28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. — Romans 8:28-30
Many assume when Paul says believers are “to be conformed” to the image of Christ, he refers to our sanctification. Many also think that when Paul says God “glorified” believers, he means that just as we have been predestined, called, and justified, it is so certain that we will be glorified that Paul speaks of it as already having happened. But is that really the case?
Haley Goranson Jacob, Assistant Professor of Theology at Whitworth University, wrote her dissertation under N. T. Wright on just this topic. What does glorification have to do with believers? How is it related to being conformed to the image of God’s Son? Her hope for her book is that “it will challenge readers to consider again the goal of salvation, the reason for God’s redeeming work in the life of the believer” (xiv).
Jacobs gives six ways “to be conformed” to Christ is understood:
- Physical conformity = receiving the same “form”/body as Christ’s resurrected body,
- Spiritual/moral conformity = sanctification,
- Conformity to the Son’s eschatological glory/radiance,
- Sacrificial conformity = becoming like Christ through suffering,
- Some combination of the above,
- Some make no attempt to explain what the phrase means.
- Functional conformity = believers “are conformed to his [Jesus’] status as the Son of God who rules over creation” (10, she mentions this a few pages later from the first six listed above).
Jacobs’ “one ultimate objective” is “to examine Romans 8:29b within its own literary and theological context” (2). She intends to “substantiate this functional reading of Romans 8:29b hinted at” by scholars such as Dunn, Jewett, Schreiner, Byrne, and Wright (11).
Part One: The Hope of Glory in Romans 5-8 covers chapters two to four in Jacob’s book. In chapter two Jacobs performs a lexical analysis of the use of glory and glorify in the Septuagint and in apocalyptic texts in reference to God and humans. She concludes is that glorifying a person “constitutes or is closely related to the honor, power, wealth or authority associated with an exalted status of rule” (62-63). Instead of radiance (like Moses in Exodus 34), a person who is glorified gets honor and an exalted status.
In chapter three, Jacobs helpfully reconsiders glory and glorify in Romans, specifically in regards to humanity (1:23; 2:7, 10; 3:23; 5:2) and Israel (1:23; 9:4, 23). She suspends examining Romans 8 until later. One must understand Adam’s image and glory is a centerpiece to Paul’s Christology and anthropology in Romans (73-74). Christ, the new Adam, fulfills Adam’s position and gives believers an exalted status and “the crown of glory originally given to Adam” (84).
In chapter four, Jacobs looks at union and participation in Christ’s glorification. The exalted status that Christ receives (as the resurrected divine-human king) also becomes the believer’s (133). Looking at “conformed” in Phil. 3:21 and “image” in 1 Cor. 15:49 and Col. 3:10, Jacobs concludes that the believer’s participation (and conformity) to the Son is one of “vocational participation” (169). Just as Christ fulfills Adam role ruling over creation, so that vocational role is given to us.
Part Two: Romans 8:29 covers chapters five through eight. Here she places Romans 8:29 within the literary and theological context of Romans 8.
In chapter five, Jesus’ designation as “the Son” is meant to show that he fulfills the status of the Davidic king (who was God’s son, 2 Sam 7:14; Ps 89:26) and Adam, the first human “son of God” (Lk 3:38) by perfectly representing God as the image of God. Believers become part of God’s family through this Davidic Son.
In chapter six, Jacobs shows that Paul uses exodus imagery to show that just as Israel became God’s children through the exodus, so now believers become God’s children through the “new exodus” brought about by Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection. We are adopted as God’s children (having his Spirit in us now) and look forward to our full adoption (at the resurrection). As co-heirs with Christ and offspring of Abraham (Rom 4:18, 23-24), we will inherit the world (4:13).
In chapter seven, we see that the believer’s vocational participation with Christ is something that happens in the present and in the future. We are partly glorified now by being freed from the powers of sin and death and having received the Holy Spirit (237). We are to cooperate with God in bringing redemption to the rest of the world (250).
Chapter eight presents four alternate proposals to Romans 8:29 and chapter-by-chapter conclusions.
What is “the goal of salvation” (266)? How do we rule well with Christ now? We “participate with God in bringing redemption to creation” and by “extending God’s hand of mercy, love, and care to his wider creation” (266).
The Spoiled Milk
There isn’t much to complain about in this book, but there are a few things to mention.
First, as mentioned by My Digital Seminary, Jacobs notes that “the shining of the of the wise [in Daniel 12:2-3] is directly correlated with their exaltation” at the resurrection (57). She suggests that “‘shining like the stars’ is metaphorical language to describe the exalted status/life of the dead who rise to eternal life” (58). Stars weren’t only thought to represent kings, but heavenly beings (Deut 4:19; 1 Kgs 22:19; Job 38:6-7). God’s promise to Abraham was his offspring would be numerous like the stars (Gen 15:5, see David Burnett’s article). Abraham’s offspring would be numerous, but they would also be qualitatively different. The heavenly sons of God in the Old Testament (Job 38:6-7), some of who ruled and became corrupt (Ps 82, see “gods” in v. 6), will be replaced by those who put their faith in the Son of God who rules over all creation. Those who put their faith in the Son are considered sons of God (Rom 8:14-15, 19, 23). We will judge angels (1 Cor 6:3) and replace their authority (Deut 32:8-9) when we sit on Christ’s throne (Rev 3:21) with Jesus himself. This heavenly “not yet” aspect would strengthen her overall thesis (that conformity to Christ means participating in his rule over creation).
A few times Jacobs notes how someone has failed to see the “embedded motif of believers’ vocational participation in the Messiah’s fulfillment of Psalm 8” (141), or failed to qualify a particular statement (130), to articulate what “participation” in Christ means (131), etc. (see pgs. 90, 120, and 211, fn. 38). Jacobs is gracious at points, but I found it unnecessary to use such strong language in these six instances. While I agree with Jacob’s overall thesis, wen she is the first person to see her argument, one would think she would be more gracious to others and what they have or haven’t seen.
Formerly her dissertation, Jacobs has revised the book somewhat for publication. So I should let you know that she often puts forth arguments against certain scholars, and those discussions can run from a few paragraphs to a few pages. While not a negative, but this limits the types of people who will want to read this book. Much in here is good, but it is also very technical and will put off a lot of people. In her discussions with and against the viewpoints of other scholars, many will not have heard of these scholars or have read many of their arguments. While her points against other scholars is important for her argument, for some they will seem pedantic.
I think Jacobs has researched the topic of conformity to Christ very well. Scholars and academics would do well to consider her arguments. If what she says is right, then it helps the church to know what it means to be conformed to Christ and how we can fulfill Adam’s original mandate—fill the world with people who will glorify God—by being sons of God in the last Adam. This work brings to focus the responsibility of all believers. We have a new status as God’s adopted and glorified children. We await the resurrection to receive these things in full, but we are given a new status now and the opportunity (and call) to participate with the reigning King who saved us and brought us into his family. Even if you don’t agree with everything she writes, this is an excellent analysis of Romans 8:29, and a great work. I hope this will be disseminated throughout scholarship and will trickle down to the church quickly.
- Author: Haley Goranson Jacob
- Paperback: 312 pages
- Publisher: IVP Academic (July 17, 2018)
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