Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Stupid interpretations of Romans 8:28

As I read through Romans to made my paraphrase, which is available in current form on my other blog, I am learning heaps. Sadly, I am learning there are several verses that mean completely different things to what most people think. Rom 8:28 is a classic example.

I think now I finally understand Romans 8:28... And yes, of course, it doesn't mean what most people read it to mean. The key, I think, is that in the phrase "all things work together for the good for those who love God", the word 'things' is not in fact in the Greek - an object is implied there because of the 'all'... usually translators just add 'things' on the end. However, there are three meanings of the word 'all' here are ambiguous in the Greek, and may not necessarily imply 'things'... so what could it be referring to?

Now suppose I said, "Robert, Jo, and Sarah were sitting at home. All went together to the supermarket." How would you interpret that? Clearly, you'd say: "Robert, Jo, and Sarah were sitting at home. They all went together to the supermarket. "

You would not, suffering from a rash of incomprehensible stupidity, say: "Robert, Jo, and Sarah were sitting at home. All things went together to the supermarket." No, you would be an utter and complete moron to think that all things - your toaster, your oven, your telephone bill, the theory of quantum physics, the deeds done to you, and the deeds you have done - ALL go together as one massive collective to the supermarket. No, you would think, "He's just been talking about Robert, Jo, and Sarah, so he probably means them." You'd realise the CONTEXT.
So why, after Paul has been writing about how the God helps people to do good things, do people suddenly think he's not talking about the God working together with people? There is practically no difference between saying "all things work together for the good of those who love God" and saying "all things went together to the supermarket."

Furthermore, how can we believe that "all things work together for the good of those that love God" when it is blatantly obvious that bad stuff happens to everyone - including those who love God? The bible even says quite clearly that bad stuff happens to good people. Most of the apostles were executed or imprisoned - countless early Christians were burned at the stake! Surely it takes a massive and completely ignorant leap of stupidity to say that such things were 'for their good'.

If someone held a loaded gun to your head and said - 'this is for your own good'... I doubt many people would believe it! Likewise, when a drunk driver crosses the centerline and makes a great person of God a tetraplegic, it would be the most insensitive, ignorant, senseless, false, and blatently dim statement to say, "oh, it's OK - it's all for your good." Some people go further, saying, "Not only is it for your good - but God wanted it, in fact, God did this to you just to make you a better person on the inside."

Tripe! I couldn't possibly imagine higher levels of stupidity.

It now seems exceedingly clear to me that Romans 8:28 says that the Holy Spirit works together with those who love God to accomplish good things. I doubt any Christian with a head even half-on would say this statement isn't true. And guess what Paul says - he says "We KNOW"!!! Certainly, all Christians know that the Spirit helps Christians to bring about good... surely that is 'working together'.

But don't you think it's a little strange to say "we know all THINGS work together for good" if there is a great multitude of evidence that seems to contratict his statement? You'd think perhaps he'd explain himself if he was saying something that seems to most sensible and unbiased people simply untrue!

So, this is but a small example of some of the things I am finding as I go through Romans. I am using the Greek as best I can, but I find the KJV usually follows it accurately - but lots of the words are out of use or have lost their original meaning. So, I'm using the Greek Lexicons (Thayer's and Strong's) and also looking at how the words are used throughout the whole NT. I also have a really mint (and really FREE) Interlinear Bible package which can be downloaded from here.

Alas, I fear many church doctrines these days have been fabricated over the decades or centuries to explain millennia-old sentenses they cannot understand. It has taken words that originally have quite a simple meanings and turned them into whole doctrines - with masses of literature to clutter the bookshelf, and clutter the mind into confusion. Fortunately, the core essense of the Gospel still remains - though dirtied by the mud of people's religious imaginations. It is there just as clear as it ever was, in the Bible and in people's hearts:

Don't devote yourself to pleasing yourself, because it will only destroy you. If you are devoted to yourself and not to God, you clearly do not want to belong to God. Instead, devote yourself to God and He will graciously accept you no matter what you have done, because it will lead to real life now and forever. This is what it means to belong to God.


