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The Obedience Which Is Faith

Romans 1:5 and 16:26

by Bob Wilkin

. . . through whom we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name.

. . . and by the prophetic Scriptures [the mystery] has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith.

The expression translated for obedience to the faith (in the . . NKJV) occurs only in the two verses just cited. It is important that we understand what this expression means. Otherwise we might become confused about the Gospel.

What Is the Best Translation?

The translation for obedience to the faith is not the only possible translation of the Greek (=eis hupakoen pisteos). In fact, most leading versions translated this expression differently in Rom 1:5 and 16:26. The KJV reads respectively, "for obedience to the faith" and "for the obedience of faith." The NASB gives these translations: "to bring about the obedience of faith" and "leading to obedience of faith." The NIV has "to the obedience that comes from faith" and "so that all nations might believe and obey him." Interestingly only the NKJV translates the expression exactly the same way in both places: "for obedience to the faith."

The NIV readings are interpretive paraphrases, not translations.

The translation of the NKJV in both places and the KJV in Rom 1:5-"for obedience to the faith"- understands the word faith to be the "object" of obedience (grammatically called an objective genitive).

The rendering of the NASB in both places and the KJV in Rom 16:26-"for the obedience of faith"- takes the word faith to be in apposition to obedience (grammatically called a genitive of apposition).

The rendering "for the obedience of faith" is probably best because in the Greek text the word faith lacks the definite article. If Paul had meant "for obedience to the faith" (= for obedience to the body of truth delivered by the apostles, or possibly, specifically to the Gospel only), he most likely would have put the definite article before the word faith. Compare Rom 14:1; 1 Cor 16:13; 2 Cor 13:5; Col 1:23; 1 Tim 5:8. See also Acts 6:7.

What Is the Best Interpretation?

Establishing the best translation does not necessarily determine the best interpretation. Three different interpretations are possible for the translation, "for the obedience of faith." Saving faith includes commitment

One view is that if faith is in apposition to obedience:

    Hence the implications of this expression 'obedience of faith' are far-reaching. For the faith which the apostleship was intended to promote was not an evanescent [i.e., quickly fading] act of emotion but the commitment of wholehearted devotion to Christ and to the truth of his gospel. (John Murray, Romans, Two Volumes in One, pp. 13-14)

This view correctly understands the grammar but then makes an unjustified interpretive leap. Murray is reading his theology into the text, not allowing the text to speak. The grammar in no way justifies the so-called implications given.

Saving faith results in ongoing fruit

John MacArthur takes a different view. Rather than interpreting the expression as defining saving faith, he sees it as explaining its inevitable results:

    Faith is by nature turned and toned toward obedience (Acts 5:32; Rom 1 :5; 2:8; 16:26), so good works are inevitable in the life of one who truly believes. (Faith Works, p. 142)

This view, like the previous one, involves a reading of one's theology into the text. The grammar does not support this theological excursion.

Saving faith is obedience

Commenting on our expression in Rom 1:5, Anders Nygren writes,

    One receives in faith that which God proffers us through Christ. This is "the obedience of faith." (Romans, p. 55)

Here is a fair treatment of the text. Paul is simply speaking of the obedience which is faith.

It is biblically correct to speak of faith as an act of obedience. After all, God commands us to believe the Gospel (e.g., Acts 16:31).

Support for this view is seen in many passages. Acts 6:7 says that "many of the priests were obedient to the faith." Romans 10:16 and 2 Thess 1:8 speak of obeying or disobeying the Gospel. See also, John 3:36; 6:28-29; 1 Pet 1:2, 22; 2:7-8; and Acts 5:32.


Jesus called for people to believe in Him. Thus whenever anyone believes in Him, he is obeying Him. Saving faith is an act of obedience.

So, you should not be bothered by the idea of faith as an act of obedience.

The obedience of faith spoken of in Rom 1:5 and 16:26 does not refer to obeying all that God has commanded. No one but the Lord Jesus has done that. Rather, it refers specifically to obeying the command to believe the Gospel. If you've done that, you've exercised the obedience of faith.

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