Paul’s Old Man and New Man in Ephesians
Paul writes to the Ephesian Christians that they are to take off the old man and put on the new man (Eph.
The purpose of this paper is to define what the old man and new man are in Ephesians and why it is important to know about them.
Perhaps the single greatest obstacle we encounter when trying to define what the old man and new man are and to determine their importance is the paucity of information about them.
There is no information outside of Paul that we know of which he could have used to inform his concepts of the old man and new man that can help us.
The Old Testament speaks about clothing oneself with certain qualities: strength (Isa.
51:9; 52:1), righteousness (Ps 132:9; Job 29:14), majesty (Ps 93:1), honor and majesty (Ps 104:1; Job 40:10), and salvation (2 Chron 6:41) (O’Brien 189).
However, it does not mention taking off an old man and putting on a new man.
Therefore, the Old Testament notion of clothing oneself with various qualities cannot help us define what the old man and new man are in Paul’s corpus.
The mystery religions spoke about being clothed with the power of the cosmos and divine life, and the Gnostics spoke about donning the garments of redemption.
But, these references make no mention of taking off an old man or putting on a new man (O’Brien 189).
Outside of Paul, then, there are no exact parallels for his concept of taking off an old man and putting on a new man which could give us some clues as to what he meant by these terms (Lincoln 284; O’Brien 189).
When we turn to Ephesians and Paul’s other letters we do not fare much better.
Paul uses the terms “the old man” and “the new man” in Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10 and the term “the old man” in Ephesians 4:22, Colossians 3:9, and Romans 6:6 without explaining what they are.
This paucity of information has lead to varying theories about just what the old man and new man are.
Some suggest that Paul is referring to the church rite of water baptism, where taking off the old man refers to disrobing and entering the water and putting on the new man refers to putting on new garments after one leaves the water (Lincoln 284).
This practice is probably based on Romans 6:4ff, where Paul writes that those who have been baptized into Christ’s death have put to death the old man, and on Galatians 3:27, where he writes that those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
There are two problems with this view, however.
The baptismal practice of disrobing one’s garments before baptism and subsequently robing oneself in new garments afterwards is a second century tradition (Lincoln 284).
So, Paul could not have used this practice to inform his teaching.
Also, it seems more reasonable that the rite of disrobing and then re-robing in baptism would be informed by Paul’s teaching rather than the other way around.
Another suggestion is that Paul’s old man and new man in Ephesians 4 refer to the conduct of the unsaved and saved, respectively.
This view equates τὴν προτέραν ἀναστροφὴν with τὸν παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον (4:22).
Louw and Nida follow this line of thinking where they write that the old man refers to “the old or former pattern of behavior, in contrast with a new pattern of behavior which people should conform to” (1:508).
Lamsa also follows this line of thinking in his Syrian translation of Ephesians 4:22: “...that you lay aside all your former practices, that is to say, the old man which is degenerated with deceitful lust.”
The most serious problem with this view is that it conflicts with how Paul used the old man and new man in other passages.
In other passages Paul seems to use the old man and new man to represent a Christian’s old and new nature.
A third theory is that the old man and new man are Adam and Christ as the federal representatives of mankind (Barth 2:537).
This view is too broad.
Paul suggests that each of us has our own old man (Rom.
6:6), which rules out the old man and new man being a federal representative.
The old man and new man do refer to Adam and Christ, but not as our federal representatives.
The view we will develop in this paper is that the old man and new man are the respective natures of Adam and Christ stamped on a person’s being.
We will do this by studying the lexical uses of the words παλαιός, καινός, and ἄνθρωπον and the contexts in which Paul uses them.
Our first task is to show that the old man and new man refer to Adam and Christ.
It is not difficult to show that the new man refers to Christ.
This is seen by comparing Colossians 3:10-11 and Galatians 3:27-28.
Colossians 3:10-11 reads, “10...you have put on the new man, the one being renewed in the knowledge of the one who created it.
11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and is in all.”
Galatians 3:27-28 reads, “27For whoever has been baptized into Christ has put on Christ.
28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
There are two common themes in these two sets of verses that tie them together, suggesting that they are saying the same thing.
The first is τὸν καινὸν ἄνθρωπον of Colossians
\\ 3:10 and the Χριστὸν of Galatians 3:27 are both “put on,” and they are both put on in the aorist tense.
The second common theme is both of these passages end with the thought that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, etc., in either the new man or Christ.
Because of the parallel nature of these verses, it is not difficult to set τὸν καινὸν ἄνθρωπον of Colossians 3:10 parallel with the Χριστὸν of Galatians 3:27, making the new man Christ.
Paul never equates τὸν παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον with Adam.
However, because he generally associates Adam with Christ in contexts where they are found together, and where he is comparing the old and new aeons (Rom.
5:15, 1 Cor 15:45-49) as he is in Colossians 3, we can imply that τὸν παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον is Adam.
This association becomes firmer when we look at how Paul uses the words παλαιός, καινός, and ἄνθρωπος.
