The Significance of the Death and the Resurrection of Christ as Related in Romans 5:8-6:11

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By John Tuttle, Benedictine College

Between the fifth and sixth chapters of the Letter to the Romans, Paul the Apostle lays down one of the most thoroughly fleshed-out biblical presentations of the pinnacle of Christian theology: the work of salvation. This paper serves as an examination of Romans 5:8 through 6:11, and argues that the selected passage displays the core beliefs regarding Jesus Christ as Savior and Redeemer. Progressing through the Pauline discussional elements of sin, suffering, sanctification, and salvation, both the significance of Christ and the implications of these elements for his followers will be addressed. All Scriptural quotes are taken from the Revised Standard Version.

The given passage opens with a concise encapsulation of the story of salvation, which then gets expounded upon in the verses to follow. Romans 5:8-11 underscore God’s mercy and the salvific action of Christ on earth. As verses 8-9 iterate, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” As Pope Benedict XVI has pointed out, the theme of the New Testament in its entirety is grounded in the figure and fruitful works of Jesus Christ – that his sacrificial death redeems humanity which sits in its spiritually damaged, or fallen, state. “The real novelty of the New Testament,” he writes, “lies not so much in new ideas as in the figure of Christ himself, who gives flesh and blood to those concepts…This divine activity [seen throughout the Old Testament] now takes on dramatic form when, in Jesus Christ, it is God himself who goes in search of the ‘stray sheep,’ a suffering and lost humanity.”¹

It is this dejected but not wholly abandoned “suffering and lost humanity” which comes up repeatedly in this section by Paul. Man must rise from this undesirable state, rooted in the original sin of Adam. As Romans already told us, it is Christ who brings humanity out of this deplorable state, “while we were yet sinners.” And again, in 5:10: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” This passage likewise reflects the salvific importance of the Son and his ultimate sacrifice – made out of divine love – the message of which is also found in John 3:16-17:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

Similarly, it is a teleological emphasis on the love of God and that humanity “might be saved through him.” As Romans 5:11 relates, man’s joy comes through Christ, the Son of God, “through whom we have now received our reconciliation.” The Christian identification of “reconciliation” stands as the “act or state of re-establishing friendship between God and a human being, or between two persons. Reconciliation with God is necessary after a person has lost the divine friendship through grievous sin.”Hence, reconciliation carries with it a connotation of regaining a good standing before God, of being put once again into a state of grace.3

Paul doubles down on establishing the need for Christ in his salvific capacity. As Pope Benedict XVI observed, within the context of New Testament writings by and large, “the figure of Christ himself” plays a pivotal and unifying role. As we will see, it is in part by his fulfillment of Torah promises and types that he becomes the perfect sacrifice for redeeming all of humanity from Adam’s sin. While Paul has punctuated the necessity of Christ, he now transitions into the deeper theology revolving around it.

In the following verses, comprising the remainder of the fifth chapter, Paul juxtaposes Adam and Jesus Christ. In verse 12, we are told that sin and death entered the world via one man, that all men have since sinned, and that sin permeated humanity long “before the law was given.” Moreover, we read in the next verse that sin was “not counted” in absence of the as-yet-ungiven law of God. We might suggest the sin not counted refers to humanity’s response to God’s love, or lack of any response at all, while God still judged the people – as exemplified by numerous pre-Mosaic accounts throughout the Old Testament. (For example, the great flood of Noah’s day is explained in Genesis 6:5-7 as occurring because “the wickedness of man was great in the earth.”) While verse 13’s mention of the law can often be taken in a general sense (beyond the law of Moses) by readers of the text, “the context makes it quite clear that Torah is what Paul has in mind.”4  Regardless, The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters suggests there exists a trifecta of arguments which Paul presents for law’s identification and condemnation of sin. These being that: a) the law informs humanity of what constitutes sinful activity, b) it sheds light on the heinous nature of sin, and c) it brings the wrath of God in his judgment, which can be seen in the plentiful consequences set up for those who break the Torah.5

