N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.
Rom 5:3-5, Part 2
(Rom. 5:3-5 ESV) 3 Not only that, but we rejoice [Greek: “boast”] in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope [confident expectation of redemption], 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
“God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”
As we’ve seen in earlier posts, the language of the Spirit being “poured” is a reference to several OT prophecies of the coming of the Spirit at the end of the Exile and the coming of the Kingdom. And it’s specifically promised to not only the first generation to receive it, but successive generations. We need not repeat those many passages here.
The Greek is ambiguous as to whether “God’s love” is “God’s love for us” or “our love for God.” Some translations, such as the ESV, prefer to think in terms of God’s love for us, likely because traditional readings of Romans so emphasize what God does for the sinner. But Wright disagrees, and I think for good reason —
It is then possible, and preferable, to read “the love of God” in 5:5 as a similar allusion to the Shema, and to take it therefore as the objective genitive: our love for God. This then links up with two previous programmatic passages in the letter: 1:5, where Paul speaks of “the obedience of faith” as the result of the gospel, and 3:30, where the monotheism of the Shema undergirds justification itself.
If this is right, 5:5 is tied closely to the exposition of the worldwide family of Abraham in chap. 4: the Shema is now fulfilled by all those who love the God revealed in Jesus the Messiah. This fits well with several other passages in the letter (e.g., 2:25–29; 8:4–9; 10:6–11), and provides a striking reason for not being ashamed to be living in hope, which is after all what the present passage is about. To find in one’s heart a Spirit-given love for God is itself more than consolation. To realize that this love fulfils the central command of Torah is to discover oneself to be a member of the renewed people of God.
N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in The Acts of the Apostles-The First Letter to the Corinthians, vol. 10 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 517.
I would add that the promises of the Spirit in the OT are built on God’s promise to circumcise the hearts of those who return to him in Deu 30:6 —
(Deut. 30:6 ESV) 6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
The whole point of the receipt of the Spirit, going back to the Torah, is that God’s chosen people love him with all their hearts and souls.
Then again, as so often is the case, perhaps the ambiguity is entirely intentional — and Paul intends both meanings.