Continuing the series on Law and Gospel:
5. Does Paul draw a contrast or comparison between Romans 10:5 and 10:6-8? What is the significance of this contrast or comparison?
According to the comparison view, 10:5 depicts the obedience of faith. This phrase is meant to describe obedience that originates in faith, meaning that the individual is empowered by the grace of God, which is imparted to him by the instrumentality of faith. The δὲ in between 10:5 and 10:6 is seen as continuative (“and”) such that the righteousness from the law (v. 5) and that of faith (v. 6) are understood not to refer to two different kinds of righteousness. Rather, those who have faith will keep the commands of the law, for the law itself teaches faith.
There are two strong arguments that support this position. First, if verse 5 refers to a different kind of righteousness than verses 6-8, then Paul seems to set the Old Testament against itself by citing Deut. 30:12-14 (“righteousness based on faith”) to counter the meaning of Lev. 18:5 (“righteousness based on law”). This would not be consistent with Paul’s respect for the Old Testament expressed elsewhere in Romans (1:1-3; 3:1-2; 3:31; 7:1; 9:1-5), not to mention the fact that Paul is desirous of seeing Jews (who would presumably know the law) converted (10:1). Second, in their original context, both Lev. 18:5 and Deut. 30:12-14 call for obedience to the law within the covenant. So the obedience God called for in Lev. 18:5 was not perceived as a way of earning salvation but as a response to God’s covenantal grace in redeeming Israel from bondage. “I am Yahweh your God” (Lev. 18:4) precedes Lev. 18:5, just as “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exod. 20:2) precedes the giving of the Ten Commandments. And moreover Deut. 30:12-14, the passage Paul says is the righteousness based on faith “speaking,” also refers to keeping the law. The “word” that is not up in heaven or beyond the sea is the law, and the proximity of the law is emphasized to assure readers that they can “do it.” To summarize, these Old Testament commandments calling for obedience were given in the context of a covenant that an observant Jew would have rightly seen as fundamentally gracious. Keeping the law would have been the proper response to God’s covenant grace, and God intended such obedience to originate from faith.
Though this logic is attractive for its coherency in explaining the Old Testament texts in their context, it misses key aspects of Paul’s argument. First, there is a sustained antithesis between “doing” and “believing” in Rom. 9:30-10:13. Consider: (a) Israel did not attain righteousness through the law because they pursued it “as from works” (9:32); (b) Through (culpably) ignorant zeal, they tried to establish their own righteousness (10:2-3). These parallel texts correspond to the (mistaken, damning) concept of gaining righteousness by doing the commandments. Paul’s message is that that righteousness is ultimately obtained not by doing but by believing. Second, it was previously noted that Phil. 3:9 is the only other instance where Paul contrasts “God’s righteousness” and “one’s own.” In that verse, it is equally clear that the former is obtained by “faith” and the latter is said to be “based on the law.” It is hard to believe that this “righteousness from law,” which is given a negative connotation in Phil. 3:9, is given a positive connotation in Rom. 10:5. In fact, Paul nowhere speaks positively about the “righteousness that is based on (or comes from) the law.” Thirdly, it seems Paul is speaking negatively about works righteousness in Rom. 10:5 because of the way he cites Lev. 18:5 in Gal. 3:12. It is unlikely that Paul would use the same Old Testament text, in the context of a similar discussion, to make an opposing claim about the law. We are forced to conclude that “the righteousness based on the law” (10:5) is a negative concept, presented in direct contrast to “the righteousness based on faith” (10:6). The former is that (supposed) “right standing with God” based on one’s keeping of the law that Israel had pursued but not attained (Rom. 9:31-32) as an effort to “establish their own righteousness” (Rom. 10:3).
