Responding to the Critics: Lance Conley on “Corruption” in Romans 8

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Responding to the Critics- Lance Conley on the Corruption in Romans 8
What is the “corruption” that Paul discussed in Romans 8:19f? We continue our Responding to the Critics work.


Responding to the Critics: Lance Conley on the “Bondage of Corruption”

Lance Conley attempted to negate my arguments on Romans 11 by commenting (with no actual exegesis) on Romans 8. Now, as I have shown in my previous responses to Mr. Conley’s comments on Romans 8, he openly admitted that he ignored the context setting, context controlling verses of Romans 8:16-18. He just jumped in, purely arbitrarily, at verse 19.

He ignored the motif of the sufferings of Christ.
He ignored the motif of the promised vindication of that martyrdom. But, Jesus’ discussion of this in Matthew 23 undeniably demands a first century fulfillment. Little wonder then that Conley totally ignored this.
He ignored the motif of Shame versus Glory that is dominant in the context. He ignored the fact that Revelation 3 posits that reversal at the judgment of Jerusalem.

He admitted that he ignored those contextual qualifiers and yet, still claimed that he had answered my post. But, how can you totally ignore the context setting, the context controlling tenets of a text, and claim to have properly exegete it and to properly interpret it? You can’t. Period!

Now, as I continue Responding to the Critics,I want to examine another of his purely presuppositional claims, which he simply asserts but for which he gives us no actual proof. Here are his comments on Pau’s comments about the “bondage of corruption” to which “creation” was subjected:

<<v.21 The creature itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

“Corruption” (phtora, (sic) used here for the first and only time in Romans). He terms what was previously vanity to corruption and the creature’s subjection to it now is “bondage” (douleia).

The hope implicit in God’s act of subjecting the creature to corruption was repeatedly made explicit in the promises made to Israel through its history., A summary of it can be found in Isaiah 61.

In this verse, “shall be delivered” and “liberty” are two related words, elevtherothesetai, a passive future of elvtheroo, “to free” and elevtheria “freedom”. In Isaiah and Luke 4:16-22, deliverance and liberty translate the Greek noun aphesis “forgiveness”, or “set free from punishments.”

“Into the glorious liberty” is more literally translated to “into the freedom of the glory” and “the children of God”. Thus, a development: from “corruption” to “glory” and from “sons (adoptive)” to “children” (natural, or born, of these born again or from on high).

Obviously this deliverance that will come will be by the effects of the Lord’s 2nd Coming. >> (EOQ)

Now Mr. Conley assumes– once again without offering so much as a keystroke of evidence – that the corruption that Paul has in mind here is the corruption of physical decay and “mortality” of not only the human body, but of material creation. I have asked him in the past if the deliverance from that corruption, that mortality, involves “bugs, slugs and mosquitoes” and he has answered unequivocally YES! Now, think of that folks! Of necessity, Mr. Conley is arguing for a yet future resurrection of every bug, every mosquito, every dog, every cat, every horse, every elephant, every living creature that has ever lived and died! I mean, after all, if you are going to argue that Romans 8 is the resurrection of human corpses and the deliverance from physical death and corruption, then since “creation” (the bugs, slugs and mosquitoes, per Mr. Conley) then you cannot deny all of those dead and decayed “bugs, slugs and mosquitoes” the same resurrection to incorruption, life and immorality! Does Mr. Conley believe in a yet future resurrection of every dead microorganism, every dead cockroach, every dead mosquito, every dead Mastodon, or saber-tooth tiger that has ever lived and decayed into the ground? If not, why not?

This is not a rhetorical question. It is a serious, legitimate, logical question that naturally follows from Mr. Conley’s insistence that “creation” in Romans 8 is referent to material creation, including the insect and animal world. After all, if corruption is the futility of physical corruptibility and mortality, and “all creation” is to be released from that, then this demands the resurrection of “all creation” that was ever subjected to that futility of physical corruption.

