Romans 8:17, continued
The final clause of v. 17 (cf. the previous note) gives us an idea of how it is that we, as believers, are “co-heirs of Christ” —lit. ones holding the lot (klhrono/moi) together with (su/n) him. The prefixed preposition sun– alludes to our fundamental union with Christ. Paul expounds the significance of that union in the final clause:
“… (and) if indeed we suffer with (him), (it is) that also we shall be honored with (him).”
He utilizes a pair of compound verbs with a similar prefix (sun-):
- sumpa/sxw—meaning “suffer [pa/sxw] together with [sun]” another person
- sundoca/zw—in the passive, “be esteemed/honored [doca/zw] together with [sun]” another
The latter verb occurs only here in the New Testament, the former only here and in 1 Cor 12:26; neither is used in the Greek Old Testament (LXX). Thus, we are dealing with distinctively Pauline language, as an expression of a uniquely Pauline theological emphasis—namely, that of believers’ participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
In this, Paul is developing a basic early Christian concept, symbolized principally by the baptism ritual. However, Paul develops the concept in a way that is most distinctive, and which must surely be regarded as an original contribution to Christian thought. The key passage is Romans 6:1-11, beginning especially with verse 3:
“…as (many) of us as were dunked [i.e. baptized] into (the) Anointed Yeshua, we were dunked into his death“
He builds upon this statement in verse 4:
“(So) then, we were buried together [sunta/fhmen] with him, through the dunking into (his) death, (so) that, even as (the) Anointed was raised out of (the) dead through the honor/splendor [do/ca] of the Father, so also we should walk about in newness of life.”
Note two key parallels with our passage:
- The use of a similar compound verb with a sun– prefix (sunqa/ptw), emphasizing our participation in the death of Jesus
- The idea of (God) the Father bestowing esteem/honor/glory (do/ca) upon His Son
The exposition continues in verse 5:
“For if we have come to be planted together [su/mfutoi] in the likeness of his death, (the) rather (all the more) shall we also be (in the likeness) of his standing up again [i.e. resurrection]”
This time an adjective with a sun– prefix (su/mfuto$) is used, expressing the idea of death (and burial) through the image of a seed planted in the ground, yielding new life and growth (cf. John 12:24); for other use of the seed-motif, cf. 1 Cor 15:37-38; 1 Pet 1:23; 1 Jn 3:9. The message is clear: by participating in Jesus’ death, believers also participate in his resurrection. This Pauline teaching of ‘dying and rising with Christ’ is mentioned or alluded to elsewhere in his letters (e.g., 1 Cor 15:20-49; 2 Cor 5:14-21; Gal 2:19-20; 5:24-25), but the more direct parallels in Col 2:12 and Gal 3:26-27 illustrate both centrality of the concept, as it is expressed here, and its association with the baptism ritual.
While our participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection may be symbolized by baptism, it is realized through the presence of the Spirit. This is clear enough from the context here in chapter 8. The spiritual aspect of the participation-concept is particularly emphasized in verses 9-11. Our union with Christ is understood as realized by being “in the Spirit” (e)n pneu/mati), and also by the Spirit being in us (“the Spirit…houses [i.e. dwells] in you”).
This state of being characterizes the true believer in Christ; indeed, having the Spirit in us means we have Christ in us, since the Spirit of God is also the Spirit of Christ (v. 9). And, through union with his Spirit, we participate—in a spiritual way—with his death and resurrection:
“And, if the Spirit of the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of (the) dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then) the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of (the) dead will also make alive your dying bodies, through His Spirit housing [i.e. dwelling] in you.” (v. 11)
Paul alludes to this entire matrix of theological (and Christological) thought in the final phrases of v. 17.
An important, but sometimes overlooked, aspect of this spiritualism, is the way that Paul understands our participation (in Jesus’ death and resurrection) as being realized, in space and time, throughout the course of our earthly lives. Even though the participation is fundamentally spiritual, there are practical and tangible effects to the whole person—body and spirit. Here in chapter 8, Paul emphasizes two specific ways that we participate, on a daily basis, in Jesus’ death:
First, we actively and willingly “put to death” the “deeds of the body” (= works of the flesh), vv. 12-13. For Paul, this is a practical consequence of the true believer being “crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:19)—i.e., participating in his death. This requires a willing commitment by us to ‘walk’ in the Spirit (Gal 5:16ff), allowing ourselves to be guided by the Spirit, which, in turn, results in personal ethical/moral transformation (i.e, the “fruit of the Spirit”) that has a most tangible and practical effect.
Second, as believers, we can be expected to endure suffering in this life. The suffering to which Paul refers (in verse 18ff) is not only the result of the internal struggle between the Spirit and the flesh; it also is realized through hostility and persecution by the world. All of this is part of the world’s continuing bondage under the power of sin (and death)—bondage from which we, as believers, have been set free. Paul refers to this, summarily, by the expression “the sufferings of the time now [i.e. the present moment]” in v. 18. In vv. 19-23 Paul gives profound expression to the (eschatological) idea that all of creation will ultimately be set free and will come to share in the same promise of glory that believers now possess, in Christ. This will be realized at the final resurrection.