10 Aug 2016

In Defense of Romans 8: A Response to its Spiritual Sword Critics

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christian hope, Church History, eschatology, Gnosticism, James A. Harding, resurrection, Romans, Salvation

KJV_Romans_8-11In defense of Romans 8 from its critics in the Spiritual Sword. The current issue of Spiritual Sword has attempted to disprove renewed earth resurrection theology, mentioning myself and John Mark Hicks by name. I felt the article in the SS was incredibly weak honestly.  I have read far stronger challenges.  In spite of the claim in the SS renewed earth theology is hardly an aberration in the history of Christianity nor does the position have only Romans 8.  But Romans 8 is essentially dismissed in the Spiritual Sword as an inconvenient truth.   Resurrection, not only of Christ but of ourselves, matters!

Romans 8 is an amazing and profound text in Scripture. Romans 8 is not however a “difficult” text in the sense that Jesus preached to the spirits in prison or Gog and Magog and others. What do these texts actually mean is up for debate.

Yet Profound does not imply unclear. Romans 8 is quite clear. Romans 11 is difficult but Romans 8 is not. I say this because some want to dismiss the chapter with a wave of the magic wand on the grounds that it is “difficult” in the sense that it is unclear. It is only unclear because it so blatantly contradicts their Platonic doctrines.

In fact, I have long believed that Romans 8.18-24 is one of the most important texts in the bible (a conviction shared by most Church Fathers and other luminaries down thru the centuries).  As John Calvin noted during the Reformation …

I understand this passage to have this meaning—that there is no element and no part of the world which, being touched, as it were, with a sense of its present misery, does not intensely hope for a resurrection. He indeed lays down two things,–that all are creatures in distress, and yet they are sustained by hope … [Creation] shall be participators of a better condition; for God will restore to a perfect state the world, now fallen, together with mankind” (John Calvin, Epistle of Paul to the Romans, pp. 303, 305)

The Text

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Messiah from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through the Spirit that dwells in you …

I consider that the sufferings of this present age are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits in eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope, that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our BODIES.  For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not not see, we wait for it with patience …

This text is as clear as Acts 2.38 beloved.  The problem comes when some have drunk from the poisoned well of platonic dualism and neo-gnosticism while claiming to read only the Bible.  However as Paul notes here in Romans 8.20-21 God has tied creation to humanity from the beginning in the hope of salvation of all he has made.  Creation and Redemption are tied from Genesis to Revelation in the biblical narrative like the North Pole is connected to the South Pole … they are two ends of same axis.  Chopping the Bible up into proof texts, while simply ignoring the narrative as a whole, and splitting hairs over nonsense has facilitated many imagining that instrumental music was the “heart and soul” of the Bible. What is surprising however so many imagine that Romans 8 is the only text that speaks of the redemption of creation along with humanity.  I will quote a few texts …

Creation Connected to Humanity in Suffering and Redemption

The earth dries up and withers,
the world languishes and withers;
the heavens languish together with the earth.
The earth is polluted
under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
violated statutes,
broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a CURSE devours the earth,
and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt;
therefore the inhabitants of the earth
dwindled, and few people are left
(Isaiah 24.4-6, the whole chapter is relevant)

Redemption is pictured as coming with a King and the outpouring of the Spirit which results in new life for both humans and God’s creation in Isaiah 32.

See, a king will reign in righteousness …

a Spirit from on high is poured out on us,
and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.

Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
The effect of righteousness will be shalom,
and the result of righteousness will be quietness
and trust forever.
My people will abide in shalomful habitation
in secure dwelling …
(Isaiah 32.1, 15-18)

Hosea speaks directly to both creation suffering because of human sin but then speaks of God redeeming Israel because of his covenant with the animals! There is a direct connection between the salvation of the people and the world.

