Romans: God Is Not Fair (Romans 3:21-25a; All Fall Short of the Glory of God)

(Rom 3:21-22a ESV) 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — 22a the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

We are now confronted with a couple of serious exegetical problems.

The “righteousness of God”

In this context, what is the “righteousness of God”? His sinlessness? That’s not really the subject Paul is covering. His character? Yes — unquestionably — but what about his character is under discussion?

N. T. Wright points us toward Daniel and such verses as —

(Dan 9:4-7 ESV)  4 I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments,  5 we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules.  6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.  7 To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you.

(Dan 9:15-18 ESV)  15 “And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly.

16 “O Lord, according to all your righteous acts [Greek: righteousness], let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us.  17 Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate.  18 O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy.

Daniel’s prayer is essentially —

* God keeps his covenants with those who honor his commandments.

* Israel has broken our end of the covenant by sinning.

* God’s righteousness toward Israel is demonstrated by his many mighty acts done to rescue his people.

* Israel is not righteous, because Israel has broken God’s laws.

In short, “righteousness” for humans is obeying God’s laws, but for God, it’s keeping his covenant with his people. This line of reasoning closely parallels —

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

Abram’s faith was counted as covenant obedience. In Exodus 34:7, the Greek for “righteousness” translates the Hebrew hesed (or checed), meaning lovingkindness, mercy, or grace.

(Isa 42:6 ESV)  6 “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations,

God declares himself righteous because he takes Israel by the hand and protects them.

(Isa 46:12-13 ESV)  12 “Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, you who are far from righteousness:  13 I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory.”

Just so, God’s righteousness is salvation for Zion.

And so the “righteousness of God” is God’s honoring of his covenant, his covenant faithfulness. And this will become more clear in Romans 4.

“Faithfulness of Jesus Christ.”

Second, “faith in Jesus Christ” is a mistranslation. The Greek is PISTEOS IESOU CHRISTOU. As indicated by the “ou” endings, “Jesus Christ” is genitive, almost always translated “of Jesus Christ.” But “faith of Jesus Christ” is surely not right, even though we find exactly that translation in the KJV and Young’s Literal Translation. But PISTIS is often translated “faithfulness” — which is exactly how it was translated back in Rom 3:3 — “the faithfulness of God.” Therefore, “faithfulness of Jesus Christ” fit the flow of Paul’s argument very well.

Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics by Daniel B. Wallace (1996) states,

Neverthe­less, the predominant usage in the NT is with a subjective gen. Prac­tically speaking, if the subjective gen[itive] view is correct, these texts (whether pi,stij is translated “faith” or “faithfulness”) argue against “an implicitly docetic Christology.” Further, the faith/faithfulness of Christ is not a denial of faith in Christ as a Pauline concept (for the idea is expressed in many of the same contexts, only with the verb pisteu,w rather than the noun), but implies that the object of faith is a worthy object, for he himself is faithful. Although the issue is not to be solved via grammar, on balance grammatical considerations seem to be in favor of the subjective gen[itive] view [“of Jesus Christ” rather than “in Jesus Christ”].

N. T. Wright has made the same argument on exegetical grounds, that is, finding that is best fits the context. After all, “faithfulness of Jesus Christ” parallels “righteousness of God” and, even moreso, “faithfulness of God” in v. 3.

Thus, we can translate —

(Rom 3:21-22a ESV)  21 But now the righteousness of God [God’s faithfulness to his covenant] has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it —  22a [God’s faithfulness to his covenant] through [the faithfulness of Jesus Christ] for all who believe.

That was a lot of trouble for 1 1/2 verses! But it’s a pivotal passage in understanding what’s to come in Romans. We have to get it right. And what Paul says is that those with faith will be saved, not by means of obedience to God’s law, but by God honoring his covenant with Abraham (made clear in chapter 4), and God honors his covenant with Abraham through the faithfulness of Jesus.

