by John Pacheco
The book of Romans was and continues to be the most controversial book of the entire bible, and it is undoubtedly the book that has had the greatest influence in the history of the Christian Church. In addition to being responsible for converting many saints, including St. Augustine, one of the great doctors of the Church, it was also the catalyst that Martin Luther used to launch the Reformation. To this day, it continues to be the anchor on which Protestants rely on to defend the Classical Protestant view of justification by faith alone. It would not be an exaggeration at all, for instance, to say that the Protestant sees not only justification, but the entire Gospel teaching through their understanding of Romans as it applies to justification. Luther once said: “This epistle is in truth the most important document in the New Testament…Hitherto, this epistle has been smothered with comments and all sorts of irrelevancies; yet, in essence, it is a brilliant light, almost enough to illumine the whole bible.”(1) Hence, anything that appears to conflict with their interpretation of Romans, most notably – the epistle of St. James, must be reconciled to that view and not vice versa.
The book of Romans is widely believed to have been written by St. Paul, likely on his third missionary journey in the city of Corinth in the year 55 or 56 A.D. In this book,, unlike his other writings, St. Paul is writing to a Church which he has not visited – the Church in Rome. This letter of Paul to the Romans centers around the theme of justification through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul is insistent in his pronouncement that not only Gentiles, but Jews also are under the power of sin, and only faith in Christ and not ‘works of the Law’ is required for salvation. The first reaction of the Jewish Christian community was to convert the Gentiles to the Law of Moses by requiring circumcision before they became Christians. This action, however, was rejected at the first Council of Jerusalem (Cf. Acts 15:11). Since Christianity regarded itself as not only a fulfilment of the Old Covenant, but also as a necessary replacement of the Old Covenant when the two became incompatible. Hence, the Old Covenant, because of its subservient position to the New Covenant, was at the centre of Paul’s exhortations, especially when it concerned defending the freedom of the Gentiles from the Mosaic law of the Jews. In Galatia, hostilities had developed between Gentile and Jewish Christians over this very question, and St. Paul would certainly not let that hostility go unchecked in Rome. Indeed, Paul’s letter to the Romans is a profound teaching on the doctrine of the supremacy of faith in Christ for salvation, without the reliance on the ‘works of the Law’ of the Old Covenant.
The central point of sola fide, therefore, rests on satisfactorily defending the following proposition: the moral works of the Law cannot be a basis or ground of the Christian’s justification. It is commonly regarded by both Catholic and Protestant scholars that the meaning of the Law in St. Paul’s teachings is not always clear or definite. At times, St. Paul is referring to the Jewish Torah (i.e. the Pentateuch), other times the natural moral law, and still other times only the ceremonial law. The Israelite laws are contained principally in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament (see Appendix).
When St. Paul speaks of the ‘Law’, he is not speaking about just one type of law but essentially two: the ceremonial (circumcision, animal sacrifices, food observances, etc.) and the moral law (Ten Commandments), but both are nonetheless encapsulated in “The Law”. The Law was largely negative in its command in the moral sphere- many ‘Thou shalt nots’ (i.e. kill, bear false witness, commit adultery, etc.) and conversely mainly positive in the ceremonial sphere – many ‘Thou shalts’ (i.e. circumcision, animal sacrifices, food observances, etc. The phrase ‘works of the Law’ is translated from the Greek phrase ‘ergon nomou’. Some Catholic and even Protestant scholars , regard this phrase as not to refering to the Ten Commandments, but only to the ceremonial law. The Dead Sea scrolls appear to lend support to this interpretation since the Covenantors of the Old Testament, who were probably Essenes, also speak of this phrase in the context of temple rituals and not the Ten Commandments. For these scholars, Works of the Law are understood to include circumcision, dietary, and sabbath ordinances, and the other rules included in the mitzvot, 613 religious ritual, ceremonial, and some moral laws of conduct according to which Jews were commanded to live. A careful reading of the book of Exodus reveals that God’s laws were first predominantly moral laws. The Ten Commandments were moral laws which were given to Moses in Exodus 20. The other laws given were also moral in nature, including those dealing with various ordinances (Cf. Exodus 21:1-11), personal injury (Cf. Exodus 21:12-35), property rights (Cf. Exodus 22:1-15), and other moral laws. It is only when the Jews started worshipping the golden calf in Exodus 32 that God imposed hundreds of ceremonial laws as a punishment and a burden for their idolatry. This is the reason why God commanded the Jews to sacrifice calves – to remind the Jews of their worship of the Egyptian gods of materialism and naturalism.
St. Paul never rejected the Law because the Law was, for St. Paul, the revealed will of God. His rejection is directed at the Jews who believed that they were justified by the observance of the Law so as to put God under a legal obligation to save them. Paul appeals to the history of Israel to demonstrate their reliance of the Law has not saved them from sin (Romans 2:17-24, 3:9-18). In fact, the Jewish law is no better than the Gentile ‘law’ which is their conscience (Cf. Romans 2:14-16). All are under the dominion of sin (Cf. Romans 2:9, 2:23). St. Paul saw three stages of Israel’s religious history: from Abraham to Moses, justification through faith in God’s promise without any law since the law had not yet come (except circumcision which would come fifteen years after Abraham’s justification, and then only as a sign); from Moses to Christ, justification through faith with the obligation of keeping the Law; since Christ, justification by faith in Christ ‘working through love’ (Cf. Galatians 5:6). The purpose of the Law, therefore, was not for justification. Justification has never at any time in the religious history of mankind come through the observance of the Law but only through faith in the promises. The purpose of the Law was to provide a standard or code by which the Jews were judged and by which their transgressions were revealed (Cf. Galatians 3:19, Romans 3:20). Through the Law, there was no means to escape (Galatians 3:22, Romans 2:12; 3:9, 22). It was also to provide an isolation of the Jews from pagan vice and idolatry and keep them unified as a nation; before Christ, the Law was the tutor of man to lead them to Christ (Cf. Galatians 3:24).
Some Jewish Christians of Paul’s time, however, believed it was through the Law’s observance that they were justified. These were ‘false brethren’ who advocated that circumcision and the rest of the Mosaic Law were as necessary to salvation as faith in Christ. Their contention was that faith in Christ and the redemption of the Cross were insufficient to justify a man without adherence to the Law of Moses, which they regarded as eternal and immutable. Yet for Paul, this view was clearly contrary to the teaching of Christ (Cf. Matthew 23:13-25, Acts 10-11). St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians thoroughly rejects this (Cf. Galatians 2:16, 5:2), and sets the tone for his letter to the Church in Rome. Though he recognized the Law to be divinely granted (Cf. Galatians 3:19), he disputed the purpose of the Law with the zealots. So while observing a moral commandment was holy and good, the Law, in and of itself, was not an instrument or basis for salvation. St. Paul refused to allow it any redemptive or saving power since to do so would empty the cross of Jesus of its power of sole justification. To establish it as a necessary grounds at arriving at perfect justice would deny the redemptive power of Christ. “The abandonment of the Law on the strength of the sufficiency of the redemption would, if the Law still retained its obligatory character, be sin, the blame for which we should have to place upon Christ, which is blasphemy” (Cf. Galatians 2:21). (2)
Even a cursory reading of the Old Testament should clearly show that St. Paul was not trying to exclude ‘good works’ because the Law of the Old Testament was not concerned with ‘works of faith.’ It was concerned with laws on how to deal with people when they sinned or on how to repair the sin once it was committed; it did not mean Christians did not have to abide by the Ten Commandments in order to be saved. Following the ritual observances or even the Ten Commandments was never meant to justify: it was merely a preparation for justification which has its fulfilment in the redemption of Christ. The righteousness of God would never be manifested through the Law, but was only witnessed to by it (Cf. Romans 3:21). Righteousness of man comes through faith in Jesus Christ (Cf. Romans 3:22). But some of the Judaisizers insisted that new converts become Jews and follow the Law in order to be saved. In response to this, St. Paul says that Christians are justified apart from the Law of the Old Covenant. He is not saying that they are justified apart from moral works, however – only that all works whether ceremonial or moral do not put God under obligation to save.
St. Paul’s main point to the whole book is the universality and impartiality of God, which is captured in the first chapter: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16-17). His whole letter revolves around supporting this view against the Judaizers’ arguments. The first part of the letter emphasizes that both Jew and Gentile are under the power of sin (Cf. Romans 1:18-3:20); the second part of the letter deals with justification, sanctification, and mortification (Cf. Romans 3:21-8:39); the third part consists of how the Jews fit into the plan now that the Gentiles are now also saved (Cf. Romans 9-11), and the last part of Romans constitutes an exhortation of the moral obligations and duties of Christians in practice (Romans 12-16).
The first chapter of Romans begins with a salutation from St. Paul. The Apostle reminds his listeners that God’s existence can be known through the natural world (Cf. Romans 1:19-20). Even with natural human reason, all people of good will must necessarily admit God’s existence, and therefore, God’s existence can be known through nature and reason without supernatural revelation. Yet, despite this, St. Paul says that the Jews did not acknowledge or honour God, but instead “became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21). He proceeds to warn the early Church of the expectant judgement that will fall on the ungodly (Cf. Romans 1:18-32). St. Paul stresses humanity’s miserable condition before he later reveals our great hope of salvation in faith. His condemnation is a general one, encompassing both Jew and Gentile.
The first indication of Paul’s meaning of ‘faith’ occurs in the first chapter of Romans. St. Paul uses the phrase ‘obedience of faith’ in Romans 1:5. This is extremely suggestive since the Catholic view of faith, being a lively, working faith is better supported by this phrase than the Protestant view of a mere fiduciary faith. This begs the question: obedience to what law or command of faith? If Christians are justified by faith, then the answer is simply ‘to obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ.’ To obey the Gospel, however, necessarily implies ‘works of faith’.
