Exegesis of Romans 8:18-25 is difficult. Understanding it requires the help of a more synthetic or theological approach. While I have offered interpretations of this passage elsewhere (see e.g. my articles Another Shot at Romans 8:18-25 and The End of the World) and arrived at conclusions which I am convinced are basically correct, I have not felt satisfied with my exposition of it or that I have clinched the issue in such a way as to convince those who accept what is apparently (in 2010 A.D.) the present view.
First, it needs to be noted that Paul sets the scene of the passage in verse 18 by contrasting the temporal present age with the eternal age to come (Rom. 8:20,24f., cf. 1 Cor. 15:50; 2 Cor. 4:16-18). As “the presence of the future” the latter already exists and is even now making its impact on us (cf. e.g. Gal. 4:26; Heb. 6:5; 12:22-24). It remains, however, like Christ himself invisible and still to be consummately revealed to us (cf. 1 Pet. 1:8f.).
The Importance of the Word KTISIS
The main difficulty with the rest of the passage is Paul’s use of the word ktisis which can mean either creation or creature (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15, Col. 1:23, Rom. 8:39 and 1:25 where it almost certainly means creature, e.g. NRSV, ESV. Note also Paul’s use of the word ‘Adam’, which can mean either man or mankind and refer to either individual or community, and Israel in Romans 9-11). Since the latter, that is the creature, derives from the former, both are closely associated, even organically related, and, the image of God in man apart, what is true of the one is usually true of the other. This is very important for in Romans 1:23 Paul contrasts the incorruptible (Gk) Creator with his generically corruptible creatures, man and animal (cf. Acts 17:29; Isa. 40:18ff.), and in so doing he puts paid definitively to the idea that sin is involved in Romans 8:18-25. In other words, contrary to tradition, which to my knowledge remains totally unsubstantiated, Genesis 1 and 2, NOT Genesis 3 (especially vv.17-19), lie behind Paul’s comments. Just as Adam, as a product of the corruptible earth (cf. Ps. 102:25-27), was created both mortal and corruptible like all flesh, so are all his procreated descendants (Ps. 103:14) including Jesus (Luke 3:38). This view is supported by Paul in Romans 2:7 where he says we are called to seek “incorruption”. (The standard modern translation of Romans 1:23 is “immortal” of God and “mortal” of man, but this is illegitimate and seriously misleading both here and elsewhere. The Greek words at issue are aphthartos and phthartos, cf. KJV, and they relate not to death but to corruption. While immortality, Gk. athanasia, and incorruption, Gk. aphtharsia, are boon companions, they are not synonymous, see e.g. Vine, pp.131,320.) Though death may be said to be the wages of sin, it simply will not do to say that the reason for man’s corruptibility or susceptibility to decay is sin for the simple reason that the sinless Jesus as incarnate was also clearly corruptible (cf. Heb. 2:17; 4:15; 10:5). (It is important to recognize that death cannot be wages unless (the) law is broken. Where there is no law there is no sin, Rom. 4:15, hence, when animals and babies die apart from law, wages are not involved. They clearly succumb to the corruption inherent in creation.) As a product of the obsolescent temporal creation through his mother, he was not only mortal but he grew older in conformity with his source (cf. Heb. 1:11, Luke 2:42; John 8:57) and was thus wasting away (2 Cor. 4:16) and about to disappear (Heb. 8:13, cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). In light of this the necessity of his ascension transformation was absolute (John 20:17; 1 Cor. 15:51f.). (1* Corruptibility or susceptibility to decay clearly relates to man’s created nature which is “hand-made”, Gk. cheiropoietos, in contrast with “not hand-made”, Gk. acheiropoietos. See further my articles Manufactured Or Not So, The Correspondence Between Romans 8:12-25 and 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10) Bluntly, the contrast between God and man is intrinsic; it involves the fundamental difference or dualism between the Creator and the creature (see my Biblical Dualism). Only God is generically immortal and incorruptible (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16). If this were not the case, Adam would never have been put on probation and promised glory, honour and life, before he sinned (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:16f., cf. Rom. 2:7,10; 1 Pet. 1:7). So, if man is corruptible, that is, subject to decay before the entrance of sin, then his corruptibility must stem from his being part of a naturally corruptible creation (Mt. 6:19f.; Luke 12:33, cf. 1 Pet. 1:4), as Paul plainly implies in Romans 8:18-23 (cf. Heb. 1:10-12). Subjection to corruption was by divine design and clearly integral to the plan of salvation. God intended something better, that is, divine sonship, for the creature he had made in his own image.
It is worth adding here that reference Bibles usually refer to Psalm 106:20 at Romans 1:23. This verse indicates how radically wrong it is to liken the incorruptible Creator to an ox, a fleshly creature that eats grass. Grass happens be a basic symbol of death and decay throughout Scripture (James 1:10f., etc.). But worse from a human point of view is the fact that Isaiah maintains that all flesh, including man, is grass (40:6-8, cf. 1 Pet. 1:24f.). In brief, fleshly man who is created in the image of Adam and who lives on perishable (Gen. 1: 30; John 6:27,31,49) as opposed to living food (John 6: 51, cf. 4:10) like fleshly animals (Ps. 104:21; Job 38:39) is, as a product of a corruptible earth, by nature mortal and corruptible. To express the issue alternatively, both the Psalmist and Jesus himself make it plain that whatever lives on perishable food even that supplied by God from ‘heaven’ dies nonetheless. Thus man can only live eternally by feeding on the abiding word of God (John 6:50, cf. Mt. 4:4, etc.). While the first Adam did not so feed and eventually underwent ultimate decay (corruption) in the ground, Jesus, the second Adam whose food was to do the will of his Father (John 4:34) eventually ascended transformed into heaven. (2* In view of widespread misunderstanding, it is imperative to add here that the contrast between the abiding word of God and the temporal material creation pervades Scripture: e.g. Gen.1:1; 8:22; Ps. 90:2; 102:25-27; Isa.34:4; 40:6-8; 50:9; 51:6,8,12; 54:9f.; Mt. 6:19f.; 24:35; Luke 12:33, cf. Heb. 10:34; 1 Cor. 7:31; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Heb. 1:10-12; 12:27; 1 John 2:15-17, etc.) Out of this arises the importance of our need to understand the Greek word ktisis, for the new covenant, in apparent contrast with the hope of the old covenant which speaks of earthly things (cf. John 3:31, cf. 3:12f.; 8:23) and majors on earthly restoration (3* On Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22, see my Will Creation Be Redeemed?), simply does not allow for the restoration or redemption of the material creation touted by many (see e.g. John 3:1-8; 1 Cor. 7:31; 15:50; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Heb. 1:10-12; 12:27; 1 John 2:17; Rev. 6:14; 16:20; 20:11; 21:1, etc.), but it manifestly does allow for the restoration and redemption of the creature man, but only insofar as he is uniquely made in the spiritual image of God in contrast with the rest of the (animal) creation.
King James Version
In the KJV the word ktisis is translated as creature in Romans 8:19,20 and 21, but as creation in verse 22 with creature implied in verse 23 (cf. the German Die Heilige Schrift where the creature, die Kreatur, is used in verses 19,20 and 21, but the whole creation, die ganze Schopfung, in verse 22.) (4* See further Michaels’ essay “The Redemption of Our Body” in Romans and the People of God, pp.92-114. This essay is well worth reading, though Michaels focuses quite arbitrarily in my view on the body of sin and death which Paul does not mention as such. The apostle is concerned with nature as in 1 Corinthians 15:42-50 not with sin. Change was necessary even for the sinless but nonetheless corruptible Jesus, 1 Cor. 15:50-52. See my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities)
Other English versions at present in use in the twenty-first century like the New Revised Standard, New International and the English Standard Version translate the word consistently as ‘creation’. There are profound problems with this, though on the assumption that Paul is personifying creation, it may be regarded superficially as possible.
First, as already noted Paul was never averse to using a word in more than one sense (cf. the Johannine use of the word ‘world’, e.g. John 1:10). For example, he refers to two Adams and two bodies (1 Cor. 15), two Israels (Rom. 9), two seeds (Gal. 3, cf. 1 Pet. 1:23), and perhaps implies two houses or dwellings in 2 Corinthians 5:1f. (cf. Luke 16:9), and so on. Next, if the word “creation” is used in verse 21 and words like “brought into” (NIV), “obtain” (ESV), “enter upon” (REB, cf. Amplified Translation “gain an entrance”), “share” (see French by Segond) not in the Greek text (cf. NASV) are added to “explain” the meaning, Paul ends up saying what he appears elsewhere to deny (see espec. 1 Cor. 15:50ff.; 2 Cor. 4:16-18). Third, surely no one confronted with verse 21 in isolation from its context would seriously consider translating ktisis as “creation”. Here “creature” would be the obvious meaning, especially so since words like “obtain” do not appear in the Greek. So, how is the passage to be understood?
In verse 19, if we allow for an element of personification, ktisis could possibly mean either or both (cf. v. 22). Normally we associate “eager longing” with people (creatures), but if we assume that creation is being used as a tool to achieve a purpose (cf. the word ‘good’ in Genesis 1), that is, the ultimate revealing of the sons of God, creation, especially in light of verse 22, could be Paul’s meaning, (cf. Rev. 14:14-20. See further my article The Harvest of the Earth)
In contrast with the KJV, on balance “creation” appears preferable because it is inclusive and seems to harmonize better with and allow for the element of differentiation or specification evident in the rest of the passage.
