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Rom 4:25—Christ’s Death and Our Justification (Monday with Mounce 65)

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Monday With Mounce buttonPrepositions can be nasty things. Part of the problem is that the meaning of some can be quite fluid, hard to nail down. But the advantage of prepositions is exactly the same; they are fluid and can often mean many different things.

 

Then add to this the hermeneutics of rhetoric. When you read poetry, or when words are begin chosen not only for their meaning but also the rhetorical effect, the meanings of words can become stretched.

 

And then just to complicate words further, if there is a possibility that the author is quoting something, then you have to take into account the original author’s intent, and how the quoting author uses words has less significance relative to the word’s meaning. This is why seminaries have courses in hermeneutics.

 

Take, for example, Rom 4:25. Speaking of Jesus, Paul says he “was delivered up for (δια) our trespasses and raised for (δια) our justification.” What does δια mean? Does it have to mean the same thing in both places? Should it necessarily be translated the same way in both places?

 

The second question is a little easier to answer: it depends on your translation philosophy. There obviously is a strong play on words going on; the two halves of the verse are strongly parallel. The rhetorical value of translating δια the same way is strong, even if it doesn’t have the same exact meaning in both phrases. Even the TNIV, with its strong emphasis on translating meaning, keeps the same translation for both halves: “for our sins … for our justification.”

 

But the first question is harder. Some scholars argue that this is a pre-Pauline hymn being quoted — but I have never been impressed with this type of argument. It seems that whenever Paul states something in a parallel structure, the argument is made that he must be quoting something, as if Paul were not able to write with rhetorical force.

 

But a stronger argument can be made that his words here reflect the truths of Isaiah 53, especially the LXX of v 12 (and perhaps the LXX of v 11). So what effect does this possible connection have on our understanding of 4:25?

 

The first phrase makes normal sense. “Was delivered” is a divine passive; God the Father handed over his Son to be crucified because of our sins (see Rom 8:32). δια is looking back at the cross.

 

But as Moo points out (see his commentary, pp. 288-290), it is a strange thing to say “that our justification was in some sense a cause of Jesus’ resurrection.” After discussion Moo concludes that the second δια has a forward-pointing reference (he uses the terms “retrospective” and “prospective”), and concludes, “he was handed over because of our trespasses [e.g., because we are sinners], and raised for the sake of our justification [e.g., in order to secure our justification]” (289).

 

Just because the same word is used in parallelism does not mean it must bear exactly the same meaning; that’s just not how words work. What a translator hope for is that he or she can find an English word that conveys both nuanced meanings of the original. “For” does this in English.

 

“Who killed Jesus?” John Piper concludes that it was the choice of a sovereign Father God who handed his willing Son over to the cross, because it was the only way to deal with our sins. In doing so, Jesus’ death provided the means for us to be justified by faith. A good reminder for upcoming Easter.

 

Mounce

William D. [Bill] Mounce posts every Monday about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greekand is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at www.billmounce.com.

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