Paul only uses the word παλαιός when speaking about mankind outside of Christ.
He uses it to refer to the old covenant (Rom.
7:6, 2 Cor.
3:14), the believer’s old conduct (1 Cor.
5:7), and the old man (Rom.
4:22, Col. 3:9).
Paul only uses the word καινός when speaking about mankind in Christ.
He uses it to refer to the new covenant (Rom.
7:6, 1 Cor.
11:25, 2 Cor.
3:6) and the new creation (2 Cor.
6:15) and the new man (Eph.
4:24, Col. 3:10).
For Paul, then, τὸν παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον refers to the man of the old aeon and τὸν καινός ἄνθρωπον refers to the man of the new aeon.
In passages where Paul uses ἄνθρωπος and where he is comparing the old and new
\\ aeons, he uses ἄνθρωπος as a synonym for Adam and Christ when he speaks of their role
as the representatives of mankind.
In Romans 5 he refers to Adam as the ἑνὸς ἀνθρώπου through whom sin came into the world (vs.
12, 15) and Christ as the ἑνὸς ἀνθρώπου through whom grace came to many (vs.
In 1 Corinthians 15 he refers to Adam as ὁ πρῶτος ἄνθρωπος, who became a living soul, quoting Genesis 1, and Christ as ὁ ἔσχατος man, who became a life giving spirit (vs.
Paul’s use of ἄνθρωπον in the terms τὸν παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον and τὸν καινός ἄνθρωπον follows the same pattern as his use of it in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.
Because τὸν παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον is part of the old aeon and τὸν καινός ἄνθρωπον is part of the new, ἄνθρωπος refers to Adam and Christ.
Our next task is to show that τὸν παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον and τὸν καινὸν ἄνθρωπον are the images of Adam and Christ, respectively, stamped on a person’s being.
In 1 Corinthians 15:49a Paul defines one way that Adam and Christ are representatives of mankind.
There he writes, “…ἐφορέσαμεν τὴν εἰκόνα τοῦ χοϊκοῦ,” where τοῦ χοϊκοῦ refers back to ὁ πρῶτος ἄνθρωπος Ἀδὰμ in verse 45.
He continues in 15:49b writing “φορέσομεν καὶ τὴν εἰκόνα τοῦ ἐπουρανίου,” where τοῦ ἐπουρανίου refers back to ὁ ἔσχατος Ἀδὰμ, Christ, in verse 45.
Although the future, φορέσομεν, points to the time when believers will be completely clothed with Jesus’ image, they do share part of his image now (2 Cor.
Εἰκών means any number of things: “a similarity,” “a painting,” “the image of God,” “a mental image,” “a copy” (/TDNT/ 2:388-89), “a pattern,” or “an archetype” (/LSJ/ εἰκών IV).
Because Paul is writing about creation in this context, εἰκών most likely refers to the nature that God endowed Adam and Christ with, which in turn becomes the pattern for mankind’s nature.
Thus, in the context of 1 Corinthians 15:45-49, ἄνθρωπος does not simply refer to the man Adam or the man Christ, but Adam and Christ as the archetypes of human nature (cp Eph.
He seems to base his understanding of the word ἄνθρωπος in the phrases τὸν παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον and τὸν καινός ἄνθρωπον on this meaning.
He writes in Ephesians that “τὸν καινὸν ἄνθρωπον τὸν κατὰ θεὸν κτισθέντα” (4:24) and in Colossians that the new man is being renewed “εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν κατ᾽ εἰκόνα τοῦ κτίσαντος αὐτόν” (Col 3:10).
Both of these passages borrow from the creation language of Genesis 1:27 where Scripture says God made man κατ̓ εἰκόνα θεοῦ.
This strongly implies that Paul is talking about the creation of the new man in both Ephesians and Colossians and that, for Paul, τὸν καινὸν ἄνθρωπον is the Christly εἰκόνα stamped on a believer’s being.
By analogy, τὸν παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον is the Adamic εἰκόνα stamped on an unbeliever’s being.
There are three things we can imply from Paul’s discussion of the old man and new man.
The first thing is that the new man replaces the old man at the time of conversion.
This is deduced from Romans 6.
In Romans 6:3 Paul writes, “…we were baptized into his (Christ’s) death.”
In the next three verses, he draws three conclusions based on this fact.
In verse 4 he concludes that believers walk in the new life of Jesus because they are buried with him into death; in verse 5 he concludes that believers share in the resurrection of Jesus because they share in his death; and in verse 6 he concludes that believers are free from sinful nature because their old man was crucified with Christ.
Note the similar nature of these verses.
Being baptized into Jesus’ death (vs. 3) is similar to being buried with him (vs.
4), sharing his death (vs.5), and the crucifixion of the old man (vs.
The point of this discussion is to show that the crucifixion of the old man happens when a believer is baptized into Christ’s death.
Paul does not tell us what baptism he is referring to here.
Though many take it to mean water baptism (Cranfield 303-04; Dunn 311; Stott 173), I prefer to read βάπτισμα as Spirit baptism.