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Paul’s View of the Law: The Remaining Letters (Part 1)

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Having gone through Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians and Romans in considerable detail, it now remains to examine the relevant passages and references in the remaining Letters. This will be done in three parts:

  1. Specific passages which refer directly to the Old Testament Law, or which are especially relevant, examined in order for 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon and Colossians
  2. A summary treatment of:
    a. Instances of language, concepts and imagery similar to that used by Paul in reference to the Law (in Galatians, Romans, etc)
    b. References which imply or suggest a symbolic or spiritual application of elements of the Law
    c. Verses where Paul indicates a source of religious and ethical authority for Christians similar to that of the Law
  3. The relevant passages in Ephesians and the Pastoral Letters (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus); as there remains legitimate doubt, even among traditional-conservative commentators, as to whether these letters are authentically Pauline or pseudonymous, they are dealt with separately.

Part 1—Passages which refer specifically to the Old Testament Law

1 and 2 Thessalonians

There is no mention of the Law in either letter. The word a)nomi/a does appear (twice) in 2 Thess 2:3, 8, along with the related adjective a&nomo$ (used as a substantive, “the lawless [one]”). The privative prefix a)- indicates a lack of no/mo$ (“law”), i.e. “without law, lawless(ness)”. In 1 Cor 9:21, Paul uses the adjective a&nomo$ (“without [the] Law, lawless”) as a general reference to non-Jews (Gentiles), those who do not have the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah) as a source of religious and ethical guidance and authority. However, in Rom 4:7; 6:19, a)nomi/a (“lawlessness”) is used as a general term synonymous with sin and wickedness, as also in 2 Cor 6:14 (and note in the Pastorals, Tit 2:14). Here in 2 Thessalonians, both terms are used in this latter sense, as indicated by the context, a)nomi/a being set parallel with a)postasi/a (“standing away from [God]”, i.e. “falling away”) and a)pw/leia (“[coming to] destruction, ruin”); in fact, in verse 3, some manuscripts read a(marti/a (“sin”) instead of a)nomi/a, further indicating the general equivalence.

1 Corinthians

1 Cor 6:12; 10:23—In both verses we find the declaration pa/nta moi e&cestin, which is sometimes translated “all things are lawful for me”; however, e&cestin literally indicates something coming “out of (that which) is”, i.e. that which is in a person’s power to do, or that which he/she is authorized and/or free to do. Even though Paul does not specifically mention the Law (no/mo$), it is likely that this statement relates directly to his view of the Law (as expressed in Galatians and Romans) and the idea of the freedom believers have in Christ; indeed, the statement might be paraphrased as “I am free to do all things”. Commentators are generally agreed that this reflects a declaration (or “slogan”) by certain Corinthians believers, and one that Paul affirms, but only with qualification and careful explanation. Note how he proceeds:

  • ‘all things are (in) my (power to do)’, but not all things bring (themselves) together (for good);
  • ‘all things are (in) my (power to do)’, but I will not be (brought) under (the power) of any (thing)

He thus qualifies the declaration in two ways: (1) some things are not beneficial, esp. for the body of Christ as a whole, and (2) some things can come to dominate a person’s thinking and behavior, which likewise is not beneficial. The first of these points relates more directly to 1 Cor 10:23ff, where he is dealing with the question of eating food that has been sacrificed to pagan deities; the emphasis is on a concern for the conscience of one’s fellow believer. The second of these points, it would seem, is more relevant to the context of 1 Cor 6:12-20, which is a primarily a warning against engaging in prostitution and sexual immorality. In both Galatians and Romans, Paul’s teaching on Christians’ freedom from the Law is connected with: (a) a warning against immorality and “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:16-25; Rom 8:1-11f), as well as (b) demonstrating love and concern for others (Gal 5:13-15; 6:1-5; Rom 12:1-15:7).

1 Cor 7:18-19—As part of Paul’s instruction on marriage among believers in chapter 7, Paul introduces the idea of circumcision in verse 18. Circumcision played a major role in his discussion of the Law in Galatians, where he argues repeatedly, and in various ways, that believers (especially Gentile believers) are not obligated to be circumcised nor required to observe the other commands of the Torah. In this regard circumcision serves to symbolize the entire Torah, especially in its ritual and ceremonial aspects. Similarly, in Romans, Paul makes it clear that actual physical circumcision is irrelevant; true circumcision is of the heart, according to the Spirit (cf. Rom 2:25-29). Here in 2 Corinthians, circumcision is introduced to further demonstrate his basic rule of thumb that a person should remain in the state he/she was before becoming a believer—i.e., if a person was married, he/she should remain married; if single, then he/she ought to stay single. By extension, a Gentile believer should not be circumcised, and a Jewish believer should not try to cover up his circumcision. Paul then adds a decisive declaration in v. 19:

“Circumcision is nothing, and (having a) foreskin is (also) nothing, but (keeping) watch of the things of God (that are) set on (us to do) [i.e. the commands of God] (is something)…”

This is very similar to the statements in Gal 5:6; 6:15, which I have examined together in an earlier note. Here the “commands of God” should be understood either in a general sense, or in terms of the “Law of God” in 1 Cor 9:21 (cf. below), rather than as the commands of the Torah specifically.

1 Cor 9:19-21—In chapter 9, which is part of the larger discussion in chs. 8-10 of the question regarding eating food that has been sacrificed to idols, Paul emphasized how he has given up the freedom and rights he has an as apostle for the sake of others. Here in verse 19, he begins: “being free from all (people/things), I made myself a slave to all, so that I might gain the many [i.e. the more/most]”. In verses 20-21, he treats in parallel, his outreach to Jews and Gentiles, respectively—Jews are “the ones under the Law [u(po\ no/mon]”, while Gentiles are “the ones without (the) Law [a&nomo$]”. Paul came to be like each group—”as (one who is) under the Law” and “as (one who is) without (the) Law”; but note how he qualifies each of these identifications:

  • “…not being (my)self under the Law” (mh\ w&n au)to\$ u(po\ no/mon)
  • “…not being without the Law of God” (mh\ w&n a&nomo$ qeou=)

The first phrase indicates that Paul himself, as a believer in Christ, is not under the Old Testament Law (any longer); while the second states that he (as a believer) is still under “the Law of God”, which is not the Torah, as the identification which follows makes clear:

“…not being without the Law of God, but (rather) in the Law [e&nnomo$] of Christ

Note the wordplay between “without the Law” (a&nomo$, ánomos) and “in the Law” (e&nnomo$, énnomos). Here “in the Law of Christ” should be be understood in relation to the expressions “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|) and “the Law of Christ” (o( no/mo$ Xristou=); in Gal 6:3, the “Law of Christ” is generally synonymous with the law/principle of love (Gal 5:14 etc, cf. Lev 19:18).

It should be noted that in verse 20, a good number of witnesses, especially Western and later MSS, are lacking the phrase “not being myself under the Law”; however, it is present in many of the “earliest and best” MSS (including [Ë46] a A B C D*), as well as a wide range of versions (incl. Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian and Gothic), and is almost certainly original. It may have fell out by accident (through parablepsis), though it is also possible that it was omitted intentionally—Paul’s admission that he was “not under the Law” could be viewed as problematic from a certain religious standpoint. Even today, many commentators are uncomfortable with the blanket declaration that Christians are “not under the Law”, and are reluctant to accept the statement in its plain sense.

1 Cor 15:56—At the conclusion of Paul’s famous (eschatological) treatment of the resurrection in chapter 15, we find the following declaration:

“…and the poking/pricking [i.e. sharp point] of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law

This uniquely Pauline understanding of the interrelationship between the Law, sin and death was developed extensively (and dramatically) in Romans, especially in chapters 5-7. For more on this, see the articles in this series on 3:21-5:21, 6:1-7:25, and the supplementary studies on 5:12-21 and 7:7-25.

2 Corinthians

2 Cor 3:1-18—This passage represents Paul’s most extensive and significant treatment of the Law (outside of Galatians and Romans); because of its importance and complexity, I will be discussing it in detail in a series of daily notes.

2 Cor 6:14-7:1—In verse 14, the word a)nomi/a (“lawlessness”) is used, presumably with the same general meaning of “sin, wickedness, injustice”, etc., as in 2 Thess 2:3-8 (cf. above). However, some commentators hold that it should be understood here in the strict sense of “being without Law”, i.e. without the Torah (or refusing to observe its commands). In 1 Cor 9:21, Paul uses the related adjective a&nomo$ to describe Gentiles who live without the Torah; though, in this particular context, he is clearly referring to Gentiles prior to faith in Christ—once they come to faith, they are under “the Law of God” (synonymous with the “Law of Christ”), but not the Old Testament Law as such. Does the usage of a)nomi/a in 2 Cor 6:14 refer to the wickedness of unbelievers (non-Christians) or to Gentiles (even Gentile believers) who do not keep the Law? Most commentators accept the former interpretation, but, as I have already indicated, a minority hold the latter view. Much depends on the wider question of the origin and authorship of the entire passage 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, which I will be discussing in a separate article.

Philippians

Phil 3:2-3—In Gal 5:6; 6:15 and 1 Cor 7:19, Paul declared decisively that the (physical) rite of circumcision (Greek peritomh/, “cutting around”) is of no account and has no bearing on believers in Christ whatsoever. Here he takes the next step, giving a spiritual interpretation to the rite and applying it to believers, much as he does in Romans 2:28-29. In verse 2, he appears to warn against certain Jewish Christian (“Judaizing”) opponents, referring to them in unusually crass and derisive terms (note the pun using katatomh/ “cutting down”, i.e. mutilation, instead of peritomh/, “cutting around, i.e. circumcision). His declaration in verse 3 is clear and forceful:

“For we [i.e. believers] are the circumcision—the (one)s doing (religious) service in (the) Spirit [of God] and boasting/exulting in (the) Anointed Yeshua—and not having confidence/assurance in the flesh”

Note here: (1) Paul’s regular contrast between the Spirit and the flesh, and (2) that circumcision is identified with being “in the Spirit” and “in Christ”—clearly this no longer has anything to do with a religious rite (but note the interesting association with baptism, cf. below). For a parallel with the idea of (true) worship taking place “in the Spirit”, see John 4:23-24.

Phil 3:4-8ff—In these verses, Paul continues the line of argument from vv. 2-3 (above), developing the contrast between his old religious life “in the flesh” and the new identity in Christ (and the Spirit). The old religious identity in this case was Jewish, including a strict observance of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah). Paul affirms that he was a devout Pharisee (v. 5), and that in terms of ‘righteousness’ (dikaiosu/nh)—understood from a traditional religious standpoint, i.e. observing and fulfilling the commands and regulations of the Torah—he was “without fault” (a&mempto$) (v. 6). The traditional Jewish view would have held such religious devotion as gain or profit (ke/rdo$) for Paul; and yet, he states that he has come to regard it actually as loss (zhmi/a, something damaged or ruined). This new understanding is qualified by the expression “through the Anointed” (dia\ to\n Xristo/n); this may be understood as: (a) through the work of Christ, (b) through the presence of Christ in the Spirit, (c) on behalf of Christ, (d) for the sake of Christ, or perhaps some combination of these senses. In any event, it is clear that the new identity in Christ has rendered the old religious identity (which involved observance of the Law) of little or no value.

Phil 3:9—Verses 2-8 find their climax in this verse, where Paul states his ultimate goal is that “he should be found [eu(reqw=] in him [e)n au)tw=|, i.e. in Christ]”; this religious identity and realization is defined according to the term dikaiosu/nh (“just-ness, right-ness”, i.e. “justice, righteousness”). Throughout Galatians and Romans, Paul repeatedly emphasizes the fundamental contrast between justice/righteousness which comes from the Law (that is, from performing/observing its commands, i.e. “works of the Law”), and the justice/righteousness which comes through trust/faith in Christ (cf. Gal 2:16-21; 3:2, 5-6, 10-14, 21-24; 5:4-5; Rom 1:17; 3:19-20, 21-31; 4:4-5, 13-16; 6:14-15, etc). In this verse, he establishes three parallel contrasts:

  • my (own) [e)mo/$] righteousness
  • righteousness comes out of (observance of) the Law [e)k no/mou]
  • righteousness based upon works of the Law (implied)
  • righteousness that is from [lit. out of] God [e)k qeou=]
  • righteousness that comes through trust of Christ [dia\ pi/stew$ Xristou=]
  • righteousness based upon th(is) trust (in Christ) [e)pi\ th=| pi/stei]

This reflects a personalized version of what Paul declares more objectively in Romans 10:2-4ff.

Colossians

Col 2:11ff—As in Phil 3:2-3 (above) and Rom 2:28-29, circumcision is spiritualized and applied to believers. Throughout Col 2:6ff, the expression “in Christ” (or “in him”) is used repeatedly—in vv. 6, 7, 9, 10. In verse 10, believers are identified as “the (ones who have been) filled up” (peplhrwme/noi) in him, this filling/fullness (plh/rwma) being understood on a cosmic scale. Verse 11 continues:

“…in whom [i.e. in Christ] you were circumcised [perietmh/qhte] with a circumcision [peritomh=|] made without hands, in the sinking out away from [i.e. the shedding off of] the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of (the) Anointed”

This “circumcision of Christ” is to be understood in terms of Christ’s death, as is clear from vv. 12ff. For the identification of believers with, and participation in, the death (and the resurrection) of Christ, see especially Romans 6:1-11 (also Rom 8:1-11; Gal 2:19-21); and note the association between circumcision and the death of Christ in Gal 6:14-15. In particular, this is realized symbolically in the rite of baptism, where believers put off the old and put on (lit. sink into [a garment]) Christ—the old self is removed just as the foreskin is removed in the rite of circumcision. In Col 3:5ff, this “old self” is connected with immoral/idolatrous behavior (i.e. “works of the flesh”), so there is clearly a practical ethical component to the instruction here. However, “circumcision” itself is understood entirely in spiritual terms, as something “made/done without hands” (a)xeiropoi/hto$). Elsewhere, this adjective is used, in a similar context (2 Cor 5:1), for a “heavenly dwelling” (the future glory reserved for the believer, perhaps tied to the idea of a “spiritual body” [1 Cor 15:42ff]). This motif itself reflects a spiritual interpretation and application of the Temple in early Christianity, as seen especially in Acts 7:35-53 (Stephen’s speech), where the earthly Temple and pagan idols are both described as things “made with hands” (vv. 41, 43, 48, and note v. 50); see a similar association in Acts 17:24; 19:26-27. There may be a connection back to the Temple sayings of Jesus (Mark 13:2; 14:58 par; John 2:19; Acts 6:13-14); the terms xeiropoi/hto$ (“made with hands”) and a)xeiropoi/hto$ (“made without hands”) appear in the version of the saying reported in Mark 14:58. At the very least, with regard to this saying, early Christians associated the Temple with Jesus’ own body (Jn 2:21-22)—this, in turn, helped to facilitate a  spiritual interpretation of the Temple itself (in the Pauline letters, cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 5:1ff; 6:16; Eph 2:21).

Col 2:14—In this verse, the Law is described as “the handwriting [xeiro/grafon]…which was under (and) against us”. Occasionally, Paul refers to the Old Testament Law specifically as a written work—using the term gra/mma (“written [word or letter]”), in Rom 2:27, 29; 7:6; 2 Cor 3:6-7, where the old covenant of the (written) Law is contrasted with the new covenant of the Spirit. Here the word is xeiro/grafon, i.e. something “written by hand”; there is likely an echo of circumcision as something “made/done by hands” (in v. 11, cf. above). The reference is best understood of the Law in a particular aspect—that of a written decree or judgment—as indicated by the use of do/gmata. In its fundamental sense, do/gma refers to something thought or considered to be true, proper, etc., but was regularly used in the specific (and technical) sense of an authoritative decision, esp. in the form of an official decree, judgment, ordinance, and so forth. The word never appears in the undisputed Pauline letters, only in Eph 2:15 where it is used (as here, in the plural) specifically of the Old Testament Law. The basic idea in context, however, is very much Pauline, as can be seen from Gal 2:19; 3:10-13; Rom 6:1-11; 7:4-6, where, by way of Christ’s sacrificial death, believers are said to die to the curse/judgment of the Law and to the Law itself.

Col 2:16-23—In this passage, there is a stress on the unimportance of ceremonial/ritual observances, especially the observance of holy days and dietary restrictions. This relates to portions of the Torah, as is clear from verse 16 (new moon, feasts, Sabbath), but almost certainly extends beyond this to external ritual and observance in general, as indicated by the parallel discussion in Gal 4:1-11 (where Gentiles are primarily in view). Paul seems to identify the Law—at least in its ritual/ceremonial aspects—in some way with the “elements [stoixei=a] of the world” (Col 2:8, 20; Gal 4:3). The observation of special days and dietary restrictions are also singled out in Rom 14:1-8; Paul regards them as matters of indifference, to be observed (or not) according to the conscience of each person. In this regard, note how Rom 14:14 would seem (decisively) to abolish dietary and purity laws for believers in Christ. Col 2:16-23 does not go this far, nor does it target the Torah commands directly (apart from v. 16), but the same principle applies. In Christ, believers have died to these “elements of the world” (v. 20) just as we have died to the Law.

