Obedience and Faith: Synonyms?

Scripture often uses the word obedience as a synonym for faith (i.e. John 3:36; Acts 6:7; Hebrews 5:9; and compare Romans 1:8 to Romans 16:19)

A common question that arises in studying the obedience and faith relationship is why the translation differences between the ESV and the NIV with Romans 1:5?

The ESV translates Romans 1:5 as, “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,”

The NIV translates Romans 1:5 as, “Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.”

So why does the ESV translate it as “obedience of faith” and the NIV translates it as “obedience that comes from faith?”  The reason comes down to the original Greek grammar case endings of the words obedience and especially the word faith.  The Greek word faith is in the Genitive Case.  The Genitive case simply denotes possession or it can also denote source/origin.  Therefore, we can translate this passage as obedience that belongs to faith or obedience that has its source and origin in faith.  Either way would be linguistically o.k., thus the reasons for the difference in translations.

What does this mean practically speaking?  As we read Romans 1:5 we can take it to mean that obedience consists of faith which makes the work of obedience to be faith itself.  Or, we can read this passage to say that our obedience has its source and origin in faith.

There is a small difference here but one needs to put all of this into perspective.  Regardless of which way you translate this passage, we need to keep in mind that faith itself is also a gift and not a work of man so no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 10:17).  Therefore, even if one goes with the NIV translation he/she needs to keep in mind that obedience has its source and origin in faith (Romans 1:5 ~ NIV); faith comes from hearing the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17); faith is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Thus, obedience is a work of God in us as He grants us faith through the Power of the Word.


T. R. Halvorson said…
Hallesby has a whole chapter on the Obedience of Faith in his book, Christian or Religious. Was reading it in early January, but got derailed. Need to get back to it. It's an important topic. Thanks for the translation tip.