Romans 8:28-39 – A Devotional/Exegetical/Theological Rant

Romans 8:28-39

28    And we know that 1God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

29    For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;

30    and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

31    What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?

32    He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

33    Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies;

34    who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was 1raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

35    Who will separate us from the love of 1Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

36    Just as it is written,

“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;

We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37    But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.

38    For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,

39    nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. [1]

Devotional

Romans 8:28-39 are powerful verses. Whenever I am facing difficult times, which seems commonplace these days, I constantly turn to the promise found in Romans 8:28, this promise is then based on the following 11 verses. The truth that everything we face in this life as believers God will work for our good is outstanding! It is easy, especially in our culture today, to lose track of what good means; does it mean that all things will work together for our fun, our pleasure, our “happiness” (as defined by our culture)? In this passage good mostly likely refers to our continual sanctification in this life and our future glorification in the resurrection (cf. vs. 29; us being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, which is what happens during sanctification and is completed when we are glorified). This means that we can be sure that everything we face in this life will work together towards us becoming more like Christ, to us enduring in the faith until the end, and becoming more and more like what the Bible calls for Christians to be. For me, who seems to always make stupid mistakes, this is always encouraging to me for I can know that the mistakes I make are used by God to change me more and more into the image of His son.

 

Exegetical

What’s this passage actually saying? In verse 28 Paul gives a resounding promise to the Christians in Rome that in God’s sovereign providence He will look work all things in this life for those who love Him, those who are called according to His purpose. These are all true believers, everyone who has put their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation responding to God’s effectual call (vs.30) (as opposed to His general call given to all man but which is commonly rejected). The good here is, as seen in the proceeding verses, our sanctification and our glorification which together are the progression and culmination of us conforming to the image of Christ (vs. 29, 29-39). The reason that the Romans, and us today, can be assured of this, the reason that “we know” (vs. 28a), is given in vs. 29-30. “for [Greek preposition οτι(hoti), a causal conjunction indicating—in this usage—the reason for something][2] those whom He aforeknew [gr.προγινώσκω, proginōskō] , He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;  30and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” This is the reason Paul gives for the believer’s knowledge of the promise found in vs. 28, but does the truth in these verses give us this knowledge?

The first noun we run into in vs. 29, proginōskō, has been the source of much controversy in the age old Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate. What does it mean for God to foreknow someone? Many Arminians since the remonstrance (when Arminian proponents after the death of Jacobus Arminius presented their own flavor of his teaching before the Synod of Dort made up of divines from the Dutch Reformed Church, it was here that the five points of Calvinism were drafted as such [before being mixed among many doctrines] in opposition to the Remonstrants 5 articles [of their disagreements with the Reformed Church]) have believed that “foreknow” here refers to God foreknowing(having knowledge beforehand of a future choice) the free choice that those who would believe would make to have faith in Jesus Christ.[3][4] On the opposing side is the Calvinist understanding that foreknow here refers to God knowing an individual, as in when I say “I know my friend so and so,” before they came to exist; it is often also suggested that from both the surrounding context and the inherent implications of this word that a choosing to know is also involved (making foreknow here synonymous with election).  What does proginōskō mean in this context? To answer this, let us first examine this word itself and the way it is used elsewhere in Scripture.

Proginōskō is a Greek verb in the aorist tense, active voice, and indicative mood. In Greek the tense refers to the form of the word and conveys an aspect, the type of action, but not a time. The aorist tense refers to an undefined action, it is a simple action without comment on the specific nature of the continuing state of the action (some may consider it to be undefined in the sense of the absence of a specific aspect).[5] In the active voice the subject is doing the action to the object, and indicative indicates an actual action.  In Greek the subject and object of a verb are not indicated so much by the order of words (as in English) but by the case of the accompanying words (Nominative for subject, accusative [sometimes certain words will take an indirect object with the dative case] for the object). In verse 29 the subject of the verb is given in the verb itself (in Greek, as in Hebrew, the subject can either be given by a separate word or by the verb itself), as a third person singular verb the subject would be “He,” it is clear from verse 28 that the verb is referring to God; God foreknew. The object is given by the plural accusative relative pronoun ους (hous, who).  The objects of God’s knowledge are specific individuals, believers from both the following and preceding context. If God was foreknowing something about these believers it would be reasonable to expect this something to be the object modified by the pronoun ους; Those whose faith [the author could have said την πιστιν ων (tān pistin hōn)] God foreknew. The verb know from which this word is made can have, as in English, a person as the object meaning that the subject knows the object personally, has relationship with them. The Hebrew equivalent can also be used to communicate intimate relationship, becoming a euphemism for sex (cf. Gen. 4:1). Proginōskō is used 4 other times in the New Testament. In the other use by Paul in Romans, 11:2, the word in the same form would seem to indicate a personal knowledge on God’s part (reflecting the O.T. ideas of God’s special electing grace towards Israel often implied by the verb “to know” in the O.T.).[6] In Acts 26:6 the participle form of this word is translated “know about me” modified with and adverb leading to “for a long time” (NASB).  In 2 Peter 3:17 the participle again refers to knowing something, in this case Peter refers to what he had stated in the preceding context as the knowledge that his readers had beforehand. The last usage, in 1 Peter 1:20, is a passive participle referring to Christ as foreknown, in context God’s planning of sending His son, before the foundation of the world. The only other usage of Proginōskō in the aorist tense, in Romans 11:2, reflects the usage suggested by the Calvinist understanding; that in Romans 8 God is foreknowing people and not something about people. In context it is this understanding that would seem to best fit. Various reasons can be given for this conclusion; the object of the verb is a person (those whom) and not a something about a person. This is consistent with usage of the related verb “to know”, both in Greek and Hebrew, referring—as in English—to the knowing of relationship: I know my friend so and so. There is no reason contextually to imply the knowing of something about the object, and in the absence of a modifying noun the burden of proof would fall to the Arminian position to show why the context demands an implied “the faith of those whom” instead of the person as the referent of the verb. The parallel usage of the aorist form of this verb in Romans 11, during Paul’s discourse on election, would also seem to suggest this understanding. This verb is found in a chain from knowing, to predestining, to calling, to justify, to glorify seems to indicate a temporal chain (God foreknew, then he predestined, then he called (effectual), resulting in justification, with guaranteed glorification). In this temporal chain it would seem out of place to have God foreknowing the results of the third link (in this case general calling resulting in faith and justification); this scrambles the chain. Whereas the idea of God foreknowing the person fits perfectly in the chain, and with the intent of why we know that all things will work for our good. Before we were born (this would be implied by the predestining and the correlation with later texts on the timing of this predestining (eph. 1), though the fore may in context be before we were believers) God foreknew us–i.e. He knew us relationally or intimately (not just knowledge about) like I say I know my friend so-and-so—and then predestines those whom he has foreknown (since this chain has a definite aspect, all foreknown will be called and justified, a choosing of whom He would foreknow is implied; hence why some say this foreknow is synonymous with election) to be like His son, these whom He has predestined He then calls effectually (effectually because the next link tells us the call succeeds), all whom He has called are then justified (so they respond to the call in faith, which is the basis of justification), and then all whom are justified are then glorified. Glorification is a future event, but it is given here as a finished action; this would seem to indicate the definiteness of its surety. There is not even a shadow of a doubt that we will not be glorified, so it is like it has already happened.[7] The idea of electing in the word proginōskō, both a sense of relationally loving and of choosing, is confirmed looking at the connotations of electing grace often found in the O.T. use of “to know” when referring to God’s chosen people of Israel (cf. Amos 3:2, Hosea 13:5). We see this reflected in both Paul’s language elsewhere and contemporary Jewish writings (1 Cor. 8:3, Gal. 4:9; Qumran Rule of Community).[8]

