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'Consider yourselves dead' (Rom 6:11): Biographical Re-construction, Conversion, and the Death of the Self in Romans

It is widely noted within conversion studies that converts characteristically reconstruct their biographies, reinterpreting their past life in light of the present. One of the most common ways of doing this, found across a great variety of religious traditions, is to characterize conversion as involving death and re-birth. An old self, now negatively assessed by the convert, must die in order that the new, converted self might live. In Romans 6-8, Paul makes extensive use of such imagery, but with some unusual twists. In particular, although believers have been crucified with Christ in baptism and walk in newness of life, the death of the self that is involved continues as a present reality. It is not exclusively the prelude to new life. Rather, believers are instructed to “consider yourselves dead to sin” (6:11, see also 8:13). They must in this specific way embrace the death of the self as a continuing, permanent, and positive aspect of their existence in Christ. Such reckoning of the self as dead to sin constitutes for Paul the appropriate human response to the divine reckoning involved in justification from sin (6:7), something which is itself ritually embodied in the act of baptism. This paper explores this distinctive aspect of Paul’s treatment of the death of the self, comparing it with similar themes in other ancient Mediterranean traditions and bringing it into dialog with recent studies of conversion (e.g. Gooren).

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