Question about Romans 8:37

Quick question about Romans 8:31-37.

It says:

What then shall we say to these things?

If God is for us, who is against us?

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?

God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Just as it is written,


But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.

Why is verse 37 in the past tense?

And how does it affect the meaning of the verse?

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4 thoughts on “Question about Romans 8:37

  1. I think it’s once again calling attention to Christ’s act of love in his death on the cross, as it does several times throughout the passage (“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all; Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised”). All the emphasis on Christ’s death and resurrection is, I think, summed up in “how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” – we take comfort in knowing that God has already given us the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate gesture of love, and everything else is small potatoes when seen in comparison.

    • Yes, that’s one answer I was considering.

      I would unpack your answer, then, by saying that God’s love is shown in a twofold manner. First, it is established once for all in the cross, and second, it continues daily (“freely give us all things”). In this verse, the past tense puts the focus on the cross rather than on the additional daily manifestations of God’s continuing love (the “small potatoes”).

      That affects what it means to “overwhelmingly conquer” in trials through Him who loved us. We conquer by taking comfort in God’s ultimate sacrifice — that He loved us. If Paul had said “loves us” it would have meant that we conquer by taking comfort in the new ways that God continues to show His love to us during the trials. (Of course we can take comfort in both at once. What I mean to ask is which of the two is the primary emphasis of the verse itself.)

      I think there is at least one other plausible answer to the question of why “loved” is in past tense, though. I’m still thinking about it.

      Also, of course, it could be that the Greek tense is one of those aorist thingies (technical term 🙂 ) and the English translation just isn’t capturing it properly.

  2. Well, it is aorist (I dragged out my nifty tools and checked), as is “delivered” (in “delivered Him up”) and “died” (in “Christ Jesus is He who died”). But that really doesn’t change anything in the analysis; the aorist may vary by referring to something from the perspective of its inception or completion, or from the perspective of any point at which it was [whatever it was], but it won’t change the nature of its time reference by itself. When something happened, in the aorist, it just “happened” (past tense) in English. As far as I can tell, anyway.

    So the passage sets up those things that might seem to defeat *us*, and underscores how Christ defeats *them*. Someone might accuse us, but how can their accusation be more authoritative than the Christ who died for us? Someone might threaten us, but what can they threaten that Christ who was raised for us did not overcome? We may fear we will waver, but how can we fail through any of these things when God now justifies us, the God who did not prevent Christ from dying for us, the God who raised Him up, the God who validates our faith by His own prior action? So long as we look to ourselves and our milieu, we have reason to fear, but when we look to Christ, we see Him already having done, and by resurrection now doing, what God has always already been doing for us, and still is. Each respect in which we overcome through Christ turns out to be only the first of many other respects; each way in which one solution might seem to fail only reveals the manifold nature of God’s work of salvation.

    I think the brief text which speaks to this tensed nature of salvation might be “God commends His love toward us, in that while were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

    • Thanks for the extra info!

      My current take, which I am pretty satisfied with, is to think about the two things he could have said.

      The first is that he could have emphasized the confidence we have that God, right now, in the midst of our persecution, still loves us, and that would have led to his using the present tense, which is what I was expecting.

      The second is that he is contrasting our present experience — persecution and tribulation — with the settled-in-the-past fact of Christ’s dying for us. He is saying, It doesn’t matter what things look like right NOW, the fact is that the cross established for all time how much God loves us. So, rhetorically, the past tense brings into focus the contrast between our changing circumstances and God’s definitively proven love.

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