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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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  • 1
    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
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 14:15
  • Some german translations I read (Schlachter, Elberfelder) translate the word with freisprechen (to discharge, to find someone not guilty of). Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 8:28

8 Answers 8

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In order to properly understand Romans 6 thru 8 it is important to notice that he consistently personifies "sin". Part of the way he does so is by the use of the definite article and part by anthropomorphism such as speaking of being "slaves to Mr. Sin". That is the case here:

NIV Romans 6: 6For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by [Mr.] sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to [Mr.] sin— 7because anyone who has died has been set free [emancipated] from [Mr.] sin.

Once we recognize that it becomes easy to see that he is speaking of manumission:

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/manumission

and emancipation:

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/emancipating

I would translate: "he that has died has been emancipated from [Mr.] Sin".

Note that while Paul most often uses the word in relation to forensic guilt BDAG shows us that it has other usages. I have bolded usage #3 which is the relevant usage:

δικαιόω fut. δικαιώσω; 1 aor. ἐδικαίωσα. Pass.: 1 fut. δικαιωθήσομαι; 1 aor. ἐδικαιώθην, subj. δικαιωθῶ, ptc. δικαιωθείς; pf. δεδικαίωμαι Ro 6:7; 1 Cor 4:4; ptc. δεδικαιωμένος Lk 18:14 (Soph., Hdt.; Aristot., EN 1136a; et al.; pap, LXX; En 102:10; TestAbr A 13 p. 93, 14 [Stone p. 34]; Test12Patr; ApcSed, 14:8 p. 136, 15 Ja.; Jos., Ant. 17, 206; Just.; Ath., R. 53, 1; 65, 14) to practice δικαιοσύνη.

① to take up a legal cause, show justice, do justice, take up a cause τινά (Polyb. 3, 31, 9 ὑμᾶς δὲ αὐτοὺς … δικαιώσεσθε ‘you will (find it necessary to) take up your own cause’ = you will sit in judgment on yourselves; Cass. Dio 48, 46 ‘Antony was not taking Caesar’s side’ in the matter; 2 Km 15:4; Ps 81:3) δικαιῶσαι δίκαιον take up the cause of an upright pers. 1 Cl 16:12 (Is 53:11); τινί χήρᾳ (χήραν v.l.) 8:4 (Is 1:17 ‘take up the cause of the widow’).

