NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson L)
Now, with a sense of confidence Paul goes on to list other things he has faced, and may face again, and why they will never, ever sever the link developed by love between him and God. The first cause is expressed with the Greek word thanatos, rendered by the KJV as “death.” Most Bible scholars agree with Thayer in his Greek Lexicon that this is a reference to physical death. Thayer references Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “He [God] has given you the whole world to use, and life and even death are your servants.”1 In other words, death cannot keep us from being forever with God, it can only expedite our getting there.
Then Paul contrasts death with “life.” The Greek word zōē, used here is a little more complicated to explain than the effect of death. Thayer in his Lexicon references what Paul says to 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.”2 As far as Paul was concerned, living for God was more important than living for himself.
This is followed by “angels.” The Greek word aggelos translated as angels is used to describe an envoy or messenger; someone who is sent with a message. When we place this term in the context of the next two, we may safely say that Paul was not referring to heavenly angels, those whose mission is to serve God or be God’s messengers to mankind. Rather, any earthly emissary that may bring orders from a magistrate to appear before the court. But at the same time, we cannot rule out that this may also be a reference to evil spirits that may come to torment the mind and try to persuade us that what we are doing is useless and counterproductive. To give it up and go live the life you really want to experience.
Now comes “principalities.” The Greek feminine noun archē used here is translated into English by the KJV as: “beginning” (40x), “principality” (8x), “corner” (2x), and (6x) in various words such as “magistrates,” “power,” “first,” and “rule.” Thayer, in his Greek Lexicon, places this term in five categories as to their meaning. In the fifth category, we find: “at the top, principality, rule, or magistracy.” He further delineates by saying that as used here Paul is referring to celestial powers that hold dominions entrusted to them as part of the universal order of things. Thayer then references what Paul says to the Colossians: “Christ Himself is the Creator who made everything in heaven and earth, the things we can see and the things we can’t; the spirit world with its kings and kingdoms, its rulers and authorities; all were made by Christ for His own use and glory.”3
Bishop Lightfoot in his commentary on this verse tells us that some commentators refer to the terms used here as mainly earthly rulers and dignities. But he feels that there can be little doubt that their chief and primary reference is to the orders of the celestial hierarchy, as conceived by Gnostic Judaizers.4 In other words, this was for those Jewish leaders of the church in Rome who may have bought into this false teaching of rival spiritual powers to that of Christ that exist in the universe.
Then Paul adds, “powers.” The Greek word dynamis translated here refers to the inherent power that resides in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and enforces. Thayer makes reference to what Peter said: “Now Christ is in heaven, sitting in the place of honor next to God the Father, with all the angels and powers of heaven bowing before Him and obeying Him.”5 Thayer also points to what F. B. Meyer says on this subject that Paul mentions to the Ephesians: “Far, far above any other king or ruler or dictator or leader. Yes, Christ’s honor is far more glorious than that of anyone else either in this world or in the world to come.”6 For Meyer, this is a psalm of ascension.
We can almost follow our Lord’s tracks as all the evil powers which rule the darkness of this world drop further and further behind Him. Since our Lord ascended on high, if we rightly claim our place as members of His glorified body we will also stand above all our spiritual adversaries. Any commander knows that it is easier to attack an enemy from higher ground than to try and approach him from below. Never forget that Christ needs the Church as much as the head needs the body. In the same manner, it is through the Church that He fulfills His mission. So ask Him to fill all of us with all of Him.7
Now Paul adds to this, “things present.” Another way of putting this would be “present things.” Thayer says that Paul was referring to those things he and the believer’s faced at the moment of his writing this epistle. Things that are in clear sight, standing nearby, pending, almost upon us or that threaten us. Thayer points to what Paul said to the Thessalonians: “Please don’t be upset and excited, dear brothers, by the rumor that this day of the Lord has already begun.”8 In other words, don’t let the rumors going around at the moment distract you from what you know to be the case. Stay steady, keep your eyes on things above, not things below.9
Then Paul contrasts what is going on at the moment with “things to come.” This is another way of saying that the believers in Rome should not be shaken by the things prophesied for the future but have not yet taken place. Bible scholars suggest that Paul is referring here to what we would call, “speculation.” Thayer then points to what Paul says to Timothy about the future.10 But in Thayer’s mind, he sees Paul telling Timothy that these future things to come should be seen in the context of the more perfect state of things which will exist at that time. It’s another way of saying that nothing that happens now will change one iota what God has established to be the case in the future.
