A Note on Romans 4.20: Paul and the ordo sanctificationis

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.


16 thoughts on “A Note on Romans 4.20: Paul and the ordo sanctificationis

  1. Richard Smith

    Dan — But in Rom 1:21 does not the idea of “glorify as God” (and perhaps also “giving thanks”) presuppose belief? Thus belief in that instance would have preceded any glorifying. So in Rom 1:21 the implied ideal order is knowledge > belief > glorify and give thanks. This, of course, according to Rom 1:21, humanity did not do despite having had the first part of the equation (i.e. “knowledge of God,” assuming the participle is concessive).

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    1. Good point, Richard—and good to hear from you! I wonder, though, if glorifying God, although it presupposes belief in him, in a specific instance would be considered the normal prerequisite to growing one’s faith. Regarding Rom 1.21, as I said in the blog, it parallels Rom 4.20 ‘broadly speaking.’


      1. Good questions. If faith itself is really a gift from God, then how could one “do” anything (a work) to grow faith into full assurance? Can these two ideas coexist? However, if righteousness is credited to us by our own belief in God’s promises, then your idea makes more sense to me.


    2. Claude-Henri Berger

      Dear Richard,
      “…in Rom 1:21 …? Thus belief in that instance would have preceded any glorifying.”

      If we have the proposition in formal logic:
      (1) glorify→believe→understand

      We would have the inverse contraposition:
      lack of understanding → non believe→non glorify

      which is conform to Rom 1:21 (could be deduct from the propositon 1)…


  2. I really like this, as it comports with a Biblical [i.e., even in the OT] ordo salutis: call on the name of the Lord, He will save you, you will know Him the better and thus praise Him, calling on Him alone for help. Glorifying Him means reinforcing the cycle/process that first brought the Lord to you and you to the Lord, so that when we call upon His name as believers it becomes an act of worship from understanding as well as a request for His power from weakness – in this way God dignifies our reliance on Him!


  3. Pattycake1974

    I have a question that is completely unrelated, but it is about Paul. Why do you suppose Paul never mentioned Judas Iscariot by name? And why did he say that after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve? Wasn’t Peter a part of the Twelve? Shouldn’t he have said Eleven instead because Judas was already dead?


    1. Hi Patty:
      I would seem that in 1 Corinthians 15:5b, wherein we see “ειτα τοις δωδεκα” = “then the twelve”, the phrase is referring to a formal title that referred to the close apostolic circle of the original followers of Jesus. It must be recalled that in Acts 1:12-14, we see Matthaias chosen by lot to replace Judas, and so there would had been 12. Moreover, one of the requirements to be an apostle involved being an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry and performing miracles or attestation (per 2 Cor 12:12 for instance).

      It is interesting to note that some of the scribes copying 1 Corinthians 15:5b may have had reservations about δωδεκα, and instead copied in ενδεκα = 11 to reflect the supposed disparity of the lack of Judas and thus 11. This reading of “ενδεκα = eleven” may had been a reflection upon the title of the original apostles in Matthew 28:16, which reflect the status of their band in the time between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, as well as Judas’ as recorded in Acts 1.
      The reading of “ενδεκα = eleven” in 1 Cor 15:5b is found only in three manuscripts and in a branch of manuscripts translated into the Syriac language. I’m sure Dr. Wallace could better explain this than I, but in short – the reading found in the main body of the text in the Nestle Aland 28th edition GNT is the reading “the twelve”, due to wide range of support across all manuscript families and geography of distribution of manuscript copies.

      Whenever we consider the Apostles’ immediate action in choosing Matthais by prayer and lots, as well as the titular weight carried by δωδεκα = “the twelve”, the seeming conflict is solved. I think. Hope that helps. Blessings!


  4. Thank you for sharing this, as it supports what I’ve always thought about atheists who constantly cry out, “Evidence! Show us the evidence and we will believe!” The evidence for God is there, everywhere, but without the desire to believe no amount of evidence will suffice. The Lord opens ours eyes to wonders only the redeemed can see, but first we must trust Him.


    1. Great thoughts Anthony. I read a quote from Pascal that I found helpful once: “The evidence that God reveals about Himself is sufficiently clear enough for hearts open to Him and sufficiently vague enough to hearts that remain closed to Him.”


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  6. Dr. Wallace, thanks for sharing this post. I’ve read it numerous times over several days. You offer really great insights that conform with my personal experience (which in itself means nothing). When I don’t give God glory, my faith withers and knowledge fades.

    I really appreciate your work. I thank God for scholars like you and regard you as a gift to the church. Thanks so much!!


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