I started my study of Romans with a search for information about the people Paul was writing to. Christians, he says, but other than that, who? Several reference books and online sources indicate they were a mixture of economic, racial, educational, and religious backgrounds. Probably they had become believers after Roman Jews attended the feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out, became Christians, and then brought the Gospel back with them to Roman. (See previous post.)
Paul wrote other epistles to correct things, either mistaken beliefs or practices. So, I wondered if perhaps he had written this epistle with that idea in mind also. Of course, as he planned to visit them, he used the occasion to introduce himself and gave an impressive list of personal references toward the end. But with all of the teaching about the gospel that he included, why did he stress certain things?
I sort of started at the back of the book, to stir up a different train of thought in my mind. I’ve read this book numbers of times, and it always just seemed to me a theological discussion – Paul’s Gospel, so to speak. But obviously it is more than that.
As I flipped through this book, I came to chapter 12, about presenting your bodies as living sacrifices. Why did Paul even mention sacrifices? Why not just say live godly lives, think godly thoughts? Was there something about sacrifices themselves that he was addressing? Correcting? Back to the reference stuff, online searches, etc.
Yes, there was quite a lot about sacrifices in the daily Roman life, Jews and Gentiles and other ethnic groups alike. Rome was a hodge-podge of religious activity. It had no particular one religion that was clearly Roman itself, it had every imaginable kind and variation of religions. And many, many sacrifices! For every lifestyle choice, every problem, every decision, whether by the government or the individual – even when it came to construction of an addition to a public wall – there were sacrifices to some god or other. Asking for favor, asking to avoid displeasure, asking for good weather, good crops, good success, etc.
Okay, lots of sacrifices. What kind? Many kinds. Animals and vegetables, similar to Jewish sacrifices. Very, very rarely, human sacrifices had been made but only in extreme circumstances, according to one historian I read – that is, before the days of Nero.
One interesting kind of sacrifice was where a kind of doll was sacrificed or offered, representing the person making the sacrifice. That of course was supposed to satisfy the particular god. So now these verses in Romans 12 have a deeper meaning for me – offer you yourself to God, your own body, your own person, and not some kind of effigy substitute for yourself like Roman religions do.