Law in Romans: Not for Law, but for Christ

First, thank you all for continuing the conversation on Law while I’ve been out of pocket this weekend. I’ll jump into the comments a bit later today.

In the mean time, I want to do two things.

First, briefly, a reminder: what I’m trying to lay out in this series of posts is Paul’s view of the Law, as it comes to light in Romans in particular. Many of the objections have been interesting, and pointing toward other ways of conceiving the relationship between Law and the Christ event or Law and the people of God.

But I find that many, if not most, of the objections are to Paul as much as they are to me. That’s fine, you don’t have to like Paul if you don’t want to. I’ll sell you a book on that in December. But I do think it’s important to highlight that the ways several of you have pushed for more continuity have caused you to say, in essence, Paul is wrong (or at least incomplete).

Second, I have one last thing to say about the purpose of Law in Romans: in Rom 9-10 Paul insists that the Law is used wrongly if it is used so as to delineate the things we should to in order to maintain relationship with God (i.e., pursue righteousness), but it is rightly used if seen as a witness to the coming Christ.

He says this three times in parallel arguments.

First, in Rom 9:30-33. The Gentiles who didn’t pursue righteousness obtained it, but Israel pursuing a Law of righteousness didn’t. Why? Because they didn’t pursue by faith but as though by works.

Now, I know that at first blush this looks like there are two different dispositions a person might have in their Torah-observance (the traditional Protestant reading). But Paul tells us more specifically what he means, and the problem comes down, instead, to whether or not you use the Law to cultivate faith in the coming Christ.

They didn’t pursue by faith, but by works–thereby stumbling over the stumbling stone just as it is written: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and whoever believes in him will not be disappointed.”

What Israel does “wrong” is not believe in the coming Christ. Their failure with respect to the Law is Christological. Instead of looking to Christ, they were looking for the Law to establish what righteousness is–and their own within it.

They were reading the Law self-referentially (referring to themselves and the Law itself) rather than Christo-referentially.

Paul repeats the argument, in essence, in 10:1-4.

Yes, Israel is zealous for God, but not according to knowledge. They are ignorant of God’s righteousness (which Romans has already told us, repeatedly, is to be found in Christ, not Torah) and seeking to establish their own, they didn’t submit themselves to God’s righteousness.

So what does this God-righteousness consist of? And how is it different from “their own?” “For Christ is the end of the Law, for righteousness, unto all who believe.”

The problem with how Israel was using the Law was that they were using it as something that establishes righteousness rather than as pointing to another in whom God would establish righteousness. They were reading the Torah self-referentially rather than Christo-referentially.

A third time Paul says the same thing, this time working out the specifics of the Christ-event as the works that bring righteousness rather than the doing of Torah.

This third argument is found in 10:5-13.

On the one hand, there is the “righteousness that comes from Torah”–what Paul was talking about in 9:32 and 10:3 as well–”Whatever persons does these things will live in them.”

But that’s not the righteousness from faith that reveals God’s own righteousness.

That faith-righteousness speaks of the Christ event: don’t ask who’s going to bring Christ down or raise him from the dead, for the word of faith is near you: confess that Jesus is Lord, believe that God raised him from the dead–this is the means to salvation.

In so outlining faith-righteousness, Paul transforms the words of Deut 30:12-14. Those had spoken of doing Torah as the means of salvation; Paul reads them as presaging the Christ-event as the means of salvation.

The result of this is that Israel does not become the place one has to enter in order to be saved–that people and space circumscribed by Torah.

instead of seeking salvation “in Israel,” all may now seek salvation, on equal footing, “in Christ.” Because the Law is not the source of righteousness–it points away from itself, witnessing to Another who is the source of righteousness. That would be Christ, now raised from the dead and enthroned at God’s right hand.

Torah’s ultimate purpose is thwarted when the Law is read as something to be done rather than as witnessing beyond itself to the coming work of God in Christ.

6 thoughts on “Law in Romans: Not for Law, but for Christ”

  1. Daniel,

    Is Paul not making the exact same argument as Jesus does in the Pharisee/Tax gatherer parable?

    The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous people, adulterers – or even like this tax collector.

    The tax collector, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!’

    The Pharisee should have realized that his law-keeping was deficient. Under the light of the law, he should have cried for mercy; he should have realized he needed a savior. Instead, the law produced an arrogance in him or a “righteousness of his own.”

  2. “But I find that many, if not most, of the objections are to Paul as much as they are to me. That’s fine, you don’t have to like Paul if you don’t want to.”

    Interesting hermeneutical statement. Glad to finally encounter the INTERPRETER who knows exactly what Paul thinks about the law. I can sleep better now. Does Ed Sanders know this, yet?

  3. Daniel, Law in Paul is difficult (or impossible! as lots of other things in Paul, so N.T. Wright’s calling him one of the cleverest people in the history of the world who in Romans wrote a symphony looks a bit much). I find your current approach as an attempt to portray it interesting but unsatisfactory because overemphasising the witness of Law and underplaying its demands.

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