BY FAITH AND THROUGH FAITH
T. PIERCE BROWN
In view of the increasing number of preachers and teachers who do not seem to think that the words in the Bible have any specific meaning, but that almost any interpretation is satisfactory except some traditional one, we think it appropriate to emphasize that the Holy Spirit was very accurate in using the words He wanted to use to convey the exact thought He wanted us to gain from the expression. As a case in point, let us examine Romans 3:30, where we find the expression, “– he shall justify the circumcision by (Gr. out of) faith, and the uncircumcision through faith.” I checked fourteen commentators, but none of them seemed to see any reason why Paul used two different expressions. Barnes makes the specific statement that there is no difference in the meaning. Lard is a little better, although he says, “Between the two expressions I can discover no difference. If there be any, it amounts to about this: that in ek pisteos the justification is conceived as arising out of belief as a source, whereas, in dia tes pisteos it is realized through the belief as means.”
Even Whiteside, in whom I have more confidence than in most of the others combined, says, “It would seem that Paul meant to make a distinction between the phrases `by faith’ and `through faith,’ else why the two phrases? But the distinction, if any, is too subtle for me to discover.”
Though loath to reveal either my arrogance or my ignorance, as I must do in differing with those scholars, I would like to suggest what seems to be a legitimate reason for Paul’s use of those two expressions. Paul has been dealing with the matter of justification both of Jew and Gentile. He has pointed out that regardless of the law under which they operated, “by the works of law no flesh will be justified” (Rom.3:20). This is true because the only way a man can be justified on the principle of keeping law is that he must have kept it perfectly. It should be evident even to a tyro that if a person has ever broken the law, he cannot be justified on the basis of having kept it!
Many of those who are emphasizing the wonderful doctrine of salvation by grace seem to be saying that since we are saved by grace, we are relieved of the necessity of keeping God’s law. The very idea is preposterous! If we were not obligated to keep God’s law, we would never need to say, “God forgive me,” for sin is a result of not keeping God’s law. So, neither Christians, Jews nor any other person can properly say that he is justified on the basis of law-keeping. He must say, in effect, “God forgive me in spite of the fact that I broke your law, for I accept your gracious offer of forgiveness on the basis of Christ’s precious sacrifice, which I accept on the terms offered.” His terms for an alien sinner involve repentance and baptism. His terms for a child of God who sins involve repentance and prayer. The basis is still the gracious offer of redemption through the blood, not because we have kept his law perfectly. but because we accept his grace properly.
Paul was dealing with the Jew who thought that he had some advantage because he had the oracles of God — the Law of Moses. Paul admits that he had advantages. But the advantage was not what the Jew thought it was. Surely a person who has God to tell him the best ways of doing things, and the way to be blessed and happy has many advantages over those who do not have that. To assume that having those advantages or privileges automatically gives him higher standing in God’s sight, or gives him justification is to make the fatal mistake the Jews made. In fact, the greater the advantage a person has, the greater his responsibility is to act in accordance with that advantage and the greater his guilt if he fails. This is a universal law. The 10 talent man has many advantages over the 1 talent man, but if he assumes that his ten talents somehow makes him more worthy or righteous, he makes a fatal error which may be more common among us than many realize.
After admitting that the Jew had many advantages over the Gentile, Paul plainly points out in Romans 3:9 that it did not make him any better, for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Then, when he comes to verse 30, he emphasizes that God will justify the circumcision (the Jew) “out of faith.” What Paul is saying is that the source from which Jews may find justification is not in doing the works of the Law of Moses, but in demonstrating faith described in the Gospel (the faith of Jesus Christ). Then, to the Gentile, who presumably knew that the source of their salvation was not in the Law of Moses, for it did not apply to them, he says, “the means of your justification is the same thing — “faith in Jesus,” (in the original, “through the faith”) or the gospel system, in contrast with any means the Gentile had been using as an attempt to be justified. He is not even suggesting two different ways to be saved, as if one was by faith and the other through faith. He specifies over and over that there is only one way for both Jew and Gentile. However, it is still proper to emphasize to the Jew that the source of his justification was the faith he had in the Christ of the Gospel, and emphasize to the Gentile that it was also the means by which he could be saved. When Paul asks in verse 31, “Do we then make the law of none effect through faith?” he uses the expression “through the faith” and the context is clear that he is not speaking of our personal faith in Christ, but the system of faith in contrast to the Law of Moses.
Lard recognizes that distinction in meaning, but thinks it makes no difference and is confusing. I disagree with him, for I think the Holy Spirit through Paul used exactly the words that were proper. It would be confusing if one assumed that he is saying that Jews were justified one way (by faith) and the Gentiles another way (through faith). But it is proper to emphasize to the Jew who thought the works of the Law was the source of his justification, that the source is the faith which he has in Christ, demonstrated by obeying the gospel. Then to the Gentile, who was not thinking so much of where his justification comes from, or its source, but how he must operate to get it, the means is emphasized. The same truth applies to both of them, but the emphasis is different because of their different perspectives. One does not have to understand the subtle, but significant, distinction between the source of our salvation and the means by which we get it in order to realize that the “bottom line” is that any person who is justified (Jew or Gentile) can only be justified by and through the gospel — the faith once for all delivered to the saints. However, in my judgment, it should deepen our appreciation of the depth of the riches of God’s truth when we realize that in such a small matter as the use of the prepositions “ek” and “dia” God revealed two aspects of his grace. God said what he wanted to say. It is even significant that when God wanted to emphasize the system of faith, or the gospel, He normally would use some expression like “the faith of Jesus Christ.” It is a matter of regret that the translators seldom translate it accurately, showing the difference between our personal faith and the system of faith. Surely anyone who reads Galatians 3:23-26 can see that difference clearly.
When God wanted Paul to say to the Colossians, “Stop lying” (Col. 3:9) he had him use “me pseudesthe” (a present imperative) rather than an aorist subjunctive, or some other form which would have prohibited an action not already being done. “Lie not” does not have exactly the same force as “Stop lying” which is what Paul said. Surely anyone who realizes that the Bible teaches that “by (en) him, through (dia) him, unto (eis) him” (Col. 1:16-17) all things were made can see that in one grand, comprehensive diamond of truth there are many brilliant facets which reflect the glory of God’s truth, but are all a part of the same tremendous truth.