After St. Paul’s harsh condemnation of the perverts in the first chapter, he begins the second chapter warning the hypocrites of their judgement as well. He continues by admonishing, “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day wrath and revelation of the righteous judgement of God who ‘will render to every man according to his deeds’ [Cf. Psalm 62:13, Proverbs 24:12]: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation” (Romans 2:5-8). St. Paul is therefore setting his view on the importance of works of faith. He makes it abundantly clear of the necessity of doing good works (Cf. Romans 2:6) in order to obtain eternal life. Not only in doing good deeds, but persevering in doing so (Cf. Romans 2:7). He then ascribes ‘wrath and indignation’ to those who do not obey the truth (Cf. Romans 2:8). He repeats the consequences of doing good and evil acts in Romans 2:9-10, and declares that there is no partiality with God (Cf. Romans 2:11): both Jews and Gentiles will be judged according to their actions. Hence, the Jews do not enjoy any authentic moral privilege over the Gentiles. St. Paul is making a sobering point to Israel: wake up because final judgement will be based on performance and not on privilege.
Israel’s reliance on the Law for justification was severely misplaced; the Jews did not recognize that the Law’s purpose was not for justification, but for the recollection of the helplessness of man. “For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law; and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law” (Romans 2:12). The Jews believed that by being God’s chosen people and following the Law, they would be justified (Cf. Leviticus 18:5). But, as St. Paul was trying to communicate to his people, the Law has not faith for its principle since it offers a quid pro quo, a measured recompense for a measured service. The Law was concerned solely with works and with nothing else. Even so, however, St. Paul did not reject the Law (Cf. Romans 7:12), but understood the true meaning and significance of its principle was still faith, regardless of what his contemporaries thought the purpose of the Law meant. But now redemption through Christ has taken away all value from legal observances since the Law could only reveal the deficiencies of human conduct (Cf. Romans 3:20). The Jews, therefore, were arrogantly claiming something that the Law could not do: save them.
St. Paul’s principal point of the impartiality of justification is indeed emphasized in the remaining of the chapter, Romans 2:13-29. In this chapter, St. Paul is referring to the moral law when he speaks of ‘the Law’. This is evident from a comparison of Romans 2:12 with Romans 2:13. Since Gentiles cannot be doers of the ceremonial law, St. Paul could only have meant the moral law in this context. Again, in Romans 2:15, a ceremonial law cannot be written on someone’s heart. And finally in Romans 2:25, St. Paul uses circumcision to show its benefit if one keeps the Law, implying a distinction between the two. Hence, before verse 25, St. Paul emphatically upholds the observance of the moral law as necessary for salvation [although not sufficient for salvation] (Cf. Romans 2:6-7, 13, 21-22). In verse 25, St. Paul introduces another part of the law which is not moral, but only ceremonial in nature – circumcision. The Apostle’s treatment of the ceremonial law is clearly contrasted to the moral law. The inherent worth of the ceremonial law is dependent on the obedience to the moral law as St. Paul teaches, “for indeed circumcision is of value, if you practice the law” (Romans 2:25). However, if one fails to obey the moral law, circumcision, the sign of election, is forfeited, “If you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision” (Romans 2:25). This verse, therefore, set the tone and message for the rest of the book in regards to the Law: the moral law with faith (Cf. Romans 1:17) is the way to salvation, and not the ceremonial law (Cf. Galatians 6:12-15).
The proof for this view is further confirmed when the New Testament and Old Testament are compared. At the end of the chapter, St. Paul writes, “For he is not a Jew who is one inwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and His praise is not from men, but from God” (Romans 2:29). St. Paul’s teaching was long before prophesized by the Jeremiah, “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘that I will punish all those who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised…for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart’” (Jeremiah 9:25). The prophet Jeremiah and the Apostle Paul are pointing to the same message: circumcision has no value without being circumcised ‘of heart.’ In fact, a close study of Genesis 16-17 points to circumcision being a sign of election but not a means for election. God did not say that circumcision was a means of election, but that it would be a “sign of the covenant between Me and you.” (Genesis 17:11). Likewise, when the Jews were under the oppressive rule of Pharoah in Egypt, they were under the influence of the Egyptians who worshipped cows, sheep, goats, and other animals. After the Exodus, “the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain” (Exodus 32:1), and proceeded to fashion the golden calf and worship it, falling into the idolatry of their former masters, the Egyptians. As a reminder of their sinful idolatry, God imposed a number of ceremonial and ritualistic laws (Cf. Exodus 34 – Leviticus 27), including sacrificing the cow and other animals in order to remind the Jews of their sinful idolatry. The ultimate purpose of the ceremonial law was therefore partly for punitive measures and partly for Israel’s recollection of their idolatry.
Luther, however, did not make the ncessary distinction between the moral and the ceremonial where the context demanded it:
“The first thing needed is to master the terminology. We must learn what St. Paul means by words as law, sin, grace, faith, righteousness, flesh, spirit, and the like; otherwise we shall read and only waste our time. In Chapter 2, St. Paul therefore asserts that the Jews are all sinners. He says that only those who keep the law are righteous in God’s eyes, his point being that no one keeps the law by ‘works’.(1)
Yet, despite what Martin Luther thought, that was not St. Paul’s point at all since the reference to the ‘Law’ was not exclusively directed at the moral law as the context later in the chapter clearly indicates. St. Paul states the condition for justification which is that “not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified” (Romans 2:13). He then proceeds to show that it is in keeping the moral law that matters, not the ceremonial law. He begins to do this by defending the Gentiles against Jewish pretentiousness with regard to the moral law. He does so by reminding them that the Gentiles have a moral law written on their hearts, their consciences bearing witness to their deeds (Cf. Romans 2:14-16). After raising the Gentile moral standard, he proceeds to castigate the Jews for their hypocrisy in claiming to ‘know’ the Law and boast in God (Cf. Romans 2:17), yet continue to break the Ten Commandments (Cf. Romans 2:21-22). Because of their unfaithfulness to the Commandments, St. Paul charges them with dishonouring God and leading the Gentiles to blasphemy (Cf. Romans 2:23-24). In the verses which follow and conclude the second chapter of Romans, St. Paul thoroughly renounces the ceremonial law as a means of justification. Since the Jews believed that circumcision was a sign of their election, St. Paul pronounces that if they fail to keep the Commandments then their sign of election, namely circumcision, becomes ‘uncircumcision’ or a sign of their condemnation (Cf. Romans 2:25). The opposite result is true for the Gentile: if they keep the commandments, their ‘uncircumcision’ will be regarded as circumcision; that is, they will be justified (Cf. Romans 2:26). The remainder of the chapter reinforces these two points.
There remains, however, some apprehension for the Protestant in admitting that the moral Law is holy and the commandment holy and righteous and good (Cf. Romans 7:12), and this holiness leads and affects ultimate salvation. Jesus, Himself, reminds His followers that one must keep the commandments in order to obtain eternal life (Cf. Matthew 19:16-21). Note that Jesus’ call to perfection demands more than just keeping the Commandments – it calls for complete abandonment. Our Lord could hardly mean that one is justified apart from keeping the Ten Commandments, for instance. This is absurd given the higher calling of Christ. Consider the following passage where Our Lord increases the difficulty of keeping the law (i.e. anger, lust, adultery, retaliation, and hatred), and expects His followers to do it through faith.
“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna…You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart…It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.’ But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery…You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to the one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into services for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father…” (Matthew 5:21-45). [N]
In all of these teachings, Christ states the Law, and calls on His followers to perfect the Law (Cf. Matthew 5:48). All of Jesus’ teachings are infinitely more difficult than the remedies prescribed by the Law of the Old Covenant. Jesus certainly was not exempting his followers from the Law. He says that “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
There are instances, however, when Jesus does speak negatively about the Law. However, in these cases, He does not speak unfavourably about the Ten Commandments or the moral law. Quite to the contrary: His criticism is rather directed at the Pharisees’ rigid observance of the ceremonial and ritualistic laws, and their insistence that these laws are required for justification. The following passages confirm this:
“Then the disciples of John approached Him and said, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast [much], but your disciples do not fast?’ Jesus answered them, …’No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth, for its fullness pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse’ (Matthew 9:16-17). [N]
Here, Jesus is pointing out the unsuitability of attempting to combine the old and the new law. Jesus’ teaching is neither a mere improvement of Judaism, nor a sidekick of the Mosaic law.
“Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, ‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They do not wash [their] hands when they eat a meal?’ He said to them in reply, ‘And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of you tradition? For God said, “Honour your father and your mother,” and “Whoever curses father or mother shall die.” But you say, “Whoever says to father or mother”, ‘Any support you might have had from me is dedicated to God,’ need not honour his father.’ You have nullified the word of God for the sake of your tradition. Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy about you when he said: “This people honours me with their lips, but their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts”’” (Matthew 15:1-9).[N]
This parable is an attack on the Mosaic law concerning clean and unclean foods, which Jesus later releases his disciples from keeping (Cf. Matthew 15:10-20); and it is also a confirmation of keeping the moral law of honouring one’s parents.
In the Jewish tradition, every male Jew over the age of nineteen years was required to make an annual contribution to the maintenance of the Jerusalem temple in accordance with the Mosaic law (Cf. Exodus 30:11-16; Nehemiah 10:33). So when the collectors of this tax approached Peter and asked why Jesus did not pay the tax, Jesus replied this way: “‘What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?’ When he said, ‘From foreigners,’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the subjects are exempt. But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you’” (Matthew 17:24-27). [N]
Again, Christ is exempting His followers from this ceremonial Mosaic Law. Jesus’ point is that just as the subjects are not under the laws applying to foreigners, neither are the subjects of heaven under the law imposed by unbelievers.
In Christ’s denunciation of the Pharisees and scribes, he calls them blind hypocrites for refusing to recognize the sacredness of the temple and the altar over the gold of the temple and the gift on the altar (Cf. Matthew 23:16-22); for fulfilling the ceremonial observances of paying tithes, but ignoring the more important obligations (Cf. Matthew 23:23-24); and for observing food rituals, but not ‘cleaning out’ their hearts (Cf. Matthew 23:25-26). All of these instances, point to Jesus’ preference of the moral law over the ceremonial law. This same teaching is communicated in Luke 11:37-44 and Mark 7:1-23.
