Paul says:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (ESV, Romans 8:28)

Does 'all-things' literally include any conceivable thing or is there to be something logically removed based on the literary construction or original language?

3 Answers 3


This question is very difficult to answer without entering into the realm of theology about the sovereignty of God. It is important to remember that Paul held philosophical and theological views that contradict those that modern Americans hold. The English texts use the word all(Greek παντα). To my knowledge there are no other instances where "παντα" is translated anything other than all. (I intend to revise this later after more thorough research.) I think that there is a hidden assumption in asking this question, namely that there is an apparent contradiction between a bad occurrence and God's good will. I assume you would not have thought up the question without this assumption. It seems that Paul was also aware of this apparent contradiction and explained the concept in other places since it was not the focus of this passage.

Paul, being a former pharisee, was well aware of the story of Joseph in Genesis, so he was very familiar with the idea that God could use even those with evil intentions to accomplish good. Joseph is quoted as saying to his brothers which had sold him into slavery, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today."(Gen. 50:20)

Also see Philippians 1:

Philippians 1: 12-21

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

Paul's goal was "to advance the gospel". He says that his imprisonment has caused fellow Christians to speak more boldly and without fear(v.14). He then says that even people preaching the gospel for selfish reasons are still preaching the gospel, and he rejoices in that(v.18).

Philippians 1:18-23

18 Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

Now Paul says "to die is gain". Living means "fruitful labor" and dying means to "be with Christ" which he says is "far better". In these statements Paul is redefining good to mean advancing God's kingdom instead of physical self-preservation.

In considering Paul's view it seems that personal suffering and loss are included in the "all things" of Rom. 8:28.

If the question is asking if something like the collision of two asteroids in a distant galaxy or the birth of a single krill in the middle of the Pacific could be included in "all things", it would be reasonable to assume based on the moral context to assume that such situations were outside the authors consideration

  • 1
    I think it's a good answer but I wouldn't exclude the asteroids or krills ;)
    – Mike
    Dec 8, 2015 at 1:10
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    I actually added it later and only because you said "any conceivable thing". Just covering my bases
    – flob6469
    Dec 8, 2015 at 1:14

For what it’s worth, here is some information:

William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg and Robert L. Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, second edition, page 218:

The smaller the passage being studied, the greater the chance of error. Short texts usually contain very little information about the general theme of the larger passage. They give us less evidence about their meaning. Indeed, a phrase or a single sentence by itself could well convey several different meanings. Paul’s words in Romans 8:28 provide a ready example: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God (King James Version). If someone were to assess the verse apart from its context in Romans 8 and the entire letter, he or she might incorrectly use it to convince a parent whose child has just died that the death was a good thing, since Paul promises good results from all circumstances. The sorrounding context, however, provides crucial details about the subject that enable the reader to discount erroneous meanings. For Paul, all things are not good, but God will accomplish his salvific purposes (which are good) for his people, even though and when they suffer greatly. (A more accurate translation such as the New International Version [NIV] also helps: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” [emphasis added].) Larger passages provide more facts about the topic and thus give the interpreter a clearer perspective for understanding each statement within it.

And on page 470:

Jesus’ comforting words to Martha—in the midst of his own pain over Lazarus’ death—have provided hope for grieving loved ones ever since. He affirmed, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never dies” (John 11:25-26, Today’s New International Version [TNIV]). In life’s desperate misfortunes, when pain and agony impel us to cry out for explanations, and even in the silences when no answers appear, we take courage in Paul’s assurance: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, NIV). Moreoever, to the Corinthians he wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to us all. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13, TNIV). Though the Bible may not depict the exact situation or dilemma we encounter today, it teaches such values and principles that promote comfort or healing or give guidance and hope. Outstanding examples that seek to understand the Bible’s perpective in the midst of suffering are P. Yancey, Disappointment with God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997); and D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990). Also see C. J. Van Der Poel, Wholeness and Holiness: A Christian Response to Human Suffering (Franklin, WI: Sheed and Ward, 1999).