② to render a favorable verdict, vindicate. ⓐ as activity of humans justify, vindicate, treat as just (Appian, Liby. 17 §70; Gen 44:16; Sir 10:29; 13:22; 23:11 al.) θέλων δ. ἑαυτόν wishing to justify himself Lk 10:29; δ. ἑαυτὸν ἐνώπιόν τινος j. oneself before someone=‘you try to make out a good case for yourselves before the public’ 16:15 (δ. ἐαυτόν as En 102:10; but s. JJeremias, ZNW 38, ’39, 117f [against him SAalen, NTS 13, ’67, 1ff]). ὁ δικαιούμενός μοι the one who vindicates himself before (or against) me B 6:1 (cp. Is 50:8). τελῶναι ἐδικαίωσαν τὸν θεόν βαπτισθέντες tax-collectors affirmed God’s uprightness and got baptized i.e. by ruling in God’s favor they admitted that they were in the wrong and took a new direction (opp. τὴν βουλὴν τ. θεοῦ ἀθετεῖν) Lk 7:29 (cp. PsSol 2:15; 3:5; 8:7, 23; 9:2). ⓑ of experience or activity of transcendent figures, esp. in relation to humans α. of wisdom ἐδικαιώθη ἀπὸ τῶν τέκνων αὐτῆς is vindicated by her children (on δικ. ἀπό cp. Is 45:25. S. also Appian, Basil. 8: δικαιόω=consider someth. just or correct) Lk 7:35; also ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων αὐτῆς Mt 11:19 (v.l. τέκνων). On this saying s. DVölter, NThT 8, 1919, 22–42; JBover, Biblica 6, 1925, 323–25; 463–65; M-JLagrange, ibid. 461–63. Of an angel Hm 5, 1, 7. β. of God be found in the right, be free of charges (cp. TestAbr A 13 p. 93, 14 [Stone p. 34] ‘be vindicated’ in a trial by fire) Mt 12:37 (opp. καταδικάζειν). δεδικαιωμένος Lk 18:14; GJs 5:1; δεδικαιωμένη (Salome) 20:4 (not pap). Ac 13:39 (but s. 3 below); Rv 22:11 v.l; Dg 5:14.—Paul, who has influenced later wr. (cp. Iren. 3, 18, 7 [Harv. II 102, 2f]), uses the word almost exclusively of God’s judgment. As affirmative verdict Ro 2:13. Esp. of pers. δικαιοῦσθαι be acquitted, be pronounced and treated as righteous and thereby become δίκαιος, receive the divine gift of δικαιοσύνη through faith in Christ Jesus and apart from νόμος as a basis for evaluation (MSeifrid, Justification by Faith—The Origin and Development of a Central Pauline Theme ’92) 3:20 (Ps 142:2), 24, 28; 4:2; 5:1, 9; 1 Cor 4:4; Gal 2:16f (Ps 142:2); 3:11, 24; 5:4; Tit 3:7; Phil 3:12 v.l.; B 4:10; 15:7; IPhld 8:2; Dg 9:4; (w. ἁγιάζεσθαι) Hv 3, 9, 1. οὐ παρὰ τοῦτο δεδικαίωμαι I am not justified by this (after 1 Cor 4:4) IRo 5:1. ἵνα δικαιωθῇ σου ἡ σάρξ that your flesh (as the sinful part) may be acquitted Hs 5, 7, 1; δ. ἔργοις by (on the basis of) works, by what one does 1 Cl 30:3; cp. Js 2:21, 24f (ἔργον 1a and πίστις 2dδ); διʼ ἐαυτῶν δ. by oneself=as a result of one’s own accomplishments 1 Cl 32:4. (cp. κατὰ νόμον Hippol., Ref. 7, 34, 1).—Since Paul views God’s justifying action in close connection with the power of Christ’s resurrection, there is sometimes no clear distinction between the justifying action of acquittal and the gift of new life through the Holy Spirit as God’s activity in promoting uprightness in believers. Passages of this nature include Ro 3:26, 30; 4:5 (on δικαιοῦν τὸν ἀσεβῆ cp. the warning against accepting δῶρα to arrange acquittal Ex 23:7 and Is 5:23; δικαιούμενοι δωρεάν Ro 3:24 is therefore all the more pointed); 8:30, 33 (Is 50:8); Gal 3:8; Dg 9:5. For the view (held since Chrysostom) that δ. in these and other pass. means ‘make upright’ s. Goodsp., Probs. 143–46, JBL 73, ’54, 86–91.

③ to cause someone to be released from personal or institutional claims that are no longer to be considered pertinent or valid, make free/pure (the act. Ps 72:13) in our lit. pass. δικαιοῦμαι be set free, made pure ἀπό from (Sir 26:29; TestSim 6:1, both δικ. ἀπὸ [τῆς] ἁμαρτίας) ἀπὸ πάντων ὧν οὐκ ἠδυνήθητε ἐν νόμω Μωϋσέως δικαιωθῆναι from everything fr. which you could not be freed by the law of Moses Ac 13:38; cp. vs. 39. ὁ ἀποθανὼν δεδικαίωται ἀπὸ τ. ἁμαρτίας the one who died is freed fr. sin Ro 6:7 (s. KKuhn, ZNW 30, ’31, 305–10; EKlaar, ibid. 59, ’68, 131–34). In the context of 1 Cor 6:11 ἐδικαιώθητε means you have become pure.—In the language of the mystery religions (Rtzst., Mysterienrel.3 258ff) δικαιοῦσθαι refers to a radical inner change which the initiate experiences (Herm. Wr. 13, 9 χωρὶς γὰρ κρίσεως ἰδὲ πῶς τὴν ἀδικίαν ἐξήλασεν. ἐδικαιώθημεν, ὦ τέκνον, ἀδικίας ἀπούσης) and approaches the sense ‘become deified’. Some are inclined to find in 1 Ti 3:16 a similar use; but see under 4.

④ to demonstrate to be morally right, prove to be right, pass. of God is proved to be right Ro 3:4; 1 Cl 18:4 (both Ps 50:6). Of Christ 1 Ti 3:16.—Lit. s. on δικαιοσύνη 3c.—HRosman, Iustificare (δικαιοῦν) est verbum causativum: Verbum Domini 21, ’41, 144–47; NWatson, Δικ. in the LXX, JBL 79, ’60, 255–66; CCosgrove, JBL 106, ’87, 653–70.—DELG s.v. δίκη. M-M. EDNT. TW. Spicq.

Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., pp. 249–250). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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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. Commented Jul 31, 2012 at 4:10
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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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  • 2
    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
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 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
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 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
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 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
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 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
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 5:52
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Because they interpret death in the verse as ordinary natural death, as opposed to the ethical sacrificial death in Christ, dying to sin in repentance towards God. None of those verses cited in favour of δικαιόω as freedom suits the sense of the verse. It is a forced "figurative" interpretation. The word isn't a synonym of free ἐλευθερόω eleutheroo. Paul used the word for free in the very chapter itself, a few number of times.

Rom 6:18 ἐλευθερωθέντες δὲ ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίας having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness δικαιο.
Rom 6:20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free ἐλεύθεροι in regard to righteousness.
Rom 6:22 ἐλευθερωθέντες ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίας δουλωθέντες δὲ τῷ θεῷ,

Acts 13:38 talk about justification or redemption from sins, not freedom. Some references given in BDAG from Sirach, they are also proved to be mistranslations in English:

Sirach 26:29 on a cunning dealer.

Brenton Μόλις ἐξελεῖται ἔμπορος ἀπὸ πλημμελείας, καὶ οὐ δικαιωθήσεται κάπηλος ἀπὸ ἁμαρτίας.
LXX2012 A merchant shall hardly keep himself from doing wrong; and an huckster shall not be freed from sin.
WEB It is difficult for a merchant to keep himself from wrong doing, and for a retailer to be acquitted of sin.

Sirach 18:22 don't wait until death to be released, or justified?

Μὴ ἐμποδισθῇς τοῦ ἀποδοῦναι εὐχὴν εὐκαίρως, καὶ μὴ μείνῃς ἕως θανάτου δικαιωθῆναι.
LXX2012 Let nothing hinder you to pay your vow in due time, and defer not until death to be justified
WEB Let nothing hinder you to pay your vow in due time. Don’t wait until death to be released.

Both of these English versions got it right once, in acquitted and justified. To translate it as released, freed, innocent (NRSV) is a poor dynamic equivalence. Release is too vague and confusing in Sirach 18:22.

The analogy of the dead freeing from debt is very poor and doesn't suit with the deliberate vindicative act of the atonement. The idea of "dead receiving-justice" is also weak, because the one who dies or killed for his sin, doesn't receive justice, but a just-punishment. The victim of his crime receives justice. Christ's resurrection is shown as his vindication by the Spirit, 1Tim 3:16. The interpretation of freed is too complex for readers to wrap their heads around, as opposed to the simple interpretation of justification from sin through repentance, which is in line with the context. Ελευθερόω should be never confused with δικαιόω.

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  • +1 Basically agree with your assessment of δικαιόω. For the sake of clarity is it your view that the subject of v7 should be understood as the person who repents and obey Jesus Christ or something else?
    – Austin
    Commented Jun 17, 2022 at 14:35
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    Austin, yes only the ethical spiritual death in Christ is mentioned, which includes repentance to righteousness. He who has died (to sin) is justified from sin.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jun 17, 2022 at 14:37
  • Thanks for that response. That seems reasonable. Do you think that according to Romans 6:10 and 11 that only Jesus has actually died to the Sin and since we are not actually fully dead to the Sin we can only consider ourselves to be so in an a spiritual but incomplete sense.
    – Austin
    Commented Jun 17, 2022 at 18:14
  • "Follow the plain words of Bible." Forgive me if this is now a bit off topic but how do you understand the plain literal meaning of "For the death he died he died to sin?" I'm not familiar with reformed or Augustine doctrines. I'm just piecing together what the Bible literal says. Of course Jesus was righteous, but the Bible says what it says. Maybe what it says means something with slightly different nuance that doesn't conflict with Christ's perfect righteousness. I don't find the literal reading to so conflict.
    – Austin
    Commented Jun 18, 2022 at 3:37
  • You're right, he died to sin (on our behalf). So we too consider ourselves dead to sin. That's the whole topic of the chapter. The Bible never suggests that it's impossible to really or fully die to sin, it would be useless to command otherwise. Men of God has been always perfect and blameless. I didn't even check the verses when I replied to you, I apologize. No total depravity and inability to obey God, this would question God's integrity.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jun 18, 2022 at 4:07
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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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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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Most translations seem to see death as exonerating the sinner. Joseph therefore disagrees with ‘freed’. Trying to get my brain around his suggested direction, like Susan, I tried this paraphrase, using a capital crime like murder: He who has been put to death (for his crime) has rendered justice for his murder (sin)

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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. Commented Dec 20, 2012 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
    Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 3:00

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