I have a preposition for you

Romans 5:1-3a Therefore, having been justified by faith . . . we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations . . . {NAS}

What a difference a preposition can make. For those who have tried to repress the memories of (what once was) middle school grammar, prepositions are little words like at, byin, to, and with. You probably don’t pay attention to the prepositions you read unless you’re in the throes of a sentence diagram.

But then certain theological dinosaurs come along who claim that all of Scripture is God-breathed, not just in its overall message but down to the very words. That’s not to say that the words of Scripture work outside of the normal rules of language, but it does mean that an author’s word choice isn’t an irrelevant detail. And so we consider two prepositions in the opening of Romans 5.

What we can’t see in our English translations is a change in prepositions:

“we exult in [epi] hope of the glory of God”

“we also exult in [en] our tribulations”

I won’t bore you with too many details so stick with me. Different prepositions bring a different meaning or sense to what looks & sounds like similar phrases. The basic idea for epi is “on.” In Rom 5:2 it conveys the basis or ground for our exulting. As in “we exult on [the basis of] hope of the glory of God.” But en is most likely pointing to a position or place–where we exult. As in “we also exult in [the place of] our tribulations.”

In other words, we rejoice on the expectation (i.e. hope) of future glory even when we we’re in a place of tribulation.¹ Because we have been justified by faith in Christ (Rom 5:1) we have a hope that suffering can’t destroy.

Here’s the significance:

  1. We rejoice over future glory not tribulation.
  2. You are not spiritually deficient if you mourn & groan in your suffering (see Rom 8:23-24)
  3. Although undesirable, tribulation still works for your good when it increases your hope in a future that will not disappoint (Rom 5:3-5 cf. Rom 8:18, 28).

Let’s hear it for prepositions.


¹In the context of Romans 5 what counts as “tribulation”? Cold, flu, stress, sickness, disease, broken relationships, criticism, libel, broken bones, broken hearts, ALS, cancer, losing a spouse, losing a child, depression, anxiety, loneliness, poverty, rebellious children, infidelity. Basically anything that reminds us that we have fallen short of God’s glory counts as tribulation.

Author: Jonathan P. Merritt

Happily married father of six. Lead pastor at Edgewood Baptist Church (Columbus, GA). Good-natured contrarian, theological Luddite, and long-suffering Atlanta Falcons fan. A student of one book.

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