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Bible Commentaries
Romans 6

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1

(1) Shall we continue in sin?—Again the Apostle is drawn into one of those subtle casuistical questions that had such a great attraction for him. But he soon returns to the root-ideas of his own system. In previous chapters he had dealt with one of the two great root-ideas, justification by faith; he now passes to the second, union with Christ. The one might be described as the juridical, the other as the mystical, theory of salvation. The connecting-link which unites them is faith. Faith in Christ, and especially in the death of Christ, is the instrument of justification. Carried a degree further. it involves an actual identification with the Redeemer Himself. This, no doubt, is mystical language. When strictly compared with the facts of the religious consciousness, it must be admitted that all such terms as union, oneness, fellowship, identification, pass into the domain of metaphor. They are taken to express the highest conceivable degree of attachment and devotion. In this sense they are now consecrated by the use of centuries, and any other phrases substituted for them, though gaining perhaps somewhat in precision, would only seem poor and cold. (See Excursus G: On the Doctrine of Union with Christ.)

Verses 1-5


(1-5) These considerations might seem to lead to an Antinomian conclusion. If the increase of sin has only led to a larger measure of forgiveness it might be thought well to continue in sin, and so to enhance the measure and glory of forgiving grace. But to the Christian this is impossible. In regard to sin he is, in theory and principle, dead. When he was converted from heathenism and received Christian baptism he gave himself up unreservedly to Christ; he professed adhesion to Christ, and especially to His death; he pledged himself to adopt that death as his own; he entered into fellowship with it in order that he might also enjoy the fellowship of the resurrection of Christ. This fellowship or participation is both physical and ethical.

Verse 2

(2) That are dead.—Rather, that died. It is well to bear in mind Dr. Lightfoot’s remarks on the importance of keeping the strict aorist sense as opposed to that of the perfect (i.e., the single past action as opposed to the prolonged or continued action) in passages such as this. “St. Paul regards this change—from sin to righteousness, from bondage to freedom, from death to life—as summed up in one definite act of the past; potentially to all men in our Lord’s passion and resurrection, actually to each individual man when he accepts Christ, is baptised into Christ. Then he is made righteous by being incorporated into Christ’s righteousness, he dies once for all to sin, he lives henceforth for ever to God. This is his ideal. Practically, we know that the death to sin and the life to righteousness are inchoate, imperfect, gradual, meagerly realised even by the most saintly men in this life; but St. Paul sets the matter in this ideal light to force upon the consciences of his hearers the fact that an entire change came over them when they became Christians—that the knowledge and the grace then vouchsafed to them did not leave them where they were—that they are not, and cannot be, their former selves—and that it is a contradiction of their very being to sin any more. It is the definiteness, the absoluteness of this change, considered as an historical crisis, which forms the central idea of St. Paul’s teaching, and which the aorist marks. We cannot, therefore, afford to obscure this idea by disregarding the distinctions of grammar; yet in our English version it is a mere chance whether in such cases the aorist is translated as an aorist” (On Revision, p. 85). These remarks will form the best possible commentary upon the passage before us. It may be only well to add that the change between the position of the first Christians and our own involves a certain change in the application of what was originally said with reference to them. Baptism is not now the tremendous crisis that it was then. The ideal of Christian life then assumed is more distinctly an ideal. It has a much less definite hold upon the imagination and the will. But it ought not therefore to be any the less binding upon the Christian. He should work towards it, if he cannot work from it, in the spirit of Philippians 3:12-14.

It would be well for the reader to note at once the corrections suggested in the rendering of this verse by Dr. Lightfoot’s criticism:—In Romans 6:4, “we were buried” for “we are buried;” in Romans 6:6, “the old man was crucified” for “is crucified;” in Romans 6:8, “if we died” for “if we be dead.”

Verse 3

(3) Know ye not.—It should be as in the Greek, Or know ye not. Do you not admit this principle; or am I to suppose that you are ignorant? &c.

Were baptized into Jesus Christi.e., “into communion with Him and incorporation in His mystical body” (Ellicott on Galatians 3:27). “As many of you as have been baptised in Christ have put on Christ.” Your baptism signified an intimately close and indissoluble attachment to Christ.

