Faith & Works of the Law

in Galatians & Romans










Mag. Claudia R. Wintoch











Pauline Epistles I

Dr Dave Ryser







World Revival School of Ministry

Summer Trimester 2002





1. Introduction


2. Galatians

2.1. Galatians 2:15-21

2.2. Galatians 3:1-14


3. Romans

3.1. Romans 3-4

3.2. Romans 9


4. Conclusion


5. Bibliography


1. Introduction


Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." (Galatians 3:11)


Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:31)


Over the past two thousand years Paul’s writings have caused much debate, confusion and wrong interpretation, which unfortunately led to false theology that still pervades the Church today. The apostle Peter already wrote: His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort (2.Peter 3:16).

As seen in the two verses quoted above, Paul seems to contradict himself in his letters concerning his opinion of the law. To this day Räisänen claims: “Paul’s thought on the law is full of difficulties and inconsistencies.” (Gager 2000:8). She writes:

“The situation today (ca. 1990), then, is somewhat confusing. On a number of key issues a wide range of interpretations are offered. Few of the basic problems that have arisen in the course of the history of interpretation have really been solved, most of them continue to engage modern scholars. Regarding Paul’s attitude toward Israel and the law, either continuity or discontinuity may be stressed.” (Räisänen 96)


Paul seems to be for the law in some passions, and against it in others. “Subordinationists” claim that Paul simply changed his mind over the course of time, and that the anti-Judaism passages have precedence over the pro-Israel passages. Paul therefore became the “father of Christian anti-Judaism” (Gager 2000:9), and his writings were used over the centuries – from Marcion to Luther and to this day – to justify replacement theology. Today, Sanders’ position is the following: “This is what Paul finds wrong in Judaism: it is not Christianity.” (Gager 2000:15).


Different techniques have been used to handle the seeming contradictions in Paul’s writings. The psychological technique pictures Paul as a schizophrenic man, who was torn between his old ways of the law and the new way of Jesus, “the anti-Israel statements reflecting his “real” views as a Christian convert, the pro-Israel statements preserving his unresolved and yet-to-be-discarded loyalties as a Jew” (Gager 2000:7f).

Räisänen is an proponent of the resigned technique, which simply acknowledges  contradictions and inconsistencies and accepts them, offering no solutions or value for the Christian life, particularly in regards to Judaism.

The most radical technique discards the difficult passages altogether, claiming that “his text has been commented on and enlarged” (Gager 2000:9) at a later time.

However, the most widespread technique has been “to subordinate one set of passages – always the pro-Israel set – to the other, leaving the anti-Israel version as the true Paul” (ibidem). The reader might wonder whether theologians throughout the ages have ever considered other factors like the audience or situation Paul addressed in his different letters, his purpose and rhetorical style .

Over the past 15 years new biblical scholarship has emerged which has attempted to understand Paul’s writings in their context and – leaving preconceived ideas behind – shows a more accurate picture of Paul than ever, a Jewish man who had found his Messiah, who was called to the Gentiles, and who addressed difficult issues of his time as Gentile believers found the Jewish Messiah.

“Paul himself is a person identified by way of Jewish circumcision. It is because of the honored status of this standing that Paul is able to argue from a position of strength; on the one hand, with Jewish people such as Peter on behalf of the Gentiles’ equality of status by way of Christ (1:13-2:21[1]), and on the other, with the Gentiles themselves to remain in their state as a testimony to the meaning of the death of Christ on their behalf” (Nanos 2001:90f)


The purpose of this paper is to examine some of the seemingly contradictory passages relating to salvation by faith versus salvation by works/the law, in the light of the forthcoming new biblical evidence.


