…RIGHTEOUSNESS EVEN OF GOD THROUGH FAITH[FULNESS] OF JESUS CHRIST TOWARDS ALL AND UPON ALL THOSE THAT BELIEVE FOR THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE… Romans 3:22 (Interlinear Greek NT – edited to separate Greek and literal English)
…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction,… Romans 3:22 (NRSV)
The word, pisteos, or different forms of it, is found throughout Paul’s writings in the Greek, but is translated in various ways in the different versions of the Bible. The Interlinear Greek version, for example, translates the same word as faith, of faith and faith of, while the NRSV uses faith, faith in or faith of. Adding to the discussion is the inclusion of another translation of the word as meaning faithfulness of. Now, as a student of Greek, I can certainly argue that pisteos, the word that occurs more often than pisteo in ancient manuscripts, is a genitive noun meaning “faith of”. I am resigned to interpret Paul’s theology of salvation by comparing this passage with other tracts from the epistles, however, because the old manuscripts do not agree and it is impossible to know with certainty those that are correct. Do I argue that Paul had a theology based purely on salvation through our own faith in Christ or, as a Presbyterian, do I take the loyal Calvinist stance that Paul believed in salvation solely through God’s election and initiative?
These two poles of Christian theology both claim basis in Paul’s writings. Perhaps due to being something of a contrarian, or possibly due to my belief that no theology should be based on snippets of scripture, I cannot arrive at either conclusion from reading Romans 3:22 in context. The pericope containing this verse, as well as others cited below, lead me to the conclusion that Paul believed that salvation was neither solely God’s initiative nor the individual’s. While asserting that ‘faith in Jesus Christ’ is a correct translation of this verse, I will attempt to show that Paul believed all ‘parties’ involved had to take initiative to achieve salvation.
Within the text of Romans 3:19-26, after decrying that justification will be found through adherence to the law, Paul states that the righteousness of God has been attested to by the law and the prophets (3:19-21). Grace, Paul says, is a gift from God to a people who are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God (23). They are, however, justified by grace because God provided Jesus as a sacrifice through whose blood redemption can be achieved (24-25). Romans 3:22, within this context, appears to convey the message that the righteousness of God is attainable for humans, because of God’s faithfulness to the promise of salvation for humankind, and through faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior. In this sense, God has taken the first initiative to provide a means by which we can be redeemed, given that we then take the initiative to have faith in Christ. Paul seems to draw a distinction between God, the initiator of redemption, and Jesus, the method of deliverance, a pattern that is repeated throughout many of his writings. It is, however, clear that faith in Jesus Christ is considered by Paul to be an essential ingredient in redemption.
In 1 Corinthians 1:17-31, Paul further discusses God’s initiative to fulfill the promise of redemption. By quoting Isaiah 29:14, Paul reasserts that God will set aside the worldly wisdom and understanding of people; since these will not save humankind but, instead, will provide salvation by means that the world calls foolishness (1 Cor 1:19-20). “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.” (1 Cor 1:21, NRSV) God turned social order upside down by choosing those that are foolish to shame the worldly wise, the weak to shame the strong, the insignificant to shame those held in reverence (25-28). “He [sic] is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption…” (1 Cor 1:30, NRSV). Paul describes Jesus as being God’s fulfillment of the promise for salvation, and his own job as simply proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ ministry and sacrifice. Paul asserts that belief in Christ is the method of redemption and disbelief the reason for rejection when he says, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18, NRSV)
In the preceding pericope, Paul clearly describes the attainment of righteousness, and the resulting salvation, as, initially at least, the prerogative of God – not Jesus or ourselves. “God decided … to save those who believe” (21), “…but to those who are the called…” (24), “God chose…” (27,28) and “[God] is the source of your life in Christ Jesus…” (30), are verses that proclaim Paul’s belief in God as the originator of the redemptive effort. God’s promise of salvation is realized in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul asserts that the gospel of Christ, despite sounding foolish to those not called by God, provides salvation to those who are called by God and chose to believe. Here again Paul sets out the ‘process’ of salvation – God fulfills the promise through Jesus, God calls on humans to respond and humans receive grace through believing in Christ as savior.
Paul, in Philippians 3:8-14, again explains his theology of salvation in the process of using faith as an example to others. Declaring, once again, that worldly things and righteousness gained by adherence to the law are insufficient to gain resurrection from the dead, Paul testifies that the righteousness of God is gained by having faith in Jesus Christ – “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith” (Phil 3:9, NRSV). By having faith in Christ, Paul belongs to Jesus, but he must still press on to make it (resurrection from the dead) my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Phil 3:12, NRSV). This message is repeated in verse 14, where he also adds that he is pursuing in Christ the goal of God’s call. The same elements of Paul’s theology are present – God’s righteousness available to humanity through belief in Jesus Christ. God takes the first initiative, but humans must take the next step to accept the offer by believing.
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor 15:10, NRSV), Paul offers at the end of his exhortations in the first 10 verses of 1 Corinthians 15. He clearly credits God for making him what he has become by virtue of the faith he received – namely “…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures…” (1 Cor 15:3, NRSV). Paul encourages the readers to continue to hold on to the message he has proclaimed, through which they had already been saved (2). In this passage Paul adds an element of continuing effort in order to gain salvation. Beyond making a response to God’s call to have faith in Christ, Paul indicates that salvation requires the striving to remain in faith “…unless you have come to believe in vain” (2).
1 Thessalonians 5:1-10 describes one of Paul’s depictions of the parousia, in which the Lord comes as a thief. After exhorting his readers to stay awake, stay sober and don God’s armor, he says, “For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him” (1 Thess 5:9-10). It is very obvious that Paul is writing to believers as indicated in verses 1 and 2, not all people. He states that God (initiator) has destined them (believers) for salvation through Jesus Christ (method), after encouraging them to retain hold of faith, love and hope. Here again are the elements of God’s election, provision, and the requirement of our response – belief in Jesus Christ as savior.