Exposition of Romans 5:20-21, Where grace reigns, Jesus is Lord

Contemporary people live in the swirl and cross-currents flowing in a culture that encourages drift. Whether we consider the ever-changing world of fashion, our most recent text message, the latest news about celebrities, or the long sequence of fast-food outlets, we encounter an endless series of mock-serious choices about how to occupy our minds and our bodies. It all means nothing!

Think harder: if we are drifting with the culture, we are serving the domain of sin by treating the awesome role God has given us without a sense of priority or godly purpose.

Paul tells us: Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness? (Rom. 6:16, NET). Life is not about drift; it is about deciding whom you are going to serve.

Romans 5:20-21

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Greek verb pareiserchomai is translated as the law came in to increase the trespass (5:20). But the standard lexicon says pareiserchomai may also mean slip in,[1] which is the way it is used in Gal. 2:4, where the verse says, the false brothers with false pretenses who slipped in unnoticed to spy (NET). Douglas Moo says, “Negative connotations dominate in the use of this verb during the NT period.”[2]

Those under the law were unaware that the law was working to increase the trespass (5:20) to make them more aware of their danger (Rom. 7:7-8). In other words, the operation of the law within them was making them more aware of the utter sinfulness of sin (7:13). Moo explains: “The law came with a purpose. But its purpose, Paul affirms, was not to change the situation created by Adam, but to make it worse. But this negative purpose in the law is not, of course, Gods final word.”[3]

Paul intentionally uses the verb for increase twice in 5:20a to show God’s first objective in giving the law — to increase trespasses designed to reveal sin — and then to show the result of God’s effort; sin did indeed increase. The work accomplished by the law was like the efforts of a surgeon to expose diseased tissue.

Next the surgeon applies the cure: where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (5:20b). Sin increases ten-fold, but grace escalates one-hundred-fold. Note carefully that the law cured nothing! Grace is what God offered to abundantly deal with sin. That was true in the Old Testament, and it is true in the New Testament.

So, we learn that the law is not a basis for righteousness, but it is a useful means to the end of a grace-based righteousness.

(ESV) Romans 5:21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

C.E.B. Cranfield summarizes: “In expressing the divine purpose in the triumphant overflowing of grace, Paul has for the last time in this section made use of a comparison — this time comparing the never-ending reign of the divine grace with the passing reign of sin.”[4]

First, we will clarify the clause as sin reigned in death (5:21a). Moo observes: “Paul often thinks in terms of spheres or dominions, and the language of reining is particularly well suited to this idea. Death has its own dominion: humanity as determined, and dominated, by Adam.”[5]

But if sin is a proxy ruler for Adam, grace is a proxy ruler for the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul draws the strongly one-sided comparison to a close by showing the utter superiority of Christ over Adam, of grace over sin and death. This Age (dominated by sin) is giving way to the Age To Come (dominated by grace through Christ). We live in the tension between the two.

But the comparison has a lesson, which Cranfield summarizes: “In spite of the vast and altogether decisive dissimilarity between Christ and Adam, there is nevertheless a real likeness between them consisting in the correspondence of structure between the Christ-and-all-men relationship and the Adam-and-all-men relationship, a likeness that makes it possible and appropriate to compare them.”[6]

But Paul does more than compare Adam and Christ; he contrasts them as well. Christ will rule! Sin and death, brought into the world by Adam’s disobedience, will vanish into the lake of fire.

Whose kingdom will you serve?

As Paul will make known in Romans 6, each of us will serve either the domain of sin or the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Rom. 6:16, NET).

1. As you look back over what you have learned in Romans, whose kingdom have you served in the various stages of your life?

2. What is one thing you intend to do today to begin serving Gods kingdom more effectively? What might you add for becoming a more mature follower of Christ?

Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. (Rom. 6:14, NLT). Use your freedom to serve Christ!

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] BDAG-3, pareiserchomai, slip in, q.v.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 347.

[3] Moo, Romans, 347.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 294.

[5] Moo, Romans, 349.

[6] Cranfield, Romans, 295.

