Romans 8:31-39

Jan 2, 2010


This pericope concludes the “righteousness from faith to faith” section of Paul’s letter.  It is crafted, based on all that has been said before (from 3:21) and the material that immediately precedes it.  As to the latter, these verses also form the ending “love” section of the second “faith, hope, and love” triad that probably began at least by Rom 8:1-16 with Paul’s emphasis on the Spirit, who is the medium of our continuance in the obedience of faith.  I say “probably” because, although the words for faith/believe do not occur after 5:2 and 6:8 respectively (until Romans 9:30) the concept is certainly present throughout.  For example, in 5:17, the reference to “those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness” seems to take pains to avoid use of the word while referring to the conversion experience.  The reckoning of chapter 6 is another example (6:11).  From elsewhere in Paul, we know he regarded the present life (thus, including the leading of the Spirit) as one characterized by faith in the gospel (Gal 2:20).  The fact that Rom 8:1-16 is followed by a clear “hope” section and then this “love” section all support the idea that the triad began in Rom 8:1.

I think the introductory question, being in the future tense, may be a way of saying “In the future judgment, we will never need to answer any more than what has already been spoken by God’s actions in the gospel.”  However, maybe the future idea of “will” should better be left out and thus translated as “shall.”  In this case, the expected Roman believer’s answer to God’s grace would be anytime in this age or the next. In the rest of the pericope, Paul sometimes uses the future, but also makes reference to the present.  For example, in 8:35 he asks, using the future tense in his question, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”  The reference in his answer, however, is to present entities that he and other believer’s often encounter on a daily basis - persecution, famine, etc.  Thus maybe both ideas should be included.

I do not think that reference to the future judgment is to be ruled out.  The eschatological references to future justification and condemnation that occur here have already been established as being associated with judgment earlier in the letter.  In fact, this section is of tremendous value to the debate about the relation of the believer to the future judgment.  This is a big debate and now is not the time for details as to the number of judgments or its relation to rewards.  However, from elsewhere in Romans and the Pauline epistles, it is evident that God shows no partiality and that we all will have to stand before God in judgment.  Whatever else we conclude from such passages as Rom 2, 1Cor 3, or 2Cor 5, we must also see the great grace and love that has and will be brought to us in Christ Jesus.  There is not only no condemnation per vs 34 (probably part of an inclusio from 8:1) but also, along with the central affirmations about acquittal and no condemnation in 8:33-34, there are not even any official charges or accusations to be made against God’s elect!

The outline should be sufficient for further study.  Do note the dual ABBA and ABAB structure of the last answer and how both types of parallelism are supported by the text.