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Onward to the Obvious: “Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” – Romans 3:3 Geneva Bible

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Onward to the Obvious

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

Romans 3:3 Geneva Bible

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“Every act of the Will whatsoever is excited by some motive: which is manifest, because, if the mind, in willing after the manner it does, is excited by no motive or inducement, then it has no end which it proposes to itself, or pursues in so doing; it aims at nothing, and seeks nothing.” – Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), Freedom of the Will [1]

 

The Wetness of Water


One might dismiss the weight of historical testimony which identifies “faith” as the intended meaning of the Greek pistis in Romans 3:3, [2] concede to the 1881 revisionists, and proceed to adopt the idea that we are called to be “imitators of God” [3] in every matter except “faith.” Or is faith the ground of faithfulness? And that is like asking whether water is the basis for wetness! Could anyone possibly read the Old Testament account of God’s establishment of covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, the nation of Israel, and King David and then conclude that God fulfilled every covenant without himself believing in the covenant? Is there any hint of divine indifference, doubt, vacillation, or lack of faith in either the Old or New Testament that would prompt such a conclusion? God’s speech and actions are consistent with his sovereignty, [4] his character, [5] and the specific promises, commands, and warnings which comprise each covenant. [6]

If God did not believe in his own words or actions, no less than being faithful concerning them, he would have to deny himself–the very thing that Scripture says he cannot do! [7] For how could God be faithful to his own word if he did not, in the first place, believe it? Or how could he have placed Adam, and all men, under condemnation and death on the basis of Adam’s transgression, [8] if he himself did not believe what he had instituted in Genesis 2:16-17? In that case (hypothetically speaking ) the serpent would hardly have bothered to  undermine the woman’s faith in God’s covenant of life in order to realize his objectives! [9]

 

Contingency or Condescension?

God did occasionally employ anthropomorphic language as a means to reveal his divine personhood and to interact with humans. Such condescension is central to the Judaeo-Christian faith. [10] While skeptics insist that such a mode of communication indicates contingency within the Godhead, biblical anthropomorphic language actually depicts the immutable character of God.

The Incarnation redefined the anthropomorphic whereby Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, fully participated in our earthly human weakness and struggle, [11] yet without yielding to sin. Unique in self-control, poise, and ministry, Jesus, on our behalf, faced and settled the ultimate human question, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” At once the greatest test of faith and the greatest triumph of faith, this act of obedience was punctuated by Jesus’ victorious cry: “It is finished!” [12] This is “the faith of God” of Romans 3:3, even as the blood shed on that occasion was God’s own. [13] Later Jesus explained to his disciples how his own death and resurrection on the third day had fulfilled the Scriptures–thereby documenting his faith in the Old Testament, just as he had done in his Sermon on the Mount. [14]

 

Sine Qua Non

If God did not display his Son as a propitiation [Greek hilasterion], [15] through the “excitement” [16] of a personal faith motive, and specifically “faith [Greek pistis] in his blood,” [17] or if that “faith [Greek pistis] of God” [18] did not represent the “assurance” [Greek pistis] associated with the resurrection of “the man whom he . . . appointed,” [19] there would have been no “good faith” on the Father’s part whatsoever, no covenant at all, and nothing but a fictitious propitiation. These conclusions are inescapable since the public displaying of the Son upon the cross was more fundamentally a foreordaining on the Father’s part which would be inconceivable apart from “faith in his blood.” [20] That foreordaining was significantly reflected in, and that faith was significantly typified by

1. the tree of life in prelapsarian [21] Eden;

2. Abraham’s consoling word to Isaac at Mount Moriah followed by God’s intervention and substitutionary provision of a ram for the sacrifice; [22] and

3. God’s designating blood as the medium of atonement for sin in Leviticus 17:11.

Jonathan Edwards, Jr., D.D., President of Union College, addressed this matter in a sermon on Acts 20:28 entitled “The Purchase of Christ’s Blood” at New Haven, Connecticut in 1786:

Sufficiency avail without an express purpose! Was it ever known or heard of that Christ rendered it consistent with the honor of the law for any to be pardoned even by faith without dying as their proper and avowed Substitute? Did you ever read of any influence which he exerted upon the actual or possible pardon of men, but by dying in their stead, ” the just for the unjust?” How in any other way could he have such an influence? If a real and acknowledged Substitute was necessary to actual pardon, it was equally necessary to the grant of conditional pardon, if the grant was made in good faith . . . [23]

For this son and namesake of “the first American philosopher,” [24] logic dictated that the death of Christ was meaningless if the Old Testament promises related to it were not made in “good faith”!

