Covenantal Nomism and the Obedience of Faith

Understanding Romans in the Light of New Perspectives on Paul

Jewish synagogue with scrolls open

Luther’s reading of Romans led to the Reformation. But was he right in interpreting Romans in the light of Catholicism? Is Judaism a legalistic religion like Catholicism? Is the Torah incompatible with grace? Philip Eapen explores the role of God’s Law in Old Testament Israel in order to understand its role in today’s covenant community.



  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. Problems with Protestant Interpretation
    1. 2.1 Apparent Contradictions?
      1. 2.1.1 Will Doers of the Law be Justified?
      2. 2.1.2 How Can Legalistic Judaism talk of the “righteousness of God”?
    2. 2.2 Luther’s Error
      1. 2.2.1 Evangelical Misuse of Romans 10:9-10
      2. 2.2.2 Sanders’ Definitive Study of Judaism
    3. 2.3 Bishop Wright’s Dilemma
  3. 3. The New Perspective On Paul
    1. 3.1 What did Paul actually oppose?
      1. 3.1.1 Paul’s use of the phrase “works of the law”
      2. 3.1.2 What did Paul mean by the “works of the law”?
      3. 3.1.3 Where did the Jews go wrong?
      4. 3.1.4 Bursting the Jewish Bubble of Pride
    2. 3.2 Singing the Law to the Tune of Faith
      1. 3.2.1 What does “justified” by faith mean?
      2. 3.2.2 What is “faith” in the New Testament?
    3. 3.3 Bringing All Nations to the “Obedience of Faith”
  4. 4. Resources for Further Study

It is all too easy for Christians to assume that they know the meanings of commonly used biblical phrases such as ‘the works of the Law,’ ‘righteousness of God,’ ‘faith,’ ‘faith of Christ,’ and ‘grace’. What about the ‘obedience of faith’ to which Paul was inviting Gentiles? Do you really know what Paul meant by these phrases and terms? Several of these terms are rooted in the Hebrew Bible and Judaism.

In order to understand these terms, we need to know Judaism better. We need to adopt a paradigm shift in our understanding of Judaism – especially ‘Second Temple Judaism,’1 – to unlearn and relearn these key New Testament concepts. Otherwise, as New Testament scholars in the 1970s discovered, we will end up tying ourselves in knots while interpreting the Gospels and the epistles.2

Over half a century, a few New Testament scholars have been proposing solutions to problems they faced while interpreting Pauline epistles, particularly Romans. A healthy debate between these scholars and the traditionalists continue to this day. The latter wish to remain faithful to a more traditional Protestant reading of Pauline epistles.

These discussions are significant because they deal with the doctrine of salvation. Therefore, it is high time the Church brought such debates and discussions from the rarified realms of higher education to local Bible study groups.

This study is a humble attempt at understanding the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) and the factors that led NT scholars like Professor Dunn, E. P. Sanders, and N. T. Wright to propose and develop this new perspective.

This essay is not an academic paper written to educate New Testament scholars. However, it is a scholarly work complete with footnotes and citations. The footnotes are hyperlinked for easier navigation between the text and the notes. My aim is to build up Christians from all walks of life who, despite their inability to pursue theological education, are thirsty for a deeper understanding of the scriptures. My hope is that readers will appreciate the need for careful study.

2. Problems with Protestant Interpretation

For four hundred years, the Lutheran interpretation of Pauline epistles remained virtually unchallenged among Protestants. In the 1970s, however, a few scholars began to notice certain contradictions between the traditional Protestant view and the text of the New Testament. Was the Protestant view in error? We shall take note of these contradictions before examining their root cause.

2.1 Apparent Contradictions

Will Doers of the Law be Justified?

A careful reader will notice a contradiction between Romans 2:13 and other key passages in the same epistle, such as 3:20-28. In 2:13, Paul seems to say that Jews who carefully observe their law will be declared righteous before God.

12For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.3

In the very next chapter, Paul appears to contradict himself. He declares that the Gospel brings to light a way of gaining right standing before God apart from the law. He categorically states that no one will be justified in God’s sight by doing the “works of the Law.”

20For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it…
28For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.4

By saying that no one is justified by the “works of the law,” was Paul contradicting his earlier statement?

Also, Romans 3:31 might puzzle those who trust in God’s grace instead of observing the Law of Moses. Soon after describing God’s salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, Paul asks,

Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.5

How could Paul uphold the Law (the Torah) if salvation was offered apart from it?


In the latter part of this epistle, in 13:8-10, Paul says that the Christian duty of loving our neighbors amounts to fulfilling the law. If you managed to stay with Paul in Romans for that long, you might feel like asking him, Who cares about the law? We are justified by faith, aren’t we? Why do you keep affirming the Mosaic Law from time to time?

If Paul indeed upheld the Law, and if he believed that the Law was “holy, righteous, and good,”6 what was he opposing in his epistles to the Romans and Galatians? Wasn’t he opposing the “works of the law”? What did the phrase “works of the law” mean to Paul and the Jews of his day?

Most Protestants believe that Paul had turned his back on the Mosaic Law.7 After all, didn’t Paul even write to Ephesian Christians that the Law of Moses, with its ordinances and commandments, stood abolished in Christ?8 Those who find it difficult to get their mind around these difficulties might accuse Paul of being confused about Judaism and its laws.


The New Testament says some positive things about God’s Law. Here is James.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.9

And again, in chapter two, James goes on building his case for “doing”:

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.10

Is it any wonder that early Protestants, including Martin Luther, had a low view of the Epistle of James?11 James’s references to the importance of good works and obedience to God’s law caused no small stir. Luther probably believed that the message of James undercut his campaign for justification by faith. That could be why Luther wrote that James “has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.”12

To top it all, we have Jesus’s pronouncements on the permanence of the Law in Matthew 5:17-20. More on that a little later.

But then, you may ask, “Aren’t we Christians? Weren’t we justified by faith? Were not these commandments abolished? Would not any mention of obedience to God’s laws be tantamount to violating the principle of the Gospel of grace?

New Testament Scholars like E. P. Sanders, James Dunn, and N. T. Wright can help us resolve the apparent contradictions we observe. We shall soon see that our misunderstanding of Judaism caused us to stumble.

The “righteousness of God”

Ask any evangelical Christian how his faith compares with that of the Jews. He might say, “Judaism is a religion based on accumulating merit before God through obedience to their Law. They believe they can earn a right standing before God through their effort while I believe that justification is God’s free gift to all who believe in Jesus Christ.”

Christians who believe that Judaism is a works-based religion are merely upholding the Protestant tradition. For generations, we were taught so. A large number of commentaries, too, portray Judaism as a legalistic religion. For example, Longenecker, the author of Galatians (1990) in the Word Biblical Commentary series, sees the “works of the law” in Romans 3:20 as “a catchphrase to signal the whole legalistic complex of ideas having to do with winning God’s favour by a merit-amassing observance of Torah.” John Stott, in his commentary on Romans, sees Romans 3:20 “as the climax of Paul’s argument not just against Jewish self-confidence, but against every attempt at self-salvation.”13 Thereby, Stott applies the phrase “works of the law” to any attempt by any human to save himself. Certainly, Paul didn’t intend to stretch the meaning of the “works of the law” to that extent, did he?

After being taught from his childhood that Judaism was a legalistic religion, Prof Dunn – like most Protestants – thought, “No wonder Paul found his conversion liberating from such a religion.”14 But, in the 1970s, when he studied the meaning of the phrase “the righteousness of God,” Dunn was puzzled.

The phrase is drawn directly from the Hebrew Bible. In the Psalms and in Isaiah, we read of God, in His righteousness, saving a nation that already belonged to Him. The very use of the phrase “righteousness of God” presupposes a “covenant relationship made with man at God’s initiative.”15 God, in His mercy, had used His divine right of election to enter into such a relationship with Israel. If the righteousness of God reveals a pre-existing relationship based on grace, how can we say that Israel earned their right to stand before God on the basis of their works?

God proved his righteousness by remaining faithful to His covenant. When Israel turned unfaithful and departed from His ways, God corrected them, redeemed them, and even vindicated them. As Dunn states, “God was righteous when he met the demands of that covenant relationship.”16 This is why the “righteousness of God” must be understood “as meeting the demands of a relationship.”17


What is even more interesting is that the “righteousness of God” is central to the message of Romans. Paul defined his Gospel on the basis of this Old Testament concept. He described the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the revelation of “the righteousness of God … from faith to faith.”18 In other words, the revelation of the Gospel through Jesus Christ was God’s way of remaining faithful to His covenant with Israel. This indicates that there is more similarity than contrast between God’s dealings with Israel in the past, and now with the Church of Jesus Christ. How then can we say that the religion of the Jews was based on justification that had to be earned by meritorious works?

If Paul was able to draw on the characteristic OT emphasis on the graciousness of God’s righteousness as a statement of his own gospel, how could he also imply that the characteristic Jew understood justification as a status to be earned?19

Dunn was further puzzled when he read a Jewish hymn from the Qumran scrolls. It was all about God’s mercy and grace.

As for me, if I stumble, the mercies of God shall be my eternal salvation. If I stagger because of the sin of flesh, my justification (mshpti) shall be by the righteousness of God which endures for ever … He will draw me near by his grace, and by his mercy will he bring my justification (mshpti). He will judge me in the righteousness of his truth and in the greatness of his goodness he will pardon (ykpr) all my sins. Through his righteousness he will cleanse me of the uncleanness of man and of the sins of the children of men (Vermes).20

Doesn’t this hymn sound Christian? The Scrolls of the Jewish Qumran community talk about justification and forgiveness as if they agreed with Paul! Flusser had noted the similarity; he compared The Dead Sea Sect and Pre-Pauline Christianity.21

From where did we pick up the view that Paul’s ‘Justification by faith’ and Judaism were poles apart?