The third chapter of Romans begins with the popular style of diatribe common in Paul’s day. The Apostle is responding to the common objections posed against him by the Jews. He rejects the Jews’ accusations that his teachings on humanity’s sinfulness depreciates Israel’s primary place in God’s plan. Presented below is the conversation that may have taken place if St. Paul and his opponents were involved in a dialogue.
The Jews say, ‘If the Law has been broken and circumcision cannot save you, then what remains of the law or even Scripture? If we Jews have broken the Law, then God is no longer bound to His promises (Cf. Romans 3:1-3). St. Paul responds, ‘God’s promise never changes, despite our unfaithfulness. In fact, our unfaithfulness only serves to bring out the opposite attributes of God all the more clearly’ (Cf. Romans 3:5).
Tongue and cheek, the Jews take Paul up on this point. They say, ‘If God’s justice and righteousness are proved by our own unfaithfulness, then why would God threaten us with wrath? In fact, since God’s justice and righteousness are proved by our sin, He should tolerate our unfaithfulness’ (Cf. Romans 3:5). St. Paul rejects this, and responds by three arguments: (Cf. Romans 3:6-8)
- ‘According to such reasoning, then, God would not judge anyone, but we all know that that scenario is false. God will judge us all according to our deeds’ (Cf. Psalm 62:13, Proverbs 24:12, Matthew 16:27, John 5:29, 2 Corinthians 5:10).
- ‘If you really did believe in your objection above; that is, if you really believed that God’s justice and righteousness are proved by our unfaithfulness and consequently we will not be punished, they why do you still condemn me as a sinner who, according to you, is unfaithful. Because you do still condemn me as a sinner, however, proves that you really do not hold to your objection.’
- ‘In response to my rebuttal where I said “God’s faithfulness is showed by our unfaithfulness”, you Jews absurdly claim that what I mean by that teaching is that “we should do evil that good may happen” and glorify God. If you are serious about that remark, then you do indeed deserve to be condemned!’
As a concluding entreaty (Cf. Romans 3:9-18), St. Paul then charges that all are under the universal bondage to sin – both Jew and Greek (Cf. Romans 3:9). Since he has, to this point, been trying to dispel the notion that Jews are justified because of the Law while the Gentiles are not (Cf. Romans 2:25-27), St. Paul cites Scripture to point out to the Jews that their ancestry does not guarantee them salvation. The passages that St. Paul cites refer to the following Old Testament passages (citings from New American Bible):
|Romans References||St. Paul’s Citations||St. Paul’s Passage in Context|
|Romans 3:10-12||Psalm 14:1-3, 53:2-4||Psalm 14:4-7|
|Romans 3:13||Psalm 5:10, 140:4||Psalm 5:11-13|
|Romans 3:14||Psalm 10:7||Psalm 10:12-11|
|Romans 3:15-17||Proverbs 1:16, Isaiah 59:7-8||Proverbs 1:8-15|
|Romans 3:18||Psalm 36:2||Psalm 37|
Protestants use St. Paul’s Scriptural citings to put forward the following argument: Since ‘no one is just’ and ‘not one does good’ (Cf. Romans 3:11-12), and only those who observe the Law and do good are just (Cf. Romans 2:10,13), then the Law is not a possibility for justification. Therefore, only faith understood in the Protestant sense is the grounds for our justification (Cf. Romans 3:28). This belief was first by espoused by Luther. “Therefore, familiarize yourself with the idea that it is one thing to do what the law enjoins and quite another to fulfill the law. All that a man does or ever can do of his own free will and strength is to perform the works required by the law. Nevertheless, all such works are vain and useless as long as we dislike the law and feel it a constraint. That is Paul’s meaning in Chapter 3 when he says, ‘Through the works of the law shall no man be justified before God.’ (Romans 3:20) It is obvious – is it not? – that the sophisticators wrangling in the schools are misleading when they teach us to prepare ourselves for grace by our works. How can anyone use works to prepare himself to be good when he never does a good work without a certain reluctance or unwillingness in his heart? How is it possible for God to take pleasure in works that spring from reluctant and hostile hearts? To fulfill the law, we must meet its requirements gladly and lovingly; live virtuous and upright lives without constraint of the law, and as if neither the law nor its penalties existed. But this joy, this unconstrained love, is put into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Chapter 5. But the Holy Spirit is given only in, with, and through faith in Jesus Christ, as Paul said in his opening paragraph. Similarly, faith itself comes only through the word of God, the gospel. This gospel proclaims Christ as the Son of God; that He was man; that He died and rose again for our sakes, as Paul says in Chapters 3,4 and 10. We reach the conclusion that faith alone justifies us and fulfils the law; and this because faith is the spirit gained by the merits of Christ. The spirit, in turn, gives us the happiness and freedom at which the law aims, and this shows that works really proceed from faith.” (1)
The words ‘no’ or ‘none’ which St. Paul uses can have two meanings in grammatical usage: a comprehensive or universal meaning. The universal usage would suggest a complete coverage of the object; whereas, a comprehensive meaning would suggest a wide range of coverage but not necessarily a complete one. The comprehensive meaning of the words ‘no’ and ‘none’ in Romans 3:10-18 is drawn out implicitly when one realizes that St. Paul is placing the Jew and the Gentile under the power of sin in the preceding verse. Hence, when St. Paul speaks of ‘none doing good’, he does not mean that no single person can do good, but rather neither Israel nor the Gentile nations as a whole are righteous.
Secondly, the Protestant view of ‘no one is just’ or ‘no one does good’ does not apply to every individual as the passages cited above clearly show. For instance, Psalm 14:4-7 says, “Will all these evildoers never learn, they who eat up my people just as they eat bread? They have not called upon the Lord; then they shall be in great fear, for God is with the just generation.” [N] And Psalm 5:11-13 says, “Punish them O God; let them fall by their own devices; For their many sins, cast them out because they have rebelled against you. But let all who take refuge in you be glad and exult forever. Protect them, that you may be the joy of those who love you name. For you, O lord, bless the just man; you surround him with the shield of your good will.” [N] The Psalmist is not saying that all people are evil, but rather showing the timeless battle between good and evil, between the just and the enemies of God. The overwhelming sense of the Psalms which St. Paul quotes shows the contrast between the majority in Israel who are wicked and the minority (Cf. Isaiah 10:22-23) who are just. From these passages, it is evident that the Psalmist is defining the wicked with evil deeds and the just with good ones (Cf. Psalm 37:21). Holy Writ is quite clear that it is through good conduct that Yahweh is to be found (Cf. Isaiah 51:1, Zephaniah 2:3). The Prophet Malachi leaves no room for debate on this question: “So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him” (Malachi 3:18). Many such passages characterize and define a ‘righteous man,’ not only by a confessional faith or even a fiduciary trust in God, but rather by his actions also. As Hebrews 12:22 cited above strongly suggests, righteous men are not perfect ready, but rather are “made perfect.”
Fourthly, St. Paul uses ‘all’ and ‘many’ interchangeably which would not indicate that he necessarily intended a strict, literal interpretation of the word. For instance, St. Paul taught that “for if by the transgression of one, many died… So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men” (Romans 5:15-18). If ‘many’ does not mean ‘all’, then it is possible that there are some people who do not die. Yet, no one would admit this, and certainly no Christian would accept this interpretation. Therefore, it is possible for St. Paul to use the words ‘many’ or ‘all’ interchangeably.
Finally, if we are to accept the view of ‘all’ in the strict sense, then there can be absolutely no exceptions. Once an exception is made, this view of the word ‘all’ must also be relaxed in order to include these exceptions. Any exception breaks the rule that ‘all have sinned’ and ‘no one does good’. Firstly, Jesus Christ must be excluded since He is without sin, and for that matter, so are mentally disabled people who may not be responsible for their actions. But even these exceptions, however, are not as forceful as one particular exception which completely exposes the gaping whole in the Protestant doctrine of justification, namely, children who have yet to attain the age of reason. Our Evangelical friend says that we all need to ‘accept Jesus ‘ in order to be saved because ‘no one is righteous and no one does good’. He will not, however, condemn an infant who has not sinned, and therefore, exempts children before the age of reason from St. Paul’s teaching. But to provide this exemption and therefore interpret Romans 3:10-19 in this way only reveals yet another exception to the general rule, and therefore, the Protestant necessarily admits to the weakness of the ‘universal or exceptionless approach’ of St. Paul’s words.
What is St. Paul’s point in this chapter when he points to ‘no one being just’? Recall in the first eight verses of the chapter, St. Paul has defended the fidelity of God and His promises to Israel. Now, St. Paul is trying to demonstrate the infidelity of the Jews as a nation – reminding them of their past sins and transgressions as recalled in the writings of the Prophets of the Old Covenant. St. Paul’s main point is stated just prior to his recollection of these passages: “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all…” (Romans 3:9)? He is about to show (in the Old Testament passages) how unfaithful and wicked Israel has been, and therefore has no advantage over the Gentiles on the question of justification: both the Jewish and Gentile peoples are under the domination of sin (Cf. Romans 3:9).
The discourse which follows in the rest of chapter 3 has indeed been a cause of great disagreement between Catholics and Protestants. The early Reformers used Romans 3:20 and 3:28 to separate faith from works, yet it is the Catholic position that St. Paul was not at all trying to separate the necessity of doing works as the secondary ground for justification.
In Romans 2:5, St. Paul warns everyone that God “will render to every man according to his deeds.” In Romans 2:13, St. Paul clearly articulates that only the “doers of the Law are justified”, where the Law to which St. Paul is referring is the moral law. The moral law brought the knowledge of sin (Cf. Romans 3:20, 7:7-11). Yet, the Law is sacred, holy and good (Cf. Romans 7:12-13). St. Paul could hardly have meant that we could be justified by disregarding the ten commandments. If St. Paul had meant ‘works of the Law’ to mean ceremonial works, it would be logical for evidence of this to be manifested in the text which surround this very singular phrase. Thus far, St. Paul’s main thesis in Romans has been that all people, both Jew and Gentile require salvation (Cf. Romans 2:10-11, 2:23, 2:28-29). Having therefore cleared away any pretentious Jewish claims on justification and put everyone on an equal footing, St. Paul then tries to convey the universal plan of salvation for all and not just the Jews. Both the Jews and the Gentiles had the moral law (Cf. Romans 2:14-15), but only the Jews had the ceremonial law. Hence, when St. Paul writes, “it is the same justice of God that comes through faith to everyone…” (Cf. Romans 2:22), he is attempting to point out that salvation comes to the Gentiles also even though they do not have the ceremonial law – that is why ‘works of the Law’ do not justify – it is the spirit which gives life not ceremonial rules.
