Romans 8:31-39


Erasmus of Rotterdam said of this passage: "What has Cicero ever said more eloquently?" Cicero was considered one of the greatest orators of all time. Though Paul was no orator, by the grace of God he surpassed the greatest.

Kretzmann: In all the letters of Paul there are few passages that equal, and none that exceed, this paean of triumph of victorious faith, in lofty and sustained power. Addressed to Christians as it is, it should never fail of rousing them to the greatest pitch of faith's enthusiasm and to the utmost confidence and trust in the mercy of God and their Savior Jesus Christ.

Bengel, Lenski, and Franzmann divide verses 31-35 into logical section, each with his own arrangement. In these notes we shall make the divisions as simple as possible. There are four interrogatives, verses 31, 33, 34, and 35. Each introduces a question which is answered immediately. Strictly speaking they are not rhetorical questions (as some commentators point out) because, in each case, Paul answers his own questions. Rhetorical questions answer themselves.

Romans 8:31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Obviously Paul is pointing back to verses 28-30. What is the antecedent to the word "this?" Very likely all of chapters 3, 5, and 8 in which chapters Paul has defined the doctrine of justification, with emphasis on verses 18-20 of this chapter.

Christians are by no means immune to suffering and weaknesses. TEV renders this first question with "Faced with all this what can we say?" NIV reads: "What, then shall we say in response to this?" NEB: "With all this in mind, what are we to say?" And, finally, AAT: "What does this mean?" "In response" means "with reference to these things." 

Paul answers his own question with a fact or particular condition whose apodosis is another question. The protasis means: "If (as is the case) God is for us, etc." Paul is saying that God is on our side, not we on  His side. No synergism here. Lutherans see the constant danger of synergism because they correctly understand the doctrines of justification and election. "God" in this verse is the Triune God.

Kretzmann: The first conclusion is that God is on our side.

Paul is admitting that many are against us but that they do us no lasting harm. That is explained in the next verse.

Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

A word in Greek which begins the verse, and is not translated, is an emphatic particle, which cannot be adequately rendered, but which denotes an exultant sweetness. Verse 32 gives us a complex sentence with subordinate adjectival clause stated first, followed by the main clause with is a question, expecting the answer "yes" and which serves as an argument from the greater to the lesser. Here is the greater to lesser argument. He who gave the greater, will, along with that gift, also give the lesser. "All things" denotes all the things which are necessary and salutary for our daily living. "Give" is to give graciously.

In verse 32 Paul really answers more than he had asked in verse 31. Bengel and Lenski see a reference to Genesis 22:16 here.

Arndt: 'With him' means God presented Christ to us; that was a great present; that present really included all other presents that we still need. Matthew 6:33.
Stoeckhardt: Christ is the greatest gift of grace. All others are supplementary. These cannot be wanting if one has received the first and greatest.
Lenski: What God has done seals what he will yet do . . . The greater with which he began makes it impossible for him not to add the rest which is only less great . . . The argument is not merely from the greater to the less, but a statement of the impossibility of not completing what God began at so tremendous a cost to himself.

He quotes a beautiful illustration from Luther which is too lengthy to include at this point.

Romans 8:33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.

Paul's second question begins with an interrogative pronoun. Paul is not saying that no one accuses Christians. Satan, the world, and our own conscience accuse us many times each day. The real question is whether or not the accusations will stand. Paul uses the word "elect" only twice in this book, here and at 16:13. Paul is implying that his readers are the elect of God. God is both subjective genitive and genitive of relation.

Now Paul answers his own question: "The one who justifies is God." Predicate is placed first for emphasis. By the way, we have the doctrines of justification and election linked to each other here.

Arndt: No one can raise a charge that will be considered valid by the judge. The Christians are called elect of God. . . . If God justifies them, all accusation have no weight.
Franzmann: The case is closed; who can reopen it? The acquitted are the elect of God; their innocence and inviolability are grounded in the eternal and unchangeable design of God . . . He has in His Son already glorified them.

Romans 8:34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

In verse 31 Paul had asked: "Who (can be) against us?" In 33 he asked: "Who will bring an accusation against God's elect?" And now he asks:  "Who will condemn (God's elect)?" The verbs grow stronger. The question implies that Christians are often condemned by Satan, the conscience, the world, perhaps well-meaning friends, or even one's spouse. To condemn a person means to inform him that God condemns and that, therefore, the individual is on the way to perdition.

Think of how Job's friends condemned him. Think of how Jesus' own people condemned Him. That's why Paul immediately answers: "The One who died is Christ Jesus." No one was ever accused and condemned as was Jesus.

Now follows "more than that." NKJV reads "furthermore." Paul is surely not implying that Christ's death was not sufficient to pay for the sins of the world.

Arndt: Paul, as it were, corrects himself. Rather than to call Jesus the one that died, he wishes to call him the risen one. Christ did not remain in death . . . The resurrection of Christ is proof that his death accomplished his great purpose, chapter 4:25.
Franzmann: He is no dead martyr but our living Lord.

And now follow two clauses, the first of which denotes Jesus' exultation and the second what He is doing for the elect in this state. We think immediately of 1 John 2:1:  "We have an advocate with the Father." 

Franzmann: Even when we sin and fail, His love still holds us.

RSV and NEB translate the last "also" as "indeed." Our sins are constantly being forgiven because Jesus pleads for us before the throne of God. Note the propositional phrase "for us." This is the third occurrence of this phrase in this pericope. Here, as in verse 32, it is used vicariously. Jesus intercedes in our stead before the throne of God. See Hebrews 7:25.

Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

Thus far in this text Paul has been speaking about the enemy or enemies who attempt to accuse or condemn the elect of God. At this point Paul speaks of a different kind of enemy. "Who" can be either masculine of feminine. The several nouns listed here are either masculine or feminine. The phrase denotes the particular misfortunes attempt to pull the Christian away from Christ.

Note that in verse 39 we have "the love of God." We shall comment on this at that point.

Arndt: The certainty of our eternal salvation is still the topic of the apostle . . . The question is: Is there any force so strong, anything that can make us so miserable that Christ will not love us any longer? The question might be put this way: Is there anything that can make the love of Jesus to be ineffective, so that we shall lose our connection with Him, lose our faith, our hope?
Stoeckhardt: The enemies of our salvation attempt to separate us from Christ and His Love, and so they press us hard with all might and power to throw away faith and trust in Christ.

And now follows a chain of seven nouns.

Franzmann: Perhaps it is not too fanciful to see in the seven nouns which follow the compressed history of a Christian martyrdom.

Included are the pressure of affliction, persecution, lack of food, lack of clothing, any danger or peril, and the sword (death). Life is real and can be very cruel. But cruel as these situations may be, Paul is saying that they do not have the power to pull us away from the Gospel, the love of Christ.

Lenski: The world likes to point to our afflictions as proof that Christ has ceased to love us, or that His love is imaginary.

True. At such a time the frightened Christian needs the comfort and strength of the Gospel.

Romans 8:36 As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." 

"Precisely at it stands written." The quotation is from Psalm 44:22, in the LXX, Psalm 43:23. The LXX and the Hebrew agree with each other.

Note the position of "for your sake," which reminds us of Jesus' Words at John 15:18-21, and especially of the phrase in verse 21. Paul is speaking of the kind of suffering which the Christian endures because he is a child of God. Just as the true Israel suffered, likewise the Christian today must expect to suffer simply because he is a Christian.

The point is constant danger. The verb in the second part is forensic.  "We are considered." By whom? Ourselves. Yes. By others? Yes. Read Psalm 44 in its entirety. The RSV, NIV, and AAT render the last words: "As sheep to be slaughtered." The point is that their life is considered worthless and cheap.

The best commentary on this line is the crucifixion of Jesus. His own people and the Romans considered Him worthless. He was living in constant danger of death. And we must remember that the disciple is not above his Master. It could happen to me. But if it does, that death cannot separate me from the love of God, of Christ.

Stoeckhardt: At all times there are martyrs among us. (He means the church throughout the world.) That is the lot of the Church of all times.
Lenski: The picture is extreme, purposely so, in order to include all lesser injuries as well.

True. I have not suffered actual death for Jesus'sake. But there are many smaller misfortunes that come to me simply because I am Christ's own.

Romans 8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

A strong "no" which can be translated "however." This tells us what God's true view of these things is.  "In all these things." This means that we live right in them and are surrounded with them. They are very real. God holds Satan's power back but if God so wills, as he did in the case of St. Paul, these things are upon us.

"Conquerors," found here for the first time in Greek literature, has received a variety of translations: KJV, NKJV, RSV, and NIV read  "We are more than conquerors,"  TEV: "We have complete victory," NEB "Overwhelming victory is ours," and AAT  "He helps us win an overwhelming victory." 

In all these situations, mentioned in verses 35-36, we experience pain, lonesomeness, abandonment, but what does God see? The victory of the individual believer before he ever meets the adversities. And why is that possible:  "Through the One who loved us," and that surely is Jesus who suffered everything mentioned in verses 35-36, and then some.

Arndt: Paul declares, we not only remain faithful, but we even see that these things are for our benefit.
Stoeckhardt: Perseverance in faith is the work of the Lord.
Lenski: These tribulations do not separate us from Christ's love, they do the opposite; we conquer them through him who did love us.
Bengel: We have strength not only equal and sufficient, but far more than enough to overcome the preceding evils.
Kretzmann: Our enemies are not only not able to do us real harm, but they are actually conquered before they have had an opportunity for working evil. The Christian is assured of victory in advance.

Romans 8:38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This verse is explanatory. The perfect passive, punctiliar-durative, denotes utter conviction, and can be translated either as "I am persuaded," "I am sure," or "I am convinced." The third is found in NIV, NEB, NASB, and AAT. The commentators differ among themselves as to the pairing of the nouns in verses 38-39.

"Neither death nor life" means "terror of death, the adversities and dangers in life." "Neither angels nor powers" have yielded a variety of opinions. In any case it covers all cases of super-human or human rulers and power. "Neither things present nor things to come." Note that "things past" are not mentioned.

Bengel: Things past are not mentioned, not even sins; for they have passed away. . . . Present things are the events that happen to us during our pilgrimage, or to the whole world, until it comes to an end. Things to come refer to whatever will happen to us either after judgment, the burning of the world, eternal punishment.

"Height and depth" have elicited many comments. Some consider them misfortunes sent by God and attacks from hell.

Arndt: The 'forces' might be personal or impersonal forces, natural or supernatural.

And finally,  "Nor any other creature (or created thing)." RSV reads  "Nor anything else in all creation." This covers anything and everything that Paul might have omitted in his enumeration of trials, troubles, and adversities. The point is that the love of Christ holds us securely unless we ourselves reject Him.

In verse 35 it is simply "from the love of Christ." This time it is  "from the love of God, that love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." I cannot be certain of the love of God apart from Jesus Christ. The entire New Testament attests to this. And no matter what I or anyone else thinks of me, this love of Christ is true and real and will preserve me, body and soul, forever.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Epistle Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1987, pp. 64-67. Used with permission.

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