Sunday Morning Greek Blog

August 14, 2011

Redemption and Faithfulness (Romans 3:23–24)

(Media Note: We tackled 1 Timothy 2:9–12 in Sunday School this morning, which reminded of the YouTube video “All Things Are Better in Koine. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!)

I have finally caught up with my reading schedule and find myself in Romans this week. I think there’s a good reason why Romans was placed at the head of Paul’s letters in the New Testament (NT): he lays out a detailed description of the connection between faith, justification, and redemption that is foundational for understanding not only his letters (Romans through Philemon), but for the entire Bible, as he brings into the discussion the relationship of Jews and Judaism to God’s plan of salvation.

I am working on simplifying and updating an assignment I did 15 years ago for a class I had with Dr. Walt Zorn at Lincoln Christian Seminary where I summarized Paul’s argument in the first five chapters of Romans. It is rather detailed and heady (it was a seminary class, after all), but I want to simplify it for my blog readers, because I think understanding the flow of the argument will help us understand just what Paul meant when he wrote it. The basic question of the assignment (and I’ll leave you to explore this on your own for a time if you wish) is, “Who is the righteous who will live by faith (Romans 1:17) if Paul in Romans 3:10–12 quotes the Psalms (14:1–3, 53:1–3) and Ecclesiastes 7:20 saying, ‘There is no one righteous, not even one’?” If you figure out the answer to this, then consider why that is significant for your own Christian walk.

Translations of Romans 3:23–24

I will give you a little hint of it here this morning, as I want to focus on what is arguably the most familiar salvation passage in Romans, 3:23–24, the first step on the “Romans Road.” Before I go into the Greek text, I want to give you a few different English translations of the passage: depending on your background, you may have a slightly nuanced understanding of the passage, so I want to make sure I respect whatever differences there may be. After these English translations, I’ll give the Greek text and transliteration. Later in the post, I will do a phrase-for-phrase comparison with another key salvation passage, Ephesians 2:8. (All passages are from the Logos electronic versions of the respective editions.)

‎‎NIV (1984): For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

‎‎NIV (2011): For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

‎‎TNIV: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

‎‎NLT: For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

‎‎AV (KJV 1769): For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

‎‎ESV: 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,

‎‎NASB95: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;

‎‎The Message: Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

NA27: πάντες γὰρ ἥμαρτον καὶ ὑστεροῦνται τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ δικαιούμενοι δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (pantes gar hēmarton kai hysterountai tēs doxēs tou theou dikaioumenoi dōrean tē autou chariti dia tēs apolytrōseōs tēs en Christō Iēsou; see my English translation below).

Figure 1: Sentence Diagram for Romans 3:23–24

The sentence diagram in Figure 1 makes the following clear: the participle δικαιούμενοι (present passive, from δικαιόω, “who are being justified”) is directly connected to the subject of the main clause, πάντες (“all”). I’ll come back to this in a moment. The main verbs of the passage are those in verse 23, so this is the primary point being made: we “sinned” (aorist, or simple past tense) and “are falling short of” or “are lacking” (present tense) the glory of God. It is important to note that the verb for “sinned” (from ἁμαρτάνω) is in the aorist tense, which is the basic, workhorse past tense in the Greek language. English translations are not wrong to render this in the perfect tense (“have sinned”), but it may be that Paul is just making a general statement (based on the quotations from the Psalms in 3:10–20) that we “sinned.” The second verb, ὑστεροῦνται, is present tense, so it denotes a current, ongoing state, but as we will see, it is one that is being reversed by the justification taking place at the same time.

Before offering my translation, however, I need to deal with the participle δικαιούμενοι. This is a present passive participle, which generally means the action is going on at the same time as the main verb(s). But with one main verb past tense and the other present, which is it? My decision is admittedly theological, but because I believe that salvation is not just a “one-and-done” event, but a lifelong process that includes sanctification and justification, I would argue that we are currently being justified because we currently lack the full glory of God. Our salvation, although effective at whatever stage of spiritual growth we are at, is not “full and complete” until we stand before our Maker. The phrase that follows this participle modifies (or is an extended adjective of) the word for “all”. If I rearrange the word order slightly, the passage has a very different nuance to it in English: “For all who are being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came through Messiah Jesus sinned and are lacking the glory of God.” (I should note in Romans 5:1, δικαιόω is an aorist participle, but that does not mean the process is done, necessarily, only that the process of justification precedes the peace that we have with God as a result.)

Comparison to Ephesians 2:8

So what does all this heady grammatical talk have to do with living the Christian life? In order to help make a little more sense of things, I want to bring Ephesians 2:8 into the mix. As you will see in Table 1 below, Ephesians 2:8 is actually a parallel passage to Romans 3:24, with one revealing comparison. Ephesians 2:8 says: τῇ γὰρ χάριτί ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι διὰ πίστεως καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν, θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον·tē gar chariti este sesōsmenoi dia pisteōs kai touto ouk ex humōn, theou to dōron, “For it is by this grace you are being saved through faithfulness, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God.”