Hear the word of the LORD, O people
of Israel;
for the LORD has an indictment
against the inhabitants of the land.
There is no faithfulness or love/loyalty,
and no knowledge of God in the land.
Swearing, lying, and murder,
and stealing and adultery break out;
bloodshed follows bloodshed.
THEREFORE THE LAND MOURNS,
and all who live in it languish;
TOGETHER with the wild animals
and the birds of the air,
even the fish of the sea are perishing”
(Hosea 4.1-3)

Therefore, I will now allure her [Israel]
and bring her into the wilderness and
speak tenderly to her.
From there I will give her vineyards,
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope …

On that day, says the LORD, you will call me,
My Husband,” and no longer will you call me
‘My Master.”  … I will make FOR YOU a
covenant on that day WITH THE WILD
ANIMALS, the birds of the air, and the
creeping things on the ground; and I will
abolish the bow, the sword, and war
from the land; and I will make you lie
down in safety. And I will take you  for
my wife in righteousness and in justice,
in HESED and in mercy. I will take you
for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall
know the LORD
(Hosea 2.14-20)

Numerous other texts could be offered.  The most comprehensive of all takes up the book of Joel almost in its entirety.  I have already discussed it in considerable detail here: Do Not Fear, O Earth, Animals, People: Hope of Cosmic Redemption in Joel’s Liturgy.  Redemption in the Bible is specifically the redemption of creation.  God is Redeemer because God is the Creator.

Embracing Creation explores the entire biblical canon revealing the centrality of creation and God's aim to redeem all of it.

Embracing Creation explores the entire biblical canon revealing the centrality of creation and God’s aim to redeem all of it.

Reflections

After several years of reading the whole biblical narrative beginning to end several times a year, being “schooled” by the narrative Psalms and intense study … and reading Irenaeus, Athenagoras, J. Christian Becker, N. T. Wright, Christopher Wright, Alexander Campbell, Robert Milligan, David Lipscomb, James A. Harding, and many more, I have come to some firm exegetical conclusions about Romans 8.18ff that, despite claims to the contrary, are shared across the ecumenical divide in the history of Christianity.

Some have thrown out biblical renewed earth theology by claiming it is “denominational” or “millennial” or worse the “Jehovah Witnesses.” This is the worst kind of sophomoric fallacy beloved and betrays a gross misunderstanding of both the premillennial position and resurrection and the new heavens and new earth. Irenaeus was not a Jehovah Witness! But just because a “denominational” person also believes in the deity of Christ does not mean I should run away from it.

I have asked, many times, and have received nothing but silence in reply, the name of a single Christian writer that did not believe in the literal, bodily, resurrection in the flesh of humanity and a renewed earth as our place of living with Christ that was NOT A GNOSTIC in the first 500 years of Christianity … I have not been given the name nor passage of such a leader.

In this text, Paul offers a concise version of the canonical biblical “grand narrative” in Romans 8. It is a brief, brilliant, and crystal clear statement of how the bodily resurrection of Jesus is paradigmatic for OUR personal bodily resurrection and the “resurrection” (redemption) of all creation as the GOAL of salvation. Paul explicitly does not speak of the redemption of spirits or souls but claims that the Holy Spirit will raise our “mortal body” on the pattern of the resurrection of the Messiah and that we live in the hope of the redemption of our bodies … which takes place when our physical body is raised on the pattern of the first fruit.  Our bodies are part of creation itself and our resurrection is the hope of all God’s good but suffering creation.

Romans 8 contains the three primary characters of the grand narrative:

God

Humanity

Creation.

As in the grand narrative there is human and nonhuman groaning. And just as in the grand narrative the nonhuman is “subjected” to this agony by the Creator, binding it to the ones meant to guard it (humans). Just as in the grand narrative, so here God has moved to bring about redemption that results in the glorification of all thru the work of the Messiah (whom Paul identifies as the second Adam in ch.5!). The groaning or mourning of the creation is something Paul picks up from numerous prophetic texts in the grand narrative (Isaiah 24; Joel 1.10-12, 17-20 just a couple quick examples).

So I believe that Romans 8.18-23 offers a hermeneutical lens for reading the whole Story (especially eschatologically) and at the same time the whole story is revealed in what it is “about” by Paul.

