And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28 NKJV)
This is a much quoted verse. It is assumed that “things” refers to events. But, if so, does the verse describe reality? Consider the fate of the early Christians. Paul was beheaded; Peter was crucified upside down. Many second-century Christians were tortured and burned at stake. Did these events result in good for those Christians?
In the middle ages, the Anabaptists (the spiritual ancestors of Hutterites and Mennonites) were tortured, drowned, or burned to death. Did those events “work together for good” for those Anabaptists? Even in our day, Christians in many countries are persecuted to death using similar means. Does that work for their good?
I’m going to suggest a different interpretation. “Things” doesn’t refer to events at all. Then to what do they refer?
First I want to say the oldest extant manuscript that contains the verse contains the words “ο θεος” (ho theos), which means “the God” (usually translated simply as “God.” That manuscript is Papyrus 46, and is considered by many to have been copied in the second century, although Young Kyu Kim proposed a date in the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81-96) based on the fact that the handwriting style is exactly the same as other manuscripts dated as being in first century. All other manuscripts of Romans 8:28 are dated later than A.D. 300.
With the words words “ο θεος” included, the verse would read:
And we know that God works all things together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. How God does that is explained in the very next two verses:
For those whom he foreknew he also pre-appointed to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he pre-appointed he also called, and those whom he called he also made righteous, and those whom he made righteous, he also glorified.
So this is how God works all things together for good—things that He does within those who love Him. There is a sequence in His working:
- He pre-appoints to be conformed to the image of Christ.
- He calls.
- He makes righteous.
- He glorifies.