Romans 3:29 confirms this interpretation. After making his bold teaching in verse 28 that we are “justified by faith apart from works of the Law”, St. Paul goes on to explain what he means by works of the Law in this context. In effect, St. Paul states the problem for the Jewish zealots: ‘If we are justified by works of the Law, then the Gentiles cannot be justified because they do not have the ceremonial laws (i.e. circumcision, animal sacrifice, food rituals, etc.). But we know there is no partiality with God (Cf. Romans 2:11). Thus, since God is the God of the Gentiles also (Cf. Romans 3:29), justification depends on faith and not on circumcision (Cf. Romans 3:30) and other such works.’ If St. Paul had intended ‘works of the Law’ to mean ‘good works’, verse 29 would make little sense since both Gentiles and Jews both do good works (Cf. Romans 2:14-15) which is important to salvation (Cf. Romans 2:9-10). And the teaching of universal justification which St. Paul utilizes in Romans 3:30 would be grossly out of place. Therefore, St. Paul is trying to demonstrate that faith will justify a person apart from the ceremonial laws which the Gentiles neither have, nor therefore do.
St. Paul leaves little room for speculation as to the meaning of ‘works of the Law’ in Galatians 2:12-16. The discourse begins with St. Paul relating how he reproached St. Peter because the Fisherman “began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision” (Galatians 2:12, Cf. Acts 11:1-3). Paul goes on to give the truth about the Gospel: that it was not right for Jewish zealots to try and force the Mosaic ceremonial law on the Gentiles, “how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:14). St. Paul recognizes the privileged position of the Jews (Cf. Galatians 2:15), but he rejects the privileged position as a means for justification by beginning verse 16 by the word ‘nevertheless’. Considering his opposition to the controversial issue of Gentile circumcision, which was ultimately decided at the first Church Council in Jerusalem (Cf. Acts 15), it is extremely difficult therefore to suggest that St. Paul was speaking about something other than the ceremonial works of the Jews in verse 16 when he said, “a man is not justified by works of the Law.” In Galatians 3:19, St. Paul asks ‘Why the Law then?’, and then answers his question, ‘it was added because of transgressions.’ It follows that there must have been a moral law before the Law St. Paul is speaking about since he says that the Law was added because of transgressions. Since there are no transgressions before a moral law exists, then the Law St. Paul is speaking about MUST be the ceremonial law.
Having therefore established that St. Paul had rejected the ceremonial law as a basis for justification, does that mean he taught that we are justified by keeping the moral law as he suggested in Romans 2? The answer to that is an unequivocal no. St. Paul rejected justification by law – all of it – ceremonial or moral. He makes it clear in this passage:
“What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” (Romans 3:9-20)
Before he says that “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law”, he prefaces it by speaking of, not ceremonial actions, but moral ones performed under law. Citing verses from the Psalms (see above chart), he reminds the Jews of their history by reminding them that “no one does good“. Evidently, therefore, St. Paul has in his mind moral works when he refers to “the law”. He closes by saying that “through the law we become conscious of sin.” This obviously is more directed at failing to keep a moral law than it is a ceremonial one.
So is there a contradiction between St. Paul rejecting the law as a means of justification in Romans 3:20 and the moral impositions of Romans 2? Not at all. The conflict is resolved when we understand that the law does not have faith as its principle. In other words, moral works performed under law, so as to obligate God, do not justify, but moral works performed under the auspices faith do indeed justify the sinner. This is why St. Paul, after repudiating justification through the law goes right into discussing “faith in Jesus Christ”:
“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-24)
Along with Romans 3:20 and Romans 3:28, Protestants point to Romans 4:2-5 as proof in their belief in justification by faith alone apart from good works. St. Paul recalls Abraham’s example:
“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God. For what does Scriptures say? ‘And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to Him as righteousness’ [Genesis 15:6]. Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favour, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work , but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness…” (Romans 4:2-5)
Again, the context of St. Paul’s reference to works is clearly understood as ceremonial works if verses 9 to 12 are to make any sense. In verses 2 to 5 above and then later in verses 9 to 12, St. Paul is trying to impress upon his listeners that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness before he was circumcised, thereby proving that it was Abraham’s faith which counted for justification and not circumcision. The ‘boasting in works’ is not good works, but the ceremonial works which belonged to Israel. In essence, St. Paul was condemning the idea that one could be saved by merely being a Jew; that is, he was rejecting ‘salvation-nationalism’ or ‘countryclubism.’
“Is this blessing then upon the circumcised, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say, ‘Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.’ How then was it reckoned? While he was uncircumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be reckoned to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised” (Romans 4:9-12).
The fourth chapter confirms and continues St. Paul’s insistence that circumcision is not necessary for justification. In a fluid and consistent discourse, St. Paul is continuing his rejection of circumcision as a means for justification throughout, and this is one of his many rejections of circumcision for such a purpose (Cf. Romans 2:25, 2:28, 3:28, 3:30, 4:10). Therefore, the theme of the rejection of circumcision as necessary for justification has been a constant theme throughout the book of Romans, beginning in the latter half of the second chapter, continuing throughout the third chapter and ending here in the fourth.
Another test for the Protestant is how he rationalizes away the contradiction between Romans 4:2-5 and the Epistle of St. James: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone…For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:21-26). Despite all of the commotion of the Protestant slogan ‘by faith alone’, it was only used in the Epistle of St. James, and only then to reject it (Cf. James 2:24)!!! Now clearly, the works referred to by St. James are not ceremonial works but rather moral works (Cf. James 2:1-18). If, therefore, the Protestant believes that St. Paul was referring to good works, how does he reconcile Romans with St. James’ Epistle? James G. McCarthy suggests that James was not referring to Abraham justification in Genesis 15:6, but rather his second major encounter with God in Genesis 22. “Note that in Genesis 22 God did not justify Abraham; He blessed him (Cf. Genesis 22:17). There was no need for God to justify Abraham, to reckon righteousness to his account, for He had already done so years earlier (Cf. Genesis 15:6). In James 2:24, James is referring to the second event in Abraham’s life. He is not talking about how Abraham was justified by God unto salvation but how Abraham was justified, declared righteous, before God and men. His goal is to help his Christian readers evaluate their lives. James wants his readers to understand that if they are going to claim to have faith even as Abraham, then their works of obedience should demonstrate it even as Abraham’s obedience demonstrated his faith. It is a man’s actions that declare him to be righteous, not mere talk or a professed faith that is not lived out.” (3)
The author attempts to convince his readers that Abraham’s justification by works did not apply to salvation, but rather simply as a kind of quasi-justification ‘before God and men’. What does this mean: ‘Abraham was justified, declared righteous, before God and men’? What is the significance of ‘before God and men’? St. James did not say that Abraham was ‘justified before God and men’ but simply that he was ‘justified by works’ (Cf. James 2:24). It is quite evident that the author is trying to introduce another meaning to justification that would suit his own contorted interpretation of the Epistle of James. He provides no evidence that this new type of justification ‘before God and men’ is supported anywhere in the bible, but asks the reader to accept it nonetheless. On the contrary, whenever justification is spoken of ANYWHERE in the bible, it is consistently used always to apply to our salvation and to nothing less. The second half of his response is very surprising to say the least. He goes on to admit what St. James has plainly said. “It is a man’s actions that declare him to be righteous, not mere talk or a professed faith that is not lived out.”(3) This begs the question that can never escape the Protestant notion of justification by faith alone: If one’s faith is merely professed and not dependent on the works of that faith, is this the kind of faith that saves? – No, it is clearly not. And if it is not, then justification is not by faith alone (Cf. James 2:24).
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone might say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble. Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our Father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called ‘the friend of God.’ See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by a different route? For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (James 2:14-26) [N]
This is perhaps an opportune time to examine the kind of faith which does save. St. Paul insists that it is not the ceremonial law which justifies “but faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6) which understands that salvation is an unmerited gift from God. The faith that St. Paul is speaking about is hardly only a theological, intellectual acceptance of Christ or even a heart-felt trust in Him, but also a working, moving faith. The book of Hebrews makes this perfectly clear: “For by it [faith], the men of old gained approval… …By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous… By faith Noah…prepared an ark for the salvation of his household…By faith Abraham, when he was called…obeyed by going to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance…By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise…By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac…By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter…By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the first-born might not touch them. By faith they passed through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned” (Hebrews 11:2-29).
Still, the Protestant insists that justification is imputed at a point in time and then only by faith. For support of this belief, Genesis 15:6 is cited, being referred to by St. Paul in Romans 4:3: “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” As already stated above, St. Paul’s point is not that all Abraham had to do was ‘believe’ and he would be awarded ‘instant salvation’ – far from it. St. Paul is trying to convince the Jews that it was Abraham’s faith in God’s promise which justified him, and not the act of circumcision which occurred over thirteen years later. That is precisely the reason why he re-introduces the thorny topic of circumcision later in Romans 4:9-12.
Holding to justification by faith alone, R.C. Sproul says, “Paul declares that Abraham was justified before he performed works. He was justified as soon as he had faith (Cf. Genesis 15:6). Abraham is reckoned or counted as righteous before and without a view to his works. Later Abraham demonstrated his faith by his works of obedience.”(4) He supports his opinion by appealing to Calvin who said, “if it is absurd to say that the effect was prior to its cause, either Moses falsely declares in that passage that Abraham’s faith was imputed for righteousness, or Abraham, by his obedience in offering up Isaac, did not merit righteousness. Before the existence of Ishmael, who was a grown youth at the birth of Isaac, Abraham was justified by his faith. How then can we say that he obtained justification by an obedience which followed long after?” The Reformers are effectively saying, therefore, that Abraham was justified by faith (Cf. Genesis 15:6) before works (Cf. Genesis 22:9-12); that is, before Abraham obeyed God by consenting to sacrifice Isaac, he was already justified. This point is stressed above by Calvin: How then can we say that he obtained justification by an obedience (i.e. sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22:9-12) which long followed after (being made righteous by faith in Genesis 15:6)? Hence, the Reformers argument revolves around one key point: Abraham had ‘faith’ before he obeyed so there can be no mistake that Abraham’s faith, and not his works (i.e. his obedience), is the grounds for justification. To undercut this point, then, would seriously undermine the Reformers interpretation of ‘works’ spoken of by St. Paul in Romans generally, and Romans 4:1-5 specifically.
