What Top Scholars Have to Say about Romans 8:29–30

A few weeks ago, I explained why the Lexham Bible Guides have become some of my favorite resources. But the best way to see how helpful they are is to actually use one for yourself as you study a passage. What follows is the complete examination of Romans 8:29–30 from the Lexham Bible Guide: Romans.

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The Series of Verbs in Romans 8:29–30

Romans 8:18–30 concludes with one of the most important passages about soteriology in the Bible. In the final two verses of the passage, Paul provides a programmatic sketch of salvation in which he illuminates God’s sovereign plan—from His foreknowledge of believers to their final glory. To achieve this goal, Paul employs several verbs in the aorist tense to describe several aspects of salvation from the perspective of God (see Edwards 2011, 219).

Moo (1996, 531–32) describes the series of verbs and clauses in Romans 8:29–30 as a “golden chain” that, when read together, expresses remarkable confidence in God’s plan of salvation. At the same time, each of the individual verbs in the passage has rich significance for understanding the nature of God’s plan and the salvation of believers.

The verb proginosko typically is translated “foreknow,” and here probably means “to know beforehand” but also seems to include God’s knowledge of believers before the foundation of the world (see Dunn 1988a, 482–83 and Moo 1996, 532–33).

Despite the contemporary focus on the doctrine of predestination (i.e., to heaven or hell), Paul’s use of the verb proorizo (“to predestine”) primarily relates to God’s foreordained plan that believers—His children—grow into the image of His Son, Christ (see Mounce 1995, 189 and Bruce 1985, 176).

The verb kaleo (“to call”) probably refers back to Rom 8:28, where Paul says that God works all things together for good for “those who are called according to his purpose” (tois kata prothesin kletois ousin; see Kruse 2012, 357).

The verb dikaioo (“to justify”; see “Key Word Study Dikaioo, ‘Justify’ ”) picks up one of the main theological themes of the letter (see Cranfield 2004, 433).

Finally, the verb doxazo (“to glorify”), along with the references to glory in Rom 8:18, 21, seem to refer to the believer’s final glory with Christ (see Osborne 2004, 224).

Rather than examining the lexical range of the verbs or their interpretation in later theology (see Barnett 2003, 194)—including the important concept of the ordo salutis in Reformed Theology—here we will consider two questions: What is the collective meaning of the series of clauses and verbs in Rom 8:29–30? Further, how does Rom 8:29–30 fit within Paul’s wider argument in Rom 8:18–30? Almost every commentator on Romans provides a different way of understanding the nuances and emphases of Paul’s thought in these verses.

For example, Moo (1996, 536–37) sees Rom 8:29–30 as one the clearest examples of the “already, not yet” tension in the NT, and more importantly as a clear expression of God’s promise to fulfill His calling of believers. Many interpreters regard Rom 8:29–30 as an elaboration of Paul’s declaration in Rom 8:28 (see Byrne 1996, 267 and Morris 1988, 332). In terms of a theological theme, most interpreters agree that Paul’s focus is on the believer’s assurance of salvation based on the present experience of God’s work and the indwelling presence of the Spirit (see Schreiner 1998, 448 and Moo 2000, 271).

