A dialogue with New Perspectives:
“justified by works” in Romans 4:2

Yuen Cheuk Wai

原卓煒神學網站

(9 June 2014)
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1. Introduction

New Perspective on Paul (NPP), which indeed consists of a number of different wide perspectives on Paul today, is still an on-going debate in the studies of Paul.[1] The conviction most central to the “new perspective on Paul’ pertains in the first place to Judaism, they were not legalists whose supposed that they already earned their salvation (one called that is membership in the people of God) by deeds, they did in compliance with the law. That directly challenges Lutheran view “old perspective” which believes that Paul rejected his inherited religion because it pursued salvation by works. This new perspective leads revolution in our understating of the apostles and in examining several numbers of passages in Pauline writings.[2]

One of passages in question is Romans 4, Abraham as an example of justification by faith, not by works. Particularly my concern in Romans 4:2 “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God”, is what does it mean of “justified by works” and what shall Abraham boast about, according to Paul’s thought.

But more important is that, I urge to point out, New Perspectives affect the understanding of Pauline in general, particularly ‘salvation by works’ is also my concern in this article.

Thus, I will divide this article into two parts. The issues I am trying to focus in Part 1 are specific. It concerns with the impact of the answer to two key questions on the exegesis of Paul. In Jewish’s thought, what were the criteria for God’s justification at the eschaton? Did Jewish groups, in general, believe that justification is not only based on God’s election, but also on their own obedience to the Torah?

I will argue in Part 1, Jewish soteriology[3] was based on divine election (for this, I and NPP scholars have no doubt), and also based on final salvation by works and that a number of Jewish groups express the belief that they would be vindicated on the basis of their works.

Based on the conclusion from Part 1, I will do exegesis of Romans 4:2 and will provide answers to the following questions:

1.     What is the nature of “justified by works”?

2.     What shall Abraham boast about, according to Paul’s thought?

In Part 2, I will argue that “justified by works” in Paul audience’s understanding is the observance of Mosaic Law for leading to justification. Paul protests the view that this ‘works’ shall boast before God, indeed Abraham has nothing to boast no matter before men and before God. Then, I will have a dialogue with three New Perspective scholars on Romans 4:2 to prove that their views are not justifiable. 


2. Part 1

2.1 NPP’s conviction on ‘salvation of works’

In this section, I will briefly introduce the view of the New Perspective on Paul, particularly on understanding the topic of ‘salvation by works’ by three prominent scholars: E.P. Sanders, N.T. Wright and J.D.G. Dunn. Then I will draw a summary of their views on this topic.

2.1.1. E.P Sanders: Concept of “Covenantal Nomism 

Sanders describes the unifying concept as “covenantal nomism”: the nation that a Jew’s standing before God is secured by God’s election of Israel as his covenant people (this is how “getting in” was understood in Judaism), and that obedience to the law is Israel’s proper response to Gods initial act of grace.[4] While a Jew’s intention to obey the law is thought necessary if the relationship with God is to be maintained (this is how “staying in” was understood), it does not follow that salvation is “earned” or regarded as a reward for human achievements. Indeed, Sanders depicted Judaism is designed to refute the notion that it was religion of “legalistic works-righteousness[5] in which “one must earn salvation by compiling more good works (‘merits’), whether on his own or from the excess of someone else, than he has transgressions”. [6]

Hence, the conclusion of Sanders’s stand is that the ‘righteous’ Jew in rabbinic writings is thus not one who earns divine approval by compiling an impressive list of good deeds, but simply ‘one who accepts the covenant and remains within it’.[7] That’s the reason, for Sanders, Pauline theology is not distinct from rabbinic thinking in its insistence that justification is by divine grace, not human works. In Sanders’s mind, the fundamental point of Paul’s opposition was simply his conviction that salvation is only to be found in Jesus Christ. [8] The inevitable consequence was that Israel’s election, covenant, and law could not bring salvation.[9]


2.1.2 N.T. Wright:
Badges of covenant membership

N.T. Wright, a prominent advocate of NPP, must be reckoned among the first to espouse the New Perspective on Paul after Sanders, who publish his work Paul and Palestinian Judaism in 1977. Wright immediate published his work in 1978 and declared “the real Judaism was not a religion of legalistic works-righteousness”, that it was “based on a clear understanding of grace”[10], and that “good works” were meant to express “attitude, and demonstrate that one is faithful to the covenant”.[11] He claimed that the tradition of Pauline interpretation has manufactured a false Paul by manufacturing a false Judaism for him to oppose.[12] The Paul of history did not criticize Jews for using the law as a “legalist ladder[13] or for reliance on “Menschenwerke”.[14]

