For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Romans 8:38
Persuaded – When you think about this verb, what comes to mind? Is persuasion a mental function, the result of argument, of a dialogue that demonstrates evidence? Is that what Paul means? Has he come to the place where he arrived at a conclusion after reviewing the facts? If that’s what Paul means, he would be a rare individual indeed. In all my years I have never met anyone who came to believe in the Messiah on the basis of an intellectual argument. I’ve met a few who voiced the objection of Felix (“You almost persuade me”), but I’ve never met a single person who decided to make Jesus his Lord on the basis of the facts alone. I suspect that Paul didn’t have this understanding in mind either.
The Greek verb peitho can be about rational argument and evidence. It also can mean winning favor or gaining friendship. But Paul isn’t Greek, so I suspect that he has another concept in mind, the idea expressed in the Hebrew word pathah. The basic meaning of this word (translated “persuade” in the English Old Testament) is to spread out, to open up or to make wide. You might think of it in relation to God’s desire to make the places for His children wide and gentle expanses. One of the images we encounter in the Scriptures is the picture that sin restricts us, it narrows the way and confines us, but forgiveness opens the way and gives us room to breathe. When Paul talks about persuasion, I have a feeling that he is thinking about pathah rather than the intellectual exercise of peitho.
Look at the context of Paul’s declaration. These are some pretty big categories – death, life, angels, authorities, powers and the entire scope of the present and the future. No intellectual argument can stand up to these kinds of things. Just the inclusion of the future in this list makes it patently obvious that gathering evidence and coming to logical conclusions is not what Paul has in mind. After all, we have no control whatsoever over what evidence might come forth in the future. No, Paul is not talking about the probabilities of scientific inquiry. He is talking about resolute, personal conviction grounded in an encounter with the living God. I’m sorry, Josh McDowell, but evidence that demands a verdict is not what Paul has in mind in this verse. Paul uses the Greek verb in the perfect passive tense. This means that whatever he is saying, it is intensely personal and absolutely fixed in the past. This is a conviction that requires nothing further. It is an action completed once for all time.
It might help if we knew that this same Greek verb is also translated trust, obey and believe. Now we see the connections. This is not simply intellectual affirmation. It is a verb that, for Paul, describes a total commitment to a way of life. It is exactly what a disciple experiences when God opens the way to righteousness and removes all the restrictions that sin caused.
There’s more than Greek apologetics here. This is Hebrew thinking – an apologetics that resides in life experience, an apologetics that embraces the total person, not just the mind. So, ask yourself, “Are you persuaded?” Has your experience with God opened your world?
Topical Index: Apologetics