Galatians 3:10-14 and Works of the Law
Gal. 3:10 - Deuteronomy 27:26
Gal. 3:11-Habakkuk 2:4
Gal. 3:12 - Leviticus 18:5, Ezekiel 20:11, 13
Gal. 3:13 and Deuteronomy 21:23
Works of the Law - A - Ceremonial Only?
Works of the Law - B - Any Kind of Law?
What Works do Save? - Conclusion
In this paper I will focus on the issue of "works of the law" and the Old Testament quotations that Paul makes in Galatians 3. This issue is foundational to the issue of how one is made right before God. I would particularly like to focus on Galatians 3:10-14, where Paul details how works of the law do not justify, and cites Old Testament passages to prove his point. Paul is a skillful user of the Old Testament in applying to the New Covenant, and if we see his use of the Old Testament as inspired, we must examine the background of these citations in order to understand his application of these verses to New Testament theology.
After I examine Paul's use of these citations, I will see how various scholars and apologists, Catholic and Protestant, view the term 'works of the law.' There are varying Protestant and Catholic positions on these issues, and I will address them. How do these varying views square with Paul's use? It is clear that in Paul's eyes that the deeds, or works of the law do not make one right before God (Rom. 3:20, 28; Gal. 2:16; 3:10-14).
Paul introduces the term 'works of the law' in Galatians in 2:16 in reference to his dispute with Peter's lack of courage, and not eating with uncircumcised people. Here he writes three times that faith justifies, not the works of the law. He does not use the term that one is justified by faith alone, although many read that into the passage. In chapter 3, Paul writes that not only do works of the law not justify (vv. 2,5), but they do not bring the Holy Spirit or work miracles. Paul next references the faith of Abraham (Gal. 3:6-9, cf., Gen. 12, 15, and 22). Although in this section (Gal. 2:16-3:9) there are important matters relevant to our discussion, in this paper, I will focus on Paul's use of the Old Testament in
10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them." 11 Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law; for "He who through faith is righteous shall live"; 12 but the law does not rest on faith, for "He who does them shall live by them." 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, "Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree." 14 that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
There are four and arguably five Old Testament citations that Paul makes in this section. When Paul writes in Galatians he assumes that the readers will know the background to these citations. Paul was steeped in the Old Testament. Unfortunately, we are not. In order to understand Paul, we must understand the background to these citations, verse by verse.
Gal. 3:10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them."
In Galatians 3:10 Paul cites Deuteronomy 27:26: "Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them." Before we get to what the curses are for, we should look at what the book of the law is. Besides Deuteronomy 27:26, as cited by Paul, the term book of the law is referenced nine times in Deuteronomy (Dt. 17:18; 28:58, 61, 29:20, 21, 27; 30:10; 31:24, 26). Each time it is used it is exclusively used in reference to the book of Deuteronomy. Eight of the nine times this phrase is used; it is in the context of the people's actions bringing either God's cursing or blessing. The promises of God are conditional on whether the people will keep the covenant that they themselves assented to. Moses in fact concludes this section that the book of the law will be put "on the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God that it may be there for a witness against thee" (Dt. 31:26). In the midst of the cursing that the people of
Some argue that the book of Deuteronomy mostly consists of ceremonial laws that Paul argues could be done away with, and that supposedly limits the meaning of the term works of the law. Actually, the beginning of Moses' charge is a recitation of the Ten Commandments (Dt. 5:6-21, cf., Ex. 20:1-17). As Jesus taught to enter life we must keep the commandments (Mt. 19:17), it is obvious that this was not done away with (cf., 1 Cor. 7:9). Chapter six is where we get the Shema, and the command to love the Lord your God with all your heart soul, mind and strength (Dt. 6:4), which Jesus also affirmed (Mt. 22:37). Next is an encouragement to keep the commandments (vv. 7-9, 25), and a commandment to not follow other gods (Dt. 6:7-9, 14, 25).
Chapters seven and eight encourage the people not to follow false gods (Dt. 7:4, 23; 8:19), and reminds people of God's faithfulness. Next is reminder of their own unfaithfulness during the time of their wandering (Dt. 9). Then after he reminds the people of God's mercy, Moses tells them to fear the Lord your God and to keep the commandments (Dt. 10:12-16). He even commands them to circumcise the foreskin of their hearts (Dt. 10:16). This foreshadows Paul writing about the circumcision of the heart (Dt. 10:16; cf., Eze. 36:24, Rom. 2:29).
The Laws of the Sanctuary are based on not following other gods (Dt. 12:1-3). The ending of chapter 12 warns that they would get cut off if they follow after other gods (Dt. 12:29-32). The laws of Chapter 13 are given in reference to not following after false prophets (Dt. 13:1-5) because they must follow only after God and obey his commandments. Those who are punished are punished because they follow after other gods (Dt. 13:13-15). The law of Debts is based on helping poor people and giving help to such people (Dt. 15:7-11), which Jesus gives as criteria for a separation from those going to heaven and those going to hell Mt. 25:31-46; Gal. 2:6; 6:9). The next chapter shows that one must not pervert justice, nor take bribes, and only do justice (Dt. 16:18-22).
The laws of chapter 17 are putting to death those who are wicked, and follow after other gods (Dt. 17:3-7) and to not be greedy with gold and wives (Dt. 17:15-18) Chapter 18 includes condemnation of sorcerers, witches, mediums, and false prophets (Dt. 18:10-22). Next are laws of justice, lessening punishments for accidental deaths, and getting witnesses to confirm charges so innocent people would not be punished (Dt. 19). People who go to war are warned against following after the false gods of their opponents (Dt 20:16-18). The principle of the Law of unknown murder is based on not punishing innocent people (Dt. 21:8), and punishing rebellious sons (Dt. 21:18-23). I can go on, but space is limited.
All the principles that are shown behind the laws as given in the book of Deuteronomy, have moral underpinnings that are carried over into the New Covenant. We are called in the New Covenant to not follow sorcery and witchcraft (Gal. 5:20; Rev. 22:15). The principles of justice and mercy echo Jesus and Paul's call for justice and mercy (Mt. 5:7; Lk. 10:37; 2 Cor. 2:5-10). Predominant in the Deuteronomy laws were laws based on not following after other gods, echoed by Jesus and Paul. Those who the laws saw as wicked (those who kill and follow other gods) are wicked as well in the New Covenant, and are condemned to hell based on the violation of those laws (Gal. 5:20-21). Positive laws given in Deuteronomy, such as circumcising the heart (Dt. 10:16) are likewise not ceremonial laws.
Now we should look at the immediate background to the Deuteronomy 27:26 citations. Paul is condemning as cursed those who rely on the works of the law for their salvation in Galatians 3:10. In the beginning of Deuteronomy 27, we see Moses, the elders, and the Levites, calling on all the people of
Previously Paul was focused on circumcision as part of the Works of the Law that did not save (Gal. 2:16). Now when he references works of the law (Gal. 3:10) he alludes specifically to a covenant that included moral laws. Dependence on these for salvation brings a curse.
[As we will see developed later on, Paul's point is that law, as a system, will not save anybody. If one relies on the law as a system for salvation, it will not provide it. That is because if one approaches God on the basis of one's own prowess, one attempts to make God a debtor. The only way one can be justified if he approaches God in that way, is if he perfectly keeps the law. Paul shows that one who relies on law in this way, only brings a curse upon himself, as no one can keep the law perfectly (Gal. 3:10; 5:3-4).. As Paul writes in all of Galatians, however, grace is the only system that will justify. As Paul will later show that does not mean that law is done away with, but that it is not the means of justification, per se. When one is in the realm of grace, and with the Holy Spirit (the whole context of Gal. 3:1-14 is connected with the Holy Spirit, and being in grace), to be pleasing to God. Then, 100% perfection is not required, as when in the realm of grace, one is put in a Father-Son relationship (Gal. 4:4-7), where the strict, rigid, requirements of the law are not in place.]
Gal. 3:11 Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law; for "He who through faith is righteous shall live."
This passage references Habakkuk 2:4. Paul mentions Habakkuk and writes that the law justifies no one. He is definitive about the issue, and leaves no ground that there are others who can live up to the law, by the law's power.
Habakkuk is a prophet who complains to God that justice does not seem to flourish in his day. His first complaint is that even though he cries out for justice, God does not seem to answer. Violence and injustice reign (Hab. 1:2-4). Habakkuk even complains that the law is powerless (Hab. 1:4). This context is in Paul's mind when he references Habakkuk. God's first response is that he will raise up the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to punish his people (Hab. 1:5-11). That perplexes Habakkuk even more. He asks in his next complaint (Hab. 1:12-2:1) how could God use the wicked Babylonians to set the Israel nation right when they are even more evil than the Jewish nation that Habakkuk had just complained about? After all, God's holiness is so pure that he cannot look at wickedness (Hab. 1:13). God's second response is that not only will the disobedient Jews be punished through the Babylonians, but the Babylonians themselves, who are proud, will also be punished (Hab. 2:12-20). Paul uses Hab. 2:4 and here is the context:
2:2 And the LORD answered me: "Write the vision; make it plain upon tablets, so he may run who reads it. 3 For still the vision awaits its time; it hastens to the end--it will not lie. If it seem slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. 4 Behold, he whose soul is not upright in him shall fail, but the righteous shall live by his faith. 5 Morever, wine is treacherous; the arrogant man shall not abide.
In his responses, God condemned those (whether they were Jews or Babylonians) who were proud of themselves and did not rely upon God. God assures Habakkuk that the unrighteous and proud people will not prevail. God will even use unrighteous people to punish other unrighteous people, and in the meantime, even the righteous may be punished; nevertheless, those who are live truly (the assumption is of course one can only be righteous when seen through God's eyes of grace) righteously, will indeed live, and be rewarded by God. He assures Habakkuk that only those who put their trust in God, and put their lives in life-long service to him, will live in God's sight. In this passage (v. 4) God gives a contrast: Those who are proud are not upright in God's eyes and they will fail. Those who are humble, and indeed are truly righteous, will not fail. Paul's use of this passage contrasts the proud as being dependent on works of the law and cursed, with the humble who live faithfully before God as seen through his eyes of grace.
Robert Sungenis analyzes the grammatical backdrop of the word faith used in Habakkuk 2:4: "The righteous shall live by faith." He points out that the word that Habakkuk writes for "faith," is derived from the Hebrew word emunah. The normal connotation of this word is that of continued "faithfulness," rather than a one time act of faith. He argues that it could have easily been translated, "the just shall live by his faithfulness." Sungenis notes:
Of the 49 times that the word is used in the Old Testament, over half of the passages refer to "faithfulness" (e.g., Psalm 89:1, 2, 5, 8, 24, 33; 119:75, 90, Pro. 28:20; Lam. 3:23, et al). Other passages refer to "truth" or "steadfastness" (e.g., Jer. 5:1, 3). It is also worthy of note that in many of these passages emunah is used in reference to the character of God as much as it is to men.(1)
Paul's reference to this passage shows that the one who lives by faith does not live by the letter of the law to achieve righteousness in God's sight. Habakkuk does not reference any ceremonial law. [Habakkuk has such a faith that he knows God will indeed do the right thing. He has a faith similar to Abraham who Paul is comparing Habakkuk to, cf. Gal. 3:6-9. Habakkuk has the same faith as Abraham, "believing in a God who calls things that are not as though they were, and a reality, they are. (Rom. 4:17)"] The condemnation of proud people who violate God's laws as enunciated in both of God's responses shows that the moral laws are important, though they are not the ultimate means of righteousness in God's sight. As Sungenis notes:
Anyone who attempts to make himself right with God by his own works is one who is "puffed up", one who "boasts" of his own goodness and is filled with his own self-importance and significance (cf., Luke 18:9)." His attitude and lifestyle do not please God. As a consequence, the law by which he attempts to make himself acceptable to God is the very law which will be fully employed against him. (2)
One must be humble, and recognize that God is faithful in rewarding those who live in his grace. The person must live righteously to stay within that grace. There is no mention anywhere of an imputation of an alien righteousness. The righteousness that avails in God's eyes is that which is given by God and interior to the person, so the just can live by faithfulness.
The people of
[An important aspect that Paul shows is that the Judaizing Christians were boasting in the law, and relied on their adherence, as the means of justification. Paul in this passage contrasts Habakkuk's faith with that of the boastful. In the immediate context of Paul quoting Habakkuk 2:4, is the fact that "arrogant man shall not abide (Hab. 2:5)." The arrogant and boastful were not justified during the time of Habakkuk, and they are not justified during the time of Paul. Here Paul's point is that the disposition of those who relied on the law for justification, was the main part of their problem. The boasting aspect of the "works of the law" is what Paul condemns in other passages (Rom. 2:17, 23; 3:27; 4:2; Eph. 2:9). He will contrast those who are arrogant and boastful, to those who walk by faith, obedience, and trust in God. For example, when mentioning Abraham, he mentions that his faith was not one which he would boast about (
Gal. 3:12 but the law does not rest on faith, for "He who does them shall live by them."
In this passage Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5 which says: "You shall therefore keep my statutes and my ordinances, by doing which a man shall live: I am the LORD." In referencing this passage, Paul writes that the law is not of faith. If a man will do, he will live. The history of
24 Do not defile yourselves by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am casting out before you defiled themselves; 25 and the land became defiled, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you shall keep my statutes and my ordinances and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you 27 (for all of these abominations the men of the land did, who were before you, so that the land became defiled); 28 lest the land vomit you out, when you defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.
Notice that just as God would punish those alien nations by 'vomiting out its inhabitants', he also promised that if his own people commit such sins, and break these laws, they would likewise be vomited out, and put into exile. At the time that Paul is writing this passage, the people of
Scott Hahn argues that in Galatians Paul actually quotes from Ezekiel where three times (Eze. 20:11, 13, and 21), it quotes from Leviticus 18:5.(3) He who has coined the phrase 'salvation history', notes that some scholars have called Ezekiel 20, 'damnation history'. This would make Paul's point even stronger. Ezekiel is a witness that the people have not kept the laws that God commanded. Leviticus 18:5:
You shall therefore keep my statutes and my ordinances, by doing which a man shall live: I am the LORD. Moreover I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I the LORD sanctify them.
10 So I led them out of the
But the children rebelled against me; they did not walk in my statutes, and were not careful to observe my ordinances, by whose observance man shall live; they profaned my Sabbaths. "Then I thought I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the wilderness.
Three times in fact Ezekiel does quote Leviticus 18. Surrounding the verses are a showing of how the house of
[Paul shows again that if one approaches God through the works of the law, one must keep the law perfectly; however, as we saw earlier (Gal. 3:10), no one can keep it perfectly. This is consonant with what Paul writes later in Gal. 5:3-4:
I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.]