Jared said...

I read Reaching for an Invisible God by Yancey a while back and he also said that it had been mistranslated and should read along the lines 'In everything that happens, God works for good with those that love him'.

incognito said...

Yes, some manuscripts have a similar thing - but the critical editions don't have that... Interestingly, the Westcott-Hort critical text has "ho Theos" (God - nominative case, meaning God is the subject of the sentence who is doing the working) after the word for "is together working". I remember discussing this with Andrew now and I think we found there were some reliable manuscripts with this addition.

I would interpret this addition as implying that "All {the Trinity} is working together". Again, I wouldn't go punching in a 'things' where the word for 'things' isn't.

Kelly said...

Taking this translation, does this then mean that the doctrine saying that we can trust God in all things, that He is sovereign and in control of our lives (those that have given them over to Him)is invalid?

Secondly, you are right in taking it in context with the above passage. But isn't also the context of chapter one of submission to the Spirit (vs 1-17ish), that "our present sufferings are not worth comparing..." and that "creation was subjected to frustration not by its own choice but by the will of the one who created it" (Rom 8: 18,20). I'm wondering if in the greater context of submission and suffering whether it's not totally unreasonable to assume that the Godhead is working together for our good -- but still in all things. Just a quick thought, but you've given me something to think about anyway.

If God himself pointed a gun (insert other painful and scary experiences here) at me and said "I'm doing it for your own good", I hope I would be able to accept that in the view the a) God is good therefore defines what is good and b) God is love, and loves me and will give me what is good. Alternatively, could I not also say that if God let someone else point a gun (or whatever) I should also submit to that in the knowledge that God is Sovereign over my life and has let this happen (e.g. Job)?

Just a few thoughts -- be interested how these relate to your understanding of Romans in general...

Andrew said...

Reuben said:
"I couldn't possibly imagine higher levels of stupidity."

Andrew replies:
Clearly then you do NOT read many certain theological discussion boards on the internet, there are many many levels of higher stupidy out there. To say the universe went to the supermarket looks pretty tame by comparison.
Hmm, I wonder what the universe would look like when it went shopping? I have this mental image of a large man sized navy semi-humanoid, semi-blob... kindof like pop'n'fresh but dark blue. Now that's random...

incognito said...

lol =) Interesting.

I'm putting up another chapter or two of Romans at the moment.

Andrew said...

Well I had a moment of inspiration, two in fact. The first was to realise someone I know over the internet is doing his PHD on the trinity in Romans 8 (I always thought that was a wacked out topic myself) so he'd be the perfect person to ask... so I have. His premliminary comments were "Wow, potentially very interesting, it's never been read that way before by anyone, I'll have a look at it in more detail this weekend."

But my second piece of inspiration dashed my hopes somewhat. That was seeing what John Chrysostom (4th century Greek) had to say on the subject. He simply assumes "all" = all things, though he argues that God works through all bad things to turn them into good rather than all things actually being good:

Now when he speaks of "all things," he mentions even the things that seem painful. For should even tribulation, or poverty, or imprisonment, or famines, or deaths, or anything else whatsoever come upon us, God is able to change all these things into the opposite. For this is quite an instance of His unspeakable power, His making things seemingly painful to be lightsome to us, and turning them into that which is helpful to us. And so he does not say, that "them that love God," no grievance approacheth, but, that it "works together for good," that is to say, that He useth the grievous things themselves to make the persons so plotted against approved. And this is a much greater thing than hindering the approach of such grievances. or stopping them when they have come. And this is what He did even with the furnace at Babylon. For He did not either prevent their falling into it, or extinguish the flame after those saints were cast into it, but let it burn on, and made them by this very flame greater objects of wonder, and with the Apostles too He wrought other like wonders continually.