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Romans 6:7 invariably discusses a believer's freedom from sin in most English translations:

NET © (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.)
NIV © because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
NASB © for he who has died is freed from sin.
NLT © For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.
BBE © Because he who is dead is free from sin.
NRSV © For whoever has died is freed from sin.
NKJV © For he who has died has been freed from sin.

But the word used is dedikaiwtai <1344>, which is otherwise translated as "justify". Why did the translators choose to render the word "freed" rather than "justified"?

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4 Answers 4

Because each one of these translators believes that "freed from" is the "dynamic equivalent" of "to be justified from", which is hardly natural in English. Are they right? That is a somewhat different question. Their choice does have the slight advantage of avoiding the interpretation Luther put on the verse, which really was his 'eisegesis'.

Also, Thayer's lexicon explicitly lists this verse as the sole existing example of the figurative meaning 'free' for 'δικαιόω'

BTW: 'justified' is not a perfect translation of this word, either. It covers much but not all of the semantic range, which really is wider in Greek.

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Welcome to our Biblical Hermeneutics Q&A site! FYI: Thayer's lexicon can be accessed online it seems. I don't happen to think "has justified from sin" is terribly unnatural. Also, the NASB is not usually considered "dynamic equivalent" translations, but it used "freed" in the main text. The ESV, another word-for-word translation, used "freed" in the main text, but lists "justified" in the footnotes. –  Jon Ericson Jul 31 '12 at 4:10

If Paul wanted to convey the idea of "freed," then he would have used a form of the Greek verb ἐλευθερόω, which occurs twice in this immediate chapter (Rom 6:18 and Rom 6:22), where Paul in fact makes the explicit allusion of being "freed from sin." In Rom 6:7 however Paul used a different Greek verb and for specific purpose.

The Greek verb is δικαιόω or "justified" which is the 3rd person perfect passive indicative, which only occurs in two other passages of the Christian New Testament in conjunction with the Greek preposition ἀπό (by, or from).

Matthew 11:19 (NASB)
19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

Luke 7:35 (NASB)
35 Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”

The Greek perfect can be translated in the present tense as the above translations indicate. If we applied this same translation of that same verb-preposition construct (δικαιόω + ἀπό) now used by Paul, then Romans 6:7 would read as follows.

Romans 6:7 (Alternate 1)
7 For he who has died is vindicated by sin.

The idea is not that the dead person is exonerated, but that dead person is "done justice" by sin. For example, wisdom is "done justice" by her deeds (Mt 11:19), or wisdom is "done justice" by her children (Lk 7:35). So in this passage, the dead person is "done justice" by sin.

Romans 6:7 (Alternate 2)
7 For he who has died is "done justice" by sin.

Or to put it another way, the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). If Paul had otherwise wanted to convey the explicit idea of "freed," then he would have used a form of the Greek verb ἐλευθερόω, which he uses several verses later (Rom 6:18 and Rom 6:22) in explicit reference to being "freed from sin."

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Hate to say it, but... a theological agenda, most likely. Most Bible versions are Protestant (and I'm a Protestant, just for the record), and Protestants tend to be nervous regarding "justification" being anything other than a "judicial" or "forensic" declaration.

Part of the problem here, however, is an anachronistic understanding of the role of a judge. Biblical judges were not of the type we encounter in modern courtrooms, issuing verdicts from their seats and doing nothing else. The Bible has an entire book called Judges, and although some of them no doubt had roles as arbitrators, their primary calling was one of deliverance for Israel. Such corporate deliverance was a divine declaration that God had forgiven Israel's sins of wandering (something similar is implied in the eschatological promise of Jer 31:34; the point surely is not that individual "forgiveness" would not be available until then, but that God would vindicate His people through eschatological, delivering intervention).

The upshot of things is that "freed" (or better, "delivered") and "justified" are not, biblically speaking, in any sort of tension. As Peter Leithart has said, divine justification is a "deliverdict" (deliver+verdict), the acting of the great Judge in overcoming sins.

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In the context, spiritual death died. That is, the old Adam died, and therefore the believer is spiritually alive.

Since spiritual death and spiritual life are mutually exclusive (that is, you are either one or the other but not both), the transition from spiritual death to spiritual life is when you are "born again."

When you are born again you are "free" from spiritual death, which was the original sin of Adam. We are no longer condemned, but justified (dedikaiwtai).

Since spiritual death and spiritual life are mutually exclusive (and thus we have no part in spiritual death anymore), we are freed (dedikaiwtai) from sin.

I think this is what the translators understood.

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I think that is what the translators were thinking. But why? Paul makes this theological point other places in Romans, so why force him to make it here? It seems the theological point Paul is making is obscured in the English because of this translation anomaly. –  Jon Ericson Dec 20 '12 at 23:39
If we translated the passage to say "...he who has died is vindicated by his sins" we would be following the same grammatical construct (genitive of cause) as is found in Matt 11:19, where the context dictates we translate the idea as such (i.e., "wisdom is vindicated by her children"). Would that make more sense in the context of this passage in Romans, that "one who has died is vindicated by his sins"? Of course not. In the Romans passage it is not the genitive of cause, but the genitive of separation, which is in view. –  Joseph Dec 21 '12 at 3:00

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