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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament
Romans 12

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

Romans 12:1. παρακαλῶ οὖν: the reference is to all that has been said since Romans 1:16, but especially to what more closely precedes. Cf. Ephesians 4:1, 1 Timothy 2:1, 1 Corinthians 4:16. The οὖν connects the two parts of the epistle, not formally but really, and shows the dependence of the “practical” upon the “doctrinal”. It is the new world of realities to which the soul is introduced by the Christian revelation on which Christian morality depends. It is relative to that world, and would become unreal along with it. διὰ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν: for the substantive see 2 Corinthians 1:3 (= רַחֲמִים, which has no singular). διὰ in such expressions (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10, 2 Corinthians 10:1) indicates that in which the motive is found: Winer, p. 477. The mercies are those which God has shown in the work of redemption through Christ, παραστῆσαι is not per se sacrificial: in chap. Romans 6:13; Romans 6:16; Romans 6:19 it is used of putting the body at the disposal of God or of sin: see also 2 Corinthians 4:14; 2 Corinthians 11:2, Colossians 1:22; Colossians 1:28, Ephesians 5:27. τὰ σώματα ὑμῶν is not exactly the same as ὑμᾶς αὐτοὺς, yet no stress is to be laid on the words as though Paul were requiring the sanctification of the body as opposed to the spirit: the body is in view here as the instrument by which all human service is rendered to God, and the service which it does render, in the manner supposed, is not a bodily but a spiritual service. θυσίαν ζῶσαν: “living,” as opposed to the slain animals offered by the Jews. This seems to be the only case in which the new life as a whole is spoken of by Paul as a sacrifice—a thank offering—to God. A more limited use of the idea of θυσίᾳ is seen in Philippians 2:17; Philippians 4:18; cf. also Hebrews 13:15 f., 1 Peter 2:5. ἁγίαν: contrast Romans 1:24. εὐάρεστον according to all analogy (see concordance) should go with τῷ θεῷ, and this is secured by the order of the words in A(23) vulg. τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν: in apposition not to τὰ σώματα ὑμῶν but to the presenting of the body as a living sacrifice. For other examples see Winer, 669. λατρεία (Romans 9:4, Hebrews 9:1; Hebrews 9:6, John 16:2) is cultus, ritual service, worship; and such a presentation of the body, as the organ of all moral action, to God, is the only thing that can be characterised as λογικὴ λατρεία, spiritual worship. Any other worship, any retention of Jewish or pagan rites, anything coming under the description of opus operatum, is foreign to the Christian θυσίᾳ; it is λατρεία which is not λογική, not appropriate to a being whose essence is λόγος, i.e., reason or spirit.


Verse 2

Romans 12:2. καὶ μὴ συνσχηματίζεσθε: the imperative is better supported ((24) (25) (26)) than the infinitive ((27) (28) (29) (30)). For the word cf. 1 Peter 1:14. The distinctions that have been drawn between συνσχηματίζεσθε and μεταμορφοῦσθε—on the ground of other distinctions assumed between σχῆμα and μορφή—though supported by distinguished scholars, remind one of the shrewd remark of Jowett, that there is a more dangerous deficiency for the commentator than ignorance of Greek, namely, ignorance of language. In the face of such examples as are quoted by Weiss (Plut., Mor., p. 719 B: τὸ μεμορφωμένον καὶ ἐσχηματισμένον: Eur., Iph. ., 292, μορφῆς σχήματα) and Wetstein (Sext. Emp., μένει μὲν ἐν τῇ οἰκείᾳ ὑποστάσει, εἰς ἄλλο δὲ εἶδος ἀντʼ ἄλλου μεταλαμβάνον γεννᾶται, ὡς μετασχηματιζόμενος κηρός, καὶ ἄλλοτε ἄλλην μορφὴν ἀναδεχόμενος) it is impossible not to regard the distinctions in question as very arbitrary. For the best supported and most relevant, reflected in Sanday and Headlam’s paraphrase (“do not adopt the external and fleeting fashion of this world, but be ye transformed in your inmost nature”), see Lightfoot on Philippians 2:7, or Gifford on the same passage (The Incarnation, pp. 22 ff., 88 ff.). τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ: “This world” or “age” is opposed to that which is to come; it is an evil world (Galatians 1:4) of which Satan is the God (2 Corinthians 4:4). Even apparent or superficial conformity to a system controlled by such a spirit, much more an actual accommodation to its ways, would be fatal to the Christian life. By nature, the Christian is at home in this world (cf. Ephesians 2:2); such as it is, its life and his life are one; and his deliverance is accomplished as he is transformed τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοός, by the renewing of his mind. νοῦς in the Apostle’s usage (see chap. 7) is both intellectual and moral—the practical reason, or moral consciousness. This is corrupted and atrophied in the natural man, and renewed by the action of the Holy Spirit. The process would in modern language be described rather as sanctification than regeneration, but regeneration is assumed (Titus 3:5). εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν: this is the purpose of the transforming renewal of the mind. It is that Christians may prove, i.e., discern in their experience, what the will of God is. Cf. Romans 2:18. An unrenewed mind cannot do this; it is destitute of moral discernment—has no proper moral faculty. τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον καὶ τέλειον: these words may either qualify τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ as in A.V., or be in apposition to it, as in R.V. margin. The last agrees better with the rhythm of the sentence. The will of God is identified with what is ἀγαθόν, good in the moral sense: εὐάρεστον well pleasing, sc., to God (so in all the nine cases of the adjective and three of the verb εὐαρεστεῖν which are found in the N.T.); and τέλειον ethically adequate or complete: Deuteronomy 18:13, Matthew 5:48. No one discovers the line of action which from possessing these characteristics can be identified as the will of God unless he is transformed from his native affinity to the world by the renewing of his mind by the Holy Spirit.