Exposition of Romans 4:23-25, Abraham believed to show us how

If we were talking about receiving old treasure — Spanish gold doubloons, say — you would snatch them up in an instant! How is it that old words — from God, say — do not produce a similarly enthusiastic reaction?

An older scholar says that God did not put all the cookies on the lower shelf. But they are within your reach. Just how much do you want them?

(ESV) Romans 4:23-25

But the words it was counted to him were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

How easily we dismiss events of the past as belonging to another age! Even though we know the Bible is the Word of God, spiritual maturity is required to apply biblical principles to ourselves. Douglas Moo points out, “Paul’s conviction that the OT everywhere speaks to Christians is fundamental to his theology and preaching.”[1] The revelation must be applied with discretion, but that is always so.

Concerning 4:23-24a, Grant Osborne says: “Abraham’s faith was not merely a historical event but was a paradigm for believers in every age. . . . When we exercise the same faith Abraham did, then for us too that faith is counted as righteousness.”[2] The “will be counted” language is not future from our standpoint but rather from the viewpoint of Abraham’s time; for this reason it refers to our salvation through faith and not to deliverance from final judgment. Thomas Schreiner says: “We could paraphrase the verse as follows. Genesis 15:6 was written for the sake of those who would in the future be reckoned righteous by faith.”[3]

But there is more in the depths of Romans 4:24. Notice that those to whom righteousness will be counted are described as “[we] who believe in him” (4:24). The italicized word is a Greek present participle, and the present tense most commonly refers to ongoing action in present time. NT grammarian Daniel Wallace says concerning this participle, “The present was the tense of choice most likely because the NT writers by and large saw continual belief as a necessary condition of salvation.”[4]

In other words, believers are not those who for one minute think favorably about Jesus, pray a short prayer and then lead a life independent or even defiant of God. No, believers are those who, like Abraham, demonstrate their faith over and over. They have committed themselves to faith in Jesus and keep on living for him. Continuing to believe is not a matter of losing our salvation or working for it; it is a matter of demonstrating our saving faith is real. God knows the difference!

Just as he began this letter with the resurrected Jesus, appointed the Son-of-God-in-power (1:4) after rising from the dead, Paul again returns to that theme in 4:24 as he nears the logical end of this portion of the letter. But in making his sectional conclusion, Paul hits some beautiful themes about what Jesus did for us.

Paul joins the death of Jesus with his resurrection (4:25), and that combination maintains a holistic perspective. In saying Jesus “was delivered up for our transgressions” he uses the verb paradidomi, which sounds with ominous regularity in Johns gospel (John 18:2, 5, 30, 35, 36; 19:11, 16, 30) while Jesus is taken to his trial and execution.

Paul does not elaborate here on the statement that Jesus “was raised for our justification” (4:25), but Paul does make comments elsewhere. For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:17, Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” But Christ has been raised!

Osborne summarizes: “His death, as seen in the epistles, is the theological basis of justification, and his resurrection, as seen in Acts (2:31-36; 13:32-39), is the apologetic basis of salvation; that is, it proves the reality of the salvation produced in Christ.”[5]

Imitating Abraham’s faith

For the sake of interacting with the questions below, I would define biblical faith as responding in a positive way to what God has said and done. That is what Abraham did.

1. Are there parts of the New Testament that you read over quickly or skip because you do not like what they say? If you are not sure, read a major section of Matthew 57 (The Sermon on the Mount) and then answer.

2. If you have identified parts of the New Testament that you skip over or avoid, is it not reasonable to think that facing those issues could be the greatest source of further spiritual growth? What would it take for you to talk to God, to one of your pastors, or to your life group leader about how to respond to those issues with faith?

Abraham did not relish talking with God about his barren wife and the long-dormant promise God had made about an heir. But when he finally spoke, God gave him even more revelation to accept by faith along with further blessings. Why not give that a try?

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996)287.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004)121.

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998)242.

[4] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996)621, footnote 22, with numerous examples.

[5] Osborne, Romans, 123.

Exposition of Romans 4:20-22, In all, get on God’s page!

