In Romans 6:23 why does Paul speak of the "wages" of sin and not the "penalty" for sin?:

Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

"Wages" would seem to be a reward for services rendered whereas "penalty" would suggest that sinning is bad and should be punished.

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    The way you've phrased this question, it would be equally logical to ask the wages of sin isn't a baby elephant. This site isn't about proposing alternatives to the Bible! If you think it would've been more natural for him to say "the penalty of sin" then give some context for why you think that.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 0:29
  • @curiousdannii Sorry, I didn't understand what you were saying because I couldn't read your mind.
    – user10231
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 0:32
  • In my view, since this question can be answered from an examination of the text, it should be on topic. Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 1:37
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    @WoundedEgo, I get what curiousdanni is saying -I had the exact same thought when I first read the question. We have no way of knowing why Paul used one word over another. I get what you are asking, though -I think it just sounds a little strange when you first read it.
    – Daisy
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 3:32
  • Paul spoke of neither "wages" of sin nor of a "penalty" for sin because this text was written in Greek. Why don't you try rephrasing the question in terms of translation as to why translators choose "wages" instead of "penalty"? Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 19:18

3 Answers 3


The term "wages" builds on the earlier metaphor of man being "slaves/servants" to sin. The phrasing emphasizes the idea when we sin, we've earned death. That's your paycheck at the end of a long day of sin: Death. Verse 21 of the same chapter says this explicitly.

What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!

One implication: Death the natural consequence of sin, rather than (solely) a sentence carried out by a judge.
Another implication: This phrasing contrasts the earned reward (death) with God's gift to the believer (eternal life).

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    Agreed, it also places fault onto it's true source, the sinner. It's just more accurate to say wages because the death is earned by the sinner and not just an arbitrary punishment from God. Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 1:14
  • A thing to remember about wages is that once the agreed-to labor is performed, the wages are owed, and cannot be rightfully withheld. In the same way, when there is sin, somebody must die; it cannot be rightfully refused.
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 13:49

My question has been answered by Solocutor and I accepted the answer but I wanted to elaborate...

We tend to think of "sin" (ἁμαρτία) as something you do. "All sinned" etc. and of course that's appropriate. But in this section of Romans Paul "speaks in simple terms because of the frailty of your human nature" and compares sin to an evil alien living in our soft tissue:

Rom 6:19 I am speaking in simple terms because of the frailty of your human nature. Just as you once offered the parts of your body as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater disobedience, so now, in the same way, you must offer the parts of your body as slaves to righteousness that leads to sanctification.

I find it helpful to call attention to the personification by adding "Mr." to "sin" so I hope you will indulge me:

Rom 7:8 But Mr. Sin seized the opportunity provided by this commandment and produced in me all kinds of sinful desires, since apart from the Law, Mr. Sin is dead. Rom 7:9 At one time I was alive without any connection to the Law. But when the rule was revealed, Mr. Sin sprang to life, Rom 7:10 and I died. I found that the very rule that was intended to bring life actually brought death. Rom 7:11 For Mr. Sin, seizing the opportunity provided by the rule, deceived me and used it to kill me.

Paul says that Mr. Sin is the reason that God's holy law is ineffective in producing righteousness in an unregenerate Jew. Mr. Sin uses the commands of the law to bring about death.

Mr. Sin is portrayed as a slave owner to the unregenerate Jews who embrace the Torah but are conflicted because of the desires within their bodies. Rather than conform to the law they fall into the sway of their owner, Mr. Sin, and cannot obey the law. Instead the commands of Mr. Sin direct their thinking and behavior.

In this light it is that Paul says essentially:

"Mr. Sin extracts painful labor in his service and the only recompense he gives for it is death; but God gives his freemen everlasting life for free!"

