Romans 12:1-2

I just received the latest edition of Modern Reformation in the mail. They have been going through Romans for this year. By the way, every one who calls themselves Reformed ought to subscribe to this magazine. This issue deals with Romans 12-16. I was reminded of a terrific sermon I heard on Romans 12:1-2 by Eric Alexander. It was during the Philadelphia Conference on Reformation Theology. I am going to summarize what he said there.

First the text: Παρακαλῶ οὖν ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, διὰ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν τοῦ θεοῦ, παραστῆσαι τὰ σώματα ὑμῶν θυσίαν ζῶσαν ἁγίαν εὐάρεστον τῷ θεῷ, τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν: καὶ μὴ συσχηματίζεσθε τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ, ἀλλὰ μεταμορφοῦσθε τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοός, εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον καὶ τέλειον.

And now, the interpretation. The οὖν is quite possible the most important “therefore” in all of Scripture, since its import encompasses the entirety of Romans 1-11. Paul summarizes the previous chapter with this phrase: “the mercies of God.” That is shorthand for all the spiritual blessings that he has been describing for the previous 11 chapters.

We don’t have to offer our bodies as a dead sacrifice, since Christ has already done that. So we offer ourselves as living sacrifices. This is λογικὴν. To this day, I cannot see why some translations have translated this as “spiritual.” It has much more to do with thoughtfulness (BDAG), or logicality. It is only logical, Paul says, to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, given what Jesus has done for us.

Then follows a couple of Greek verbs that are important to parse correctly. First off is συσχηματίζεσθε. This is a present middle/passive imperative, 2 person plural. I think the force is passive. It is well translated in the Phillips translation: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.” He uses 6 words to translate one Greek word, but that is fairly common. And it is a splendid rendition. The only thing I would change is that I think τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ means “this present age” rather than “this world.” It is a designation of time, not space. Paul is always contrasting the old age and the new age. This is especially evident in Romans 7:14ff, where the old “I” and the new “I” are duking it out. The next verb is μεταμορφοῦσθε, from which we get our word “metamorphosis.” This is a present passive imperative, 2 person plural. Note especially the force of the passive imperative. It is a command to us to have God transform us (it is a divine passive: God is doing the metamorphizing). The implications can hardly be over-estimated for our lives. Grammar here is necessary for God’s people to know. To have our minds transformed is the work of God, not of ourselves. This passage also implies that if we think the way this age does, then our minds are blinded. There is either an unrenewed mind or a renewed mind. Nothing in-between. Which are we?



  1. October 28, 2006 at 2:11 pm

    How do you put greek or hebrew in your blog?

  2. Josh said,

    October 28, 2006 at 2:14 pm

    I think he uses this site:

  3. greenbaggins said,

    October 28, 2006 at 2:18 pm

    For Greek, I go here:

    Just copy and paste after you search for the passage you want. I use the Palatino Linotype font (a unicode font). It looks by far and away the best, and it has all the accents and breathing marks. For Hebrew, I use my Bibleworks program to copy and paste. If you do have Bibleworks, then let me know, because you have to monkey with it a bit. If you don’t, then I suggest going here:

    The script is horribly ugly, but it gets the job done (though without accents or vowels, take note!).

  4. October 28, 2006 at 5:19 pm

    I have bibleworks 4.0, but it is better than nothing.

  5. greenbaggins said,

    October 28, 2006 at 5:34 pm

    Okay, I don’t know if you can do this. But it’s worth a shot. See if there is any place marked “tools.” They use a wrench in version 7. If you can find that, then go to where it says “fonts.” The make sure that “export fonts” is selected. Select SBL Hebrew or Ezra SIL SR for a unicode font. Make sure that your browser is set to Unicode UTF-8. Then you’ll be all set. If you don’t have that capability in BibleWorks, then you should go to the unbound web site. Happy hunting.

