Romans 8, Part 1: Parallels with 2 Corinthians 4-5

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In a recent conversation with an Orthodox fellow I know, I asked what he thought was the most plausible way to interpret Romans 8:28-30. This passage has always been used as a text supporting the perseverance of the saints (the doctrine that all the elect and truly regenerate Christians will in fact persevere in saving grace). I am aware of 3 non-Calvinist interpretations of these verses; however, none of these interpretations has stood out as very compelling or as having a striking coherence and explanatory power.

To my surprise, a very interesting and unexpected interpretation was proposed. The more I thought about it and referenced other Scriptures, the more and more powerful the interpretation began to seem. I will begin to flesh out the conceptual and exegetical reasoning for this interpretation in a series of posts. This may turn into a paper for school, and fuel for another debate with the Reformed folk, because I find it so interesting šŸ™‚

So here goes.

The Parallels with 2 Corinthians 4-5

Introduction

The first step in my exegetical argument about Romans 8:28-30 will be to show that there are parallels between Romans 8 and Paul’s statements in 2 Corinthians 4-5. When two sections of Scripture have parallels, this raises a red flag that they could have similar meaning. The probability that a common meaning is involved between two texts that have similar structure, content, and vocabulary becomes even higher if it is the same author who is writing the texts.

Parallels in Content

There are a number of striking similarities between Romans 8 and 2 Corinthians 4-5 in terms of the content (the things spoken about).

1. The hardships.

In 2 Corinthians 4:8-12 there is continual mention of the hardships that are being experienced by a group of Christians. Paul uses the language of “afflicted in every way”, persecuted, struck down, death, being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, and carrying in the body the death of Jesus. Notably, affliction is ultimately ineffectual in destroying hope (4:17) and is preparatory for our final state. Mortality is a present problem (4:16) ultimately swallowed up by immortality (5:4).

The multiplicity of afflictions resembles the latter half of Romans 8. Paul mentions (18) “the sufferings of this present time”. He later returns to the subject and lists hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword as a variety of ills (35). Also included is an OT quotation about being killed for God’s sake (36). Death is part of Paul’s later list of things that cannot seperate us from God’s love in Christ. But as with 2 Corinthians 4, hardships and problems do not ultimately overthrow the Christian hope: Paul says we can’t be seperated from Christ’s love (31-35, 37-39), and we conquer all things in Christ (28).

2. Union with Christ.

In 2 Cor. 4, believers are said to have “the life of Jesus” (10-11). Paul also mentions the fact that “the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and bring us with you into his presence” (14).

Romans 8 speaks of the fact that Christ’s presence in human beings means that “if the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (10). Paul promises that “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (11). Believers are called “joint heirs with Christ” in the inheritance of eternal life (17). They will rise to glory with Christ if they suffer with Him (17). Paul also speaks of a predestination to conformity with Christ that results in Christ being “the firstborn within a large family” (29). This verse is probably talking about conformity to Christ through resurrection, as I will argue in a later post. Christ’s love is also said to be inseperable from the group being spoken of (35, 39). They also participate in victory through Christ who loves them (37).

3. God’s Predestining and Organizing

2 Corinthians 4:15 uses a distinctive phrase. Paul says “Everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” This idea of everything being for the sake of believers is surely common throughout scripture. It is an implication of the biblical teaching of divine sovereignty. But the specific language of the passage is peculiar; what is “everything”? God is also said to prepare us for “this very thing” (the resurrection) (5:5).

In Romans 8 Paul expresses himself in a similar manner. He states “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to purpose.” The all things/everything parallel probably concerns God’s use of all creation to be a means by which salvation is enacted (which fits with all the talk about creation and the body and suffering–they are all used for our redemption). This salvation results in a brotherhood (Romans 8:29) that glorifies God (2 Corinthians 4:15). There is a similarity also between the language of “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” and God preparing us for “this very thing”. Indeed, the conformity to the image of God’s Son is a predestination to the state of resurrection (again, I will argue this further in a later post…).

4. Glory

Glory is mentioned in 2 Corinthians 4:15 as being something given to God as a result of his grace. The “eternal weight of glory beyond all measure” is what momentary affliction prepares us for (17).

Romans 8 also speaks of glory being revealed to us (18). The children of God possess this glory (21) and the predestined are said to head toward glorification (30).

5. Hope and Hiddenness

2 Corinthians 4 states that Christians do not lose heart (16). Paul also compares the present state of Christians to their future state. The present state is momentary, slight, and full of affliction. The future state is eternal, infinite in weight, and full of glory (17). We look to what cannot be seen (18) groaning in expectation (5:4). What cannot be seen is eternal, but what can be seen is temporary. Contextually this seems to be saying people place their hope in a future state of affairs that has not arrived yet (the contrast doesn’t seem to be between perception and contemplation).

