Romans 3, Part 3
Oct 19, 2010
Paul's conclusions at the end of Romans 3 seem contradictory to those who do not understand his thought process and terminology. Not once so far has Paul said anything evil about the Law, nor has He claimed that it was to be set aside or put away. His true point is summarized perfectly in Romans 3:28,
(28) For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.
He does not cast out the Law, but puts it into its proper place. Israel was justified by faith in the blood of Passover Lamb as they came out of Egypt. The Law came later at Mount Sinai to teach them obedience and a Pentecostal level of faith that comes by hearing and obeying. This secondary faith is not justifying faith, but faith-obedience, and it is designed to mature us and prepare us to enter our inheritance--the Promised Land.
Without the enhancement of faith brought through Pentecost, we would fail to inherit the Land, even as that Israelite generation failed. The Law has its importance, but we must separate it from our justification.
(29) Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of the ethnos also? Yes, of the ethnosalso, (30) since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by [ek, "from"] faith and the uncircumcised through [dia, "through"] faith is one.
The God who justifies the Jew is the same God who justifies all of the nations, all ethnic groups. The slight distinction between ek and dia in verse 30 suggests only their differing positions--one inside the community and the other on the outside. In other words, the Jew is justified from a position of faith that he ought to possess already through his study of the Word. The ethnos must learn faith as a new way of life, so they are justified through (by means of) faith.
This is not a crucial point, but Paul's terminology is quite technical to describe the two situations. His main focus is to show the universal need that all men have for justification, as well as the impartiality of God in offering justification to all men.
(31) Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.
Paul was aware that many Jewish Christians (as well as non-Christian Jews) had accused him of teaching that the Law was put away. We read of this in Acts 21:21,
(20) . . . and they said to him, "You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; (21) and they have been told about you that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the ethnos to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.
That was, of course, a half-truth. Paul did indeed teach that circumcision, when performed as a religious rite, was an Old Covenant vow that made their justification dependent upon their full compliance to the Law, even as their fathers had vowed in Exodus 19:8, "All that the Lord has spoken, we will do!" As a mere custom, circumcision was as harmless as any other identifying mark.
Did Paul's teaching, then, cause Jews to "forsake Moses?" Well, again, that was another half-truth. If one considers "Moses" to be synonymous to the Old Covenant, of which he was the mediator, then, YES, they should forsake Moses and follow the Mediator of the New Covenant.
But if "Moses" is synonymous with the Law as an expression of the mind, will, and character of God, then, NO, they should not forsake Moses, for we read in Acts 7:37,
(37) This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, "God shall raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren."
To accuse Paul of forsaking Moses was overstating the case in order to prejudice men against Paul's teaching. Paul did not forsake Moses. Paul believed Moses when he spoke of Jesus Christ who would come after Him. Moses deferred to Jesus in Deut. 18:15. This means that any Jew who refused to defer to the Mediator of the New Covenant was, in fact, forsaking Moses.
It is not too different from a devout Catholic who wants to do what Mary says. What did Mary say? "Whatever He [Jesus] says to you, do it" (John 2:5).
Moses never spoke contrary to Jesus, nor did Jesus ever speak against Moses. Neither did Paul, but Paul understood that one cannot remain under both covenants at the same time, regardless of how hard men tried to do so. To remain under both covenants is a distorted gospel, as Paul explained more fully in his epistle to the Galatians. One cannot be justified by both faith and works. A man cannot say, I am justified by faith AND by my ability to fulfill my vow of full obedience to the Law.
So when Paul wrote in Romans 3:31, "we establish the Law," take note of what he did NOT say. He did NOT say, "we establish the Old Covenant." He did NOT say, "We establish circumcision as a sign of our justification." Instead, Paul affirmed the Law itself, which prophesied of Christ in every sacrifice and in every moral precept by which Jesus conducted Himself during His entire life and ministry.
The Law demands perfection. The Old Covenant vow may have been sworn with good intentions, but good intentions were insufficient without fulfilling those vows fully and completely. The only way to fulfill the Law's demands is to be in Christ (by faith), so that when Jesus Christ did all that the Law commanded, we got credit for His actions as part of His Body. In this way, the Law is fully satisfied with us, not on account of our own righteousness or ability to fulfill good intentions, but because of Jesus Christ's ability.
The divine plan retained the Law and fulfilled its demands. Never was the Law upheld more firmly than when Jesus submitted to its demands and died on the cross. His fulfillment of the Law gives no man a license to sin (i.e., to violate the Law). If we are part of Body, then we will no longer follow the dictates of the old Adam, the man of sin within us. We will instead follow the leading of the Last Adam, Christ, the man of righteousness.
This is the final part of a series titled "Romans 3." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones