Saturday Series: John 8:31-47

John 8:31-47

The next sin-reference in the Gospel of John comes in the next section (8:31-47) of the Sukkot Discourse of chapters 7-8 (see last week’s study on 8:21-30). As I have previously mentioned, the Sukkot Discourse (excluding 7:53-8:11) actually is comprised of a series of interrelated discourses—or, we may say, discourse-units. Each of these follows the basic pattern of the Johannine Discourses of Jesus:

    • Saying/statement by Jesus
    • Response by his hearers (often in the form of a question), indicating that they have misunderstood the true/deeper meaning of his words
    • Exposition by Jesus
    • [Sometimes the Question/Exposition pattern is repeated, forming a longer exchange between Jesus and his hearers]

Here, in this section (and discourse-unit) we are examining, the principal statement by Jesus is:

“If you remain in my word, (then) truly you are my learners [i.e. disciples], and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (vv. 31-32)

This declaration emphasizes the theme of freedom, and of being set/made free (vb eleutheróœ); however, this idea of freedom represents the climax of a chain of relation and causality:

    • “If you remain in my word, (then) =>
      • you will know the truth, and (then) =>
        • the truth will set you free.”

Remaining in Jesus’ “word” (lógos) is a fundamental characteristic demonstrating that one is a true disciple of Jesus (i.e., a believer in Christ). The common verb ménœ (“remain”) is an important Johannine keyword; in the Gospel and Letters, where it occurs with great frequency, it is almost always used in a special theological sense—that is, of the believer abiding in God, and God in the believer. One abides/remains in God (the Father) through Jesus (the Son), and one abides/remains in the Son through the presence of the Spirit. This is the essence of the Johannine theology.

The idea of remaining (or abiding) in Jesus’ word also has special theological (and Christological) meaning, related to the specific use of the noun lógos (see especially the Prologue, 1:1ff, and compare 1 John 1:1ff). Since Jesus the Son is the incarnate Word (Logos) of God, to abide in this Word means abiding in the Son (i.e., the person of Christ) himself. At the same time, lógos also refers to the words spoken by Jesus—that is, his teaching and proclamation. In the Johannine writings, these two aspects of the word lógos cannot be separated.

Clearly, the Jews hearing Jesus at the time could not possibly have understood the true meaning of his statement, with all its theological implications. Naturally, and in the pattern of the Discourses, his audience would respond with a question or statement indicating their misunderstanding. Interestingly, what they latch onto is the freedom-motif. They understand well enough the implications of this motif in context: those who are Jesus’ disciples will be set free; and, since most of the Jews in the audience were not his disciples, they therefore were not free (meaning they were in some kind of slavery or bondage). There is clearly a measure of resentment in their response:

“We are (the) seed of Abraham, and not to any one have we been enslaved at any time; how (then) can you say that ‘You shall be made free’?” (v. 33)

Though the people misunderstand the full meaning of Jesus’ words, they do recognize that he is talking about freedom (eleuthería) in something of a religious sense. This is the only way to explain their appeal to being the descendants (lit. “seed”) of Abraham. Much as Paul, in Galatians and Romans, also utilizes the figure of Abraham, the Jews responding to Jesus seem to use Abraham as a shorthand way of referring to their position as God’s chosen people, entailing a unique relationship to God the Father (YHWH) sealed by a covenant bond; this bond ultimately goes back to YHWH’s promise(s) to Abraham (cf. my earlier studies on the Covenant in the series “The People of God”).

In Jesus’ own response that follows, he explains further what he means when he speaks of freedom and slavery, defining those concepts in terms of sin (hamartía):

“Every (one) doing sin is a slave of sin.” (v. 34)

The implication is that the people (i.e., Jesus’ hearers) are slaves to sin, and the indication of this state of slavery is the fact that they are doing (poiœ¡n) sin. The Johannine writings frequently make use of a substantive verbal noun (participle) as a way of referencing the fundamental (and defining) characteristic of a person—i.e., “the one doing {such}”; distinctly Johannine is the use of the adjective pás (“all, every”) to amplify this attribution, giving it a universal scope: “every one doing {such}”. This idiom, with its syntax, is made to apply particularly to the contrast between those belonging to God (i.e., believers) and those belonging to the world.

Thus, in Johannine theological terms, the phrase “every one doing sin” should be taken as characteristic of non-believers or unbelievers—those who refuse (or are unable) to trust in Jesus. But how is the term “sin” (hamartía) to be understood here? In last week’s study, I proposed that the concept of sin in the Johannine writings has two aspects or levels of meaning: (1) sin in the general or conventional sense of ethical-religious wrongs and misdeeds; and (2) sin in specific (theological) sense of unbelief (i.e., failing to trust in Jesus as the Son of God). Here, in verse 34, Jesus seems, on the surface, to be speaking of sin in the former aspect, i.e., the general sense of moral wrongs and misdeeds, etc; however, the latter (theological) aspect suddenly comes into view if we translate the verse literally, rendering precisely the singular noun with the definite article:

“Every (one) doing the sin is a slave of the sin.”

