The affirmation of Habakkuk 2:4 that “the just shall live by faith,” the thesis statement of the Old Testament prophet,[i] is found in the thesis statement of the book of Romans: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17).[ii] Genesis 15:6 is also quoted in Romans 4:3 to prove that Abraham was justified by faith alone apart from works of the law. The significance of these two quotations in the context of the book of Romans, and their value in illuminating the character of Christian faith, will be examined in book order.
Romans 1:16-17 reads: “I am not ashamed[iii] of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”[iv] Romans 1:16-17a illuminate what is involved in the affirmation of Habbakuk that “the just shall live by faith.”[v] First, Paul proves in 1:18-3:20 that all need the gracious justification of God through the gospel of Christ, because all, Jew and Gentile, are sinners devoid of righteousness. They stand in need of, by faith, becoming those who are just and shall live. Men are by nature and choice the enemies of God,[vi] under His wrath, and separated from the spiritual and eternal life[vii] that comes through faith.[viii] Whether Jews (2:1-29) or Gentiles (1:18-32), all[ix] stand condemned (3:1-20).[x] In 1:18-3:20, the righteous wrath of God is revealed (1:18), rather than His righteous manner of showing mercy in and by Christ (8:18),[xi] for men are unrighteous,[xii] while God is righteous.[xiii]
Second, Paul proves in 3:21-5:21 that men are delivered from sin and justified apart from the law and through faith alone. Since, as Habakkuk affirms, those who have faith are those who have spiritual and eternal life, and are the just before God, clearly salvation is the possession of every believer, whether Jew or Gentile, rather than the prize only of those who perform meritorious works.
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. (Romans 3:21-28)[xiv]
The just or righteous are all[xv] those Jews and Gentiles[xvi] who have been declared righteous by the gracious God[xvii] on the basis of the imputed righteousness of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.[xviii] Works cannot earn righteous standing before God—on the contrary, imputed righteousness is received solely through the instrumentality of faith.[xix] The imputation of righteousness brings salvation and spiritual and eternal life.[xx]
[i] R. M. Moody demonstrates that “Romans . . . has in a very important way the same theme as Habakkuk. . . . In Habakkuk the centre of the solution of Habakkuk’s problem is Hab 2:4, and the theme verse of Romans is 1:17 . . . both books are on the same subject. . . . We therefore arrive at the conclusion that we have in Romans an extensive study of Habakkuk in the light of the coming of Christ in which Paul fully examines every aspect of Habakkuk’s solution to the problem of God’s dealing with Jew and Gentile” (pg. 208, “The Habakkuk Quotation in Romans 1:17,” R. M. Moody. Expository Times 90 (1980-81) 205-208).
[ii] ouj ga»r e˙paiscu/nomai to\ eujagge÷lion touv Cristouv: du/namiß ga»r Qeouv e˙stin ei˙ß swthri÷an panti« twˆ◊ pisteu/onti, ∆Ioudai÷wˆ te prw◊ton kai« ›Ellhni. dikaiosu/nh ga»r Qeouv e˙n aujtwˆ◊ aÓpokalu/ptetai e˙k pi÷stewß ei˙ß pi÷stin, kaqw»ß ge÷graptai, ÔO de« di÷kaioß e˙k pi÷stewß zh/setai.
[iii] Contrast the use of e˙paiscu/nomai in 1:16 with the only other use in Romans, found in 6:21; Paul, as one would expect for the saints of God, is not ashamed of the gospel of the crucified God-Man, but believers are ashamed of the sins they committed before their conversion. Compare the other NT e˙paiscu/nomai texts: Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; 2 Timothy 1:8, 12, 16; Hebrews 2:11; 11:16.
[iv] ouj ga»r e˙paiscu/nomai to\ eujagge÷lion touv Cristouv: du/namiß ga»r Qeouv e˙stin ei˙ß swthri÷an panti« twˆ◊ pisteu/onti, ∆Ioudai÷wˆ te prw◊ton kai« ›Ellhni. dikaiosu/nh ga»r Qeouv e˙n aujtwˆ◊ aÓpokalu/ptetai e˙k pi÷stewß ei˙ß pi÷stin, kaqw»ß ge÷graptai, ÔO de« di÷kaioß e˙k pi÷stewß zh/setai. The verses are full of key terms that appear throughout Romans.
