Read our passage of discussion here.
Outline of Passage: New Contexts for Suffering
Romans 8:18-39 serves as a Trinitarian introduction to the Pauline theology of suffering and intercession. Through the motifs of suffering, separation, predestination, creation, intercession, and hope, Paul is able to create a holistic worldview within which Christians can thrive. While structural and linguistic elements help to highlight his position, it is through cultural comparison that his argument is made most clear.
Structure of Passage
Prior to discussing the contents of the passage, it is important to note the structural nature. This passage highlights several themes by its structural unity of the passage is enhanced by eight verbs that are compounds with ἀπο-, nine verbs that are συν- compounds, and five words that are προ- compounds.” In using the repetition of these three forms of verbs/nouns, Paul is able to create a necessary sense of unity in his critical argument for hope.
In the context of the larger book of Romans, this chapter follows discussions about sin and the Law of the Old Testament. The faith is established as a lineage from the historic Jewish faith, for those who may not have known, and then the insufficiency of the past is explained. These 7 preceding chapters depict the grace of God for the errant ways of man, and shows that freedom from sin is possible through Christ.
Universal Suffering (Romans 8:18-23)
Paul’s argument in chapter 8 is both reflective on this history, and also looks forward to the future eschatological hope. He is focused on the pain and the anguish of what it means to live within the context of a fallen world. While this is historical in nature, the argument is used to recount how the choices of Adam and Eve had tremendous long-term consequences, which affected humanity’s morality to such a depth that it interfered with the interactions of all of creation.
The interconnected nature of the Paul’s argument also serves to betray his theological position on creation. It is clear that Paul desires to see a restored earth that is given through the same Spirit that is leading humanity in their own restoration process. Humanity’s repentance is creation’s restoration. Paul’s cohesion of the revitalization of the earth and humanity reflects the holistic reasoning of his theology.
Glory from Suffering (Rom. 8:18)
The introductory thesis of Paul’s argument set the tone for the verses that follow. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Rom.8:18, NRSV). While this single sentence verse seems like a minor addition to the richness of the verses that follow, it initiates the conversations of Paul’s Christological perspective.
In order to understand the fullness of the passage, it is important to first place emphasis on the way that the word for “sufferings” (Rom. 8:18, NRSV). This word, translated from the word πάθημα means most generally, “the capacity and privilege of experiencing strong feeling…deep emotion, like agony, passion (ardent desire), suffering, etc.” This concept of suffering as a deep seated emotion highlights how strenuous this state can become. As a surprising note, this general concept is only seen as a negative state in the occasions that they are experienced divorced from an individual’s faith.
The weight of the suffering that is presented by Paul in this passage is enormous. This introduction is “not a mere opinion but a statement of gravity, an authoritative judgement.” These sufferings reach beyond a human level, and affect the realm of the created order in which we live. However, regardless of the grave nature of the current sufferings, Paul remains hopeful that these sufferings are “not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed” (Rom. 8:18, NRSV).
In terms of this particular verse, scholars tend to specialize the meaning to the religious perspective of Christians. This routinely plural understanding of sufferings was set against the understandings of the world and the religious practices of ancient Rome. Robert Jewett echoes this perception; while the Caesarean view of life was that believers would inherit “a peaceful, magically prosperous golden age, … Paul cuts through this propagandistic nonsense to refer directly to the παθήματα… suffered by the Roman believers.”
While the Roman civic cult called for humanity to live under a war-stained mantle of glory and riches, Paul aimed to see the glory that was due creation from its birth to be restored. This long-term goal was intended to unite believers with Christ and creation through their sufferings as a means of “eschatological solidarity.” In Pauline theology, to be a believer in Christ is to share the burdens of the faith with God and each other.
The burdens of the fallen world affect more than humanity in the perspective that Paul presents in this passage. Through this simple introduction to the argument, Paul infers that all of creation is anticipating the return of those who were given responsibility to care for and over all things. This perspective of suffering is dependent on a view of the created order that is yet to be reestablished in the world.