2. Galatians


Paul had traveled through Galatia where he established churches that consisted entirely of Gentiles. When he wrote to the churches in Galatia, he addressed reports he had heard of certain apostles trying to persuade the Gentile Christians to be circumcised and follow the Mosaic law. Judaizers held onto the view that Gentile Christians had to come under the law to be full participants of the faith, and because of the political situation at the time this view had a certain appeal to the Gentile believers. Judaism, as well as paganism, were accepted state-religions; however, Gentiles following a Jewish sect did not belong to either group and were in danger of persecution and imprisonment. In his letter, Paul uses the rhetorical device of irony to show the Gentile believers the absurdity of following those apostles and coming under the law. Not being able to be there in person and addressing them personally, he has to use even stronger language in his letter to get through to them with the truth. It is that irony that has been misunderstood (not recognized) over the centuries and, taken literally, led to seeming contradictions, wrong conclusions and false theology that has pervaded the Church to this day:

“If we simply stay within Galatians in noting that irony and varieties of wordplay were common to Paul, and might be expected by those who already knew him, the evidence is sufficient to suggest that the Galatian addressees could anticipate the use of irony, especially in handling their current compromising state of affairs. (Nanos 2001:38)

2.1. Galatians 2:14-21


A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified

(Galatians 2:16).


Immediately preceding this passage Paul gives us the context of his ‘speech’. Peter and Barnabas had enjoyed meals together with the Gentile believers in Antioch, until Judaizers – certain men from James (verse 12) – came and they withdrew from fellowship with the Gentiles, returning to Jewish food laws, which Paul calls hypocrisy (verse 13). This incident inspires Paul’s exposition on faith and the law, which has widely been misinterpreted as Paul rejecting the law altogether, denying “the orthodox Jewish (Pharisaic) doctrine of salvation … that this ‘justification’ can be obtained only by doing and thus fulfilling the ordinances of the Torah” (Betz in Gager 2000:85). However, Jews did not claim justification through the Torah. Their father Abraham, who lived before the giving of the law, was justified by faith and Jews understood that that was the way to be justified. Paul is therefore not arguing against basic Jewish beliefs. Paul, a Jew himself, addressed Gentile believers in his letter to the Galatians and makes a strong point to bring across how ridiculous becoming proselytes would be for them. Nanos (2001:154) brings it to the point:

“They [Peter, Barnabas and the others present]were confronted, just as the Galatian addressees are in this letter, with a level of ridicule that may be mistaken for that of an enemy of their interests. There must be no compromise on this issue of Gentiles in Christ becoming proselytes as long as the present age persists.”


Paul does not address Jews in this letter, as some have tried to bring a Jewish audience in to underline their interpretation[2]. In verse 16, the Greek word for man is άυθρωπος[3] (anthropos), a term Paul consistently uses to denote Gentiles[4]. Another debated term is the phrase εξ έργων νόμου (ez ergon nomou), translated observing the law by the NIV, and correctly translated works of the law by the KJV, which “refers specifically to the ambiguous status of Gentiles under the law”[5] (Gager 2000:86). Mussner (Gager 2000:87) summarizes that “Paul absolutely does not enter into dispute with Jews”. In verse 18 he calls himself a lawbreaker, saying that he himself has now become justified by the faithfulness of Christ, just as his fellow Gentile believers. Longenecker (Dunn 2001:83) states that “the traditional concepts and language of covenant theology are being stretched to breaking point in order to contain the contrast (that is, blamelessness in nomistic righteousness is discounted as dung.” Paul contrasts “on the one hand, covenant righteousness through blameless nomistic faithfulness and, on the other hand, covenant righteousness through the faithfulness of Christ” (ibidem).


2.2. Galatians 3:1-14


Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." (Galatians 3:11)


Paul continues expounding to the Gentile believers the futility of becoming proselytes, contrasting the works of the law with faith in Jesus. However, Sanders (Gager 2000:87) still maintains that “Paul’s rebuttal of Judaism” is being explained in chapter 3.