Paul now adds, “nor height.” The Greek word hypsōma actually means, “an elevated place or thing.” In some cases, it may figuratively imply a high barrier. Thayer references what Paul said: “I use God’s mighty weapons, not those made by men, to knock down the devil’s strongholds. These weapons can break down every proud argument against God and every wall that can be built to keep men from finding Him.”11 But some scholars also believe that Paul may have been using the term “height” in referring to idols that were placed on high platforms. Yet others think it may be an allusion to the superficial arguments against mankind having such a close relationship with God. But in any case. Paul is saying that nothing can stand in the way of God keeping hold of us and us keeping hold of God.
This is followed by “depth.” The Greek word bathos refers to those things thought to be deep, such as the sea. But it can also by implication be used for something profound, as well as figuratively for a mystery – the unknown. Thayer references where this word is used by Paul to teach the Ephesians about God’s love: “So that you, with all God’s people, will be given strength to grasp the breadth, length, height, and depth of the Messiah’s love, yes, to know it, even though it is beyond all knowing, so that you will be filled with all the fullness of God.”12 As we can see, Paul may have been comparing the silly thoughts of fools (height) with the deep profundity of scholarly arguments (depth) against what he was teaching about God’s calling, justification, and glorification of those who believe that His Son was the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
But then Paul adds a qualifier: “nor any other creature.” Thayer in his Greek Lexicon points out that this word ktisis can be used to mean: “the act of founding, establishing, building, etc.” Throughout the Last Covenant, it is variously translated as “creation” and “creature.” Thayer places the word as it is used here to mean any individual thing that is created. He also mentions that it is used by Rabbis to indicate a person who is converted from idolatry to Judaism. As such, Paul takes it and uses it in the same way. For instance, he tells the Galatians: “For neither being circumcised nor being uncircumcised matters; what matters is being a new creation.”13 Also, what Paul wrote the Corinthians: “Therefore, if anyone is united with the Messiah, he is a new creation — the old has passed; look, what has come is fresh and new!”14 However, in the context of how Paul uses it here, we can better understand it as part of Paul’s argument against those teachings by the Judaizers, whether what they taught was easily explained, or beyond comprehension.
So, no matter what they throw at us, says Paul, it will not dismantle nor destroy God’s plan of salvation that was created out of love, nor will they be able to make anything to aim at believers that will cause those who really love God, and are loved by God, to be driven apart. It reminds us again of what Jesus said about His disciples: “No one shall snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and He is more powerful than anyone else, so no one can kidnap them from me.”15 No wonder that Paul prayed for the Ephesians “To experience this love for yourselves, though it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it. And so, at last, you will be filled up with God Himself.”16
Augustine comments here that Paul was sure that neither the persecutions or problems of temporal life here on earth or even death could separate the believer from God’s love. If someone threatened the believer with death, it simply implies that instead of living and working here in the presence of sin they would rest in the presence of God. Even an angel shouldn’t be able to separate us from the love of God. Paul said that if one came and told you something other than what you received as the Gospel, let them be accursed.17 Nor can any powers on earth or powers in the air successfully separate us because Christ has triumphed over them by what He did on the cross18.19
1 1 Corinthians 3:22
2 Philippians 1:20
3 Colossians 1:16
4 J. B. Lightfoot: Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, reprint of the revised 1879 edition published by MacMillan and Co., p. 152, loc cit.
5 1 Peter 3:22
6 Ephesians 1:21
7 F. B. Meyer: Through the Bible Commentary, loc. cit.
8 2 Thessalonians 2:2
9 See Colossians 3:2
10 1 Timothy 6:19
11 2 Corinthians 10:4-5
12 Ephesians 3:18-19
13 Galatians 6:15
14 2 Corinthians 5:17 – Complete Jewish Bible
15 John 10:28b-29
16 Ephesians 3:18-19
17 Galatians 1:8
18 Colossians 2:15
19 Augustine: On Romans 58