Commentary on Romans 8:18-30

Notes (NET Translation)

18 For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us.

The theme of glory brackets this passage. In v. 18 Paul says our present sufferings cannot be compared to our future glory. In v. 30 he assures the readers that they will be glorified.

These “sufferings of the present time” are not only those “trials” that are endured directly because of confession of Christ–for instance, persecution–but encompass the whole gamut of suffering, including things such as illness, bereavement, hunger, financial reverses, and death itself. To be sure, Paul has spoken of our suffering in v. 17 as “suffering with Christ.” But there is a sense in which all the suffering of Christians is “with Christ,” inasmuch as Christ was himself subject, by virtue of his coming “in the form of sinful flesh,” to the manifold sufferings of this world in rebellion against God. The word Paul uses here refers to “sufferings” in any form; and certainly the “travail” of creation, with which the sufferings of Christians are compared (vv. 19–22), cannot be restricted to sufferings “on behalf of Christ.” And the qualification “of the present time” links these sufferings with the old age of salvation history, conquered in Christ but remaining as the arena in which the Christian must live out his or her new life.1

The “glory” in question is eschatological glory. Believers will be raised in a glorious body (1 Cor. 15:43; Phil. 3:21).

Do the words εἰς ἡμᾶς (eis hēmas) mean that the glory is revealed “to us” or “for us”? Neither English phrase captures precisely the meaning of the text, for the idea is that the glory apprehends us and is bestowed upon us.2

19 For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God.

In v. 23 Paul distinguishes between the “whole creation” and “we ourselves” so “creation” refers to non-human creation in this passage. The “for” at the start of v. 19 indicates that this verse provides some explanation for why Paul considers the present sufferings not worth comparing to the future glory (v. 18). “By saying that even the creation is eagerly awaiting the revelation of the sons of God in their glory, Paul underlines the greatness of their future glory, which will far outweigh their present sufferings.”3

The “revelation of the sons of God” that creation keenly anticipates is the “unveiling” of the true nature of Christians. Paul has already made clear that Christians are already “sons of God” (vv. 14–17). But, experiencing suffering (v. 18) and weakness (v. 26) like all other people, Christians do not in this life “appear” much like sons of God. The last day will publicly manifest our real status. Nevertheless, since this “being revealed” as God’s sons takes place only through a further act of God–causing his glory to reach out and embrace us (v. 18), transforming the body (v. 23)–we are justified in attaching a degree of dynamic activity to “revelation” here also. The “revelation” of which Paul speaks is not only a disclosure of what we have always been but also a dynamic process by which the status we now have in preliminary form and in hiddenness will be brought to its final stage and made publicly evident.4

20 For the creation was subjected to futility — not willingly but because of God who subjected it — in hope 21 that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.

The word “futility” alludes to Gen. 3:17-19 where God cursed the earth, subjecting it to futility, following the sin of Adam and Eve (cf. 4 Ezra 7:10-14; Gen. Rab. 12.6). Futility (mataiotes) means creation is not fulfilling the purpose for which it was made. Creation is personified in v. 20 as not desiring this to happen. It is a victim of humanity’s disobedience. While the NET explicitly says God subjected creation to futility, the Greek text merely implies it.

The “one who subjected it” has been identified with (1) Adam, whose sin brought death and decay into the world (cf. Rom. 5:12); (2) Satan, whose temptation led to the Fall; and (3) God, who decreed the curse as a judgment on sin (Gen. 3:17). Reference to Adam, however, is unlikely; as Bengel says, “Adam rendered the creature obnoxious to vanity, but he did not subject it.” Nor did Satan, whatever his role in the Fall, “subject” creation. Paul must be referring to God, who alone had the right and the power to condemn all of creation to frustration because of human sin.5

Creation itself is in slavery to decay but it has never been without hope because God promised the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head (16:20). Paul does not spell out what creation’s liberation will look like. We can merely assume that it will involve perfectly fulfilling God’s purpose for it as the new heaven and new earth (Eph. 1:9-10; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1-22:7). This verse indicates that salvation encompasses all of creation, not just humanity.