Creation Eager (Rom. 8:19)
Along with Paul’s description of suffering, it is important to understand his worldview of creation’s role. His personification of creation emphasizes the uniqueness of the Christian world from that of the Roman civic cult. Unlike the pending transformation of humanity to bring creation’s redemption, the civic cult did not boast a “magical transformation of nature.”
The term, κτίσις, is not limited to use within the Scriptures alone. It is important to note that the arguments regarding creation are not related to the format, as creation ex nihilo was promoted from the time of Homer and following. Rather, the arguments surrounding creation allude to the coming revelation of the intended holistic glory of humanity and creation. What is hidden from humanity now, “will be brought to its final stage and made publicly evident.”
Creation was not created through or out of chaos, but because of the sins of man it was brought into chaos. “The curse of God which fell on guilty humanity extended also to the guiltless creation, thus implicating creation in humanity’s fate, though without its guilt.” Unlike the view of the Roman civic cult, humanity’s return to glory was meant to reinstate the glory that was stolen from creation through man and woman’s destructive acts.
Futile Hope & Bondage (Rom. 8:20-21a)
In light of the unity of redemption that Paul has proposed in these first few verses, there are two important implications made. First, humanity are creation are interdependent in God’s created order. Second, humanity is culpable for the destruction of the glory of the creation it was intended to protect.
For Gentile believers, this conversation would have been counterintuitive to the Roman civic cult into which they had been immersed. Humanity was responsible for destroying creation over which they were trying to rule. The cult and Roman system of myth made claims that stood in direct opposition to Paul’s argument. They depicted a ruler or leader that would bring order to the world through his commitment to religiosity and militant conquest.
The destructive nature of the Roman war machine would have been an easy image to conjure in the minds of Jewish believers. This message would have likely invoked strong images of “how imperial ambitions, military conflicts, and economic exploitation had led to the erosion of the natural environment throughout the Mediterranean world, leaving ruined cities, depleted fields, deforested mountains, and polluted streams as evidence of this universal human vanity.” Hope in such dire situations seemed futile to hold onto, but it was the hope of creation and humanity alike.
Freedom Through God’s Children (Rom. 8:21b)
In light of Jewish and Gentile perspectives, Paul describes the nature of salvation as being more than an individual experience. All of creation has need for salvation. The fall of man in Eden brought about a hope that begs humanity to return to their rightful place in creation. This wellspring of hope for creation is intrinsically tied to the exaltation of Christians.
Unity of Creation & Humanity in Labor Pains (Rom. 8:22-23)
As the redemption of creation’s glory rests on the shoulders of humanity, readers confronted by the striking image of the agony of childbirth. While arresting, the image of childbirth as a comparison to the hope for the renewal of creation “is a natural one, for the difficulties and trials of this age are, for Christians and the creation, fraught with the knowledge that they will ultimately issue in victory and joy.” The hope of creation is not futile when it is placed in those who bear “the first fruits of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:23, NRSV).
Similar childbirth imagery is seen throughout the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, and the New Testament. This image is often used to invoke the understanding that God’s divine judgment is pending. Pauline perspectives of this day reflect those seen in the Old Testament Prophets, wherein God’s faithful remnant find joy in judgement.
This image is also present as far back as the Garden of Eden. In the judgement of humanity in Genesis 3, creation suffered the consequences along with humanity for their actions. In this moments, childbirth imagery is likewise introduced and both humanity and creation begin to long and agonize for their mutual redemption.
Again, there is a presentation of the inevitable unity of humanity with creation. In this passage, neither creation nor humanity wait for God’s redemption in isolation. This important unity is highlighted in the physical redemption of creation and humanity.
Unseen Hope Saves & Empowers (Romans 8:24-30)
Invisibility of Genuine Hope (Rom. 8:24)
Romans 8:24 stands in contrast with 8:20 in order to show the difference between futile hope and hope in Christ. The translation for this passage is “hope pertaining to supernatural beings and supernatural things, spoken of in God’s promises” or “of Christian hope.” As contrasted to the futility of general hope, this is a life-giving hope.
Paul first identifies the problem of evil – the world suffers under the oppression of sin – but he continues his argument by clarifying what it means to hope. This reference to hope is unique from the previous reference in Romans 8:20 because of the nature of the expectation present. “The Christian hope is more than wishful thinking about the future. It is even more than tentative expectancy. It is an overwhelming confidence that God will perform what He promises.” While mundane hope is expectancy, the hope of God is incarnate and expectant hope.
While the Roman civic cult emphasized hope in the visible Caesar, Paul proposed that this hope was ill-founded. “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” (Rom. 8:24, NRSV). The hopes of humanity are found in their tangible resources and the circumstances of their lives; which contrasts sharply the hope that God gives through His Spirit as a gift. While humanity is overwhelmed by the struggles of this world which “sometimes all but erase the image of that glory for us,” Paul encouraged believers to look beyond to the power of the Spirit.
Patience Required (Rom. 8:25)
Despite the immediacy of the sufferings that Paul expresses in this passage, there is a sense of longevity in the waiting for redemption. “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom. 8:25, NRSV). Relating back to Paul’s previous arguments in Romans 5:3-5 about perseverance in persecutions, this verse works to show a necessary “firm ‘character’ that remains hopeful because it is certain of God’s love in the most adverse of circumstances.”
Intercession of the Spirit (Rom. 8:26-27)
Just as creation and God’s people ‘groan’ as they look forward to their redemption, so Paul explains in v.26 that the Spirit intercedes for us with wordless ‘groans.’ The word that translates to “intercede” (ὑπερεντυγχάνω) is only seen in this passage in the whole of the New Testament. Here, the intercession of the Spirit means the work of the Spirit “in every scene of our lives so we can ‘come to live with’ the Lord’s eternal purpose.” The hope of creation in humanity is solely possible through the intercession and indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
God’s Foreknowledge & Will (Rom. 8:28-30)
The discussion of foreknowledge (προέγνω) and predestination (προώρισεν) is an interesting addendum to this conversation. While the New Testament does not focus much on the concept of predestination, “whenever the idea occurs it is anchored to the person of Christ.” This rare discussion does not hinge as much on the fact that God chooses the person, but rather on the method in which creation and humanity are being redeemed. In this way, “Paul highlights the divine initiative in the outworking of God’s purpose.”
Paul’s treatment of the verbs meaning predestination are not in alignment with the modern concept of predestination theology. The biggest area of difference is found in the discrepancy between God’s knowledge of a person’s character and His knowledge of the person. “Paul does not say that God knew anything about us but that he knew us.” God’s divine plan, as expressed in Romans 8:28-30 and initiated from the time of the fall (Gen.3), invites the participation of humanity and creation.
Christ’s Suffering & Love (Romans 8:31-39)
Incredulity of the Cross (Rom.8:31-32)
The previous two sections use unique vocabulary to highlight the importance of Paul’s argument. This section, however, uses ordinary language to show that “the event to which Paul alludes is extraordinary and arresting.”  Out of the mundane comes an argument for the mysterious and wonderful.
The power of the cross is that it stands in opposition to the failures of humanity. God took on that which would separate humanity from him so that separation would no longer exist. In this way, humanity is “brought by grace under God’s favor and protection.” Humanity’s power is insufficient in light of the divine power of the cross; “If God is for us, who is against us” (Rom. 8:31, NRSV).
Justification & Condemnation are God’s Rights (Rom. 8:33-34)
The discussion continues with questions regarding the authoritative rights for condemnation. In reference to the use of the word ἐγκαλέσει, Moo explains that “the future tense of the verb focuses attention on the last judgement: Who will stand and accuse us at that time?” Rather than denoting any particular time of judgement, this is a reference to our final day of judgement as Christians. “Paul’s argument is that no prosecution can succeed, since God our judge has already justified us.”
Separation & Love (Rom. 8:35-39)
Returning to the discussion of separation, Paul chose to incorporate the word χωρίδω. Most generally, this word simply means to separate or divide something or multiple persons. More specifically, this active form of the word has been related to the “severance of personal relationships, as in divorce.” This was not only a divorce between man and God, but also creation from God and man.
Verses 36 to 39 are “something of an interruption in the flow of thought, and one that is typical for Paul.” This interruption of thought is intended to highlight the way in which Christians should come to expect and thrive within sufferings and trials. These three verses also serve to remind believers that no suffering can separate them from the love of God.
