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1800 Years of History Undone?: “Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” – Romans 3:3 Geneva Bible

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1800 Years of History Undone?

.“Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?”

Romans 3:3 Geneva Bible


“We’re lost, but we’re making good time.” -Yogi Berra [1]


“My father used to say, ‘When we open the Bible, we are opening God’s mouth.’”
Huron Claus, President of CHIEF, and a fifth generation follower of Jesus Christ
from the Mohawk and Kiowa Nations. [2]



The Voice of History

Against the backdrop of Israel’s spiritual defection, the apostle Paul rhetorically challenged his leaders in Romans 3:3: “Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” [3]

John Chrysostom (c.347-407), Archbishop of Constantinople, had been a preacher in the church at Antioch. Greek was his native language and the common language of the ancient civilized world. Commenting on Romans 3:1-4, he highlighted the fact that God demonstrated “faith” toward the Jews in the divine act of entrusting oracles to them. Chrysostom thereby made it obvious that “faith” was the recognized meaning of the Greek pistis in Romans 3:3.

Given Chrysostom’s stature in the 4th-century church, his testimony is of foremost significance. Sanctioned by the bishop of Rome, the widely acclaimed Jerome (347-420) translated the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures into the Latin Vulgate. His rendering the Greek pistis in Romans 3:3 by the Latin fides [meaning “faith”] concurs with Chrysostom’s ancient testimony.

Chrysostom and Jerome, representing both eastern and western branches of Christendom, confirm that “faith” was the established meaning of pistis in Romans 3:3 and had been from the days of the apostles. This established meaning continued for 1800 years as attested by all the major English versions: Wycliffe (1380, 1384), Tyndale (1525), Coverdale (1535), the Geneva Bible (1560), [4] the original Roman Catholic Douay-Rheims New Testament (1582), [5] and the King James Version (1611). Change came in 1881.

Beginning with the English Revised Version of 1881, followed by the 1901 American Standard Version, virtually all English versions, including the New King James Version, have substituted “faithfulness” for “faith” in Romans 3:3.

In the light of such substantial historical testimony, C. S. Lewis’s perspective resonates:

Would you think I was joking if I said that you can put a clock back, and that if the clock is wrong it is often a very sensible thing to do? But I would rather get away from the whole idea of clocks. We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. We have all seen this when doing arithmetic. When I have started a sum the wrong way, the sooner I admit this and go back and start over again, the faster I shall get on. There is nothing progressive about being pigheaded and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on. [6]


Romans 3:3 Lead-Out

If Paul can be considered a progressive in his own day “now that faith has come,” [7] it is never at the expense of the foundation. “To the Jew first” [8] was the modus operandi of “the apostle of the Gentiles.” [9] The Jews had the first and foremost advantage in that “unto them were committed the oracles of God.” [10] Not only is this the answer to the question Paul posed in Romans 3:1: “What advantage then hath the Jew?”, it is the key for understanding “the pistis of God” in Romans 3:3. The connection between the entrustment of the “oracles of God” to the Jews in verse 2 and “the faith of God” in verse 3 is established by Paul’s use of the Greek verb pisteuo to convey the meaning of “commit” or “entrust” in verse 2. For this verbal first cousin of the Greek noun pistis is normally rendered “believe” or “have faith.” God’s commitment of his oracles to the Jews, accordingly, was a demonstration of faith on God’s part. Thus he honored them as no nation had ever been honored. [11] Further, the “oracles” themselves were an inscription of that “faith of God” even while that “faith” was subdued under old covenant shadows and types. [12] In fact, Stephen, under the new covenant, in his final sermon leading to his martyrdom, notably designated the law Moses received at Mt. Sinai as “lively” or “living” oracles. [13] This very Letter to the Romans which Paul, himself a Jew, was writing by divine commission, [14] would soon be recognized as among the sacred “oracles of God.”

While “the pistis of God” in Romans 3:3 is a perfect match for “the faith” that “has come” in the person and work of Jesus Christ, [15] Paul insisted before Governor Festus that his preaching added nothing to what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass. [16] This is the “faith” of which it was said Paul was now preaching but “which once he destroyed.” [17] The apostle’s rhetorical question in Romans 3:3, however, and the “God forbid” which follows in verse 4, assures his readers that no Jewish unbelief, least of all his own previous state of unbelief, could nullify “the faith of God.” This is reinforced by the resounding affirmative: “. . . yea, let God be true, and every man a liar.”