2.2 Luther’s Error

Much of the Protestant interpretation of Romans rests on Luther’s reading of that epistle. When Martin Luther studied Paul’s epistle to the Romans, he was struck by the apostle’s teaching on justification by faith and against the works of the law. Luther could relate to Paul’s teaching because he was distressed by the system of “meritorious works” he had seen in Roman Catholicism.

The Roman Catholics of the early sixteenth century taught that they could, through indulgences,22 diminish or eliminate God’s punishment for their sins. The Church raised funds through the sale of ‘indulgences.’ The rich could, in effect, “buy” their way out of the consequences of their sins. The underprivileged had to perform painful penances23 before they could be declared forgiven and readmitted into fellowship. Roman Catholicism was a cold, legalistic religion.

Luther’s understanding of “justification by faith” was instrumental in bringing about the Protestant Reformation. Although Luther was right in opposing Catholicism, he was wrong in imposing his Catholic context on Romans and Galatians. Luther assumed that the kind of Judaism Paul had opposed was similar to the Catholicism he was fighting.

Luther was wrong in imposing his Catholic context on Romans and Galatians. Luther assumed that the kind of Judaism Paul opposed was similar to the Catholicism that he fought.

Protestants who followed Luther’s commentaries concluded that Judaism was a works-righteousness religion. They believed that the “works of the law” against which Paul wrote in Romans and Galatians represented Jewish attempts to accumulate merit before God through acts of obedience to the Mosaic Law.

Evangelical Misuse of Romans 10:9-10

The view that Judaism is a legalistic religion devoid of “grace” was further strengthened by the misuse of Romans 10:9-10 as a formula to be “saved.” Besides, a simplistic and superficial reading of Romans 10:5 – divorced from its immediate context – gave us the impression that Moses had intended the Law to be a “ladder of works” diametrically opposed to “the righteousness based on faith.”24

The evangelical practice of initiating new believers into the Christian faith by making them recite a “Sinner’s Prayer” is based on their understanding of Romans 10:9-10. The “Sinner’s Prayer” is supposed to be a prayer of repentance. Sinners are encouraged to vocalize their faith in Jesus’ resurrection. They are also made to say, “Jesus is Lord.” Those who repeat the prayer are assured that they have been “saved” or “born-again.” This is a good example of the abuse of scripture. Why? They pluck Romans 10:9-10 out of its context and use it as a formula.

What does Romans 10:9-10 say?

“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith which we preach.

Because if you confess “with your mouth” “Jesus is Lord,” and believe “in your heart” that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved, for with the “heart” belief is exercised for righteousness, and with the “mouth” confession is made for salvation …25

Did Paul intend these verses to be treated as a formula that initiates people into the Christian faith? No! Romans 10:9-10 is a part of Paul’s discussion (beginning from 9:30ff) regarding Jewish failure to obtain God’s righteousness through the Lord Jesus. While doing so, Paul cites Leviticus 18:5 in Romans 10:5 and a part of Deuteronomy 30:12-14 in Romans 10:6-8.

According to Deuteronomy 30:11-14,

For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach.

It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’

Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’

But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it. (Emphasis added)

While, according to Leviticus 18:5, Judaism says, “… a man may live if he does them [God’s statutes]” Deuteronomy 30:12-14 might make things appear much easier. Both the passages are from the Old Testament. In fact, there is no inherent contradiction between Lev. 18:5 and Deut. 30:12-14. The Jews saw both these passages as exhortations to obey the Torah, their religious Law.

However, unlike what Jewish rabbis did, Paul interpreted Deuteronomy 30:11-14 as a pointer to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to the covenant relationship (righteousness) that comes through faith in Christ. Paul claimed that this “word” which was “very near” was none other than the “word of faith” or the gospel of Jesus Christ that he preached. (“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith which we preach. – Rom 10:8b) That was a radically new interpretation of a popular Jewish text!

As a part of that radical reinterpretation, Paul weaved the central tenets of the Christian faith into its phrases! The word was in our “heart” and in our “mouth”! That’s why, in Romans 10:9-10, Paul went on to interpret that passage in terms of the heart and the mouth, saying, ‘if you confess with your “mouth” that Jesus is Lord and believe in your “heart” that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’

We must not divorce this verse from its source in Deuteronomy. If it had not been for his use of Deuteronomy 30:12-14, Paul would have said nothing about the believing in the “heart” and confessing with the “mouth”! That’s why Prof. Dunn placed the words heart and mouth, in his translation of Romans 10:9-10, within quotation marks.26 There’s more to it.

Was the gospel something just to be “believed in the heart” and “confessed with the mouth”? No! Why was the Word placed in our mouth and in the heart? So that we “may observe it,” says Deuteronomy 30:14.

Therefore, the gospel is not just about a belief and a confession! It’s about obedience too. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Septuagint, highlights the need for obedience. It renders Deuteronomy 30:14 as:

But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart and in your hands, so that you can do it. (Emphasis added)

Paul was very familiar with the Septuagint. Why didn’t he mention anything about the hand in Romans 10:9-10? Paul cited Deuteronomy 30:12-14 partially, like other Jewish rabbis would have done in a similar circumstance, in order to drive home his central point—that is, to show how the Torah anticipated the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Clearly, while writing Romans 10:9-10, it wasn’t Paul’s intention to prescribe a ‘formula’ by which people may be ushered into Christianity and then declared ‘saved.’ Nor was Paul saying that Judaism was all about “doing” while the Christian Way was just about “believing and confessing.”

Paul did not intend Romans 10:9-10 to be a formula to get oneself “saved.” Neither was Paul saying that Judaism was about “doing” while Christianity had nothing to do with “doing.”

Faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the confession of Jesus’ lordship were integral parts of early Christian identity. It was their creed, not a formula. Therefore, Paul used those two elements – the faith in Jesus’ resurrection and allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ – while appropriating Deuteronomy 30:12-14.

Christians confessed Jesus as Lord all the time—not just once in a “sinner’s prayer” to get “saved.” That “confession” was not just about uttering something verbally. It was about the overall profession of faith through words and actions, just as Barnes says,

He who in all appropriate ways professes his attachment to Christ shall be saved. This profession is to be made in all the proper ways of religious duty … It is impossible that there should be true belief in the heart of man, unless it should show itself in the life and conversation.27

Sanders’ Definitive Study of Judaism

In 1977, E. P. Sanders published his book Paul and Palestinian Judaism.28 He had studied the nature of Second Temple Judaism in detail. For this purpose, Sanders examined all Palestinian Jewish texts from 200 BC to 200 AD. Never before had anyone undertaken such an exercise. His discoveries about Jewish theology made him question popular Protestant notions about Judaism. Sanders concluded that Luther and his Protestant followers unwittingly created a caricature of Judaism. Worse still, they had built their key concepts of salvation on their misunderstanding of Judaism.

Mark A. Chancey, in his foreword to Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism, remarked that the Protestant assessment of Judaism as a legalistic religion is “uninformed, unfair, and derogatory.”29 Besides misleading Christians, this mistaken approach confused Jewish scholars, too. “How could Paul the Pharisee characterize the Judaism of his day so misleadingly,” they might have wondered.30


The question remains, though. If Martin Luther was wrong in his assessment of Judaism – as a legalistic, works-based religion – what had Paul opposed in Romans? If Judaism was not a legalistic religion, what did Paul mean by the “works of the Law”?

2.3 Bishop Wright’s Dilemma

What did Paul mean by “works of the Law”? The path that Bishop Wright took to arrive at that very question was a slightly different one.

Just as Dunn was puzzled by the righteousness of God when he thought Judaism was a legalistic religion, Wright was puzzled by another exegetical31 issue. The dilemma he faced, as a result, helped him question the traditional understanding of Judaism before Sanders had published Paul and Palestinian Judaism in 1977 and long before Dunn coined the phrase ‘The New Perspective on Paul’.

I shall let Wright describe the exegetical puzzle in his own words:

If I read Paul in the then standard Lutheran way, Galatians made plenty of sense, but I had to fudge (as I could see dozens of writers fudging) the positive statements about the Law in Romans. If I read Paul in the Reformed way of which, for me, Charles Cranfield remains the supreme exegetical exemplar, Romans made a lot of sense, but I had to fudge (as I could see Cranfield fudging) the negative statements about the Law in Galatians.32

In order to understand the puzzle, we need to appreciate the subtle difference between Lutheran and Reformed views about the Law of Moses. The Lutherans held a limited or a negative view of the Law of Moses.33 That is why Wright, when he put on Lutheran glasses, could get along well with the epistle to the Galatians. But he could not digest Paul’s positive statements about the Law in Romans.

Reformed theologians (Calvinists), on the other hand, share the Lutheran belief that the Law exposes human sinfulness and the need for a savior. But they believe that the Law of Moses also has a positive role in Christian life—in helping Christians live holy lives, pleasing God. That is why Wright, when he adopted a Reformed outlook, could get along well with the epistle to the Romans. But he could not understand Paul’s negative statements about the Law in Galatians.

I shall describe Wright’s resolution of his difficulty in the following section. The problem, obviously, was with the Protestant understanding of “the works of the Law” and their view of Judaism as a legalistic religion.

3. The New Perspective On Paul

So, what did Paul mean by “works of the Law”? Before we can answer this question, we need to possess a more accurate understanding of Judaism.

