Epistles of Thomas

October 7, 2007

Romans 8:28 TC Conclusion

Filed under: Greek,New Testament,Textual Criticism — Thomas @ 23:26

In my last post we looked at the internal evidence relevant to the textual difficulty in this verse. Today we will summarise the evidence and posit a conclusion. Finally, we will look at the implications this has for understanding this verse and Paul’s message.


The external evidence is divided but overall it seems to point to the shorter text as being original although the longer text is supported by the majority of primary Alexandrian witnesses. Clement and Origen are divided on the issue although we cannot be positive on either. Given the widespread geographical support of the “omission” it would appear that perhaps the addition is strictly an Alexandrian phenomenon. Internally, the evidence is also slightly in favour of the shorter text. Although the longer reading is more difficult it is not overly so. It would appear likely that a scribe in Alexandria added ο θεος in order to rule out “Holy Spirit” and “all things” as the subject of the verb. It also seems unlikely that a scribe would completely omit God when he could modify it to αυτος. I must conclude that the shorter reading is the original.


We must now look at the implications of this decision. The first thing we must do is to take παντα as an accusative of respect. We have already noted the difficulties with this but it seems to fit the context. Within the context of God being the subject of the following verses there is no reason to expect otherwise here. This is furthered by Genesis 50:20 in the Septuagint which Paul echoes. It reads, ο δε θεος εβουλευσατο περι εμου εις αγαθα, and as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good.[1] In this verse God is the subject and Paul is echoing this. As Douglas Moo points out, this leaves us with two options; either to take παντα as the direct object (NASB) or as an accusative of respect (NIV).[2] Verbs such as συνεργεω do not usually take a direct object. On a cautionary note, Moo points out that if you do not have ο θεος, “the sequence ‘for those who love God, God works’ is awkward; we would not expect the object of the participle to become the subject of the main verb” (528 n.113). We accept the first option given by Cranfield and render it “in all things” or “in all respects.”

Romans 8:28 is thus best rendered as in the UBS/NA text: οιδαμεν δε οτι τοις αγαπωσιν τον θεον παντα συνργει εις αγαθον τοις κατα προθεσιν κλητοις ουσιν or in all its accented glory (assuming you have Gentium): οδαμεν δ τι τος γαπσιν τν θεν πάντα συνεργε ες γαθόν, τος κατ πρόθεσιν κλητος οσιν And we know that to the ones loving God, he works together in all things for good to those who are being called according to his purpose. This makes the best sense of the manuscript evidence, the grammatical structure, and the context. Failing to take God as the subject we are left with “all things work together for good” from which we still must supply the idea that God is behind these events; they do not just work themselves out in this way.[3]

In conclusion, we see that textual variation can create ambiguities in the meaning of the text. In Romans 8:28 a scribe added ο θεος as a way of helping the author by making explicit the subject of the verb. This eliminated the ambiguity that resulted in various subjects being assigned to the verb: “God,” “all things,” and “Holy Spirit.” We have seen through this study that God the Father is the most likely subject of the verb. It is God who is behind the scenes working in all events to ensure that good comes to those who love him and who have been called according to his purpose. In all of this we cannot lose sight of the fact that good does not come to us in a eudemonistic manner. It comes to those who love God, but they do not love him as a work but rather because they have been called according to his purpose. The emphasis in entirely on what God is doing and has done. The “good” is not necessarily what our culture would call good in the sense of pleasurable, but it is rather what furthers our calling and it may in fact be quite “bad” in our perception. In all of this he is bringing us closer to Christ to whom we are united in the Spirit. May we always remember that God is continually working toward this end among those who love him and are seeking to live the purpose to which they have been called.


[1] See Cranfield, 212; Rodgers, 549.


[2] The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996. 528.


[3] Ibid.


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