Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism Sacred Doctrine

“He, Reviving Us by His Spirit, Transfers His Own Virtue to Us”

Last week I posted some comments from Cyril of Alexandria on Romans 6:5 (“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his”). John Calvin’s comments on the verse are noteworthy as well. He sees an intimate union between the believer and Christ referred to here, effected by the work and presence of the Holy Spirit. By sharing in Christ through the Spirit in this way, we receive his virtue, his power, by transference. And if we are joined to, grown together with (the Greek adjective is σύμφυτοι, on which see below), his death (or joined to him in his death), then we shall be joined to his resurrection (or joined to him in his resurrection) as well.1 That resurrection is already enjoyed spiritually, in the inward man, through the renovating work of the Spirit.

For if we have been ingraftedetc. He strengthens in plainer words the argument he has already stated; for the similitude which he mentions leaves now nothing doubtful, inasmuch as grafting designates not only a conformity of example, but a secret union, by which we are joined to him; so that he, reviving us by his Spirit, transfers his own virtue to us. Hence as the graft has the same life or death in common with the tree into which it is ingrafted, so it is reasonable that we should be partakers of the life no less than of the death of Christ; for if we are ingrafted according to the likeness of Christ’s death, which was not without a resurrection, then our death shall not be without a resurrection….Chrysostom thought that Paul used the expression, “likeness of death,” for death, as he says in another place, “being made in the likeness of men.” But it seems to me that there is something more significant in the expression; for it not only serves to intimate a resurrection, but it seems also to indicate this — that we die not like Christ a natural death, but that there is a similarity between our and his death;2 for as he by death died in the flesh, which he had assumed from us, so we also die in ourselves, that we may live in him. It is not then the same, but a similar death; for we are to notice the connection between the death of our present life and spiritual renovation.

He goes on:

Ingraftedetc. There is great force in this word, and it clearly shows, that the Apostle does not exhort, but rather teach us what benefit we derive from Christ; for he requires nothing from us, which is to be done by our attention and diligence, but speaks of the grafting made by the hand of God. But there is no reason why you should seek to apply the metaphor or comparison in every particular; for between the grafting of trees, and this which is spiritual, a disparity will soon meet us: in the former the graft draws its aliment from the root, but retains its own nature in the fruit; but in the latter not only we derive the vigor and nourishment of life from Christ, but we also pass from our own to his nature.3  The Apostle, however, meant to express nothing else but the efficacy of the death of Christ, which manifests itself in putting to death our flesh, and also the efficacy of his resurrection, in renewing within us a spiritual nature. 187

There is some difficulty with the word Calvin translates as “ingrafted” (σύμφυτοι). It perhaps does not have quite that meaning (Calvin himself notes a dissimilitude between “grafting” and what Paul refers to here), and it is not the word for “grafting” that Paul uses later in Romans. Headlam and Sanday in their commentary suggest “united by growth,” keeping closely to the two components that make up the word, sun, “together,” and phuo“to grow, be born, become, be by nature, be formed/disposed by nature.”

The precise nuance of the word aside, Paul’s meaning, and Calvin’s, seems clear enough: he speaks of a connection or union of the closest kind between the believer and Christ in his death and resurrection.


  1. On the material in parentheses in this sentence, cf. Calvin’s comment: “But the words admit of a twofold explanation, — either that we are ingrafted in Christ into the likeness of his death, or, that we are simply ingrafted in its likeness. The first reading would require the Greek dative ὁμοιώματι, to be understood as pointing out the manner; nor do I deny but that it has a fuller meaning: but as the other harmonizes more with simplicity of expression, I have preferred it; though it signifies but little, as both come to the same meaning.”
  2. His sentiment is in keeping with what I quoted last week from Cyril of Alexandria: “Christ died in the flesh in order to remove the sin of the world, but we do not die to the flesh so much as to guilt, as it is written.”
  3. Presumably Calvin has in mind, with our passing from our own to Christ’s “nature” the passage from corruptibility to incorruptibility vel sim. He is not one to think that we become the Second Person of the Trinity. In any case, he is drawing on the etymology of the adjective Paul uses, σύμφυτοι.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.