So let’s say that you’re the Apostle Paul, sitting down to pen Romans in the first century under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The theme of the book, the Spirit has instructed you, is to be the gospel of the righteousness of God (Romans 1:17). And as you ruminate on that theme, your rabbinically trained mind recalls Habakkuk 2:4, where the prophet connects righteousness and faith in a way that has direct connection to your current thesis.
Ah, but which version to use? The Masoretic Text, dating to Ezra’s time (5th century BC), reads like this:
The righteous man, by his faith, shall live.
The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament dating to around 250 BC, reads like this:
The righteous man, by my faith, shall live.
The change of pronoun makes complete sense, of course, when viewed through a missional lens. The Hebrews knew that God was the author of faith. The Greeks didn’t share that conviction. Hence the scribal emphasis: righteousness was not mustered up by hard work. It was a gift of Yahweh’s faithfulness. Pronouns matter.
Now you (remember, you’re Paul) are distilling the apostolic gospel for the church in Rome. Both of these textual traditions are at your disposal. Which do you use? The church in Rome, after all, has both Jews and Greeks. And part of the problem is that the two parties are often at odds with each other. Choose either side’s “preferred” text, and you’d be picking a fight. Obscure either pronoun and you risk compromising the gospel.
So, in the inspired wisdom of the Holy Spirit, you remove all pronouns:
The righteous shall live by faith (Romans 1:17).
By the righteous man’s faith? Sure. By God’s faith(fulness)? Sure. Opting for no pronoun at all preserves the carefully nuanced truth of both renderings, and frames the gospel in a most comprehensive fashion: I live by my faith in the faithfulness of God. That’s what the gospel is about.