Table 1: Comparing Ephesians 2:8 with Romans 3:24

Romans 3:24

Ephesians 2:8


are being justified

ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι

are being saved

δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι

freely by his grace

τῇ γὰρ χάριτί… θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον

by this grace… it is the gift of God

διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ

through the redemption which [is] in Messiah Jesus

διὰ πίστεως καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν

through faithfulness, and this not from yourselves

I am guessing that most of you were able to follow the first two comparisons between the verses. Being justified and being saved, while not strictly synonymous legally or technically, essentially represent the restoration of our relationship with God. The second pair about grace is straightforward enough. It is the third pair that tends to raise people’s hackles, because most of us have been taught that it is through our “faith” that we are saved. But the word for faith in Greek, πίστις, can also mean “faithfulness.” But whose faithfulness is it, really? If there is anything to the comparison, then the faithfulness is not ours (“this salvation by grace through faith is not from yourselves”), but it is the faithfulness of Jesus to go to the cross and purchase our redemption. Not convinced? Look at Romans 3:25, where Paul uses the identical phrase from Ephesians 2:8: ὃν προέθετο ὁ θεὸς ἱλαστήριον διὰ [τῆς] πίστεως ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι hon proetheto ho theos hilastērion dia [tēs] pisteōs en tō autou haimati, “whom [Jesus] God presented as an atoning sacrifice through the faithfulness in his blood” (emphasis mine).

Suppose for a moment that this faith is ours: How much faith do I need to be saved? We know faith is quantifiable, because Jesus talked about having faith the size of a mustard seed, while in Hebrews 11, the faith of the saints who have gone before us is exemplified in numerous ways. If it is our faith, then salvation by “our” faith becomes a relative statement, not an absolute. If it is relative, then we can get caught up in asking ourselves if we have enough faith, but simply asking that question denies the grace aspect of salvation. It’s a gift: we can’t earn it; it’s not dependent on the quantity of our faith. But if this faithfulness refers to the sacrifice of a perfect savior, then the statement becomes absolute, and we never have any reason to question the amount of faith we have relative to the state of our salvation.

Faith, Works, and Salvation

This is not to deny the importance of our own faith and trust in Jesus, however. Our own faith or trust in Jesus is not so much for the purpose of being saved but the result of being saved. Because we know God is with us, because we know God has our back, because we know we have the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we can “walk in the good works that God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). We show our faith by the fruit we bear (Matthew 7:15–20; John 15:1–16; Romans 7:4). We demonstrate our faith by what we do (Romans 4; James 2:14–26).

We hear much about faith and salvation, but I think there is an equal, if not greater emphasis on “confession” or “profession” in many salvation passages. Now I do not here mean only confession of sins (see, for example, 1 John 1:9). In Matthew 16:16, Peter declares his belief that Jesus is the Messiah, a confession that is made by many new Christians before joining a congregation or getting immersed (at least in our own Restoration Movement congregations). In Acts 2:38, the would-be converts had to repent, which essentially meant renouncing their old lifestyles, and make the public statement of being immersed. Romans 10:9–10 speaks of confessing (or “professing”) that Jesus is Lord. Toward the end of Ephesians 6, Paul asks for prayers that he might boldly profess Christ, and in the opening chapter of Romans, he says, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.”

Romans 3:23–24 is a beautiful passage that says God doesn’t give up on us just because we sinned. God continues his work of justification in us in spite of our shortcomings (see also Romans 4:5, 17; 5:6–10). We don’t have to perfect ourselves first; we just need to let God do the perfecting.


Scott Stocking



  1. So, what was the end result/conclusion of your tackling of 1 Timothy 2:9-12?

    Comment by EricW — August 14, 2011 @ 6:59 pm | Reply

    • We’re finishing up on it next week. We’re doing a class on how to understand the Bible, and we were working today on looking at different levels of context, and dealt with the seemingly contradictory passages in 1 Cor 11 & 14, why Priscilla was teaching Apollo in Acts 18, and Junia the apostle in Romans 16:7.

      Comment by Scott Stocking — August 14, 2011 @ 7:54 pm | Reply

  2. Yes, all things are better in Koine, but Koine is better when properly pronounced instead of Erasmianized. :) Especially in light of things like this:

    An acquaintance of mine I met through last week’s Living Koine Greek Fluency Workshop wrote his doctoral dissertation on sound patterns in the Prologue of 1 John, and also used the above book. He consulted with Chrys Caragounis for his paper (Caragounis favors the Historical Greek Pronunciation, which is essentially identical with Modern Greek). Randall Buth’s Phonemic Koine, which is what we used in the workshop, differs from Modern Greek in only three instances – 1) upsilon and 2) the omicron-iota diphthong are pronounced like a French “u,” and 3) eta is pronounced like “ey” in “they,” whereas in Modern Greek they are all “ee.”

    Comment by EricW — August 14, 2011 @ 7:16 pm | Reply

    • I believe I read the section of Caragounis’s book where he argues for the contemporary Greek pronunciation of Koine, although I didn’t have much of a chance to explore it (I was reading it in the college bookstore). One of these days when I have more time on my hands, I might try to get a copy of it and dig a little deeper. I’m more concerned about interpreting it properly rather than pronouncing it properly, however.

      Comment by Scott Stocking — August 14, 2011 @ 7:57 pm | Reply

    • I read the review of Sound Mapping, and I remember dealing with that a couple years ago when I did an index of a book ancient Greek culture. One of the articles in the book was on the syllabic pattern of Greek poetry, and I had to research the topic a bit, because the print version of the article didn’t print the “musical notation” properly over the words. I made a few feeble attempts to see if any NT passages fit the patterns that were discussed in the chapter (I think I tried Philippians 2:5ff for starters), but didn’t really discern any of the patterns they indicated. But then, there were probably hundreds if not thousands of different poetic patterns that the author didn’t cover. It was an aspect of Greek studies I had never encountered before, but it probably has more application to textual criticism than it does to interpretation.

      Comment by Scott Stocking — August 14, 2011 @ 8:07 pm | Reply

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