What Does It Mean to Fall Short of the Glory of God? Romans 3:23 In Biblical-Theological Perspective -- By: Dane C. Ortlund
Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 80:1 (Spring 2018)
Article: What Does It Mean to Fall Short of the Glory of God? Romans 3:23 In Biblical-Theological Perspective
Author: Dane C. Ortlund
WTJ 80:1 (Spring 2018) p. 121
What Does It Mean to Fall Short
of the Glory of God?
Romans 3:23 In Biblical-Theological Perspective
Dane C. Ortlund is Executive Vice President for Bible Publishing and Bible Publisher at Crossway in Wheaton, IL.
Evangelical teaching tends to take Rom 3:23 as teaching universal human sinfulness due to every individual coming short of God’s own glory. This article suggests that while the Bible clearly teaches universal sinfulness, this particular text in Romans is making a more specific point—namely, that all of humanity sinned in Adam’s sin, and as a result we are lacking the fullness of the image of God with which we were originally vested in Eden. The meaning of the text could be rendered: “All sinned [in Adam], and are thus lacking the glory-image of God.” As our basic identity is transferred from being in Adam to being in Christ, that glory-image is decisively (if not fully) reinstated in us, as Paul goes on to say in Rom 8:29–30. This reading of Rom 3:23 is carefully considered by looking at the text of Rom 3:23 phrase by phrase, and then the reading is considered by broader considerations of the flow of Romans, Second Temple Jewish literature, and the Bible as a whole.
We do not want merely to see beauty.... We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.
C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).1 What does this text mean? It is quoted frequently in evangelical discourse, perhaps more than any other single text, to demonstrate universal sinfulness. Do we understand it correctly?
In general terms the truth of the verse is obvious. Cornelius Plantinga’s Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be displays compellingly the ways our
WTJ 80:1 (Spring 2018) p. 122
world and our own lives are marked by a profound and far-reaching sickness, a haunting darkness that, like one’s shadow, cannot be eluded.2 One hardly needs a Bible, but only the news headlines, to see this. The shock we feel at the horrors alive and well in this world is tempered only by the relentless consistency with which CNN puts them before us. And of course we see the tragedies of sin not only outside us but inside us. Every ethnic group, every class, both genders, all ages—each of us without exception is infected with the soul-twistedness ...
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