Friday, October 31, 2008

Romans 2: 6-11

In our recent work on Romans 2 under the direction Dr Mike Bird, we looked at no less than 6 interpretative options for explaining Paul's argument in this chapter, especially in verses 6-11. Briefly stated, they look like this:
  1. Paul is only speaking hypothetically that it is in theory possible to fulfil the Law in order to be saved, but no-on actually does so - unfortunately, Moo's much-lauded commentary (and rightly so) takes this position. Moo states 'verses 7 and 10 set out the condition, apart from Christ, for salvation'. Since when was there any such condition? This kind of talk is essentially Lutheran.

  2. Paul is speaking of Gentile Christians who fulfil the Law through faith in Christ and life in the Spirit - Cranfield takes this view; a view which is definitely on the right track in my opinion (rather than 1 which is totally off track), but probably defined too narrowly. Cranfield thinks Paul's description would also be true for OT believers, but that he is not describing them here.

  3. Paul is simply being inconsistent at this point with what he says elsewhere about justiciation by faith - yes, this is the likes of Sanders and Raisanen! Enough said on that.

  4. Paul only intends to say that God will both judge Jews and Gentiles according to the law they have - the outcome for both groups is entirely negative. Carson, I think, takes this view: the point is that of v11 - God is impartial - it says nothing about the mechanism of salvation.

  5. Paul's phrase 'doers of the Law' is found in other literature where it is tantamount to perseverence - this is Don Garlington's view, who sees in 'obedience' and 'disobedience' Jewish concepts of perseverance and apostasy. Garlington's work here is very important: he recognises that the phrase 'doers of the Law' only becomes problematic when set within the context of Reformation controversies. I'm not sure about the direct identification of 'doing the Law' and perseverence, but this interpretation has a lot of value.

  6. Paul's statement should be taken at face value whereby works indeed play a role in determining one's ultimate status, for pagans and Jews, before God at the final assize - the controversy of this view depends on how you interpret it. At face value, as pure merit-theology, it must be rejected. However, from the perspective of James, faith without works is dead and, as Dr Bird points out, 'we are not saved by our works; neither are we saved without them' (which is attributed to Jean Calvin himself). The Reformation doctrine that justification is by faith alone cannot be breached - the problem here is more likely to be a purely cerebral-spiritual understanding of faith.
I myself would go for something essentially akin to 2, with a touch of 5. However, I think that in the context of Paul's grand eschatological vision in Romans of what God has achieved and will achieve in Jesus the Messiah, he is describing in vv6-11 the essential character of those who live by faith (either under the New or Old Covenant), versus those who do not. His vista is across salvation history: Ioudaiou te prwton kai Ellhnos. Then 'doers of the law' for Paul here are contrasted with merely 'hearers' (13); it is those who respond in faith, resulting in obedience, who are justified. And, given where Paul is heading - to Abraham - he has in view the importance of the faith that Abraham displayed, that was reckoned to him as righteousness. For Paul, mere outward observance is not enough (R3.20); faith that produces obedience is essential.

My question is this: in vv14-16, does doing the law become for Paul, as he sweeps across Covenants, a shorthand for the obedience of faith? I think perhaps it does. What it does not mean is ethical perfection (absence of sin). This is a unsatisfactory interpetation; the Mosaic Law is replete with atoning responses to sin. Doing the Law means living out a covenant lifestyle, including, under the Old Covenant, observing the required sacrifices for sin; and under the New Covenant, living out the 'obedience of faith', confessing our sins and trusting Jesus Christ. The Lutheran interpretation fails to account for this.