Modern Significance & Message of the Passage
Romans 8:18-39 provide a new context for believers to understand the sufferings of the world in which they live. Paul’s message in this passage that that it is easy to have hope in moments of trouble and trials when they are placed within a larger context. By living in the framework of God’s “future redemption of all creation” believers can live boldly. Present difficulties are bearable in light of the confidence that Christians can exhibit in the redemption of the cross.
In the theological framework of Paul, a Christian must “realize that they, along with the subhuman creation, are in the position of waiting and hoping for the culmination of God’s plan and purposes.” Suffering and anguish are the burden of more than humanity alone, but also affect the cosmos around them. For this reason, it is important for Christians to uphold a healthy and holistic theology of creation.
This holistic theology means upholding a balance in both worldview and personal life. An individual’s spiritual life must be set within the context of the community of faith. In doing so, the believer can allow God’s Spirit to meet their needs in areas of failures and inabilities.
As a final application of Romans 8:18-39, it is important to note the similarities between the Roman civic cult and the cultural normalcies of the modern world. Modern Christians must be aware of the perspective of religious leaders in light of the Scripture from which they teach and preach. Many modern Christian leaders and preachers promote gospels of good will and happiness for all persons, regardless of their lifestyles.
For instance, the concept that God wants Christians to experience His best for them in – in an immediate sense of gratification. This particular form of belief goes against that which Paul presents in his theology of sufferings of Romans 8:18-39. Paul teaches Christians that they must endure sufferings as Christ endured the cross for us; modern gratification theologies teach us to act as gods – in line with the ancient Roman civic cult more so that the Scriptures.
Through this skillful use of structure, language, and cultural comparison, Paul presents a holistic theology of hope amidst suffering. In these 21 short verses, Paul addresses the problem of evil, and how suffering, the fall of humanity, and the insufficiency of the achievements of the believer. His solutions are found in the power of the cross, the indwelling of the Spirit, and the love of Father God. This Trinitarian perspective ignites hope in the hearts of believers, and acts as a critical call into faith-based action on behalf of creation and humanity.
Bauer, Walter, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker. 1979. A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Bence, Clarence L. 1996. Romans: A Commentary for Bible Students. Indianapolis, IN; Wesleyan Publishing House.
Bible Hub, 2004-2016. “2937.ktisis,” HELPS. Accessed December 9, 2016. www.biblehub. com/greek/2937.htm.
Bible Hub, 2004-2016. “3804. Pathéma,” HELPS. Accessed December 9, 2016. www.biblehub .com/greek/3804.htm.
Bible Hub, 2004-2016. “5421. huperentugchanó,” HELPS. Accessed December 9, 2016. www.biblehub.com/greek/3804.htm.
Edwards, James R. ed. W. Ward Gasque 1992. Romans, New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA; Hendrickson Publishers.
Jewett, Robert. ed. Eldon Jay Epp, 2007. Romans: Hermenia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, Minneapolis, MN; Fortress Press.
Moo, Douglas J. 1996. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
. Robert Jewett, Romans: Hermenia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, ed. Eldon Jay Epp, (Minneapolis, MN; Fortress Press, 2007), 506.
. Clarence L. Bence, Romans: A Commentary for Bible Students, (Indianapolis, IN; Wesleyan Publishing House, 1996), 151.
. Ibid., 152.
. Bible Hub, “3804. Pathéma,” HELPS, biblehub.com/greek/3804.htm (accessed December 9, 2016).
. James R. Edwards, “Romans”, in New International Biblical Commentary, ed. W. Ward Gasque, (Peabody, MA; Hendrickson Publishers, 1992), 212.
. Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), s.v. “πάθημα”.
. Robert Jewett, 509-510.
. Ibid., 510.
. Ibid., 512.
. Bence, 151.
. Jewett, 512.
. Bible Hub, “2937.ktisis,” HELPS, biblehub.com/greek/2937.htm (accessed December 9, 2016).
. Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids, MI; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 515.
. Edwards, 213.
. Jewett, 513.
. Moo, 517.
. Ibid., 518.
. Jewett, 517.
. Bence, 152.
. BAGD, s.v. “ελπίς”.
