That we are victors over the fallen world through Christ is a constant theme of the New Testament.
“In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world,” Jesus declares in John 16:33. “And the victory that conquers the world is our faith,” adds 1 John 5:4. Likewise, St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:57 that we have victory through Jesus over sin and death.
But then in Romans Paul escalates the promise in dramatic terms:
As it is written, for thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:36-39; King James Version).
More than conquerors. What exactly does this mean?
In ancient Greek the word is hypernikaō, whose root nikaō means to be victorious or overcome. The prefix hyper- has many meanings but generally has the sense of above, beyond, or in excess and abundance (see here for more). Catholics may recognize the prefix in the term hyperdulia, which refers to the special veneration that is according to Mary far above and beyond any other saint.
To hypernikaō means to be above and beyond a conqueror, or as the King James Version cited above puts it so simply and beautifully—more than conquerors.
In context, Paul is discussing both the tribulations of Christians and general trials of life in a fallen world—he lists anguish, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and the sword in verse 35.
The immediate context seems to be persecution, based on a citation from Psalm 44, which describes the slaughter of faithful Israelites. Based on Paul’s language elsewhere we could say that victory over persecutors is a victory over the devil and all that is personalized in him—sin, death, the utter brokenness of the world.
But Paul is saying that we will do more than simply defeat these forces.
To help explain what he is saying it helps to engage a little bit more with his war imagery. Imagine a great battle, perhaps one out of the Middle Ages or the ancient world. The armies collide, a mist of dust and blood cloaks the roar of battle, the clashing of sword and shield, and the war cry of men. At the end of the day, perhaps one side, diminished in numbers, stands victorious over the enemy decimated, their bodies and bodiless armor strewn across the field.
There is an inherent hollowness to this sort of victory. Indeed, the word seems a bit of a misnomer amid the chaos and carnage of war. In warfare, victory seems to entail a kind of evening of the score. One side wins, the other loses. There never seems to be any net increase in the good. There is a kind of ruthless inescapable logic to war.
But the victory we experience in Christ is not according to the terms of the world. In saying that Christ has made us more than conquerors, Paul seems to be saying that that Christ overcame the logic of war with the logic of love. Christ suffered apparent defeat at the cross to experience the greatest kind of victory possible: victory over death. Christ conquered in a way that made Him ‘more than a conqueror.’ He is more than a conqueror because He was first less than one. He was first a victim so that He might become the ultimate victor.
In being united to Him and His sacrifice we too can be more than conquerors.
We are more than conquerors not only in how we conqueror but in what we end up with.
Christ did not come to simply defeat the devil, sin, and death. He came to do something above and beyond this. He did not come to merely rid the world of evil. He also came to bring the greatest good to it. Paul explains what it is at the end of the chapter: ‘the love of God’ which is incarnate in Christ Jesus.
Through Christ, we have not simply been restored to what was lost—we have gained something new. In terms of salvation history, we are not merely to be returned to Eden. Our destination is something much more wonderful—the beatific vision in heaven.
Christ is more than a conqueror. But we are also more than conquerors. The transformation that Christ wrought in the whole world is experienced by us personally. In being more than conquerors we will become more than what we otherwise would have been without the afflictions of sin, death, and corruptions. In traditional theological terms we might call this a state of ‘pure nature’ unstained by sin. But more is promised to us than this. Through grace our nature is not only restored but transformed (Romans 12:2).
Christ did not only conquer the world for us but He also gave us a new world, a new heavens and a new earth, which is already coming into being among those of us who are more than conquerors.