Romans 3:19-28 - EXEGESIS:
Romans 1-3 CONTEXT: Paul begins his letter to the Romans with a salutation (1:1-7) and a prayer of thanksgiving (1:8-15). It isn't until verse 16 that he finally gets to his main point.
ROMANS 3:19-20. THOSE WHO ARE UNDER THE LAW
19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
"Now we know that whatever things the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law" (v. 19a). A critic might respond by saying that Paul has stated a basic truth, buttressed by his quotations of scripture-but that he has erred at a fundamental point. The critic might claim that the guilt of which Paul spoke belongs to Gentiles-not Jews. Paul addresses this criticism directly. God gave the law to Jews, so is Jews rather than Gentiles who are under the law. Since Jews rather than Gentiles are under the law, it is Jews rather than Gentiles who will be found guilty of offenses against the law. Jews can expect to be judged by the law-and the reality that Paul has outlined in verses 9-18 is that they have failed miserably to keep the law.
"that every mouth may be closed" (v. 19b). In the court of God's justice, the defendant will not gain favor by defending his/her innocence based on good works (Moo, 205). Our best defense will be to throw ourselves on the mercy of the court as we affirm our faith in Jesus Christ.
"and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God" (v. 19c). If the law speaks specifically to Jews ("those who are under the law"), then it follows that Jews are not exempt from accountability to God under the law. Paul wants to disabuse Jews of their false sense of security.
"Because by the works of the law, no flesh will be justified in his sight" (v. 20a). "No flesh will be justified in his sight" appears to be inspired by "for in your sight no man living is righteous" (Psalm 143:2b). Paul is trying to counter the idea that good Jewish people can be justified in God's sight through obedience to Jewish law. To achieve justification through obedience, a person would have to be totally obedient. Nobody has achieved that standard. Even the heroes of the Old Testament had clay feet. Abraham tried to pass Sarah off as his sister. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered Uriah. If the great heroes of the faith failed so miserably to keep the law, how can more ordinary people expect to meet the law's high standard?
"For through the law comes the knowledge of sin" (v. 20b). Instead of inoculating a person against sin, the law shines a light on sin so that we can see it. In this sense, the law is like a mirror. A mirror cannot cleanse a dirty face. It can only show us the reality of our dirty face-can only force us to confront the reality of our uncleanness.
ROMANS 3:21-22a. ALL THOSE WHO BELIEVE
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22a even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe;
Verses 21-22a are not included in the lectionary reading, but it is not clear why. It would seem better to include them.
"But now apart from the law, a righteousness of God has been revealed" (v. 21a). In 2:17-3:18 (omitted by the lectionary), Paul noted the failure of those who rely on the law. Neither those who rely on the law nor those who do not rely on it are righteous-both are guilty (3:9-20). "But now," he says, suggesting that a new day has dawned, Paul says that the righteousness of God has been disclosed apart from the law-apart from the law on which people relied for so long-apart from the law that failed to make them righteous. When Paul speaks of "the righteousness of God," does he mean the righteousness that is characteristic of God or the righteousness that God imputes to those who have faith? Scholars are divided, but it seems best to say "both/and" instead of "either/or":
"being testified by the law and the prophets" (v. 21b). Earlier, Paul said that the gospel was promised by the prophets (1:2). Now he says that both law and prophets (another way of saying "all scripture") point to the righteousness of God.
"even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ (dia pisteos Iesou Christou) to all and on all those who believe" (v. 22). Under the old covenant, Jewish people assumed that they could achieve righteousness by obeying the law-but Paul said in 2:17 ff. that this assumption was wrong. Now, Paul says that the righteousness of God is disclosed-has been revealed-"through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all those who believe" (v. 22).
ROMANS 3:22b-26. FOR ALL HAVE SINNED
22b for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. "For there is no distinction, for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God" (vv. 22b-23). What meaningful distinction is there between the person who knows the law but sins and the person who does not know the law? None! Both are guilty-neither can boast.
"fall short of the glory of God" (v. 23b). We were created to share God's glory. Just imagine the glory of the Garden of Eden. God created Adam and Eve to live in paradise and God's presence, but they traded that glory for a bit of forbidden fruit (Genesis 3). So also God has created us to live beautiful lives as his children, but we too have proven rebellious-we too have forfeited glory for a mess of pottage-we too have chosen the wide, easy road that leads to destruction instead of the narrow, hard road that leads to life (Matthew 7:13)-we too have fallen short of the glory for which we were created-the glory that God desires to share with us.
"being justified (diakaioumenoi-made righteous) freely by his grace through the redemption (apolutroseos-ransom) that is in Christ Jesus" (v. 24). These two words, "justified" and "redemption" approach the subject of God's grace from two different perspectives:
This justification/redemption is wholly the product of God's grace. The guilty party has no way to be justified. The slave has no way to be freed. The sinner has no way to be pardoned. It is only through the gift of God's grace that we have hope. We can receive justification/redemption only as a gift. We could never earn them, because our pockets are empty of the required currency.
"Christ Jesus; whom God set forth to be an atoning (hilasterion-propitiation) sacrifice, through faith in his blood" (v. 24b-25a). A better translation might be "Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood"-the problem being that "propitiation" is one of those expensive words that nobody knows. My dictionary defines propitiation as "something that appeases or conciliates a deity"-i.e., something that dampens the fires of God's wrath.
Those who refuse to believe that God is a God of wrath as well as a God of love find the idea of propitiation unacceptable, but the Bible is replete with references to God's wrath (Exodus 22:24; 32:10; Leviticus 10:6; Numbers 1:53; 16:46; 18:5; 25:11; John 3:36; Romans 1:18; , etc., etc., etc.). It is clear that God intends us to be better than we are, and is unhappy that we are not. Nevertheless, God is unwilling to hit the delete key and start over again. We have nothing with which to appease God's wrath, so he has devised a way. In the Old Testament, that was a sacrificial system that served as a constant reminder of the relationship between sin and death. Then, finally, God sent his own Son as a once-for-all sacrifice-a sacrifice "through faith in his blood" (v. 25)-not by our meeting standards that we have shown ourselves unable to meet.
"for a demonstration of his righteousness through the passing over of prior sins, in God's forbearance" (v. 25b). The death of Jesus demonstrates God's righteousness. Rather than absolving people without a sacrifice, God provided the sacrifice. He thereby maintained a serious posture with regard to sin, while nevertheless making it possible for people to be forgiven.
"to demonstrate his righteousness at this present time; that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus" (v. 26). God's action now is consistent with his actions in the past. In "divine forbearance," he passed over earlier sins of those who lived in faith, and he now justifies those who have faith. Pure justice would have been cruel and pure mercy would have lacked integrity. God found the middle ground where he can maintain righteousness while showing mercy. The cross established that middle ground, and faith opens the door to receive the mercy created at the cross.
ROMANS 3:27-28. JUSTIFIED BY FAITH APART FROM THE WORKS OF THE LAW
27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
"Where then is the boasting? It is excluded" (v. 27a). Paul earlier called Jews to task for relying on the law and boasting of their relationship to God (2:17), asking, "You who glory in the law, through your disobedience of the law do you dishonor God?" (2:23). The problem was not their observance of the law but their prideful attitudes. Now Paul says that boasting is excluded-in part because those who were given the law kept it imperfectly-but more fundamentally because we are "justified by faith apart from the works of the law" (v. 28).
"By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith" (v. 27b). The phrases, law "of works" and "law of faith" (v. 27) distinguish Mosaic law (works) from Christian salvation (faith). But see the comments about Abram in the next verse.
"We maintain therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law" (v. 28-see also Galatians 2:16). Who could stand before God and ask to be justified by their works of the law? When we examine the great iconic figures of Jewish history-men such as Abraham and David-we see great men of faith-but we also see their clay feet.
Romans 4:1-5 - EXEGESIS:
ROMANS 4:1-5. IT WAS ACCOUNTED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS
1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,
What then will we say that Abraham" (v. 1a). Paul's "what then" links chapter 4 to what Paul has been saying in the first three chapters where Paul established:
Now, to demonstrate that what he is saying is no innovation, Paul uses Abraham, the great forefather of Judaism, as an example of what he is saying.
"our forefather, has found according to the flesh" (v. 1b). Jewish people are descended from Abraham according to the flesh. However, Paul has already stated that God is the God of Gentiles also, since he "will justify the circumcised by faith, and the uncircumcised through faith " (3:29-30). In chapter 4, he says that Abraham is "the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had in uncircumcision" (4:12). He also refers to Genesis 17:5, where God promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations (4:17), and concludes that descent from Abraham includes all "of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all" (4:16). He thus reveals the broad scope of God's relationship with humans.
