The Illusion Of The Conclusion
(Another Look At Romans 8:18-23)
“Beginning with an incorrect framework for the subject of eschatology…”
Beginning with an incorrect framework for the subject of eschatology, many interpreters of the “creation” in Rom.8:18-23, have been led to exegetical problems. Seemingly viable options for its meaning have ranged from the material universe, the animal kingdom, unredeemed mankind, man’s body (independent of the spirit), and the church. None of the above are without difficulties. The attempt to make them fit the context of Romans 8 is about as productive as forcing a square peg into a round hole. It is impossible to make them work without shaving or chipping off some of the fundamental truths that are resident in the context and related scriptures. A clear example of this is the conclusion that Paul, “…has `personified’ the creation. He figuratively represents it as longing for deliverance as a prelude to that time when its purpose shall have been completed.” (The Christian Courier, by Wayne Jackson, p.25, November 1990). The same conclusion is expressed in the following quote. “The world of plants, animals, and inanimate matter is not included in the plan of redemption. Only in a metaphorical sense can it look forward to the deliverance of the children of God.” (Reasoning from Revelation, by Trevor J. Major, July 1990, p.1).
Our present purpose is to demonstrate that the above conclusion is at best an exegetical illusion. We shall accomplish this purpose by (1) A consideration of the laws governing figurative language [personification], (2) A demonstration of the illusions presented by the “personification” argument, and (3) An examination of the context which clearly refutes such a view.
First, Ethelbert W. Bullinger, in “Figures of Speech Used In The Bible, p.861, has this to say concerning the use of personification. “A figure by which things are represented or spoken of as persons; or, by which we attribute intelligence, by words or actions, to inanimate objects or abstract ideas…Personification is the English name for the figure. The Latins called it Personificatio,…”the making” or “feigning of a person.” He also lists six classes into which “Personification” may be grouped:
A. The members of the Human body
C. The products of the earth
D. Inanimate things
E. Kingdoms, countries, and states
F. Human actions, etc., attributes to things, etc.
Second, concerning “notes on figures in general,” Bullinger tells us that when statements are not true to “fact,” then they must be figures. It is here that we encounter the first and most serious problem with personification of the material universe as the creation in Romans 8. By the law governing figurative language, and by the above writer’s own admission, it is a statement which is contrary to fact. Hence, the “earnest expectation” of the “creation” which “groaned” to be delivered, is by the use of personification, a statement contrary to fact. The conclusion drawn by Trevor Majors most aptly demonstrates this truth and is worth repeating here. “The world of plants, animals, and inanimate matter is not included in the plan of redemption. Only in a metaphorical sense can it look forward to the deliverance of the children of God.” Jackson’s conclusion is essentially the same in substance. While both articles offer some excellent points on what the “creation” is not, they offer nothing more than an illusion as to what it is.
Third, Bullinger states, “For an unusual form (figura) is never used except to “add” force to the truth conveyed, emphasis to the statement of it, and depth to the meaning of it,” (Bullinger, op. cit., p.vi). Clearly, the interpreters cited above admit that there is no truth to deliverance/redemption of the creation (material universe) hence, it adds nothing, emphasizes nothing and is certainly lacking in depth. How miserably then would Paul have failed in his attempt to encourage the saints in view of their “present sufferings” by arguing for a deliverance of the creation which was not a deliverance at all. To the contrary, we do not believe that Paul failed in his promise of future deliverance of the creation. Neither does this mean that we must accept the illusions of the personification argument.
Problems With The Personification Argument
There are several glaring problems with the personified material universe argument. One, both writers’ futuristic viewpoint of eschatology which involves the destruction of the material universe and all therein, runs counter productive to an actual deliverance of the material creation. They are well aware that they can’t have destruction (2 Pet.3:10) and deliverance (Rom.8:21-23) of the same creation at the same time. So, they must “flip a coin” to decide which, and, “tails” the material universe loses!
Second, the wicked cannot be under consideration here for this would rule out salvation by obedience and would reflect on the justice of God.
Third, the creation cannot be the church because the former waited for the latter’s manifestation and is contextually separate from those (“they” vs “we ourselves”) who have the firstfruits of the Spirit.
Fourth, since none of the above will harmonize with the context in a literal sense, by what rule of interpretation do we choose one over the other to give it a metaphorical rendering for the creation? Since it is metaphorical/personification, that is a figure contrary to fact, why not just argue that the wicked would be delivered? It seems that a metaphorical/personified deliverance of the wicked should be no more objected to than the material universe since they all have the same “fiery” fate. It is here that the personification argument should be seen for all it is worth. While on the surface it may appear the more palatable choice, but underneath it is a barren, destitute illusion.
