In verses 19–21 Paul introduces a theme that is basic in Jewish thought, and he relates it to the Christian hope. According to the Genesis account, man and the world in which he lives are so closely bound together that man’s sin brings a curse on the entire created order. According to Jewish thought, the reverse is also true; that is, when man is redeemed the universe in which he lives will share his destiny. Paul personifies the created order and depicts it as waiting with eager longing for that moment to take place. In keeping with his Christian conviction, Paul affirms that it will take place when God reveals his sons. The phrase that the Today’s English Version translates God to reveal his sons (so Jerusalem Bible) is literally “for the revelation of the sons of God.” The logic behind this translation is in the observation that “revelation” describes an event rather than an object. And so the phrase “revelation of the sons of God” means “God will reveal his sons.”
The TEV also changes the structure of the first part of this verse rather radically. All of creation waits with eager longing is literally “the eager longing of the creation is waiting.” The word creation refers to the entire created order (see New American Bible “the whole created world”; JB “the whole creation”; New English Bible “the created universe”), and so the TEV renders this word by all of creation. Moreover, the expression “the eager longing of the creation waits” means “the creation is waiting with eager longing.” To translate in this way is much more natural in English, since we rarely speak of an abstract idea as waiting. Eager longing (NEB “eager expectation”) appears elsewhere in the New Testament only in Philippians 1:20 (there rendered deep desire by the TEV). In translating all of creation, it is important to avoid merely designating “all people who have been created,” since the Greek text refers to the entire created universe. In some languages the closest equivalent is “everything that God has created” or “all that God has created.”
It may be necessary to shift somewhat the relation between wait and eager longing, since the expression eager longing is semantically more focal, that is to say, more crucial to this verse. Waits with eager longing may, therefore, be translated in some languages as “is longing eagerly as it waits for God to reveal his sons.” Eager longing may be equivalent simply to “desires very much,” “desires with rapid beating heart,” or “desires with outstretched neck,” to cite only some of the figurative expressions which may be used to convey the meaning of eager longing.
Newman, B. M., & Nida, E. A. (1973). A handbook on Paul’s letter to the Romans (pp. 158–159). New York: United Bible Societies.