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For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” [Romans 1:17]

When I read from “faith to faith” I thought it was a temporal statement (i.e. from law to grace—the faith once delivered). But I have read three commentaries on Romans (not just for this question but just in general because it is my favorite epistle) and no one so far has mentioned that it is a temporal statement. Am I totally off the mark? Could there be no transitional temporal meaning to the phrase “from faith to faith?”

  • True faith was always a requirement even under the Law which was the true faith of its time. The Jews were warned not to believe in their own righteousness even in the Old Covenant. Which is why I believe Paul quotes Hab 2:4 – Aaron Nutt Mar 14 '16 at 4:52
  • I think it's a Greek Idiom which does not communicate at all when translated literally like that into English. – curiousdannii Mar 14 '16 at 7:53
  • @curiousdannii If you know of such an idiom, I'd be curious. AFAIK it's not been terribly clear to anybody what it means. The only NT parallel (again AFAIK) is also Pauline, 2 Cor. 2:16: οἷς μὲν ὀσμὴ ἐκ θανάτου εἰς θάνατον, οἷς δὲ ὀσμὴ ἐκ ζωῆς εἰς ζωήν ("to those a fragrance from death to death, to the others a fragrance from life to life.'"). – Susan Mar 16 '16 at 1:09
  • @Susan There's also 'hope upon hope' in Rom 4. Maybe it's more of a favourite Pauline structure than an idiom. – curiousdannii Mar 16 '16 at 1:10
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    @curiousdannii Two different prepositions + cases (παρ᾿ ἐλπίδα ἐπ᾿ ἐλπίδι vs. ἐκ [gen] εἰς [acc]). (But agreed that he likes to repeat words for rhetorical purposes!) – Susan Mar 16 '16 at 1:18
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To me, the Epistle to the Romans is a job application, albeit an unsolicited one. Paul spends the first chapter winning the trust of the Romans, assuring them that he would fit into their group. Paul begins with a lengthy opening address no doubt designed to impress the Roman Christians that he was, at the same time, sincere and unassuming, and that his teachings about Jesus Christ were in accordance with their own. Paul hopes to preach in Rome for a while (1:15), and needs their acceptance. Romans chapter 15 is an assurance that the stopover will be brief and that he does not intend to step on any toes, before proceeding to Spain. In this regard:

Romans 15:14: And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.

In this context, what follows should not be interpreted as Paul writing something to the Romans that they did not already know. Although he had never met the Christians of Rome, he knew they already had faith in Jesus and already believed the gospel. He wanted to show them that he was on the same page.

In verse 16, Paul says he is not ashamed to proclaim the gospel, which he tells the Romans is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: Jew first, and then Greek (Gentile). Verse 1:17 then echoes Habakkuk 2:4 (and possibly Psalm 98), concluding with the citation from Habakkuk 2:4, in Romans 1:17b:

Romans 1:17b: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

Matthew Poole says this apostle seems to delight in repetitions such as as 'from faith to faith', and there is an elegancy in them. He says the words are variously interpreted and gives two examples:

  • from the faith of the Old Testament to the faith of the New
  • from a lesser faith to a greater; not noting two faiths, but one and the same faith increasing to perfection.

To extrapolate from Poole's commentary, some theologians are merely speculating as to the meaning of this phrase, seeking to find in it something that suits their own theology.

Steve Moyise makes a reasonable point in 'Quotations', published in As It Is Written, page 21, that it is extremely unlikely that Paul first formulated his gospel as the revelation of God's righteousness 'of' or 'from' faith and only later discovered that Hab 2:4 is the only text in the whole of scripture to make such a connection. It is much more likely that Paul began with the Habakkuk text and formulated his doctrine accordingly.

That being the case we can say that, to a significant extent, Paul's message is defined not by Habakkuk's message, but by Habakkuk's words, which Paul paraphrases but can only change so much. And because Paul did not start from an an intended statement that he found Habakkuk supported, but started from Habakkuk, we should not read too much into how he used words, but keep our focus on the broader message.

Moyise (ibid, page 18) says that, since Paul is introducing himself to the Roman church, he cites a text that he knows (or thinks he knows) will be common ground, and in this way he will gain their confidence. He has deftly altered the meaning of Habakkuk's words and mingled his own words with those of Habakkuk in order to give the impression that Habakkuk means what Paul means.

The precise meaning, as intended by Paul, of "from faith to faith" is obscure, and perhaps that is how Paul intended to leave it. If Matthew Poole is correct when he says Paul delighted in repetitions like this one, then Paul was using this particular construct because it delighted him. More broadly, he wanted to talk about faith, and he wanted to demonstrate that his teachings were well grounded in scripture by citing a passage that would resonate with the Romans.