Wright claims that Paul is talking about "badges of covenant membership" or criticizing Gentile believers who had begun to rely on the Torah to reckon Jewish kinship.[15] The final judgment according to works was quite clear for Paul. Paul, in company with mainstream second Temple Judaism, affirms that God’s final judgment will be in accordance with the entirety of a life led – in accordance, in other words, with works. Wright, however, does not hold the view that good works contribute to one's salvation but rather that the final judgment is something we can look forward to as a future vindication of God's present declaration of our righteousness. In other words, our works are the result of our salvation and the future judgment will show that. [16]

 

2.1.3 J.D.G. Dunn: Israel’s distinctiveness by the law

 

Dunn states in his Romans commentary that the law thus became a basic expression of Israel’s distinctiveness as the people specially chosen by (the one) God to be his people. In sociological terms the law functioned as an “identity marker” and “boundary,” reinforcing Israel’s sense of distinctiveness and distinguishing Israel from the surrounding nations.[17] His conclusion was drawn from a numbers of selected passages in the Old Testament, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha and Philo’s writings.[18] And Dunn’s further elaborated distinctiveness that “distinctiveness was the sense of privilege, precisely in being the nation specially chosen by the one God and favored by gift of covenant and law.”[19] This distinctiveness, Dunn admitted that it is quite the same idea as Wright’s coins the phrase “national righteousness”. And in this case, Dunn claimed, identity marker (still a kind of works) gained particular prominence as being especially distinctive—circumcision, food laws and festival laws.[20] Thus, he interprets Romans 2-3 in the way that Paul warns again “the work of laws”, not as “good works” in general or attempt by the individual, but it is a pattern of obedience by which “the righteous” maintains their status within the people of covenant, as evidenced not least by their dedication on such sensitive “test” issues as Sabbath and food laws. [21]

 

2.1.4 Summary of NPP central conviction on ‘salvation of works’

We can summarize that the tradition view advocates of the historic Lutheran (and also Reformed) perspectives often see "salvation by works” as a bad thing, contradicting fundamental principles of Christianity. While New Perspective’s interpretations of Paul tend to result in Paul having nothing negative to say about the idea of human efforts or good works, and saying many positive things about both. Since New Perspective scholars emphasized many statements in Paul's writings that specify the criteria of final judgment as being the works of the individual.

That’s why we can find the key differences on understanding of ‘salvation of works’ are that, for the tradition view, individual is justified by faith in Jesus Christ, not by the works individual does. ‘Works’ are individual response to God’s gracious, which he found via faith. And faith in his goodness rather than the good works we do is decisive. While in the New Perspective, ‘works’ are now part of individual keeping himself inside salvation, in the circle of God’s people’, ‘works’ will be reckoned at the eschaton.


2.2 Works and Salvation from OT to NT

In the previous section, we had an overview of three prominent scholar’s New Perspectives on Paul on topic of ‘salvation of works’. In this section, I will illustrate evidences across the Old Testament, Talmud, Apocrypha & Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament, in order to argue that their views may not be sustainable.

2.2.1 Works and Salvation in Old Testament

Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Polish-born American rabbi and a leading Jewish theologian, in his book “God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism” points out that Jewish tradition interprets the words that Israel uttered at Sinai, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” (Ex 24:7), as a promise to fulfill His commands even before hearing them, as the precedence of faith over knowledge.[22] Doing and obedience are emphasized in Jewish theology. Heschel goes further to state that “God’s will is revealed in our doing. In carrying out sacred deed we unseal the wells of faith… We do not have faith because of deeds; we may attain faith through sacred deeds”.[23]  And he claimed, “not only God but the whole community is holy (Number 16:3). “You shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6) was the reason for Israel’s election, the meaning of its distinction”. Heschel clearly commented that how does a human being turn holy? Through doing His mitsvot, His commandments.[24] He took Leviticus 19:3-18 as a pivot, God’s requirement to his people.

