Posts Tagged ‘Hebrews


imputed active obedience (IAO), a must or a misdirection? (10)

The Bible and IAO.  My intention in the next few posts is to demonstrate that the Bible locates justification in the infinitely valuable death of Christ and his subsequent resurrection without reference to IAO.  Indeed, I hope to show that IAO is not only absent but does not fit as presented into the biblical contours of redemption accomplished.  For me, as I hope for all, the deciding authority in matters of faith is Scripture.  To quote J R W Stott once more,

‘I take it for granted that we will have a text. For we are not speculators but expositors’

And so to the text…


The OT is God’s picture book for the NT.   What God achieves in Christ in the NT is modelled in OT typology and prophecy long before it happens.  God, in the OT, is preparing his people for the Coming of Christ by giving them categories for thinking that will help them make sense of Christ’s person and work.  As we study the OT we discover:

  • IAO creates a distinction missing from the Mosaic juridical system.  IAO assumes the possibility of being acquitted of guilt or innocent without being simultaneously righteous.  The Mosaic Law knows no such distinction.  In the Law, the person who is condemned is guilty (or wicked) while the person acquitted is innocent (or righteous).

Thus we read in Exodus,

Exod 23:6-7 (ESV)
“You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.

Innocence and righteousness are interchangeable.  Different translations use either word.

Deut 25:1 (ESV)

If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent (some translations say, righteous) and condemning the guilty (some translations say, wicked)

The regular categories before the Law (viewed either in terms of a local Court or in terms of covenantal status Cf. Mal 3:18) are simply ‘righteous’ and ‘wicked’.  Proverbs uses these categories 45 times and the Psalms 13.  For example,

Prov 17:15 (ESV)
He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.  (Cf Prov 18:5)

As George Eldon Ladd notes,  “he is righteous who is judged to be in the right” (Ex. 23:7; Deut. 25:1).

Because Paul works within an OT schema and not that of IAO theologies he has no hesitation in asserting that the person (David in Ps 32) whose sin is forgiven, whose guilt is covered, and against whom the Lord does not count sin, is not simply free of guilt, but is justified, is righteous.

Rom 4:5-8 (ESV)
And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:  ​​​​​​​​“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;  ​​​​​​​​blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

To reiterate, the idea that before the Law one may be acquitted of guilt but not  righteous is foreign to OT discourse.  Such ‘distinctions’, the inventions of IAO theologies, are simply that, inventions.   If the Law acquits, the acquitted is righteous.

  • IAO argues the law-keeping obedience of one may be transferred to another.  The OT Law knows nothing of such a concept.

The Law demanded obedience, however, law-keeping obedience was non-transferable.   The law-keeping of one could not cover, replace, outweigh, balance, cancel, or be imputed against the law-breaking of another.  The Law is clear – the one who does it shall live…if a man does them he shall live by them (Lev 18:5; Ezek 18: 5-9; 20:11,13, 20; Gals 3:11; Roms 10:5).   Law-keeping counted only for the individual law-keeper.  In Ezekiel we read,

Ezek 14:13-14 (ESV)

“Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord God.

We look in vain ifor OT vicarious law-keeping.    There is no paradigm for IAO in the Mosaic Covenant.

  • In OT Law, a blood sacrifice, and only a blood sacrifice, could atone for sin, avert judgement, cleanse, bring forgiveness and establish a right relationship with God.

Though a law-keeping life could not act vicariously for another, a death could and did.  The animal sacrificial system educated Israel that atonement for sin lay in blood-sacrifice.  There were five major kinds of offerings in the OC.   Two were non-blood offerings and they could not atone for sin.  Three were blood sacrifices, the burnt offering, sin offering and guilt offering, and these could atone for sin  and establish forgiveness (Lev 1-7).  Atonement for the nation on the annual Day of Atonement involved two goats, one of which had to die.  Atonement, cleansing and acceptance with God depended on a sacrificial death; blood must be shed.  Indeed even inanimate objects, the holy things of the tabernacle, were cleansed by blood.