. Bence, 152.
. Edwards, 212.
. Moo, 522.
. Jewett, 521.
. Bible Hub, “5421. huperentugchanó,” HELPS, biblehub.com/greek/3804.htm (accessed December 9, 2016).
. Edwards, 219.
. Moo 533.
. Ibid., 532.
. Jewett, 537.
. Jewett, 536.
. Moo, 541.
. Stott, 255.
. Jewett, 543.
. Moo, 543-544.
. Bence, 154.
. Moo, 510.
. Ibid., 526.
Read this passage here.
As a continuation of the previous 8 verses, Romans 8:9-11 has a special perspective on the life in the Spirit. This section in particular focuses not only the choice made by humanity, but the consequences that are a part of that choice that had been made. This section also has incredible points of theological merit regarding the Trinity, and Free Will.
Main Thrust of Text
In line with the two previous sections of chapter 8 of Romans, verses 9 to 11 also discuss the belonging or banishment of humanity. Those in the Spirit are given life, while those who do not participate in the will of God find only death as their reward. In this way, the passage is a perfect continuation of what was previously said in the passage written by Paul.
This section does have a few unique aspects, despite the great number of similarities in content with the previous two sections. One major difference in the focus on the work of God in the salvific and redeeming acts, rather than the response of man. While previously, there was a great focus on the culpability of man for which of the two choices that they would make, there now is a focus primarily on the response of God to the choice of the believer or unbeliever.
Thomas Westwood makes this idea of reaction clear by pointing out the similarity of Paul’s word choice to that of a legal document. “In legal parlance of our courts today the word that is used is ‘whereas.’” By this, he is referring to the great number of uses of the words “since” and “if” (Rom.8:9-11, NRSV). While the word may have been translated differently, he is of the mindset that it could easily be exchanged and have no new bearing on the meaning.
Douglas Moo would challenge this idea and offer two other possibilities to the usage of the word “if” (Rom. 8:9-11, NRSV). He claims that it could be the indication that it is a mixed group of readership: believers and unbelievers, or that it could mean that he is “assuming the reality of his readers’ Christian experience.” While both of these are also viable options, the context would seem to lend itself more so to the definition as explained by Westwood.
John Stott proposes and idea that is something of a combination of Moo’s second idea, and that of Westwood. He explains that the two uses in verses 10-11 in particular “do not express any doubt about the fact of the indwelling…, but they point to results.” If is thus both an indication of the party involved, and the consequences that befall their involvement.
Points of Interest within the Text
As a point of particular interest, this is the first point in which Paul makes the outright claim that those who are listening are “not in the flesh” (Rom. 8:9, NRSV). Prior to this verse, it is only a vague assumption that he is indeed speak to those who live in the Spirit. It is possible before this statement that he is either speaking to convince unbelievers, or possibly a mixed group of persons.
This opinion may be challenged as Paul does make the statement that “Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” in Romans 8:2 (NRSV). While this does seem to indicate the listeners to be the redeemed, in the context of what follows, this sentiment become muddled. However, utmost clarity is given in the later statement, so it can be seen either as the first outright indication or at least the clearer of two possible claims.
It is also a point of interest that the actions that take place in this passage focus on God dwelling, raising and giving life to those who “are in the Spirit” (Rom. 8:9, NRSV). There are terms of possession and existence, but the express actions are all on the part of God. Theologically here, there is a caution that must be made: Scripture, if not taken holistically, might here lead us to believe that God is the sole participant in salvation.
Admittedly, it would appear that this section denies free-will theology, but even placing it in the greater context of verses one through eight amends this. This is amended through the term phronoma, in Romans 8:6-7, which means “way of thinking, mind (-set)…aim, aspiration, striving.” This term outside of Scripture is used to describe the personal aspirations for “control…freedom… [and] independence.” In each of these cases, it was the will of the person that instigated their desires. While this is in the greater Hellenistic use, and not specifically in other Scriptures that this is witnessed, it is unlikely that Paul would have used them in isolation to this context. Romans 8:6-7 are the only occurrences of this form of the word, but even the apocryphal uses are in agreement to those in Hellenistic literature. Thus, it would be inappropriate to distance the human element of free will in the redeeming efforts that are seen in this passage.
