“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17 NKJV, emphasis added).
Paul’s words “from faith to faith” as we find them in the King James Version and a number of other English renderings of the New Testament is a puzzling one – as we can see in the confusing range of translations found in other versions. Compare a few examples of how these words are translated:
“from faith to faith” NKJV
“from faith for faith” ESV
“out of faith into faith” HSB margin
“by faith from first to last” NIV
It is easy to see why some translations opted for “from faith to faith” because Paul had just mentioned the belief of the Jews and then the Gentiles (vs. 16). But this meaning does not fit well for a number of reasons – which is why a great many modern translations do not use “from faith to faith.”
The underlying Greek from which the expression is translated, ek pisteōs eis pistin, literally means “from [or out of] faith into faith,” but how do we interpret this? The expression has been understood to mean many things. For example:
From immature faith to mature faith
From the faith of the Old Covenant to the faith of the New Covenant
From faith in the law to a faith in the Gospel
From human faith to the faith given by God
This wide range of possible meanings is confusing, to say the least, but Paul gives us an important clue to what he meant. After using the expression “from faith to faith,” Paul then quotes Habakkuk 2:4b, saying: “as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” When we look at what that Old Testament prophet wrote, we find that “the just shall live by faith” was used in a context showing that although the enemies of God arrogantly follow their evil ways (vss. 3-5), the righteous trust and live their faith. As a result, the righteous are spared and live by virtue of their faith (vs. 4b).
If Paul is using Habbakuk’s words with this apparent meaning, then just as the Old Testament prophet tells us the righteous will live by their faith, so Paul is stressing the righteous will live by faith. If understood in that straightforward manner, “from faith to faith” or “from faith into faith” would mean essentially “starting in faith and ending in faith” – exactly how the NIV translates this expression – with the connotation of “totally by faith.”
There is another indication this may be the intended meaning. Paul uses similar expressions – “from death to death” and “from life to life” – in 2 Corinthians 2:16 where the reduplication of the words death and life seem to simply stress their meanings – as in “total death” and “total life.”
So although it is the least literal of the translations we have considered, the New International Version seems to present wording closest to what Paul meant by “from faith to faith.”