NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XXVIII)
Verse 19: Everything that God made is waiting with excitement for the time when He will showoff His children to the world. All creation is waiting breathlessly for that to happen.
Now Paul grows eloquent as he begins to describe what a wonderful day of revelation that will be. It would validate the whole cause and effort for which Christ died. Paul shares this with the Philippians: “I live in eager expectation and hope that I will never do anything that will cause me to be ashamed of myself but that I will always be ready to speak out boldly for Christ while I am going through all these trials here, just as I have in the past; and that I will always be an honor to Christ, whether I live or whether I must die. For to me, living means opportunities for Christ, and dying – well, that’s better yet!”1
The Apostle Peter shared his expectations this way: “Since everything around us is going to melt away, what holy, godly lives we should be living! You should look forward to that day and hurry it along – the day when God will set the heavens on fire, and the heavenly bodies will melt and disappear in flames. But we are looking forward to God’s promise of new heavens and a new earth afterward, where there will be only goodness.”2 And the Apostle John rejoiced when he saw a new heaven and new earth being formed with the New Jerusalem coming down from God. Said John: “It was a glorious sight, beautiful as a bride at her wedding.”3
Even the prophet Malachi got a glimpse of this glorious day. He wrote: “‘They shall be mine,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘in that day when I make up my jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares an obedient and dutiful son. Then you will see the difference between God’s treatment of good men and bad, between those who serve Him and those who don’t.’”4 And Jesus added this: “When I, the Messiah, shall come in my glory, and all the angels with me, then I shall sit upon my throne of glory. And all the nations shall be gathered before me. And I will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”5 And the Apostle John shares his excitement: “Yes, dear friends, we are already God’s children, right now, and we can’t even imagine what it is going to be like later on. But we do know this, that when He comes we will be like Him, as a result of seeing Him as He really is. And everyone who really believes this will try to stay pure because Christ is pure.”6
On the subject of creation being restored, one of the earliest church scholars said that since every believer who is part of creation has toiled and been afflicted from the beginning, and having been proven faithful in every way by suffering, should receive a reward for their suffering. Also, those who are a part of creation and were slain because of their love for God should be revived again. Furthermore, those who are part of creation and have endured servitude should reign. After all, God is rich in all things, and everything is His. Irenaeus leaves no doubt that it is only fitting that creation itself, after having been restored to its original condition, should without restrictions be placed under the care and control of the righteous7.8
Origen also makes it known that he feels Paul is only preparing the believers in Rome for what he is about to say next concerning how great and wonderful is the glory which will be revealed both in him and in those who have shared in his hardships.9 Then Bishop Diodore points out that the Scriptures often suggest that while the visible creation is full of life and action, that the seemingly motionless universe is very much aware of what is going on10.11 And Chrysostom preached that Paul’s writing becomes more emphatic as he personifies creation in the way that the Psalmist did when speaking of the trees clapping their hands12.13
Then we have another early church scholar named Constantius who agrees by saying that when Paul talks about creation waiting, he is pointing at rational beings and not, as some imagine, irrational or indiscernible creatures which He made to serve mankind and then is excreted and decays. Constantius believes that by using the word “creation,” Paul is referring to Adam and Eve, who also wait to receive adoption by God. And the “eager longing,” of which Paul speaks, is likewise shared by Adam and Eve on the one hand, and one the other hand by the angels and the elements, i.e., the heavens, the earth, the sun, the moon and the stars. So in a sense, Paul says that Adam and Eve and all that surrounds the earth are longing for the day of revelation.14 Some may disagree with Constantius’ conclusion. Paul makes it clear that the whole world is awaiting the revelation of who God’s true children are, but there is no reason to believe that the angels are unaware of who they are.
