Verse of the Day — Romans 8:16-17
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.1
For context concerning the author, date, purpose, historical and social setting, etc. of the Letter to the Romans, please refer back to the context of Romans 8:1-2 from yesterday’s verse of the day.
Literary Context: One can also refer back to yesterday’s post for more literary context, but it is important to recall that these verses are situated in a section (Romans 8, especially Rom 8:1-17) of Paul’s letter to the Romans concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit.2 — how the Holy Spirit manifests Himself in our lives, how we live in the Spirit3 4
More specifically, these verses conclude the section (Rom 8:14-17) within this section of the letter in which Paul writes about the witness of the Spirit5 — the Spirit of adoption.6 7 Through the Holy Spirit, believers become adopted daughters and sons of God (Rom 8:14-15).
Adoption (Aside): As scholars affirm, though “adopted” may “have a somewhat artificial sound in our ears,”8 in first-century Rome, adopted children were granted all the legal rights as biological children. They would inherit both the name and estate of their father.9 Not to mention, the adopted son of Julius Caesar Augustus became the first Roman Emperor — Augustus (63 BC – 14 AD).10 That being said, Paul may not have been using adoption as a legal metaphor, but as an allusion to the divine adoption formula found in the Old Testament (e.g., 2 Sam 7:14)11 In either case, the term adopted is not accompanied by any connotations of inferiority.
The Spirit himself testifies *to/with* our spirit: It seems that many, if not most, modern English translations render the Greek word, symmartyreō as “testify/bear witness with” (Rom 8:16 cf. RSV, NRSV, ESV, NASB, etc.). The word certainly can mean “bear witness with or in support of another”12 and I am sure many lexicons bear witness in support of such a rendering (e.g., “to provide confirming evidence by means of a testimony,”13 “corroborate by (concurrent) evidence”).14 If translated in such a way, this suggests that the Spirit of God testifies along with our own human spirit — our soul. The “inward witness of the Holy Spirit,”15 as J.B. Phillips writes, “endorses our inward conviction,”16.
However, given the way Paul otherwise uses the verb symmartyreō, which only occurs two other times in the New Testament (cf. Rom 2:15, 9:1), it may be wise, in this case, to translate the word “more generally to mean simply ‘to confirm’ or ‘bear witness.”17 Other lexicons bear witness in support of this plausible translation (e.g., “confirm,”18 “In the NT…[symmartyreō] means simply confirm / witness to”).19
In the Greek, the word for “spirit” — referring to our human spirit — is dative. Dative nouns are simply nouns that serve as the indirect object — that which “refers to the person or thing to which something is given or for whom something is done.”20 If I throw a ball to Jane, the ball is the direct object, that is, the noun that is being verbed. Jane is the indirect object, that is, the person or thing to which the direct object is verbed. So, if we are to opt for the second translation option, the Holy Spirit is not testifying along with our human spirit, but testifying/bearing witness/confirming to our human spirit.
According to Kruse, the view of whom resonates with me, “this is better than saying that the Spirit bears witness alongside [the witness of] our own spirits that we are children of God. It is ‘by the Spirit’ that we cry ‘Abba, Father’ [(Rom 8:15)]—we are reliant upon the Spirit alone for confirmation that we are children of God.”21
That we are children of God: Through the Spirit, we are able to become children of God (Rom 8:15 cf. Jn 1:12, 1 Jn 3:1-2).22 We are able to have a closer, more intimate, familial relationship with God. So much so, we can call Him Abba (8:15) — essentially an Aramaic equivalent of “daddy.”
Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ: Because believers are children of God, we are also heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, the Son of God (Jn 3:16, 1 Jn 5:5, 5:13, etc.). As Kruse explains, becoming an adopted heir allows one to have a share in one’s adoptive Father’s inheritance. This inheritance was promised to Abraham and his seed (offspring) (Gal 3:16, 18). Ultimately, the seed of Abraham is Christ (Gal 3:16 cf. Mat 1:1-17; Lk 3:23-38). And, all who belong to Christ are Abraham’s seed are, therefore, heirs to the Abrahamic promise (Gen 12:2-3; Gal 3:8; Gal 3:29) of inheritance.23.