There are two points here. First, normally speaking we would tend to regard the unwillingness referred to by Paul as relating to people, though its meaning may simply be “of express, or set, (divine) purpose” or “not of its own accord”. In light of 1 Corinthians 9:16f., Philemon 14 and 1 Peter 5:2 (cf. 2 Cor. 9:7), where the idea of necessity (Gk. ananke) appears, it would surely be better to translate ‘not willingly’ as ‘necessarily’ or ‘by compulsion’ or better still ‘by divine necessity’, not because of sin but in the nature of things (cf. BAG). (It is interesting that the same word ‘ananke’ appears with regard to the times of necessary distress at the end, Luke 21:23, cf. 1 Cor. 7:26. In Luke 21:9 where Jesus mentions pregnant women ‘dei’ is used. In 1 Thes. 5:3, cf. Luke 21:35, Paul uses a similar idea. It is noticeable that this distress is not related to sin, cf. 2 Cor. 6:4;12:10). In fact, as in Luke 13:1-5 where death can be the result of either sin or natural decay, in Luke 21:23 the distress that arises out of nature is explicitly differentiated from wrath even though they are doubtless complementary. This being so, there is little doubt that disturbances in nature can demonstrate the wrath of God. (Cf. Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet, having said that we need to keep in mind that the sun shines and the rain falls on good and evil alike, Mt. 5:45. I find R.Morgenthaler’s comment deeply significant: “Man is under a constraint because of his natural being; the final limitation of his existence by death is also part of this compulsion”, NIDNTT, 2, p.663.) After all, none of us submits willingly to the futility of a life ending in death; rather we are forced to accept it as an unavoidable and surely God-ordained fact (cf. Ps. 49; Eccles. 3:19-21, etc.). We grow old, die and decay whether we like it or not precisely because we are not just sinners but, like sinless animals (Ps. 49:12,20, etc.), the product of a creation universally subject to corruption (cf. Mt. 6:19f.; Luke 12:33; 16:9; 1 Pet. 1:4,7). The material creation has neither will nor choice; it is what it is by the sovereign will (Rev. 4:11) and command of God (Ps. 33:6,9). Significantly, before the arrival of Noah, it lacks a covenantal guarantee of any kind and is hence threatened by cataclysmic obliteration when it fails to produce an appropriate harvest (Gen. 6:11-13, cf. Heb. 6:7f.). (On this see again my Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?) On the other hand, it may be said, so far as man is concerned, to inspire in his/its subjected state hope of something better, that is, the hope of the freedom of glory (Rom. 8:18-21,24f.; 2 Cor. 4:16-5:5; Heb. 1:10-12; 7:19; 10:34; 11:1-3,13-16,35,39f.; 12:22-24,26-29; 13:14, etc.).
Second, as already mentioned, we associate hope with people rather than with the material creation. The hope of glory (cf. 2 Cor. 4:17; Col. 1:5,27; Tit. 2:13) to which Paul is apparently referring is in any case invisible (vv.24f.) and hence immaterial (cf. Rom. 1:20), and it can only refer to and be appreciated by thinking people made in the image of God who walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Even a cursory examination of the NT reveals that hope in God or Christ promises glory, eternal life (Tit. 3:7), and salvation (1 Thes. 5:8). In 2 Timothy 2:10 Paul virtually equates salvation with eternal glory (cf. 1 Pet. 1:3f.; 2 Pet. 1:11). I am unaware of any reference in the NT to hope of a new or redeemed physical creation which in any case appears to be contradicted by 1 Corinthians 15:50 and 2 Cor. 4:16-18, for example. In other words, if Paul is hoping for the redemption of a sin-sick creation, Romans 8:18-25 is the only place where he even hints at the idea.
It is difficult to be dogmatic about Paul’s meaning. Since both can arguably be said to make sense, it is perhaps better not to attempt to be too specific but to regard the verse as being transitional with the tendency of the evidence pointing towards “creature”. It must be remembered that Paul was probably dictating and allowed precision to escape him.
Dunn completes his comment on this verse by asserting that there is now general agreement that ‘subjected’ is a divine passive, but adds on the basis of no evidence whatsoever “with reference particularly to Gen 3:17-18” (p.470). The truth is that creation was subjected to corruption from the beginning precisely because it had a beginning! It was made that way and was by nature temporal (cf. Gen. 1:1).
The first point to note here is the way Paul expresses himself: literally, “because also (even) itself the creature/creation …”. This is rather odd unless the apostle is drawing specific attention to man as opposed to creation in general. This view is supported by verse 23 where human adoption is again the subject matter. Moreover, the words ‘eis ten eleutherian’ (with a view to the freedom) suggest purpose or destiny/destination uniquely applicable to man (cf. Fung, p.216 and note Gal. 4:26 on which see my Another Shot at Romans 8:18-25), and the idea that the inanimate and even animate creation can somehow obtain or share the freedom of the sons of God is surely dubious in the extreme.
Next, as has already been implied, the notion that creation will be set free from its bondage to decay or corruption to share in the freedom of the sons of God is an addition to Scripture. (See further my essay Adding to Scripture in Romans). What is more, while it would appear to be absurd on the one hand, it is clearly contradicted elsewhere on the other (e.g. Mt. 24:35, 1 Cor. 15:50; 2 Cor. 4:18, cf. Mt. 6:19f.; 1 Pet. 1:3f.). The only way in which the “hand-made” temporal creation can be regarded as being set free from its divinely imposed bondage is by death (destruction, 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, etc.) like the fleshly body which is its corollary (2 Cor. 5:1, cf. 1 Cor. 6:13; Col. 3:5), the law (Gal. 2:19; Rom. 10:4), sin (Rom. 7:8), the elemental spirits (Col. 2:20) even death itself (Heb. 2:14f.), etc. Paul himself specifically affirms that flesh and blood, which are part of the corruptible creation (cf. Isa. 50:9; 51:6,8; Heb. 1:10-12), cannot inherit the (eternal) kingdom of God and that the inherently corruptible cannot inherit incorruption (1 Cor. 15:50). (See further my articles The Corruptibility Of Creation, Concerning Futility, Escape) It is imperative to note, however, that the creature man who derived from the corruptible earth (Gen. 2:7, cf. 1 Cor. 15:45-49) and was hence, in contrast with his Creator, both mortal and corruptible (Rom. 1:23), was promised liberation from death and corruption at the very beginning of his career on condition of exercising dominion and keeping the law (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:16f.; Ps. 8:5f., cf. Rom. 7:9f.). In the event, he failed, and the condition was not met by anyone until Jesus, the second Adam, came and conquered (John 16:33; 2 Tim. 1:10; Heb. 2:9, cf. 1 John 4:9). (See further my essay Christ the Conqueror)
There is another easily overlooked point to make. The freedom of the children of God is that of glory (doxa), which stands in sharp contrast with the bondage to corruption and futility of the material creation of the present age (cf. v.18; 5:2; 2 Cor. 4:17). This clearly corresponds with 8:30 where those who love God (as opposed to this world, 1 John 2:17) are glorified (edoxasen). The freedom of glory in other words excludes the material creation (including the flesh) which is by nature in bondage to corruption (cf. John 3:1-8; 1 Cor. 15:50 and note espec. Col. 3:1-5a, where sin is not mentioned).
So I am compelled to conclude that Paul means “creature” here.
There can be no argument about this verse. The apostle is clearly referring, apparently in contrast with the creature referred to in verse 21, to the whole creation, which has been primed like a pregnant woman to producing potential sons of God. (It is worth noting that Jesus’ subject in John 16:21 is the joy that a woman experiences when she gives birth, though Paul gives pregnancy a different though related connotation in 1 Thessalonians. 5:3. In Genesis 35:16-21 Rachel’s death nonetheless means life for Benjamin, cf. Heb. 7:23.) As Jesus expressed it, the field that produces the harvest of which he himself was the first fruits by resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20,23) is the world (Mt. 13:38, cf. Rev. 14:14-20).
There is more here than at first meets the eye and is easily overlooked. In 1 Thessalonians 5:3 Paul is speaking metaphorically about the day of the Lord (v.2) not about a new material creation. In the normal run of things, since a woman brings forth a child in her own image, we might expect creation to do the same. But that is clearly not the case for a number of reasons: there is no eternal covenant with creation (cf. Gen. 8:22; Mt. 24:35), no physical rebirth (John 3:4), creation is asexual, that is, though in the purpose of God it is highly productive (Gen. 1:11ff.), unlike the creature it is sterile and incapable of reproducing itself. In any case the perishable cannot inherit the imperishable and a repeated creation like repeated animal sacrifices would be futile. What creation, like the field Jesus mentioned, is pregnant with is the harvest of the sons and daughters of God and in conformity with what is taught elsewhere, labour pains must (Gk dei) of necessity (Mark 13:7f.) take place prior to the birth of that harvest which brings its own anguish (cf. Luke 21:23; John 16:21). Thus Jesus tells us in Luke 21:34-36 (cf. 17:26-30) that the trap will of necessity be sprung, and like Paul he might have added, as surely as a pregnant woman will give birth (cf. John 16:20f.). Furthermore, it will have a universal impact (cf. v.33; Heb. 9:27) as Hebrews 12:26-29 and 2 Peter 3,7,10-12, for example, tell us.
