Friday, July 20, 2007

An Old Perspective on Romans 2:13

I'm becoming weary of hearing Romans 2:13 cited as a "prooftext" to defend Paul's alleged doctrine of justification by works (an allegation cited, but rarely argued for or proven).

The verse reads, "For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified."

The issue Paul is dealing with here is the glee on the part of his Jewish readers at his wholesale condemnation of the entire Gentile world (1:18-32). He begins the second chapter, therefore, by castigating those who "call themselves Jews" and are "instructed by the law" but have "sinned under the law," arguing that "every one of you who judges" will be "condemned" and will not "escape the judgment of God," for they were "storing up wrath for [themselves] on the day of wrath" (2:1, 3, 5, 12, 17).

Clearly, Paul is holding up to the Jews the mirror of the law for the purpose of demonstrating that they, no less than the Gentiles, are "in Adam" and, if they remain in this condition, must keep the law if they expect to secure God's heavenly inheritance.

This is not good news, since "both Jews and Greeks are under sin," the law serving to "stop every mouth." "The works of the law," Paul concludes (using "works of the law" and "the law" interchangably), cannot "justify," but only render all men "accountable to God" and "knowlegable of sin" (3:9, 19-20).

The gospel, on the other hand (there's that "Lutheran" law/gospel contrast again), manifests "a righteousness of God apart from the law... through faith in Jesus Christ" (3:21-22). His grand conclusion is that "boasting" is "excluded," not by the "law [or principle] of works," but by the "law [or principle] of faith" (3:27).

I'll bring out some additional implications of this pericope in subsequent posts, but for now, suffice it to say that citing Pauline precedent for the semi-Pelagian doctrine of justification by faith-plus-obedience belongs neither in the PCA, nor in Protestantism for that matter.