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Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (12:1-15:13, and Conclusion)

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Romans 12:1-15:13

Rom 12:1-15:13 is properly the exhortation (exhortatio) or hortatory section of the letter, which also contains parenetic material, i.e. practical instruction on ethical and religious matters (cf. Gal 5:1-6:10, which has a number of similarities with this section in Romans). Most of Paul’s teaching related to the Old Testament Law (Torah) is found in chapters 1-11; therefore, what remains of note in 12:1-15:13 may be dealt with more briefly, in summary fashion. I divide Rom 12:1-15:13 according to the following outline:

  • Opening Exhortation (12:1-12)
    Active (v. 1): “Make your bodies stand alongside [i.e. before] (God)…”
    Passive (v. 2): “Be changed in shape… in making the mind new again…”
  • Unity—Illustration of the Body (of Christ) (12:3-8)
  • Love—The ‘Love command’ (12:9-13:10)
    —vv. 9-13: Show love to one another
    —vv. 14-21: Show love to your enemies
    Excursus (13:1-7): Respect and obey governing authority
    —13:8-10: Love as fulfillment of the Law
  • Appeal—to live in the light and not in the darkness (13:11-14)
  • Instruction—regarding the “weak” and the “strong” (14:1-15:6)
    Threefold exhortation regarding those “weak” in faith/trust:
    —vv. 1-12: “Receive (them) toward you…”
    —vv. 13-23: “Do not judge…”
    —15:1-6: “We ought to bear their weaknesses…”
    —including a doxology for unity in Christ (vv. 5-6)
  • Exhortation to unity for Jews and Gentiles in Christ (15:7-13)

Romans 12:1-2

Here in this brief introductory exhortation, Paul makes use of language and imagery drawn from the sacrificial (Temple) ritual, applying it—spiritually and symbolically—to the life and person of the believer. As such, the Law is ‘fulfilled’ in a spiritual (or ethical) sense. Note especially:

  • the body (sw=ma) as a living sacrifice (qusi/a)—the noun qusi/a (and the verb qu/w) refer specifically to the sacrificial offering and its slaughter (cf. Hebrew jbz)
  • the mind (nou=$) conformed to the will of God (cf. the “Law of God” in Rom 7:22, 25)

Both of these are summarized as latrei/a, a term used for ritual service, but which Paul characterizes here as logiko/$. This adjective is nearly impossible to translate in English—literally it means “of the word/account [lo/go$]”, but used primarily in the more abstract sense “of reason”, i.e., “reasonable, rational”, etc. The mind, in particular, is that aspect of human nature which is able to recognize the will of God (cf. Rom 7:13-25). In any case, for Christians, religious “ritual” is understood according to the “inner person”—i.e., the mind, as renewed by the Spirit, in conformity with the will of God—but extending to the external body, as one lives out the Christian life.

Romans 13:8-10

Rom 12:9-13:10 is on the theme of love, which believers are to demonstrate to one another (12:9-13), and also to one’s enemies (12:14-21). This is sometimes referred to as the “love command”, based on Jesus’ incorporation of Leviticus 19:18 as part of the two-fold “Great Commandment” (along with Deut 6:4-5). According to Jesus’ teaching, especially as presented in Mark 12:28-34, “no other command is greater than these”, being far superior to all sacrificial offerings. Already in early rabbinic tradition (contemporary with Jesus), Lev 19:18 was considered to be a kind of epitome or summary of the entire Law, and so it was in early Christianity. Note how Paul frames the matter in Rom 13:8-10:

  • “the one loving the other (person) has (ful)filled the Law” (v. 8b)
  • —the commands (esp. the fundamental ethical commands [Exod 20:13-17]) are “summed up under the head in this (one) word [Lev 19:18]” (v. 9)
  • “…love is the filling/fullness [plh/rwma] of the Law” (v. 10)

Paul says virtually the same thing in Galatians 5:14 (cf. also Gal 6:2; 1 Thes 4:9; Col 3:14; 1 Tim 1:5). For other passages in the New Testament related to the ‘love command’, see James 2:8-12; John 13:34-35; 15:9-17; 1 John 2:5, 7-11; 3:10-24; 4:7-12, 19-21; 5:1-3. Interestingly, while love for one’s enemies is clearly part of Jesus’ teaching (see esp. Matt 5:43-48 par), it is not normally associated with the exhortation to love in the passages listed above—there the emphasis is on showing love to one’s fellow believers.

Romans 14:1-15:6: On the “weak” and the “strong”

Paul’s instruction regarding the “weak” and the “strong” is actually an exhortation and advice for how the “strong” ought to behave toward the “weak”. By “strong” (oi( du/natoi, lit. “the [one]s with power”), Paul seems to mean believers who trust fully in the freedom they have in Christ, while the “weak” (o( a)sqenw=n, “the [one who is] lacking strength”), refers primarily to the believer who (still) feels obligated to follow certain religious/ritual practices. Paul classifies himself with the “strong” (cf. 15:1). It is likely that the “weak” include Jewish believers who feel under some obligation to observe dietary restrictions, Sabbaths and holy days, and so forth. However, Paul’s instruction here should by no means be limited to this context, for he uses very much the same line of instruction in 1 Cor 8-10, where Gentile believers are entirely in view (cf. also Gal 4:8-11). In any case, this passage certainly emphasizes the relative unimportance of ritual/ceremonial elements of the Law, such as:

  • dietary restrictions (14:2-4)—though he is not referring specifically to laws of kashrût here
  • observance of special (holy) days (14:5-6)

Paul would seem to consider such things as part of the old order of the world to which Christians have died, and are no longer bound to follow (Gal 4:1-11; Col 2:16-23; cf. also Gal 2:19; Rom 7:6, etc).

With regard to the Old Testament dietary and purity laws, Paul declares quite clearly that these have been removed—that is to say, nothing is “clean” or “unclean” in itself (cf. Mark 7:14-23 par; Acts 10:9-16; 11:5-10), though a person  might still feel compelled to regard it so. This is an important principle (cf. also in 1 Cor 8), which leaves any such regulation or restriction as a matter of personal conscience (to put it in modern terms), not to be imposed on another. The following principles also may be drawn out of the passage:

  • What should guide the believer is the Spirit, not regulations (from the Law), Rom 14:17
  • The one serving Christ is acceptable to God, Rom 14:18
  • Religious service is defined by faith/trust (not observance of the Law), Rom 14:23

Romans 15:7-13

In this appeal for unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ we have a summary of a major theme that has run all throughout the letter. This is important because, in Romans (as in Galatians), Paul is forging a new religious understanding and identity—one that is Christian, and not Jewish (that is, not limited to Israel). Of course, Paul does not use the term “Christian” yet, but one may combine two of his favorite expressions—(a) the ones trusting, using the participle of the verb pisteu/w, and (b) “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|)—to form the distinct concept of believers in Christ. In Christ, Jews and Gentiles are equal and united (Gal 3:26-28, etc)—there is no distinction whatsoever, and the Old Testament Law (Torah) plays no role at all. On the other hand, as Paul has discussed in chapters 9-11, Gentile believers are not to consider themselves in any way superior, having been grafted into a (spiritual) tradition stretching back to Abraham. In this regard, it is interesting the wording Paul uses in verse 8: “I count (the) Anointed to have become a servant of circumcision [dia/kono$ peritomh=$]…”, which probably should be understood in terms of Jesus’ birth and life (in the flesh) and his Israelite heritage (cf. Rom 1:3; 9:5; Gal 4:4)—elsewhere Paul uses the expression “of (the) circumcision” to refer to Israelites and Jews in the ethno-religious sense. Consider the structure of verses 8-9:

  • a servant of circumcision…
    over [u(per] the truth of God
    —unto [ei)$] the making firm [i.e. confirmation] of the promises of the Fathers
    —and (unto) the nations giving esteem/glory to God
    over [u(per] mercy

For an interesting parallel (in Gospel tradition) regarding Christ’s life and work in relation to both Israel and the nations, see Luke 2:29-32 (esp. v. 32, cf. Isa 42:6; 49:6; 52:10; 60:3).

Conclusion

In Romans, Paul presents what is by far his most thorough and complex treatment of the Law. In several respects, he has gone beyond the arguments utilized in Galatians, to offer a more ‘systematic’ and multi-layered presentation. I would summarize the main areas of expansion and exposition as follows:

  • God’s (impending) judgment against humankind will be based specifically in terms of deeds (“works”) committed, and according to the Law.
  • Jews and Gentiles both are “under the Law”—even Gentiles, who are unfamiliar with the Torah, experience the Law (of God) through the witness of creation (1:18ff) and the testimony of their own inner conscience (2:14-16; 7:13ff).
  • Jews and Gentiles are thus on equal terms before God, in that they—all human beings—are (enslaved) under sin.
  • The Law and Sin are interconnected—the Law brings knowledge and awareness of sin, while sin “uses” this knowledge to bring human beings into even greater bondage.
  • Sin is depicted (personalized) as a ruling, enslaving Power, and human beings are in bondage under him; however, this is according to God’s own purpose, so that He will be able to show mercy and favor (grace) to all people. God’s Favor itself is personalized (in Rom 5:15ff), and works in a manner antithetical to that of Sin.
  • God’s work in Christ—his sacrificial death (and resurrection)—destroyed the power of sin, and, with it, the binding force of the Law as well.
  • Believers experience freedom from the enslaving power of sin through trust in Christ, and, in particular, by identification with (and participation in) his death—through this death, believers effectively die both to sin and the Law. As such, the Law no longer has any binding force over believers (Rom 7:1-6)
  • It is in the mind and the “inner man” that human beings recognize the Law of God—a larger concept than the Torah, and synonymous with the Will of God. However, under the power of Sin (in the “flesh”), human beings are not able to fulfill this Law; only after being freed from sin’s power, and through the work of Spirit, can it be fulfilled.
  • Indeed, it is through the Spirit that believers live in conformity to God’s will (and no longer by observing commands and regulations of the Old Testament Law). This is demonstrated principally by the love that believers show, both to each other, and even toward one’s enemies; this love itself fulfills the Law.
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The Salvation of “All Israel” in Romans 11

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This article, which is supplemental to the study on Paul’s View of the Law (in Romans 9-11), will attempt to clarify Paul’s complex address in chapter 11, particularly with regard to the declaration in verse 26a: kai\ ou%tw$ pa=$  )Israh/l swqh/setai (“and thus all Israel will be saved”). To begin with, it is important to keep the overall context of Romans 9-11 in mind when studying chapter 11; the following observations are especially significant:

  • The first argument (in Rom 9:6-13) of the section as whole, begins with the statement: “for all the (one)s out of Israel—these are not Israel” (v. 6b), i.e. not all Israelites are (the true) Israel.
  • Paul expounds this with the examples of Abraham and Isaac, to emphasize that true sonship and inheritance (of the blessing, etc) comes not from natural birth and ethnicity, but from the promise and favor of God (and God chooses and calls out whomsoever he wishes).
  • This is further applied in relation to the proclamation of the Gospel (the main theme of chapter 10)—Gentiles have responded to the Gospel, trusting in Christ, while many Israelites, God’s elect people, have failed (or refused) to accept Christ.

There is thus a fundamental connection between 9:6b and 10:15a:

“for all the (one)s out of Israel—these are not Israel”
or, “for not all the (one)s out of Israel are Israel” (9:6b)
“but not all (of them) listened under [i.e. obeyed] the good message” (10:15a)

Both use the expression “not all” (ou) pa/nte$), though the syntax of 9:6b makes this more difficult to see in translation. In any case, the implication is clear—only those (Israelites) who accept the Gospel are the true Israel. Now, to continue on with an analysis of chapter 11:

Paul’s initial address in Rom 11:1-12 contains a central argument (from Scripture), bracketed by two rhetorical questions (introduced with the formula le/gw ou@n, “I relate therefore…”). The central argument (in verses 3-10) draws upon the narrative in 1 Kings 19:9-18, of God’s revelation to Elijah as he sought refuge in a cave on Mount Horeb. Paul refers specifically to verses 10, 14, where Elijah laments to YHWH that he is the only prophet (of YHWH) left who has not been killed, and that the rest of Israel has forsaken the covenant (Rom 11:2b-3); God responds in verse 18 to the effect that there are still seven thousand in Israel who have not “bowed the knee to Baal”. Note how Paul phrases this in Rom 11:4: “I have left down [i.e. left behind] for myself seven thousand…”—the addition of e)mautw=| (“for/to myself”), shifts the meaning slightly from the original context of being spared from death (by the sword) to being chosen by God. We should observe carefully the points that Paul expounds from this passage:

  • Verse 5—he applies the situation in 1 Kings 9:9-18 to his own (current) time: “so then, even now in (this) time, there has come to be a (remainder) left behind [lei=mma] according to (the) gathering out of [i.e. by] (the) favor (of God)”. In verse 4, the verb used is kataleip/w (“leave down, leave behind”); the noun lei=mma is related to lei/pw, indicating something which is left (behind), either in a positive or negative sense. The word lei=mma is typically translated as “remainder” or “remnant”; but here, as indicated above, this remnant is understood as a people gathered out (the noun e)klogh/, from e)kle/gomai, “gather out”), i.e. elected by God, just as Israel herself was chosen as his people.
  • Verse 6—this gathering out is the result of the favor (xa/ri$) of God, and not because of anything the people have done. Here Paul moves away from the Old Testament passage again, which seems to tie the people’s being spared with their particular religious behavior; instead, he emphasizes that the gathering out is no longer (ou)ke/ti, “not yet, not any more”) based on works (“out of works”, e)c e&rgwn). He has already applied this very idea to the example of Abraham in Galatians 3 and Romans 4.
  • Verse 7—only the remnant obtains what Israel seeks after (cf. Rom 9:30-33), the rest were hardened (lit. turned to stone). The metaphor of “hardening the heart” is common in the Old Testament, most famously in the example of Pharaoh in the Exodus narrative, which Paul references in Rom 9:14-18.
  • Verse 12—this verse is transitional, following Paul’s answer to the (second) rhetorical question (in verse 11), and leading into the address of vv. 13-24. He introduces the first of several qal wahomer exclamations, arguing from the lesser to the greater—i.e., if in this lesser/inferior case it is so, then how much more so when…! The contrast is between Israel’s h%tthma (“loss, defeat”), parallel with para/ptwma (“falling alongside [i.e. over the line]”), and their plh/rwma (“filling [up], fullness”). The exact meaning of plh/rwma here is important for the overall flow and force of Paul’s argument; I think it is best to understand it in the sense of a restoration (filling up) of what was lost.

Romans 11:13-24 is the first of two addresses Paul makes to Gentile believers specifically, with regard to Israel and its salvation (vv. 13-14).

  • Verse 14—”if… I will [i.e. that I might] save some of them”—note Paul’s use of ti/$ (“some of them”)
  • Verses 15-16—Paul applies three more qal wahomer-style arguments, similar to the one in verse 12:
    • Israel’s a)pobolh/ (“casting away from”) and their pro/slhmyi$ (“taking/receiving toward”); it is not entirely clearly whether these should be understood as subjective genitives (their rejection/acceptance of the Gospel) or objective genitives (their rejection/acceptance by God), since either is possible, and they actually represent two aspects of the same situation.
    • The (currently) small number of Israelite believers as the a)pa/rxh (“beginning of [lit. from]”, i.e. the first grain of the harvest) and the (future) full number as the fu/rama (“[mass of] mixed/kneaded [dough]”).
    • This may also refer to the current “remnant” of Israel as the r(i/za (“root”), and those who will follow as the kla/doi (“branches”); though the “root” perhaps should be understood more generally as the true people of God (faithful Israel) extending back to Abraham. The context of vv. 17-24 strongly suggests this latter, wider interpretation.
  • Verses 17ff—in the illustration of the olive tree and its branches, some branches are “broken out” (e)cekla/sqhsan) and others are (currently) being “poked in” (e)nekentri/sqh$); the sense generally is that the new branches from the “wild olive” tree (i.e. Gentiles) take the place of those that were broken off.
  • Verse 20—the branches were broken off specifically for “lack of trust” (a)pisti/a), i.e. a failure (or unwillingness) to trust in Christ. This has to be understood in terms of Rom 9:6; 10:15 (cf. above).
  • Verse 23—similarly the grafting back in of branches broken off depends entirely on “not remaining in [i.e. upon] a lack of trust”—that is, they must come to trust in Christ.

Romans 11:25-32, the second of the two addresses directed at Gentile believers deals more directly with the question of Israel’s ultimate salvation. Paul now adopts a more decidedly eschatological focus.