"For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about" (v. 2a). As noted above, Jews considered Abraham to be justified by works. These works included his obedience when God called him to leave his homeland to go to a land that God would show him (Gen. 12:10). Especially noteworthy was his obedience of the command to sacrifice Isaac, his only son (Genesis 22:1-14).
"but not toward God" (v. 2). Who can boast of personal accomplishment in the presence of the creator of the universe? Who can boast of personal holiness in the presence of God's holiness?
"Abraham believed God, and it was accounted (Greek: elogisthe-it was credited) to him for righteousness" (v. 3). Paul quotes from Genesis 15:6. The verb, elogisthe, is an accountant's word. It says that the Lord credited Abraham's account to give him the status of righteousness just as a generous father might cross out a wayward son's debt to give him the status of solvency.
"Now to him who works, the reward is not counted as grace, but as something owed" (v. 4). Paul illustrates his point. On payday, a worker need not beg for a paycheck, but can demand payment for services rendered. The employer has enjoyed the benefit of the employee's service, and is under obligation to compensate the employee. The employee can seek legal recourse if the employer refuses payment, and can expect courts to enforce payment (assuming that the employer is solvent). It would be accurate, therefore, to say that the employee enjoys a certain power over the employer at this point.
"But to him who doesn't work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness" (v. 5). Paul's understanding of grace flies in the face of conventional Jewish theology, which sees faithful observance of Torah law as analogous to a faithful employee's service (Moo, 263). Paul's statement that God "justifies the ungodly" flies in the face of Old Testament passages that say: "Keep far from a false charge, and don't kill the innocent and righteous: for I will not justify the wicked" (Exodus 23:7)-and "He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to Yahweh" (Proverbs 17:15).
Romans 3:21-31 - Exposition - Bible-org
3:21 The phrase But now (Νυνὶ δὲ, nuni de) is extremely significant in Romans and marks off the "post-Christ's coming" era-including the ministry of the Spirit-as a new development in the salvation historical plan of God. Now, Paul says, is the eschatological time of fulfillment in Christ (7:6). So then, νυνι δε is not simply a logical connector, as if Paul were saying, "since no one will be declared righteous through works of the law (3:20-21), therefore, righteousness must come by faith" (3:21-26). Rather, νυνι δε indicates that Paul is thinking in salvation-historical terms, i.e., the time before Christ's coming and the "now time" (3:26) after his coming and the inauguration of the reign of grace in the kingdom (cf. 5:20-21; 14:17).
But the realization of this time of fulfillment has come apart from the law (χωρὶς νόμου, chōris nomou)-the law refers to the Mosaic legislation enmeshed with any current rabbinic legal interpretation which prescribes works on that basis. It is apart from such a works-based-righteousness that the "righteousness of God" has been revealed.
The righteousness of God (δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ, dikaiosunē theou) refers to the status of those who have been declared righteous by God through no merit of their own. They are declared righteous on the basis of their redemption in Christ.
But while this legal standing before God is given apart from the Law, that does not mean there is absolutely no connection between his righteousness and the Law. On the contrary, the connection is prophetic, for the righteousness of God is attested (μαρτυρουμένη, marturoumenē) by the law and the prophets. As Paul has already stated in 1:2-4, the antecedents of the gospel (i.e., the good news about God's righteousness given to the believer through Christ), go back deep into OT promise.
Paul uses the verb disclosed (πεφανέρωται, pephanrōtai) twenty-two times, often in connection with the coming of Christ as the definitive revelation of God's plan. Compare Romans 16:26.
3:22-23 In vv. 22-23 Paul explains further what he means by the "righteousness of God." It comes through faith, not works, and is available on that basis not to Jews only, but to all who believe (εἰς πάντας τοὺς πιστεύοντας, eis pantas tous pisteuontas). It is available to the one who is the most vial idolater and sexually perverse (1:18-32) and it is available on the same basis to the Jew who claimed to live according to the law of God (2:1-3:9). In fact, as far as the righteousness of God is concerned, including the manner in which it is received, there is no distinction (διαστολή, diastolē) between Gentile and Jew. The reason for this is simple: since all are sinners and together have fallen short of God's moral and spiritual perfection (i.e., his glory), all are equally in need of his righteousness and all receive it on the same basis (3:9-20).
