Lamentations can be seen as an image of our experiences of hurt. We are suffering in ways that feel totally overwhelming and impossible, yet in looking at the experiences of others – especially those in Scripture – we can find examples of how others responded and felt in their moments of need.
Academia without personal impact is a hollow image of what Scriptural study is meant to look like. This week for our Deeper Look, we want to invite you to interact with certain passages of Lamentations on a more personal level. Take each section at your own pace – engaging with the text, and then engaging with how it gives you a deeper look into your own life. May this be as a revealing experience for you in your journey of faith as it has been in our lives here at Waypoint.
Addressing Our Own Brokenness.
There are times when we are broken, and nothing is going to change the fact, that right here, right now, things are not right.
“All her people groan
as they search for bread;
they trade their treasures for food
to revive their strength.
Look, O Lord, and see
how worthless I have become.”
-Lamentations 1:11 (NRSV)
What do we do when we are broken? Is admitting brokenness the same thing as admitting failure?
Losing Sight of Ourselves.
Sometimes brokenness can cause a person to lose sight of who they are, and who they could be.
“See, O Lord, how distressed I am;
my stomach churns,
my heart is wrung within me,
because I have been very rebellious.
In the street the sword bereaves;
in the house it is like death.”
- Lamentations 1:20 (NRSV)
Why do we feel so distressed by brokenness and mistakes in our lives? How can we recover a vision of who we were meant to be in life?
Silence can feel like inaction, but there are times when silence is the only option.
“The elders of daughter Zion
sit on the ground in silence;
they have thrown dust on their heads
and put on sackcloth;
the young girls of Jerusalem
have bowed their heads to the ground.”
– Lamentations 2:10 (NRSV)
What other Scriptures are you reminded of when you engage with this passage? What sorts of emotions and memories does this evoke in your life?
A Cry for Justice.
When we are faced with deep sorrow and lament, sometimes our only response is to pour out our hearts in agony.
“Arise, cry out in the night,
at the beginning of the watches!
Pour out your heart like water
before the presence of the Lord!
Lift your hands to him
for the lives of your children,
who faint for hunger
at the head of every street.”
Have you ever experienced a moment of lament that caused you to cry out in this way? If so, how did it feel to call out to God in that way? If not, when you have experienced deep sorrow, how did you respond?
“Let us test and examine our ways,
and return to the Lord.”
– Lamentations 3:40
What path are you walking on in life? Is the direction you are heading, the direction that that you want to be going in? How can you change your life to look more like Christ?
A cry for our Enemies.
“You have taken up my cause, O Lord,
you have redeemed my life.
You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord;
judge my cause.”
– Lamentations 3:58-59
Who would you identify as those who would be considered your enemies? Why do you view them in this way? Have you ever taken the time to pray for those who would seek to harm you? What do you think would happen if you took the time to genuinely and earnestly pray for them?
Keep digging deeper, and learning more about faith, the Scriptures, and discerning how you fit into this incredible plan.
Read the passage for our discussion here.
Over the last few weeks, it has become more and more apparent that the church is in need of a shift in perspective. This is not to say that as God's people we are missing the entire picture, but rather that modern Christians are lacking a crucial part of what we were meant to be in the grand scheme of things. Our picture of the Christian faith is missing the most important part - the background.
Why is a background so important to a photo?
A photo without a background can be misinterpreted or given a new setting with ease. Looking at the modern church without taking in the greater context of our forefathers can leave us looking about as genuine as a green-screen photo of a couple being chased by aliens riding dinosaurs. This is admittedly an exaggeration, and in some cases the holistic appearance of a person's faith can be quite convincing- like the elvish council chambers in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
This problem is not new to our generation, however, and luckily for us, the Apostles, and Early Church Fathers dealt with and wrote about the same problems. In fact, the beginning of the fourth Gospel focuses on this very issue: holistic faith. This is not the only discussion that takes place, but it is clear that the author of the passage was trying to help believers connect with the faith of their forefathers.
John 1:1-18 as an example of holistic faith.
There are a few points in which the holistic vision of the Prologue of John is very clearly depicted. The first of which is in the comparison between the introduction of this Gospel and the introduction to the Greek version of the book of Genesis. The opening line is nearly identical; which gives the impression that what is about to be heard has something to do with the original Jewish faith. This alone is not enough to say that we must look to the Jewish faith for our foundation, but in tandem with the other verses points to the fact that this is more than just a compare and contrast.
