What Does “From Faith to Faith” Mean in Romans 1:17?

I am not sure I have never done a blog post “by request” before, but when Mat Loverin calls the tune, I have to dance.  This is a difficult little problem which touches on the syntax of the Greek New Testament, but may very well reflect the presuppositions of the reader more than anything else.  In addition, this is an allusion to the book of Habakkuk and may also illustrate how Paul uses the Hebrew Bible to evoke more ideas that are contained in the actual words.

In his magisterial commentary on Romans in the ICC series, C. E. B. Cranfield lists the following options for understanding this phrase:

  • From the faith of the Old Testament to the faith of the New Testament.
  • From the faith of the Law to the Faith of the Gospel (Tertullian)
  • From the faith of the preachers to the faith of the hearers (Augustine)
  • From faith in one article to faith in another (Mentioned by Aquanis)
  • From faith in the present to faith in the future (Mentioned by Aquanis)
  • From the faith of the words (whereby we now believe what we do not see) to the faith of the things, that is realities (whereby we shall possess what we now believe in) (Augustine)
  • God’s faithfulness to man’s faith (Ambrosiaster)
  • Growth in faith (Sanday and Headlam)

Notice that some of these possibilities seem to bridge the gap between the Old Testament and the New, it is all “one faith.”  Others see “faith” as a technical term for “doctrine,” others here the word faith as our response to God.  Some of these historical suggestions are very much driven by presuppostions.

Cranfield says that the problem with all of these views is that they take “from faith” in a different sense that it is used in the Habakkuk quotation.  He mentions that it is possible to take “from faith” as meaning by faith and “by faith” as an instance of  “an abstract for a concrete.”   The Habakkuk quote probably intended to link righteousness and faith.  Habakkuk is commenting on the fall of Judah to the Babylonians – how does a faithful person respond to such a spiritual disaster? Cranfield therefore suggests that the meaning is something like “for in it (the gospel that is being preached) a righteous status which is God’s gift is being revealed (and so offered to men) – a righteous status which is altogether by faith.”  (Romans, 99).  This is a theological unpacking of the text which may very well be good theology, but is it what Paul intended to communicate?

Should the meaning of this line in the book of Habakkuk bear on Paul’s use of the line in Romans 1:17?  It is possible that Paul wanted us to hear the words of Habakkuk in their original context and “hear the echoes” of the fall of Jerusalem in the quote.  If so, then the reader ought to be thinking about the faithfulness of God in keeping his covenant despite the sin of Israel and the judgment of the exile.  The faithful God is working in the people of faith to reveals his righteousness / justice at the present time.   Perhaps this is a text which could be read as an “end of the exile” motif in Paul.  How is it that God has ended the long exile of Israel?  By revealing his righteousness through the faithful act of Jesus on the cross.

But if I say “we have nothing to fear except fear itself,” I am not sure I can expect my audience to hear the words in the context of Franklin D. Roosevelt, nor even know that the words are from his 1933 inaugural address.  (In fact, his point was “we can get through the depression,” but until I looked it up, I would have thought this referred to entering World War II).  There are some people who might think that someone else said the line and “hear and echo” of something I had not intended, and perhaps “create a meaning” in their own mind that was not my intention at all.  Imagine the meaning if someone thought that Yogi Berra was the source of the phrase, describing the chances the 1969 Mets had at winning the World Series!  Or worse yet, Harry Potter trying to convince Ron Weasley to follow the spiders into the Forbidden Forest.  Those contexts might very well spin the meaning of my use of the quote off into unintended and perhaps disastrous meanings to my original text.

Overall I am inclined to give the context of the Hebrew Bible full weight in Paul’s allusion, especially since this line is something of a theme for the whole book of Romans.  Paul is declaring that the faithful God is acting to reveal his righteousness in the faith actions of his Son, on behalf of the faithful.

11 thoughts on “What Does “From Faith to Faith” Mean in Romans 1:17?

  1. Thanks so much for the detailed reply! If I am reading you right, one could paraphrase 1:17 “in the gospel God’s righteousness is being revealed in/through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah, his son, to/for the faith of all who believe.” It seems like this reconciles well with pistis Chrstou interpreted as the faithfulness of Jesus in 3:25-26. I am just trying to find coherence… Thanks for indulging me!

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  2. You are right, I am reading 1:17 in the light NPP interpretation of pistis christou. I am a bit put off by the syntax, the “from faith” could be drawn from the LXX, but “in/through faith” is eis pistiv, eis with the accusative puts me in the mood for a purpose clause, which then could be turned around into the believer’s faith.

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  3. Sorry about rotten syntax – my paraphrase was indeed ‘slapdash’ (i did it on the iPod, right before my afternoon nap!). What I was trying to do was link 1:17 with 3:22, where the faithfulness of Jesus is directly connected to the faith of those who believe (the gospel). Then in 3:26 I am thinking of “those who have the faith(fulness) of Jesus” in connection with “the obedience of faith” in 1:5. But I don’t want to steal your blogging thunder when you get to Chapter 3…just setting them up so you can knock ’em down.