This righteousness is made available through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ (διὰ πίστεως ᾿Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ, dia pisteōs Iēsou christou). The text literally reads, "through the faith of Jesus Christ." An interpretive question immediately presents itself: "What does Paul mean by "the faith of Jesus Christ"? Some argue that the "of" phrase (a genitive construction in Greek) should be understood as indicating possession, i.e., Jesus' faith. We are then saved through imitating Jesus' faith. This has little grammatical or biblical/theological support.
A second interpretation is to take the genitive "of" phrase to mean "faith in Jesus." This is often referred to as the objective genitive interpretation where Iēsou is taken as the object of the verbal noun "pisteōs" (i.e., "faith"). This has been the traditional interpretation and has much to commend it biblically and grammatically speaking.
There is, however, a third interpretation which has been recently advanced and is the one adopted in the NET Bible. In this interpretation, Iēsou is taken as the subject of the verbal noun pisteōs. This indicates that Jesus' faithfulness is in view and that the righteousness of God has been made known through the faithfulness of Christ (i.e., his obedience to the Father in life and death) and is available to all who believe.
Now it must be said that both Paul and the rest of the NT endorse both these latter two options. This is not a discussion, then, about which idea is heretical and which is orthodox, but rather about the truth to which Romans 3:22 (26) refers.
There are those who suggest, along with other arguments, that an objective genitive is unlikely since the following phrase, "for all who believe," is rendered superfluous in this interpretation. But this need not be the case at all, for the accent in this phrase is not so much on faith as it is on "all;" it is an emphatic statement on the universality of the offer of salvation.
Nonetheless, it does appear that the subjective genitive is to be preferred-though neither interpretation is without its difficulties. First, the passage focuses on the revelation (cf. phaneroō) of God's righteousness publicly (3:25). This fits well with the cross obedience of Jesus which itself argues for the subjective genitive. It is difficult to see how the righteousness of God is revealed through our faith in Jesus, but it is not difficult to see how it is revealed by Jesus' obedience to the Father. Second, when "faith" (pistis) is followed by a personal noun in the genitive case, it is almost never an objective genitive (cf. Matt 9:2, 22, 29; Mark 2:5; 5:34; 10:52; Luke 5:20; 7:50; 8:25, 48; 17:19; 18:42; 22:32; Rom 1:8; 12; 3:3; 4:5, 12, 16; 1 Cor 2:5; 15:14, 17; 2 Cor 10:15; Phil 2:17; Col 1:4; 2:5; 1 Thess 1:8; 3:2, 5, 10; 2 Thess 1:3; Titus 1:1; Phlm 6; 1 Pet 1:9, 21; 2 Pet 1:5).
3:24 Though all men without distinction are sinners, they may be justified (δικαιούμενοι, dikaioumenoi), that is, declared righteous and freed from all charges in connection with their sin (Rom 5:1). This is not a reference to being made righteous in any ethical or spiritual sense, but rather to a genuine legal pronouncement involving acquittal (cf. Rom 3:8). And God pronounces a person justified freely (δωρεάν, dōrean) by his grace. The idea of "freely" reaches back to Paul's comment in 3:21 about the righteousness of God being revealed apart from the law (i.e., apart from works of the law). We cannot do, nor are we required to do-in fact we are forbidden to do-good works in the hope of earning salvation (Eph 2:8-9). Salvation is a gift and is given by God's grace (χάρις, charis).It is given according to his undeserved, completely and utterly, unmerited favor (cf. Rom 4:1-25). While we all fit somewhere in the description of 1:18-3:20, we can nevertheless be freely forgiven and justified through Christ by faith.
Every thought Paul has is focused on the person and work of Jesus Christ in the "now" time of salvation history (cf. the "now" in 3:21). The term redemption (ἀπολυτρώσεως, apolutrōseōs) means to "to buy back" and probably has as its background the manumission of slaves. In our context here in Romans, it is likely that Paul intends the idea that through Christ's death-the fully paid ransom price-sinners are purchased for God from the enslaving power of sin (cf. Rom 3:9; Mark 10:45; Eph 1:7; 1 Cor 6:20).
