Justified by faith . . . translation question

Romans 5:1 in NRSV, NIV, and NEV all use the phrase, "since we are justified by faith," or we "have been justified by faith." In the CEB, though, the phrase reads, "since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness." I want to use Romans 5 in conjuction with Genesis 18 and Sarah's story, so the wording in Romans makes a huge difference, at least in my mind. Is there a good reason the CEB translates the Greek differently?

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CEB takes interpretation away from the reader . . .
There's really not a good reason for the CEB's translation, in my opinion. The grammar and vocabulary of the opening clause in Rom 5:1 is pretty straightforward. What's under debate among interpreters is what Paul means by the verb dikaioō (traditionally translated as "justified") and the noun pistis (traditionally translated as "faith") in this context and more broadly throughout Romans. The CEB translation committee thought that "made righteous" is more appropriate than "justified." Maybe they wanted readers to know that the Greek word there is related to the noun dikaiosunē (typically translated as "righteousness"). I worry that neither "justified" nor "made righteous" means much to modern English speakers, but translators needed to choose something. As for the rest of the clause, there is no Greek word for "his" in this clause. Instead, Paul speaks merely of "faith" (although "faithfulness" is another possible rendering of pistis). The addition of "his" (meaning, Jesus') is probably because the CEB translation committee was persuaded that Paul is talking about Jesus' own faith[fulness] as the thing that brings about humanity's being made right before God and with God. Although there's good reason to come to that conclusion, in light of Paul's overall argument and his ways of speaking about pistis, I think that translating it in that way takes that interpretive decision away from the reader.
Author: Matthew L. Skinner
Whose faith are we talking about?
This is a great question, and it’s one without a simple answer. There is a good reason for the difference in these translations, because Paul’s Greek leaves the meaning somewhat open ended. The language of Romans 5:1 says “having been justified (or made righteous) by faith…” . But Paul’s use of the phrase “faith of Christ” (pistis christou) elsewhere (e.g., Rom 3:22) leads scholars to debate whose faith has made us righteous.
In a nutshell, being justified by “pistis christou” could mean we are made righteous by Christ’s own faithful obedience to God… or it could mean we are justified by our own faith (by believing in Jesus). Many contemporary Christians understand the latter to be important to our theology, but more scholars now would argue that Paul had in mind something closer to the former. By his faithful life and acceptance of God’s will in his death, Christ made possible our salvation. Of course, Paul also thinks individual faith is important, but that’s not what the language “faith of Christ” refers to primarily. I think the CEB is translating “faith of Christ” in other places as Christ’s faithfulness, and they have inserted the extra language here to clarify that it’s still a part of that larger argument Paul is making in Romans.
I’m not sure how that would affect your sermon, because it may depend on how much you were thinking about our faith being important. If that’s the case, it seems fair to say that, although Paul thought we are all saved by Jesus’ acts of faithfulness, we are supposed to model our lives on his. Romans 12 has a lot of language that points in that direction, so it doesn’t seem out of bounds. I’m sure you’ll figure out a way to word it so it makes sense!


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Author: Susan E. Hylen




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