Dallas Cowboys football fans have shared some common experiences. One happened when quarterback Tony Romo threw a deep-out to the sideline only to have the pass receiver cut sharply away toward the center of the football field. Then we heard the commentator tell us what we already knew: “Tony and the receiver were not on the same page.” We football fans would grit our teeth and wonder how much more money it would take to get them on the same page!

An errant pass in a football game means little in the grand scheme of things. But what happens when we are not on the same page with God?

(ESV) Romans 4:20-22

No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was counted to him as righteousness.

Romans 4:20 ties very closely to 4:19, where Paul said that Abraham did not weaken in faith when considering Gods promise in relation to his own physical condition and that of barren Sarah. Paul uses the contrast between weak and strong; in 4:19 he said Abraham did not weaken, and in 4:20 he explains how his faith grew strong.

The Greek verb translated waver in 4:20 is diakrino, which in the active voice means “to conclude that there is a difference, make a distinction, differentiate.”[1] Here in 4:20 we actually have the passive voice, but there is value in pausing to consider this verb carefully. Abraham had believed God when he left Haran and many times since, but he could have balked at this promise due to old age. In other words, Abraham could have made a distinction between what God had done in other situations and what he would do in this one. In effect, Abraham would be saying: “God, I believed you about all those other things, but this one is more than I can accept.” This one is different.

We have all had those thoughts at some point, but we probably did not have the nerve to say so overtly to God. We kept the conflict within ourselves. That is how the passive voice of diakrinofunctions, to express internal doubt or wavering. The lexicon says the passive voice of diakrinomeans “to be at variance with someone.”[2] But, in relation to God’s promise of a multitude of descendants, Abraham would have been at variance with God. Romans 4:20 tells us Abraham was never at variance with God about this promise!

Unlike the people described in Romans 1:18, who rejected the truth in unrighteousness, Abraham embraced God’s promise about descendants. Abraham took the view that whatever God said, God would do! Abraham saw no reason to pick and choose among the things God said as if some were reliable and some were not. Abraham struggled at times, but not much overall.

The clear implication of 4:20 is that when we take God at his word and act accordingly, our faith grows stronger. But what does “as he gave glory to God” (4:20) mean? Thomas Schreiner says: “The secret of Abraham’s faith is that he acknowledged God’s glory by acknowledging his ability to carry out his promises . . . . The supreme way to worship God is not to work for him (4:4-5) but to trust that he will fulfill his promises.”[3] Living by faith gives glory to God.

In light of what we have said about 4:20, the meaning of Romans 4:21 is plain as day. C.E.B. Cranfield adds the insight: “Abraham’s faith was faith in the God who had promised, not merely in what had been promised.”[4]

We encounter the now-familiar verb logizomai (counted) in 4:22. Abraham’s response pleased God who counted Abraham as a righteous man. Schreiner says: “We perceive that the faith that results in righteousness is not a vague abstraction. Genuine faith adheres to Gods promise despite the whirlwind of external circumstances that imperil it.”[5]

Who is the quarterback?

All of us have to decide whether we are going to carry out the plays God calls or set out on a rogue play of our own. This metaphor should make it obvious how much success we can expect if we try to pick and choose what part of God’s promises we will believe and which part we will reject.

1. What part of God's revelation is a struggle for you? What can you do to identify the source of your difficulty and seek to resolve it?

2. In what ways have you found that trusting God in specific situations leads to growth in your faith?

The secret to Abraham’s greatness was his wholehearted acceptance of what God had said. Certainly there were times when he did not understand what God wanted of him — times they were not on the same page — but it was never a matter of rejecting what God had said. His example inspires us all to get on the same page with God.

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] BDAG-3, diakrino, differentiate (active), q.v.

[2] BDAG-3, diakrino, to be at variance with someone (passive), q.v.

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 238.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 249.

[5] Schreiner, Romans, 239.

Exposition of Romans 4:9-10, Study carefully to get it right!

One of the big questions philosophers juggle is what are the sources of that which we know? Knowledge comes from a number of sources, but for a Christian, the revelation recorded in the Bible has primacy over all other written sources. An observant Jew would regard the Old Testament with the same esteem we have for the whole Bible.