“You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my sabbaths Do not turn to idols…you shall not deal falsely…you shall not lie to one another…you shall not swear falsely by my name…you shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind…You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great...You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor…You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin…You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”(Leviticus 19:3-18)

Heschel continues “Just as salvation is the central concepts in Christian piety, so does mitsvah serve as a focus of Jewish religious consciousness.” Indeed, the meaning of mitsvah in Judaism is beyond the meanings it denoted – namely commandment, law, obligation, and deed, which are implied in addition to its primary meanings. It also has the connotation of goodness, value, virtue, meritoriousness, piety and even holiness. [25]

In Jewish thought, regarding the God ultimate redemption, they believe they need to deal with two problems, (1) evil deeds and (2) evil drive. Law deals with the problem of sin; obedience to the law prevents evil deeds. But the problem of the evil drive cannot be resolved by observance.  Heschel underlined prophet’s eschatological answers to this problem: [26]

“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors…But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts(Jer 31:31-34).

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances” (Ezek 36:26-27).

In summary of Heschel’s studies, we see that in Jewish thought, following God statues and observing God’s ordinances are the key in redemption today as well as at the eschaton. Heschel gave a closing remark for the need of redemption, “The world is in need of redemption, but the redemption must not be expected to happen as an act or sheer grace. Man’s tasks are to make the world worthy of redemption. His faith and his works are preparations for ultimate redemption”.[27]

2.2.2 Works and Salvation in Talmud

If the Bible is the cornerstone of Judaism, then the Talmud is the central pillar, soaring up from the foundations and supporting the entire spiritual and intellectual edifice. In many ways the Talmud is the most important book in Jewish culture.[28] One said if the Jews are “a people of the Book,” that book is the Talmud, especially the Babylonian Talmud.[29] Thus, it is an important material to help us to understand the Jewish thought. Thus, this section I will examine some texts in Talmud to support the thesis.

Concerning the way of salvation, R. Johanan stated three kind of activities (deeds) those are required for people to do in order to inherit the eternal life, “The following three kinds of men shall inherit the world to come: Those that live in the Holy Land, those that send their children to houses of learning, and those that make Habdalah over wine. (i.e., those that have but little and leave some of the wine from the Kiddush for Habdalah, refraining from drinking it on the Sabbath)” (Pesahim 113a). All his deeds are laid before him in detail and will be judged on the Day of Judgment. As the Rabbis said, “When a man departs to his eternal home all his deeds are enumerated before him and he is told, Such and such a thing have you done, in such and such a place on that particular day. And he replies, ‘Yes’. Then they say to him. ‘Sign’ — And he signs, as it is said, He sealeth up the hand of every man.” (Taanith 11a).

That’s why a number of Rabbis teachings in Talmud ask people to repent and do good deeds, as those are closely linked to the final reward and punishment. For instance, the following Rabbis teachings are stated in Talmud Aboth chapter 4.

 

MISHNA K. R. Eliezer b. Jacob said: "He who performs one precept has acquired unto himself one advocate, and he who commits one transgression has gotten to himself one accuser. Repentance and good deeds are as a shield against punishment."

 

MISHNA S. R. Jacob said: "This world is, as it were, the antechamber of the world hereafter; therefore, prepare thyself in the antechamber, that thou mayest be admitted into the banqueting hall!"

MISHNA T. He used to say: "Better is one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world than all the life of the world to come, though one hour of refreshment of spirit in the world to come is better than all the life in this world."

 

From the above evidences in Talmud, we conclude that, Jewish believes performing good deeds are very important for inheriting the eternal life and avoiding punishment at the eschaton.

2.2.3 Works and Salvation in Apocrypha & Pseudepigrapha

This turn I will examine some Apocrypha & Pseudepigrapha texts to emerge that obedience is a vital basis for receiving eternal life.

2.2.3.1 Psalms of Solomon

In the Psalms of Solomon, it presents a fairly consistent picture of the Day of Judgment at which the righteous will be vindicated with resurrection to eternal life and the wicked will be consigned to eternal death. In Psalms of Solomon, the psalmist confidently asserts that God has not abandoned Israel; he has simply chastised his people, upon whom he will have mercy forever (7:3–10; 9:9–11). Such confidence finds a special focus in the hope for the Messiah, which is set forth in Psalms of Solomon 17 and 18. The psalmist looks forward to the day when the Messiah, the son of David, comes and rids the nation of its enemies and restores Jerusalem to its proper place (17:21–25, 45). Such an explicit and detailed messianic expectation makes the Psalms of Solomon an especially important witness to pre-Christian Jewish messianism.[30] The Psalms depicts the nation as divided into two classes, ‘the righteous’ (almost entirely the Pharisees, to which party the author belongs) and the ‘sinners’ (the Sadducees), while the writer sees in the catastrophes that have overcome his country Divine retribution for national sin. [31] In 2:37-39, it shows God will repay sinners according to their deeds everlastingly:

the mercy of the Lord is on those who fear him, with judgment, to separate between the righteous and the sinner, to repay sinners forever according to their works, and to have pity on the righteous one because of humiliation by the sinner, and to repay the sinner because of the things he did to the righteous one.” [32]

In 9:9, it describes salvation very clear in terms of reward.