On a practical level, there must have been a number of Jews in Jesus’ audience who generally lived and acted in a moral and upright way, so that one could not have realistically referred to them as being “slaves of sin”. However, in at least one respect, they were unquestionably enslaved—with regard to the great sin of unbelief. By doing this sin, i.e., rejecting Jesus and failing/refusing to trust in him, these people show themselves to be slaves to their unbelief, to the point that they would even act with violence against Jesus. The hostility of Jesus’ audience toward him throughout most of the Sukkot Discourse is clear enough; the discourse-units all contain some mention of the desire of people to arrest and/or kill him (7:19-20, 30, 44ff; 8:20, 40, 59). While some did respond with trust to Jesus’ teaching (8:30, and the statement in v. 31 is directed to them), the overall reaction of the crowd was hostility and rejection.

The Christological orientation of the concept of sin, suggested above, would seem to be confirmed by Jesus’ words as he continues his exposition:

“And the slave does not remain in the house into the Age, (but) the Son (does) remain into the Age.” (v. 35)

On the surface, Jesus is simply making an illustration based on the distinction between a household slave/servant and a son (compare Paul’s illustration in Gal 4:1-7). However, according to the true/deeper meaning of his words, Jesus is making a theological point: “the Son (of God) remains into the Age”. It is a Christological declaration of the Son’s (i.e., Jesus’ own) Divine and eternal status. The Son (and those who “remain” in him, v. 31; i.e., believers) are contrasted with the “slave” (i.e., unbelievers). The “slave” does not trust in the Son, and thus is enslaved to sin. Consider how Jesus expresses this in the statement that follows:

“Therefore, if the Son should make you free, (then) being free you shall be” (v. 36)

I have translated this verse quite literally, as a careful rendering of the words being used is particularly important here. The verb eleutheróœ (“make/set free”) is used in the first clause, as it is in verse 31 (see above). It is the Son (Jesus) who makes a person free. Given the sin-context in v. 34, we are perhaps justified in reading this statement in light of the “Lamb of God” declaration in 1:29 (see the earlier study). Through trust in Jesus as the Son, which includes trust in his sacrificial death (as the slain Lamb) with its life-giving power, a person’s sin is “taken away”, and the person is thus set free.

The second clause of v. 36 describes the condition of the believer who has been set free (from sin). There are three components to this clause, the first two of which should be taken together:

    • being [óntœs] free [eleútheroi]”
    • you shall be [ésesthe]”

The first word is a participle of the verb of being. At many points in the Gospel of John, the verb of being has a distinctly theological significance, reflecting the very being and essential attributes, etc, of God. Its use here suggests that the freedom (adjective eleútheros) possessed by the believer has a Divine character; its Divine source was already indicated in the first clause (see above). It also connotes the reality of the believer’s freedom; this is a true and complete freedom from sin (and the effects of sin), but its reality is also rooted in the believer’s abiding union with God (see above on the Johannine use of the verb ménœ, “remain”).

The verb of being also occurs, in the future tense (“you shall be”), as the third component of the second clause. The future tense here may be explained in terms of the Johannine eschatology. The promise of true freedom for the believer has two eschatological aspects: (1) the believer will be free from the end-time Judgment and the death it brings; but also (2) this freedom is also realized now, in the present, through the presence of the Spirit (compare the association of the Spirit with freedom in 2 Cor 3:17). The power of sin is undone and removed (1:29) by trust in Jesus (the Son); trust itself eliminates the great sin of unbelief, and the life-giving power of Jesus’ death cleanses us from (i.e., removes) all other sin.

Next week, we will continue this study, looking at the remainder of the Discourse-unit, including the further sin-reference in verse 46.

Spirit in the Qumran Texts: 1QH 5:30-40

1QH 5, continued

(Unless otherwise noted, the translations of 1QH are my own.)

In lines 24-30 of the Column V hymn, discussed in the previous note, the author describes the role that the principal spirits of holiness, wisdom, etc, played in the Creation, having themselves been established by God before anything else in the universe had been created (cf. Proverbs 8:22-31). These spirits, reflecting the fundamental attributes of God, thus have knowledge of the deepest plans and “mysteries” of God. This is to be compared with the situation of human beings, who are unable to possess true wisdom or understanding unless God Himself, through His spirits, enables the person. Without this ‘special revelation’, human beings simply cannot obtain to the Divine wisdom. The author expresses this, quite clearly, with his rhetorical question in lines 30-31:

“[But how i]s a spirit of flesh (able) to gain understanding of all these (thing)s, and to have discernment of[…] great […]?”

