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

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]”).

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