A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 8:14-17. d) The witness of the Spirit (continued).
Although some scholars both Jewish and Christian, are now suggesting that Jeremias’ case was overstated and needs to be modified, his main thesis stands. Further, Jesus told his disciples to pray ‘Our Father’, and thus authorised them to use in their address to God the very same intimate term which he used (Mt. 6:9; Lk. 11:2). ‘He empowers them to speak to their Heavenly Father literally as the small child speaks to his father, in the same confident and childlike manner.’ ‘Jewish usage shows how this Father-child relationship to God far surpasses any possibilities of intimacy assumed in Judaism, introducing indeed something which is wholly new’.
Some maintain that the Greek verb for *we cry (krazo)* is such a strong one that it expresses a loud, spontaneous, emotional ejaculation. Certainly it was used many times in the gospels for the shouts of demons when confronted by Jesus, and it can be translated ‘cry out, scream, shriek’ (BAGD). But it can equally well be rendered ‘call’ or ‘cry’, and so refer either to a liturgical acclamation in public worship or to a calling upon God in private devotion. In this case ‘Paul finds the particularity of *krazein*, not in enthusiasm or ecstasy, but in childlike and joyous assurance as contrasted with the attitude of the servant.
In such prayers to the Father we experience the inward witness of the Holy Spirit. For ‘when we cry, “Abba! Father!”’ taking on our lips the very words which Jesus used, ‘it is the Spirit himself bearing witness to our spirit that we are children of God’ (15b-16, RSV). The words are ours, but the witness is his. How is this witness borne, then, and what is implied by the prefix *syn* in the verb *symmartyreo*? Normally *syn* is translated ‘together with’, in which case there would be two witnesses here, the Holy Spirit confirming and endorsing our own spirit’s consciousness of God’s fatherhood. So, NEB: ‘In that cry the Spirit of God joins with our spirit in testifying that we are God’s children.’ This would be readily understandable, since the Old Testament required two witnesses to establish a testimony (E.g. Dt. 19:15). On the other hand, is it really possible in experience to distinguish between the Holy Spirit and our human spirit? More important, would not these two witnesses be inappropriately matched? Surely ‘we cannot stand alongside he Holy Spirit and give testimony’? For ‘what standing has our spirit in *this* matter? Of itself it surely has no right at all to testify to our being sons of God’. In this case the prefix *syn* is simply intensive, and Paul meant that the Holy Spirit bears a strong inward witness *to* our spirit that we are God’s children.
It is natural to associate his experience with what Paul has written earlier about a similar inward ministry of the Holy Spirit. According to 5:5 God through the Holy Spirit ‘has poured out his love into our hearts’. According to 8:16 the Holy Spirit ‘affirms to our spirit that we are God’s children’ (REB). Each verse gives us an example of the Holy Spirit’s ministry of inward assurance, as he convinces us of the reality of God’s love on the one hand and of God’s fatherhood on the other. Indeed, it would be hard to separate these, since God’s love has been conspicuously lavished upon us in making us his children (1 Jn. 3:1f.). Although we have no liberty to circumscribe God’s activity in any way, it seems from Christian biographies that God gives these experiences to his people chiefly when they pray, whether in public or in private.
Tomorrow: Romans 8:14-17. d). The witness of the Spirit (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.