“The one who performs righteousness stores up life for himself before the Lord. And the one who performs injustice is himself blameworthy of the soul in destruction.” [33]

The same eschatological scheme and theology of salvation as reward can also be seen in 14:1-2. The psalmist describes the “us” in 14:1 as having been instructed by the Lord “for our life”.

“The Lord is faithful to those who love him in truth, to those who wait for his discipline, to those who walk by the righteousness of his commands, in the law which he commanded us for our life. The holy ones of the Lord will live in it forever. His holy ones are the garden of the Lord, the trees of life.” [34]

 

2.2.3.2 2 Maccabees

Now, we turn our focus to 2 Maccabees, which describes the history of the Maccabean wars from the close of the reign of the Syrian king Seleucus IV (176 BC) to the victory of Judas Maccabaeus over Nicanor and the death of the latter (161 BC).[35] 2 Maccabees includes highly emotional accounts of the early martyrs. For example in chapter 7, judgment after death is strongly appealed, “deals with suffering and theodicy from the perspectives of resurrection and judgment. The martyrs die in full confidence that they will be vindicated after death and live on with God. And they warn the wicked king that he will be punished after death. The justice of God is upheld, though its full manifestation is deferred to a personal afterlife.”[36]

The resurrection comes to those who are faithful to Torah. The reward will be given as stated, “the king of the world will raise us, because we die on account of his laws, to an everlasting resurrection of life”[37] and for those who not expecting fallen would be rise again (2 Mac 12:43-44). In addition, the reward comes in the form of “graceful justice”, that God will give life back to the martyrs since they were willing to give life up for him (2 Mac 7:14). Therefore, we see that obedience to Torah is the basis for reward, what is actually reward is life itself. Also, Nickelsburg explains the reason they are vindicated is that “they have obeyed the Torah”, in addition he well noted that too, their obedience to Torah is the reason for their deaths (2 Mac 7:2, 9, 11, 23, 30, 37).[38]

 

2.2.3.3 Wisdom of Solomon

The book is almost certainly very close to Paul in its date of composition. There is also a strong emphasis on the deferral of eschatology.[39] As Harrington rightly held, “The emphasis on immortality is the writes most original and influential contribution on the biblical theology… In this way he deferred the vindication of the righteous to their life after death or to the last judgment.”[40] That draws our attention to put focus on this Apocrypha. The author exhorts kings and rulers to act righteously because the divine judge will hold them accountable for their deeds. But the death is not the end. The death of the righteous one is an illusion, for “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God” (Wis Sol 3:1–9). In addition, in Wisdom of Solomon 3-4 we found that the author expressed that in the case of the persecuted and exalted righteous one is a paradigm for God’s judgment of all people, who will be rewarded or punished for their deeds. For example:

“But the ungodly will have punishment according to what they reckoned, those who neglected the righteous and deserted the Lord” (Wis Sol 3:10)[41]

“And blessed is the eunuch who worked no transgression by hand or considered evil things against the Lord; for because of his faithfulness, there will be given to him choice favor and a delightful share in the temple of the Lord.” (Wis Sol 3:14)[42]

Indeed, the holiness consists in keeping of Torah (expressed here as the commandments of wisdom):

“Love is the keeping of her laws, and attention to laws is confirmation of incorruption, and incorruption brings near to God.” (Wis Sol 6:18-19)[43]

As space does not allow us to fully examine texts in other Apocrypha & Pseudepigrapha, as far as we have examined selected number of texts in this section, that, we can still be taken them as strong evidences that obedience is a vital basis for receiving eternal life. Although this topic may not be always expressed in the same way, but we are able to found some key themes are closely interrelated to works and salvation at the eschaton, such as storing up life through obedience (Psalms of Solomon) and the recompense of new life for the life given up in martyrdom (2 Maccabees). Furthermore, there is a tension in the relationship between judgment and the righteous. Finally, the Wisdom of Solomon portrays a paradigm for God’s judgment of all people based on their good or evil deeds.

All these different portrayals highlight the fact that God is portrayed as a savior for his people at the eschaton on the basis of their obedience to God. That also aligns with Heschel’s study of Jewish’s understanding of Soteriology in Hebrew Bible – obeying God’s ordinances is a key in redemption.

