Sunday, April 12, 2020

Does Paul Teach Against Justification By Works Or Works Of The Law Only?

  • Discussion:
          -Tim Staples wrote an article where he attempts to interact with common texts cited against the Catholic view of justification such as Romans 3:28, 4:4-5, and Ephesians 2:8-9. Following are a handful of excerpts from the author along with a critique:

          "...First, it is true that St. Paul does not say works of law in Romans 4:5. But the context makes it very clear that St. Paul was referring to circumcision in particular and the same “works of law” he was referring to in Romans 3:28. Romans 3:28 down to Romans 4:5 represents one continuous thought in answering the Judaizers and their insistence upon circumcision and keeping the Old Covenant in order to be saved."

          Even assuming that Paul is addressing circumcision in Romans 4:5, that would have no bearing on the argument for Sola Fide because that ritual is a good work and can still be utilized as an example of works not contributing to our justification. The apostle deals with the Jewish Law and good works as a category.

          In verse two, Paul says "justified by works." In verse four, he refers to "the one who works." In verse six, Paul says that one is justified by faith "apart from works." In this context, he even uses Abraham who was not under the Levitical system as his first example. There is no reason to believe that "works of the Law" applies only to works of the ceremonial law. Also, the New English Translation has this footnote on Romans 3:20:

          "...interpreters, like C. E. B. Cranfield (“‘The Works of the Law’ in the Epistle to the Romans,” JSNT 43 [1991]: 89–101) reject this narrow interpretation for a number of reasons, among which the most important are: (1) The second half of v. 20, “for through the law comes the knowledge of sin,” is hard to explain if the phrase “works of the law” is understood in a restricted sense; (2) the plural phrase “works of the law” would have to be understood in a different sense from the singular phrase “the work of the law” in 2:15; (3) similar phrases involving the law in Romans (2:13, 14; 2:25, 26, 27; 7:25; 8:4; and 13:8) which are naturally related to the phrase “works of the law” cannot be taken to refer to circumcision (in fact, in 2:25 circumcision is explicitly contrasted with keeping the law). Those interpreters who reject the “narrow” interpretation of “works of the law” understand the phrase to refer to obedience to the Mosaic law in general."

          Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes, in their book titled When Cultists Ask, p. 214, notes concerning the Apostle Paul's use of works of the Law:

          "To limit all of Paul's condemnations of "works" to only works of the law of Moses is like limiting God's condemnation of homosexuality in the Old Testament (cf. Lev. 18, 20) to Jews since these passages occur only in the Mosaic law which was written to Jews. And, to grant that a moral law (e.g., natural law) exists outside the law of Moses is to grant the Protestant point that "works" here are not just limited to works of the Mosaic law. The truth is that the condemnations are more broadly applicable than the immediate context in which they arose. The same is true of Paul's condemnation of meritorious "works" as a means of salvation. To limit Paul's condemnation to works of self-righteousness as opposed to meritorious works is reading into the text a distinction that is not there."

          William D. Barrick, in his essay titled The New Perspective and "Works of the Law" (Gal. 2:16 and Rom. 3:20), p. 278-279, writes:

          "In the intertestamental period, sectarian authors at Qumran spoke of the members of their community as "doers/workers of the law" (ośê hattorāh, 1QpHab 7:11; 8:1; 12:4). They did not indicate that "the law” in such cases was limited to circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, or dietary regulations. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, one of the world's leading authorities on Qumran, Aramaic, and the intertestamental period, concludes that Qumran materials (especially 4QMMT 3.29) rule out the suggestion of both Dunn, about a restricted sense of erga nomou, ..., and Gaston, that the gen. nomou is a subjective gen[itive]."

          "When it comes to Romans 7:6-7, we need to go a bit deeper in our response. St. Paul does use the ninth and tenth commandments as examples of “law” that cannot save us. St. Paul is using the example of the “Judaizers” to teach all of us a deeper truth about the nature of justification and works. The works that justify us (as we saw in Romans 2:6-7) are works done in Christ. When the “Judaizers” were insisting a return to the Old Covenant was necessary for salvation, they were, in essence, saying Christ and the New Covenant are not enough. And in so doing, they were ipso facto rejecting Jesus Christ and the New Covenant."