Does it follow that Paul is wielding Deut. 30:12-14 against Lev. 18:5? Unfortunately, some scholars have answered in the affirmative by distinguishing between the “letter” and the “spirit” of the Old Testament. They argue that since the Lev. 18:5 reference is introduced with γράφει it corresponds to the “letter” of the law whereas Deut. 30:12-14, being introduced with λέγει, bears reference to the “spirit” of the law. But this type of thinking is entirely unhelpful. It is more honest to try to discern the meaning of these verses in their original context. According to Rom. 4, Paul does not think that obtaining righteousness by faith is a new concept. The Old Testament saints obtained righteousness by faith. Hence Lev. 18:5 cannot be talking about eternal life. Rather, as the Leviticus context shows, the verse is a summons to obedience as a means of prolonging the enjoyment of God’s blessings. However, Paul has elsewhere in Romans maintained the principle that the law embodies, in its very nature, the principle that perfect obedience would confer eternal life (Rom 2:13; 7:10). So Paul may be alluding to this principle by the use of Lev. 18:5.
But Moo convincingly shows that Paul’s point is more nuanced. Leviticus 18:5 succinctly summarizes the law’s essence: blessing is contingent on obedience. The one who does the works required by the law finds life through them. The Jew who refuses to submit to the righteousness of God in Christ is ignoring the fact that the law has come to its culmination in Christ. The only other avenue for establishing a relationship with God is through the law, and that requires “doing.” But human doing is invariably inadequate to bring a person into a right relationship with God – as Paul labored to make clear in Rom. 1:18-3:20. In Rom. 4 Paul showed that being made right with God was always a matter of faith, apart from (and prior to) covenant obedience (the example of Abraham being counted righteous prior to circumcision, Rom. 4:10). So the Old Testament Jew who sought to base his relationship with God on the law rather than God’s gracious election through the Abrahamic promise was making the same fatal error that the New Testament Jew was making in refusing to come to Christ for righteousness.
What about the Deuteronomy passage? The introductory injunction, “Do not say in your heart,” is taken from Deut. 9:4. And Deut. 9:4-6 contain a warning to Israel that when they had taken possession of the land, they were not to think that they have earned it because of “their own righteousness.” After this portion from Deut. 9:4, Paul jumps right into Deut. 9:12, adding to the original question “Who will ascend to heaven?” the phrase “to bring Christ down.” Now the strange thing is that Deut. 9:11-14 is about the law! One could say that Paul’s Old Testament exegesis is arbitrary: he is simply transforming the original meaning of the text in light of the Christ event. But that fails to give Paul (and the Jews he’s hoping to persuade) enough credit. One way to explain the hermeneutical rationale is to say that the Deut. 30 context assumes God’s restoration of Israel and hence the people having circumcised hearts which could obey the law. By this scheme, Lev. 18:5 is descriptive of the Old Covenant and Deut. 30:12-14 of the New. But the “today” in Deut. 30:15 renders such thinking invalid. Only verses 1-10 of Deuteronomy 30 are forward-looking to the post-Jeremiah 31:31-34 era in which God writes His law on His people’s hearts.
The best explanation for Paul’s use of Deut. 30:12-14 is to recognize that this text is an expression of God’s grace in establishing a relationship with His people. Just as God graciously made a covenant with Israel, bringing His word “near” them so that “they might be His people and He might be their God,” so He now brings His word – the word of faith which Paul proclaims –“near” to both Jews and Gentiles in order that both might know Him through his Son and respond in faith and obedience. If the Mosaic covenant was predicated on God’s grace (Exod. 20:2), far greater is the grace that permeates the New Covenant (John 1:17; Heb. 8:6-12). The Mosaic law was given in the context of a gracious covenant; the law was meant to promote righteousness by faith by exposing sin and thus pointing to an alien righteousness. Paul’s contrast of Lev. 18:5 and Deut. 30:12-14 is a reminder to Jews that Old Testament obedience was commanded in the context of a gracious covenant. And Christ has established a new gracious covenant. As seeking the righteousness of God on the basis of works was unwarranted in the Old Covenant, how much more so in the New! By replacing the “word” (Deut. 30:12-14) with “Christ” (Rom. 10:6-8), Paul is showing the transformation in how God’s covenant is being mediated.
A remnant Jew living under the Old Covenant would have found the law to expose sin (Rom 7:7-12) and cause him to cry out to God for salvation (Rom. 7:24). In this sense righteousness was the goal of the law, but it could only be attained apart from the law (Westerholm, p. 329, emphasis added). Righteousness was never attained by human performance.
Continuing the series on Law and Gospel: