NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson X)
Early church writer Ambrosiaster has more thoughts on what he understands Paul saying here in verse 6. He reckons that mankind’s intellectual propositions and logical proposals intended to explain where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going are hostile to God’s wisdom. In fact, because of such thinking, many believe that the magical creature called, Lord of the Elements (namely, Mother Nature),1 and the Creator of the Universe are equal forces. This asserts that we should accept nothing that happens in this world as genuine unless we can find a rational and scientific explanation for it. It is this kind of thinking that causes them to deny that God chose a virgin to give birth, or that He raises the dead back to life. In their minds, it is absurd to think that God can do anything beyond what man can understand or even duplicate. That’s why they don’t believe in the divine creation of the universe and the origin of life. As Ambrosiaster sees it, such people are suffering from what I call, mental-dystrophy. They can’t comprehend that their way of explaining life and the universe is not an insult to God, but to faith. God was pleased with His very creative handiwork, and it should be appreciated and praised everywhere as the work of a Genius. But they condemn and claim it is not believable and absurd.2 But when asked to prove that God did not create the universe, they are silent.3
John Calvin gives us a little grammar and vocabulary lesson here about translating something from one language to another. You may not style yourself as a linguist, but it never hurts to learn something beyond what we already know. First, Paul uses the Greek word phronēma which is translated into English as “mind.” Calvin starts by pointing out that when he read Erasmus’ Latin translation of Paul’s Greek manuscript of Romans, the word “affectum,” meaning “affection,” was used for “mind.” So you can imagine that early church scholars who used Erasmus’ Latin Bible thought Paul was speaking here of affections or even emotions. But is that what Paul really meant?
In light of this, Calvin believes that Erasmus should have chosen the Latin term, cogitatio, which means: thinking, meditation, reflection, thought, intention, plan, opinion, and reasoning.4 It’s important that we understand what Paul said, because if a believer’s life is controlled by their sinful way of thinking, then their spiritual nature has little control over what they do. But Calvin wasn’t satisfied, so he looked at an earlier Latin translation than the one of Erasmus, written by Jerome. Jerome chose the Latin word “predentia,”5 meaning “prudence” – discretion. In other words, was Paul talking about being discrete in our choices so as to always make sure we pick the right ones? Would it even be possible for a sinfully-minded individual to choose good over evil?
Calvin still wasn’t satisfied, he wanted to know what would be the best way to explain what Paul meant here in this verse about control of the mind. So he noticed that in the Old Testament, Moses talked about this same thing in Genesis 8:21. The Hebrew word Moses used there was yetser, translated in the KJV as “imagination” of the heart. It refers to the framing of thought, one’s creative thinking. This would involve all the faculties of the soul – reason, understanding, and affections. But when the Jews translated Moses’ Hebrew words into Greek, they chose the word hē dianoia, meaning “intellect.”6 This raises another question, can the difference between good and evil be determined by one’s intellect? If so, then we would need no outside assistance; no power higher than our own to help us decide.
So this now gives us the options of affection, thinking, meditation, reflection, thought, intention, plan, opinion, reasoning, prudence, intellect, and imagination. But since Paul was not writing in Hebrew or Latin, we must stick with the word he chose to use. Phronēma literally means, “to see,” which refers to what a person has in mind, their thoughts and intentions based on what they perceive to be the case. So it is obvious, that when a person’s mind is controlled by their sinful tendencies, sinning is their preference, it is all they see in their future. And remember, the wages of sin is death. Also, in verse 7 Paul says that this constitutes hostility to God’s way of thinking. But Paul will also tell us that our heavenly Father knows everything that’s in our hearts because He understands the phronēma (what’s on the mind) of the Holy Spirit who takes our prayers (what’s on our minds) to God’s heart, with the attention and involvement of our Mediator Christ Jesus. Now you know how important it is to be open and honest when you pray.7
Calvin finishes by saying that this passage by Paul deserves special attention. From it we can learn that by making nature the only creative force there is, we rush headlong toward delusion. After all, mankind comes up with nothing that lasts forever, it all ends in ruin. Paul teaches us that anything that comes alive in us is what the Spirit produces. There is no spark of life in what mankind thinks or does. Yes, we can make things, but we cannot make them come alive. However, by allowing the Spirit to be in control of our minds, Paul calls it life-giving because it leads to a joyful existence. Paul certainly understood that Jews were accustomed to thinking that every kind of happiness leads to peace. But he wanted the believers in Rome to know that when a believer looks for peace, they know it only comes from God and what we allow the Holy Spirit to accomplish in our lives to God’s glory.8