In Romans 5:14a, we read death “reigned from Adam to Moses.” In its immediate context, this punctuates the fact that the Torah, the Mosaic law, did not reign in the intermittent time frame between the sin of the first man and the establishment of the Mosaic covenant on Mount Sinai. Rather, sin did. This period is not only marked by a lack of law but, of necessity, also showcases a long line of failure among the people God loved – both as his creation (all the world) and as individual spokespersons, who failed in living righteously and obeying God’s Will from the get-go. Adam, Canaan, even Moses and beyond…to David, Solomon, Jonah, and others: all failed God in some way, whether seemingly great or minute. The latter half of verse 14 relates that Adam “was a type of the one who was to come.” Jesus, who is the one to come, is then the antitype of Adam, the first man and the one whose actions permitted sin to come into the world. And in a deeper sense, it is Jesus who will not only overturn the sin of our first biological father but who will also overturn the long record of failings on the part of God’s Old Testament servants.

Now, while Paul puts forward that through Adam all men have come to sin, it is not articulated here or in the proceeding verses as to how that specifically is the case. Biblical scholar William D. Davies offers three possible interpretations of Paul’s use of Adam as the root of vice. The apostolic author might wish to suggest that Adam as an individual is the direct cause of the sinful actions of the rest of the human race. Holding such a view maintains the perception that it was Adam’s blood, his biological essence, that allotted for the sinfulness of his offspring. A second possible interpretation puts forward the idea that Paul means to associate Adam’s original sin affecting his environment (via his own sin), which then, in turn, would have a malevolent effect on future generations. Davies passes both these suggestions by, moving straight ahead to his preferred destination of the third option. Lastly and triumphantly, there arises the notion that Paul describes Adam and his action in this way so as to employ Adam as “a figure who represents all men.”6 This also makes a good deal of sense philologically, as Adam may be translated literally as man. Davies throws in his lot with this proposal, and it fits nicely beside Benedict XVI heralding “the figure of Christ himself” as the premise and foundation for the whole New Testament, while the Old was the continuing story of Adam and his descendants. In contrast to the first man, Christ becomes the firstborn of virtue – raising humanity from the moral rut that the first man and his sin had gotten us into. Christ becomes a “New Adam” of sorts, succeeding where the former man faltered and redeeming humanity.7

Adam might not be the only type (“a biblical person, thing, action, or event that foreshadows new truths, new actions, or new events”8) to Christ we can extrapolate from this segment of Romans. The key to this proposed extension in typology may be found in the phrase saying that “death reigned from Adam to Moses.” As the more developed Adamic typology can be drawn up via contrast, a Mosaic typology that finds fulfillment in Christ is better executed through the lens of comparison. Both John 1 and Hebrews 3 compare Jesus to Moses, in his activity and in his faithfulness, respectively. Hence, it is not too far of a stretch to suggest there is a Mosaic typology at work here in Romans 5 as well.

In Christian consciousness, an association of Jesus with the figure of Moses has long been perceived. Many of the proclamations and actions of Christ mirror and perfect what his Old Testament precursor did for God’s chosen people. The miraculous feeding of the five thousand in the “deserted place” reflects God’s gift of manna to the Israelites while wandering in the “wilderness.” The element of fish in this Christocentric miracle might also harken back to the reference of fish for eating in Numbers 11.9

While a host of activities in Christ’s own life harken back to what Moses did for the Israelites, some of the primary notes of comparison rest on leading people out of bondage and establishing new covenants: both Moses and Christ share these similar peaks in their respective missions. For Moses, this included the iconic exit from Egypt, in which he (led by the strong arm of God) guided the Israelites from physical bondage into a space that was conducive to authentic worship of the one God. Through Moses, God bestowed the law to his people. Similarly, Christ’s mission entails noticeable signs of Mosaic restoration and fulfillment. Jesus, by his teaching and sacrifice, showed himself to be the Way. The exodus from spiritual slavery, from sin itself, comes through Jesus. And once again, in the figure of Christ, we see the institution of divine law: the commandments of love.10 In his ministry, Christ deepens the spiritual and conscientious dimensions of religiosity. He perfects a movement in the public mindset from a deontological, or duty-oriented, perspective of morality to a teleological one, in which by reflection an action is ethically evaluated based on the purpose behind doing it.11 Christ invites his audience to reflect on their own sins and to seek forgiveness, perfected via reconciliation with God. And this, Paul tells us, becomes readily available in Christ. 