Lev 16:16 (ESV)
Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.

Thus we read in Hebrews,

Heb 9:22 (ESV)
Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

It is hardly surprising that the Hebrew writer when considering the fulfilment of these OT types (especially the Day of Atonement) writes,

Heb 9:23-28 (ESV)
Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

The Hebrews commentary is highly relevant to the present discussion.  Note, there is no hint of law-keeping on behalf of another.  It is the sacrificial death that is important.  Certainly, the animal that died had to be ‘without blemish’ (Lev 1:3; Ex 12:5).  It must be without defect to be suitable for sacrifice.  In this it foreshadowed the purity and perfection of Christ.  Christ is an efficient sacrifice because of his life of total obedience; ‘he offered himself without blemish to God‘ (Hebs 9:14).  His life gives value to his death – thus his blood is ‘precious’, the blood of ‘a lamb without blemish or spot’ (1 Pet 1:18-19).  But it is the death that atones.  Indeed, it is the death-obedience of Christ that brings supreme glory to God and to Christ (Jn 13:31).  Thus, it is the blood shed that atones; it cleanses impurity (meets a  holy God’s requirement for definitive sanctification, cultic or sanctuary imagery  Lev 16:16,30) and clears guilt (meets a righteous God’s requirement for justification, legal or law-court imagery   Lev 4:17; 6:13; 10:17; 16:16).  God made crystal clear to Israel that blood atones.

Lev 17:10-14 (ESV)
“If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life [many translations say, 'for the soul']. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood… For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.  (Cf Lev 4:26, 31, 35; Matt 26:28; Hebs 13:12; Roms 3:25; 5:9; Acts 20:28; Rev 1:5; 17:14)

Of course, the animal sacrifices offered under Law couldn’t really satisfy God’s holiness in the face of sin.  The sin offering couldn’t really atone for sin.  It couldn’t cleanse or bring forgiveness and righteous acceptance.  Nor could the national sacrifice on the Day of Atonement purify and make the people righteous (Hebs 10:1-4).  The offerer of the sin offering was ‘righteous’ only until his next sin.  The annual Day of Atonement must happen ‘annually’ for each year fresh sin accumulated requiring fresh atonement.  The OT sacrifices could not bring lasting righteousness.  They could not bring ‘perfection‘.  They were, after all, only the involuntary sacrifices of dumb animals.  Only human flesh could atone for human flesh.  Only a voluntary sacrifice by a sinless ‘seed of Abraham’ could atone for ‘Abraham’s seed’ (Hebs 2:9:19; Hebs 10:1-9).  Only Christ’s sacrifice could bring real, complete, lasting forgiveness and acceptance.  His sacrifice alone could perfectly atone.   In the language of Hebrews,

Heb 10:11-14 (ESV)
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Note the argument well, and that of the Hebrews’ quotation above  (9:23:28).  No mention of IAO.  No hint of  a life transferred through divine book-keeping.  Hebrews simply says by  ‘a single sacrifice for sins he has perfected forever‘ his people.  Observe, they are ‘perfected‘ by this sacrifice.  There is no ‘back to probation’ or ‘forgiven but not righteous’, the brain-child of theological systems which treat the sacrifice of Christ as if it were no more effective than the OT sacrifices (revealing the essentially  legalistic thinking of the system). Scripture declares the sacrifice of Christ ‘perfects‘ those who are sanctified by it.  ‘Perfected‘ in Hebrews means, at the very least, already fully suited to live in the direct presence of God (Hebs 10:19) anticipating ‘the good things to come‘ (Hebs 9:12) in the ‘age to come‘ (Hebs 6:5).

