(1) Baptism and the New Exodus: Narrative can be understood both as a genre (a kind of writing, like a novel, history, etc.) and as a framework of thought. Wright seems to argue that in this Epistle Paul is operating with an implicit, undergirding narrative framework of a story that comes from Paul’s understanding of God’s actions toward God’s people as it is revealed in the Scriptures of Israel. In other words, Wright is suggesting that Paul is re-telling the story of Israel to make sense of what God has now accomplished in Christ. Or, said otherwise, Paul is using the basic framework of Israel’s story to tell the story of Christ and those who are “in Christ”. By contrast, for example, in Moo’s NICNT commentary (see pp. 290ff), it is suggested that Romans chapter 5, 6, & 7 deal with the principles of how humanity has been set free from Death, Sin & the Law (respectively).

Briefly discuss the ways in which you see (or do not see) continuity and transformation of the story of Israel (particularly the story of Israel’s Exodus as it is compared with Christian baptism) in Romans 6.
_______________________________________________________________ 

After examining Romans 5-7 in conjunction with the assigned readings, I’m not sure how continuity and transformation of the story of Israel can fail to be seen – and seen glaringly at that!  Paul is essentially on the hot seat beginning in Chapter 6 and must now answer objections to his thesis.  He commences with the question first raised in 3:8, “Are we to continue in sin, that grace may abound?” (6:1) and fluctuates slightly in 6:15 to “Are we to sin since we are not under the law but grace?”  Clearly, his emphasis on the free gift that has “exceeded” human sin has left him exposed to potential allegations of being lawless.  Yet, Paul regards these accusations as virtually trivial since they completely misconstrue the point he has been making:  the gift is real and effective – it changes things.  Grace is not just some extrinsic, superficial judgment about humans, but rather a gift of knowledge and love from God that transforms them.  To propose that sin has any place with this new life and dispensation is to miscalculate fundamentally.

Paul strategically reminds his audience of the implications of their baptism (6:2-14) and that in it, they were identified (i.e. participated) with Christ’s death, so that they might “rise” to a new form of life (6:3-4).  Further, since they now live by the spirit of the resurrected Jesus, their resultant behavior must match; that is, they must “die” to sin (6:6-7) so that, like Jesus, they might be “alive to God” (6:11).  This thought pattern and Paul’s logical outcome is obvious:  having been brought from “death to life” there is NO returning to the former “life of the flesh” and giving sin dominion where passions are obeyed (6:12).  But instead, there is now only a life lived as “instruments of righteousness.” (6:13).

Chapters 5-8 are unequivocally participatory and focus on being in Christ.  These chapters are sandwiched in between 1-4 and 9-11 where Paul has much to say about Abraham, Israel, and the promise of God, thus begging the question of is there some connection or coherence or Pauline reason?  I vote yes.  According to Keck, for Paul, “Baptism [into Christ] makes one a participant in an event, not an ideal or a myth.”[1]  It had to be so, as the widely held conviction at the time was that a religious ritual does what it symbolizes.  And, even though no one then would have understood the “symbol” part of that statement, Paul’s understanding of baptism was marked by its “realism.”[2]  This is imperative and essential for his argument:  Paul reinterpreted baptism “into Christ” (cf. Gal. 3:23-29) as baptism into Christ’s death.

So, what link does Paul regard between belonging by faith to the people of God promised to Abraham in the bread of the sandwich (chapters 4 and 9-10) and belonging by baptism to the dying and rising people of God in Christ in the meat chapter (6)?

According to N.T. Wright, Paul professes that God’s promise to Abraham and his family was in fact that they should inherit the world – not, as expected, the land of Israel.  The language of inheritance is seeded in the biblical theme of Exodus, including the promise and eventual possession of the land. Paul is using this language to explain his larger vision: the whole world as the inheritance of Abraham’s Jewish plus gentile offspring.[3]  This exact theme surfaces at the turning point of Romans 8, in a situation thronged with parallels of Exodus – the “children of God” (i.e. offspring) are led by the Spirit, they must not go back to slavery, and they are declared to be God’s heirs.  That is, fellow heirs with the Messiah (Rom. 8:12-17).  Their inheritance will be granted (gifted) when all of creation experiences its exodus from slavery and shares the freedom of the glory of God’s children (Rom. 8:18-25).  What Romans 4 had promised, chapter 8 explains.

Chapter 6 answers the question of how Israel’s intense (thanks to Paul for throwing in the law in 5:20) state of Adamic sinfulness is liberated.  Liberation from slavery is the prime theme in verses 16-23 – baptism becomes the Exodus moment; for the renewed people of God, this is their “Red Sea equivalent.”  The whole renewed people is baptized into the Messiah just as Paul writes about the Israelites being baptized into Moses when they crossed the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:2).  Jesus dying and rising were the real Passover and Exodus and now all his people are precisely the liberated ones.[4]

Paul was not saying that Christians who “died to sin” (6:2) never sin again.  Rather, they are free, just like the Israelites who were freed from slavery in Egypt.  Once the Exodus occurred, I’m sure Jewish people traveled through Egypt; it’s not like it had a big “Do Not Enter” sign at the borders.  But why would they ever go back to a place they once inhabited in bondage – scratch that – a place that inhibited by bondage?

 Why would we?

“Because the reign of sin has been terminated, one need not sin; therefore, to sin deliberately is preposterous.”[5]


[1] Keck, Leander E.  Romans.  Page 159.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2005.
[2] Keck, Leander E.  Romans.  Page 159.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2005.
[3] Wright, N.T. The New Inheritance According to Paul.
[4] Wright, N.T. The New Inheritance According to Paul.
[5] Keck, Leander E.  Romans.  Page 158.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2005.