Romans 1:17 God’s righteousness is being revealed in the gospel, from faithfulness for faith, as it is written, The righteous person will live by faith. (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]
On translating Romans 1:17
“God’s righteousness” (dikaiosyne theou) is probably best translated, in Paul, as “the justice of God” – justice being the very character of God.
“from faithfulness for faith” (ek pisteos eis pistin) is an interesting phrase which captures a thumbnail version of Paul’s history of salvation. Here “faith” is better translated as “trust.” The dilemma in translating “faith” from Greek to English is that we do not have a verbal form of faith, so “to faith” is often translated as “to believe.” Since the Reformation our understanding of faith has morphed from trustworthiness to believability, from relationship to cognitive ideas.
Herman Waetjen, (The Letter to the Romans) offers, in my estimation, a much better understanding of Paul’s intent with the following translation:
“For the justice of God is being revealed in it [the gospel] out of trust into trust even as it is written, ‘The just will live out of trust’.”
In Romans Paul presents an extended argument (one might call it a “convoluted” or “labyrinthine” debate) on the relationship between law and trust (faith).
The foundational model for trust is Abraham. God trusted Abraham; in response, Abraham trusted God. Trust is a relationship of mutuality. While faith in today’s popular parlance is something one has, trust is something one must give. Trust is given and received.
As God’s promise to Abraham is being fulfilled (“you will be the ancestor of many nations”) the question becomes “How will the nations be governed?” Trust is a great concept for individuals, but society needs some structure. Hence the law was given.
The purpose of the law was to produce the justice of God which would actualize salvation – that is, the well-being of all in the society. Instead of producing justice, however, the law produced law-breakers (theologically defined as “sinners”). For Paul, the law introduced sinfulness (he hamartia) – an infection – into the human condition.
A new (second) foundational model for trust was now needed. Enter Jesus. Jesus taught and lived trust – even trusting God as he was sentenced and hung on the cross to die. His trust went beyond the law, in fact it often flew in the face of the law; but his trust actualizes justice for the poor and dispossessed of society. His trust is the solid base and the essence of salvation – that is, the well-being of all in society.
Luther and Calvin set us on a rabbit trail with their emphasis on individual salvation. For Paul, salvation is about the Commonwealth of God’s Peace and Justice (Kingdom of God), though his term for the collective is “Body of Christ.”
Put your trust in God. Model your trust in justice-seeking, out of trust into trust. Model your trust into the life of Jesus and the activity of the risen Christ (the body of Christ) as you “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12f CEB)
Trust actualized by justice produces well-being (salvation) for all.