As usual, one of the glaring realities in Mr. Conley’s comments is that he offers no actual exegetical arguments and he does not establish his case linguistically. He tells us that corruption, from the Greek word phthora and cognates, means corruption. Ok, so far so good. No argument there. The issue is, what kind of corruption is in the text and context! Is it the normal physiological weakness of flesh that with the passing of time grows stronger and stronger as our bodies grow weaker and weaker? Does it refer to all the bugs of the world dying because they are subject to corruption, as Mr. Conley defines it?

It is more than telling that Mr. Conley does not deem it necessary (or relevant, evidently) to share with his readers that phthora is a word that in a large number of contexts- and resurrection texts at that. Those contexts include the ideas of the Old Man, versus the New. Passages in which phthora or cognates are used, speak of the mortal body, versus the spiritual body, putting off the Old Creation / Old Man, and putting on the image of God (which is resurrection per 1 Corinthians 15). In other words, in resurrection passages, phthora is used but, it has absolutely nothing to do with physiological decay, material, bodily “corruption” but, to moral corruption! It is a word that is used extensively to speak of the Old Way of life under sin, versus the New Creation in Christ, where believers are made once again (re-created) in the image of God who created man!

Let’s take a look at just a small sampling of those texts:

In Galatians 6:2, Paul reminded his readers that if they sowed to the flesh, they would of the flesh reap corruption. Now, all one has to do to understand what Paul meant by “flesh” and “corruption” here is to go back to chapter 3, where Paul uses “flesh” to speak of their life under the Law, versus “Spirit” to speak of their life in Christ. Those opposing states or conditions had nothing to do with physiology or biological “flesh” but a manner of life either opposed to God or in obedience to Him. If they were under Torah, or under sin, they were in the flesh. If they were in Christ, they were in the Spirit.

Thus, in chapter 6 he was telling them that if they sowed to the flesh they would reap corruption (And if flesh is nothing but human flesh, then they had no choice!! It is literally impossible to make Paul be referring to mere biological flesh here). Ask yourself, what did Paul mean by corruption? It cannot be the biological body subject to decay, because no matter what kind of life they lived, they were subject to that! To impose Conley’s definition of corruption onto this text would be to have Paul saying, “If you sow to the flesh – which of course you do, because that is your human condition – then you will reap corruption– human, physical mortality.

The fact is, that per Conley’s definition of corruption, they had absolutely no choice about whether to sow to the flesh, because, they were in human flesh! They had to live in the flesh! Thus, using Conley’s definition, they were doomed to “reap corruption.” (In fact, they were born that way). But of course, Paul did not stop there. He said, “but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” So, whether disobedient or obedient, they lived “in the biological human flesh.” But, that was patently not Paul’s concern.

In Colossians 2:22, the apostles spoke of the “elements” of Old Covenant Judaism, the new moons, feast days and the Sabbaths” as the world that was about to perish; the word perish is phthora. It is more than obvious that Paul did not have biological, fleshly perishing here. The Old Law, that Old World, would cease to function; it would pass away. There is no reference here to the human body and its physical mortality. Notice then in chapter 3 where Paul speaks of putting off the Old Man, the Old Man that was, per Ephesians 4:25f– “corrupt (phthora) according to deceitful lusts.” So, just like in 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul spoke of the resurrection change going from corruption to incorruption, putting off the Old Man, in Ephesians and Colossians he talks of putting off the “corruption” of the Old Man. Now, if Paul is talking of biological resurrection this poses a huge problem for folks like Mr. Conley.

Paul is very clearly putting the burden of responsibility of putting off the corruption of the Old Man on the believer! Paul was commanding them to put off corruption! Now, if phthora is referent here to the body of physical, corruptible flesh, then that means that Paul was commanding them to put off their human bodies of corruptible flesh! Was Paul actually telling them to commit suicide?

Paul’s mandate in Ephesians and Colossians agrees perfectly with 1 Corinthians 15:49:

“And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.”

