The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Translation of Romans 3 22

(I’m going to change my mind to agree with you on what Paul is talking about here in a minute, Pilgrim. :smiley: But first some other things.)

In regard to salvation depending on some kind of faith living or existing in Jesus’ blood, I’m not sure how to parse that even in Pauline (and general Jewish) terms of the life/soul/nephesh being in the blood. Faith in any case seems rather a categorically different thing.

And while grammatically it might work if this wasn’t supposed to be connected to displaying the faith of Christ, it is supposed to be connected to displaying the faith of Christ. I can’t think of any way that some kind of faith existing in Christ’s blood was displayed by His death on the cross. (Not even with a doctrine of transsubstantiation, friendly to that though I am.) But it’s (relatively?) easy to see how the faithfulness and faith of Christ was manifested and displayed by His voluntary self-sacrifice on the cross even to the fatal shedding of His blood: a faith Paul expects us to share in through sharing the death (by baptism) with Christ.

In regard to going forward a micro-tad in the same sentence to consider the possibility of Paul talking about all humanity not only Jews and Gentiles in the church, by reference to “for all have sinned”: first, I didn’t just randomly fish back several verses, I was trying to integrate Paul’s whole discussion since the beginning of what we call chapter 3 up to this point; and second, I included “for all have sinned” in that understanding, that neither Jew nor Gentile (but especially not the Jew over the Gentile) gets to have a special claim to holiness under God, for Jews and Gentiles both sin and if anything Jewish sin might actually be worse due to having had the Law! – their sin leading to hypocrisy which leads to the nations blaspheming God because of them.

Now, having said that (here comes the place where I changed my mind!): I went back to re-read the whole thing again, and back even into chapter 2 and chapter 1, and having done so I no longer think Paul was primarily talking about Jew and Gentile getting along together within the church (though this may still be a secondary topic). There are several other strong connections to the topic of all humanity which we both agree Paul is talking about later in chapter 5, not least of which is an early statement of Paul about how rebel Jews still have the advantage of being entrusted with the oracles of God, but even more importantly God’s faithfulness toward them does not depend on their faithfulness to Him.

So when he says Jews and Greeks (Gentiles) are all under sin, Paul is in fact talking here like he’s talking later in chapter 5: he’s talking primarily, not secondarily, about the situation of the world before its salvation (whether Jew or Greek) by Christ. Chapter 1 starts off condemning pagans (though with an acknowledgment that Paul owes them a debt in the Spirit which he is glad to repay); chapter 2 transitions from condemning hypocritical and/or unmerciful Christians(!) and talking of the justification as well as condemnation of (evidently non-Christian) Jews and Gentiles both under Christ at the judgment, into talking about Jewish Christians putting themselves back on par with non-Christian Jews by relying on justification through keeping Torah, and thence into a discussion against what non-Christian Jews are doing wrong, even though God remains faithful to them.

Consequentially, that means Paul does mean the same late in chapter 3 as he’ll be talking about (again) in chapter 5: he isn’t primarily talking about the justification of Jewish as well as Gentile Christians by the faith of Christ (as an after-the-fact reality) with secondary comparison to the inability of non-Christian Jews to be justified apart from faith; he is primarily talking about Christ justifying the whole world, all who have fallen.

This runs directly against Calvinistic ideas of election. But an Arminian might be able to reply that so far as this portion of the epistle goes, Paul still isn’t talking about an assurance of salvation.

That depends however on what “justified” means in its grammatic form there. If it’s in the form of an accomplished fact (as Calvs tend to argue, not incidentally), then this could be referring to assurance from the divine perspective: certainly elsewhere Paul treats our justification and sanctification as though these are already accomplished, when clearly as a practical matter they aren’t (since as Paul admits and insists Christians are still sinning, including himself, and including in the Romans epistle). This is exactly why Calvs and Arms have both popularly attempted to appeal to a useful legal fiction of righteousness for Christians, where God just pretends we are righteous by pretending (i.e. by mere legal fiat declaring) Christ’s righteousness counts as our righteousness, and maybe always will do so! An ethically coherent account of this however would be (as Calvs and even some Arms acknowledge) that God is revealing the assured end-result, our being made just and no longer sinners, by treating it as an accomplished fact, since from God’s eternal perspective anything in our temporal future is already accomplished, all times being present for God.

