NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TEN (Lesson IX)
Now we can see why only perfect people would be able to obtain everlasting life by keeping the Law to perfection. Being perfect, according to the Law, became so frustrating and disappointing that the Jews discarded the Law and returned to what they learned while slaves in Egypt. The prophet Nehemiah was so exasperated as he spoke to God about the many times He had mercy on them and tried to bring them back: “You punished them in order to turn them toward your Laws; but even though they should have obeyed them, they were proud and wouldn’t listen, and continued to sin.“1 That’s why Paul told the Galatians that keeping the Law, under those circumstances, had become a curse.2
But how much different is righteousness that comes by faith in Christ? As Paul told the Philippians: “Everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have put aside all else, counting it worth less than nothing, in order that I can have Christ, and become one with Him, no longer counting on being saved by being good enough or by obeying God’s Laws, but by trusting Christ to save me; for God’s way of making us right with Himself depends on faith—counting on Christ alone.”3
At this point, let us refresh our understanding of God’s righteousness and the righteousness of God. When the Scripture speaks of God’s righteousness, it is talking about the fact that no matter what God does or action He takes He always does what’s right in His eyes. He is a just and loving God. He seeks to save, not to condemn. When we see the term, the righteousness of God, it is defining how our God, who is right, helps us live the right way according to His guidance and teachings. In other words, this ability is imputed into our hearts and mind through regeneration and empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. That means, what we do would be the same thing God would do in a similar situation. So any righteousness a person may claim to have, if it is not in harmony with God’s Word and His will, it is not the righteousness of God.
One Jewish writer who examined the Torah and how it harmonized with the thinking of Paul, wrote that for the Apostle, Yeshua was in a sense the shofar (trumpet) announcing the final year of Jubilee. This was the Gospel; the Good News that God had begun a season like Succoth (Feast of Tabernacles); the in-gathering of the Gentile harvest. God had accomplished this on His own through the obedience of Yeshua, just as He had done with the covenant with Abraham. It was God and not Abraham that walked through the pieces of flesh. Abraham was sleeping.4 Here, God’s final, or more accurately, renewed covenant was allowing the Gentiles a way into God’s community by faith in the faithfulness of Yeshua, just as the Jews are righteous because of the faith of Abraham.
This, in Paul’s view, is why the Gentiles, did not have to become Jews. The Gentiles were baptized (mikvot) into the community and would live as authentic members of the community. God had provided a way for people who were not His people to be His people and not be Jews. None of these ideas are foreign to the Jewish mind. The problems between Paul and the Jewish community were over how to treat Gentile believers, not how a person is justified by works or grace. Nowhere in the Torah does it say that a man is justified by works of the Law. He is sanctified by works, not justified.5
Early church scholar Origen sees the need to clarify how the Law could promise life in return for obedience. One thing that will help us, is to remember that Moses did not say that those who seek righteousness through obedience to the Law will live forever. The promise is that by living and doing what’s right they will have a full and enjoyable life.6 Eternal life could not be promised by the Law because the Messiah was coming to be the end of the Law. Christ then would provide a way to get right with God so that eternal life could be granted. As the Apostle says, without Christ it is impossible to qualify as being righteous by following the Law7.8
In his writings, early church scholar, Jerome, agrees. It was an error for the Jews to justify life in the world-to-come as a result of obeying the Law. The Law was meant for this world, not up in heaven. That’s why Christ came from up there to down here so He could take those who believed in Him down here back with Him up there.9.10 So it is clear that whenever Moses spoke of life through the Law, it was down here, not up there. However, Jewish Rabbis did extrapolate this and began to define it as life in the world-to-come.
Early church scholar Pelagius also sees the need to distinguish between the two kinds of righteousness: Righteousness of Faith and the Righteousness of Works. In this day and age, no one even tries to keep the Law of Moses perfectly. And for those who know the Law’s purpose, they know it is impossible to stand sinless before God without Christ. Believing in Him is also implied in the Law. On account of what Paul says here, some think that the Jews have only earned God’s favor in this present life by the works of the Law. However, what about what Jesus said to the rich young ruler: “If you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.”11
It is easy to understand from this that anyone who kept the Law had everlasting life12.13 But that’s where the confusion comes in. What Pelagius does not say here, but was inherent in what Jesus said, it took the complete and perfect keeping of every Law in order to gain eternal life. Of course, what Jesus came to do, with respect to the Law, would be impossible for any other person to do, and that is to obey it to perfection. So His answer to the rich young ruler was not that eternal life was available to him by keeping the commandments but to show how impossible it was.
So righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ became necessary in order for eternal life to be given. Another early church scholar repeats what we have heard so far when contrasting righteousness by works and righteousness by faith. So for those who accept that Moses said the righteousness of the Law would grant eternal life to those who practiced and live by it, must take into consideration something else Moses said. No one should try getting up to heaven and look for the answer, nor should anyone go down to the center of the earth in search of it. What they are looking for it is already in their hearts. In other words, the true source of righteousness was already taught in the Torah which they memorized, and it pointed to the Messiah. So no one should doubt but believe the command which the Messiah will announce in the future when He will come to give you righteousness by faith.14
John Calvin sees the same forces at work. In this case, Paul compares self-righteousness by works with God’s righteousness by faith just to show how at odds they are with one another. When two competing ideologies or doctrines are placed side by side, it is easier to see where they differ. So he begins with the testimony of Moses, and for a reason. He hoped the Jews would understand that the Law was not delivered by Moses in order to discourage dependence on works as a source for earning God’s righteousness but to lead them to look to the Messiah. This was the same point Paul made to the Galatians.15 He certainly could have referred to the Prophets as witnesses, but it still would not have answered the question of why the Law prescribed two rules for earning righteousness? But it was not needed since there was only one and that was God’s Righteousness.16
Calvin goes on to say that the reason why Paul harmonizes the Law with faith and yet allows for the Law to set the path of righteousness in one direction and faith in the opposite direction. To understand this, we must realize that the word “Law” has a twofold meaning. On the one hand, it refers to the Ten Commandments, and on the other to all the precepts, statutes, sacrifices, Holy Days, rewards, and punishments that Moses outlined in Leviticus. So the Ten Commandments sets the principles of the Law, and these other things explain how they should be carried out. Through these, Moses was instructing the people on the doctrine of repentance and what manner of life was acceptable to God. But now that Messiah has come, the truth of what the Law was trying to teach is now out in the open. So what they once accepted by works they now must accept by faith.
Adam Clarke considers attempting to find righteousness through the Law is like an important riddle. Even though Moses received this Word for the LORD: “You must obey only my Laws, and you must carry them out in detail, for I am the Lord your God. If you obey them, you shall live. I am the Lord,”17 God was not talking about eternal life, but protection from death under the Law. Yet for those who say that it was a promise of salvation are right in one sense. That promise was to anyone who could perform its precepts to the letter. The only ones interested in such a gamble are those who reject Christ’s putting an end to the Law’s reign. No one ever did, nor will anyone ever constantly fulfill each of the Law’s demands to perfection. That’s what it would require to merit salvation by the Law.
Furthermore, Paul already said that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.18 That already puts them all under the curse of the Law.19 It is said: “A curse on anyone who does not confirm the words of this Torah by putting them into practice.”20 So it goes without saying that those who try to earn righteousness and justification by way of the Law are already at a great disadvantage. They have broken the Law so many times it would be impossible to catch up. So here’s the reality: If it were not for the saving grace of God provided by the death of Christ, no soul could ever be saved.21
1 Nehemiah 9:29; (Also see Ezekiel 20:11, 13, 21)
2 Galatians 3:10-13
3 Philippians 3:8-9
4 Genesis 15:8-19; cf. Jeremiah 34:17-20
5 Durham, Cheryl; Williams, Aeryn. The Role of Torah in the Thought of Paul (Locations 94-96). Kindle Edition.
6See Leviticus 18:5
7See Galatians 2:16
8 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 See Leviticus 18:5; Galatians 3:12
10 Jerome: Sermons on the Gospel of Mark 76
11 Matthew 19:17
12 This clearly shows a distinction between both what Origen and Jerome said.
13 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 [Pseudo-]Constantius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 Galatians 3:24
16 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 Leviticus 18:4-5
18 Romans 3:23
19 Galatians 3:10, 13
20 Deuteronomy 27:26
21 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 202-203