Another interesting feature of this section of the text is that it is the most Trinitarian portion of the first eleven verses of chapter eight. While it does not explicit say the terms ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,’ each part of the Trinity is included in the section. The Spirit is the most frequently mentioned, with six occurrences in verses 9-11. Christ Jesus is mentioned a total of four times, and the Father is indicated three times. The first time in verse 9 while explaining to whom Christians belong, and the other two time are both found in verse 11 while explaining who was responsible for the raising of Christ Jesus posthumously (Rom. 8:9-11).
Looking to the previous verses, it is clear that Paul is simply continuing a prior train of thought. However, this section cannot be reduced to the mere end of a thought, but also as a deep wealth of theological understanding. Paul addresses two major ideas that shape the modern church in a tasteful ad tactful way that is both unexpected and unparalleled.
. Tom Westwood, Romans: A Courtroom Drama, (New York, NY: Loizeaux Brothers Inc., 1949), 152.
. Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,1996), 490.
. John Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 225.
. Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 866.
Read this passage here.
In the early verses of chapter 8 of the book of Romans, Paul presents a dichotomy at play that is life or death. Paul describes the choice between life in the Spirit, as discussed in previous verses, and the death that comes from choosing the flesh. Some have seen this as a discussion of material things versus spiritual things, but there is infinitely more at play in this discussion.
Main Idea of Text
Continuing from the previous section, Romans 8:5-8 discusses the paradox of the forgiven man standing before the judge. The paradox lies in the seemingly cliché choice of life or death, Spirit or flesh. Will the forgiven man continue to act as though he did nothing wrong and “live according to the flesh” (Rom. 8:5, NRSV), or will he adapt his ways to “live according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:5, NRSV)?
Before moving further with this important text, there is an initial understanding that must be fully established. John Stott makes it very clear that when Paul is talking about the flesh, he is not using a traditional dichotomy for the Greco-Roman culture. Rather, “by sarx (flesh) Paul means neither the soft muscular tissue which covers our bony skeleton, nor our bodily instincts and appetites, but rather the whole of our humanness viewed as corrupt and unredeemed.”
This is not a discussion of material versus spiritual as many have read it over the years, and likely would have gravitated towards in his own culture. Dualism and Gnosticism, while popular in the Greco-Roman culture of the time, were not Christian practices, despite the early Mosaic influence on Platonic thinking. Here, Paul is remedying the situation and attempting to show flesh as a global concept rather than merely material or nature.
This being said, Paul still uses a dichotomy between the Spiritual and the fleshly things, and urges believers to “live according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:5, NRSV), and to “set the mind on the Spirit [which] is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6, NRSV). It is also important to establish the fact that Paul is not merely comparing two things that are similar here. Paul is showing the two concepts in tandem to isolate them from one another.
Tom Westwood explains that “Paul is now indicating … the absolute incompatibility of the flesh and the Spirit. The complex being who is the Christian, must determine for himself what his line of conduct will be.” This fact becomes very clear as Paul finishes this section with the use of strong negatives towards the ability of a flesh-oriented person to follow God’s law- the pinnacle moment of description in the use of the words “hostile” (Rom. 8:7, NRSV), “does not submit” (Rom. 8:7, NRSV), and the double usage of “cannot” (Rom. 8:8, NRSV).
James R. Edwards also highlights this contrast, likening the human caught in this decision to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, characters from the famous book by Robert Louis Stevenson.  In this comparison, he “sets the Spirit in antithesis to the flesh,” and in doing so, shows the extreme differences between the incompatible forces of flesh and Spirit.
In the text, one phrase in particular is repeated around four times: “set their minds” (Rom. 8:5-8, NRSV). This phrase ultimately boils down to the word phroneo in the original Greek text. Bauer, Arndt, Danker and Gingrich explain this word to mean: “set one’s mind on, be intent on…to take someone’s side, espouse someone’s cause.” This word can also mean “way of thinking, mind (-set), in our lit. (only Romans 8) aim, aspiration, striving.”