In Galatians 4:19 Paul uses the same imagery somewhat differently but just as surely metaphorically. Here he pictures himself as being pregnant and experiencing the pains of childbirth (cf. Rom. 8:23; 2 Cor. 5:2,4). But what he gives birth to as he is led by the Spirit is not a physical child in his own image (cf. Adam in Gen. 5:3) but significantly a spiritual person formed in the image of Christ.
There is another point worth making. It is passing strange that Paul should deal at length with Israel in Romans 9-11 but fail to mention a promise of land which was one of the three great blessings promised to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-7. On the contrary, while he pictures representative men and women being saved (cf. Lot), the land is sentenced to destruction as at Sodom and Gomorrah (Rom. 9:27-29). In other words, he teaches precisely what Jesus taught in Luke 17:28-30. Presumably he took this so much for granted that he does not even go so far as the author of Hebrews who taught in no uncertain terms that the land Abraham aspired to and yearned for was heavenly (Heb. 11:8-16, cf. Mt. 8:11).
All this surely excludes a new but sinless edition of the present material creation replacing the present one cursed by sin as in Augustinian theology. Rather as Romans 8:18 implies, it points to the glorious already-existing age to come which eventually replaces the present ‘evil’ age (Gal. 1:4; 2 Cor. 4:16-18) even as the spiritual body replaces the present body of dust (1 Cor. 15:47-49; 2 Cor. 5:1). While it may be true that sin plays its own role (Rom. 8:10), it does so aided and abetted as it were by prevalent but temporal materiality which is doomed by nature to corruption (cf. Gal. 4:21-31 on which see my Another Shot at Romans 8:18-25).
Here the change of subject from creation to creature is manifest. The whole creation referred to in verse 22 is now contrastively reduced to “we ourselves”, that is, believing men and women who have the first fruits of the Spirit (surely implying an eschatological spiritual harvest) and who groan inwardly as we wait for (the fullness of) adoption and the eventual redemption of our bodies (but certainly not first Adamic flesh). (5* Typology is helpful at this point. Note the groaning of the Israelites in bondage, Ex. 2:23-25, cf. 2 Cor.5:2,4. They eventually escape by faith from bondage in Egypt as we as exiles in this world, 1 Pet. 1:1,17; 2:11, cf. Rom. 12:2, escape from the bondage of creation. Loving this world now, e.g. 1 John 2:17, is like wanting to return to the fleshpots of Egypt, Ex. 16:3; 17:3; Num. 11:4f. which is anathema, cf. Acts 7:39; 1 Cor. 10:5,10, etc. See further my No Going Back)
The correspondence between verse 23b (“adoption, the redemption of our bodies”) and verse 21 (“the freedom of the glory of the children of God”) strongly suggests that the subject is the same in both cases. The material creation is implicitly excluded.
It has to be said with regret, however, that many writers who fail to distinguish between the flesh (sarx) and the body (soma), also fail to understand John 3:1-8 correctly. Here Jesus is referring not to sin (the Augustinian view) but to human nature as created, that is, as corruptible flesh, hence the absolute necessity as opposed to imperative of spiritual birth or birth from above for entry into the kingdom of God. Thus they do not take seriously Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 15:50-53 (cf. 2 Cor. 4:7,16-5:10) and apparently assume the redemption of our present fleshly bodies (or of bodies continuous with them). In other words, they adopt the stance of Nicodemus who thought in terms of fleshly regeneration which is implicitly denied by Jesus not least in 3:6. Some even infer from the physical (fleshly) resurrection of Jesus who did not see corruption (cf. Luke 24:39, etc.) the renewal of the corruptible material world, though, since the incarnate Jesus himself had to undergo transformation (cf. John 17:5,24) in order to ascend to his Father (John 20:17; 1 Cor. 15:51f., cf. Phil. 3:21), there is clearly no connection! (6* On this see further my Thoughts on the Redemption of Creation, When Was Jesus Transformed?, Did Jesus Rise Physically From The Grave? etc.) In light of 1 Corinthians 15:42-49, not to mention biblical anthropology in general, this is impossible. The visible physical/material is by definition temporal/temporary (Gen. 1:1; 2 Cor. 4:18; Heb. 1:10-12) and subject to destruction/corruption (Gen. 8:22; Heb. 6:7f.; 12:27-29; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12; 1 John 2:17; Rev. 6:14; 16:20; 20:11; 21:1). We have only to open our eyes and contemplate our environment to realize along with Henry Francis Lyte that “change and decay all around I see”. (7* See further my articles Restoration and Resurrection, Regarding the Restoration of Creation, The Destruction of the Material Creation, Restoration and Replacement, From Here to Eternity, Will Creation Be Redeemed?, Geisler on the Redemption of Creation, Fruitlessness and Destruction ,The Correspondence Between Romans 8:12-25 and 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10, etc.)
Verses 24 & 25
At this point Paul returns to the theme of hope (cf. v.20). Here there can be no doubt at all that its subject is man. Only conscious human beings can entertain specific, notably invisible, hope, though not all of them if they lack an adequate basis on which to build their hope (cf. Eph. 2:12; 1 Thes. 4:13). As it is, man who has the evidence of the gospel can hope in the full assurance of faith (Heb. 11:1) for what is eternal (i.e. heavenly glory, cf. Col. 1:5; 3:1-4; 1 Pet. 1:3f.) which being invisible is by definition non-material (2 Cor. 4:18, cf. 5:6-8). (8* See my Faith and Invisibility – Seeing the Invisible) This being so, the redemption of the physical body and its corollary the re-creation or restoration of the material universe are inexorably excluded and can only be included on the basis of a glaring contradiction.
So, on the assumption that my reasoning is correct I conclude that Paul is using the word ktisis in two senses as verse 23 in particular indicates (cf. e.g. the two houses in 2 Sam. 7. Note also the comment of Grudem on 1 Peter 4:6 denying the necessity of a word used twice in close succession to mean the same, pp.171f. This assertion raises questions regarding the meaning of Israel in Romans 11.). He refers first to the whole creation’s expectation of the revelation of the sons of God (v.19); then to the subjection of creation in hope. Then in verse 21 in view of the ‘also itself’ he refers exclusively to the creature.
Next, in verse 22 he reverts to the whole creation before returning to the creature man (vv.23-25).
Alternatively and simply expressed, verses 19 and 20 correspond with verse 22, and verse 21 corresponds with verse 23. Thus it is we, not the physical creation, who are saved.
(It is worth adding here that both creation and creature appear in OT texts like Jer. 10:10; 50:46; 51:29 and Isa. 13:19f. Babylon comprehends both land and people. Luke 17:28-30, cf. Rev. 18:9, is certainly a propos in the NT.)
Notes on the translation of Romans 8:18-23
Given that there is a strong contrast between this age and the age to come (8:18, cf. Luke 20:34-36; 2 Cor. 4:17; Eph. 1:20f., etc.), it is reasonable to assume that this contrast will be apparent in the passage taken as a whole. In light of this, though my own training was linguistic but not specifically in Greek, I find the inconsistency in the various translations disturbing. Failing to recognize the obvious change in subject, translators seem all too eager to distort its meaning in favour of a preconceived theology. This becomes apparent once we realize that the important word ‘kai’ is frequently omitted (e.g. in the NIV, ESV), implicitly rendering it redundant and turning what should be a translation into an interpretative paraphrase.
I would therefore make the following simple point: if the word ‘kai’ in verse 21 and in verse 23 is consistently translated ‘also’, the meaning of the passage in general is much easier to follow. Thus when the ASV, regarded by many as the most literal and accurate translation, refers to ‘the creation also’ it is at odds with itself, for if the ‘also’ here is valid, then it must refer to the ‘creature’ not the ‘creation’. In other words, since the creation has already been referred to in verses 19 and 20, the ‘also’ clearly renders the translation ‘creation’ odd if not absurd. Again in verse 23 where ‘kai’ appears twice, the rendering ‘also’ makes the meaning, involving the distinction between the creation referred to in verse 22 and the creature which is the subject of verse 23, manifest. (Cf. ‘also’ in Rom. 11:31, for example.)
To clinch the issue we may observe that if the modern translation of verse 21 is accepted, then we are compelled to conclude that Paul was at odds with himself and that his theology was inherently contradictory. For, first, in 1 Corinthians 15:50b he tells us plainly that the perishable cannot inherit the imperishable. Then, second, in 2 Corinthians 4:18 he says that the visible is by nature temporary. This is particularly relevant to our understanding of Romans 8:18-25 since here he insists that our hope is invisible.
(It is interesting to note that while Stott refuses, rightly in my view, to be stampeded by general consistency of language in 2 Thessalonians 2:13 and opts for ‘from the beginning’ rather than for ‘firstfruits’ on the grounds that the latter though adopted by textual critics “has no obvious meaning here” (p.176), he fails to reach the same conclusion with regard to Romans 8:21 where the idea that creation as opposed to the creature will “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” makes obvious nonsense. The reason for this would seem to be his extremely dubious belief that creation will be redeemed, p.240, on which see my various articles relating to this subject. The danger of allowing a questionable preconceived theology or worldview to control exegesis is plain for all to see.)