A second aspect to this holistic understanding of the Christian faith was that these five verses are not only comparing language, but also theological concepts. Verses one through five begin the illustration of Christ as The Word. This view of the Messiah was a common thread in Jewish theology, and brings in more of the continuative nature of the passage. This language also served to root the Christian faith beyond the birth of Christ, making Him pre-existent to his human dwelling on earth.
This pattern of pre-existence language is carried into verses 10-13: "He came into his own" (John 1:10). This is more than simply saying that Christ was coming into Israel as a newborn Israelite baby boy, but rather that He was coming into the world that He had helped the Father and Spirit create. The world was His own because He was the author of its existence.
Finally, verses 14-18 address this issue by explaining how Christ fulfilled the Old Testament need for Grace and Truth along with the Torah. The language regarding the fulfilling or ammending of the covenant between Israel and God serves to unite us as Christians with our Jewish forefathers. The God of the Jewish Old Testament, the same Scripture that we have in our Christian Bibles, is our God too. What was once unseen, has now been seen in Christ Jesus (John 1:18, paraphrase).
So you mean to say that Christianity didn't start as Christian?
This thought had never been really teased out in my mind, but I once held the same idea that a lot of young Christians hold: Jesus was obviously a Christian. I had was not aware of this problematic thinking until I saw a colouring book photo for a Sunday School lesson in which Jesus was depicted as going to church like a good boy. It was a that moment that the thought occured to me: How could He have gone to church if his disciples founded the church?
Our generation is in danger of never getting beyond this concept, and losing the Jewish heretiage that we take for granted. The question must be asked at this point: would that be such a bad thing to lose? After all, God brought the Gospel to more than just the Jewish people.
Marcion's Abandonement of the Semetic History
Back in the days of the Early Church, a man named Marcion began a movement away from the Jewish history of the faith. While there was more to the problem of his system of thinking, a major issue arose in his teachings: the God of the Old Testament could not be a good God, or even THE God, if the Jewish faith is left out. If that is the case, then who is God?
Marcion had some anti-semetic issues in his faith, but more than that, he also was struggling with the idea of the Problem of Evil. If God is a good God, then why do bad things happen to good people? He reduced things too simply, and looked at the inactivity of God to prevent bad things as an equation with Him not being a supreme God. In trying to solve this problem, Marcion omitted the explanations of the Jewish faith and made the problem even bigger.
So, what's the big deal?
As a church, when we alienate ourselves in the same way that Marcion alienated himself and his followers, we place ourselves in danger. Marcion could no longer deal with how there could be evil and suffering in the world without the Old Testament context. What might we be in danger of missing or falling into if we omit the faith and teachings of those that came before us?
Aside from the Jewish faith, there is a great deal that we can learn from men and women of faith who are no longer here to teach us. Seeing the mistakes, and corrections made long ago can help us from repeating errors that have already been a source of pain to the Church. This is especially true for the Protestant Church; as the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches have a more historical view of the faith than we do. By reading and learning from those before us, we will become stronger in our faith.
The "Spoiler Alert" here is that not only was Christ pre-existent, but according to John 1:1-18, so was our heritage. We have an enormous legacy of faith that we are a part of, but if we refuse to acknowledge it we are missing our background. Without that background, there is little support for us when we need it.
What will your faith look like?
Want to read the Scripture our Discussion is Based on? Click here.
While the role of a mother can easily be overlooked, a leader will often reflect on the important influence of their parents in their life. In this way, parents, family members, and friends can act as the leaders of those who are involved in leadership. For this reason, it is critical that those in leadership surround themselves by responsible and trustworthy people.
Hannah and her immediate family played a significant role in setting the tone of the book of 1 Samuel. While their interpersonal relationships are limited in presentation, they serve to help the reader identify a necessary future trend for Israel. Contextually, the relationships within Hannah’s immediate family can be considered reflective of the interactions Sarah’s immediate family in Genesis 16-18. However, while “the actions of Sarah and Abraham promoted division and death, the actions of Hannah and Elkanah promote community and life.”
Elkanah’s role in his family was partially circumvented by Hannah in her making the Nazarite vow in 1 Samuel 1:11. Ruth Fidler and Gnana Robinson, propose that early Jewish legislation did not allow for Hannah to make the vow without Elkanah’s consent. Despite this potential problem, Elkanah supports the vow that Hannah made as if it were “his vow” (1 Sam. 1:21, NRSV) and dedicated his first born son with his favored wife to God.
Peninnah (1 Sam. 1:2-7) and the sons of Eli (1 Sam. 1:3; 2:11-17) also act as sources of conflict in this passage. Although the resolutions of these conflicts are not fully present, these still promote life – as Hannah seeks her “solution in the proper place.”
