NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XXIX)
Charles Hodge also admits there are various interpretations of this great day of revelation. However, he does say that we should accept the term “creation” as referring to each individual created thing. The choices must be determined by the context. He sees the following options: First, creation includes all rational and irrational creatures, including angels and both animate and inanimate objects. Secondly, creation means the whole world, excluding angels, but inclusive of the irrational animals. Thirdly, creation is all of what we call “nature.” Fourthly, creation refers to the human race. Fifthly, creation implies the heathen world, as distinguished from believers. Sixth, creation is the body of believers only.
The choice between these several interpretations must be determined by comparison to the Scriptures. Unless the Bible elsewhere speaks of angels as the subjects of redemption, they cannot be added. Whether or not irrational animals are included is doubtful. Hodge comes to the conclusion that it would be hard to argue against the idea that Paul is painting a contrast between our present and momentary afflictions with the permanent and glorious blessedness of our future state. This is designed to help us expand our concept of its greatness to include the whole of creation, now groaning beneath the consequences of the fall, and anxiously awaiting the long-promised day of the great revelation.1
Then, preacher Charles Spurgeon concludes that the event all creation is waiting for cannot come until God’s children are manifested, robed in their post-resurrection glory. Everything else in creation is watching and waiting on tip-toe for the day when God will manifest His sons and daughters who are presently camouflaged in their earthly bodies. Not in the sense that people do not know who Christians are, but of their glorious appearance expected on the day of revelation. That is when they will be openly presented to the world by God as His chosen, and all creation will clap their hands.2 There are few scholars who would put that day of revelation at the time of the Rapture which will happen in a moment as they are caught away. Spurgeon must be referring to the Millennium when Christ comes back with those He raptured to rule and reign with Him here on earth a thousand years.
Frédéric Godet gives us an interesting grammatical explanation of the Greek term apokaradokia which has been translated by the word English word expectation, as one of those admirable words which the Greek language easily forms. It is composed of three elements: kara, “the head;” dokia, “to wait for,” and apo, “from afar.” So to paraphrase it would be: To wait with the head raised and eyes fixed on that exact spot on the horizon where the object is expected to appear.3 Thayer in his lexicon renders it as: “to watch with head erect or outstretched, to direct attention to anything, to wait for in suspense.” He adds that’s how it is used here. It signifies constantly expecting, or persistent expectation.4 Charles Ellicott has this explanation: “It means, literally, a straining forward with outstretched head, just as we might imagine the crowds alongside a race-course straining over the ropes to catch a sight of the runners; an eager, intent expectation.”5 Unfortunately, today even some of the most ardent followers of Christ do not have such high hopes or eager expectations to see such glory revealed with the return of our Lord as King. They are too busy looking at the world to take time and look up toward the sky.
John Stott says that for him, both the sufferings and the glory relate only to God’s creation and His children. For him, Paul is writing from a cosmic perspective on how the sufferings and earthly glory of the original creation and the heavenly glory of the new creation are related to each other. Stott sees both creations are groaning in anticipation now since both are going to be set free together. Because nature was blighted with the curse due to Adam’s sin and has suffered the tragedy of disease and decay, it will also share in this glory.6
Verses 20-21: Everything God made was allowed to become frustrated because it could not fulfill God’s purpose. That was not its choice, but God made it happen with this hope in view: That the creation would be made free from ruin—that everything God made would have the same freedom and glory that belong to God’s children.
This points to the first verse in the Bible, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And although Paul does not mention it, we know that this frustration began in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve defied God’s instructions and ate from the tree that was forbidden to them.7 It resulted in God sending a global flood to get rid of this travesty and start over with Noah and his family. But this too, went wrong at the tower of Babel when the people decided to climb into heaven so they could be with God and like God. But God’s grace was abundant enough for Him to continue moving mankind toward a scheduled day of salvation.
It was the early believer, Job, who said to those who had become rebellious: “Go ahead and provoke God – it makes no difference! He will supply your every need anyway!”8 Was God acquiescing to man’s sinful lifestyle? No! Jesus put it this way: God makes His sun shine on good and bad people alike, and He sends rain to the righteous and the unrighteous alike.9 Why? So they would get the idea that it really didn’t matter if they lived right or worshiped Him? Absolutely not! It was so that He could persuade them to believe in Him in order for Him to adopt them as His own children and lead them to the path of righteousness. From that moment until now it is called “God’s grace.”
