Salvation by Allegiance Alone – Interview with Matt Bates (Part 2)

Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017)

MIKE BIRD: I noticed that you translate Rom 1:17 as “The righteous one, Jesus the Christ, will live by pistis – that is, by his faithful loyalty to God.” How does this translation change things?

MATTHEW BATES: Yes, I translate this way because I think Paul intentionally applies the text to the Christ as the allegiant one, but then through the Christ to each one who likewise gives allegiance. Richard Hays’s book, The Faith of Jesus Christ, has helped scholars see the viability of this basic interpretation, although I take it in a more “allegiant” direction. In Romans 1:16 Paul speaks of the power of the gospel and its connection to the righteousness of God. Then in 1:17 Paul cites from Habakkuk:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who gives pistis, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed by pistis for pistis, as it is written, “But the righteous shall live by pistis.” (Rom. 1:16–17, citing Hab. 2:4)

More could be said (and is said in the book) with regarding why ek pisteōs eis pistin is best translated here as “by allegiance for allegiance.” But we’ll leave that aside for now and focus on how Paul is mobilizing Habakkuk. Paul is deliberately connecting three ideas: pistis, righteousness, and life. Here I quote directly from Salvation by Allegiance Alone (p. 42):

Paul says, “The righteous one will live by pistis,” because Jesus, who was both human and divine, gave pistis (he acted in loyal obedience) to God the Father in accomplishing the divine plan through the crucifixion; so in judging him, God declared Jesus to be what he clearly already was, the righteous one par excellence (cf. Rom. 5:18–19). And God proved the reality of Jesus’s total innocence by raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand, so now he lives. For Paul, Habakkuk had announced this future reality: “The righteous one, Jesus the Christ, will live by pistis”—that is, by his faithful loyalty to God.

But Paul does not think that Jesus is ultimately the only righteous one who lives by pistis. For Paul, Habakkuk proclaims a future reality for all who imitate the Christ’s allegiance: “The righteous one will live by pistis.” Here again it’s best to quote Salvation by Allegiance Alone (p. 43):

the person who gives pistis (yields allegiance) unto Jesus as the king is declared righteous by God and will live (participate in eternal life by being raised from the dead). So: “The righteous person will live by faithful loyalty.”

So, how does my paraphrase of Romans 1:17—“The righteous one, Jesus the Christ, will live by pistis—that is, by his faithful loyalty to God”—change things? It shows that the Messiah, the righteous one, has resurrection-life through allegiance to God. And we find resurrection-life in a similar way, in and through the Messiah (who is also God), as we are incorporated into his righteousness.

MIKE BIRD: You claim that understanding faith as “allegiance” solves the incongruity between faith and works and better helps us grasp phrases like “the obedience of faith,” and “the law of Christ.” How so?

MATTHEW BATES: Immediately after detailing the content of the gospel in Romans 1:2-4, it is striking that Paul does not speak of bringing about “pistis alone unto personal salvation” with respect to the purposes of this gospel, but of the “obedience of pistis among all the nations” (1:5). This is a very significant difference! If we think, as did Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other leading Protestant Reformers, that the chief danger with respect to human salvation is that individuals tend to trust in their good works rather than in Jesus alone, then Paul’s emphasis on “the obedience of ‘faith’ among the nations” is strange. If we follow Luther and Calvin, why didn’t Paul say that the purpose of the gospel is to bring about “faith alone”? Doesn’t the “obedience of faith” introduce a risky works-righteousness?

But if recognize the royal claims with respect to the gospel in the preceding verses we can make better sense of this “obedience of faith among the nations.” In Romans 1:2, Jesus is described as the Son (of God). But in Paul’s description of the gospel in Romans 1:4, after Jesus’s death, he is appointed to a new office, Son-of-God-in-Power. Moreover, in Romans 1:4, there is double (!) affirmation of Jesus’s sovereignty as Paul explains what and who this Son-of-God-in-Power truly is: “Jesus the Christ our Lord.” Contextually the “obedience of pistis” (Rom. 1:5; cf. 16:25-26) is best construed as the obedience characteristic of allegiance to a king. The gospel articulates Jesus’s enthronement. The purpose of the gospel is to cultivate worldwide allegiance to him as the ruling sovereign.

Similar arguments can be marshalled with regard to that puzzling phrase “the law of the Christ” (Gal. 6:2; 1 Cor. 9:2; cf. Rom 8:2). Again, if law in general is the great problem because it breeds attempts to earn salvation through legal performance, why would Paul speak favorable of “the law of the Christ”? I’d like to give a shout out here to Joshua Jipp and his outstanding book, Christ is King. Jipp’s book helped me rethink these texts, bolstering my allegiance thesis. As the ultimate king, the royal Messiah, Jesus both embodies and institutes the ideal law. Allegiance to Jesus the king means that obedience to his law will be freely rendered as a response to saving grace.