A word study on obedience

by Mike Ratliff

1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;
7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 1:1-7 (NASB) 

Part of the process I go through to determine what God wants me to write about or what to study is, of course, prayer and meditation. That meditation involves searching Sacred Scripture, seeking God’s truth. Sometimes that involves going deeper where I stop and dig deeper into a certain word or truth. Lately I have become convinced that I need to look up the Greek lexical definitions for the noun and verb forms of our English words “obedience” and “to obey.” From there I have decided to do a study of how these words are used in the New Testament and that would give us the understanding of the writers of those books of the Christians’ obligations to know and obey God’s commands.

Here is Romans 1:1-7 from the NA28:

1 Παῦλος δοῦλος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, κλητὸς ἀπόστολος ἀφωρισμένος εἰς εὐαγγέλιον θεοῦ, 2 ὃ προεπηγγείλατο διὰ τῶν προφητῶν αὐτοῦ ἐν γραφαῖς ἁγίαις 3 περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ τοῦ γενομένου ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυὶδ κατὰ σάρκα, 4 τοῦ ὁρισθέντος υἱοῦ θεοῦ ἐν δυνάμει κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν, Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν, 5 διʼ οὗ ἐλάβομεν χάριν καὶ ἀποστολὴν εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως ἐν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν ὑπὲρ τοῦ ὀνόματος αὐτοῦ, 6 ἐν οἷς ἐστε καὶ ὑμεῖς κλητοὶ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, 7 πᾶσιν τοῖς οὖσιν ἐν Ῥώμῃ ἀγαπητοῖς θεοῦ, κλητοῖς ἁγίοις, χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. Romans 1:1-7 (NA28)

Let’s start with the noun that is translated as “obedience” in the New Testament, which is ὑπακοή. For example, a form of this word is found in Romans 1:5, which I placed at the top of this post, in the accusative form, ὑπακοὴν, thereby making it the direct object of the verb of the sentence, which is “received” or ἐλάβομεν. The verb ἐλάβομεν is in aorist indicative active structure. This is action that is not continuous nor does it tell us when it happened. However, as we look at how Paul structured this sentence, we discover something wonderful. Remember this sentence begins in v1 and ends in v7. It was as I put this part together that I saw that I needed to stop here and simply concentrate on these seven verses first.

Paul begins in v1 by identifying himself as a servant of Christ Jesus, Παῦλος, δοῦλος Χριστοῦ ᾿Ιησοῦ. The word being translated in the NASB as “bond-servant,” δοῦλος, is actually best translated as “slave.” This changes how we should consider our obligation to God and His commands and our obedience to Him in all things, this is imperative. If we simply think of ourselves as servants instead of a δοῦλος then we may think that we actually have the option to do things our own way. We may think that we can discard God’s truth and simply pick and choose to believe what we want to believe is true.

Paul was set apart by God Himself for the gospel of God or εὐαγγέλιον Θεοῦ. This Gospel was not something that just appeared after the death and resurrection of our Lord, but was promised beforehand in the Old Testament. It was through our Lord Jesus Christ that Paul received grace and his apostleship or ministry to bring about the ὑπακοὴν of faith for the sake of His name among the nations. It was Paul’s ὑπακοὴ to his mission that God blessed and through this spread the gospel all across the Roman Empire.

I pray you see what God was showing me from His Word in this though. We are obligated as His δοῦλος to know the truth from God’s Word and obey it. That means we stand firm by His grace and when some attempt to corrupt that truth through worldly wisdom, we must stand against it, standing by His grace.

Soli Deo Gloria!

2 thoughts on “A word study on obedience

  1. Our cultural understanding of slavery makes it difficult for most American Christians to truly grasp the concept clearly revealed in Scripture. All men are slaves – to sin and death or to righteousness and life. We need to exhort one another to deliberately pursue righteousness, knowing the Spirit of God will equip us and help us do so.

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  2. Isn’t it interesting how discovering this truth for many of us takes a lifetime to grasp this concept.


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