          Paul says that the Law is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12; 16). In other words, it reflects the character of God. Thus, there exists no new law by which we can be justified. Romans 7:6-7 is a problem for Tim's position because it shows us that Paul had much more than circumcision in mind when mentioning works of the Law. He even distinguishes between circumcision and following commandments (1 Corinthians 7:19). Consequently, Paul excludes the moral aspects of the Law as grounds for justification before God. He goes as far as to say that love fulfills the Law (Galatians 5:14). There is not a single good work that does not fit into that category. The Apostle Paul does not say that we "can only perform salvific acts in Christ." It is always by faith (Galatians 3:1-3).

          "Just so no one would get the wrong idea of what St. Paul was saying, it seems, he put it plain and simple in Galatians 5:19-21 and 6:7-9. There is no way we can get “justification by faith alone” that excludes works as necessary for justification in any and every sense if we read these texts carefully. St. Paul makes clear that if Christians allow themselves to be dominated by their “flesh,” or lower nature, they will not make it to heaven."

          In Galatians 5:19-21, the Apostle Paul contrasts works of the flesh with works of the Spirit. In Galatians 6:7-9, he states that the wicked will face eternal judgement. These passages, however, are not related to the instance of justification. They are different contexts. Galatians 2:16, 3:11, and 3:22 are clear that justification is not obtained by works.

          In Romans 3:27, Paul raises a rhetorical question: "By what kind of law? Of works?" If there was some new law which we could obey to get saved from eternal condemnation, then this would have been the ideal place for him to mention it. But that does not happen. What Paul is arguing against is the law of works. He is excluding works in general.

          The Roman Catholic Church shares a glaring parallel with the Judaizers, who claimed that believers needed to revert to observing the Law in addition to faith in Christ for salvation. The Roman Catholic Church denies the sufficiency of faith as the instrument of justification by adding sacraments. Both groups mix Law with grace. Such was categorically condemned by the Apostle Paul as a false gospel (Galatians 1:6-12).


  1. Really good article, Jesse!

    It is so true that the Catholic Church shares a glaring parallel with the Judaizers. They just don't see it. You've responded to a major Catholic apologist's article very well. And I don't think that there is anything he could come back with to honestly refute your case.

    Great job! Keep up the good work!

  2. I do believe you have the better argument, although I do not get to see Staple’s whole argument, and being the rebuttal is usually the easier side. All in all, I do believe your interpretation is the correct one. Paul is talking about the whole of the law does not save. However, it is these ritualistic, specifically Jewish precepts are the ones that Gentiles do not need to follow. Even Bart Ehrman agrees with that. Paul recognizes that the true Christian will do these more universal ethics, and even must, even though it is not the saving factor.
    But Jesus says that if you love me you will keep my commandments. I don’t think that works save you, if they did it somewhat undermines Christ’s sacrifice. But they are a necessary part of the salvation process of Faith, they are the realization of the true faith which saves, giving nods to Aristotle. The sacraments are the actualization of a grace that God gives, a confirmation on our part that we believe, and trust God. So if we love and trust God, we will follow His law.

    1. Sean, so are you saying that if we do not follow God's laws to the letter we cannot be saved?

      We do works BECAUSE we are saved, not to be saved. We are save only by faith in Christ and his work on the cross and his resurrection. There are absolutely NO Jewish laws that are required for salvation. No works are required for salvation, but one who is save will show it by their works.

    2. Man is justified by works and not by faith alone. God does not control you. St paul says we co-work with God.

    3. Anonymous,

      The first sentence of your comment is somewhat of a paraphrase of James 2:24, which has been dealt with thoroughly in this article:

      There is nothing here to suggest that man loses his free will upon conversion. It seems to me that you are attacking some garbled version of Calvinism, which is not even something I believe in.

  3. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." Eph. 2:10 This verse makes it clear, as does James 2, that the believer is to be about good works AFTER salvation, not FOR salvation. We are created (born-again) in Christ Jesus for this very purpose.

  4. Some excellent points Jesse. I find it fascinating that Romanists attempt to make a distinction between the moral aspects of the Jewish Law and the ceremonial aspects of the Jewish Law, as though they were two different sets of laws. Every aspect of morality, as traditionally understood in the western world, finds its roots in the Jewish Law (contained in the Pentateuch). I fail to understand how Staples can hold to this distinction when he himself admits that in Romans 7:7 Paul asserts that he would not have known that covetousness was a sin apart from the Jewish Law [νόμος].

  5. Hi Jesse, like Glenn said and you already know we do works because were saved . Not to earn salvation. I guess the confusion arises with people on this issue is due to the fact that works always accompanies saving faith so they assume the works save them. Works simply demonstrate living faith.