Chrysostom commented,

As if one should say, I have honoured such an one. And if he did not receive the honour, this gives no ground for accusing me, nor impairs my kindness, but shews his want of feeling. . . . not only does their unbelief not leave the soil of a complaint upon God, but even shows His love and honour of man to be the greater in that He is shown to bestow honour upon one who would dishonour Him. [18]


Propositional Dimension

Paul’s highlighting the entrustment of “the oracles of God” in Romans 3:2, immediately preceding his reference to “the pistis of God” in Romans 3:3, lends a propositional dimension to “the faith of God” by identifying it with that “faith once for all delivered to the saints.” [19] To substitute “faithfulness” for “faith” in Romans 3:3, on the other hand, does injustice to “the faith of God” by obscuring its propositional dimension, thus suppressing the Bible’s witness to its own infallibility. [20] For, by removing “the faith of God” in Romans 3:3, the English Revised Version Committee removed the bridge of biblical infallibility which, to English readers prior to 1881, had closely associated Paul’s affirmative: “Let God be true though every man a liar!” with “the oracles of God.” And it is perfectly understandable why a Unitarian on the English Revised Version Committee would be inclined toward substituting “faithfulness” for “faith” in Romans 3:3 inasmuch as “the faith of God,” strictly considered, can be nothing short of “faith in his blood.” [21] Ralph Waldo Emerson understood that when he vacated his Christian ministry in the midst of officiating at the Lord’s Table. But that is a subject for another chapter.


In summary, “the faith of God”

1. is an eternally existent, shared property in the triune Godhead;

2. was historically expressed in God’s acts of entrusting his “oracles” to Israel;

3. is inscribed as the “oracles of God” now co-extensive with the biblical canon, complete,
and consisting of 66 books (in our English Bibles);

4. is incarnate in the Son; [22]

5. is tantamount to the gospel itself; and

6. constitutes and indwells the saints. [23]


Rev. Dr. Edwin Elliot, former Publisher of the Christian Observer, once commented to this writer that “orthodoxy,” though commonly understood as “right thinking,” is more properly understood as “right worship” as in “doxology.” Hymn writer Frederick W. Faber (1814-1863) closely associated the “holy faith” of our fathers “living still” with “that glorious word” that causes “our hearts” to “beat high with joy” whenever we hear it.


Faith of our fathers, living still
In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword,
O how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear that glorious word!
Faith of our fathers, holy faith,
We will be true to thee till death. Amen. [24]



[1] Yogi Berra, New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher, outfielder, and manager is known for his unique style of wit.

[2] Quotation of Huron Claus as he spoke to a gathering of Native Americans (and this author) in Arizona, 2007. CHIEF is an acronym for Christian Hope Indian Eskimo Fellowship whose mission is to disciple and equip a strong Native American leadership for the development of the indigenous church throughout North, Central and South America.

[3] Geneva Bible

[4] The Geneva Bible was the translation of some of the greatest scholars of the 16th-century Reformation. It became the household Bible of English-speaking Protestants on both sides of the Atlantic, and was the Bible quoted in the works of William Shakespeare.

[5] The original Douay-Rheims Bible was translated directly from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate.

[6] Mere Christianity, 36-37.

[7] Gal. 3:25

[8] Rom. 1:16

[9] Rom. 11:13

[10] Rom. 3:2

[11] Israel’s honored status is described in Deuteronomy 4:7-8; 36 and Psalm 147:19-20.

[12] Gal. 3:23-24; Col. 2:16-17

[13] Acts 7:38

[14] Paul describes his own divine call and commission in Ephesians 3:2-11.

[15] Gal. 3:25; 4:4

[16] Acts 26:22

[17] Gal. 1:23

[18] Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, p. 82

[19] Jude 3

[20] The chapter entitled “The Real Problem of Inspiration,” in B. B. Warfield’s The Inspiration and
Authority of the Bible focuses on the Bible’s witness to its own infallibility.

[21] Rom. 3:25

[22] Gal. 3:25; 4:4

[23] Rom. 1:17; 10:8-10; Ephes. 3:17

[24] The hymn Faith of Our Fathers was written by Englishman Frederick W. Faber (1814-1863). The refrain was written by James G. Walton in 1874. This hymn was sung at the 1945 funeral of American president Franklin Roosevelt, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC.



Bruce, F. F. 1961. The English Bible: A history of translations. New York: Oxford University Press.

Chrysostom, Saint. n.d. Homilies of S. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Epistle of S. Paul the Apostle to the Romans. Google Books.

Cyber Hymnal, The

Geneva Bible. 1560.

Lewis, C. S. 1960. Mere Christianity. New York: The MacMillan Company.

Warfield, Benjamin B. 1948. The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.


About the Writer
David Clark Brand is a retired pastor and educator with missionary experience in Korea and Arizona. He and his wife reside in Ohio. They have four grown children and six grandchildren. With a B.A. in the Liberal Arts, an M. Div., and a Th.M. in Church History, Dave continues to enjoy study and writing. One of his books, a contextual study of the life and thought of Jonathan Edwards, was published by the American Academy of Religion via Scholars Press in Atlanta.




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