40 Days, Day 18: Romans 8:28

Question: 

What did you hear in Romans 8:28? "And we know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into his plans." (TLB)

Answer: 

Very few of the words used in the translation above actually appears in the original Greek. Works like the Living Bible are not really translations as they much as they are a paraphrasing of earlier translations such as the KJV, which themselves can drift away from the source. This verse demonstrates both translation and interpretation problems.

A more literal translation of the Greek is:

οἴδαμεν{We have seen} δὲ  {however} ὅτι {that} τοῖς {those} ἀγαπῶσι {welcoming} τὸν {the] θεὸν (Divine} πάντα {in every way/all things} συνεργεῖ {it/He cooperates/works together} [ὁ θεὸς]  {the Divine}εἰς {in} ἀγαθόν, {useful/beneficial} τοῖς {those} κατὰ {in accordance} πρόθεσιν {a purpose} κλητοῖς {invited/summoned} οὖσιν {being}.

Here are a couple of possible forms easier for English speakers: "We have seen, however, that embracing  the Divine in every way cooperates in a use for those being summoned for a purpose."  Or "We have seen, however, that welcoming the Divine [the Divine] works together all things in a benefit for those being invited in accordance with a purpose." The two versions are necessary because the second "the Divine" doesn't appear in all manuscripts. Its presence changes the way the words must be read.

Of course, in a more accurate translation a couple of what seems to be its most important words in the Living Bible version are lost. The chief ones are "love" and "good".  Interestingly, both Greek words are from the same root, but their meanings as a verb and an adjective are quite different though related. Though those difference illustrate why they don't work well as the verb "love" and the adjective "good."   The Greek words have a different sense than those words in English, though those words play very heavily in how religion is discussed today.

The word translated as "love" means "to greet with affection", "welcome", and "to care for" though it is translated in the noun form as "love." More about this word, agapao,  in this article. As that article notes, this idea of "love" is very different than how we use the word today. Here, the sense is clearly "welcoming" because the context is discovering the will of God by consulting with other believers.

The word translated as "good" is part of the general problem with the Greek terms translated as "good," "evil", "sin," and so on in the Gospels. This article puts all of these words in context. This "good" is the last one discussed, agathos. There are two different Greek words, with very different meanings, translated as "good" in the NT and neither one really means "good" in the sense we read it here.  Agathos, means useful for a purpose as in beneficial. As an adjective, it means "useful"  or "beneficial."  That meaning of "useful" is especially clear here since the verse mentions "a purpose." Of course, a purpose is different than "plans" since one is a goal and the other is a means to a goal.  Since the adjective is used as a noun here, "a benefit" works better than "a use."