The Interpretation of Romans 8:28 -- By: Carroll D. Osburn

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 44:1 (Spring 1982)
Article: The Interpretation of Romans 8:28
Author: Carroll D. Osburn


The Interpretation of Romans 8:28

Carroll D. Osburn

Romans 8:28 is a popular text, the exegetical and doctrinal complexities of which have perplexed its readers since the early patristic period. The basic problem arises from the fact that συνεργεῖ is capable of having three different subjects. The reading which has achieved the widest currency takes πάντα to be a neuter nominative plural and reads, “and we know that to them that love God all things work together for good.” This reading is prominent in the old English translations from Tyndale to KJV and is read by the Latin vulgate. Alternatively, relying upon the texts of A B, supported by copsa syrpal arm, Lachmann printed ὁ θεός after συνεργεῖ in the 1831 edition of his Greek text. Now further supported by P46 81, this reading is translated by Goodspeed, RSV, NIV, and Jerusalem Bible as, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.” Yet a third possibility takes τὸ πνεῦμα of vv. 26–27 as the understood subject of συνεργεῖ, as in NEB, and reads, “and in everything, as we know, he (i.e., the Spirit) co-operates for good with those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” While each of these readings has possible claim to represent Paul’s true meaning, each also involves not only complex grammatical considerations, but serious doctrinal implications as well, and to those we now turn.

1. “All things work together for good”

In his Moffatt Commentary C. H. Dodd1 has written that “the familiar translation is not an admissible rendering of the Greek. Paul did not write: ‘All things work together for good to them that love God.’ The literal translation is: ‘With those who love God He’ (or according to the other reading, ‘God’) ‘co-operates

in all respects for good.’“ In explaining his reasons for rejecting the familiar view in favor of “God” as subject, Dodd observes, “No doubt many readers will regret the loss of a text which expresses the truth in a form so congenial to the ‘modern mind,’ which thinks so much of the universe as an orderly system of laws, and likes to believe that ‘it will all come right to the end.’ But we must be quite clear that this is not the attitude of Paul or of any other New Testament writer…. He does not say calamity is ‘somehow good,’ because it belongs to a general scheme whi...

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