up to this point, he’d only argued that baptism moves us from the rule of Sin and Death to the rule of Jesus. But now his argument assumes that being under the Torah is to be under Sin and Death.

(Rom. 6:16-18 NET)  16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness?  17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to,  18 and having been freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness. 

Paul next assumes, quite surprisingly, that we’re going to be someone’s slaves. You’ve got serve somebody.

This results in the astonishing statement, “having been freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.” I mean, I’d sure rather be enslaved to righteousness than Sin and Death, but I thought Paul was talking about how to be free! (He’ll get there shortly.)

So Paul says we’re either slaves to Sin and Death or else to obedience, producing righteousness. Then he says we’re enslaved to “righteousness.” Now, Paul had just said that the Torah produces Sin and Death — and so how is obedience better? I mean, if we don’t obey God’s law, what do we obey?

Also confusing is “from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to.” We understand the importance of obeying from the heart. In fact, this surely goes back to the end of chapter 2, where Paul speaks of circumcision of the heart by the Spirit.

The “pattern of teaching” is not the “teaching of a pattern,” contrary to much Church of Christ misinterpretation. You can’t change the word order just to win a debate.

This could even be the baptismal confession itself, since the affirmation that Jesus is Lord, and that God raised him from the dead (cf. 10:9), is so clearly germane to what he is saying at this very point. … Dunn’s suggestion, that by “the pattern of teaching” Paul is referring to Jesus Christ himself, nearly amounts to the same thing, but the phraseology of the verse points more to a particular teaching, such as we find in baptismal contexts in other letters (e.g., Col 3:1–17), than to the person of Jesus himself.

What is more, instead of speaking of the teaching being given to them, he says that they were “handed over” to the teaching; something about the passivity of baptism may be reflected here, as the candidate submits to the dying and rising of the Messiah and acknowledges his lordship. This would then fit with the fresh meaning proposed by Gagnon on the basis of parallels in Hellenistic Judaism: “the imprint stamped by teaching, to which (imprint) you were handed over.”

N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in The Acts of the Apostles-The First Letter to the Corinthians, vol. 10 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 545.

So let’s take another look at the passage with this in mind.

(Rom. 6:15-18 NET) 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law [Torah] but under grace? Absolutely not!  16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of [Sin] resulting in [Death, with no hope of immortality], or obedience [to King Jesus] resulting in righteousness [being considered faithful to the covenant] 17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to [Sin], you obeyed [King Jesus] from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to [when you were baptized, that is, your commitment to live as Jesus lived],  18 and having been freed from [Sin], you became enslaved to righteousness [faithfulness to the covenant].

Paul is speaking primarily to Jewish Christians, here, because the Gentiles never transitioned from Law (Torah) to grace. This is uniquely Jewish. But the conclusions apply to all Christians.

I assume that “obedience” is a reference to obeying Jesus as Lord and Messiah (confirmed, I believe, by the first few verses of chapter 7). I use “King Jesus” to emphasize the true meaning of “Christ” and to stay within Paul’s theme of serving someone with dominion over you.

What command did we obey when were slaves to Sin? Well, the command to believe in Jesus, that is, the confession that we all make to receive baptism. This includes faithfulness or loyalty to Jesus as a part of “faith.” We confess, according to Rom 10:9, that “Jesus is Lord,” which implies an obligation of obedience.

The word translated “pattern” is typos, which in Paul usually means “example” (1 Cor. 10:6; Phil. 3:17; 1 Thess. 1:7; 2 Thess. 3:9; 1 Tim. 4:12; Tit. 2:7). Therefore, I agree with Dunn that Paul is referring to obedience to a person, Jesus, rather than a rulebook, the essence of which is following his example. That is, the “pattern [example] of teaching you were entrusted to” is Jesus and our commitment to follow him by living as he lived.

In chapter 3, Paul extols the “faithfulness of Jesus Christ” — his covenant faithfulness — and so it makes perfect sense to refer to a Christian as becoming obedient to covenant faithfulness. This makes us like Jesus and like God — surely the patterns we are to obey.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in N. T. Wright's The Day the Revolution Began, N. T. Wright's The Day the Revolution Began, Romans, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply