Romans 3:21-31

Sep 28, 2008


In this section, Paul formally introduces his argument that, independent of the Law, God’s righteousness, his faithful covenant uprightness, is freely given to all those who believe in the one who raised Jesus Christ from the dead.  Instead of dealing directly with the structure of this passage, I wanted to touch on how this section relates to the structure of the letter, and specifically to Rom. 1:17 (the verse that corresponds to this argument in the short-hand structure of Romans).  I think Romans 1:17 is relevant for the translation of the disputed phrases in this passage that are often translated “faith in Jesus.”  Here in chapter 3, those who believe are exercising a faith that in vs. 22 is said to come “through Jesus Christ’s faith.”  My opinion is that this is a possessive genitive referring what Paul will later explain as a “law of faith.”  That is, faith (Jesus Christ’s governance of faith) is a power that now functions as God’s means to covenant uprightness.  He goes on to explain this law of faith in the latter portion of the passage. Of course there is one other main option that I disagree with (translating pistewß as “faithfulness”), but because of space limitations will just stick with my alternative proposal.

Paul introduced the concepts of these phrases in Romans 1:17 when he stated that, “in it” (in the believed content of the gospel proclamation) “God’s righteousness is revealed from faith leading to faith” (or “from faith resulting in faith”).  He then supported his assertion with a quotation from Habakkuk 2:4, “But the one who is righteous from faith will live.”  This quotation highlights the idea that the righteous one will derive his  status “from faith.” He will not be swept away in judgment as will be the case of the wicked (as portrayed in Habakkuk), but instead, “will live” (which concept for Paul must be associated with the glory and life of the resurrection cf. Hab. 2:14).  I think the case construction of pistewß (with Jesus as object) supports the idea that faith belongs in some way to Christ so that it comes from him.  There are several occurrences in this brief but foundational passage:

    3:22 with dia (quoted above)

    3:26 with ek “the one from Jesus’ faith” 

In 3:22, its use with dia shows that this faith is the means or agency of God’s covenant status of uprightness being communicated to those who believe.  We are given no reason to think this faith is different from the faith that is exercised by those who believe.  Per Romans 1:17, it is one and the same faith that comes “from” him but which “leads to” (or “results in”) faith.  This idea of faith “leading to / resulting in” faith ( the second part) probably refers to the continuance of faith and not to the initial coming to faith at the inception of the Christian life.  From Paul’s usage of Habakkuk 2:4, it is evident that the one who is righteous is said to be so “from faith” (the first part).  So, the inception of the Christian life is to be identified with the status received when one first believes “from faith.”  As to the end, for Paul, “salvation” will occur in the future (Rom. 5:9-10, 10:9-10, 13, 13:11).  That is why faith is necessary after its inception.  Per Romans 1:16, the gospel is God’s power leading to (or resulting in) future salvation to all who believe.  The righteousness that comes from faith continues for that very purpose and result.  This is a real salvation from sin because it involves a real uprightness that comes via the Holy Spirit as we cooperate in faith.   Jesus Christ’s law of faith in this early part of the letter gives way to another (but not different) related governing power in Romans 8 - the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. As we see in this passage (Rom. 3:21, 24), God is currently setting people right and so this is spoken of in the present tense (cf., Rom. 5:1, where the past tense is also used “Since we were set right from faith...”).  We have previously seen references to a future tense for this upright status.  These occur with reference to what will occur at God’s judgment (Romans 2:13 and 3:20).  By its very nature, this future judgment is not undermined by the present status.  Romans 1:17 and this passage show that it is established by and based on it. Together, they form the faith and hope of the good news. The point is that righteousness through faith is still necessary until and for that day.  God’s covenant uprightness is “from faith” at its inception and it “leads to/results in” faith (continuing to the end).  Per Louw & Nida, it is completely a matter of faith (cf. similar grammatical usage of ek...eiß in 2Cor. 2:16).  That passage (speaking of “glory to glory”) is not unrelated either since the process of faith is also one of being transformed into his image.

The “from” and “leading to” aspects of faith in Romans 1:17 seem to be programatic for Paul’s argument. These divisions provide the structure for the whole of Paul’s argument from 3:21- 8:39. The apostle entirely covers our redemptive history in Christ from initial status through that saving mercy which comes via an impartial future judgment.   Paul deals with the inception of righteousness through the subjective means of faith from 3:21 through 5:11.  He deals with the continuance of righteousness through faith in 5:12-8:39.  In each division, Paul includes an introduction (3:21-3:31, 5:12-21) and also a conclusion using the themes of faith, hope, and love (5:1-11, 8:12-29).  This section, 3:21-31, contains his formal introduction to the argument and so it is foundational.  He divides this introduction into two chiastic structures.  The two are related in that they both deal with what I have dubbed the “governance of faith” (“governance” being used synonymously for “law”).  This nomenclature arises from the references to “law” in Rom. 3:27 where nomoß is used more generally to cover two alternate situations.  It refers to the distinctive works associated with the Mosaic law and its opposite is a governing power (not simply a principle) of faith.  It is in this latter way, as a governing power, that I use the term governance.  Beginning in 3:27, Paul contrasts these two laws as preparation for the main body of his argument (the synthesis in chapter 4).  Therefore, in 3:27, he refers to the distinctive works of the Mosaic Law as the governance of works and then refers to what he just introduced in 3:21-26 as “the law of faith.”  (It is probably “the” law of faith by ellipsis, based on its parallel with the immediately preceding law - “the one of works.”)  Because of this link between the two chiastic structures, I think the phrase “faith of Jesus Christ” (vs 22) is probably a reference to this law or governance of faith.  It is “Jesus Christ’s (governance of) faith” because we are identified with him as God’s agent in redemption.  Our redemptive liberation is located “in” the risen Christ.  His death was the sacrifice that condemned and takes away our sins. It is only appropriate that those who identify with him (through faith) should be referred to as those who are “from Jesus’ (governance of) faith” in Romans 3:26.  They share in the sacrifice because, through faith, they are identified with Jesus, the one sacrificed (3:25).  Those who are united with Christ in his death, share in the benefits of his sacrifice - God’s covenant uprightness.  Please note that I am not making a case that in out translation we should supply by ellipsis “law of” or “governance of” with “faith” in these two (vs 22 & 26) instances.  Paul’s focus is appropriately on “faith” and so that emphasis should be maintained in translation.

As I mentioned at the outset, I will not go into detail regarding the structure of this passage.  The outline above should be enough to guide the student regarding these matters.