The Goal of the narrative is the goal of Romans 8. The Spiritual Sword can try to dismiss this as “carnal” or taking our minds off of “heavenly” things for “earthly” things … all of which is an abuse of the terms “heavenly” and “earthly” by defining them in pagan dualistic terms.

Romans 8 is hardly alone as we have seen. It is in fact just one of a whole sweep of Scriptural texts that are swept away by ignoring them. I believe in salvation! I just do not believe in Gnostic salvation beloved. As the apostle that wrote Romans 8 says, God reconciled ALL things things in heaven and earth uniting them in the Messiah (Ephesians 1.8-10) and that the Messiah created all things visible and invisible and through his death in the flesh reconciled all things visible and invisible to God (Col 1.15-20. On Colossians 1 see Christ the Creator, Conqueror and Reconciler of Creation).  The book Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission by John Mark Hicks, Mark Wilson and myself gives a Bible wide overview of this entire subject.

Romans 8 is the goal of the Gospel of Christ … God, in Christ, heals the world he has made and it become the inheritance that the resurrected Christ and Resurrected people will share communion with the Father thru the Holy Spirit. If some one wants to call that “carnal” than I gladly embrace it … it beats gnosticism beloved.

This is not some minor or peripheral matter. It is endemic to the meaning of redemption, the cross and resurrection of Jesus itself. The Resurrection of the flesh matters.  I will let James A. Harding have the last word, not because he is inspired but because he is correct.

Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin,’ and far and wide has extended the curse that thus came through Adam. All briers, thorns, and thistles; all sickness, pain, and sorrow, all jealousy, enmity, and hatred; all war, bloodshed, and death, with every evil thing began with the fall in the garden … The earth itself, with every man, woman and child that has lived on it … has come under its blighting influences and suffered its awful power.
“But—thanks bet to God—through Jesus Christ grace came with a mighty hand to meet this great, dark, cursing, onrushing tide of woe and death, to roll it back, to free men from death and the earth from every curse of sin, and to give to it a glory and beauty never dreamed of by Adam and Eve in the midst of their Edenic home. This earth, with its surrounding heaven, is to be made over, and on the fair face of the new earth God himself will dwell with all the sons and daughters of men who have been redeemed through grace … through Adam we lost the garden of Eden; through Christ we gain the paradise of God”
(James A. Harding, “Three Lessons From the Book of Romans,” in Biographies and Sermons, edited by F.D. Srygley, p. 249)

Just food for thought.

8 Responses to “In Defense of Romans 8: A Response to its Spiritual Sword Critics”

  1. Dwight Says:

    I guess the question is how do we meld the “new earth” as a physical “new earth” concept with passages like John 14 ““Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwellings; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”
    Jesus arguably went to sit at the right hand of God in heaven and is telling the people they “may be also”.
    It seems to leave us with some choices:
    1. There are two places set up for man to go after judgment to dwell
    2. We go to heaven, but it is temporary
    3. We go to the “new earth”, but it is temporary.
    4. The “new earth” is poetic in nature, much like the “new Jerusalem”, which is mentioned with the “new heaven and new earth” in Revelations.
    5. The going up to heaven is poetic, even though it is stated by Jesus as very real and not listed with other symbolic things.

    All in all, I think we don’t know what we don’t know and it doesn’t impact our state of salvation. The reason the resurrection is important is that it provides hope and that if Jesus was not resurrected, then we have a vain faith. Where we end up is not going to change the fact that it is better than what we have now in all ways.
    This sadly will become a point of division by those who disregard the fact it could be different than what they believe. It is good to discuss, but not good to take staunch sides and divide over.
    “God only knows, God makes his plans
    The information’s unavailable To the mortal man, We work our jobs, Collect our pay
    Believe we’re gliding down the highway
    When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away.” P.S.
    The fact is we have only glimpses of the plan and we need to trust the plan and where God’s plan leads, because we can’t change them and just trust the planner.

