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Asbury Bible Commentary – C. Theme of the Epistle (1:16–17)
C. Theme of the Epistle (1:16–17)

Here Paul gives the reason for his last statement. In Greek, the three major clauses in this section start with the conjunction for. So each explains the preceding statement. In the process, this section also spells out the theme of the entire epistle. The Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all believers. Salvation removes destructive powers and negative conditions (God's wrath, 5:9; condemnation, 8:1; power of sin, 6:6; et al.) and bestows positive blessings (righteousness, 3:22; reconciliation, 5:10; sanctification, 6:22; justification and glorification, 8:30). Since the gospel is powerful and effective, Paul is not ashamed of it and, consequently, he is obligated to share it with all.

In the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed (v. 17). This Gospel had been promised in the OT (v. 2). The Law and the Prophets testify to this righteousness from God (3:21). Therefore the righteousness treated in Romans is the same as that in the OT.

The basic concept of righteousness in the OT is right relationship and the acts promoting it. Those who fear the Lord, trust in him, and thus have a good relationship with him are righteous (Ps 112:1-6). God's righteousness brings salvation and blessing to those who trust in him (Isa 46:13; Ps 103:17-18), but judgment and punishment to those who rebel against him (2Ch 12:5-6; Da 9:14). Faithfulness promotes a good relationship, and God's righteousness includes his faithfulness (Ps 143:1). God hates sin and is morally pure. Therefore, those who are in good relationship with him should be morally pure (Eze 18:21-22).

In Romans the righteousness of God primarily refers to his act to promote right relationship between himself and human beings, that is, God's provision for their salvation (e.g., 3:21). Surely God's act is in harmony with his character. So the righteousness of God also refers to God's character (e.g., 3:5, 25, 26). It can also refer to the right relationship that is granted by God (e.g., 3:22; 10:3). Righteousness is having a good relationship with God (5:1). It also refers to the behavior appropriate to this relationship. Therefore, righteousness is the opposite of sin (4:6-8; 8:10), impurity, and wickedness (6:13, 19).

Romans expounds this theme. God's character reacts negatively to sin, so he judges sin (1:18-3:20). God provides the way to establish the right relationship with believers, which is consistent with his own character (3:21-5:21). His power enables believers to live the life of holiness, which is consistent with their relationship with God (6:1-8:39). Faithfulness promotes this right relationship, and God is faithful to his promise to Israel (9:1-11:36). The life of holiness, which is consistent with their relationship with God, is manifested in the daily lives of believers (12:1-15:13).

This righteousness from God is to be appropriated by faith. Faith is to accept God's revelation, his provision, and to act accordingly. Therefore, Paul mentions the obedience that comes from faith in 1:5.

A righteousness . . . ek pisteōs eis pistin (rsv “through faith for faith”; nasb “from faith to faith”; niv by faith from first to last)” in v. 17 finds its parallel thought in 3:21-22. There Paul restates the theme of Romans. He mentions the righteousness of God as manifested (answering to revealed in v. 17), then repeats the word righteousness and characterizes it as the righteousness that is by faith and is for all who believe. So the first faith in v. 17 corresponds to the first “faith” in 3:22 as the means of receiving God's salvation. The second faith in v. 17 corresponds to “all who believe” in 3:22. V. 17 mentions faith twice to emphasize its importance.