Question: "What does "from faith to faith" mean in Romans 1:17?"
Answer: From faith to faith is an expression found in some versions of Romans 1:17, such as the King James Version, the New American Standard Bible, and the Christian Standard Bible. The English Standard Version uses the wording “from faith for faith” instead. The meaning of the phrase becomes more evident in the New International Version: “by faith from first to last.” And perhaps the most transparent rendering of the verse for today’s reader is found in the New Living Translation: “from start to finish by faith.”
To fully understand what from faith to faith means, we must consider the phrase in context. In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, the apostle introduces himself to the church in Rome. While many of the believers there would have heard of Paul, they had not yet met him personally. In preparation for a future visit, Paul wants the members of the church to know him sufficiently to discern fact from fiction concerning his identity.
In Romans 1:16–17, Paul reaches the high point of his introductory greeting to the church in Rome: “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in His sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life’” (NLT).
Nothing mattered more to Paul than fulfilling God’s will for his life, which was to preach the good news of salvation. Without the good news of the gospel, and without the power that is the gospel, there can be no salvation, no freedom from sin, no redemption, and no life. The power of the gospel is the theme of Paul’s letter to the Romans and the ambition of his life.
Paul writes with full knowledge that the church in Rome is facing persecution and suffering under Roman oppression. Many of the believers there are experiencing humiliation and shame because of their faith in Christ. Paul wants them to be assured that the worldly power of Rome cannot hold a candle to the mighty power of God—the gospel of Jesus Christ. That gospel is God’s limitless power directed toward the salvation of men and women. For every person who believes, whether Jew or Gentile, man or woman, black or white, the gospel effectively becomes the saving power of God.
Paul tells the Roman Christians that “in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed” (Romans 1:17). Righteousness is thus a complete and total work of God. Humans tend to view righteousness as something we can achieve by our own merit or actions. But the righteousness of God is different. It is a right standing before God that has nothing to do with human accomplishment or worth. It is received by faith. There is nothing we can do to deserve or earn it.
The exact meaning of Paul’s phrase from faith to faith has been debated, with several plausible explanations proposed. Some understand it in relation to the origin of faith: “From the faith of God, who makes the offer of salvation, to the faith of men, who receive it.” In simpler terms, “Salvation comes from God’s faith (or faithfulness) to our faith.” This was Karl Barth’s impression of the phrase from faith to faith, that salvation is accomplished through God’s faithfulness, which comes first, and our faith in response to that.
Others believe that Paul had the spreading of faith through evangelism in mind: “From the faith of one believer to another.” A third and widely accepted understanding is that from faith to faith speaks of a progressive, growing development of faith “from one degree of faith to another” akin to the “ever-increasing glory” of 2 Corinthians 3:18.
Another view is that Paul meant that from day one of our journey of faith until the very last day, we (the righteous) must live by faith. Whether we are brand-new followers of Christ or seasoned, mature believers who have walked with the Lord for many years, we must trust God “from start to finish” and rely on His mighty power—the power of the gospel—to change our lives and the lives of those we encounter.