Sanders claimed that the Pharisaic Judaism that Paul opposed was not similar to Roman Catholicism. When we read Romans through Luther’s eyes, we misunderstand the term “works of the law” as a system by which people gained righteousness through meritorious deeds. We also create an imaginary version of ancient Judaism in our minds. Sanders helps us understand that Judaism is founded on the grace of God—contrary to what the Protestants taught us. His view of Judaism and the Law of Moses is called Covenantal Nomism (nomos in Greek means law).

According to Covenantal Nomism, God’s grace was manifested in the covenantal relationship He established with Israel through Abraham. This covenant and the election of Israel as His chosen people came about by God’s unmerited favor. God did not base his covenantal relationship with Israel on anything they had done to earn it. It was a result of God’s sovereign choice. Judaism, in its original form, was not a legalistic religion.

Why, then, was the Law given? It was to teach the covenant people of Israel how to live in response to God’s grace.34

“God gave the law; the law is how the covenant people live by grace. … they [the Jews] saw law as the gift of grace … the means provided by God for dealing with sins committed within the covenant …”35

Obedience to the Law was not seen as a way to earn or achieve righteousness before God but rather as a means of maintaining and expressing the covenantal relationship with Him. God introduced the Law to keep a check on sin. Transgressions were on the rise.36 God wanted His people know what His standards were and to abide by those standards. When Israel sinned, the Law helped them recognize their transgressions.37

There was a flip side Israel was not aware of. Men, at times, learn about sin through the prohibitions mentioned in the law. The knowledge between right and wrong activates a strong desire to do what is wrong. The very awareness that was intended to keep him from sinning works against him and leads him to transgress the very law that brought about that awareness.38

Due to the power and attraction of sin, it was virtually impossible for Israelites to obey the law in its entirety. Violation of one law was as good as violation of the whole law.39 Therefore, anyone who had undertaken to obey the Law came under a curse as soon as he broke the law.40 The only way out of that cursed state was to trust in Jesus Christ who alone had redeemed Jews from the “curse of the law.”41

Besides, the Jews did not know that the Law was an interim arrangement until the arrival of the Messiah. In fact, the goal (or end) of the Law was to lead Israel to the Christ.42

This calls for a revision of our “misguided” views about the Old Testament and Judaism. I shall summarise the need for such a revision using Thomas Schreiner’s statement:

The notion that the Old Testament teaches salvation by keeping the law and that Paul teaches salvation by grace is misguided and unfortunate, producing a Marcionite view43 of the Old Testament. Paul does not contradict the Old Testament in rejecting righteousness by “works of the law,” for the Old Testament teaches salvation is by God’s grace. If some Jews had fallen into legalism in Paul’s day, such an error must be ascribed not to the Old Testament itself but to a misunderstanding of the Old Testament.44

God had included a provision for the forgiveness of sins within the Law of Moses. Whenever Israelites failed in their obedience to God, they were to seek God’s gracious forgiveness through faith, as David did.45 It wasn’t just Abraham who was justified by faith. Along with Abraham’s story, Paul mentions David as an example of a person God had deemed righteous on account of his faith.46

3.1 What did Paul actually oppose?

If God had not intended Judaism to be a legalistic works-righteousness religion, what exactly was Paul opposing in Romans and Galatians?

Paul argued against these twin Jewish notions:

Paul’s use of the phrase “works of the law”

Paul uses the phrase the works of the law explicitly47 and implicitly48 while speaking against abuses of the Jewish Law by Jews. (Contrary to what John Stott and other Protestants claim, Dunn points out that the “works of the law” does not include the meritorious actions performed by the rest of the world. Paul’s polemic targeted the Jews.)

“For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law.”49
“For we consider that a person is declared righteous by faith apart from the works of the law.”50
“… we know that no one is justified by the works of the law …”51
“… Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard?”52
“Does God then give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law or by your believing what you heard?”53
“For all who rely on doing the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not keep on doing everything written in the book of the law.’”54

On the other hand, when Paul says, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified,”55 he uses the phrase οἱ ποιηταὶ νόμου (hoi pointai nomou, doers of the Law). Dunn56 reminds us that the “works of the Law” that Paul attacks are different from the actions described in positive light in Romans, such as:

What did Paul mean by the “works of the law”?

Paul uses the phrase “the works of the Law” (ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, ek ergon nomou) to refer to a misguided reliance on the Law by Jews to claim exclusive rights to the title, “God’s people.”

Dunn defines the “works of the Law,” as occurring in Romans 3:20 and Galatians 2:16, as …

“those actions which were performed at the behest of the law, in service of the Torah; that is, those actions which marked out those involved as the people of the law, those acts prescribed by the law by which a member of the covenant people identified himself as a Jew and maintained his status within the covenant.”60

Schreiner argues that the phrase “works of the law” refers to the “deeds or actions demanded by the law.” His definition is not different from Dunn’s definition given above.61

“The works of the Law,” therefore, refers to all the legal obligations under the Torah.

Which were the most prominent religious requirements that set the Jews apart from the rest of the world? Circumcision, observance of the weekly Sabbath, and a refusal to eat with non-Jews (on account of their various food laws). Therefore, those prominent requirements were considered “boundary markers” that indicated who belonged to God’s chosen people. Writers of the New Testament, while referring to the whole body of legal requirements, mostly mention only these “boundary markers.” We must not mistake a reference to “circumcision” as a reference to one isolated ritual.

Why did Paul pitch the Gospel of Jesus Christ against “the works of the Law”? Where did the Jews go wrong?

Where did the Jews go wrong?

The Jews, having lost sight of how Abraham was declared righteousness and admitted into God’s company on account of his faith, boasted about being God’s covenant people on account of their possession of the Law. It was like putting the cart ahead of the horse. They treated the law of Moses as their badge of membership in God’s household. In fact, they were given the Law because they had been admitted into a covenant relationship with God—not the other way around.

Paul attributes that Jewish behavior to their ignorance.

“For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”62

We need to consider the literary context of this verse. It is a part of the passage that begins at Romans 9:30. I like Wright’s translation of this passage because it brings out various shades of meaning of the Greek word for righteousness—unlike popular English translations.

According to Wright, the word often translated as ‘righteousness’ or ‘uprightness’ or ‘justice’ “really does mean all of those things and more.”63 It is difficult for us, in English, to capture all that Paul is using that word for. So, Wright translated that word, in 9:30 and 10:4, as covenant membership, and as God’s covenant faithfulness and covenant status, in 10:3.

30What then shall we say? That the nations, who were not aspiring towards covenant membership, have obtained covenant membership, but it is a covenant membership based on faith. 31Israel meanwhile, though eager for the law which defined the covenant, did not attain to the law.
32Why not? Because they did not pursue it on the basis of faith, but as though it was on the basis of works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33as the Bible says,

Look: I am placing in Sion
a stone that will make people stumble,
a rock that will trip people up;
and the one who believes in him
will never be put to shame.

10.1My dear family, the longing of my heart, and my prayer to God on their behalf, is for their salvation.
2I can testify on their behalf that they have a zeal for God; but it is not based on knowledge. 3They were ignorant, you see, of God’s covenant faithfulness, and they were trying to establish a covenant status of their own; so they didn’t submit to God’s faithfulness.
4The Messiah, you see, is the goal of the law, so that covenant membership may be available for all who believe.64

Paul has three things to say in this central passage of Romans that describes Israel’s failure.65

  1. Firstly, God had initiated a covenant with Israel out of His mercy, and He remained faithful to that covenant. God’s covenant faithfulness (righteousness) led him to send Jesus the Messiah.
  2. Secondly, those who were partakers of that covenant formed a covenant community. They were God’s own people. They were the “covenant family” that God had promised to Abraham. Membership or entry into this family was by faith alone. Abraham entered this covenant status by faith before he was circumcised. God declared him “righteous” as a result of his faith. The same door of faith is open to non-Jews. They, too, can become full members of God’s covenant community through faith in Jesus the Messiah. That was how God had intended things to be from the beginning. “The Messiah, you see, is the goal of the law.”
  3. Finally, the Jews of Paul’s time stumbled on the Stone (Jesus) that God laid in Zion. Jesus the Messiah was to be the foundation stone of God’s integrated covenant family. Instead of believing in the Messiah and welcoming Gentile believers as members of God’s family, the Jews held on to the observance of the law to demonstrate their exclusive claim to the covenant status. They claimed that they alone were “the true children of Abraham.” They sought to establish a “righteousness” of their own—that is, an extra-biblical and invalid grounds to be counted as God’s people.

The Jews born into the covenant community relied on the possession of the Law and the observance of their religious obligations as evidence of their exclusive right to the title “people of God.” They felt secure in their ethnic and national identity. Anyone born as a descendant of Abraham, they thought, automatically had membership in God’s family.

The Jews born into the covenant community relied on the possession of the Law and the observance of their religious obligations as evidence of their exclusive right to the title “people of God.” They felt secure in their ethnic and national identity.

Therefore, Wright defines “works of the Law” as “the covenant status which is marked out by possession of the law.” Wright explains it further:

God gave Israel the Torah, the holy, just and good law. Israel is required to keep Torah; those who do so will be vindicated as God’s people when he acts in history to judge the nations and rescue Israel from their clutches. The way to tell, in the present, who will be vindicated in the future, is that they are keeping ‘the works of the law’ right now. That is their badge in the present, the present sign that they will be vindicated in the future.