J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word, third edition, pages 424-425:

… we want to be careful that we do not repeat the mistake of Job’s friends and misuse biblical truth, perhaps adding to a friend’s grief instead of comforting them. Recall Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV). It would be terribly insensitive for us to tell a couple who has just lost their four-year-old child to a drunk driver that all things work together for good and then piously to cite this verse. It is true that much of Romans 8:28 resonates with the theology of Job (the universe is bigger than our private ash-heap, with purposes that we cannot imagine). Eventually people who are struck with senseless tragedy may come to grasp this aspect of God’s sovereignty. But hitting people with this in the midst of their grief as if this solution should somehow answer their questions and ease their pain reflects the same self-righteous, heartless pontificating Job’s friends. Comforting is different from explaining. When your friends suffer inexplicable tragedy, your role is to suffer and weep with them.

Equally important, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Providence,” in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, page 643:

The book of Job affirms God’s providence even when no pattern or purpose can be discerned in innocent human suffering. Scripture enjoins trust in the care and control of God despite the realities of evil and death, thus suggesting that some providential outcomes are eschatological, mysteries reserved for the last days, when evil will be no more (Romans 8:28).

Also, Robert B. Chisholm, From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew, page 257:

… the author of Psalm 23 confidently affirmed that the Lord is a faithful guardian of his people, who provides for their needs, protects them from enemies, grants them his favor, and allows them access to his presence. Evidently the psalmist experienced and anticipated these blessings in this life. Though Christians sometimes suffer cruel oppression and are even executed for their faith, the principle of the psalm still holds true, once it is placed in its larger theological context (compare Romans 8:28-39).

According to Mark A. Seifrid, “Romans,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, editors G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, page 634:

The opening question concerning God’s help (“if God is for us … ?” [quotations are the author’s translations]) is thus transformed into an affirmation of the identity of God the Creator (“how shall [God] not also with him [for example, the Son] freely give to us all things?”). As the following context makes clear, it is the phrase “with him” that is operative: we are given “all things” with Jesus Christ. In and with him, in suffering, triumph, and finally possessing “all things” we come to know God as our loving Creator (Romans 8:17). The “all things” should not be taken abtractly, but in a concrete sense that includes the dimension of their temporal reality (see 1 Corinthians 3:21-23). Not only in the eschatological future, but throughout their existence, “all things,” including trial and suffering, serve God’s children (Romans 8:18-21, 28).

According to Colin G. Kruse, Paul’s letter to the Romans, page 354:

The context suggests that the “all things” that God works together with the Spirit to promote the good of believers includes their suffering (Romans 8:18) and weakness (Romans 8:26), though the “all things” here should probably not be restricted to sufferings but include all the circumstances of their lives (compare Cranfield, Romans, volume one, page 428; Witherington, Romans, page 226; Wright, Romans, page 600, says: “ʻAll things’—not just the groanings of the previous verses, but the entire range of experiences and events that may face God’s people—are taken care of by the creator God who is planning to renew the whole creation, and us along with it.”). In Romans 8:35-39 the apostle insists that nothing that believers encounter will be able to seperate them from the love of God.

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    Typically "answers" on this site should include some assessment or argument from the person contributing. The list of extracts you have provided is interesting, but we would also like contributors to share from their own expertise. What do you conclude regarding the question posed from the resources you have assembled? Please see what we’re looking for in answers. Please also see the Markdown help for providing correct format for your answers. Thanks!
    – Dɑvïd
    Jul 9, 2015 at 12:30

Yes. It means all things. The plain meaning of the passage stands. When you dive into the context of the passage, you see why Paul writes what he writes. He is affirming that the Lord's heart for His people is good. When people are in relationship with Him, they can be sure that God's will (and heart) for them is for their good. Any experience that they may have will be used by God to be a beneficial outcome for them in the end because that is God's will. There is no indication in the text that there are any exceptions to what is being stated.

  • 3
    "When you dive into the context of the passage, you see why Paul writes what he writes" ...please show us what you mean. On this site we're looking for more than unsupported assertions; we want you to show us your work and help us follow your train of thought to your conclusion.
    – Jas 3.1
    Jul 11, 2015 at 21:20

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