As in 4:37 and 5:15 (possibly also in line 14), the distinctive expression “spirit of flesh” (rc*b* j^Wr) is used, in reference to the nature of a human being. It refers to the created/limited character of this nature, but also to the corruption of it, so that a person is, by nature, influenced and dominated by sin and by evil/harmful spirits. Here, the principal point of reference is to the human being as a created being, with the weaknesses and limitations that this implies:

“And what (is one) born of a woman among all your [gre]at (and) fearsome (work)s?” (line 31b)

The expression “born of a woman” is clearly parallel with “spirit of flesh”. Yet, as the following lines indicate, this created nature is also corrupt, having been perverted and dominated by sin:

“Indeed, he (is but) built of dust and kneaded (with) water. G[uilt and s]in (are) his foundation, (the) nakedness of shame and a so[urce of im]purity; and a spirit of crookedness rules over him.” (ll. 31-33)

The existence of a human being is established (lit. founded, vb ds^y`) on guilt (hm*v=a*) and sin (ha*F*j^), implying that a person is trapped in an existence dominated and influenced by sin from birth. The expression “nakedness of shame/disgrace” probably alludes to the tradition in Gen 2:25; 3:7, 10-11. This natural inclination to sin is further described as a “source of impurity”.

Beyond this, the author/protagonist recognizes that there is also a “spirit” that rules (vb lv^m*) over the human being. This is described specifically as “a spirit of crookedness” (hw@u&n~ j^Wr). The noun hw@u&n~ is verbal, being a participle from the root hwu (I), “bend, twist”; thus hw@u&n~ indicates the action of this spirit—twisting, bending, i.e., perverting, in a negative ethical-religious sense. As discussed in a prior note, lines 12-20 of the Column IV hymn refer to the harmful actions of various “spirits” on human beings. Humans are largely helpless against this influence, unless it is counteracted by other good spirits specifically given by to the individual by God (lines 29ff). Much the same idea is expressed here: the perverting spirit is counteracted by the holy/righteous spirit that God gives to His chosen ones (such as the hymnist/protagonist):

“Only by your goodness can a man be righteous, and by (the) abundance of [your] compas[sion…].
And I, your servant, have knowledge by (the) spirit that you gave [i.e. placed] in me […] and all of your works are righteous” (lines 33b-34a, 35b-36)

The emphasis on the action/effect of this God-given spirit is knowledge (i.e. wisdom and understanding). The protagonist is able to understand the nature of these spirits, and their dynamic (interaction with human beings, etc) in the context of the eternal plans and mysteries of God (see the fragmentary lines 37-40). He says nothing here directly about the cleansing/purifying effect of the spirit, though this is implied in lines 33-34ff. However, in column VI, there is at least one reference to the “spirit of (God’s) holiness” —the principal spirit given to the chosen ones. Indeed, there are parallel references in column VI to the “spirit of holiness” (line 24) and the “spirit of knowledge” (line 36), indicating the important relationship between righteousness/purity and wisdom. This will be discussed further in the next note.

April 27: Romans 6:8-11

Romans 6:8-11

“Now, if we died away with (the) Anointed, we trust that also we shall live with him, having seen that (the) Anointed, (hav)ing been raised out of (the) dead, no longer dies away, (for) death no longer is lord over him.” (vv. 8-9)

In vv. 6-7 (cf. the previous note), the principal effect of believers’ participation in Jesus’ death is that they/we are freed from sin—in the specific sense of being freed from bondage to the power of sin. This, indeed, is the focus of verses 1-11 as a whole (see the opening vv. 1-2), and is also a key theme that dominates the body of the letter, becoming especially prominent in chaps. 5-7. Sin is personalized as powerful tyrant, holding rule over humankind enslaved to his power. And, in this portrait, death (similarly personified, cf. 1 Cor 15:26, 54-56) functions as a powerful subordinate (vassal) or co-ruler with sin. In 5:14, death (qa/nato$) is specifically said to rule/reign (vb basileu/w) as ‘king’ over humankind:

“But Death reigned from Adam until Moshe…”

The limitation of the period before the coming of the Torah regulations (with Moses) relates to Paul’s discussion of the Law in chaps. 5-7 (cf. the prior v. 13). The presence of sin’s rule over humankind was not made clearly manifest until the coming of the Law; yet sin still exercised reign, ruling through the figure of death.

Paul utilizes the same line of imagery here in vv. 8-9, when he refers to death acting as a lord (ku/rio$, vb kurieu/w). Death proves that he is master and ruler over humankind in that every human being dies, being forced to submit and succumb to death’s power. Only in the case of Jesus, death was not able to be lord over him, meaning that, even though Jesus did die, death could not force him to remain in that condition (i.e., in the grave). The fact that Jesus was raised from the dead shows that death has no real power over him. What this means for believers is that, because we participate in Jesus’ death, being united with him, we also share in his resurrection. We are thus truly freed from the power of death, just as we are freed from the power of sin.