Even a sitting Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (Antonin Scalia) has commented on the value of such biblical sources by citing the Jewish Babylonian Talmud, which instructs with respect to the Scripture: Turn it over, and turn it over, for all is therein.. . . . Divinely inspired text may contain the answers to all earthly questions . . .[1]

Presumably, if God has spoken at book length to reveal himself, then he has been careful to say what he means. Since God has used such care, we must sift what he has said with diligence to get it right. Paul said, Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).

(ESV) Romans 4:9-10

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.

In keeping with accurate interpretation of the Old Testament, Paul challenges his Jewish opponents to go back to Genesis and determine whether Abraham was declared righteous before or after he was circumcised (4:10). By doing so they will find the answer to the question posed in 4:9, which asks: Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? If righteousness is available to the uncircumcised (i.e. Gentiles), then being a Jew is not required! Even a Roman Catholic like Justice Scalia would be eligible.

In the second half of 4:9, Paul takes us right back to Genesis 15:6 and repeats his thesis that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness (4:9b). In Genesis 17:1, we find that Abraham was 99 years old when he was circumcised. Going back to Genesis 16:16, we find that Abraham was 86 at the time Ishmael was born. The Jewish interpreters assumed that the events of Genesis 15:6 took place 16 years prior to the birth of Ishmael. By the reckoning of the rabbis, Abraham was declared righteous 29 years prior to being circumcised.[2]

From his biblical analysis, Paul concluded that Abraham was uncircumcised when his faith led God to declare him righteous. Not only did Abraham attain righteousness by faith, but he was not yet qualified to be a Jew at the time!

Facts undercut prejudices

Jesus used similar methods to those of Paul: A lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26 He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ (Luke 10:2526). To answer the most serious question life offers, Jesus sent the scribe back to the teaching of the Old Testament. Afterward Jesus evaluated what the scribe said and directed him toward life.

1. If you were paid by $5/word for reading the Bible, how much would you make for what you read last week? What does your answer tell you?

2. When you read something in the Bible that you do not understand, what sources of information do you have to clarify it (e.g. study Bible, Christian websites, friends, a pastor or other)? What incentives could you create to motivate yourself and your children, if any, to read the Bible and find good answers for their questions?

Many times the Gospel writers quote Jesus saying Have you not read . . . during his teaching ministry (Matt. 12:3; 12:5; 19:4; 21:16; 21:42; 22:31; Mark 12:26; Luke 6:3). A lot of questions have answers, if you look in Gods Word!

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Caperton v Massey Coal, 556 U.S. ___ (2009), Scalia, J., dissenting.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 235.

Exposition of Romans 1:18-20, They know — Oh yes! — they know!

At some point in our lives every one of us has played dumb. We claimed that we did not know that Mom said to be home by five o’clock because our sister did not tell us. So, why was Mom giving us that doubting look at half-past-five?

The truth was that our sister had told us when to be home, but Mom could not quite be certain of that, so at times we got away with playing dumb. The astonishing thing is that some people grow up and try that same scam on God. They imagine the existence of some large group of people who do not know about God, and think surely God would not judge those who do not know him. We used to call it the heathen-in-Africa problem and imagined some stone-age scene.

Flash alert: there is no such group! As we will see, there are plenty who need to hear how to join God’s kingdom, but all humanity knows there is a powerful God who should be sought and found.

(ESV) Romans 1:18-20

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Like a brilliant diamond on black velvet, the good news that God’s righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ (1:16-17) contrasts with the sin-darkened state of all humanity outside of Christ. And we must recall that all Christians were once outside of Christ with all the rest of humanity. So, the somber account from verse 18 to the end of the chapter illuminates part of our personal history and shows the fatal trajectory our lives might have taken except for the grace of God.

Some have considered Paul’s assessment of humanity’s sinfulness (1:18-31) too negative. C.E.B. Cranfield points out that the assessment is not actually Paul’s:

It is not Paul’s judgment of his contemporaries that we have here, but the gospel’s judgment of men, that is of all men. . . . The section depicts man as he appears in the light of the cross of Christ. It is not a depiction of specially bad men only, but the innermost truth of all of us, as we are in ourselves.[1]

But human sinfulness is not the only unwelcome disclosure from heaven. Those who wish to impose their own views on the biblical text totally reject the idea of God’s wrath (1:18), though it takes real conceptual gymnastics to explain it away in light of all the biblical evidence.[2] Evangelical scholars generally consider denial of God’s wrath to be a key part of liberal theology, which embraces anti-supernaturalism and a humanistic viewpoint that are essentially useless for understanding the Bible. If you are looking for a blind guide on the biblical trail, a liberal theologian is your man!

