The faith of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-22)
[Revised on 11/4/16]
In Romans 1:16-17 (KJV) Paul makes this declaration: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”
Then in Romans 3:21-22 (KJV), Paul tells us whose faith, manifested in the Gospel, accounts for this "righteousness of God": But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.... This powerful, yet often misunderstood passage in Romans 3 is helpfully examined by Ian Potts on pp. 67-68 of Romans the Gospel of God (and on Ian's blog). Below is a lengthy (though partial) quote from those pages with my editorial comments and edits added in brackets. For another post on this topic here in The Surprising God, click here.
|Jesus among the Doctors of the Law (as a child in the Temple)|
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
[Paul's significant phrase] “by faith of Jesus Christ” [Romans 3:22 (KJV)] ...is one that we find repeated in several other passages of scripture in various forms. For example in Galatians 2:16 (KJV), a passage which also refers to our justification through the work of God in Christ, we read this: A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But what is "the faith of Jesus Christ," and how [does that lead to our justification]?
Mistranslations...Most modern translations of the Bible, including the NIV and the NKJV, have altered this vital phrase to read "faith in Jesus Christ"... [though] the overwhelming weight of evidence from the Greek [rests] on the side of translating the phrase as "faith of Jesus Christ." The English phrase “faith of Jesus Christ” could be understood more than one way, for example as Christ’s personal faith or faithfulness, or that faith we have which comes from Jesus Christ. However if translated “faith in Jesus Christ” only one understanding is allowed for – our faith in Jesus Christ. Hence those who have translated the passage in this way have forced upon it their own interpretational decision of what the phrase means which effectively rules out the reading of the passage as meaning the personal faith (or faithfulness) of Christ.... The accurate and faithful translation of these passages is certainly to render them as "the faith of Christ," as it was always translated in the various English versions of the Bible up to the 19th century, including the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible, Tyndale’s Bible, and the Authorised Version (KJV). It is the modern versions, influenced by erroneous theological thought (which places justification as conditional upon our faith, rather than being surely accomplished by God in Christ for all His people), which have switched to rendering "of" as "in."
...The original Greek from which the English is translated is the phrase ‘Pistis Christou’, which is a genitive, and in the context, a subjective genitive, meaning that the faith spoken of is that belonging to the subject, even Jesus Christ. It is His faith which is in view here. The evidence for the wording being a subjective genitive, referring to faith belonging to, and personal to, Jesus Christ, is backed up by similar grammar used elsewhere in the New Testament. There are many other verses referring to things which are personal to Christ or to God (eg. The "hand of God," the "face of Jesus Christ," etc.) which are worded in identical grammar in the Greek as with "Pistis Christou" (the Greek construction used in Romans 3:22 (KJV) and Galatians 2:16 (KJV), meaning “faith of Christ”).
Few would question those translations but when it comes to “faith of Jesus Christ” doubt is cast upon it. Why? Because the theological leanings of a number of modern ‘scholars’ prevent them from comprehending just why these verses refer to Christ’s personal faith. They think the writer must mean our faith in Christ. But in this they have stumbled, and rather than translating the text they have interpreted it, and obfuscated the truth from the readers of their mistranslations, and in so doing have shifted the focus away from that objective truth in the Gospel to that which is subjective in relation to it. But the text should be translated “faith of Jesus Christ,” for it is by the faith of Christ that [we are justified--the great good news that] is revealed in the Gospel.
Faith or faithfulness?So, having considered the correct translation of the passages themselves, let us begin to consider the meaning of the phrase itself. What is to be understood by the phrase in these two verses? Does “faith of Jesus Christ” refer to faith which comes from Christ, or to Christ’s personal faith, or even to His faithfulness?
Firstly, Romans 3:22 (KJV) is not referring to faith which comes from Christ, or that we have in relation to Him. Whenever the Apostle Paul wanted to refer to our faith or our believing he was very specific in the Greek he used. He knew perfectly well how to speak of our believing, or our faith in Christ, in contrast to the faith of Christ Himself.
Compare in the AV/KJV verses such as Galatians 3:26 (KJV), Ephesians 1:15 (KJV), Colossians 1:4 (KJV), or even the phrase “we have believed in Jesus Christ” in Galatians 2:16 (KJV) in contrast to “the faith of Jesus Christ” in the very same verse. The underlying Greek differs, and it differs for a reason. When Paul writes “faith of Jesus Christ” he is not referring to our faith in Him, whether that faith originates from God, from Christ, or not. He is referring to Christ’s own faith in God.
What about the translation of the Greek word pistis? Does this refer to Christ’s faith or His faithfulness? The same Greek word can be translated into English with either meaning but whilst theological bias again leads some, who might concede that the AV has translated the passage correctly, to speak of Christ’s faithfulness in regard to Romans 3:22 (KJV), the fact remains that virtually all English translations render the word as faith, just as they do when speaking of a believer’s faith. Not only this, but given that faithfulness has to do with obedience, with works, whereas faith has to do with belief, trust and submission, the contrast demonstrated in Galatians 2:16 (KJV) between the works of the law and the faith of Jesus Christ points to the fact that it is not faithfulness but faith which is in view, which is being contrasted with works. The AV/KJV has translated the phrases correctly. Romans 3:22 (KJV) refers to the “faith of Jesus Christ” – pistis usually being translated as faith elsewhere in the New Testament.