From looking the word “foreknow” and the surrounding chain the reason Paul gives this as the reason we know that all things work for our good is elucidated. We know all things work for our good because before we were born, before the foundations of the world were laid (cf. Eph. 1, Rev. 13:8), we were foreknown by God and predestined to become like His son. Everyone of use whom He has predestined has/will be called and each one will respond to this call with faith being justified. Everyone who is justified will be glorified, not by their own strength to persevere, but by God’s sustaining strength working through their faith (1 Peter 1).

Theology

I was meditating on this passage all day today, and the reason I ended up writing this post was actually because of the derived theological conclusion from Paul’s teaching in this text. It would seem to me that verse 28 rules out any theological understanding that suggests a believer can fall away forever from the faith. If God promises that for all who love Him all things work together for their good, and someone who loved Him could fall away and end up in hell(which is definitely not good), doesn’t this make God’s promise a lie, or impotent? If someone who has received this promise can have life take them to the farthest possible place from good, from being conformed to the image of God’s son, how could anyone be assured that all things will work together for their good? It is robbed of all its power. And if this is rightfully concluded; if one who is a believer can truly stand on the promise that all things will work for their good, including perseverance, then Libertarian free will(or see here) is falsified and in light of Scriptures clear teaching on human responsibility (e.g. Romans 1-3, Genesis 3, everywhere,…) Compatibilism is implied. If someone who is a true believer can never once and for all fall away from the faith, then they are unable to choose between A (heaven via faith) or B (hell via unbelief) and therefore do not have the power of contrary choice (Libertarianism). And if it is possible for their fate to be determined and yet be responsible (as both would seem to be taught in Scripture, here and then responsibility elsewhere) then a form of soft determinism (where human freedom and responsibility are compatible with determinism) would have to be true (see here for my logical argumentation for this conclusion).


Bibliography

Bruce, F. F. The Epistle of Paul to the Romans : an introduction and commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1963.

Jackson, Kevin. “Foreknowledge Defined.” Society of Evangelical Arminians, n.d. http://evangelicalarminians.org/foreknowledge-defined/ (accessed May 13, 2013).

Mounce, William D. Basics of biblical Greek grammar. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Thayer, Joseph Henry, Carl Ludwig Wilibald Grimm, and Christian Gottlob Wilke. Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Coded with Strong’s Concordance numbers. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003.


Endnotes

1 One early ms reads all things work together for good

1 One early ms reads raised from the dead

1 Two early mss read God

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ro 8:28–39.

[2] Joseph Henry Thayer, Carl Ludwig Wilibald Grimm, and Christian Gottlob Wilke, Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Coded with Strong’s Concordance numbers (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003), 459–500.

Rom 11:2; 1 Cor 8:3; 2 Tim 1:9; 1 Pet 1:2, 20

[3] An example of this understanding can be found here: Kevin Jackson, “Foreknowledge Defined,” Society of Evangelical Arminians, n.d., http://evangelicalarminians.org/foreknowledge-defined/ (accessed May 13, 2013).

[4] Another example can be found in the Thayer, Grimm, and Wilke, Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament, 538.

[5] William D. Mounce, Basics of biblical Greek grammar, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009).

[6] F. F Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans : an introduction and commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1963), 29.

[7] Ibid., 176–178.

[8] Ibid., 177.

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2 thoughts on “Romans 8:28-39 – A Devotional/Exegetical/Theological Rant

  1. Pingback: “Problem” Passages and Perseverance Part 1 | All For the Glory of His Kingdom

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