22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now.

The entire creation groans and suffers together to this very day. The two verbs συστενάζει (systenazei, groan together) and συνωδίνει (synōdinei, suffer birth pangs together) communicate that the creation groans and suffers together in harmony, not that it groans together along with believers. Both of these verbs signify that the created order has not fulfilled its purpose; the futility, decay, and frustration of the present world signal its incompleteness and failure to reach its full potential. In Jewish literature the fulfillment of creation’s purpose is promised when the new heavens and earth become a reality (Isa. 65:17; 66:22; 1 Enoch 45.4–5; 2 Bar. 31.5–32.6; 2 Esdr. [4 Ezra] 7:11, 30–32, 75).6

23 Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Here in 8:23 [Paul] likens the firstfruits of the crop and the subsequent full harvest to believers’ present experience of the Spirit and their subsequent adoption as God’s children, including the redemption of their bodies respectively. The expression, ‘firstfruits of the Spirit’, has been read in two different ways: (i) construing the genitive ‘of the Spirit’ as epexegetical, yielding a translation, ‘firstfruits which is the Spirit’; (ii) construing the genitive ‘of the Spirit’ as appositional, referring to the Spirit’s work in us. The first option is preferable in the light of Paul’s references to the Spirit himself being given to believers and living in them (5:5; 8:9, 11) and particularly his parallel depiction of the Spirit himself given to believers as the ‘down payment’ or ‘deposit’ guaranteeing their future inheritance (cf. 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:13-14).7

The inward (nonverbal) groans of believers are due to the frustration of living in the present age. Adoption (huiothesian) is used to refer to final salvation at the resurrection.

24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees?

Hope in the NT is always future oriented, and unseen in the sense that the object of hope is yet to be revealed. Yet hope is not wishful thinking, but what the writer to the Hebrews describes as both ‘sure’ and ‘certain’ (Heb 11:1).8

25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance.

We wait with endurance by holding onto hope despite sufferings and difficulties (Rom. 2:7; 5:3-4; 15:4-5; 2 Cor. 1:6; 6:4; Col. 1:11; 1 Thess. 1:3-4; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 3:10; Tit. 2:2). It is not just passive waiting or killing time.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings.

‘In the same way’ seems on first reading to connect the groaning of the Spirit’s intercession for believers with their own experience of groaning as they hold on in hope, awaiting their final redemption. However, what the text says is that likewise the Spirit ‘helps’, not likewise the Spirit ‘groans’. ‘Likewise’ then refers back to some antecedent activity of the Spirit, not to the groaning of believers. Smith argues that ‘likewise’ is best understood to link the active work of the Spirit in intercession here in 8:26 right back to the active work of the Spirit confirming believers’ sonship in 8:16 despite the amount of material separating the two statements. He sums up his view: ‘Paul is saying: “Just as the Spirit is at work within our hearts to confirm to us our adoption (8:16), so in the same way also the Spirit is at work within our hearts to bear up our weakness (8:26)”‘.9

Controversy still exists over what the weakness in prayer entails and the nature of the Spirit’s intercession for us. Some scholars have understood Paul to say that believers do not know “how” to pray rightly, so that the emphasis is on the manner of prayer. If Paul intended to say this, he would have used the word πῶς (pōs, how) instead of τί (ti, what). Thus most scholars now agree that the weakness of believers lies in the “content” of prayers. They do not know adequately what to pray for. The words καθὸ δεῖ (katho dei, as it is fitting) clarify this further by indicating that believers do not grasp fully what is appropriate in prayer. This phrase in turn is elucidated by the prepositional phrase κατὰ θεόν (kata theon, according to God) in verse 27. In writing that the Spirit intercedes κατὰ θεόν, Paul intends to say that the Spirit intercedes for believers according to the will of God. The weakness of believers in prayer, therefore, is that they do not have an adequate grasp of what God’s will is when they pray. Because of our finiteness and fallibility we cannot perceive fully what God would desire.10

The Spirit intercedes for us by compensating for our ignorance of God’s will. The idea of the Spirit interceding for people is not found in the OT or other pre-Christian Jewish literature. This is the only place it is found in the NT.

