An Exegetical Commentary
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 12 May 2010; Revised 15 March 2016
Scripture Text: The Scripture text of Romans is taken from the NASB Updated Edition (1995). Unless otherwise indicated other Scripture quotations are also taken from the NASB. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. The LXX with English translation may be found here.
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found here. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. Links to other ancient Jewish literature may be found at EarlyJewishWritings.com.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Torah (Law), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
Grammar: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). The meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB," found online at BibleHub.com. Explanation of Greek grammatical forms and a pronunciation guide for New Testament Greek may be found here. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance reference numbers are identified with "SH" for Hebrew and "SG" for Greek.
Methodology: For an explanation of abbreviations, acronyms, terminology, spelling conventions, and other information on organization of the commentary see my Commentary Writing Philosophy. Click here for a Study Questions for small group learning or self-study.
Pathology: The Source of Man’s Problems, 1:18—3:20 (cont.)
The Need for Justification, 3:1-20
· Jews have great advantages.
· Unfaithfulness of men does not nullify the faithfulness of God.
· The Scriptures affirm that all are sinners.
· Legalistic works do not provide justification.
The Provision for Justification, 3:21-31
· God's righteousness has been revealed.
· Justification is a gift of God's grace.
· Justification is based on the faithfulness of Yeshua.
· Yeshua's atoning sacrifice provides redemption.
· The Torah has not been nullified, but established.
The Need for Justification, 3:1-20
Paul anticipates an objection that his claim that Jews are only those who possess the qualities of Abraham may lead to depreciation of Israel's election. So, he begins to defend Israel's election, but is then diverted into a discussion of whether man's unrighteousness can be used to provide an opportunity for God's justification to increase (a libertine argument). He proceeds to refute this erroneous idea. He then returns to the theme of Israel's election in verse 9, but again offers a series of biblical quotes to prove that both Israel and Gentiles are sinful. He then introduces the theme of God's righteousness in Yeshua (verses 21-26). Since God's righteousness is a gift and is received through faithfulness, Israel cannot claim superiority over Gentiles, who stand equally before God who is One (verses 27-30).
1― Jewish objection: If God renders to "every man" (both Jew and Gentile) according to his works then the people of Israel have no claim to any privileged standing before God. Why should God have chosen them to be His people and sealed his covenant with them by circumcision at all?
Paul responds by asking two vital questions? What advantage? Grk. perissos, extraordinary in number, size or quality. The adjective is making a comparison indicating the possession of something extra, which equals an advantage. Paul details the advantages of the Israelites in 9:4-5. has the Jew: Grk. Ioudaios, Judean, Jew, Jewish or Jewess with respect to birth heritage (BAG). In the LXX Ioudaios translates the Heb. Yehudi (pl Yehudim). Yehudi was derived from Yehudah, the name given to Jacob’s son (Gen 29:35) and thereafter his tribal descendants (Ex 31:2). The plural Yehudim first appears in 2 Kings 16:6; 25:25 and Jeremiah 34:9 for citizens of the Kingdom of Judah. The southern kingdom also included the tribes of Benjamin and Simeon, so Mordecai of the tribe of Benjamin is identified as a Yehudi (Esth 2:5; 6:10). The meaning of Yehudim expanded during the exile to refer to all those from the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah living throughout the Persian empire (Esth 8:9, 11, 17).
Stern contends that in apostolic usage Ioudaioi ("Jews") has one of three meanings: (1) members of the tribe of Judah; (2) followers of the Jewish religion; or (3) people living in or originating from Judea, however politically defined (160). I would add "members of the tribes belonging to the Kingdom of Judah" to the definition. Paul would be a Ioudaios on this basis since he was a member of the tribe of Benjamin as Mordecai (Acts 13:21; Rom 11:1; Php 3:5). In addition, I would clarify the second meaning to be "followers of the Judean religion." In other words, the Ioudaioi were observant traditional Jews.
The Ioudaioi revered Moses, faithfully observed the Sabbath, kept God's prescribed festivals, circumcised their children and regarded the Temple in Jerusalem as the only place to worship the God of Israel with sacrifices (John 2:13; 4:20; 5:1, 16; 6:4; 7:2; 11:55; 19:31; Acts 2:5; 16:3; 21:21; 22:3; 24:14; Rom 2:17). Generally speaking the Ioudaioi followed the traditions of the Pharisees (Mark 7:3; Acts 10:28). The same devotion could not be said of other Israelite descendants who were scattered throughout the world. Thus, the term Ioudaios is never used of Hellenistic Jews or Samaritan Jews.
Or what is the benefit: Grk. ōpheleia, a beneficial circumstance; thus, profit, gain or advantage. of circumcision: Grk. peritomē, the surgical removal of male foreskin as a religious rite (Brit Milah). See the note on 2:17. After the midrash of 2:17–29 one might expect the answer to Paul's question as "None,” and there has been no shortage of antisemites who have decided they know better than Paul (Stern). Remember that in Scripture circumcision of the heart is the seal of being a member of the covenant people of which Brit Milah is only symbolic.
Critics of Paul have claimed that Paul's teaching in Romans contradicts his comment in Gal 6:15, "For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation." Those who pick out isolated verses in Paul's writings to attack his reliability and authority routinely ignore the context of those verses and the multiple meanings of Bible words. Circumcision was obviously important to Paul because he circumcised Timothy, who was Jewish by virtue of his mother, as a witness to unbelieving Jews (Acts 16:3). In Galatians Paul is not dealing with the Brit Milah of infants, but the controversy caused by certain "Judaizers" (probably Gentile proselytes) who claimed that one had to be circumcised (i.e., adult circumcision) to be saved. His point is that neither Messianic Jew nor Gentile disciple can boast in their flesh before God, whether circumcised or uncircumcised. What really matters is whether they are a "new creation," i.e., their hearts have been circumcised.
2― Great in every respect: Paul firmly defends God's continuing election of Israel (Shulam). He begins to detail the nature of those advantages. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God: Grk. ta logia tou Theou. Logos refers principally to the spoken word and as a biblical and theological construct refers to revelation by God. Paul no doubt conceives of all of God's divine communications to the patriarchs and the prophets and does not limit the term to his promises or prophecies, as the word "oracles" in NASB, ESV, KJV and RSV implies. The CJB and NIV renders the phrase better as the "very words of God." The NLT has "the whole revelation of God." HCSB has "the spoken words of God."