The powerful efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice is repeatedly emphasized.  Christ has, ‘ put away sin by the sacrifice of himself‘.  By this ‘once-for-all‘ new covenant sacrifice ‘sins and iniquities will be remembered no more forever’ (Hebs 8:12; 10:17) and ‘where there is forgiveness of these no further offering for sin is required‘ (Hebs 10:17).  Christ has ‘secured eternal redemption‘ by means of ‘his own blood’ (Hebs 9:12). Redemption secured, note again, not by a life transferred but by blood shed; ‘the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God.‘  Hebrews could scarcely be clearer,

Heb 9:15 (ESV)
Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

To argue that without IAO the death of Christ simply puts us back at Adam stacking up fresh sins that will need atoned all over again is to gravely undermine the efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ.  It fails culpably to grasp its infinite worth.  This kind of almost blasphemous misjudgment Paul emphatically did not make.  He bases our righteousness and other blessings we have through the gospel squarely on this sacrifice (Roms 3:21-26).

Rom 5:6-9 (ESV)
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God…

Rom 5:1-2 (ESV)
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

And so, in the Mosaic Covenant, there was only one way to be ‘right with God’ and that was by blood-sacrifice.  The NT makes clear this sacrifice was ultimately the sacrifice of Christ.  In so claiming, the NT was once more simply building on OT revelation.  Isaiah sees that animal sacrifices  anticipate an ultimate sacrifice, an ultimate ‘sin offering’ for the people; a human sacrifice by God’s ‘servant’.  Isaiah has no doubt that peace with God, healing, forgiveness, and righteousness flow from this vicarious-sin-and-judgement-bearing-sacrificial-death.

Isa 53:5-10 (ESV)
But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.  ​​​​​​​​All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned-every one-to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  ​​​​​​​​He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.  ​​​​​​​​By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?  ​​​​​​​​And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.  ​​​​​​​​Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.  Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.  ​​​​​​​​Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

The ‘servant’s’ death is viewed as a sacrificial sin-offering that atones for the people bringing healing.  The focus is clearly his obedience in death.  He is ‘led as a lamb to the slaughter… sheep…dumb…mouth‘.    It is his suffering in death that occasions his triumph in resurrection (53:10-12).  Right relationship with God (in resurrection) is established by his death, not his life.

Note too the text, ‘by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.‘   What ‘knowledge’ is referred to that ‘makes many righteous’ (‘accounted’ may be right by is more of an interpretation than translation).  If justification is in view it is hard to see how it can be any other than his ‘knowledge’ of the cross.  The ‘knowledge’ of ‘anguish of soul’ and being ‘acquainted (knowing) with grief’ (v4).  However, at the risk of muddying the waters, it is at least possible that what is being referred to here is not justification but sanctification.  ‘Accounted righteous’ is an interpretation not translation.  It is possible that ‘make righteous’ here means ‘by his knowledge shall my righteous servant instruct many in righteousness’.  That is, the ‘servant‘ who knew the way (and cost) of righteous living experientially would teach it to his followers, those whose iniquities he bore.  This would parallel with Dan 12.

Dan 12:3 (ESV)
And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Whatever the precise meaning of v11 the thrust of the chapter seems inescapable; it is from the sacrificial death of the servant that all benefits flow.  It is because of his death that the servant lives and has an ‘offspring’ who are ‘the strong‘ with whom he ‘divides the spoils.’  IAO is again conspicuous by its absence.

An aside…

Perhaps, while reflecting on the OT, this is the moment to briefly discuss the ‘clothes change’ of the High Priest in Zechariah 3, for this is often used to support IAO.

Zech 3:1-5 (ESV)
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by.

We are told that the ‘taking-off’ is being cleared of guilt by Christ bearing our sins in death and the ‘putting-on’ is being made righteous by being clothed in the active obedience of Christ.  Now, if this model were present in Scripture then possibly this sequence may illustrate it.  However, the sequence by itself certainly does not establish it.  Indeed, the interpretation itself is wooden and makes the symbolism run on all fours.  The evident meaning is simply that God radically changes the standing of the High Priest from being unrighteous to righteous.  No more is required of the symbolism.  Indeed, if we are going to be pedantic and stress the symbolism further then the clothes Joshua is clothed in are new High Priestly clothes ‘of glory and beauty’.  These are robes of glorification.  In the Day of Atonement the High Priest only put on his robes of Glory when atonement was accomplished and he returned to the people bringing salvation (Cf Hebs 9:28).  But I am unsure if this full symbolism is intended.  The main point, I repeat, is simply that God changes the status of Joshua from unclean to clean, unrighteous to righteous; no two stage process is implied.