The Context Of Romans 8
First, the sufferings of the saints were real. The “present time” denotes a “then present” period of transition from the Old to the New Covenant. This did not occur instantaneously at Pentecost (A.D.33) but gradually within the framework of the Cross – A.D.70 time frame, (Heb.7:18,19; 8:13). The sufferings were coming about primarily from Judaizers who resisted the Holy Spirit’s teaching concerning the imminent coming of Christ to “destroy this place” (temple, Mt.24) and “change the customs which Moses delivered us,” (Acts 6:14; 7:51ff). Clearly, these were eschatological sufferings grounded in resistance to the change of the Covenants, (1 Thes.2:14-16). However severe, those sufferings were not worthy to be compared with the glory that was about to be (mellousan) revealed in the last time, (Rom.8:18; 1 Pet.1:5-7). The glory was also real.
Second, the “receiving of glory” is equated with the manifestation of the sons of God. They had received the eschatological Spirit (miraculous) which bore witness with their spirit that they were the sons of God, (Rom.8:15,16; Gal.3:2-5; 4:6) but the law-zealous Jews were contesting this fact, hence God’s purpose was to openly confirm or reveal/unveil them as true sons of God. An often overlooked fact is that during the transition of covenantal change, their true identity as sons was hidden, (Col.3:3) and hence, unknown by the world (Jewish, 1 John 3:1,2). The parable of the tares likewise expressed the difficulty of determining the tares (fleshly Israel) from the wheat (spiritual Israel or sons of God), during the pre-end-of-the-age transition which was consummated in A.D.70, (Mt.13:29,30; 37-40). Franklin Camp has well observed the importance of the fall of Jerusalem in settling the question as to who are the sons of God. “The fall of Jerusalem clenches the argument once and for all, and, thus, the fall of Jerusalem answers another Bible question as to who are the sons of God.” The Work Of The Holy Spirit In Redemption, pp.55-56, by Franklin Camp. The need and purpose for manifesting (revealing) the sons of God was real.
Third, the creation earnestly expected and hence was waiting for this unveiling of the sons of God. Observe that what is said of the creation is said also of those “we ourselves” who have the firstfruits of the Spirit. The latter group, of which Paul includes himself, are New Covenant saints who were made joint-heirs with Christ. Compare the following:
(A) CREATION (B) N.T. FIRSTFRUIT SAINTS
A. earnestly expecting manifestation of sons, v.19
B. eagerly awaiting adoption as sons, v.23 (NASV)
A. subjected in hope, v.20
B. saved in hope, waits for it, v.24
A. also to be set free from bondage of corruption, v.21
B. freedom from bondage of corruption implied-also, v.21
A. delivered into glorious liberty of sons of God, v.21
B. deliverance into glorious liberty implied-also, v.21
A. groans/suffers pains of childbirth (together), v.22
B. we ourselves also…groan/suffer, v.23
The goal of New Covenant saints was the revealing of sons which equals receiving the adoption of sons/redemption of the body. This is placed opposite to deliverance from the bondage/slavery of corruption, a state from which New covenant saints were already being delivered though it had not yet reached consummation as Paul argues. “For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen (realized) is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, (have not yet realized/achieved in consummation) then do we with patience wait for it,” (Rom.8:24,25). What had been begun in New Covenant saints would be perfected at the day of Christ, (Phil.1:6; 3:11,12). Romans 6:5 needs to be understood in this light, “For as we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, (Rom.6:3,4) we shall be (future tense) also in the likeness of His resurrection, (Rom.8:11,23).
Israel’s Bondage In Sin-Death
Old Covenant Israel must be introduced into the equation as consideration of the creation in Romans 8. There was a real need to deliver them from the bondage of sin-death. Christ took on the nature of his brethren (Old Covenant Israel) that he might suffer sin-death with them in order to destroy the power of Satan and subsequently deliver his brethren from that bondage, (1 Cor.15:20; Col.1:18). O.T. Israel is clearly the focus in Hebrews 2:14-17. “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the SEED OF ABRAHAM. Wherefore in all things it behoved him TO BE MADE LIKE UNTO HIS BRETHREN,….”
