Friday, January 1, 2010

The Obedience of Faith in Romans 16:26

Sujomo has asked me about how I understand the expression the obedience of faith in Rom 16:26.

In Rom 16:26 I prefer the interpretation the obedience which is faith, i.e., faith is an epexegetic or appositional genitive.

I prefer this interpretation on the basis that Paul in Rom 16:25-26 is reflecting on God's plan of salvation as revealed through the Old Testament prophets. The Old Testament prophets saw the new covenant as being a time of the circumcision of the heart (Deut 30:6), when the law would be written on the heart in a comprehensive way (Jer 31:33), a time when the Spirit would move Israel and the nations to keep torah (Isa 2:1-4; Ezek 36:26-27). In sum, the Old Testament prophets looked forward to the new covenant as being a betrothal of Israel (and the nations) in faith to God (Hos 3:20), i.e., a time when God would work through Christ and the Spirit to bring about the renewal of covenant faithfulness (as per Hab 2:4), not only on the part of Israel, but also the nations.

So the epexegetic genitive makes most sense as being consistent with this Old Testament vision. I also think that that is how the same phrase in Rom 1:5 should be interpreted. This interpretation is also consistent with Paul's language in Rom 15:18 where he talks about his mission as bringing the Gentiles to obedience.

The obedience of faith contrasts with the obedience of the works of the law (i.e., Jewish obedience to the law of Moses), which Gentiles cannot participate in (at least not without giving up their Gentile citizenship). So the phrase the obedience of faith has a polemic edge to it in the historical context of Paul's day. It is new covenant obedience: the obedience of submission to the lordship of Christ.

11 comments:

Dave said...

Steve, I understand what you are saying and why you are saying it, but I believe that it does not do justice to the text.

In both Romans 1:5 and 16:25-26 it makes perfect sense to say that it is an obedience that comes from faith AND it fits in beautifully with the OT passages that you referred us to where we are given the picture of how God’s people would be inclined to follow God’s commands (AFTER recieving a new Spirit!).

What you are in effect proposing is that when Paul says faith he means obedience. This does not make sense of Paul’s words in Galatians…or anywhere else! Further to this, when we go to Hebrews and think of the definition provided as to what faith is, from a ‘Hebrew’ writing to ‘Hebrews’ we do not get your understading of faith at all. How do you reconcile this, because it is a major problem with your thesis!

Steven Coxhead said...

I'll respond to this more later on, but just a quick one for now.

Aren't we commanded to repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15)?

How is it then that faith is not obedience?

Dave said...

Steve, I will look forward to your further comment, but in response to Mark 1:15.

How can it be repentance without belief?

Mark 1:15 certainly makes not comment as to the order that is required, it simply points to two things that need to happen. Surely the point is that the two are very closely linked (as we have already discussed).

Steven Coxhead said...

I'm not making any particular comment on the order of repentance and faith in Mark 1:15. My point was that we are commanded to believe, the implication being that the act of faith itself is obedience to God's command.

This is one of the areas where Luther's command/works versus promise/faith distinction breaks down. Isn't faith also commanded by God?

Michael F. Bird said...

Steven, at so many points in Romans "obey" and "faith" are not equated but they are almost telescoped together. The Protestant apprehension against placing these two together is because folk are just to thinking of faith and "trust" or "assent" at the expense of "fidelity" and "conformity".

Jason said...

Yes Mike, we tend to forget that pist* root language includes fidelity! (And that repentance is directive, i.e., it involves a reverse of action, not just assent/confession/sorrow.)

Steven, I agree with you that belief is commanded.

Seems to me that a dichotomous approach to "obedience of faith" may not be the best way to go; Paul clearly thinks he his going around getting people to obey, in faith/spirit (versus in flesh/law), the law of Christ. Such people will "fulfill the righteous requirement of the law" (Rom 8), are "instruments of righteousness" and slaves thereof, and are producing fruit of life and righteousness, not death (end of Rom 6).

Will you address why a both/and isn't possible?

Steven Coxhead said...

Thanks for those comments, Mike and Jason.

On the Protestant side of things, Luther's division of God's word into commands and promise has had a very strong influence on Protestant hermeneutics. But from a biblical theological perspective, we seriously need to reassess the validity of that distinction.

By way of a brief response to Jason, the observation that mental process verbs in Biblical Hebrew are frequently used in a holistic way is relevant to the concept of faith in the Old Testament.

For example, God remembering his covenant is more than just God remembering in his head. It involves God acting to bring about the realization of what he has promised. It's a holistic concept in that it begins in the mind of God but then naturally involves God acting in the world.

In a similar way to hear in Biblical Hebrew often means to obey. If you've truly heard the word of God, it enters your heart, and it will naturally get worked out in your life as part of the one basic process.

And in a similar way again, emunah in the Old Testament, particularly in the context of the Mosaic covenant, involves Israel accepting the word of God as revealed through Moses, and this acceptance is holistic in that it involves a response of the whole person. In other words, faith in a covenantal context is basically faithfulness.

The Old Testament prophets viewed the new covenant as being a time of the restoration of emunah in Israel. In the light of this, the question we have to ask is: Did Paul "reduce" the holistic sense of the emunah of prophetic expectation to a non-holistic response per se in his reading of the Old Testament prophets and in his understanding of the new covenant?

The fact that we haven't really asked this question in the first place is troublesome.

John Thomson said...

Steven

Here I agree with you. It is Roms 10:16

'But they have not all obeyed the gospel.'

The obedience of faith is the confession that 'Jesus Christ is Lord'. It is submission to the gospel.

John Thomson said...

PS

Further corroboratingtexts include:

2Thess 1:8 (ESV)
in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

and

1Pet 4:17 (ESV)
For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

Steven Coxhead said...

Thanks, John, for those texts.

"The obedience of faith is the confession that 'Jesus Christ is Lord'. It is submission to the gospel."

Nice summary!

Leslie Lim said...
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