And so, by this brief glance at the OT, we can see the contours of the ‘type’ prepare us for a Deliverer who will save his people by an atoning blood sacrifice.   There is no suggestion of vicarious law-keeping.  It simply was not an OT category of atonement.


the righteous shall live by faith (2)

Hab 2:4 (ESV)
…the righteous shall live by his faith.

Many scholars maintain that ‘faith’ in Hab 2:4 really should be translated ‘faithfulness.  The reason given is twofold.  Firstly, the Hebrew noun ‘emunah‘ used in Hab 2:4 is normally translated ‘faithfulness’ in the OT ; secondly, the OT doesn’t normally sharply distinguish between faith and faithfulness.  Both claims are largely true; ‘emunah‘ does it seems normally mean faithfulness and the OT does not normally sharply distinguish between faith and faithfulness.  In fact, faith is seldom explicitly mentioned in the Pentateuch; usually it is implicit in the narrative.  For example, in Gen 12, God tells Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldees and the narrative simply tells us he does so.  We (rightly) assume  Abraham’s faith from his obedience (Hebs 11:8).  In reality, the conceptual distinction between faith and obedience (faithfulness), somewhat ambiguous in the OT, is not fully explicit until the NT.  Indeed, arguably the giving of the Law (the Mosaic Covenant) to a degree at least hid the priority of faith (for the Law was not based on the principle of faith Gals 3:12) until its fulness is revealed in Christ.  Something like this seems to be implied in Paul’s words in Galatians.

Gal 3:23-26 (ESV)
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

It is not that faith was not present in the OT, far from it, for only by faith are any justified at any time (Roms 4).  Furthermore, Hebrews is clear both that only people of faith please God (Hebs 11:6) and that such faith was at work in OT believers (Hebs 11). Yet, undoubtedly, the NT revelation clarifies and defines faith in a way that few OT texts do.

Having said this, while few OT texts distinguish between faith and faithfulness and while ‘emunah‘ normally means faithfulness, it goes too far to argue no OT text focuses explicitly on faith and to insist that ‘emunah‘ must always mean ‘faithfulness’.  Such a case cannot be made.  For three reasons.

The Philological Reason

Few scholars, I think, would insist that ‘emunah‘ must inevitably be translated faithfulness.  They would admit both meanings (faith and faithfulness) to be possible.   Moreover, the verb form of the noun ‘emunah‘ is ‘aman‘ or ‘believe’ which is very similar conceptually to ‘faith’, that is, it emphasizes trust rather than trustworthiness.  In fact, the key OT text alongside Hab 2:4 used in the NT to stress faith as a trust in God rather than trustworthiness of character uses the verb form of ‘emunah‘.  We read in Gen 15:6

Gen 15:6 (ESV)
And he [Abraham] believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

Furthermore the Greek version of the OT (LXX) translates ‘emunah‘ by ‘pistis‘ a word that regularly means ‘faith’ in the NT.  The point of this brief discussion is simply to establish that it is appropriate to translate ‘emunah‘ as ‘faith’ if the context so merits.  Clearly Paul the apostle (presumably no mean C1 Hebraist) believes the context of Hab 2:4 does so merit for in the two occasions he cites Hab 2:4 in the NT, he does so to emphasize the priority of faith rather than faithfulness.

The Analogical Reason

Biblical theology is a very helpful disciple but one of its weaknesses is it tends to undermine what older theologians called the ‘analogy of faith’. By this they asserted the unity of Scripture and thus the ability of one scripture to interpret (shed light) on another.  By the analogy of faith we can say that the uses of Hab 2:4 in the NT shed light on its OT meaning. Paul cites Hab 2:4 on two occasions.  The first is in Roms 1:17.  It is an important text for Paul is laying out in Roms 1:16,17 the essence of the gospel. He affirms that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God and is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes and cites Hab 2:4 as proof of his assertion.  That Paul’s interpretation of ‘emunah‘  is faith rather than faithfulness is evident from ch 3 where he further explains the gospel and stresses faith as God’s instrument of justification.

