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In the NASB, Romans 4:25 (emphasis mine) reads:

He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

However, in the ESV (emphasis mine) it reads:

...who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

The literal sense of the preposition διὰ in the Greek agrees with the NASB, but there are some alternate explanations that may favor the ESV reading. Textual and translation issues aside (those can be addressed over at BH.SE on this question), does the literal reading presented in the NASB present any theological difficulties in the Reformed tradition? I'm trying to determine why many Reformed-influenced translations wish to avoid this causal sense.

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"For" is a bit ambiguous here. It could mean "because of our justification", as in the NASB, or "to justify us." I take it you're interpreting the word in the second sense? –  Mason Wheeler Jul 12 '13 at 16:47
"For" is ambiguous and could indeed include this meaning, but the Greek is more explicit ("on account of," "because of"). However, I'm not looking for a textual/translation rebuttal here (feel free to offer that at BH.SE), but more a theological response to the NASB rendering which makes resurrection causal based on our justification. –  Dan Jul 12 '13 at 18:50
@MasonWheeler Correction I'm following the NASB and taking it in the first sense ("because of"). –  Dan Jul 12 '13 at 18:51

1 Answer 1

Yes, if you read "because" as indicating a causal relationship, no if it's just giving the reason or purpose.

"Because of our justification" might suggest that some action done by us is the cause of the resurrection. That's a problem for Reformed theology, and probably not just for us either, as it's a bit logically and temporally difficult.

If we read "our justification" more like "the justification that relates to us" or "is done to us" then there is no problem with the responsibility. Something like "for the sake of" instead of "because of" carries the same sort of meaning - indicating purpose rather than causality.

My knowledge of Greek isn't good enough to be sure about this, but from a cursory glance into Liddell-Scott-Jones it looks like dia can carry this meaning (sense B.III.3). Latin propter, as in the Vulgate for Romans 4:25, certainly can have a sense of "this was the reason" without necessarily also indicating logical cause. Compare the Nicene Creed's propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem. (But prepositions are always difficult to translate.)

In Martin Luther's commentary (1515-1516, trans. J. Theodore Mueller 1954) on Romans 4:25, he says:

Christ's death is the death of sin, and His resurrection is the raising up of righteousness. For by His death Christ has atoned for our sins, and through His resurrection He has procured for us righteousness. Christ's death does not merely signify, but has effected the remission of our sins. Christ's resurrection is not merely the pledge of our righteousness, but its cause.

The direction of the causal relationship he sees is obvious. Likewise, in John Calvin's commentary (1540, trans. John Owen 1849), we find:

Expiation depended on the eternal goodwill of God, who purposed to be in this way pacified. [...] The efficacy of justification is ascribed to his resurrection, by which death was overcome; not that the sacrifice of the cross, by which we are reconciled to God, contributes nothing towards our justification, but that the completeness of his favor appears more clear by his coming to life again.1

Calvin here adds the additional nuance of God's sovereign will. Like Luther, he sees the resurrection as both a sign and a cause, but in addition he emphasises that God is the ultimate cause. This helps the reading of "because of our transgressions" as well: God's grace is freely given, not procured as a necessary result of our sin. In both cases, our transgression and justification supply the reasons why God did what he did, without causing God's action.

1. expiato ab aeterno Dei beneplacito pendet, qui hoc modo placere voluit [...] resurrectioni, per quam mors absorpta est, vis iustificandi adscribitur: non quod sacrificium crucis, quo reconciliati sumus Deo, nihil ad iustitiam contulerit: sed quia in nova vita huius gratiae perfectio clarius apparet.

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Do keep in mind that the preposition is being used with an accusative noun, which tends to emphasize a causal sense more (ob or propter in Latin). My issue is that no one argues the causal link in the first use of the preposition in this verse, but they do the second - which is inconsistent. But Greek issues can be addressed at BH.SE, not here. –  Dan Jul 12 '13 at 19:40
Your explanation is good, although it moreso strengthens the use of the NASB translation. I'm wondering why Reformed-influenced translations shy away from this rendering. I know that Lutherans prefer the NASB reading. I'm told that this poses a challenge to the doctrine of unlimited atonement (but not sure why). Thanks for your answer. +1 –  Dan Jul 12 '13 at 19:41
For clarity's sake, please consider adding "No" (there is not a conflict) somewhere since that is essentially your answer to the question (if I am interpreting it correctly). –  Dan Jul 12 '13 at 19:43
Also, be sure to see my explanation of the textual/grammatical issues. –  Dan Jul 12 '13 at 19:58
Thanks for pointing to your very interesting BH.SE post. I don't feel at all comfortable opining on Greek grammar but I love to see it done. –  James T Jul 12 '13 at 20:11

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