There are not many times I vividly remember reading my Bible and being struck by a passage of Scripture. Occasionally, I have had insights or seen a particular passage in a new light, but one incident in my memory stands above them all. I was reading through Romans when I came to a full stop. It took me several days to get past this section:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:1-5 (ESV)
Paul is explaining the greatness of the Gospel and then, oh by the way, more than that, we rejoice in our sufferings. Wait, stop, what? More than our salvation, we rejoice in suffering. I thought about it. I journaled about it. I prayed about it. It was hard to get past.
By way of context, I was sitting in Iraq at the time. I had recently returned from mid-tour leave, so I had some idea of suffering pretty close at hand. Yet, I was supposed to embrace this even more than Christ?
Fast-forward to today. Trinity Sunday, year C in the lectionary, the Epistle is this very passage. I’m getting excited to preach about this and challenge the congregation to embrace suffering a little more. I turn to my Bible and read:
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings…
Did you catch the difference? This is still the ESV, so what’s going on? The ESV was introduced in 2001, but changes were published in 2007 and 2011, so I did a little digging at Bible Researcher and found Romans 5:3 in the list of changes for 2011. Sure enough, the “more than that” became “not only that, but.” It doesn’t have quite the same punch.
So, which is the proper reading? Which is most faithful to the Greek text? Did the change soften a hard passage or fix a missed shade of meaning? More digging into other translations and a Greek interlinear seems to indicate that the revised text of 2011 is closer to what Paul wrote. It takes the edge off a bit, though it is still an interesting juxtaposition, and the underlying message didn’t change.
To rejoice in the midst of suffering is a sufficiently challenging injunction. The Scriptures and the early church fathers certainly attest to its value. Taking that head knowledge and applying it, however, is not easy. Some days, I’m doing good to merely identify some unpleasantness as suffering. It is hard to remember that I’m supposed to rejoice in it, too, instead of complaining or whining about it.