  6. Lee said,

    October 29, 2006 at 12:18 am

    This may seem nitpicky, but I disagree with rendering συσχηματίζεσθε as passive rather than middle. I do think it affects the reading. First, the example you gave of Romans 7 is a good one. The old ‘I’ and the new ‘I’ duking it fits better into a middle sense of the verb. So I think middle would be consistent with the usage of Paul in the proceeding 11 chapters. Clearly the only struggle Paul shows us in first 11 chapters is an internal one. Which brings me to my second point: rendering the verb passive seems to imply that ‘present age’ or ‘world’ can have power over us. You even ask the question at the end, “There is either an unrenewed mind or a renewed mind. Nothing in-between.” Yet, Paul is speaking to the renewed. He begins with a ‘therefore’. Those who have experienced the mercy or been renewed should now do these things. Yet, rendering the verb a passive imperative brings into doubt whether the mind is truly renewed. However, following up on the renewed mind in chapter 7 the saved person is supposed to not conform himself, but rather let God transform him.
    Maybe that is being nitpicky on this passage, but I thought it worth a discussion.
    In casae your wondering, no modern translation takes it as a middle, but the Geneva Bible and Tyndale’s version seem to take it as a middle imperative.

  7. greenbaggins said,

    October 29, 2006 at 4:26 pm

    I could agree with you, Lee, except that τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ, to my mind, anyway, works much better as a dative of agent than as the norm to which we would conform ourselves (under the prohibition). However, since the age that would conform us also lives inside us, I don’t think it amounts to much of a difference. “Don’t let this age mold you, either in its outer pressure to conform (which we would have to allow is a possibility), or in its inner pressure that takes the form of our flesh.” Does this work for you, Lee?

  8. Gomarus said,

    October 30, 2006 at 7:58 am

    Just a comment on font. I was seeing everything in Greek OK on earlier posts. In fact the fonts on Oct 25 and 26 still show OK. But the Greek font on the last two posts show sporadic blocks instead of some vowels. Anyone else having a problem here??

  9. Josh said,

    October 30, 2006 at 9:11 am

    Yes I am. I use IE and Firefox. IE is always horrible and Firefox comes and goes.

  10. greenbaggins said,

    October 30, 2006 at 10:12 am

    Do you both have the most recent editions of IE (that would be version 7) and Firefox (version 2)? So far, I haven’t had any trouble with the Greek on either browser: the Hebrew shows up a tad wierd on Firefox 2, but just fine on IE 7.

  11. Gomarus said,

    October 30, 2006 at 2:39 pm

    I’m stuck with IE 6.0 SP1 here at work. It’s no biggie. But the earlier posts looked fine. Just curious why you didn’t stick with that?

  12. greenbaggins said,

    October 30, 2006 at 4:29 pm

    Well, I’m not aware that I’m doing anything different. Maybe I am. There is the font, I suppose. I switched from Athena font to Palatino Linotype, because people wouldn’t have to download that. Can you not download SP 2, and then IE 7?

  13. Lee said,

    November 2, 2006 at 2:54 pm


    Sorry it took me so long to respond. I do not have a big problem with the dative of agent, but it fits better with the passive than the middle. I would prefer the dative of rule. I know it is rare, but I think it works best.
    “Conform not yourself according to this world (or age).”

  14. greenbaggins said,

    November 2, 2006 at 2:59 pm

    But then you are assuming that the passive does not work, right? You haven’t shown that the middle works better. With regard to the actual form, a rendering such as “Do not let the world conform you” might actually combine the middle and passive forms. This is probably not as clear-cut as you would like it to be, but I think it might work. What do you think?

  15. Lee said,

    November 3, 2006 at 12:09 pm

    I do not think I am assuming the middle does not work. I think the entire context of Romans demands a middle. Especially in light of Romans 7. I have never heard of a verb being both passive and middle, so I cannot go there with you. Again, I think the dative of agent is possible even in a middle, but the dative of rule seems much better. I simply think to render conform as passive gives the world or present age a lot of power that we specifically denied in chapter 8, not mentioned in chapter 7, and the passive also seems to set up a dualism between God and the present world. You could either sit back and let God transform, or sit back and let the world transform. I cannot buy that reading.

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