Book Write-Up: Conformed to the Image of His Son, by Haley Goranson Jacob

Haley Goranson Jacob.  Conformed to the Image of His Son: Reconsidering Paul’s Theology of Glory in Romans.  IVP Academic, 2018.  See here to purchase the book.

Haley Goranson Jacob teaches theology at Whitworth University.  This book, Conformed to the Image of His Son, offers a fresh interpretation of Romans 8:29-30.

Romans 8:29-30 states: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.  And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”  (NRSV)

What does Paul mean when he refers to believers being conformed to the image of God’s Son?  Two proposals are prominent.  The first view is that believers will be conformed to the image of God’s Son in terms of holiness: they will become like Christ in their moral and spiritual character.  The second view is that Paul means that their resurrection bodies will be glorified, shining bright, like Christ’s glorified resurrection body.

Although Jacob rejects these interpretations, moral holiness and bodily composition still seem to factor into her scenario.  Jacob accepts Colossians as authentically Pauline, and Colossians 3:7-9 presents moral aspects to becoming conformed to the image of God.  Paul also depicts believers’ resurrected bodies as new and improved, in possessing immortality, for instance.

Jacob argues, however, that Paul has a different focus in Romans 8:29-30.  For Jacobs, when Paul affirms that believers will be glorified, he means that they will be honored.  And when Paul refers to believers being conformed to the image of God’s Son, he is echoing themes in the Hebrew Bible.  There is Genesis 1:26-27, which depicts God’s image as the dominion that human beings have over creation.  Jesus is God’s Son in the sense that he is the Messiah, for the Davidic ruler in the Hebrew Bible was called God’s Son.  Jacob argues that, for Paul, believers are conformed to the image of God’s Son in that they join Jesus in ruling over a creation that is being renewed.

This has future implications, but it has present implications, as well.  When Paul in Romans 8:26-27 talks about the Spirit interceding for believers when they pray, Jacob believes that this relates to believers praying for creation, not so much their own personal issues.  Jacob translates Romans 8:28 differently from how it is customarily translated.  Most translations render it as all things working together for those who love God (Romans 8:28), but Jacob interprets it in terms of believers working with God in the renewal of creation, not so much things clicking in their personal lives.

In making her argument, Jacob appeals to a variety of considerations.  She examines the usage of doxa (glory) in the Septuagint, highlighting that it often pertains to receiving honor.  She considers Paul’s writings broadly, then she looks at Romans, then she closely looks at Romans 8.  Jacob sees that Psalms 8 and 110 feature prominently, sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly, in Paul’s discussion of the risen Christ.  Psalm 8 is about the dominion that human beings have over God’s creation, and Paul contends that Christ now has that as the risen Messiah.  Paul interprets Psalm 110 as the Messiah sitting at God’s right hand and ruling.  In Jacob’s argument, Paul holds that believers share in this rulership with the risen Christ, for believers’ participation with Christ is a salient feature of Paul’s writings.  Jacob also offers a grammatical argument for her interpretation of Romans 8:28.

Jacob judiciously engages prior scholarship.  The book is interesting in that it highlights the different interpretations that scholars have offered regarding Romans 8 and other Pauline passages, as well as changes in scholarly trends.  For example, whereas scholarship used to interpret Paul’s reference to the “Son of God” in light of the sons of God in Greek mythology, Jacob states, it has come to interpret the phrase in light of the Messiah of the Hebrew Bible.  While the book is nuanced, Jacob continually stresses her main points, and her introduction and conclusion lucidly summarize her arguments.

A slight issue that I have with Jacob’s argument is that, when I read Paul, Paul does not seem to emphasize believers going out and serving the world.  One can certainly derive that lesson from the Bible, for the Old Testament talks about giving alms, and the Gospels depict Jesus going into the world and helping people.  Paul, however, focuses more on spreading the Gospel and the spiritual care of his congregations.  When he talks about helping the poor, he usually (perhaps always) means the poor of the church, not the poor in the world.  This is odd, if Jacob’s interpretation of Paul is correct.  Still, one cannot dismiss the evidence that she does present, such as the significance of Psalm 8 and 110 in Paul’s writings.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.



About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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