While it is evident that the whole of creation is geared to revealing the glory of God (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:20, etc.), especially that of Jesus (Col. 1:15-20, cf. 1 Cor. 15:24-28), and to the achievement of human salvation (cf. Rom. 8:28), faced with the full context of Romans 8 it is difficult to deny that Paul’s prime interest is the creature man who alone is made in the image of God. He is affirming that once their probation has been completed, human beings are intended to escape from their bondage to the sufferings of the corruptible and futile material creation, of which their flesh is a part, and attain to glory as the (adopted) sons of God (cf. Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 4:17; Col. 1:5,27; Heb. 2:10f.). Only man as the spiritual image of God as opposed to corruptible (animal) flesh can hope to do this. Only man can share God’s glory (Rom. 5:2) and nature (2 Pet. 1:4) for he alone through faith in Christ can escape enslavement to visible flesh (Rom. 6:16; 2 Pet. 2:18-20) and live in the spirit like God (1 Pet. 1:9; 4:6; 2 Pet. 1:3f.).
In contrast with Galatians 1:4 the apostle makes no reference to sin in these verses (cf. 2 Cor. 4:17). (The question needs to be asked if Paul is concerned exclusively with sin in this verse. In the light of Isaiah 45:7, cf. 42:16; Amos 3:6, for example, ‘evil’ may be seen as existing apart from sin.) Sin is, however, of basic importance since it prevents man’s escape from his body of death (Rom. 7:24). Hence the strong stress on justification which contrary to traditional thinking precedes the granting of life or the reception of the Spirit (Lev. 18:5). (9* See further my essay Escape, The Order of Salvation) It is, however, dealt with by Christ (Rom. 8:2f., cf. Heb. 9:28), and the promise of the eternal glory and life originally made to Adam on condition of exercising dominion and keeping the commandment is achieved in him, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2, cf. 2:9f.). He who descended (Eph. 4:9), ascended where he was before (John 3:13), that is, to glory (John 17:5,24; Eph. 4:10) with his brothers in his train (Heb. 2:10-13; 1 Pet. 3:18) having brought life and incorruption (Gk.) to light (2 Tim. 1:10).
Ten Riders or Supplementary Comments
The subject of verses 12-17 immediately prior to 8:18-25 is the believer’s spiritual as opposed to fleshly adoption. The dualism that exists between flesh and spirit here is patent (cf. John 6:63; James 2:26; Job 34:14f.; Ps. 104:29, etc.). Nurturing our flesh even apart from sin leads inevitably to the spirit of bondage and fear that pervaded the pagan and indeed the animal world (cf. Heb. 2:14f.). In light of this, it is difficult indeed to see how verse 21 in particular can apply to the creation as opposed to the creature who is made in the image of God and has been born again by the Spirit (John 1:12f.; 3:1-8). As I have intimated above, the traditional Augustinian interpretation of John 3:1-8 is plainly false. What is at issue is the nature of man created as a flesh/spirit dualism and needing to be born of the Spirit (cf. 1:13) if he is to attain to the glory of God who is spirit (cf. 1 Pet. 4:6; 2 Pet. 1:4). He can only do this by becoming his spiritual child (John 1:12f.; Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 4:7; 1 John 3:1f.).
To suggest that creation, which is God’s footstool, needs redemption, let alone adoption (cf. Jos. 10:16-27), assumes that when Adam sinned a cosmic curse was the result and that creation is “fallen” apparently from the perfection that characterizes the Creator God alone. This notion derives from Augustine, not the Bible to which it is antithetic (see further my Cosmic Curse?). Creation, like the Promised Land (Num. 14:7) though temporal, was originally ‘good’ in the sense that it served a temporary purpose. According to Paul it is still ‘good’ (1 Tim. 4:3f., cf. 1 Cor. 10:26,30f.). Even if man had exercised dominion as he should have done (cf. Dt. 28:1-14), creation’s natural liability to decay would not have been overcome. (It is strange how Augustinians attribute a cosmic curse to Adam yet fail to recognize that it was not immediately reversed by the second Adam, cf. Heb. 2:8f.) That was why Jesus, whose own flesh (though corruptible like all flesh) did not see corruption, had to undergo transformation at his ascension (cf. John 20:17; 1 Cor. 15:50ff.). His indestructible life (Heb. 7:16, etc.) and heavenly reign (Luke 1:32f., etc.) are not maintained in corruptible flesh but in a body of glory (Phil. 3:21)! And he will certainly not return to earth in the flesh (Acts 13:34) since he is forever spatially separate(d) from sinners (Heb. 7:26, cf. 4:14; Eph. 1:20f.; 4:10).
As intimated above, Paul, like Jesus (e.g. Luke 20:34-36), differentiates between the present age of physical corruption and the age of eternal glory to come (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17; Eph. 1:21; Col. 3:1-4). These are intrinsically different, and the former will ultimately give way to or be replaced by the latter (cf. Heb. 10:9b). (10* In what is in many ways an excellent book, Salvation Belongs To Our God, cf. his The Mission of God, Chris Wright recognizes that the age to come like the city of God is eternal, e.g. p.179. If it is, then the new creation he anticipates already exists, cf. Heb. 9:11f., and will not be a fresh creation. Given our earthly perspective, it is simply new to us. The re-creation or redemption of the material universe, which according to the Augustinian view is necessary because of sin, is therefore redundant. It is worth noting that if creation including Adam and Eve was originally perfect, it was not intrinsically faulty despite Heb. 7:18f.; 8:7 and in need of replacement, Heb. 1:10-12. If it is replied that sin was the problem, the same might be said with regard to the old covenant which was broken. But this is to miss the author of Hebrews’ point which is that the old covenant was inherently defective even apart from sin. The inference I draw from this is that while both creation and the law are said to be ‘good’, they are not said to be perfect as recognition that creation is inherently shakable seems to imply. So I conclude that the Augustinian claim that creation was originally perfect as opposed to being merely good or serviceable is a major error. And it follows from this that its redemption was never on the cards, least of all in Romans 8:18-25. On the other hand, if there is to be a literally new creation, it will have a beginning, and hence an end, like the first, cf. Heb. 7:3. In other words, it will not be eternal, and this spells disaster for our own eternal life as the children of God. It is ironic that those who hotly deny (biblical) dualism end up with a Greek view of (cyclical and non-teleological) time. The repetition or re-creation of creation they advocate denies their initial premise that the original creation was perfect but was then marred by sin! What is more, if a repeated sacrifice is ultimately futile, so is a repeated creation. How much simpler it is to recognize that the material cosmos including the flesh was temporal from the start, Gen. 1:1; Heb. 1:10-12, and was never intended to last forever even when it was given a covenantal guarantee under Noah, Gen. 8:22, cf. Isa. 54:9f. Though it was ‘good’, that is, served a purpose like the law, it was destined for destruction from the beginning in accordance with the eternal plan of salvation for man in the image of God, cf. Rom. 8:29; Heb. 1:3,6. Note also the contradiction in Hughes, Hebrews, pp.291f., a convinced restorationist, 2 Corinthians, p.209, who though recognizing that this present world is the realm of the transitory still believes in the renewal of all things. He has apparently failed to understand that the temporary and the perishable (corruptible) are inherently incapable of inheriting the imperishable, 1 Cor. 15:50; 2 Cor. 4:18. Sin is not in the picture!).
It is hard to square the modern translation and understanding of Romans 8:18-25 involving the redemption (adoption) of creation with Paul’s teaching elsewhere. Paul always gives the impression that at death he is going to the eternal heaven to which he has been called (Phil. 3:14, cf. Heb. 3:1; 1 Pet. 5:10; 2 Pet. 1:11), to the celestial city of which he is already a citizen (Phil. 3:20, cf. Eph. 2:6) to the new Jerusalem which already exists (Gal. 4:26, cf. Heb.12:22f.), to the place where Jesus was, to which he returned (Eph. 1:20f.; 4:9f.) and remains (2 Tim. 4:8,18, cf. 2 Cor. 4:14 and so forth. (11* In the OT, though the temporary Promised Land was unseen, it already existed. It was reached only by faith, cf. 2 Cor. 5:7, and those who were faithless and disobedient did not arrive.) And it is from heaven that Jesus will return (but not to earth) in the glory of God (Luke 9:26, etc.) like Moses to rescue his people from the bondage of sin, death and decay (Tit. 2:13; Heb. 9:28) and take them to be forever with him in his eternal kingdom (1 Thes. 4:17; 2 Pet. 1:11; John 14:2f., cf. Luke 16:9; Rev. 11:12). (12* Presentation, 1 Cor. 15:24; 2 Cor. 4:14; 11:2; Col. 1:28; 1 Thes. 4:14, etc., cf. John 14:2f., is a neglected doctrine among believers.) In 1 Corinthians 15:42-49 after clearly differentiating between a spiritual body and natural one that is made of dust, the apostle flatly denies that the corruptible can inherit the incorruptible (15:50, cf. John 3:6). In 2 Corinthians 4:18, like the author of Hebrews, he distinguishes between the temporary visible and the eternal invisible (cf. Rom. 8:24f.; 1:20). His implication in chapter 5:6-8 is the same where the material creation acts as a barrier between God and man. Again in 4:16f. Paul differentiates between our momentary corruptibility and affliction on the one hand (cf. Gal. 1:4) and our eternal weight of glory on the other. It also needs to be remembered that Jesus having assumed human nature was incarnate only “for a little while” (Heb. 2:7,9) before, having brought life and incorruption (Gk) to light (2 Tim. 1:10), he was crowned with glory (cf. John 17:5,24; Phil. 3:21) and honour (Heb. 2:7,9) as King of kings (Rev. 19:16). (The reason why he was incarnate only “for a little while” is that as one who was naturally aging, Luke 3:23, etc., like the creation from which he stemmed, Heb. 1:11, through his mother, he also was wasting away, 2 Cor. 4:16! Having overcome death, he escaped corruption by ascending to heaven. See further my When Was Jesus Transformed?, Did Jesus Rise Physically From The Grave?)