This is the doctrine of ‘justification by works of the law’.66

What was wrong with this method of “marking out” certain people in the present for vindication in the future? Only the Jews who possessed the Torah could observe the “works of the Law.” Gentiles who wished to be vindicated at God’s judgment had to convert to Judaism by accepting circumcision, proselyte baptism, and by reciting Israel’s creed, the Shema.67 Wasn’t this the crux of the socio-religious troubles faced by the early church?

What about those within Israel? If you thought that all Jews had a common understanding of the requirements of the Law, you are in for a shock. Among Jews, each sect and sub-sect claimed they had a better knowledge of the Law’s demands than other groups.

The Pharisees (and their successors, the rabbis) thought that their interpretations were the only valid ones. There were further splits on this point within the Pharisees themselves. The writers of the Scrolls thought that only their sect would be vindicated, and then only those within the sect who kept the Law ‘properly’.

Paul’s word for all this is ‘boasting’, and he declares that it is ruled out by the gospel. …68

This might have been an interesting situation. Some Jewish sects excluded other sects. Each sect came up with more fine-tuned religious requirements. If a Gentile who desired to be vindicated wished to convert to Judaism, which brand of Judaism should he have joined?

Bursting the Jewish Bubble of Pride

The Jews of Paul’s day were complacent and carefree regarding their status as God’s covenant people – they “rested on the law” and “boasted in God.”69 – even though they failed to keep the law.70 Their callous hearts did not recognize their own guilt as they sat in judgment over Gentiles. They did not realize that they themselves were on a long leash of God’s forbearance and long-suffering.

It was easy for Paul to burst the bubble of Jewish boasting about their exclusive right to be called God’s covenant people just because they possessed the Law and claimed to be fulfilling their religious obligations under it. He showed them how guilty they were before the very Law they boasted in.

The Jewish observance of the Law was superficial and hypocritical, as Jesus71 and Paul72 had pointed out. Mere external or hypocritical observance of the Law does not set the Jews apart from the Gentiles who did not observe its requirements, reminds Paul.

The ‘Jew’ isn’t the person who appears to be one, you see. Nor is ‘circumcision’ what it appears to be, a matter of physical flesh.
The ‘Jew’ is the one in secret; and ‘circumcision’ is in the heart, in the spirit rather than the letter. Such a person gets ‘praise’, not from humans, but from God.73

John the Baptist once reminded the Jews how futile it was for them to base their sense of security on being physical descendants of Abraham after having sinned against God.74

In chapter 3, Paul quotes a string of verses from the Hebrew Bible to silence any claim – from Jew or Gentile – of innocence before God. Soon after, he clarifies that Jews cannot escape indictment by seeking refuge under their Law.

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight …75

In other words, possessing the Law of Moses and making claims regarding one’s adherence to its demands do not prove they are part of God’s covenant community. Wright explains this in Paul for Everyone, his lucid and digestible commentary on Romans written for the masses,

If ‘the Jew’ appeals to the covenant status which is marked out by possession of the law, the law itself replies, ‘You have broken me.’ … Anyone who imagines that they can stand before God and appeal to ‘works of the law’ as a reason for final justification, that is, for a favourable verdict at the last judgment, is barking up the wrong tree. Appealing to the law is like appealing to the policeman who caught you in the act …76

If Jews and Gentiles are equally sinners before God, and if both groups – like Abraham – had to be justified freely by God through their faith, what was the point in forcing Gentile Christians to convert to Judaism?

If Jews and Gentiles are equally sinners before God, and if both groups – like Abraham – had to be justified freely by God through their faith, what was the point in forcing Gentile Christians to convert to Judaism as if that were necessary to make them acceptable before God? Gentile Christians in Antioch, Galatia, Macedonia, etc., were already part of God’s covenant people through Jesus Christ. They were “clean” in God’s sight without circumcision or any other ritual.What purpose would conversion to Judaism serve other than to promote the segregation of Jews from Gentiles? God had already, in Christ, erased the Jew–Gentile distinction, as illustrated by the dream Peter saw before he was sent to Cornelius’s house.

God had prepared Israel of the Old Covenant to receive Jesus the Messiah. He was the true Israelite. Everyone had fallen away. But, except for a few who believed, the Jews rejected Jesus. As a result, they were cast out of God’s Israel. Gentiles who received Jesus, along with the few Jewish disciples, formed the initial Church of the New Testament.
God had prepared Israel of the Old Covenant to receive Jesus the Messiah. He was the true Israelite. Everyone had fallen away. But, except for a few who believed, the Jews rejected Jesus. As a result, they were cast out of God’s Israel. Gentiles who received Jesus, along with Jewish disciples, formed the initial Church of the New Testament.

3.2 Singing “the Law” to the Tune of Faith

Paul wanted the Jews to know that faith like that of Abraham’s faith had brought them right standing (or covenant status) before God. That righteousness (covenant status) was available now to all nations. God had chosen Abraham by His grace. When he responded in faith, God counted it as his righteousness. All this happened before Abraham was circumcised, making him the father of all who would eventually believe–including Jews and Gentiles.77

The Law was given 430 years after God freely declared Abraham righteous.The Law did not affect God’s decision to impute righteousness to those who believe in Him. The Law was given to the chosen people who were saved by grace from Egypt so that they would know how to live within the bounds of God’s grace. The Jews should have considered obedience to the Law as the “obedience that comes from faith”—not obedience that replaces the need for faith. They owed their covenant status to faith. Their obedience to the Law was a response to God’s grace.

Wright, in his characteristic simplicity, beautifully compares this return to God’s intended purpose of the Law to the singing of an old song to a new tune. He says that …

[Paul] takes the theme of ‘the law’, and he sets it to a completely different tune which neither he nor his contemporaries had imagined before. How are you to fulfill the law? How can the law tell you who, in the present, is marked out as among the people whom God will vindicate in the future? It cannot—if you are singing the ‘law’ to the tune of ‘works’. But it can, if you sing it to the tune called ‘faith’.78

Paul calls for this “new tune” in Romans 3:27, soon after he presented the first ‘proper’ introduction of his Gospel in Romans 3:21-26.

27Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith.79

That short statement summarizes Paul’s attitude towards God’s Law! That should also help us understand why Paul upheld the Law.

What does “justified” by faith mean?

In that same passage (Romans 3:27-31), Paul packs his punch against the twin mistaken Jewish notions mentioned earlier: a vindication (justification) obtainable through observance of the Law that was available only to Jews.

28We calculate, you see, that a person is declared to be in the right on the basis of faith, apart from the works of the law.
29Or does God only belong to Jews? Doesn’t he belong to the nations as well? Yes, of course, to the nations as well, 30since God is one. He will make the declaration ‘in the right’ over the circumcised on the basis of faith, and over the uncircumcised through faith.
31Do we, then, abolish the law through faith? Certainly not! Rather, we establish the law.80

What does Paul mean by the claim that “a person is justified by faith”?

… this refers to the fact that, when someone believes in the gospel of Jesus, God declares, in advance of the verdict of the last day, what that verdict is going to be: this person is a member of the covenant family, the people whose sins have been forgiven, the true people of Abraham, the people of the Messiah.81

That’s amazing! A vindication that the Jews hoped to get in the future, a Christian gets in the present.

Did Paul Advocate Antinomianism?

But will this reliance on faith do away with boundaries and rules? Was Paul advocating antinomianism—the belief that Christians are released from the obligation of observing God’s moral law? Wright clarifies:

… [Justification by faith] does’t mean God isn’t interested in holiness. It doesn’t mean that rules don’t matter, that ‘anything goes’, so long as you have ‘a faith’ of whatever kind.82

Prof. Dunn affirms the relevance of the Law in the New Testament covenant community while summarizing Apostle Paul’s main polemic against Jewish abuse of the Law:

“Paul’s negative thrust against the law is against the law taken over too completely by Israel, the law misunderstood by a misplaced emphasis on boundary-marking, ritual, the law become a tool of sin in its too close identification with matters of the flesh, the law sidetracked into a focus for nationalistic zeal. Freed from that too narrowly Jewish perspective, the law still has an important part to play in “the obedience of faith.83

The way Dunn connects God’s law to the covenant community’s “obedience of faith” is significant. We shall soon examine the meaning of this obedience. But before that, let’s ask ourselves: What is faith? What does it mean to believe in Christ? Is there more to it than a mere intellectual agreement with a creed?

What is “faith” in the New Testament?

Faith as Subjective, Cognitive Response

We respond to a truth claim by either accepting or rejecting it. Our faith is our intellectual assent to a proposition or experience. Therefore, our faith is a subjective, cognitive experience.