The Jews believed that the Pentateuch was given to Moses by verbal inspiration (virtual dictation), and the rest of the Tanakh was similarly inspired. God entrusted His Word and all that it entails to the Jews, not the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans or Americans. This fact gives the Jew a blessed advantage. Stern comments:
"This is of first importance because any other advantage of being Jewish stems from God’s having chosen and spoken to the Jewish people. To imagine that the Jews are special because they have a finer ethical sense than others, or a land, or some sort of "racial genius" is to put the cart before the horse. The Jews were "the fewest of all peoples" (Deuteronomy 7:7), yet Adonai loved them, chose them and separated them for himself. "He declares his Word to Ya‛akov, his statutes and his judgments to Israel. He has not done so with any other nation; and as for his judgments they have not known them" (Psalm 147:19–20). In sum, having the very words of God is no cause for Jewish pride, since the initiative was entirely God’s; yet it is "in every way" a great advantage."
3― What then? The question reflects a rabbinic formula which raises a "difficulty" (Heb. kushiah) whose resolution is regarded as untenable (Shulam). Paul resorts to this technique five times in his letter to rebut a hypothetical objection or misbelief (also 6:1; 7:7; 9:14, 30). If some did not believe: Grk. apisteō, to disbelieve or refuse to believe and to be unfaithful (BAG). their unbelief: Grk. apistia, a refusal to give credence to something. Disbelief is really a lack of trust. will not nullify: Grk. katargeō, cause to become ineffective or inoperative, annul, abolish, bring to naught. the faithfulness: Grk. pistis incorporates two facets of meaning, first that which causes trust and faith, i.e., faithfulness or reliability, and second, trust or confidence in an active sense (BAG).
Pistis is used in the LXX to twice render Heb. emun (e.g., Deut 32:20; Prov 13:17; 'faithfulness,' BDB 53), but renders Heb. emunah ('firmness, steadfastness, fidelity,' BDB 53) over 20 times (mainly of men's faithfulness, 1Sam 26:23; 2Kgs 12:15; 22:7; 1Chr 9:22, 26, 31; 2Chr 31:12, 15, 18; 34:12; Prov 3:3; 12:17, 22; Jer 5:1, 3; 7:28; 9:3; Hos 2:20; but also of God's faithfulness, Ps 33:4; Lam 3:23; Hab 2:4; Biblos; ABP). Pistis also translates Heb. aman (to confirm, to support, Jer 15:18), amanah ('fixed support,' Neh 9:38; 11:23; SS 4:8) and emet (firmness, faithfulness, truth, Prov 14:22; Jer 28:9; 33:6). The LXX usage emphasizes that the Hebrew meaning of faithfulness is the intended usage of pistis.
The apostles build on this meaning and represent pistis as composed of two elements. The first element of faithfulness is confidence or trust: "And without faith[fulness] it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Heb 11:6; cf. Heb 4:2). True faith leads one to seek God and then trust Him to respond with His good gifts. The second element of faithfulness involves commitment, constancy and obedience, which includes following God’s direction for life and producing works of righteousness (cf. Eph 2:8-10). There is no essential difference between the faith or faithfulness of the Hebrew patriarchs and the faith spoken of by Yeshua and the apostles.
of God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. In the LXX theos renders the generic designations of God, El (which occurs over 200 times) and Elohim (which occurs over 2300 times), as well as the tetragrammaton YHVH, over 300 times. As with many other Greek words the LXX infused new meaning into theos (DNTT 2:67-70). All other deities claimed in the world and worshipped in other religions have no existence except in the imagination of deceived humanity. Throughout Scripture the prophets and the apostles assert the reality and power of the God of Israel. There is no other God. He is the creator of all that lives. Only Judaism and Christianity worship the true God.
The second advantage of the Jews is that, in spite of their sins, they have experienced God's faithfulness. It seems ironic that translators render pistis as faithfulness in reference to God, but not when the word is used of man. The Tanakh is a record of God's faithfulness to the people of Israel even when they were unfaithful. Paul most strongly asserts that Israel's lack of faithfulness to God did not cause God to reject his chosen people.
4― May it never be: Grk. mē genoito (Marshall). This phrase properly belongs with verse 3 since it answers the question. This translation as other modern versions loses the force of the idiom, used in the LXX to translate the Hebrew expression, "Chalilah!” (Gen 44:7, 17; Josh 22:29, 24:16), which means "Profanation!” "A curse on it!” "Away with it!” "Chalilah!” may be Hebrew’s most intense wish for negation; therefore KJV’s "God forbid!” conveys the sense well. CJB substitute's "Heaven" for "God" in this expression because neither the Hebrew nor the Greek refers to God at all; and Jewish sensibility tends to remove words like "God" or "Lord" from curses, perhaps to avoid breaking the Third Commandment by taking God’s name in vain (Stern). The phrase occurs fifteen times in the Besekh, ten of them in Romans.
Rather, let God be found true: Grk. alēthēs, truthful, righteous, honest, dependable. God will never be unfaithful to Israel as His people, even though they have been unfaithful to Him. though every man be found a liar: lying is normal to sinful humanity. Everyone lies, even it's only "white lies" to avoid embarrassment in social situations. as it is written: the standard formula in the apostolic writings for attesting an assertion of truth and divine inspiration of Scripture, followed by a quote from the Tanakh. See the note on 1:17 for this phrase. This is the third time the formula is used in the letter. Paul then quotes from Psalm 51:4 to prove his point. THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED:
"In presenting one verse Sha’ul, following normal rabbinic methods of citing Scripture, is calling attention to the whole psalm in which it appears, including the portions full of hope for any Jew who has been unfaithful and unbelieving. Only then, after the individual has gotten himself right with God, can his prayer for the Jewish community as a whole be offered." (Stern)
5― But if our unrighteousness demonstrates: Grk. sunistēmi, in transitive constructions (as this verse) means bring together, unite, collect, present, introduce, recommend, demonstrate, show, bring out. The CJB has "highlights;" NIV has "brings out," KJV has "commend." The NLT brings out the meaning the best:
"But," some say, "our sins serve a good purpose, for people will see God's goodness when he declares us sinners to be innocent. Isn't it unfair, then, for God to punish us?" (That is actually the way some people talk.)
the righteousness of God, what shall we say: Paul poses the rhetorical question to setup his rebuttal to the proposed objection, one which occurred in rabbinic debates of his day. The Hebrew and Greek texts of Psalm 51:4 can both be read literally to say, "I have sinned against you only so that you may be justified" (Stern). Paul acknowledges this interpretation can be made and then proceeds to disprove the idea that man's unrighteousness can "prove" God right or justify His actions. The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He (I am speaking in human terms.): Paul reacts to the concept that man may sin in order that God may have an opportunity to demonstrate his righteousness, since it is based on the misapprehension that if man's evil deeds "justify" God, God's judgment and punishment of man cannot be righteous.