Yet another point must be made. In 2 Corinthians 3 Paul underscores the provisional and impermanent nature of the law. Elsewhere, like Jesus (see Mt. 5:18 in contrast with 24:35), he links the impermanence of the law and its visible mark, circumcision (Rom. 2:28), with the impermanence of the creature (Rom. 7:1), and hence of its corollary creation. In brief, the old covenant relates to this temporal world (cf. Heb. 7:16; 9:10), the new to the eternal world to come, to the heavenly country/city/kingdom (Heb. 11:10,16; 13:14; 2 Pet. 1:11) where righteousness already dwells (Mt. 6:10,33; 5:6,10,20; 2 Pet. 3:13).
If Romans 8:21 supports the redemption of the material creation, then we are logically forced to believe that Paul teaches its corollary, the redemption of the flesh (sarx, as opposed to the body, soma, on which see e.g. Dunn, pp.70-73, cf. Romans p.391) which derives from it. But Paul, like Jesus (John 3:1-8), specifically denies this (1 Cor. 15:50, cf. 2 Cor. 4:18; 5:6,8). The inference is unavoidable: Romans 8:21 refers to the ‘creature’ not to the ‘creation’. Modern translators have got it wrong. (13* It is important to add here that the tendentious NIV in particular unwarrantably ethicizes the flesh by translating sarx as ‘sinful nature’ even in Romans 8:13 and Galatians 6:8. Again, false theology and worldview are at the root of this dreadful distortion of the obvious meaning. See further my Worldview, The Biblical Worldview. Even when man, John 6:31, like the animals, Ps. 104:21, is physically fed directly by God, he nonetheless dies, John 6:49, cf. Ps. 49, etc. It is only if he eats spiritual food that he can hope to live forever, John 6:50, cf. Mt. 4:4. Those who do not so eat die like sinless animals, cf. Ps. 49; Eccl. 3:18-20; 2 Pet. 2:12; Jude 10, but they will be judged as sinful men.)
When those who are dominated by the flesh like animals are destroyed (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11,13; Phil. 3:19; 2 Pet. 2:12, etc.), so is their habitat (cf. 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12). (14* Why so? it may be asked. The answer surely lies in the fact that when the land is uninhabited it is desolate and useless, cf. Isa. 6:11-13, etc. It has lost its raison d’etre, cf. Isa. 45:18; Heb. 6:7f., like the earthly temple when it is left desolate, Mt. 23:38, on which see France, pp.883f. A field or tree is useless if it fails to produce fruit, cf. Luke 13:6-9. See further my Fruitlessness and Destruction. This is why the resurrection of Jesus as first fruits is so important, 1 Cor. 15:17,20,23. The same is true once its harvest has been reaped and the purpose of its existence has been achieved. In Revelation 7 creation is not harmed until the servants of God have been sealed. In other words, creation exists for the sake of man in Christ, 1 Cor. 15:24-28; Col. 1:15-20. And it is ironic that “those who dwell on the earth” who kill God’s servants are completing the number of the latter and hence hastening their own destruction, Rev. 6:11. Creation’s ultimate end is the glory of the God of salvation, Rom. 11:33-36; Rev. 4,5,7.) Sodom and Gomorrah are referred to by Jesus to illustrate what happens at the end (Luke 17:29f., cf. 2 Pet. 2:6; 3:7,10-12; Jer. 7:20; Nah. 1:5-15; Zeph. 1:2f.,18; 3:8; etc.). Those like Ishmael (Gal. 4:30) and Esau (Heb. 12:16) who invest in this world and make it their portion (in contrast with Paul who crucifies both the flesh and the world) will find themselves bereft of all (cf. Ps. 16:5; 17:14; 73:3-7; Gal. 6:7f.) when all transient created things are destroyed (Rom. 1:20; Heb. 12:27, cf. 1 Pet. 1:18). Those who are devoted to their bellies (Phil. 3:19, cf. Rom. 16:18) will find that their bellies are destroyed (1 Cor. 6:13). It is thus tragic irony that Muslim suicide bombers destroy the very flesh by which they hope to enjoy their seventy virgins! In the event their flesh being corruptible and by nature transient is irreplaceable (John 3:1-8, cf. Heb. 9:27 and 1 Pet. 3:4).
Just as the earthly temple is destroyed and replaced by the heavenly, so is the earth itself. (Note that the temple, Mark 14:58, the earth, Heb. 1:10, and the fleshly body, 2 Cor. 5:1, are all ‘hand-made’ and hence pejorative. It is important to recognize that the earthly paradise where man began, that is, the ‘womb’ of mankind, is different from the heavenly paradise to which Jesus, along with the repentant thief, returned; it is the bosom of the Father, cf. John 14:2.) Thus Paul tells his Colossian readers to put to death what is earthly, rather than sinful, in them (Col. 3:1-5a). The intrinsic contrast between heaven, the throne of God, and the earth, his footstool which is subject to the ban imposed by both OT and NT Joshuas alike (cf. Dt. 13:16; Jos. 6:24; 8:28; 10:24; 2 Thes. 1:8; 2:8; Rev. 19 and 20), is plain. No wonder man’s first task was to exercise dominion over the earth. (Cf. the earthly “tent” of flesh that Peter puts off in 2 Peter 1:13f. See also Hughes’ note on the tent metaphor in 2 Tim. 4:6 and Phil. 1:23, Heb. p.162 n.18. Like Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1, he is convinced that since he has been born again of imperishable seed, 1 Pet. 1:23, an eternal inheritance remains in store for him in heaven, 1 Pet. 1:3f.) And the idea that God is to come out of his eternal rest to re-make, redeem, transform, restore, rejuvenate, regenerate or even repristinate the material creation is surely a figment of fevered Augustinian fancy. If it is not, let’s hope that millions, even billions, of years of evolution are not involved!
Apart from its implications (with which I hope to deal later) the redemption of the physical creation imports either a prodigious paradox or, more likely, a complete contradiction into the Bible which pervasively teaches the essential temporality and transience of the visible material universe.
Finally, there is surely a typological element involved in Romans 8:18-25. For just as the sinless Jesus as a true Israelite had to endure bondage in Egypt (Mt. 2:15) followed by captivity under the law (Gal. 3:23, cf. Rom. 7:6), so simply by dint of his incarnation and projected redemption of his fellows (Gal. 4:1-5) he had to experience bondage to the flesh and to creation as such (cf. Rom. 8:3). However, by meeting the condition of life (Gen. 2:16f., Lev. 18:5), he conquered both with the devil to boot (John 16:33; Heb. 2:9; Rev. 5:5). It was only after his death and resurrection on behalf of his people that he made his final triumphant escape by returning to his heavenly glory (John 17:5) as the pioneer of the people he had redeemed (John 17:24; Heb. 2:10-13; 1 Pet. 3:18). Just as Moses and Joshua led their people out of Egyptian bondage into the temporary Promised Land, so Jesus led his into eternal heavenly territory (Heb. 6:19f.; 11:16; 12:2) to enjoy the freedom of the glory of the sons of God (Rom. 8:21). And it needs to be added furthermore that just as for Israel there was to be no return to (bondage in) Egypt (Dt. 17:16; 28:68), so for Jesus and his saints there is to be no return to the corruption of creation (Acts 13:34. See further my No Return To Corruption).
So again I conclude that the modern translation and exegesis of Romans 8:18-25 is based on flawed theology and a false worldview. It makes Paul contradict both himself and the rest of the NT. It makes the apostle say the opposite of what he actually did say. (15* Since writing the above I have grappled with “The Forgotten Christ” ed. S.Clark, 2007, in my Did Jesus Rise Physically From The Grave? It relates to the above.)
Creation: A Summary
Since creation is epitomized in man who derives from it as creation in miniature, we can assert the following:
Just as creation has a beginning, so it will have an end (Gen. 1:1; Mt. 24:35; 2 Cor. 5:1).
It is ‘hand-made’ (cheiropoietos) like man himself (Isa. 45:12; Job 10:8; Ps. 119:73). It is therefore physically visible (cf. Rom. 1:20), impermanent, inadequate, imperfect, subject to futility and corruption and is hence intrinsically defective. It stands in contrast with what is ‘not hand-made’ (acheiropoietos), invisible and eternal (2 Cor. 4:18; Col. 2:11; Heb. 1:10-12; 9:11,24).
Though it is ‘good’ or useful like the ‘hand-written’ (Col. 2:14) law to which it relates (cf. Heb. 7:16; 9:10), it is temporary, provisional and slated to pass away once it has served its purpose as a testing ground for man (Mt. 5:18 contrast 24:35; 1 John 2:17, etc.). Note also the temporary Promised Land (Heb. 3 & 4) which, like the law which related to it, was very good (Num. 14:7).