In the context of a person’s response to the Gospel, there are those who understand faith as an “intellectual assent to what God has accomplished through Jesus.”84 To have faith in the Gospel, they say, is to hold the “belief or acknowledgment of Jesus as Son of God and Lord.”85

Faith as Trust and Hope

Protestants see faith as a “personal response of trust rather than a merely intellectual belief.”86 The intellectual aspect of faith, too, is important because we cannot trust a Christ about whom we have not heard or known. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?”87

Faith is also defined as a sense of confidence or assurance about something one hopes for.88 A sense of confidence based on God’s promises honors God. Abraham believed God when he was told that he would become the father of many nations.89 He did not question God’s ability or credibility even though he and his wife were advanced in years. “This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’”90

A person’s faith may be incompatible with the physical reality around him. Talking about his hope of sharing Christ’s glory, Paul uses his eyes of faith not to “look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.”91 “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”92

Faith as Charity and Obedience

Catholic theologians like Thomas Aquinas emphasized the need to manifest faith in action. According to them, a Christian’s saving faith or “justifying faith” is fides caritate formata,93 “faith formed by charity” or faith manifested through good works.94 This is certainly in agreement with the epistle of James. Faith without accompanying acts of charity is dead. Even the faith of Abraham, who was justified by faith, was perfected by his obedience to God.95 Even if we have the spiritual gift of supernatural faith that can move mountains, we will amount to nothing if we do not love another.96

Faith as the Basis of a Conviction

In New Testament times, the Greek word pistis (faith) was also understood as something more concrete, something visible or audible or tangible that lent credibility to a certain conviction. Faith was not without evidence. In fact, the evidence was called pistis. It could be hard data, a pledge, a written agreement, an action, a proof or solid evidence.97 A few versions of the English Bible took this fact into consideration in their rendering of Hebrews 11:1.98

Galatians 3:23-25 describes about the arrival of “faith” in Jewish salvation history.99 What is this “faith” that “came” or was “revealed”? Here, we must not see the word “faith” as a subjective feeling but as an objective, verifiable evidence that leads us to a conviction. Replace the word “faith” with “the ground of faith” in Galatians 3:23-25, Hay did, to make it read thus:

Before the ground of faith came we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the ground for faith to come should be revealed. … But now that the ground for faith has come, we are no longer under a caretaker.100

The basis or the ground of our faith that appeared in due season was the person of Jesus Christ. “Jesus is a pledge or assurance from God which makes human faith possible.”101

Faith as Faithfulness

Paul was a Hebrew. Although Paul wrote his epistles in Greek, he was equally well-versed in Hebrew, the language of his fathers. Jesus spoke to him on the road to Damascus in Hebrew. It is highly probably that Paul carried with him a Hebrew mentality even though he wrote his epistles in Greek. Even when he wrote the Greek word pistis (faith), Paul must have understood faith as a Hebrew would have in his day.

While Greeks emphasized the cognitive aspect of faith, the Hebrews thought of faith in terms of Hebrew words102 that meant steadfastness, firmness or faithfulness.103 In Romans 3:3, Paul says that God remains faithful even when His people cease to be faithful.104

When God commands a man to have faith, it should be seen as an invitation to attach oneself firmly to God.105 But very often, human loyalty towards God is volatile.106

When Habakkuk complained about God’s intention to send the Chaldeans to punish Israel, God said, “The just shall live by his faithfulness” (The Masoretic text of Habakkuk 2:4) Towards the end of that prophetic book, we see the prophet’s determination to remain firm in his implicit trust in God. The Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint or LXX) renders Habakkuk 2:4 as “The just shall live by my faithfulness.” That is even better!

Faith in the Faithfulness of Christ

Paul cited Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11. However, Paul’s quotation of Habakkuk 2:4 is slightly different from the Hebrew Masoretic Text and from the Septuagint. Paul wrote: “The righteous one shall live by faith.” Whose faith or faithfulness? God’s or man’s? Richard Hays thinks that the ambiguity regarding this in Paul’s quotation might be deliberate—Paul may not have wanted to leave out any possible interpretation.107

Hays considers Habakkuk 2:4 a messianic prophecy. He claims that Christ – God’s Righteous One – lived (or, was vindiated) by faith. The three possible interpretations of “The righteous shall live by faith” are:

  1. The Messiah will live by (his own) faith(fulness).
  2. The righteous person will live as a result of the Messiah’s faith(fulness).
  3. The righteous person will live by (his own) faith (in the Messiah).108

Although Hays concedes the faithfulness of the Righteous One and the faith of the believer are important, he believes that the “primary emphasis” of Galatians 3:11 is “upon Christ’s faith, rather than upon the faith of the individual Christian as a means of attaining life.”109 Christ, says Hays, is not a “solitary individual whose triumph accrues only to his own benefit; he is a representative figure in whom the destiny of all God’s elect is embodied.”110 In simpler terms, all who are baptized into Christ participate in His faith and in His destiny.

Christ is the ground of faith because he is the one who, in fulfillment of the prophecy, lives έκ πίστεως [by faith]. He thus proves to be the one true seed of the faithful Abraham and the heir of all the promises. His destiny, however, is not a merely individual one, because he acts as a universal representative figure, enacting (έκ πίστεως) a pattern of redemption which then determines the existence of others, to whom Paul refers to as οί έκ πίστεως [those who believe].111


This is interesting because, for the past century, scholars have been pointing out how a Greek phrase “faith of Christ” has been mistranslated in the New Testament as “faith in Jesus Christ.”

The Gospel reveals God’s righteousness that is manifested through “faith in Jesus Christ” as opposed to the “works of the law.” We read about it in Romans 3:19–26.

20For by works of the law no human being[c] will be justified in his sight …
21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law … —22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.112

There is a problem. If the first occurence of the word faith in verse 22 (given above) refers to our faith in Jesus, why is it quickly followed by “all who believe in him”? We notice this problem in Galatians 3:22 as well.

The Greek phrase translated as faith in Jesus Christ is πίστις Ίησοῦ Χριστοῦ. Literally, it must be translated as the faith of Jesus Christ. This was first pointed out by MacKnight as early as 1806.113 When we consider the Hebrew meaning of faith as we read Pauline epistles we are able to make sense of the phrase, “faith of Jesus Christ”. It must be read as the “faithfulness of Jesus Christ.”

The English Standard Version (ESV), like many traditional Bibles, renders πίστις Ίησοῦ Χριστοῦ as objective genitive (i.e., our faith in Christ). The New English Translation is the first English Bible that has consistently rendered it as subjective genitive (the faithfulness of Christ).

21But now apart from the law the righteousness of God … has been disclosed—22namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe.114

Hebert’s (1955) translation of Romans 3:21-26 is quite impressive and accurate.

21But now, apart from the Law, God’s Righteousness [and Salvation] has been manifested [in the person of Jesus Christ], witnessed to by the Law and the Prophets; 22God’s righteousness, through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, to all who believe; for there is no distinction [between Jew and Gentile]; 23 for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; 24being justified freely by his saving mercy through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25whom God set forth to be the Mercy-seat [the place of his atoning mercy] through divine faithfulness, in his blood; to show his righteousness in that the sins of the past are not passed over, but are borne and atoned for; 26that God might be shown to be Righteous, and the Justifier of him who is of faith of Jesus.115

It is useful to read the above passage from N. T. Wright’s perspective that renders the word “righteousness” in a better way.

21But now, quite apart from the law (though the law and the prophets bore witness to it), God’s covenant justice has been displayed. 22God’s covenant justice comes into operation through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah, for the benefit of all who have faith. For there is no distinction: 23all sinned, and fell short of God’s glory - 24and by God’s grace they are freely declared to be in the right, to be members of the covenant, through the redemption which is found in the Messiah, Jesus. 25God put Jesus forth as the place of mercy, through his faithfulness, by means of his blood. He did this to demonstrate his covenant justice through the passing over (in the divine forbearance) of sins committed beforehand. 26This was to demonstrate his covenant justice in the present time: that is, that he himself is in the right, and that he declares to be in the right everyone who trusts in the faithfulness of Jesus.116

If God’s salvation is based on the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, what does it mean to have faith in Christ? Here’s how Hebert answers that question while marvelling at the salvation unveiled in the above passage.

Here is the work of God’s righteousness, his faithfulness, his grace, his love; and it is all this that he opposes to the Jewish claim to justification by “circumcision” or by “works”; it is all this that is summed up in his phrase ek pisteos [by faith]. The pistis [faith] is primarily not man’s act of “believing”, but God’s ’emunah [Hebrew for faithfulness]; and when man on his part “believes”, what happens is that his frailty and instability are “made firm” on the solid ground of God’s saving action. That is the Biblical meaning of “faith” regarded as an act or activity of man.117

Galatians 3:22

It is also important to read other key passages in this new light. Let’s examine Galatians 3:22 in context.

“… For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.”118

The NET Bible renders verse 22 as:

“But the scripture imprisoned everything under sin so that the promise could be given—because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ—to those who believe.”

Philippians 3:8-9

“More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities … indeed, I regard them as dung! – that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness.”119

Ephesians 3:11-12

“This was according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12in whom we have boldness and confident access to God by way of Christ’s faithfulness.”120

Colossians 2:12

“Having been buried with him in baptism, you also have been raised with him through the faithfulness of the working of God who raised him from the dead.”121

Galatians 2:16

    We are Jews by birth 
              and not Gentile sinners, 
    we know that no one is justified
            by the works of the law 
            by the faithfulness of 
                        Jesus Christ. 
    we have come to believe
              in Christ Jesus, 
        so that we may be justified
             by the faithfulness 
                          of Christ 
             and not 
             by the works of the law, 
            by the works of the law
            no one will be justified.
Galatians 2:20

I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.


Therefore, we who seek to be “justified by faith” are not called to have faith in faith but to trust in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.

Our response to God in faith does not carry any merit in itself. If faith were a meritorious “work” that gets rewarded by salvation, we could boast about it. There is no room for such boasting. Faith is just an instrument by which we take hold of the gift of salvation God offers us by the abundance of His grace. That instrument is indispensable nonetheless. Faith is like our grasp on God’s lifeline. It is the One who holds the lifeline who saves us. But grasp we must.

3.3 Bringing All Nations to the “Obedience of Faith”

Remember what Paul said in his introduction to Romans regarding the purpose of his apostleship? It was to “bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.”122 Originally, the Law was designed to be obeyed by those Abrahamic descendants who were already justified by faith (like that of Abraham’s) and had undergone a transformation in their hearts (a “circumcision” of the heart by the Spirit).123 The heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11 were excellent specimens. That was Covenantal Nomism. That was “the obedience of faith.”