But mankind did not go easy. In fact, those whom God did chose, and led into the Promised Land, became rebellious. In Isaiah, we are told: “The land suffers for the sins of its people. The earth languishes, the crops wither, the skies refuse their rain. The land is defiled by crime; the people have twisted the laws of God and broken his everlasting commands.”10 Even in Jeremiah, we find how desperate things became: “How long must this land of yours put up with all their goings-on? Even the grass of the field groans and weeps over their wicked deeds! The wild animals and birds have moved away, leaving the land deserted. Yet the people say, “God won’t bring judgment on us. We’re perfectly safe!… They have made it desolate; I hear its mournful cry. The whole land is desolate, and no one cares. ”11
The prophet Hosea preached to them that their land was not producing; it was filled with sadness, and all living things were getting sick and dying; the animals, the birds, and even the fish were beginning to disappear. He told them, “Don’t point your finger at someone else and try to pass the blame on to them!”12 So Paul is making the point that there are times when people must reach the point of desperation and despair before they will finally turn and ask for a Savior. It isn’t so much that God is punishing them for their sins, sin has a way of doing this itself. Rather, He is trying to open their eyes to see that without Him and His Son there is no salvation. They just can’t make it on their own.
When reading the commentary of early church scholars, it is apparent that they were thinking within the context of the general understanding of the earth and its relationship to the universe at the time. For instance, the controversial theologian Origen asked what is all this futility that creation is supposedly subject to? To him, Paul must have been talking about the material and corruptible substance of the body, in addition to the decay mentioned in the next verse.13 Then in another place, Origen shares his conclusions by saying that from now on we must inquire as to the groanings Paul talks about. And what about the pains he mentions? But before that, we must define what is the vanity to which the creature is subject. For Origen, it is nothing else than the body. Even though the resurrected body, which at the moment is earthly, will become celestial. Perhaps that’s why Solomon characterizes the whole of physical nature as a kind of burden which debilitates the vigor of the soul. Solomon put it this way: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity. I have looked, and seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity.14”15
Ambrosiaster has another view in which the subjection of creation to the futility of living is not for its benefit but for ours. So he asks: “What does it mean to be subject to futility?” He answers: “Everything it produces is worthless?” All of creation has spent time producing fruit that corrupts and decays. Corruption, therefore, is in and of itself futility.16 Then we see where the great early church preacher Chrysostom preached on this subject and explained that for him Paul means this needs to happen because creation became corrupt. That raises the next question, “Why, and for what reason?” Then the finger is pointed directly at Adam, and he is told, “It’s all because of you, O man!” After his disobedience to God, Adam’s own body became mortal, subject to suffering, pain, and death. But even worse, the whole earth was thrown into turmoil with a curse that brought weeds, thorns, thistles, and disease.17 So, since God’s creation suffered badly because of him, and it became corruptible, thank God, it was not irreparably damaged. One day it will become incorruptible once again for his sake and all those born after him. This is why we call it, “hope.”18
The Aramaic version of the Bible gives us the view that creation is the innocent victim in all of this. It was ready to be everything God intended it to be. According to one English translation of verses 20-21, it reads like this: “For the creation was subjected to vanity, not by its own choice, but because of him who subjected it, in the hope, that also the creation itself would be emancipated from the bondage of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God.”19 In other words, it was all Adam’s fault so why should innocent creation be subjected to the same pain and suffering that only he deserved? That’s why it groans along with all mankind for the day when it will be restored to its original greatness.
1 Ibid. p. 423
2 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 See Philippians 1:20
5 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Genesis 3:17-19
8 Job 12:6
9 Matthew 5:45
10 Isaiah 24:4-5
11 Jeremiah 12:4, 11
12 Hosea 4:3-4
13 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Ecclesiastes 1:2
15 Origen: On First Principles, Bk. 1, Ch. 7.5
16 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 See Genesis 3:18
18 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
19 Aramaic New Testament Parallel English Translation by James Murdock, 1852