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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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See also, Acts 13:38-39, similarly “freed”, presumably also triggered by the preposition ἀπὸ = from (perhaps by analogy to δικαιόω as “release from a vow”, e.g. Sirach 18:22). – Susan Jul 14 '15 at 14:15
Some german translations I read (Schlachter, Elberfelder) translate the word with freisprechen (to discharge, to find someone not guilty of). – René Nyffenegger Jan 28 at 8:28

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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There is one more δικαιόω+ἀπὸ in the GNT, Acts:13:38-39 (English and Greek verses are divided differently.) It’s a bit more convoluted, but ἀπὸ πάντων is modifying the first (and an implied modifier of the second) δικαιωθῆναι/δικαιοῦται. Nitpicking, but that instance does seem to carry sense of “freed”. – Susan Jul 14 '15 at 14:41
This is a really interesting interpretation I had never considered, but to me in context it seems really difficult. The death in question in 6:7 occurred (6:6) "ἵνα καταργηθῇ τὸ σῶμα τῆς ἁμαρτίας, τοῦ μηκέτι δουλεύειν ἡμᾶς τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ - so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” The death being discussed is crucifixion with Christ, because of which (6:8) "καὶ συζήσομεν αὐτῷ - we will also live with him.” To construe 6:7, between those two characterizations, as referring to the death by which sin works justice seems out of place. – Susan Jul 14 '15 at 14:51
@Susan - The body of Jesus died on the cross because of imputed sin. That appears to be the context of Romans 6:6 - that is, the body of Jesus is in immediate view. Our bodies today are "alive" but they are to be considered "dead" to sin because of our union with Christ. The body of Christ died to sin (or we could say that sin "did justice" in precipitating his death). Since we are united to him, our earthly bodies are "dead" to sin through him, and at the same time "alive" to God, because Jesus not only died because of sin, but rose from the dead (and we are in union with him). – Joseph Jul 14 '15 at 23:04
Right, I just have a hard time getting my brain to hear it that way between v.6 and v.8. ὁ γὰρ ἀποθανὼν seems like it refers to the same subject as those verses. But that may just be my brain being stubborn. It also seems to me that the Matt/Luke usage is different (although, I admit, itself a bit opaque to me) than what you’re proposing for Rom 6. “Vindicate” doesn’t mean “be justly punished”. The “vindicate" sense of δικαιόω in Mat/Luke comes from an idea about what the “children” accomplish, and sin doesn’t do that. But anyway, it’s given me something to think about, so thanks! – Susan Jul 15 '15 at 1:59
By the way, do you know any commentators who make this argument? I'd be curious to see it worked out in more detail. – Susan Jul 15 '15 at 5:52

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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Romans 6:7 ὁ γὰρ ἀποθανὼν δεδικαίωται ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίας. (Rom 6:7 BGT)

The verb δικαιόω doesn't simply mean 'justified' it has the sense of being vindicated or been proven innocent. Certain lexicons point out that when the verb is in the passive voice it has the sense of being acquitted or freed from a court of law.

See from example the entry in Gingrich:

δικαιόω—1. justify, vindicate, treat as just Mt 11:19; Lk 10:29; 16:15. δ. τὸν θεόν acknowledge God's justice 7:29. God is proved to be right Ro 3:4; also Christ 1 Ti 3:16.—2. pass., with reference to people be acquitted, be pronounced and treated as righteous, in theological language be justified = receive the divine gift of δικαιοσύνη Mt 12:37; Ac 13:39; Ro 2:13; 5:1, 9; Gal 2:16f; Tit 3:7; Js 2:21, 24f. Act., of God's activity Ro 3:26, 30; Gal 3:8; for these and other passages make upright is possible. Make free or pure act. and pass. Ac 13:38f; Ro 6:7; 1 Cor 6:11. [pg 49]

see also louw-Nida

37.138 δικαιόωd: to cause to be released from the control of some state or situation involving moral issues—‘to release, to set free.’ ὁ γὰρ ἀποθανὼν δεδικαίωται ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίας ‘for when a person dies (to sin), he is released from (the power of) sin’ Ro 6:7. In a number of languages the rendering of this expression in Ro 6:7 is extremely difficult; first, because of the figurative meaning of ‘to die to sin’ and secondly, because of the phrase ‘to be released from sin.’ It may be necessary to introduce a simile into the first clause and then to restructure considerably the second clause if one cannot speak of ‘the power of sin’ but must regard sin as exercising some kind of direct control. Accordingly, one may sometimes translate this expression in Ro 6:7 as ‘when a person is, as it were, dead as far as sinning is concerned, then sin no longer dominates him’ or ‘… then he is not controlled by his desires to sin.’[Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 488). New York: United Bible Societies.]

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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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