New Exodus in Romans

In his commentary on Romans, N.T. Wright suggests that Paul uses the framework of New Exodus in Christ to relay his message. God promised Abraham that he would undo the sin of Adam through him. The initial fulfillment of this promise was the Exodus. Christ is the final and complete fulfillment of this promise, and he represents a New Exodus.

This theme can be particularly found in Romans 5-8. Consider some of the elements that have led Wright to make this argument.

  • Rom. 5 lays out the problem and the solution. The sin of Adam, magnified by the Law of Moses, is the problem. Justification for all people can be found in Christ.
  • Rom. 6 depicts baptism as a picture of redemption, having put to death the old man and being raised to walk in newness of life. Baptism is analogous to the crossing of the Red Sea, where the Israelites left enslavement to Pharaoh and served God instead.
  • Rom. 7 speaks about the association of sin and the Law. Paul associated himself with the Jews, arguing that sin occurs even when it is known to be wrong. This picture is typical of Israel’s experience in the wilderness, where they abounded in sin even after receiving the Law.
  • Rom. 8 talks about divine guidance and being led by the Spirit. Just as the Israelites were led by God, most visibly seen in the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, so will the New Exodus be represented by being led by the Spirit.

When I read through Romans with this framework in mind, it opened up many word associations and similarities with the Exodus story that I had never seen. While it is true that something like this may seem contrived or forced, it seems likely to me that this was an intended allusion of the author.

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4 Responses to New Exodus in Romans

  1. Matt H says:

    I just wrote a paper on the Transfiguration in Luke, and one of my primary sources was J. Manek’s essay on “The New Exodus in Luke-Acts.” Manek overstates his case and finds allusions that aren’t there, I think, but it was a fascinating read nonetheless. I think recent NT scholarship has finally come to terms with the foundational and programmatic function of the Exodus in the biblical narrative.

    • Jeremy says:

      Yes, OT allussions can be overstated and that’s always a danger. I read portions of Richard Hays’ Echoes, and he argues that these allussions or echoes are found more than we realize. While I might not know how all of that plays out, the OT story is foundational for the NT authors.

  2. Trevor says:

    I had never encountered the New Exodus theme in Romans until N.T. Wright mentioned it (I don’t know if he was the first to propose it). Whether it’s reading too much into what the text means or not, it’s certainly an image that has stuck with me and seems to reverberate with richness every time I read chapters 5-8 (especially) of Romans.

    I think Rob Bell, in his book Jesus Wants to Save Christians, tried to find the same concept writ large throughout the Gospels.

    • Jeremy says:

      Wright definitely has some interesting things to say. Like you, the New Exodus in Romans has stuck with me. I haven’t read any of Bell, but I would like to; maybe I’ll start with the book you suggested. Thanks!

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