If so, then there is direct (if subtle) testimony to the assurance as well as the scope of salvation here, which would mean this is a specifically universalistic claim, not only a claim shared by both Arms and Kaths (on the scope of salvation).

Hi Jason

Yes. Points taken.

Fair enough.

Yes, I note that even though chapter 4 is talking about the faithfulness of Abraham (who showed a lack of faith several times) there is a very interesting qualifier to this in Ch4v17 which may also be relevant to something you say later.

That’s how I read it too.

Yes, yes yes. And this may also tie in with that verse I just mentioned Ch4v17 where Paul says “God, who calls the things that are not, as if they were” Even though the context is the promise to Abraham, Paul has given us a principle which should be true in the more general case.
[It also reminds me of Ecclesiastes 3v15 “That which has been, it already is; and that which is to be, it already has been.”]

Thank you for giving it some considerable time Jason. I wanted to dig deep on this one and I think we have opened some possibilities so maybe it was worth it.

About the “legal fiction”, Jason, I think you’re “right on the money”.

I am wondering what DO you think “justified” means in Romans 3:20-26?

20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—
22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
25 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.
26 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. (ESV)

It is my view that “justified” here means “righteousified”. It seems that the primary meaning of the Greek word means “rendered righteous” according to several lexicons. The term “δικαιοω” seems to be but the verbal form of the noun “δικαιοσυνη” (which is usually translated as “righteousness”. And the two seem to be closely related in the passage quoted above:

I also think “a propitiation” is a false translation of the word “ιλαστηριον”. Ι think the word ought to be translated as “a means of mercy”. Indeed, in Hebrews, as you know, it is translated as “mercy seat”. To be rendered righteous is a means of mercy, a wonderful mercy, on the part of God. I think it a gross error to think to think that God put forth our redemption in Christ as a way to propitiate or appease Himself so that He wouldn’t have to penalize us for our sin. He isn’t interested in administering penalties; He is interested in delivering us from sin.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6 ESV)

Interesting that the ‘propitiation’ in verse 25 is received by us through faith. If you’re going to say that the word should be translated as ‘propitiation’ then you surely have to that we’re the ones who are ‘propitiated’.

That would be a bit weird though

This is worth a read for great context. Too long a paper to post here.

I argued exactly that somewhere else on site years ago: every (soteriologically relevant) usage of reconcile/atone is clearly an action by God and/or Christ with sinners as the object of the action; and while the various grammars for “propitiate” are harder to suss out, the end result is that God is propitiating us (even if the term can be translated a couple of different though related ways). Neither the Son nor anyone else is propitiating the Father. (That’s a point even non-trinitarians could agree on, but trinitarians, and modalists to be fair, ESPECIALLY ought to take note of that. I start having apoplexy when fellow trinitarians treat the Father as being propitiated by the Son!)

On propitiation: Commentary on NT usage of "propitiate" (JRP)

On reconciliation: Commentary on NT usage of "atone"/"reconcile" (JRP)

Oh I agree, it means to become just or fair or righteous, and not in a merely legally fictional way. Which is of course why we run into people occasionally who think God has made them perfectly moral already regardless of any evidence they may (even RIGHT THAT VERY MOMENT!) be showing to the contrary. :unamused:

Justifier means much the same thing. Either version of the term could be used in a more forensic sense, of course, to demonstrate through accurate judgment that a person was being moral after all, but that obviously cannot be the case here because the persons being justified by the justifier are sinners who cannot earn their justification or become just by doing Torah as though apart from the grace of God the justifier.

