Romans 4:25 – “For” or “because of” our justification?

Romans 4:25 is the climax of Paul’s argument throughout the proceeding chapter; and quite a climax it is. Paul says that righteousness will “be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification (ὃς παρεδόθη διὰ τὰ παραπτώματα ἡμῶν καὶ ἠγέρθη διὰ τὴν δικαίωσιν ἡμῶν).

What’s really interesting here (as I’ve commented on before), is the connection of justification with Jesus’ resurrection. Paul seems to be saying that our justification is achieved by Christ’s resurrection.This is interesting because our normal way of speaking is of our justification being a function of Christ’s death (which has obvious biblical support, e.g. Romans 5:9).

However, at this point some query the translation of Romans 4:25; and at the risk of alienating my few readers, I want to enter into this a little, because I think it’s important. The argument goes that the normal translation of dia plus the accusative is not “for” but “because of”. Thus, Romans 4:25 should read that Christ was handed over to death because of our sins and raised because of our justification (so NASB). This is then explained to mean that Christ’s resurrection demonstrated the effectiveness of his death: he was raised because his death had done it’s work.

Now, I do not wish to deny that dia plus accusative normally means “because of” in a causative sense. But it does not have to mean this. In fact, dia plus accusative can also mean “because of” in the sense of “for the sake of” or “in order to effect”. A good example of this is the clause in the Greek Nicene Creed “for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven” (δι’ ἡμᾶς τοὺς ἀνθρώπους καὶ διὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν σωτηρίαν κατελθόντα ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν). In both cases the English “for” translates a dia plus accusative and means something like “for the sake of”. Many commentators also support the traditional translation “for” in Romans 4:25  (e.g. Douglas Moo, Michael Bird), and it is clearly grammatically possible.

In favour of this kind of translation in Romans 4:25 are also the potentially problematic theological implications of “because of”. Do we really want to say that Christ was raised because we were justified? Doesn’t this make Christ’s fate subject to our fate, rather than the other way around?

Accepting the traditional translation, however, does mean being willing to explore Paul’s linking of justification with resurrection. As I’ve suggested before, I think this is a very helpful approach, and one that makes a lot of sense of of some other NT passages (2 Tim. 3:16; John 16:8-10).

I believe that in Romans 4:25 Paul is indeed teaching that our justification is completed through Christ’s resurrection. To translate a little more fluidly: Christ was handed over to death to deal with our sins and raised in order to effect our justification.


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5 thoughts on “Romans 4:25 – “For” or “because of” our justification?

  1. Thanks guys. Luke, interesting thought about Jesus’ intercession. I wonder how this concept is related to justification? We often talk about Jesus interceding in the sense of making our prayers possible (a la Hebrews 4); but the immediate context in Romans 8 is of justification and condemnation, so maybe Jesus’ intercession here should be understood in relation to these ideas.

    ae

  2. I did a paper at Reformed Theological Seminary where I studied Paul’s trial before the Sanhedrin in Acts 21-22. In his testimony Paul spoke of himself in the present tense…as being a Pharisee. He also argued the key pharisaic point, namely the resurrection–and how Jesus had fulfilled this. Some have said his claim to be (present tense) a pharisee…(after following Jesus for what, 20 years at this point?) was merely a debate tactic…but I don’t think so, as I don’t accept that the apostle would lie. My point is this–the resurrection had an absolutely central place in Paul’s theology–it was what made him a completed Pharisee, in the best sense of the word.

    Jesus was the FIRST one to rise permanently from the dead–and hence guaranteed each of us, in union with Him, would too…

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