Romans 8:28 is one of the most frequently quoted Bible verses. In the NRSV it reads: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
Recently this verse was used as support by a Christian claiming that God uses evil to achieve good: what is known in philosophy as the “greater good argument.” And worded in this way, the verse seems to support this claim.
But is this really the best translation of the verse?
I think not.
In a 2006 paper New Testament exegete Mark Gignilliat explains four possible interpretations of Romans 8:28 and argues for the one that he believes makes best sense, given the language use and context:
a) God works together with all things,
b) God works all things,
c) All things work together for good,
d) The Spirit works with all things for those who love God.
First he cites another Romans scholar who finds option c) to be “the least probable” option, with which Gignilliat seems to agree. He concludes by offering the following reading—essentially option a)—as the best option: “And we know that in all things God is working together (with the Spirit) for good to those loving God.”
I am persuaded by the reasoning in Mark Gignilliat’s paper this is the best reading of the four. Further, this interpretation also defeats the objection that Romans 8:28 shows that God works with / uses evil (and so it has the additional benefit of harmonizing / making sense alongside of other biblical texts rather than contradicting or being at odds with passages that bear on issue of God and evil).