This by the way has strong connections to the terms from Hebrew and Greek translated (through Latin) as “vindicate” and its cognates. When God says He is going to vindicate His rebel people, that doesn’t mean He’s going to show everyone they were being moral all along! – the context of the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 couldn’t be much clearer on that! But then that makes a world of difference about God being “vindictive” in Hebrews 10. In fact, the term never should be used about hopeless punishment, but just like re-tribution and several other such terms, we’ve ended up interpreting it to a common meaning in English quite opposite to how we ought to be using it.

Anyway. The key grammatic issue for “justified” that I was talking about previously, is at 3:24, and I’d like to double-check on that with you Paidion (and/or anyone else studying NT grammar, if we can think of anyone to tag).

The text, which is stable in transmission, reads {dikaioumenoi dôrean t(i)ê autou chariti} and then “through the redemption (or freeing or deliverance) that is in Jesus Christ”.

{dikaioumenoi} == is a present passive verb for a nominative plural masculine… right? It seems grammatically obvious that this is meant to meant to connect back up with the “all” who have sinned in verse 23.

But it isn’t an aorist form, like “have sinned” in verse 23. It’s much more like the present passive verb {husterountai} “are wanting” in verse 23, which by the way is a much better translation and interpretation than “all… fall short of the glory of God” or even “…have fallen short”. Just as we passively want and need the glory of God (because we have actively sinned), we are passively being made just, which is given freely (dorean)… and then the grammar gets a bit squirrely again.

{autou} clearly (I think?) means “of him”. {t(i)ê chariti} is the dative form of (the) grace, and even though (or because?) “of him” splits the direct article and its noun it means “his grace”, “the grace of him”.

But the dative form means this (his grace) is an indirect object, right? Or is it something else?

In English the construction would be: the subject verbs the object to the indirect object (even if “to” isn’t used). God gives him the grace for example.

But this is more like… uh… :confused:

All are being-justified… and then I lose the object trail.


All [subject, from back in verse 23]
are-being-justified [present passive ongoing verb]
freely [adverb to describe the verb]
to-his-grace? ???]
through the freeing that is in Christ Jesus [going on with a new prepositional phrase set as a dependent clause]

There is no preposition for “grace”, it’s only a noun with a direct article, the preposition is supposed to be implied by the dative form; but the dative form can’t be an indirect object here either, so what prepositions normally or possibly are implied by the dative in relation to this kind of verb?

Anyway, strictly speaking it looks on closer examination like “justified” isn’t grammatically being regarded as a divine promise of completed action (or as any completed action) here, but as an ongoing action by God upon all who have sinned. Unless “to his grace” refers somehow to a definite result, an Arminian so far as this portion of scripture goes could say nothing here indicates God the justifier will certainly be successful justifying all. We would only agree these verses (and context) testify to the scope of salvation: which is just as important for universal salvation as the other gospel assurance, but which isn’t (here) also the other gospel assurance.

Perhaps the odd dative phrase about what is apparently God’s grace will be helpful with that. If not, well that’s just how it is, no big deal Paul (and other scriptural authors) talks about the assurance, too, elsewhere.

Jonathan Mitchell, by the way, offers possible translations of the dative “his grace” there as:

by His grace (JM’s preferred translation)
in His grace
with His grace
for His grace

(where “grace” could in any case more specifically mean “joyous favor”, or as I like to translate it “freely given joy” – especially where {chara} is connected to {dôrean} like here! :smiley: )

I agree that justification = to become righteous. Not “positionally accounted as righteous” or anything like that. But literally so: a man becoming less sinful and more righteous, a man being deified by the Uncreated Energies of the holy Trinity.

Going back to Pilgrim’s original question, since Geof checked back in: since the EOx go with the version of 3:22 which includes both prepositions: what’s your impression or experience, Geof, on how y’all interpret the second prepositional phrase? I mean {epi pantas}.

Do y’all tend to interpret {epi pantas} ((up)on all) as applying to {tous pisteountas} (the ones who are believing), with {eis pantas} (in(to) all) more broadly referring to all persons? i.e. “in all, and/but/yet (especially) on all who believe”?