But since the personification of sin is a metaphor, for what is it a metaphor? It is a metaphor for "the mind of the flesh", which is in turn a metaphor for the desires of the body:

Rom 7:25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of [Mr.] sin. ... Rom 8:5 For they that are after [are controlled by] the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit [breath] the things of the Spirit [breath]. Rom 8:6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Rom 8:7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. Rom 8:8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

Please not that I didn't use any of the translations that speak of "sinful nature" for σάρξ because I consider that a bogus invention to skirt Paul's idea that the body itself is full of sin, rather than the mind. Clearly Paul is echoing Moses' description of man being composed of flesh (from the earth) and breath (from the lungs of YHVH):

Gen 2:7 So the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground, breathed life into his lungs, and the man became a living being.

Gal_5:17 For the flesh lusts against the breath, and the breath against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

Rom 7:23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of Mr. Sin which is in my members. Rom 7:24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Rom 7:25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of Mr. Sin.

Please don't take me to be saying that this is the experience of the regenerate Paul or the saints. This is Paul's metaphor for the vain struggle of the unregenerate Jew. The way to escape the control of Mr. Sin is by the death of baptism:

Rom 7:1 Don't you realize, brothers—for I am speaking to people who know the Law—that the Law can press its claims over a person only as long as he is alive? Rom 7:2 For a married woman is bound by the Law to her husband while he is living, but if her husband dies, she is released from the Law concerning her husband. Rom 7:3 So while her husband is living, she will be called an adulterer if she lives with another man. But if her husband dies, she is free from this Law, so that she is not an adulterer if she marries another man. Rom 7:4 In the same way, my brothers, through the Messiah's body you also died as far as the Law is concerned, so that you may belong to another person, the one who was raised from the dead, and may bear fruit for God. Rom 7:5 For while we were living according to our flesh, sinful passions were at work in our bodies by means of the Law, to bear fruit resulting in death. Rom 7:6 But now we have been released from the Law by dying to what enslaved us, so that we may serve in the new life of the breath, not under the old writings.


The 'wages' (ὀψώνιον) are: pay, wages, salary, reward - Strong's 3800. There is nothing obvious in this definition to suggest a penalty or punishment. Therefore, we must look beyond the obvious and see what Paul really intended by the text of Romans 6:23

As always when undertaking exegesis, we must look at the context in which the text exists, which in this case includes chapter 6 in its entirety. Earlier in chapter 6, Paul talks of baptism as a metaphorical death, necessitated by the existence of sin:

6:3: Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
6 Knowing this, that our old man [old self] is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
7 For he that is dead is freed from sin
11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 6:23 is, then, a reflection on this baptismal death and on the death of Christ. We rejoice in this death, as it means we no longer serve sin. In Paul's metaphor, our old selves are dead, so that we are free from sin and shall walk in the newness of life.

Geoffrey Turner says (The Paul of Surprises, ebook) it is a very Jewish argument that to be freed from the captivity of sin and all its consequences, there must be a death. We have to die to sin and this sin takes place in baptism.

Neil Elliott says in "Blasphemed Among the Nations", published in As It Is Written, page 226,that in Romans 6:1-23, Paul is saying that those who have been baptised into Christ are not to misconstrue the grace they have received as an opportunity to presume on divine mercy, to "continue in sin that grace may abound."

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    But how is "wages" related to "baptism"?
    – user10231
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 1:37
  • Paul is saying that we are baptised into death. Instead of suffering a penalty for the sins of our former selves, we receive the wages consequent on having sinned and been baptised - life with God, free from servitude to sin. As Turner implies, Paul is a Paul of surprises. Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 1:47
  • So are you saying that death is a kind of payment for being baptized?
    – user10231
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 1:52
  • This is the death of our old selves (Rom 6:6), which takes place at the time of baptism, after which our new selves have new life. In verse 6:6, Paul actually likens baptism to being crucified with Jesus. Paraphrasing Rom 6:7, when we (our old selves) are dead we are free from sin. Of course this is not our mortal death, nor an eternal death. Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 1:58
  • I'm not really "feelin' you" on this one so will reluctantly down vote. If you want to pursue it further with me please invite me to a chat. Thanks.
    – user10231
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 2:45

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