Gal. 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, "Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree."
Paul specifically cites Deuteronomy that Jesus took the curse for our sins. Here is the background to the citation, (Dt. 21:18-23):
18 "If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they chastise him, will not give heed to them 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20 and they shall say to the elders of his city, 'This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard. 21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel shall hear, and fear 22 "And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree 23 his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a man is accursed by God; you shall not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance.
Paul applies the curse of the man who is hung upon the tree in Deuteronomy to Jesus. Jesus incurs a punishment of a common criminal. We see in Deuteronomy a rebellious son called a glutton and a drunkard (v. 20). That is what Jesus is charged with during his ministry (Luke 7:34, Mt. 11:19).
As can be seen from the passage quoted in Deuteronomy, hanging on a tree is a particularly disgraceful act, as the one who is hanged on the tree "defiles the land." There are echoes of the term, being cursed by hanging on the tree, in relation to covenant. For example, Joshua made an agreement with the Gibeonites that he would not kill them (Jos. 9). Joshua then rescued the Gibeonites when the Amorites and others attacked them (Jos. 10:1-43). A covenant was thus established between the Gibeonites and the people of
Gal. 3:14 that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
After Paul uses the five Old Testament references, he ties these references back to the example of Abraham. This is not a digression (although at first glance it may seem to be), but a linking of these passages to the faith of Abraham, which shows how indeed one is justified. We see a progression of events. First, in v. 10 we see the time when the Deuteronomic covenant was given, and being attached to a curse. In v. 11, we see Paul referring to Habakkuk who sees that the people have broken the covenant and God promises punishment. In v. 12, if the theory about Paul seeing Leviticus through Ezekiel is accurate, we see Ezekiel looking in hindsight at God's punishment and exile of his people as his response to the breaking of covenant. In v. 13, Christ bears the curse for the sins of the people. The Deuteronomic covenant and
The question in the beginning of Galatians 3 is how did one receive the Holy Spirit, by works of the law, or by faith? How is one perfected, by faith, or works of the law? (Gal. 3:1-5). Paul links the justification, blessing of Abraham to his ongoing faith (Gal. 3:6-9; cf. Gen. 12; Gen. 15; 22).
Paul unequivocally shows through his Old Testament references what does not save, or give the Holy Spirit: Works of the Law. In the prior chapter (esp. Gal. 2:16) Paul confirmed that circumcision does not justify. In these references that we have examined (3:10-13) we see that the mere giving of the law does not bring the blessing that was promised to the spiritual descendants of Abraham, and instead promised a curse. We can see that the Pauline Old Testament references have little or no relation to circumcision, or what often is referred to as the ceremonial Mosaic law. Paul pointed to the book of the law given in Deuteronomy specifically as to how it does not justify or give the Holy Spirit. The Deuteronomy references referred specifically to how the people were unable to perfectly keep the law, primarily the moral law. One who relies on the works of the law as a means of salvation are under a curse as Paul writes in Gal. 3:10, which refers to Deuteronomy 27. The surrounding context of curses showed that this law could only bring curses. This law that many of the Judaizers relied on for their salvation only guaranteed a curse of the nation of
Paul's reference to Habakkuk (Gal. 3:11) gives the solution to the problem. God gives Habakkuk the answer of how in exile they should look for the heavenly city, the heavenly
Galatians 3:10-14 and the Meaning of Works of the Law
There are different views of what the term "Works of the Law" means. In the final part of this paper, I want to examine how the varying views of Works of the Law stack up to what we have examined in Galatians 3. Although there are shades of views within each of the views I will present, I will try to limit my analysis to three overall views. Due to space considerations I will consider only a few people who present the various views.
There are some not only Catholic but Protestant commentators, who will argue that works of the law are limited to circumcision, and other ceremonial, Mosaic laws. There is no doubt that the ceremonial laws are in the background. Throughout the epistle to the Galatians, from beginning to end, indeed there is a condemnation of those who rely on circumcision as a means of justification. Paul does put into public his dispute with Peter precisely over that issue (Gal. 2:11-21). Observing the works of the law here is imposing circumcision. One who gets himself circumcised for the purpose of fulfilling the works of the law imposes an obligation on himself to obey the whole law, (Gal. 5:3) which no one can keep (Gal. 5:4; 3:10). Paul is indeed so irritated at the Judaizers that he wished his opponents would mutilate themselves (Gal. 5:12). At the end of the book he again writes that the circumcizers do not in fact obey this whole law (Gal. 6:13). They thus condemn themselves. One who has an obligation relationship instead of a Father-Son relationship will be condemned.
I will take an example of a Catholic apologist who argues that the works of the law are ceremonial. He argues the "moral work of the Torah" is not included in Paul's phrase "works of Torah." He argues that:
Paul clearly has the ceremonial works in mind but he does not clearly have the moral work in mind. This is indicated by the fact that he repeatedly and explicitly stresses the non-necessity of ceremonial works, and especially circumcision, but he never repeatedly or explicitly stresses the non-necessity of the moral work, such as love.
He argues that Paul always make such a distinction between the moral law and the ceremonial law. He writes that the works of the law do not include this moral law.
He is correct in stating that the Works of the Law include the ceremonial law; nevertheless, our examination of Galatians 3, with the five Old Testament passages alluded to, confirm that it is not possible to limit works of the law to ceremony. Thus when Paul writes of the works of the law that do not save, it includes the moral laws that no one could keep perfectly. For example, we have seen in Gal. 3:10 Paul quote Deuteronomy 27:26. It is the last of the twelve curses in which most of the Ten Commandments were cited. Not one of the twelve curses were ceremonial laws. The works of the law leads to a curse. The allusion to God telling Habakkuk that the just shall live by faithfulness (Gal. 3:11, cf., Hab. 2:4) is surrounded by people breaking not ceremonial, but moral laws.
[When we earlier examined Paul's allusion to Habakkuk (Gal. 3:1, cf., Hab. 2:2-5) we saw that the people who God condemned were proud and arrogant (Hab. 2:5). We also noted that those who were boastful were the ones condemned in the book of Romans (Rom. 2:17, 23; 3:27; 4:2). This is exactly the same kind of self-righteousness that Jesus condemns in the gospels. For example, Jesus said to the Pharisees, (Luke 16:15): "But he said to them, You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.(cf., Lk. 18:9). " Jesus also said "whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" in the midst of his condemnation of the Pharisees exaltation of themselves (Mt. 23:12).]
The other passages (Gal. 3:12 cf., Lev. 18:5; Eze. 20:11, 13, 21) specifically deal with the punishment given to people who could not perfectly keep the moral laws. Paul began the passage writing that no one can keep these laws. The specific laws in question are moral laws.
He writes that it is "extremely unlikely" that the moral law is part of works of the law, but if it did, it would not hurt his case. He quotes
One can validly say that the reference of Paul is to Leviticus through Ezekiel Gal. (3:12; Lev. 18:5; Eze. 20:10-13, 21); nevertheless, it is error to maintain that the passage that these statutes and judgment that could not give life, as referring exclusively to the ceremonial laws (Eze. 20:25). Does Ezekiel write or even hint that these statutes or judgments are exclusively ceremonial? The main problem in Ezekiel 20 is that God recounted the people following idols and false gods and breaking the moral laws. The passage in Leviticus which it is taken from (Lev. 18:5) is a chapter that deals exclusively with sexual sins, moral laws. In fact, when we studied Deuteronomy earlier, the term that God had added ; 'statutes and judgments' included the ten commandments (Dt. 5:1-21) and loving the Lord with one's heart, soul, and might (Dt. 6:1, 5). Moral laws that God called his people to, as we saw earlier surrounded the phrase statutes and judgments in the book of Deuteronomy. These were not something done away with in the New Covenant. No one could keep these moral laws perfectly and as a system of law, they can not justify.
Other Catholic apologists who argue that it is "primarily" ceremonial laws do not come to terms with this section of Galatians 3:10-14. The Old Testament background in each case was
The view of the so-called Reformers is that no kind of law will justify. This view is that one only gets justified when a forensic righteousness is imputed to the believer, and that is the only grounds of justification. They hold that sanctification is only a necessary byproduct of this imputation of righteousness.
This view holds that even with the Holy Spirit, a believer's actions will always be tainted with sin, and therefore can never be any part of any grounds of justification. That is why one needs Christ's imputed righteousness. In the research that I did on the issue, the various opponents of the Catholic position would say that the Catholic position on works were incompatible with Paul's writings on works of the law (Rom. 3:20, 28; Gal. 2:16, 3:10).
RC Sproul in his book "Faith Alone" quotes John Calvin's approvingly:
Let it therefore remain settled that this proposition is exclusive, that we are justified in no other way than by faith, or, which comes to the same thing, that we are justified by faith alone.(4)
Only faith is an instrument of justification. Works of the law, according to Sproul and Calvin, are thus any kind of law.
James Buchanan writes that any kind of works that we do are invariably soiled, and thus even those done in the grace of the Holy Spirit can never meet the justice of God. He writes:
Neither the faith, nor the repentance, nor the love nor the holiness, nor the new obedience, of the most mature believer, is such as to fulfill the spiritual requirements of the divine Law; while, imperfect as they all are in themselves, they are invariably soiled and contaminated by some 'spots of the flesh,' and defiled by the constant presence, and frequent pollutions, of indwelling sin. (5)
We see thus the so-called "Reformed" position believing that such statements as Gal. 3:10 condemn any and all types of work as not meeting the just requirements of God. In the section we are studying (Gal. 3:10-14) we see that what is contrasted to salvation is not those works done in holiness in the sight of God and done in God's grace. In the prior chapter (Gal. 2) Paul had condemned those who relied on circumcision. In this section, we see the people condemned by works of the law including those who were proud, and relied upon their own power, in contrast to those who receive the Holy Spirit (Gal. 3:5, 6, 14). In fact in none of the citations does Paul condemn those who do good works in the grace of God as being those that are condemned. The works of the law in fact is contrasted to those who live by the Holy Spirit. Thus, the error of Buchanan and other Faith Alone people is that they ignore this contrast and put those in the same category as those who depend on Works of the Law.