Or do you find both phrases {eis pantas kai epi pantas} together being applied as referring equally {tous pisteountas} to the ones who are believing?

Now at the risk of being called trivially irrelevant, here is a portion of the NT Wright essay I linked to above. I know we don’t follow links but thought it might be worthwhile in sharpening our thinking about “justification” and “righteousness”. Here is a snippet.

Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. :smiley: One more snippet from the best short essay on Romans we’re likely to see:

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this question addressed in the Church. I will say that the overwhelming tenor of the Orthodox liturgy is universalistic. The liturgy takes the Bible and dials way up the salvific and glorious stuff, and dials way down the condemnatory and frightening stuff.

Just because NTW (et al) regards human righteousness as “nothing more” than a status of having had a court (even a divine court) find in their favor, thus rendering human righteousness trivially irrelevant by effectively disconnecting it from the righteousness of God (“there is no righteousness other than God’s righteousness” as John would reply), doesn’t mean NTW himself is trivially irrelevant. Or even a lesser Christian, though there is literally nothing more than a judicial theology going on here, consonant with the sheerest unitarian monotheism, thus quite a lesser Christianity.


It ought to be sufficiently obvious from how I interpret the sheep and the goats, if nothing else, that I regard a lesser Christology as being completely irrelevant to whether a person is a superior Christian, seeing as how the sheep had demonstrably no Christology whatever; and however high a Christology the baby goats had, is also completely irrelevant to them being effectively non-Christian in any way that Christ cares about. :slight_smile: Even those who know to give the “Lord Lord” and who may be praised by God Himself for caring enough about doctrine to test even apostles, may be thrown into the outer darkness where the wailing is and the gnashing of the teeth; whereas Christ praises those doing good in His name even if they are not following the apostles – while warning the apostles themselves they will by no means be entering the kingdom, but are in danger of being thrown into the unquenchable fire of the tormenters, for thinking too highly of themselves!

So don’t take anything I say about a theology as being personally about the person.

Darn, I was hoping you had actually read NTW. Since you either have read and have chosen to mis-represent (and you would not do that) or you’ve only got some second-hand understanding, I don’t even know where to start on the quote above.

My point was to try and add something to the OP discussion, by focusing not so much on translation but the overall message which is often wildly misunderstood and no wonder, it is a difficult letter to understand. NTW has spent most of his life dealing with the letter, so I thought he might be of marginal usefulness. But I don’t follow all the links that are posted either, so I’m not really complaining.

“Literally nothing more than a judicial theology going on here” - 'here?

Thanks for those. It generally seems obvious to me reading the NT who is reconciling who (or rather, Who is reconciling who). Shame most don’t seem to pay too much attention to that.

Do you (or anyone else with a much better grasp on Greek than me) have any additional comments to make on the word hilasterion? Only I know how notoriously difficult it is to translate and to decide precisely what it means and I know that there have been many attempts to force different definitions onto it. I read somewhere that the word is actually more closely connected to the word ‘hill’ (with the idea of covering [covering sin?]) than it is to ‘hilarious’ but I’ve no means of evaluating that claim. Any more additional background/comments on that?

It seems to me that the safest rendering of the word is “propitiation place” or “propitiatory shelter” although I am aware of the case for taking it to be an adjective rather than a noun.
If the word is translated as a noun then the problems disappear. It only occurs twice in the NT, the other reference is Heb 9 5 where it is more correctly?? translated in the AV as “mercy seat”. It occurs once in the LXX in Ex 25 16 (again as mercy seat).

I don’t know if this article is of value to you:

I had a quick read of that article the other day. Might go through it again

I think you’re way ahead of me. I’ve just found this one interesting for myself: … -attitude/

This sermon from Peter Hiett at the Sanctuary Downtown I found very helpful and it addresses this matter to some degree regarding a, God’s faithfulness and b, how we react to it. How to Not Go Away Sad … o-away-sad