There was, therefore, a real need for Christ to deliver his brethren (O.T. Israel) from the power of sin death, a bondage to which they had become subject, “not willingly,” i.e., not of their own choice but by God’s placing them under the law which could not give the life (Gal.3:21), and the freedom from sin and death (Heb.10:4), which they desired. This could only be accomplished through Christ by means of his death and the outpouring of the eschatological Spirit during his age-ending reign, (1 Cor.15:24-26). Further, God did not give Old Covenant Israel deliverance in advance of New Covenant saints, though he makes clear that the former died in faith (Heb.11:13), hoping for a better resurrection (v.35). Of them it is written, “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: (at that time though they clearly were waiting for it) God having provided some better things for us, that they (O.T. saints) without us (N.T. saints) should not be made perfect, (Heb.11:39,40). Assuredly, the O.T. saints would receive the promise but not before or apart from its reception by N.T. saints who had the firstfruits.
The Creation – Old Testament Israel
We submit then, that the “creation” of Romans 8:18-23, is a reference to O.T. saints who, under the law, were in the bondage of corruption of sin-death, yet waiting/groaning in pain to be delivered from that bondage when the firstfruits (N.T. saints) were manifested or received the adoption of sons. It is not necessary to exclude Gentiles from the “whole creation” of Romans 8. (See The Cross And The Parousia Of Christ, by Max R. King, pp. 525-526). The time of fulfillment is the completion of the work of the eschatological Spirit at the end of the Jewish age in A.D. 70. This equates with the completed change of the covenants. Paul makes clear that the gospel promise applied to faithful O.T. Israel as well as to both Jew and Gentile who accepted Christ through the gospel. “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace, to the end the promise might be sure to ALL THE SEED; not to that ONLY WHICH IS OF THE LAW, (O.T. Israel) but to that ALSO which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (Rom.4:16). Finally, Paul also makes it clear that the deliverance was yet imminently future. “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, AND SHALL TURN AWAY UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB; FOR THIS IS MY COVENANT UNTO THEM WHEN I SHALL TAKE AWAY THEIR (O.T. ISRAEL’S) SINS,” (Rom.11:26,27; 13:11,12).
One, this does not force us to depart from rational beings in real need of redemption on either side of the equation, whether it be firstfruit saints or the creation.
Two, it is in harmony with the use of “creation” (ktisis) for rational intelligent beings (mankind) elsewhere in scripture:
1. preach the gospel to all the creation, Mk.16:15
2. if any man be in Christ he is a new creation, 2 Cor.5:17
3. gospel was preached to all creation, Col.1:23
4. circumcision avails nothing but a new creation, Gal.6:15
The new creation, “if any man be in Christ” (therefore, Christians) implies a former old creation, just as the New Covenant implies an Old Covenant. That which is antithetical to the new creation in Christ under the New Covenant (Christians) would be the old creation under the Old Covenant (O.T. Israel). Both are rational, intelligent beings who hoped in the promises of God, (Acts 24:14,15).
Paul stated that groaning in travail/pains of childbirth was true of both the firstfruits saints as well as the creation. The reality of this groaning/eagerly awaiting on the part of firstfruit saints is real. Neither Jackson nor Major will deny this. But the creation is said to groan and wait for deliverance together. Therefore, the deliverance of the creation is as real as that of the firstfruit saints. If deliverance of the creation is personified, why not that of the firstfruits also? If the creation’s groaning is personified and contrary to fact, why not the firstfruit saints also, since they groan/wait together? The personification argument is an attempt to escape instantaneous eschatological evolution by creating an illusion which when followed to its logical end will figurize the entire context and chapter of Romans 8. It violates the rules of both figurative language and interpretation. It is false.
We have considered the laws governing personification and figurative language. They move from the lesser to the greater – not to the reverse. To correctly use the figure of personification in Romans 8, it must emphasize, add to and confirm the deliverance of the creation in addition to that of the firstfruit saints for such is clearly stated and implied in the text. Paul affirms a real situation for the firstfruit saints which would be shared literally by the creation. Finally, the identity of the creation harmonizes with Old Covenant Israel as rational, intelligent mankind who were in need of deliverance – real deliverance from the bondage of real sin-death, and this through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
What do YOU think ?
Submit Your Comments For Posting Here
Date:21 Sep 2004Time:11:19:51
Incredible Article – Mike Bennett
Date: 01 Dec 2005
This passage does not need a lot of stringing together. It is fairly straight forward. When the Sons of God are revealed the the creation will also be freed from death. Compare to 1 Cor 15 where it speaks of Christs last enemy.
Date: 26 Jan 2006
if all things were fulfilled why doesn’t scripture state that. what about the two witnesses where in scripture has that been fulfilled and many other prophecies that were not told of being fulfilled. If jesus meant his generation would see all fulfilled why doesn’t scripture say it was.