The righteousness of God revealedSo if the correct translation of Romans 3:22 (KJV) is “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference,” what does this phrase actually mean? Does it really mean that the righteousness of God is manifested by the faith of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-22, KJV)? That we are justified by the faith of Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:16, KJV)? Yes, that is precisely the meaning of the passages. It is the faith of Jesus Christ which brought to light the righteousness of God, by which we are justified. The righteousness of God was manifested, revealed, brought to light, by the faith of Jesus Christ.
But one may answer that we are justified by the blood of Christ, by His death on the cross. And that is quite true – we are. But Christ’s death on the cross, His blood-shedding was a work of faith, an act of faith. It was the “obedience of faith.” Not obedience to the law, but the obedience of faith. The law didn’t demand that one lay down his life for another – but Christ’s faith revealed such love for His people, that while they were yet sinners He laid down His life for them. It is this which we see in the Gospel. It was by faith that He lived (“The just shall live by faith” Romans 1:17, KJV) and by faith that He died (Hebrews 12:2, KJV). Hence we are justified by the faith of Jesus Christ. By that substitutionary death which He died as an act of faith on behalf of those people whom He loved and gave Himself for (Galatians 2:20, KJV).
Likewise the righteousness of God is manifested by the faith of Jesus Christ, because it is through the manifestation of this righteousness that we are justified, made righteous, before God. Christ lived a perfect and sinless life. His life which He lived from conception and birth unto death was characterised by faith. He lived a life in constant communion with the Father, doing the will of the Father, not His, in perfect and willing submission. He completely submitted to the Father, trusted in Him for all things, looked to Him in all things, and walked before Him with His eyes fixed upon God. Christ was the “Just One” and “the just shall live by faith.”
Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6, KJV), yet Jesus pleased his Father in all things that He did (“This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”). Romans 14 (KJV) tells us that “what is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23, KJV). Clearly then, Christ, the sinless one, lived by faith, for He never once sinned. It is by faith that He pleased God, by faith that He lived, and by faith that He died.
When He died, Christ’s faith looked to God to lay upon Him the sins of all His people, to make Him to be sin for them, and to judge those sins according to the righteousness of God in order to blot out all the sins, and all the sin, of His people, that they might become the righteousness of God in Christ. In so doing the righteousness of God was manifested and God the Father rewarded the faith of His Son by justifying His people, purifying them as His Bride, a Bride without blemish, fit for a King.
The righteousness of faithRomans 10 contrasts two types of righteousness: the righteousness of the law (Romans 10:5, KJV), which is about ‘doing’ (“Do this and live”), and the righteousness of faith, which springs from believing (“…If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” Romans 10:9, KJV). It is this "righteousness of faith" which is revealed in the Gospel – the “righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ.”
This righteousness springs from faith. Through it is the fulfilment of all the law’s demands, but it is characterised not by legal obedience but by the obedience of faith. Faith characterises it. And Christ revealed it in the Gospel through His faith. For we are justified not “by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16, KJV). Hence in Paul’s statement about the Gospel of Christ in Romans 1:16-17 (KJV) he says: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”
What a summary of the Gospel! It is the power of God unto salvation. Why? Because therein, in the Gospel, is the righteousness of God revealed. How is it revealed? From faith to faith. But what does that mean? Well, once the fact of Christ’s own faith be recognised, this phrase "from faith to faith," which has puzzled many a commentator (*) becomes much plainer to understand. The righteousness of God is revealed from faith – but whose faith? It is revealed to faith – but what faith is this?
The meaning of Romans 1:17 (KJV) is this. It means that the righteousness of God was revealed from, or out of, Christ’s faith, unto our faith. Christ manifested the righteousness of God by His faith (Romans 3:22, KJV), and we come to see and believe in that righteousness (and that one great act of righteousness which Christ did in laying down His life on the cross to justify many by His blood) through faith. God gives us faith to see the righteousness of God revealed by Christ’s faith, within the Gospel.
It is this revelation, this manifestation of the righteousness of God which is described in Romans 3:21-22 (KJV). For the righteousness of God is not simply revealed by the Gospel to our faith subjectively, but it is actually revealed in the Gospel objectively. It is that revelation, objectively in the Gospel, by the faith of Christ, out of which the righteousness of God is revealed to our faith subjectively: “from faith to faith.” Hence we can see the importance of the correct translation of these passages in the scriptures and how the mistranslations of modern versions undermine the truth here, because they seek to take that revelation of the righteousness of God which is objective in the Gospel, and make it merely subjective to the faith of the believer.