Now in the NKJV, notice that it has the future tenses– “We shall bear.” However, while the majority of the translations render the verse as a future tense here, the reality is that in the majority of the best Greek MSS, the “subjunctive” is used. That means that Paul was saying, “as we have born the image of the man of the dust, so let us bear the image of the heavenly man.” Do you see what that means? It means that just like in Ephesians and Colossians, Paul was saying that man plays a critical role in his own resurrection! (This has caused great perplexity among the commentators who often reject the subjunctive, not on linguistic, grammatical or manuscript grounds, but upon the basis of their own theology!) What Paul says flies directly in the face of traditional eschatology, needless to say, but, the MSS evidence for the subjunctive is very, very strong. (For those who want that documentation, feel free to contact me and I will share it).

Like Paul, Peter also used phthora and cognates, but not of physical, biological mortality and “corruptibility.”

In 2 Peter 1:3f the apostle said that his audience had already escaped the corruption (phthora) of the world!

His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.


Through the knowledge of Christ, they had been called to glory.

It was through that knowledge of Christ that they had been given the great promises of God.

It was through those promises- found in the knowledge of God- that they were being made partakers of the divine nature. This is nothing other than Paul’s putting off the first man Adam, which was corrupt in 1 Corinthians 15:46-49!

He says that they had “escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” Notice that Peter uses the aorist participle active, to indicate that they had escaped the corruption of the world. Was Peter saying that they had escaped– already escaped biological corruption? Really? That would be nonsensical, and would demand that if they had already escaped from the human biological condition of physical mortality, demanding that they would never die! I am pretty safe in saying that was not the case.

One might well argue that Peter is using the ingressive aorist to indicate that they were escaping the corruption of the world, but that does not substantively change the issue at stake. (The ingressive aorist indicates an action that began in the past that continues to take place in the present). If one wishes to argue that the aorist is ingressive, it still very much destroys Mr. Conley’s view.

Notice that Peter says his readers had escaped the corruption (phthora) of the world. The word translated as world is “kosmos.” Now, according to Mr. Conley, the world that was corrupt was the material, physical creation, subject to biological and physiological decay“rocks, trees, bugs, slugs and mosquitoes.” But, if that is the case, it demands that Peter said that the deliverance from that corruption of physical mortality had already begun and was taking place when he wrote! But that is not all. To suggest this is to refute it, the idea is patently ridiculous.

Peter said that by escaping from that corruption of the world, they were “partakers of the divine nature.” This, once again, is directly parallel with Paul’s putting off of the man of the dust, the man of corruption, the first Adam, and putting on the New Man, the heavenly Man – Jesus! For Paul, putting off the mortal, putting off the corruptible, putting off the Old Man of Adam, was nothing less than resurrection. Is it anything less, anything different in 2 Peter? Hardly. The ideas are identical.

But, that direct parallelism destroys Conley’s argument on Romans 8. He says that corruption is the mortality of the human, fleshly body. But, unless he can prove that the corruption in 2 Peter 1 was something totally different from Romans 8, there is no way possible to make Peter’s discussion refer to physical mortality and decay. The brethren in 2 Peter 1 had been, and were, escaping that corruption! That means that if one defines phthora / corruption as physical mortality and decay then those first century saints had and were escaping from that physical mortality and decay! So, to ask the question again, why then did they die and experience physical mortality and decay? Whee are the 2000 year old saints living today, the saints that were escaping the “corruption of the world”?

Now, I could give several other passages in which the writers utilized phthora. To reiterate, those are passages that – just like 1 Corinthians 15 – speak of putting off the Old Man.

✦ They are passages that speak of putting on the image of Christ (the restoration of what was lost in Adam, which is nothing less than resurrection).

✦ They are passages that speak of putting off of “this body of death” (Romans 7).

✦ They are passages that speak of putting off of the “mortal body”- (Romans 8).

✦ They speak of escaping the flesh, of escaping the world, even of dying to the world.
And yet, not one of those passages can possibly be referring to putting of physical mortality and decay.

