Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Exegesis of Romans 5:1 from The God Who Justifies (For Comparison)
01/31/2007 - James White5:1 Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (NIV)
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (NASB)
Dikaiwqevnte" ou\n ejk pivstew" eijrhvnhn ¢e[comen pro;" to;n qeo;n dia; tou' kurivou hJmw'n ÆIhsou' Cristou'
Romans 5:1 marks the transition from the demonstration of the doctrine of justification to the application of justification. But it is not a sudden transition, and we can gain much theological insight from the passage. In fact, the very form of the transition ("Therefore, having been justified...") is rich in theological insight regarding the topic before us.
The NET and NIV both render the aorist participle, dikaiothentes (dikaiwqevnte"), since we have with the NIV choosing "been justified by faith" and the NET going with "been declared righteous by faith." The NASB's "having been justified by faith" is only slightly more literal. In each of these translations, we see one of the key elements of the passage: the declaration of justification is in the past. That is, the aorist participle, syntactically speaking, refers to an action that is antecedent to the action of the main verb, here echomen (e[comen).(1) As Fitzmyer observed,
now that we are justified through faith. Lit., justified from faith, expressed by the aor. pass. ptc., which connotes the once-for-all action of Christ Jesus on behalf of humanity. What is stated at the beginning of this verse is a summation of the latter section of part A, especially 3:22-26.(2)
The relationship between justification and having peace is clear: because we have been justified through faith as an action in the past, we now have, as a present possession, peace (eijrhvnhn) with God.
There can be no doubt what lies behind Paul's use of the term peace in this passage. The Hebrew steeped in Scripture knew full well the meaning of shalom (~Alv'). It does not refer merely to a cessation of hostilities (though surely it means this as well, and such is true of justification, for the reason for hostility is removed in the work of Christ). It is not a temporary cease-fire. The term shalom would not refer to a situation where two armed forces face each other across a border, ready for conflict, but not yet at war. Shalom refers to a fullness of peace, a wellness of relationship. It has a strong positive element. Those systems that proclaim a man-centered scheme of justification cannot explain the richness of this word. They cannot provide peace because a relationship that finds its source and origin in the actions of imperfect sinners will always be imperfect itself. Only the gospel of Christ, which says that Christ is our all-in-all, that Christ is the powerful Savior, that Christ is able to save completely (Hebrews 7:25), can provide for true peace. This theme was prevalent in the older, theologically-oriented commentaries:
The phrase eijrhvnhn e[comen pro;" to;n qeo;n, we have peace in regard to God, properly means, God is at peace with us, his ojrghv (wrath) towards us is removed. It expresses, as Philippians says, not a state of mind, but a relation to God. It is that relation which arises from the expiation of sin, and consequently justification. We are no longer his enemies, in the objective sense of the term..., but are the objects of his favour.(3)
Justified by faith as a past action, resulting, infallibly, invariably, in peace with God: Paul will repeat this theme in Romans 8:30 where he will say that those who are justified by God will, invariably, be glorified by Him as well. The Christian can speak as the Apostle Paul, I have been justified by faith. I have peace with God through my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The Text of Romans 5:1: Indicative or Subjunctive?
The New Testament is the most accurate ancient text known to man. Modern scholars have an embarrassing amount of textual data in the manuscript tradition with which to work. The over-all textual purity and certainty of the original readings far surpasses any other ancient document.
And yet there are a relatively small number of textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament that call for close study. Romans 5:1 is such a variant. Not only does it present a theologically relevant issue, but it likewise presents a variant that pits the external documentation against the internal considerations. But despite the issues involved, a wide and bi-partisan group of scholars all agree: the actual reading is not difficult to discern.
The difference amounts to all of one letter, but that one letter determines if the reading contains an indicative verb or a subjunctive verb. The subjunctive form of the verb is e[cwmen, and the indicative is e[comen. The difference is easily discerned: the subjunctive has the w (the Greek letter omega) while the indicative has o (the Greek letter omicron). In a very general sense, the subjunctive would be translated, Let us have peace with God, while the indicative is translated, we have peace with God.
Unfortunately, ¸46, one of the most important witnesses to the text of the Pauline letters, begins at Romans 5:17, and hence cannot help us with this variant. The great uncials, a, A and B, each give the subjunctive reading. However, both a and B have the subjunctive in the original hand, with an immediate correction by the first corrector. The problem is, we cannot know with certainty the amount of time that passed between the original writing and the first correction: sometimes the first corrector represents an almost immediate correction, sometimes decades have passed since the original writing. This is significant in this variant since the difference between the two words can easily be understood as an error of hearing. That is, if the scribe was copying as the text was being read to him, the difference in pronunciation between the two forms would have been quite minimal. But even if these manuscripts were written by someone who was copying directly from an exemplar (an original document before them), the difference in the two forms could be fairly easily explained as an error of sight.