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Not sure what commentaries you looked at. But you're in good company with Calvin, who seems to indicate a clear temporal sense in the phrase "from faith unto faith":

The more our knowledge of true religion increases, we see the grace of God with greater clarity and more familiarity, as though He were coming nearer to us. ... [This phrase] marks the daily progress of every believer.1

Charles Hodge interprets it more as an intensification of "by faith" (but notice his rather tentative "may mean"):

As "death unto death" and "life unto life" are intensive, so "faith unto faith" may mean, entirely of faith.2

Haldane is of a different opinion, that the meaning is neither temporal nor emphatic (primarily), but an elliptical statement, that is, missing some words which could've been repeated but weren't, which when inserted yield a clear meaning (highlighted below). He also presents a nice catalog of others' interpretations:

Some explain it as signifying from the faith of the Old Testament to the faith of the New; some, from one degree of faith to another; some, from the faith of the Jew to the faith of the Gentile; and others, altogether of faith. The expression is evidently elliptical; and in order to understand it, it is necessary to observe that the literal rendering is not ‘from faith to faith,’ but ‘by faith to faith.’ The same words in the original are thus translated in the same verse: ‘The just shall live by faith.’ The meaning, then, is, the righteousness which is by faith, namely, which is received by faith, is revealed to faith, or in order to be believed. This is entirely constant with what the Apostle says in ch. 3:22, where he reverts to the subject, and announces that the righteousness of God, which is by, or through, faith of Jesus Christ, is unto all and upon all them that believe.3

I don't think Haldane is totally rejecting the temporal sense. You are free to interpret the verse both ways, as the Spirit leads.


1 John Calvin, The Epistles of Romans and Thessalonians, 1539, trans. Ross Mackenzie in 1884, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), p.28.

2 Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 1886, (Ann Arbor: Cushing-Malloy, 1953), p.32.

3 Robt. Haldane, Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, 1874, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1958), p.49.

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Aaron Nutt:

I'm not sure what you mean - precisely - by "transitional temporal meaning". I believe there can be no doubt that a transition of some kind is being conveyed. A "from-to" formulation of any set of nouns necessarily implies transition.

But when I read Romans 1:17, I immediately think of Psalm 84:7; 2 Corinthians 3:16-18; and 2 Corinthians 2:16. The idea of an increasing measure is the most obvious meaning in each case. In all of these passages, the Scripture seems to speak of growth and movement resulting in, respectively, more and more faith [with an accompanying experiential awareness ("revelation") of the righteousness that results from this growing faith], and more and more strength, glory, spiritual death and spiritual life.

In the broader context of Romans (thinking of Abraham as the father of those who believe), a growing faith is the kind of faith Paul has in mind. In Romans 4:21 and 22, Paul writes that Abraham "did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith". "Therefore", Paul states, "faith was credited to him as righteousness."

In short the temporal transition, "from faith to faith", seems to be one of increasing faith and an increasing experience of God's righteousness.

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There is temporal aspect to faith:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 NKJV)

Faith is the evidence of things not seen. Once the thing hoped for is realized, it is reality and no longer requires faith.

Consider the example of Abram:

Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you...(Genesis 12:1 NKJV)

Abram had not seen the land yet he had faith and left Haran. When the LORD showed him the land Abram no longer needed faith. Before seeing the land Abram could only rely on his hope; eventually he could use a map.

There were additional things the LORD told Abram:

I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3 NKJV)

In those Abram still hoped. God’s work was and is progressive. As one part is accomplished and seen or experienced, reality replaces faith in that part.

The LORD worked in Abram’s life and God was revealed from faith to faith.

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I think that the phrase "from faith to faith" may well be transitional in quite another sense. Can I first refer to Romans 3:21,22 where Paul talks about God's righteousness being revealed [in the gospel] which is "given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe" [NIV] with footnotes suggesting an alternative: "through the faithfulness of Jesus". Here, sadly our English vocabulary lets us down - faith = Greek pistis; believe = Greek pisteuo the endings being the difference between the noun and the verb. So the NIV has Paul saying "through (a person's) faith (in Jesus) to all who have faith (in Jesus)" - I think not! - the alternative is clearly the better - "through the faithfulness of Jesus to all who are faithful (to Jesus)". Here, I think is the transition - our faithfulness is a response to His.

