Saturday, April 22, 2006

Rom 2:12-16 - Justification to the Doers of the Law?

Rom 2:12-16 is an interesting passage to examine. Is there an antinomy between being "justified by faith" and being "justified according to works"? There are several ways of understanding this passage:

1. Paul is simply being inconsistent and this contradicts other statements he makes
2. The passage is an interpolation in Romans
3. Paul is speaking hypothetically of what would happen if someone really did "do" the law
4. The main point is the impartiality of God and the terms are introduced merely to underscore that point
5. It refers to Gentile Christians who fulfill the law

I have my own preference (5), but I won't go into that here. What I want to do is set forth a criteria upon which one can assess the various options for understanding Rom 2.12-16 within the context of both Romans and Pauline Theology. Any solution given for must explain the following:

(1) The meaning of judgment according to works in second-temple Judaism and the degree to which it is a foil for Paul’s own views.
(2) The context of Rom 1:18-3:20 as a negative indictment of the sin of Jews and Gentiles.
(3) The emphasis upon the impartiality of God and the false presumption of Jews in their elect status in Rom 2:1-29.
(4) The outcomes espoused in Rom 2:12-16 are categories of justification and condemnation respectively.
(5) The identity of the persons described in Rom 2:1-16 (“one doing good” v. 7; “one who does good” v. 10; “doers of the law” v. 13; and “Gentiles” v. 14) and in Rom 2:25-29 (e.g. Jews, Proselytes, Pagans, Christian Gentiles).
(6) The identity of the law in Rom 2:15, 25.
(7) The relationship between faith and works as the basis of justification in Pauline theology as a whole.

Finally, I leave you with a quote from Joseph Fitzmyer:

This Pauline message of judgment is what the Christian needs to hear first, and in the light of that message the message of justification by grace through faith takes on new meaning. It is only in light of divine judgment according to human deeds that the justification of the sinner by grace through faith is rightly seen. Hence there is no real inconsistency in Paul’s teaching about justification by faith and judgment according to deeds.

Fitzmyer, Romans, 307.

1 comment:

blund said...

Paul is describing the reality of a Covenant of Works, that if anyone truly upholds the Law, God will in fact justify the man by his works. This is encapsulated in Leviticus 18:5 - "The one who does the Law shall live." This is first handed to Adam in the Garden (If you eat, you will die ~ Obey this and live), and republished at Sinai between God and His people. Finally, it is not an abstract event, but literally ratified by Jesus, who could say, "All that the Father has given me to do, I have done." Anyone could be justified by perfect obedience to the Law, but because of humanity's fall, up to this point, Christ is the only one.

1. N.T. Wright has shown the importance of covenant thought in second-temple Jerusalem, and that Jesus, the Jews, and most likely Paul would have all thought in these terms.

2. Romans 2:1-5 is setting up the transition from a universal/Gentile condemnation to the specific/Jewish condemnation in 2:6ff. Chapter three shows the inability of the Jews and everyone according to this works justification.

3. This theory upholds God's impartiality, in that anyone who does the whole Law, Jew or Gentile, may be justified by their works. It reinforces Jewish condemnation in light of their failure, having received Torah and circumcision.

4. Again, this theory takes justification and condemnation literally, as Christ is the example of the former, and the Jews the example of the latter (see Romans 5:12 - 19).

5. I have argued elsewhere that 2:1 - 5 begins the diatribe against the Jews, but this theory need not restrict itself to such a position, as it is possible that Paul still means merely his interlocutor. However, it forces the text to make a 1:1 equivalent between the subject of the participles and Gentiles.

6. Moo, et al, have shown that, unless sufficient evidence to the contrary, nomos is Torah, and my research indicates that this holds throughout Romans, even 7:19ff. and 8:2.

7. God has always held out two forms of salvation. Ever since man fell in the garden failed to achieve salvation by works, God has condescended to our fallen position and offered free justification by grace to all who would believe His promise in His Anointed One. The two are not objectively in tension, only in fallen human hearts that wish to be justified by their own merit despite being fallen. This is summed up in Galatians 3: though we should be justified by works, we have failed and are under a curse, therefore we must cling by faith to the only perfect (i.e., works justified) Man and trust His merits to save us. Those who live by faith are justified by the One who lives by His works.

I agree with and appreciate the Fitzmeyer quote.

My 2 cents...