Category Archives: Romans

Peninnah and Promises

I never met a woman named Peninnah until I lived in Africa. I recall first hearing this name, mostly because it was so strikingly novel that I assumed it was a mistake, and had to ask her name again. Even my spellchecker doesn’t recognize this name. But since that first one I met in the year 2000, I’ve known several —but all in Africa.

I found the above particularly interesting, given that it is a Biblical name. People like naming their kids after heroes of the Bible. So why are all the Peninnahs (that I’ve known) in Africa? Why don’t we name our daughters Peninnah in the US? A look at Peninnah’s story sheds light on this, and helps us know a bit more about Africa, and about the promises of God.

She is introduced at the beginning of 1 Samuel 1 (all ESV) :

[Elkanah] had two wives, one named Hannah and the other Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none. (v1)

An exhaustive search of the Bible yields only four references to “Peninnah”, all in 1 Samuel 1:2-6. We know that she was loved and cared for by her husband:

And whenever the day came for Elkanah to present his sacrifice, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. (v4)

But as might be expected in a polygamous household, there was not equal love and care for the two wives:

But to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved her even though the LORD had closed her womb. (v5)

So we see that Hannah has more love and care from her husband, but Peninnah has children. Naturally, these two wives of Elkana did not get along:

Because the LORD had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival [Peninnah] would provoke her and taunt her viciously. And this went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival taunted her until she wept and would not eat. (vv6-7)

So one might say that Peninnah was not a particularly nice woman. This may have come in part from her husband loving his other wife more, but in any case, she made Hannah’s life miserable.

In terms of understanding the scriptures, Peninnah is perhaps most helpful to us as a contrast with Hannah, who later gives birth to Samuel. Interestingly enough, I can’t recall ever meeting an African Hannah. But 1 Samuel gives us a lot more information on Hannah. Her character is revealing in response to her co-wife’s taunting:

In her bitter distress, Hannah prayed to the LORD and wept with many tears. (v10)

Her prayers are so moving they are taken for drunkenness. But in the end, the priest of Shiloh looks favorably on her:

“Go in peace,” Eli replied, “and may the God of Israel grant the petition you have asked of Him.” (17)

Whatever might be said of the value of the priesthood of Eli and his sons (e.g., 1 Sam 2:12), Hannah’s worship seems sincere:

The next morning Elkanah and Hannah got up early to bow in worship before the LORD, and then returned home to Ramah. (v19a)

Curiously, Peninnah doesn’t seem to be there at this time. Did she no longer go to Shiloh to worship with her Husband each year? Or was she just written out of the story at this point, as unimportant? Either way, her importance to the story is at least minimized, and there is no Biblical evidence of faithful worship from her at this point (since v4), whereas the importance of Hannah’s faith is paramount:

And Elkanah had relations with his wife Hannah, and the LORD remembered her. So in the course of time, Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I have asked for him from the LORD.” (vv19b-20)

Hannah prayed for a son, and attributed giving birth to him to God. And in time, she fulfilled the vow she made in v11:

Once she had weaned him, Hannah took the boy with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine. Though the boy was still young, she brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh. And when they had slaughtered the bull, they brought the boy to Eli.

“Please, my lord,” said Hannah, “as surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. I prayed for this boy, and since the LORD has granted me what I asked of Him, I now dedicate the boy to the LORD. For as long as he lives, he is dedicated to the LORD.”

So they worshiped the LORD there. (vv24-28)

And as if that were not enough, Hannah gives a magnificat-esque song of thanksgiving (in 1 Sam 2:1-10), prefiguring Mary’s song of praise after Jesus met John the Baptist, while each was still in the womb (in Luke 1:46-55).

So we see that Peninnah and Hannah provide an interstesting clash between what the scriptures elsewhere call children of the flesh and children of the promise.

In Galatians, this contrast is described in terms of law v promise:

For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. (Gal 3:18)

This is an argument against trusting in the Law, but Paul continues to make explicit reference to children born, either as a result of the power of the flesh (the way children are normally born), or as a result of the promise of God.

