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Romans 6 (ESV):

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

[...]

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The ESV version mentions death 8 times, died 5 times and die 1 time (14 mentions in total). Furthermore, there appear to be different semantic nuances depending on the context (e.g. verse 3 vs. verse 23).

Question: What does Paul mean by "death"?

  • biological death?
  • spiritual death? (<<< what does this mean by the way?)
  • something else?

Note that we could also ask similar questions about the meaning of:

  • life
  • eternal life

Related questions

4 Answers 4

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I suggest that Paul is using "death" to refer to various forms of separation:

  • Type A: separation of body & spirit ("physical death"), see Eccl. 12:7
  • Type B: separation from God ("spiritual death"), see 2 Thess. 1:8-9
  • Type C: separation from the natural man ("born again"), defined by Paul in this chapter

The first half of this chapter is a chiasmus, showing how Christ frees us from sin & death (see here)


  • Verse 2: Type C

  • Verse 3: Type A

  • Verse 4: Type C followed by Type A

  • Verse 5: Type C, through baptism

  • Verse 6: this is where Paul defines Type A

  • Verse 7: Type C, this is where Paul defines Type C

  • Verse 8: ties Type A & Type C together as he works back up the other side of the chiasmus

  • Verse 9: Type A

  • Verse 10: ties Type A & Type B together

  • Verse 11: Type C

  • Verse 13: Type C

--then on to the consequences--

  • Verse 16: Type B

  • Verse 21: Type B

  • Verse 23: Type B, Paul summarizes the theme of the chapter

Conclusion

Paul talks about 3 different kinds of life & death, and shows that Christ overcomes all forms of death.

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    You are everywhere this month. I'm really impressed at your seemingly newly vigorous participation. Love the answer. Upvoted + 1. Feb 17 at 4:39
  • Hi, how's it going? Just got a question. How do you know that the "consequences" are type B death? How do you even know that "type B" death is found in this chapter? The only place where you identify "type B" death is in verse 10, which talks about Jesus' death (so, apparently Jesus was separated from God...), but one can debate whether "type B" death is included in verse 10. So, how do you know that v.16, 21, and 23 are all talking about type B death? I'm genuinely wondering (as I've been for many years) what the basis for that interpretation is. Could provide a basis, please? Thanks! :)
    – Rajesh
    May 12 at 6:52
  • @Rajesh this is my effort to interpret the passage in a consistent manner. I wouldn't bet the farm on my interpretation of verse 10, but to me that seems the most straightforward. I do believe Jesus was separated from the Father ("My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?"). I understand if you are predisposed to believe in annihilationism you would read v 16, 21, & 23 differently. I believe the death in verse 23 is the opposite of eternal life. So I read this death as the opposite of the eternal life described in John 17. May 14 at 4:58
  • @HoldToTheRod "I understand if you are predisposed to believe in annihilationism" I asked my 8-year-old cousin which "death" is meant in v.23, and shockingly, despite not having any concept of annihilationism whatsoever, he said "what do you mean? there is more than one death?" "I believe the death in verse 23 is the opposite of eternal life." Same here. "So I read this death as the opposite of the eternal life described in John 17" Not sure how that follows. Also, I have an answer discussing why your interpretation of John 17:3 is unwarranted.
    – Rajesh
    May 14 at 5:10
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    +1 for a very interesting way of discussing death to sin as Type C. I think you're on to something here, however, I think type C isn't just death to your old man, but the old creation in general which is dominated by physical sin. Also, Type B could be broken into two parts. Type B.1 could be Spirit separation from God and Type B.2 could be Physical/bodily separation from God even while alive physically and spiritually as discussed in Rom 8:10,11. I think Jesus's resurrection referenced in 6:10 overcame Type A & B.2. I'm not convinced Jesus actually experienced Type B.1. Great work overall!
    – Austin
    Jun 17 at 23:05
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… it is talking about the ‘death’ of the [old] spirit. That which Paul refers to as ‘the old man’.

This verse states our ([old] spiritual) death with Christ (Romans 6:6) as an accomplished fact and our resurrection with Christ as what should be the result of that death.

That might lead some to speculate that our death with Christ to sin has already been accomplished, while our resurrection with Him (in context, spiritual resurrection) has yet to be accomplished. Yet comparison with other scripture will reveal that is not so.

Ephesians 2:5-6 states our spiritual resurrection with Christ as an accomplished fact that happens at salvation. Colossians 2:12-13 makes the same claim. In Colossians 3:1, Paul used the reasoning that if we are risen with Christ, then we should seek those things that are above. Just as surely as all Christians are to seek heavenly things, likewise, all Christians have been raised with Christ.

Our spirit (Matthew 26:41) died to sin and are already resurrected with Christ unto newness of life. These things are already realities in our new spirit.

2 COR 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

This ‘newness of life’, which is a reality in our spirit, does not automatically manifest itself in our flesh. The following verses makes it very clear that we have to know some things before this resurrection life flows from our spirits into our flesh.

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It is true that in the NT θάνατος (thanatos = "death") can mean one of two broad things (see BDAG):

  • natural/physical death, eg, John 11:4, 13, Heb 7:23, 9:15, Matt 16:28, Mark 9:1,m Luke 9:27, John 8:52, etc.
  • Metaphoric/spiritually death, ie, death in contrast to a living relationship with God, eg, John 8:51, 5:24, 1 John 3:14, etc. Under this meaning, we have some very famous cases such as:

Rom 7:9-11 - Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. So I discovered that the very commandment that was meant to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing its opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through the commandment put me to death.

Note that all occurs while Paul is still biologically alive!

The same metaphor is used in various ways always illustrating the same fact - that spiritually we become "alive" when we have a living relationship with God through Christ and this is the beginning of our eternal life with Him:

  • Col 2:13 - When you were dead in your trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our trespasses,
  • Eph 2:1 - And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,

The bodily/literal death of Christ is used vicariously as the substitutionary death for all:

  • Rom 5:12 - Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, so also death was passed on to all men, because all sinned. [Note that Paul uses "death" here in both the literal and spiritual sense because when Adam sinned, mankind gained a sinful nature leading to eternal death.]

The NT also likens the two natures of the converted sinner with the same metaphor - the old self has to die to sin in order for the new self in Christ to be fully alive. The "old self" is the human sinful nature.

  • 1 Peter 2:24 - He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. “By His stripes you are healed.”
  • Rom 6:2 - Certainly not! How can we who died to sin live in it any longer?
  • Rom 6:11 - So also you, consider yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but living to God in Christ Jesus.

Thus, the word "death" in Rom 6 is used in various ways as follows (from Rom 6)

1 What then shall we say? Shall we continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 Certainly not! How can we who died [spiritually - gained a new living connection with Jesus] to sin live in it any longer? 3 Or aren’t you aware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? [literal] 4 We were therefore buried [spiritually] with Him through baptism into death [to sin], in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead [literally] through the glory of the Father, we too may walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with Him like this in His death [literal], we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection. 6 We know that our old self was crucified [ie, died] with Him [spiritually] so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin. 7 For anyone who has died [literally and spiritually blurred here] has been freed from sin.

8 Now if we died [spiritually] with Christ, we believe that we will also live [literally] with Him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead [literally] , He cannot die [literally] again; death [literal] no longer has dominion over Him. 10 The death He died [literally], He died [literally and spiritually] to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. 11 So you too must count yourselves dead [spiritually] to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires. 13 Do not present the parts of your body to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death [spiritually] to life [eternal]; and present the parts of your body to Him as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

Now, it is obvious that because we are all sinners and born in sin, we deserve to die eternally but God offers us free grace to live eternally. That is, eternal death and eternal life are the opposites of each other.

Put another way, we are born in eternal death because of the sins we commit and because of our sinful human nature. We are offered eternal life with Christ. Both eternal life and eternal death are possessions we can choose to have now (John 5:24, 25). It is ours by faith to choose life.

