The Letter to the Romans
The Righteous Shall Live From Faith
Let Us Examine Together: Romans 1:16-17
After giving his reason for writing, Paul states that his eagerness to preach to the Romans shows that he is not ashamed of the gospel. Paul is not ashamed because the power of God is unto salvation, or rather, that the gospel message shows forth that God is exercising His power to save all those who trust the message of the Gospel. Shame and honor were very important in the ancient world. For Paul to say that he was not ashamed of the gospel would be tantamount to him putting his full confidence in the gospel message. God’s “power unto salvation” signifies to Paul and ought to show us as well that God indeed is righteous. The cry of the Old Testament was the cry for salvation and justice. God’s fidelity to His people would be found in bringing His people out of their sin into a condition of salvation. This is why Paul states that it is in the Gospel where the righteousness of God is revealed. For the righteousness of God is vindicated when He delivers His people from their misery.
The phrase “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” suggests the priority of the Jews in their receiving of the gospel and then the Greeks. Paul will address later why it is even the case that Greeks receive the gospel. It is strange that Paul describes it as Jew and Greek and not as Jew and Roman to whom he was writing the letter in the first place. This is perhaps either because Paul first went to the Greeks after the Jews or because the Hellenistic culture was the cultural paradigm which many strove to be. The phrase “from faith to faith” is difficult to understand and there are numerous debates as to how exactly this ought to be understood. One thing that is clear (at least to me), is that there is an obvious parallel between the “from faith” of Rom. 1:17 and the “by faith” which is quoted from Habakkuk 2:4. In fact, Paul quotes it right after. The reason for this is that the Greek word (ἐκ) is the same, even though it is translated as “from” and “by” in some English translations.The context of Habakkuk is important to ascertain what exactly Paul might mean here.
The context of Habakkuk is set forth as Habakkuk bringing up a complaint before God at why there is so much violence and why it seems that God is not doing anything to resolve this big issue. God’s surprising answer is that He is going to destroy the wicked of the land through the instrument of the wicked Chaldeans. The Prophet then enters into another complaint in chapter two. He questions how the Holy God could look upon evil for so long, namely the evil of the wicked Chaldeans who carry off nation after nation in their greed. There are some difficulties with the Habakkuk passage but the general thrust is that judgment was to come through the Chaldeans. If this is the correct context of Habakkuk, it would (in my mind) work perfectly with what Paul is trying to get at. The point is that Paul wishes to show that it is those who are faithful to God who will be delivered out of the judgment to come.
The “from faith to faith” phrase has puzzled scholars and some have seen it as a statement of the completion of faith. I, however, think it is layered and a somewhat loaded statement that is meant to be expanded on later. The faith here and who it belongs to is ambiguous and in fact the Masoretic and Septuagint’s rendering of the verse differ in who the faithfulness is predicated to. The Masoretic text states, “his faithfulness” while the Septuagint has “my faithfulness.” Whatever rabbit trails this may lead to, the Apostle removes it all together in his citation. Perhaps this was intentional because for the Apostle the faithfulness mentioned in Habakkuk is Christological as well as having implications for those who trust. This is not new to the Apostolic hermeneutic (see the use of Ps. 2 in Rev. 2:27; 12:5). It is not merely about our faithfulness but Christ’s faithfulness in whom we have salvation. The “from faith to faith” could then be a reference to the faithfulness of Christ coming to those of us who have faith. Perhaps it may even be a reference to the transferal of God’s fidelity to all those who trust in Him. But we must not lose focus on the primary point of the focus of “faith” in light of Paul’s mission to the gentiles. Faith is an open door for the Gentiles. The fact that the way of salvation is through faith makes room for the gentiles to have a share of the covenant promises given to Israel. Without faith no one will be saved, but with faith, the whole world now has access should they believe, to the promises of God in Christ. Strangers and foreigners have been made sons and daughters of the kingdom of God.