  • Verse 25—Israel’s hardness (i.e. their inability/unwillingness to accept the Gospel) lasts until “the fulness of the nations should come in”. The use here of plh/rwma (“filling [up], fullness”) for the nations (Gentiles) is parallel to that in verse 12 for Israel; Paul probably understands it in the sense of the full (or complete) number, measure, etc. It is only then, once the Gentiles have fully come to Christ, that “all Israel will be saved” (v. 26a).
  • Verse 26-27—the Scriptures Paul cites here are important for an understanding of v. 26a; the primary citation is from Isaiah 59:20-21a, along with Isa 27:9—the combination of elements is significant:
    • “the one rescuing” (o( r(uo/meno$)—Christ himself (1 Thess 1:10, etc), or God working through Christ.
    • “he will turn away from Jacob [i.e. Israel] a lack of (proper) fear [a)sebei/a] (of God)”—cf. Rom 1:18; here a)sebei/a (lack of fear/reverence) is synonymous with sin and wickedness in general, but also, specifically, with a lack of trust (a)pisti/a) in Christ. On the idea of Christ turning people from evil (using the verb a)postre/fw), see Acts 3:26.
    • “and this is the (agreement) set through [diaqh/kh] to them alongside [i.e. with] me”—diaqh/kh here in the sense of an agreement (covenant) between two parties (according to the Hebrew tyr!B=), referring to the “new covenant” in Christ and not the old covenant of Sinai and the Torah (cf. 2 Cor 3:7-18). For the principal Old Testament passage relating to the “new covenant”, see Jer 31:31-34.
    • “when I should take away from (them) their sins”—probably an allusion to Isa 27:9, here set in parallel with the citation from Isa 59:21a, i.e. “turning them away from” and “taking away from them”. For the specific association between removal of sin (and its power), through the death of Christ, and the “new covenant”, see Jesus’ words in Mark 14:24 (par Matt 26:28; Luke 22:20).
  • Verses 28-29—the juxtaposition (me\nde/ “on the one hand… on the other hand…”) Paul establishes in verse 28 must be analyzed and treated with great care:
    • me/n (on the one hand)—
      • kata\ to\ eu)agge/lion (“according to the good message”)
        • e)xqroi/ (“[they are] enemies“)
          • di’ u(ma=$ (“through you”, i.e. for your sake)
    • de/ (on the other hand)—
      • kata\ th\n e)klogh/n (“according to the gathering out”)
        • a)gaphtoi/ (“[they are] loved“)
          • dia\ tou\$ pate/ra$ (“through [i.e. because of ] the fathers”)
    • Paul uses this construction to highlight the sense in which they are (currently) hostile to the Gospel—it is for the sake of Gentiles, that they should come to Christ, as Paul describes earlier in vv. 11-24, 25 (cf. also 10:19-21). For more on this difficult teaching, see below.
  • Verse 31—the mercy which will be shown to Israel is the same that has been shown to Gentiles—that is, the sacrificial work of God in Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel, which has the power to make human beings right before God and to free them from the enslaving power of sin.

Finally, it is left to address specifically the statement in v. 26a: “and thus all Israel will be saved”. There are a number of ways this has been interpreted, which I represent by the following five options:

  1. All Israelites, past and present, will be saved by the mercy and favor of God, but apart from their coming to faith in Christ.
  2. All Israelites, past and present, will be saved collectively through the work of Christ, but in a mysterious way understood only by God, and not necessarily in the sense of “becoming Christians”.
  3. All Israelites alive at the return of Christ will come to faith in him, and will thus be saved.
  4. All of the true Israel will be saved, understood as all Israelites (and Jews) who trust in Christ.
  5. All of the true Israel will be saved, understood as all believers in Christ, Jews and Gentiles alike.

Based on the statement in Rom 9:6 and the olive tree illustration in 11:17-24, Paul certainly would have affirmed the fourth and fifth views above, in the sense that the true Israel is to be identified with believers in Christ (cf. also Rom 2:28-29). However, in Romans 11, and especially in verses 25-32, it would seem that he actually has something like view #3 in mind—namely that, at the end of the age, upon the return of Christ (or shortly before), there would be a widespread conversion of all Israelites and Jews currently living, that together (and/or all at once) they would come to faith in Christ. It is important to remember that, when Paul penned Romans, many, if not most, of the Israelites and Jews of his own generation, who had failed or refused to accept the Gospel, were still living, and he could envision the possibility that they could all still come to faith. As is abundantly clear from his letters, Paul, like most early Christians, expected Christ’s return and the end of the current age to occur very soon, presumably within the lifetime of most believers. In this context, Paul’s eschatological hope for Israel here makes good sense. Admittedly, it is rather more difficult to apply to the situation today, where nearly two thousand years have gone by, and many generations of Israelites and Jews have passed away—a situation, I am quite certain, that never would have occurred to Paul. Even so, it is still possible to affirm the belief (or at least the hope) that there will be a widespread conversion of Israel before the return of Christ; and, indeed, may Christians today hold just such a view.

Interestingly, in recent decades, there have been an increasing number of commentators and theologians who would adopt an interpretation along the lines of #1 and 2 above, at least in the sense that Israelites and Jews will be saved by God without having to “convert” or “become Christian”. This may be related to what is called the “Two Covenants” or “Dual Covenant” theory, which I will discuss briefly in an explanatory article.

Most distinctive is Paul’s teaching that Israel’s ‘hardening’ against the Gospel is directly related to the missionary outreach to Gentiles. This reflects historical reality, in that there were Jews who fiercely opposed the early Christian mission, according to Paul’s own testimony and the narrative in the book of Acts. Persecution often fuels the success of a religious movement, galvanizing support and helping to forge a strong and distinctive identity. This may also reflect, at some level, a degree of “cognitive dissonance”—Paul and other Christians were forced to explain the success of the mission among Gentiles throughout Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece and Italy (Rome), while many Jews, who (as the elect people of God) should have been more receptive, did not accept the Gospel. This leads Paul to two different explanations which he brings together in these chapters:

  • Not all Israelites are the true Israel (9:6), and
  • They fell away (i.e. refused to believe) in order to make room for the Gentiles to come to faith
    —this last proposition is most vividly illustrated by the image of the olive tree and the branches (11:17-24)

    • Paul viewed Christianity as the outgrowth of (faithful) Israel stretching back to Abraham (i.e., the “remnant” is the root of the tree)
    • The branches which are faithful and remain in the tree (cf. John 15:1-11) are the early Jewish believers
    • The branches of the wild olive tree are the Gentiles—believers are grafted into the tree of ‘true Israel’
    • The branches which were broken off (i.e., unbelieving Israelites and Jews) may yet come to faith and be grafted back in

Once the full number (or measure) of Gentiles have come to faith, then the unbelieving Israelites and Jews will have the covering removed from their mind (2 Cor 3:14-15) and will come to trust in Christ as well. This, at least, is how Paul appears to have viewed the matter. Fitting it into a particular eschatological framework today is, of course, especially difficult, as indicated by the wide range of interpretive approaches that have been adopted over the years.

 

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Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (9:1-11:32)

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Romans 9-11

These famous chapters in Romans have been notoriously difficult to interpret, not least in terms of how exactly they fit into the overall structure of the letter. From the standpoint of rhetorical analysis, Rom 1:18-8:39 clearly represents the probatio, the presentation of arguments in support of the main proposition (Rom 1:16-17). I have already discussed in detail each of the four main sections which make up the probatio, according to the thematic division presented as four announcements:

  • Rom 1:18-3:20: Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment, according to the Law (of God) (article)
  • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah) (article)
  • Rom 6:1-7:25: Announcement of Freedom from the Law and Sin (article)
  • Rom 8:1-39: Announcement of Life in the Spirit (article)

Through the arguments in these sections, Paul effectively expounds his central (two-fold) proposition:

“I do not feel shame upon [i.e. about] the good message [i.e. Gospel],
for it is the power of God unto salvation to every (one) th(at is) trusting—to the Yehudean {Jew} first and (also) to the Greek.
For the justice/righteousness of God is uncovered in it, out of trust (and) into trust, even as it has been written: ‘but the just/righteous (person) will live out of trust’.”

In chapters 9-11 he further expounds one portion specifically: “unto salvation to every one that trusts—to the Jew first and (also) to the Greek“. This section has been referred to as a refutatio—a refutation by Paul of (possible) arguments made especially by Gentiles in Rome with regard to the role and position of Jewish believers (cf. B. Witherington, Paul’s Letter to the Romans Eerdmans [2004], pp. 237-9). However, I do not see Paul’s approach here as being appreciably different from the one he takes in earlier in chapters 2-4; there is an interesting symmetry and balance of presentation:

  • Rom 2-4—addressed primarily to Jews, emphasizing that Gentiles are on an equal footing before God with regard to both judgment and salvation
  • Rom 9-11—addressed primarily to Gentiles, emphasizing the (future) salvation of Israelites/Jews and their inclusion into the body of Christ

In between (Rom 5-8) Paul presents a kind of “salvation history”, an exposition of the Gospel message for all human beings—Jews and Gentiles alike. Chapters 9-11 actually have the character of a personal appeal or confession—indeed, this characterizes each of the sections (matching the numbered chapters):

  • Chapter 9—Paul’s confession (Rom 9:1-5)
  • Chapter 10—Paul’s confession (Rom 10:1-4)
  • Chapter 11—Paul’s appeal (Rom 11:1-6ff)

The opening verses of each section, with their personal and moving tone, lead into a presentation of arguments. The main issue at hand is how the Israelite/Jewish people relate to the new Christian identity. As a missionary and representative (apostle) of Christ, Paul saw how many of his fellow Israelites and Jews had been unwilling to accept the Gospel, some even being openly hostile to his missionary work (as narrated repeatedly in the book of Acts, cf. also 1 Thess 2:14-16, etc). Even Jewish believers could be opposed to his presentation of the Gospel, especially his unique view of the Law and his missionary approach to the Gentiles, as seen in Acts 15:1ff and throughout Galatians. At some level, this must have been traumatic for Paul, and difficult to understand—how could so many of God’s elect people, Israel, fail to trust in Christ? While he never really addresses this directly in his other surviving letters, it is clear that he had thought about it a good deal. The result is the wonderful, if somewhat enigmatic, exposition here in Romans 9-11.

I present my analysis of these chapters in summary, outline form, discussing several key verses in more detail in separate notes.

Romans 9

Rom 9:1-5—Paul’s personal address: Israel (“they are Israelites…”, vv. 4-5)

In vv. 1-3, Paul offers a moving confession of the sadness and burden he feels for his fellow Jews, whom he refers to as “my brothers” and “my kin (lit. ones coming to be [born] with me)”, and who, most notably, are Israelites (ei)sin  )Israhli=tai). This leads in vv. 4-5 to an announcement of the benefits and honors accorded to Israel by God, culminating in the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh (“according to the flesh”, kata\ sa/rka). The setting forth (establishment) of the Law (nomoqesi/a) is, of course, one of these honors.

Rom 9:6-13Argument: Not all Israel is the true Israel.

This is defined clearly by Paul in verse 6:

“But (it is) not so that the word/account of God has fallen out [i.e. failed]: for these—all the (one)s out of Israel—are not Israel.”

The specific syntax of this last statement is important. The negative particle ou) governs the statement as a whole: ou) ga\rou!toi  )Israh/l (“for these…are not Israel”); and these (ou!toi) refer to the preceding phrase pa/nte$ oi( e)c  )Israh/l (“all the ones out of Israel”). Secondarily, one may also read the negative particle with pa/nte$, “not all the ones out of Israel.. are Israel”. The preposition e)k here means “out of” in the sense of physical/biological descent from (i.e. “offspring of the flesh”, v. 8). In other words the true Israel is not simply the same as all Israelites taken in the ethnic/cultural sense. Paul builds on this by returning to the example of Abraham from chapter 4 (cf. also Gal 3-4), emphasizing that Isaac was his “seed” according to the promise of God, and not simply out of his flesh. Abraham’s true descendants likewise are the “offspring of the promise” (ta\ te/kna th=$ e)paggeli/a$), v. 8. In a similar manner, Paul emphasizes that Isaac’s son Israel was chosen (“called out”) by God beforehand, in contrast to his other son Esau—i.e., the blessing was not based simply on birth or genealogy (vv. 11-13).

Rom 9:14-33Exposition: Three arguments, each beginning with a rhetorical question:

  • Vv. 14-18—”What then shall we declare [ti/ ou@n e)rou=men]? There is not injustice [a)diki/a] alongside God (is there)? May it not come to be (so)!”
  • Vv. 19-29—”You will therefore declare to me [e)rei=$ moi ou@n]: For what [i.e. why] then does He yet find fault (with us)? For who has stood against His counsel [i.e. what He has resolved to do]?”
  • Vv. 30-33—”What then shall we declare [ti/ ou@n e)rou=men]? That the nations not pursuing justice have taken hold of justice…but Israel, pursuing (the) Law of justice…did not arrive (first)…?

The first two arguments (vv. 14-29) relate to the example of Isaac in vv. 6-13, of how God chose Israel beforehand (over Esau). These verses came to be central to subsequent theological debates regarding “predestination” and the sovereignty of God—i.e., how God may accept one person and reject another, quite apart from anything done to deserve such blessing. Unfortunately, this doctrinal emphasis tends to wrench the passage well out of its original context, as is quite clear from the the concluding argument in vv. 30-33, where Paul returns to the main statement of v. 6. Because of their importance to Paul’s view of the Law, verses 30-33 will be discussed in a separate note.

Romans 10

Rom 10:1-4—Paul’s personal address: The Law and justice/righteousness (vv. 3-4)

Paul offers a personal confession, similar to that in 9:1-3; here he expresses his desire (and prayer) that Israel might be saved—”(my) need (expressed) [i.e. prayer] toward God over them unto (their) salvation” (v. 1b). In verses 2-3 he offers his diagnosis regarding Israel’s current situation:

“For I witness regarding them that they hold a fervent desire of God, but not according to (true) knowledge upon (Him); for, lacking knowledge of the justice/righteousness of God, and seeking to stand (up) th(eir) own [justice/righteousness], they did not put themselves (in order) under the justice/righteousness of God.”

Then follows, by way of contrast, the famous statement in verse 4, functioning as a concise (and controversial) summary of the Gospel:

“For (the) Anointed {Christ} is (the) te/lo$ of the Law unto justice/righteousness for every (one) th(at) is trusting.”

This verse (along with vv. 2-3) will be discussed in a separate note.

Rom 10:5-13Argument: Justice/righteousness is realized in Christ.

This argument is essentially a commentary on Leviticus 18:5, which Paul also cites in a similar context in Gal 3:10-14. It is part of his regular contrast between the Law, which one observes by doing (“works of the Law”), and trust/faith (in Christ). The contrast is stark indeed—”justice/righteousness out of the Law” vs. “justice/righteousness out of faith/trust”. His supplemental usage here of Deut 30:11-14 is interesting, illustrating dramatically the righteousness based on doing, taken to extremes: “step up into the (high) heaven…step down into the deep (pit)”, adding the detail that the purpose is to “bring the Anointed down” and “bring the Anointed up”. The idea seems to be that this righteousness through deeds (i.e. observance of the Law) effectively takes the place of the true righteousness of God found in Christ, as expressed in v. 3. Another difference is that true righteousness is realized through the “utterance in the mouth… and in the heart” (v. 8, citing Deut 30:14); this utterance (r(h=ma) is then identified with the “word” or proclamation (kh/rugma) of the Gospel. Paul cites a kerygmatic formula in verse 9, expounding it in vv. 10-11, and applying it to all people—Jews and Gentiles equally—who trust in Christ, and confess this trust, i.e. “all who call upon him” (v. 12f, citing Joel 2:32 [cf. Acts 2:21]).

Rom 10:14-21Exposition: The Proclamation of the Gospel, and Israel’s response to it, in three parts:

  • The proclamation of the Gospel (vv. 14-15)
  • Israel’s response to the Gospel—not all have faith (vv. 16-17)
  • Evidence of this in the Scriptures (vv. 18-21, citing Psalm 19:4; Deut 32:21; Isa 65:1-2)

The statement in v. 16, “not all have obeyed [lit. listened/heard under] the good message”, relates back to the main argument in 9:6—not all Israelites are (the true) Israel. The implication is, that the true Israel is represented by those who accept the Gospel and trust in Jesus Christ. This is the message of chapters 9 and 10, in summary form. It is important to keep this in mind when studying chapter 11 (below).

Romans 11

Rom 11:1-12—Paul’s address (and argument): The People of God (“His people”, vv. 1ff)

The structure of this chapter is somewhat different from the previous two—here Paul’s personal address in relation to Israel is embedded within a larger discussion of Israel’s role as the people of God. Verses 1-12 actually form an argument from Scripture (vv. 3-10), framed by two similar rhetorical questions:

  • Vv. 1-2: “I relate then [le/gw ou@n]…”
    Question: “God has not pushed his people away from (him, has he)?”
    Answer: “May it not come to be (so) [mh\ ge/noito]!… God has not pushed away from (him) his people whom he knew before(hand).”
  • Vv. 11-12: “I relate then [le/gw ou@n]…”
    Question: “They have not started to fall (so) that they should fall (completely, have they)?”
    Answer: “May it not come to be (so) [mh\ ge/noito]! But by their falling alongside, the salvation for the Gentiles (has come), to bring them [i.e. Israel] along to a burning (desire) [i.e. to jealously].”

The central argument from Scripture (vv. 3-10) draws upon the narrative from 1 Kings 19:9-18, and the idea of a faithful remnant of Israel—”so then also in this time now there has come to be a (remainder) left over, according to the gathering out of [i.e. by] (the) favor (of God)” (v. 5).

Rom 11:13-32Exposition: A Two-fold address to Gentile believers:

  • Vv. 13-24—Illustration of the olive tree and its branches
  • Vv. 25-32—Discourse on the (eschatological) salvation of Israel

Rom 11:33-36—Doxology on the wisdom and knowledge of God

Because of the importance of this chapter, especially verses 13-32, in terms of Paul’s view of the Law, as well as the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in Christ, it will be discussed in more detail in a supplementary article.

