What is “character” in Romans 5:4?

In Romans 5, St. Paul strings together several virtues wherein each leads to the next. Here’s the passage:

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame…(Romans 5:3-5a)

This is one of those passages that could simply sound like a nice saying, rather than having theological meat on the bones. I was especially interested in what Paul means by “character.” What is that? 031303-N-3228G-001.jpg

The Greek word for character is dokime (δοκιμη). This word is related to a bunch of words all having to do with approval: dokimazo (to prove or scrutinize), dokeo (to think, suppose), dokimos (accepted). The word has to do with outside approval. Paul is not talking about self-esteem, but moral approval by others–I think we are safe to say, especially the moral approval of God.

Notably Paul uses the word several other times: 2 Cor 2:9, 8:3, 9:13; Phil 2:22. He places an emphasis on this idea of testing or proving one’s character. For him, the true test of character is suffering. If a person can endure “affliction” or persecution or suffering for the sake of the Gospel and maintain their faithfulness to the truth, then they are “approved.” Interestingly, Liddell-Scott-Jones does not cite examples of this word prior to St. Paul. Perhaps it was a favorite of his.

This whole concept reminds me of spy movies where a spy is captured and tortured for information. The heroic ones stick it out and keep their mouth shut, while the cowards cough up secrets before the pain is too much for them to bear.

To me, this is why experience is so valuable. A person with great experience of life who has kept the faith stands as an example of proven character. Not all Christians will suffer at the hands of persecutors, but perseverance in the face of any suffering, whether through physical illness, moral trials or even emotional pain, can be an occasion for spiritual growth and growth in dokime.



2 thoughts on “What is “character” in Romans 5:4?

  1. kelso

    Very good commentary. Saint Paul also uses the word theologically in Hebrews 1:3. The Son being “the brightness of his glory and the character of his substance.” The Vulgate uses the Latin word “figura.” I assume that the Greek word gives us the word the CHurch uses for the “indelible mark” of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders. The Word is the perfect “expression” of the One Substance of God, Wisdom uttered eternally. Hence, I like to think that the word “character” as St. Paul uses it in Hebrews” means more than “figure” — a poor word in English for the mystery — but the “expression” as proceeding from the Father, begotten of the Father. So, too, in a sense, when we receive the “character” of baptism we receive the “expression”, “mark”, “image,” of the Son of God in His Incarnate human nature.

  2. Carmen Reyes

    Thank you for the break down. The scripture, like you said, sounds nice. But to actually put it into practice what does that require. That is where I was struggling, and the character part I was unclear on. I wondered why an emphasis to develop character, I’m already a “good” person. My character is “fine”. But digging deeper, it’s about something more. It’s God’s approval, wow! It is evidence of spiritual growth, and growth in moral. Thank you

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