The Good And The Just In Romans 5:7 -- By: Andrew D. Clarke

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 41:1 (NA 1990)
Article: The Good And The Just In Romans 5:7
Author: Andrew D. Clarke


The Good And The Just In Romans 5:71

Andrew D. Clarke

In Romans 5:6–8 Paul contrasts the greatest acts of human heroism on behalf of a good or righteous man with the far greater act of self-sacrifice which was made by Jesus Christ on behalf of us sinners. The thrust of Paul’s argument highlights God’s action in his Son. So clear is this thrust that a number of commentators have tended to skip over the possible difficulties of verse 7, to concentrate on the impact of verses 6 and 8.2

In fact, the argument of verse 7 has appeared to many somewhat incongruous, and has led interpreters to adopt a number of quite different stances. The verse can be divided into two clauses-7a, ‘for scarcely will anyone die for a δίκαιος and 7b, ‘though for ὁ ἀγαθός someone might possibly dare to die’.

I. Romans 5:7 In Recent Interpretation

The main problem in this verse has been determining whether a contrast is being drawn between δίκαιος and ὁ ἀγαθός, or whether, in essence, these two nouns are synonymous. There are six principal lines of interpretation commonly adopted.

The majority of commentators argue that the nouns are essentially synonymous, with some arguing for complete identity between the two types of people.3 Thus verse 7b simply

allows for the outside possibility that such a sacrificial act of heroism might just happen. In this sense, we may paraphrase Paul: ‘Rarely will anyone die for a just or good man, although someone may possibly do it.’

A modification of this view suggests a distinction in meaning between δίκαιος and ὁ ἀγαθός. The latter is a stronger description. A ‘just’ man would describe the person who, before the letter of the law, is unimpeachable. Although such a person may well be admirable, he is somewhat without compassion. It is the person who is ‘good’ that attracts more sentiment. One who is ἀγαθός is prepared t...

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