 

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Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (8:1-39)

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Romans 8:1-39

This is the fourth, and final, major section of the probatio of Romans (Rom 1:18-8:39). The first three sections were:

  • Rom 1:18-3:20: Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment, according to the Law (of God) (article)
  • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah) (article)
  • Rom 6:1-7:25: Announcement of Freedom from the Law and Sin (article)

This last section (chapter 8) I would divide as follows:

  • Rom 8:1-30: Announcement of Life in the Spirit (Exhortation)
    —8:1-11: The conflict (for believers) between the Spirit and the Flesh
    —8:12-17: Believers are sons (of God) and heirs (with Christ) through the Spirit
    —8:18-25: Believers have the hope of future glory (new creation) through the Spirit
    —8:26-30: Believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit
  • Rom 8:31-39: Doxology: The Love of God (in Christ)

Having just worked intensively through the relation between Law and Sin (see the article on Rom 7:7-25), with the emphasis on the believer’s freedom (in Christ) from both, Paul now proceeds to discuss the life of the believer in the Spirit (of God and Christ). This thematic emphasis is, in some ways, parallel to the exhortation in Galatians 5:16-25—believers who are freed from the binding force of the Law (and Sin), now live according to the power and guidance of the Spirit.

Verses 1-11

The theme of this section is the conflict for believers between the Spirit and the Flesh, introduced by Paul in Rom 7:14, but which is more familiar from the famous discussion in Gal 5:16ff. In Rom 7:7-25, human beings were dramatized as struggling with the flesh, but under the enslaving power of sin and the Law; now, having been delivered from the Law and sin, the struggle with the “flesh” (sa/rc) remains. This deliverance is defined according to two principal declarations:

  1. “Now there is not any [ou)de/n] judgment against [kata/krima] the (one)s (who are) in (the) Anointed Yeshua” (v. 1)—addressed collectively to all believers, this describes the elimination of judgment (by God) against human beings (announced in Rom 1:18ff); this judgment was the result of violation of the Law by human beings, under the power of sin. This removal of judgment is the product of “justification”, of God “making (things) right” again for humankind, and, in particular, of making believers right and just in His eyes.
  2. “For the Law of the Spirit of life, in (the) Anointed Yeshua, has set me free from the Law of Sin and of Death” (v. 2)—here Paul personalizes the matter “set me free”, much as he does in 7:7-25; however, other manuscripts read “set you free”, and this is preferred by some commentators—either way, the personal pronoun is representative of all believers. Here we find also a new use of the word no/mo$ (“law”) in the expression o( no/mo$ tou= pneu/mato$ th=$ zwh=$ (“the Law of the Spirit of Life”)—pneu=ma here certainly referring to the (Holy) Spirit. In Galatians, the Spirit is seen as taking the place of the Law for believers (cf. Gal 5:16ff), and should be understood in this way here, but with the added emphasis on its sanctifying and life-bestowing power—Life contrasted with Death. The expression “the Law of Sin and Death” is an expansion of “the Law of Sin” in Rom 7:23-25; it reflects the dynamic of Sin and the Law at work, both against each other, and also working together according to God’s purpose (see esp. Rom 11:32). The expression should not be reduced simply to the “principle of sin”.

In verses 3 and 4, this deliverance is described in terms of Christ’s sacrificial death:

“For the powerless (thing) of the Law [i.e. what the Law lacked power to do], in which [i.e. in that] it was weak through the flesh, God (has done), sending his own Son in (the) likeness of flesh of sin [i.e. sinful flesh] and about [i.e. for the sake of] sin, judged against sin in the flesh, (so) that the just/right (thing) of the Law should be filled up [i.e. fulfilled] in us—the (one)s not walking about according to (the) flesh, but according to (the) Spirit.”

This is a complex sentence and rather difficult to translate, but it effectively summarizes Paul’s view of the Law and “Justification”:

Because the “flesh” of human beings was enslaved under the power of sin, the Law of God (as expressed in the commands of the Torah) only served to increase and reinforce humanity’s bondage—it resulted in death, not life. As such, the Law (Torah) did not have the power to make human beings right before God, because human beings lacked the power to fulfill the requirements of the Law. The requirements of the Law were fulfilled for us (lit. “in us”) through God’s work in Christ, i.e. his death. The reality of this deliverance for believers should be reflected by their “walking according to the Spirit”, and not “according to the flesh” (cf. Gal 5:16ff).

In Rom 7:7ff, Paul described the presence and work of Sin “in the flesh” (e)n th=| sarki/, v. 18), now he describes the presence and work of the Favor/Grace of God “in the flesh”. His view of this is incarnational—Christ is sent (and is born, Gal 4:4) “in the likeness of flesh of sin” (cf. also Phil 2:7), and this becomes the location where the power of sin is removed (God literally “judges against” sin, pronouncing sentence against it). For more on Rom 8:4, in comparison with the similar passage in 2 Cor 5:21, see the supplemental daily note.

The remainder of this section, vv. 5-11, follows very much in line with Galatians 5:16-25, contrasting the Spirit with the flesh. Paul’s use of the word translated “flesh” (sa/rc) is complex and highly nuanced; it primarily refers to the human body, and its parts, but especially in the sense that it is affected and influenced by the impulse (e)piqumi/a) to sin. Paul clearly believed that this impulse to sin still remained in the “flesh”, even for Christians (Gal 5:17), but the enslaving power of sin had been removed—believers now have the freedom and ability to choose to follow God’s will. This choosing is expressed by use of the word fro/nhma (vv. 6-7, also in v. 27), rather difficult to translate, but which indicates the exercise of the mind, both in terms of understanding and the will. In typically dualistic fashion, Paul contrasts the fro/nhma th=$ sarko/$ (“mind[edness] of the flesh”) with the fro/nhma tou= pneu/mato$ (“mind[edness] of the Spirit”). In verses 9-11, Paul gives a threefold qualification of the Spirit:

  • the “Spirit of God” (pneu=ma Qeou=) which dwells (“houses”) in [e)n] believers (v. 9a)
  • the “Spirit of [the] Anointed {Christ}” (pneu=ma Xristou=), which likewise is in [e)n] believers (v. 10), but believers are also said to “hold” it (v. 9b)
  • the “Spirit of the (one) raising Yeshua from the dead” (i.e. of God), which also dwells in [e)n] believers, and gives life to our mortal (lit. “dying”) bodies just as Christ was raised from the dead (v. 11)

Verse 10 will be discussed further in a separate daily note.

Verses 12-17

The contrast between the Spirit and the flesh continues in these verses, which likewise have strong parallels with Galatians:

  • V. 12: An exhortation not to live “according to the flesh” (kata\ sa/rka)—cf. Gal 5:16-17
  • V. 13: A reminder that living/acting according to the flesh leads to death, while the opposite leads to life—cf. Gal 6:7-8; for the idea of “putting to death the deeds of the body”, see Gal 5:24 (also 6:14)
  • V. 14-16: Declaration that through the Spirit believers are made sons/offspring of God—cf. Gal 3:26; 4:1-6
    —in particular, verse 15 is extremely close to Gal 4:5-6
  • V. 17: The declaration follows that, if we are sons of God, then we are also his heirs—cf. Gal 3:29; 4:1ff (esp. verse 7); Paul adds here the detail that we are co-heirs (“ones receiving the lot together”) with Christ (see Rom 8:29)

Verses 18-25

The theme of believers as sons (and heirs) of God continues in this section with the hope (and promise) of future glory (new creation) that we have through the Spirit. In a truly beautiful, if somewhat enigmatic, passage, Paul describes all of creation as currently in the process of giving birth to something new—”the glory of the offspring of God” (v. 21). Believers are the “firstfruits” of this new creation, a process of our being realized as sons/children of God which will only be completed with our final resurrection and glorification—”the loosing of our bodies from (the bondage of death)” (v. 23). This also is ultimately the realization of salvation (“by [this] hope we are saved”, v. 24).

It is important to note the way Paul extends the idea of slavery (doulei/a) and freedom (e)leuqeri/a), which he applied specifically to the human condition in Rom 6-7, to all of creation in 8:21-22. Certainly he is drawing here upon the same Genesis 3 narrative that inspired him in Rom 5:12ff. The implied actor of the verb u(pota/ssw (“put [in order] under”, i.e. place under authority) in 8:20 is not entirely certain; based on the context elsewhere in Romans, there are only two possibilities—(a) God, or (b) Sin—the former being more likely. Even if it is Sin (through the sin of Adam, Gen 3:17-19) that subjects creation to bondage, ultimately God is the one controlling this process. The idea that creation was enslaved, it would seem, for the purpose of being freed (by God), correlates well with the declaration in Rom 11:32.

Verses 26-30

This section emphasizes that believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit, which Paul describes in two ways:

  • Vv. 26-27—The Spirit works on our behalf before God, described according to two richly detailed, compound verbs:
    sunantilamba/netai, “he takes (hold) together opposite (us)”, i.e. he helps and assists us “in our lack of strength”
    u(perentugxa/nei, “he reaches in (and) over (us)”, i.e. he meets us and intercedes on our behalf, specifically in the context of prayer, of “speaking out toward” God
  • Vv. 29-30—God works on our behalf; here Paul presents a schematic or chain of what could be called an “order of salvation”:
    proe/gnw, “he knew before(hand)”
    prow/risen, “he marked out before(hand)”
    e)ka/lesen, “he called”
    e)dikai/wsen, “he made right”, or “he made/declared just”
    e)do/casen, “he esteemed [i.e. granted honor/glory]”
    Between verses 29 and 30, Paul inserts a specific theological/Christological statement: “…with the shape of the image of His Son, unto his being [i.e. that he should be] the first produced [i.e. first-born] among many brothers”—that is to say, believers are marked out (chosen) to take on the form and image of Christ, to be children (and heirs) together with him (cf. verse 17).

In verse 28, in between his description of the work of the Spirit (vv. 26-27) and the work of God (vv. 29-30), Paul adds the following (and justly famous) declaration:

“…to the (one)s loving God all things work together unto good—to the (one)s being called according to (what He has) set forth before(hand).”

Rom 8:31-39: Doxology: The Love of God (in Christ)

The final section of 1:18-8:39 is a doxology, in praise of God’s love, so beautiful and remarkable that it virtually defies analysis. I will make not attempt here to comment upon it in this short space, other than to highlight briefly several points in the text which are relevant to Paul’s view of the Law:

  • Verse 32—the use of the verb xari/zomai, “show favor, give/grant as a favor”: pw=$ ou)xi\xari/setai “how shall he not…show favor”? The related noun xa/ri$ is used frequently by Paul, especially here in Romans (Rom 3:24; 4:4, 16; 5:2, 15ff; 6:1, etc), where it is set directly in contrast with both the Law and Sin, esp. in Rom 5:15ff; 6:14-15. God takes delight in his people and shows favor to them, and all the more so for believers in Christ—he demonstrates his favor by (freely) granting to them “all things” (ta\ pa/nta).
  • Verses 33-34—the legal/judicial language in these verses reflects Paul’s statements and arguments about the Law and “justification” in Galatians and Romans:
    • katakri/nw (“judge against”), here personified under a substantive (verbal noun) form, “the (one) judging against (us)”. This is associated in v. 33 with the verb e)gkale/w (“call in”, i.e. call someone in to answer charges or to give account).
    • dikaio/w (“make right, declare just/right”); note the parallel form “the (one) making/declaring (us) right”, contrasted with “the one judging against (us)”. This verb, along with related words of the dik-/dikaio- group, are used frequently by Paul. Note also the associated verb e)ntugxa/nw, parallel with e)gkale/w—the one making right (God) comes in to meet and help us, as opposed to the one calling us in to be judged.
  • Verses 35ff—xwri/zw (“to separate, set apart”) and a)ga/ph (“love”): “who will separate us from the love of God?”. These two words dominate verses 35-39.
    • The first (xwri/zw) is related to xwri/$ (“separate, apart from”), which Paul uses in Rom 3:21, 28; 4:6; 7:8-9 in relation to the Law—”apart from (works of) the Law”, i.e. believers experience the favor and righteousness of God entirely apart from observing the Law (Torah). Here in 8:35ff, Paul makes a declaration in the opposite direction: nothing can put believers apart from the love and favor of God. Sometimes this “separation” is thought of as a wall or barrier, but the Greek word properly refers to space between—in Christ there is no space between us and God.
    • The second (a)ga/ph) is, of course, the most widely used word in the New Testament indicating love—the love which God has for us, and which we have toward God (and each other). God’s love (a)ga/ph) and the favor (xa/ri$) he shows to human beings are closely related, especially as described by Paul here in Romans. In particular, God demonstrates both his love and favor in the person and work of Christ on behalf of sinful humanity, cf. especially in Rom 3:24; 5:1-11, 15-17.
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The Law and Sin in Romans 7:7-25

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The famous passage in Romans 7:7-25 has been discussed countless times by commentators and theologians over the years, and it is not remotely possible even to begin surveying this scholarship—nor all the relevant aspects of interpretation—within one relatively short article. My purpose here is threefold:

  1. To offer my view on the essential context of the passage—namely, the force and significance of Paul’s use of the first person (“I”)
  2. To present an exegetical outline, in the hopes of illustrating, clearly and simply, how Paul understands the relationship between the Law and Sin in the context of the passage.
  3. To give a summary distillation on “Paul’s View of the Law”, in terms of this particular passage.

The “I” of Romans 7:7-25

Paul casts this section in the first person, using “I, my”, etc throughout. This has given rise to considerable debate among interpreters over the centuries, and especially in more recent times. Is the use of the first person autobiographical (describing Paul’s own experience), or is a rhetorical and literary device? Most critical commentators today assume the latter, and, in this, they are almost certainly correct; even so, the question would still remain—who precisely is Paul representing in this section? There are several possibilities:

  • Human beings generally, prior to the coming of Christ
  • Israelites/Jews specifically, prior to the coming of Christ (or prior to faith in Christ)
  • Human beings (believers) prior to coming to faith in Christ
  • Believers generally in their struggle with the flesh and sin

A comparison with Romans 5:12-21 suggests that Paul in 7:7-12 is drawing upon the condition of human beings up until the time the Law (Torah) was introduced. Both passages provide colorful interpretations of the situation described in the Genesis 3 narrative, with Sin as the main actor; note, for example, the way sin “deceives”—e)capata/w in v. 11, compared with a)pata/w in Gen 3:13 [LXX]. Paul personalizes the narrative, giving a dimension of psychological realism and drama to it. The introduction of the Law (Torah) in vv. 9ff might suggest that Israelites and Jews specifically are in focus; however, by verse 22 it becomes clear that a somewhat wider view of the Law is meant—one which embraces all human beings (Jews and Gentiles alike). I take Rom 7:7-25 as parallel with 5:12-21—in the earlier passage, Paul is describing the presence and work of Sin in the world (e)n ko/smw|, v. 13); while in 7:7ff, it is the presence and work of Sin in the flesh (e)n th=| sarki/, v. 18). This focus within the human being makes Paul’s personalizing approach (“in me” e)n e)moi/, “in my flesh” e)n th=| sarki/ mou) both appropriate and effective.

Rom 7:7-12 is cast in the past tense, 7:13-25 primarily in the present. This would seem to indicate that in vv. 13ff Paul is describing the current situation of human beings (“under the Law” and “under Sin”): (a) prior to the coming of Christ, and/or (b) prior to faith in Christ. However, there are several details in the text—especially in vv. 13-25—which could be taken as applying specifically to believers in Christ, i.e., of the struggle believers face with regard to the flesh and sin even after coming to faith. Here are the most notable:

  • Verse 9—e)gw\ de\ e&zwn xwri\$ no/mou pote/ (“I was living apart from the Law then”). Elsewhere, Paul uses the expression “separate/apart from the Law” (xwri\$ no/mou) referring to faith and the work of God in Christ (Rom 3:21, 28; 4:6, etc), so one might think that the Christian condition is meant here as well. However, almost certainly, Paul is simply indicating the human situation prior to the introduction of the Law, with no/mo$ used in the strict sense of the Old Testament/Jewish Torah. The verb za/w (“live, have life, be alive”) is meant in the ordinary, conventional sense of human life and existence, and not of “life in Christ” or “eternal life”.
  • Verse 9—h( a(marti/a a)ne/zhsen (“sin came up to life”). The verb a)naza/w could be understood as “be alive, come to life again“; this might mean, in a Christian context, that sin died once (through Christ) and then came to life again (for believers). Probably, however, the force of the particle a)na here is simply “up”—i.e., that sin sprang up to life through the command of the Law.
  • Verse 17—nuni\ de\ ou)ke/ti e)gw\ katerga/zomai au)to\ (“now [it is] no longer I working/accomplishing it…”). Within the context of vv. 13-25, this could certainly be taken in the sense that a person (i.e., a believer) does not truly will to commit sin, and that it is the sin dwelling/remaining in the flesh which can act against a person’s will.
  • Verse 22—kata\ to\n e&sw a&nqrwpo/n (“…according to the inner man”). Elsewhere, Paul uses this language in relation to the inward (spiritual) renewal of believers (2 Cor 4:16), and the same expression “the inner man” is used in Eph 3:16. It is sometimes assumed that the expression refers to something only possessed by Christians, but this is far from certain. Paul also refers to a renewing of the mind (nou=$) in Rom 12:2 (cf. also Eph 4:23), an aspect of human nature presumably possessed by believers and nonbelievers alike. His idea of the “inner man” in the context of Rom 7:7-25 probably relates more to the human mind and conscience generally.
  • Verse 25—Curiously, after Paul’s declaration of thanksgiving in v. 25a, introducing God’s work through Christ which rescues human beings from the “body of death” (v. 24), he restates the situation of the human condition, from the prior verses, in v. 25b. This could be taken to mean that the conflict so described applies specifically to believers, even after coming to faith in Christ.

