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Romans 3:21-31

Context
3:21 But now 1  apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) 2  has been disclosed – 3:22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ 3  for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 3:24 But they are justified 4  freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 3:25 God publicly displayed 5  him 6  at his death 7  as the mercy seat 8  accessible through faith. 9  This was to demonstrate 10  his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 11  3:26 This was 12  also to demonstrate 13  his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just 14  and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness. 15 

3:27 Where, then, is boasting? 16  It is excluded! By what principle? 17  Of works? No, but by the principle of faith! 3:28 For we consider that a person 18  is declared righteous by faith apart from the works of the law. 19  3:29 Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles too? Yes, of the Gentiles too! 3:30 Since God is one, 20  he will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 3:31 Do we then nullify 21  the law through faith? Absolutely not! Instead 22  we uphold the law.

1 tn Νυνὶ δέ (Nuni de, “But now”) could be understood as either (1) logical or (2) temporal in force, but most recent interpreters take it as temporal, referring to a new phase in salvation history.

2 tn Grk “being witnessed by the law and the prophets,” a remark which is virtually parenthetical to Paul’s argument.

3 tn Or “faith in Christ.” A decision is difficult here. Though traditionally translated “faith in Jesus Christ,” an increasing number of NT scholars are arguing that πίστις Χριστοῦ (pisti" Cristou) and similar phrases in Paul (here and in v. 26; Gal 2:16, 20; 3:22; Eph 3:12; Phil 3:9) involve a subjective genitive and mean “Christ’s faith” or “Christ’s faithfulness” (cf., e.g., G. Howard, “The ‘Faith of Christ’,” ExpTim 85 [1974]: 212-15; R. B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ [SBLDS]; Morna D. Hooker, “Πίστις Χριστοῦ,” NTS 35 [1989]: 321-42). Noteworthy among the arguments for the subjective genitive view is that when πίστις takes a personal genitive it is almost never an objective genitive (cf. Matt 9:2, 22, 29; Mark 2:5; 5:34; 10:52; Luke 5:20; 7:50; 8:25, 48; 17:19; 18:42; 22:32; Rom 1:8; 12; 3:3; 4:5, 12, 16; 1 Cor 2:5; 15:14, 17; 2 Cor 10:15; Phil 2:17; Col 1:4; 2:5; 1 Thess 1:8; 3:2, 5, 10; 2 Thess 1:3; Titus 1:1; Phlm 6; 1 Pet 1:9, 21; 2 Pet 1:5). On the other hand, the objective genitive view has its adherents: A. Hultgren, “The Pistis Christou Formulations in Paul,” NovT 22 (1980): 248-63; J. D. G. Dunn, “Once More, ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ,” SBL Seminar Papers, 1991, 730-44. Most commentaries on Romans and Galatians usually side with the objective view.

sn ExSyn 116, which notes that the grammar is not decisive, nevertheless suggests that “the faith/faithfulness of Christ is not a denial of faith in Christ as a Pauline concept (for the idea is expressed in many of the same contexts, only with the verb πιστεύω rather than the noun), but implies that the object of faith is a worthy object, for he himself is faithful.” Though Paul elsewhere teaches justification by faith, this presupposes that the object of our faith is reliable and worthy of such faith.

4 tn Or “declared righteous.” Grk “being justified,” as a continuation of the preceding clause. Because of the length and complexity of the Greek sentence, a new sentence was started here in the translation.

5 tn Or “purposed, intended.”

6 tn Grk “whom God publicly displayed.” Because of the length and complexity of the Greek sentence, a new sentence was started here in the translation.

