The four possible meanings usually put forward either emphasize or
identify THS KTISEWS as 1) all humankind, including believers, 2) human nonbelievers,
3) human nonbelievers and nonhuman creation, and 4) nonhuman (Cranfield and Moo use
the outdated, humanistically arrogant term sub-human) creation (J. D.
G. Dunn holds this view).
The first position is untenable, since there are clear distinctions
in Paul's discussion between creation and the sons of God (v. 19),
creation and the children of God (v. 21), and creation
and we ourselves (v. 23), indicating that all creation in v. 22
does not include believers. The second and third positions are also problematic in
that Paul affirms that THS KTISEWS will receive liberty (v. 21), while elsewhere in
Romans he is clear that those who live according to the flesh in sin are headed
for death. Therefore, the correct reading of THS KTISEWS identifies it with nonhuman
creation, which is position four above.
The construction which is literally translated "the eager expectation
of creation eagerly awaits" bears attention because it
has two possible meanings: 1) creation itself is eagerly awaiting (so the NRSV and
others) and 2) creation's expectation itself is eagerly awaiting (i.e.- creation
does not at present experience this expectation, but will experience it at the
future revelation). Dunn, Cranfield, Moo, and Stuhlmacher affirm the first possibility.
It is likely from the context that this is Paul's meaning, for the claim that even
creation eagerly expects the future glory is a much stronger support of Paul's claim
of the greatness of future glory (v. 18) than is a claim that creation's expectation
needs the future glory in order to be actualized. Paul is therefore claiming in v. 19
that nonhuman creation is actively expecting the revelation of the children of God.
The adnominal genitive "of the sons" is significant because its
meaning illuminates Paul's understanding of the centrality of human redemption with
regard to the redemption of nonhuman creation. It is possible to view this genitive
as either one of relationship (i.e.- possession) or as an objective genitive. If
the latter, the construction can be translated "the revelation about the children
of God," wherein Paul would mean that nonhuman creation eagerly waits for the
children of God to be revealed. However, if we are dealing with a simple possessive
genitive, then Paul says that nonhuman creation waits for the same revelation which
belongs to the children of God, the content of which is probably the future glory
Paul acclaims. Notably, the only other Pauline use of "revelation"
followed by a noun other than Jesus Christ in the genitive shows and obvious
objective genitive relationship (Rom 16:5, "revelation of (about) the
Therefore, Paul probably intends the objective sense of "of the
sons," which means that nonhuman creation is eagerly awaiting the revealing of the
children of God, though Paul does not as yet tell the reader what this revealing is,
except that it takes place in the coming glory.
The identity of the sons of God is made clear by
vv. 15-16. Those who receive the spirit are children of God, and God's spirit
confirms this. These children and the content of the revelation about them are further
defined by Paul in v. 29 (see below).
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