  • Bray (1998, 234–37) draws attention to the various interpretations of several early Christian exegetes. Among these views are: Origen’s suggestion that “foreknow” and “predestine” refer only to good people; Augustine’s analysis of Rom 8:29–30 in terms of sovereignty and election; and Theodoret of Cyr’s claim that God’s foreknowledge does not imply coercion into belief or “unilateral cause” of the believer’s trust on God. Romans 8:28–30 is a key text for many theological discussions in the early centuries of Christianity; Bray’s volume provides a helpful starting point for understanding how Paul’s words were interpreted in the context of early Christianity.
    “Romans 8:29–30” ACCS: Romans
  • Edwards (2011, 218–19) sees Romans 8:29–30 as an emphatic and proleptic description of God’s complete control over the process of redemption. He claims that these verses are cast in the past tense “as though Paul were looking back on God’s will, though some of it still remains to be realized.” He suggests that Paul’s purpose in the passage is to present a picture of God’s perspective of redemption to encourage believers to trust God’s plan in the present, even if it is unclear now.
    “Romans 8:29–30” UBCS: Romans
  • Harrison and Hagner (2008, 142–43) point out that the role of sanctification seems conspicuously absent from Paul’s description of redemption in Rom 8:28–30. They suggest there are two ways to explain this issue. First, it could be that the expressed purpose of the believer’s predestination—to be conformed to the image of God’s Son (Rom 8:29)—assumes sanctification. Conforming to the image of Christ is, for Harrison and Hagner, “the essence of sanctification.” Second, Paul might have intentionally left out a reference to sanctification in order to emphasize God’s role in the work of the believer’s redemption.
    “Romans 8:30” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 11: Romans—Galatians (Revised Edition)
    “Romans 8:28–30” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 10: Romans through Galatians
  • Kruse (2012, 357–58) argues that the steps of redemption in Rom 8:29–30 define the meaning of the word “good” (agathos) in Rom 8:28. In other words, in Kruse’s view, Paul is saying that God works all things for the redemption of those whom He has called according to His purpose. Kruse also provides a helpful discussion of the key verbs in these verses. He points out that Rom 8:28–30 often features in theological debates over the doctrine of predestination, though he argues that Paul’s real focus is to comfort and encourage “vulnerable believers caught in the overlap of the ages and exposed to suffering and persecution (cf. 8:18, 31–39).”
    “Romans 8:30” PNTC: Paul’s Letter to the Romans
  • Matera (2010, 204–205) thinks that Paul’s description of “the full sweep of God’s plan” in Rom 8:28–30 spells out the relationship between God’s election and His love. Those who love God—that is, those who have been called according to His purpose—can trust God because of the promise of His plan. They do not have to rely on their own love for God; they can love and trust Him because of their confidence in His work. In Matera’s view, Rom 8:29–30 depict the divine plan of salvation in two steps. The first step (Rom 8:29) summarizes God’s plan, while the second step (Rom 8:30) details the four “movements in the divine economy”: predeterminism, election, justification, and glorification.
    “Romans 8:28–30” Paideia: Romans
  • Moo (1996, 531–37) provides a thorough analysis of the verbs employed in Rom 8:29–30. He argues that living in the “already, not yet” tension is a major feature of the passage. In his view, Rom 8:29–30 play a supporting role to Rom 8:28 by outlining the specific “purpose” according to which believers are called. Regarding the broader interpretation of Rom 8:29–30, Moo issues two caveats. First, Moo suggests Paul probably did not intend to give his readers a full picture of the mysterious work of salvation. Second, Paul likely wrote these verses to function within their immediate literary context—which suggests that later uses of the passage in theological debates are potentially misguided.
    “Romans 8:29–30” NICNT: The Epistle to the Romans
  • Like many other commentators, Osborne (2004, 220–24) argues that Paul explains Rom 8:28 in Rom 8:29–30. Although lighter in other parts of the volume, Osborne’s analysis of the exegetical details of Rom 8:29–30 gives extra attention to these theologically weighty verses. For example, he closely examines the various permutations of the verb proginosko rather than simply progressing with an unfounded definition of the term. Another interesting feature of Osborne’s commentary is his discussion of the call to be conformed to the image of God’s Son in Rom 8:29. He argues that Paul’s primary emphasis in Rom 8:28–30 is sanctification and conformity, not justification and conversion. He claims that Paul uses the past (aorist) tense in the passage to demonstrate that God’s work has already begun, thus reminding the reader that God is in control and that their eternal security should be “anchored in his divine intention to bring his people to glory.”
    “Romans 8:29–30” The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Romans
  • Schreiner (1998, 448–55) helps connect Rom 8:28–30 to its immediately preceding section. In Romans 8:26–27 Paul highlights the role of the Spirit in aiding the prayers of the believer. Now in Romans 8:28–30 he identifies conforming to the image of the Son as “the central goal of the Spirit’s prayers” (compare Col 1:15). According to Schreiner, Paul regards the outline of “God’s predestining work” in Rom 8:29–30 as an expression of God’s covenantal love for His people. Schreiner also provides a balanced exegetical discussion of Rom 8:29–30 that pays attention to historical and theological issues as well as to scholarly literature on the passage.
    “Romans 8:28–30” BECNT: Romans
  • Wright (2013a, 1023–24) claims that in Rom 8:29 Paul applies everything true about God’s election and salvation of Israel to “the people of the one God in the Messiah and the spirit.” In Wright’s evaluation, the content of Rom 8:28–30 is not necessarily new; it was already expressed in various writings of the OT which spoke of God’s covenantal people. What is new, for Wright, is that the affirmations in the Romans passage identify the significance of the Messiah and define God’s people as those who are “in the Messiah” and in whom the Spirit of God dwells. In short, Wright argues that in Rom 8:28–30 Paul redefines election as election “around the Messiah” and “through the spirit.”
    “Romans 8” Paul and the Faithfulness of God

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