For Olliver Greene, talk is limited in terms of the previously mentioned idea of setting your minds, but Greene instead focuses on the outcome of having a mind set on the Spirit. Romans 8:6, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6, NRSV). Here, while many look to the repetition of the phrase “set their minds” (Rom. 8:5-8, NRSV), Greene looks at the statement that follows the repeated phrase. The focus on life and peace, given by Greene, comes from his understanding of the Greek word for peace, which means “to bind together that which has been separated.” Peace brings God and humanity back together, but the mind must be on the Spirit for this to happen.
Olliver Greene also makes the important connection between Romans 8:8 and Hebrews 11:9. While it is uncertain as to who the author of the book of Hebrews was, the idea that you cannot submit to God without the setting your mind on the Spirit, carries into the book of Hebrews as a theme as well. Hebrews words this a little differently, and talks about this in terms of faith instead of “setting their mind” (Rom. 8:5-8, NRSV).
Main Application of Text
This text, while short and not extremely practical in nature, has an excellent application to be made. This application stems directly from this idea that Greene supported in highlighting the use of the word “peace” (Rom. 8:6, NRSV) and all that it entails. Peace in terms of this passage seems to indicate the reuniting of two parties: man and God.
In terms of today’s culture, “it is a commonplace in the modern West to regard human nature as basically good, or at least neutral;” this was not at all was Paul was arguing for here. Instead, in this chapter and also in earlier chapters, he makes it very clear that outside of the Spirit of life, humanity is an enemy of God. Two parties have been reunited in peace, and the reunion will be a social event unlike any other. By talking about the peace of God in terms of the salvation of men, Greathouse and Lyons indicate that this is an emphasis on the “social, relational quality of mind of the Spirit… in contrast to individualistic notions of life in the Spirit, where conceived along moralistic or charismatic lines.”
Chapter 8 as a portion of the larger book of Romans holds the key to understanding a crucial part of the theology of Paul. Through the use of a dichotomy, Paul expresses this important spiritual truth: Man must choose life or death. While this discussion has been spun to mean many things over the years, ultimately there a call to action for the believer in this short passage of Romans 8:5-8.
. John Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 222.
. Tom Westwood, Romans: A Courtroom Drama, (New York, NY: Loizeaux Brothers Inc., 1949), 150.
. James R. Edwards, NIBC: Romans (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992), 204.
. Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 866.
. Oliver B. Greene, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Greenville, SC: The Gospel Hour, 1974), 261.
. Ibid., 262.
. Edwards, 205.
. William M. Greathouse and George Lyons, Romans 1-8: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition, (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2008) 235.
Read this passage here.
The book of Romans is simply a small part of the larger works of Paul as a teacher and theologian. However, this passage in particular exposes one of the staple aspects of Paul’s theological framework: Old Covenant versus New Covenant. While this is not the only place in which this theology is made known, it is in the book of Romans that it fits into the greater context of the legal position of humanity before the righteous God and Judge.
Main Aspects of the Text
In this section of text, Romans 8:1-4, there are many surface level aspects which the reader can easily identify. This being said, there are also several other layers which are at work. This is not to say that there is hidden wisdom or such foolishness at work, but rather to say that at first glance, the main interaction and outcome of the text can be overlooked. While ultimately both levels will be components of the greater event that is taking place in this pericope of Scripture.
Main Interaction in Passage
Looking at the text, there is a very clear interaction between God and the Law that takes place. It is the work of God the Father through Christ Jesus that gives the freedom from the condemnation of the Law. This is especially clear in verse 2 which states, “Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Rom. 8:2, NRSV).
John Stott supports this as a primary interaction which takes place in this passage. He describes this instance saying that “to be liberated from the law of sin and death through Christ is to be no longer ‘under the law.’” This law that God Himself had instituted, a law now seen as death, is to be replaced by the work of Christ in the life of those who live “not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4, NRSV).
This verse brings up a rather interesting occurrence in this passage that should not be overlooked. This is the alternative main interaction in this passage: the law of the Spirit and the law of sin and death. While it still bears the idea that God is interacting with the law, there is more of an indication of Covenantal Theology in the second possibility of the main interaction in this text. Given the Jewish origin of Paul’s faith, and other Jewish references in the book of Romans, this interaction may be seen as a more prominent interaction.