27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will.

God is the one who searches our hearts (1 Sam. 16:7; 1 Kgs 8:39; 1 Chr. 28:9; 29:17; 2 Chr. 6:30; Pss. 44: 21; 139: 23; Prov. 24:12; Jer. 12:3; 17:9-10). Here it is said that God knows the mind of the Spirit while in 2 Cor. 2:10-11 it is said that the Spirit knows the mind of God. The Spirit’s intercession is according to God’s will, not the will of the believer necessarily.

28 And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, 29 because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

In saying that all things work together for good, Paul is not saying that all things are intrinsically good. He is saying that sufferings and evils will be turned into good in the end. The phrase “those who love God” denotes believers. The Greek text of v. 28 literally reads “called according to purpose/choice”. “His” is not in the Greek text and many early interpreters incorrectly thought it referred to human purpose.

Paul adds “according to [God’s] purpose” to “those who are called” to indicate that God’s summons of believers was issued with a particular purpose, or plan, in mind–that believers should become like Christ and share in his glory. And it is because this is God’s plan for us who are called and who, thereby, love God, that we can be certain that all things will contribute toward “good”–the realization of this plan in each of our cases.11

The “good” of v. 28 is being conformed to the image of the Son. This involves moral transformation and, at the resurrection, bodily transformation. The term “firstborn” is not used literally but metaphorically to denote pre-eminent status (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:6).

30 And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.

Believers were predestined before the world began to be adopted as sons through Christ (Eph. 1:4-5). They were called according to God’s purpose by the preaching of the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14) to belong to Christ (Rom. 1:6; 1 Cor. 1:9) and to enter his glory (1 Thess. 2:12). Believers are justified by faith in Christ (Rom. 5:1; Gal. 2:16) and by his blood (Rom. 5:9). The aorist tense of “glorified” makes it sound like it has already happened but in v. 18 Paul clearly sees the glory as future.

Three ways of handling this problem have been suggested. One is to say that Paul uses the aorist tense in respect to believers’ glorification because he wants to depict it as something that is absolutely certain, as certain as their predestination, calling, and justification that have already occurred. A second way is to recognize that in 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul speaks of glorification as a process already begun (‘we . . . are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’), and this process is to be consummated at the Lord’s return. A third way is to note that the aorist tense does not necessarily refer to past events, but may be used to describe a complete action, whether in the past, present, or future — in this case the future. Each of these three suggestions has value, but to decide which of them the apostle had in mind when he wrote is impossible to say with any certainty.12

The major objective of the text should be reiterated here. Believers are assured that everything works together for good because the God who set his covenantal love upon them, predestined them to be like his Son, called them effectually to himself, and justified them will certainly glorify them. All the sufferings and afflictions of the present era are not an obstacle to their ultimate salvation but the means by which salvation will be accomplished.13

Bibliography

Kruse, Colin G. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.

Metzger, Bruce M., ed. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Second Edition. Hendrickson Pub, 2005.

Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 1998.

Witherington III, Ben, and Darlene Hyatt. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004.


  1. Moo 1996, 511–512 
  2. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 8665-8668 
  3. Kruse 2012, 342 
  4. Moo 1996, 515 
  5. Moo 1996, 515–516 
  6. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 8715-8721 
  7. Kruse 2012, 349-350 
  8. Kruse 2012, 350 
  9. Kruse 2012, 351 
  10. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 8840-8849 
  11. Moo 1996, 531 
  12. Kruse 2012, 357-358 
  13. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 9061-9064 
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