The just shall live by faith. – Habbakuk 2:4b
Such a little line . . . half a verse, out of context . . . such a source of controversy . . . centuries of debate . . . oceans of blood.
How should this verse be read and understood? Where does the emphasis belong?
The JUST shall live by faith.
The just shall LIVE by faith.
Emphasizing either at the expense of the other is how sectarianism starts. Dead faith does not justify, and the justified live like they are. Both are true and necessary.
I have given my life to the disciplined study of the scriptures. This has resulted in a deep appreciation for the difficulty and challenge associated with translational issues and those who labor in that endeavor. Folks, “it ain’t easy.” Translation goes beyond just the technical points of grammar. When our worldview, cosmology (how things “work” in the universe) and epistemology (the study of the nature of knowledge) and other “ologies” are not the same as the those who wrote the scriptures, its miraculous to me that we understand anything at all from the scripture.
These issues affect our translation and understanding of this classic verse.
In American English faith or belief means an individual, psychological, internal, cognitive, and affective assent of mind to truths. This assent is given either because the truths make sense in themselves, or they are observed to be true by the individual. This definition is the source of untold troubles and problems in our “Christian” thoughts, beliefs, and practices, and is not how the authors of scripture understood “faith.” That is not how a Jewish prophet would have understood the term, nor a Jewish apostle, nor a Jewish Messiah.
For a Jew, Semite/Mid-Eastern person, faith and belief referred to the social glue that bound one person to another. That is, the social, externally manifested, emotional behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity was “faith.” Faith primarily meant: personal loyalty, commitment to another person, fidelity, and the solidarity that comes from such faithfulness in relationship. Faith was inherently RELATIONAL–it involved an “otherness” an “outwardness toward another/s.” It was not a individualistic cast of one’s mind toward philosophic truths. Faith was the integrity one maintained in relationships for the benefit of the other, not one’s opinions regarding “propositional truths” from a book!
The faith that justifies is not one’s subjective opinions about what the scripture says. Faith that justifies is the relational trust in the One scripture reveals. It is entirely possible to have “accurate understanding of the scripture” and no relational trust in God whatsoever at a practical level. That kind of “faith” neither justifies nor saves.
I believe that the many problems, inconsistencies, lack of credible testimony, and poor witness among so-called “believers” is due directly to this issue and the way “have faith in Jesus” is typically presented in Protestant Evangelicalism. Gandhi said it this way: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians.” What is the problem here? No credible testimony by those who identify with Christ.
Consider the commandment about not taking the “Lord’s Name in vain.” This has little to do with our notion of “swearing.” It means TAKING His Name–identifying ones self as belonging to Him–and not living like it! That is, you profane His Name by associating yourself with it, and not resembling Him. It is RELATIONAL, reflective, and behavioral. The vanity is in not looking like the one whom you claim to belong to. That is what is being forbidden. Frivolous and dishonoring use of His literal name is secondary to the meaning, if at all.
Consider the great commandment and the new commandment of our Lord. They are both inherently RELATIONAL.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as your self.
Relational vertically, relational horizontally. Very little in there about “maintaining right convictions about the scripture!”
A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Sacrificially and “integratively” . . . relational
If we were to read and understand Habakkuk as follows, I believe we would be much closer to what the prophet had in mind, and much closer to spiritual and “biblical” reality:
The “right-wised” ones will live by relational trust.
For me, that puts the matter in a completely different light, and one that is far more convicting, humbling, and promoting of a vital present union with my resurrected Lord as a daily necessity.
(Right-wised=the opposite of capsized–brought upright again, restored to “rightness” – think of a capsized boat being turned around and floating again, that’s “right-wised.”)
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