Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Grace from first to last


For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17 (NRSV)

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17 (NIV)

Study bibles often put headings before sections of scripture to help the reader grasp the intent of the passage. In the New Revised Standard Version, the scripture verses above comprise an entire section that is headed, "The Power of the Gospel." Paul clearly tells us what this power is--"it is for salvation to everyone who has faith."

Paul is exclaiming to the Roman Jews and Gentiles that it is God who brings salvation to everyone. Verse 16 seems to be aimed more at the Gentiles. Any questions that the Roman Jews and Gentiles may have about who is able to receive God's grace is cleared up in this statement. Everyone is the specific individual meaning of all. God's power is so great that it must include each and every one. Paul's next statement seems to contradict the first statement, but it actually only clarifies it. First is an ordinal word. Grace was given to the Jews first only because they came first, much like we love our firstborn child first because he or she came first. First and more are not the same thing, and the Gentiles need to know this. Just because they are second to receive the gospel, they are loved in the same family.

Next, verse 17 seems to be directed more toward the Jewish Christians. The NIV gives a wonderful translation of Paul's idea that it is those who live by faith who will be rendered righteous. And Paul makes it clear to the Jews that it was like this from the beginning, "from first to last"--another ordinal statement. Next, Paul quotes Habakkuk, which would have been familiar to the Jews, and reminds them that righteousness is not by religious ritual, which is only for the privileged Jew, but by faith, which is for every one. In the original Greek, Paul uses a passive progressive tense throughout the verses to remind us that God's salvation through grace is a continual work. This progressive verbiage strengthens the ordinal idea that there is a first and second that is part of the all. This grace continues to work in each generation, and it continues to work in each of our lives.