Verses 3-8

Romans 12:3-8. The duties of members of the Church as such: avoidance of self-exaltation, and mutual service in the measure of the gift bestowed on each. λέγω γάρ: the γὰρ indicates that “humility is the immediate effect of self-surrender to God” (Gifford). διὰ τῆς χάριτος κ. τ. λ. Paul illustrates in his own person, in giving this advice, the rule he is laying down for the Church. He speaks “through the grace given him,” and therefore without presumption; but he does speak, and so puts his wisdom and love at the service of the Church. παντὶ τῷ ὄντι ἐν ὑμῖν: everybody in the Church needed this word. To himself, every man is in a sense the most important person in the world, and it always needs much grace to see what other people are, and to keep a sense of moral proportion. μὴ ὑπερφρονεῖν: ὑπερφρονεῖν here only in N.T., but a common word. παρʼ δεῖ φρονεῖν: beyond the mind or habit of thought one ought to have. For this use of παρὰ see Romans 14:5, Luke 13:2, Hebrews 1:9. φρονεῖν εἰς τὸ σωφρονεῖν: to cherish a habit of thought tending to sobriety of mind. σωφροσύνη is described by Jos., Macc. 2 f., as giving man dominion not only over bodily ἐπιθυμίαι but also over those of the soul, such as φιλαρχία, κενοδοξία, ἀλαζονεία, μεγαλαυχία, βασκανία. These are precisely the qualities to which Paul opposes it here. φρονεῖν and its cognates are favourite words with Paul: what they all suggest is the importance to character, especially to Christian character, of the prevailing mood of the mind—the moral temper, as it might be called. It should always tend to sobriety; but he gives a special rule for it in ἑκάστῳ ὡς θεὸς ἐμέρισεν μέτρον πίστεως. ἑκάστῳ is governed by ἐμέρισεν: its place makes it emphatic. Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5. Whatever the characteristic of any individual may be, it is due to the discriminating act of God in measuring out faith to him in greater or less degree. Taken in connection with what precedes, the idea seems to be: There are various degrees of self-estimation proper, for God gives one more and another less; but all are fundamentally regulated by humility, for no one has anything that he has not received. 1 Corinthians 4:7.


Verse 4

Romans 12:4 f. καθάπερ γὰρ: For language and figure cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12. Also Ephesians 4:15 f., Colossians 1:18. The comparison of the community to a body—the social organism—is very common in classical writers: see Wetstein and Jowett here. πρᾶξιν: Romans 8:13. It is that at which the member works—in modern language, its function. Every member has its gift, but it is limited by the fact that it is no more than a member: it is not the whole body. 1 Corinthians 12:17. οἱ πολλοὶ ἓν σῶμά ἐσμεν ἐν χριστῷ: many as we are, we are one body in Christ; it is the common relation to Him which unites us. In the later passages in which Paul uses this figure (Eph., Col.), Christ is spoken of as the Head of the body; but both here and in 1 Corinthians 12 it would agree better with our instinctive use of the figure to speak of Him as its soul. His own figure of the vine and the branches combines the advantages of both. τὸ δὲ καθʼ εἷς ἀλλήλων μέλη: this qualifies the unity asserted in ἓν σῶμά ἐσμεν. It if not a unity in which individuality is lost; on the contrary, the individuals retain their value, only not as independent wholes, but as members one of another. Each and all exist only in each other. 1 Corinthians 12:27. For τὸ καθʼ εἷς see Winer, 312.