It should be noted that both instances of pi÷stiß in Romans 1:17’s “from faith to faith” refer to the act of human believing, so that the phrase speaks of the increase and strengthening of the believer’s faith; neither instance in Romans 1:17 refers to God’s faithfulness, and consequently the sense of the phrase is not “from the faithfulness of God to man’s faith.” Indeed, both the e˙k pi÷stewß construction in the New Testament (Romans 1:17; 3:26, 30; 4:16; 5:1; 9:30, 32; 10:6; 14:23; Galatians 2:16; 3:7–9, 11–12, 22, 24; 5:5; Heb 10:38; James 2:24) and the dia» pi÷stewß construction (Romans 1:12; 3:22, 25, 27, 30–31; 4:13, 16; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Galatians 2:16; 3:14, 26; Ephesians 2:8; 3:12, 17; Philippians 3:9; Colossians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:7; 2 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 6:12; 11:33, 39; 1 Peter 1:5) always refer to human “faith” rather than to God or Christ’s faithfulness (cf. pgs. 363-373, The Epistle to the Romans, vol. 1, John Murray, for further examination of this question and validation of the conclusions here stated).
[v] As the Hebrew accentuation in Habakkuk 2:4 makes it clear that Habakkuk’s assertion is “the just, by his faith he shall live,” rather than “the just by his faith, he shall live,” so in Romans 1:17 Paul’s ÔO de« di÷kaioß e˙k pi÷stewß zh/setai does not mean “he who through faith is righteous shall live,” but “the righteous shall live by his faith,” a fact not only borne out by the Hebrew of Habakkuk but also a number of evidences from the Greek. That is, the e˙k pi÷stewß modifies zh/setai, rather than di÷kaioß. Paul could easily have written oJ e˙k pi÷stewß di÷kaioß zh/setai or oJ di÷kaioß oJ e˙k pi÷stewß zh/setai had he wished to indicate that e˙k pi÷stewß modified di÷kaioß.
As noted by Moody Smith (pgs. 17-19, “O DE DIKAIOS EK PISTEWS ZHSETAI,” Moody D. Smith, in Studies in the History and Text of the New Testament, FS K. W. Clark, ed B. L. Daniels and M. J. Suggs. Salt Lake City: University of Utah, 1967; Smith’s argument is very closely followed below), Romans 1:16f. falls into four parts, the first three introduced by ga¿r and the fourth by kaqw¿ß. The first, introductory, section is v. 16a. The subsequent parts consist of three propositions with significant parallelism. Three elements appear in each part, with the following pattern: a.) The action of God b.) is a revelation which brings salvation c.) for all who receive it in faith. That is:
A v. 16b du/namiß ga»r Qeouv
b. 17a dikaiosu/nh ga»r Qeouv
v. 17b oJ de« di÷kaioß
B v. 16b e˙stin ei˙ß swthri÷an
v. 17a e˙n aujtwˆ◊ (=eujaggeli÷wˆ) aÓpokalu/ptetai
v. 17b zh/setai
C v. 16b panti« twˆ◊ pisteu/onti
v. 17a e˙k pi÷stewß ei˙ß pi÷stin
v. 17b e˙k pi÷stewß
In v. 16b and 17a the pattern ABC if followed. Since Paul follws the order of the text of Habakkuk (:h`RyVjˆy wñøtÎn…wmTaR;b qyäî;dAx◊w), v. 17b has the order ACB, but the pattern of the two preceding syntactical units indicates how Paul understands the Habakkuk quotation. The pattern in v. 16b and 17a of: a.) God’s action, b.) salvific revelation, c.) reception by faith, provides a key for unlokcing Paul’s understanding of the Habakkuk quotation. Furthermore, the Habakkuk formula helps explain the disposotion of the two preceding affirmations in three parallel elements. Thus, the parallel structure supports the fact that Paul construes the e˙k pi÷stewß with the verb zh/setai.
Furthermore, it appears that v. 17a is a restatement of v. 16b in terms supplied by Habakkuk 2:4. Paul’s mention of the righteousness of God is an abstraction promted by the upcoming oJ di÷kaioß. The present tense aÓpokalu/ptetai corresponds to the future zh/setai of the Habakkuk quotation. The present tense of aÓpokalu/ptetai, with the phrase e˙k pi÷stewß ei˙ß pi÷stin, indicates a continuing process of Divine self-disclosure on the basis of faith. What Paul affirms abstractly and with respect to its Divine origin in 17a is then given scriptural grounds and set forth in concrete terms with respect to the human situation in 17b: “The righteous [man] shall live by faith.”
The view that the New Testament quotation of Habakkuk 2:4 means “the righteous shall live by faith” rather than “the righteous by faith shall live” is found throughout the church age; see, e. g., for the early church period, The Epistle of Ignatius to the Tarsians, Chapter 1; Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 2:6; 4:16; Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, Homily 7.
