Saturday, September 04, 2010

Sin and the Law 3

... In the first volume of this series, we argued that when Galatians uses the phrase "works of Law," Paul primarily had in mind those parts of the Jewish Law that distinguished Jew from Gentile. [1] In Galatians, circumcision in particular was the key issue under discussion when he said, "no one will be justified by the works of the law" (2:16, NRSV). The argument of Romans is more general, and certainly Paul did not think anyone could earn God's favor, but the key subject was still whether a Jew had any advantage over a non-Jew in being right with God. The underlying issue is not "Can you be good enough for God to accept you?" It is "Is there something about being a Jew that automatically makes you right with God?"

So when Paul says he is not under Law (e.g., 1 Cor. 9:20) and that right standing with God does not come by "works of Law" (e.g., Rom. 3:28), he primarily has things like circumcision, Jewish food and purity laws, and Sabbath laws in mind. Yes, as part of that argument he makes general statements about the impossibility of earning a right standing with God (e.g., Rom. 4:4-5; 9:32). But it is a supporting point, not the main one. When Paul distances believers from the Law, he primarily has the Jew-specific aspects of the Jewish Law in view, the boundary type laws that most distinguished Jew from Gentile.

What is confusing is that Paul also talks about the Law with a very different content in view. Sometimes he has a certain "core law" in view that is universal and timeless. When Romans 2:14 talks about Gentiles who "do by nature things required by the law," it cannot refer to Jew-specific elements. Gentiles by definition do not do such things. Paul can only have a certain universal, "moral" core in mind, if you would. It is this part of the Jewish Law that Paul has in mind in Romans 6-8.

The key to understanding Romans 6-8 is to understand the clear "before and after" he presents repeatedly throughout the section...

[1] Paul: Messenger of Grace


Josh Turansky said...


A friend of mine point me to your blog earlier today. I enjoyed reading the different posts and I'm especially enjoying your thoughts on Sin and the Law. Thanks for putting time into these articles.

God bless!

Marc said...

I'm sorry but anyone who "did not think anyone could earn God's favor" simply makes a mockery of God's justice. Where does Paul say this?

On the contrary, of course God is pleased by good actions, of course we come into his favour if we do well, of course he rewards virtue (Rom 2)!

It's this silly post-Luther fretting with "earning" that has made us say things which are nonsense and contrary to God's explicit Word. Yes, God can favour undeserving people graciously but that's the exception to the rule.


Ryan Small said...

Marc-I agree with you, but perhaps clarification is needed when someone says we cannot earn God's favor. My interpretation of the statement is what we read in Eph. 2:8-9, about our salvation. Let us not forget that the words we say and the ideas our words are intended to convey are at times incongruent. I often need to ask what someone means when they say something that doesn't sound right, accurate, or true.