Feast upon the Word Blog

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Life of Holiness, Romans 8:1-11 (pages 377-393)

Posted by Robert C. on June 27, 2013

This week I’ll just provide a list of the highlights I took from my reading, basically in the order they occur in the reading (also, the discussions get progressively shorter, as I was running out of time…). I came up with a list of 9 points, so I’m counting on you readers to help me come up with a 10th point, since a “Top 9 List” doesn’t quit sound right.

1. “In covenant relation” (8:1, p. 380). Jim used the phrase frequently in this section, starting as a way to express what Paul means by “in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1), and I think it’s a really nice way to express one of Paul’s main ideas, especially in these verses. Jim refers in a footnote on page 381 back to his fascinating discussion of the phrase “into Christ Jesus” in Romans 6:3 (p. 285). There, Jim (citing N. T. Wright) discusses 2 Samuel 19:43 and the phrase having a “part in David” as a way of expressing covenant relations such as those existing between a lord or king and his people. Since kings and lords are existentially unfamiliar concepts, in our modern political landscape, I think it’s helpful to think of these covenant relations in terms of our families or wards. I’ll discuss this more in point #7 below.

2. “After the flesh” (8:1, p. 381). Jim’s discussion of “the body,” and its connotation of living in the world, rather than merely a reference to our physical body, was tremendously helpful and insightful for me. That drastically changes my understanding of many New Testament passages.

Joe asked a question on the lds-herm listserv a couple months ago regarding the seeming reversal of the way the words “body” and “flesh” are used in Job 19:26 and 2 Nephi 9:4. Whereas Job say, “And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:26), Jacob says, “I know that ye know that our flesh must waste away and die; nevertheless, in our bodies we shall see God.” If we take the Pauline distinction that Jim suggests and apply it to 2 Nephi 9:4, we get the idea that worldliness will pass away but in our physical bodies we will see God. This strikes me as consonant with the peculiar modern Mormon emphasis on physical matter and bodies (“all spirit is matter,” D&C 131:7). Perhaps we might read this as a kind of corrective or theologically playful (and productive) inversion of Job 19:26 and the doctrine of resurrection that seems to be at work there, at least on a modern reading. That is, perhaps we should read 2 Nephi 9:4 as emphasizing a kind of immediacy to the idea of seeing God, the kind of immediacy that Jim has repeatedly emphasized, that living in covenant relation should have immediate effects on us (cf. point #4 below).

3. “Law of the spirit” (8:2, pp. 382-383). Jim boldly challenges a common understanding, “[Paul] is not talking about an old law, the law of the Old Testament, that has been replaced by a new one, the law of Christ.” Rather, “For those in covenant with Christ, law does what it was designed to do. It saves us from sin and death.” Then Jim says, “life in Christ—itself life by a law—frees us from that other, Mosaic law lived without the Spirit.”

I like what Jim is saying here, but I find it a rather dense set of ideas to ponder, and I can’t help wishing (somewhat like Joe’s sentiment last week) that Jim had unpacked this more. (But, of course, it’s silly and absurd to make this complaint about a 497 page book, esp. since Jim has already written another more philosophical/theological book that I haven’t finished reading yet.) What I find most intriguing, I suppose, is the way the word “law” is used here. I have a tendency to think about law in, well, legalistic ways. And, to me, relationships feel very different. So, I’m inclined to think of my relationship with God, and with others I care about, in terms that are opposed to law. It’s in this sense that Paul’s phrase “law of the spirit” is somewhat jarring. But, I think this is a very important tension to work out and think about, especially given the importance of the term “law” in the D&C, such as in passages like D&C 88:22, “For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.” As I think I mentioned in a comment on last week’s reading, I tend to think we conceive of moral and ethical issues in law-like ways that are often counterproductive and insensitive to the particularities of a situation (in sympathy with many points made by a “moral particularism” philosophical perspective). But, clearly, these scriptural ideas of a “law of the spirit” and a celestial law suggest a deeper rapprochement than my anti-legalistic comments would suggest.

4. “Walk . . . [in actuality] after the Spirit” (8:4, pp. 385-386). I really like Jim’s point here, which he’s expressed in various other, related ways in previous sections: “Notice, also, that reconciliation with God, which we learn is accomplished through the Spirit, is no longer a future possibility, as it was in Romans 5:10. It is something actual. Paul speaks not of those who may walk after the Spirit, but of those who do so.” I think the problem of what I’ll call “heteronomous desire” that Paul describes in Romans 7 is deeply bound up, at least in the modern Mormon manifestation of this problem, with this idea of deferral or delay. According to problematic Mormon myth, we get baptized with proper authority so that we’ll be saved at the last day, and we try to be obedient to the commandments so that we will be saved at the last day. But this focus on salvation at the last day distracts us from the problematic relationship we currently have with the commandments. Or something like that. And I see Jim’s reading of Paul as directly addressing this deep-seated problem.