If one reads of Abraham’s life before God makes the Covenant with him, it is clear that Abraham obeyed God well before he obeyed God’s command to sacrifice Isaac. Therefore, Abraham’s justification was because of his obedience up to that point and his faith. The Reformed position therefore falls. The question then is how to treat this so-called ‘proof-text’ (i.e. Genesis 15:6) for the Protestant position. The general perspective for the Protestant is to treat Genesis 15:6 as an isolated event, thereby concluding that salvation is assured and it is instantaneous. The Catholic perspective, however, is not to treat this passage in isolation from the rest of Abraham’s life, which is a life of faith (Cf. Hebrews 11:8-10). Can God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:6 really have been made without Abraham obeying God previously? Consider Abraham’s working faith before the declaration God in Genesis 15:6:
- At the age of seventy-five, leaving Haran as the Lord directed (Cf. Genesis 12:4) for an ‘unknown land’.
- Building altars to the Lord (Cf. Genesis 12:8, 13:8).Sojourning to Egypt (Cf. Genesis 12:10).
- Fighting battles for the Lord (Cf. Genesis 14:14-20).
- Paying tithes (Cf. Genesis 14:20).
- Honouring his promises to the Lord (Genesis 14:22-23).
Is it to be understood, then, that none of this counted or that he had no faith before Genesis 15:6? Hebrews 11:8-10 makes it perfectly clear that Abraham had faith before God’s accreditation in Genesis 15:6. So if Abraham had faith before Genesis 15:6, does it make sense that he was justified by only a ‘believing’ and not a ‘working’ faith in Genesis 15:6? No.
Still, the Protestant will say that Abraham was told by God that his descendants would be numerous (Cf. Genesis 15:5). And because Abraham believed God, he was justified at that moment. Although he did have faith before this, this ‘working’ faith did not justify, but only the particular faith in God’s promise. So, according to the Protestant position, it is rather ‘believing in God’s promise’ that justifies and not performing works or, in other words, obeying God. Well then, using that line of reasoning how is one to interpret the following passage:
“The Lord said to Abram. ‘Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from you father’s house to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great so that you will be a blessing . I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.’ Abram went as the Lord directed him, and Lot went with him” (Genesis 12:1-4). [N]
Notice that Abraham had to have had faith in God’s promise in order in leave as God had commanded in the first place. But the key here is that one cannot separate ‘believing’ from ‘obeying’; one cannot separate ‘believing’ from the necessity of performing works as a proof of that belief.
“After Lot had left, the Lord said to Abram: ‘Look about you, and from where you are, gaze to the north and to the south, east and west; all the land that you see I will give to you and you descendants forever. I will make your descendants like the dust of the earth, your descendants too might be counted. Set forth and walk about in the land, through its length and breadth, for to you I will give it’” (Genesis 13:14-17). [N]
Is it really credible that Abraham did not believe God’s word here? No, it is not. In fact, he kept on believing and performing works of faith as testimony to that belief. Therefore, if Abraham believed the promise in Genesis 15:6 and was declared righteous, but was not declared so in the earlier two promises above (which are essentially the same promises) yet still believed in them, then what is the significance of Genesis 15:6? The difference is that God, after seeing Abraham’s faith through his loyalty and obedience since Genesis 12, credited this ‘living, working and obedient faith’ to him as an act of righteousness.
This begs the next question, however, in asking if this imputed righteousness in Genesis 15:6 is guaranteed and unconditional. Or rather, is it a conditional righteousness, contingent on our obedience in doing God’s will through works of faith? This promise which started in Genesis 12:1-3, and continued in Genesis 13:14-17 and Genesis 15:5 is fulfilled in Genesis 22:15-18. If, as Protestants say, the promise made in Genesis 15:6 was irrevocable and unconditional, then what would be God’s point in testing Abraham’s faith in Genesis 22 if it was not to see if the Patriarch’s faith was indeed genuine? If Abraham had disobeyed God by not offering his son, then could it still be said that God would have considered Abraham’s act of disobedience an act of righteousness? If the answer to that question is in the affirmative, then logical consequence would be complete nonsense.
“Again the Lord’s messenger called to Abraham from heaven and said: ‘I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me you beloved son, I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants shall take possession of the gates of their enemies, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing – all this because you obeyed my command’” (Genesis 22:15-18).N
There would be no point, for instance, in speaking of Abraham’s faith being made ‘complete’ or ‘perfected’ if all that was necessary for justification was Abraham’s profession in Genesis 15:6. “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend” (James 2:22-23). [I] God’s promise to Abraham was fulfilled by his faith and his works, or in other words ‘because you believed me and obeyed my commands’ (Cf. 1 John 2:4). In his discourse with the unbelieving Jews, Jesus states clearly what He thinks is important for salvation: “If you are Abraham’s children, then do the deeds of Abraham” (John 8:39). The promise that God gave Abraham was only finally awarded when Abraham ‘obeyed God’s command’ (Cf. Genesis 22:18). This is finally confirmed by God when He reminds Isaac, “And I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge; My commandments; My statutes and My Laws” (Genesis 26:4-5). Likewise, the promise of eternal life given to Christians will only be ultimately awarded if we persevere in obeying God’s commandments (Cf. John 14:21-22).
God’s promise are never irrevocably carried out regardless of human response. Adam and Eve are testimony to that. Abraham’s life and God’s promises to Abraham cannot, therefore, be taken as an isolated event. To do so would ignore what God really valued in Abraham – a faith which was not mere lip service but a real working faith which lasted his whole life. Abraham’s ultimate and perfect act of faith compelled God to swear by Himself, but little did Abraham suspect that that act of faith would be a holy precursor to God offering His own Son for the redemption of all of mankind.
After rejecting the need for circumcision (and other ceremonial laws), St. Paul then emphasizes his previous conclusions about the necessity of faith to the exclusion of the precepts of the ceremonial Law. If the Law was a path to righteousness, then faith is useless because the Law is quid pro quo (Cf. Romans 4:13-14). Having being freed from that obligation to keep the burdensome Mosaic law, there is no longer condemnation since there is now no violation (Cf. Romans 4:15). The true way for justification is faith – a faith which transcends the Law so that the promise of salvation applies to all people, and not just those who were formerly under the Law. Justification is neither based on ceremonies nor restricted to the Jews – it is grounded in faith and open to all (Cf. Romans 4:16). The remainder of the chapter serves to revisit and summarize what St. Paul had introduced earlier in the chapter: righteousness comes by faith and not by circumcision. Faith certainly is the principal means of righteousness and the beginning of righteousness, but it cannot be the sole grounds of justification if it is not followed by the fruits of faith or obedience to God’s word. Thus, if works make faith ‘complete’ (New International Version) or ‘perfect’ (New American Standard Version) in James 2:22, then it is inescapable that without those good works, faith is incomplete, and therefore ‘dead’ (Cf. James 2:17) – and a dead faith does not justify.
St. Paul begins his discourse in this chapter by restating his conclusion on faith and justification from the previous chapter (Cf. Romans 5:1-2). Even through our tribulations, the love of God will not disappoint us (Cf. Romans 5:3-5). And this love, according to St. Paul, is a divine love which saves us (Cf. Romans 5:6-11).
The fifth chapter of the Book of Romans is critical in understanding the Catholic view on original sin. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned – for until the Law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam who is a type of Him who was to come” (Romans 5:12-14). St. Paul begins with the general principal that death is caused by personal sin: “therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned – for until the Law sin was in the world. St. Paul uses the personal sin of Adam to explain the origins of death, and so death spread to everyone because everyone has sinned since the fall of Adam. If St. Paul had ended his discourse at this point, the reader would probably conclude that death is a result of individual, personal sin since ‘death spread because all sinned’. Hence, if it were possible, a person who never sinned would never die. However, St. Paul does not end his discourse and instead focuses his teaching on Adam’s sin. After stating the general rule that personal sin causes death, he qualifies this teaching by restricting the punishment due to personal sin only to those who are given the law: “but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” He therefore links the punishment of personal sin to the law – if there is no law, then there is no culpability for not obeying it.
The next logical objection by the Jews is then posed: if a person cannot be blamed when he does not know the rules, why did death still reign between Adam and Moses when the Law had not yet been given? The Jews perceive a contradiction in the Apostle’s teaching when he says that sin is not imputed but still admits that death, which is a punishment, is charged against the human race. St. Paul’s answers their objection by giving the true cause of humanity’s death, which is not personal sin per se, but rather Adam’s sin, the original sin: “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam.” Although personal sin is not imputed, death still reigns from Adam to Moses because of original sin. St. Paul uses the word ‘nevertheless’ very effectively. He tries to draw out a contrast between the non-imputed consequences of personal sin before the law and the ‘death-punishment’ which NEVERTHELESS still exists due to Adam’s sin. In St. Paul’s teaching, there exists an implicit recognition of the degrees of sin since he says, “even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam.” In other words, death still reigned even over those who had committed more minor sins. His discourse is therefore a fluid and tight argument, completely consistent with his opening remark regarding Adam’s sin and death spreading to all men because of this first sin.
In the Fall of Adam and Eve, the punishment due to the original sin is manifested in two ways. One consequence of the punishment is separation of body and soul, as manifested by physical death, while the other is the separation from the presence of God’s life. In Genesis, both of these punishments are shown (Genesis 3:19 and 3:22-24). The restoration of this fallen state finds its answer in the ‘second Adam’, Jesus Christ, who comes to restore what the first Adam had lost. These are two of the central tenets of the Christian Creed: resurrection of the body and eternal life in its transformed state. Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25).
