The text itself appears as follows:
Δικαιωθέντες οὖν ἐκ πίστεως εἰρήνην ἔχομεν πρὸς τὸν θεὸν διὰ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ,
My translation of the text reads:
Therefore having been justified by faith/faithfulness, we might have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Finally, the NRSV translation appears as follows:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
We find ourselves again dealing with a passage that mentions the topic of Justification by Faith. I won’t go into the detail that I have previously on this topic, but if you’re interested please see my previous post on Romans 1:17 here.
First and foremost when approaching this verse in the Greek, we have to ask the question: what is the “therefore” there for? Well if one looks back into the previous four chapters of Paul’s epistle to the church in Rome, one can get a bit of an answer to this question. Paul has already described the state of humanity: sinful/outside the camp. While such a description had previously been only applied to Gentiles, Paul argues that the Jews themselves are also deserving of such a description. The Jews claimed that their ethnic identity placed them within the camp of God’s people, but Paul maintains that such righteousness is unable to be attained by simply being a part of one ethnicity.
But in the third chapter Paul offers his solution to the dilemma, God has intervened in creation to bring all people inside the camp of the people of God through the faithful life/death and vindicated resurrection of Jesus Christ. The mark of the people of God is not ethnicity (as the Jews believed), but belief in Christ’s faithful action and vindication by God. This leads directly into our “therefore.” We are made right/just by Christ’s faithfulness.
What is interesting about this verse is the textual variant related to the verb ἔχω (I have). The majority of manuscripts (including the older ones) present ἔχω in the form of a Present Active Subjunctive which I translated above as “we might have.” Interestingly enough many modern translations, such as the NRSV which I referenced above, translate the verb as a Present Active Indicative.
Now, as I have mentioned before, it is extremely common for English translations of the New Testament to take certain liberties with the verbal moods present in the text. This is not always a problem. Sometimes participles, due to the tense of the verb, can best be expressed as an indicative verb. But in the case of subjunctive verbs I believe that in translation theory we need to work extremely hard to maintain the moods of the verbs involved. Subjunctive verbs hold a sense of uncertainty that just cannot be expressed with indicative verbs.
When it comes down to making these types of translational decisions, the driving force is usually theology and not a desire to be truthful to the text. My more conservative readers may take offense to the idea of letting one’s theology drive how the text is translated/interpreted, but that is just the nature of the beast. Subjunctive verbs can from time to time be translated as being indicatives and it is up to the translator/interpreter along with the help of their community of faith to make that decision.
I would argue for a translation of ἔχομεν that maintains the conditional nature of the subjunctive mood. The majority of the Greek manuscripts (along with many of the Greek Fathers) attest to the subjunctive mood as opposed to the indicative. It was not until later notes in the margins of manuscripts that verb text was interpreted as being indicative in mood. Personally I believe that the phrase “we might have peace with God” is more theologically compelling than “we have peace with God.” The only reason for arguing for the latter is to maintain the doctrine of the assurance of one’s salvation, which I do not think is the point of this text.
Gary M. Burge makes the point that, “the indicative is a statement of fact; the subjunctive implies hope or something not quite realized.” While Burge would argue that the indicative is the proper reading of this verb, I believe his statement about the nature of the two moods makes the opposite argument. This “justification” that Paul speaks of is an eschatological event, not something taking place in the present. Paul, being the good Jew that he was, believed in an eschatological judgment that has not yet taken place.
The subjunctive reading of the mood also allows for doubt within Christianity, something that I believe is not nurtured or encouraged enough. There are similar glimpses of this doubt within Paul’s writing in Philippians 3:11. In both of these places Paul once again places both his destiny and that of his fellow believers in God’s hands, not assuming anything. Paul believes that God has vindicated Jesus and hopes for the same for himself and the other followers of Christ. Hope is the key here.
This post was inspired by the work on this passage done by Gary M. Burge, Professor in the Department of Bible, Theology, Archaeology, and World Religions at Wheaton College, found in Devotions on the Greek New Testament.
 Gary M. Burge, Devotions on the Greek New Testament, Eds. J. Scott Duvall & Verlyn D. Verbrugge (Zondervans: Grand Rapids, 2012), 62.
 The NIV, ESV, NASB, KJV, and HCSB all translate the verb as an indicative. Needless to say, the majority of English translations are prioritizing the textual variant over the one present in the earlier manuscripts.
 Subjunctive verbs are usually preceded by the word “may” or “might” before the verb to show how the event/verb is essentially conditional within time and space. A subjunctive verb is one that could possibly happen, but it has not.
 Burge, 62.
Finishing up another post on Romans today.
No sarcasm intended. I fundamentally reject the popular notion of a person being “spiritual but not religious” on the grounds that such a statement is based on a misunderstanding of the basic definitions of words. I’m also not all that interested in individualistic and abstract spirituality.
I’m currently attending Logsdon Seminary and I love it! They’ve been really good to me and allowed me to kind of work outside the box and shake things up around here. I’m proud to say that it’s one of the more open-minded seminaries in Texas, though folks can be pretty hard headed on stuff from time to time (but you’ll find that anywhere).