Part 2 – Romans 8:28-39
A second passage where we find “predestined” (PROORIZŌ) is found in Romans 8:29-30 where we see it used twice in what is often called the “golden chain of salvation” and is used by some to demonstrate a case for God’s pretemporal predestining of individuals with a gradual progression towards glorification.
Many scholars also suggest that this is a lead in to the argument of Romans 9 to 11. If this is the case, then perhaps the way we interpret these verses may impact our own interpretation of Romans 9 (through 11). Likewise, who we interpret Romans 9 to 11 may impact how we read these verses. A analysis of the Romans 9-11 argument is found elsewhere, scattered among various postings. However, there are generally three approaches to the interpretation of Romans 9-11 that will affect our understanding of Romans 8:29-30 in the same way.
- The text is about individuals and God’s choice of them to be saved.
- The text is about individuals and God’s choice of them as instruments in his plan.
- The text is about Israel and Israel’s role in human history.
These same presuppositions will filter our reading of Romans 8:29-30 and its use of PROORIZŌ. I am not
For the sake of context, I want to put these two verses back into a broader section of this chapter read that section. I have bolded the two verses and underlined where the word is used.
28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.
30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?
32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?
33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.
35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28-39 NRS)
Several things come to light when we place this into a broader context.
First, the calling of God is purposeful. There is a reason he calls both people and groups of people like Israel are called that fits into God’s broader plan for humanity.
Second, Romans 8:29 begins with “those whom he foreknew…”. While it would be easy to impose the concept of a pretemporal knowing of who is going to be saved, I do not think this fits the context. The other place where this terminology is used is Romans 11:1-2, where Paul is speaking explicitly of Jews who DO NOT believe in the Messiah, calling them “his people,” and then immediately “his people who he foreknew.” He then references Elijah’s pleading AGAINST Israel, who had fallen into idolatry and was following Baal. It makes better sense, in the light of the broader context to see “those whom he foreknew” as a reference to the covenant people of Israel. This probably an allusion to Amos 3:1-2, where the prophet rebukes Israel for its idolatry, saying “You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore I will punish your iniquities (see also Romans 3:5-6).
For Paul, Israel’s role was to be a light to the nations and light that manifest itself in the Messiah, Jesus Christ (Isaiah 42:6-7; 49:5-7; 60:1-4). While this is Israel’s role, their purpose and destiny, their failed to achieve it because of their lack of faith in the Messiah.
The fundamental issue of developed in the text that follows depicts the plight of Israel among the Gentiles. They are called the “elect,” God’s chosen people and a charge has been brought against them by the Gentiles that is explicitly stated in Romans 11:19 – “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”
A large percentage of the Roman Jewish population were the descendants of slaves taken from Palestine during Pompeii’s conquest. Under Claudius, it was Messianic Jews who were exiled from Rome because of a disturbance over “Chrestus.” The question of “who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” resonates with an interpretation where this passage is speaking of God’s plan for Israel and its ultimate salvation.
How does this affect our understanding of the use of PROORIZŌ in Romans 8:29-30? If this text is a precursor to the argument of Romans 9-11, then it is setting the stage by establishing what Israel’s purpose was among the nations and its ultimately destiny. Its purpose was to set God’s glory, the glory the brought them out of the land of Egypt and settled them in the Promise Land, as a light for all peoples. The majority of Israel had not embraced the Messiah and, as such, had not discovered the righteousness that is found in faith. However, Paul does hold out hope for them, culminating in their salvation in Romans 11:30-32.
We should conclude then that while this passage is dear to our hearts in terms of God’s love for us, in its context it is speaking of God’s love and faithfulness for his covenant people Israel, those whom he foreknew in the covenant, and those whom he purposed (predestined) to bring the Messiah to all nations.