In the first five verses, Paul uses “striking emotive language” (Stanton in Dunn 2001:103), grounding his argument not on Scripture but the Gentile believers’ experience. He is asking them rhetorical questions to get their attention and elicit the right answers. However, he is not contrasting Judaism with ‘Christianity’, as scholars have claimed, but Gentiles before and after Christ, addressing the particular situation the Gentile believers were in.

In verses 6-14 Paul reminds his readers of Abraham, who was justified by faith, and through whom all nations (πάντα τά έθνη – panta ta ethne[6]) would be blessed. Paul tells them that this promise was fulfilled in Jesus, so that the Gentiles were now released from the curse of the law, quoting Deuteronomy 27:26, Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out. Traditionally scholars have claimed that Paul warns the Galatians of the law, calling it a curse since it is impossible to carry out its requirements. However nowhere does Paul claim that the law itself was a curse, but he is making a strong point addressing his Gentile audience to show them the freedom they have in Christ. “The underlying premise here is the double effect of the law – life for Israel, death for Gentiles – a premise well attested in Jewish sources” (Gager 2000:89f).


3. Romans


While Paul addressed Gentiles who wanted to become Jews in the letter to the Galatians, he is now confronted with the opposite problem – Gentiles who totally reject Jews, thinking that Israel had been replaced by those believing in Christ. It is ironic, really tragic, that sixteen chapters of Paul’s discourse to show them their erroneous thinking has not produced the fruit he intended. Instead, Paul has even been taken for an “anti-Jew” himself and been named the father of replacement theology. The author of Romans is

“a thoroughly Jewish Paul, functioning entirely within the context of Judaism, giving priority to Israel, even willing to give his life in the place of the Jewish people …. Paul’s problem, where his fellow Jews were concerned, was with an ethnocentric exclusivism that denied equal access to God’s mercy for non-Jews, as non-Jews, the “works of the Law” by which Jewish privilege became a weapon instead of a tool” (Nanos 1996:9)


Contrary to the Galatians, the audience Paul was addressing in his letter to the Romans was personally unknown to him, since he had never been there himself before. However,

“the relationship between the two letters is revealing – and decisive – for understanding Romans. It is difficult to escape the impression that much of Romans is designed to correct misreadings of Paul’s position on certain basic problems – the law of Moses and Israel, the law and Gentiles, Christ and Israel – misreadings stemming in part from the letter to the Galatians itself” (Gager 2000:103).


Paul is now making an effort to explain that he has not abandoned the ways of Israel, and neither has God rejected His chosen people, and so neither should the believers in Rome. He asks rhetorical questions, cites the false citations of his own words and repudiates every one of them. However, sadly it is only in our day that we start to understand what Paul really wanted to convey.


3.1. Romans 3-4


What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? (Romans 3:1)


Church history and scholars to this day have answered this question – as others Paul asks[7] – with none, seemingly not continuing to read the answer Paul himself gives[8]. Käsemann (Gager 2000:115) calls it “a concrete attack on the Jews”.

In these two chapters of Romans, Paul is addressing a fictional Jewish competitor[9], who tries to bring Gentile believers under the law. Paul uses rhetorical exaggeration in attacking this teacher to bring across his point clearly. “Following an argument that appears to lead to one (false) conclusion, he reveals the correct (unanticipated) response. Most modern readers have fallen into his trap” (Gager 2000:117).

Paul did not “assert that the Torah had been superseded in Christ”, as Räisänen claims (Nanos 1996:176), but he shows that Gentile believers becoming Jews would mean denying his monotheistic belief that the one God of Israel was the God of all humankind.

“Paul’s development of the implications of the Shema as the foundation of his argument that God is faithful to Israel and Torah, not to the exclusion of gentiles, but on behalf of them – for the One God of the Jews first is equally the One God of the gentiles also. To maintain other wise is to compromise his oneness. … The purpose of election and Torah must be set in its worldwide purpose of salvation for all the descendants of Abraham” (Nanos 1996:189).