2.2.4 Works and Salvation in New Testament

Now, we come to examine some texts regarding works and salvation in the New Testament. NT is an important material in our study, because NT itself as a primary source for reconstructing Jewish eschatology[44] for the 1st century C.E. [45] There are quite number of texts in NT regarding reward for deeds and judgment according to works.[46] In this section, I will highlight some of them to give us an insight into the Jewish theology of final salvation by works and my thesis will be reinforced.

Let’s us start with Matthew, as indeed it contains a lot of examples to demonstrate reward for deeds and judgment according to works. For example, in Matt 25:31-46 clearly reveals that God reckon righteous his works afterlife and he is blessed:

“You that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:34-36).

On the other hand, God’s final judgment comes to the wicked according to his works and he is accursed:

 “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” (Matthew 25:41-43)

When Jesus said “at the renewal of all things…you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel”, Hagner notes that “although the word renewal[47] was familiar in Greco-Roman circles as referring to the cyclical renewal of the world, it is the Jewish background that is more important here.”[48] The twelve tribes would be restored was one of the standard Jewish beliefs about the end times.[49] Thus, this verse contains a strong Jewish background, Jesus then gave a promise to his disciples, those who have suffered the loss of family and possessions ἕνεκεν τοῦ ὀνόματός μου, “for the sake of my name”, ἑκατονταπλασίονα λήμψεται, “will receive them a hundred times over.” All loss of this kind will be wonderfully compensated for in the eschatological blessing to be enjoyed by disciples of Jesus. But the greatest blessing of all will be the inheritance of eternal life. [50]

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke (unlike Matthew and Mark) lets the lawyer to speak out the answer “He (Jesus) said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He (the lawyer) answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:26-27). In fact, the lawyer’s question about inheriting eternal life was a common Jewish theological question.[51] He assumed that inheriting eternal life resulted from obedience to the two great commandments; it is his interpretation of Torah. Jesus did not give any objection, but also agreed with this Jewish soteriology “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28). Gathercole rightly pointed out that Luke 10 is usually omitted from discussion of the relation between Torah observance and “life”: the New Perspective emphasis is to see Torah as regulating life and not so much as leading to future life.[52]

Moreover, the theme of the justification/reward by works appears in Pauline too. In Romans 2:7-10, “to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (v.7) and “glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (v.10) clearly show God give reward (eternal life) to those who do good. In contrast, those who do evil will experience divine wrath (v.8-9), Paul putting this in between v.7 and v.10 is an emphatic composition.

Also Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 gave a “vice lists” which point to unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God.[53] Paul specified the list because the “vice lists” is often understood as the “unrighteous” for both Jewish and pagan. [54] So that, it is right for him to give an ultimate redemption solution that is offered by Jesus Christ, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor 6:11).

 

Colossians 3:23-25 is another solid example:

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. (Col 3:23-25)

Paul expressed a symmetrical judgment where salvation and condemnation are according to deeds. Paul encourages Colossian believers to work heartily for the Lord, salvation as a reward is repaid for them. While for who does wrong, he will receive the consequences of their wrong deed.

From several numbers of NT texts, they are firm attestations of the Jewish works-based soteriology that how the text left its mark on early Jewish Christian soteriology; and the evidences from the Gospels and Paul are giving the same attestation - final judgment by works in Jewish’s thought is inevitable.


2.3 Summary

In the first part of this article, as we have seen plenty of texts from OT to NT, those evidences are supporting my thesis that Jewish soteriology (soteriology in those historical Jewish sects) was not only based on their firm understandings of divine election, but also based on final salvation by works, which has significant importance. These Jewish groups believe they would be vindicated on the basis of their works.

To response to Sanders’s claim that a Jew’s intention to obey the law is thought necessary if the relationship with God is to be maintained, it does not follow that salvation is “earned” or regarded as a reward for human achievements. It is not sustainable. Earning salvation by works is part of (although not the whole) values in Jew’s thought. [55] Moreover, according to a private letter from Gundry to Sanders and Sanders’s later work, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, scholars found that his initial thought has been changed. He now considers circumcision is one of the conditions to “getting in”, one without circumcision is not counted inside the covenant community. Thus, Sanders’s thesis already collapsed, as doing circumcision to enter salvation is rejected by Paul. Sanders’s original claim: “getting in” by God’s grace and “staying in” by work is no longer valid.[56]

For Wright and Dunn, they believe Jewish has own distinctiveness, the sense of privilege, or called “national righteousness”, so their ‘works’ has relatively less contribution in Day of Judgment. Yet this view certainly is not justifiable, we have seen a number of texts to show us that Jewish did not have special privilege in keeping salvation, identity markers (i.e. circumcision, Sabbath, and food law) do not counted in Day of Judgment and they still will be reckoned / justified based on their works in their lifetime.

