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Romans 11:36 (ESV): For from him and through him and to him are all things.

Two thoughts:

  1. "Through" a person, him, is very personal. The nails that kept Jesus on the cross went through him to the wood.

  2. Something that starts from/ex him and goes all the way through to/eis him is a place. Perhaps like that zone that exists between the beginning and end mentioned in Rev 21:6.

"Through" is a stretchy sort of word. What is its reach in Romans 11:36?

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Paul uses three significant Greek prepositions here:

  • ἐξ (ex) meaning "out of" or "from"
  • διά (dia) meaning (with the genitive as here) "by the instrumentality of"
  • εἰς (eis) meaning "into" or "unto"

Ellicott sums up the force of the meaning here:

(36) Of him, and through him, and to him.—All things proceed from God, all things are made or wrought by Him, and all things exist for His glory, and to carry out His ends.

Barnes is more detailed and specific:

For of him - εξ αὐτοῦ ex autou; compare 1 Corinthians 1:30; 1 Corinthians 8:6. This expression doubtless means that he is the original source and fountain of all blessings. He is the Creator of all, the rich "fountain from which all streams of existence take their rise. ...

And through him - δἰ αὐτοῦ di autou.) That is, by his immediate operating agency. The former expression, "of him," affirmed that he was the original source of all things; this declares that all are by him, or through him, as their immediate cause. It is not merely by his plan or purpose; it is by his agency, by the direct exertion of his power in their creation and bestowment. By his power they are still directed and controlled. Human agency, therefore, could not lay him under any obligation. He does not need the aid of man; and he did not call in that aid in the creation and government of the world. He is the independent Creator and Lord, and on him none can have a claim.

To him - εἰς αὐτὸν eis autos. This expression denotes the final cause, the reason or end for which all things were formed. It is to promote his honor and glory. It is to manifest his praise, or to give a proper putting forth of the glorious attributes of God; that the exceeding greatness, and goodness, and grandeur of his character might be evinced. ...

The Expositor's Commentary is more succinct:

Romans 11:36. ὅτι ἐξ αὐτοῦ κ.τ.λ. Strictly speaking, the ὅτι confirms the last truth—man’s absolute dependence on God—by making it part of a wider generalisation. ἐξ αὐτοῦ: from Him, as their source; διʼ αὐτοῦ: through Him, as the power by whose continuous energy the world is sustained and ruled; εἰς αὐτὸν: unto Him, as their goal, for whose glory they exist.

This whole message of Paul here is even more tersely summarized by Paul elsewhere where says that God is "all in all", 1 Cor 3:7, 10:33, 12:6, 15:28, Eph 1:23.

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Your "thoughts" as you describe them are pretty far and afield, hermeneutically. A literal interpretation of the word through is not the way to go. Through is a preposition that can be used literally or figuratively.

Literally, the word denotes a piercing or a penetration, as you observed in your "thought" number one. Figuratively, the word conveys a different kind of through. For example, a runner in a race might pull ahead of the competition by running through a pack of runners. The runner could go around the pack but chooses to go directly through the pack.

I suppose you could say the runner penetrated the pack of runners, but even then, he penetrated the pack by getting ahead of them straight through instead of going around them. Here is another figurative use of the word through:

[A boss to an underling who is eager to try a new procedure the boss approves of but wants to be kept abreast of his underling's progress]: "OK, run with it, but be sure to run through me any expenditures you might incur."

In other words, since the boss ultimately has the final say in what goes on in his department, his underling has to go through him for progress updates, and particularly updates about any expenditures the new procedure might incur.

Regarding God's role in Paul's doxology in Romans 11:33-36, God (or "the Lord," as in verse 34) is like the "boss" in my example. With God, however, everything goes through him. Even God's Son, whom the Scriptures describe as the person through whom all things were made (see John 1:1-3), submitted his plans for--and acts of-- creation to and through God his Father.

Not that Jesus was an "underling" in the sense of the employee I describe above, since Jesus was and always will be co-equal with God. Jesus, too, is God, but because he loves the Father and delights in doing those things that are pleasing to his Father (John 8:29), he goes through him in all he does and says.

Perhaps the closest we come today to describe in human terms what the Father-Son relationship is like within the Holy Trinity is to describe the employee-employer relationship as a reporting relationship. Certainly, the phrase "a reporting relationship" confers more dignity upon the employee than the word superior, as in "Mrs. Green is my superior where I work."

In like manner, there is a reporting relationship between Father and Son, not as a superior to an inferior, but a relationship characterized by love, willing submission, and perfect equality. Jesus put it this way: "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30).

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For from him and through him and to him are all things.

Because Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world - in God's plan, which already included the cleansing of (a corrupted) created humanity through the son that was to come and bring in a new covenant of life and spirit to replace that of sin and death.

1 Corinthians 15:45 The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. Acts 2:33

Everything that followed Adam Mk1 was designed to be seen and understood in Jesus who is the central core of all that God's plan depended on. God needed the human Jesus to die and be the perfect sacrifice, Jesus needed God to make it to the bitter, though joyous end.

While in such pain, we can surmise that the spirit in him helped endure such brutality, yet it was terrifying nonetheless, the final breaths of, 'it is finished', must have been so deeply satisfying - bringing a joy and peace that defies understanding because of God's presence in him Phil 4:6-

So, while even the old covenant played out according to plan, it too was to be seen as a part only of what God had planned in Christ. Without the son who was to feature 2000 yrs ago, God would not have done it this way.

But as He did there is nothing that is not bound up in Christ - his life, sacrifice and new life in the spirit. Things that were before him, and after him are all included IN him, and they have their ultimate purpose THROUGH him.

Indeed, while we are told that man is made, 'in the image of God', this is only true in Christ.

We get a sense of this with,

Philippians 1:6 being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

In our corrupted state, man is not in God's image until the new life begins at our change. And,

Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. 1 Cor 15:49

Through the salvation and path to the Father - made possible only through Christ, so too is our final completion in Christ being then fully 'made in God's image'.

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