All created things are ultimately destined to destruction (Rom. 1:20; 2 Cor. 4:18; 1 Pet. 1:18; Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, etc.), so that God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28) when the eschatological restoration or harmonization takes place (Acts 3:21).
Like all the offspring of dusty Adam including Jesus (John 8:57), it is growing old (Heb. 1:11, cf. Luke 12:33; 2 Cor. 4:16; Col. 2:22; 1 Pet. 1:3f.) and is in bondage to corruption. As such, it is destined to disappear (Heb. 8:13, cf. 2 Cor. 4:16).
Since it is inherently corruptible, though, like the human body that derives from it, capable of temporary restoration, repair or healing (1 K. 13:6, etc.), it can never be finally redeemed (John 3:1-8; 1 Cor. 15:50; 2 Cor. 4:18). It requires replacement by what is permanent and unshakable (Heb. 9:11; 12:27f.).
Investment in this futile world (cf. Eccles.; Rom. 8:20) leads necessarily not simply to sin but also to sheer futility. All those who sow to corruption, like Ishmael and Esau (Gal. 4:30; Heb. 12:17), reap it (Gal.6:7f., cf. Rom. 8:13). It is man, the image and likeness of God, who is glorified, not his flesh (cf. 1 Sam. 16:7; 1 Pet. 3:3f.; Ps. 147:8-11; 33:12-18; Isa. 3:24; 31:3; Jer. 17:5, cf. 2 Chr. 32:8). Continuity is achieved in body and personal identity.
Under the temporary old covenant God reveals himself somewhat obscurely on earth (cf. Heb. 1:1f.); under the eternal new covenant he finally reveals himself in heaven (Rev. 22:3f., cf. 2 Cor. 5:6-8). The revelation is then the goal of man, the culmination of the purpose of God (1 Pet. 1:5-9, cf. Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17f.).
My Case in a Nutshell
At the end of the day the mere fact that the incarnate but sinless Jesus in contrast with God his Father (Ps. 102:25-27) grew older (Luke 3:23; John 8:57) and had to be transformed (John 20:17; 1 Cor. 15:50-55; Phil. 3:21) proves beyond doubt that creation is corruptible by nature and is not simply the consequence of sin.
A Final Question
If 1 Corinthians 15:50-54 teach that the inherently corruptible (perishable) cannot inherit the imperishable and John 3:1-8 implies the same, how can it be convincingly argued that Romans 8:18-25 teach the redemption of the corruptible creation (cf. Heb. 1:10-12)?
Additional Note 1
It can hardly escape notice that if as I argue the old covenant is temporary (2 Cor. 3; Heb. 8:13, etc.) and it relates to this world (Heb. 12:18-21), the flesh in particular (Heb. 7:16; 9:10, etc.), the world itself, like the flesh which is its product, is also temporary (cf. Mt. 5:18; Rom. 7:1, contrast 24:35). On the other hand, the eternal new covenant relates to the permanent spiritual, to the abiding heavenly.
Additional Note 2
John 8:31-36, which deals with the freedom of sons, reminds us in some ways of Romans 8:18-25. There is little question, however, that Jesus is dealing with sin at this point. On the other hand, we should also note that Paul teaches that just as both creation and creature are in bondage, so is the present Jerusalem which is linked with Sinai, Hagar and Ishmael (Gal. 4:21-31). Thus the apostle tells us explicitly that Ishmael and all he represents cannot share the inheritance with the child of the free woman. In Galatians 4:30, in contrast with John 8:35, the point is not Ishmael’s slavery to sin but his natural condition as a child of the flesh who as such cannot remain in the house forever (1 Cor. 15:50, cf. Luke 15:31). (16* See further my Another Shot at Romans 8:18-25)
Additional Note 3
Further to my reference to John 3:1-8 above and the absolute necessity (as opposed to moral imperative) of the new birth (cf. also necessary transformation in 1 Cor. 15:50-54), it is worth noting with regard to the end-times that universal physical distress will necessarily occur (cf. Luke 21:20-24). While Luke 13:1-5 noticeably distinguish between sin and natural corruption, Luke 21: 23,35 do the same. The effects of the end will obviously affect not merely people but the entire earth itself (see e.g. vv.25f.; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12 and cf. Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:24-29 and Luke 17:28-30). Regarding the word ananke (distress) used in Luke 21:23, BAG refers to “necessity, compulsion of any kind … brought about by the nature of things …” (p.52). See also NIDNTT, 2, pp. 662-666. My inference is that these verses and others like them support my contention regarding the natural corruptibility and provisional nature of the physical creation plainly implied by Romans 8:18-25. (17* See further my Not Only But Also)
Additional Note 4 – The Book of Revelation and Romans 8:18-25
On the assumption that the book of Revelation is an apocalyptic summary of the gospel, it can doubtless make its contribution to our understanding of Romans 8:18-25.
The Four Living Creatures
Many commentators would have us believe that the four living creatures of 4:6, etc., represent nature or the entire animate creation (e.g. Beasley-Murray, p. 117). Wilcock, to whom I am indebted more than to anyone else for my understanding of the book as a whole, is particularly strong in his adoption of a similar view. He suggests (though one wonders why) that just as the twenty-four elders stand for the church, the four living creatures with which they are associated stand for the world (p.64). On page 68 he baldly asserts that “The world of nature, which was cursed when man was cursed (Gen. 3:17), is also to be redeemed (Rom. 8:19-21). So nature joins the church in praising God, and for both he is not only Creator (4:11) but also Redeemer (5:9,10). Their song is even more glorious than that of the angels, who though they praise the slain Lamb, yet ‘know not Christ as Saviour, but worship him as King’”.
In response, I would make the following observations. First, on page 78 in comment on Seal 6, far from positing the earth’s redemption Wilcock appears to deny its continued existence. Second, man insofar as he is flesh epitomizes the creation from which he stems. Thus since flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50), it should hardly occasion surprise that Jesus insists on the necessity of the new birth (John 3). But, if flesh cannot be redeemed, neither can the earth from which it stemmed. They are both of a piece. Third, Wilcock’s assertion prompts the question: Does creation know him as Saviour? In contrast with the angels who are differentiated from the four living creatures (cf. 5:11; 7:11), nature, both animate and inanimate apart from man, knows nothing at all and can be said to praise God only metaphorically (cf. Ps. 19: Rom. 1:20). (As I argue in my Did God Make a Covenant with Creation? nature simply does as it is commanded.) Fourth, it is noticeable that in Revelation 5 the four living creatures join with the twenty-four elders (cf. 4:4-11; 5:8,14; 19:4, cf. 7:11; 14:3) in singing a new song (5:9) giving glory to God and the Lamb who was slaughtered. By his blood he ransomed saints who serve as a kingdom and priests drawn “from every tribe and language and people and nation”. These are then joined by the angels and together they sing with full voice. In verse 13 a climax is reached when every creature in the universe (not ‘all creation’, pace Mounce, p.138, cf. 124), both the living and the dead (Beasley-Murray, p.128), forms an apparently undifferentiated group of good and evil alike to praise God and the Lamb. In Wilcock’s words, “they worship him as King.” This reminds us of Isaiah 45:14-25; Daniel 12:2; John 5:28f., Acts 24:15, Ephesians 1:20f., Philippians 2:9-11 and Colossians 1:20. I conclude therefore that the four living creatures are human beings.
In Revelation 7 where sealing and salvation are the theme, that representative members of the heathen majority of mankind are included can hardly be doubted. Keener suggests (p.175) that their ceaseless praise (4:8) indicates divine empowerment and the worthiness of God (7:15). Wilcock himself points out (p.208) that ‘ungodly’ Abraham (Rom. 4:5) , Isaac and Jacob (who significantly though for chronological reasons, did not belong to the twelve tribes of Israel) will be joined by many, like the queen of Sheba (Mt. 12:42), from the ends of the earth (Mt. 8:11; Mal. 1:11, cf. 2 K. 5:18). On the other hand, many of the heirs of the kingdom who have lived under the aegis of the twelve Israelite elders will be cast out (Mt. 8:12). This conforms with what Paul teaches in Romans 2 where the uncircumcised heathen sometimes do by nature what the law requires and hence are righteous (2:13, cf. vv.26f.; James 2:14-26) in the sight of the God who is no respecter of persons (cf. Acts 10:35). Though the Israelites were meant to be a covenant and a light to the nations (Isa. 42:6; 49:6,8; Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47) their conduct in fact often prompted blasphemy among the heathen (2:24; Ezek. 5:6; 16:44-52). It is hardly surprising therefore that some that are last will be first (cf. Luke 13:28-30 to which Wilcock alludes).
It would seem that one of the most fundamental problems involved in Jewish and Christian interpretation of the Bible has arisen from persistent failure to appreciate diminished responsibility (cf. Amos 3:2; Acts 17:30; Rom. 3:25, etc.) and the order of salvation. This in turn has doubtless stemmed from the absurd idea of a “Fall” from original perfection, failure to understand biblical covenant theology, recapitulation or what might be called genealogical or transgenerational repetition and the doctrine of perfection as such.