Romans 5:15 discusses the “free gift,” which Paul connects with “the grace of that one man Jesus Christ.” The gift is “not like the trespass.” The trespass is the great act of Adam, which implies the cosmic repercussions of the Fall, thrusting humanity into a history of sinful acts. Contra this trespass now stands the gift offered by Christ, the great act with its own set of cosmic ramifications, which in turn lead to the trailblazing way of virtue via grace. The “free gift” spoken of here refers to Christ’s redeeming and salvific act of dying (and rising as later noted). This gift of grace is free in a sense because Christ took sin upon himself and sacrificed his very life: the bloody sacrifice to atone for sin.12 Our role, by comparison, is simpler. Christ truly died for us in order to save us from sin, the bondage we ourselves could not break free of. It is through his salvific and sacerdotal act (providing us this free gift in grace) that we can once again become reconciled with God – as Paul strained earlier in chapter 5. Paul expounds in contrasting the trespass and the gift in the following two consecutive verses:

“And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

One of the primary differences Paul showcases between these opposite acts seems to be that the latter reverses or undoes the former. Christ’s saving act differs in that it overturns the sin of Adam and the whole long history of neglecting to give due honor and obedience to God. Christ the King, who preaches the “kingdom of God” frequently throughout his public ministry, does not intend to establish a mortal, worldly kingdom. As he tells Pontius Pilate in John 18:36, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.” The kingdom of God is the fullness of justice. Hence, the royal reign through Christ is rooted in righteousness and grace. Furthermore, Paul here presents a picture for a changed life – one altered for the better. As he also echoes in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Christ’s action ushers in newness of life. This is the “life for all men” Paul speaks of in Romans 5:18. Moreover, the inspired author tells us in verse 19 that, contra the disobedience of Adam, Christ displays obedience, by which “many will be made righteous.” Jesus’s greatest exercise in obedience was the abandonment of his human will to that of God the Father for the trial that lay ahead of him in the Passion. As the lips of Christ himself profess in Mark 14:36, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; remove this chalice from me; yet not what I will, but what you will.” This is the obedience of the Son to the Father, and it is in direct connection with Christ’s self-sacrificial act which redeems Adam and his offspring.

In Romans 5:20, we are informed that “Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…” That is to say, the law instituted by God showed the moral disparity of the fallen human state – even among God’s chosen people – but that where there once was grave sin, we have now been given an abundance of grace. Whereas sin increased amid the progress of human history, Christ offers us sufficient grace to overcome our weaknesses. The passage does not imply that more sin is the cause of a greater reinforcement of grace. Rather, as Paul eventually details, it is through the all-important activity of the Messiah that a reign of grace may enter into people’s lives.13 Grace came to power “so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:21). Grace is made available for our benefit. By instilling righteousness, a right relationship with God, grace benefits us further as it leads us to everlasting life.

As Paul transitions into the next “chapter,” as designated by post scriptural development, his focus begins to veer off toward the Resurrection, of which Christ’s sacrificial death was a necessary cornerstone building up to that glorious fulfillment. Chapter 6 begins with several queries regarding Christian morality that Paul is quick to answer. 6:1 asks, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” In verses 2 and 3, he retorts – with his last question being mainly rhetorical, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” This idea takes center stage in this segment. As Christians, we are not looking at the sum of Jesus’s doctrines as if he were any other philosopher. We are called to devotion, to adhering to Christ as a person and as God – not just as another ethical teacher whose ideologies we can selectively hold or disregard. We partake in the way of life – and death – and, hence, new life of Christ.