Paul wanted to bring all nations into “the obedience of faith.” Why would anyone like Prof. Dunn claim that this “obedience of faith” had anything to do with the Torah (the Law)? After all, did not Jesus command His apostles to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey all His commands?124

The Permanence of the Law

What are Jesus’s commands? At this juncture, it would be profitable for us to examine what Jesus said about the Torah in His Sermon on the Mount.

17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
19Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.125

Jesus declared that He had come to fulfill the Torah (the Law) and the Prophets. He then told his disciples that the Law – with all its tiniest details – was there to stay. France, a prolific NT Scholar who specialized in Matthew and Mark, paraphrases verse 18 after taking into account Jesus’s affirmation of the permanence of the “law” and the two “until” clauses in that verse:

“The law, down to its smallest details, is as permanent as heaven and earth, and will never lose its significance; on the contrary, all that it points forward to will in fact become a reality.”126

Jesus’s warning in verse 19 is directed at those who undermine the authority of God’s commandments “by teaching that they [the commandments] can now be ignored.”127 The word “relaxes” (whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments) in ESV accurately captures the sense of the Greek word λύσῃ as opposed to other versions that use the word “break.”128

What “commandments” were Jesus referring to? Obviously, the commandments in the Torah—the first five books of Moses. Contrary to some suggestions that “these commandments” refer to the commandments of Jesus, France points out that Jesus’s commandments were never classified into “light” and “heavy” commandments, as those of the Torah were, by the Pharisees.129 Since Jesus refers to “the least of these commandments”, He must have been referring to the Torah.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made direct references to a few of those commands. That sermon is central to Jesus’s teaching on the Kingdom of God. In it, Jesus clarified the real purpose and meaning of God’s commandments. He demolished human traditions and interpretations that caused the Jews of His time to misinterpret and misapply those commandments. As Christians, we need to pay careful attention to the Lord’s warning to anyone who would dare to dilute or violate any of the commandments.

The “Fulfilled” Law

Regarding the “doing” of the commandments, as taught by Jesus in Matthew 5:19, Yang, who did his doctoral research under France, is of the studied opinion that Christians are to observe the law taking into consideration its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

“The phrase τῶν ἐντολῶν τούτων [these commandments] then refers not to simply ‘the νόμος [Law] as it was’ but rather ‘the νόμος [Law], as fulfilled’—‘the new νόμος which the old νόμος pointed forward to; …”130

Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. Therefore, we cannot consider the Law of Moses apart from Jesus Christ. The light of the Law has to be allowed to pass through the prism of “Christ-event” in salvation history.


There were three kinds of Jewish Laws:

  1. The ceremonial laws that dealt with ritual purity, sacrifices, offerings, tabernacle, foods, etc.;
  2. The civic laws that governed crime and punishment, relationship between citizens, wars, social welfare, business, etc., and
  3. The moral law contained in the Decalogue (Ten Commandments).

Ceremonial and ritual laws

Christians do not need to observe the Jewish ceremonial and ritual laws because those were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Jesus, the divine Word of God, “tabernacled”131 among us. He was the fulfillment of the tabernacle in Old Testament. He was also the fulfillment of Bethel, the house of God, from where the angels of God ascend and descend.132 He, as the fulfillment of the Temple of God,133 made the earthly structure redundant and obsolete. He forgave people without any help from the priests and sacrifices of the Temple.134

Jesus Christ, the Paschal Lamb, was slain once and for all. As a result, those who believe in Him are called to celebrate a perpetual Feast of Unleavened Bread marked by the absence of the leaven of sin.135 Christ is the fulfillment of all sacrifices. He offered himself to do away with sin.136 Christ is the fulfillment of the office of the High Priest137 and He is the mediator of a new covenant.138 Every single aspect of the Jewish ceremonial laws has been fulfilled in Christ.

Just because we don’t have to obey the Jewish ritual law, it doesn’t mean that the ritual law is invalid. Christ died within the precincts of the Jewish ritual law. If we consider the Jewish ritual law invalid, Christ’s death too will have to be considered invalid. We consider the ritual law as having been fulfilled in Christ and set aside. It is “abolished” only in so far as our obedience to is considered.

Instead of offering animal sacrifices, we are to commanded to:

We do not observe Jewish food laws that considered certain foods clean or unclean. Mark records that Jesus declared all foods clean.143 What goes into the body does not make us ceremonially unclean.

“What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”144

Besides, “clean” and “unclean” foods stood for the distinction between Jews and Gentiles. Such a distinction was removed by God Himself. Having learnt that lesson, Peter said to Cornelius and his household,

“You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”145

But the general principles of holiness, sexual morality, cleanliness, justice, fair play, human rights, animal welfare, et cetera, are still valid. The principle behind any regulation that is not expressly cancelled by the New Testament holds good.

Civic laws

What about the Jewish civic laws? It is no longer possible to obey the civic laws because there is no longer a separate political entity or country for God’s people. God never intended to set up a Christian country. Wherever God’s people live, they are to love their neighbors as themselves. That would be counted as the fulfillment of the civic law. “Love is the fulfillment of the law,” wrote Paul.146 To bear one another’s burden is to fulfill the “law of Christ.”147 Thus, Christians who live according to Christ’s new commandment will naturally live in obedience to the essence of Jewish civic laws.

Moral Law

What about the moral law embodied in the Ten Commandments? Those were the only laws carved on stone, indicating their permanence. All ten commandments were affirmed by the Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles. The call to obey God’s moral law is a Christian’s privilege and obligation. It is our response to God’s free salvation we received through grace.

Paul considered the moral law as “good” as long as it was used for its intended purpose.148 All lawless deeds contrary to the moral law are described as activities that are “contrary to sound doctrine.” Paul then goes on to state that the sound doctrine of the Law is “in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.”149 That is, the ethics of the Ten Commandments is in line with the Gospel!

Christian life, therefore, is not a lawless life. Instead, it is a call to live on the higher plane of morality and ethics enshrined in the Ten Commandments, not in our strength but in the power of the Holy Spirit, as described in Romans 8.

Resources for Further Study

Sadly, much of Protestant understanding of Romans is colored by the Lutheran view. John Stott too follows that old view. Stott was not unaware of arguments contrary to his (and Luther’s) approach. He dismisses those, in a rather unconvincing manner, as “the contemporary fashion of saying that Luther got it wrong.”150 Before Stott’s death, a few NT scholars had approached him to encourage him to revise his views. They were not successful in convincing Uncle John.

Since NT scholars like Sanders brought this new approach to our understanding of Paul’s writings on the Law, it will be good if we consult commentaries written by scholars like James D. G. Dunn, N T Wright, and Richard Hays.

Dunn built upon Sanders’s work and took it ahead. Dunn refined the understanding of the phrase “works of the law” used by Paul. He argued that it refers to specific boundary markers, such as circumcision and dietary laws, which marked the Jewish identity, rather than a broader concept of legalism. This helps to contextualize Paul’s critique of “works” without undermining the importance of the Law in Judaism.

Besides, while Sanders focused on Paul’s understanding of covenantal inclusion, Dunn delved deeper into the concept of justification. He argued that it does not merely refer to the initial act of being accepted by God, but also to the ongoing status of righteousness that God’s people maintain through faith and obedience. Overall, Dunn’s contributions helped to enrich and expand the Covenantal Nomism model proposed by Sanders, providing a more nuanced understanding of Pauline theology within its Jewish context.

James D. G. Dunn

Dunn’s notable works include the following.

  1. The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (The New International Greek Testament Commentary series, 1996) - In this commentary, Dunn offers a scholarly examination of the Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon, addressing their theological content and historical context.

  2. The Theology of Paul the Apostle (1998) - This comprehensive work provides an in-depth examination of Paul’s theology, addressing various themes and key passages in his letters.

  3. Romans 1-8 and Romans 9-16 (Word Biblical Commentary series, 1988) - In these two volumes, Dunn provides a detailed commentary on the first and second halves of the Book of Romans, analyzing the theological and exegetical aspects of the text.

  4. Jesus, Paul and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians (1990) - This book explores the relationship between Jesus and Paul concerning their perspectives on the Jewish law, with a focus on the Gospels and the letter to the Galatians.

  5. The Theology of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (1993) - Dunn offers an extensive analysis of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, examining its theological themes and contributions to the understanding of Pauline thought.

  6. The New Perspective on Paul (2005) - In this book, Dunn presents and defends the New Perspective on Paul, challenging traditional interpretations of Paul’s theology and providing a fresh perspective on first-century Judaism.

N. T. Wright

Bishop Wright’s works are highly regarded in the field of New Testament studies.

  1. New Perspectives on Paul, Speech delivered at the 10th Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference: 25-28 August 2003.

  2. Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 1 (2004) - In this book, Wright offers a lay-level commentary on the first half of Romans (Romans 1-8) as part of his “For Everyone” series, making Paul’s teachings accessible to a broader audience.

  3. Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 2 (2004) - This book continues the “For Everyone” series, providing a commentary on the second half of Romans (Romans 9-16), maintaining the same accessible style.

  4. The Epistle to the Romans (The New International Commentary on the New Testament series, 2018) - In this more recent commentary, Wright provides a detailed and comprehensive exegetical analysis of Romans, further exploring its theological themes

  5. Paul and the Faithfulness of God (2013) - While not a traditional verse-by-verse commentary, this book is a comprehensive scholarly work by Wright on the theology of Paul, including extensive discussions on the Epistle to the Romans.

  6. Paul: In Fresh Perspective (2008) Wright ranks the Apostle Paul as “one of the most powerful and seminal minds of the first or any century,” and argues that we can now sketch with confidence a new and more nuanced picture of Paul and the radical way in which his encounter with Jesus redefined his life, his mission and his expectations for a world made new in Christ.