Were baptized into his death.—And this attachment had a special relation to His death. It involved a communion or fellowship with His death. This fellowship is ethical, i.e., it implies a moral conduct corresponding to that relation to Christ which it assumes.

Why has baptism this special connection with the death of Christ? In the first place, the death of Christ is the central and cardinal fact of the Christian scheme. It is specially related to justification, and justification proceeds from faith, which is ratified in baptism. In the second place, the symbolism of baptism was such as naturally to harmonise with the symbolism of death. It was the final close of one period, and the beginning of another—the complete stripping off of the past and putting on of the “new man.”

Verse 4

(4) We are buried with him.—Burial, is the consequence of death. It is the seal set upon it, as it were, which shows that no revival is possible. Besides, it is the one step which separates it from resurrection. The idea of “buried with Christ” is therefore introduced, on the one hand, to show that the ethical death with Him was final and decisive, and on the other, to prepare the way for an ethical (as well as physical) resurrection with Him.

Into death.—The ideas of physical and moral death and resurrection and life are inextricably blended in the thought of the Apostle.

By the glory of the Father.—The resurrection of Christ is more usually and more naturally ascribed to the power or Omnipotence of God. The word “Glory” is here to be taken as standing for the sum of the divine perfections, power being included among them, “the Majesty on High.”

Even so.—It is to be observed that the mysticism is here resolved into a relation of resemblance. The resurrection of Christ, and the new life of the Christian, are compared instead of being identified. The Apostle does not say “being dead with Christ, let us rise with Him;” but, “as Christ rose again, so we also should walk in newness of life.” The mystical expression for this is given in the next verse.

Verse 5

(5) If we have been planted together.—“If (so surely as) we have grown into—become conjoined with.” The metaphor is taken from the parasitic growth of a plant, but applies to natural growth, not “planted together with,” as in the Authorised version. The idea would correspond to the growth of a bud or graft regarded as part of that of the stock in which it is inserted. but without reference to the operation of budding or grafting. It is used here to express the closest intimacy and union.

In the likeness of his death.—Not here “His death itself,” but “the likeness of His death,” i.e., an ethical condition corresponding to, or conformable to, the death of Christ. If our nature has grown “into conformity with” His death, it will be also conform able to His resurrection.

This conformity means, of course, dying to trespasses and sins, being completely removed from the sphere of their influence, and entering a new sphere corresponding to the glorified life of the Redeemer. The ethical resurrection of the Christian begins (or is ideally supposed to begin, and with the early Christian usually did begin) in baptism, is continued through life, and is completed with his physical resurrection.

Verse 6

(6) Our old man.—“Our old self” (Vaughan), as in Ephesians 4:22; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:9-10.

The old self, or that congeries of evil habits acquired in the state of heathenism, was, ideally if not actually, mortified and killed in our baptism. This change was wrought by a power brought to bear upon the will through the contemplation of the crucifixion of Christ. Hence, instead of saying simply “mortified,” the Apostle writes rather “crucified,” i.e. put to death, not in any way, but specially through the cross.

That the body of sin might be destroyed.—The “body of sin” is the body subject to sin, or that supplies sin with the material on which it works. This substratum of carnal and fleshly desire, the Apostle tells us, is to be ascetically chastened and disciplined until it ceases to be a source of sin.

Verses 6-11

(6-11) Further description of this process. The Christian’s union with the crucified Christ binds him also to crucify or mortify (ascetically) the sinful desires of his body. Thus he is released from the dominion of those desires. But this is not all. Just as Christ passed from the cross to the resurrection, and overcame death once for all, exchanging for it a life wholly dependent upon God; so, too, His followers must consider themselves cut off irrevocably—as if by death itself—from sin, and living with a new life dedicated and devoted to God, through their participation in the death and life of Jesus Christ their Lord.

Verse 7

(7) Is freed.—“Absolved,” the same word that is used elsewhere for “justified.” The dead man is no longer liable to have the charge of sin brought against him. This is the general proposition, the major premise, adduced in proof of what had gone before, viz., the particular proposition that he who is ethically dead is no longer the slave of sin.

Verse 9

(9) Dieth no more.—The eternal subsistence of the life of Christ is a guarantee for the permanence and reality of our own life, so far as it is dependent on His. If it were possible that the life of Christ should fail, the whole fabric that the believer’s faith builds upon it would fall to the ground.

