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“Present your bodies”. Romans 12.1

When you come to a text there a number of questions you can ask in your effort to understand what the text “means.” There is the direct question of “what does is the proposition set forth here?” In our text, we have the obvious question of what does “body” mean:

Present your bodies 

Does he mean bones and blood as opposed to something else? And on this point, the commentators are agreed that body means the entire person:

It is consistent with this that he goes on to refer to your bodies; by ‘body’ (σῶμα) Paul means the whole human person, including its means of expressing itself in common life (cf. 6:6, 12)

C. K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans, Rev. ed., Black’s New Testament Commentary (London: Continuum, 1991), 213. Or, as a translator’s handbook as it:

Yourselves is literally “your bodies,” but in such a context Paul is using “bodies” as a reference to one’s entire self (NEB “your very selves”). This is similar to the meaning in 6:13, 19.

Barclay Moon Newman and Eugene Albert Nida, A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1973), 233.

But there is a second question which is more interesting in this place. That question is why does Paul use the word “body” to refer to the entire person. Paul could have present your “heart” or your “mind” or your “soul” or your “self”; but instead he writes, present your body.

Paul is a remarkably precise writer, and so we must take the use of the word “body” seriously. What is the point of writing “body” in this place?  In the next sentence he will write about transforming our “mind”; why is it then our body we present?

On that question, fewer commentators have an observation; but the observations which they make are open up some useful questions:

The use of the term bodies is interesting, for Paul surely expected Christians to offer to God not only their bodies but their whole selves. Indeed, Leenhardt takes it here to mean “the human person in the concrete manifestation of his life”. Many others take up a similar position (NEB, “your very selves”). But we should bear in mind that the body is very important in the Christian understanding of things. Our bodies may be “implements of righteousness” (6:13) and “members of Christ” (1 Cor. 6:15). The body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19); Paul can speak of being “holy both in body and in spirit” (1 Cor. 7:34). He knows that there are possibilities of evil in the body but that in the believer “the body of sin” has been brought to nothing (6:6); sin does not reign in the believer’s body (6:12). Grace affects the whole of life and is not some remote, ethereal affair.

Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 433–434. And so this comment tells us we should consider what else Paul has to say when uses the word “body” to describe our life. Calvin opens up some areas of consideration:

But there is throughout a great suitableness in the expressions. He says first, that our body ought to be offered a sacrifice to God; by which he implies that we are not our own, but have entirely passed over so as to become the property of God; which cannot be, except we renounce ourselves and thus deny ourselves.

John Calvin, Romans, electronic ed., Calvin’s Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998), Ro 12:1. This observation comes from Paul’s other comments concerning our “body”. 

And, with the encouragement of these men, we will consider some of what else Paul has to say about the “body” in the hope that such consideration will help us understand what Paul is doing here in his effort to give encouragement and direction to the members of a church as to how we can possibly live together in love. As we will see, there is something irreplaceable in the presentation of our bodies in a sacrifice, holy, living, and acceptable to God.