The Catholic doctrine on original sin understands that original sin is the formal cause of human death and the initial cause of separation from God’s presence. Evangelical Protestantism, on the other hand, recognizes that original sin causes death, but necessarily rejects that original sin separates humanity from God. According to Evangelical Protestantism, it is personal sin and not original sin which cuts off humanity from God’s presence. In the Catholic view, original sin must then be conceived as a ‘state’ since a person cannot change the condition in which he was born. The Catholic and biblical remedy is to transform this state through baptism. If the Evangelical were to accept the Catholic conception of original sin and its punishment – which is the separation from God – then the whole notion of ‘accepting Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Saviour’ as a means of justification would be completely eroded. Since Adam’s sin would mean that all people, not just those who have the use of their reason, would be deprived of heaven, then there would be no way of ‘saving’ babies or those who do not have adequate use of their mental capabilities. The only way of doing so is the way that Jesus taught, through ‘water and the spirit’ – baptism.
In light of the above analysis, the different avenues of justification between Catholic and Evangelical Protestantism therefore rests on whether separation from God is the result of original sin or personal sin, and consequently, the answer to this question will provide the conclusive proof for the correct view of justification. The remaining verses of the chapter not only serve as the backdrop to St. Paul’s remedy to original sin in the next chapter, namely baptism, but also point strongly to the Catholic views of original sin and justification as demonstrated below:
|Because of original sin, many have died.||The gift of grace of Jesus Christ to many (v.15)<td< tr=””>|
|Judgement arose from the one transgression resulting in condemnation||The gift arose from the many transgressions resulting in justification (v.16).<td< tr=””>|
|Death reigned through Adam.||The gift of Christ’s righteousness reigns in life (v.17).<td< tr=””>|
|Original sin resulted in condemnation.||Christ’s righteousness results in justification (v.18).<td< tr=””>|
|Adam’s disobedience made people sinners.||Christ’s obedience made people righteous (v.19).<td< tr=””>|
As the above comparison shows, the solution to the problem of original sin is always Jesus Christ – His grace, His righteousness, and His obedience. There is no contention between Catholics and Protestants on this point. The key point in understanding St. Paul’s discourse, however, is not so much what is present, but what is missing, namely, personal sin. Each ‘problem’ involves original sin as its principal subject. Now, if the problem is restricted to original sin, and St. Paul’s solution to original sin is described as ‘justification through Christ’ and ‘life in Christ’, then the inevitable inference is that justification is necessary to overcome the punishment of original sin. Since the justification and the life that Christ offers is eternal life with the Father, the original sin that is supposed to be nullified and overcome by Christ’s redemption must have as its punishment that which was missing, and which Christ came to restore, namely, union with the Father for eternity. Hence, the Catholic view of original sin, whose punishment separates humanity from God, is the only possible conclusion to St. Paul’s discourse in this chapter.
The early part of this chapter is often cited by Protestants to point to their belief in assured salvation, most notably Romans 5:9-10. In comparing Romans 5:5-21 and Romans 8:28-30, it should be recalled that St. Paul had to encourage hope in the early Church. This encouragement, however, should not be taken in the Protestant sense of a ‘guaranteed salvation’. St. Paul makes this clear in the next chapter (Cf. Romans 6:12-13), which proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the alleged certainty of final salvation stressed in chapter 5 is not irrevocable on conversion or baptism. There is always a condition attached to Christian salvation; namely, living the life demanded by the Gospel through “obedience resulting in righteousness” (Cf. Romans 6:16).
The first two verses of this chapter are structured in the style that have become typical of St. Paul’s kind of argument (Cf. Romans 3:8, Galatians 5:13, Romans 6:15). The Apostle poses his opponents’ question, which is based on St. Paul’s teaching in Romans 5:20, and then proceeds to answer it. His opponents say, ‘If, in the past, man’s sin provided an opportunity for God’s grace to abound all the more, then why not continue in sin to provide further opportunities for God’s grace?’ St. Paul rejects this line of reasoning as he had done earlier in Romans 3:8, and does later in Romans 6:15.
The next eight verses demonstrate the means by which we escape from the power of sin and death which St. Paul introduced in the previous chapter. Through baptism, St. Paul says, believers share in the death of Christ and thereby escape from the grip of the first sin of Adam. Through the resurrection of Christ, the power to live anew becomes a reality for the Christian, but the fullness of participation in Christ’s resurrection still lies in the future (Cf. Romans 6:3-11). These verses further strengthen the Catholic view of original sin in Romans 5 since the Catholic answer to original sin is baptism. The answer to original sin is baptism just as the problem posed by St. Paul in Romans 5 is solved in Romans 6: “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” (Romans 6:3)
Speaking to those who might presume on their new found freedom in Christ, St. Paul warns the Church in Rome not to think that they can live unworthy lives in sin, and become instruments of unrighteousness (Cf. Romans 6:12-13). Under the Old Covenant, the Law made us slaves to sin (Cf. Romans 6:6,17) and sin was our master, but now sin is no longer our master because we are under Christ’s grace (Cf. Romans 6:14) received in baptism to make us a new creation (Romans 6:3-4).
Romans 6:16-21 again reinforces the Catholic doctrine of salvation in that, as St. Paul exhorts, we must have obedience to righteousness, and become a slave of righteousness. The fact that he commands us to do so implies that we still have a choice to reject that obedience, and therefore reject salvation. If we do indeed choose to be slaves to sin, then the “outcome of those things is death” (Romans 6:21,23). St. Paul concludes the chapter by reminding his listeners that the Christian has now been freed from the power of sin and the power of death. In essence, the Christian now has the power to reject sin through faith in Jesus Christ, but there always remains the inclination to sin, and the choice to commit it. It is sufficient to remark that St. Paul recognized that once becoming followers of Christ, it was still possible to fall into the sinful habit of the old man. After listing these sins, St. Paul reminds the early Christians, “I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21).
In this chapter, St. Paul uses a legal principle to explain the transition from law to grace. The binding force of the law ceases for the person at death (Cf. Romans 7:1-3). Law binds only the living, not the dead, as demonstrated by marriage. To drive his point home to the Jews, St. Paul appeals to the Law, using a widowed woman whose marriage obligations under the Law cease when her husband dies (Cf. Romans 7:2-3). When the husband dies, the woman is free to remarry. Similarly, those who are baptized, die to the Old Law and are free to join themselves to Christ. So, now that the Christian has died to original sin through baptism (Cf. Romans 6:2-4), and are freed from the old relationship with the law which produced wrath, and even increased sin (Cf. Romans 5:20). Now, however, through the Resurrection, we no longer bear fruit for death (Cf. Romans 7:5), but rather for God (Cf. Romans 7:4). Our old relationship with the law with its ceremonial precepts and legal obligations even to the moral law has died “so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (Cf. Romans 7:6). Far from exempting the Christian from moral conduct in order to be saved, however, the annulment of the Old Law was not so much abrogated, but rather fulfilled or superseded by faith and union in Jesus (Cf. Romans 8:4). The service which St. Paul speaks IS service nonetheless – it is not an abrogation of responsibility or abandonment of the moral law. The character of this union with Christ is not a barren or dead one, and certainly not one which exempts us from the necessity of being moral. Rather, it is a union whose ultimate and principal purpose was to accomplish what the Old Law could never do – to bear fruit for God (Cf. Romans 7:4, Galatians 5:22-25).
As indicated earlier, St. Paul’s teachings were frequently misunderstood, and he uses the rhetorical question as he had done earlier in Romans 3 and Romans 6 to respond to the criticisms against his teachings. St. Paul takes up the accusation of the Jews beginning in verse 7. The Apostle poses the question: Is the Law sin (Cf. Romans 7:7)? The Jews accused him of believing it was because:
- it is important for the Christian to get away from the Old Law (Cf. Romans 7:1-6);
- the law is closely connected to sin (Cf. Romans 5:13, 5:20, 7:5)
St. Paul then provides his rebuttal:
- he would not have come to know sin except through the Law (Cf. Romans 7:7, 3:20);
- sin used the Law to condemn him (the Law was sin’s instrument for condemnation, thus where there is no instrument (the Law), there is no sin.) [Cf. Romans 7:8-9];
- the Law which might have saved me ended up condemning me because sin used the Law to deceive me (Cf. Romans 7:10-11);
- the Law, therefore, is not sin – the Law is holy and righteous and good (Cf. Romans 7:12);
- finally, it was not the Law which condemned me, but SIN (Cf. Romans 7:13).
The second part of the St. Paul’s rebuttal in this chapter is essentially the same as the first: the law is good (Cf. Romans 7:14-16, but sin frustrates the good intentions of the law (Cf. Romans 7:13,23). Verses 14 to 25 provide the foundation for the Catholic teaching on ‘concupiscence’, which is the result of original sin and the cause of personal, actual sin. Concupiscence is therefore the remaining effects of original sin. Because of concupiscence, humanity is shackled with a darkened intellect, a weakened will, disordered passions, and a weak memory. These symptoms of our fallen nature are not removed by baptism , as St. Paul clearly attests to this power of concupiscence: “For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish” (Romans 7:19). The Apostle’s use of the word ‘dwells’ (Romans 7:17) or ‘indwells’ (Romans 7:20), therefore, strongly points to the Catholic conception of concupiscence which remains after baptism wipes away the punishment due to original sin.
Thus far, the book of Romans has had as its general theme the notion of ‘deliverance’. In Chapter 5, the theme was deliverance from the wrath of God; Chapter 6 – the deliverance from the rule of sin, and Chapter 7 – the deliverance from the Law. St. Paul, however, embarks on a new path in Chapter 8, teaching now on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and more specifically, on the victory of the indwelling Holy Spirit over the Flesh. St. Paul describes Christ’s victory over the carnal man. Sin has therefore been overcome through Jesus Christ who becomes an example for us all. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, dwelling in men’s hearts, Christians can be assured of their final victory over the flesh although they will not be spared the battle between Christ and Satan in their own souls.