The Identity of the Four Living Creatures
While Revelation 19:17f.,21, which refer to the destruction of all flesh, might lead us to think that along with the beast and the false prophet all the heathen are finally damned, Revelation 21:24-27, which refer to the nations and their honour and glory, suggest otherwise. This brings us back to what is meant or symbolized by the four living creatures. (18* I have already suggested that they represent the world’s heathen, but it is important to test premature conclusions. According to Mounce, p. 124, Lenski referred to twenty-one efforts at a solution and added yet another which was unacceptable!) Morris (p.91) quotes Swete as follows: The four forms suggest whatever is noblest, strongest, wisest and swiftest in animate Nature, including Man, is represented before the Throne, taking its part in the fulfillment of the Divine Will, and the worship of the Divine Majesty”. But why unreasoning nature rather than rational man made in the image of God? Did not Christ become man with the salvation of man in view? It might be remembered at this point that the early church held such men as Socrates in high regard. This is eminently understandable, but the same can hardly be said of nature. Again, if as Rabbi Abahu taught that the mightiest of the birds is the eagle, the mightiest among domestic animals is the ox, the mightiest among wild animals is the lion and the mightiest among them all is man (Beasley-Murray, p.117), bearing in mind symbols like the American Eagle, the British Lion and the Russian Bear, why cannot they all together represent the best of heathen mankind? Since they all have one face and speak, sing and worship both as one as well as separately (6:1-8), why should they not represent the glory of the nations (21:24,26)? For instance, it has been suggested that the ox represents wealth, the lion nobility, the eagle influence and man intelligence. Morris thinks that they suggest the most important of created beings (p.90). If so, given the general teaching of Scripture about the importance of human salvation based on the incarnation, it is a reasonable inference that they are heathen men/women of faith who surround the throne of God in concert with Jews and Christians. All three, that is, heathen, Jew and Christian, the three covenant peoples of the world, are perfected together (Heb. 11:39f., cf. 1 Cor. 10:32, etc.) as one mature man in Christ (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 4:13-16, cf. 2:15). In this way the perennial purpose of God to be recognized among the nations will be realized in an unexpected way (Ezek. 36:36,38, cf. John 17:3). Furthermore, in this way the problem constituted by history, chronology and natural immaturity will be overcome. (Cf. Moses’ intercession and appeal to God on the basis of his promise to Abraham in Exodus 32:11-14.)
Revelation 19 and 21
These two passages from Revelation 19 and 21 also suggest something else. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. So when ‘the supper of God’ (19:17, contrast v.9) takes place and the birds are gorged with the ‘flesh
of all’, the presumption is that they are human beings who have sown to their flesh like animals (Gal. 6:8) and die like animals (2 Pet. 2; Jude). “Those who dwell on the earth” (Rev. 3:10, etc.) are such. Their portion is in this world (Ps. 17:14; 49:12-14,20; Eccl. 3:18; John 15:19, etc.) and they will not enter the kingdom of heaven (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5). On the other hand, not all are tarred with the same brush as Abraham was acutely aware when he interceded on behalf of Sodom (Gen. 18:25, cf. Job 8:3,20; Mt. 3:12; 13:30). Admittedly, at that time only Lot and his daughters were rescued, but fleshly though they were at that stage of mankind’s (covenantal) development (Gen. 19:30ff.), they eventually produced Ruth who was a Moabite and an ancestor of the Lord Jesus himself (Mt. 5:5). This surely indicates that the heathen cannot be cavalierly and indiscriminately dismissed as being of no account (cf. the Athanasian Creed, Westminster Confession 10:4 and Question 60 of the WLC).
Creature and Creation
At the end of the day it seems very odd that the book of Revelation should refer explicitly to creatures (19* Morris, p.90, says the word ‘zoon’ emphasizes life. This reminds one of Paul’s claim that before he, like Adam and Eve, came to understand the law he was ‘alive’, ezon, Rom. 7:9), yet that many moderns should, in contrast with the KJV, translate ‘creature’ as ‘creation’ in Romans 8:19-21, thereby rendering verse 21 at least absurd. The problem would seem to arise from traditional Augustinian theology which contrary to the implication of John 3:1-8, 1 Corinthians 15:42-50, Hebrews 1:10-12 and the like dubiously seeks to redeem creation from the curse of Genesis 3:17 but rejects out of hand the morally self-conscious heathen who are made in the image of God. A better appreciation of biblical covenant theology would surely do much to bring such ideas into question. (20* See my Covenant Theology, Covenant Theology in Brief) What needs to be noted is that at the beginning, creation as such is not covenanted at all, for even God could hardly make an ‘agreement’ with what by nature lacks rational consciousness! (21* See further my Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?) But when after a period of human development a covenant is eventually made with Noah, it only guarantees the preservation of creation until the plan of human salvation is accomplished at the end of the world (Gen. 8:22). As I understand it, the visible material creation will be permanently and completely destroyed (Mt. 24:35; Rom. 1:20; 2 Cor. 4:18; Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12; Rev. 21:1-5), that is, subjected to the ban (curse by fire) as Jesus implies in Luke 17:28-30. By contrast, heaven, or what is for us the already existing world to come, will never be so subjected (Rev. 22:3). It is eternal. In the circumstances, I suggest that the close association of the twenty-four elders (the church including Israel) and the four living creatures (the believing heathen) arises from covenant theology seen as a triad, that is, from the three dispensational covenants of Noah (the heathen), Moses (the Jews) and Jesus (Christians) apparent in John 1:9-12 and Romans 1-3 (cf. 1 Cor. 10:32), for example. These are summed up or recapitulated in the mature individual as a child (Eve), adolescent (Adam) and adult (Jesus) as portrayed in Romans 7-8 (Paul) and Galatians 4:1-7 (Jesus). If human beings who however minimally know the law which promises life can sin (break the law) in their youth (Gen. 8:21; Jer. 3:24f., etc.), by the same token they can also exercise faith in their youth. Only unself-conscious babies who lack all understanding of (the) law like animals and creation in general are excluded.
There is another point worthy of consideration. There are three ascensions (cf. also the three measures of meal in Mt. 13:33) recorded in Scripture, those of Enoch, Elijah and Jesus respectively. Why? It is difficult to be certain, but the suggestion is that they are representative of the Gentiles, the Jews and Christians. (While the adult Enoch admittedly walked with God prior to the covenant with Noah, he was like Abraham at a later date nonetheless heathen, though he preceded him in the course of mankind’s (the race’s) spiritual maturation process.)
In Romans 1-3, Paul teaches that despite their gifts and calling the Jews are every bit as sinful as the heathen, indeed arguably more so since they have the law in specific written form (Rom. 2:24, cf. 4:15; 5:20; 7:13; Amos 3:2). The covenantal divisions in Romans are not between heathen Gentiles on the one hand and Jew and Christian on the other (22* Murray in comment on Romans 2:12-16, p.69, says there is no suggestion that any who are “without law” attain to the reward of eternal life, cf. Wilcock, pp.208f. (Had he read Hebrews 11:1-22?) In other words as the thoroughgoing traditionalist that he was, he assumes in typical Westminster Standards fashion the universal damnation of the heathen. However, he maintained earlier that revelation is always to those possessed of intelligent consciousness, p.38, cf. his The Covenant of Grace, pp. 13,15. The inference I draw from this is that faith as well as sin are therefore possibilities even among the heathen. And Abraham who was at once righteous by faith and sinful, simul justus et peccator, was a prime case in point.) but between heathen and Jew who are together pronounced sinful under (the) law on the one hand (3:9,19, cf. 1 Cor. 7:19) and Christian on the other (Rom. 3:21-31; Gal. 5:6). In light of this, the attempt to exclude the rational heathen while including unreasoning nature which is totally devoid of intelligent consciousness in the plan of redemption, not least in the book of Revelation, is more than questionable. Indeed, the NT seems to exclude the very possibility of material redemption of any kind (Rom. 1:20; 8:18-25; 1 Cor. 3:12-15; 15:50; Heb. 1:10-12; 12:27; Rev. 21:1). It is man made in the image of God who is promised and is in fact the object of salvation., and it is surely sheer presumption to assume that the heathen who live solely under the covenant with Noah are to be casually and callously dismissed as an Augustinian mass of perdition (massa perditionis, contrast Acts 14:17; 17:22-31).
