Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 4, 1956
NUMBER 22, PAGE 8-9a

"From Faith Unto Faith"

Robert C. Welch, Louisville, Kentucky

"For therein is revealed a righteousness of God from faith unto faith: as it is written, But the righteous shall live by faith." (Rom. 1:17.)

Since beginning to read the Scriptures and hearing them discussed this passage has presented a problem. What is the meaning of the term, "from faith unto faith"? The commentators have considered it a problem. Some insist that it is faith in one man which produces faith in another. Others say that it refers to one case after another of faith as described in the Bible. Another may have it that the gospel is revealed from one degree of faith to another, probably from the Old Testament to the New. Some contend that the first "faith" refers to the system of teaching, the gospel, which produces faith in the hearer. Perhaps others consider that the righteousness of God is from, or by, faith and that the gospel reveals this and also reveals that this righteousness is to all who believe, without limitation as to nationality or race.

Various Interpretations

Nearly every commentator falls into one of the classifications already listed. There are weaknesses to be detected in nearly every one of the explanations, Some of them lean to the old "faith only" theory. Some of them are tainted with the "total depravity" theory, that a man can do nothing toward his justification. Authors in the body of Christ do not agree exactly.

Johnson follows Schaff in the argument that the phrase "from faith" modifies "revealed." He says, "It is revealed to us by believing (faith), and the duty of the believer is to extend the gospel, or to extend the faith." Thus he holds the first idea named, that it is faith in one man which reveals or produces faith in another. Perhaps we should get the comment as framed by Schaff which may make the point clearer.

"from faith to faith. This is to be joined with 'revealed,' not with 'righteousness.' The righteousness is revealed 'from faith' as the starting-point, and 'to faith' as its aim, continually producing new faith. This is substantially the generally accepted explanation."

This explanation will hardly be borne out by the Scriptures. The passage declares that God's righteousness is revealed in the gospel (verse 16). The gospel is revealed by inspiration, not by our believing. (1 Cor. 2:12-13.) Furthermore, Paul's explanation is meaningless if this be the intent of the phrase. He said that this is the case, "as it is written, But the righteous shall live by faith." This could in no way clarify the Johnson and Schaff explanation.

Bengel has a form of the second explanation listed, that it refers to one case after another in the Bible. It involves the "degree" theory, as well as some of the theory that the revealed gospel produces faith.

"so we shall say, from one faith to another, from the faith of God, who offers, to the faith of men, who receive, ch. iii. 2, etc.; from the faith of the Old Testament, and the Jews, to the faith of the New Testament, and of the Gentiles also. ch. iii. 30; from the faith of Paul to the faith of the Romans, ch. i. 12; from one degree of faith to those more advanced, 1 John v. 13; from the faith of the strong to the faith of the weak. ch. xiv 1, etc.; from our expectant faith, to the faith which is to be divinely made good to us, by the gift of life."

This explanation has some merit, but it falters under Paul's statement to the Ephesians that there is "one faith." He has more than one in his version and discussion. And if the passage referred to various cases of righteousness by faith being revealed, could it not have been easily said, from the faith of one to the faith of another? His explanation forces the addition of words which do not necessarily belong and which are not necessarily implied.

A. T. Robertson has the "degree" argument, and follows the old Baptist "total depravity" theory, with the idea that both prepositional phrases modify he word "revealed." In some of this he seems to be following Lightfoot.

"a righteousness of God. Subjective genitive, 'a God kind of righteousness,' one that each must have and can obtain in no other way save 'from faith unto faith,' faith the starting point and faith the goal.

"Here Paul claims that in the gospel, taught by Jesus and by himself, there is revealed a God kind of righteousness with two ideas in it (the righteousness that God has and that he bestows.)"

This is a false conception. Later it will be shown that this righteousness is that which God reveals in the gospel, and that we are to live it to be righteous. "He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous."

(1 John 3:7.)

Along with this is the comment of Vincent:

"According to the A. V. the idea is that of progress in faith itself; either from Old to New Testament faith, or, in the individual, from a lower to a higher degree of faith: and this idea, I think must be held here, although it is true that it is introduced secondarily, since Paul is dealing principally with the truth that righteousness is by faith."