The fact that Hannah chose to find her solution in God's will and judgment speaks to the dependent nature of her relationship with God. As opposed to the story of Abraham's family, Hannah and the members of her family leave God's judgment and work up to Him to enact. The way that she interacts with God “sustains her above and beyond the marginalization caused by [Elkanah, Peninnah, & Eli].”
The relationship that Hannah and God have is not without tension. Hannah is introduced as a childless woman in 1 Sam. 1:2, but it is not until 1 Sam. 1:5-6 that the reader learns that “the Lord had closed her womb” (NRSV). While these interventions by God causes initial strife for Hannah, “such divine intervention was indeed appropriate for the birth of the hero that Hannah’s son was destined to become.”
The interactions between Eli and Hannah serve to compare and contrast their individual relationships with God. The first verbal encounter between Hannah and Eli was following her occasion of “pouring out [her] soul before the Lord” (1 Sam. 1:15, NRSV). His initial reaction was one of a mistaken interpretation of her silent prayers, claiming that she was “a drunken spectacle” (1 Sam. 1:14, NRSV). While Hannah sought the Lord obediently, Eli responds to her explanation of prayerful anguish with a blessing and assent to a request that appears to be completely unknown to him.
Samuel enters the scene immediately following Hannah seeking the Lord (1 Sam. 1:10-11) and spending the following morning in worship before returning home (1 Sam. 1:19). Their time as mother and son, in the traditional sense, is limited to only a few years at most while she weans him (1 Sam. 1:22-23). However, their interactions extend into his later years as she visits and brings him “a little robe” (1 Sam. 2:19, NRSV) each year during their family’s traditional time of sacrifice.
Hannah’s Role & Leadership
Hannah, while not explicitly identified as being barren, fits within the archetype of the Barren Mother. This model has several components which ultimately align to denote the importance of the child that is born to the childless mother. While other women may meet many aspects of this model, it is only fully witnessed in the person of Hannah. Barren Mothers are first marked by their childlessness (1 Sam. 1:2), followed by the presentation of a rival (1 Sam.1:6), the rival has children (1 Sam. 1:2), conflict emerges (1 Sam. 1:6-7), a plea is made to the Lord (1 Sam. 1:10-11), the request is heard by the Lord (1 Sam. 1:1:19, 2:21), the child is given (1 Sam. 1:20), and finally, the son becomes a significant leader (1 Sam. 3:1ff).
While there is an immediate local impact on the nation of Israel in the birth of Samuel, there is also a symbolic national long term effect. This long term typology of the Barren Mother model is an introduction to Israel’s request for a king in 1 Samuel 8:4-6. While it serves as an introduction to the later request, it also serves as an imitation of “the larger structure of 1 Samuel 1-8.”
This model does not only serve to introduce the book of 1 Samuel but also acts as a capstone of the book of Judges. In Judges 13, Samson’s similar birth narrative occurs shortly before the four-time reoccurrence of the phrase, "in those days there was no king in Israel" (Jdgs. 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25, NRSV). The Deuterocanonical links between these two barren mothers and the desire of Israel for a king establish a firm placement for Hannah's experience.
Hannah gives her firstborn child to a man, whose sons have taken on his responsibilities as a priest over Israel, to raise on behalf of the Lord (1 Sam. 1:4, 26-28). While Hannah cherishes her time as a mother, during the transition and dedication of Samuel her role becomes rather priestly in nature. Between the Nazarite vow she makes, the enormous sacrifice which Hannah brings, and the prayer seen in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, her role grows larger than the confines of a typical Israelite woman.
Hannah’s “firm control of events” leads the reader to question what she anticipated for the future of her son’s leadership. Hannah’s regard for these aspects of her son’s life may also be explained as her prerogative or desire for Israel to have a King. Given the combination of her priestly and kingly desires expressed, it causes the reader to wonder if Hannah did not envision Samuel as a new Melchizedek (Gen. 14: 17-24) figure for Israel.
The kingly motif present in Hannah’s Prayer or Song of 1 Samuel 2:1-10 is contested by many scholars as a later Deuteronomist addition. Regardless of the authorship, Graeme Auld looks at Hannah's prayer as a prefiguration and foreshadowing of Israel's future kings In light of the larger context of the Deuteronomistic literature, this section of text is multi-functional as both reflective and aspirational.
It is important to note that Hannah’s role within her Patriarchal society was not entirely unique in function. According to Joan Cook, “Women’s public roles and social influence were frequently more significant during times of social upheaval and political decentralization with no dominant national power structure.” Hannah fulfills this role of a strong and vibrant female leader during a time in which Israel’s priesthood was failing to lead the nation.