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This is a great question. This touches the great work of Lord Jesus Christ as it concerns everyone and each individual. Romans is amazing. And Romans 6 is the fulcrum point of the Christian life. It is where we find great application of the Cross. Let me see if I can walk you through it properly.

Paul in Romans 6 is building off of previous chapters and a coherent understanding of the work of the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. And understanding this is crucial to understanding chapter 6 and consequently chapters 7 and pretty much all of Paul's theological understanding.

So what did Paul have in mind when he writes this chapter? And how does it apply?

In chapter 5 Paul presents 2 people. Adam and Christ. Adam is presented as the source of our spiritual death and consequently physical death. Physical death we all understand quite readily. Spiritual death is a more difficult thing to understand. But both are crucial aspects of Paul's understanding of Christs work and our relationship to Him and His work.

We are descendants of Adam. You can't get around this. It is just the way it is. Adam is the progenitor of the human race. And this after his fall. It is not easily discerned as you read Romans but Paul includes all in Adam. We are all in Adam. Spiritual death came into our experience because of Adam and consequently physical death.

Most people attribute the Flesh as skin and meat and bones. This is okay but that is not all that it is. It is this but it is also a mindset and a spiritual condition. We receive this at conception and it grows stronger the longer we live in this world without Christ. If you were born you are flesh. It ,the Flesh, can be simply understood as a description of the entirety of the human nature. Body, mind, and spirit. Its all inclusive.

So, as Adam is the progenitor of the flesh, the human race that we all are and how we operate so is Christ of the new creation. Or shall I say of the regeneration. This is not Flesh but Spirit. Amen. I could go into much detail on this but I wont.

So, lets go all the way back to Noah. In Genesis chapter 6 verse 3, we see a dynamic as it concerns the flesh. And we have witness of the Spirit. It says, The LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. Then God goes and indicts the entire human race under Adam. All flesh. Noah finds favor and receives instruction on building the ark. Thus receiving salvation and consequently condemnation of the entire human race. All flesh must die.

However, Noah's salvation was not and is not the same as that of Christs. Why? Because he came out the ark the same way he went in. Flesh. Like I said its a spiritual condition. However, there are some correlating factors in the salvation of Noah and the salvation that is in Christ. we don't come out the same way we go in. Its impossible. Death happens as we enter the life. Flesh cannot enter the realm of of Spirit. They are mutual exclusive. We must leave the realm of the flesh (die) in order to enter or be in the realm of the spirit. One is works the other faith.

As the invitation went out from Noah to enter the ark so does the invitation go out for us to enter Christ. For the actual death of Jesus is the door we enter. Yes, the Cross of Christ was not only a sacrifice for sin in the flesh but also an indictment of the entire human race just like Noah and the building of the ark. In this you can know that just as it rained and destroy all flesh, again one day the Lord will appear and destroy all flesh but with fire. Amen.

So, how do we enter the ark. Through death. Through the destruction of the flesh by the spirit. Romans 6,7,8 gives this understanding. Noah built an ark. Jesus is building a body. We are all invited to enter in. The Cross is for everyone but you have to enter on your own. How? Romans 6 is that which points to the door, the finished work of the Cross.

We must be transformed by the renewing of the mind. Our mind must die in order for us to have the mind of Christ. Our hearts must submit to His resurrected life in order to have life. We can't do this on our own. Hence Romans 7. Even if we are believers in Christ we can be such with no actual experience of the power involved.

So what do we do? We must fall upon the sword of the spirit for the destruction of the flesh. The Cross is that sword. So is the ressurection. Its a two edge sword imparting life and death to each of us.

Romans 6:3-4 speak of most of what we have already talked about. The overall inclusivity of the cross of Christ. And shows that baptism correlates to this understanding. What goes in the water must stay in the water. It is a great divide. When you get baptized you are saying that you believe in and agree with Christs indictment of the human race, of all flesh and that you in baptism commit to His life of the resurrection. Its actually His life that puts to death you completely. Its a process and its progressive but its complete. Your commitment to him at the right hand of God and to His real body, the church, which you are a real member in faith with the previous understanding is the key to walking in the power of the gospel.