[The presumption that is foisted on the text by these Protestant apologists is that since no one can perfectly keep the law, all are condemned who believe any kind of law is necessary for salvation. The logical step for them is next to say that since no one can perfectly keep the law, one needs alien righteousness of Christ to be imputed to one's account. It is purely a forensic scheme, where Christ's perfect righteousness is laid to one's account that will perfectly satisfy God's justice. God will not see one's own righteousness, but only Christ's righteousness. The problem is that nowhere in Galatians 3:10-14, or actually nowhere else in the book of Galatians (or actually anywhere in the Bible) is it stated that on judgment day, one person's basis for going to heaven is an alien righteousness laid to one's account. There is no scene that says that those who go to hell go there because of this lack of an alien righteousness. In fact, in every judgment scene, this separation is based on faithfulness or lack of faithfulness (
[In one sense there may seem to be a discontinuity. On the one hand, the Bible teaches under the rubric of law that if one breaks only one part of the law, one is condemned (Gal. 3:10; Gal. 5:3-4, Jm. 2:10). On the other hand, every single judgment scene in the Bible shows the separation from those who go to heaven and those who go to hell, as being based on works and obedience. The solution that the Bible shows is not the alien righteousness, nowhere found in the context of Galatians 3, but God's eyes of grace. If one relies on Works of the Law, that person will be condemned, no doubt; nevertheless those such as Abraham are those who become children of God (Gal. 4:4-7) and are seen through the eyes of grace. Abraham is a perfect example. Even after Abraham was given great promises of blessings (Gen. 12 & 15), Abraham fell into various sins because of his lack of trust in God (Gen. 12:10-20; 16:1-6). If Abraham would have operated in the rubric of law (i.e. works of the law), those sins would have condemned him forever; nevertheless, he came back into God's grace and showed humility. He came back into that realm of grace, and became a father of faith to succeeding generations. Only when one is within the rubric of grace, do works become meritorious. Thus, when Abraham offered his son Isaac to God in sacrifice (Gen. 22:15-19, cf.,
[One of the judgment scenes I earlier referred to also shows how one is justified when God looks through the eyes of grace.
4 Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 For he will render to every man according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality. 12 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. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.]
[Verse 4 is central to this whole section. Paul writes that it is only God's kindness and forbearance that leads the person to repentance before God. One must be humble and acknowledge that it is only God's kindness that puts one within the realm of God's grace. If one is hard of heart, he will be condemned (v. 5). Thus, before one's works are judged by God, it must be determined whether one is within God's eyes of grace. If one is within that realm of grace (v.4), those works can be meritorious. Then verses 6-13 show that one's obedience or disobedience become the grounds of whether people go to heaven or hell. Then God will render according to works. If one does good, one will be rewarded with heaven (vv. 7, 10-11). If one disobeys they will go to hell (vv. 8-9). In the end, one can become a doer of the law, but as we have seen the system of law, in and of itself is not the basis for justification. As Paul writes, one must be a doer of law, but one can become that only when one realizes that it is purely God's mercy and kindness can one become a doer of the law. Ultimately, it is still the system of grace that saves. Thus, when we look at all the other judgment scenes I referred to earlier, all those whose works and obedience brought them rewards, namely eternal life, was only because God looked at their works through the system of grace. Nevertheless, even if at one time one was within the system of grace, commission of deadly sins (1 Jn 5:16-17) would bring them condemnation (Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:6).]
In the very section we are examining (Gal. 3:10-14) we see Paul's reference to Habakkuk (Gal. 3:12) showing the necessity of faithfulness for salvation. The just shall live by faithfulness (Gal. 3:12, cf., Hab. 2:4). In order to meet God's demands of justice requires not only the faith that puts one in the realm of God's grace, but also a continual, faithful obedience of faith. The surrounding blessing (justification of Abraham) in which Paul alludes to Abraham (Gal. 3:6-9) refers to Abraham's blessing and justification (Gen. 12; 15; 22). At each point, Abraham is justified, or blessed, which in Gal. 3:8-9, is shown to be almost synonyms for justification.
Another mistake that is made is that those who attack the Catholic position is the idea that Catholics limit works of the law to the ceremonial law. In fact they do have some reason to attack that position because as we have already seen, some Catholic apologists do indeed limit the term to the ceremonial law.