Then Pelagius summarizes what he has been hearing Paul say on this subject, and writes that interpreters of Scripture expound on this passage in various ways. Some propose that all creation awaits the resurrection because all will be transformed into something better. Others suggest that this refers only to what the angels are longing to see.15 Still, others say that “creation” refers specifically to Adam and Eve because they did not sin by themselves. Rather, they were misled by the temptation of the serpent, who made them susceptible to corruption. He did so by deceiving them concerning the hope of becoming gods themselves.16 Such interpreters believe that Adam and Eve will also be set free from guilt so that they no longer will be tainted with corruption. And these same interpreters say that the term “whole creation,” means all those who lived righteous lives up to the coming of Christ. And since they too have not yet received, they join us in waiting until God provides something better for everyone.17 So in Pelagius’ mind, not only those of the Old Testament but we of the New Testament are waiting together for that day of revelation. Like them, what we yet do not hold in our grasp we patiently await with unwavering hope. But we are blessed because we have seen things which many righteous people of the OT never got to see18.19
This way of thinking does not seem to fit exactly into what Paul was saying at this point. When we go back to verses 15-17, Paul is telling how we serve God not out of fear as slaves, but out of love as His children. It allows us to call Him Abba Father. This also places us in line to be joint heirs with Christ of all the glory He plans to give His Son and those who follow Him. Then in verse 18, Paul says that all the suffering those who have been called may go through here on earth is nothing when compared to what will be revealed in heaven at the resurrection. Then comes the exclamation here in verse 19 that all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will show His children off to the whole world. So both Constantius and Pelagius have gone far afield from what Paul was explaining here as a message of motivation to the believers in Rome to remain steadfast and immovable in their faith.
Reformer Martin Luther also takes time to point out the debate between understanding what Paul says here as applying to the creature and creation. Luther dismisses the speculation of philosophers who concentrate only on the essence and attributes of created things in their present state, not in any future state. Luther cites what Roman philosopher Seneca said about not knowing what is necessary because we study unnecessary things, and that we don’t know what’s best for us because what we study only causes us harm.20 Luther feels that Paul is speaking here of nature as the one who waits, groans, and travails for things yet to come because of the curse it received when Adam sinned.21
John Calvin says that his understanding of what Paul means here is that there is no element and no part of the world which, knowing full well the misery it currently endures, does not hope with great expectation for the resurrection. To prove this, Calvin sees Paul laying down two pieces of evidence. First, that all creatures are in distress, yet they are sustained by future hope. This gives great value to the eternal glory God promised, which excites and attracts all things that desire it. Secondly, the term “expectation,” though somewhat unusual, is suitable in this case. Paul’s intent was to strongly suggest that all creatures on earth have been seized with great anxiousness and held in suspense with great desire, looking for that day on which the glory of the children of God shall openly exhibit. Calvin understands the revelation of God’s children will occur when shall become like Him.22 This desire to be like God should help us understand which part of creation Paul is referring to.
Adam Clarke raises some other issues when this verse is tied to the next four as it relates to the creature and creation. He shares that even in his day there were some who thought that all beasts in creation are meant here. Others applied it to Jewish people, to Gentiles, to good angels, to fallen spirits, etc.23 Albert Barnes also notes that there is no other passage in the New Testament that has been considered more difficult to interpret than this section of Romans 8:19-23. Even after all the labor and research given to it by critics, still there exists no interpretation precise and satisfactory enough, so that every commentator who examines it can wholeheartedly concur with the findings. The object here, for every Bible scholar, should be to give whatever appears to them to be the true meaning. Do not attempt to refute the opinions of critics. Clarke points out that the main design of this passage is to show the sustaining power of the Gospel in the midst of trials. It comes from the prospect of a future deliverance and the inheritance that will be given to the children of God.24 Clarke goes on to say that the word “creature” refers to the renewed nature of the Christian. But whatever the case, always keep this in mind, no matter how we may see this it will not affect our salvation or the final outcome.
1 Philippians 1:20-21
2 2 Peter 3:11-13
3 Revelation 21:1-2
4 Malachi 3:17-18
5 Matthew 25:31-32
6 1 John 3:2-3
7 See Isaiah 65:17-25; 1 Corinthians 6:2-3; 2 Peter 3:13
8 Irenaeus; Against Heresies Bk. 5, Ch. 32.1
9 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 See Psalm 19:14
11 Diodore: Pauline Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 See Psalm 98:8
13 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 14
14 Pseudo-Constantius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 See 1 Peter 1:11-12
16 See Genesis 3:5
17 Hebrews 11:39-40
18 See Matthew 13:17; Luke 10:24
19 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
20 Seneca: Letters from a Stoic, Letter 52
21 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 123-124
22 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
23 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
24 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.