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Romans 8:35-39 Biblical Commentary:
ROMANS 8:26-39: AN OVERVIEW
This much beloved passage celebrates that God is always present and always willing to help in our hour of need (v. 26)—that “all things work together for good for those who love God” (v. 28)—that, if God is for us, it really doesn’t matter who is against us (v. 31)—and that there is no power strong enough or circumstance dire enough to separate us from the love of God (vv. 35-39).
ROMANS 8:35-36. IF GOD IS FOR US, WHO IS AGAINST US?
35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Could oppression, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36Even as it is written, “For your sake we are killed all day long. We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Could oppression, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (v. 35). Christians were subjects of persecution from Jews and Romans alike. Famine implies hunger, and a hungry person can think of little but food. Hunger was a key element in Jesus’ temptation (4:2-4). Romans used nakedness to shame men who were being crucified. Sword implies violent death. Paul had suffered many of these, and they had not destroyed his faith.
“Even as it is written, ‘For your sake we are killed all day long. We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter'” (v. 36). Paul quotes from Psalm 44:22, which expresses the distress of those who are subject to martyrdom for their faith. The Psalmist was obviously familiar with such treatment, and Christians of Paul’s day were too.
ROMANS 8:37-39. WE ARE MORE THAN CONQUERORS
37No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (v. 37). The love of God enables us to be “more than conquerors”—to rise above every adversity.
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord“ (vv. 38-39).
Paul lists ten potential adversaries in four pairs and two singletons:
• Death, nor life: Death is fearsome in its inevitability and finality, but life can be fearsome too—painful—grinding. But Christ gives us hope of eternal life—a life that is both enduring and blessed—lived in the presence and love of God. Christ also helps us to see the slings and arrows of this life from a higher perspective that diminishes their scale and makes them seem less terrible.
• Angels, nor principalities: We are surprised to see angels in this list, because we think of angels as God’s messengers, but there are also angelic forces opposed to God (Rev. 12:7). Rulers can refer either to spiritual or earthly powers. Consider the host of tyrants who have reigned in the past century and the millions of people—often their own subjects—who have died at their hands. Paul assures us that, while rulers might separate us from life in this world, they cannot separate us from the love of God and the life that he offers.
• Things present, nor things to come: We are surprised not to see “things past” on this list, because people are often gripped by events of the past (whether good or bad) and saddled by guilt from past sins. Paul focuses instead on “things present” and “things to come”—the challenges that we face in the present and the trials that we fear in the future. It can be painful to read the terrible things that newspapers report, but Christ assures us that God is moving history toward a glorious goal instead of a dismal end.
• Powers: These could be spiritual or earthly powers.
• Height, nor depth: This could be a reference to astrology. If so, Paul is saying “that neither the height (when a star is at its zenith) nor the depth (with all its unknown potential) is strong enough to separate us from God’s love” (Morris, 342). Or it could be a reference to the heights of space and the depths of oceans, meaning that we have nothing ultimate to fear from comets above or tectonic forces below. Or it could refer to the heights and depths of our emotions, meaning that neither our great joys nor our great sorrows can separate us from God.
• Any other created thing: If Paul were to try to be comprehensive regarding everything that we might fear, the list would go on forever—so he ends the list with this catch-all phrase that assures us that nothing—absolutely nothing—”will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Bartow, Charles L., in Van Harn, Roger E. (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: The Second Readings: Acts and the Epistles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001)
Gaventa, Beverly R. in Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV — Year A (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, A (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1992)
Dunn, James D. G., Word Biblical Commentary: Romans 1-8, Vol. 38A (Dallas: Word Books, 1988)
Morris, Leon, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co, 1988)
Wright, N. Thomas, The New Interpreter’s Bible: Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002)
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