If we judge by Romans 8:28, God (if God there be) is not watching out for all the denizens of this little blue and white planet earth; rather God is only concerned for the welfare of his chosen people. Here are three translations of the text:
- We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (NIV; RSV and An American Translation are similar).
- We know that all things work for good for those who love God who are called according to his purpose (New American Bible for Catholics).
- And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them (New living Translation).
The word “God” appearing as the subject of the main verb in translations 1 and 3, does not appear in most manuscripts, although the reading is supported by a few very early manuscripts. The United Bible Societies Committee for the establishment of the critical text of the New Testament judged the addition of the noun “God” as subject of the sentence had the character of a natural explanatory addition to the text, since the singular ending to the verb “works together for” (sunergei) suggested a personal subject. Since in Greek a singular verb may take a plural neuter subject, a majority of the committee opted for the subject being “all things” (panta, neuter plural with singular verb). Translations 1 and 3 opted for the minority reading.1 Translation 2 apparently followed the rationale employed by the United Bible Societies Committee.
Here is my translation of the text:
And we know that for those who love God, those who are called in accordance with a proposed end, all things work together for good.
The first thing that strikes me is that “all things work together for good” only for those who love God and are called in accordance with a certain proposed end. The rest of humanity is apparently excluded from the expectation that “all things will work together for good” in their lives. The lives of those not chosen and called will be clouded with things not working well; that is to say, there will be complications and disappointments, etc.
What is the “proposed end” to which Paul refers? In his undisputed letters Paul uses the word here translated as “proposed end” (prosthesis) one other time (Rom 9:11). In its context (Romans 9:6-18) the “proposed end” (Rom 9:11) appears to be “God’s proposed end of election,” which is that God’s calling comes to some and not to others. Paul seems to use the terms election/calling/choosing as different ways of describing the same event.2 This act involves God foreknowing, predestining, calling, justifying, glorifying certain persons but not others (Rom 8:29-30).
The difficulty with Paul’s idea that “all things work together for good for those who love God” is that it is simply not true.3 Bad things still happen to good Church folk in this briar patch we call earth, as a glance at any church or synagogue prayer list will prove, particularly as regards personal health issues. Church folk will be found to have as many health issues as the un-churched and they are as susceptible to covid-19 virus as anyone. The truth of the matter is that God (if God there be) does the best s/he can for all of us in the human family, or at least Jesus seemed to think so (Matt 5:45).4
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
1Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.; United Bible Societies, 1971), 458.
2Calling/choosing: 1 Cor 1:26-28; election/calling: Rom 9:11; election/choosing: Rom 11:5, 7, 28-29.
3See Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (1981).
4See Hedrick, The Wisdom of Jesus, 110.