Having made the first "faith" of Rom. 1:17 that of Jesus, I need to address the question: 'in what sense is Jesus (and are we to be) faithful?'. In 1:17 "from faith to faith" is in reference to the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel. NT Wright suggests that God's righteousness is His unswerving commitment to uphold His covenant with His people and indeed with His creation (to honour His word). So in Rom. 1:17 the gospel reveals God's righteousness in that He finally moves to make the covenant work - not only from His side [which it has always done] but from humanity's, by doing for us what we couldn't do for ourselves - uphold the covenant - which is what faithful Jesus has done. We, on our part, can partake of that covenant faithfulness of Jesus by being faithful to Him - declaring our allegiance to Him as King [Messiah (Hebrew) = Christ (Greek) = God's anointed king] and hence our representative [and substitute].

  • This answer has English composition problems. It is unstructured and hard to follow. Please try to re-write it in three or maybe four separate short paragraphs, each with a leading sentence and two or three supporting sentences that express one idea per paragraph. There should be a logical sequence to the paragraphs leading to a final summary paragraph that clearly answers the OP's question. It is not clear to me in what sense you are using the word "transitional". Transitional from what to what? – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Sep 4 '18 at 16:46
  • Thank you for your helpful comments. I have created a second paragraph to distinguish the transition issue from an explanation of "faithfulness" and then restructured the second paragraph to make a better fist of that explanation. – Ralph Sep 8 '18 at 2:35
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Romans 1:17 (NA28) δικαιοσύνη γὰρ θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ ἀποκαλύπτεται ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν καθὼς γέγραπται ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται.

(My translation) For in it the righteousness of God is revealed by faith unto faith, just as it is written: But the righteous man shall live by faith.

We should allow St. Paul to explain his own meaning. He quotes a passage directly supporting his claim that God's righteousness is revealed in the gospel ἐκ πίστεως (by faith). Here, St. Paul seems to be quoting from the Hebrew rather than the Greek:

He quotes from Habakkuk 2:4:

(WLC) הנה עפלה לא־ישרה נפשו בו וצדיק באמונתו יחיה׃

(My translation) Behold the proud man: his soul is not right within him: but the righteous man shall live by his faith.

(The 'his' in 'his faith' is more of a Hebraism/peculiarity of Hebrew than a real difference in quotation, in my estimation, and is merely a tool for emphasis in contrasting the wicked and the righteous in the Hebrew.)

Here in the Hebrew, the meaning is clear: the righteous man shall live according to, by, and in his faith, thus leading to the uprightness of the soul, unlike the proud and unbelieving.

In another passage in the New Testament, however, the author of Hebrews quotes from the LXX tradition for this passage.

Hebrew 1:36-38 (ASV) For ye have need of patience, that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. But my righteous one shall live by faith: And if he shrink back, my soul hath no pleasure in him.

The bolded portions are features only of the LXX tradition. (In addition, the author of Hebrews freely swaps the clauses centered around the semicolon to flow better for his argument.)

So now we have two passages citing this verse and "by faith," whose meaning is thus clear: living by faith is in contrast to shrinking back, in contrast to being proud, in contrast to now having an upright state of the soul. It means living according to faith: being "doers of the word, and not hearers only" (Jas 1:22).

So what does the righteousness of God being revealed "by faith" mean? That living righteously, and thus reflecting God's righteousness, reveals God's righteousness to the world. And this is conducive to faith ("unto faith") in others and in an increase in those already in possession of it.