Rom 3:21-26 (ESV)
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Paul’s second use of Hab 2:4 is Gals 3.  The chapter begins by Paul asking the Galatians a rhetorical question; have they received the Spirit (become new covenant people) by the works of the Law or the hearing of faith?  He asserts that the blessings and power of the Spirit among them is by faith.  Like Abraham they have been counted righteous through belief (3:6).  The law however is not of faith (3;12) and no one is justified by relying on the works of the law (3:10-12) and one important reason for this is the Hab 2:4 assertion, ‘the righteous shall live by faith‘ (Gal 3:11).

For Paul Hab 2:4 is a critical OT text for supporting his contention (with his judaizing opponents) that faith in God’s gospel word of  promise (Gals 3:8) is the means of salvation and not ‘works of the law’.

The Exegetical Reason

What of Hab 2:4?  Can it bear the weight that Paul places on it?  Is it legitimate to understand ‘emunah‘ as ‘faith in this text’?  The context must decide.  And it seems clear that the context supports Paul’s interpretation.  God has told Habakkuk that Israel (because of her disobedience) is soon to be overrun by the Babylonians (the Chaldeans).  The nation will lose their land and all that God had given them.  They would live as exiles in Babylon.  During this time of exile they would have only the promise of the Lord that he would bring his salvation and deliver them upon which to hope and cling.  In Hab 2:4 the hubris of the Babylonian who trusts in his own strength (his soul is puffed up) revealing his unrighteousness (it is not upright within him) contrasts with the heart of the righteous who humbly live by faith in God’s promise of deliverance (the righteous live by faith).  Habakkuk’s prayer in Ch 3 epitomizes this remnant faith in exile. It focuses not on Habakkuk’s faithfulness but on Habakkuk’s faith that God will be faithful to his promise.  It is a classic example of OT faith.  Habakkuk focuses on God and God’s great saving acts in the past for his people (3:3-16). Reflecting on these reinforces his faith in God’s promised redemption in the future and so he confesses in faith, even as his heart trembles at the prospect of the coming judgement,

Hab 3:16-19 (ESV)
I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us.  ​​​​​​​​Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,  ​​​​​​​​yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  ​​​​​​​​God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.

Thus Habakkuk exemplifies ‘the righteous who live by faith’.


In fact, Habakkuk’s text is clearly eschatological. It is a vision about ‘the end’ (2:2).  It looked forward to the salvation that will arrive in Messiah which is one more reason why Paul employs Hab 2:4 in Romans and Galatians.  Of course, while it means predominantly ‘faith’ and not ‘faithfulness’ and focuses on our faith in God more than our faithfulness to God, yet nevertheless ‘faithfulness’ is never far away.  For in the OT and the NT faith is not merely of the moment.  It is no transitory thing.  Faith endures, perseveres, persists.  Faith is steadfast.  This is the faith that Habakkuk will require, a steadfast faith through days of judgement and exile.  He will live righteously by living in daily faith, waiting for the Lord to deliver as he promised. Habakkuk will live by faith.

It is this aspect of steadfast faith that is present in the third citation of Hab 2:4 in the NT.  In Hebrews the believers face ongoing persecution.  The writer says their situation calls for endurance in faith.  He writes,

Heb 10:36-39 (ESV)
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay;  ​​​​​​​​but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”  But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

God’s deliverance may take time and must be waited for (Hab 2:3).  True faith holds firm and does not shrink back, it remains faithful; the just shall live by faith, but that faith will be steadfast.

Col 1:21-23 (ESV)
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.


the righteous shall live by faith (1).

Hab 2:4 (ESV)
“… the righteous shall live by his faith.