Richard B. Hays

Richard B. Hays wrote several books on Pauline theology, including the following.

  1. Richard B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ: An Investigation of the Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11, Dissertation Series, Society of Biblical Literature, no. 56, Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1983.

  2. Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (1993). This is a groundbreaking work that argues that Paul’s letters are full of echoes of the Old Testament. Hays shows how Paul uses these echoes to create a new understanding of the gospel that is both rooted in the Old Testament and relevant for the first-century church.

  3. The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture (2005). This is a more general study of Paul’s use of Scripture. Hays argues that Paul’s reading of the Old Testament was not simply a matter of exegesis, but also a matter of imagination. He shows how Paul’s imaginative engagement with the Old Testament led him to create a new understanding of God, Christ, and the church.

  4. First Corinthians (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, 2011). Hays provides a detailed exegesis of the letter, paying particular attention to Paul’s use of Scripture. He also discusses the implications of Paul’s theology for contemporary Christians.

  5. Galatians (2016). Hays argues that Galatians is a foundational text for Christian theology.

  6. Romans (2019). Hays argues that Romans is the most comprehensive statement of Paul’s theology. He shows how Paul’s argument in Romans unfolds in three main parts: justification by faith, sanctification, and eschatology.

John M.G. Barclay

  1. Paul and the Gift, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015. John M.G. Barclay re-frames Paul’s theology of grace and, in doing so, provides a nuanced critique of the New Perspective. The book has been praised for keeping grace at the center of Paul’s theology (pace the New Perspective) while illuminating how grace, understood in light of ancient theories of gift, demands reciprocity and thus the formation of new communities based not on ethnicity but the unqualified Christ-gift (much like the New Perspective)


Hay, David M. “PISTIS as “Ground For Faith” in Hellenized Judaism and Paul.” Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 108, No. 3 (Autumn, 1989): 461-476.

Hebert, Gabriel. “Faithfulness” and “Faith.” Theology 1955 (58): 373-379.

Hooker, Morna D. ΠIΣTIΣ XPIΣTOY. New Testament Studies Volume 35 Issue 03 July 1989: 321-342. DOI: 10.1017/S0028688500016817, Published online: 05 February 2009.

Howard, George Elliott. “The ‘Faith of Christ’.” The Expository Times 85 (1974): 212-215.

  1. That is, the kind of Judaism that existed after a second Temple was built in Jerusalem by Ezra and company who had returned from Babylonian exile. This is the same kind of Judaism that existed during the lifetime of Jesus and His apostles↩︎

  2. James D. G. Dunn, ‘The New Perspective on Paul: whence, what and whither?’ The New Perspective on Paul, Revised Edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008. pp 1-2.↩︎

  3. Romans 2:12–13 ESV Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles (Emphasis added.)↩︎

  4. Rom 3:20, 21, 28 ESV. (Emphasis added.)↩︎

  5. Rom 3:31 ESV.↩︎

  6. Romans 7:12↩︎

  7. The Torah or the first five books of the Old Testament written by Moses.↩︎

  8. “But now in Christ Jesus you [Gentiles] who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace … – Ephesians 2:13-15 ESV.↩︎

  9. James 1:22-25 ESV.↩︎

  10. James 2:8-11 ESV.↩︎

  11. Luther included Hebrews, James, and Jude separately at the end of his New Testament (AD1522).↩︎

  12. Luther considered James to be “a perfect straw-epistle” compared to other weightier epistles “for it has in it nothing of an evangel kind.” - Preface to Luther’s New Testament. “Vorrhede”. Das Newe Testament Deutzsch, 1522.↩︎

  13. John Stott, The Message of Romans, John Stott (ed), The Bible Speaks Today (New Testament Series), Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 1994. Digital Edition. Emphasis added.↩︎

  14. James D. G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul, 2008. p 2.↩︎

  15. James D. G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul, 2008. p 3.↩︎

  16. James D. G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul, 2008. p 3.↩︎

  17. E. R. Achtemeier, ‘Righteousness in the Old Testament’ and P. J. Achtemeier, ‘Righteousness in the New Testament’, IDB 4 (1962) 80-5, 91-9. Cited in Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul, 2008. p 2.↩︎

  18. Romans 1:16-17.↩︎

  19. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul, p 3.↩︎

  20. The Community Rule of Qumran (1QS 11.11-15) cited by Dunn, p 3.↩︎

  21. Cited by Dunn, p 4. David Flusser, ‘The Dead Sea Sect and Pre-Pauline Christianity’ (1958), Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1988) 23-74.↩︎

  22. An indulgence is a permit—“a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins.” – Edward Peters,A Modern Guide to Indulgences: Rediscovering This Often Misinterpreted Teaching, Hillenbrand Books, 2008. p 13.
    The Catechism clarifies that the punishment so diminished was just “temporal punishment.”↩︎

  23. Penance is any act or set of actions done out of penitence. The focus is on external actions. Repentance is the precursor of penance. Repentance is the intention to change one’s behavior. Penance refers to actions that a repentant sinner imposes on himself. In Catholicism, penance includes self-flagellation, acts of self-discipline, including increased time spent in prayer and devotions, self-imposed hardships, fasting, abstinence from certain foods or pleasures, etc. The clergy can also impose penance on repentant sinners. Such penances might include the recitation of a set of prayers, a certain number of prostrations or similar physical activity. Wikipedia contributors, “Penance,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed August 19, 2023).↩︎

  24. “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, …” – Romans 10:5-6a ESV.
    “The righteousness that is based on the law” in the above verse is the same as the righteousness that Jews tried to establish on their own without submitting to God’s righteousness, as mentioned in the preceding passage, in verse 3.
    (“For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” – Romans 10:3 ESV.)
    That is, they mistook the possession and observance of the Law as the basis of their right standing with God instead of seeing it as a response to God’s gracious election. This is further explained under the heading, Where did the Jews go wrong?↩︎

  25. James Dunn’s translation in James D. G. Dunn, Romans 9-16, ed. Bruce M. Metzger et. al., Word Biblical Commentary Vol 38B, (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1988).↩︎

  26. “The ἐν τῷ στόματί σου, like the subsequent ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ σου, should be in quotation marks in translation, since Paul is clearly picking up and expounding phrases from the preceding quotation.” James D. G. Dunn, Romans 9-16, Word Biblical Commentary Vol 38B.↩︎

  27. Albert Barnes and James Murphy, Barnes’ Notes on the Old and New Testaments. Emphasis added.↩︎

  28. E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion, Philadephia: Fortress Press, 1977.↩︎

  29. Mark A. Chancey, in the Foreword to Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 40th Anniversary Edition, 2017.↩︎

  30. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul, p 5.↩︎

  31. Exegesis is the explanation or interpretation of a passage, often in the original language in which it was written.↩︎

  32. N. T. Wright, New Perspectives of Paul, Speech delivered at the 10th Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference: 25-28 August 2003.↩︎

  33. The Lutherans believe that the Law of Moses is just “a tutor” that leads the Jews to Christ. It was intended to show them their sinfulness and their need for a savior. The Law cannot save anyone; only faith in Jesus Christ can do that.↩︎

  34. “First God redeems Israel from Egypt, and then he gives the law, so obedience to the law is a response to God’s grace, not an attempt to gain righteousness by works (See Ex 19–20).” – Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, Secunderabad: OM Books, 2003. p. 117-18.↩︎

  35. James Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary, 1988.↩︎

  36. “Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions …” Galatians 3:19a NET.↩︎

  37. “… through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:20b NET.↩︎

  38. “For indeed I would not have known what it means to desire something belonging to someone else if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of wrong desires.” Romans 7:7b-8 NET.↩︎

  39. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” James 2:10 ESV.↩︎

  40. For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Galatians 3:10 ESV.↩︎

  41. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree …” Galatians 3:13 ESV.↩︎

  42. Romans 10:4.↩︎

  43. “Marcion believed that the god of the Old Testament was cruel, and that he was a different being than the God of Jesus. Misreading Paul’s opposition to the works of the law, Marcion gathered disciples to himself and preached his “New Testament-only” style of faith.” Dr. Michael LeFebvre, “Knowing Jesus Means Knowing the Old Testament—and Rejecting ‘Functional Marcionism’” March 31, 2021, [online] accessed on August 12, 2023.↩︎

  44. Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, Secunderabad: OM Books, 2003. p. 118.↩︎

  45. After having received God’s forgiveness, David sang, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” – Psalm 32:1-2 ESV.↩︎

  46. Romans 4:5-8.↩︎

  47. Romans 3:2; 3:28; Galatians 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10; as pointed out by Dunn. Cf. Ephesians 2:9↩︎

  48. See Romans 3:27; 4:2, 6; 9:12, 32; and 11:6 as pointed out by Dunn.↩︎

  49. Romans 3:2 NET Bible copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C.↩︎

  50. Romans 3:28 NET↩︎

  51. Galatians 2:16↩︎

  52. Galatians 3:2 NET.↩︎

  53. Galatians 3:5 NET.↩︎

  54. Galatians 3:10↩︎

  55. Romans 2:13 ESV.↩︎

  56. James Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary, 1988.↩︎

  57. Romans 2:13-14↩︎

  58. Romans 2:27.↩︎

  59. Romans 2:7 HCSB.↩︎

  60. Dunn, Romans 1–8, Word Biblical Commentary series, online.↩︎

  61. Schreiner thinks that Dunn’s definition focuses on “the parts of the law that separate Jews from Gentiles, particularly, circumcision, sabbath and food laws.” Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, p. 111.↩︎