All have sinned and fall short

(Rom 3:22b-25a ESV) 22b 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,  25a whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No accountable person deserves God’s salvation. None. Neither Jew nor Greek, pagan or God-fearer. All fall short.

But God has now extended his covenant with Abraham to all nations, so that all can now be justified by grace. But this salvation is only “received by faith.” After all, God is honoring his covenant —

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

That’s the covenant promise God made to Abraham and that God now extends to Jew and Gentile alike. (And, therefore, I really don’t understand the “available light” theory. God’s grace is a product of his righteousness, his covenant faithfulness, and so salvation only comes to those who believe in Jesus. There is no other way. And Romans repeatedly says this and suggests nothing to the contrary unless we rip verses badly out of context.)


About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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6 Responses to Romans: God Is Not Fair (Romans 3:21-25a; All Fall Short of the Glory of God)

  1. Price says:

    It’s not easy thing to believe…truly believe before you absolutely know what the deal is… show me the money and I’ll do whatever… Show me …that’s our deal today… Faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen…Yeah, we aren’t saved by works…that’s clear so far but for those who want to hear more it’s coming…but don’t cast aside belief like it’s ALL you have to do… Believing before seeing is Trust… and God seems to hold that in high esteem..

  2. Stephen Cureton says:

    Trusting in God is highly esteemed because He knows who REALLY trusts Him. I find it interesting how we like to seperate believe from works as though it must be one, or the other. Jesus had no problem bringing them together in John 6: 28-29; Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.

  3. Randall says:

    Hi Stephen,
    Yes, the scripture is correct: It is the work of God that causes us to come to faith in him.

    Most people that make a distinction between faith and works do so with the intent of making it clear that works do not CAUSE our salvation, but are the result of it. Luther was known for saying something like: man is saved by faith, not works; but by a faith that works. Also that man is saved through faith alone, but not that faith which is alone.

    So if a person has true faith it will be evident by their works. It will not stand around all alone doing nothing.

    The problem comes when (especially in the past) some in the CofC chose to eliminate the trust aspect of faith. When theologians speak of saving faith they typically stress that it includes knowledge, assent AND trust. The demons have knowledge and assent, but not trust. The demons may have some kind of faith (loosely speaking) but not the saving faith that theologians speak of.

  4. Price says:

    I don’t think WE separate belief from works so much as we read where God does….

    Romans 4:5 “And to the one who does not work but believes.”

    Eph 2:8-9 ” Saved by grace through faith…..NOT OF WORKS.”

    It’s pretty obvious unless one is trying hard not to see it that faith is not equal to works…..

    The John 6 quote that Stephen quoted seems almost a contradiction to the people that were listening…they wanted to know WHAT TO DO….Jesus told them to BELIEVE… That’s the only work that you had to focus on as compared to the rules ad nausea of the Jewish Law…

    No, a true believer doesn’t get to sit around and do nothing. God isn’t a lazy God.. HE will compel us to DO… sometimes when we don’t even understand why we are doing such and such a thing… Like Abram, we uproot and relocate and His direction…NOT because we see the end result…but because we BELIEVE and TRUST in HIM…

    I can’t think of a single significant Man or Woman of God that wasn’t in action…But, God was the motivational force..not themselves… Actually, it generally went bad for them when they decided to just up and do something without checking in with the Father… The Israelites had to fight the inhabitants of the land of Promise…but surely the battle was won before they drew the sword…

  5. Micah Cobb says:


    Have you read the section in Thomas Schreiner’s Romans commentary that deals with whether Rom 3:22 is referring to the faith(fulness) of Christ or faith in Christ?

    I was wondering what you thought of his arguments, since in my readings his discussion of it is the most thorough I have found. He convinced me to switch back to the “faith in Christ” view.

    (If you haven’t read his argument, I summarized it recently for a fellow minister. I can email it to you.)

  6. Jay Guin says:


    I’ve not read the argument. I’d be interested in reading it.

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