6― May it never be! See note on verse 4. For otherwise, how will God judge the world? Paul brings the point to the logical conclusion. He refutes the idea that man's iniquity could ever form the basis for justifying God's righteousness, on the grounds that it precludes God's right to judge the world (Shulam). Because Paul accepts the basic biblical and Jewish principle that God "renders to every man according to his deeds," he knows that if God was partial, or took bribes, or distorted the distinction between good and evil in any way, He would not be fit to judge the world. On the basis of this principle God must punish the wicked, because He is righteous and the unrighteous in fact deserve punishment.
7― But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner: While Shulam thinks Paul uses himself as an example, Paul speaks in the voice of his opponent as the question indicates. The beginning conditional clause is not a personal testimony of having lied. Harrison says, "Speaking for an objector, Paul is voicing the hoary adage that the end justifies the means." The NIV, CJB and NLT indicate the rhetorical and hypothetical nature of the verse:
Someone might argue, "If my falsehood enhances God's truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?" (NIV)
"But," you say, "if, through my lie, God's truth is enhanced and brings him greater glory, why am I still judged merely for being a sinner?" (CJB)
"But," some might still argue, "how can God judge and condemn me as a sinner if my dishonesty highlights his truthfulness and brings him more glory?" (NLT)
8― And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), "Let us do evil that good may come"? Their condemnation is just: Apparently Paul had been accused of teaching that we should do evil that good may result, an obvious twisting of his words. Such slander against God's messenger deserves God's judgment.
9― What then? Are we better than they? "Better" is Grk. proechometha. The basic idea of the verb is "to stand out," "excel," or "surpass," and this is the most likely sense here (Harrison). Paul returns to his justification of God's election of Israel, but insists that Israel cannot claim superiority over Gentiles by virtue of that fact. Not at all: the Grk. phrase ou pantōs lit. means "not altogether," or "only in a limited sense" (Rienecker). Most versions, as the NASB, following the Vulgate of Jerome, give the answer to Paul's rhetorical question as, "Not at all.” Stern contends that the straightforward meaning should be followed, which says Jews have some advantage, rather than replacing it with the idea that Jews have no advantage. The context specifically identifies the advantages Jews do have. C.E.B. Cranfield after noting that "ou pantōs properly means ‘not altogether’,” affirms that Paul is not denying the advantages of the Jews. However, Cranfield points out that the one thing Jews do not have - they are no less sinful before God than Gentiles.
As Stern says, "having God’s very words is an advantage Jews do have (vv. 1–2); and the infallibility of God’s promises, even if no one believes them (vv. 3–4), is another. But the same Word of God, the Tanakh, reminds us of the Bad News that everyone sins, Jews included (see also vv. 22–23); in this regard Jews have no advantage."
for we have already charged: Grk. proaitiaomai, aor. mid., to make an indictment expressed earlier; already/previously charge. that both Jews: Grk. Ioudaioi, pl. of Ioudaios, Judean, Jew, Jewish or Jewess with respect to birth heritage (BAG). See the note on verse 1 above. and Greeks: pl. of Grk. Hellēn, a person of Greek language or culture (BAG). Danker adds that it is not an ethnic term restricted to Greece as a country of birth. Originally Hellēn did mean an ethnic Greek. After Alexander the Great conquered the world he and his successors sought to educate and assimilate people in the Greek way of life. All who adopted the Greek language and culture were counted as Hellēn, even though they were of a different country or people group (DNTT 2:124). Hellēn appears 25 times in the apostolic writings and should be translated as "Hellenist" to avoid confusion. All but two of those occurrences are in Paul's letters (14 times) or in Luke's narratives of Paul's ministry (9 times).
Although not recognized by Christian lexicons readers of Paul's letters should consider the likelihood that Paul uses Hellēn to include, if not exclusively designate, Hellenistic Jews. After all, Hellēn only defines a person by cultural practices. We should note that Hellenistic Jews are never called Ioudaioi in Scripture and if the word Hellēnés ("Hellenists") does not include them then there is no reference to Hellenistic Jews other than the technical term Hellēnistēs in Acts 6:1 and 9:29. It is fair to say that the numbers of Hellenistic Jews in the Roman Empire was equal to or even greater than Judean Jews. Pertinent to this consideration is that Stern translates the plural of Hellēn in John 7:35 and 12:20 as "Greek-speaking Jews."
The Ioudaioi and Hellēnés are frequently contrasted as here (16 times total: Acts 14:1-2; 16:1, 3; 18:4, 19:10, 17; 20:21; Rom 1:16; 2:9-10; 3:9; 10:12; 1Cor 1:22, 24; 10:32; Gal 3:28). Why? When Paul wants to speak of Gentiles in an unambiguous manner he uses the term ethnos, as he does in verse 14 below and 23 other times in this letter. In contrast to the Ioudaioi, the Hellēnés lived by values unacceptable to the Ioudaioi. The differences went deeper than the fact that Judean Jews spoke Hebrew and Hellenistic Jews spoke Greek.
To traditional Jews, such as those in Judea, Greek ideas were abominations and syncretism was tantamount to treason with the enemy. In the Diaspora many Hellenistic synagogues conducted services in Greek. Hellenistic Jews had a tendency toward universalism and they tolerated religions around them. Many Hellenistic Jews adopted Greek customs, formed trade associations, passed decrees and prepared documents in Greek form, and gave titles and honors to women. Some tolerated mixed marriage, dropped circumcision, and even in some places adopted Greek cults (Tarn & Griffith 223-227).
are all under: the preposition hupo when used with a noun in the accusative case means under or below. In this usage it may denote being under some power, rule, sovereignty or command. sin: Grk. hamartia, may mean (1) misdeed that creates liability for the agent; (2) the condition of being sinful; or (3) an invasive evil power. In most passages hamartia refers to an action or behavior, a departure from the way of righteousness as defined by Scripture. Hamartia is the dominant word for sin in the apostolic writings. In Greek culture hamartia meant to miss, to miss the mark, to lose, not share in something, be mistaken. A mistake is the result of ignorance. Hamartia essentially meant to fail and could mean anything from stupidity to law-breaking, anything that offends against the right, that does not conform to the dominant ethic, to the respect due to social order and to the polis (DNTT 3:577).
This breadth of application has unfortunately influenced Christian theology among those who espouse the "sinning every day in thought, word and deed" viewpoint. In the LXX hamartia translates a whole range of Hebrew words for guilt and sin, particularly Heb. chata (lapse, sin). In the Tanakh a sin is an offense against the religious and moral law of God. In ancient Israel sin was tantamount to rejecting God’s covenant. Hamartia is not displaying the imperfections that separate humanity from divinity, but violating the clear instructions of God. The degree of intentionality is not a factor in defining sinful behavior, only whether the express requirements or prohibitions of Torah commandments have been violated. Religious people may erect their own codes for determining sinful behavior, but God's judgment is based strictly on the commandments He gave and recorded in Scripture.
