17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
1901 ASV Translation:
17 For therein is revealed a righteousness of God from faith unto faith: as it is written, But the righteous shall live by faith.
There are no textual differences between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle/Aland 26, but neither of the English translations follow the text closely enough to be accurate. The text reads: For a righteousness of God in it is revealed by faith for faith just as it stands written: but the just by faith shall live. The word order is critical in that the AV and the ASV both lead one to believe that the Old Testament text declares that the Just shall live by faith whereas the Old Testament text (Habakkuk 2:4) actually declares that those who are justified by faith, shall live. It was this promise, given circa 606 B.C., that Daniel and his three friends relied on when they stood in the face of the threat of death with a promise from God that they, being justified by faith, would not die, but live.
I. In this text, Paul fires his first salvo regarding a salvation that has nothing to do with fallen-human performance of divine imperatives. Actually, his concept of grace demolishes the notion of a salvation by human obedience, but that concept is yet veiled to some degree in this letter to the Romans, so this text before us becomes his opening statement about the truth of the Gospel.
A. The fact is that there is a "righteousness of men" (which men attempt to establish in order to validate their 'worthiness' of divine favor [Romans 10:3 compared with Luke 18:9]) and there is a "righteousness of God" (which God grants to men by faith so that they may indeed be ' worthy ' of His favor). The two are not only radically distinct; they are in radical opposition to each other -- so much so that those who seek to establish their own righteousness end up in Hell and those who trust in the righteousness of God end up in the Kingdom of God.
1. A good illustration of the differences between these "righteousnesses" can be seen in John the Baptizer's reaction to Jesus' desire to be baptized. He pointedly said "I have need to be baptized by You instead of You being baptized by me". He said this as someone who had been "filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb" -- i.e. all of his life. If even the filling of the Spirit does not bring a person to the performance of "righteousness" to a degree that is equivalent to God's righteousness, how can those of us who have not been filled all of our lifetimes ever hope to "establish our righteousness"? Even John was not justified on the basis of his performance of the will of God even though his "performance", for the most part, was a result of the "filling of the Spirit".
2. The Gospel does not allow an inter-mixture of the two "righteousnesses". One is of the efforts of men -- even including those efforts that are driven by the indwelling Spirit of God -- and the other is totally OTHER -- it is God's own righteousness that no man, being creature and not deity, ever has, apart from the divine imputation contained in the Gospel.
a. As John bore witness, even the filling of the Spirit does not bring a man to the execution of the "righteousness of God".
b. Even when "filled with the Spirit" man is not made infallible in his actions; the best that he executes is a righteousness that is "acceptable", not perfect. There are few, if any, of the actions of men that can not be "improved upon" with a little greater wisdom and more consideration. God does not deal with us, now in Christ, in a "justice-critical mode" when He evaluates our behavior. Rather, He looks to motive (without love there is no profit) and He accepts efforts that are less than skillful if He sees a Spirit-produced motivation.
c. It was to the disallowance of an intermixture that Paul referred in Philippians 3:6-11 when he claimed to have a faultless "righteousness" of his own, but declared that he had to "count it loss" before he could be "found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the Law".
B. Paul quotes from Habakkuk 2:4 to prove his point.
1. Paul's choice of prepositions is critical.
a. The AV translates "from faith to faith".
b. The ASV translates "from faith unto faith".
c. Both of these translations break down on the basis of Paul's quote of Habakkuk.
1) When an author makes a declaration and then quotes a "proof" that it is true, the quote establishes the "truth" of the declaration.
2) Habakkuk 2:4 does not validate "from faith to faith". Instead, it validates "by faith for faith"...which is a more legitimate translation of Paul's prepositions than the AV or the ASV.
a) What does Paul "declare"?
i. First, that there is a different righteousness "revealed in the Gospel".
ii. Second, that this different righteousness is "the righteousness of God" as opposed to the righteousness of men [Note Romams 10:3 carefully].
iii. Third, that this different righteousness is available to men "by faith" [Note Romans 4:24 carefully].
iv. Fourth, that this truth is proved by Habakkuk 2:4.
b) What does Habakkuk 2:4 say?
i. Habakkuk is over-wrought about the decline of character and practice in his nation and questions God about it.