 

3. Part 2

In second part, we will focus on Romans 4:2 to explore how NPP interprets this text and what’s Paul actually saying. So that we can answer two questions: What is the nature of “justified by works”? What shall Abraham boast about, according to Paul’s thought?

First of all, I would give you my own translation of this verse. Then, follow by sentence diagram and explanation. Thereafter, we will review with NPP on how “justified by works” in this verse is interpreted, and I will have dialogue with them based on our studies in Part 1.

3.1 Manuscript and Parsing

εἰ γὰρ Ἀβραὰμ ἐξ ἔργων ἐδικαιώθη, ἔχει καύχημα· ἀλλʼ οὐ πρὸς θεόν, [57]

Manuscript

Function

Parsing

Literal meaning

εἰ

conjunction

conditional

if

γὰρ

conjunction

logical explanatory

for

Ἀβραὰμ

proper noun

nominatives, singular, masculine

Abraham

ἐξ

preposition

preposition

by / from

ἔργων

noun

genitive, plural, neuter

works, deeds

ἐδικαιώθη,

verb

aorist, passive, third person, singular

was justified

ἔχει

verb

present, active, third person, singular

he has

καύχημα·

noun

accusative, singular, neuter

something to boast about

ἀλλʼ

conjunction

logical contrastive

but

οὐ

adverb

negative particle

not

πρὸς

preposition

preposition

before / toward

θεόν,

noun

accusative, singular, masculine

God

3.2 Translation

For if Abraham by[58] works was justified, he has something to boast about, but (he has) not (something to boast about) before[59] God.

3.3 Sentence Diagram

Since this verse is heavily compressed, the following words are added to complete the diagramming structure.

[αὐτός] – “he
[ἔχει] – “has”

[καύχημα] – “something to boast about

3.4 Explanation

In 3:21, Paul has already said that this ‘righteousness of God … apart from law’ is attested by the Law and the Prophets, that is the Old Testament. Here, Paul must be putting two strong examples for backing his argument, the story of Abraham (4:1-5) and following by experience of David (4:6-8).

In 4:1, Paul was putting a question “What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?” and he gave an answer in 4:2. This sentence is introduced by ‘For’ (γὰρ), because it explains the relevance of the question just asked to Paul’s purpose in this truth of the statement in 3:27 that glorying has been excluded.[60] In fact, he was picking up the topic of boasting from 3:27 for emphatic purpose, and making his familiar link of boasting with works, Paul seems to allow that Abraham could conceivably have had something to boast about—at least before others. As well as Hagner said, if anyone could be considered a man of obedience and righteousness, Abraham was the perfect candidate (cf. Ge 26:5). [61] Even before Paul’s day, Judaism laid great emphasis on Abraham’s piety, grounding it in his obedience. Also, the evidences from Jewish texts satisfy the criterion of multiple attestations. The first trajectory begins with Sirach:

19 Abraham was the great father of a multitude of nations, and no one has been found like him in glory. 20 He kept the law of the Most High, and entered into a covenant with him; he certified the covenant in his flesh, and when he was tested he proved faithful.” [62]

And about 150 years earlier, one asked,

51 "Remember the deeds of the ancestors, which they did in their generations; and you will receive great honor and an everlasting name. 52 Was not Abraham found faithful when tested, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness?” [63]

The second tradition also is developed in Jubilees. In Jubilees 11-16, where Abraham is the exemplar of one who kept Mosaic Law, even before it was written.

