On Romans 6:7

One of Jehovah’s Witnesses on AOL posted the following to a forum there:

I believe in God and his son’s sacrifice for us. I believe when we die that it’s it; no torture no torment as I believe it is either Romans or Act that says the wages sin pays is death, once we die that wage is paid.
Romans 6:7 “For whoever has died has been acquitted from his sins.” – NWT
Romans 6:7 “For when a man dies he is freed — loosed, delivered — from [the power of] sin. – Amplified Bible
It’s pretty plain. When you die, your sins of this fleshly life are paid for. That was the pronouncement in the garden of Eden, and it is the same now.

This witnesses’ statement is in keeping with the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as can be seen from the following quotes from Watchtower publications:

16 What of those, then, who will be resurrected during Jesus’ thousand-year reign? Must these, too, come within the city of refuge and remain there until the “death of the high priest”? No. For these have paid the penalty for their sinfulness by their own death. (Rom. 6:7) They have been acquitted of sin by going down into the common grave of all mankind. On coming forth from death, they are now standing on a road that leads, not into the antitypical city of refuge, but into life everlasting. – The Watchtower, 5/15/73, page 312

17 Must those resurrected during Jesus’ Thousand Year Reign enter the antitypical city of refuge and remain there until the death of the high priest? No, because by dying they paid the penalty for their sinfulness. (Romans 6:7; Hebrews 9:27) Nevertheless, the High Priest will help them to reach perfection. If they successfully pass the final test after the Millennium, God will also declare them righteous with a guarantee of eternal life on earth. – The Watchtower, 11/15/95, page 19

I held to and taught that interpretation of Romans 6:7 for the years I was a Jehovah’s Witness. But on reading the verse in context, I began to see a different picture.

Romans 6:1 Consequently, what shall we say? Shall we continue in sin, that undeserved kindness may abound? 2 Never may that happen! Seeing that we died with reference to sin, how shall we keep on living any longer in it?

So, Paul starts off the chapter talking not about literal death, but death “with reference to sin.” Other translations use the phrase “died to sin” here.

Romans 6:3 Or do YOU not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we were buried with him through our baptism into his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised up from the dead through the glory of the Father, we also should likewise walk in a newness of life.

Now Paul says that they “were buried with him through our baptism into his death,” and that because of that they “should likewise walk in a newness of life.” Again, this is not literal death, but the dying of the old person and personality and the beginning of walking in a newness of life as a Christian.

Romans 6: 5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall certainly also be [united with him in the likeness] of his resurrection; 6 because we know that our old personality was impaled with [him], that our sinful body might be made inactive, that we should no longer go on being slaves to sin.

In verse 6, Paul says it was our old personality that was impaled or crucified with Christ so it is a figurative death, death to sin that is the subject of this chapter. Now we come to the verse under consideration, Romans 6:7, which the New World Translation renders: “For he who has died has been acquitted from [his] sin.” The NASB renders verse 7: “for he who has died is freed from sin.” What manner of death is it that frees us from sin? Continuing on, Paul continues on the subject of, death with reference to sin, or death to sin.

Romans 6:8 Moreover, if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. 9 For we know that Christ, now that he has been raised up from the dead, dies no more; death is master over him no more. 10 For [the death] that he died, he died with reference to sin once for all time; but [the life] that he lives, he lives with reference to God. 11 Likewise also YOU: reckon yourselves to be dead indeed with reference to sin but living with reference to God by Christ Jesus.

In verse 11, Paul concludes on this subject, telling the Romans to “reckon yourselves to be dead indeed with reference to sin, but living with reference to God by Christ Jesus.” The NASB puts it this way: “Even so, consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” So, we are freed from sin, not when we literally die, but when we die to sin and begin to be alive to God in Christ Jesus. Paul continues on to illustrate how we were slaves to sin before dying to it:

Romans 6:12 Therefore do not let sin continue to rule as king in YOUR mortal bodies that YOU should obey their desires. 13 Neither go on presenting YOUR members to sin as weapons of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, also YOUR members to God as weapons of righteousness. 14 For sin must not be master over YOU, seeing that YOU are not under law but under undeserved kindness.

Before coming to life in Christ, sin ruled as king and master over us. There was nothing we could do to free ourselves from it. But, in Christ we have been freed from that cruel master, we have been loosed from the burden of sin. Christ freed us when he took our burden of sin upon Himself and literally died in our place. As a result of Jesus literal death and our figurative death to sin, we are transferred from under the rulership of sin, with death in view, to the rulership of Christ with life in view.

Verse 3 raises an additional issue for the vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Look at the context. Verse 3 says, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” Who is the “all of us” that is being addressed here? Who does the WT say are baptized into Jesus Christ and baptized into his death?

The book “United in Worship”, on page 98 says the following:

7 Those who will reign with Christ in his heavenly Kingdom must likewise be baptized into death. (Mark 10:37-40; Col. 2:12) At their death they lay aside forever their human life, as Jesus did. And at their resurrection they join him in heavenly rulership. This is a baptism performed, not by any human, but by God through his heavenly Son.

8 Those who are baptized into Jesus’ death are also said to be “baptized into Christ Jesus.” By means of holy spirit channeled through Christ they become united to him, their head, as members of his spirit-anointed congregation, his “body.” Because that spirit enables them to reflect Christ’s superior personality, it can be said of them that they all become “one person in union with Christ Jesus.”-Rom. 6:3-5; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27, 28; Acts 2:32, 33.

So according to the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is only the 144,000 who are baptized into Jesus and into His death. Only about 8500 of the 6 million Jehovah’s Witnesses on the earth today (2004) claim to be of that 144,000. According to Watchtower teaching, the rest of them are the “other sheep.”

Dropping down to verse 5, we read, “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” Who does the WT apply this verse to? Volume 1 of the Insight book, page 1185 tells us:

All anointed members of the Christian congregation are foreordained by God to be “patterned after the image of his Son.” (Ro 8:29) Christ Jesus is their model not only in their life pattern, as they follow in his footsteps and imitate his course and ways, but also in their death and resurrection. (1Pe 2:21-24; 1Co 11:1; Ro 6:5)

Volume 2 of the Insight book, page 270 specifically removes the “other sheep” from verses 3 through 5:

Those benefiting would naturally be interested in the Kingdom and its development. Such persons therefore would attend and observe the celebration of the Lord’s Evening Meal, but not being joint heirs with Christ and spiritual sons of God, they would not partake of the emblems as joint participants in the death of Christ, with hope of resurrection to a heavenly life with him.-Ro 6:3-5.

Finally, the 7/1/1998 issue of the Watchtower, page 14 says:

5 Jesus would not be the only one resurrected to heavenly life. Paul told fellow Christians in Rome that they had been anointed with holy spirit to be sons of God and joint-heirs with Christ if they confirmed their anointing by enduring to the end. (Romans 8:16, 17) Paul also explained: “If we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall certainly also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection.”-Romans 6:5.

So from a WT standpoint, the chapter is addressed to the 144,000, not the “other sheep.” Taking this to its logical conclusion, even if Romans 6:7 meant what the Watchtower teaches, it would only be the 144,000 who were acquitted from their sins at their death.

Unless you have been baptized into Jesus, baptized into His death, united with Him in His death and in His resurrection, I would contend that the verse does not apply to you.