Here Paul is using hamartia with Danker's third meaning so that to be "under sin" is to be under the influence of a foreign power. A number of times in this letter Paul personifies hamartia (5:12; 6:2, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 20, 22; 7:11, 17, 25; 8:2, 10). A personification is the attribution of human characteristics to a thing or abstraction. Personifications are common in Hebraic-Jewish literature. For example:
"Raba observed, First he [i.e., evil inclination] is called a passer-by, then he is called a guest, and finally he is called a man [i.e., occupier of the house]." (Sukk. 52b)
The first personification in Scripture is of sin when God says to Cain, "sin [chata, a feminine noun] is crouching at the door; and its [her] desire is for you, but you must master it" (Gen 4:7). Sin is a beguiling temptress who seeks to lure the unsuspecting into a trap that will result in death (cf. Prov 5:3-5). Paul proceeds to argue from Scripture and in verses 10-18 he conflates several passages from the Psalms and Isaiah to make his point.
10― As it is written: the standard formula in the apostolic writings for attesting an assertion of truth and divine inspiration of Scripture, followed by a quote from the Tanakh. See the note on 1:17 for this phrase. This is the fourth time the formula is used in the letter. Jews customarily strung together passages from the Tanakh for certain purposes as proof-texts (Robertson). Paul quotes primarily from the K’tuvim (Writings) and some from the Nevi'im (Prophets), but not the Torah. Scripture overwhelmingly condemns sinful behavior. Apparently he considered the evidence of the Torah to be self-evident and he didn't need to repeat it.
THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE: He begins by giving his own interpretive translation of Psalm 14:1-3. This rendering is not found in the Hebrew or Greek Scripture. Psalm 14:1 begins with "The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt." It seems in one respect that David lightens the tone by stating what "they" are not, instead of what "they" are. It would be correct to say that no one, except God, is intrinsically righteous. Jews are not automatically righteous by being a member of the chosen people.
It should be remembered that in rabbinic fashion Paul intends the whole context when he quotes Scripture. Thus, since Psalm 14 begins by speaking of the fool, Heb. nabal, senseless, close-minded, irreligious, churlish (BDB 614), like the obnoxious Bible character Nabal (1Sam 25:25). Paul is not speaking of atheism as a philosophical construct, but those among the covenant people who oppose God's will, like King Saul and Nabal. So the "they" that David condemns are not every living person, including himself, but the wicked.
A Jewish saying illustrates how David could use the word "none" is such a pervasive sense: "If five sons are faithful and two are not, you may cry, ‘Woe is me, for my sons are unfaithful!’” (Stern 386)
11― THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD: Paul seems to contradict other Scriptures that speak of men seeking God. In Romans 2:7 Paul refers to those who seek eternal life. Heb 11:6, "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." God is certainly seeking men long before they seek Him (Luke 19:10; John 4:23). Cornelius was a man who sought the God of Israel and was rewarded for his seeking (Acts 10:35). The Holy Spirit is in the world to convict and convince (John 16:8). Paul is saying that no one seeks God as initiators of the relationship, the fool even more so. God has always sought man first and only a few respond.
12― ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD: Grk. chrēsteuomai, to be kind, loving or merciful. What about Yeshua's statement, "If you then, being evil, know how to give good (Grk. agathos) gifts to your children" (Matt 7:11)? Sinners may be able to meet practical needs, but granting forgiveness and mercy is not so easy or so common. Nabal was certainly not kind to his wife or to David. THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE: Paul adds his own extra comment, meaning there is none among the fools who are merciful.
13― THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE, WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING: Paul conflates Psalm 5:9 and Psalm 140:3. Just as Psalm 14 speaks of fools, these Psalms condemn wicked men:
"The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity. You destroy those who speak falsehood; The LORD abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit." (Ps 5:5-6)
"Rescue me, O LORD, from evil men; Preserve me from violent men who devise evil things in their hearts; they continually stir up wars." (Ps 140:1-2)
"Tongues" is a euphemism for speech, so their deceitful words are like the stench of an open grave.
THE POISON OF ASPS: Grk. aspidoōn, common word for round bowl, shield, then the Egyptian cobra (a deadly serpent). IS UNDER THEIR LIPS: Grk. cheileō. The poison of the asp lies in a bag under the lips. Since David does not mention any Gentile enemies, such as the Philistines, the wicked must be fellow Israelites. He had a number of enemies among his own people.
14― WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS: Paul cites Psalm 10:7, which was not written by David. It's theme is that of a lament against the success of the wicked, equivalent of the fool of Psalm 14, for the Psalmist says, "All his thoughts are, 'There is no God.'" (Ps 10:4).
15―17 THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD, DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS, AND THE PATH OF PEACE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN: Paul quotes from Isaiah 59:7-8, shortening the verbiage to its salient points. Isaiah 59:7 is also found in Proverbs 1:16. As in the Psalms quoted Isaiah charges the wicked of his society of various faults, principally injustice.
18― THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES: This statement comes from the second half of Psalm 36:1. the first half begins, "Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart." In this Psalm David contrasts the lack of character of the ungodly with the righteousness of the Lord.
19― Now we know that whatever the Law: Grk. nomos may mean either a principle or standard relating to behavior or codified legislation, i.e. law. The usage of nomos in the Besekh has a much deeper meaning. In the LXX nomos translates torah, but torah does not mean simply "law" or "laws" as the English word conveys. Torah means "direction," "teaching" or "instruction" and comes from the root yarah, which means to throw, to shoot (as in arrows), or to cast (as in lots) (BDB 435f). Torah came to mean law in the sense of commandments, statutes and ordinances decreed by God; in addition Torah meant custom or manners of man, e.g. direction given by priests (Deut 24:8; 33:10). Torah sets forth the way a person is meant to live in an ethical and moral way in order to enjoy life to the full and to please God.
says: Grk. legō, to make a statement or utterance, whether oral or in written form. it speaks: Paul personifies the Torah as speaking the words he just quoted. This is an allusion to the Jewish belief in verbal inspiration. to those who are under: Grk. en, prep., lit. "in, within." the Law: Grk. nomos. The translation of "under the law" (found also in the KJV, NASB, NKJV, NIV, RSV, and TEV) is misleading, since it gives the impression of an oppressive agent and therefore casting the relation to the Torah in a negative light. The preposition en is used simply to affirm the close relationship that Jews have with the Scriptures. The CJB translates the phrase as "living in the framework of the Torah" to convey this understanding.
