Is the glory of God intrinsic to humanity? Rethinking Romans 3:23

In what sense do all lack the glory of God in Romans 3:23? Sigurd Grindheim considers this question in his article “A Theology of Glory: Paul’s Use of δόξα Terminology in Romans.”[1]

heavens declare the glory of God
                             Credit: Flickr/Kamilla Oliveira

Given the importance of “glory” in Romans (16 occurrences of δόξα), Grindheim’s task is significant.

“God’s Glory” in a Nutshell

Scholars commonly explain Rom 3:23 as an allusion to Adam and the loss of God’s image. Grindheim examines the Greek Old Testament (i.e., Septuagint, LXX), which Paul often uses in Romans. He concludes,

In the LXX, δόξα refers to the tangible presence of God, a usage that also is able to explain Paul’s terminology…. Against this background, Paul uses language in Romans to express his view that God’s revelatory presence in Israel has been rejected but is renewed in Jesus Christ. (p. 451)

Otherwise stated, he argues,

My thesis is that the eschatological glory of believers, which corresponds to the glory that human beings have forfeited, denotes the impressive manifestation of God’s renewed presence. (p. 452)

God’s Glory, Not Adam’s

He observes that most evidence that supports the conventional reading of Rom 3:23 comes from sources later than Paul. He explains, “the glory of Adam is primarily associated with the gift of everlasting life” (p. 454). He then adds, “But this eschatological glory is not identified as the glory of God, and the concept is quite distinct from that of the creation of Adam in God’s image” (p. 455).

He explains, “the glory of Adam is primarily associated with the gift of everlasting life” (p. 454). He then adds, “But this eschatological glory is not identified as the glory of God, and the concept is quite distinct from that of the creation of Adam in God’s image” (p. 455).

In short, Adam’s glory depends on God’s glory (i.e. His presence). However, they should not be conflated (p. 456).

The Presence of God

Turning to the LXX, he states,

the glory of God denotes the impressive display of God’s appearance, specifically in the tabernacle and the temple (Exod 29:43; 40:34, 35; Lev 9:23; Num 14:10; 1 Kgdms 4:22; 3 Kgdms 8:11; 2 Chr 5:14; Ezek 8:4; etc.). (p. 457)

Grindheim then traces occurrences of “glory” in Romans. In Rom 9:4–5, the people of Israel have “the glory.” Many commenters agree Romans 1 subtly alludes to Sinai (1:22–23; Ps 105:20–21; Jer 2:11).

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Grindheim further suggests that Paul’s wording in Rom 1 draws from Deut 4:15–18,

And guard your souls closely, because you did not notice a likeness [ὁμοίωμα] on the day the Lord spoke to you at Choreb in the mountain from the midst of the re. Do not act lawlessly and make for yourselves an engraved likeness [ὁμοίωμα], any kind of icon [εἰκών]—a likeness [ὁμοίωμα] of male or female, a likeness [ὁμοίωμα] of any animal of those that are on the earth, a likeness [ὁμοίωμα] of any winged bird that flies under the sky, a likeness of any reptile [ὁμοίωμα παντὸς ἑρπετοῦ] that creeps on the ground, a likeness [ὁμοίωμα] of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth. (NETS)

Accordingly, he concludes, “the glory of God may be understood in reference to God’s revelatory presence at Sinai.” (p. 459)

The “Glory of God” in Romans

A strong connection between Rom 1:23 and 3:23 is well-attested. Therefore, Grindheim reads Rom 3:23 in light of Sinai. Israel serves as a microcosm for humanity. Accordingly, all have sinned and “are without the presence of God” (p. 460).

To be sure, he does not equate the glory of God with God’s presence. Instead, the glory of God is “the presence as an impressive manifestation.”

Readers of Romans find an abundance of glory-language in Romans 8. This observation fits well with the flow of Rom 5–8, which has a structure reflective of the Exodus-story.

A king (“Sin”) has enslaved a people, who are free by another king (“righteousness”) once they have passed through water (i.e. baptism, Rom 6:1–4). After confronting the futility of the Law (Rom 7), God’s people are led and indwelt by the Spirit (Rom 8). In the Bible, where does the Spirit routinely dwell? In a sanctuary, i.e. the Church whom Paul elsewhere calls a “Temple.”

                                          Credit: Wikimedia/Ronakshah1990

Finally. Grindheim provides an excellent summary:

The eschatological glory of believers can therefore not be understood as the restoration of an inherent Adamic glory that once was lost. It is rather related to the renewed presence of God when the relationship between God and God’s people is restored.

As the manifestation of God’s glory is above all a function of divine mercy, the eschaton will reveal that God’s people, the objects of mercy, are participating in God’s glory. Their glory consists not in having any lost qualities restored to them but in the fact that they are recipients of God’s mercy. The glory that belongs to them in the eschaton is a glory that is revealed for their benefit. (p. 461)

Seeking Glory and Honor

What are implications for our lives? First, recall Paul’s words in Rom 2:7, 10, which may shock modern hearers:

[God] will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; … There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good,…” (Rom 2:7–10)

Grindheim astute considers where the word pair “glory and honor” appear in the LXX. After identifying 13 instances, he says, “When it is used in a theological sense, it belongs exclusively to God” (p. 462).[2]

How then do we seek “glory and honor”? He suggests,

If the word pair “glory and honor” characterizes the personal manifestation of God, and if the verb is typically used to describe people seeking the personal presence of God, it is natural to read Paul’s statement in Rom 2:7 in this light. To seek glory and honor and immortality is to look for God and to yearn for God’s personal presence. (p. 465)

What is Grindheim arguing?

He first wants to demonstrate that “glory and honor” does not refer to an aspect of “the image of God” (which people lack, per Rom 3:23). Rather than being intrinsic, “glory and honor” are ethical in nature.

In short,

This people share in God’s glory, therefore, not by virtue of their inherent qualities but by virtue of the fact that they serve as a demonstration of God’s mercy….their only true distinguishing trait is that they are recipients of God’s undeserved mercy and favor. Their glory is not their own possession; it is theirs by virtue of their relationship with God. (p. 465)

What do you think about Grindheim’s view? Do you see problems with it? What are its strengths?


[1] JBL 136, no. 2 (2017): 451–465.

[2] He lists Exod 28:2, 40; 2 Chr 32:33; 1 Macc 14:21; 2 Macc 5:16; Pss 8:6; 28:1; 95:7; Job 37:22; 40:10; Dan 2:37; 4:30; 5:18.

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