“For, in that he died away, he died away to sin upon one (occasion only), but, in that he lives, he lives to God.” (v. 10)

In only one instance (and in one respect) was Jesus force to submit to sin and death; Paul uses the adverb e)fa/pac (lit. “upon one [occasion]”) to express this (cp. a comparable usage in Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10). But there is a dual meaning here to the idea of a person “dying to sin [th=| a(marti/a|]”, for it also implies the notion that a person is no longer under sin’s power. This is the aspect of our participation in Jesus’ death that is emphasized in vv. 2-7 (see especially vv. 6-7, discussed in the previous note). In a similar way, believers die to the Law, and are no longer under the binding force of the Torah regulations (Gal 2:19-21; Col 2:14), even though this aspect of our freedom in Christ is not the focus here in Romans (but is addressed specifically later in chap. 8).

The implication in v. 10 is that Jesus’ (new) life—obtained/experienced through his resurrection—is not like his death (cp. 5:15-17ff). He died one time in the past (a)pe/qanen, aorist tense), but now lives continually and perpetually in the present (zwh=|, present tense). He submitted once to sin’s power, but now is under God’s eternal rule (living “to God” [tw=| qew=|]), in a continuous relationship with Him. For we, as believers, who share in this resurrection-life, we have the same relationship to God (a point Paul will develop powerfully in chap. 8).

“So also you must count yourselves [to be], on the one hand, dead to sin, but (on the other hand) living to God in (the) Anointed Yeshua.” (v. 11)

The last phrase (e)n xristw=| Ihsou=, “in [the] Anointed Yeshua”) is key. Coming as it does at the very close of the section, it emphasizes again our participation in Jesus’ death and life (resurrection), utilizing the familiar Pauline concept of being “in Christ”. However, the opening words of v. 11 bring us back to the ethical focus of Paul’s discussion (beginning in vv. 1-2ff), and on how we, as believers, should think and act according to the reality of this identity. In other words, if we have died off to sin, and now have new life in relationship to God, then this should be reflected in our mindset and behavior.

Paul expresses this with the verb logi/zomai, in the fundamental sense of “count”; here, to “count” oneself means to “consider” oneself to be a certain way—and then to act in a corresponding way, worthy of our identity as believers in Christ. An imperative is used to indicate the force (and importance) of this exhortation.

The same contrast in v. 10 is brought out here, using a me\nde/ construct (i.e., “on the one hand…but on the other…”): on the one hand, we died to sin; on the other, we now live to God—and awareness of this reality should govern our thought and action. This is an important way of understanding the dynamic of our participation in Jesus’ death and life. The role of the Spirit in this is only implied, here in chapter 6, but Paul will develop this aspect considerably as proceeds in chapters 7 and 8. The main development occurs in chapter 8; but in the next daily note we will turn briefly to Paul’s important statement in 7:6.

March 21: Romans 8:15

Romans 8:15

“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery again, unto fear; but (rather), you received (the) Spirit of placement as sons, in which we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!'”

This verse builds upon the statement in v. 14 (discussed in the previous note), emphasizing that all believers, led and guided by the Spirit, are sons (ui(oi/) of God. Two key points of Paul’s thought are brought together here: (1) the association of the Spirit with freedom, and (2) the contrast between sonship and slavery. This means, of course, that there is also a close connection between sonship and the Spirit.

Paul dealt with both points extensively in Galatians, and treats them again in the probatio of Romans (esp. chapters 58). The sonship/slavery contrast—whereby the son is understood as the heir of a free person—is central to the illustrations Paul uses in Galatians 4. The Spirit/freedom association is more general, and fundamental, to Christian identity. The Spirit characterizes the new covenant in Christ, and is set in stark contrast with the bondage experienced by humankind under the old covenant. The bondage is, first, to the power of sin (and death); and then, secondly, to the binding authority of the Torah regulations. The believer in Christ is freed from both kinds of bondage, which Paul combines in the expression “the law of sin and of death” in Rom 8:2, to which is contrasted “the law of the Spirit of life”.

The association of the Law (Torah) with sin and death is a complex (and controversial) aspect of Paul’s theology. He deals with it in Galatians 3-4 (esp. chapter 3), but more extensively here in Romans 5-8 (esp. chapter 7). In Galatians (and also in 2 Corinthians 3) Paul emphasizes freedom from the Law, while in Romans his focus is on freedom from bondage to the power of sin. The Spirit-freedom connection features prominently in 2 Corinthians 3 (cf. the earlier article), especially the climactic declarations in vv. 17-18.