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  4. If I may go where no student has gone before, I would like to add my half cent to this. Really I just have questions more than an actual response. If what you are proposing is that Paul is saying that God’s righteousness is revealed in Christ’s sacrifice for then why does Paul use “ek” instead of “en”? My instinct is to read “ek” as temporal. But as PLong said above the Old and New testament is one faith. But could it be said that Paul is referring to the two different contexts of the faith (Old and New Covenants)?

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  5. I had often wondered what the phrase “from faith to faith” meant. It’s crazy how many different ways theologians have gone with figuring it out. But I think it’s often striking how varied Christian’s thoughts are on what Scripture means. I have a KJV-NLT parralel Bible at home, so I ended up getting the NLT thought in my mind: “This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life.'” (Romans 1:17-18) So the NLT translates “from faith to faith” as saying that from start to finish, it’s faith that empowers the gospel to work in us and make us right in God’s sight. This thought certainly would be theologically sound, but it doesn’t also capture as completely the element of Jesus’ faithfulness that P. Long and Dr. Loverin mentioned.

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  6. Now that I am becoming more familiar with Greek and with studying the bible more intently this post really interested me. I like Cody would like to add on onto this posting (Please do not rip me apart Dr. Love and P-Long). I wanted to add my 2 cents as well.
    I think faith can be interpreted in many ways, not just within the meaning of the Greek pistos used, but within each person’s interpretation of what faith is. I know to myself, faith is more than just believing in something, like with a chair situation where you put your full weight on something because you have faith in it. To me faith with God is so much more than that, not only am I putting my full weight on it, I am completely devoting my time, efforts, and whole life into this new pistos I have found. And each time I study further within God’s word I find more intricate and fabulous things that I need to really study and focus on whether I place my faith in it or not, because going half into something is not faith, I must dive completely into it with my whole self.

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  7. Hebrews 11 tells us of the righteous who lived by faith in the promises of something far greater than their present status in life. By way of contrast it seems those who reject faith in the far reaching promises of God through Christ consign themselves to the fate of their present circumstance as well as the future perdition awaiting the unjustified.

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  8. This post really seems to resonate with some of my most recent studies. I do not think that this is at all refering to any sort of doctrinal understanding or testament of the Bible, obviously since there is no New Testament at this point. And I do not believe that Paul or any Jewish writer at this time would have seen it as ‘pre-Jesus’ and ‘post-Jesus’ since to me their views tend to represent a view of fluidity in the redemptive story of God.

    I myself seem to understand this phrase the same way as explained above (that is, if I understood the above information correctly). When we look at this in the context of the gospel message, which all Christians should, that is where our presuppositions become an issue. Not only in our understanding of the word “faith” but also in our understanding of what the Gospel is. If we see gospel in the same sense that Paul does, then we will see that our faith in Christ (the perfection of faith itself) is what brings us to salvation. And, that salvation is not that we are morally righteous, but that our righteousness is in faith. The very faith that fulfilled the law in Christ and continues to be faithful eternally. Through the gospel, the good news of what Christ did, we are given a gift of God; we go from faith (gospel) to faith (righteousness).

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  9. The very first option in C. E. B. Cranfield list of options for understanding this phrase “from faith to faith’ is easily the best explanation: the context is the gospel which every believer must hear before they can believe (Romans 10:17). The other options may be considered simply as garnishing. The Bible tells us that there is none righteous for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:10). Therefore, it is God alone that can declare anyone righteous. “Abraham believed God and it was counted for him for righteousness. Abraham’s faith and the faith of every OT saint are ultimately anchored in the Lord Jesus Christ. The faith of the New Testament (New Covenant) saints too is anchored in the Lord Jesus Christ whose shed blood on the Cross of Calvary is the basis of our salvation. So, if we consider the OT and the NT as forming a continuum within the boundary of God’s divine work of saving man, the Lord Jesus Christ is in the middle of this continuum; both the OT saints and the NT saints have Him as the object of their faith–the one looking forward to Him and the later looking back to Him. Also let’s not forget that God’s grace is the constant in the equation of salvation through faith.

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  10. When it comes to Justification God Says’s…. Just Relax and enjoy the beach because its an ocean you could Never swim across.

    From faith for Faith. God’s Righteousness is revealed from Faith- Meaning that the atoning work of Christ is the central point of Faith and believing. For Faith- For the sake of faith we believe in this central message. A message that unites the old Testament with the New. It’s the summit of God’s Glory which is unmeasurable.

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  11. Thanks for you blog on this subject. I also have found this verse puzzling, and took some time to really think about it today. I think what Paul is saying is that righteousness is by faith, and that leads to greater, more perfect faith, not legalism. The Galatians started in faith, and then strayed into legalism and law-keeping – it’s what the whole book is about. Paul is telling us that righteousness by faith doesn’t lead to that, but to a fuller life of faith.

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