Verse 6

Romans 12:6 ff. At this point an application, apparently, is made of what has been said in Romans 12:4-5, but the grammar is very difficult. Both A.V. and R.V. supply what is needed in order to read the verses as an exhortation; thus in Romans 12:6, “let us prophesy”; in Romans 12:7, “let us wait”; and in Romans 12:8, answering to the change of construction in the Greek, “let him do it”. This is the simplest way out of the difficulty, and is followed by many scholars (Meyer, Lipsius, Gifford). But it is not beyond doubt, and there is something to say for the more rigorous construction adopted by Weiss and others, who put only a comma after μέλη at the end of Romans 12:5, and construe ἔχοντες with ἐσμεν. In either case, there is an apodosis to be supplied; but while in the former case it is hinted at in the second half of every clause (as is seen in our English Bibles), in the latter it is simply forgotten. It is as if Paul had said, “We are members one of another, and have gifts differing according to the grace given to us; our gift may be prophecy, prophecy in the proportion of our faith; it may be διακονία in the sphere appropriate for that; another instance would be that of the teacher in his department, or of the exhorter in his; or again you may have the distributor, whose gift is in the form of ἁπλότης; or the ruler, who is divinely qualified for his function by the gift of σπουδή, moral earnestness; or the man who to show mercy is endowed with a cheerful disposition”. All this requires an apodosis, but partly because of its length, partly because of the changes in construction as the Apostle proceeds, the apodosis is overlooked. Its import, however, would not vary, as in the A.V., from clause to clause, but would be the same for all the clauses together. Even with the ordinary punctuation, which puts a period at the end of Romans 12:5, I prefer this reading of the passage. The varying apodoses supplied in the English Bible to the separate clauses are really irrelevant; what is wanted is a common apodosis to the whole conception. “Now having gifts differing according to the grace given to us—as one may see by glancing at the phenomena of church life—let us use them with humility (remembering that they are gifts) and with love (inasmuch as we are members one of another).” It is easier to suppose that the construction was suspended, and gradually changed, with some general conclusion like this before the mind from the beginning, than that it broke down, so to speak, as soon as it began; which we must suppose if we insert προφητεύωμεν in Romans 12:6. But it is not a question which can be infallibly decided. It ought to be observed that there is no hint of anything official in this passage; all ministry is a function of membership in the body, and every member has the function of ministry to some intent or other. χαρίσματα: Romans 1:11, 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 12:4; 1 Corinthians 12:9; 1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 12:1 P. Romans 4:10. With the exception of 1 P. Romans 4:10 (which is not without relation to this passage) Paul alone uses χάρισμα in the N.T. Every χάρισμα is a gift of the Holy Spirit given to the believer for the good of the Church. Some were supernatural (gifts of healings, etc.), others spiritual in the narrower sense: this passage is the best illustration of the word. τὴν δοθεῖσαν, sc., when we believed. προφητείαν κατὰ τὴν ἀναλογίαν τῆς πίστεως. προφητεία is the highest of χαρίσματα, 1 Corinthians 14:1 ff. When one has it, he has it κατὰ τὴν ἀναλογ. τῆς πίστεως = in the proportion of his faith. The faith meant is that referred to in Romans 12:3, the measure of which is assigned by God: and since this is the case, it is obviously absurd for a man to give himself airs— ὑπερφρονεῖν—on the strength of being a προφήτης: this would amount to forgetting that in whatever degree he has the gift, he owes it absolutely to God. The expression προφητείαν κατὰ τὴν ἀναλογίαν τῆς πίστεως implies that the more faith one has—the more completely Christian he is—the greater the prophetic endowment will be. [In theology, “the analogy of the faith” is used in quite a different sense, though it was supposed to be justified by this passage. To interpret Scripture, e.g., according to the analogy of the faith meant to interpret the parts, especially difficult or obscure parts, in consistency with the whole. The scope of the whole, again, was supposed to be represented in the creed or rule of faith; and to interpret κατὰ τ. . τ. πίστεως meant simply not to run counter to the creed. In the passage before us this is an anachronism as well as an irrelevance. There was no rule of faith when the Apostle was thinking out the original interpretation of Christianity contained in this epistle; and there is no exhortation or warning, but only a description of fact, in the words.] διακονία as opposed to προφητεία and the other functions mentioned here probably refers to such services as were material rather than spiritual: they were spiritual however (though connected only with helping the poor, or with the place or forms of worship) because prompted by the Spirit and done in it. One who has this gift has it ἐν τῇ διακονίᾳ, i.e., in the qualities and in the sphere proper to it: it is in its own nature limited; it is what it is, and nothing else, and fits a man for this function and no other. This is not “otiose,” and it provides a good meaning without importing anything. διδάσκων ἐν τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ: it is in his teaching that the διδάσκαλος possesses the gift peculiar to him: 1 Corinthians 14:26. παρακαλῶν ἐν τῇ παρακλήσει: so again with the exhorter, the man who speaks words of encouragement: cf. Romans 15:4-5; Acts 4:36; Acts 9:31; Acts 13:15. It is in his παράκλησις, and not in something else, that his χάρισμα lies. Thus far Paul has not defined the quality of the χαρίσματα, or shown in what they consist; the functionary is merely said to have his gift in his function—teaching, exhorting, or service. But in the cases which follow, he tells us what the gift, proper to the special functions in view, is; in other words, what is the spiritual quality which, when divinely bestowed, capacitates a man to do this or that for the Church. Thus there is μεταδιδούς (cf. Ephesians 4:28, Luke 3:11), the man who imparts of his means to those who need; he has his χάρισμα in ἁπλάτης. Cf. 2 Corinthians 9:11; 2 Corinthians 9:13; James 1:5. It is not exactly “liberality,” though in these passages it approaches that sense: it is the quality of a mind which has no arrière-pensée in what it does; when it gives, it does so because it sees and feels the need, and for no other reason; this is the sort of mind which is liberal, and God assigns a man the function of μεταδιδόναι when He bestows this mind on him by His Spirit. προϊστάμενος is the person who takes the lead in any way. He might or might not be an official (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 1 Timothy 5:17, 1 Timothy 3:4-5; 1 Timothy 3:12 : cf. also πρόστατις Romans 16:2, and Hort, The Christian Ecclesia, p. 126 f.); but in any case he had the χάρισμα which fitted him for his special function in σπουδή, moral earnestness or vigour. A serious masculine type of character is the pre-supposition for this gift. Finally ἐλεῶν, he who does deeds of kindness, has his charisma in ἱλαρότης. A person of a grudging or despondent mood has not the endowment for showing mercy. He who is to visit the poor, the sick, the sorrowful, will be marked out by God for His special ministry by this endowment of brightness and good cheer. Cf. 2 Corinthians 9:7 = Proverbs 22:8 and Sirach 32(35):11: ἐν πάσῃ δόσει ἱλάρωσον τὸ πρόσωπόν σου, καὶ ἐν εὐφροσύνῃ ἁγίασον δεκάτην.