Let us see how Paul utilizes these themes here. The first statement in v. 15 is:

“You did not receive a spirit of slavery again”
ou) e)la/bete pneu=ma doulei/a$ pa/lin

The expression “spirit of slavery” (pneu=ma doulei/a$) seems something of an oxymoron, since, as noted above, the Spirit is associated with freedom (e)leuqeri/a), the exact opposite of slavery. Paul is, of course, here referring to a very different kind of “spirit”, one which is altogether opposite of the freedom believers have in the Spirit. The use of the expression “spirit of slavery” was doubtless intended to strike the reader’s attention in this regard, much like the different ways he makes use of the term “law” (no/mo$) in verse 2. The qualifying expression “unto fear” (ei)$ fo/bon), emphasizes the effect of being a slave: it leads to a pervasive sense of fear. The person who is free does not live under this fear.

The verb lamba/nw (“receive”) alludes to the fact that believers received the Spirit, upon coming to trust in Jesus (symbolized by the baptism rite). It is the Spirit of freedom, and shows that believers have been set free from bondage, both to the power of sin and to the Law (cf. above). The implication is that we, as believers, ought not to think and act as though we are still in bondage, nor allow ourselves, in any way, to come under such bondage again. The latter point, in particular, is emphasized here by Paul, with his use of the qualifying adverb pa/lin (“again”).

As mentioned above, Paul is focusing primarily in Romans on bondage to the power of sin, and this is the principal context here. In this regard, verse 15 echoes his exhortation in vv. 12-13, which is worth examining again briefly:

“So then, brothers, we are not (one)s owing [i.e. debtors] to the flesh, (so as) to live according to the flesh” (v. 12)

Here bondage is defined in terms of debt, of something one owes (vb o)fei/lw) to another. Paul uses the noun o)feile/th$, “one who owes, debtor”, which would characterize the condition of believers prior to faith in Jesus—i.e., as ones in bondage to the power of sin. The debt-motif suggests, in some respects, a softer form of bondage, and this may be intentional. For Paul is referring, not to bondage under sin, but to believer’s relationship to the flesh (sa/rc).

The “flesh” concept in Paul’s thought is multifaceted and complex. Even though believers are set free from bondage to sin, we are not entirely freed from the negative influence of the flesh. We still must grapple with the flesh, as a source of temptation, of an impulse toward sin. It is as though the “flesh” of a person retains the ‘muscle memory’ of what it was like to be in bondage to sin, of being compelled to serve it (as a slave). In verse 12, Paul makes clear that we, as believers, do not owe anything to the “flesh”, and are not obligated to follow its impulses toward sin. However, it is only by being “in the Spirit,” of ‘walking’ by it, and allowing the Spirit to lead us (v. 15), that the “flesh” ceases to have any effective influence on us. Paul emphasizes the volitional side of this dynamic, of the need for believers to be willing to follow the Spirit, rather than the flesh, in v. 13:

“If you live according to (the) flesh, you are about to [i.e. you will] die away; but if, in (the) Spirit, you put to death the deeds of body, you will live.”

The inflected noun pneu/mati (dative case), being without a governing preposition, could also be translated “by the Spirit”, or even “through the Spirit”. Paul says very much the same thing in Gal 5:16:

“Walk about in the Spirit [pneu/mati], and (the) impulse [e)piqumi/a] of (the) flesh you shall not complete”

The noun e)piqumi/a essentially means an impulse (qu/mo$) toward something; in English idiom, we would describe this in terms of setting our heart/mind “upon” (e)pi/) something. Here, in this religious-ethical context, it clearly refers to an impulse toward sin. The expression “deeds of the body” in Rom 8:13 is more or less synonymous with “works of the flesh” in Gal 5:19ff.

However, in Galatians, Paul also warns his readers specifically against allowing themselves to be put under bondage to the Law (i.e., the Torah regulations of the old covenant). He states this most clearly in Gal 5:1, and the wording “yoke of slavery again” (pa/lin zugo/$ doulei/a$) is similar enough to Rom 8:15, that we can assume that Paul would include the idea of bondage to the Law as part of the “slavery” (doulei/a) referenced there. This is also confirmed by the entire line of argument in chapter 8.

In the next daily note, we will discuss the second part of verse 15.

February 3: 2 Corinthians 3:17

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note discussed verse 16; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:17

“Now, the Lord is the Spirit; and the (place) at which the Spirit of the Lord (is), (there is) freedom.”

The expository declaration by Paul in verse 17 builds upon the statement in v. 16 (cf. the previous note), by which the detail of the Moses tradition in Exod 34:34 is applied to believers in Christ. When a person turns to God—which, for Paul, means accepting the Gospel and trusting in Christ—the “covering” is removed from one’s mind and heart. In vv. 14-15, the veil over Moses’ face was applied to the Israelite/Jewish people as a whole, and to their inability (and/or unwillingness) to recognize the new covenant that is now in effect (replacing the old covenant) in the person of Jesus Christ. Now, in verse 16, while this interpretive aspect is maintained (that is, believing Israelites and Jews have the covering removed), Paul also reverts back to the motif of Moses’ visionary encounter with YHWH. The believer in Christ, in a sense, fulfills the figure-type of Moses.