Verse 10

(10) But it is not possible that the life of Christ should fail. Death has lost all its power over Him. The death which He died, He died to sin. It was the last sacrifice which He made to sin, and one that freed Him from its dominion for ever. He died to it once for all, and His death did not need to be, and could not be, repeated. On the other hand, His life is assured, because it is wholly dependent upon God.

Verse 11

(11) Theoretical application to the readers. They are to regard themselves as dead, i.e., insensible and inaccessible to sin, but living in close allegiance and devotion to God through union with Christ.

Verse 12

(12) Mortal.—And therefore at variance with the immortal life just described.

Verses 12-14

(12-14) Practical and hortatory consequence. Therefore expel sin, and refuse to obey its evil promptings. Keep your bodies pure and clean. Let them no longer be weapons in the hands of wickedness; let them rather be weapons with which to fight the battle of righteousness and of God. You have every encouragement to do this. For sin shall no longer play the tyrant over you. The stern and gloomy Empire of Law (which only served to heighten the guilt of sin) is over, and in its stead the only power to which you are subject is that of free forgiveness.

Verse 13

(13) Instruments.—Rather, as margin, arms, or weapons which sin is to wield. The same military metaphor is kept up in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin” (your pay as soldiers of sin) “is death.”

Verse 15

(15) The Apostle returns to a difficulty very similar to that which presented itself at the beginning of the chapter. The answer is couched under a slightly different metaphor. It is no longer death to the one, life to the other, but freedom from the one, service to the other. These are correlative terms. Freedom from sin implies service to God, just as freedom from God means service to sin. The same idea of service and freedom will be found worked out in John 8:32-34; John 8:36, and in Galatians 5:1.

Verses 15-23

(15-23) Free forgiveness! What does that mean? Freedom to sin? Far from it. That were to return into the old slavery. To yield to sin is to be the servant or slave of sin with its consequence—death. On the other hand, obedience and righteousness go together. Happily you have escaped from sin, and taken service with righteousness. Service, I say, using a plain human figure to suit your imperfect and carnal apprehension of spiritual things. Exchange the service of uncleanness for that of righteousness. I appeal to your own experience. You found that sin brought you no pay from your master but death. Now you are started upon a road that leads to sanctification and eternal life. This will be given you, not as wages, but as the free gift of God in Christ.

Verse 16

(16) Know ye not.—An apparent tautology, but one which really teaches a deep ethical truth. Don’t you know that what you make yourselves that you become? The habit which you form ends by becoming your “second nature.”

Verse 17

(17) Have obeyed.—Rather, obeyed. (See Note on Romans 6:2.) In like manner correct “have yielded” to “yielded” in Romans 6:19.

That form of doctrine.—That pattern of teaching, or express moral rule of life.

Delivered you.—Literally, to which you were deliveredto the direction of which you were handed over.

Verse 18

(18) Ye became the servants.—Comp. “Whose service is perfect freedom,” adopted from St. Augustine.

Verse 19

(19) I speak after the manner of men.—I am using a merely human figure of speech, a figure taken from common human relations, and not a high mystical phrase such as I used just now, because of the dulness of your understanding: that form of expression you might not be able to comprehend; this present figure is clear even to a mind that is busy with earthly and carnal things, and has not much faculty for taking in anything beyond.

Your flesh.—This corresponds nearly to what is elsewhere called “the carnal mind,” a mind alive only to material and sensible things.

To iniquity unto iniquity.—Ye yielded up your members to iniquity for the practice of iniquity.

Unto holiness.—Rather, for sanctification; to be made holy.

Verse 21

(21) For.—(You had no fruit) for. &c. Some put the question at “then.” “What fruit had ye therefore (omitted in the Authorised version) at that time? Things of which ye are now ashamed; for their end is death.” But the construction of the Authorised version is probably best.

Verse 22

(22) Ye have your fruit.—You are no longer without fruit. Your fruit is the new Christian life which leads on to sanctification and finally to eternal life.

Verse 23

(23) The gift of God.—The natural antithesis would be “wages;” but this would here be inappropriate, and therefore the Apostle substitutes “the free gift.” In spite of your sanctification as Christians, still you will not have earned eternal life; it is the gift of God’s grace.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Romans 6". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/romans-6.html. 1905.
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