Verse 9

Romans 12:9. ἀγάπη ἀνυπόκριτος: see 2 Corinthians 6:6, 1 Peter 1:22. Probably the following clauses ἀποστυγοῦντεςκολλώμενοι κ. τ. λ. are meant to explain this. Love is undissembled, it is the un-affected Christian grace, when it shrinks, as with a physical horror, from that which is evil (even in those whom it loves), and cleaves to that which is good. στυγεῖν according to Eustath. in Il. (31), p. 58 (quoted by Wetstein) adds the idea of φρίσσειν to that of μισεῖν: the ἀπο intensifies the idea of aversion or repulsion. Love is not a principle of mutual indulgence; in the Gospel it is a moral principle, and like Christ Who is the only perfect example of love, it has always something inexorable about it. He never condoned evil. τῷ ἀγαθῷ is neuter, like τὸ πονηρόν, though κολλᾶσθαι can be used of persons (1 Corinthians 6:16 f.) as well as things.


Verses 9-21

Romans 12:9-21. As far as any single idea pervades the rest of the chapter it is that of the first words in Romans 12:9 : ἀγάπη ἀνυπόκριτος. The passage as a whole has a strong affinity to 1 Corinthians 13, and along with what may be a reminiscence of our Lord’s words, it has something intensely and characteristically Christian. Whatever the grammatical construction may be—and all through the chapter Paul displays an indifference in this respect which is singular even in him—the intention must be supposed to be hortatory, so that it is most natural to supply imperatives ( ἔστω or ἐστέ) with the numerous participles.