“This is the tenth trial wherewith Abraham was tried, and he was found faithful, patient in spirit. And he said not a single word regarding the rumour in the land how that God had said that He would give it to him and to his seed after him, and he begged a place there to bury his dead; for he was found faithful, and was recorded on the heavenly tablets as the friend of God. (Jubliees 19:8-9)” [64]

Thus, based on his obedience and deeds of the Mosaic Law, he definitely has ground for boasting in Jewish’s mind, that is legitimate.[65]  Paul is speaking of general Torah observance and not a more restricted social function of the Law. Paul, however, on the spot gave objection to this by putting a simple but stressing clause at the end “but[66] not before God” (ἀλλʼ οὐ πρὸς θεόν). What is the point Paul marking with this last clause? Moo gave a very clear explanation: If Paul is speaking simply about Abraham’s works, it is possible Abraham may have a right to boast before men, just not before God. However, Paul is speaking about Abraham’s works as leading to his justification. Because Paul rejects any such possibility, all boasting in this context, whether before God or people, must be ruled out. [67] So, Paul is saying emphatically, as part of his argument, that Abraham had nothing to boast of before God. [68]

3.5 Dialogue with New Perspectives on “justified by works” in Romans 4:2

Wright’s position for “Abraham was justified by works” here agrees with James Dunns', “Paul says do not justify are the ‘works’ which, through their obedience to the distinctive marks of Israel’s Torah, mark out the Jews from their pagan neighbors…The boasting’ which Paul then excludes in Rom. 3:27 is the boast, not of the successful self-help moralist, but of the Jew whose marks of identity are a permanent barrier, keeping out Gentiles.” [69] Hence, Wright narrows the scope of ‘works of Torah” more boldly to circumcision, Sabbath, and food law, same as Dunn’s stands.[70]

To counter their view, as per our findings in Part 1, we have shown a plenty of texts to attest, works leads to salvation in the Jewish tradition can be seen to be much more wider range. It does not just covering only those marks of identity, but also has their wholeheartedly obedience to Torah in their lifetime, and even some said the connotation of goodness, value, virtue, meritoriousness, piety and even holiness. As Westerholm puts: “Since the issue (works of the law vs. faith in Jesus Chris) permits restatement in terms of a general distinction between ‘works’ and ‘faith’, the point of attack cannot be limited to statutes in the Law which serve as Jewish ‘identity markers’”.[71]

In fact, Paul does not exclude righteousness based only on “works of Law,” he also excludes righteousness by Law in a general sense (Gal 2:21; 3:11–12; 5:4). Moreover, to say that Paul’s emphasis when he refers to “works of Law” is on the ceremonial law is even harder to sustain in Romans, for the failure to be justified by “works of Law” in Romans 3:20 is due to the Jewish failure to obey the moral claims of the Law, not observance to the ritual Law for nationalistic reasons. This last point is clearly reinforced by Romans 2:17–29 where the Jews are rebuked for failure to obey the Law, even though they are circumcised.[72]

In the wider context of Romans, from Roman 2-4, it also does not support the view from Sanders and followed by Dunn and Wright. As Witherington rightly argued that, Paul goes on to site a Scripture that implies Abraham, the ungodly, was justified quite apart from works or faithful obedience to the Law… Even Abraham, and even David who was cited earlier, fell short of perfect obedience to the Law. Even for them it was not a sufficient means for ‘getting in’ or ‘staying in’. Witherington rejects New Perspective on Paul major flows of thought, by pointing out Romans 2-3 that Paul is attacking arrogance, boasting, self-righteousness based on works and accomplishments. It is because in Paul’s Abraham argument he continues along this line to level the playing field: “all have sinned and now lack the glory they should have” and even “faithful” Abraham is not set right by his faithfulness, but rather by God’s grace and the response of trust.[73] Therefore, again, the issue is not ‘works’ as Wright claimed “as national boundary markers”, but ‘works’ defined as the comprehensive obedience to God that is required for justification.

Likewise Pounds mentioned, Paul before has used the singular “work of the Law” to denote the Law written on the hearts of Gentiles (2:15). In that preceding context, it less intelligible to interpret the singular form of the phrase sociologically, as Paul is describing the very people whom so-called ‘boundary markers’ such as circumcision and Sabbath observance would exclude.[74]

Last but not least, there is one substantial point underlined by Cranfield, Paul refers in Romans 9:11 to the election of Jacob, not Esau, before either of the twins had done anything good or bad.[75] What then are we to say was gained by Jacob? We can firmly say there is nothing to boast about, except the God’s grace.

 

3.6 Summary

In this part, I have done an exegesis of Romans 4:2 based by illustration of the verse grammatical structure as well as consideration of the context of Romans and other NT texts. I conclude that the nature of “justified by works” here means Abraham’s general Mosaic Law observance in his lifetime as leading to justification, that is what Jews believe. That is the one Jews see Abraham shall boast about, according to Paul thought. Hence, Paul on the spot protested them by putting ἀλλʼ οὐ πρὸς θεόν to claim no any works done by Abraham shall able to boast toward men and God.