This short text, even part of a text, would be easy to miss while reading Habakkuk and the OT.  Yet, to do so would be a mistake for it is a text that has key significance in the NT.  It is cited no less than three times in the NT and in one of these citations is a key OT proof for the Christian gospel of justification by faith.  Romans is a pivotal book in the NT.  Few dispute this.  Few dispute that Roms 1:16,17 is a pivotal text in Romans-  and nestling in this text is Hab 2:4.  Paul writes,

Rom 1:15-17 (ESV)
So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.  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. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

The text from Habakkuk completes and underscores Paul’s summary of the gospel.  Needless to say, because this OT text is so germane to the gospel it has come under a lot of scrutiny and generated lots of debate.  I will not attempt to engage with all the debate.  My more modest aim is to mention a couple of contemporary opinions and suggest some reasons for accepting the traditional view as the correct one.

Before doing so let me make one general observation. It is all too easy for ordinary folks to dip into the world of biblical studies and think that the issues discussed or so beyond us that we may as well give up before we start.  This is a mistake.  The books of the Bible were written (in the main) neither  by scholars, nor were they written to scholars.  The Bible is for the church not the academy.  We may be thankful for scholarship while remembering that scholars are as skilled at misunderstanding Scripture and fudging it as they are at understanding and clarifying  it.  Often high sounding phrases, technical jargon, many words and confident assertion are a mask for the insubstantial and unbelief.   Often long dissertations, calculated to impress the world of academia, can be reduced to a few statements requiring evaluation, evaluation that any Spirit-led student of  God’s word is competent to make.  Let me say again, I am not despising scholarship, far from it, I simply refuse to idolize it or be daunted by it.

The traditional understanding of Roms 1:16,17 is that Paul, backed by Hab 2, views faith in God’s gospel word as God’s appointed means of salvation.  This, however, is challenged today.  One main challenge is mounted; faith in Romans we are told should be translated faithfulness for that is its meaning in Hab 2:4.  Faithfulness in Hab 2 is to be understaood as as ‘our faithfulness’, or ‘God’s faithfulness’ or perhaps ‘Christ’s faithfulness on our behalf’.  The latter understanding is tied up to a particular understanding of ‘the faith of Jesus Christ’ that is quite trendy at the moment.  In a future blog I may well try to grapple with it, however, at the moment I want simply to consider the main contention that it is a mistake in Hab 2 to understand ‘faith’ as ‘faith in God’s Word’ instead it must be understood as ‘faithfulness to God’s Word’.

The issues are big.  We should understand that if in Hab 2:4 faith must mean faithfulness then Paul must also mean ‘faithfulness’ in these occasions in Romans when we have understood him to speak of ‘faith’.  Clearly if the gospel is construed as ‘faithfulness to God’s Word’ rather than ‘faith in God’s Word‘ a sea change in the gospel has taken place.  The emphasis shifts from God’s work to our work, from God’s activity to our activity.  The gospel morphs into law; it becomes works not faith.  Of course, faith can be viewed holistically and often is.  When it is, faith and faithfulness effectively merge.  Or, to put it another way, faith and obedience become one.

In one sense, of course, faith and faithfulness are ‘one’.  Paul describes the gospel as ‘the obedience of faith‘ at the beginning and end of Romans.  It is impossible to have true faith without faithfulness or obedience and it is impossible to have faithfulness and obedience without faith.  However, in an earlier blog I argued that while faith and obedience are intimately connected they are in Paul’s thought distinguishable as the phrase, ‘the obedience of faith‘ itself implies.  Moreover, they must be kept distinct if the clarity and vitality of the gospel is not to be lost . So yes, faith and faithfulness belong together, but no, Paul is not referring to faith as faithfulness in Roms 1:16,17; he refers to faith as faith and sees Hab 2:4 as backing this claim.  With this background, we are ready to consider Hab 2:4.

Hab 2:4 (ESV)
“… the righteous shall live by his faith.

In the following blog we shall do just this.

the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.


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