Verse 10

Romans 12:10. τῇ φιλαδελφίᾳ = in point of brotherly love, i.e., your love to each other as children in the one family of God. Cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:9, Hebrews 13:9, 1 Peter 1:22, 2 Peter 1:7, 1 Peter 3:8. ἀδελφὸς in the apostolic writings does not mean fellow-man, but fellow-Christian; and φιλαδελφία is the mutual affection of the members of the Christian community. In this they are to be φιλόστοργοι, “tenderly affectioned”. The moral purity required in Romans 12:9 is not to be the only mark of Christian love; since they are members of one family, their love is to have the characters of strong natural affection ( στοργή); it is to be warm, spontaneous, constant. τῇ τιμῇ ἀλλήλους προηγούμενοι: “in honour preferring one another”. This, which is the rendering of both our English versions, is a good Pauline idea (Philippians 2:3), but gives προηγούμενοι a meaning not found elsewhere. Hence others render: “in showing honour—i.e., to those whose χαρίσματα entitle them to respect in the Church—giving each other a lead”: each, so to speak, being readier than the other to recognise and honour God’s gifts in a brother. In this sense, however, προηγούμενοι would rather take the genitive (see Liddell and Scott, who seem, nevertheless, to adopt this rendering); and probably the former, which involves only a natural extension of the meaning of the word, is to be preferred.


Verse 11

Romans 12:11. τῇ σπουδῇ μὴ ὀκνηροί: σπουδὴ occurs twelve times in the N.T., and is translated in our A.V. seven different ways. It denotes the moral earnestness with which one should give himself to his vocation. In this Christians are not to be backward: Acts 9:38. τῷ πνεύματι ζέοντες: the same figure is frequent in the classics, and we still speak of the blood “boiling”. The spiritual temperature is to be high in the Christian community: cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:20, Acts 18:25. If we are to distinguish at all, the πνεῦμα meant is the Spirit of God, though it is that spirit as bestowed upon man. τῷ κυρίῳ δουλεύοντες: we can point to no special connection for this clause. Perhaps the thought is on the same lines as in 1 Corinthians 12:4 f.: there are spiritual gifts of all kinds, but one service in which they are all exhausted—the service of Christ—and in that we must be constantly engaged.


Verse 12

Romans 12:12. τῇ ἐλπίδι χαίροντες: the hope in which they are to rejoice is that of Christians: cf. Romans 5:2. The meaning is practically the same as in that passage, but the mental representation is not. τῇ ἐλπίδι is not = ἐπʼ ἐλπίδι there, but in a line with the other datives here: in point of hope, rejoicing. τῇ θλίψει ὑπομένοντες: ὑπομ. might have been construed with the accusative ( τὴν θλῖψιν), but the absolute use of it, as here, is common (see Matthew 10:22, James 5:11, 1 Peter 2:20), and its employment in this instance enables the writer to conform the clause grammatically to the others. τῇ προσευχῇ προσκαρτεροῦντες: cf. Colossians 4:2, Acts 1:14; Acts 2:42. The strong word suggests not only the constancy with which they are to pray, but the effort that is needed to maintain a habit so much above nature.


Verse 13

Romans 12:13. ταῖς χρείαις τῶν ἁγίων κοινωνοῦντες: “the saints” as in Romans 8:27, 1 Timothy 5:10 are Christians generally. The curious variant ταῖς μνείαις—“taking part in the commemorations of the saints”—dates from an age at which “the saints” were no longer Christians in general, but a select few, as a rule martyrs or confessors in the technical sense. Weiss asserts that the active sense of κοινωνεῖν, to communicate or impart, is foreign to the N.T., but it is difficult to maintain this if we look to such examples as this and Galatians 6:6, and also to the use of κοινωνία in 2 Corinthians 9:13 (where ἁπλότητι τῆς κοινωνίας εἰς αὐτοὺς means the liberality of your contribution to them), and Hebrews 13:16, where κοινωνία is a synonym of εὐποιία, and certainly active. τὴν φιλοξενίαν διώκοντες: to devote oneself to entertaining them when they were strangers was one chief way of distributing to the needs of the saints. Hospitality, in the sense of the N.T. (Hebrews 13:2, 1 Peter 4:9), is not akin to “keeping company,” or “open house”; it is a form of charity much needed by travelling, exiled, or persecuted Christians. The terms in which it is spoken of in Clem. Rom. (quoted in S. and H.: διὰ πίστιν καὶ φιλοξενίαν ἐδόθη αὐτῷi.e., Abraham— υἱὸς ἐν γήρᾳ: or, διὰ φιλοξενίαν καὶ εὐσέβειαν λὼτ ἐσώθη) may seem extravagant; but the key to them, and to all the apostolic emphasis on the subject, is to be found in Matthew 25:34-36.