The New Century Version offers a similar neutral translation with "those who have the Law." The New Living Translation likewise says, "Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given." The Message says, "This makes it clear, doesn't it, that whatever is written in these Scriptures is not what God says about others but to us to whom these Scriptures were addressed in the first place! Interestingly, the Douay-Rheims Version translates the phrase literally as "it speaketh to them that are in the law." Stern comments:
"Whatever the Torah (here the whole Tanakh, from which vv. 10–18 has given quotations) says, it says to those living within the framework of the Torah, that is, to Jews; in order that every self-justifying mouth may be stopped, Jewish included (Gentiles have already had their guilt pinpointed in 1:18–2:16); and thus the whole world be shown, proven by God’s own words, to deserve God’s adverse judgment. There is also this implicit kal v'chomer argument: if Jews, who have the Torah to guide them, turn out to be guilty before God, how much more will Gentiles, who do not have this guidance, also prove worthy of punishment.
so that every mouth: An Hebraic idiom for humankind. may be closed: Man will be forced to be quiet in the face of a holy God. and all the world: The term would include Israel and all nations. may become accountable: Grk. hupodikos, lit. "under judgment." to God: All nations will be judged by the God of Israel and the standards by which He will judge are found in the Torah.
20― because by the works: pl. of Grk. ergon, may refer to a deed or action in contrast to rest or deeds exhibiting a consistent moral character. of Law: Grk. ergōn nomou, lit. "works of law" (also occurs in Rom 3:28; Gal 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10). To define this phrase first consider what ergōn nomou isn’t. These works are NOT the good works of Torah obedience that the disciple should produce, Eph 2:8-10. Jesus told the rich young ruler to "keep the commandments" (Matt 19:17) in answer to the question of how to obtain eternal life. Paul likewise affirmed that what mattered was "keeping the commandments,” (1Cor 7:19). No one can be saved who dismisses the Ten Commandments as irrelevant. Paul is actually using the phrase ergōn nomou or "works of legalism" to refer to a casuistic system for interpreting and applying Torah commands. See my web article Under the Law.
Casuistry (argument by cases) is an attempt to determine the correct response to a moral problem, often a moral dilemma, by drawing conclusions based on a resolving of specific cases of conscience, duty, or conduct through interpretation of ethical principles or religious doctrine. Contrary to common Christian definition the legalism that Yeshua and Paul opposed was NOT the belief that one can earn salvation with good works or having moral standards. The Jews understood they were God’s chosen (elect) people and that animal sacrifices atoned for sin, so while they may have performed good works to be noticed (Matt 6:1), or to obtain rewards in the millennial kingdom, they were not trying to earn salvation. Legalism, then, is the unlawful use of the Law (written or Oral) or using God’s Law in a way He never intended, as Paul says, "But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully" (1Tim. 1:8).
The unlawful use of the Torah included: (1) elevating commands of lesser importance (e.g., tithing herbs) over commands of much greater importance (justice, mercy, faithfulness, Matt 23:23); (2) elevating man-made rules or traditions over Torah commandments, such as a legal maneuver to avoid canceling debts every seven years (Matt. 6:12), donations of property to the Temple while denying it to the care of parents (Matt 15:1-6), restrictions on feeding oneself on the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-10) and restrictions on Sabbath medical treatment (Luke 13:10-17); and (3) viewing obedience of Torah commands or traditions as evidence of righteousness (Luke 18:11). For example, the Pharisee’s prayer in Luke 18:11 is not a plea for salvation based on merit, but a confident declaration of his righteousness based on performance of specific piety in contrast to the tax collector who was nearby pleading for God’s mercy. However, Yeshua informed his disciples that because of the humility of the tax collector he went away truly righteous rather than the Pharisee.
no flesh: Grk. sarx. See note on 1:3. Paul here has in mind the meaning of Heb. basar, which can refer to all mankind (Gen 6:12; Num 27:16; Job 34:15; Ps 136:25; Isa 40:5). will be justified: Grk. dikaioō, fut. pass. For a full discussion on this verb see the note on 2:13. The verb expresses an act of God whereby in response to humble confession and repentance God offers mercy and forgiveness, and then grants pardon and release from punishment, thereby creating a relationship of favor with God. in His sight: lit. "before him." As a forensic word dikaioō is a word picture of a trial with a heavenly Judge and a righteous standard against which people are measured and evaluated. Even though the defendant is guilty mercy is made available on the basis of Yeshua's shed blood. Paul's point is that "works of legalism" don’t solve the sin problem and don't produce righteousness.
for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin: Paul makes the simple axiomatic statement that the Torah defines sin (also in 4:15 and 7:7). Man's customs and traditions, no matter how religious and well-intentioned, do not have the authority to define sin. The Lord God of Israel gave the absolute moral principles, commandments, ordinances and instructions to Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses (not the other way around), as David Stern (17) observes, "in order to help them live a life which would be in their own best interests as well as holy and pleasing to God.” The Law as the basis for defining sinful behavior is echoed in other verses:
"sin is not imputed when there is no law." (Rom 5:13)
"I would not have come to know sin except through the Law." (Rom 7:7)
"But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors." (Jas 2:9)
"Sin is lawlessness." (1John 3:4)
Moreover, all that God wills for man to be and do is inscribed in the Scriptures, beginning with the Torah. God’s admonition to Joshua still rings true today, "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success" (Josh 1:8). Without the Torah there is no standard to define sin. To say that the Torah has been revoked or replaced and yet insist that sin is an every day experience is nonsensical.
Soteriology: God’s Plan for Deliverance and Righteousness, 3:21–5:21
The Provision for Justification, 3:21-31
21― But now apart: Grk. chōris means separately, apart, by itself or without. from the Law: The first mention of Law in this verse likely does not refer to the Torah since the opening clause is set in opposition to the closing clause which mentions the Law and the Prophets. The first use probably should be understood as law-keeping or even legalism. "Apart from law" does not mean "lacking law" as one might deduce from the KJV rendering "without the law,” but "outside law.” Stern points out, "What this phrase means is that God’s righteousness has nothing to do with our obeying the Torah and its prescriptions but goes back to the underlying axiom of such obedience, faith."
the righteousness of God has been manifested: Most versions give the impression that Paul is talking about God's justifying activity, but it seems just as likely that the literal translation is referring to the character of God. being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets: In other words, the Torah and the Prophets are the first witnesses to the righteousness of God. The Lord showed himself righteous in all his acts of justice (1Sam 12:7; cf. Ps 103:6), such as deliverance from Pharaoh, Sisera and all their enemies during the times of the judges (1Sam 12:8-11).
