Romans 1:16-17 – Righteousness of God

Romans 1:16–17 (ESV) — 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.”



Significant Verses:

Concerning these verses, N.T. Wright says…

  • They are “a short summary of some of the most important truths ever heard by human ears.”
  • Douglas Moo calls them “theologically dense”.


And because of their importance Tom Schreiner points out…

  • “Virtually all scholars acknowledge that these verses are decisive for the interpretation of Romans.”
  • We will see why soon enough.



The Text:

So with these two verses, Paul begins to segue into the meat of his letter.

  • He does so with an acknowledgement of the awesome power of the Gospel – “the power of God” (vs. 16).
  • Something he has seen first hand.


Acts bears witness to this fact.

  • Acts 13:42–43 (ESV) — 42 As they went out [the synagogue at Antioch], the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. 43 And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.
  • Acts 16:14–15 (ESV) — 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
  • Acts 17:2–4 (ESV) — 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.


N.T. Wright sums up the power Paul is talking about.

“Paul has discovered, through years of actually doing it, that when you announce Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord of the world something happens: the new world which was born when Jesus died and rose again comes to fresh life in the hearts, minds and lifestyles of the listeners, or at least some of them. This isn’t magic, though it must sometimes have felt like that. It is God’s power at work, through the faithful announcement of his son” – N.T. Wright.

  • “The proclamation of the gospel is so powerful that it effects salvation in those who believe” – Tom Schreiner.


BTW – When Paul speaks of salvation he is referring to the fulfillment of the “the saving promises made to Israel in the OT” – Tom Schreiner.

  • Fulfillment taking place in Christ!


Paul goes on to say that he is “not ashamed of the gospel” (vs. 16).

  • The reason – “it is the power of God for salvation” (vs. 16).


We need to consider that “ashamed” here is not primarily the psychological experience of shame.

  • It is that Paul is “prepared to confess the gospel publicly and bear witness to its saving power” – Tom Schreiner.
  • He is faithful to speak it without thought for himself.


This meshes with Wright’s speculation as to why Paul would find it necessary to say that he is “not ashamed by the gospel” (vs. 16)?

Paul may have had in mind a passage like Psalm 119:46: ‘I will speak of your decrees before kings, and I shall not be ashamed.’ That was what he intended to do. ‘At the name of Jesus,’ he wrote in another letter, ‘every knee shall bow’ (Philippians 2:10). That included Caesar” – N.T. Wright.


And remarkably this power that saves extends to Jew and Greek alike – “everyone who believes” (vs. 16).

  • T. Wright points out…
  • “One of the most explosive things about Paul’s gospel, rooted as it was in the Jewish scriptures and traditions, is that it broke through the barrier between Jew and Greek and declared that the saving love and power of the one God was available equally to all. That is central to this little passage, and it remains central throughout the letter” – N.T. Wright.


Then Paul, in one profound sentence, reveals a powerful connection that flows out of the Gospel.

The Gospel unites “the righteousness of God” with the believer through faith.

  • This is the “important truth” Wright spoke of.
  • This is the bit that Schreiner says is so “decisive” for understanding Romans.


Paul spells it out like this – something we have to unpack.

  • He says that, in the Gospel, “the righteousness of God” is “revealed from faith for faith” (vs. 17).
  • And then claims that the OT, through Habakkuk, has said as much.
  • Habakkuk 2:4 – “the righteous shall live by faith” (vs. 17).



Diving Deep:

What exactly does Paul mean in verse 17?

  • It is no wonder that Peter said…
  • 2 Peter 3:16b (ESV) — 16b There are some things in them that are hard to understand…


In order to understand Paul we need to understand at least a couple of things.

  • What does Paul mean when he speaks of “the righteousness of God” is revealed (vs. 17).
  • What does Paul mean when he says “from faith to faith” (vs. 17).



Righteousness of God:

What is the righteousness of God?

  • Guess what…“Defining the righteousness of God is crucial and intensely controversial” – Tom Schreiner.
  • But just about all agree that, “God is the one who has revealed his righteousness—the righteousness in question is his” – Tom Schreiner.
  • It is not ours – it is alien to us.


In answering the question we will oversimplify two main views.

  • I am including N.T. Wright’s view as a subset of the second view.


(1) Divine Gift or Forensic View

  • Forensic refers to something admissible in a court of law – in this case God’s law court.
  • On this view, “the ‘righteousness of God’ refers to the believer’s status before God” in His law court – Tom Schreiner.
  • This status consists of God’s righteousness, which has been given to us.


In other words, God as judge can legally declare that we are not guilty but are righteous.