So, as usual, Mr. Conley simply makes some more bold assertions, but, he did not even try to establish his case exegetically or even linguistically. He just typed the word phthora and told us it means “corruption” – which is fine as far as it goes– but, it does not go far enough! He utterly failed to prove that the corruption in Romans 8 is biological mortality. The reader needs to be reminded that mere assumptions and assertions are not proof. They are not even evidence.

In closing let me summarize what we have seen in the few articles I have posted in response to Mr. Conley’s comments on Romans 8.

1. He openly admitted that he totally ignored the context setting, the context controlling verses in Romans 8, verses 16-18. He did not so much as try to bring those verses into the discussion.

2. He openly admitted that he did not even address the major theme of v. 18f– the “Shame-V-Glory” motif that dominates the text. All he did was say that one day, at the so-called end of time, (an unbiblical doctrine) our suffering will be turned to glory.

3. Mr. Conley completely ignored the audience relevance of Romans 8. It was the Romans and the first century saints being persecuted by the Jews- not Mr. Conley. Paul was not talking about the “suffering of this present time” as the frail human existence of heart problems, cancer, or any other health issue. Paul was talking about persecution of the saints at the hands of the Jews. That has nothing whatsoever to do with Lance Conley! Conley is thus guilty of abusing the context of the passage.

Let me ask again the question posed at the beginning of this article. Mr. Conley admitted that he ignored those contextual qualifiers and controls and yet, still claimed that he had answered my posts. But, how can you totally ignore the context setting, the context controlling tenets of a text, and claim to have properly exegeted it and to properly interpret it? You can’t. Period!

4. He merely asserted his definition of “creation” as material, physical creation, and yet, did not deem it necessary or important to show that this word is commonly used of mankind – not bugs, slugs and mosquitoes. He pretty clearly hopes that his readers will just take his word for it.

4. He conveniently ignored the fact that his definition of creation demands that not only did Jesus die to redeem and save “bugs, slugs and mosquitoes” but that the Gospel was preached to that material creation! Now, if he could produce the texts where any apostles went out into the wilderness and preached to the rocks, the trees, the rivers and the animals, he might have a better case. But, since the only preaching that was done to “every creature under heaven” was to mankind – guilty of sin – that effectively eliminates the material creation of non-human creation from the equation. And when you eliminate the bugs, slugs and mosquitoes from the definition of “creation” in Romans 8, Mr. Conley’s entire eschatology falls to the ground.

5 And now, in this installment, we have shown that, as usual, Mr. Conley simply asserts something without offering any proof. He claims that “corruption” must mean physical mortality and decay. He conveniently totally ignores the consistent use of that word in resurrection passages in which it is impossible to define that word as physical mortality and decay. It refers to the moral corruption of the world, a life lived in opposition to God. It refers to a life of the “flesh” but not physical mortality and decay.

A final thought that I will not develop here, but, when Paul spoke of the “bondage” of corruption, one has but to look at his discussion of bondage in chapter 5-7 to see that he is not discussing bondage to biological corruption but, bondage to sin, and the total futility of being unable to find deliverance, forgiveness and life under Torah. That is the bondage that Paul had in mind, not any supposed “bondage” to a frail biological human body.

In the next installment of Responding to the Critics, we will take a look at the “futility” that Paul said “the creation” had been subjected to, unwillingly. What did Paul mean by that? Did he mean that trees are not tall enough, green enough, fruitful enough? Did he mean that rocks are too hard? Exactly what was the futility that Paul had in mind. One thing we can know for sure is that he was not talking about bugs, slugs and mosquitoes not living up to their intended potential!! And yet, that is the very thing demanded by Mr. Conley’s eschatology.

Like Father Like Son, Responding to the Critics on the Day of the Lord
This book has a great discussion of the bondage of corruption.

Be sure to get a copy of my book, Like Father Like Son, in which I have a great discussion of Romans 8 and the bondage of corruption.