[vi] While Qeo/ß, and His righteous wrath and judment, are ubiquitous in Romans 1:18-3:20 (see 1:18–19, 21, 23–26, 28, 32; 2:2–5, 11, 13, 16–17, 23–24, 29; 3:2–7, 11, 18–19), Cristo/ß (and ∆Ihsouvß) appears only in 2:16 (the only reference to eujagge÷lion in this portion of the epistle also), where His Messianic judgment and condemnation of the unbelieving wicked is in view; there is no swthri÷a in 1:18-3:20 (the complete list of texts with the word in Romans is: 1:16; 5:9–10; 8:24; 9:27; 10:1, 9–10, 13; 11:11, 14, 26; 13:11). In contrast, God as Author of the gospel and the loving and propitiated Father of those in Christ appears very frequently in the other portions of Romans (cf. 1:1, 7-9, 16-17, 3:21-23, 25-26, 29-30, 4:2-3, 6, 17, 20; 5:1-2, 5, 8, 10, 11, 15; 6:10, 11, 13, 17, 22-23, 7:4, 22, 25; 8:3, 9, 14, 16, 17, 19, 21, 27, 28, 31, 33, 34, 39, 9:8, 11, 16, 26, 10:1, 3, 9, 17; 11:2, 22-23, 29-30, 32-33; 12:1-3, 14:3, 6, 17-18, 20, 22, 15:5-9, 13, 15-17, 19, 30, 32-33; 16:20, 26-27) among a significant variety of other uses of Qeo/ß (cf. 1:4, 10; 8:7-8; 9:5-6, 14, 20, 22; 10:2, 11:8, 21; 13:1-2, 4, 6, 14:11-12—note that His judgment and wrath are also present in a variety of these texts). Cristo/ß appears elsewhere frequently in Romans (1:1, 4, 6–8, 16; 3:22, 24; 5:1, 6, 8, 11, 15, 17, 21; 6:3–4, 8–9, 11, 23; 7:4, 25–8:2; 8:9–11, 17, 34–35, 39–9:1; 9:3, 5; 10:4, 6–7; 12:5; 13:14; 14:9–10, 15, 18; 15:3, 5–8, 16–20, 29–30; 16:3, 5, 7, 9–10, 16, 18, 20, 24–25, 27) as does ∆Ihsouvß (1:1, 4, 6–8; 3:22, 24, 26; 4:24; 5:1, 11, 15, 17, 21; 6:3, 11, 23; 7:25–8:2; 8:11, 39; 10:9; 13:14; 14:14; 15:5–6, 8, 16–17, 30; 16:3, 18, 20, 24–25, 27).
[vii] Romans 2:7-8. Of course, spiritual life and eternal life are highly overlapping or even synonymous terms—those who will have eternal and spiritual life eschatologically are those who have spiritual and eternal life now by means of faith and regeneration.
[viii] The human exercise of pi÷stiß is absent in 1:18-3:20. Obviously, 3:3 is no exception.
[ix] All (pa◊ß, 1:16) need the salvation set forth in the gospel because God’s wrath is revealed against all unrighteousness and ungodliness (1:18) of all men, Jew or Gentile (2:1, 9-10; 3:9) who are filled with all unrighteousness (1:29; 3:12) and therefore are all unable to be justified by the law (3:19-20). Thankfully, the gospel is set forth in Romans as offered to all, whether Jew or Gentile, who believe (3:22-23; 4:11, 16; 5:12, 18; 9:33; 10:4, 11-13, 18, 26, 32; 15:11; 16:26). The point of Romans 2:13 is the availability of salvation to both Jew and Gentile, as the following context demonstrates, while the verse also indicates that all who are justified by faith alone will characteristically keep God’s commandments.
[x] 2:9; 3:9. 2:10 is a proleptic reference to truth explained after 3:20—the manner in which, by grace through faith alone, one can become a true Jew (2:17, 28-29).
[xi] aÓpokalu/ptw appears only in 1:17, 18; 8:18.
[xii] aÓdiki÷a, 1:18, 29; 2:8; 3:5; cf. 6:13. Oujk e¶sti di÷kaioß oujde« ei–ß, 3:10. The di÷kaioß recipient of dikaio/w in 2:13 does not receive elaboration in the portion from 1:18-3:20; the following portions of the epistle provide elaboration.
[xiii] 3:4-5; 9:14.