  • The righteousness we have – our new status – is not our own; it is alien to us.
  • It is a free gift from God – the “righteousness of God” given (imputed) to believers.
  • This is justification – the most common view among evangelicals.


With respect to our text…

  • “On this view, Paul is asserting that the gospel reveals ‘the righteous status that is from God’” – Douglas Moo.


Importantly, this view holds that the “righteousness of Godis just “a matter of judicial standing, or status, and not of internal renewal or moral transformation” – Douglas Moo.

  • In other words, it is very narrow and reductionist.
  • Which leads us to the second view.


BTW – The forensic view came into it’s own with Luther and the reformation – why?



(2) Divine Activity View

  • “God’s righteousness is revealed in history as a divine activity in which God vindicates his people” – Tom Schreiner.
  • This activity is in the “the dynamic sense of ‘establishing right’” – Douglas Moo.


This view accepts that the individual has a new status, but says that is not enough – Schreiner.

  • It says that God’s righteousness is the active transforming of all His creation.


In other words, God is actively “righteousing” creation.

  • God is inaugurating a new reality – D.A. Carson.
    • A Kingdom of God reality.
  • This is why the Gospel has power to transform.

God’s righteousness then, is all of God’s saving work and activity – calling, regeneration, promise fulfilling, covenant faithfulness, status giving, etc.


N.T. Wright might help us here.

  • He calls the righteousness of God “God’s covenant justice”.
  • And frames it around God’s covenant faithfulness – a divine activity.


Wright says…

“God’s covenant with Abraham was always intended as the means by which the creator God would rescue the whole world from evil, corruption and death. God intends to keep to this purpose and this promise, so that he can bring his restorative justice to the whole world. That is, in the end, what ‘God’s righteousness’ or ‘God’s justice’ means. I have translated the word as ‘God’s covenant justice’ here in order to hold all these ideas together. As it’s one of the central themes in the letter, it’s vital that we get it straight” – N.T. Wright.


He then applies this idea to our text.

“When the gospel of Jesus is announced, then, Paul declares that through it we can see at last how God’s ‘justice’, his ‘covenant faithfulness’, or in older language his ‘righteousness’, have been unveiled. This is how God has put the world to rights, declares the gospel message about Jesus, and this is how God will put you to rights as well!” – N.T. Wright.


Summing up this view with respect to our text…

  • Paul is asserting that the gospel reveals the saving, transforming activity of God through the fulfillment of His OT promises in Christ.
  • Something far more than just the giving of a new status.


This makes even more sense given the parallel in verse 18.

  • Paul says, “the wrath of God is revealed…
  • The wrath of God is clearly not a gift, but a divine activity of God involving judgment, etc.
  • Likewise, God’s righteousness is a divine activity breaking into the world and setting it right.



Which One:

The forensic view, as we said, seems overly reductionist.

  • It constrains the “righteousness of God” to be only that which revolves around humans and their individual salvation.
  • It confines it to the concept of justification.
  • And it doesn’t appear to account for the OT’s use of God’s righteousness.


The transformative view seems to better accommodate the entire scope of the “righteousness of God“.

  • Douglas Moo puts it like this…

The transformative view, i.e., “God’s saving activity—receives strongest support [from the OT]. When ‘righteousness’ is attributed to God, it has this meaning more than any other; and it is God’s ‘righteousness’ in this sense—a saving, vindicating intervention of God—that the prophets say will characterize the eschatological deliverance of God’s people” – Doug Moo.

  • He goes on to say, “we would expect this notion of saving activity to be included when he announces the revelation of ‘the righteousness of God’” – Doug Moo.


And yet, Moo and Schreiner, at the end of the day, say both.

“Could we not take ‘righteousness of God’ here to include both God’s activity of ‘making right’—saving, vindicating—and the status of those who are so made right, in a relational sense that bridges the divine and the human?” – Douglas Moo.

  • Answer – Yes!


So what is the relationship of the “righteousness of God” to faith/faithfulness?



Revealed From Faith For Faith (vs. 17):

The Greek in verse 17 is “ek pisteos eis pistis”.

  • It literally means “out of” or “from” faith “into” or “unto” faith.


There is a lot of debate over the meaning of this text.

  • This is why there are some interesting differences between translations.
  • The NET says “revealed in the gospel from faith to faith”.
  • The NIV says “is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last”.
  • The NLT says “is accomplished from start to finish by faith”.


Both Schreiner and Moo discount most attempts to understand this text.