Cranfield comments on the parallel revelations of righteousness (in 1:17) and wrath (in 1:18) by saying: “The two revelations referred to in these two verses are then really two aspects of the same process. The preaching of Christ crucified, risen, ascended and coming again, is at the same time both the offer to men of a status of righteousness before God and the revelation of God’s wrath against their sin.”[3] God’s holy wrath against sin is exactly why Jesus had to die for our sins.

Against what is God’s wrath directed? By answering “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (1:18), Paul uses two words that are very close in meaning; Douglas Moo approvingly cites Cranfield’s opinion that the first word asebeia characterizes sin as an attack on the majesty of God and the second word adikia speaks of sin as a violation of God’s just order.[4] Imagine sinful humanity shaking its fist at God and rejecting both his rulership and his way of life.

How was this rejection of God’s truth expressed? Romans 1:18 says, by their unrighteousness [they] suppress the truth; by living as rebels against the rule of God, humanity suppresses God’s truth. One of the worst effects of extreme postmodernism is that it denies the possibility of absolute truth, makes everything a matter of opinion and declares everyone’s opinion to be worthy. Extreme postmodern says: “You claim God has spoken truth; well, that’s just your opinion. And if God did speak, that’s only his opinion. I have my own opinion!”

Someone might say that those who suppress God’s truth should be excused because they are victims of ignorance, but Paul stops that argument in a hurry by saying, “What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (1:19). The gospel contains this chilling truth: every single member of humanity knows enough to be responsible before God, because he has made sure they each know enough. No one will be able to stand before God and say that they did not know there was a God to whom they were responsible. All people are on notice!

In saying “what can be known about God is plain to them” (1:19), Paul uses the Greek adjective phaneros, which means, “being evident so as to be readily known, visible, clear, plainly to be seen, open, plain, evident, known.”[5] The word phaneros occurs in Acts 4:16 when it was common knowledge in Jerusalem that Peter and John had healed the man who had been lame from birth (Acts 3:110). In Mark 6:14, the word is used of Herod’s knowledge that Jesus disciples had worked many miracles; everyone knew. We are not talking here about experts knowing something; all know there is a God.

If someone asks how God made this disclosure, Paul provides the answer in Romans 1:20. The creation itself — perhaps also the things that God has done in history — testifies to his eternal power and divine nature (1:20), even though those aspects of God are otherwise invisible. Moo says, “These properties of God that cannot be seen . . . are seen . . . — an example of the literary device called oxymoron, in which rhetorical effect is achieved by asserting something that is apparently contradictory.”[6]

We will take a closer look at what God has made plain to humanity. His eternal power (1:20) created the deeply-designed world, including humanity, and that power operated before the world existed. More than that, humanity also knew his “divine nature” (1:20), using the Greek noun theoites, which means “divinity, divine nature, divineness.”[7] So, all humanity knows there is a God and he has eternal power. James Dunn rightly says, “That this is no longer a widely-acceptable worldview should not, of course, influence our exegesis of Paul.”[8] The suppression of truth is stronger than ever! But we proclaim the gospel anyway.

God had a purpose in humanitys knowing his eternal power and divinity, and that purpose is declared clearly in Acts 17, when Paul spoke to the philosophers of Athens about God:

From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him — though he is not far from any one of us. (Acts 17:26-27, NLT).

If some members of humanity have not sought after God, after he enabled them to do so, they are without excuse (1:20).

Common-knowledge about God

Be clear that plenty of people still need to learn more about Jesus and how to be justified before God. But you may be equally certain that every person knows that there is a God who is powerful that they should seek and find. They may suppress that knowledge in various ways because they do not want to seek God, but God has already reached out to them in a way they have comprehended.

