Author: Kevin George
This book is a work in progress. Posts on this blog are to enable readers to examine the manuscript and make commentary. These blog posts are NOT the final version!
The book of Romans is the primary source for the framework used to support the Penal Substitutionary doctrine, and much of this is being done by redefining words to have a unique theological meaning, or by word-phrase rearrangements, word additions, and translation obfuscation. We see some of this in the very first chapter.
Romans 1:16-17 “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.”
The primary problem in these two verses relates to the Greek word “ek” (sometimes “ex”), Strongs 1537, which means “out”, “out from”, or “out of”. The word “by” is often used in translations and is ambiguous at best. Even the “Helps Word-Studies” section of BibleHub.com admits that, “ek (“out of”) is one of the most under-translated (and therefore mis-translated) Greek propositions – often being confined to the meaning “by.”” The word “by” is less precise and even sloppy when compared to the Greek text because it can be made to mean various things such as, for example, when “The righteous shall live by faith” can become “The righteous should live by having faith” or, “The righteous shall live by being faithful” or, “God considers you righteous if you have faith”, and no doubt other creative meanings. Sloppy translating has consequences!
When reading the word “ek” in Romans 1:17 we can see that the righteous gospel, if believed, moves people from being “ek”, out, or outside of the faith, to being into [eis] the faith. Most translations use the phrase, “from faith to faith”, which is ambiguous and confusing. At least this is not a serious translation error, not nearly as dangerous as what we find in the next the phrase, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
In verse 17, when Paul writes, “The righteous shall live by faith”, he is using a phrase which comes from Habakkuk 2:4, an Old Testament passage that is also used in Galatians 2:16, 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38 (copied below). The passage in Habakkuk is, “Look at the proud one; his soul is not upright—but the righteous will live by [Gr. ek] faith—“Habakkuk 2:4 NASB. The Greek word “ek” means “out”, “out from”, or “out of”. So Habakkuk is saying that “the righteous will live out from faith.” This means that faith is what produces righteous living. Faith is the cause, the reason, the basis for righteous living. Genuine, living, active faith in a righteous God will lead to living right. This righteousness is lived, so it is not something that is external or extrinsic, it is not a magical cloak that prevents God from seeing our sin, and it is not transferred to us or to our celestial credit bank account. In short, righteous beliefs generate righteous living. It is not complicated at all, and requires no legal training in forensic judicial concepts that are used in PSA teaching.
Nearly all Bible translations have both Habakkuk and Paul as saying, “The righteous shall live by faith.” This is not a minor problem because Paul’s primary theme in Romans is premised upon this one statement, (at least with regard to atonement, justification, and salvation). But it is not just Paul and not just in Romans. Peter speaks the same way, using the same concepts in Acts 10:35,43, and John does also in 1 John 3:3-9, 5:4. The teaching of the apostles is that we believe in a righteous God, and this belief changes people’s reasoning from wrong to right. The true faith causes believers to be corrected, rectified, from living sinfully to living righteously. We are “set right” due to our faith, which is the literal meaning of the word “justify”. That is why both Habakkuk and Paul state, “The righteous out from [“ek”] faith will live.” Or paraphrased, “Those who are righteous will live according their faith” or, “…by means of their faith.” The principle is simply that active, living faith will produce righteous living.
Verse 17 could be more literally translated as, “For the righteousness of God in it is revealed: [from being] outside of faith, [then] into faith. As it has been written, “And the righteous out from faith will live.””
Other passages which use this same or nearly the same Romans 1:17 phraseology are:
“What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by [ek] faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by [ek] faith, but as if it were based on [ex] works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone.” Romans 9:30-32
“Yet we know that a person is not justified by [ex] works of the law but through [dia] faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by [ek] faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by [ek] works of the law no one will be justified.” Galatians 2:16
“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by [dia] the law, for “The righteous shall live by [ek] faith.” 12 But the law is not of [ek] faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by [en] them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through [dia] faith.” Galatians 3:11-14
“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38 but my righteous one shall live by [ek] faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” Hebrews 10:36-39
The passage and translation analysis of Romans 1:16-17 is important ground to cover because the primary human example of this will be Abraham in Romans 4, whose active faith is the cause which affected his thinking, leading him into righteousness. It is the same basic concept as what we see here from Paul and Habakkuk, but which is blurred when translators use the word “by” instead of other more precise language that would have minimized this error.
