This present business of what the Greek manuscripts say is a challenge to a Baptist boy, raised as he was on a fairly narrow (or, as I heard Bruce Metzger once say, wooden) notion of the Bible’s inerrantcy. Of course, I hold to a much deeper belief in the Bible’s authority and truth than ever before, but it still surprises me to read of translation issues upon which reasonable Greek scholars, scholars who are orthodox believers, differ. Romans 5:1 is a case in point, and it was part of the text we considered this morning in our Sunday school class.
The NIV text is as follows:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. . .
But there is a footnote in the NIV that shows an alternate translation. If we hoist that alternate into the text, this is what we get:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, let us have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. . .
If you doubt the NIV scholars, then look at the New King James Version. Here is the text of Romans 5:1:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. . .
But this verse in the NKJV has a translation footnote in the same place. Hoisting the alternate translation into the text, we have this:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, let us have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. . .
Having been justified (or saved), we Baptist young people had great fun singing that we have the “peace that passes understanding down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart!” etc. But the alternate translation sounds like we have to be exhorted into that peace somehow.
John Stott writes on this question:
[W]e have the peace of God now, Paul writes, as a present possession. But is this the correct reading? In the great majority of manuscripts, the verb is in the subjunctive (. . . ‘let us have,’ RV and RSV mg.), not the indicative (. . . ‘we have,’ NIV and REB). In the Greek text the difference is only a single letter, and the pronunciation of the two words will have been almost identical. If [the Greek subjunctive ‘let us have’] is right, the ‘let us have peace’ would have to be an exhortation to ‘enjoy it to the full.’ Yet, in spite of its strong manuscript support, most commentators reject this meaning. It seems to be one of those rare cases in which the context must be allowed to take precedence over the text, the internal evidence over the external, theology over grammar . . .
- Stott, The Message of Romans at p. 139.
The NET Bible is in line with Stott. In my print edition (version 5.830 – a valued gift from Micki), the text agrees with the NIV and NKJV. I will not quote FN 4 on page 2214 of my NET Bible, because it is a long one. But it is very interesting. Among other things, it notes that the “earliest witness” (that is, the earliest manuscript that we actually have of Romans) is a Third Century manuscript. In that manuscript, the indicative is the translation.
As I looked at other translations of Romans 5:1 on my bookshelf, I picked up J.B. Phillips' The New Testament in Modern English (Revised Edition). He is simply brilliant in the way he handles this controversy:
Since then it is by faith that we are justified, let us grasp the fact that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have then, here and now, through our Savior, the peace that passes all understanding. Praise God!