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Prepositions in Romans 3:30

Posted by Matt Postiff June 17, 2022 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Theology  Interpretation  Bible Texts 

Today's question:

Romans 3:30 says that one God will justify the circumcision by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Why are two different prepositions used?

First, let's double check that there are in fact two different prepositions in the Greek text, and there are: the first is "ek" faith and the second is "dia" faith.

Now to the question of why this is. Bottom line: this is most likely a stylistic variation and the prepositions are not conveying any difference at all.

This conclusion is supported by the truth gleaned from our systematic theology studies that there is only ONE way of salvation, by grace through faith. There is not one way for Jews and a different way for Gentiles. There is no such thing as a dual covenant or "automatic pass" for Jews because they are "God's people." Today, if they do not exercise faith in the Messiah Jesus, they cannot be saved. And if Gentiles do not exercise faith in the Messiah Jesus, they cannot be saved either.

Douglas Moo points out that there are two other places where these prepositions are neighbors to each other with the same object (The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT, p. 252):

Romans 11:36 ESV For from (ek) him and through (dia) him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
2 Peter 3:5 ESV For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out (ek) of water and through (dia) water by the word of God...

In these verses, context demonstrates that the different prepositions do mean different things, that is, they are not used as synonyms. But in the context of Romans 3:30, they are used as synonyms.

This reminds me of an important principle of interpretation: you have to be VERY sure if you are building a big theological point on a small preposition (or two). Prepositions are outsized in their importance in language in general, and in Scripture particularly, in that they modify and connect ideas together to create larger and more significant ideas. But they are not that outsized whereby you can undermine a clear theological truth with an argument based on a dubious distinction between what can most easily be explained as synonyms.

You are saved by faith. You are saved through faith. Those two sentences mean the same thing. And thank God for them, otherwise we would not be saved at all!

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