  • Some examples of what they see as failed attempts are…
  • “From the faith of the OT to the faith of the NT; from the faith of the law to the faith of the gospel; from the faith of the preachers to the faith of the hearers; from the faith of the present to the faith of the future; from the faith of words we hear now to the faith that we will possess what the words promise; from the faithfulness of God to the faith of human beings; from the faithfulness of Christ to the faith of human beings; from smaller to greater faith; from faith as the ground to faith as the goal” – Tom Schreiner.


Because of all the diversity Schreiner advises caution.

  • “The radical diversity of interpretations in a phrase containing ambiguity should give us pause” – Tom Schreiner.


Schreiner and Moo opt for what they see as the simplest interpretation.

  • “The [phrase] is rhetorical and is intended to emphasize that faith and ‘nothing but faith’ [as opposed to works] can put us into right relationship with God” – Douglas Moo.
  • The phrase simply declares that “the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel by means of human faith” – Schreiner.


This “simpler” view, then, emphasizes human faith.

  • The NIV picks up on this view.
  • Romans 1:17 (NIV) — 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith [whose faith? – our faith] from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”


However, there was one view sandwiched within Schreiner’s list that is advocated by N.T. Wright.

  • The view – that the phrase means “from the faithfulness of God to the faith of human beings”.
  • This view emphasizes God’s faithfulness and the necessity that we be part of it.


The following question highlights the value of this view.

When one is dependent upon the righteousness of God to be put right – both His divine activity and His giving status – upon whose faith do we count on to consummate the whole deal – God’s or ours?


BTW – This reminds me of Jesus’s statement in John 2 to unbelievers.

  • He said He did not entrust Himself to them.
  • If you are not the part of God’s faithfulness expressed in Christ you are doomed.


N.T. Wright spell is out for us.

  • Paul is telling us “to have faith in [God’s] faithfulness” – God’s divine activity.
  • Something God Himself advocated throughout the OT every time He reminded Israel that He brought them out of Egypt.


For Wright, the phrase plays out like this.

  • The “from faith” is God’s “faithfulness [revealed] in Jesus to the promises he made long ago” – N.T. Wright.
  • The “to faith” is the faith and trust we have in God and His divine activity – His righteousness; His faithfulness; His Son.


The two go together like this:

“God has been faithful to his purposes and promises; if you want to benefit from this, you must have an answering faithfulness, that ‘believing obedience’ he spoke of in verse 5” – N.T. Wright.


Paul’s use of Habakkuk, Wright suggests, bears this out.

  • “Habakkuk…was faced with a great catastrophe coming on Israel and had to learn to hold on and trust God, to have faith in his faithfulness” – N.T. Wright.


D.A. Carson’s view of Habakkuk seems to back up Wright’s take:

“Paul sees the call of the Lord upon the prophet to ‘live’ by the Lord’s faithfulness in the face of the Babylonian invasion as a pattern of the Lord’s saving work (or type) that has come to fulfillment in the gospel, which imparts faith in the face of the eschatological wrath of God, which is already present in the world” – D.A. Carson.


Carson fleshes this out further.

“The ‘faithfulness’ of which Habakkuk writes is the faithfulness of the Lord to fulfill the promise of salvation given in the ‘vision’ [vision from Habakkuk 2:2]” – D.A. Carson.

  • Carson even translates the Habakkuk text…
  • “But the righteous one shall live by the faithfulness of the vision/Yahweh” – D.A. Carson.


Carson sums it up like this:

  • The believer “participates in the Gospel” by faith – Carson.


In other words, we participate in God’s faithfulness (His activity) by our faith!

  • The focus, then, is on God’s faith/faithfulness!
  • Carson and Wright don’t agree on much, but they seem to agree on this.




Paul, setting up the rest of Romans, has thus far declared in his letter…


Jesus is the Son of God.

  • This means that the standing before God of both Jew and Gentile depend on being joined to God’s Son.
  • And, to what God is doing in history through His Son.
  • For only in Him do we find the ultimate expression of both Israel’s faithfulness to God and God’s faithfulness to Israel.


Moreover, it has always been (see OT) that God’s divine activity – His righteousness…

  • Consists of both God’s faithfulness and promise keeping.
  • And that we can count on the promises of God through Christ because of God’s faithfulness.
    • A faithfulness we are joined to/participate in by our faith.
  • So that those who receive the revealed righteousness of God – His divine activity – by faith are given a free gift of alien righteousness – a righteousness that is not ours.
  • So in God’s law court they are justified; they are found not guilty – an act that is itself evidence of God’s faithfulness.
  • So the Gospel is primarily about God and His faithfulness – not about us, ours and going to heaven.