The fallacy in this is that whatever this righteousness is, it is said to be revealed in the gospel. Hence, it cannot be said to be a progression from Old Testament to the New. He admits that it is a forced explanation, by stating that the tenor of the text is that righteousness is by faith. He needs to leave it there.

A fourth explanation is to be found in Lard and Whiteside, who follow McKnight. The idea is that "from faith" modifies "righteousness," and that "unto faith" means, in order to produce faith, modifying "revealed." Their point is that the gospel reveals a righteousness by faith, and this is done in order to produce faith in us. Hear their own explanation:

"In the gospel is revealed God's justification by belief for belief, i.e., to induce belief. Or still more fully: In the gospel is revealed the fact that God will justify the believer, and this is done in order to induce men to believe. This last I hold to give the truth in the case." (Lard.)

"The righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith, is an assemblage of words to which no distinct meaning can be affixed. But the original, rightly construed, gives the clear literal sense. The righteousness of God by faith is revealed in it, in order to faith. The apostle was not ashamed of the gospel, because a righteousness of God's appointment, to be obtained by faith, is revealed in it, in order to produce faith a in them to whom it is preached. The latter clause, as it is written, The just shall live by faith, were better translated, The just by faith shall live." (McKnight.)

To this very little exception can be taken unless it be to the explanation of the phrase "unto faith." Does it signify, in order to produce faith; or, unto all them that believe? This will be discussed more fully in the next section.

Analysis Of The Passage

"For therein." This refers to the antecedent, the gospel, of the preceding verse. The gospel is God's power to save, to every one who believes, not only by the Jew, but also from the Gentile.

"a righteousness of God from faith." This is not speaking of one of God's divine attributes. This righteousness is not an attribute which God imputes or gives to the individual. It is a description of the individual who by faith does the revealed will of God. He is not living according to man's way, but according to God's. "For being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God." (Rom. 10:3.) Again, it is not man's own way, nor is it by the commands of the law, but it is taught by God and appropriated by faith. "Not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith." (Phil. 3:9.)

"is revealed." God makes known how men shall live and be justified, not through nature, not through experience, not through the law of Moses, but by revealed truth, the gospel. The gospel reveals the plan by which God makes men righteous. If the gospel does not do that for the individual it is not God's power to save. But it is God's power to save, by revealing a righteousness of God from faith.

"unto faith." This phrase shows the object of God's righteousness by faith. It also modifies "righteousness" rather than "revealed." God's righteousness is by faith. But does it belong only to Abraham (Rom. 4:13) who believed, or does it belong exclusively to believing Jews, or does it belong unto everyone, Jew or Gentile, who believes? This is the precise argument which is made in the preceding verse. He says there that the gospel is God's power to save, unto all that believe, Jew first, and also the Greek. There is neither right nor reason for separating verse 17 from its context, giving the passage a meaning which does not agree with its plain context.

"as it is written, But the righteous shall live by faith." Again, there is no sense in taking Paul's general argument out of this passage by saying that "by faith" modifies "live." His argument throughout the entire book of Romans is that men are righteous by faith. In this instance he has brought evidence from Old Testament prophecy (Heb. 2:4) that the plan of salvation and justification or righteousness by faith was intended throughout the ages to be revealed in the gospel; and that, according to the prophecies which the Jews had, this righteousness revealed in the gospel was to go unto all who believe.

A Parallel Passage

If the above explanation and analysis seems a bit hazy, and it is admitted that it may have fuzzy spots, a parallel statement of the matter may help to clarify. Though using different phraseology, every item of the passage under consideration is found also in Romans 3:21, 22: "But now apart from the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that believe; for there is no distinction." The two passages are arranged in parallel columns that this may be more readily seen, the second one being rearranged in sentence structure to correspond with that of the first.

Chart Goes Here (Romans 1:17) (Romans 3:21, 22)

1. "For therein "But now apart from the law hath been manifested

2. is revealed a righteousness of God .. .

3. a righteousness of God even the righteousness of from faith God through faith in Jesus Christ

4. unto faith: unto all them that believe;

5. as it is written, But the for there is no distinction ... righteous shall live by being witnessed by the law faith." and the prophets."

To this agree the words of Paul in another place: For if there had been a law given which could make alive, verily righteousness would have been of the law. But the scripture shut up all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe." (Gal. 3:21, 22.)