The Gospel, the Genitive and the Prepositions

Date: October 9, 2016

Title: The Gospel, the Genitive, and the Prepositions

Scripture: Romans 1:16-17


  • Introduction
  • Martin Luther’s hatred of Romans 1:17
  • The reason why we need not be ashamed of the Gospel
  • What is the “Righteousness of God”?
  • What does “from faith for faith” means?

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Romans 1:16


Reformation Month has come. October 31 2016 will be the 499th anniversary of the Reformation. It was the day when an Augustinian monk nailed his Ninety-Five theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. That monk was Martin Luther, the great protestant reformer. We are one of the few celebrating this momentous event in history and rightly so, because we call ourselves reformed. That’s why we as a church have dedicated this month in preaching the reformation truths that was recovered by the reformers.

Here I’ll be discussing about the article which according to brother Martin: “the article by which the church stands and falls.”, namely “Justification by Faith Alone”. And we will turn our attention to Romans 1:16-17. My aim is to answer why we need not be ashamed of the gospel, what is “the righteousness of God”, and what does “from faith for faith” means.

Martin Luther’s hatred of Romans 1:17

Martin Luther doesn’t always like verse 17. As a monk who’s struggling with his conscience and spirituality, verse 17 is the most frightening reality, because he knows that he is unrighteous and that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God. But to us, this is our hope and comfort. That’s why we will spent much of our time on verse 17.

The reason why we need not be ashamed of the gospel.

But before we go there, let’s answer the question “why we need not be ashamed of the gospel?” first. Let’s look at the preceding text where verse 17 was used to support. In verse 16, Paul said that he is not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the greek. Verse 16b is the reason why Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel, take note of the conjunction “for”. Meaning, his confidence was based on God’s power. But what is “the power of God” being referred to here? Is it the power of God by which one is converted or regenerated from spiritual death to spiritual life? Or is it God’s power to bring to ultimate or final salvation those who will keep on believing? Both are true statements and can be supported by different passages of scriptures. But in verse 16, which is it? I would argue that it is the latter. It is God’s power to bring those who would continue in faith to final salvation. I say that because of the present participle “believes”. It is a present ongoing faith. Yes we are said to be saved when we are regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit through his word, but here it is a salvation that is promised to those who persevere in faith. Don’t get me wrong, those whom God regenerated are the same people who will continue believing and hence eventually be saved. However, what is being stressed here is the ongoing power of God for salvation to those who will keep believing. We don’t have to be ashamed of the gospel because the gospel is not a power that will just get you half way through, its power is as good as the continuing faith wrought by the Holy Spirit through the same gospel.

What is the “righteousness of God”?

We can now turn to verse 17 because verse 16b is being supported by it. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed..”, again take note of that little word “for”. Indeed it is the reason or grounds, but it is the one where Martin Luther got into trouble.the gospel is not a power that will just get you half way through, its power is as good as the continuing faith wrought by the Holy Spirit through the same gospel. For him, how can this be good news? Since I am unrighteous, and God is righteous, this is no gospel. No sinner can stand at the sight of a righteous and holy God. Brother Martin said this because at that time, he only had one category of “righteousness of God” in his mind, namely God’s attribute of righteousness. However, there are at least three ways scholars view the genitive “of God”.

  1. Genitive of source (“from”)- God is the source of the the righteous status that is counted to believers as a result of God’s justifying act.
  2. Subjective genitive – God’s very act of justifying us or declaring us righteous
  3. Possessive genitive- God’s possession of righteousness, might be construed also as attributive genitive.

So which is it? I assert that Paul intended it to be nuanced. Meaning it doesn’t have to be “either or”. They’re all in the mind of Paul when he said “righteousness of God” in verse 17. Here are at least 3 reasons why I believe that’s the case:

  1. If we read further in verse 18 , the unrighteousness of man is highlighted and the wrath of God is revealed(compare it with verse 17, the righteousness of God is revealed). That calls attention to God’s attribute of righteousness and that God cannot sweep man’s unrighteousness under the rug because he upholds his righteousness.
  2. In verses 17b Paul likened the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith with a quote from Habakkuk 2:4. See the word “as” or “just as” there. At first glance it seems that there is no point of comparison, because in the first half of verse 17, the righteousness is of God, but in the latter half it is now referring to someone else’s righteousness. Now since Romans 3:10 is quite clear that no one is righteous no not one, therefore that man’s righteousness cannot be his. It must belong to another, namely God. Only then the comparison would make sense, because in that way, it is God’s own righteousness that’s imputed to a sinner. God is the source. It’s an alien righteousness. A righteousness that is from another. The same righteousness that is God’s.
  3. Correlated with my second reason, how does one receive righteousness from God? Answer: by God’s act of counting or reckoning our faith as righteousness. You can’t have number two without asking this question.

Therefore the gospel is God’s power for salvation, because it reveals that God is righteous and demands righteousness, that God is the source of righteousness, that God counts us righteous through our faith, and that God will vindicate his righteousness.

What does “from faith for faith” means?

This phrase, again is a matter of much debate. That’s where life and death hangs on: conjunctions, genitives and prepositions. Isn’t that amazing? Now we’re asking what Paul meant by the prepositions “from and for”. The greek ek denotes origin, and eis denotes direction, destination or goal. Those are the greek roots for the words exegesis and eisegesis. But here it is origin and goal. I take that to mean that from start to finish, the entirety of Christian life is of faith. Others interpreted it to be “from the faith (or faithfulness) of Christ to the faith of believers”. It’s more of causation and origin. I think it’s unlikely because of the parallelism Paul made with Habakkuk 2:4. From faith for faith is like saying “a life of faith”.

John Piper also offered his interpretation of the text that I think is not that far from my own. 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 is indeed a good parallel:

“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”

See how grammatically it has the same structure with Romans 1:17a? So the key in understanding “from faith for faith” is how you interpret “from death to death” and “from life to life”. Here’s a quote from John Piper:

“The most natural interpretation seems to be: when Paul’s message and sufferings meet with death in the soul, that leads to the final death of the soul. And when his message and sufferings meet with spiritual life, that leads to final life. Death is unresponsive to the gospel and is confirmed in its deadness forever. Spiritual life is responsive to the gospel and is confirmed and preserved for eternal life. So here in Romans 1:17 it says, ‘The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.’ That is, when the revelation of the gift of righteousness meets with faith it leads to future faith. Faith is the initial window of the soul that lets the light of the revelation of righteousness in. And when the light of God’s gift of righteousness comes in by faith, it powerfully works to awaken and sustain and engender more and more faith for the years to come.”

It is not at all uncommon in the new testament that the command of faith is that of a persevering one. Saving faith is a living and abiding faith. And since the gospel is the power of God for final salvation, and faith cometh by hearing and hearing the gospel(the word of God) then this would mean that we should be utterly dependent on the gospel. Not only when we first believed it, but also with the rest of our lives. We can never outgrow the gospel. If we are to be finally saved, we need to live by, rest on, and get our strength from it.


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