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Romans 12:2 states:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (NIV)

Now there is an interesting question about 'testing and approving God's will'. This could be two things:

  1. The future sequence of events that God is laying out in history
  2. God's pattern for the audience's values and worldview in terms of seeing his priorities, and making their lives living sacrifices

Now the first option doesn't seem likely - but does seem to be a possible meaning of the text.

My question is: Is God's will in Romans 12:2 talking about the future sequence of historic events or the pattern of priorities for the audience's lives?

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  • I made an edit to focus this on the original audience rather than its application to Christians today (the latter is off topic here).
    – Dan
    Oct 21, 2015 at 11:57
  • @Dan, can you please elaborate about the historic interpretation because I'm not feelin' it.
    – user10231
    Oct 21, 2015 at 13:56
  • @WoundedEgo by using 'our' you included yourself and possibly readers of the question in the audience of this letter, but it was written a specific community in a specific city in the first century. It's application to modern religious followers' lives is off topic here.
    – Dan
    Oct 22, 2015 at 2:34
  • @Dan I don't think I said "our". ?
    – user10231
    Oct 22, 2015 at 8:37
  • @WoundedEgo see the edit history
    – Dan
    Oct 22, 2015 at 22:41

1 Answer 1

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It refers to the pattern of priorities for the audience's lives.

First, notice where this occurs in the context of the letter. After the presentation of the kerygma in Chapters 1-11, the first two verses of Chapter 12 stand at the beginning of the "hortatory" section of the letter (12:1 - 15:13). Here the gospel message is expounded in terms of its necessary expression in the lives of those thereby justified. ("You have become slaves of righteousness...")

Romans 12:2:

καὶ μὴ συσχηματίζεσθε τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ, ἀλλὰ μεταμορφοῦσθε τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοὸς εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον καὶ τέλειον

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (NIV)

The translation "Then you will..." in the NIV quoted has the disadvantage of masking the relationship between the imperatives "do not conform.....be transformed" and the clause "you [are] able to test and approve". The latter is dependent on the former, both grammatically and logically. Despite the term then in this translation, there is no "future" scenario envisioned here, but rather a present reality that motivates the command just given.1

The dependent clause in question:

εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ
[so] that by testing you may discern what is the will of God (ESV)

The subordinating construction here involves a preposition (εἰς) + articular infinitive (τὸ δοκιμάζειν), a construction indicating that the infinitive expresses purpose or result. The lack of a finite verb allows this to be expressed without reference to either time or aspect.2 The emphasis is rather on the relationship to the preceding imperative(s) ("be transformed"...). The phrase "by testing...discern" (or NIV "be able to test and discern") is one word in Greek – δοκιμάζω – a concept English struggles to capture. BDAG gives:4

to make a critical examination of something to determine genuineness.

The promise that the transformed Christian will test-and-find-genuine the will of God forms the positive counterpoint to 1:28:

Καὶ καθὼς οὐκ ἐδοκίμασαν τὸν θεὸν ἔχειν ἐν ἐπιγνώσει, παρέδωκεν αὐτοὺς ὁ θεὸς εἰς ἀδόκιμον νοῦν, ποιεῖν τὰ μὴ καθήκοντα...

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done... (ESV)

In Chapter 1, those who did not acknowledge (δοκιμάζω) God were given over by him to their debased (ἀδόκιμος, the negated adjective from δοκιμάζω) minds (v. 28). To those who would be transformed by the gospel, Chapter 12 promises that they will "test and approve" (δοκιμάζω) God's will, the very privilege that the unrighteous forewent in Chapter 1. This is not a description of a future sequence of events but a present reality for those who follow the exhortation to "present your bodies as a living sacrifice.... and be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (12:1-2).


1. There is apparently some disagreement about whether εἰς τὸ + inf. is best taken as a purpose or a result clause here. In contexts such as this I am skeptical about attempts to separate these. Even so, this statement leans toward the "purpose" understanding, with Moo.

2. Hence my preference to avoid the future "you will be able..." in favor of the ESV quoted above: "that you may..." .

3. Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 744-759.

4. William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

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  • 1
    Bam! Smashed it. Plus 1 for quoting the Moo book.
    – hawkeye
    Oct 22, 2015 at 5:46

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