[xiv] 21 nuni« de« cwri«ß no/mou dikaiosu/nh Qeouv pefane÷rwtai, marturoume÷nh uJpo\ touv no/mou kai« tw◊n profhtw◊n: 22 dikaiosu/nh de« Qeouv dia» pi÷stewß ∆Ihsouv Cristouv ei˙ß pa¿ntaß kai« e˙pi« pa¿ntaß tou\ß pisteu/ontaß: ouj ga»r e˙sti diastolh/: 23 pa¿nteß ga»r h¢marton kai« uJsterouvntai thvß do/xhß touv Qeouv, 24 dikaiou/menoi dwrea»n thØv aujtouv ca¿riti dia» thvß aÓpolutrw¿sewß thvß e˙n Cristwˆ◊ˆ◊ ∆Ihsouv: 25 o§n proe÷qeto oJ Qeo\ß i˚lasth/rion, dia» thvß pi÷stewß, e˙n twˆ◊ aujtouv aiºmati, ei˙ß e¶ndeixin thvß dikaiosu/nhß aujtouv, dia» th\n pa¿resin tw◊n progegono/twn aJmarthma¿twn, 26 e˙n thØv aÓnochØv touv Qeouv: pro\ß e¶ndeixin thvß dikaiosu/nhß aujtouv e˙n twˆ◊ nuvn kairwˆ◊, ei˙ß to\ ei•nai aujto\n di÷kaion kai« dikaiouvnta to\n e˙k pi÷stewß ∆Ihsouv. 27 pouv ou™n hJ kau/chsiß; e˙xeklei÷sqh. dia» poi÷ou no/mou; tw◊n e¶rgwn; oujci÷ aÓlla» dia» no/mou pi÷stewß. 28 logizo/meqa ou™n pi÷stei dikaiouvsqai a‡nqrwpon, cwri«ß e¶rgwn no/mou.
[xv] 3:22–23; 4:11, 16; 5:12, 18.
[xvi] 3:29; 4:17–18.
[xvii] The emphasis of the texts with Qeo/ß in 3:21-5:21 (3:21–23, 25–26, 29–30; 4:2–3, 6, 17, 20; 5:1–2, 5, 8, 10–11, 15) differs radically from those references to Qeo/ß in 1:18-3:20—in the latter section, God is now, because of Jesus Christ, who is abundantly referenced in the section (3:22, 24; 5:1, 6, 8, 11, 15, 17, 21), the God who manifests grace and love through propitiated justice, rather than the God of wrath who justly punishes those who have not been reconciled through the Redeemer.
[xviii] Notice the abundance of references to both God’s and to imputed dikaiosu/nh (3:21-22, 25-26, 4:3, 5, 6, 9, 11, 13, 22; 5:17, 21) and to dikaio/w (3:20, 24, 26, 28, 30; 4:2, 5; 5:1, 9); note also di÷kaioß (3:26; 5:7, 19). The progression manifested in the uses of dikai÷wma is noteworthy. The ungodly know God’s righteous judgments but do not keep them (1:32), while regenerate Gentiles who keep God’s righteous judgments will be reckoned among the people of God (2:26). Despite many offences, the people of God receive dikai÷wma for Christ’s sake, di∆ e˚no\ß dikaiw¿matoß receiving dikai÷wsiß (5:16, 18). Consequently, because of regeneration, the righteous judgments of the law are fulfilled in them (8:4).
In the book of Romans, the complete list of references to dikaiosu/nh is: 1:17; 3:5, 21–22, 25–26; 4:3, 5–6, 9, 11, 13, 22; 5:17, 21; 6:13, 16, 18–20; 8:10; 9:28, 30–31; 10:3–6, 10; 14:17; dikaio/w appears in 2:13; 3:4, 20, 24, 26, 28, 30; 4:2, 5; 5:1, 9; 6:7; 8:30, 33, and di÷kaioß in 1:17; 2:13; 3:10, 26; 5:7, 19; 7:12.
[xix] pi÷stiß, 3:22, 25–28, 30–31; 4:5, 9, 11–14, 16, 19–20; 5:1–2; pisteu/w, 4:3, 17–18, 24.
[xx] swthri÷a, 5:9-10 (eschatological, rather than present, swthri÷a); zwh/, 5:17, 18, 21 (see also 5:10)—note the references to zwh/ appear only at the end of the section 3:21-5:21, where a transition is being made to 6:1-8:39, and the references to swthri÷a are also both in chapter 5, where the dikaio/w word group is, although certainly still present, less overwhelmingly central than it is in chapters 3-4.