Perhaps the strongest association of the conflict in Rom 7:7-25 with believers comes from the parallel in Gal 5:17, where Paul briefly describes a dynamic similar to that in Rom 7:13-25. Clearly, in Gal 5:16-25, Paul is addressing believers who are in the Spirit, and yet he speaks of a conflict with the flesh in terms very much like those in Rom 7. But it is just here that we find the greatest difference between the two passages—in Rom 7:7-25 the person struggles against the flesh, but also against the Law and Sin, whereas in Gal 5 only the flesh is involved. According to Paul’s teaching, believers in Christ are freed from bondage to the Law and sin; but he never claims a similar freedom from the flesh—Christians must continue to struggle against the flesh, dying to its influence every day, through identification with Christ’s own death, and through the guiding work and power of the Spirit.

An exegetical outline of Romans 7:7-25

In this section, Paul especially addresses the relationship between the Law and Sin. He does this first by way of an important rhetorical question in v. 7a: “What then shall we declare? (Is) the Law sin?“—to this, he gives a decisive answer, mh\ ge/noito, “may it not come to be (so) [i.e. by no means, God forbid]!” But, if the Law is not identical with sin, how are we to understand the close relationship between the Law and sin, such as he describes throughout Galatians and here in Romans, to the point of using “under the Law” and “under sin” as nearly synonymous expressions? This is what he attempts to explain and expound in vv. 7ff. I divide the passage into three sections, or scenes, each of which describes a distinctive situation involving human beings (represented by Paul in the first person) in relation to the Law:

  • Rom 7:7-12—Scene 1: Introduction of the Law (Torah) over humankind
    • V. 7a—Rhetorical Question: “Is the Law sin?” (may it not be!)
    • Vv. 7b-8—Answer/Explanation (main proposition): the Law brings about knowledge/awareness of sin (cf. Rom 3:20)
      • The command (v. 7b)—example from the Decalogue (Ex 20:17): “Do not set (your) heart upon…”
      • Sin “uses” the command (v. 8) to work/produce instances of “setting the heart upon” illicit/prohibited things
    • Vv. 8b-9—Expository transition:
      • apart from the Law (xwri\$ no/mou) sin is dead (nekra/), v. 8b
      • apart from the Law (xwri\$ no/mou) I was living (e&zwn), v. 9
    • Vv. 9-11—Rhetorical Illustration/Identification (e)gw de\, “but I…”):
      • Sin (already present) comes up to life (in the human being) with the command (v. 9)
      • The command leads to death, not life (v. 10)
      • Sin acts (deceptively) through the command, to kill (v. 11)
    • V. 12—Expository transition (statement regarding the Law):
      • The command is holy, just and good…(how then, does it lead to sin and death?)
  • Rom 7:13-20—Scene 2: Humankind under the Law (of God)
    • V. 13a—Rhetorical Question: “Did the thing that is good come to be death for me?” (may it not be!)
    • Vv. 13b—Answer/Explanation (secondary proposition): the Law makes sin to “shine forth”, i.e., become apparent/manifest
      • Action: The Law works/produces death through the command
      • Purpose: So that Sin would come to be (seen for what it is)—i.e. completely sinful
        —Manifestation of the power of Sin: flesh is in bondage to it (v. 14)
    • Vv. 14-20—Rhetorical Illustration/Identification (e)gw de\, “but I…”):
      Contrast/conflict: The Law is spiritual, but I am fleshly—Spirit vs. Flesh (cf. Gal 5:16-25)

      • I work (“under sin”):
        —lacking true knowledge: “I do not know” (v. 15)
        —the will is trapped between: the Law (good, v. 16) and sin in the flesh (evil, b. 17)
        —the will is weakened by sinful flesh (v. 18)
        —the person does the opposite of the will (v. 19)
      • It is the power of sin working in me (v. 20)
  • Rom 7:21-25—Scene 3 (Illustration): Humanity subject to the Law (of God) and the Law (of Sin)
    • V. 21—Statement of two contradictory laws (Rhetorical Illustration/Identification: “I find… in me”)
    • V. 22—The Law of God: in the “inner man”
    • V. 23—The Law of Sin: in the (outer) members (i.e., bodily parts, the “flesh”)
    • V. 24—Rhetorical Question: “who will rescue me from this body of death?”
      —and the Answer (implied), v. 25a: “…God through Jesus Christ our Lord”
    • V. 25b—Concluding summary statement (of the two contradictory laws):
      • me\n (on the one hand): “with the mind I am a slave to the Law of God”
      • de\ (on the other hand): “with the flesh (I am a slave) to the Law of Sin”

Paul’s View of the Law in Romans 7:7-25

As the above outline should make clear, Romans 7:7-25 is a dense network of arguments and illustrations, images and symbols, drawing upon nearly everything that Paul has said thus far in Romans about the Law (and Sin). It is the power of his personalized (first person) presentation that makes his exposition so memorable. As the history of exegesis and interpretation amply shows, believers (i.e. those hearing and reading Romans) were likewise able to identify themselves with the “I” in the passage—which was doubtless Paul’s aim and intent in using such a literary device. But what do these verses say specifically regarding Paul’s view of the Law? To begin with, there are two fundamental beliefs or propositions which he expresses throughout the passage:

  1. The Law (Torah) itself is not sinful, nor to be identified with sin (v. 7)—rather, it is holy, just and good (v. 12), and is spiritual (v. 14), reflecting the will of God (the Law of God, in the wider sense).
  2. Though he does not state it specifically here until verse 14, by comparison with the rest of Romans (and Galatians), it is clear that, in his view, human beings were in slavery and bondage to Sin (“under sin”) even before the introduction of the Torah.

With these two ideas in mind, it is possible to summarize some key points related to the overall exposition in vv. 7-25:

  • The main purpose of the Law is twofold: (1) to bring about knowledge and awareness of sin (v. 7, cf. also 3:20), and (2) to make sin itself appear in its true (sinful) nature (v. 13). These are two sides of the same coin—one emphasizes human perception and experience, the other emphasizes the power and presence of sin itself. How does this happen?
  • Revelation of sin comes through the command (e)ntolh/) of God as expressed in the Torah—particularly, as Paul illustrates here (vv. 7-8), through the fundamental ethical-moral commands, which would tend to be shared by most non-Israelite/Jewish peoples as well. Until there is a specific injunction or prohibition which is to be obeyed or followed, sin is “dead”—that is, it possesses no conceptual or experiential reality for human beings. With the introduction of the command, sin literally “comes up to life” (v. 9).
  • Sin holds power over human beings (their flesh), but it does not lead to death until the command is violated (cf. Gen 3:3, 11, 22). As in the Genesis narrative, death is to be understood in the normal sense of physical death, and not as some kind of “spiritual death”—it is the body that dies or is dead as a result of sin (Rom 8:10f).
  • There are several aspects to Paul’s view of death that comes as the result of sin: (1) as a future fate and judgment, (2) as a condition or judgment realized already in the present, and (3) as an active power (along with Sin) at work in the world (and the flesh).
  • Sin enslaves human beings externally in the surrounding world (Rom 5:12ff), but also, more notably, internally in the “flesh”. The power of sin dwells and works in the flesh, specifically the body and its parts.
  • The human will is conflicted and torn between the power of sin in the flesh and the mind or “conscience” which recognizes the command (the Law of God).
  • The “Law of God” is a wider concept than the Torah, as it relates to the “inner man”, the human mind and/or conscience. As such, it applies even to Gentiles who do not have the Torah (cf. Rom 2:12-16, 26-28). In this regard, Paul refers principally to the fundamental ethical/moral aspects of the Law; he never attempts to make a similar connection with the ritual/ceremonial aspects of the Law.

It is fair to assume that the people represented by Paul’s “I” in Rom 7:7-25 primarily represent believers prior to coming to faith in Christ. At any rate, they should be distinguished from the situation in Rom 1:21ff—there, human beings have fallen into idolatry and immorality, and God gives them over to even greater wickedness; here, by contrast, human beings are struggling with their conscience, wishing to live in an upright manner according to the Law of God, but unable to accomplish this because of the power of sin and the weakness of the flesh. One should consider the situation in Rom 7:7-25 as that of the “righteous” (Jew and Gentile alike), in the conventional/traditional religious and ethical sense, who wish to be faithful to the Law and to do good—but even they are enslaved by the power of sin. The Law reveals and makes manifest the reality of this bondage; the only hope of rescue from it comes through the work of God in Christ (v. 25).

 

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Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (6:1-7:25)

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Romans 6:1-7:25

This is the third major section of the probatio of Romans (Rom 1:18-8:39). The first two sections were:

  • Rom 1:18-3:20: Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment (v. 18), according to the Law (of God) (article)
  • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah) (article)

The section, comprised of chapters 6 and 7, I define and outline as:

  • Rom 6:1-7:25: Announcement of Freedom from the Law and Sin
    —6:1-14: Argument 1: Believers are dead to sin by participation in the death of Christ, along with an exhortation not to sin (vv. 12-14)
    —6:15-23: Argument 2: Believers are free from slavery to sin (and are now slaves of righteousness)
    —7:1-6: Argument 3: Believers are released from the bond of the Law (and sin): Illustration from the marriage bond
    —7:7-25: Theological excursus: The relationship between the Law and Sin

Romans 6:1-14: Death—Believers are dead to sin

Each of the three arguments in 6:1-7:6 begin with a rhetorical question that is provocative and sets the stage for the discussion which follows. The first (6:1) of these is also transitional, building upon language and imagery from the previous section (Rom 5:12-21): “What then [ti/ ou@n] shall we declare? should we remain upon sin (so) that the favor [xa/ri$] (of God) might be (still) more [i.e. increase/abound] (to us)? May it not come to be (so) [mh\ ge/noito]!” As the question (and Paul’s response) indicates, there is a strong exhortational aspect to the arguments in this section. The principal theme in 6:1-14 is death; in answer to the introductory question, believers should not (and, indeed, can not) remain in sin, since they are already dead to sin (v. 2).

Verses 2-4—Image of Baptism: Dying (and rising) with Christ

In verse 3, Paul defines the symbolic character and significance of the ritual of Baptism as participation in the death of Christ (cf. also Gal 2:19-20; 3:27):

“do you lack (the) knowledge that, as (many of) us as were dunked [e)bapti/sqhmen] into (the) Anointed Yeshua, we were dunked into his death?”

He extends this participation in verse 4 to Jesus’ burial (“buried together with him”) and resurrection, with the promise of future glory; this is realized for believers already in the present, as the concluding line indicates: “so also we should walk about in newness of Life”.

Verses 5-11

The reality of this participation in the death and resurrection of Christ (v. 5) serves as the basis for two propositions:

  • Believers in Christ are dead to the power of sin (vv. 6-7), described under two motifs:
    —the “old man” (o( palaio\$ a&nqrwpo$) has been crucified together with Christ (cf. Gal 2:19-20), thus making inactive (dead) the old body (of sin) (v. 6a)
    —a slave who dies is free from slavery, i.e. sin has no power over a dead person (v. 6b-7)
  • Believers are no longer under the power of death (vv. 8-9)—this is described specifically in terms of Christ’s own death and resurrection; as a result, death no longer has any power (no longer “rules as lord”) over believers

These two ideas are combined in vv. 10-11:

  • Verse 10 refers to the fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection (life), which is “to God” (tw=| qew=|)
  • Verse 11 applies this by way of an exhortation for believers similar to that in v. 4b: “so also count yourselves as dead to sin [th=| a(marti/a|] but living to God [tw=| qew=|]” in Christ
Verses 12-14

These verses follow upon vv. 10-11 with an even more forceful exhortation, which is two-fold:

  • V. 12: “do not let sin rule (as king) in your dying [i.e. mortal] body unto the hearing under [i.e. so as to obey] its impulses”—this touches back upon the idea of sin (personified) as reigning power (king) in 5:12-14ff
  • V. 13: a supplemental exhortation specifically related to a person’s (bodily) parts (ta\ me/lh), not to present them (lit. make them stand alongside) as tools (or weapons) of injustice/unrighteousness (a)diki/a) and sin, but rather of justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh)

Verse 14 gives the reason for this, which likewise is two-fold:

  • “for sin shall not rule (as lord) over you…”
  • “for you are not under (the) Law [u(po\ no/mon] but under (the) favor [u(po\ xa/rin] (of God)”

Again, we see a connection between sin and the Law, though the precise connection is not entirely clear from the context here. Because of its importance, the second half of this verse will be discussed in more detail in a separate note.

Romans 6:15-23: Believers are freed from slavery to sin

This section, like the prior one, begins with a rhetorical question (v. 15) that picks up where the last verses left off:

“What then [ti/ ou@n]? Should we sin (in) that [i.e. because] we are not under (the) Law but under (the) favor (of God)? May it not come to be (so) [mh\ ge/noito]!”

The two expressions “under the Law” (u(po\ no/mon) and “under the favor [i.e. of God]” (u(po\ xa/rin) were used in verse 14 (above). Paul’s question reflects a natural (and practical) religious-ethical issue resulting from the teaching that believers are no longer “under the Law”, that is, no longer required to observe the commands and regulations of the Torah. Some people might mistakenly think (or claim) that freedom from the Law meant that Christians need not behave in a moral or disciplined manner. Paul already dealt with the issue forcefully in Galatians 5:13-25. In that passage, the emphasis was on believers being guided by the Spirit; here in Romans, the role of the Spirit is left until chapter 8, while Paul develops further his discussion on the relation between the Law and sin.

Verses 16-18

In these verses the theme introduced is specifically that of slavery, referred to by way of two verbs: (1) doulo/w (“be/become a slave”) and (2) u(pakou/w (“hear under”, i.e. respond/submit to authority, obey). Paul is drawing upon 5:12-21, where he describes Sin (a(marti/a) and the Favor/Grace (xa/ri$) of God as contrasting kings or lords ruling over human beings—one rules in death, the other rules in (eternal) life. Here, in vv. 16-18 the contrast is between death (qa/nato$) and justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) (v. 16), followed by the parallel of sin vs. justice/righteousness in v. 18. Just as one may be a slave to Sin, obeying him, so one also becomes a kind of slave in obedience to God (under his Favor/Grace). This important motif of freedom (e)leuqerwqe/nte$, “being freed”) from slavery is introduced specifically in verse 18—believers are freed from slavery to sin, and become slaves to the justice/righteousness of God (in Christ).

A key phrase is found in v. 17, where Paul contrasts believers’ former role as slaves of Sin (dou=loi th=$ a(marti/a$), with their obedience and attentiveness (“you heard/listened under”, u(phkou/sate), i.e. to the Favor/Grace and justice/righteousness of God in Christ. This new obedience is said to be: (a) “out of [i.e. from] the heart” (e)k kardi/a$) and (b) “unto/into the stamp/pattern of teaching which was given along (to you)” (ei)$ o^n paredo/qhte tu/pon didaxh=$). The precise meaning of this latter phrase is not entirely clear; probably it should be taken in the sense of the Gospel message that Paul and his fellow-missionaries have proclaimed, together with related teaching given by apostles and other early Christian leaders, which would have included transmitted sayings and teachings of Jesus. It may be similar to the “measuring stick” (kanw/n) which Paul mentions in Gal 6:16. In several places, he also refers collectively to the things “given along (down), passed down”, i.e. tradition (cf. Gal 1:14; 1 Cor 11:2; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6). A specific association with instruction given to believers prior to baptism has been suggested, and this is certainly possible. In a subsequent article, I will deal with the question of whether (or to what extent) such authoritative teaching in the early Church takes the place of the Law/Torah for believers.

Verses 19-22

Here Paul illustrates more clearly the contrast in the situation of believers before and after coming to faith in Christ. In verse 19 the image of slaves/servants in submission to their master, from vv. 16-18, is extended—to the idea of presenting (pari/sthmi, lit. “stand alongside”) one’s physical body, i.e. the bodily parts (ta\ me/lh), for the master to use. Before coming to faith, the body was made available to Sin (here described as “uncleanness and unlawfulness”); after faith, to justice/righteousness. Note how the illustration proceeds through these verses:

  • Situation: Slaves presenting their bodies to sin unto uncleanness and unlawfulness (v. 19)
    • Status: Slaves to sin and free from justice/righteousness (v. 20)
      • Result (“fruit”): Things to be ashamed of, the completion/end/goal (te/lo$) of which is death (v. 21)
  • Situation: Slaves presenting their bodies to God (His justice/righteousness), separated unto holiness (v. 22a)
    • Status: Slaves to justice/righteousness and free from sin
      • Result (“fruit”): Holiness (a(giasmo/$), the completion/end/goal (te/lo$) of which is (eternal) life (v. 22b)

Romans 7:1-6: Believers are released from the bond of the Law (and sin)

Paul again begins this section with a question: “do you lack (the) knowledge [i.e. do you not know]… that the Law rules as lord over a man upon so (long) a time as he lives?” In verses 2-3, he then gives a practical illustration relating to marriage under the Law—a woman is legally bound to a husband only as long as he lives; once he dies, she is free from her obligation and may join in marriage to another. The verb katarge/w, “make to stop working, render inactive, ineffective, etc”, is used here (v. 2), as previously in Rom 3:3, 31; 4:14; 6:6, also Gal 3:17; 5:4, 11; it functions as a technical legal term, with the preposition a)po/ (“from”), to indicate that the woman is released from the law (the marriage bond)—it no longer has any active, binding force upon her. This illustration is applied to believers in verse 4:

“…you also have been made to die to the Law through the body of (the) Anointed, unto your coming to be [i.e. that you might be] (married) to another, (to) the (one) raised out of the dead, (so) that you might bear fruit to God.”

