Genesis 15:5-6: Are We Really Justified by Faith Alone?

righteousness-of-godIn Genesis 15:6, Scripture records Abram’s response to God’s promise to grant him as many descendants as there are stars in the sky. The Christian understanding of this verse is that God judges Abram to be righteous because of his faith.

This verse has profound theological implications because Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith [alone] rests largely on this understanding. But, is this understanding correct?

Probably not. It turns out that all English translations of Genesis 15:6 add words((and punctuation!)) that are not attested in the actual Hebrew. Here for example, is a direct translation of the actual Hebrew (with no added English words):

Then he believed in the LORD and reckoned it to him righteousness.”

A straightforward reading of the actual Hebrew (above) has Abram recognizing the righteousness of God, not the other way around. It turns out that the translators of both the Septuagint and modern English Bibles beginning with the KJV felt it necessary to add additional words that were not attested in the original Hebrew. For example, compare the translation above with the NRS translation of the same verse:

(NRS) “And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

or the KJV’s translation:

(KJV) “And he believed the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”

In both of these translations, the translators added a semi-colon and a subject neither of which is attested in the underlying, actual Hebrew. A detailed analysis of this verse can be downloaded here and clearly shows that God did not justify Abram. A correct understanding is that Abram came to recognize God’s righteousness.

Now, go and study

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