For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.  (Gal 4:22-26)

So Paul says that the children born by the natural power of the flesh are born into slavery, whereas the children born by the supernatural power of the promise of God are born for freedom, for heaven. And just like with Peninnah and Hannah, the two kinds don’t get along:

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. (Gal 4:28-31)

Note that these references are made to the children of the two wives of Abraham (Sarah and Hagar), but the same applies to Peninnah and Hannah. The one bears children by her own strength, and the other, devoid of any such power of her own, bears children by the promise of God.

This principle is found throughout the new testament. The writer of Hebrews talks about the faith of Abraham as a confidence and trust in a specific promise of God:

For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.  (Heb 6:13-15)

And Paul in Romans contrasts again the inheritance according to the law, and the inheritance according to the promise.

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.  (Rom 4:13-14)

I think of it this way. If your father (or someone else you trusted) promised to give you something of great value (house, boat, boathouse, etc), but it you were concerned that he might not follow through, would it make sense to take him to court over it? To go before a judge and insist that you have a legal right to have a personal promise fulfilled just doesn’t make sense. Rather, if a person has promised something, you can address the fulfillment of that promise on the basis of that personal relationship. Unless, of course, your objective is to ditch the relationship and wrangle what you can from the person by force. Good luck trying that with God….

As I think about the promise(s) of God, it helps me to ask what specific promise(s) we’re talking about. This is because I think people can get fuzzy in their thinking, and think of general “promises” without really having something in mind. Whereas I think God has made specific promises which I think are good for us to trust in, just as we commit specific sins of which it is good for us to repent. Romans 9 gives us a very important clarification of (at least one) promise to Abraham, with its relation to election and the salvation of a remnant, as opposed to the whole: 

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”  (Rom 9:6-9)

So the promise was the supernatural birth to Sarah, a 90+ year old woman. For this passage, it is importantly not the natural birth to Hagar, a much younger and more fertile woman. And these two births distinguish between two lines of descendants of Abraham. And So Romans 9 shows “the word of God has [NOT] failed”, because the promise of salvation never was to all Abraham’s descendants, but rather to his descendants by the promise to Sarah.

In the same way, as we look at “all Israel” later in history, we see that not all are saved. But the promise of God never was that each individual would be saved. Rather, those who are born of the promise will be saved, and those who are born of the flesh will not. Jesus says it this way:

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.… That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.…” (John 3:3,6)

So those of us who are born again, who are born of the Spirit, according to the promise of God, will see the kingdom of God. Notably, those whose inheritance derives only from the law, or from their own strength, will not.

To me, this is a very sharp criticism of the “self made man.” American culture is full of the ideal of managing everything by our own strength, of never depending on anyone else. I think it is good to be responsible, and to attend to our daily needs without excessively burdening others. But the clear teaching of scripture is that it is the one who depends on the promise of God, not his own strength, who is approved by God.

Romans 6:15-23

Here is my mindmap for Romans 6:15-23:

Here is the scrolls for this week, and here are some more questions of my own:

  1. What does the rhetorical question in v15 mean? And the answer?
  2. What is the relationship between slavery and obedience?
  3. Does the Gospel make us no longer slaves?
  4. Is it better to be a slave to sin, or to the law? Why?
  5. What is freedom in this passage?
  6. What is the result of working for (or slavery to) sin?
  7. What is the result of God’s gift? How is it different?
  8. Which do you want? How can you get it?
  9. Spend some time discussing the last verse, as a concise summary summary of the gospel in the first six chapters of Romans (and in Next Step Discipleship, pp40-41)

Romans 6:1-14

Here is my mindmap for Romans 6:1-14:

Here is the scrolls for this week, and here are a few more questions of my own:

  1. What questions does Paul ask the reader?
  2. What are the answers?
  3. How is Baptism like death?
  4. What does it mean to be Baptized into Christ?
  5. How does baptism answer the questions of sin and grace?
  6. What is the connection between baptism and death?
  7. Where do we get newness of life?
  8. What are the costs/benefits of being united with Christ?
  9. Who is crucified/done away with in v.6?
  10. Why does Death no longer have power over Jesus?
  11. How does that affect our lives? Why?
  12. Why doesn’t sin dominate us?

