Friday, August 21, 2009

Romans 3

In this chapter, Paul hints at the problem of unbelieving Israel (which he takes up properly later) and also emphasises the universality of sin – for the Jew as well as the pagans he has described in chapter 1. This chapter also provides the other half of the problem of chapter 2. If the doers of the Law were justified (2:13), then how come no flesh (comprehensive enough!) will be justified by the works of the Law? It might be that Paul is arguing eschatologically: that the Law is superseded by Christ and so the works of the Law are not relevant. The problem with this is that the eschatological 'now' is in 3:21. So, 3:19-20 are dealing with the Law from within the context of those under the Law. Those who see a problem with a straightforward reading here are not seeing that the doers of the Law are justified (2:13), but not by the works of the Law (3:20). The two statements are entirely compatible and fit totally into Paul's argument. The doers of the Law still committed sin, and their sin could not be atoned for by any works of the Law - they could not be justified by the works of the Law. And yet, they were justified. How? By faith (which is what Paul underlines in Chapter 4), apart from the works of the Law (3:28).

On 3:27, Dunn writes:

Once the centrality of 'faith' in the preceding section is grasped, the movement of thought in v27 becomes clear, for in the resumed diatribe of vv27-31 it is precisely this point which is hammered home: faith as the proper understanding of the law, faith as the indispensible basis of 'doing the law'.

But, for Paul, debates about the Law itself are now academic, because a new eschatological age has dawned. Now, the righteousness of God is manifest without the Law, through faith in Jesus Christ (3:21-22) embracing all nations and peoples. Paul's argument is aimed at showing that it is faith that's essential.

Justification has always been by faith. In the New Age, both Jews' and Gentiles' faith must be in Jesus (Paul's Christology is clear here). In fact, those Jews justified under the Law (their 'doing' of the Law a result of their circumcision of heart, or faith) were also redeemed by Jesus Christ because God had merely passed over their former sins in his forbearance. But now, atonement has been made, and redemption accomplished in Christ.

Romans 3 adequately demonstrates the obstacles in interpreting Paul and the Law. The interpreter is ranging across eschatological and covenantal boundaries. At once dealing with Jewish legalism and obedience under the Old Covenant, and debates on the Law, then with the New Covenant in Jesus Christ, and justification through faith in him.