B. Second Subsidiary Thesis: (3:20-24)
The Work of Christ, Apprehended by Faith, Brings us to God
Νυνὶ δὲ χωρὶς νόμου δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ πεφανέρωται, μαρτυρουμένη ὑπὸ τοῦ νόμου καὶ τῶν προφητῶν, δικαιοσύνη δὲ θεοῦ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, εἰς πάντας τοὺς πιστεύοντας, οὐ γάρ ἐστιν διαστολή. πάντες γὰρ ἥμαρτον καὶ ὑστεροῦνται τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ, δικαιούμενοι δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ·
– “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (3:20-24, NIV).
Paul’s grand thesis asserted that the righteousness of God was revealed in the gospel (1:17). Now he develops that assertion further in six ways.
- δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ πεφανέρωται (dikaiosunē theou pephanerōtai)–righteousness from God has been made manifest: not just revealed (apokaluptetai, as in 1:17) but plainly so. (Would Paul be surprised that some people find his exposition here in Romans confusing? I think so!)
- διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (dia pisteōs Christou)–through faith in Jesus Christ
- εἰς πάντας τοὺς πιστεύοντας (eis panta tous pisteuontas)–to all who believe/have faith
- δικαιούμενοι δωρεὰν (dikaioumenoi dōrean)–(believers) are freely justified. (And we really need to coin a new English word, “righteousified”, don’t we, to convey that “justify” (dikaioō) and “righteousnessness” (dikaiosunē) are cognate words?)
- τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι (tē autou chariti)–by his (God’s) grace
- διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (dia tēs apolutrōseōs tēs en Christō Iesou)–through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus
While pisteōs Christou could refer to the faith or faithfulness of Christ, I doubt that it does, firstly because (as discussed earlier concerning 1:17), I don’t think it likely that Paul has muddied his explanation by assigning two shades of meaning to pistin and its cognates in such close proximity, and, secondly, because Christ’s own faithfulness only comes up in a secondary way in Apostolic preaching and teaching of the gospel. It is not a prominent part of the kerygma – not just Paul’s kerygma; the Apostolic kerygma generally. Therefore, I don’t think Paul would have expected that meaning to come to the minds of his Roman hearers, and so I don’t think he would have intended it.
I think the reason for the close collocation of pisteōs and pisteuontas is that the first throws the emphasis onto the object of our faith, and the second onto the universality of the blessing that is available. It is available to all who believe. And I think that is exactly how the Roman Christians would have understood it, who had all come to faith somehow or other as a result of the Apostolic kerygma.
- I should add that I hope that all scholars now recognise that the idea has been well-discredited that what we have as the kerygma is just a late first century or even second century distortion of the original. (See, e.g., Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony”, 2e). We know what the kerygma was, and we can bring that knowledge to the study of Romans.
Despite the preceding discussion, though, please note that, even if pisteōs is after all a reference to Christ’s own faithfulness, that does not subtract from the force of the doctrine that Paul is stating: righteousness from God is taken hold of by faith. And, note again, even though we in the 21st Century have had to pause for that discussion, no such pause would have been necessary for Paul’s original readers, who would have taken his meaning immediately. Paul is not difficult to understand!
In the above six points, Paul has made these identifications:
- The source of the righteousness–God
- The recipients of this righteousness–all who believe
- The price to us of this righteousness–nothing
- God’s motive–grace
- There was a price, nevertheless, for apolutrōseōs is a release obtained on payment of a ransom
- The agent of this redemption is Christ Jesus. (Note: we don’t need to resolve whether ἐν (en) is best translated here as “in” or “by”. The believer’s identification with Christ is not yet in focus at this point in the development of Paul’s argument. Accept either meaning, and you can still go forward with Paul.)
Exposition B, Part 1 (3:25-26):
Christ’s Blood Makes Possible a True Mercy Seat
(I know that, in the Greek, verses 25 and 26 are part of the same sentence that began at least at the “ou gar” in verse 22. However, in their content they seem to me expansions on what Paul has already stated, rather than new assertions. Therefore I have chosen to treat them as expository rather than as parts of the sub-thesis.)
ὃν προέθετο ὁ θεὸς ἱλαστήριον διὰ πίστεως ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι (hon proetheto ho theos hilastērion dia pisteōs en tō autou haimati)–(3:25a). God has ordained that, when one puts one’s faith in the blood of Jesus, expiation/propitiation occurs that is analogous to that which was portrayed when sacrificial blood was poured onto the kapporet (mercy seat) in Old Testament times. (That is my paraphrase rather than a translation, but I think such a paraphrase is necessary if our 21st Century minds are to grasp the richness of Paul’s words in this clause.)