Yet the scriptures plainly state that the “Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation” because therein, in the Gospel objectively, “is the righteousness of God revealed.” Yes, this revelation is in the Gospel. How? Firstly by Christ’s life. His very life exhibited the righteousness of God. But secondly, in His death when He brought that righteousness to light in judgment against the sins of His people as He looked to His Father by faith whilst suffering upon the tree. This is what revealed the righteousness of God – The faith of Jesus Christ – And it is this revelation of righteousness in the Gospel which God’s people are brought by faith to believe in. Hence Paul writes that the righteousness of God is revealed “from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17, KJV).
This phrase “The just shall live by faith” is absolutely central to the Gospel. It characterises it. It is at the heart of it. The just shall live by faith. Christ lived by faith. He justified us by His death, by His faith. His death was an act of His faith. And by it He justified His people, hence they too live by faith. By Christ’s glorious act of faith at the cross dead sinners are brought to life. That justifying work later to be brought home to these people in their experience by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, who gives them faith to believe it. Their lives then follow, as it were in the footsteps of Christ, as those who live by faith. The "just ones," who like the "Just One" before them, live by faith.
Who can question that Christ’s life was lived by faith? Or that He died as an act of faith? Psalm 22 describes His sufferings and the whole language of that psalm is of faith, of trust in God. Likewise from Hebrews 10:38 (KJV) through to Hebrews 12:2 (KJV) we read an exposition of the same phrase taken from Habakkuk 2:4 (KJV), “The just shall live by his faith.” Hebrews 10:38 (KJV) quotes that and the next chapter goes on to define faith, to show that “without faith it is impossible to please God,” and to enumerate many wonderful instances of lives lived by faith. What made the deeds of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Rahab and others pleasing to God, was that they sprang from faith. By faith!
Christ, our forerunner[In] Hebrews 12:2 (KJV), [the book of Hebrews] reaches its focal point, its summit: Christ. Here the attention is centered on that great forerunner of faith, Jesus. It is not simply that He is the object, or end, of man’s faith, but He is the “Just One” who ran before us, living by faith. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith”. ‘Our’ here has been inserted by the translators. Also ‘author’ and ‘finisher’ are merely two words used to translate Greek words which have much fuller meanings. A better, more descriptive, translation might be “Looking unto Jesus the chief [or captain] and end [or object] of faith.” We look to Jesus who is the ‘end’ or object of [our] faith, but He is also the chief of faith, the captain or forerunner of faith. He is the One who went before us, who lived by faith, whom we follow. And what did Christ do by faith? We read in chapter 11 of what Noah did by faith, of what Abraham and others did ‘by faith,’but what main thing did Christ do ‘by faith’? We read “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” That is what Christ did by faith – He endured the cross, despising the shame. Why? “For the joy that was set before him.” What joy? To justify all those whom the Father had given unto Him from before the foundation of the world. To be united in resurrection life with His bride, the church. To live for ever in eternal bliss with all those justified by His blood. That was His joy, His satisfaction. “He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11, KJV).
In laying down His life for sinners Christ trusted His Father with complete trust, complete knowledge (“by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many”), complete faith, counting Him faithful who had promised. He believed that God would lay all the sins of His chosen people upon His Son and that in Christ’s bearing them and taking their just punishment that those people would be really, truly, justified through His death. Christ had perfect faith in His Father and in that covenant they made before the foundation of the world.....
Justified by the faith of ChristFinally, take another look at Galatians 2:16 (KJV). How is a man justified? By the works of the law? No. By the faith of Jesus Christ. Not by faith in Jesus Christ. Our faith doesn’t justify us, it is Christ’s death by which we are justified. Then ‘by the faith of Jesus Christ. Why? Because His death was an act of that faith.
And what is a result of being justified by Christ’s death, by His faith? The result is that “we have believed in Jesus Christ.” Our belief doesn’t justify us, it is a result of our justification, inwrought by the Spirit. Our belief brings us to an experimental knowledge of our justification before God subjectively in which God declares a sentence of justification in our hearts, but it is God that justified us objectively in the Person of His Son, who shed His blood for His people. And when Christ shed His blood for that people the righteousness of God was unto all of them from that very moment, to be applied by the Spirit upon all of them when they believe, “even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference.” For we are justified, not by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
May God give us grace to both see the glory of His work in Christ, that work of faith by which He justified His people forever, and believing, to walk by faith, looking unto Jesus, “the author and finisher of faith.” Amen.
* One common interpretation of the phrase "from faith to faith" in Romans 1:17 (KJV) is that it refers to the believer’s faith which, it is said, goes from one measure of faith to another, greater, measure. The problem with such an interpretation, however, is that the subject of Romans 1:17 (KJV) is not the believer or his faith, but the righteousness of God, and how that is revealed in the Gospel. It is the revelation of the righteousness of God which is ‘from faith to faith’, and, as is shown in this article, this righteousness is revealed from (by, or out of) the faith of Jesus Christ unto the faith of the believer.