7 tn Grk “in his blood.” The prepositional phrase ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι (ejn tw aujtou {aimati) is difficult to interpret. It is traditionally understood to refer to the atoning sacrifice Jesus made when he shed his blood on the cross, and as a modifier of ἱλαστήριον (Jilasthrion). This interpretation fits if ἱλαστήριον is taken to refer to a sacrifice. But if ἱλαστήριον is taken to refer to the place where atonement is made as this translation has done (see note on the phrase “mercy seat”), this interpretation of ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι creates a violent mixed metaphor. Within a few words Paul would switch from referring to Jesus as the place where atonement was made to referring to Jesus as the atoning sacrifice itself. A viable option which resolves this problem is to see ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι as modifying the verb προέθετο (proeqeto). If it modifies the verb, it would explain the time or place in which God publicly displayed Jesus as the mercy seat; the reference to blood would be a metaphorical way of speaking of Jesus’ death. This is supported by the placement of ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι in the Greek text (it follows the noun, separated from it by another prepositional phrase) and by stylistic parallels with Rom 1:4. This is the interpretation the translation has followed, although it is recognized that many interpreters favor different options and translations. The prepositional phrase has been moved forward in the sentence to emphasize its connection with the verb, and the referent of the metaphorical language has been specified in the translation. For a detailed discussion of this interpretation, see D. P. Bailey, “Jesus As the Mercy Seat: The Semantics and Theology of Paul’s Use of Hilasterion in Romans 3:25” (Ph.D. diss., University of Cambridge, 1999).

8 tn The word ἱλαστήριον (Jilasthrion) may carry the general sense “place of satisfaction,” referring to the place where God’s wrath toward sin is satisfied. More likely, though, it refers specifically to the “mercy seat,” i.e., the covering of the ark where the blood was sprinkled in the OT ritual on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). This term is used only one other time in the NT: Heb 9:5, where it is rendered “mercy seat.” There it describes the altar in the most holy place (holy of holies). Thus Paul is saying that God displayed Jesus as the “mercy seat,” the place where propitiation was accomplished. See N. S. L. Fryer, “The Meaning and Translation of Hilasterion in Romans 3:25,” EvQ 59 (1987): 99-116, who concludes the term is a neuter accusative substantive best translated “mercy seat” or “propitiatory covering,” and D. P. Bailey, “Jesus As the Mercy Seat: The Semantics and Theology of Paul’s Use of Hilasterion in Romans 3:25” (Ph.D. diss., University of Cambridge, 1999), who argues that this is a direct reference to the mercy seat which covered the ark of the covenant.

9 tn The prepositional phrase διὰ πίστεως (dia pistew") here modifies the noun ἱλαστήριον (Jilasthrion). As such it forms a complete noun phrase and could be written as “mercy-seat-accessible-through-faith” to emphasize the singular idea. See Rom 1:4 for a similar construction. The word “accessible” is not in the Greek text but has been supplied to clarify the idea expressed by the prepositional phrase (cf. NRSV: “effective through faith”).

10 tn Grk “for a demonstration,” giving the purpose of God’s action in v. 25a. Because of the length and complexity of the Greek sentence, a new sentence was started here in the translation.

11 tn Grk “because of the passing over of sins previously committed in the forbearance of God.”

12 tn The words “This was” have been repeated from the previous verse to clarify that this is a continuation of that thought. Because of the length and complexity of the Greek sentence, a new sentence was started here in the translation.

13 tn Grk “toward a demonstration,” repeating and expanding the purpose of God’s action in v. 25a.

14 tn Or “righteous.”

15 tn Or “of the one who has faith in Jesus.” See note on “faithfulness of Jesus Christ” in v. 22 for the rationale behind the translation “Jesus’ faithfulness.”

16 tn Although a number of interpreters understand the “boasting” here to refer to Jewish boasting, others (e.g. C. E. B. Cranfield, “‘The Works of the Law’ in the Epistle to the Romans,” JSNT 43 [1991]: 96) take the phrase to refer to all human boasting before God.

17 tn Grk “By what sort of law?”

18 tn Here ἄνθρωπον (anqrwpon) is used in an indefinite and general sense (BDAG 81 s.v. ἄνθρωπος 4.a.γ).

19 tn See the note on the phrase “works of the law” in Rom 3:20.

20 tn Grk “but if indeed God is one.”

21 tn Grk “render inoperative.”

22 tn Grk “but” (Greek ἀλλά, alla).



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