3:25a God publicly displayed Christ as the satisfaction for sin. The term publicly displayed (προέθετο, proetheto) is in the middle voice and could be rendered "purposed" or "publicly displayed" (Rom 1:13; Eph 1:9). Both are definitely true, but for a number of reasons the second option seems better in this case: (1) Paul has argued that the righteousness of God has been disclosed, that is, "brought to light." This accords well with a public event; (2) by his blood (ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι, en tō autou haimati) focuses on the cross which was a public event; (3) the term demonstrate (εἰς ἔνδειξιν, eis endeixin) argues well for a public presentation; (4) the faithfulness of Jesus Christ refers primarily, then, to his cross obedience which was public; (5) the focus on the present time (ἐν τῷ νῦν καιρῷ, en tō nun kairō) in 3:26 refers to the present time in light of Christ's coming, death, and resurrection which was all public; (6) it is connected to the term satisfaction which has as its focus the physical reality of the cross, and is, therefore, external and public in focus; (7) the use of the accusative object complement, i.e., "God publicly displayed him a satisfaction for sin" fits better with the translation "publicly displayed" rather than "purposed."38
There has also been no little discussion over the meaning of satisfaction (ἱλαστήριον, hilastērion). It has been argued that since the term is used twenty-one out of twenty-seven times in the Septuagint to refer to the mercy seat, that this is its meaning here too. Further, the only other NT usage of the term in Hebrews 9:5 suggests that this is its meaning in Romans 3:25. There it describes the altar in the most holy place (holy of holies) where the blood was sprinkled in the OT ritual on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Thus Paul it appears that Paul is saying that God displayed Jesus as the "mercy seat," the place where propitiation was accomplished. Thus Christ is the fulfillment or antitype of the OT image. The fact that the definite article is not used with hilastērion is not a serious objection to this view. The contention that such an interpretation requires too much knowledge of the OT cultus is not damaging either. We may be well assured that in a church with both Jew and Gentile, where the LXX was undoubtedly taught, knowledge of Leviticus 16 and the "Day of Atonement" ritual was well known.
Further, some (e.g., Dodd) have contended that all meaning of "just wrath" is absent from hilastērion, but in a context dealing specifically with the wrath of God, i.e., 1:18-3:20, this is most unlikely. The term is best understood, then, to bring together twin aspects of God relationship to sinners, that is, expiation and propitiation. Respectively, God has removed our sin (expiation) and his anger is satiated against us (i.e., he is propitiated toward us).
3:25a-26 Paul says that there was a reason God accomplished propitiation in Christ on the cross. It was to demonstrate his righteousness because up to this point he had not dealt eternally with the question of man's sin and guilt-he had passed over sins previously committed (τὴν πάρεσιν τῶν προγεγονότων ἁμαρτημάτων, tēn paresin tōn progegonotōn hamartēmatōn). The cross, however, is the answer, publicly given, to the accusation that God himself is sinful since he had not openly dealt with sin.
But in the process of demonstrating his deep seated, eternal hatred for sin-i.e., his holiness and justice, he is at once the one who condemns sin as well as the one who justifies the person who lives because of the faithfulness of Christ. The phrase just and the justifier (δίκαιον καὶ δικαιοῦντα, dikaion kai dikaiounta) might also be rendered, "just, even when he justifies...."
3:27 Paul's point in v. 27 follows naturally from 3:21-26 and indeed from all the previous material commencing in 1:18. When the apostle asks where then is boasting (Ποῦ οὖν ἡ καύχησις, pou oun hē kauchēsis)-a question particularly addressed to the Jews-the answer is rather obvious. Wherever it is, it is not included in salvation. Indeed, it is excluded (ἐξεκλείσθη, exekleisthē), "shut out," "eliminated," as it were. There is absolutely no room in one's salvation for boasting since salvation is, from beginning to end, a work of God on behalf of depraved, lawless people (Eph 2:8-9). The principle of faith (πιστίς, pistis), that is, having to place sheer trust in God, as opposed to my own efforts (cf. 4:1ff), by the very nature of the case, excludes boasting in human achievement.
