Original Research - Special Collection: UP Faculty of Theology Centenary Volume One

Ritual failure in Romans 6

Peter-Ben Smit
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 72, No 4 | a3237 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v72i4.3237 | © 2016 Peter-Ben Smit | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 November 2015 | Published: 05 August 2016

About the author(s)

Peter-Ben Smit, Faculty of Theology, VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Utrecht University, The Netherlands; Department of NewTestament Studies, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa, Netherlands


Ritual studies are slow to make a large impact on New Testament studies, despite a number of notable exceptions. This notwithstanding, rituals occur frequently in the New Testament, in particular when there is a problem with a ritual. In this article, recent anthropological work on ‘ritual failure’ is used to address Paul’s discussion of Roman practices concerning baptism in relation to a person’s walk of life and to argue that this can be understood well as a case of ’ritual failure,’ in which a ritual fails, from Paul’s perspective, to achieve what it should. This leads both to challenging the attitude of the Romans concerning baptism and to a reconsideration of its significance.


Ritual failure; Romans 6; Rituals; Paul; Baptism


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