Adam Clarke reflects the same thought by saying that to live under the influence of the carnal mind is to live in the state of condemnation, which can only lead to eternal punishment. On the other hand, the person who is spiritually-minded has the life and peace of God in their soul. This is a foretaste of life eternal.9 Albert Barnes concurs. He says that to follow the inclinations of the flesh or the corrupt tendencies of our sinful nature will only lead us to condemnation and futility. Not only does this result in killing our reason for living, but does so with a great amount of heartbreak and misery. People should know that there are pain and unhappiness combined with sinful acts when they are supremely devoted to fulfilling their corrupt passions. The ultimate payoff is nothing but condemnation and despair. But when a believer wants to be spiritually-minded, it means seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance and approval which becomes the main object of their mind. The end aim of such actions is to cultivate the graces of the Spirit and to submit to His influence.10
Robert Haldane takes the view that Paul is not talking here about a believer who is still waging war against his sinful nature. Rather, it compares the difference between those who are still unconverted and those who are born-again. When Paul uses the term “carnal mind – or, said another way, “minding of the flesh” – it combines both the intellect and the will. Some render it “insight,” or “wisdom,” of the flesh – or wise thoughts. But the carnal mind, even with its most informed thoughts, has ingrained enmity against God. This is one reason why the carnal mind must be put to death. For the carnal mind possessed by mankind in their unconverted state, walks solely according to the flesh, both in its best as well as in its worst character. This is true whether it seeks acceptance by God through its own efforts or in following the course of this world in its sinful practices. As such, is not just an enemy of God, but enmity itself against God in its understanding, will, and affections.
Haldane then concludes, that people whose hearts are totally set on this world, hate God.11 Such people despise the holiness of God, His justice, His sovereignty, and even the way in which He exercises His mercy. People of such character often have no clue that they hate God. Not at all. Many of them even profess to love Him. But, unless God says they are His friends they are His enemies. His Word is to be trusted over their word. This is not to eliminate the fact that there are some people in this world who believe they really love God. But the god they love is not the God of the Bible, it is the god of their imagination. The god they love is the one of all mercy and grace; always careful not to offend his creation; a god who would never think of punishing a person for doing wrong because that would go against his unconditional love. But this is not the God of the OT and NT; the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Peter, James, and John. Even though this God is just and forgiving; a Savior and Redeemer, yet they don’t like it because He holds sinner’s accountable and demands that they confess and repent when they do wrong.12 The only way that you can believe in this God is to believe that He is, who He is, what He is, and what He has done that will eternally affect your life and future.13
Charles Hodge gives us some thoughts on being spiritual-minded, which reveals itself in the desires and pursuits of the things of the Spirit. He writes that a person with such a state of mind is at peace with God. That is what true living and blessedness of the soul are all about. With that being the case, there is no such thing as someone being saved in sin, they are saved from sin. It also eliminates the possibility of their being justified and sanctified. As partakers of the benefits of Christ’s death, we are also partakers of His lifestyle. Only if we crucify our sinful tendencies on the cross with Him can we live now and forever for Him and with Him. This is an important factor and part of the Apostle Paul’s main object in this chapter. He wants to show that believers can never again be numbered among the condemned. Not only are they delivered from the Law’s power, and justified by the sacrifice and blood of Jesus, but to get to them, you must go through Christ since He is the reason they live.14
English Methodist preacher Joseph Benson shares his thinking about what Paul said here in 1776 when the United States became a nation. For him, some people think Paul is simply talking about choices of lifestyle. But in reality, the Apostle was speaking of life and death decisions. Furthermore, it is a motive for holy living. So what are our choices? Hostility against God, or peace with God? Not just against God, but against His holiness, His justice, His truth, His power, His providence, His omniscience, His omnipresence, His attributes, and even against His existence. In other words, they want to live in a godless world. And just think of what kind of world would that be.15 Meanwhile, in the United States around this same time, Puritan preacher Charles Simeon preached that worldly people know nothing about true happiness. They think it means self-love, having all the things a person can get in hopes of finding real satisfaction. They shun religious faith thinking it will make them unhappy and unfulfilled. The Bible says that good thinking leads to grace, but the path sinners take is a rocky road.16 Contrary to the way sinners regard God’s guidance, the Bible says: “The person who finds wisdom is a happy person…wisdom’s ways are pleasing, all her roads lead to peace.”17
1 Lord of the Elements refers to the unseen power over all elements such as air, earth, wind, fire, energy, and ether.
2 See 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; 2:14
3 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 The Latin Vulgate New Testament, loc. cit.
6 Sefer Maaseh Bereshith, loc. cit.; and Septuagint Version of the Old Testament, loc. cit.
7 See Luke 6:12
9 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 1 John 2:15
12 Hebrews 11:6
13 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 333
14 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 396
15 Joseph Benson, On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 Proverbs 13:15
17 Ibid. 3:13, 17