  • I can't seem to locate it in the history here but at one point I believe I raised the question whether the phrase "shall live" means "shall be made alive" or "conduct one's affairs" and the answer came back that it means "shall be made alive". Can you please check on that because if I'm correct it gives a different interpretation from what you are presenting. Without looking I'm pretty certain that Paul was NOT hoping to suggest that "righteous conduct" was the means of either life or justification. For Paul, faith stands alone and those baptized by the spirit into Christ are "complete in him" – Ruminator Sep 10 '18 at 14:18
  • Righteous conduct wouldn't be the means here anyway (no more than the choice to accept Jesus is the 'means' of salvation), but definitional to true faith. Paul condemns that view of righteousness of man being BY MEANS OF his good deeds. Here he would be saying you don't truly have the means (faith) if you aren't conducting yourself righteously.Hence, "and if he [the righteous living by his faith] shall shrink back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him." Faith in God's eyes is only faith when you persevere in it and live according to that profession: "faith, if it hath not works, is dead." – Sola Gratia Sep 10 '18 at 14:31
  • Also, Galatians 3:12 is in a very similar context and usage of language, in fact it's the exact same subject spoken of here, and it says: "And the Law is not ἐκ [according to, based on, of] faith; on the contrary: He that does these things shall live by them." Clearly, this verb doesn't mean 'shall be made alive by God' but rather 'by means of the works he procures life before God'—and of course no one can, is Paul's argument. Hence faith and access to the mercy that comes only by grace and which is incompatible with the perfect keeping of the Law. – Sola Gratia Sep 10 '18 at 14:36
  • You wrote: "So what does the faith of God being revealed "by faith" mean? That living righteously, and thus reflecting God's righteousness, reveals God's righteousness to the world." This is tangential but the "revealing" is, as I understand it, that which is revealed by God - that faith stands alone apart from works. I don't think the idea that he means "is displayed". – Ruminator Sep 10 '18 at 14:42
  • You're certainly entitled to differ. Also, thanks for catching the typo. In my understanding, the wrath of God is made known to us in that God has left these godless men to wicked devices and perversities. Similarly, the righteousness of God is made known through his saints and what he does for them through faith in Him. – Sola Gratia Sep 10 '18 at 14:46
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I see no need for idioms, figures of speech, allusions to ages, etc. The phrase can be interpreted from context quite literally. (I'm not saying there is no idiomatic sense, etc., only that it can be read quite literally and it makes sense, not requiring resorting to idiom). In such a case, and with no extant examples of an idiom, I lean toward a literal reading when available. "beginning with faith and ending with faith". That is, this is a faith without works and not works without faith nor a faith plus works.

Many try to forego faith, preferring to suggest that God will justify even apart from faith. This is the characteristic of some modern Calvinists. Many go beyond faith. They add works of various kinds to faith. Catholics will argue that faith without works is dead, misapplying James. Paul is saying that the correct scope in the new dispensation is beginning from faith and ending at faith, or, "from faith to faith". "Starting from faith and ending at faith":

NIV Galatians 3:3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?

The incredible simplicity of the statement obscures the profundity. Justification without religious activities? Completely? Yes; completely. Justification is a matter of receiving a gift (Faith is not a "work"). Those who say that faith is not required err on the "no faith" side while those who require water baptism, keeping the 10 commandments and "transubstantiation communion" err by going beyond faith. "Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God".

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Nothing beats reading and understanding the original koine Greek.

δικαιοσυνη γαρ θεου εν αυτω αποκαλυπτεται εκ πιστεως εις πιστιν

  • collective-rightness of god is enclosed/revealed out-of belief into belief.

[δικαιοσυνη] is an interesting word. Doing right together. This word and its various declensions, translated as "righteousness" or "justice", used throughout Christian scriptures, suggest that the concept of "personal salvation" is a modern evangelical invention. If so, for a bible-fundamentalist, there is no such thing as "personal salvation".

The derivation of apocalypse [αποκαλυψις] is also interesting. How does a word from its components would mean "by covering", get to become the meaning "reveal"? Perhaps, the word actually originally meant "broadcast" or mass-cast.

[εκ πιστεως εις πιστιν] out of belief into belief. Would that phrase need further "revelation"? From bounds to bounds. Gradually, from white belt graduate into yellow belt. From primary school 1, into primary 2, into middle school, into junior, into senior.

I am not much of a Christianity "theologist", but the language suggests

The collective-rightness of god is mass-proffered graduating from levels of belief into levels of belief.

The Hebrew word [אמונה] EMUNaH is from the root word [אמן] AMN, which connotes agreement. [אמונה] EMUNaH means trust and confidence.

There is no such thing as "personal salvation" as far as the Bible, whether Christian or Jewish sections, is concerned. It takes a village to work together to achieve salvation, graduating from levels to levels of communal trust and confidence.

For one is made collectively right not by effort alone, but by alignment with the communal agreement in trust and confidence.

  • "There is no such thing as 'personal salvation' as far as the Bible... is concerned." That's your opinion - fair enough. I do get what you're trying to say, but there are more than a few passages which disagree with you: Acts 22:16 Paul washes away 'his' sins; 1 Cor 3:15 The man who builds poorly is 'saved', but only barely; 1 Cor 5:5 Expel an individual so that he may be 'saved'. Acts 8:26-40 An individual Ethiopian is saved. Yes the communal aspect is the primary one, but there is definitely an individual aspect in the NT. – Steve Taylor Mar 16 '16 at 9:43
  • @Blessed Geek απο is a preposition used to indicate a starting point, which is why it is often translated "from". So, according to the components, αποκαλυψις literally means "from [a place of] cover", which is why you end up with "reveal". – enegue Mar 21 '16 at 4:11

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