This chapter has one of the clearest anti-Penal Substitution Atonement statements anywhere in the Bible. There are various explanations given in attempts to neuter its plain meaning, but one of the primary rules of hermeneutics (textual interpretation) states, “When the plain sense (of a text) makes sense, seek no other sense.”
Here now is one of the passages that PSA proponents love to hate the most:
Romans 2:5-16 “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. For all [Gentiles] who have sinned without the [Mosaic] law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the [Mosaic] law will be judged by the [Mosaic] law. For it is not the hearers of the [Mosaic] law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the [Mosaic] law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the [Mosaic] law, by nature do what the [Mosaic] law requires, they are a [non-Mosaic] law to themselves, even though they do not have the [Mosaic] law. They show that the work of the [non-Mosaic] law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” [Mosaic] in brackets has been added.
For the sake of brevity, this book will not dissect the entire Romans 2 passage, but only mention points that directly impact PSA.
Notice that the passage makes multiple claims that apply “to each one”, “every human”, “for everyone”, and “for all”. There isn’t the slightest hint of additional missing conditions or limitations. God’s judgment day will come for all, both good and evil, both Jew and Gentile. The good will be rewarded and the evil will be punished. This is no different than what Jesus himself stated in John 5:28-29, “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” Paul is not making any new doctrine here, the only problem is that this doctrine conflicts with Protestant theology that became popular during and since the Reformation. The fact that in Romans 2 verse 6 we read that God “will render to each one according to his works” does not mean God’s grace has no role to play. Paul does not state here that anyone literally earns salvation, thereby making God a debtor to them. No, God will render to each according to their works by being gracious and forgiving toward those who have exercised patience in well-doing (verse 7), and who are known as doers of good (verse 10). God’s gift of grace is still at work, and this grace will be based in large part on their good works which result from their living faith (Ephesians 2:8). But God is under no obligation to favor them, other than the fact that He has promised to reward the good and punish the evil.
This Romans 2 passage does not negate faith. The good works and patience in well-doing is presumed to be being done because the doer believes that God will reward the righteous and punish the wicked. Faith in this case is an active faith, not a mere intellectual, dead faith in a list of doctrines. The good judgment for good works in Romans 2 is “not a result of works [of the Mosaic Law], so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:9-10
PSA claims righteousness is transferred, but in verse 8 we read that people “obey unrighteousness” – the word translated “obey” is the Greek word “peithimenois”, which actually means “being persuaded about”, which of course leads to disobedience in this case. The point to consider here regarding unrighteousness [adikia] is that unrighteousness is not transferred, but rather is something that the doer becomes persuaded about and then obeys. Unrighteousness, just like righteousness, is something that one chooses to obey or disobey; it is never transferred! The verse also states that those who obey unrighteousness “do not obey the truth.” Truth is not something that is transferred either, but must also be sought, accepted, and obeyed.
The Romans 2 passage is plain on its face. God will judge based on works, even though this does not concurrently deny grace and faith. Some objectors will try to throw the entire passage out by quoting Romans 11:6, “if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” However, this quote is taken out of context because the context of Romans 11:6 includes at least verses 1-10 which are about God favoring one people group over another people group for a given function, and it has nothing to do with final judgment or salvation.
The accusation which PSA teachers will often try to bring to refute non-PSA atonement teaching is that every other atonement doctrine seems to result in teaching salvation by works. If any works are involved in salvation, then how much works are needed? They will claim that any works are a denial of faith. But there is no such thing as separating faith and works in real life. You can separate them on paper, like two sides of a coin, heads and tails, but you cannot have a coin with only one of those sides. Even the thief on the cross who believed in the last hours of his life demonstrated his faith by rebuking the other thief who was insulting. Jesus recognized his genuine belief and promised him paradise.
We need to recognize that in Paul’s day of the first Century the doctrinal battle was focused on the works side of the coin because the Jewish believers were used to thinking that salvation was by works of the Torah and their codified Traditions, regardless of living by faith in a personal righteous God. They had made a legal god out of the Mosaic law and their traditions. Today the doctrinal struggle is reversed, where Protestants want to have salvation by faith, but in the complete absence of works, and the only way to do that is to define faith as an intellectual assent, a dead faith, or faith-on-paper with no required works which correspond to that faith. We need to read the faith/works struggle in the Bible with this historical context in mind. In the first Century it was about works-versus-faith, and today it is faith-versus-works. Paul is trying to show that both apply, but he is arguing against the exaggeration of Torah and Tradition works that he faced in his day, so it is easy for us to read his arguments and over-emphasize the other side of the coin which results in distorting what faith means in the Bible.