- Roman hearers from Jewish backgrounds would have seen the force of this image immediately; those from Gentile backgrounds probably less so. However, Paul’s main target here will have been the Jewish-background believers so that they could see that, not only has Jesus made righteousness accessible without conformity to the outward symbols of the older covenant, but even the most profound and important of the sacrifices that were associated with that covenant had been consummated by him.
- We don’t need to resolve the question of whether expiation or propitiation is the better translation for hilastērion. Whatever sense Jewish Christians had of it from their Old Testament background, in respect of setting sin-marred relationships right with God, that was a sufficient understanding for the point Paul is making here.
εἰς ἔνδειξιν τῆς δικαιοσύνης αὐτοῦ διὰ τὴν πάρεσιν τῶν προγεγονότων ἁμαρτημάτων–to show his righteousness, because he had passed over former sins (3:25).
- We don’t need to resolve, either, whether, by “former sins”, Paul has in mind what the author of Hebrews tells us, that “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4, NIV), or just God’s general forbearance whenever he has not brought down immediate judgment on sin. Either way, Christ’s definitive hilastērion has exonerated the righteousness of God.
πρὸς τὴν ἔνδειξιν τῆς δικαιοσύνης αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ νῦν καιρῷ, εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν δίκαιον καὶ δικαιοῦντα τὸν ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ–he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (3:26,NIV).
- Just as the new hilastērion has vindicated God in respect of sins previously forborne, so it also vindicates his righteousness in his justifying those who now, in the present time (ἐν τῷ νῦν καιρῷ), explicitly put their faith in Jesus.
There is nothing in the foregoing that would have been difficult for even an ordinary, not theologically-minded Roman believer to have grasped.
Exposition B, Part 2 (3:27-31):
Paul’s Summary of some Important Points and Implications so far
- ἡ καύχησις ἐξεκλείσθη … διὰ νόμου πίστεως.–Boasting is excluded, because of the principle of faith. This contrasts with the law-based Jewish boasting in God (καυχᾶσαι ἐν θεῷ) that Paul had reproved in 2:17-24.
- δικαιοῦσθαι πίστει ἄνθρωπον χωρὶς ἔργων νόμου–man is justified by faith apart from works of law. Does Paul have in mind just the outward, ceremonial aspects of the law, or the whole package? Obviously the latter. It would be incongruous for him to be saying that the justification arrived at by faith only exempts you from the ceremonial law, but unfailing obedience to the Decalogue is still imperative for ultimate justification. Justification, like uniqueness, admits no stages or shades.
- [Ὁ] θεός … δικαιώσει περιτομὴν ἐκ πίστεως καὶ ἀκροβυστίαν διὰ τῆς πίστεως–(3:30) circumcised and uncircumcised are justified on the identical basis of faith.
- νόμον οὖν καταργοῦμεν διὰ τῆς πίστεως; μὴ γένοιτο, ἀλλὰ νόμον ἱστάνομεν– (3:31). This faith schema doesn’t nullify the law, it upholds it.
Exposition B, Part 3 (4:1-25):
Proof Positive from Abraham and David
Little needs to be said by way of commentary on chapter 4. Paul’s logic is sound. The seeming contrary view put forward by James is easily reconciled when one takes into account the different content that each man puts into the word “faith”, and in any case, understanding James’s view is not pertinent to understanding Paul’s view, which is abundantly clear.
- Abraham, prior to doing any of the works that flowed from his faith, had his faith credited as righteousness–Ἐπίστευσεν δὲ Ἀβραὰμ τῷ θεῷ καὶ ἐλογίσθη αὐτῷ εἰς δικαιοσύνην (Episteusen de Abraham tō theō kai elogisthē autō eis dikaiosunē).
- Furthermore, this crediting happened prior to the establishment of the covenant sign of circumcision, and Abraham’s compliance with it–πῶς οὖν ἐλογίσθη; ἐν περιτομῇ ὄντι ἢ ἐν ἀκροβυστίᾳ; οὐκ ἐν περιτομῇ ἀλλ’ ἐν ἀκροβυστίᾳ.
- Paul also supplies supporting evidence from words of David in Psalm 32 regarding the blessedness of those whose sins are not counted against them.
Inescapable conclusion: “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith” (4:13, NIV).
Corollary: “The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (4:23-24, NIV).
Paul has not, of course, proven the corollary from Scripture, but is demonstrating that it was utterly consistent with the Abrahamic religion that the faith in Jesus which the Romans had come to via the Apostolic kerygma should be credited to them as righteousness, apart from works.
Therefore, regardless of issues some might wish to raise over details of the case he presents in chapter 4, Paul’s own meaning and intention is once again perfectly clear.