1. If we start with the understanding that non-Christians are suppressing the truth, how should this affect our approach in helping them reach out for Christ? Perhaps they are weary of fighting God or think they have burned that bridge. Why might they keep suppressing the truth even over a long period of time?

2. How might the Scripture we studied today affect the way we pray for those outside of Christ? What preparation might we make for offering information and support to those who desperately need to know about Christ?

The things we have studied today have serious implications about God’s fairness and about the moral vulnerability of all people before God. He is patiently waiting for the rebels to put aside their suppression of the truth and to seek his mercy through Jesus Christ.

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


[1] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 104.

[2] Ernst Ksemann, Romans, Trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980) 37, provides a typical example of a theologian who rejects God’s wrath.

[3] Cranfield, Romans, 110.

[4] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 102, footnote 50, citing Cranfield, Romans, 112.

[5] BDAG-3, phaneros, clear, q.v.

[6] Moo, Romans, 104-105.

[7] BDAG-3, theoites, divineness, q.v.

[8] James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1988) 58.

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 contains the theme of Romans.[1] However, within these two verses the focus may shine on different points. I agree with Douglas Moos view that the gospel is the only theme broad enough to embrace the diversity of the entire letter (page 29), 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 Pauls 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 dikaiosune [righteousness] . . . theou [of God], where the final word is in the genitive case. Since the genitive is a descriptive or limiting case as to kind[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. 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 Gods 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 English versions 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 somewhat 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, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used 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 6:9–10

Genesis 6:9–10
9 This is the account of Noah. Noah was a godly man; he was blameless among his contemporaries. He walked with God.  10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
(NET Bible)

Making a difference for your children

Every society keeps score. In Jesus’ day some coveted the chief seats at the banquets and the synagogue. In our own day, money, fame, and power are popular measures. Only a small percentage “wins” the competition in the world.

Life before God is different; anyone may win. The intelligent, the beautiful, the rich, and the strong have no advantage before God. How then does a man set himself apart? What must one do to obtain a preferred destiny?

Genesis 6:9 begins another major division in the book of Genesis; it formally introduces the account of Noah. Similar divisions have been observed at Genesis 2:4 (the account of the heavens and the earth) and Genesis 5:1 (the account of Adam). We have included Gen. 6:9 with the prior verses because it explains why Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.

The punctuation of Genesis 6:9 by the NET Bible neatly reveals the divisions in the verse. The summary, “Noah was a godly man,” is explained by the following two clauses. In relation to his contemporaries, Noah was “blameless.” Noah’s relationship with God is described in the same terms that were used of Enoch (5:24): “He walked with God.”

Many translations have “Noah was a righteous man” (ESV, NASB, NIV, NLT, RSV). Gordon Wenham says: “Negatively, a righteous man avoids sin; positively, he does good to his neighbors. In short, it is the most general Hebrew term for good people. . . . Someone called ‘good’ in English would be described as ‘righteous’ in Hebrew.”[1] The NET Bible uses “godly” in place of “righteous” in Genesis 6:9.

The word translated “blameless” by NET and most other translations must be clarified by its context, a fact demonstrated by the NET Bible Notes. “Blameless” means such things as maintaining a proper relationship with God (Gen. 17:1), not participating in idolatrous practices (Josh. 24:14), and not imitating the wicked, proud or deceitful (Prov. 11:5). In our text, Noah did not get involved with the violence and evil of his generation; instead he walked with God.

Noah’s sons are mentioned in Genesis 6:10 to account for their presence in the ark. However, we must consider the question of why they will be allowed to board instead of being destroyed with the rest of humanity. Wenham provides great insight:

Noah’s sons were presumably considered righteous, as they are mentioned before the general corruption of the rest of the world in verses 11–12. Cassuto (2:51) plausibly argues this is Ezekiel’s understanding, for in [Ezek.] 14:14–20 he says that Noah, Daniel, and Job would only deliver themselves by their own righteousness and would not have saved their children.[2]

Parents should note that Noah’s sons are the only sons who escape the flood; godly parents often make the difference between heaven and hell!


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


[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 170.

[2] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 170.