The Lord also showed himself righteous in his judgments, beginning with the plagues inflicted on Egypt, so that Pharaoh admitted, "the Lord is the righteous one" (Ex 9:27). He also showed himself righteous in his judgments against Israel, as stated when Rehoboam turned the nation away from the Lord (2Chr 12:1-6). David acknowledges that the affliction he received because of sin revealed the Lord's righteous character (Ps 51:4; 119:75). The same can be said of those in the world who know not God, as Isaiah said, "when the earth experiences Your judgments the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness" (Isa 26:9).
He could also be saying that the Torah and Prophets tell the story of holy men of God who manifested the righteousness of God quite apart from following the legalistic traditions invented by the Pharisees and their ancestors.
22― The second witness to the righteousness of God is the faith: Grk. pistis, confidence or constancy or often both at the same time, i.e., trusting faithfulness. See the note on 1:5. in Jesus: Grk. Iēsous is an attempt to replicate the pronunciation of Yeshua, the name of our Lord in Hebrew, the language he spoke. Iēsous does not translate the meaning of Yeshua. See the note on 1:1. Christ: Grk. Christos, the expected fulfiller of the hopes of Israel for an end-time deliverer, the Anointed One or Messiah. "Christ" is a transliteration, not a translation of Christos. See the note on 1:1.
"Faith in" or "Faithfulness of"? The Greek phrase is pisteōs Iēsou Christou (Marshall). This phrase is in the genitive case, which is the case of definition or description; adjectival in function. The genitive qualifies the meaning of a preceding noun and is typically translated with "of." Rendered as a subjective genitive, it would mean that Christou performs the action. Rendered as an objective genitive, Christou receives the action. It is very likely that Paul intended the subjective genitive, "through the faithfulness of Messiah Yeshua" (CJB). The same kind of phrasing may be found in other passages of Paul's writings (verse 26 below, Gal 2:16, 20; 3:22, 26; Eph 3:12, Php 3:9).
Let's consider these verses that all occur within the context of discussing "justification:"
Rom 3:26: pisteōs Iēsou = faithfulness of Yeshua
Gal 2:16: pisteōs Christou = faithfulness of Messiah
Gal 2:20: pistei tou huiou tou theou = faithfulness of the son of God
Gal 3:22: pisteōs Iēsou Christou = faithfulness of Messiah Yeshua
Gal 3:26: tēs pisteōs en Iēsou Christou = the faithfulness in Messiah Yeshua
Eph 3:12: dia pisteōs autou = through his faithfulness
Php 3:9: dia pisteōs Christou = through the faithfulness of the Messiah.
All the nouns and pronouns in the above verses are in the genitive case. However, Christian versions, failing to recognize pistis as meaning "faithfulness" (as plainly defined in Greek lexicons), translate these phrases as objective genitive — "faith in Messiah," meaning that Messiah receives the action. Obviously it doesn't make sense in Christian thought to say "faith of Yeshua." Yet, the subjective genitive is just as possible — "faithfulness of." Rendered as a subjective genitive, it would mean that Messiah performs the action. In each of the above verses the Complete Jewish Bible translates pisteōs as either "faithfulness" or "trusting faithfulness."
Some versions acknowledge this possible translation with the marginal note "the faith of Jesus." It makes more sense that Paul was asserting that the second witness of God's righteousness was manifested through the faithfulness of Yeshua to fulfill all that the Father had planned (cf. John 8:28, 49; 10:18). As the prophet said,
"Behold, the days are coming," declares the LORD, "When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. "In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is His name by which He will be called, 'The LORD our righteousness.'" (Jer 23:5-6)
Paul was not alone in how he viewed the faithfulness of God and justification. The Qumran community seems to have been deeply aware that freedom from the penalty of sin comes from the righteousness of God (DNTT 3:359). Consider this quotation from the Qumran Charter of a Sectarian Association (generally referred to as the "Community Rule"):
"2 As for me, my justification lies with God. In His hand are the perfection of my walk and the virtue of my heart. 3 By His righteousness is my transgression blotted out. … 5 From His righteous fount comes my justification, the light of my heart from His wondrous mysteries. … 12 if I stumble God's loving-kindness forever shall save me. If through sin of the flesh I fall, my justification will be by the righteousness of God which endures for all time." (1QS 11:2,3,5,12; TDSS 134).
for all those who believe: Grk. pisteuō, pres. part., to be convinced of something, to trust and to entrust. The participle could be translated as "the trusting ones." for there is no distinction: Grk. diastolē, difference, distinction, here of discrimination involving ethnic groups. Paul emphasizes the impartiality of God and the equality of the good news by pointing out that the faithfulness of Yeshua was intended for all believers. The present tense indicates the continuing activity. Paul is talking about a kind of trust that yields a life of faithfulness to the One who was faithful for our sake.
23― For all: The equality of the good news is predicated on the universality of need. have sinned: Grk. harmartanō (aorist or past tense). In this verse Paul is referring to sin as a behavior, a moral offense of violating a commandment of Torah, probably referring to intentional acts, but also including unintentional acts. All need the faithfulness of Yeshua, whose name means salvation, because all have sinned. and fall short: Grk. hustereō (present tense) meaning to lack, be lacking, go without, come short of and closely corresponds to the original meaning of Heb. chata, "missing the mark or target" (Shulam). Falling short likely refers to ordinary human failings, mistakes, misjudgments, etc., that do not measure up to the perfection of the holy God. Falling short would include unintentional violation of Torah commands. Sinning is a part of everyone’s history. In addition, sinning as an habitual practice does not have to continue. Regeneration and sanctification have a transforming effect.
of the glory of God: Grk. doxa may mean (1) glory or honor in the sense of esteem or (2) an impressive manifestation of excellence or splendor. See note on 2:7. The "glory of God" may have the sense of honor as rendered by the CJB, "come short of earning God's praise." However, just as likely is that the phrase is an allusion to Yeshua (2Cor 4:4-6). In rabbinic writing "glory" is the name of God's Messiah (Shulam 339). The connection between "glory" and the Messiah may be found in the Amidah or Eighteen Benedictions found in the Jewish Prayer Book. The fourteenth blessing of the Amidah says, "Speedily cause the offspring of David, thy servant, to flourish, and lift up his glory by thy divine help because we wait for they salvation [Heb. yeshu'ah] all the day." No disciple is or will ever be as perfect as God or his Messiah (1Sam 2:2; Rev 15:4). We err often, especially with our mouths, but God knows that we are dust (1Kgs 8:46; Ps 103:14).
