Two interpretations of Romans 8

Romans 8.28-39 is, unquestionably, about assurance. And it touches upon the “doctrines of grace” covered in a few recent threads. A few years ago a charismatic friend of mine (now deceased) used to point to verse 38, where it says:

For I am convinced that neither life nor death, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of Christ that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And he would nod gravely and say, “There’s one important omission from that list – ourselves. God has done everything for us, but we have to make sure we ourselves overcome, or we may be lost.”

Now a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and it seemed to me a very self-confident man who would retain any sense of assurance if my friend’s opinion were true. My meditations turned into a couple of rather badly drawn cartoons – the first intended to illustrate his version of assurance, and the second what I take to be what Paul is really getting at, taking into account verses 29-30:


Those verses, if you don’t know them, are these:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son … [a]nd those he predestined, he also called; those he called he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

The thought of this verse as a golden chain of salvation (as opposed to an air-sea rescue harness) goes back to Beza. It has been much argued against since Arminius on lingusitic and theological grounds. But this seems to me a case where the picture tells the real story.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
This entry was posted in Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Two interpretations of Romans 8

  1. Cal says:

    One correction for Arminius:

    Since what you’re getting after is Perseverance of the Saints, Arminius was agnostic, he wasn’t quite sure what Scripture said on this matter since you have confidence and you also have verses in Hebrews about persevering.

    The thing you do include in your picture is that the fellow, though wrapped in Romans 8, is still climbing. The opposite folly is saying, “well I’m ok!” and letting go of the rope (that’s OSAS). Everytime we doubt, Paul would’ve said “Look at Christ!”, I think both Arminius (Beza’s former student!) and Calvin would’ve both nodded.

  2. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Hi Cal

    I wasn’t disputing that Arminius (or at least the Remonstrants) left perseverance open “for further investigation of the Scriptures”. But I have it on good authority that Arminius disputed the specific “golden chain” interpretation of Romans 8.28 by Beza, followed by Perkins etc.

    I think he pinned his objection on the understanding of “foreknew”, which he took as bare foresight, but Beza etc as an electing choice as in, “my people Israel, whom I foreknew.”

    Agree on the OSAS proviso, not really covered by the cartoons without adding detailed confusing labels. It’s probably covered in v29, though: “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his son” definitely doesn’t mean “conformed to idleness and complacency.”

Comments are closed.