Romans 8 includes encouragement to Christians under persecution. They are promised glory (17) and told that they were saved in hope. Paul makes a statement that “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (25). Paul also speaks in terms of the afflictions of this “present time” being comparatively small in relation to the glory that will be revealed (18). The creation waits in eager longing to leave its temporary state (19) and groans (22) just as Christians do (23). This present/future, small/great, affliction/glory, temporary/eternal comparison resembles that of 2 Corinthians 4.

Dissimilarities

There are few major differences in content between 2 Corinthians 4-5 and Romans 8. The three that stick out to me are as follows:

1. Romans 8 has a greater focus on sin.
2. Romans 8 uses justification language.
3. Romans 8 includes a greater focus on election.

Summary

The similarities between 2 Corinthians 4 and Romans 8 can be recapitulated like this:

a. Physical distress that seems to be inflicted by anti-Christian oppression.
b. Christians are being killed for the sake of God/Christ.
c. Death is mentioned as a force or power active in the world.
d. Hardship is ultimately ineffectual in defeating us.
e. Union with the life of Jesus.
f. Union with Jesus in his resurrection.
g. The working of
all things for the sake of salvation.
h. Predestination/preparation for the resurrection.
h. Glory and glorification is part of the destiny of Christians.
i. Hope in the unseen future is contrasted to sight of the present.
j. There is contrast between the small temporary afflictions of the present (which bring groaning) with the great eternal glory of the future.

Conclusion

What conclusions could be drawn from these similarities? Well, similarities with another text do not require identical meaning. Nor do they prove identical purpose in writing the text. However, there does seem to be an initial presumption created in favor of the idea that these two texts have commonality of meaning and purpose.

The emphasis on the resurrection in 2 Corinthians 4 should alert us to the importance of resurrection-language in Romans 8 as well. Clearly some parts of Romans 8 are referring to the resurrection. Paul speaks of Christians being glorified with Christ (17) in resurrection. He says that Christians will be resurrected through the power of the Spirit (11). The revealing of the sons of God (19-25) is the Christian and cosmic hope.

What of the purpose of these two passages? It seems fair to say that Romans 8 is meant to inspire hope in the audience. “We” encompasses Paul and the Roman congregation, it seems. However, 2 Corinthians 4-5 seems to use “we” differently, to refer to Paul and those near to him; this is contrasted with “you” which apparently refers to the congregation. Is this meant to summarize Christian hope, or encourage it, or both? It is not entirely clear to me.

Regardless, the commonality between these two passages is striking. This builds toward an overall argument that Romans 8:28-30 can have a certain particular meaning which is not normally assigned to it. This sub-argument can be stated as follows:

1. If there are similarities between some large passage (R) and another large passage (C) then any subsection of (R) or (C) that bears similarities to the other large passage should be presumed to resemble the opposite large passage in meaning.

2. There are similarities between the larger passage of Romans 8 and another large passage that is 2 Corinthians 4-5.

3. Therefore any subsection of Romans 8 that bears similarities to 2 Corinthians 4-5 should be presumed to resemble 2 Corinthians 4-5 in meaning.

4. Romans 8:28-30 is a a subsection of Romans 8 that bears similarities to 2 Corinthians 4-5.

Conclusion: therefore, Romans 8:28-30 should be presumed to resemble 2 Corinthians 4-5 in meaning.

Premise 4 seems true. Many of the examples of similarities between Romans 8 and 2 Corinthians 4-5 were drawn straight from 28-30. However, 28-30 is also the location of 2 of the only obvious dissimilarities between Romans 8 and 2 Corinthians 4-5: justification language and election/predestination language. Given the presence of similarities and dissimilarities, what should we do? It may be possible to read some of the justification language and election/predestination language in a manner that creates a greater degree of resemblance between the meaning of 2 Corinthians 4-5 and Romans 8:28-30. If there are additional reasons for thinking that the election/predestination and justification in Romans 8:28-30 bears a meaning similar to some of the content of 2 Corinthians 4-5, then this would confirm this approach even further. I will discuss the ideas of justification and election/predestination in Romans 8:28-30 in later posts on this same subject.

–MG

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2 Responses to “Romans 8, Part 1: Parallels with 2 Corinthians 4-5”

  1. Acolyte4236 Says:

    Per your past convos on the priesthood, try Romans 15:16.

  2. MG Says:

    Well, I wonder if that couldn’t refer to the universal priesthood instead of requiring a ministerial priesthood. Is there reason to think that Paul is calling himself a priest in the special sense?By the way, what do you think of my alleged parallels?

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