Real quick. There are two lives that you have as a Christian. Yours and Christs. And these are completely and mutually exlusive. Your life is called Flesh. Christ's is called Spirit. They do not intertwine. No matter how good your life looks or the things you do, it and they are flesh. No matter what. So, deny yourself, this is the death, and take up the cross, this is His life, and follow Jesus always in these two Great aspects of his work.

In Romans 6:9 we see that Christ was raised from the dead and dieth no more. And that death no longer has power over Him. The dead as according to scripture includes all that are under Adam. All participants in the flesh. We can be living in the flesh and yet be dead in the spirit. Flesh and spirit are like to realms and two powers. The power of the flesh is death. The power of the spirit is life. Death derives its power in the flesh from sin, (unrighteousness). Something that God does not deal with. Life derives its power in the spirit from faith, (righteousness of Christ). Another way of saying this is, walk in the flesh, which is sinful, and death has dominion over you. You get paid death. Death is the opposite of life. Death is weakness. It is the incapacity to please God and the incapacity to live true life. Flesh, Sin, and Death are the realms, actions, and consequences on every level for all of mankind without God. These things do not go away even when one is saved.

Christ participated in the flesh yet without sin. So Death had no power over or in Him. He is the righteousness of God. This puts Him in the perfect spot to redeem and sanctify mankind. He was never stung by the sting of death, Sin. Death had no jurisdiction to operate. It is sin that gives Death jurisdiction. For Christ is Righteousness. Death does not have jurisdiction over the righteous. Christ is the only one that is like this. And in fact righteous has jurisdiction over death in a superceding fashion.

When Jesus accepted the Cross and submitted to the will of God by following through with it all they way into the deepest realm of Death he could not be held there because of His righteousness. Death could not keep Him. For He is righteousness. Thus his resurrection. He was already over death for he had the power of life. He is the life.

Adam caused us all to be separated from the life of God and all that entails. World without end. This cannot be changed. Its not so much that we sin, (actions) but more so that we are sin,(nature). With this in mind Christ came into the world to participate in the flesh realm as one of us. Completely human but he was not like us by the fact that he was conceived by the spirit and bypassed sin,(sin nature),(not same as flesh) but still was in the flesh. Since all flesh must die so must christ. Yet He was without sin nature. He was in fact righteous. Death could not hold Him.

So he suffered death in all its forms completely as though He was sin though he was actually righteous. This created a new path to a new realm for all of us that are in the realm of Adam. The new realm of christ. He did this, suffered death, in a righteous way. He came and included himself in our experience. Completely, once and for all. In this He provides a way for us to be included in his experience. By identification and faith in what has been being said.

The statement of Romans 6:23 is not just talking about sin as an action but more so as sin as the core of what we are that colors or shall I say gives quality to what we do, sinful actions. Anything we do in and from ourselves brings death from God. Anything in Christ by faith, which necessitates the death of the old man, because where there is faith, works of the flesh cannot be and where there are works of the flesh, faith cannot be, is life. Christ is the gift. Paul here in 6:23 is talking about cause and effect. Flesh works for death, and faith for life in Christ. Another to say this is faith in Adam results in death, but Faith in Christ results in the Death of Adam and life before God. That life is Like the offering of Abel, it is the life of christ. Unlike the offering of Cane which is the life of the flesh.

Christ is our life.

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  • Interesting thoughts (+1, and welcome to the site), but I still think that not all the nuances of the word "death" have been fully addressed. For example, verse 9 "We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him." or verse 23 "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord". What does "death" mean in these two contexts?
    – user38524
    Feb 15 at 16:11
  • Thank you. I will edit my post to answer these topics. I apologize for not being thorough.
    – Joshuabell
    Feb 15 at 16:15
  • I added some info as it regards the other nuances. Please let me know if it is clear enough or needs more work. Thank you.
    – Joshuabell
    Feb 15 at 20:24

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