What is this inheritance? This inheritance entails eternal life in the inbreaking, but not yet fully consummated, Kingdom or Reign of God24— “The sovereign rule of God, initiated by Christ’s earthly ministry and to be consummated when ‘the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ’ (Rv 11:15).”25
If indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory: Often, when a family is having a hard time, all the members in the family, though probably in varying degrees, have a hard time. When a family is doing well, the converse is often true. Families cry and rejoice together. So, if we are to be adopted into God’s family — one in which we are children and Jesus is our brother (Mat 12:50; Heb 2:11-12, etc.) — then “as members of the same family we share in the trials of life as well as the benefits.”26
One day, the Kingdom/Reign of God will be consummated, and Jesus will gloriously return like lightning. Prior to this, however, Jesus had to suffer many things and be rejected (Lk 17:24-25). While talking to the two on the road to Emmaus following His crucifixion and Resurrection, Jesus explains, “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Lk 24:26).27 28 If Jesus had to suffer in order to eventually be glorified, if Jesus had to become obedient to death before being exalted to the highest place (Php 2:8-9), it makes sense that, in some sense, we must also suffer in order to eventually share in His glory.
In what sense will believers suffer? For Paul, sufferings usually “denote[s] the afflictions or persecutions that he and the Roman believers encounter from…a hostile world.”29. Thus, here, everything that can possibly be construed as “suffering” (e.g., sudden illness, physical injury, etc.) is not necessarily in view. Perhaps what is in view is what Jesus had in mind when He said, “blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven…” (Mat 5:11-12).30
As Paul writes earlier in Romans, such sufferings produce perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope (Rom 5:3). Furthermore, these “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor 4:17).31
Summary: The Holy Spirit confirms to our own human spirit that we have been, in fact, adopted into God’s family. As such, we have a new, familial relationship with our Abba as children of God. Since we are children of God, we are also heirs of shares of the inheritance entailing eternal life in God’s eternal kingdom — the inheritance promised to Abraham and his Seed, our co-heir Jesus Christ. As co-heirs with Christ and members of God’s family, believers will experience various Christ-like sufferings in and by the hand of the world that is hostile to God — in order to ultimately experience Christ-like glorification.
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How might we apply Romans 8:16-17 today? For me, it is great cause for thanksgiving to be able to be called a child of God, to be able to — as Jesus did — cry out “Abba, Father” in prayer (Mk 14:36), and to be a co-heir with Christ.
Also, it is comforting to know that persecutions we face for following Christ here on earth will result in glory in the Kingdom of God. Sometimes the biggest stumbling block regarding making disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19-20) is our fear of unpopularity. Fear of backlash. Fear of ridicule. But such sufferings pale in comparison to the glory that will ultimately be revealed in us (Rom 8:18)
Therefore, we should strive to proclaim and defend the Good News of our familial kin, Christ, boldly. And, consequently, we should expect, but not fear, suffering — suffering that will lead to glorious, heavenly rewards.
What do you think of this passage? Please, feel free to leave a comment below or contact C4C on social media. Thank you for visiting CatchForChrist.net, God Bless!
- The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ro 8:16–17.
- John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 217-37.
- F. F. Bruce, Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 159-69
- Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 172-93
- Stott, 230
- Kruse, 336
- Douglas J. Moo, “Romans,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1140.
- Bruce, 167
- D. S. Potter, “Augustus (Emperor),” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 524-528
- Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 14-18.
- Henry George Liddell et al., A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 1677.
- G. D. Taylor, “Testimony,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).
- James Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 68.
- Bruce, 168
- Mounce, 183
- Kruse, 339
- James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
- Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990–), 287.
- Michael S. Heiser and Vincent M. Setterholm, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology (Lexham Press, 2013; 2013).
- Kruse, 339.
- Bruce, 168
- Kruse, 340
- George E. Ladd, “Kingdom of God (Heaven),” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1269.
- Mounce, 183
- The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Lk 24:26.
- Stott, 235
- Kruse, 229
- The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Mt 5:11–12.
- The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 2 Co 4:17.