Romans 5:21-21

Here is my mindmap of Romans 5:12-21:

Here is the scrolls for this week, and this chart I’ve found helpful laying out this passage, to make it’s content and structure more accessible. And some more questions of my own:

  1. How are Adam and Jesus alike?
  2. How are they different?
  3. How did sin enter the world?
  4. Why do all men die?
  5. Did people die before the law?
  6. In what ways are the free gift, not like the trespass (vv15-16)?
  7. What are their results/reigns?
  8. How are the offense and obedience similar?
  9. how to sin and grace spread/reign?
  10. How does Paul address our character (v19), our legal status (v18), and our reign (v17)?
  11. Summarize a comparison of the lineages of Adam and Jesus.
  12. How does Jesus answer the problem of Adam, sin and death?


Romans 5:1-11

Here is my mindmap of Romans 5:1-11:

Here is the scrolls, and here are some more questions of my own:

  1. With what premise does Paul start this section?
  2. What is the conclusion based on that premise?
  3. What else do we have through Jesus? How? To what?
  4. What else do we do through Jesus (in hope)?
  5. What unexpected benefit of being in Christ does Paul mention?
  6. What are the links between tribulation and hope? Why?
  7. Why doesn’t hope disappoint?
  8. Why does that depend on Jesus?
  9. How do we have peace with God?
  10. What else do we have in Him?
  11. How do we respond to our sufferings?
  12. Why can we respond that way?
  13. What four ways does Paul describe us when Christ died for us?
  14. How does Jesus’ death address each of these?
  15. When did Christ die for us? (three descriptions)
  16. Who would one die for?
  17. How does God show us His love?
  18. How is Christ’s death described in this passage?
  19. What does Christ’s death do for us?
  20. What is the result of our reconciliation?
  21. Discuss the relationship between the moral, legal, and relational terms in this section.

Romans 4:13-25

Here is my mind map of this passage:

Here are the scrolls for this week, and here are some more questions of my own:

  1. What two consequences of justification by Grace does Paul mention here?
  2. How do we know that the promise didn’t come through the law?
  3. How would the adherents of the law inheriting nullify faith/grace?
  4. Of whom is Abraham the father?
  5. How does he describe God?
  6. What kind of hope did Abraham have? In what? To what end?
  7. What kind of faith did Abraham have? In what? To what end?
  8. Why was Abraham’s story recorded?
  9. Who is ‘us’? Who is Jesus?

Romans 4:1-12

Here is my mind map of Romans 4:1-12:

mind map of Romans 4:1-12

Here is the scrolls for this week, and here are some more questions of my own:

  1. Where does Paul turn in this section? Why?
  2. Why is Abraham’s justification important?
  3. What evidence does Paul seek in the scriptures?
  4. What is the difference between works/grace?
  5. What concepts does Paul contrast in vv 4-5?
  6. What is the difference of being right with or without works?
  7. What does David say on the topic?
  8. Who was the blessing to?
  9. How does Paul argue this?
  10. How did the promise come?
  11. When did the Law come, in relation to the promise and Abraham’s faith?
  12. How is faith voided?
  13. When is there no sin?


What is the use of the Law?

Going through Romans 7, I find a lot of our discussions could use more background than we have. When talking about “the Law”, there are two questions I have found very helpful in finding my way through Biblical texts, as well as conversations about them with others. The first I talked about here, under the polysemy of the phrase “(the) law”. In short, this phrase can refer to different things, so the question I like to ask is What does “(the) law” mean here? That is, if you assume it refers to the mosaic law (as it often does), you will get mixed up if a particular use actually refers to natural (i.e., not codified) law, explicit laws given to others (before or after Moses), or to a general principles without any particular moral value —all of which I have found in scripture.