Interestingly enough, the Majority Text is split on this variant. The Majority Text, edited by Hodges and Farstad, gives the indicative form as its reading, but notes that there is a split in the manuscript tradition upon which they lean.
Some writers, for primarily theological reasons, focus upon the variant in an attempt to remove Romans 5:1 from the field of battle, so to speak. But there is a truly bi-partisan agreement on how the variant should be read. The following sources span a wide variety of theological beliefs, but all come to the same conclusion:
The better Greek MSS (a*, A, B, C, D, K, L, 33, 81, 1175) read echômen the pres. Subjunct., let us have peace with God, as Kuss, Lagrange, and Sanday and Headlam prefer to read the text. That would introduce a paraenetic nuance, and it has been so understood by patristic writers and others, making it the equivalent of phylassien eirçnçn, keep peace (with God), i.e., let us now give evidence of this justification by a life of peace with God. But N-A26 and most modern commentators prefer the reading echomen, the pres. indic., we have peace (as in MSS a,1, B2, F, G, P, Y, 0220), regarding the confusion of o with ô as auditory on the part of the copyist. Thus Paul's utterance is a statement of fact expressing an effect of justification, which suits the context better than the hortatory subjunctive. Here Paul is not exhorting human beings to manifest toward God a peaceful attitude, but is instead stating the de facto situation in which they find themselves, one of peace and reconciliation issuing from his grace and mercy and guaranteeing the hope of salvation, for they are no longer under wrath.(4)
Though the indicative e[comen is a good deal less strongly attested than the subjunctive e[cwmen, it is almost certainly to be preferred on the ground of intrinsic probability. It is clear from v. 10f that Paul regards the believer peace with God as a fact. It would therefore be inconsistent for him to say here let us obtain peace (Paul would anyway hardly think of peace with God as something to be obtained by human endeavour). If the subjunctive is read, we must understand it in some sense as let us enjoy the peace we have or let us guard the peace we have (cf., e.g., Origen, Chrysostom). But this is not free from objection; for it would surely be strange for Paul, in such a carefully argued writing as this, to exhort his readers to enjoy or to guard a peace he has not yet explicitly shown to be possessed by them. While it is of course true that considerations such as have just been mentioned could easily have led to the substitution of the indicative for the subjunctive, a deliberate alteration in the opposite direction would also be understandable, since a copyist might well have felt that, after so much doctrinal statement, an element of exhortation was called for. But, since the difference in pronunciation between o and w was slight, a change in either direction could easily occur, whenever in the transmission of the text dictation was employed (cf. the textual variations in, e.g., 6.2; 14.19; I Cor 15.49).(5)
The context of vv. 1-11 suggests e[comen. The better attestation of e[cwmen is offset by the fact that in R. 14:19 there is better attestation of the impossible indic[ative] diwvkomen instead of the conj., which alone is possible. In manuscript tradition there is an uncontrollable vacillation between the indic. and conj. of the 1st pers. plur.(6)
Although the subjunctive e[cwmen . . . has far better external support than the indicative e[comen . . . , a majority of the Committee judged that internal evidence must here take precedence. Since in this passage it appears that Paul is not exhorting but stating facts (peace is the possession of those who have been justified), only the indicative is consonant with the apostles argument.(7)
The general agreement of scholars from all viewpoints and backgrounds is a strong testimony to the indicative reading that is found in the vast majority of modern commentators.
(1) Some aorist participles can express a simultaneous action, but in this case, the aorist participle with the present tense verb clearly refers to an antecedent action, as all meaningful translations recognize. Aorist participles are routinely and regularly antecedent in their time to the main verb of the sentence. They can be contemporaneous in action, but, they are so with 1) other aorists and 2) with what is called an historical present. Romans 5:1 fits in neither category, hence, the translation.
(2) Fitzmeyer, Romans, 395.
(3) Hodge, Epistle to the Romans, 132.
(4) Fitzmeyer, Romans, 395. Likewise, the Roman Catholic Jerome Biblical Commentary (Prentice-Hall, 1968), II:305, says of this same variant, The pres. indic. echomen (we have [peace]) is preferred by modern commentators to the pres. subj. echoÐmen (let us have), which, though better attested, is an obvious scribal correction.
(5) C.E.B. Cranfield, Commentary on Romans (T&T Clark, 1975), 257.
(6) Werner Foerster in TDNT (Eerdmans, 1964), II:416.
(7) Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (UBS, 1975), 511.