24― being justified: Grk. dikaioō, pres. part. See the note on verse 20 above. as a gift by His grace: Grk. charis. See the note on 1:5. Charis is equivalent to Heb. hēn (favor) or hesed (loyal love or loving-kindness) and rachamim (“mercy”) (Stern 156). The term denotes the covenant fidelity demonstrated by God toward His people. Commentators typically speak of grace as being "free," but this is a misnomer. Yeshua paid a terrible price. In response God has high expectations of those to whom he shown such favor. Thus, grace is not free. It would be more correct to say that grace is given "freely,” i.e., on his own initiative. Being justified is the act by which a person is put in a right relationship with God through His mercy.
through the redemption: Grk. apolutrōsis, orig. meant buying back a slave or captive, making him free by payment of a ransom. The term is found only ten times in the apostolic writings, seven of which are in letters attributed to Paul, once in the book of Luke (21:28) and twice in Hebrews (9:15; 11:35). Allowing for Pauline authorship of Hebrews and Paul's close association with Luke apolutrōsis and could well be considered a uniquely Pauline theological term. He employs apolutrōsis in terms of redemption from sin as well as eschatological redemption at the Second Coming (Luke 21:28; Rom 8:23; 2Cor 5:8; Eph 4:30).
While apolutrōsis does not occur in the LXX, the Grk. word corresponds to Heb. ga’al, ("redeem," "act as a kinsman"). The redeemer (Heb. go'el) was originally the closest relative who, as the avenger of blood, had to redeem the blood of a murdered relative (Num 35:12, 19-27; Josh 20:3-5), redeem property that had been sold (Lev 25:25), redeem a relative whose economic plight had caused him to sell himself to a non-Jew (Lev 25:48f), and even marry a childless widow of a relative (Ruth 2:20; 3:13; 4:14) (DNTT 3:190f).
which is in: Grk. en, prep., functions as a marker of position within, but may refer to agency, cause and close association. Christ: Grk. Christos, the expected fulfiller of the hopes of Israel for an end-time deliverer, the Anointed One or Messiah. "Christ" is a transliteration, not a translation of Christos. See the note on 1:1. Jesus: Grk. Iēsous is an attempt to replicate the pronunciation of Yeshua, the name of our Lord in Hebrew, the language he spoke. Iēsous does not translate the meaning of Yeshua. See the note on 1:1.
The expression "in Christ" occurs 75 times in the apostolic writings, 13 times in Romans and reflects complete association with the Jewish Messiah. To be "in Christ" is to be under the Messiah's control and jurisdiction. As a theological word redemption points to the substitutionary atonement. Yeshua did not pay a ransom to Satan, but he paid the price required by Torah for cleansing sin. The redemption then relates to the reality of being bound to an oppressive master - namely sin and the redemption of Yeshua offers freedom. Only in Messiah Yeshua is there redemption of body and soul.
25― whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation: Grk. ilastērion, that which expiates or propitiates. Expiate means to make good, make amends or reparation for, or atone. Propitiate means to make favorably inclined, to appease or to conciliate. NIV has "sacrifice of atonement,” NIV; "Kapparah,” The CJB translates this verse as:
"God put Yeshua forward as the kapparah for sin through his faithfulness in respect to his bloody sacrificial death. This vindicated God's righteousness; because, in his forbearance, he had passed over [with neither punishment nor remission] the sins people had committed in the past."
"Greek ilastērion appears twice in the New Testament; at Heb 9:5 it means the "mercy seat" which formed the cover of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, where the cohen hagadol entered once a year, on Yom-Kippur, to offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people (Leviticus 16). In the present verse it means "propitiation, expiation, atonement" and corresponds to Hebrew kapar, which has the same meaning in the Tanakh and has the root sense of either "cover" or "wipe clean.” These two root meanings both express what God does when he accepts expiation for sin: he covers the sin from his sight and/or wipes or washes it away.
"Non-Messianic Jews are hard pressed to give an answer to the question: "Now that the Temple has been destroyed, so that sacrifices can no longer be offered in the manner God requires in the Torah, what is the kapparah for sins?” The customary answer, that the sacrifices have been replaced by repentance, prayer and works of charity, finds no basis in the Tanakh, even though all three are worthy activities and the first two are surely essential elements of the atonement process. The correct answer to the question is given in this verse: Yeshua is the kapparah."
in His blood through faith: a Hebraic metaphor for bloody sacrificial death (Stern). The KJV translation "through faith in his blood" suggests that Yeshua’s blood magically atones for sin if we have faith in it. (A number of Christian hymns conveys a similar idea.) The blood of Yeshua shed on the cross is not a special, magical substance, which would be a pagan concept. As Stern observes, "Sha’ul is referring here to Yeshua’s faithfulness to God in being willing, even though sinless and not deserving execution, to undergo a painful, horrible, bloody sacrificial death on our behalf."
This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed: Paul apparently feels the need to explain the nature of God's justice and the necessity of propitiation when for centuries God seemed to tolerate sin. His "forbearance" in the past is not to be thought of as sentimentality or weakness but as an indication that meeting the demands of his righteous character would be accomplished in due season. This happened at the cross. "Passed over" is Grk. paresis, which is close to aphesis ("forgiveness") in meaning, but with an appreciable difference in that paresis denotes a temporary remission of a debt, which fits the situation here exactly (Harrison). The full penalty for sin was not exacted, in line with God's forbearance.
26― for the demonstration: Grk. anochē, the quality of putting up with someone's behavior; forbearance, leniency. The word "demonstration" (or similar words in other versions) doesn't seem to capture Paul's intent here. The phrase would be lit. rendered "in the forbearance of God" (Marshall) and as such completes the thought of the previous verse. That is, God passed over sins previously committed in his forbearance. I say, of His righteousness: Grk. dikaiosunē, a state that is in accord with standards for acceptable or anticipated behavior, uprightness, righteousness, justice. See note on 1:17. Forbearing with sinners would seem to be contradictory to justice, yet in Scripture God's mercy is never pitted against his justice. at the present: Grk. nun, a marker of time in the present. time: Grk. kairos, an appropriate or set segment of time; a period, definite or approximate, in which an event takes place. This exact expression "present time" occurs once on the lips of Yeshua (Luke 12;56) and five times in Paul's writings (8:18; 11:5; 2Cor 8:14; Heb 9:9). It is comparable to the "present age" (Mark 10:30; Titus 2:12), though more specific.
so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus: Grk. phrase pisteôs Iēsou, see comment on 3:22. Marshall's Interlinear recognizes that the phrase can be rendered as "faith of Jesus" and some versions contain a marginal note to this effect. It could also be translated the "faithfulness of Jesus." The Greek of the verse is difficult. A literal rendering is
"in-connection-with the forbearance of God, for the showing-forth of his righteousness in the present period unto his being just and justifying the one from faithfulness [or: trust] of Yeshua" (Stern).
The CJB translates:
"and it vindicates his righteousness in the present age by showing that he is righteous himself and is also the one who makes people righteous on the ground of Yeshua's faithfulness."
