In this series of short posts, I will share some of the observations I have made over the past few years in my study of Romans. These posts are in no particular order, and you can access the full list here. I hope you find something here that is helpful in your own study.
Romans, particularly chapters 5-8, is filled with language related to life, death, sin, and righteousness. A survey of the LXX (the Greek translation of the OT) reveals that the highest concentration of this language occurs in Ezekiel, as shown in the chart below. The chart tracks the occurrences of the following terms, all of which occur in Rom 5-8: zwh, (life), za,w (to live), qanato,w (to put to death), qa,natoj (death), avpoqnh,|skw (to die), a`marta,nw (to sin), a`marti,a (sin), di,kaioj (righteous), dikaiosu,nh (righteousness), avdiki,a (unrighteousness), dikai,wma (righteous requirement). Each term is assigned a different color in the legend, and each bar on the chart represents the total number of occurrences of these terms in a particular chapter. Due to the large amount of data, only the books of Deuteronomy and Isaiah, which are frequently quoted in Romans, are included along with Ezekiel.
Note that Ezek 18 contains over 60 occurrences of these terms. Furthermore, the use of these terms in Ezekiel is very similar to the use in Romans. As in Ezek 3 and 33, God emphasizes in Ezek 18 that the one who does righteousness will live, while the one who sins will die. (Compare with Rom 5:21; 6:20-23; 7:5,13; 8:13; etc.) He concludes with the exhortation, “Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit” (18:31). This command, however, is only realized when God takes matters into his own hands in 36:16-37:14:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. (36:26-27)
I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live. (37:14)
Likewise in Rom 5-8, Paul argues that life (which comes through righteousness) instead of death (which comes through sin) is only realized through the activity of God’s indwelling Spirit (see especially Rom 7:5-8:13). This is one piece of a larger case which can be made for the influence of Ezekiel’s vision of a “new heart” and a “new Spirit” on Paul’s theology in Romans.
The gospel is often reduced to the following: Christ died for your sins so that you can escape the wrath of God in Hell. However, there is more good news! Christ offers us not only forgiveness, but also transformation. Ezekiel does not envision a people who, while forgiven, are still locked in a cycle of perpetual sin. Instead, Ezekiel foretells the day when God will act in such a way that his people are enabled to live in obedience to his commands. The good news of Rom 5-8 is that this day has arrived.