In the passage of Scripture itself, this makes little difference as God is still the active force involved, and the act still takes place on behalf of humanity. Going back to verse 2, which was mentioned earlier in this section, the text says more than Christ alone setting a person free as Stott supported initially. In fact, the text boldly claims that it was the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:2, NRSV) which has set free those who would live according to the Spirit.
This interpretation fits better in terms of other passage of Scripture which speak about the law. Matthew 5:17 is a prime example of this, for several reasons. Jesus warns the listeners, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17, NRSV). If it were God directly interacting with the law, it would be easy to omit this verse. However, when the law of the Spirit interacts with the law of sin and death, then it is hard to say that the law has been abolished. Rather, this seems to indicate a replacement, or renewal of the law as the law of the Spirit is a continuation of the plan of God to redeem humanity rather than condemn.
Main Outcome of Romans 8:1-4
The first line of this section of text has a fairly clear description of what the outcome of the work of Christ and the law of the Spirit. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1, NRSV). As a main outcome of this text, this certainly fits the criteria. Especially given the conversation that takes place throughout the book of Romans as a whole.
The drama of the book of Romans speaks to a legal investigation and defense of the guilty party before the offended party and judge. Tom Westwood, who favours the idea of a courtroom drama, points out that this section is the beginning of a new identity process. While the offender began the process as a person of the law of sin and death, this passage is the moment in which they truly are seen as forgiven under the law of the Spirit.
Yet, the question must be asked, was this the outcome that was meant to be highlighted as a thesis statement in this text? Admittedly, this is likely the main outcome that was intended within the passage. It could be said, however, that this passage is also meant to show the depth of the fulfilment of the law that took place in Christ’s death and resurrection. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do” (Rom.8:3, NRSV).
In terms of the salvific effort, it is clearly the work of God that brings about the changes in this passage. This is true both in terms of the restoration of humanity, and in terms of the restoration of the law. There was weakness and inability to escape condemnation, and God provided a way for humanity to seek life. The law was likewise weak and incapable of giving life to humanity because of sin, but God found a way to fulfill the law and give hope and life through the law of the Spirit.
While it is clear that there is an action on the part of man, it is also clear that there is a definitive and much greater act on the part of God. Man must “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4, NRSV). However, it is through the incredible actions of God that this is even possible, for man was bound to the law, and the law was “weakened by the flesh [and] could not do” (Rom.8:3, NRSV) what it had set out to do.
Pauline Logic and Theology
William M. Greathouse and George Lyons agree that “Romans 8:1-17 is the climax of a section that began at 5:12, as well as the conclusion of Paul’s argument up to this point.” Up until this point, Paul has been drawing parallels between the flesh and the Spirit, but here he shows the potential of humanity to truly live according to the ways of the Spirit in Christ. The claim that sin had over men and women has no power over those who live in Christ Jesus.
This theology of Paul, is also seen elsewhere in his writings, and helps to expound upon what he is saying on this particular occasion. Fred O. Francis and J. Paul Sampley indicate that this passage ties into at least four other works of Paul. Of these, Galatians 5:16-26 seems to further his thoughts the most. Here, Paul is seen to describe what he means by living according to the law of the Spirit as opposed to the old law of sin and death. He begins the passage in very similar terms to what is written in Romans 8, and then adds in a practical living section before returning once again to the language of Romans.
Romans 8:1-4 offers a wonderful view of the Pauline theology of the Covenant between God and His people. While this is only one occasion in which this theology is expressed, it is still a place of rich theological depth. Here, Paul shows that life is offered, and possible for humanity, and that it is the work of God to restore the law that has made this possible.
. John Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 218.
. Tom Westwood, Romans: A Courtroom Drama, (New York, NY: Loizeaux Brothers Inc., 1949), 144-146.
. William M. Greathouse and George Lyons, Romans 1-8: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition, (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2008) 225.
. Fred O. Francis and J. Paul Sampley, Pauline Parallels, 2nd ed., (USA: Fortress Press, 1984), 29.
As a quick note to this citation, there was no location given for Fortress Press’ printing location aside from USA.
Rev. Olivia Phillips