27― Where then is boasting? It is excluded: Paul refutes the argument that Israel's election gives them a claim to superiority over the nations (Shulam). By what kind of law? Of works? The Torah given to Moses and the legalistic works devised by the Pharisees offer no ground for boasting. The original Torah condemns our sinfulness and endeavors to contain the curse operating in our lives. Legalistic works only lead to pride and ultimately injustice, resulting in God's condemnation. No, but by a law of faith: The "law of faith" probably means Torah of faithfulness, especially exhibited by Yeshua. In that we may boast. We certainly don't dare boast in our faithfulness, because we can't measure up to the standard of Yeshua.
28― For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law: Paul refers to works of legalism, particularly of the Pharisaic practice of certain virtues apart from the necessity of blood sacrifice. After the destruction of the Temple Rabbinic Judaism institutionalized the Pharisaic practice in order to justify not accepting Yeshua as Messiah and Redeemer. These "works" are man’s invention of how to keep God’s Law.
"Therefore, we hold the view that a person comes to be considered righteous by God on the ground of trusting, which has nothing to do with legalistic observance of Torah commands." (CJB)
Typical Christian interpretation makes Paul and Jacob ("James) inconsistent with each other, because Jacob writes that "faith without works is useless" (Jas 2:20), and that "a man is justified by works and not by faith alone" (2:24); However, Paul and Jacob do not contradict each other. In Ephesians 2:8–10 Paul himself ties faith to good works and explains how they are related to each other.
29― Or is God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. See the note on verse 3 above. the God of Jews: pl. of Grk. Ioudaios, lit. "Judeans." See the note on verse 1 and 9 above. The term likely intends the Jews of Judea, that is orthodox traditional Jews who thought they had an exclusive relationship with God. only: Grk. monon, adv., alone, but, only. Is He not the God of Gentiles: pl. of Grk. ethnos. The term, often used in the plural, originally referred to a number of people or animals forming a group, then later strictly of humans as a people group. Mounce gives the root meaning as multitude or company. Ethnos in the singular may refer to a people with a specific culture, such as the Samaritan Jews (Acts 8:9) or Israel (Matt 21:43; Acts 24:17). In its plural forms (nom. ethnē, gen. ethnōn ; dat. ethnei) the term corresponds to the Heb. goyim, which in the Tanakh referred to all nations, including Israel (cf. Gen 10:5; 12:2; 17:4; 18:18; Ex 19:6; Deut 4:6; Ps 106:5; Isa 9:1; Jer 5:15; Ezek 4:13; 36:13-14; Mic 4:2-3).
Bible versions routinely translate the plural ethnoi as "Gentiles" and sometimes fail to recognize that the term is referring to countries or nations outside land of Israel where Jews also live. Just as the plural Ioudaioi can mean Jews, Judeans or more specifically the Judean authorities (i.e., Sanhedrin), so the context must be examined to determine the meaning of the ethnos. The word does not have a particular religious meaning. also? Yes, of Gentiles also: Paul uses a form of rabbinic reasoning here called mah nafka' minah, lit. "what comes out of this argument" (Shulam). Israel might possess the Torah, but that Torah reveals God is the God of all nations, including people not descended from Jacob. Since God is one, as declared in the Shema, then he cannot be the justifier of Israel alone. He is the God of all the earth and must declare His righteousness in all the nations (cf. Isa 61:11). All are justified through the faithfulness of Yeshua.
30― since indeed God who will justify: Grk. dikaioō, fut. See the note on verse 20 above. the circumcised: Grk. peritomē. See the note on verse 1 above. The term here is a noun, not a verb as translated, and may well allude to the Circumcision Party. The term can include Gentile proselytes as well as Judean Jews, Hellenized Jews and Samaritan Jews. by: Grk. ek, prep., lit. "out of." faith: Grk. pistis. See the note on verse 3 above. The noun should be translated as "faithfulness" since the trait likely refers to God. In other words, God justifies because of His faithfulness. If the term refers to people then "trusting faithfulness" would be a better translation. and the uncircumcised: Grk. akrobustia, prepuce of the penis, foreskin, to have a foreskin and therefore never circumcised.
It was "a reproach" for an Israelite to be uncircumcised (Gen 17:14; Josh 5:9). Hence the Heb. name arēlim (uncircumcised) became a term of contemptuous reproach, denoting the Philistines and other non-Israelites (Judg 14:3; 1Sam 14:6;17:26; 31:4; 2Sam 1: 20), and used synonymously with Heb. tamē ("unclean") for heathen (Isa 52:1). However, some Hellenistic Jews in the Diaspora had forsaken circumcision (Tarn & Griffith 224). through: Grk. dia, prep., by means of, through. faith: or better "faithfulness" in reference to God. is one: Grk. heis, the numeral one. This is a clumsy translation since "is one" actually accompanies "God" in the Greek text. Paul alludes to the Shema, "ADONAI is our God; ADONAI is one" (Deut 6:4).
31― Do we then nullify: Grk. katargeō. See the note on verse 3 above. the Law: Grk. nomos, the Torah. See the note on verse 19 above. through faith: (Hebraically understood) does not nullify the Torah (as many Christians claim). The trusting faithfulness of Yeshua establishes the validity and value of Torah. "If Israel cannot boast because of their possession of the Torah (verse 27), neither can the Gentiles, on the other hand, claim that Yeshua's faithfulness annuls the Torah (and thus Israel's election)" (Shulam). For Paul, faith, righteousness and Torah go together (Young 76). Paul's final words of this chapter needs to be shouted out: we establish: Grk. histēmi, to cause to be in a place or position; set, place, establish, confirm. the Torah! How could Christianity so completely misunderstand and misrepresent Paul by declaring that the Torah no longer had authority for disciples of Yeshua? The written Torah is not rescinded, canceled or nullified.
Another point to consider is that neither use of nomos in this verse has the definite article and thus Paul may be speaking of Torah as the guiding principle of living according to God's expectations rather than man's. As Scripture says, "ADONAI is our Lawgiver" (Isa 33:22 TLV; cf. Matt 7:21; Col 1:9-10). Since the Body of Messiah was founded on the authority of the prophets (Old Covenant) and the apostles (New Covenant) (Eph 2:20), God expects to see His standards for ethical living fulfilled in His children (cf. Rom 8:4). Of course, the fact that Yeshua established a New Covenant "in his blood" changed a number of requirements resulting in a New Covenant Torah. Christians often debate the nature of those changes and not unlike the Jewish debate in Yeshua’s time want to know which commandments are still binding. The two great commandments to love God and neighbor, as well as the Ten Commandments, are reiterated in the Besekh and these certainly provide the framework for a life pleasing to God.
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