Verse 14

Romans 12:14. εὐλογεῖτε τοὺς διώκοντας, εὐλ. κ. μὴ καταρᾶσθε: not a quotation of Matthew 5:44, but probably a reminiscence of the same saying of Jesus. The change in construction from participle to imperative, the participle being resumed in the next sentence, suggests that the form of the sentence was given to Paul—i.e., he was consciously using borrowed words without modifying them to suit the sentence he had begun on his own account. It may be that when Paul said διώκοντες in Romans 12:13, the other sense of the word passed through his mind and prompted Romans 12:14; but even if we could be sure of this (which we cannot) we should not understand either verse a whit better.


Verse 15

Romans 12:15. χαίρειν μετὰ χαιρόντων κ. τ. λ. The infinites give the expression the character of a watchword (see Hofmann in Weiss). For the grammar see Winer, 397, n. 6. To weep with those that weep is easier than to rejoice with those who rejoice. Those who rejoice neither need, expect, nor feel grateful for sympathy in the same degree as those who weep.


Verse 16

Romans 12:16. τὸ αὐτὸ εἰς ἀλλήλους φρονοῦντες: here the Apostle returns to his own grammar (or disregard of grammar), and holds to it till Romans 12:19, when he changes to the imperative ( μὴ δότε) with which he concludes (Romans 12:21 μὴ νικῶ, νίκα). τὸ αὐτὸ φρονεῖν, Romans 15:5, is a favourite expression, best explained by reference to Philippians 2:2; Philippians 4:2, 2 Corinthians 13:11. The idea is that of loving unanimity, and the εἰς ἀλλήλους points to the active manifestation of this temper in all the mutual relations of Christians. “Let each so enter into the feelings and desires of the other as to be of one mind with him” (Gifford). It is a more abstract expression of the Golden Rule, Matthew 7:12. The negatives which follow introduce explanatory clauses: they forbid what would destroy the unanimity of love. μὴ τὰ ὑψηλὰ φρονοῦντες: see on Romans 12:3 above and Romans 11:21. Selfish ambition in the Church is fatal to perfect mutual consideration, τοῖς ταπεινοῖς συναπαγόμενοι. Elsewhere in the N.T. (seven times) ταπεινὸς is only found in the masculine, and so some would render it here: condescend to men of low estate; let yourself be carried along in the line of their interests, not counting such people beneath you. Cf. Galatians 2:13, 2 Peter 3:17. The bad connotation of συναπάγεσθαι in both these places is due not to itself, but to the context. The contrast with τὰ ὑψηλὰ leads others to take τοῖς ταπεινοῖς as neuter: and so the R.V. has it, condescend to things that are lowly. Certainty on such points must always be personal rather than scientific; the first of the two alternatives impresses me as much more in harmony with the nature of the words used than the other. For the idea cf. Wordsworth’s sonnet addressed to Milton … “and yet thy heart the lowliest duties on herself did lay”. μὴ γίνεσθε φρόνιμοι κ. τ. λ. Proverbs 3:7. Be not men of mind in your own conceit. It is difficult to put our judgment into a common stock, and estimate another’s as impartially as our own; but love requires it, and without it there is no such thing as τὸ αὐτὸ εἰς ἀλλήλους φρονεῖν.


Verse 17

Romans 12:17. From this point the subject treated is chiefly the Christian’s attitude to enemies. μηδενὶ κακὸν ἀντὶ κακοῦ ἀποδ. μηδενὶ is emphatic: to no one, Christian or un-Christian. Nothing can ever justify revenge. Cf. 1 Peter 3:9, but especially Matthew 5:38-48. προνοούμενοι καλὰ ἐνώπιον κ. τ. λ. Proverbs 3:4, LXX. 2 Corinthians 8:21. What the words mean in Proverbs 3:4 is not clear; they are not a translation of the Hebrew. In 2 Corinthians 8:21 the idea is that of taking precautions to obviate possible slanders; here it is apparently that of living in such a way as not to provoke enmity, or give any occasion for breach of peace. ἐνώπιον: construed with καλά. πάντων has the same kind of emphasis as μηδενί: Requite evil to no one; let your conduct be such as all must approve.