Many Protestants use the first eleven verses to suggest that St. Paul is guaranteeing salvation for all Christians. This belief is misplaced. St. Paul is not concerned here with the necessity of the Christian’s co-operation with divine grace in obtaining salvation for their souls, but rather only the ultimate and inevitable victory of Christ over sin for those who are guided by the Spirit of Christ. Yet even in these verses St. Paul is indicating that salvation is afforded only to those who have the ‘Spirit of Christ’, which certainly excludes unrepentant sin. Nevertheless, the Protestant conclusion could be drawn if Romans 8:1-11 stood alone, yet St. Paul’s other writings correct this view. St. Paul was very well aware that the victory over the flesh can by no means be taken as a matter of course in Christian life (Cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1 – 6:20, especially 5:5, 6:9-10). In fact, this interpretation is confirmed in the next two verses: “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Cf. Romans 8:12-13). Implicitly, St. Paul recognizes that the Christian can still choose the flesh over the spirit and will die because of it. However, if and only if we reject the ‘deeds of the body’, then will we live.
St. Paul tell us that as Christians, we are truly sons of God, being allowed to genuinely call out ‘Abba, Father!’ The former fear of the Old Covenant has been lifted, and in its place we have a forgiving, loving Father who is quick to forgive IF we repent of our sins. (Cf. Romans 8:14-15). But one may ask who are the children of God? Who are the heirs of God? Are the children and heirs of God the ones who ‘accept Jesus’ or the ones who ‘suffer with Him’ (Cf. Romans 8:17, John 8:31). What is the important meaning that St. Paul tries to convey in verse 17 to describe the children of God? It can be summed up in one word: suffering. The next number of verses endeavour to describe the great longing of creation which has groaned for the kingdom of God which has come in the children of God (Cf. Romans 8:18-23). But then St. Paul reveals a most Catholic perspective on salvation: in hope we have been saved with perseverance (Cf. Romans 8:24-25). Indeed, there is no point in speaking of hope and perseverance if we were already guaranteed our salvation. If we do persevere then when we come into the kingdom, we can truly say that we were saved. The verses which follow and conclude the chapter, therefore, do not imply that every Christian can be certain to reach his final salvation and glorification in heaven without perseverance in faith and works.
St. Paul’s intent is merely to encourage the Christian community to know that if they follow Jesus and remain faithful to Him, salvation is then assured. This is completely in line with the Apostle’s numerous and urgent warnings that permeate this and other letters. Hence, St. Paul’s central point in this chapter is NOT to give absolute and irrevocable salvation to those who fail to persevere in faith, but rather to those who have the Spirit of Christ and remain in His word (Cf. John 8:31-32). St. Paul is speaking for those who persevere and suffer in order to conquer sin through Christ Jesus (Cf. Romans 8:36-37). Christ does not obey so we do not have to, rather He obeyed so we have a perfect image of obedience to follow and imitate. For these true Christians, nothing will separate them from the love of Christ (Cf. Romans 8:35).
St. Paul begins the ninth chapter by expressing his sincere desire that his compatriots accept Christ. He even goes so far as to offer his own salvation for their sakes if it were possible (Cf. Romans 9:1-5). In Romans 9:6-13, St. Paul argues that birth-right was never a claim to eternal salvation, or for that matter, the works associated with the birthright (i.e. circumcision, food observances, etc.) which St. Paul had rejected earlier in Romans 2, 3, and 4. The Jews presumed that the promises was given to Israel, the descendants of Abraham according to human lineage. St. Paul, of course, objects to this definition of Israel, and points to Ishmael and Esau, who were both excluded from Abraham’s blessing. The Messianic promise, therefore, was not given to the natural or physical Israel, but rather to the supernatural or spiritual Israel. Hence, the fact that the majority of Israel has so far been excluded from the promise is not only irrelevant, it is actually quite unscriptural to say that the majority would be included (Cf. Matthew 23:29-34).
St. Paul then responds to the imaginary Jewish interlocutor who poses this question: if God’s election is based on grace before anything, then this type of ‘divine favouritism’ contradicts God’s justice. The Apostle responds to this charge in essentially three parts. Firstly, God’s sovereignty allows him to choose his elect without needing to justify Himself to mere mortals (Cf. Romans 9:14-21). Secondly, God really does not have favourites, but endures the evil of men in order to show his glory all the more so that they too may come to repentance and be saved (Cf. Romans 9:22-24; Romans 3:5-7). Thirdly, it is scripturally evident that the true people of God are to come from mostly the Gentiles (Cf. Hosea 2:1, 2:25) and only a remnant from Israel (Cf. Isaiah 10:22-23). The alleged ‘failure’ of the Gospel to convert the majority of the Jews is therefore not even to be expected (Cf. Romans 9:25-29). Paul rejected the law as a sufficient avenue for righteousness. Those who place their hope and confidence in the meticulous observance of the Jewish law make that law an obstruction to attaining salvation if it is without faith. The fundamental truth of the law, the revealed will of God, does not cease with the Old Covenant, but is fulfilled with faith in Jesus Christ, who is the source of the law (Cf. Matthew 22:37-40) [Cf. Romans 9:30-33]. Thus, the law is reduced in its many precepts and rules to one single command: Love. For the Christian, therefore, this law of love includes all the works of the law which love demands – patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Cf. Galatians 5:2-23).
St. Paul continues his train of thought from the previous chapter by demonstrating again that the Jews have striven after righteousness in their own way, which is not the way of God, who requires faith. There are therefore two ways to seek after justness: the first is the law (Cf. Leviticus 18:5) and the second is faith (Cf. Romans 3:21-4:25). The new way of faith is superior to the old way since it is less onerous (Cf. Romans 10:6-11) and universal (Cf. Romans 10:12). St. Paul’s teaching in verses 10 and 11 must be properly understood. It does not mean salvation is attained by a simple confession of faith, but rather necessarily implies a belief in God’s whole plan of salvation which includes His commandments without which the Christian’s profession will not save him (Cf. Matthew 7:21).
In order to properly assess St. Paul’s meaning in this passage, it is first necessary to understand his overriding theme throughout the book of Romans. St. Paul was trying to refute the Jewish idea that salvation is exclusive for the Jews only. He reinforces this message throughout the whole book (Cf. Romans 2:10, 2:28, 3:9, 3:29, 9:25-27). This is therefore a significant point if one is to understand the true meaning of Romans 10:8-10 since verse 12 repeats St. Paul’s message on the universality of salvation: “for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek.” St. Paul’s objective is to convince the Jews that it is faith which saves not the exclusive Jewish ceremonial law. Hence, when he talks about confession and believing, he is stressing the beginnings of justification as opposed to giving a complete discourse on what is required for justification. It serves his purpose to point to the first rudiments or foundations of the Christian faith as a contrast to the Scribes’ way of justification which did not depend on faith as its principle but rather only the adherence to the Law of Moses. He was not excluding good works for salvation, but simply addressing and refuting the Scribes notion of justification which did not rely on faith. It is meaningless to ‘believe in’ Jesus without obeying His commandments. That is why Hebrews says: “He came to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation…” (Hebrews 5:9).
In the remaining verses in the chapter, beginning with verse 14, St. Paul reminds the Jews that the Gospel has been adequately preached and understood, and so the problem is not misunderstanding but Israel’s rejection of the prophesies. When the Jews question the authority of the Christian Evangelists, St. Paul points to the Prophet Isaiah (Cf. Isaiah 52:7) who foretold the Apostle’s authority (Cf. Romans 10:15), but not all Israel accepted it (Cf. Isaiah 53:1) [Cf. Romans 10:16]. Again, the Jews challenge if the nation has really heard the Gospel (Cf. Romans 10:17). St. Paul confirms that Israel has heard the truth, citing Psalm 19:5 (Cf. Romans 10:18). The problem, therefore, is not Israel’s lack of understanding or knowledge, but rather its history of rebellion so much so that God reveals the promise now to the believing Gentiles, who are the new Israel (Cf. Romans 10:19-20). “But as for Israel He says, ‘All the day long I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.’” (Romans 10:21).
Anxious to prevent any exaggeration, St. Paul denies that God has rejected Israel uniformly, but rather God being omnipotent could see that most Jews would. As revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures and restated by St. Paul, only the remnant of the Jews would accept the Messiah (Cf. Isaiah 11:11, Romans 9:27). Yet, the remnant would not continue in the works which proceed from legalism. The Christian understands that salvation cannot be earned, but is a gift. Election is due to God’s grace not works. God’s grace produces faith which yields works of that faith (Cf. Romans 11:1-6). The truth of the Gospel invariably leaves the majority of Israel without salvation, yet this must not be understood as injustice by God since God is punishing the Jews for their cold and hardened hearts. The Scriptures used by St. Paul (Cf. Deuteronomy 29:4, Psalm 68:23) prophesize this. The result of this chastisement from God, however, is not to condemn the majority of Israel, but rather to “make them jealous” (Romans 11:11).
St. Paul then turns and addresses the Gentiles, reminding them that God’s rejection of the Jews does not give them the right to have contempt for Israel or its children (Cf. Romans 11:16), nor does it give them the right to be arrogant (Cf. Romans 11:18). It is in the verses which follow in this discourse, however, which shed light on a salvation which is not presumptuous or conceited: “Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited but fear; for it God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you. Behold then the kindness and severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.” (Romans 11:20-22). This parallels Jesus’ analogy of the vine in John 15:1-10. Are these the comforting teachings that an Apostle would convey to the followers of Jesus, reminding them that their salvation was assured? Hardly. ‘If you continue in His kindness’ is not an unconditional guarantee of salvation – it is a summons to faithfulness. While Christians should be hopeful and confident that they will be saved (Cf. Hebrews 10:23), they should be sober and vigilant (Cf.1 Peter 5:8) lest they too should be disqualified from the eternal crown (Cf. 1 Corinthians 9:27).
St. Paul then goes on to predict that because Israel has had a privileged position in salvation history, it will one day be converted (Cf. Isaiah 59:20; 27:9). Through His grace, God’s mercy has been shown to all who have been disobedient, both Jew and Gentile – to Gentile Christians now, to Israel tomorrow (Cf. Romans 11:25-32).