3:28 Again Paul hammers home his point. A person is declared righteous by faith apart from works of the law (δικαιοῦσθαι πίστει ἄνθρωπον χωρὶς ἔργων νόμου, dikaiousthai pistei anthrōpon chōris ergōn nomou). This statement, along with vv. 29-30, brings to a conclusion what Paul has been arguing thus far and prepares the reader for the OT example of Abraham to come in chapter 4.
3:29-30 Since God is the God of the Gentiles as well as the Jews, it follows that justification for all men must come apart from the law which was given solely to the Jews.
The oneness of God was a belief properly basic to Judaism and proclaimed by every devout Jew each day (cf. Deut 6:4). Here Paul appeals to this doctrine, claiming that since God is one (εἷς ὁ θεὸς, eis ho theos), he must have the same salvific concern for the Gentile as he does for the Jew. The Judaism of Paul's day, however, did not draw the same conclusion from God's essential unity. The only way a Gentile could be rightly related to God was to become a proselyte to Judaism, including coming under the yoke of the Law. And even then, Gentiles were always Gentiles, never quite up to the level of Jews by birth; in the eyes of the Jew, they had no natural claim on God. Paul says, however, that God is interested in the Gentiles apart from the Law and that contrary to certain Jewish expectations, the Gentiles are saved through the same faith that saves a Jew.
3:31 It is true that salvation is by grace through faith apart from the Law, but this does not mean that it has no essential relationship to the Law. Verse 31, due to the ambiguous nature of the comment, has given rise to various interpretations and modifications within similar interpretations. Two important questions are: (1) what is its relationship to 4:1ff and (2) what is the meaning of "law," "nullify" and "uphold"? We will treat these questions in reverse order.
First, what is the meaning of "law," "nullify" and "uphold"? Some argue that what Paul means by "law" is the OT as a whole in that it generally points or testifies to his doctrine of "righteousness by faith apart from the works of the law." The primary support for this idea is that Paul says as much in 3:21. The problem with this view, here in v. 31, however, is that the term law (νόμος, nomos) stands alone and is not combined with "prophets" (as it is in 3:21) Also, the contrast between "upholding" the law versus "nullifying" it is not well established on this meaning. Further, this interpretation does not seem to give proper weight to the contrast between "works of the law" and "faith" in its understanding of the function of "law" (as "testifying") in v. 31. Finally, the text does not say, "the law is upheld by this faith," it says "we uphold" [the law by this faith]. This makes it unlikely that Paul intends here that our righteousness by faith was testified to in the OT. This may be true, but here in Romans 3:31 something other than the prophetic witness of the OT seems to be in mind.
Others argue that faith upholds the law in the sense that since the law condemns us all, as Paul argued in 3:19-20, faith alone is the only means of salvation. This is what the law was meant to teach us and to assert that salvation is by faith alone is not to nullify the law in its condemnatory role, but it is indeed to establish the truthfulness of the law in its evaluation of mankind. This, of course, is similar to what Paul teaches in Galatians 3:19-21, 24. But, it is difficult to see how "nullifying" the law and "upholding" it make much sense in this view.
We have said that the "righteousness of God" refers to a perfect legal standing with God (3:21-25). But Paul has argued that this perfect legal standing with God is not earned by works, rather it is received by faith. But, this doctrine-i.e., that justification comes by faith, not by works of the Law-has led to many Jews indicting Paul for antinomianism, that is, accusing him of a complete disregard for the Law and performing its works. It is to this accusation that verse 31 is ultimately directed. In verse 31 Paul is saying that justification by faith does not nullify obedience to the demands of God expressed in the Law, rather it upholds those righteous demands and is the only way they can truly be met. This interpretation is based on taking Law in v. 31 as referring to the demand of the law not to its prophetic witness to the present age of salvation nor to its role in exposing sin.
Verse 31, then, brings a conclusion to 3:27-31 and does not lead one directly into 4:1ff. The transition to 4:1ff came in 3:27-30. The truth of verse 31, that faith really upholds the demands of the law, is ambiguous and will be further unpacked in light of the ministry of the Spirit in 8:4ff and expressed in the context of the new community in 13:9-10.
Rom. 4:1-3 - Exposition
Paul has just argued in 3:21-31 that justification is by faith and is available to all men. And, since it is apart from any works of the law, all boasting is excluded (cf. esp. 3:27-28). In 4:1-12 he will buttress this argument with proof from the OT and the experience of Abraham and David.