The second question that I find helps clarify texts on the law is What is/are the purpose(s) of the law? I was in a conversation lately where someone talked about an unintended consequence of the law, which sounded like God intended one thing, then had to go to plan B later. This problem is particularly relevant if you think that in the Old testament the purpose of the law was to make people righteous. Given that we know this is clearly not the case in Christ, it would seem to be a change, something of a Plan B for God. But does God have plan B’s? I don’t think so. So I think it helps to ask if it ever was the purpose of the law to make us righteous. Or to declare us righteous. Or to completely remove our sin, even after the fact. Rather, the scriptures tell us

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins..…And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. (Heb 10:1-4,11 ESV)

There are other passages, many in the epistle to the Hebrews, which deal with this question of the purpose or value of the law and sacrificial system it contains. But rather that try to summarize it all myself, I’ll include here a couple paragraphs from the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), in the Modern English Study Version (1993). I think it provides a great starting point to think about the purpose(s) of the law, whatever you think about what this confession says elsewhere. I got the text here, and the prooftexts here (plus a few of my own). This is the sixth and seventh paragraphs of Chapter 19, “The Law of God”:

6. Although true believers are not under the law as a covenant of works by which they are justified or condemned (Romans 6:14; 7:4; Galatians 2:16; 3:13; 4:4-5; Acts 13:38-39; Romans 8:1, 33; Heb 7:19,10:1-4,11), nevertheless the law is of great use to them as well as to others. By informing them —as a rule of life— both of the will of God and of their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly (Romans 7:12, 22, 25; Psalm 119:1-6; 1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 5:14-23). It also reveals to them the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives (Romans 7:7, 13; 3:20). Therefore, when they examine themselves in the light of the law, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred of their sin (James 1:23-25; Romans 7:9, 14, 24), together with a clearer view of their need of Christ and the perfection of his obedience (Galatians 3:24; Romans 7:24-25; 8:3-4). The law is also useful to the regenerate because, by forbidding sin, it restrains their corruptions (James 2:11-12; Psalm 119:101, 104, 128). By its threats it shows them what their sins deserve, and, although they are free from the curse threatened in the law, it shows the afflictions that they may expect because of them in this life (Ezra 9:13-14; Psalm 89:30-34; Galatians 3:13). The promises of the law likewise show to the regenerate God’s approval of obedience and the blessings they may expect as they obey the law (Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 5:33; Leviticus 18:5; Matthew 19:17; Leviticus 26:1-13; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 6:2-3; Psalm 19:11; 37:11; Matthew 5:5), although these blessings are not due to them by the law as a covenant of works (Galatians 2:16; Luke 17:10). Therefore, the fact that a man does good rather than evil because the law encourages good and discourages evil is no evidence that the man is under the law rather than under grace (Romans 6:12-15; 1 Peter 3:8-12 with Psalm 34:12-16; Hebrews 12:28-29).

7. These uses of the law do not conflict with the grace of the gospel, but are in complete harmony with it (Romans 3:31; Galatians 3:21; Titus 2:11-14); for it is the Spirit of Christ who subdues and enables the will of man to do freely and cheerfully those things which the will of God, revealed in the law, requires (Ezekiel 36:27; Hebrews 8:10 with Jeremiah 31:33; Psalm 119:35, 47; Romans 7:22).

The most important point, for me, is that there are a number of legitimate uses of the law, none of which is to make us right legally (i.e., justification) or in fact (i.e., sanctification). We can therefore conclude that legalism (attempting to accomplish either justification or sanctification through the law) is and has always been an abuse of the law.

Romans 3:1-8

Here is my mindmap of this passage:

Rom 3:1-8 mindmap

Here are the scrolls.

Here are some more questions:

1. What question opens this chapter? How is it rephrased?
2. What is the answer to the question(s)?
3. What other answers could be expected?
4. How does Paul connect advantage/profit with belief in an unexpected way?
5. Whose fault is it when someone doesn’t believe? Why?
6. What does our unrighteousness do (v5)?
7. Why might God be called unjust (v5)?
8. Why is God NOT unjust?
9. How does ‘my lie’ affect God/my judgment?
10. How does Paul connect good and evil?
11. What do others say Paul says about good and evil? How does he respond?