The Helpfulness of a Footnote
It was around 3 o’clock on a Monday afternoon and there were still two long hours of class to go when my professor exclaimed, “Don’t you just love reading a good footnote!?” Judging by the blank stares he got from those around the table, it seemed that not too many of us did. I think most of us were rather more excited to get out of class and eat some dinner than we were to revel in the glories of the footnote. But while footnotes in most books may strike 99% of readers as boring, those in the Bible, while they can also be boring, can on occasion also be extremely helpful.
Continuing this series of posts on Bible reading and translation, I want to explore a footnote that is in several English versions of Romans 6:6. In taking this seemingly mundane expedition, I’ll hopefully be able to give you a taste both of the usefulness of footnotes in the Bible and also of how you can see things in a more literal translation that a more dynamic translation may hide from view.
Romans 6:6, a case of a good footnote
We’re more than a third of the way through his letter and Paul has just finishing a heady exposition of world history as the history of two humans, Adam and Jesus Christ (Rom 5:12-21). Now he has turned in 6:1 to counter the objection that God’s free grace means we should continue to live in sin. Then in 6:5-6 he writes the following (ESV translation):
5 For if we have been united with him [Jesus] in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
Now in both the ESV and NASB there is a curious footnote to the word “self” in verse 6. The ESV note reads, “Greek man“. In other words, the Greek literally reads, “We know that our old man was crucified with him….”
“So what?” you may say. This is a seemingly small detail, yet does it carry any importance? Well, let’s review what Paul has said up to this point. As I noted, in the immediately preceding context, Paul has drawn parallels between Adam and Christ, specifically between Adam’s disobedience and Christ’s obedience. Note the language he has used in doing this though:
“There, just as sin came into the world through one man…” (5:12)
“For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (5:17)
“For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinner,s so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (5:19)
In fact, in 5:12-21 I count Paul using the term “one man” 9 times, not to mention several more uses of the plural “men.” What’s more, each of these usages is either of Adam or Jesus. While it might make sense to designate Adam, the first human being, as the “one man”, isn’t it striking (even strange) that in 5:17 above Paul goes out of his way to say “the one man Jesus Christ.” He could have just as easily said, “…reign in life through Jesus Christ” without adding “one man” in there.
But Paul is emphasizing the parallels here! He is emphasizing two humans in history and the historical acts of disobedience (by Adam) and obedience (by Christ), and the results that followed from these acts. All of which gives us some very helpful context when we get to 6:6.
As a reminder, here in 6:6 Paul says “We know that our old man was crucified with him [Jesus]…” Is not possible, even probable, given that Paul has been repeatedly using the words “one man” and making an argument explicitly based in history, that when he talks about the “old man” in 6:6 he is continuing to talk about the “old Adam”? If so, this is somewhat different than the “old self”, especially as we usually understand the term “self” today. What’s more, it’s all in a footnote!
For most readers, I suspect we would see Romans 6:6 and say that Paul is telling us that our old sinful nature, our old way of life, our old bad habits, were crucified with Christ. These kinds of conclusions are the natural interpretation since we most often use the word “self” in phrases like self-discipline, self-esteem, self-improvement, and self-acceptance. Our old “self” has died, now we get to have a new way of life, a “new self”. But if our idea about the “old Adam” is correct, then what Paul is saying is both more historical and more radical than this. What Paul is saying in Romans 6:6 is that in Christ and in his crucifixion, the entirety of us which lived “in Adam” was crucified. Doug Moo is quite helpful on this in his commentary:
Many popular discussions of Paul’s doctrine of the Christian life argue, or assume, that Paul distinguishes with these phrase between two parts or “natures” of a person. With this interpretation as the premise, it is then debated whether the “old nature” is replaced with the “new nature” at conversion, or whether the “new nature” is added to the “old nature.” But the assumption that “old man” and “new man” refer to parts, or natures, of a person is incorrect. Rather they designate the person as a whole, considered in relation to the corporate structure to which he or she belongs…the “old man” is what we were “in Adam”–the “man” of the old age, who lives under the tyranny of sin and death (Romans, pg. 373).
The upshot of all this is twofold. First, as John Stott put it, “what was crucified with Christ was not a part of me called my old nature, but the whole of me as I was before I was converted.” In other words, conversion is not cleaning up our old act or continuing on with life but bringing God into it. Rather it is something much more radical. It is the entirety of our ourselves dying and being resurrected. It is the whole of our old man who lived “in Adam” being crucified, and then an entirely new man who lives “in Christ” being resurrected. Conversion is not an inner reformation to a now “religious” life, but a crucifixion and a resurrection.
The second implication lies in how this crucifixion and resurrection takes effect in our lives by faith and by conscious effort, and is not something known by “experience.” We see this several verses later. After expounding on our death and resurrection with Christ for a few more verses, Paul goes on in 6:11 to say, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” In other words, while he has taught us in v. 6 that our old man actually did die, along with its propensity to sin, now he says in v. 11 that we must consider (or “reckon” or “impute”) ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. In other words, our old life is actually gone. But from our perspective we may not always feel it is gone; we must realize its ‘gone-ness’ in our own lives by considering or thinking of ourselves in this way. We must say, “Sin, you feel pleasurable right now, but I am dead to you. I am not who I once was. I am a new person in Christ Jesus and live to God now. I will make every effort to consider myself as God has already declared to me to in fact be.” As Doug Moo says, “what we were ‘in Adam’ is no more; but, until heaven, the temptation to live in Adam always remains” (pg. 375)
I’ll leave you with a glorious statement by Martyn Lloyd-Jones on what it looks like in practice to act out the implications of Romans 6:6 and 6:11. While we often base our entire spiritual lives on our experience or how we feel God to be, Paul’s teaching about “considering/reckoning” in Romans 6:11 points in an entirely different direction. Here is Lloyd-Jones.
We are told to realize, and to hold before ourselves and in our consciousness constantly, something that is already true of our position or status. It is not an exhortation to us to do anything with regard to sin, but to realize what has already been done for us with respect to our relationship to sin. It is an exhortation to us to remember what is already true of us; it urges us to realize what has already happened to us as Christians, those of us who are joined to the Lord Jesus Christ. And what is true of us is that we are already in an entirely new position and standing with respect to sin.
This is something which we have to believe solely because the Word of God teaches it. You do not ‘experience’ your position, you are told about it and you believe it. That is what justification by faith alone means. We have this Word of God which tells us that this is God’s way of salvation; and we have nothing but the Word of God. As we have seen, we have all got to do what Abraham did, as the Apostle has already reminded us in chapter 4. We must just take the bare Word of God, believe it, submit to it, and act upon it. That is what we have to do with this statement.