5. “Mind[/attend to] things of the flesh (8:5, p. 387). I really like how Jim suggests “attend to” as an alternative to the KJV’s “mind” in this verse. The reason, in short, is that it brings to mind ideas from a relatively recent movement (or upsurge) in moral philosophy termed “the ethics of care”—ideas that I think are quite interesting and promising (and related to feminist critiques of a kind of problematic “masculine” bias in our Western philosophical heritage).

6. “The things of the Spirit” (8:5, p. 388). I really like how Jim summarizes Paul’s point here: “those whose being is determined by the flesh can see nothing but a world of the flesh, while those whose being is determined by the Spirit can attend to the things of the Spirit.” Part of the reason I like this statement is how I think it helps us think about modesty and sexism in our modern, hyper-sexualized culture (Jacob recently wrote a brave post at BCC that talks about the kind of problems I have in mind, of “see[ing] nothing but a world of the flesh”.)

7. “Dwell in you” (8:9, pp. 390-391). The Greek root for this term “dwell” is oikeo, which is the same root in Greek for household or economy (I think). I find this a rich and fascinating idea, that our relationship with the Spirit—or the law, for that matter—is not to be like that of a passerby, or someone who walks into a store browsing the aisles. Tourists might follow local customs without internalizing them, but if you are a part of the household, you are committed, and must internalize the household customs and rules, and you are fully invested, seeking your roots deep, etc., etc. The increasing speed of modern technology and our global economy pushes us in a direction away from these more deeply rooted, abiding notions of dwelling.

8. “He . . . shall also quicken your mortal bodies” (8:11, p. 393). I like Jim’s gloss of this phrase: “It isn’t that we receive immortal bodies now or that we are cured from or protected from disease and harm (though we may receive such protection). Rather, we live a new life, a divine life, even though we remain in this world and even though we remain subject to its difficulties.” This tension between the world that we live in and the kingdom of God is a deep, fascinating, and provocative tension that is very difficult to navigate. The deeper our understanding and awareness of these tensions, the better able we will be to navigate them. This is a primary purpose for and benefit from studying scripture, it seems to me.

9. “By his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (8:11 p. 393). I really like how Jim contrasts the idea of a kind of individualistic effort, “to clench our teeth and tighten our fist,” with the less atomistic notion of yielding to the Spirit. Jim makes a complementary point when talking about the plural “you” here, that implies a sense of community, “that Paul is addressing the church rather than the individual members of the church.” Jim references a similar discussion of Romans 8:9 (p. 390) where he says “the Spirit here means that the Spirit is with the church or community within the church.” This is, of course, in contrast to a more individualistic conception of the how the Spirit works, which is the more natural way for us moderns to think about the Spirit.

4 Responses to “Life of Holiness, Romans 8:1-11 (pages 377-393)”

  1. […] Romans 7:1-6; Romans 7:7-12 (pp. 335-358) [...] 6/17: Romans 7:13-25 (pp. 359-376) [-Joe S.] 6/24: Romans 8:1-11 (pp. 377-393) [-Robert […]

  2. joespencer said

    Excellent discussion, Robert. Thanks. I haven’t much to say in response but that.

    And I’ll add only one note from my own reading this week. I was most struck by the very first thing Jim pointed out—drawn from N. T. Wright—in the reading: “As N. T. Wright points out, the first thing to note in this passage is that Paul has moved from the Messiah (Romans 5), whose atoning sacrifice and resurrection are completed, to the Holy Ghost (Romans 8), whose work is not yet completed” (p. 378). There’s a kind of echo of Joachim here: the pre-messianic era was the era of the Father; the messianic event marked the intervention of the Son; and the time that remains is the era of the Spirit. This makes Jim’s passing emphasis on the word “now” on page 380 of some importance—and this is confirmed, I think, by the weight that can often be felt in connection with the word “now” in Romans (beginning in Romans 3:21, with the clearly transition “but now,” and then being worked out in important ways in the rest of Romans 8—see verse 18, where “the present time” translates what literally says in Greek “the time of the now,” and verse 22, where “now” translates what literally says in Greek “the now”). It also helps to clarify the importance of Jim’s comments on verse 11, where he argues that we have to understand life and resurrection as happening, in some perhaps surprising sense, now. We’ve got, I think, a good deal of thinking still to do about this “now.”

  3. Robert C. said

    Nice, Joe. (But I think you meant to say, “Now we’ve got a good deal of thinking still to do about this “now.”)

  4. Robert and Joe. Thanks for excellent comments. Reading these responses always makes me want to go back and rewrite passages of the book. But I think I’ll resist the temptation.

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