March 23: Romans 8:16

Romans 8:16

“The Spirit itself gives witness together with our spirit that we are (the) offspring of God.”

In verse 15 (cf.the previous note), Paul refers to the Spirit within believers as “the spirit of placement as sons [ui(oqesi/a]” —that is to say, through the Spirit we, as believers, acquire the status of sons (i.e., children) of God. We share this sonship with Jesus himself, as is clear from the parallel in Gal 4:6, where Paul refers to “the Spirit of His Son”. Earlier in our passage (v. 9), Paul uses the expression “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” interchangeably, as a reference to the Spirit. It is thus the Spirit of Jesus (the Son) even as it is the Spirit of God (the Father), the two sharing the same Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 15:45 combined with 6:17). In a similar way, through union with Christ, believers also share in this Spirit.

Here, in verse 16, Paul emphasizes the role of the Spirit as a witness (ma/rtu$) to our identity as God’s children. He uses the compound verb summarture/w, which means “give witness [marture/w] together with [sun] another”. The ‘other’ witness is our own spirit.

The noun pneu=ma is one of several terms that refer generally to the inner aspect of a human being. Paul uses pneu=ma in this sense in Rom 1:9, and also in 1 Cor 2:11; 5:3-5; 7:34; 14:14-16; 2 Cor 7:1; Gal 6:18; 1 Thess 5:23, and in a few other references as well. There is not always a sharp distinction made between pneu=ma (“spirit”), yuxh/ (“soul”), and nou=$ (“mind”)—all three terms variously reflect overlapping aspects of what Paul elsewhere calls the “inner” (e&sw) person (Rom 7:22; 2 Cor 4:16; also Eph 3:16); and note also the inward/outward contrast in Rom 2:29. Paul’s emphasis on the inward aspect of Christian identity and religious (spiritual) experience is a general indication of his spiritualism.

In Rom 8:23, Paul makes clear that we, as believers, hold the Divine sonship within (e)n) ourselves, through the presence and work of the Spirit. Paul gives us a portrait of how the Spirit of God (and Christ) interacts with our own spirit in vv. 26-27; cf. also the discussion on 1 Cor 2:10-14 in the earlier article in this series. Here the Spirit’s interaction (with our spirit) does two things: (1) it confirms for us that we are, indeed, the sons of God; and, (2) it gives us the authority/ability to declare this, by crying out (vb kra/zw) “Abba, Father!” —declaring God to be our Father, in the same manner in which Jesus (the Son) addressed the Father (e.g., Mk 14:36). The second aspect was emphasized in v. 15, the first is the focus here in v. 16.

That is to say, here the Spirit functions as a confirming witness. This dual-witness concept is not unique to Paul, as it seems to have been an important component in early Christian thought. Outside of the Pauline letters, it is particularly emphasized in Luke-Acts and the Johannine writings. In the case of Luke-Acts, the dual-witness motif is part of a broader narrative treatment of the role of the Spirit among early believers, and in the inspired (prophetic) nature of the Gospel proclamation; in particular, we may note the wording in Acts 5:32 and 15:28. In the Johannine Gospel, the Spirit clearly functions in a way that parallels the disciples’ own teaching (which they received from Jesus himself)—cf. 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:13ff. There are closer parallels to our passage in 1 John, where the Spirit’s witness confirms that Jesus Christ (and his sonship) abides in us, and that we, in turn, are also sons/children of God—cf. 3:24; 4:6, 13. The “witness” motif is particularly prominent in the Johannine writings, and the Spirit is the ultimate witness for believers (Jn 15:26; 1 Jn 5:6-8).

Verse 16 begins with the (neuter) personal pronoun au)to/ (“he/it”), in emphatic position. The neuter case agrees with the noun pneu=ma, and the pronoun is used used here in an emphatic/intensive way—i.e., “the Spirit itself.” This could also be translated “th(is) same Spirit” —that is, the “spirit (of sonship)” mentioned in v. 15, which is also the “Spirit of God” (in v. 14). In other words, the very Spirit of God in us, the Spirit that establishes us as His sons, confirms the truth (for us) that we are, indeed, His children.

In v. 14, Paul used the plural ui(oi/ (“sons”), while here the neuter plural te/kna (“offspring, children”) is used. There is no real difference in meaning, though te/kna is certainly the more general and inclusive term, which makes clear that the statements in vv. 14-15 apply to all believers—male and female. As previously noted, in the Johannine writings, te/kna is always used of believers (Jn 1:12-13; 1 Jn 3:1-2, 10; 5:2), never the noun ui(o/$, which is reserved for Jesus. Paul shares this belief in the uniqueness of Jesus’ Sonship, but is not averse to using the noun ui(o/$ when speaking of believers as God’s children. Through our union with Jesus, who is the Son (and heir) of God, we share in the same Sonship, and thus become, ourselves, sons (and co-heirs) with him; cf. the discussion in Galatians 3-4, and here throughout chapter 8. The point is made more explicit in verse 17, which we will examine in the next daily note.

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