For the idea of believers dying to the Law, by way of participation in the death of Christ, see especially Gal 2:19-20. This illustration is similar to those Paul gives in Gal 3:23-4:11—there the image is of a son (and heir) who, while he is underage, is subject to the authority and control of slave-guides, guardians, and household-managers. Both types of illustrations refer to a definite time limit to the period when a person is bound to the Law—i.e., the coming of Christ, especially his sacrificial death (and resurrection). These are among the the clearest examples Paul gives to the effect that, for believers in Christ, the Law (Torah) no longer has any binding force.

With verses 5 and 6 Paul offers an exhortation, much as he does in 6:12-14. In 6:1-14 the theme was on dying to sin, and thus being freed from bondage to it; here, however, in 7:1-6, it is on dying to the Law, and so being freed from it. These verses are vital to an understanding of Paul’s view of the Law, and should be studied closely:

“For when we were in the flesh, the sufferings of sins worked (themselves) in our (bodily) parts through the Law, unto the bearing (of) fruit to death; but now we are made to cease working [i.e. released] from the Law, dying away (from the thing) in which we were held down, so as (for) our being slaves (to God/Christ) in newness of (the) Spirit, and not in oldness of (the) written (word)”

In many ways, these two verses function as a summary of all that Paul has stated in Romans to this point, and serves as a transition into the discussion to follow in Rom 7:7-8:39. Note the words and phrases which characterize the contrast of before vs. after:

Before (o%te h@men, “when we were”):

  • e)n th=| sarki/ (“in the flesh”)—the “flesh” (sa/rc) is an important term for Paul, referring to the human person in both physical/material and psychological aspects, especially in so far as human beings are under the bondage and influence of sin, and unable to fulfill the Will/Law of God.
  • ta\ paqh/mata tw=n a(martiw=n (“the sufferings of sins”)—here Sin is described practically, in terms of individual misdeeds and the impact of the sinful impulse; this is specifically sin dwelling and working “in the flesh”. The word pa/qhma is sometimes rendered “passion”, but more properly it means pain or suffering; in this context, it is closely connected with the sinful impulse (e)piqumi/a) and desire/longing (cf. Rom 6:12; Gal 5:24).
  • dia\ tou= no/mou (“through the Law”)—Paul will explain in Rom 7:7ff how it is that sin works through the Law (cf. also Rom 5:20). As indicated in Gal 3:19 and Rom 3:20; 5:20; 7:7ff; 11:32, the primary function of the Law was to increase (awareness of) sin, and to place human beings in bondage to it.
  • e)nergei=to (“worked [itself] in”)—the verb is singular, but the subject is plural (“the sufferings of sins”), understood collectively as “sin”; this indicates the active power of sin, which works in human “flesh”.
  • e)n toi=$ me/lesin u(mw=n (“in our [bodily] parts”)—here the “flesh” is defined specifically as the physical body, its “parts” or members; while sexual immorality may be foremost in mind, the expression is by no means limited to this.
  • to\ karpoforh=sai tw=| qana/tw| (“the bearing [of] fruit to death”)—cf. verse 4-5 above, and note the comparison in Gal 5:17ff. For death as the completion, goal, and end result of sin, see Rom 5:12ff; 6:16, 21, 23; note also Gal 6:7-8, and the famous passage in James 1:14-15.

After (nuni\, now”):

  • kathrgh/qhmen (“we were made to cease working”)—in the sense of being released; for this verb, cf. Rom 3:3, 31; 4:14; 6:6; 7:2, also Gal 3:17; 5:4, 11.
  • a)po\ tou= no/mou (“from the Law”)—i.e., believers are released from the Law, it no longer has any active/binding force; note the parallel expression dia\ tou= no/mou (“through the Law”) above—sin works through the Law, believers are freed from the Law. The preposition a)po/ can carry the specific sense of “away from”.
  • a)poqano/nte$ (“dying [away] from”)—specifically, dying off from the Law; in English, we would be more inclined to say “dying to the Law”. On this idea, see especially Gal 2:19.
  • e)n w!| kateixo/meqa (“in which we were held down”)—the Law held human beings in bondage (to sin), cf. Gal 3:22ff; Rom 7:7ff; 11:32. For the verb kate/xw (lit. “hold down”), see Rom 1:18.
  • douleu/ein (“to be a slave”)—slavery is the main motif in Rom 6:15-23 (above). The expression with the infinitive here is nearly impossible to translate literally in English, requiring a combination of “so as to be a slave” and “our being a slave”. Believers, of course, become “slaves” in service to God (and Christ), serving his justice/righteousness and holiness.
  • e)n kaino/thti pneu/mato$ (“in newness of [the] Spirit”)—the expression could be rendered “in newness of spirit”, but almost certainly Paul is referring here to the Holy Spirit. This is contrasted with e)n palaio/thti gra/mmato$ (“in oldness of [the] written [word]”). In other words, the Spirit is contrasted with the Torah, specifically in its aspect as a written law code (in Scripture). This juxtaposition will be dealt with more extensively when discussing 2 Cor 3:6 (cf. also Rom 2:27-29).

Romans 7:7-25: Theological excursus—the relationship between the Law and Sin

Because of special difficulties of interpretation involving this famous and controversial passage, it is necessary to examine it in a separate article.

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Paul’s View of Sin and Romans 5:12-21

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As part of the series of articles on Paul’s View of the Law in Romans (see), I felt it worthwhile to explore specifically his view of sin, and the language (and images) he uses to express it. This is done especially with an eye toward understanding his description of sin in the famous passage in Romans 5:12-21, as well as gaining a better sense of how he defines the relationship between sin and the Law.

Paul’s use of a(marti/a (hamartía)

The a(mart- (hamart-) word-group (vb a(marta/nw, hamartánœ) in Greek has the basic meaning “miss, fail to hit (the target)”, or, in a metaphorical sense, to “miss the way, fail to find”, generally, “go astray, err”. As such, its semantic range is similar to the corresponding words derived from the root afj (µ‰°) in Hebrew. The substantive a(ma/rthma (hamárt¢ma), rare in the New Testament, has the general meaning “error, mistake”, along with the more developed legal/moral sense of “offense, fault, guilt”. The related noun a(marti/a (hamartía), far more common, has a similar range of meaning, but often refers specifically to individual actions. All of this fits fairly well under the English word “sin”, in spite of its strong religious/moral connotation.

Paul uses the verb a(marta/nw in the basic sense of “committing an error, offense”, either against the Law (Torah) or generally against accepted moral standards—sexual immorality, drunkenness, etc. (1 Cor 6:18; 7:28, 36; 15:34)—as well as the more distinctly Christian idea of neglect/mistreatment of one’s fellow neighbor/believer (1 Cor 8:12; Eph 4:26). In Romans (Rom 2:12; 3:23; 5:12, 14, 16; 6:15), the verb is used, it would seem, in a more general/generic sense, though clearly violation of the Torah (in its ethical commands, 2:17-27) and the kind of idolatry/immorality associated with paganism (1:18-32) are in mind. The noun a(ma/rthma (Rom 3:25; 1 Cor 6:18) refers to specific erroneous/offensive acts (“sins”), as does Paul’s use of the noun a(marti/a in the plural (Gal 1:4; 1 Cor 15:3, 17; Rom 7:5; Col 1:14; Eph 2:1).

However, the singular a(marti/a often carries a somewhat different meaning or significance for Paul in his letters—”sin” as a power, and one that is occasionally personified. Note the following:

  • the expression u(po\ [th\n] a(marti/an (“under sin”), where the preposition u(po/ (“under”) refers to human beings under the power and authority of sin (Gal 3:22; Rom 3:9; 7:14); the context of Gal 3-4 and Rom 6-7 indicates the idea of bondage or slavery to an overlord
  • human beings are said to act or function as slaves (or servants) to sin (as lord/master), cf. Rom 6:6-7, 13-14, 16-17, 20, 22; 7:25 (indeed, the entire context of 6:1-23; 7:14-25); note also Gal 2:17
  • sin is said actively to rule/reign (as king or lord)—cf. Rom 5:13-14, 21; 6:12, 14
  • sin otherwise is described as acting, with devious/hostile purpose, in Rom 5:12; 7:8ff
  • sin specifically is said to dwell (lit. “house, take up house”) in human beings, as a personal entity might (Rom 7:17, 20, cf. below)
  • sin is connected to the Law and death, both of which can also be described as (personified) powers (1 Cor 15:56; Rom 5:12-14ff; 6:21-23; 7:13ff; 8:2, and see also on the expression “the Law of sin” below)

In order to understand this particular aspect of Paul’s view of “sin” (a(marti/a), it is necessary, I believe, to consider something of the ancient worldview that informs this language and imagery.

The ancient religious/mythological background

Generally speaking, according to the ancient and traditional (polytheistic) worldview, the universe was filled with living and intelligent “powers” (i.e., “gods”), which governed and were manifest within the various forces and phenomena of nature. This extended even to human society and daily life, whether within the community, family or at the level of the individual. Clearly, the cycles of fertility, birth and death, the seasons and the harvest, etc, were seen as governed by “deities”, but equally so the things a person experiences day to day throughout his/her lifetime. To have, or to experience, good fortune (health, prosperity, success) meant that a person had (or possessed) a “god”; in Greek, the word eu)dai/mwn (rel. eu)daimoni/a, eu)daimone/w, etc), often translated blandly as “fortunate, happy, blessed”, literally means “(having) a good daimon [that is, a divine-power/deity]”; an especially gifted person was similarly thought to possess a daimon (“genius” in the literal sense of the word). By contrast, misfortune and disease, etc., were caused by the presence of evil powers, such as we see famously in the book of Job, as well as in the exorcism narratives in the Gospels and the book of Acts (note also 2 Cor 12:7).

Within the context of Israelite/Jewish monotheism, of course, these “divine powers” took on a different character and role, either understood as heavenly/celestial beings (“angels”) serving God’s rule over the universe, or as ‘fallen’ evil spirits acting within the confines of the world. It is the latter sense which dominated the thinking in early Christianity, especially where the world of nature and humankind was seen as existing in a state of corruption and evil. According to such a “dualistic” viewpoint, the quasi-divine “powers” (whether or not precisely synonymous with “demons”) were thought of in terms of beings or forces which were actively hostile and opposed to God. Paul appeared to have believed in the existence of such “powers” (Gal 4:8-9; 1 Cor 10:20; 15:24; Rom 8:38; Col 2:8, 15; Eph 1:21; 2:2; 6:12; cf. also 2 Thes 2:3-12), though he says relatively little about them specifically in his letters. He describes more clearly, especially in Romans and Galatians, the role played by three (personified) powers—Sin, Death, and the Law. Sin, in particular, is described in almost mythological terms—that is, by telling a story or tale (mythos) with Sin as a leading character who acts with purpose and intent. This is what Paul appears to be doing in Romans 5:12-21.

The context of Romans 5:12-21

Much of the difficulty with interpreting this famous passage, I believe, lies in a fundamental difference in worldview. Modern readers and commentators tend to view “sin” almost entirely in terms of individual misdeeds; Paul and other early Christians shared this basic understanding, but, along with it, retained the concept of sin as a quasi-divine force or power which was opposed to God. Such an idea is quite foreign to Western thinking, especially today; it is much easier for us to conceive of the Devil/Satan as an invisible (but real) being than it is to think of “sin” as a personification, moving and acting, holding people in servitude, and so forth.

On the surface, Romans 5:12-21 is framed as a (typological and synchronistic) contrast between Adam and Christ, yet it is interesting how little Adam actually appears in these verses—the principal actor (especially in vv. 12-14) is sin, along with his associate death. Note:

  • Sin enters (“comes into”, ei)se/rxomai ei)$) the world, and death enters along with (lit. “through”, dia/) him (v. 12)
  • Sin is in (h@n e)n) the world—dwelling, working and multiplying—though without his presence really being recognized by human beings (v. 13); people would not see Sin for who he/it was until the coming of the Law (Torah)
  • Sin reigns/rules as king (basileu/w), through his powerful associate and representative death, until the coming of the Law (i.e. of Moses), and then even more thereafter, until the coming of Christ (v. 14)

It is hard to say to what extent Paul is simply using figurative language here; he certainly understood sin as a real and genuine force or power, but at least two aspects of his illustrative argument here suggest that the language is primarily figurative:

  1. In verses 12-14, Paul is generally summarizing the narrative in Genesis 3 (focused on Adam), and extending it broadly to cover the entire period of human history up to the time of the Sinai Covenant (the Law/Torah), and beyond; he does something quite similar in Rom 7:7-12. In this respect, he effectively attributes to Sin actions and functions involving other characters—Adam, Eve, the Serpent, etc—in Genesis.
  2. In verses 15-17, in a story parallel to, and a reversal of, that in vv. 12-14, the “favor/grace of God” is effectively personified as the protagonist much like Sin in vv. 12-14. Grace works in the world, and through Christ, just as Sin worked in the world, affecting all human beings, ultimately ruling/reigning in life (as Sin ruled/reigned in death).

Paul does not explain exactly how Sin’s entry into the world (manifest in the first sin by Adam) spreads into/unto all human beings (v. 12). Historically, there are three primary ways this has been explained by commentators and theologians:

  • Biological/Generational—human beings transmit a “sinful nature” from parents to child, from one generation to the next; this is sometimes connected with the “traducian” theory that the human soul is transmitted biologically.
  • Imitative—the sinful parent effectively teaches the child to sin, from generation to generation.
  • Collective—all human beings sinned collectively in the first human being Adam (or pair, Adam/Eve)

All of these are rather far removed from Paul’s actual line of argument and illustration in Rom 5:12-21; a major problem, as indicated above, is that such theories almost completely ignore the primary context of the passage (esp. verses 12-14), which depicts sin as a (personified) power. I would interpret Paul’s expository logic as follows:

  • Adam’s disobedience provides the opportunity and opening for Sin (as a power) to enter into the world, that is, into the world/domain of human beings
  • Based also on the parallel discussion in Romans 7:7-25, Paul appears to have viewed Sin’s entry in two ways:
    (1) as an external force present and active in the world influencing and affecting human beings (i.e. “the world“), and
    (2) as an internal power dwelling within human beings, operating and influencing people specifically at the level of the “flesh” (sa/rc).
  • A major result and effect of human sin is death (that is, the fate of real physical death), pronounced as a judgment by God (according to the Genesis narrative). Death, too, is sometimes seen as an active force.
  • The “flesh” of human beings—covering both physical/biological and psychological aspects—already weak, and fatally weakened further by the presence and influence of both sin and death (often viewed as working together), is unable to resist the power of sin.
  • Sin effectively rules as king or lord, enslaving all human beings under its power and authority. Viewed figuratively, this means that human beings are unable to resist the impulse to sin (within) and sinful/wicked influences in the world (i.e. human society) around them.

A uniquely Pauline addition to this narrative is the role of the Law (no/mo$)—that is, the Law of God, but specifically as expressed in the Old Testament Law (Torah). This, of course, is the subject of the current series “Paul’s View of the Law”; his unusual and remarkable view of the Law may, thus far, be summarized here as:

  • Prior to the introduction of the Law (Torah), sin was present in the world, working and ruling over human beings, enslaving them; however, people were not able to recognize the true nature and presence of sin.
  • The primary purpose of the Law was to produce recognition and awareness (i.e. proper knowledge) of sin (Rom 3:20; 7:7, cf. also Gal 3:19). Paul seems to envision a connected/parallel dynamic at work for Gentiles who do not have the Torah, but who recognize comparable ethical and religious standards.
  • Paradoxically, however, the effect of this is to increase the presence and influence of sin, even to the point of bringing about death. Through the commands of the Law, sin is defined, esp. in relationship to God, but the presence (and increased awareness) of sin—especially as manifest in the “flesh”—means that human beings are not strong enough (i.e. not able) to fulfill the Law of God (as expressed in the Torah, and also in the human ‘conscience’ or “inner man”).
  • The result is that human beings are further in bondage, to the Law (“under the Law”), just as they are in bondage to sin (and death); Gentiles, in their own way, are similarly in bondage under the Law (cf. Gal 4:1-11). Paul, however, makes the point strongly that the Law is not the same as sin.
  • Through the person and work of Christ, the Law is fulfilled/completed for believers (who are thus “justified” before God), and is, in fact, brought to an end for those who are in Christ—freed from the Law, as we are freed from sin (and death).