However, the other side of the argument was that the Gentile believers were  not to disassociate themselves from the Jewish believers, but keep the unity in their communities, according to the guidelines laid down at the council in Jerusalem (Acts 15). Paul’s position was “not built around rejection of the Law in view of the new age of Christ, but around the rejection of any ethnocentric limitation of God’s salvation to those under the Law alone” (Nanos 1996:177). “Even as the Law is not nullified through faith (3:31), so too faith is not nullified through the Law (4:13-17)” (Nanos 1996:189).


3.2. Romans 9


the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ

(Romans 9:4-5)


Chapters 9-11 of Romans have been a challenge to the traditional understanding of Paul, since they overflow with positive affirmations of the law and Israel. Traditional scholars offer no explanation: “We have left out of consideration these three chapters (9-11), chiefly because they do not form an integral part of the main argument” (Gager 2000:129). However, these three chapters constitute the climax of Paul’s argumentation and are consistent with the rest of his letter.

Paul shares his heart for his Jewish brethren, making emotional appeals to his readers, which was a rhetorical device used by ancient writers, when reaching their climax. As in chapter 4, Paul mentions the promise to Abraham again, which leads to the inclusion of the Gentiles, and not the exclusion of the Jews replaced by Gentiles. He quotes Hosea (9:25-26) and Isaiah (9:27-29), showing God’s “merciful election of non-Jews” (Gager 2000:132) and “God’s mercy in preserving a faithful remnant within Israel” (ibidem).

Verse 33[10] – a  quote from Isaiah – has traditionally been understood as a reference to Christ. However, there is no reason to assume that. Gager (2000:133) states that “much more likely is it a reference to the Torah itself  … and to God”, which inspired Meyer to the  cynical but true statement: “There is no more striking example in the Pauline letters of a crucial exegetical decision made on grounds extrinsic to the text itself” (ibidem).


4. Conclusion


Do not boast over those branches [Israel] … Do not be arrogant … so that you may not be conceited. … All Israel will be saved. (Romans 11:18, 20, 25)


Paul had made his point, had shown the Gentile believers the significance of their Jewish roots. Sadly, “in the long run, of course, this warning was ignored. Gentile Christianity, in the name of Paul, did become arrogant, proud, and boastful against Israel and in the process completely abandoned Paul’s gospel” (Gager 2000:141).

2000 years of Christianity, of replacement theology justified by the very words of Paul, a Jew who loved his people so much he would have given his own salvation for theirs, and it is only today that the Lord is restoring the truth to His people, taking away the veil that has kept us from seeing the truth. By His grace new scholarship is coming forth, with new understanding of who Paul was, who he wrote to and into what situation, shaking off preconceived ideas and wrong lenses that have been passed down through the centuries. Yes, Paul wrote to Gentiles – those wanting to become Jews and those rejecting Jews – yet he always remained a Jew and reminded his readers of God’s chosen people. The law had not saved them, but their Messiah Jesus had fulfilled the law and through faith in Him, Jew and Gentile were both justified.


5. Bibliography


Dunn, James D. G., Paul and the Mosaic Law, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, MI 2001


Gager, John G., Reinventing Paul, Oxford University Press: New York 2000


Nanos, Mark D., The Irony of Galatians, Fortress Press: Minneapolis, MN 2002


Nanos, Mark D., The Mystery of Romans, Fortress Press: Minneapolis, MN 1996


Räisänen, Heikki, Challenges to Biblical Interpretation. Collected Essays 1991-2000, Brill: Leiden 2001

[1] Of Galatians.

[2] For example Sanders and Dunn (see Gager 2000:86).

[3] Strong’s Number 444.

[4] According to Gager 2000:86; see also Romans 3:28.

[5] Also in Romans 3:28.

[6] The Greek word έθνος (ethnos) often denotes the Gentiles.

[7] For example Romans 3:31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith?

[8] Which is Much in every way! to verse 1, and Not at all! to verse 31.

[9] Romans 2:17 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew…

[10] See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.