The Narrative of Glory

In Conformed to the Image of his Son: Reconsidering Paul’s Theology of Glory in Romans (IVP 2018) Dr Haley Goranson Jacob offers a very important corrective on what glory means in the Bible as part of her careful exegesis of the titular phrase “conformed to the image of his Son” in Romans 8:29. As we shall see, the significance of her painstaking semantic study of glory was not just to provide a more accurate definition for the lexicon.

Jacob persuasively makes the case that “glory” in Romans 8:30, and elsewhere throughout the Bible, almost always means honour or exalted status due to wealth, power or authority (pp. 62-63.) So the glory of God means his exalted status as the creator and ruler of all things (pp. 97.) In some cases, especially in the Old Testament, it does refer to the luminous manifest presence of God but that is a limited, technical meaning. Even there Jacob explains that the visual splendour actually signifies God’s unparalleled status (p. 63.) So when God glorifies humans it does not mean our faces will shine like Moses’, which was a unique phenomenon anyway. It means God giving humans an exalted position of power over creation.

Given this understanding of glory, she argues for an underlying “narrative of glory” in Romans 1:1-8:39 (p. 65.) She demonstrates that when Paul talks about the glory God has given to humanity, he has Psalm 8:5-9 in mind which itself is a meditation on Genesis 1:26-28. We know this because Psalm 8:6-8 quotes Genesis 1:26 in reference to the creatures God has given humans dominion over and this is a connection Paul was well aware of. So when it says in Psalm 8:5 that God that has crowned humanity with glory, which we now know means an exalted status of rule over creation (Psalm 8:6), it is a reference to God giving humanity rule over the earth in accordance with Genesis 1:26.

Therefore, when Paul in Romans 1:23, and reiterated in Romans 3:23, talks about humanity lacking the glory of God, it means humans giving up their God-given honourable position of rule over creation. Therefore, sin in the context of Romans 3:23 actually refers back to Romans 1:18-25. It is when humans “exchange the glory of God” by using their God-given authority to serve the creature instead of the Creator who gave them that power. By not acknowledging God, that is failing to give him glory as God, they lost the glory that comes from him. That glory is an honourable status of rule over creation. Adam loses this glory so God calls Israel to glory but Israel also fails. Paul alludes to this in Romans 1:23, which cites Psalm 106:23 and Jeremiah 2:11, both of which reference the golden calf incident in Exodus 32 (p. 104-105.) Because Israel also lost the glory “all have sinned” whether they are Jewish or not (p. 103.)

According to Romans 5:12-21, humanity is restored to glory in the Messiah Jesus who is portrayed as the Second Adam. Instead, of death reigning, those in the Messiah reign in life (Romans 5:17) (pp. 116-118.) The climax of this narrative of glory is Romans 8:30 which says we have been called to glory, which is what it means to be “conformed to the image of his Son” in 8:29 (pp. 140, 223.) The “image of God” was an ancient Near Eastern royal metaphor applied to kings which meant they represented the gods by ruling on their behalf (p. 197.) Kings were also described as the sons of gods (p. 174.) So being conformed to the image of his Son means sharing in the Messiah’s rule over creation (p. 218.)

So “humanity failed to be the image of God in its created purpose as those who are meant to rule over the created order” (p. 96.) That calling to rule in Genesis 1:26 is restored through the Messiah’s resurrection which overthrows the reign of death over creation. Instead of sin and death having dominion, now a human is ruling alongside God. So in passages like Romans 1:23, 3:23, 5:12-21, 8:29-30 and others, we can see an underlying narrative of glory that proceeds as enthronement, abdication and finally re-enthronement (p. 99-100.) We participate in Christ’s glorious rule both in the present and in the “age to come” (p. 236-237.)

What this narrative substructure indicates is that Paul has in mind an overarching biblical narrative from Adam to Israel and climaxing in Jesus the Messiah. From this we can say the narrative of glory also has important ramifications, to say the least, for the shape of the entire biblical narrative. You could further elaborate it to construct a biblical theology of glory.

There are hints of the narrative of glory in the New Testament outside of Paul. Perhaps the best example is Hebrews 2:5-10 which directly cites Psalm 8:5-9 in talking about Jesus. It shares many of the motifs of Romans 8:18-30 such as creation, the world to come, human rule, sonship, suffering and glory. The expression in Hebrews 2:10 that Christ is “bringing many sons to glory” is quite similar to Romans 8:29-30, which says those “conformed to the image of his Son” are “glorified”. Hebrews 2:5-10 suggests that to some degree the narrative framework of glory is not unique to Paul but a view shared by many in the early Church. For that and other reasons, I therefore think it is a good candidate for being a central canonical narrative of the Bible.

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