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death,” Paul says in 6:4, “so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” William Davies once again comes to our aid by shedding light on the sacramental depth that this connection with Christ holds for Paul and that it should, in turn, hold for all Christians. “’In Christ’ Paul re-enacted the death and resurrection of Jesus,” Davies writes. “How deep this concept of dying and rising with Jesus was in his thought appears from his treatment of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism, the rite by which a person generally entered the Church, signified the going into death with Jesus and rising with him…”14 The attention Paul gives once more to Christ’s death coupled with His Resurrection shows how significant these actions are for salvation. As article 168 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “It is through the Church that we receive faith and new life in Christ by Baptism.”15

In 6:5, the inspired author delivers assurance of resurrection in Christ “if we have been united with him in a death like his.” While this is a hopeful passage, the language is also suggestive of the notion that following Christ is accompanied with pain and trials. From here, Paul returns briefly and subtly to the Adamic comparison of Jesus.

The “former man” discussed in verse 6 that is crucified with Christ is that fallen state of humanity brought about by Adam’s lack of faithfulness. The scholar Karl Hermann Schelkle writes, “The first Adam was of the earth, and remained earthly. Although he too became a living man by means of the divine breath, he remained, nevertheless, shackled to the earth. His physical life too was temporal. Christ, the second Adam, is descended from heaven, and he brought the divine spirit, which is productive of the true and continuing life.”16 Here we see clearly the contrast of an extraordinary life delivered by Christ and the former “shackled” life of sinful humanity. This leads into verses 7-8, where we read, “For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” Christ’s saving action frees us from the “shackled” state of slavery to sin, and in its place Christ offers the new life that comes after His death and life lived freely. Verse 9 informs the reader of Scripture that, since Christ died and was raised again, He cannot die again. Rather, He has subdued sin and death, which no longer reign over humanity. Christ is the new Adam, the new King Who exercises dominion over creation.17 In 6:10, Paul writes, “The death he [Christ] died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.” Christ’s life becomes a model for the lives of the faithful. It is this very chord that Paul inevitably strikes in verse 11, in which he commends his readers to conform themselves to Christ’s way of life: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” In other words, if we are to be alive in Christ, it follows that we refrain (or be dead to) sin because sin is exactly what He came to overthrow. And it is through His triumph over sin and death that the new life becomes possible.

To conclude, this selected passage, comprising Romans 5:8-6:11, displays an early outline for the beliefs at the heart of Christianity, how it differs from Judaism in its Christocentric significance, and how a Christian morality springs from this understanding.

Footnotes

1 Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est (Washington, D.C.: the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2006), 16.

2 John A. Hardon, SJ, Modern Catholic Dictionary (Bardstown, KY: Eternal Life, 1999), 458.

3 Cf. Michael Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2017), 246; cf. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 695.

4 Leander E. Keck, The New Interpreter’s Bible: Volume X (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2002), 527.

5 Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 541.

6 William D. Davies, Invitation to the New Testament (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1966), 283.

7 See John A. Hardon, SJ, Modern Catholic Dictionary (Bardstown, KY: Eternal Life, 1999), 11.

8 John A. Hardon, SJ, Modern Catholic Dictionary (Bardstown, KY: Eternal Life, 1999), 550.

9 Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2017), 66-75.

10 See Matthew 22:37-40.

11 Gregory F. LaNave, Berard L. Marthaler, eds., New Catholic Encyclopedia: Volume 13 (Farmington Hills, MI: The Gale Group, Inc., 2003), 791.

12 See also 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, 21.

13 Michael Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2017), 431.

14 William D. Davies, Invitation to the New Testament (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1966), 351.

15 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd. ed., 168, accessed March 23, 2021, https://www.usccb.org/sites/default/files/flipbooks/catechism/48/

16 Karl Hermann Schelke, Theology of the New Testament (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1971), 111.

17 See Genesis 1:28.

Edited By: Ariel Hobbs

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