Romans 6 and Prolepsis

If, as we are told by Date and Co., death spoken of a present tense is prolepsis – an event spoken of as certain to occur in the future – are we to take regeneration to be something that occurs only after this death? For what are we born again, as if we had a need? It’s not as if we are dead, is it? For, as we are told, death is something to be considered as the actual deprivation of life; and speaking of “dead in trespasses and sins” as if it was a present reality is prolepsis, is it not? We will be dead in trespasses and sins, surely? Surely we had “died to sin,” yet only in the future, correct? We who have been buried with Christ are actually going to die with Him only later, clearly. Our old self, crucified in Him, will actually be crucified with Him in the future, will it not? We look forward to being slaves to sin no longer, and are not actually free now, of course! After all, only he who has died is free from sin. Right? Now, if we have died with Christ (proleptic, emphatic) we will live with Him in the future. Death, of course, is still master over Him, since He has not rendered death powerless in any sense, as Date and Co. insist. Surely, we are to consider ourselves to be dead to sin in the future, and therefore alive to Christ in the future. Therefore, in the future, we are not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies, and to obey its lusts. Proleptically, we are not to present the members of our body as instruments of unrighteousness. Proleptically, we are to present ourselves as those alive from the dead; because, after all, death is yet to come; and in that future, we are to present our members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not be master over you in the future, for you are not under law in the future but under grace, then. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law in that future state, but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone (proleptically) as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death (in the future), or of obedience (in the future) resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin (proleptic, emphatic), you became obedient (proleptic) from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed (proleptic, emphatic), and having been freed from sin (proleptic, emphatic), you became slaves of righteousness (proleptic). I am speaking in human terms because of the (proleptic) weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented (proleptic, emphatic) your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in (proleptic) further lawlessness, so now present (proleptic) your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification (proleptic). For when you were (proleptic, emphatic) slaves of sin, you were free (proleptic, emphatic) in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving (proleptic, emphatic) from the things of which you are now (proleptic) ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death (proleptic). But now having been freed (proleptic, emphatic) from sin and enslaved to God (proleptic), you derive your benefit (in the future), resulting in (future) sanctification, and the (eventual) outcome, eternal life. For the wages (to be paid at a later date) of sin is death, but the free gift of God (to be paid at a later date) is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Such reads Romans 6, if we are to take their ideas seriously. But there is a problem to be seen here. Do these past tense phrases pose a problem to the conditionalist view? What of the things seen to have already been accomplished? Well, as we have seen, parts of the golden chain are considered to have only future fulfillment – such as glorification. So, when Scripture speaks of us having been justified, this seems to be considered an emphatic statement of the solely future fulfillment, does it not? Remember, the basis for this idea is that death can only be spoken of as first, the event of death – the body being rendered lifeless – but then in the second death, the body and soul being lifeless. So, speaking of “alive or dead” in the senses seen above have to be similarly pushed down the line to speak of future events, at the risk of being considered “code language”, in some scornful sense. After all, we can’t speak of people being spiritually dead, can we? Such talk is unbecoming to the sophisticated exegete. Unfortunately, those who imported foreign concepts like the natural immortality of the soul grafted this idea onto the natural reading of the text, and exegetes throughout church history, aside from the brave conditionalist reformers who dared to challenge the oppressive beliefs of the church, have held to this mistaken doctrine ever since. On that basis, there is no reason to suppose that this doctrine affects things like justification, regeneration, or anything in that vein. After all, they are all accomplished in their proper time. In the future.

Now, the Reformed reading.

What shall we say then (now)? Are we to continue in sin (now) so that grace may increase (now)? May it never be! How shall we who died (past) to sin still live in it (now)? Or do you not know (now) that all of us who have been baptized (past) into Christ Jesus have been baptized (past) into His death? Therefore we have been (past) buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised (past) from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk (now) in newness of life. For if we have become (past) united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be (already/not yet – note, this is where it becomes crucially important – and in point of fact, the previous statements could be in these terms as well, but here is where it becomes important to show this concept clearly) in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this (already – note that these are accomplished by Christ as actually completed, and seen as that by the Father), that our old self was (already) crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be (already/not yet – and here is where the already/not yet of the Christian life comes back again – it is now in the sight of God, but the Spirit is conforming us to His image) done away with, so that we would no longer (already/not yet) be slaves to sin; for he who has died (already) is freed (already/not yet) from sin. Now if we have died (already) with Christ, we believe that we shall also (already/not yet) live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been (already) raised from the dead, is (already) never to die again; death no longer is (already) master over Him. For the death that He died (already), He died (already) to sin once for all; but the life that He lives (already), He lives (already) to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead (already/not yet) to sin, but alive (already/not yet) to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign (already/not yet) in your mortal body so that you (already/not yet) obey its lusts, and do not go on (already/not yet) presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves (already/not yet) to God as those alive (already/not yet) from the dead, and your members (already/not yet) as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you (already/not yet), for you are not under law but under grace (already). What then? Shall we sin (now) because we are not under law but under grace (already)? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves (already/not yet) to someone as slaves for obedience, you are (already/not yet) slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death (already/not yet), or of obedience resulting in righteousness (already/not yet)? But thanks be to God that though you were (past) slaves of sin, you became obedient (already/not yet) from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed (already/not yet), and having been freed (already/not yet) from sin, you became slaves (already/not yet) of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms (now) because of the weakness of your flesh (now). For just as you presented (past) your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, (result) resulting in further lawlessness, so now (already/not yet) present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting (already/not yet) in sanctification. For when you were (past) slaves of sin, you were (past) free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then (past) deriving from the things of which you are now (already/not yet) ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death (already/not yet). But now having been (already/not yet) freed from sin and enslaved (already/not yet) to God, you derive your benefit (already/not yet), resulting in sanctification (already/not yet), and the outcome, eternal life (already/not yet). For the wages of sin is death (already/not yet), but the free gift of God is (already/not yet) eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This takes into account the progressive nature of both life and death, as well as the progressive nature of righteousness and sin, and underlines the actual success of Christ’s work in the present. As you may note, the category of “already/not yet” is under eschatology at Monergism – and was given its first full voice by Vos, the father of modern Reformed Biblical theology. Vos, you might note, was also a significant influence on Van Til at Princeton, and subsequently an influence on Westminster’s theological expression. Think of Biblical theology as the expression of Scripture’s diversity in its progression, while you think of Systematic theology as the expression of it’s unity in thematic terms. In any case, the already/not yet is quite important to recognize in Reformed theology – because it epitomizes the approach which follows the progression of Scripture, and of what is successively fulfilled in it. It is only within this view that there can be seen a properly progressive sanctification of the new man, as well as a properly progressive mortification of the flesh to balance it. Simplifying things down to try to “explain” death in empirical terms serves only to confuse, and fails to account for the text of Scripture in its totality. The progressive explication of a properly Biblical theology accounts for everything from accomplished to anticipated, from Genesis to Revelation, and does so seamlessly. The annihilationist explanation fails to account for such things in quite an obviously disastrous fashion.


One Comment

Hiram R. Diaz III

This is what has come to mind rather frequently when I’ve given consideration to the annihilationist position. There is no sense of unity to the Scriptures either with respect to systematic theology or biblical theology. A consistent syetematic theology alone destroys their doctrine, but if one puts the effort in understanding biblical theology there is no way one could hold to annihilationism and consider himself Reformed.

Thanks for your work, brother. You’ve encouraged me to greater consistency in my defense of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus.

God bless.
-h.


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