Norm Geisler and Ralph Mackenzie write:
In order to counter this Roman Catholic scholars have made an artificial distinction between "works of the Mosaic law" (such as circumcision ) but extend equally to all kinds of meritorious good works, for all such works will in one way or another be works in accordance with God's law.(6)
Other Protestant apologists who refute the efforts of some Catholic apologists to limit the works of the law to the ceremonial aspects include RC Sproul (7), James White (8), and James Buchanan. For example, Buchanan writes:
It is manifest that he does not speak exclusively, or even specially, of the ceremonial law of the Jews; but that he speaks of law in general, including what was peculiar to the Jews, but also what was common to them with the Gentiles; or of that moral law which possess universal and unchangeable authority.(9)
[Although some Catholic apologists have indeed tried to limit works of the law to the ceremonial law, that is not actually the Catholic position. We will look at that position in the last section. Briefly, the Catholic position actually is that no kind of law, in and of itself will justify. Only God's grace will save; nevertheless, obedience is indeed necessary for ultimate justification.] What we have examined in Galatians 3 shows that the so-called Reformers are partially correct. They are correct in stating that not only the ceremonial law, but the moral law in and of themselves will not save anyone. No one can keep the moral law to perfection, even with the help of the Holy Spirit.
God must look through the eye of grace in order for one to be saved. What justifies is not only Jesus bearing the curse, but also ongoing acts of obedience as evidenced by God's call to Habakkuk and the example of Abraham's life. Justification is not a one-time thing with everything else being mere fruits. When one tries to enter a debt-debtor relationship one will be condemned (the idea that God owes them) (Gal. 5:3-4). [Paul also shows this theme in Romans that God can owe no one:
[Despite his condemnation of those who rely on the law for salvation, Paul is not abolishing the law. He writes that he is "released" from the law (Romans 7:6). Paul's thesis is that, being under grace, he is released from the strict judgment of the uncompromising law, which requires perfect obedience for justification. See also Colossians 2:15 and Ephesians 2:15. See also Romans 6:14 and Romans 8:3:
Romans 8:3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
Romans 6:14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.]
When one becomes an adopted son (Gal. 4:4-7) one fulfills the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2) by bearing one another's burden. This is similar to Paul's claim in Romans that when one tries to put God in an employer-employee relationship (Rom. 3:28-4:4) one will not be justified (by works of the law). In contrast to that, if one is an adopted child (Rom. 8:14) one will fulfill the law of the Spirit, and meet the just requirement of that law (Rom. 8:2-4; 2:4-13), and only when the person puts to death the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:13).
The fact that although one is not under the works of the law (Gal. 5:18) there is still a law of the Spirit and Christ. Paul warns that if one lives in the life of the flesh (even if one is an adopted child) he will not inherit the kingdom of heaven (Gal. 5:19-21). If one instead manifests the fruit of the Spirit one indeed will inherit this kingdom (Gal. 5:22-23). This can be done only through the power of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 24). Although one can not work for and earn salvation, once inside God's grace, one must bear fruit in his life to get the end of salvation. If one sows instead disobedience, one's end is eternal damnation (Gal. 6:7-9):
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
What can we conclude in regards to the so-called Reformed Protestant conception of law? They are correct in that law, in and of itself, will save nobody. One can only be justified through the eyes of grace. That does not mean that once within that realm of grace that no law is necessary. One must live a life of an ongoing faithfulness (Gal. 3:12, Hab. 2:4). As one is an adopted son, one can lose that salvation when one sows disobedience (Gal. 5:4, 19-21; 6:9). There is still a law of Christ (Gal. 6:2) and of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:2-4) that must still be fulfilled, but only when seen through those eyes of grace.
[We merit justification because God judges us as worthy of justification. We merit justification under grace, which is the only system that has room for us to merit anything; and we do not merit it under law, which has no room for it. Grace speaks of a personal relationship to God that law cannot provide, in itself. It is the personal relationship — the father to a son relationship (Rom. 8:14-15; Gal. 4:4-7; 1 Jn 3:1; John 1:12) — that allows God to bestow justification on those who please him. "Grace, (Tit. 2:10-14,
There were truths and errors in the first two positions that we have examined. There is a third and only valid way that we can balance the truths and eliminate the errors that have just been shown. Works of the Law mean any law, be it moral or ceremonial, that one attempts to justify himself with God, both before and after initial justification; We have seen Galatians 3 quite clearly teach this. Sungenis notes the most important fact that the Council of Trent, in its analysis of justification and Scripture, never limits its discussion to works of the law as being only ceremonial. Apparently, some in the Catholic hierarchy had been using the argument that "works of the law" referred only to the ceremonial law. Sungenis notes how it was resolved:
The Council of Trent did not hesitate to take the discussion to its highest level in asserting the total antithesis of justification by law as opposed to justification by grace. They did not debate whether "works of law" referred to ceremonial laws or moral laws. This was immediately made clear in the very first Canon of the Sixth Session: "If anyone shall say that man can be justified before God by his own works which are done either by his own natural powers, or through the teaching of the Law, and without divine grace through Jesus Christ: let him be anathema." ...