The “Law of Sin”

These two key concepts—the Law and Sin—are combined in the expression “the Law of Sin” (o( no/mo$ th=$ a(marti/a$), which Paul uses in Rom 7:23, 25; 8:2. Throughout Galatians, the word no/mo$ (“law”) refers almost exclusively to the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah); similarly in Romans, however Paul does begin to use the term with a somewhat wider scope of meaning, beginning in chapter 3, but most notably here in chapter 7. In Romans 7:7, he starts with the Torah (the Decalogue), but by verse 22, he has shifted the meaning by introducing the expression “the Law of God” (o( no/mo$ tou= qeou=). This phrase seems to include the Law as expressed in the human soul (or “conscience”), i.e., the “inner man”; Paul had used it previously in 1 Cor 9:21, probably in the sense of the true Law, synonymous (for believers) with the “Law of Christ” (cf. also Gal 6:2).

In Rom 7:22-25, Paul juxtaposes “the Law of God” against “the Law of Sin (and Death)”, as two opposing forces at war within a human being—the mind/soul/conscience influenced by the former, and the “flesh” controlled by the latter. This clearly reflects the condition of human beings prior to coming to faith in Christ, though Paul describes a similar dynamic—the flesh warring against the Spirit (and vice versa)—for believers in Gal 5:16-17ff.

A final example: 2 Corinthians 5:21

An interesting use of the word a(marti/a (in the singular) is found in 2 Cor 5:21, where Paul uses it twice, in connected phrases:

“the one [i.e. Christ] not knowing sin, he [i.e. God] made (to be) sin over us [i.e. for our sake], (so) that we might come to be the justice/righteousness of God in him”

It is a most striking juxtaposition: Christ comes to be (made) sin, and we come to be justice/righteousness in Christ. Paul appears to be playing on the various meanings and connotations of the word “sin” (a(marti/a), from a Jewish and Christian point of view. There are several possibilities for interpreting these two phrases:

1. to\n mh\ gno/nta a(marti/an, “the (one) not knowing sin”, in the sense that Jesus—

  • had no experience of sin, i.e. had not committed any such misdeed
  • was unfamiliar sin’s reign, i.e. was not under its/his power and authority (for a similar idea, cf. John 14:30)
  • had no intimate contact with sin, i.e. its power was not dwelling in him

2. a(marti/an e)poi/hsen, “he made (to be) sin”, in the sense that Jesus—

  • was made into the form of (sinful) human “flesh” (Rom 8:3); the idea of incarnation, cf. Gal 4:4; Phil 2:7
  • was made like unto the (enslaving) power of sin, in order to conquer and destroy it (cf. Rom 8:2-3; Gal 3:13-14)
  • was made into a sin-offering; note the similar double meaning of afj in Hebrew, which can be used both for sin and the offering made on behalf of sin

Probably the first meaning in each case is to be preferred, but it is intriguing to consider the other possible associations, as one can find basis for them elsewhere in Paul’s thought.

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Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (3:21-5:21, Part 2)

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This is the second part of the article on Romans 3:21-5:21 (cf. part 1), according to the following outline:

  • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah)
    —3:21-31: A description of God’s justice and on being made/declared just
    —4:1-25: Argument from Scripture: The blessing/promise to Abraham (by trust/faith)
    —5:1-11: The effect/result of being made/declared just: salvation from the coming judgment
    —5:12-21: Argument/Illustration from Scripture: Sin and Salvation (Adam/Christ)

Two discussions on the twin theme of Justice/Justification (3:21-31; 5:1-11) alternate with expository arguments (or illustrations) from Scripture (4:1-25; 5:12-21). This concluding part examines Rom 5:1-11 and the argument from Scripture in 5:12-21.

Romans 5:1-11

This section runs parallel to that of Rom 3:21-31 (discussed in part 1); while the emphasis there was on the justice/righteousness of God and the manifestation of it in action (“justification”), here it is on the effect of justification—believers being made (or declared) just/right before God. We can also see this parallel in its relation to the esteem (do/ca, or “glory”) of God—i.e. the honor/glory which He intrinsically possesses, and which should be shown to him:

  • the justice/righteousness of God—the esteem/glory of God (Rom 3:23)
  • justification of believers—the hope (e)lpi/$) of the glory of God (Rom 5:2)

Verses 1-11 can be divided into three sub-sections, each of which describe the result of justification for believers in terms of boasting (vb. kauxa/omai, n. kau/xhma, kau/xhsi$). Nearly all of the NT occurrences of these three related terms are found in Paul’s letters—it was a favorite of his, and one that can be difficult for other Christians to appreciate in the way that he clearly did. It is possible that it reflects his previous religious zeal and devotion (to the Law and Jewish tradition, etc), as expressed in Gal 1:13-14; 2 Cor 11:22; Phil 3:5-6. Paul was well aware, even from his own experience perhaps, that the flesh (as he would put it) can tend to take pride and exult in one’s religious status and accomplishments. Several times in his letters, Paul makes the point that “boasting” ought to be centered on God’s grace, on the Gospel and the person and work of Christ (Gal 6:13-14; Phil 3:3, etc), doubtless influenced by the famous passage in Jer 9:23-24 (cf. 1 Cor 1:31; 2 Cor 10:17). More often, however, he uses the term in association with the missionary work—his own, and that of other believers—and it is this context that can be hard for modern readers to understand entirely (see esp. the many references in 2 Corinthians). He appears to use the terminology in two basic senses:

  1. In terms of confidence (including the idea of rejoicing) before God—context of divine judgment
  2. In terms of personal pride and satisfaction regarding one’s accomplishments, etc.

Both of these can further be understood in either a positive or negative sense—Paul’s line of argument and rhetoric in the letters often moves between these, playing one off against the other. For his use of the verb, in Romans and Galatians, see Gal 6:13-14 and Rom 2:17, 23, apart from the three occurrences in 5:1-11; for the two nouns (kau/xhma, kau/xhsi$), cf. Rom 3:27; 4:2; 15:17; Gal 6:4.

Verses 1-2: Boasting in the hope of glory—”we boast upon (the) hope of the glory/esteem of God” (kauxw/meqa e)p’ e)lpi/di th=$ do/ch$ tou= qeou=). This is prefaced by several statements predicated upon “justification by faith”—”being made just/right out of trust” (dikaiwqe/nte$ e)k pi/stew$):

  • we have/hold [e&xomen] peace toward [i.e. with, before] God (through the Lord Jesus Christ) [v. 1]
  • we have/hold [e)sxh/kamen] the way leading into the favor (of God) [v. 2a]
  • we stand [e)sth/kamen] in this favor (of God) [v. 2b]

Note the word play and assonance of the three verbs (in Greek); the first is in the present tense/aspect, the last two are perfect forms, indicating past action which continues into the present (or is a permanent condition).

Verses 3-5: Boasting in hope through affliction—”we also boast in the (moment)s of distress” (kai\ kauxw/meqa e)n tai=$ qli/yesin). The word qli/yi$ fundamentally refers to pressure, stress, constriction, etc.—it can mean suffering or trouble generally, or affliction and oppression specifically. Verses 1-2 started with believers’ status before God (through justification), and ended with the boast; here vv. 3-5 has an inverse structure, beginning with the boast, and concluding with the presence and work of God in believers (through the Spirit). This structure in vv. 3-5 follows a memorable chain of development:

  • distress/affliction (qli/yi$) which produces…
    • endurance (lit. “remaining under” u(pomo/nh), which produces…
      • proving/testing (“being accepted/received” dokimh/), which produces…
        • hope/expectation (e)lpi/$)

Finally, hope will never shame or embarrass (i.e. disappoint) us (v. 5); the reason for this confidence (“boasting”) is, according to Paul, that “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the holy Spirit th(at) is given to us”. Love (a)ga/ph) is parallel to God’s favor (xa/ri$) in v. 2; more notable is the parallel between the “glory/esteem of God” (do/ca qeou=) in v. 1 and the “love of God” (a)ga/ph qeou=) here in v. 5.

Interestingly, we may also find an organizing principle in these verses reflecting the famous triad of 1 Cor 13:13—faith (v. 1), hope (vv. 2-5a), and love (v. 5b).

Verses 6-11: Boasting in the sacrificial work (death) of Christ—”we also are boasting in God through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, through whom we now (have) received the katallagh/” (v. 11). This last verse of the section sums up the sacrificial work described in vv. 6-10. The elements are clear—it is: (1) the work of God, (2) that takes place through Christ, (3) resulting in katallagh/ for believers. The Greek word katallagh/ (katallag¢¡), from the verb katalla/ssw (katallássœ), fundamentally means making (something to be) other, or different, i.e. a change, often in the sense of a (mutual) exchange or reconciliation between two parties. Just as God makes the situation right (dikaio/w, i.e. “justification”) for human beings (believers), so he also has made things different—he has eliminated the separation and hostility which existed under the power of sin. Note the elements of this sacrificial work as expressed in vv. 6-10:

  • It involves Christ’s death, which was over (u(pe/r, i.e. on behalf of, for the sake of) those who lacked proper fear/reverence (a)sebh/$) toward God (i.e. the impious/wicked–all human beings, cf. Rom 3:9-20, 23, etc)—V. 6
  • It took place especially for human beings who are wicked/impious (a)sebh/$), and not just/righteous (di/kaio$) or good (a)gaqo/$)—this makes the sacrificial act all the more noteworthy and significant (V. 7)
  • The character of this sacrificial act reflects and expresses the love (a)ga/ph) of God for (“unto”, ei)$) human beings (V. 8)
  • Its result and effect is that people (believers) are:
    —made just/right, i.e. “justified” (dikaio/w), by means of Christ’s very death (e)n tw=| ai%mati au)tou=, “in his blood”), V. 9a
    saved (sw/zw) from the passion/anger (o)rgh/, i.e. “wrath”) of God which is about to come upon humankind—this also takes place through Christ (di’ au)tou=, “through him”), V. 9b
  • Ultimately, its effect is to make different (katalla/ssw) the situation of separation and hostility between human beings and God, who were effectively enemies (e&xqroi) to each other (V. 10)
    —this reconciliation also is understood specifically as a result of Christ’s death (v. 10a)
    —however, ultimately salvation also comes as a result of Christ’s life, i.e. his resurrection (v. 10b)

Romans 5:12-21

Just as Rom 4:1-25 contained an argument from Scripture, centered on Abraham (Gen 15:6), and God’s blessing and promise to him, so in this section we find a parallel sort of argument, based on Adam, the first human being (according to Scripture and tradition). Paul does not cite a specific verse; rather, he draws generally upon the narrative in Genesis 2-3. It is similar, in some respects, to the ‘allegory’ he uses in Gal 4:21-31, though the argument here in Rom 5:12-21 would better be described as a kind of parallelistic and synchronistic typology—between Adam and Christ. Paul has already used a typological comparison along these lines in 1 Cor 15:21ff.

Romans 5:12-21 is perhaps the best known section of the letter, and is justly famous. However, for good or for ill, it has also served as a springboard for all sorts of speculative exposition, on theological and other matters—from the historicity of the Genesis narrative, to questions on the origin and nature of the human soul, to specific and elaborate ‘theories on the atonement’, etc—most of which are rather far removed from Paul’s original purpose and intent. A good deal of confusion, I believe, stems from difficulty in understanding Paul’s view regarding sin, and the language with which he expresses it. I will be discussing this briefly in a separate supplementary article. Here, I focus strictly on the context of the passage in Romans, with a careful examination of its structure. I would divide it as follows:

  • Vv. 12-14: The first man (Adam)—sin
  • Vv. 15-17: The second man (Christ)—the favor (“grace”) shown (by God)
  • Vv. 18-19: Contrast of sin vs. justice
  • Vv. 20-21: Contrast of Law vs. favor (“grace”)

Verses 12-17 set the comparison (and contrast) between Adam and Christ; verses 18-21 expound and apply the contrast theologically. The comparison works on two levels: (1) the historical/traditional narrative regarding Adam, and (2) a kind of narrative regarding sin personified. God’s responsive action, in the person and work of Christ, relates to both levels.

Verses 12-14: The first man (Adam)—sin. Interestingly, Paul actually says very little about Adam; the story is really one about sin, which takes place (at a deeper level) through (dia/) the first man. The story can be outlined fairly clearly and simply:

  • sin enters (“comes into”, ei)se/rxomai) the world (death also enters through sin) (v. 12)
  • sin was in (h@n e)n) the world, exercising power, prior to the Law (a&xri no/mou, “until the Law”) (v. 13)
  • sin rules as king (basileu/w), with/through death (“death reigned”), until the Law (me/xri Mwu+se/w$, “until Moses”) (v. 14a)

This is set temporally, in the period before the Law and the Mosaic/Sinai covenant, which is important to keep in mind; the entry of the Law is a climactic moment, serving to increase and enhance the reign of sin (vv. 20-21). Verse 14b is transitional, establishing the typology between Adam and Christ—Adam being “the stamp/pattern [tu/po$] of the (one) about to come”.

Verses 15-17: The second man (Christ)—the favor of God. I have translated xa/ri$ as favor, though it is typically rendered as “grace” or “gift”; properly, it relates better to the idea of God showing favor on human beings. In verse 15, Paul again sets the comparison, this time between sin and the favor of God. The word here, however, is not a(marti/a (“sin”), but para/ptwma (“falling alongside”). Paul generally does not use the singular a(marti/a to refer to individual misdeeds (though he will, on occasion, use it this way in the plural); rather, he prefers para/ptwma or para/basi$ (“stepping alongside”). The force of the prefixed particle para/ in these two words can be understood either in the sense of “falling/stepping away” or “falling/stepping over (the line)”. Note the similarity of outline with vv. 12-14 (above):

  • the favor (xa/ri$/xa/risma) of God enters (the world), by/through Christ, unto (ei)$) many people (v. 15)—it is a gift offered without charge or cause (dwrea/)
  • the favor is in the world, working/multiplying, coming “out of” (e)k) many sins, unto (ei)$) justice/justification (apart from the Law) (v. 16)—note the contrast between “judgment against” (kata/krima) and “justification” (dikai/wma)
  • the favor—through its abundance, believers reign, in life (v. 17)

In both instances, this three-stage development reflects the transition of the “one” to the “many” (“abundance”, etc):

  • initial act/work which creates an ‘opening’ for sin/favor
  • ongoing work (and its effect), multiplying and increasing
  • ruling/reigning in abundance

Yet Paul also indicates that the gift (work of Christ) is not like the sin (of Adam)—being effectively the opposite and a reversal of the former, ultimately surpassing it. This provides the basis for the exposition in vv. 18-21, building upon the contrast.

Verses 18-19: Contrast of sin vs. justice/righteousness. Verse 18 sets the contrast:

the transgression (para/ptwma) through one (di’ e(no/$)
unto all men (ei)$ pa/nta$ a&nqrw/pou$)
unto judgment against (them) (ei)$ kata/krima)

the (act of) justice (dikai/wma) through one (di’ e(no/$)
unto all men (ei)$ pa/nta$ a&nqrw/pou$)
unto (their) being made/declared just (ei)$ dikai/wsin)

In verse 19, this contrast is defined in terms of disobedience (parakoh/, lit. “hearing alongside [i.e. incorrectly, neglectfully]”) and obedience (u(pakoh/, “hearing under” [i.e. under submission/authority]).

Verses 20-21: Contrast of Law vs. favor. In verse 20, the Law (no/mo$) is said to enter in alongside sin, causing sin to increase and become more abundant. This connection between the Law and sin is unique to Paul’s teaching, and will be expounded further in chapters 6-7. Just as sin reigned through death (v. 14), in verse 21 it is said to reign “in death” (e)n tw=| qana/tw|). By contrast, the favor (xa/ri$) or “grace” of God also has entered (through Christ) and increased and multiplied even more than did sin (v. 20b); and, while sin reigned in death, the favor of God reigns (through justice/righteousness) “into/unto life” (ei)$ zwh\n)—this is eternal life (lit. “life of the ages”). An outline diagram of this contrast may be helpful:

Law (no/mo$)
|
the power/reign of sin
|
death

Favor (xa/ri$) of God
|
the reign of justice/righteousness
|
(eternal) life

It is this last contrastive comparison, of course, which is most relevant to the question of Paul’s View of the Law, the subject of these articles. And it is the relationship between the Law and sin which is a primary subject in the next section of Romans (Rom 6:1-7:25)—to be discussed in the next article.

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Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (3:21-5:21, Part 1)

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Romans 3:21-5:21

This is the second of the four main sections of the probatio in Romans (Rom 1:18-8:39, cf. the Introduction). The first, on Rom 1:18-3:20 (cf. the previous article), I have summarized as the Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment on humankind, according to the Law (of God). The second, on Rom 3:21-5:21, I describe (and outline) as:

  • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah)
    —3:21-31: A description of God’s justice and on being made/declared just
    —4:1-25: Argument from Scripture: The blessing/promise to Abraham (by trust/faith)
    —5:1-11: The effect/result of being made/declared just: salvation from the coming judgment
    —5:12-21: Argument/Illustration from Scripture: Sin and Salvation (Adam/Christ)

Two discussions on the twin theme of Justice/Justification (3:21-31; 5:1-11) alternate with expository arguments (or illustrations) from Scripture (4:1-25; 5:12-21). I will be dividing this article into two parts, according to these section-pairs, the first being on Rom 3:21-31 and the argument from Scripture in chapter 4.