 

Endnotes

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[1.] Works, 1:26-27

[2.] See David Brand’s “1800 Years of History Undone?”, Christian Observer, April 2012

[3.] Ephes. 5:1

[4.] Exod. 33:19

[5.] Exod. 34:6-7

[6.] 2 Cor. 1:18-22

[7.] 2 Tim. 2:13 If it be argued that the Greek pistos cannot mean “believing” in reference to God in the context of 2 Timothy 2:13, it should be noted that the Lord Jesus used this word in John 20:27 in contrast to apistos, and it is rendered “believing” while apistos is rendered “faithless” by the King James Version, as well as the American Standard Version of 1901 which followed the English Revised Version of 1881. The point of 2 Timothy 2:13 is that “the faith of God” remains constant and invincible whatever relapse his children’s faith may suffer, and that is a great comfort to his children. When we read the Gospels, we see this phenomenon quite often in Jesus’ training of the twelve. If “faithful,” rather than “believing” be the English rendering of pistos in 2 Timothy 2:13, it can well be understood as “full of faith” or “constant in faith.” This is not to deny or overlook God’s trustworthiness but to underscore the basis of it. God cannot deny himself.

[8.] Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:22

[9.] Gen. 3:1-5

[10.] John 1:18

[11.] Luke 12:50; 22:41-44; Mark 15:34

[12.] Mark 15:34, 37; John 19:30

[13.] Rom. 3:3; Acts 20:28

[14.] Luke 24:25-27, 44-47; Matt. 5:17-20

[15.] The Greek hilasterion of Romans 3:25 designated the “propitiatory” or “mercy seat” in Hebrews 9:5 and in the Greek Septuagint. The Geneva Bible rendered it “reconciliation.” John Chrysostom, and later, John Calvin, in his Commentary on Romans, rendered it “propitiation” or “propitiatory.” The Revised Standard Version rendered it “expiation.” These terms are the subject of Leon Morris’s scholarly work, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross.

[16.] See opening quotation from Jonathan Edwards on first page of this article.

[17.] Rom. 3:25

[18.] Rom. 3:3

[19.] Acts 17:31; cf. 1 Cor. 15:21-22

[20.] This view of the Greek proetheto in Romans 3:25, was held by John Chrysostom (c.347-407), Archbishop of Constantinople, and is confirmed by Harper’s Analytical Greek Lexicon which notes that proetheto is 3rd person, singular, aorist 2, indicative, and middle voice of the Greek verb protithaimi. While protithaimi means “set forth” or “propose publically,” it conveys the idea of “purpose,” “determine,” or “design beforehand” when it occurs in the middle voice.

[21.] “Prelapsarian” is derived from the Latin lapsus which means “lapse” or “fall.” “Prelapsarian,” accordingly, refers to that period of contractual arrangement described in Genesis 2:15-17 which God established with Adam in Eden prior to Adam’s lapsing or falling into sin.

[22.] Gen. 22:8, 11-14

[23.] Edwards, Jonathan, Jr., D.D., The Necessity of the Atonement, p. 315 (emphasis mine)

[24.] In The Story of Philosophy, p. 365, Will Durant recognized Jonathan Edwards, the famous eighteenth-century pastor at Northampton, Massachusetts, who later became President of the College of New Jersey, as “the first American philosopher.”

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Sources

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Analytical Greek Lexicon, The: Consisting of An alphabetical Arrangement of Every Occurring Inflexion of Every word Contained in the Greek New Testament Scriptures, with a Grammatical Analysis of Each word, and Lexicographical Illustration of the Meanings. A complete Series of Paradigms, with Grammatical Remarks and Explanations. n.d. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers.

Brand, David C. 1991. Profile of the Last Puritan: Jonathan Edwards, Self-Love, and the Dawn of the Beatific. American Academy of Religion Academy Series, edited by Susan Thistlewaite. Atlanta: Scholars Press.

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

Calvin, John. Commentary on Romans. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. www.ccel.org.

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. http://books.google.com

Durant, Will. 1926. The Story of Philosophy. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.

Edwards, Jonathan, Jr., D.D. 1859. The Necessity Of Atonement And The Consistency Between That And Free Grace In Forgiveness: Three Sermons: Delivered At New Haven, Ad. 1786 by Jonathan Edwards, D.D., President Of Union College as part of The Atonement: Discourses and Treatises by Edwards, Smalley, Maxcy, Emmons, Griffin, Burge, and Weeks with an Introductory Essay by Edwards Amasa Park, Abbot Professor of Theology, Andover, Mass. Edwards A. Park, ed. Boston: Congregational Board of Publication.

Edwards, Jonathan. 1879. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, A.M., rev. & ed., Edward Hickman, 2 vols. 12th edition. London: William Tegg & Co.

Geneva Bible. 1560. www.genevabible.org/Geneva.html.

Morris, Leon. 1955. The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

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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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