4:1 Paul now turns to the example of Abraham. He asks the question: "What did Abraham find with regard to the manner in which God justifies a person? Was it by faith or by works? Abraham found that it was by faith, not by works.
The use of the perfect tense verb has discovered (εὑρηκέναι, heurēkenai) points to the declaration of righteousness in Genesis 15:6 and the fact that such a declaration formed the lasting foundation of Abraham's relationship with YHWH.
When Paul says our (ἡμων, hēmōn) father Abraham he is not just referring to the Jews, but is including the Gentiles as well-everyone in the church at Rome.
4:2 Paul says, "let's see what Abraham found, because if he found that he was justified by works (ἐξ ἔργων ἐδικαιώθη, ex ergōn edikaiōthē), then he has a boast, but not before God." If Abraham earned a legal declaration of righteousness-which itself involves acquittal from any and all sins, as well as the positive imputation of Christ's righteousness-on the basis of his own (meritorious) works, he can boast, but even then, not before God.
But Paul's argument here seems to put him in conflict with James in 2:24: "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." The obvious answer to this apparent dilemma is that Paul refers to the initial legal justification of a person while James refers to the final vindication of the same person who has claimed throughout his/her life to have faith. Thus the two are using the term "justify" in different, though related senses. In short, there is no real contradiction.
4:3 Picking up on the question of whether Abraham was justified by works (which some Jews held), Paul says: this is not what the scripture teaches. It teaches in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (ἐπίστευσεν δὲ ᾿Αβραὰμ τῷ θεῷ καὶ ἐλογίσθη αὐτῷ εἰς δικαιοσύνην, episteusen de Abraam tō theō elogisthē autō eis dikaiosunē). In other words, Abraham was declared righteous by believing God concerning the promise for many descendants (i.e., as numerous as the stars). He was not declared righteous on the basis of any works he had performed.
What Paul is saying here flies directly in the face of much of what his contemporaries believed about Abraham. Abraham was held in high esteem in Paul's day, and not necessarily needing God's grace-that is, grace which was reserved for sinners. He was regarded as the father of the Jewish nation and one who obeyed God implicitly in absolutely everything (Ant 1. 225; Jub. 17:18). Indeed, it was because of his obedience that he received the promise of posterity, not because of his faith apart from works (cf. Gen 26:4-5).
In the Jewish intertestamental book of Sirach, the following is said of Abraham:
19Abraham was the great father of a multitude of nations, and no one has been found like him in glory.20 He kept the law of the Most High, and entered into a covenant with him; he certified the covenant in his flesh, and when he was tested he proved faithful.21 Therefore the Lord assured him with an oath that the nations would be blessed through his offspring; that he would make him as numerous as the dust of the earth, and exalt his offspring like the stars, and give them an inheritance from sea to sea and from the Euphrates to the ends of the earth (44:19-21; NRSV).
But Paul understands the OT traditions about Abraham to say something quite different regarding the particular question of his salvation and justification. The words it was credited (ἐλογίσθη, elogisthē) translate only one verb in the Greek text. The verb is functioning as a divine passive, meaning that God was the one who did the crediting, not Abraham. Abraham did not earn righteousness by works, rather Gdo credited righteousness to his account by faith. The Greek term elogisthe is used eleven times in 4:1-25 and may also be translated: "to impute," "to reckon" or "to calculate."
Now the fact that elogisthe is used eleven times in 4:1-25 (nine in 4:1-12) suggests that the rest of this section is a developed commentary on the meaning and application of the term as understood from Genesis 15:6. Paul also cites Ps 32:1-2 (in 4:7-8) which is related to Genesis 15:6 verbally through the use of the same term, i.e., logisētai. Some scholars, therefore, suggest that Paul's exegesis is a fine example of Jewish midrash. But while it is quite likely that Paul is following similar Jewish exegetical practices (i.e., joining passages together on the basis of similar catchwords), his use of Genesis 15:6 and Ps 32:1-2 is much more in keeping with their canonical contexts and, therefore, distinct from much of the way texts were handled by the rabbis in their endless discussions. Further, to label Paul's handling of these OT texts as midrash is really not helpful in the final analysis since the term "midrash" is ambiguous; some relate it to an interpretive method, some to a psychology or mindset involved in the interpretive process, and some to the end product of such methods.