In Romans 4, the apostle Paul gave a midrash on Genesis 15.6, showing that Abraham’s faith preceded his good deeds, and thus God’s declaration of Abraham as ‘righteous’ was not based on works. In this way, Abraham becomes the father of both Jews and Gentiles who place their faith in Christ.
In verse 20 Paul says, “And he did not waver in unbelief in the promise of God, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God.” The last clause, which involves an adverbial participle (δοὺς δόξαν τῷ θεῷ), has been variously translated:
“giving glory to God” (KJV, ASV, NASB, NKJV, NET; see also NEG [“donnant gloire à Dieu”]; RVR [“dando gloria a Dios”]; Vulgate [“dans gloriam Deo”])
“and gave glory to God” (TNIV, NIV 2011, HCSB, REB, NJB, NABR; see also Lutherbibel 1984 [“und gab Gott die Ehre”] and SEGR [“il donna gloire à Dieu”])
“he gave glory to God (REB)
“as he gave glory to God” (RSV, NRSV, ESV)
“he brought glory to God” (NLT2)
This survey of 21 translations shows that the participle δούς has been translated essentially two different ways: as a finite verb (“and gave glory to God”/“he gave glory to God”/“he brought glory to God”) or as an adverbial participle (“giving glory to God”/“as he gave glory to God”). Ten translations take the first approach, eleven the second.
Linking these versions with Greek grammatical categories, the first view treats δούς as attendant circumstance, while the second treats it as a contemporaneous participle. There are problems with each approach.
Regarding attendant circumstance participles, they (almost) always precede the main verb (here, ἐνεδυναμώθη); in this instance, the main verb comes first. Second, attendant circumstance participles are rare in didactic literature, common in narrative. Now it is probable that the translators of these various versions did not really regard δούς as attendant circumstance but were instead trying to give a more informal translation which is also less cumbersome. Nevertheless, this sort of translation is often misleading. In particular, those participles that follow the main verb and have been labeled as attendant circumstance usually belong to the category of result participle. And this, of course, would be a natural understanding of the translations that render the participle as a finite verb connected to ἐνεδυναμώθη by ‘and.’ But, as we will see below, that is problematic here.
Regarding the contemporaneous adverbial participle (“giving glory to God”), although this does occur with aorist participles connected to an aorist main verb, the sense of the passage is a bit awkward. Further, and more importantly, ‘giving’ is both contemporaneous and continuous. A contemporaneous δούς should normally be rendered ‘when he gave.’
So, are there better options? It can hardly be a result participle (“with the result that he gave glory to God”) since it is aorist (see D. B. Wallace, Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, 637–39). An instrumental participle fits the structural requirements of an aorist participle after an aorist main verb, but not the semantics: “he grew strong in faith by giving glory to God.” The problem with this is that an instrumental participle is really an epexegetical participle; that is, it defines the action of the main verb. It is used with main verbs that beg for clarification. That is not the case in this passage.
The most likely intended meaning is probably causal. Aorist adverbial participles are routinely causal. And although they normally precede the main verb, very frequently they follow, often to bring the point to a climax. If so, there may be a subtle hint here on how to grow in faith: “he became strong in faith, because he gave glory to God.” Our faith and our hope grow as we praise and worship God.
And this brings us to the title of this blog. Anselm spoke of the Christian (intellectual) life as “faith seeking understanding.” Contrary to popular opinion, although this aphorism has been attributed to Augustine he apparently did not use these exact words. He said crede ut intelligas (“believe that you may understand” [Sermon 43.7, 9]). Centuries later Anselm made this more personal: “I believe in order that I might understand” (credo ut intelligam, in Proslogium 1), and in the preface to his Proslogium he indeed speaks of ‘faith seeking understanding’ (Fides quaerens intellectum). Nevertheless, conceptually and almost verbally we can regard this mantra as findings its roots in Augustine. The opposite approach is found in much theological education today: unbelief seeking excuses.
Paul seems to have a similar, even prior, approach: glorify God in order that you might grow in faith. In keeping with the Latin expressions of Augustine and Anselm, this might be rendered honora ut credere (“glorify in order to believe”). But since Paul spoke Greek, it might be better rendered δόξασον εἰς τὸ πιστεύειν.
If our understanding of δούς in Rom 4.20 is correct, then the ordo sanctificationis (‘order of sanctification,’ akin to ordo salutis or ‘order of salvation’) is: glorify in order to believe in order to understand. (This is broadly just the opposite of what humanity did in Rom 1.21: They did not glorify God and this resulted in their lack of understanding: “they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened” [NET]).
Thus, we see in Paul the ordo sanctificationis as glorify→believe→understand. His view, then, is not just faith seeking understanding but glorifying God, which brings about faith, which leads to understanding. Augustine and Anselm were on to something that is genuinely biblical, but they didn’t take it far enough. Giving God glory actually precedes faith, which precedes understanding. And as we already mentioned, this view is just the opposite of so much theological education today: not glorifying God leads to unbelief which leads to finding excuses for this unbelief.