And what is the nature of this visionary encounter for believers? Paul offers an explanation here in verse 17, when he declares that “the Lord is the Spirit” (o( ku/rio$ to\ pneu=ma/ e)stin). One is reminded of the Johannine statement made by Jesus (to the Samaritan woman) in John 4:24: “God is Spirit” (pneu=ma o( qeo/$). In my view, both the Pauline and Johannine lines of tradition reflect a fundamental spiritualism, though with rather different points of emphasis. Here, for Paul, the emphasis, and his reason for identifying “the Lord” with the Spirit, is twofold: (1) it builds upon the dualistic contrast between the old and new covenants which runs through the discourse, and (2) it makes clear that the believer’s encounter with God takes place in/through the Spirit.

It is difficult to say whether this encounter is to be understood as qualitatively different from Moses’ encounters with YHWH in the Tent. Since the same “Lord” (ku/rio$) is involved, probably we should understand both encounters as spiritual in nature—that is, encounters with God’s Spirit. The difference lies elsewhere, in two primary respects: (a) the effect of the believer’s encounter is permanent and abiding, and (b) it applies to every believer, not merely to chosen minister(s) like Moses. Both of these points will be developed by Paul in verse 18.

The second part of the declaration in verse 17 introduces the theme of freedom (e)leuqeri/a). This is somewhat unexpected, as it is a theme that Paul has not really dealt with in the discourse thus far. The context suggests that we should understand its introduction here in two ways:

First, the idea of freedom relates to the immediate context of Jewish believers having the Mosaic “covering” removed from their hearts and minds. When this occurs they are freed to recognize the truth and reality of the new covenant in Christ. Second, we should look to Paul’s use of the noun e)leuqeri/a (and the related verb e)leuqero/w) in Galatians and Romans. In Christ, and through the presence of the Spirit, believers are freed from bondage to the power of sin (and death), and, at the same time, freed from the binding authority of the Torah regulations of the old covenant. The emphasis on freedom from the Torah is, quite naturally, more prominent in Galatians (esp. 5:1ff, 14; also 2:4; 4:21-31), but is also part of the discussion in Romans (7:1-6; 8:2, etc). The broader soteriological aspect of freedom from sin and death is a fundamental component of the exposition in Romans (5:12-17ff; 6:6-10ff, 15-23; 8:21, etc). The complex relationship between the Law, sin, and death in Paul’s thought is expounded in chapter 7, in particular; note also the way that the two aspects of the bondage/freedom motif are joined together in 8:2ff.

Both in Romans and Galatians, this freedom for believers is specifically defined in terms of the abiding presence and power of the Spirit. The main passages are the climactic exposition in chapter 8 of Romans (beginning with the declaration in verse 2), and the ethical-religious instruction in chapter 5 of Galatians (especially vv. 16-25, which will be discussed in an upcoming article in this series). The centrality of the Spirit in this regard is also emphasized here in verse 17:

“and where [ou!] the Spirit of (the) Lord (is), (there is) freedom”

In other words, this freedom is realized when believers encounter and experience the Spirit of the Lord. This verse is seminal to an understanding of the spiritualism of Paul, and needs to be examined further (in the next daily note). Three specific points will be discussed:

    1. The theological and Christological significance of Paul’s repeated identification of the Spirit with “the Lord”
    2. The relation of the key word “freedom” (e)leuqeri/a) with the earlier term “outspokenness” (parrhsi/a) in verse 12, and
    3. A further consideration on the spiritual nature of the new covenant in Christ

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Romans (Part 2)

Romans 8:18-25

Verses 18-25 are part of the wider section spanning chapter 8, the fourth, and final, major section of the probatio of Romans (Rom 1:18-8:39). The first three sections were:

    • Rom 1:18-3:20: Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment, according to the Law (of God)
    • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah)
    • Rom 6:1-7:25: Announcement of Freedom from the Law and Sin

This last section (chapter 8) I would divide as follows (for more on this outline, cf. the article in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”):

    • Rom 8:1-30: Announcement of Life in the Spirit (Exhortation)
      8:1-11: The conflict (for believers) between the Spirit and the Flesh
      8:12-17: Believers are sons (of God) and heirs (with Christ) through the Spirit
      8:18-25: Believers have the hope of future glory (new creation) through the Spirit
      8:26-30: Believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit
    • Rom 8:31-39: Doxology: The Love of God (in Christ)

As indicated above, the primary theme of chapter 8 is the new life in the Spirit that believers experience, representing the culmination of the “salvation history” or “order of salvation” that Paul lays out in the probatio of Romans.

In verses 12-17, believers are identified as the children (“sons”) of God, an identity that is realized through the Spirit (cp. Gal 4:6). In verse 18, this discussion shifts to the future aspect of our Christian identity, comparing the situation for believers currently (whether understood as Paul’s time or our own) in the world, with what awaits the faithful in the Age to Come. Thus, Rom 8:18-25 is fundamentally eschatological, marking the climax of this last division of the salvation history, at the point in time where believers are positioned—i.e., living at the end of the current Age.

