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Romans 5:3 challenges us to "rejoice in our sufferings". But the word "in" has (at least) two meanings in English. It could mean "rejoice during our sufferings" or "rejoice because of our sufferings" (akin to "rejoice in the Lord"). Which is meant here?

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Perhaps a bit of both:

Matthew 5:10-12 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Misfortunes offer us the unique opportunity to become children of God:

Matthew 5:43-45 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thy enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

2 Corinthians 12:10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

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The meaning of the word "in" in Romans 5:3

It means : "rejoice during our sufferings."

Romans 5:3 Contemporary English Version

But that's not all! We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure.

Paul says "We gladly suffer"- depends on endurance and naturally help from above. Such tribulation experienced and borne patiently with divine help produces endurance, something previously unknown.

Jesus for example suffered cruelty, was betrayed by a close friend, abandoned by his disciples, was spit on, lashed, punched. ridiculed, and tried illegally by the High Court. Yet while suffering he endured steadfastly with dignity and strength.

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The Greek preposition ἐν (en) is extremely flexible and often deliberately vague. BDAG lists 12 basic meanings with a caution that this is probably not exhaustive!

Further, the very fact that some of the verses are listed in more than on category confirms that the writers be not trying to be overly precise.

In Rom 5:3 we have the phrase, "we exalt in tribulations". Taking the meanings of BDAG, this could mean any of the following:

  • during tribulations (other examples are Matt 2:1, 3:1, Luke 7:11, John 4:31, etc.)
  • because of tribulations (other examples are Heb 10:10, 11:18, 1 Cor 7:14, Rom 1:24, Matt 6:7, John 16:30, etc.)
  • under circumstances of tribulations (other examples are Rom 2:1, 14:22, 2 Cor 11:12, 21, 1 Peter 2:12, etc.)

I do not believe it is necessary to be precise because the Greek is not precise. Paul is effectively saying all the above meanings in a single preposition.

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  • +1 so far this seems to be the best we can say.
    – Perry Webb
    Dec 1 '21 at 0:37
  • Sometimes people don't understand that the original languages don't always answer their question and can even bring up more questions, but those languages do get them to the real issues.
    – Perry Webb
    Dec 1 '21 at 10:11
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Thank's to Dottard point out in BGAD, the Greek preposition ἐν can have the meaning because of. During fits the meaning of when. "Rejoice when we suffer" = "rejoice during our suffering."

However, I should include this disclaimer from BGAD lexicon. There is much that ἐν can mean. We are dependent on the context.

ἐν prep. w. dat. (...). For lit. s. ἀνά and εἰς, beg. For special NT uses s. AOepke, TW II 534-9. The uses of this prep. are so many-sided, and oft. so easily confused, that a strictly systematic treatment is impossible. It must suffice to list the main categories, which will help in establishing the usage in individual cases. -- Arndt, W., Gingrich, F. W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (1979). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature : a translation and adaption of the fourth revised and augmented edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schrift en des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur (p. 258). University of Chicago Press.

Reference to because of in BDAG.

a. gener. ἁγιάζεσθαι ἔν τινι Hb 10:10; 1 Cor 7:14. ἐν τ. ἐπιθυμίαις τῶν καρδιῶν Ro 1:24; perh. ἐν Ἰσαὰκ κληθήσεταί σοι σπέρμα 9:7; Hb 11:18 (both Gen 21:12). ἐν τῇ πολυλογίᾳ αὐτῶν because of their many words Mt 6:7. ἐν τούτῳ πιστεύομεν this is the reason why we believe J 16:30; cf. Ac 24:16; 1 Cor 4:4; 2 Cor 5:2. W. attraction ἐν ᾧ=ἐν τούτῳ ὅτι for the reason that=because s. IV 6d below. Sim., of the occasion: ἔφυγεν ἐν τῷ λόγῳ τούτῳ at this statement Ac 7:29; cf. 8:6. -- Arndt, W., Gingrich, F. W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (1979). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature : a translation and adaption of the fourth revised and augmented edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schrift en des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur (p. 261). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

This seems to be a good fit in BGAD.

e. circumstantially, of the condition(s) under which someth. takes place -- Arndt, W., Gingrich, F. W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (1979). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature : a translation and adaption of the fourth revised and augmented edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schrift en des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur (p. 261). University of Chicago Press.

The phrase in other verses (same phrase but varied meaning):

1)

 διὸ αἰτοῦμαι μὴ ⸀ἐγκακεῖν ἐν ταῖς θλίψεσίν μου ὑπὲρ ⸁ὑμῶν,* ⸀1ἥτις ἐστὶν δόξα ὑμῶν.* (Eph. 3:13, NA28)

13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. (Eph 3:13, ESV)

τὸ μηδένα ⸀σαίνεσθαι ἐν ταῖς θλίψεσιν ταύταις. αὐτοὶ γὰρ οἴδατε ὅτι εἰς τοῦτο κείμεθα· (1 Th 3:3, NA28)

that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. (1 Th 3:3, ESV)

Figure 1 Senses of ἐν in the New Testament (generated with Logos Bible Software).
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Passages on related subject

that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:10–11, ESV)

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. (Heb. 10:35–36, ESV)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4, ESV)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7, ESV)

Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thes. 5:16-18, ESV)

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  • It is with the great reticence that I (or actually BDAG) begs to differ with your first sentence (see BDAG #9) in places like Heb 10:10, 11:18, 1 Cor 7:14, Rom 1:24, 9:7, Matt 6:7, John 16:30, 2 Cor 5:2, etc.
    – Dottard
    Nov 30 '21 at 20:08
  • @Dottard Thanks for the heads up.
    – Perry Webb
    Nov 30 '21 at 23:35

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