‘Spiritual worship’ in Romans 12.1

Romans 12.1-2 introduces the practical part of Paul’s letter and offers a framework to understand what follows. The last phrase of verse 1 has been variously translated. In 1993, David Peterson published “WORSHIP AND ETHICS IN ROMANS 12” in the Tyndale Bulletin. What follows is a quote from it.

If Paul’s expression is translated ‘spiritual worship’, there is a danger of accenting the inwardness of Christian worship and not taking sufficient account of the fact that we are to yield our bodies to God’s service. There is no doubt from passages such as 1 Corinthians 12:3; Ephesians 2:17-22; Philippians 3:3 that the Holy Spirit facilitates the worship of the new covenant era, but that does not mean that we are compelled to translate λογικὴ λατρεία as ‘spiritual worship’. On the other hand, ‘rational worship’ may only suggest a contrast between the offering of rational beings and the sacrifice of irrational animals. The mind is certainly central to Paul’s perspective here, but the focus is not simply on rationality. The service he calls for is the obedience of faith expressed by those whose minds are being transformed and renewed by God, so that they may no longer be conformed in lifestyle to the values, attitudes and behaviour of ‘this age’ (Rom. 12:2; cf. Col. 3:9-10; Eph. 4:22-4). Consequently, it may be best to read ‘understanding worship’, and to recognise from the context that this means ‘the worship which is consonant with the truth of the gospel’,13 [Cranfield] or the service rendered by those who truly understand the gospel and its implications.

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