A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 8:14-17. d). The witness of the Spirit (continued).
Secondly, the Spirit replaces fear with freedom in our relationship to God (15). This Paul attributes to the nature of the Spirit we received (an aorist, alluding to our conversion): *For you did not receive a Spirit* (or probably ‘the Spirit’) *that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship* (or ‘of adoption’, AV, REB). F.F.Bruce reminds us that we must interpret the implications of our adoption in terms not of our contemporary culture but of Greco-Roman culture of Paul’s day. He writes: ‘The term “adoption” may have a somewhat artificial sound in our ears; but in the Roman world of the first century AD an adopted son was a son deliberately chosen by his adoptive father to perpetuate his name and inherit his estate; he was no whit [sc. not in the smallest degree] inferior in status to a son born in the ordinary course of nature, and might well enjoy the father’s affection more fully and reproduce the father’s character more worthily.’
Both here in verse 15 and in Galatians 4:1ff. Paul uses the imagery of slavery and freedom with which to contrast the two eras, the old age and the new, and so our pre- and post-conversion situation. The slavery of the old age led to fear, especially of God as our judge; the freedom of the new age gives us boldness to approach God as our Father. So everything has changed. True, we are still slaves of Christ (1:1), of God (6:22) and of righteousness (6:18f.), but these slaveries, far from being incompatible with freedom, are its essence. Freedom, not fear, now rules our lives.
The punctuation at the end of verse 15 and of verse 16 is disputed. Paul enunciates three truths, namely that we *received the Spirit of sonship* (15a), that *we cry, ‘Abba Father*’ (15b), and that *the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children* (16). The uncertainty is how these three truths relate to one another, and in particular whether our ‘*Abba* Father’ cry should be attached to the clause preceding or following it. If the former is right, then we ‘received…a Spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry “Abba! Father!”’ (REB). If the latter is correct, however, then the sentence reads ‘When we cry “Abba! Father!” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God’ (RSV). The difference is not great. In the first rendering the ‘*Abba*, Father’ cry is the result of our receiving the Spirit of adoption; in the second it is the explanation of the Spirit’s inward witness. Either way, the gift of the Spirit, the cry and the witness belong together. But on balance I prefer the second interpretation, since then Paul is seen to move on from our relationship and attitude to God in general (not slavery but sonship, not fear but freedom) to the particular expression of it when we pray, from the nature of the Spirit we received to the witness of the Spirit in our prayers.
Thirdly, the Spirit prompts us in our prayers to call God ‘Father’. The preservation side by side of the Aramaic (*abba*) and Greek (*pater*) words for ‘father’, which some commentators since Augustine have seen as a symbol of the inclusion of Jews and Gentiles in God’s family, seems to go back to Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane, when he is recorded as having prayed ‘*Abba*, Father’ (Mk. 14:36; cf. Gal 4:6). Joachim Jeremias’ researches into the prayer literature of ancient Judaism convinced him that Jesus’ use of this colloquial and familiar term of address to God was unique. ‘*Abba* was an everyday word, a homely family-word. No Jew would have dared to address God in this manner. Jesus did it always, in all his prayers which are handed down to us, with one single exception, the cry from the cross.’
Tomorrow: Romans 8:14-17. d). The witness of the Spitit (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Romans: Christ the Controversialist. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.