    • Profile photo of Bobby Valentine Bobby Valentine Says:

      Dwight I appreciate your comment as always. I do not think you actually dealt with my post at all however. Many of the questions you pose have been dealt with in considerable detail both on this blog (some of those are linked in the present one and in Embracing Creation that deals with John 14 directly).

      I simply disagree with you what the resurrection is about. Romans 8 was written after 1 Corinthians 15 and Paul states quite clearly that it is our physical body that will be raised and the world itself will share in that. This is also proclaimed in numerous other texts not least the one folks imagine teaches the obliteration of the world in 2 Peter 3.

      In John 14.2 Jesus uses the word “moni” which does in fact refer to a temporary way station according to Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon. But I have no problem in saying that Jesus has gone to prepare a place. But according to the same author of the Gospel of John says that the new Jerusalem comes “down OUT of” heaven TO the earth (3x in Revelation it says this in fact). I think John 14 coheres exactly with the biblical hope of renewed creation.

  2. Rich Says:

    I haven’t studied this subject enough to take a strong position. I’m also not a newbie. I have understood 1 Cor. 15 to provide a more detailed description of the resurrection of the body that is mentioned in Rom 8. Below are my thoughts to date.

    1. Restore implies a return to the original like restoring an old car or restoring the New Testament church. New implies replacement. The Bible uses the term “new” earth.

    2. Like the full wheat plant looks significantly different than its original seed or kernel, so our resurrected bodies will be significantly different. This seems to apply to the whole creation so that whatever the new earth is it won’t be anything like the current one.

    3. The Jews placed a strong emphasis on the continuance of the physical to the point of believing the messiah would just setup a worldly kingdom. It seems logical that humans in history would still assume the afterlife to just be an improved state of the earth.

    4. A restored earth gives the impression that humans and spiritual beings will have separate dwelling places. As a previous commenter said, it seems Jesus described humans and spiritual beings to coexisting in the same place.

    This is intended to be an inquiry rather than rebuttal.

    Thanks for the thought provoker.

  3. Jim Says:

    Rich, I know I’m not Bobby, but I will take the time to address your points in order.

    1. The Bible certainly does talk about “new heavens and a new earth” (Isa 65:17; 66:22; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1). But it also speaks of “the renewal [of the world]” (Matt 19:28) as well as “times of refreshing” and “the times of the restoration of all things” (Acts 3:19–21). In fact, in that sermon by Peter in Solomon’s Portico, Peter explicitly says that “heaven must receive” Jesus until those times can come (v. 21). Meaning, the refreshing and restoration of all things happens at Jesus’ return and not a moment before. Also, pay close attention to Peter’s words in 2 Peter 3. He compares the world to come to the world that now is; and that, in contrast to the world that was before the flood. In other words: From Noah’s perspective we live on a “new earth,” as his world was destroyed by water. But we know there is very real, physical continuity between the two. So it will be when the earth that now is comes to be cleansed of all unrighteousness by God’s refining fire.

    2. Our resurrected bodies will be significantly different than the bodies we have now, but that does not necessarily mean in appearance. Again, as Bobby pointed out in the article above (and as the apostles pointed out many times), Jesus’ own resurrection serves as a template for our own. His resurrected body was remarkably different in significant ways, but it was also the very same physical body that hung on the cross and laid in the tomb. Though he could cloud their perception of his very identity, and though he could appear out of thin air in a locked room, he still had “flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39), bore the marks of his crucifixion wounds, and ate and drank. The difference, then, is not necessarily one of appearance (though that is likely included, an option at the discretion of the image bearer [cf. Rev 1:12–16]), but of glory. In fact, in the very passage you’re referencing, that is exactly what Paul is discussing: Our future ascent from one form of glory to another (1 Cor 15:35ff). And where that, then, applies to the physical world can be found in passages that talk about flourishing and abundance, when even the deserts/wilderness become fruitful fields and dense forests (see the passages Bobby quoted above).