Verse 18

“For I count [i.e. consider] that the sufferings of th(is) moment now (are) not brought up (as equal) toward the honor [do/ca] (be)ing about to be uncovered unto us.”

The noun pa/qhma has the basic meaning “suffering, misfortune”, something negative which happens to a person. Paul uses it (always in the plural, 9 times) in two primary contexts: (1) the sufferings in the flesh, i.e. the impulse toward sin which resides in the flesh (even for believers), along with the suffering this causes (Rom 7:25; Gal 5:24), and (2) the sufferings which believers endure (from non-believers, especially) for the sake of Christ and the Gospel (2 Cor 1:5-7, etc). Both aspects are rightly considered as part of the suffering faced by believers in the present Age, which Paul (and his readers) saw as swiftly coming to a close. Here, the contrast is between the present suffering of believers, and the future honor/glory that waits for them. The present suffering, no matter how severe, does not measure up to the greatness of this future glory. The adjective a&cio$ draws upon the idiom of weighing—i.e. the weight of something which brings up the beam of the scales into balance. The implication is that the future glory far outweighs the present suffering (cp. 2 Cor 4:17).

The use of the auxiliary verb me/llw, indicating that something is about to occur, is another sign that for Paul this eschatological expectation was imminent. He fully expected that those believers to whom he was writing would soon be experiencing this do/ca— “about to be uncovered unto us”.

Verse 19

“For the (stretch)ing of the head of the (thing) formed (by God) looks out to receive th(is) uncovering of the sons of God.”

The statement is almost impossible to translate literally in English, with its wordplay involving the compound noun a)pokaradoki/a and verb a)pekde/xomai. Both compounds are based on the verbal root de/xomai, which denotes a person receiving something. The noun connotes an eager expectation, literally signifying the stretching of the head out (or up), i.e. in anticipation of something coming. The word kti/si$ means something (or someone) that has been formed, i.e. by God; it is used by Paul 5 times in chapter 8, emphasizing the nature of human beings as part of the current order of creation. In other words, believers are living in this (current) created order—that is, in the present Age—all the while waiting for, and expecting, the uncovering of the future glory. Note again the identification of believers as “sons (i.e. children) of God”. Moreover, Paul speaks as though creation itself, taken as a whole, shares in this expectation (cf. below on vv. 20ff); thus there is an inherent ambiguity in the word kti/si$—does it refer comprehensively to all that God has created, or simply to the created nature of human beings?

Verses 20-21

“For the (thing) formed was set under an (arranged) order, in futility, (and) not willingly (so), but through the (one) setting (it) under the (arranged) order—upon hope—(in) that even the (thing) formed it(self) will be set free from the slavery of th(is) decay into the freedom of the honor of the offspring of God.”

Paul’s syntax here is notoriously difficult to interpret with precision, though the basic idea is clear enough. Several strands of theological language and religious tradition are brought together:

    • A continuation of the slavery/freedom motif that has been developed throughout Romans. Human beings have been enslaved under the power of sin since the time of the first human (Adam), when sin (and the idea of sin) was introduced into the world (see chapters 5 and 7). Through trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ, believers are freed from this bondage.
    • Metaphysical dualism—Related to the slavery/bondage theme is the idea that the current created order has ‘fallen’ into a condition dominated by death and decay (fqora/); as a result, human beings are trapped within this fallen order, needing rescue/deliverance by God (through Christ). In this regard, Paul shares much in common with many “Gnostics”, but differs from them fundamentally by his emphasis that the goal is not simply escape from the material condition, but that the material world itself would be transformed.
    • The Adam/Christ parallel—This was the main organizing principle for Paul’s line of argument in chapter 5, and it is likely that he is alluding to it again here. It is the mythic-narrative corollary to the slavery vs. bondage contrast, defining it according to the narratives surrounding two contrasting persons—one introducing sin into the world, the other delivering the world from sin.

The difficult syntax of vv. 20-21, can, I think, be clarified by considering the thematic structure of the phrases as a chiasm:

    • Creation set under an arranged order of things—in futility
      • It is set under this arranged order through Adam’s sin (implied)
        • Yet this arrangement is based upon an underlying hope
      • It will be set free from this order, through Christ’s saving work (implied)
    • Creation will be freed into a new order of things—out of slavery/decay

According to this line of interpretation, the subject of the participle u(pota/canta is Adam (representing all of humankind). By refusing to put himself under God’s order (cp. use of the vb u(pota/ssw in 8:7; 10:3), he effectively placed the world under a ‘fallen’ order (with the introduction of the enslaving power of sin). Many commentators would see God as the implied subject of u(pota/canta, influenced perhaps by the language in 1 Cor 15:27-28 and the tradition of God (YHWH) cursing the ground, etc, in Genesis 3. While theologically correct, this is unlikely in the rhetorical context here, given the emphasis on the nature of the bondage that Paul describes throughout Romans, and the specific Adam/Christ parallel in chapter 5. Closer to the thought in Romans (and Galatians) would be the idea that the Law subjected creation to the bondage under sin (Rom 7:7-13; Gal 3:22ff). Chapters 5 and 7 present two ways of viewing and explaining the same dynamic—of how humankind came to be enslaved to the power of sin.

