Commentary on Romans 8:31-39

Notes (NET Translation)

This passage constitutes a peroration, the function of which, according to classical rhetorical theory, was to move the audience to accept the case made already in the speech, of which the peroration formed the climax. If, as seems likely, this is what Paul is seeking to achieve in 8:31-39, the passage forms an important transition between his response to objections that his gospel undermines moral standards and the status of the law on the one hand (6:1–8:13), and to charges that his gospel does away with Israel’s special place in the purposes of God on the other (9:1–11:36). In other words, Paul is seeking to gain his audience’s agreement to what he has argued so far, and to carry them along with him into the argument he is about to mount in 9:1–11:36.

The peroration, containing seven questions, is reminiscent of the style of the diatribe, but it is employed here not to confront but to encourage the audience. Four of the questions provide the basic structure of the passage (8:31: ‘What, then, shall we say in response to these things?’; 8:33: ‘Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?’; 8:34: ‘Who is the one who condemns?’; 8:35: ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’); each of which provides a cue for positive statements about God’s love and grace that follow.1

31 What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

“These things” refers back to the blessings described in chapters 5-8. The theme of hope in 8:31-39 forms an inclusio with 5:1-11. The expected answer to the second question is that no one can successfully oppose the one God is for. Paul acknowledges that opposition will come our way (v. 35). What he means is that God’s ultimate plans for us will be fulfilled.

32 Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?

The idea of sparing one’s son probably alludes back to Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac (Gen. 22). God gave Christ up as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (3:25). Since he gave up the greatest thing of all he will surely give us all things.

But what are these “all things”? The context makes clear that Paul is not talking about material wealth and the like. He means all that is necessary for salvation, all that is necessary to protect believers from spiritual danger in all sorts of difficult and dangerous circumstances. Again, this is not a promise of continual good health or that believers will never suffer or die, but rather that no third party or power or force or circumstance or lesser supernatural being will be able to separate the believer from the love of God in Christ.2

33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

The “elect” are believers. The future tense suggests the last judgment is in view. The answer alludes to Isa. 50:8-9 and indicates that the church, not Israel, is now God’s chosen servant. The idea is that when God justifies his people no charge against them can stand.

34 Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us.

No one will condemn believers on the last day because the Messiah, Jesus, died for them. Here Paul assumes what he has stated in 3:21–26: the death of Jesus on behalf of believers satisfied God’s wrath (1:18) against them. Not only did Jesus die but he was also raised. His resurrection signified his vindication, indicating that his atoning work was completed. The first two statements hark back to the formula in 4:25, “He was delivered up for our transgressions and raised for our justification.” The resurrection of Jesus was inevitably accompanied by his exaltation. Thus in fulfillment of Ps. 110:1 he reigns at the right hand of God. Finally, he intercedes on behalf of the saints. This intercession should not be separated from his death on behalf of his people; rather, his intercession on behalf of the saints is based on his atoning death.3

35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

The “love of Christ” is Christ’s love for believers. Nothing will separate believers from the love of Christ even though believers will face suffering and hardship.

The list of difficulties that follows requires little comment, except to note that all the items except the last are found also in 2 Cor. 11:26–27 and 12:10, where Paul lists some of those hazards he himself has encountered in his apostolic labors. All these, then, Paul himself has experienced, and he has been able to prove for himself that they are quite incapable of disrupting his relationship with the love of Christ. And the last–the “sword,” death by execution–Paul was to find overcome for him in the love of Christ at the end of his life.4

36 As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

The quote is from Ps. 44:22 (44:23 LXX).

Parlier argues that it is not by chance that Paul quotes a passage from Psalm 44 in which the psalmist complains that God’s people are suffering though they remain faithful to the covenant, and calls upon God to redeem them in his ‘unfailing love’. It is as if Paul is responding to the psalmist’s complaint by asserting that no suffering is able to separate believers from the love of God in Christ. Jewett, on the other hand, suggests that Paul incorporated the quotation to adduce scriptural support to show that suffering is not a disqualifying mark for those claiming to be true disciples. He had to do this to silence criticisms of his apostleship along these lines. The apostle certainly had to defend himself in this way in 2 Corinthians 11:22-33, but whether this is the case here in Romans 8 is debatable.5

37 No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us!

‘We are more than conquerors’ (lit. ‘we are completely victorious’) translates a verb found only here in the NT, and is a heightened form of the more common verb ‘to overcome’, which is found twenty-eight times in the NT. The two predominant NT uses of ‘to overcome’ are (i) in relation to believers being victorious over pressure from those who would lead them astray doctrinally (1 John 2:13, 14; 4:4; 5:4, 5), and (ii) in relation to believers being victorious in face of trouble and persecution by not denying their faith in Christ even in the face of death (Rev 2:7, 11, 17; 3:12; 12:11). The latter seems to be the meaning of being ‘more than conquerors’ in 8:37. Believers are ‘more than conquerors’ when they refuse to deny their Lord even when they are ‘considered as sheep to be slaughtered’. Their victory is achieved ‘through him who loved us’, that is, through the Lord Jesus Christ, who stands beside his followers and strengthens them when they face persecution for his name’s sake (cf. Acts 18:9-11; 2 Tim 4:16-18).6

38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Because Christ is Lord he has power over all things and can prevent them from separating believers from the love of God.

Some scholars have argued that although nothing in creation can separate one from the love of God, people can themselves choose to depart from God and thereby fall outside the scope of the saving love of Christ. This interpretation should be rejected. As we have seen, Rom. 8:28–30 constitutes an unbreakable process. All those who are foreknown end up being glorified. No possibility is extended that some of those who are justified may not be glorified. The category of the justified is inseparable from the category of the glorified. Such an interpretation makes sense because those upon whom God set his covenantal love before creating the world are those he predestined to share the eschatological image of the Son. Those whom he has chosen before history began will surely persevere and attain to glorification. These comments should not be interpreted as a denial of the necessity to meet conditions in order to obtain eschatological salvation (cf. 8:17). The point is that God will grant sufficient grace so that believers will inevitably and surely be enabled to meet those conditions.

Those who defend the view that believers may possibly forsake their salvation note that nothing is said here about the impossibility of believers separating themselves from Christ’s love. Gundry Volf, however, is correct in arguing that the objective of the text is to rule out that very eventuality. Affliction, persecution, famine, death, and so on are mentioned because these are the sorts of things that would cause a believer to renounce faith in Christ. Paul is not only saying that Christ still loves believers when persecution arrives, although that is doubtless true. He is also saying that the love of Christ is so powerful that believers will not forsake him despite the sword, persecution, famine, and so on. There is no need to mention the will of the believer in this text because Paul canvasses every possible thing (οὔτε τις κτίσις ἑτέρα, oute tis ktisis hetera, neither any other created thing) that could provoke believers to apostatize. None of these threats will succeed, for the love of Christ is stronger still and he will see to it that what has been started will be finished (cf. 1 Cor. 1:8; Phil. 1:6; 1 Thess. 5:24).7

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. Kruse 2012, 359 
  2. Witherington III 2004, 232 
  3. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 9208-9214 
  4. Moo 1996, 543 
  5. Kruse 2012, 363 
  6. Kruse 2012, 364 
  7. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 9266-9282 
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