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A Changing Landscape for Evangelical Christians

The apparent victory of the Biden-HARRIS ticket signals that the landscape is about to change for evangelical Christians.  John 14:6 (NET) establishes the bedrock Christian principle that Jesus is the only way to salvation:

6 Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Yet, as Franklin Graham wrote (link: https://lp.billygraham.org/i-am-not-ashamed-2/ ) , it is likely that to proclaim this basic truth may become “hate speech”:

“I believe that a time is fast approaching—I think it will be in my lifetime—when the preaching of the Gospel is referred to as hate speech. Preachers of the Gospel could be imprisoned and jailed for adhering to the Bible. It is already happening in some countries.

Proof-Texting Romans 8:28 For Comfort in Difficult Times

As opposition against the gospel increases, it is likely many will proof-text Romans 8:28 for comfort by saying that “everything that happens is good.”  Dr. Bill Mounce identifies this common proof-texting error:

Romans 8:28 can be a source of comfort; it can also be a challenge, especially for people in the midst of pain and disappointment. However, sometimes people struggle with a misunderstanding of the verse, thinking that they have to believe that every single thing that happens is good. Is it?

See Dr. Mounce’s article “Do All Things “Magically” Work Together for Good? (Rom. 8:28)” (link: https://www.billmounce.com/monday-with-mounce/do-all-things-%E2%80%9Cmagically%E2%80%9D-work-together-good-rom-8-28 ).

A Translation Like the ESV Makes It Easy to Proof-Text Romans 8:28

Along the lines of many English translations, the ESV translation of Romans 8:28 reads:

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Because God is not included within the expression “all things work together for good,” it is easy to interpret this expression to teach that “everything that happens is good.”  But, this does not make any sense as Dr. Mounce writes:

There’s not some magical force in the universe guaranteeing that absolutely everything that happens eventually is seen to be good. Genocide is not good. Sexual, physical, and emotional abuse are not good. The death of a child is not inherently good.

So, what is correct?

Dr. Mounce’s Explanation

First, as mentioned above, Dr. Mounce observed that the interpretation “everything that happens is good” makes no sense.  In the world, many things happen that are not agathos (ESV translates as “good”) which has the sense of having desirable or positive qualities.   That being the case, a bright red flag ought to pop up if an interpretation does not satisfy the common sense test. 

Second, Dr. Mounce turns to the Greek text.  He points out that the Greek adjective panta (the ESV translate as “all things”) is not the subject of the verb synergeō (the ESV translates as “work together”), but that Theos (the ESV translates as “God”) functions as the subject and the direct object of synergeō:

πάντα can also be accusative, which leaves the subject of συνεργεῖ unexpressed. In this case, it is θεόν that is acting as both the direct object of ἀγαπῶσιν and the implied subject of συνεργεῖ. The advantage of this reading is that it does make sense. It is God who is at work in all situations to accomplish his good.

Third, Dr. Mounce then explains what Paul meant by the term “good”:

But perhaps the main question of the verse is the definition of “good,” and the following two verses give Paul’s definition of good. This is the problem of breaking up the single Greek sentence into multiple English sentences; we lose the contextual clues of the larger context. Vv 29–30 define “good” as God working in all situations, for his children, for good, because his sovereign control moves inextricably from his foreknowledge of us to our glorification.” Before time he knew us and pre-determined the benefits we would receive as his children, the greatest being that we would be conformed to the image of his Son. This is Paul’s definition of “good.”

One Other Translation

One popular English translation (the New International Version) appears to get it right where God is the subject of synergeō.  These translations read:

Romans 8:28 (NIV) – 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Takeaways from this Exercise

My takeaways from this exercise are as follows.

First, if an interpretation does not make common sense, it ought to raise a red flag.  The “everything that happens is good” interpretation of Romans 8:28 does not make sense.  Especially in view of the larger literary of vv. 18-23.  The words (e.g., sufferings, eager longing, subjected to futility, bondage to corruption, groaning, pans of  childbirth and groan inwardly) Paul used to describe the present condition of the world and believers did not reflect “good” in and of themselves. 

Second, unless you want to look at the Greek text, compare other English translations to see if there are substantive differences.  The base translation is the ESV which can be interpreted to support the “everything that happens is good” interpretation because “all things” and not “God” is the subject of the verb “work together”:

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

One other translations places “God” as the subject of the verb synergeō:

Romans 8:28 (NIV) – 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Third, choose the translation that gives the interpretation that makes the most sense.  Here, the NIV supports an interpretation that it is God who is at work in all situations to accomplish His good.

Fourth, it is always a good idea to double check with some commentaries.  Here, Dr. Mounce is an excellent resource. 

Final Comments

Dr. Mounce discusses a textual variant that most likely is not a part of the original text (i.e., the autograph).  But, it functions as a helpful explanation of verse 28. 

I looked at the Greek text in an effort to better understand Dr. Mounce’s explanation.  In a future post I will describe my efforts. 

If you are reading this post and are not a Christian, unless God intervenes, your eternal destination is hell.  But, your destiny can change. 

Today can be the day of your salvation!  Please see my blog (https://stevebelsheim.com/2020/04/20/for-god-so-loves-you-2/) for a description of how you can be saved.  You can also go to another article at my blog (https://stevebelsheim.com/2020/10/20/there-is-hope-even-when-there-seems-to-be-no-hope-2/ ). 

Please send me any comments to steve@stevebelsheim.com or use the comments feature of the blog.

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