There is a third way to interpret (and translate) Romans 8:28 than is found in most English translations, but most people don’t know it.
Some readers of this blog will know that English translations take two different routes when they come to Romans 8:28. The two approaches to translating this famous verse center on whether “all things” (πάντα) is the subject of the main clause (with no object) or whether “all things” is the object with “God” as the subject.
Here is the verse in Greek (with English glosses for those who don’t know Greek):
Οἴδαμεν δὲ ὅτι (and we know that) τοῖς ἀγαπῶσι τὸν θεὸν (to those who love God) πάντα (all things) συνεργεῖ (he/it/they work[s]together) εἰς ἀγαθόν (for good), τοῖς κατὰ πρόθεσιν κλητοῖς οὖσιν (to those who are called according to purpose/plan).
Here are two translations that represent the two views:
Approach #1: We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (NRSV, also ESV, CSB)
Approach #2: And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (NASB, also NIV, NLT)
Some readers of this blog will know that part of the discussion surrounds three early manuscripts (p46, B, and A) which include the word “God” (θεός) explicitly as the subject, even though most manuscripts do not include it. For some translators, this has encouraged them to fill in the unstated subject of the verb with “God,” since that’s how it appears in those three manuscripts.
What most people don’t know (including, apparently, some New Testament scholars) is that a number of prominent interpreters during the past century have disagreed with both of these approaches to Romans 8:28. This list includes James P. Wilson, Matthew Black, F. F. Bruce, John A. T. Robinson, Gordon Fee, and Robert Jewett — a veritable who’s who of New Testament scholars.
What have these scholars suggested is the proper approach to interpreting (and thus translating) this verse? They agree with the majority of text critics that the verse did not originally include the word “God” in the text, and then argue that the Spirit is the subject of the verb “works together.” In other words:
Approach #3: And we know that he [“the Spirit”] works all things together for good, to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.
I am not positive which of these three is correct, but I have been preferring option #3 for quite a few years now. The main reason for this preference is that the Spirit has been the main topic of Romans 8 ever since verse 4 and the stated subject of both clauses in verse 26 — emphatically so (“the Spirit himself”). “God,” in contrast, has not been the stated subject of any sentence throughout the entire chapter leading up to Romans 8:28 since verse 3.
But, someone may claim, “God is the implied subject of verse 27.”
No, he’s not. But since this is just a blog post, and since demonstrating it would require an academic article, I will simply refer you to an article I wrote a few years ago on how to properly interpret verse 27. In that article, I sought to demonstrate that in verse 27 the Spirit is the one who searches hearts, and that what he knows is that we have Spirit-focused mindsets. The only reason I mention it for today’s post is that the Spirit has continued to be the main subject up until this verse, so it makes better sense to interpret the Spirit as the subject of the “work together” verb in verse 28.
Take away: My main goal in this post was to alert you to a substantial and reasonable alternative interpretation that differs from the best-known interpretations of Romans 8:28. In other words, it may be the case that Romans 8:28 should not be understood (nor, perhaps, rendered) either as “all things work together for good,” or as “God works all things together for good,” but rather as “the Spirit works all things together for good.” No substantial theological take-aways emerge from this observation, however, since on any reading, all things work together for good because of the God who makes it so. But reading the Spirit as the subject of the verb once again shines a light on the primary thing Paul has been highlighting throughout this wonderful chapter up to this point, that the various ways God works for our good is through the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
 One unusual feature of Greek is that neuter plural nouns are followed by singular verbs, so the subject of the verb here could be either singular “he/it” or could be the plural adjective that is functioning as a noun “all things.” Noun and verb agreement are not required in this case.
 James. P. Wilson, “Romans viii.28: Text and Interpretation,” ExpTim 60 (1948-49), 110-11; M. Black, “The Interpretation of Romans viii 28,” in Neotestamentica et Patristica, NovTSup 6 (Leiden: Brill, 1962), 166-172; Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 585–86; F. F. Bruce, The Letter of Paul to the Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, rev. ed. (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press and Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 166; John A. T. Robinson, Wrestling with Romans (London: SCM, 1979), 104-105; Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 588-90; Robert Jewett, Romans: A Commentary (Hermeneia; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2007), 526-527.
 Subjects of clauses in Romans 8 include: ὁ νόμος τοῦ πνεύματος τῆς ζωῆς (v. 2), ὁ θεὸς (v. 3), δικαίωμα (v. 4), οἱ κατὰ σάρκα ὄντες and οἱ κατὰ πνεῦμα (v. 5), τὸ φρόνημα τῆς σαρκὸς (2x) and τὸ φρόνημα τοῦ πνεύματος (vv. 6-7), οἱ ἐν σαρκὶ ὄντες (v. 8), ὑμεῖς (v. 9, πνεῦμα θεοῦ (v. 9), τις (v. 9), οὗτος (v. 9), Χριστὸς (v. 10), τὸ σῶμα (v. 10), τὸ πνεῦμα (v. 10), τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ ἐγείραντος τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐκ νεκρῶν (v. 11 ὁ ἐγείρας Χριστὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν (v. 11), implied “we” (v. 12), implied “you” [pl.] (v. 13), ὅσοι (v. 14), οὗτοι (v. 14), implied “you” [pl.] (v. 15), implied “we” (v. 15), αὐτὸ τὸ πνεῦμα (v. 16), implied “we” (v. 16), implied “we” (v. 17), implied “I” (v. 18), τὰ παθήματα τοῦ νῦν καιροῦ/ (v. 18), ἡ ἀποκαραδοκία τῆς κτίσεως (v. 19), ἡ κτίσις (v. 20), αὐτὴ ἡ κτίσις (v. 21), implied “we” (v. 22), πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις (v. 22), ἡμεῖς αὐτοὶ (v. 23), implied “we” (v. 24), ἐλπὶς (v. 24), τίς (v. 24), implied “we” (v. 25). And then, of course, the subject of both clauses in v. 26 is the Spirit, and emphatically so.