Throughout Romans, Paul writes about the dead, death, and being put to death. A few examples, resurrection from the dead (1:4), being dead to sin (6:2), and raised from the dead (4:24). But he uses different words: ἀποθνῄσκω [G599-apothnēskō], θάνατος [G2288-thanatos], and νεκρός [G3498-nekros].

Three are found in one verse:

We know that Christ, being raised from the dead (νεκρῶν), will never die (ἀποθνῄσκει) again; death (θάνατος) no longer has dominion over him. (6:9) [ESV]

When writing about being dead to sin, dead to the law, and sin being dead without the law, Paul also uses all three:

By no means! How can we who died (ἀπεθάνομεν) to sin still live in it? (6:2)

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died (ἐθανατώθητε)1 to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead (νεκρῶν), in order that we may bear fruit for God. (7:4)

But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead (νεκρά). (7:8)

All mean “dead” so what exactly is Paul trying to get across by using different words?

1. ἐθανατώθητε is the verb of θάνατος

  • 1
    What is the significance ? - There is no significance. It's like asking “why is the common Greek word for death unrelated to the common Greek word for corpse ?” Which, in itself, is like asking “why are the common English words for hand and foot unrelated to the common English words for gloves and socks ?” At any rate, the question belongs on a different site.
    – Lucian
    Dec 15 '17 at 9:59
  • @Lucian Textual critics see significance in word choice. One way to understand a writers choice of different words is to examine them within the various contexts the writer employs them. IMO this is hermenuetics. Dec 15 '17 at 15:08
  • 1
    What choice ? The Greek language was not invented by Saint Paul.
    – Lucian
    Dec 15 '17 at 21:32
  • @RevelationLad There is significance in the word choices, they are, after all, God's words, like pure silver refined seven times, but then hermeneutics is not about God, but a particular approach to trying to understand the text. I personally believe, as ScottS says, "the Bible is verbally, plenary inspired by God, so every word matters," so when someone else says, "there is no significance," just take it with a grain of sand, and ask them to "show their work" ... hermeneutics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/466/…
    – robin
    Dec 19 '17 at 4:52

νεκρός is usually used in the Greek Scriptures and in Greek literature to mean essentially a corpse - a dead (lifeless) body. Examples with νεκρός:

Genesis 23:4 LXX (Brenton)

I am a sojourner and a stranger among you, give me therefore possession of a burying-place among you, and I will bury my dead away from me.

Luke 7:15 (KJV)

And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak

Phrases relating to someone being raised from the dead (e.g. Romans 6:9) literally refer to one being raised from the dead ones: ἐκ νεκρῶν; where νεκρῶν is the genitive plural of νεκρός.

θάνατος and the related verbs ἀποθνῄσκω (or sometimes simply θνῄσκω) are the words for death and to die, respectively. Death - θάνατος - can be contrasted with contrasted with ἀ-θανασία (athanasia), meaning immortality. Forms of ἀποθνῄσκω and the related verb θνῄσκω are often translated as "dead" in some versions:

Matthew 9:24 (KJV)

For the maid is not dead (οὐ γὰρ ἀπέθανε τὸ κοράσιον): lit. "... the maid did not die"

John 11:39

Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid (ἦραν οὖν τὸν λίθον οὗ ἦν ὁ τεθνηκὼς κείμενος) : lit. "... where the having-died [one] was laid"

I think what might be odd to us is that νεκρός doesn't seem to be etymologically related to ἀποθνῄσκω or θνῄσκω and it isn't really tied to any verb. It seems, though, that when a passage is describing the death of a specific person, perhaps in the context of their just having died, then a form of ἀποθνῄσκω or θνῄσκω appears. When dead persons in general are being described, then νεκρός appears.

  • What is the difference In terms of being dead to sin or the law? Is there a natural comparison Paul is following? Dec 14 '17 at 19:44
  • Which verse do you have in mind re being dead to the law?
    – user33515
    Dec 14 '17 at 21:09
  • 7:8 apart from the law sin is dead Dec 14 '17 at 21:24

Paul is referring back to Genesis 2:17 from Hebrew -

בְּי֛וֹם אֲכָלְךָ֥ מִמֶּ֖נּוּ מ֥וֹת תָּמֽוּת. Here, there are two deaths as referenced in Revelation 20:12-15 and other places. This is due to the consequences of eating from the Etz hada'at tov v'ra - the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which is the Law of sin and death.

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