Exposition of Romans 1:17 — The righteous-by-faith will live

The Bible reveals some awesome scenes, but none more remarkable than the circumstances of the final judgment. On that day there will be no cell phones, no career, no sporting events, no meals to fix, no homework to do, no war to wage, and no decisions to make. Instead, the Apostle John tells us, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them” (Rev. 20:11).

The only thing that remains is the one on the throne and all of humankind from all the ages standing before him. The Judge is ready to make his final decisions.

On that awesome day only one thing will matter: do you have the righteousness of God or not?

(NET) Romans 1:17  For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.”

In the estimation of most scholars, Romans 1:16–17 contain the theme of Romans.[1] However, within these two verses the focus may shine on different points. I agree with Douglas Moo’s view that the gospel is the only theme broad enough to embrace the diversity of the entire letter, but notable scholars believe that “justification by faith” is the theme of the letter. The second view certainly looks attractive in chapters 1–4, where “faith” occurs 25 times and the “justify”-“righteousness” family of words occurs 23 times. But Romans has sixteen chapters, not four.

But, there is no necessity to pick a horse in the thematic race by eliminating one of the prospects. Instead, we will find Paul’s meaning verse by verse. For those of you who assembled models at some point in your life, we will follow the same approach in unlocking the meaning of this profound verse.

“the righteousness of God”

The first phrase — “the righteousness of God” — presents issues typical of Romans. That little word “of” can mean so many things! Of course, the difficulty actually goes back to the underlying Greek text. The Greek text has the phrase dikaiosun? [righteousness] . . . theou [of God], where the final word is in the genitive case. Since the genitive is a descriptive or limiting case[2], we are roughly speaking here about a God-kind-of-righteousness. If that sounds weird, think how it contrasts with a man-kind-of-righteousness such as that practiced by the Pharisaic Jews, who were zealous about keeping the law and their Pharisaic vows.

How exactly does God relate to this righteousness? And what does this righteousness have to do with us? Moo gets to the point: “For Paul, as in the OT, ‘righteousness of God’ is a relational concept. . . . We can define it as the act by which God brings people into right relationship with himself.”[3] The beauty of this definition is that it combines the saving action of God with the resulting status we have in his sight. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are acquitted before God by his saving action. In other words, through faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the “righteousness of God.”

“is revealed in the gospel”

The gospel unveils something that humankind had never imagined — the way for people to attain a God-wrought salvation. The verb (“is revealed”) is present tense — suggesting that the revelation is ongoing — and the verb is expressed in passive voice — suggesting that God is the one doing the revealing. C.E.B. Cranfield says, “The choice of the verb [‘is revealed’] underlines the fact that, though the gospel is proclaimed by human lips, the revelation of [‘the righteousness of God’] in the proclamation is God’s doing.”[4]

“from faith to faith”

This phrase has been discussed for centuries, but Moo once again sends us on the right path: “The combination is rhetorical and is intended to emphasize that faith and ‘nothing but faith’ can put us into right relationship with God.”[5]

“The righteous by faith will live.”

The easiest way to understand this clause is to translate it with hyphens: “The righteous-by-faith will live.” We will consider several translations of Romans 1:17 below:

NLT: This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”

NET: For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.”

ESV: For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Here is the problem: in Greek word order, the final clause says, “the righteous by faith will live.” The key question is whether the italicized phrase modifies “the righteous” or alternatively modifies “will live.” Moo correctly prefers the former choice: “Of greatest significance is the way Paul in Rom. 1–8 consistently links faith with righteousness (cf. the summary in 5:1) and shows how ‘life’ is the product of that righteousness (cf. 5:18 and 8:10). These connections favor the translation ‘the one who is righteous by faith will live.’”[6]

If you study the translations carefully, you will see that NET and NLT agree with Moo that “by faith” modifies “the righteous,” while ESV prefers the idea that “by faith” modifies “will live.”

Romans 1:17 provides an excellent illustration of how translation approaches differ. Because Romans 1:17 contains some rare and idiomatic phrases, it offers the opportunity for a more interpretive translation like the NLT to shine, and NLT does shine here. NET is slightly more conservative than NLT in its approach; notice that NET leaves the final Greek verb as a verb when it translates it as “will live,” but NLT makes the Greek verb into a noun “has life.” Similarly, note the interpretive “Good News” (NLT) in comparison to the more cautious “gospel” (NET) or the grammatically correct “it” (ESV). ESV strives to be scrupulously neutral, sometimes succeeding, whereas NLT risks misinterpretation to produce clarity, and NET is somewhere in between.

But all of these translations share a single purpose: to help us accept and enjoy the righteousness of God that comes through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ!

The issue on the last day

There have been many who initially set out to find a righteousness of their own but then got lost in the endless maze of diversionary human experiences.

1. Since God and all humankind are the only entities present at the final judgment, how important is your car, your education or your luncheon at the club? What do you want for your children on that day?

2. Preparation for the final judgment is so simple. John 3:16 says, “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (NET). How have you personally prepared for the final day?

Of course, this world offers the opportunity to make the wrong decision too. In 1995, Timothy McVeigh bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City killing 168 people. His final statement before execution consisted of the poem “Invictus” (Latin for “Unconquered”) by a British poet. The last stanza says:

“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

Timothy McVeigh now knows that he was mistaken about that. What about you?

Copyright © 2012 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed for Christ Fellowship (McKinney, Texas), by permission.

[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 64.

[2] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 76-77.

[3] Moo, Romans, 74.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 92.

[5] Moo, Romans, 76.

[6] Moo, Romans, 78.

Exposition of Genesis 1-11: Genesis 9:4-7

Genesis 9:4-7

But you must not eat meat with its life (that is, its blood) in it. 5 For your lifeblood I will surely exact punishment, from every living creature I will exact punishment. From each person I will exact punishment for the life of the individual since the man was his relative. 6 Whoever sheds human blood, by other humans must his blood be shed; for in Gods image God has made humankind.
7
But as for you, be fruitful and multiply; increase abundantly on the earth and multiply on it.
(NET Bible)

Matters of life and death

Life is cheap, they say. But they dont say it in heaven!

How will God curb the spread of violence that led him to destroy the original creation? How will justice be done on the earth? Who will be summoned to give an accounting to God for the loss of human life?

In the previous post we considered the general provision God made in allowing the animals for food (Gen. 9:3). Victor Hamilton explains how Gen. 9:3 relates to Gen. 9:4 when he says, The pattern in this verse [9:4] and the preceding one is the same as that of 2:16-17: a generous permission (every tree of the garden, every creeping thing) followed by a single prohibition (of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, flesh together with its lifeblood you shall not eat).[1]

There is an equating here of blood with life that does not resonate with contemporary readers. Perhaps the easiest way to understand this idea is that God is associating the shedding of blood with death. On one hand, this idea emphasizes the sanctity of life, which comes from God.

On another level the equation of death with shedding blood sets up the theology of the entire sacrificial system. Ultimately, Jesus blood was shed on our behalf; that is, he died in our place to pay for our sins (Rom. 5:9; Eph. 1:7).

The explanation above explains why Gen. 4:10 speaks of Abels blood crying out to God from the ground. The personified blood was crying out about Abels death at the hands of Cain.

Genesis 9:5

For your lifeblood I will surely exact punishment, from every living creature I will exact punishment. From each person I will exact punishment for the life of the individual since the man was his relative.

When we are reading the Bible, certain phrases should make us step on the brakes. I will surely exact punishment is certainly one of those phrases! Further, the phrase exact punishment is repeated three times in this verse, heightening its importance. A word study will help.

Word study: require (someones life)

The Hebrew verb darash, used three times in Gen. 9:5 for Gods personal response to someone taking a human life, means: require (someones blood, life).[2] The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says: Finally, our root is used of divine vengeance on those who take a life. God will diligently seek restitution of a life for a life (Gen. 9:5).[3]

So, NET translates the verb darash three times in Gen. 9:5 as exact punishment. In Genesis 9:5, to exact punishment is to require someones life. The only problem with the NET Bibles translation choice is that the reader may wrongly think that the punishment falls short of death. NIV 2011 says I will demand an accounting, which is an abstraction similar to the NET. The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) translates, I will require the life, which finally sets matters straight. The New Living Translation (NLT) says, I will require the blood … anyone who murders a fellow human must die. That last is a paraphrase, but the meaning is correct.

Kenneth Mathews says, The general rule is that human life when violated, either by animal or fellow human, required the life of the offender.[4]

A second issue in Genesis 9:5 is the translation lifeblood (NET, ESV, NASB, and NIV 2011). You might think that this term translates a single word, but that is not the case. The NET Bible Notes say, Again the [Hebrew] text uses apposition to clarify what kind of blood is being discussed: your blood, [that is] for your life.[5] By apposition the Notes mean that blood and life are nouns which have a grammatical relationship to one another; in this case the relationship is expressed in the following way: your blood . . . for your life.

The result of this analysis is shown by Gordon Wenhams translation of Genesis 9:5, which says: But I shall require your blood for your lives, from the hand of every wild animal I will require it; and from mans hand, from each man his brothers life, I shall require the life of man.[6] Genesis 9:5 makes an intentional reference to Genesis 4 and the murder of Abel. This verse directly implies that Cain was his brothers keeper, and the rest of us are put on notice!

Perhaps you noticed that Wenhams translation used the word brother instead of the NETs relative. All human beings are made in Gods image; there are no exceptions.

Genesis 9:6 (ESV)

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.

As usual, the ESV, shown above, sticks closer to Hebrew word order. Wenham says, The tight chiastic formulation (shed, blood, man, man, blood, shed) repeating each word of the first clause in reverse order in the second emphasizes the strict correspondence of punishment to offense.[7]

On the other hand, the NET correctly stands with NLT and CSB among major translations in saying of the slayer by other humans must his blood be shed (NET) rather than by man shall his blood be shed (ESV, NASB, NIV 2011, and RSV).[8] Such details may seem beneath mention except for the fact that this verse forms the primary biblical basis for capital punishment. Details matter in Gods inspired Word!

The one who upholds the dignity of humanity is God; we are made in his image, and he takes that very seriously. God strongly upholds the value of man in spite of mans tendency to rebel and sin. Think about that the next time you hear someone demean a person or make light of human death.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 314.

[2] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson. 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000) darash, require (someones blood, life), q.v.

[3] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer and Bruce K. Waltke, eds. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, (TWOT) 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody, 1980) darash, require (someones blood, life), q.v.

[4] Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996) 403.

[5] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 9:5.

[6] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 151.

[7] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 193.

[8] E. Kautzsch, ed., A.E. Cowley, Gesenius Hebrew Grammar (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1910) 323 ( 109i).