Verse 18

Romans 12:18. εἰ δυνατὸν: cf. Matthew 24:24. τὸ ἐξ ὑμῶν: for what depends on you. Cf. Romans 1:15. Over others’ conduct we have no control; but the initiative in disturbing the peace is never to lie with the Christian.


Verse 19

Romans 12:19. μὴ ἑαυτοὺς ἐκδικοῦντες, ἀγαπητοί. Even when the Christian has been wronged he is not to take the law into his own hand, and right or vindicate himself. For ἐκδικεῖν see Luke 18:3; Luke 18:5. ἀγαπητοί is striking, and must have some reason; either the extreme difficulty, of which Paul was sensible, of living up to this rule; or possibly some condition of affairs in the Church at Rome, which made the exhortation peculiarly pertinent to the readers, and therefore craved this affectionate address to deprecate, as it were, the “wild justice” with which the natural man is always ready to plead his cause. ἀλλὰ δότε τόπον τῇ ὀργῇ: the wrath spoken of, as the following words show, is that of God; to give place to God’s wrath means to leave room for it, not to take God’s proper work out of His hands. For the expression cf. Luke 14:9, Sirach 13:22; Sirach 19:17; Sirach 38:12, Ephesians 4:27. For ὁργὴ used thus absolutely of God’s wrath cf. Romans 5:9, 1 Thessalonians 2:16. The idea is not that instead of executing vengeance ourselves we are to abandon the offender to the more tremendous vengeance of God; but this—that God, not injured men or those who believe themselves such, is the maintainer of moral order in the world, and that the righting of wrong is to be committed to Him. Cf. especially 1 Peter 2:23. γέγραπται γάρ: Deuteronomy 32:35. Paul gives the sense of the Hebrew, not at all that of the LXX, though his language is reminiscent of the latter ( ἐν ἡμέρᾳ ἐκδικήσεως ἀνταποδώσω). It is singular that Hebrews 10:30 has the quotation in exactly the same form as Paul. So has the Targum of Onkelos; but whether there is any mutual dependence of these three, or whether, independent of all, the verse was current in this form, we cannot tell. The λέγει κύριος (cf. Romans 14:11) is supplied by Paul.


Verse 20

Romans 12:20. ἀλλὰ: On the contrary, as opposed to self-avenging, and even to the merely passive resignation of one’s case to God. ἐὰν πεινᾷ κ. τ. λ. Proverbs 25:21 f. exactly as in LXX. The meaning of “heaping burning coals on his head” is hardly open to doubt. It must refer to the burning pain of shame and remorse which the man feels whose hostility is repaid by love. This is the only kind of vengeance the Christian is at liberty to contemplate. Many, however, have referred to 4 Esdr. 16:54 (Non dicat peccator se non peccasse; quoniam carbones ignis comburet super caput ejus, qui dicit: non peccavi coram Domino Deo et gloria ipsius), and argued that the coals of fire are the Divine judgments which the sinner will bring on himself unless he repents under the constraint of such love. But (1) there is nothing said here about the essential condition, “unless he repents”; this is simply imported; and (2) the aim of the Christian’s love to his enemy is thus made to be the bringing down of Divine judgment on him—which is not only absurd in itself, but in direct antagonism to the spirit of the passage.


Verse 21

Romans 12:21. μὴ νικῶ: the absence of any connecting particle gives the last verse the character of a summary: in a word, be not overcome by evil. ὑπὸ τοῦ κακοῦ = by the evil your enemy inflicts. The Christian would be overcome by evil if it were able to compel him to avenge himself by repaying it in kind. Wrong is not defeated but doubly victorious when it is repelled with its own weapons; we can only overcome it ἐν τῷ ἀγαθῷ through the good we do to our adversary, turning him so from an enemy into a friend. Vincit malos, says Seneca, pertinax bonitas: Wetst. accumulates similar examples from classical writers. The ἐν in ἐν τῷ ἀγαθῷ is probably = בְּ: it might be explained as instrumental, or rendered “at the cost of”.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Romans 12:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/romans-12.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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