The honor (do/ca) that awaits for believers is to be understood primarily in terms of the coming resurrection, as Paul makes clear in the following verses. It is established here by the formal parallel between do/ca and fqora/ (“decay”), the latter indicating the mortality of the created order, in bondage under the power of death.

Verses 22-23

“For we have seen that all th(at has been) formed groans together and is in pain together, until th(is moment) now; and not only (this), but also (our)selves, holding the beginning (fruit) from (the harvest) of the Spirit, even we (our)selves groan in ourselves, looking out to receive (our) [placement as sons], (and) the loosing of our body from (bondage).”

Two different images are employed here, both of which were traditionally used in an eschatological context: (1) the pain of giving birth, and (2) harvest imagery. Both images refer to the climax of a period (of growth and labor, etc), thus serving as suitable figure-types for the end of the current Age. The birth-pain imagery was used especially in reference to the end-time period of distress (cf. Mark 13:9, 17 par; Luke 23:28-29ff, etc), while the harvest tended to prefigure the end-time Judgment (Matt 3:12 par; 13:39-43; Mark 4:29; Rev 14:15ff; cf. also Luke 10:2; Jn 4:35). This judgment-motif involved the separation of the righteous from the wicked (i.e. the grain from the chaff), which was understood in terms of the gathering of believers to Jesus at the moment of his end-time return (Mk 13:26-27 par; Rev 14:15-16). Paul, at least, specifically included the resurrection of dead believers in this gathering (1 Thess 4:14-17), and clearly made use of harvest-imagery in his discussion on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 (vv. 20-23, 36ff). Jesus himself was the “beginning (fruit) from (the harvest)” (a)parxh/), and believers share this same status, through the Spirit, possessing the same life-giving power that raised Jesus from the dead. This is what Paul means when he says that as believers we hold “the beginning (fruit) from (the harvest) of the Spirit“; elsewhere the Spirit is described as a kind of deposit (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5), guaranteeing for us the promise of resurrection.

Because believers continue to live in the world, in the current created order, as human beings, we groan suffering along with all of creation, since our bodies (our “flesh”) remain under the old bondage to sin and death. We must still confront the impulse to sin in our flesh, and we all face the reality of physical death. Our deliverance from this bondage will not be complete until the transformation of our bodies, as stated here by Paul— “the loosing of our body from (bondage)”, using the noun a)polu/trwsi$. His temporal expression a&xri tou= nu=n is a shorthand for the tou= nu=n kairou= (“of the moment now”) in verse 18, another indication of the imminence of Paul’s eschatology—that is, it was about to happen now.

There is some textual uncertainty regarding the noun ui(oqesi/a (“placement as son[s]”) in verse 23, as it is omitted in a number of key manuscripts (Ë46 D F G 614). If secondary, then the text originally would have read: “…looking out to receive the loosing of our body from (bondage)” —i.e., the reference would be entirely to the resurrection, without any mention of the ‘adoption’ motif. However, as the sonship-theme was central to vv. 12-17, as also the expression “sons of God” in v. 19, the use of ui(oqesi/a would be entirely fitting here in v. 23. The resurrection serves to complete the realization of believers as the sons (children) of God.

Verses 24-25

“For in hope we are saved; but hope being looked at is not hope, for who hopes (after) that which he (can) look at? But if we hope (for) that which we do not look at, (then) we look to receive (it) through (our) remaining under.”

This “hope” (e)lpi/$, and related verb e)lpi/zw) is the same as that mentioned by Paul at the center of vv. 20-21, where the fallen created order, currently in bondage to sin and death, is said to be based upon an underlying hope (“upon hope”, e)f’ e)lpi/di). Now this hope is defined as the salvation of humankind—believers—with their/our identity as sons/children of God. This ultimate deliverance is not something that can be looked at or seen clearly in the material world, for two reasons: (1) salvation is primarily eschatological, realized only at the end of the current Age, and (2) it is currently experienced only through the presence of the Spirit, which is not objectively visible to people at large. With trust and patience, believers endure suffering in the present Age—the temptation of the flesh and persecution by the world—captured by the word u(pomonh/, which literally means “remaining under”, i.e. under obedience to God and Christ. This is the attitude we are to have while waiting for the final salvation—the resurrection and transformation of our bodies.