Children and Recapitulation
Perhaps even more to the point is the fact that even boys (not to mention uncircumcised girls who as daughters of Eve were often ranked with the heathen) in Israel were not strictly under the law of Moses until they reached their bar mitzvah at age 13. Does that mean then that like the heathen they were all indiscriminately damned if they died? Assuming that the individual (the one) recapitulates the history of the race (the many), are we not compelled to recognize that children as those born of woman, the true offspring of Eve and deceived by the lusts of the flesh like the heathen (cf. Rom. 1:24ff.) were included transgenerationally under the covenant with Noah along with the Gentiles in general? Judging by what Paul teaches in Romans 7 this is certainly the case. There he sees himself as, first, a child of Eve (cf. 7:11, and note especially 7:14 and Gen. 3:6), second, a son of Adam who like the Jews had the law in specific form (7:12-25), and then, third, a believer in Christ in chapter 8 (cf. 7:25). I conclude therefore that if all the heathen are damned, all children are likewise. And baptism imposed on them shortly after birth apart from faith is hardly calculated to save them (pace Augustine). (See further my Are Babies Saved?, The Theology Behind Baptism)
Judging and Ruling
Yet another question is pertinent to the issue. In 1 Corinthians 6:2f. Paul claims that the saints are to judge the world. But if the heathen are universally damned, apart from degrees of retribution what is the point of judging it? Since Abraham (Gen. 18:25) and Jesus discriminate among peoples (Mt. 10:14f.; 11:20:20-24; Luke 10:12-16; 11:30-32), are not the saints to do the same? Again, according to Revelation 12:5 (cf. 1:5; 2:27) Jesus is to rule all the nations. The apostles also, along with Christian believers, are to rule in the world to come (Luke 22:29f.; Heb. 2:5; Rev. 2:26f.; 3:21). In fact, the book of Revelation teaches us that the saints already rule both on earth (5:10, cf. 1 Cor. 6:3b) and in heaven (20:4,6). But who are they to rule and judge if all the nations are indiscriminately damned in what Augustine termed a damned mass (massa damnata)? Revelation 5:9 (cf. 1:6) tells us that the saints derive from every tribe, tongue and nation. But it should not pass without notice that the four living creatures are included with them (5:8). Again, as we saw above, in chapter 7, after delineating the 144,000 who are sealed as Israel, that is, the church consisting of Jew and Christian together, 7:9f. refer emphatically to “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (ESV) who loudly confess that their salvation belongs to God and the Lamb. Then in 5:11 the angels join with the elders and the four living creatures in praising God (cf. 4:6-11). This clearly points to the fact that the church and the living creatures are lumped together as recognizable redeemed people. It is here that an element of ambiguity in the OT (see e.g. Isaiah 60 and Ezekiel 36) is clarified. Rulers and ruled respond together (Motyer, p.494, cf. Oswalt, p.539). In the words of Chris Wright “All God’s action in relation to Israel in the sight of the nations is so that all of them – Israel and the nations alike – should come to the only final knowledge that really counts. Yahweh alone is God” (C.Wright, p.303, cf. John 17:3). And this ties in well with Jesus’ assertion in Matthew 24:31 that the angels will gather his elect, who surely comprise many of the heathen, from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Regarding the redemption of the material creation that is so frequently touted in the twenty-first century, there is not a smidgeon of real evidence in the entire NT. In the book of Revelation, rather the contrary (6:14; 7:3; 16:20; 20:11; 21:1). The temporal, visible, corruptible, obsolescent, manufactured world/creation, like the ‘hand-made’ body of flesh (2 Cor. 5:1) and the hand-built temple (Mark 14:58) which are regulated by the hand-written law, far from being redeemed is replaced by the eternal kingdom of God (Rev. 11:15, cf. Dan. 2:44; 7:14, not ‘renewed’ as Wilcock suggests, p.198), by the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness dwells (cf. 2 Pet. 3:13). This can be none other than heaven (cf. Heb. 11:16), the throne of God or what Jesus calls his Father’s house (John 14:2, c. Rev. 21:3) where God and his children will live for ever in perpetual harmony along with the Lamb (John 14:3; Rev. 21:1-7; 22:1-5). (Wilcock,
correctly it seems to me, claims that 21:1-7 and 22:1-5 are identical, p.198. If the world is no more, pp. 78,171,194, they clearly depict eternity, but this is hardly creation redeemed and restored! When the antitype or reality is revealed, the type or shadow disappears.)
It is perhaps important before concluding to clarify something else. If as I have argued the four living creatures in the book of Revelation comprise those of the heathen whose lives are lived however minimally by faith, who are the heathen who like Ishmael and Esau and many others throughout history (Job 11:20; Ps. 17:14; Luke 12:13-21; Phil. 3:19) live for this world (cf. Col. 3:1-5)? To pose the question this way points to the answer. Surely they are “those who dwell on the earth” (6:10, etc.). They are doomed not simply because they are sinners who refuse to repent (cf. 9:20f.) but because their treasure is in created things that are by nature perishable (Mt. 6:19f.; Heb. 12:27, etc.). He who sows to his flesh and whose portion is on the perishable earth is inevitably bereft of all when the material creation finally gives way to its inherent corruption (Rom. 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12).
Conclusion to Additional Note 4 – The Book of Revelation and Romans 8:18-25
So, once more I conclude that the idea of the redemption of creation to the universal exclusion of the heathen stems primarily from bad theology and the false Augustinian worldview. It has risen from egregious exegesis especially of Genesis 1-3 and Romans 8:18-25, calamitous covenant theology and the intrinsically inadequate OT. (23* The traditional Augustinian attempt to posit both physical and spiritual perfection at the beginning leading to the idea of “Fall” and cosmic curse vitiates theology from the start and gives Christians a thoroughly distorted worldview. See my Worldview, The Biblical Worldview, The Two Ages. What is more, it inevitably means that the dismissal of development, growth, evolution, perfection, that is, the perfecting or completing process and recapitulation intrinsic to man and especially to Jesus, the second Adam and Saviour of the world, has blinded theologians’ eyes for centuries. Today, however, there are good reasons for replacing devolution with evolution!) Though it contains what I call intimations of heaven, the OT, lacking the revelation and re-interpretation brought by Jesus, was basically earth-centred or geocentric. The truth is, however, that the ‘good’ creation, like the ‘good’ law both of which are defective (Heb. 1:10-12; 7:18f.; 8:7), is inherently obsolescent (24* Contrary to Motyer, p.270, I argue that human sin has not infected it with built-in obsolescence. It has merely exacerbated what is natural and built in from the start. After all, Jesus got older and he did not sin.) (Mt. 5:18; Rom. 7:1; 2 Cor. 3; Heb. 8:13) like the body of flesh which derives from it (1 Cor. 15:42-50). God, whose aim has always been to deliver his children from this present evil age (Gal. 1:4, cf. Rev. 14:6), has something better in store for us (1 Cor. 2:9; 2 Cor. 5:5; Heb. 7:19,22) as Revelation 21 and 22 plainly indicate.
In sum, I contend that the material corruption and futility referred to in Romans 8:18-25 is by creation not by curse (2 Cor. 4:18; Heb. 1:10-12; 12:27). As noted above there is a sharp distinction between the will of man which produces bondage to sin and ultimate death (Gen. 3:6; John 8:34) and the will of God which produces bondage to decay and ultimate glory (Rom. 8:24f., cf. 2 Cor. 5:5). If we were not all corruptible by nature, there would be no need for the universal change, including that of the incarnate Jesus (Phil. 3:21), insisted on by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:50-54. Just as Paul teaches that the body of flesh is destroyed and replaced (1 Cor. 15:42-50; 2 Cor. 5:1), so John teaches that once it has given birth, that is, produced its harvest (Rom. 8:22, cf. Mt. 24:8; Rev. 14:14-20), the corruptible creation as a whole is, like the temple (Mark 14:58; John 2:19f.), destroyed and replaced (1 John 2:17; Rev. 6:14; 16:20; 20:11; 21:1-5). A new creature who is a spiritual child of God needs a new creation to live in. And that new creation is the eternal heaven itself (John 14:1-3; Rev. 21:1-7; 22:1-5).
1. Bearing in mind that restoration (Job 42:10) rather than replacement is a primary feature of the Old Testament, the book of Job mutatis mutandis (making the necessary changes) corresponds with Romans 8:14-39.
2. Writing on Job in RTR, Dec. 2012, Andrew Prideaux comments (p.183): “At times our experience suggests that the Creator is not for but against what he has made. However, where genuine fear of the Lord exists (1:1,8; 2:3; 28:28, cf. 42:7,8), this is a relationship that in God’s hands cannot be destroyed but only strengthened through suffering, and the other ambiguities of a creaturely existence.” Assuming that God himself of express purpose subjected creation to futility this is hardly surprising. Regrettably, Prideaux goes on to suggest that fullness of relationship whereby God dwells with his people will be in a restored and transformed creation (e.g. Rev. 22:1-6,17)! Just how the eternal God will dwell in a restored and transformed creation which by definition is not eternal and according to Paul is impossible (1 Cor. 15:50b) is difficult to understand. Even Solomon was aware that the material creation could not contain God (1 K. 8:27, cf. Acts 7:48-50). Heaven where righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1) is God’s throne and we shall dwell with him there (Rev. 3:21) in his own house (John 14:2f.). Abraham’s true inheritance was not Canaan on earth but a heavenly country/city (Heb. 11:8-16, cf. 13:14). To this we believers in Christ have already received an upward call (Heb. 3:1; Phil. 3:14, cf. v.20).
According to Scripture, while the temporary portion of the wicked is (in) this material world (Ps. 17:14; Luke 12:13-21, and especially “those who dwell on the earth” in Revelation 8:13, etc.), the eternal inheritance of believers is heaven and God himself (Ps. 73:26; 119:57; Ezek. 48:35; Eph. 1:11,14,18; Heb. 9:15; 1 Pet. 1:4; Rev. 21:1-7; 22:1-5, etc.).
3. While troubles in books like Judges stem mainly from sin, in Ruth they arise principally from nature. Like Paul (e.g. 1 Cor. 4:11-13; 2 Cor. 6:4-10; 11:23-29) Job suffers as a consequence of both sin and nature. Ecclesiastes highlights the frustration that characterizes this world.
See further my Another Shot at Romans 8:18-25, Further Reflection on Romans 8:18-25 – An Alternative Approach, Not Only But Also.
* Under the heading ‘A Countless Throng’ in Authentic Christianity, p.404, John Stott derives comfort from Revelation 7:9 but confesses failure to know how it can be. Given his Augustinian assumptions, he apparently thinks that only Christians are ultimately saved. I would suggest a better covenant theology, a denial of original sin and a different order of salvation would help his understanding.
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