    3. The Jews (and Jesus’ disciples) placed a strong emphasis on the continuance of the physical and a worldly kingdom for very good reason: Because that is exactly what was prophesied and promised by God, the Patriarchs, and the Prophets (both Major and Minor). Indeed, it was even promised by Jesus himself. Note: “Blessed are the meek, because they will inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5). A lie if ever one was told if it so happens that the earth to be inherited is destroyed and, thus, never actually inherited. Note also: “Nevertheless, hold fast to what you have until I come. And the one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, I will give him authority over the nations, and ‘he will shepherd them with an iron rod; he will break them in pieces like jars made of clay,’ as I also have received from my Father, and I will give him the morning star” (Rev 2:25–28). When Jesus tells Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world,” he is not saying, “My kingdom is not of this earth.” He means his kingdom is not one marked by the fallen nature of this present, decaying, groaning world of darkness and death. Indeed, his kingdom, the kingdom of God (“heaven” was a common place-holder for the Divine Name in Jewish literature), is very truly of “the world to come” (cf. Heb 2:5ff). His kingdom is one of peace, security, abundance, and life.

    4. Actually, the idea of a restored earth (more accurately, a restored paradise on the earth in which God dwells) gives the very opposite impression of what you claim. Creation itself is the temple of God, and the Garden of Eden was its Most Holy Place. It is where God dwelt on earth with man, accompanied by his divine entourage. In “the restoration of all things,” John says quite rightly, “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with humanity, and he will take up residence with them, and they will be his people and God himself will be with them'” (Rev 21:2–3). Not that the new Jerusalem comes down, out of heaven, from God. Then God himself, seated upon his throne, says, “God’s dwelling is with man! He will dwell with them!” Indeed, heaven (or more accurately, the place Jesus went to prepare) will, quite literally, come to earth.

    God says he will come to live with man on the earth, while man, staying true to form, says, “I’ll fly away [to live with God in heaven]!” I feel it’s more than prudent to side with God on this issue.

    • Profile photo of Bobby Valentine Bobby Valentine Says:

      Excellent comment Jim. I have not had a chance to respond myself because of being on the go. But I can second your comment.

      You note that our bodies are different but not necessarily in appearance. I think this is important that we stress the continuity here. Our resurrected body will be free from Sin and Death. We have never seen a body like that, one free from decay. But that is part of the meaning of glorification – to be set free from Sin and Death. The problem in 1 Cor 15 is not bodies of tissue but Sin and Death. Those are defeated not human tissue.

      We often misunderstand Jesus’s words “my kingdom is not of this world.” Westerners instinctively read that thru dualistic lenses. Yet two things are to be noted (actually 3): Jesus is not Greek but fully operative within the Hebraic worldview; 2) the word “world” does not refer so the stuff of creation but an “age” that is in rebellion to its Creator; and 3) John uses the word “ek” … the kingdom is not OUT of this age. Jesus is not commenting on the materiality of his kingdom.

      Thanks for your comment.

  4. dwight Says:

    Bobby, it is not so much I disagree, but I have a hard time wrapping my mind around us moving towards the spiritual, as God is spirit, but being resurrected in the physical or some-what-spiritual or gaining an exact duplicate of the earth that is limited in its dimension. In this case it seems as though God will come down and reign on the earth or will he reign the earth from heaven? Will he then take on physical dimensions? These are questions that pose issues for me.

  5. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin Says:

    Bobby,

    Interesting topic. The comment that struck me most in the SS article is this: “But what is the motivation of these new advocates?” Meaning you and Hicks.

    What an asinine comment! It’s as if the author cannot even fathom that you might actually believe the things you write. No, you must have a nefarious agenda, a hidden motivation How very jack-boot.

  6. Rich Says:

    Back to normal after a big family event.

    How can we be so sure the word “earth” only means this physical sphere and not the designation for the dwelling place of humans? Jesus’ resurrected body was not limited to this physical planet.

    By the way, I’m not a SS fan. I’m just concerned we may have a too narrow view of the afterlife because we just don’t understand the full wonder of the our future transformation.

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