Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Romans 8:26-39

This passage occurs as a New Testament Lesson in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently July 2014. 

Often theologians dwell on words the Bible does not.  For instance, in this passage, we have God predestining (προοριζω) his elect (εκλεκτος).  The word predestine occurs 6 times in all of Scripture; Paul at most uses the word elect 6 times.  Yet libraries are full of Paul's comments on predestination and election.  I think the more interesting question for this week, however, lies in 8:28 and not 8:29.  The standard translation of 8:28 is "All things work together for good for those who love God."  One might argue, very strongly in fact, that it should read, "God works all things together through those who love him for good."  This switches Paul's message from "God helps your pain" to "God uses you to help the pain of others."  Both are good sermons; I think the later is more true to Paul.

Key words:
συνεργεω ("work together" 8:28)  If I were not a Lutheran, I would not notice this verb.  However, Lutherans tend to be allergic to this verb.  We so want to protect the "bondage of the will" and God's grace that we tend toward a God-only-and-not-you theology for salvation.  Which is fine.  Unfortunately, we often carry this over and limit humanity's role in God's creative and redeeming work on earth.  Paul says that things work together; the Spirit prays for and through us.  God is making us right with him, God is praying for us; God is glorifying us; I would even argue that God is working through us.
προοριζω ("predetermine" or "predestine" 8:29)  Loaded theological term.  Means what it says.  God preordained us for salvation.  Deal.
εικων ("image" literally icon, 8:29)  Humanity is made in the image of God; even after the fall, God still declares us made in his image (Gen 9:6).  Yet Paul says we are being reborn in the image of Christ.  Something about humanity is both in God's image yet needing to be restored.
συμμορφη ("same shape" 8:29)  This word plays a key role in Paul's letter to the Philippians.  It is worth pointing out that Paul continues the work of the Spirit in chpt 8-- not only are we co-inheritors, co-sufferes or co-glorifieders, but we are also co-shapers.
χαριζομαι  (literally "grace"; "act favorably" or "forgive" 8:32) do you translate the word grace in action?
εκλεκτος (literally "elect")  Means what we think it means.  God elected and chose you.  Deal.

Translation:  Dative case in 8:28:  Through or for those who love God?
Greek has four cases:  nominative, accusative, dative and genitive.  (OKay, there is a vocative case, but that is quite rare).  The case of the word establishes its function within the sentence.  In English, we use word order and prepositions for this purpose:  "The man knocks a glass of wine onto a woman" means something different than "A glass of wine knocks the man onto a woman." In fact, in English the later makes no sense. In Greek, the later sentence word order could be used, because each word would be conjugated by case, which would give its function in the sentence.  So, the four cases and the basic functions:
Normally nominative case indicates subject (who does the action: the man);
accusative indicates direct object (whom receives the action:  the wine);
dative shows indirect object (to whom the action was directed: the woman);
genitive shows relation (the glass and wine are related somehow) 

Dative and genitive both can actually take a wide variety of meanings.  In 8:28, Paul employs the partcipial phrase "those who love God", τοις αγαπωσιν, in the dative.  The most common meaning of the dative is indirect object.  In this case then, all things work for God TO or FOR those who love God.  However, the dative can just as easily signify means or instrument.  Then this sentence could mean God works all things for good through those who love him.
Both seem pretty Pauline to me!

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