While her role is not as prominent as her predecessor, Deborah, in the book of Judges, the reader cannot deny the influence that this prayerful mother has on her son. In Hannah’s aforementioned priestly acts, she sets the tone for the reader to understand that her family, and not Eli’s will be entering into the sacred priestly role. This barren mother would mark the change for the future of Eli’s family lineage – a childless mother whom he blesses to give birth to his unknown replacement.
Likewise, her focus on seeking God in times of struggle leads to an important contrast between her leadership and that of other leaders in the nation of Israel. While Saul and other leaders that precede and follow Samuel also seek God's divine will, Hannah stands apart for the way that she adheres to the law regarding sacrifice. Later in his life, Samuel establishes this concept as an important theological understanding that was exhibited by his mother. Faith must not be incorrectly practiced in methodology, but it can neither be artificially practiced in hollow actions.
Modern Implications & Application
A literal application of this text may prove difficult in our culture, as it would inevitably lead to a misconception of the role of women. However, understanding the effects that a family can have on an individual’s role in leadership is a crucial point of interest. While roles such as Peninnah’s are limited to only a few verses of text, her effect on Hannah led to the penitent lifestyle of Samuel in small ways.
A leader’s spouse can also play a major role in the way that they are able to act and find respect in leadership. Should a leader’s spouse not uphold their decisions or give respect, then their choices will have little effect on the community in which they lead. Elkanah gives a primary view of how a spouse can support the decisions of their partner in honoring the vow to dedicate Samuel to the Lord (1 Sam. 1:21-23).
Spiritual leaders can often have as drastic an effect on one another as a spouse can have on their partner’s leadership. Eli’s misunderstanding of Hannah's prayer could have driven her to find solace from a source other than the Lord. In his time of error, he answered Hannah with a blessing upon hearing her explanation of sobriety and anguish-induced prayer (1 Sam.1:17).
Hannah, as a leader in her family, helped to uphold the importance of turning to God in times of trial. She also established a level of respect in Samuel for Eli that is later witnessed in David’s treatment of Saul. Just as Samuel treated Eli with respect following his rejection from the Lord (1 Sam. 3:27-36), David later treats Saul with a similar respect following his initial rejection as King (1 Sam. 15-16). While Hannah does not explicitly teach practice this to Samuel, their annual interactions in light of their origin likely affected the way that Samuel acted in later years.
Hannah’s role could easily go unnoticed, but Samuel’s leadership sprouted from her attentiveness to her faith. Her family members and Eli acted as the leaders of Samuel and those who followed him in leadership. In likeness to Samuel, the modern leader must find sources of good influence in their immediate circles of influence.
. Frederick J. Gaiser, "Sarah, Hagar, Abraham – Hannah, Peninnah, Elkanah: Case Studies in Conflict," in Word & World no 3, vol. 34, (September 2014), 273.
. Ibid., 280.
. Ruth Fidler, “A Wife’s Vow – The Husband’s Woe? The Case of Hannah and Elkanah (1 Samuel 1,21. 23)” in Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 3, vol. 118, (2006), 381.
. Gnana Robinson, “Let Us Be Like the Nations: A Commentary on the Books of 1 & 2 Samuel,” in International Theological Commentary, eds. Fredrick Carlson Holmgren & George A. F. Knight, (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993), 17.
. Gaiser., 281.
. Ibid., 282.
. Joan E. Cook, “Hannah’s Desire, God’s Design,” in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 282, eds. David J.A. Clines & Philip R. Davies (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 53.
. Michael Carasik, “Why Did Hannah Ask for ‘Seed of Men’?” in JBL 3, vol. 129, (2010), 436.
. Joan E. Cook, 11.
. Ibid., 14-27.
. Ibid., 14-15.
. Christopher Jero, “Mother-Child Narratives and the Kingdom of God: Authorial Use of Typology as an Interpretive Device in Samuel-Kings,” in Bulletin for Biblical Research 25.2, (2015), 160.
. J.P. Fokkelman, “Vow and Desire,” in Narrative Art & Poetry in the Books of Samuel, vol.4, (Assen, The Netherlands; Van Gorcum, 1993), 40.
. David Jobling, “1 Samuel” in Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry, eds. David W. Cotter, Jerome T. Walsh, & Chris Franke, (Collegeville, MN; The Liturgical Press, 1998), 133.
. Graeme Auld, “I & II Samuel: A Commentary” in The Old Testament Library, (Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox Press, 2011), 39.
. Joan E. Cook, 39.
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.
Rev. Olivia Phillips