In this chapter, St. Paul exhorts Christians to lead an exemplary moral life. He tells them not to be conformed to this world (Cf. Romans 12:2); to abhor what is evil (Cf. Romans 12:9); to be humble (Cf. Romans 12:16); and to overcome evil with good (Cf. Romans 12:21).
To lead a moral life, however, necessarily includes obeying legitimate authority which God has placed over the Christian (Cf. Romans 13:1-4). The obedience to authority is not only obeying God’s minister, but also obeying civil authority when it is not in opposition to the divine law of God (Cf. Romans 13:5-7). Moreover, if there were any confusion over St. Paul’s opinion of the necessity of observing the moral law, it is surely settled in the next few verses: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law. For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; love therefore is the fulfilment of the law” (Romans 13:13:8-10). The Apostle is, therefore, not suggesting early in his letter (Cf. Romans 3:20, 3:28, 4:2-6, 9:30-33, 11:6) that keeping the moral law does not have a part to play in justification.
In fact, earlier he insists that moral works are necessary, and therefore a grounds for justification (Cf. Romans 2:6-8, 2:13, 6:12, 7:4, 8:13). This passage then confirms that the MORAL precepts of the law are not abolished but rather fulfilled, and all of the ten commandments and other moral laws of the Old Covenant hang on the Christian commandment of love. And this law, the Law of Christ’s love, IS binding on all Christians, and no Christian can be justified without abiding and showing this love (Cf. Matthew 5:46). The final verses of the passage exhort the Christian community to vigilance and holiness, to “lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light” (Cf. Romans 13:11-14).
This chapter is essentially a pastoral exhortation by St. Paul, dealing with secondary issues of the faith. The Apostle is speaking about the Jewish dietary laws under the jurisdiction of the Mosaic law which are no longer binding on a Christian. There is now no such thing as ‘clean or unclean’ foods – all food is clean (Cf. Matthew 15:11). In the first fifteen verses of this chapter, St. Paul is attempting to resolve the tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians over this issue by providing guidelines for conduct. In order to reconcile the two groups, he counsels the Gentiles not to despise or scandalize the Jewish Christians, and he exhorts the Jews not to condemn or judge the Gentiles for not following the Mosaic Law. This compromise is possible because it does not consist of an important Christian teaching, but only a secondary one “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking” (Romans 14:17). St. Paul prefers “peace and the building up of one another” (Romans 14:19) to squabbles over secondary issues.
St. Paul reaffirms the message he gave to the Galatians (Cf. Galatians 2:11-14) against the necessity of Jewish food regulations. In verses 20-23, the Apostle reiterates his position that all food is clean. However, there will arise incidents where to eat or drink certain foods gives offense to those who are seated with you. In those situations, to maintain peace, the believer should avoid doing so out of respect for his brother’s beliefs, which are not central to the faith. Today, this might be the case between a “Messianic Jew” who believes that Jesus is the Messiah but also observes the Mosaic ceremonial law, and a Catholic who does not observe the Mosaic ceremonial law.
The central themes in this chapter highlight the Catholic view of justification: perseverance, unity, and obedience. St. Paul exhorts the Christian community to perseverance and unity to be “of the same mind with one another” (Romans 15:5), not just Jews with Jews but Jews with Gentiles (Cf. Romans 15:8-12). And he reminds them that the Gospel results in “obedience…by word and deed” (Cf. Romans 15:18).
St. Paul uses the final chapter to send his greetings to a number of his pupils. He praises their obedience (Cf. Romans 16:19), and teaches them that the gospel has the result of “leading [us] to obedience of faith” (Romans 6:16).
Justification is by faith. But the faith that St. Paul, and the other inspired writers of the bible meant is certainly not one of ‘faith alone’. It is much, much more than that. Faith alone is a presumption of God’s mercy. Justification is by believing in Jesus Christ and obeying His commandments. That means taking up our daily crosses and suffering with Him. It is not the ‘health and wealth’ gospel; it is not ‘trusting in Jesus’ alone; it is not being saved irrevocably. It is the hardship gospel, it is trusting in and doing what Jesus said to do; it is a conditional salvation based on our love for Him.
“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).
The Catholic Legate
November 3, 1998
The Ten Commandments (Cf. Exodus 20):
1. You shall have no other gods before Me. 2. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. 4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 5. Honour your father and mother. 6. You shall not murder. 7. You shall not commit adultery. 8. You shall not steal. 9. You shall not on bear false witness. 10. You shall not to covet they neighbour’s house or wife.
The Code of the Covenant:
The Altar: Exodus 20:22-23:33, 20:22-26 Slaves: Exodus 21:1-11 Personal damages: Exodus 21:12-32 Damages to animals: Exodus 21:33-36 Theft: Exodus 21:37-22:3 Property damages: Exodus 22:4-16 Humanitarian laws: Exodus 22:17-23:9 Festivals and offerings: Exodus 23:10-19 Epilogue: Exodus 23:20-33
Jahwist ritual decalogue (Cf. Exodus 34:17-27)
This collection is entirely religious, dealing with the prohibition of images, festivals, and offerings.
The Deuteronomic Code:
Prohibition of the worship of other gods: Deuteronomy 12 Prophet: Deuteronomy 13:1-5 Punishment of those who tend to Canaanite worship: Deuteronomy 13:6-18 Funeral observances: Deuteronomy 14:1-2 Clean and unclean foods: Deuteronomy 14:3-21 Offerings: Deuteronomy 14:22-29 Sabbath year: Deuteronomy 15:1-18 Offering of first born animals: Deuteronomy 15:19-23 Festivals: Deuteronomy 16:1-17 Judges: Deuteronomy 16:18-20 Superstitious divine symbols: Deuteronomy 16:21 Sacrificial animals: Deuteronomy 17:1 Punishment of superstitious worship: Deuteronomy 17:2-7 Priests as a court of appeal: Deuteronomy 17:8-13 King: Deuteronomy 17:14-20 Levites: Deuteronomy 18:1-8 Sorcery: Deuteronomy 18:9-14 Prophets: Deuteronomy 18:15-22 Jomicide and cities of refuge: Deuteronomy 19:1-13 Landmark: Deuteronomy 19:14 Witnesses: Deuteronomy 19:15-21 War: Deuteronomy 20 Unidentified homicide: Deuteronomy 21:1-9 Marriage: Deuteronomy 21:10-17 Rebellious sons: Deuteronomy 21:18-21 Execution: Deuteronomy 21:22-23 Humanitarian laws: Deuteronomy 22:1-8 Cultic laws: Deuteronomy 22:9-12 Marriage and illicit intercourse: Deuteronomy 22:13-30 Admission into the community of Israel: Deuteronomy 23:1-7 Cleanness of the camp: Deuteronomy 23:8-14 Runaway slaves: Deuteronomy 23:15-16 Cultic prostitution: Deuteronomy 23:17-18 Loans: Deuteronomy 23:19-20 Vows: Deuteronomy 23:21-23 Liberality: Deuteronomy 23:24-25 Divorce: Deuteronomy 24:1-4 Humanitarian: Deuteronomy 24:5-25:4 Levirate: Deuteronomy 25:5-10 Aggravated assault: Deuteronomy 25:11-12 Weights: Deuteronomy 25:13-16 Epilogue: Deuteronomy 26
The Holiness Code:
Prohibition of eating blood: Leviticus 17 Incest and unnatural vice: Leviticus 18 Moral, cultic, and humanitarian laws: Leviticus 19 Superstitious worship and magic: Leviticus 20:1-6 Filial respect: Leviticus 20:7-9 Adultery, unnatural vice, incest: Leviticus 20:10-21 Clean and unclean: Leviticus 20:22-26 Sorcery: Leviticus 20:27 Priests: Leviticus 21 Cleanness in priests and laymen: Leviticus 22:1-16 Qualities and defects of sacrificial animals: Leviticus 22:17-33 Festivals: Leviticus 23 Sanctuary lamp: Leviticus 24:1-4 Shewbread: Leviticus 24:5-9 Blasphemy: Leviticus 24:10-23 Sabbath year: Leviticus 25:1-7 Jubilee year, slavery: Leviticus 25:8-55 Idols and Sabbath: Leviticus 26:1-2 Epilogue of blessings and curses Leviticus 26:3-46
The Priestly Code:
Prohibition of blood after the deluge: Genesis 9:1-7 Law of circumcision following the covenant established with Abraham: Genesis 17:9-14 Passover ritual at the departure from Egypt Exodus 12 Law of the Levites at the departure from Sinai Numbers 3-4;8:5-28 Other laws concerning priests and the Levites after the rebellion of Korah Numbers 18
1. Luther’s preface to the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, pp. 284-290 2. A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, p.1114 3. The Gospel According to Rome, p. 50 4. Faith Alone, p. 73, 168, 171 A – except the Blessed Mother
All bible verses are taken from the New American Standard Bible (Protestant) unless otherwise noted.
1. The Jerusalem Bible[Catholic] (J) 2. The New American Bible [Catholic] (N) 3. The Douay-Rheims Bible [Catholic] (D) 4. The New American Standard Bible [Protestant] (S) 5. The New International Version Bible [Protestant] (I) 6. Dr. Scott Hahn, “Romanism in Romans”, Audio Tapes, St. Joseph’s Communications Inc., 1991 7. Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification, R.C. Sproul, Baker Book House Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1995. 8. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Roland H. Bainton, Abington-Cokesbury Press, New York, N.Y., 1950 9. Protestantism, J. Leslie Dunstan, George Braziller Publisher, New York, N.Y. 1962. 10. The Protestant Reformation, Lewis W. Spitz, Prentice-Hall Inc., Eaglewoods, N.J., 1966. 11. Luther’s Works 12. The Dictionary of the Bible, John L. McKenzie, S.J., The Bruce Publishing Co., Milwaukee, 1965. 13. A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, Various theologians, Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., New York, N.Y. 1953. 14. First Principles of the Reformation, Martin Luther 15. Luther’s preface to the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans (Bertram Lee Wolf, ed., Reformation Writings of Martin Luther, II (New York: Philosophical Library, 1956) 16. Martin Luther, What Luther Says: An anthology, ed. Ewald M. Plass, 3 volumes (St. Louis: Concordia, 1959)