  62. Rom 10:3 ESV.↩︎

  63. N. T. Wright, Paul For Everyone, Romans Part 1 Chapters 1-8, London: SPCK, 2004, p. 25.↩︎

  64. Romans 9:30–10:4. N. T. Wright, Paul For Everyone, Romans Part 2 Chapters 9-16, London: SPCK, 2004, p. 21-22.↩︎

  65. N. T. Wright, Paul For Everyone, Romans Part 1 Chapters 1-8, London: SPCK, 2004, p. 25.↩︎

  66. N. T. Wright, Paul For Everyone, Romans Part 1 Chapters 1-8, London: SPCK, 2004, p. 61.↩︎

  67. The Shema is a confession of the Jewish faith in one God. The confession is made up of three scriptural texts: Deuteronomy 6:4–9, 11:13–21; and Numbers 15:37–41.↩︎

  68. N. T. Wright, Paul For Everyone, Romans Part 1 Chapters 1-8, London: SPCK, 2004, p. 61.↩︎

  69. Romans 2:17 NKJV and YLT.↩︎

  70. Romans 2:23.↩︎

  71. “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You give a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you neglect what is more important in the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness! You should have done these things without neglecting the others.” – Matthew 23:23 NET.↩︎

  72. “… you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.” – Romans 2:21-23.↩︎

  73. Romans 2:28-29 N. T. Wright, Paul For Everyone, Romans Part 1 Chapters 1-8, London: SPCK, 2004, p. 39.↩︎

  74. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” Matthew 3:7-10 NET.↩︎

  75. Romans 3:20 ESV.↩︎

  76. N. T. Wright, Paul For Everyone, Romans Part 1 Chapters 1-8, London: SPCK, 2004, p. 50.↩︎

  77. “And he received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised, so that he would become the father of all those who believe but have never been circumcised, that they too could have righteousness credited to them. And he is also the father of the circumcised, who are not only circumcised, but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham possessed when he was still uncircumcised.” Romans 4:11-12 NET.↩︎

  78. Wright, Paul For Everyone p. 61. Emphasis added.↩︎

  79. Romans 3:27 NIV. Wright observes that several English translations of the New Testament might have considered this “law that requires faith” too scandalous for the Protestant standard. They translated the word for “law” as “principle”! That includes versions such as the NET, Berean Standard Bible, Amplified Bible, ISV, and NAB. It is essential to render it as “law” because, later in 10:4-9, Paul will pick up this theme and explain what he means by “a fulfilling of the Jewish law through the faith which believes in the gospel of the crucified and risen Jesus.” Wright, Paul For Everyone p. 61.↩︎

  80. Romans 3:27-31 Wright, Paul For Everyone p. 59-60. Emphasis added.↩︎

  81. N. T. Wright, Paul For Everyone, p. 61-62. Emphasis added.↩︎

  82. N. T. Wright, Paul For Everyone, p. 62.↩︎

  83. James Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary, 1988. Emphasis added.↩︎

  84. David M. Hay, “PISTIS as “Ground For Faith” in Hellenized Judaism and Paul,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 108, No. 3 (Autumn, 1989), p. 471.↩︎

  85. Hay, “PISTIS as “Ground For Faith”, p. 471.↩︎

  86. Hay, “PISTIS as “Ground For Faith”, p. 471.↩︎

  87. Romans 10:14a ESV.↩︎

  88. Hebrews 11:1.↩︎

  89. Romans 4:18.↩︎

  90. Romans 4:22 ESV.↩︎

  91. 2 Corinthians 5:18a NKJV.↩︎

  92. 2 Corinthians 5:7 NKJV.↩︎

  93. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa↩︎

  94. As in “faith working through love” – Galatians 5:6.
    Gabriel Hebert, “Faithfulness” and “Faith”, Theology, 1955 (58). p. 374.↩︎

  95. 14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can this kind of faith save him? 15If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,” but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is it? 17So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead being by itself. 18But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith without works and I will show you faith by my works. 19You believe that God is one; well and good. Even the demons believe that—and tremble with fear.
    20But would you like evidence, you empty fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22You see that his faith was working together with his works and his faith was perfected by works. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Now Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. James 2:14-24 NET2. Emphasis added.↩︎

  96. “… and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:2b ESV.↩︎

  97. David M. Hay, “PISTIS as “Ground For Faith” in Hellenized Judaism and Paul,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 108, No. 3 (Autumn, 1989), pp. 462.↩︎

  98. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” – NKJV.
    “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” – NLT.
    “… It’s our handle on what we can’t see.” – The Message.↩︎

  99. But before faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the faith to come should be revealed. … But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a caretaker. Gal 3:23, 25.↩︎

  100. David M. Hay, “PISTIS as “Ground For Faith” in Hellenized Judaism and Paul,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 108, No. 3 (Autumn, 1989), pp. 471.↩︎

  101. Hay, “PISTIS as “Ground For Faith”, p. 472.↩︎

  102. ’aman and ’emunah↩︎

  103. Hebert, “Faithfulness” and “Faith”, p. 374.↩︎

  104. See also 1 Cor 1:8-9; 10:13; 1 Thess 5:24; 2 Thess 3:3.↩︎

  105. “… I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord …” – Jer 13:11

  106. “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
    What shall I do with you, O Judah?
    Your love is like a morning cloud,
    like the dew that goes early away. – Hosea 6:4 ESV.↩︎

  107. Richard B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ: An Investigation of the Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11, Dissertation Series, Society of Biblical Literature, no. 56, Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1983. p 155.↩︎

  108. Richard B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ, 1983. p 156.↩︎

  109. Richard B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ, 1983. p. 155-56.↩︎

  110. Richard B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ, p 156-157.↩︎

  111. Richard B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ: An Investigation of the Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11, Dissertation Series, Society of Biblical Literature, no. 56, Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1983. p 231.↩︎

  112. Romans 3:20-26 ESV.↩︎

  113. J. MacKnight, Apostolical Epistles (2nd ed.; London: Longman, Hurst, etc., 1806 I, 248 f., cited by George Elliott Howard, “The ‘Faith of Christ’.” The Expository Times 85 (1974): 212-215.↩︎

  114. Romans 3:21-22 NET2.↩︎

  115. Hebert, “Faithfulness” and “Faith”, p. 376.
    “The point surely is that ‘they that are of faith’ is a phrase corresponding to ‘they of the circumcision’ and ‘they that are of the Law’ (Rom. 4.14) or ‘they that are of the works of the Law’ (Gal. 3.10);” Hebert, p. 377.↩︎

  116. N. T. Wright, Paul For Everyone, Romans Part 1 Chapters 1-8, London: SPCK, 2004, p. 51, 55.↩︎

  117. Hebert, “Faithfulness” and “Faith”, p. 378.↩︎

  118. Galatians 3:22 ESV.↩︎

  119. NET acknowledges that the Greek phrase here is literally, “based on the faithfulness.” But, the ‘article before πίστει (pistei) is taken as anaphoric, looking back to διὰ πίστεως Χριστοῦ (dia pisteōs Christou); hence, “Christ’s” is implied.’↩︎

  120. NET↩︎

  121. Blended Hebert’s translation into NET. Hebert, “Faithfulness” and “Faith”, p. 377.↩︎

  122. Romans 1:5 ESV.↩︎

  123. Romans 2:29.
    Cf. Jeremiah 4:4 – “circumcise your hearts you men of Judah …”↩︎

  124. Matthew 28:19↩︎

  125. Matthew 5:17-20 ESV.↩︎

  126. R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, Stonehouse et. al. (eds) The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007↩︎

  127. Ibid.↩︎

  128. KJV, NKJV, NET, and ASV render it as “break”; NIV uses “sets aside”; NLT renders it as “ignore.”↩︎

  129. R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, Stonehouse et. al. (eds) The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007↩︎

  130. Yong-Eui Yang, Jesus and the Sabbath in Matthew’s Gospel, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997. p. 115-16.↩︎

  131. as in John 1:14;
    σκηνόω skēnóō, skay-no’-o; from G4636 in Strong’s Definitions; to tent or encamp, i.e. (figuratively) to occupy (as a mansion) or (specially), to reside (as God did in the Tabernacle of old, a symbol of protection and communion):—dwell.↩︎

  132. John 1:51.↩︎

  133. John 2:19↩︎

  134. John 8:11.↩︎

  135. 1 Corinthians 5:7↩︎

  136. Hebrews 9:26.↩︎

  137. Hebrews 9:11.↩︎

  138. Hebrews 9:15.↩︎

  139. Romans 12:1.↩︎

  140. “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. – Hebrews 13:15 ESV.↩︎

  141. “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”– Hebrews 13:16 ESV.↩︎

  142. Romans 15:16 ESV.↩︎

  143. Mark 7:19.↩︎

  144. Mark 7-20-22 ESV↩︎

  145. Acts 10:28 ESV.↩︎

  146. Romans 13:8-10.↩︎

  147. Galatians 6:1-2.↩︎

  148. 1 Tim 1:8.↩︎

  149. 1 Tim 1:11 ESV.↩︎

  150. John Stott, The Message of Romans, John Stott (ed), The Bible Speaks Today (New Testament Series), Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 1994. Digital Edition.↩︎


About the author

Philip Eapen, an environmental scientist by training, devoted his life to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ ever since he realized that the world needs Jesus Christ more than anyone or anything else. Apart from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, Philip teaches Christians in order to equip them for service. He is supported by donations from readers. Philip is married to Dr. Jessimol and they are blessed with three sons and a daughter.

Date: 31 July, 2023




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