This was not a new position that
In his piece, On the Spirit and the Letter, noting that some tried to argue that Paul was merely writing about works of the law referred only to ceremonies,
Now, having duly considered and weighed all these circumstances and testimonies, we conclude that a man is not justified by the precepts of a holy life, but by faith in Jesus Christ,--in a word, not by the law of works, but by the law of faith; not by the letter, but by the spirit; not by the merits of deeds, but by free grace.
CHAP. 23 [XIV.] --HOW THE DECALOGUE KILLS, IF GRACE BE NOT PRESENT.
Although, therefore, the apostle seems to reprove and correct those who were being persuaded to be circumcised, in such terms as to designate by the word "law" circumcision itself and other similar legal observances, which are now rejected as shadows of a future substance by Christians who yet hold what those shadows figuratively promised; he at the same time nevertheless would have it to be clearly understood that the law, by which he says no man is justified, lies not merely in those sacramental institutions which contained promissory figures, but also in those works by which whosoever has done them lives holily, and amongst which occurs this prohibition: "Thou shalt not covet." Now, to make our statement all the clearer, let us look at the Decalogue itself. It is certain, then, that Moses on the mount received the law, that he might deliver it to the people, written on tables of stone by the finger of God. It is summed up in these Ten Commandments, in which there is no precept about circumcision, nor anything concerning those animal sacrifices which have ceased to be offered by Christians. Well, now, I should like to be told what there is in these ten commandments, except the observance of the Sabbath, which ought not to be kept by a Christian,--whether it prohibit the making and worshipping of idols and of any other gods than the one true God, or the taking of God's name in vain; or prescribe honour to parents; or give warning against fornication, murder, theft, false witness, adultery, or coveting other men's property? Which of these commandments would any one say that the Christian ought not to keep? Is it possible to contend that it is not the law which was written on those two tables that the apostle describes as "the letter that killeth," but the law of circumcision and the other sacred rites which are now abolished? But then how can we think so, when in the law occurs this precept, "Thou shall not covet," by which very commandment, notwithstanding its being holy, just, and good, "sin," says the apostle, "deceived me, and by it slew me?"(
That we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. (2nd Cor. 5:21). This is not the righteousness whereby God is Himself righteous, but that whereby we are made righteous by Him. (12)
Our examination of Galatians 3:10-14 show that
For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God. I have crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.... Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not; for if a law had been given which could make alive, then the righteousness would indeed be by the law.
Paul confirms again and again that law as a system will not justify. If anyone says, well this is only the law of Deuteronomy which will not justify, we have examined what the law of Deuteronomy is: a compilation of mostly moral laws that people could not keep perfectly. Within the above passages (similar to Paul's reference to Habakkuk earlier) we see the solution. One must be in God's eyes of grace and live in Christ's power to live the life of faithfulness that justifies.
We have seen that the just must live by an ongoing faithfulness (Gal. 3:11, cf., Hab. 2:4). The context also includes an ongoing examination of Abraham's life (Gal. 3:6-9; cf., Gen. 15:6; 12:3; 22:18). The context of the section (Gal. 3:6-9, 14) shows that it is by the Spirit of God appropriating the grace that Christ won on the cross into the life of the believer that one is justified. One puts on Christ through faith and baptism (Gal. 3:26-27) and becomes his child (Gal. 4:4-7). The ongoing life of faith that God called Habakkuk to is the kind of faith that God sees as necessary for justification.
The works of the law that imposes obligation and tries to put man in a debtor relationship with God does not justify. One is not bound to the written code as the means of salvation (
There is still a moral law that must be kept to maintain one's justification, but the law as a system is not ultimately the means of salvation. The means of salvation is God's grace only. Once in that realm of grace, there are still moral laws to live by. Only then can one be a doer of the law (
1 Bob Sungenis, Not By Faith Alone, (Santa Barbara: Queenship Publishing Company, 1997) 54.
2 Sungenis, 55.
3 Scott Hahn, A Study of the Book of Galatians, West Covina, St. Joseph Communications Inc., n.d.
4 RC Sproul, Faith Alone, The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1995) 192.
5 James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, First published 1897, Reprinted 1997)
7 Sproul 192.
8 James White, The Roman Catholic Controversy (Minneapolis, Mi: Bethany House Publishers, 1996) 149.
9 Buchanan 349.
10 Sungenis 622.
11 St. Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter, chapters 22 and 23, Philip Schaff, ed. Nicene and Post-Nicene FathersFirst Series, vol. 5, Hendrickson Publishers, p. 93.
St. Ausustine, On the Spirit and the Letter, chapters 22 and 23, Philip Schaff, ed. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers,First Series, vol. 5, Hendrickson Publishers.This work is available here:http://www.ewtn.com/library/PATRISTC/PNI5-2.TXT
Buchanan, James. The Doctrine of
Geisler, Norman and MacKenzie, Ralph. Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences.
Hahn, Scott. A Study of the Book of Galatians. Audiocassette 4 of 6.
Sproul, RC. Faith Alone, The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification.
Sungenis Bob. Not By Faith Alone.
White, James. The Roman Catholic Controversy .
© 1998 Galatians 3:10-14, Works and Law....by Matt1618... This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.