ii. God tells him that He is going to bring the Babylonian army against the nation in judgment for the decline of character and practice.
iii. Habakkuk is horrified by the prospect of an invasion by Babylon and is terrified at the prospect of the slaughter that will inevitably come when it occurs.
iv. God attempts to assuage Habakkuk's horror and fear by telling him the words of Habakkuk 2:4. In those words, God simply declares that no one who has been justified by faith (Note Genesis 15:6 carefully) will be put to death by the invading armies...those who are just by faith will live.
v. The phrase "just by faith" in Habakkuk 2:4 "proves" Paul's point that there is a justification that comes from God to a person "by faith"...i.e. there is a righteousness of God that God imputes to a person when he/she "believes". This establishes the meaning of Paul's first preposition "by" because he is talking about "how" a person obtains the righteousness of God.
vi. The phrase "shall live" in Habakkuk 2:4 "proves" Paul's point that the words were given to Habakkuk by God so that Habakkuk could face down his horror and terror -- since you, Habakkuk, are just by faith, you have nothing to fear because you will live and not die. This explains Paul's second preposition "for" because he is saying that God told Habakkuk these words to create a faith in Habakkuk that would permit him to face down his horror and terror. In other words, the good news that the just would not be killed by the Babylonians was given "for (the creation of) faith".
vii. Thus, Habakkuk 2:4 establishes two truths: first, that a righteousness that God can accept is offered by Him to men on the basis of faith ("righteousness BY faith"); and, second, that the proclamation of that offer is designed by the Offerer to create faith in the failing heart and mind of man ("believe that there is a righteousness from God available to you"). "By" faith is declared "for" the creation of the very faith that is effective in man's obtaining of the offer.
2. This raises what is, perhaps, the most critical issue of them all: what is the meaning of "faith"?
a. In 1:16 Paul wrote that the Gospel is God's power unto salvation to those who "believe".
b. He had already addressed the issue of "faith" in 1:5; 1:8; and 1:12.
c. The focus of the New Testament (if not the entire Bible) is upon the issue of whether man will "believe" what God has said.
d. The reason for the difficulty is that men often "say" they believe something, but then turn around and act in contradiction to what they say they "believe".
1) The very fact that we say, "act in contradiction," means that we innately assign a conceptual definition to "faith" that includes "acting".
2) That we say "act in contradiction" means that we innately assign a conceptual definition to "faith" that includes specific conceptual content.
3) The majority of the problem seems to stem, not from what we understand as "believing ", but from what we misunderstand in respect to...
a) The "strength" of the "faith" as it is revealed by the way we "feel" -- relative levels of "comfort" while we are acting according to what we "believe", and ... [Note the difference between the Centurion of Matthew 8 and the woman with the issue of blood in Mark 5]. Genuine faith always sponsors a legitimate corresponding behavior, but it does not always "settle" the emotions. The person is "believing" who acts according to the precept even if he trembles and sweats while doing so.
b) The relationships within "the faith": we often assume that "faith" in one of the concepts of "the faith" automatically implies "faith" in many, most, or all, of the related concepts of "the faith". James wrote, "Have not the faith...with respect of persons" in James 2:1. In this he is attempting to tie "the faith" to a particular behavior that ought not to be practiced by someone who has embraced "the faith", but is ... because there is misunderstanding. If all of the Truth was in our minds/hearts, and if all of the Truth was equally present to our consciousness, and if we "believed" all of the Truth, we would act consistently with "the faith". But the fact is our ignorance, forgetfulness, and distrust all conspire to produce behavior that is contrary to "the faith". In like manner, John wrote, "...he that saith he loves God and hates his brother is a liar...". This implies that there are some things that are "packaged together" so that the relationships are so close to each other that one cannot understand and "believe" the one without the other. Thus, we have a tension that causes discernment to be next to impossible (so that even the apostle Paul wrote, "...nevertheless, the foundation of God stands...the Lord knows them that are His...). The requirement of "elders" for leadership tacitly admits that the reality is that new believers and young people simply do not grasp the links between the various precepts of Truth with sufficient clarity to "believe" them...thus creating a grave danger to all who follow in their train.