Romans 3:21-31

This section can be further divided into two sections, vv. 21-26 and 27-30, followed by a concluding declaration in v. 31.

Verses 21-26 form one long, complex sentence, beginning with an announcement similar to that in Rom 1:18 (cf. also the propositio in 1:17):

“But now, separate from (the) Law, (the) justice/righteousness of God has been made manifest [lit. made to shine forth], being witnessed under [i.e. by] the Law and the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets]…”

In Rom 1:18, the verb used was a)pokalu/ptw (“uncover”, lit. “remove the cover from”); here, it is fanero/w, “(make) shine forth” (note the use of the related adjective fanero/$, “shining” in 1:19). These two verbs represent twin aspects of revelation—(a) uncovering that which was hidden, and (b) making it known, apparent, as of light “shining forth”. Note the ironic wordplay here: that the righteousness which is separate/apart (xw/ri$) from the Law, is witnessed by the Law—the first use of no/mo$ (“Law”) should be understood specifically of the Torah commands, the second, of Scripture (the Pentateuch, which embodies the Torah). The preposition xw/ri$ implies a separation, in terms of space between two objects (i.e., they are not connected); note the use of the related verb xwri/zw, in an opposite sense, in Rom 8:35ff. The remainder of vv. 22-26 is a tapestry of Pauline phrases and concepts which build upon the opening declaration (italicized words and phrases glossed with the Greek):

V. 22: “and (the) justice/righteousness of God [dikaiosu/nh qeou=] (is) through (the) trust [dia\ pi/stew$] of (the) Anointed Yeshua unto all [pa/nta$] the (one)s trusting [pisteu/onta$]—for there is no setting through [diastolh/ i.e. setting apart, distinction]—”

V. 23: “for all [pa/nte$] (have) sinned and are last of [i.e. behind, lacking] the esteem [i.e. glory] of God”

V. 24:being made right [dikaiou/menoi or, declared just] freely [dwrea\n, without charge] by His favor [xa/riti], through the loosing from (bondage) [a)polutrw/sew$] th(at takes place) in (the) Anointed [e)n Xristw=|] Yeshua”

V. 25: “whom God set before (Himself as) a conciliatory gift [i(lasth/rion], through [the] trust in his blood, unto the showing forth [i.e. to show forth] of His justice/righteousness [dikaiosu/nh] through the sending along [i.e. passing over, remission] of the sins th(at) had come to be before, in God’s holding up [i.e. that God put up with]”

V. 26: “toward the showing forth of His justice/righteousness [dikaiosu/nh] in th(is) time now, unto His being just/right [di/kaio$, i.e. that He might be just] and (the One) making just/right [dikaiou=nta] the (one who is) out of trust [e)k pi/stew$] of Yeshua [i.e. the one who trusts in Jesus]”

The density and complexity of the sentence should be abundantly clear from the extremely literal (glossed) rendering above; in conventional English, and to be readable, vv. 21-26 would be broken up into a number of shorter sentences. Even in Greek, however, the syntax is quite convoluted. Yet, this is one of those classic long sentences in Paul’s letters which deserves to be read and studied carefully, with close attention to the flow of ideas and phrases; they are not strung together randomly, but do form an inspired concatenation, a network of relationships expressing the truth of the Gospel in powerful and unmistakable terms. I offer a possible outline diagram of vv. 21-26 in a separate note, along with a brief discussion of the key phrase in this passage—”the justice/righteousness of God” (dikaiosu/nh qeou=).

Verses 27-30—If verses 21-26 represent the principal declaration regarding the justice/righteousness of God apart from the Law, in verses 27-30 there is a reaffirmation of two basic points Paul has made previously: (1) that human beings are made (or declared) just/right, i.e. “justified” by trust (pi/sti$) in Christ, and not by performing/observing the commands of the Law, and (2) that this applies equally to Jews and Gentiles. These verses can be divided into four shorter statements, according to the following pattern:

  • V. 27—No boasting (for the Jew)—it is the Law of faith/trust, not the written Law
    • V. 28—Statement of “justification by faith”, without works of Law
  • V. 29—Equality of Jew and Gentile before God
    • V. 29—Declaration that Jews and Gentiles are “justified” through faith

Verse 27—All human “boasting” (kau/xhsi$) is excluded (“closed/shut out”); this relates to all natural, “fleshly” aspects of one’s religious-cultural identity—status, attitude (pride, etc), knowledge, pious practice, devotion in ritual or ethical matters, etc.—all of which are bound “under the Law” and the “elements of the world”. The contrast is familiar from Galatians—”works” (e&rga) of the Law vs. faith/trust (pi/sti$); however, here Paul frames the matter differently, referring to the “law of works” (no/mo$ tw=n e&rgwn) as opposed to the “law of faith/trust” (no/mo$ tou= pi/stew$). The “Law” (no/mo$) has been generalized, and the contrast is specifically between “works” (i.e. deeds) and “trust” (in God and Christ). It is the fact that “justification” comes through trust (dia\ pi/stew$) that “boasting” is excluded—i.e., it is not the result of doing anything. There is an attractive vibrancy and buoyancy to the rhetorical question Paul uses to express this point.

Verse 28—”for we count a man to be made right [or, declared just] by trust, separate/apart from works of (the) Law“. Here we have one of Paul’s clearest statement of “justification by faith”. Note each of the underlined expressions above:

logizo/meqa (“we count”, i.e. reckon, say/claim)—this is the same verb used in the citation from Gen 15:6 (cf. below): “…it was counted [e)logi/sqh] to him [i.e. Abraham] unto justice/righteousness”.
dikaiou=sqai (“to be made right”, “to be declared just/right”)—i.e., a person is made/declared just/right (by God)
pi/stei (“by trust”)—i.e., in (God and) Christ; there is no preposition in the Greek, it has to be filled in.
xwri/$ (“separate/apart [from]”)—implying a clear separation (i.e., space between)
e&rgwn no/mou (“works of [the] Law”)—i.e., deeds, performance/observance of the commands and regulations in the Law (Torah, but also including the wider “Law of God”)

Verse 29—”or is (He) the God of Yehudeans {Jews} only? is (He) not also (God) of (the) nations? yes, also of (the) nations!” The equality of Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) before God is an important, and fundamental, principle for Paul (cf. Gal 3:28; Rom 2:9-11, 12ff; 3:9ff, etc). Here it is stated by way of a rhetorical (and real) question, parallel to that in verse 27.

Verse 30—”if indeed (there) is one God [or, God is one], who will make right [or, declare just] circumcision out of trust, and (having) a foreskin through the (same) trust“. As in verse 28, we have here a clear and decisive statement regarding “justification by faith“—that it applies equally to Jews and Gentiles. Paul defines the distinction between Jew and Gentile, again, according to circumcision (cf. 2:25-29), using the terms “circumcision” (peritomh/, lit. “cut around”) and “foreskin” (a)krobusti/a, “closing [over] the extremity”) as a shorthand (and stereotypical) description. Note the underlined words and expressions:

ei&per (“if so, if indeed”)—though this is a conditional particle, by implication, it indicates that a proposition or supposition is assumed to be true; in English, this may be expressed according to result (“because, since…”), and, certainly Paul accepts as true both the declaration in v. 29b and that “God is one”.
ei!$ o( qeo/$ (“one [is] the God”, or “God is one”)—a fundamental tenet of Israelite/Jewish (and Christian) monotheism (Deut 6:4, etc); however, for Paul, it also is a declaration of unity, i.e. the same God for both Jew and Gentile. Paul frequently emphasized that there is only one—one Gospel, one faith, one Spirit, one body, et al; of many references, see Gal 1:6-9; 3:16, 20, 28; 5:14; Rom 5:12-21; 12:4ff; 1 Cor 1:10-13; 3:8ff; 6:16-17; 8:6; 10:17ff; 12:11, 12ff; 2 Cor 11:2-6; Phil 1:27; 2:2; Col 3:15; Eph 2:11-22; 4:1-7.
dikaiw/sei (“he will make right” or, “will declare just”)—Paul typically uses the verb dikaio/w in the passive, as a “divine passive”, with God as the implied agent; here, it is used actively of God (“He will…”).
e)k pi/stew$ (“out of trust”)—Paul frequently uses this expression (with e)k, “out of”, i.e. “of, from”) to indicate either: (a) faith/trust as the means by which people are saved/justified, or (b) as the source by which one comes to believe, and to which the believer belongs. The first sense is generally synonymous with the expression dia\ pi/stew$ (“through trust”).
dia\ th=$ pi/stew$ (“through the [same] trust”)—almost certainly, there is no real difference of meaning between the use of the prepositions e)k and dia/, as indicated above; the definite article likely implies “the same” faith/trust (in Christ), again emphasizing the unity (and equality) of Jews and Gentiles before God.

Verse 31—In this concluding verse, Paul asks a pointed (and most interesting) rhetorical question:

“Do we then make the Law useless/inactive through th(is) trust? May it not come to be (so)!—but (rather) we make the Law stand!”

All through chapters 2 and 3 of Romans, Paul has been arguing that faith in Christ and acceptance by God is completely separate and apart from the Law (esp. the Old Testament/Jewish Law [Torah]). Jews, including many Jewish Christians, doubtless would object to this line of reasoning, and might well claim that Paul was undermining and destroying the Law by his teaching. Paul anticipates such an objection, much as he does in Gal 3:21 (cf. also Gal 2:17, and earlier in Rom 3:3-5). His response says a good deal about his view and understanding of the Law; because of its importance in this regard, this verse will be discussed in a little more detail in a separate daily note.

Romans 4:1-25—Argument from Scripture (Abraham)

This passage is an expansion of the argument in Galatians 3:6-18, centered on the example of Abraham. Here it will be most important to examine the significant differences and points of development, compared with Gal 3:6ff (for a discussion of the verses in Galatians, see my earlier article in this series). The basic outline is:

  • The example of Abraham, citing Genesis 15:6 (Rom 4:1-3 [Gal 3:6])
  • The blessing to Abraham (Rom 4:4-12 [Gal 3:7-14])
    —and through him, to all the nations
  • The promise to Abraham—his seed (son and heir) (Rom 4:13-25 [Gal 3:15-18])
    —through whom his descendants will come to be, as many nations
Rom 4:1-3—The example of Abraham [Gal 3:6]

Paul begins with a (rhetorical) question regarding Abraham: “what then shall we declare Abraham to have found…?”—whom he qualifies with the phrase “…our forefather according to (the) flesh?” Here he uses the expression kata\ sa/rka (“according to [the] flesh”) in the normal physical/material sense; kata\ sa/rka presumably is to be taken with “our forefather” (to\n propa/tora au)tw=n), rather than with the verb eu(rhke/nai, i.e. “to have found according to the flesh”, though possibly there is a bit of wordplay involved. In verse 2, Paul emphasizes the point that Abraham was not considered by God to be right/just (e)dikaiw/qh, “made right/just”) by his works (e)c e&rgwn)—in contrast to the discussion in James 2:21ff. In verse 3, just as in Gal 3:6, there is a citation from Genesis 15:6 [LXX]:

“Abraham trusted [e)pis/teusen] God and it was counted [e)logi/sqh] to/for him unto justice/righteousness [ei)$ dikaiosu/nhn]”
The construction e)logi/sqhei)$ in typical English has to be rendered something like “counted…as“, with the preposition ei)$ (“into, unto”) indicating the intended or effective result.

This clearly was a seminal verse in Paul’s thought, through which he was able to grapple with the relationship between Jewish and Christian religious identity.

Rom 4:4-12—The blessing to (and through) Abraham [Gal 3:7-14]

In Galatians, Paul emphasizes the blessing that comes, through Abraham, to the nations (Gentiles), that it is through trust in God (the same trust demonstrated by Abraham); this is contrasted with the Law (and its curse), which Christ fulfills. In Romans, the emphasis is rather on the nature of the blessing (or blessedness), which is described through a series of explanatory and illustrative statements:

  • Vv. 4-5—it is not a wage [misqo/$] earned by (or, properly, owed to) the one who works [o( e)rgazo/meno$]; instead it is a favor [xa/ri$], or “gift” (i.e. “grace”).
  • Vv. 6-8—it is understood in terms of forgiveness of sins, i.e. of sinful acts [ai( a(marti/ai] and acts of “lawlessness” [ai( a)nomi/ai] or violations of the law, in the general sense of wickedness. This is stated by way of citation of Psalm 31:1-2 in vv. 7-8, and brings out three different aspects of “forgiveness”—sins are:
    released” (a)fe/qhsan)—the related noun a&fesi$ is the word usually translated “forgiveness” in English
    covered up/over” (e)pekalu/fqhsan)—i.e., a covering is laid over/upon them
    not counted” (mh\ logi/shtai)—the double negative ou) mh\ adds emphasis, “not at all, certainly not, by no means,” etc
  • Vv. 9-11a—it was pronounced prior to circumcision (and the Law/Torah); Paul makes the same point in Gal 3:15-18. Even more important in the context of Romans is the equality of Jew and Gentile—this blessedness (justification) comes upon those with “circumcision” (peritomh/) and “a foreskin” (a)krobusti/a) equally (v. 10).
  • Vv. 11b-12—it is for all who trust, apart from circumcision and the Law. The upshot of Paul’s argument is that Abraham trusted God, and was counted as just/righteous, while he was still uncircumcised; by way of application, Gentiles who walk in line (stoixou=sin), following in the tracks (toi=$ i&xnesin) of Abraham (v. 12), i.e. in the same faith and trust, will, like him, be “counted as just/righteous” by God (11b).
Rom 4:13-25—The promise to Abraham (his seed–descendants) [Gal 3:15-18]

As indicated above, the argument in Gal 3:15-18 is effectively repeated by Paul in vv. 9-11; here in vv. 13ff he takes a different approach, which deals more directly with the Abraham narrative in Genesis. The principal statement is in verses 13-15:

  • V. 13—this is the main declaration, which is framed, in familiar fashion, by Paul: “not through (the) Law… but through (the) justice/righteousness of trust”, contrasting the Law with trust (in Christ). In between these contrasting terms, he sets the elements of the Abraham narrative:
    h( e)paggeli/a (“the message upon”), esp. a declaration or announcement upon (someone or something), which can be taken in the sense of a promise to do something, etc., and so is often applied, as here, in relation to God—His declaration or promise that he will do such-and-such.
    tw=|  )Abraa\m (“to Abraham”)—of a son (and heir) to Abraham, including the promise of many future descendants; cf. Gen 12:2-3, 7; 13:15-16; 15:1-6; 17:1-11; 22:16-19; 24:7.
    h* tw=| spe/rmati au)tou= (“or [rather] to his seed”)—for Paul’s special emphasis on the “seed” [sg.] of Abraham, cf. Gal 3:16.
    au)to\n ei@nai (“his being”, i.e. “that he would be”)—that Abraham’s child—ultimately, his descendants—would truly be (or become)… .
    to\ klhrono/monkosmou= (“the [one] receiving the lot [i.e. heir]… of [the] world”)—this touches back on the idea of the blessing which would come to the nations (Gen 12:3), as well as the inheritance of the (promised) land in Canaan (Gen 12:7; 13:15; 15:7, 18; 26:4; 28:13; 35:11-12; 48:16; Exod 32:13; Num 26:52-56, etc). This land (as “earth”) came to expanded, in subsequent Israelite/Jewish tradition, as “the (whole) world” (cf. Jub 19:21; 2 Baruch 14:13; 51:3, etc). The concept would be spiritualized in early Christianity, or related more properly to the idea of believers “inheriting the kingdom of God”.
  • Vv. 14-15—Paul expounds the statement regarding inheritance according to his familiar contrast between the Law and faith/trust (v. 14). Note the wordplay which characterizes his argument in these verses:
    • V. 14: if inheritance comes by way of the Law (e)k no/mou), then the promise is made inactive (kath/rghtai, kat¢¡rg¢tai)
    • V. 15: when, in fact, the Law actually works out (katerga/zetai, katergázetai), i.e. produces, accomplishes, the passion/anger (o)rgh/, “wrath”, associated with the judgment) of God against sin and wickedness.
      This is followed by the statement that “where there is not (any) Law, there is also no stepping over [i.e. violation/transgression]” (cf. Rom 3:20; Gal 3:19).

Verses 16-17a are transitional, with a point that is two-fold:

  1. That the promise is according to the favor of God (kata\ xa/rin), which qualifies the expression of faith/trust (e)k pi/stew$)
  2. That it is to all the offspring of Abraham (panti\ tw=| spe/rmati), by faith/trust (and not by the Law)

As a result, Abraham is the father of all who believe in Christ, Jews and Gentiles both (“who is the father of all of us“). In vv. 17b-25, Paul returns to the Genesis narrative, and to the specific example of Abraham—that is, of his trust in God. The summary exposition is in vv. 17b-21, culminating with the declaration that Abraham carried fully (plhroforhqei\$) the belief that God was powerful enough to do (poih=sai) that which He had promised (o^ e)ph/ggeltai). The narrative is further interpreted and applied in the concluding verses 22-25. In particular, Gen 15:16 (v. 22) is applied to believers (vv. 23-24a)—those who trust in what God has done in Christ, especially the resurrection (v. 24b, 25b, cf. Rom 10:9), but also his sacrificial death which took place through (dia/, or for/because of) our transgressions (paraptw/mata, “[moment]s of falling along [the way]”).