For New Perspective suggesting “justified by works” which works are the Jew whose marks of identity (i.e. circumcision, Sabbath, and ritual law), as it is proven that this view is difficult to sustain, since they neglected the context of Romans 2-4 as well as Romans 9. More important is that findings in Part 1 also counter to this view. 

 

4. Conclusion

I have to admit that New Perspective on Paul theology has wider scopes other than “salvation of work”, as space is limited I only put one topic to focus in this article. Yet I still find a lot of theories in New Perspective worth further discussion, for instance “the light of nations”[76], “meta-sin”[77] and "single worldwide family"[78] and etc.

In this article, I argued that Jewish soteriology was not only based on divine election, but, more important to note, also based on final salvation by works. This has been proven by demonstrating texts across the Old Testament, Talmud, Apocrypha & Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament. And also I used Romans 4:2 as test case for conversation with New Perspectives. First, I have shown the explanation of Romans 4:2: If people may consider Abrabam shall boast because of his observance of Mosaic Law for leading to justification, but Paul rejects this idea and goes further to claim Abraham has nothing to boast no matter toward men or toward God. Second, I have also given a response to New Perspective’s interpretation and argued that “justified by works” which considered as marks of identity is not sustainable. [79]

 


5. References

Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Aune D. E., “Eschatology: Early Christian Eschatology,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Cranfield, C.E.B. Romans: A Shorter Commentary. Edinburch: T&T Clark, 2001.

Cranfield, C.E.B. “’The Works of the Law’ in the Epistle to the Romans.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 43 (1991), 89-101.

Cross, F. L. and Elizabeth A. Livingstone. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Dunn, James D.G. Romans 1–8, vol. 38A, Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998.

Dunn, James D.G. The Theology of Paul the Apostle. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998.

Eisenbaum, Pamela. "A Remedy for Having Been Born of Woman: Jesus, Gentiles, and Genealogy in Romans" in Journal of Biblical Literature 123 No.4 (Winter, 2004), 671–702.

Fung, Ronald Y.K. A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, vol 1. Taiwan: Campus Evangelical Fellowship, 2003.

Gathercole, Simon J. Where is boasting? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28, vol. 33B. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998.

Harrington, D.J. Invitation to the Apocrypha. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.

Harrison Everett F. and Donald A. Hagner. “Romans,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians. Revised Edition, ed. Tremper Longman III & Garland, David E., vol. 11. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.

Heschel, Abraham Joshua. God in search of man. Farrar, Straus and Giroux/New York: Noonday Press, 1976.

Käsemann, Ernst.  Commentary on Romans. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1980.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Middendorf, Michael. Romans 1-8, Concordia Commentary. St Louis MO: Concordia Publishing, 2013.

Lambrecht, Jan. “Romans 4: A Critique of N.T. Wright” in Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Dec 2013 vol. 36, 189-194.

Lambrecht, Jan. “Why Is Boasting Excluded? A Note on Rom 3,27 and 4,2” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 61(4, 1985), 365-369.

McGrath, Alister E. “Justification” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Moo, Douglas J. Romans 1-8, The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press, 1999.

Morris, Leon.  The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2012.

Nickelsburg, George W. E. Resurrection, Immortality, Eternal Life. Cambridge: Harvard University, 2006.

Pounds, S. Brian “Romans 4:1-8 as a Test Case for the New Perspective on Paul” in Biblical Theology Bulletin: A Journal of Bible and Theology 41 (2011), 213-225.

Reid, D.G. "The misunderstood apostle." Christianity Today 34, no. 10 (July 16, 1990): 25-27.

Sanday, William and Arthur C. Headlam, A critical and exegetical commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1902.

Sanders, E.P. Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977.

Sanders E.P. Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1993.

Schreiner, Thomas R. “Works of the Law” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Steinsaltz Adin. The Essential Talmud. Cambridge: Basic Books, 2006.

Stoychev, Theodor. "Is there a New Perspective on St. Paul's Theology?." Journal Of European Baptist Studies 11, no. 3 (May 2011): 31-50.

Trafton, Joseph L. “Solomon, Psalms Of,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Westerholm, Stephen. Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.

Westerholm, Stephen. Perspectives old and new on Paul. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2004.

Wilson, Marvin R. Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1989.

Witherington III, Ben. Paul's letter to the Romans: a socio-rhetorical commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2004.

Wright, N.T. Paul for Everyone: Romans part one. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004.

Wright, N.T. “Romans” in The New Interpreter's Bible Acts - First Corinthians (Volume 10). Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002.

Wright, N.T. The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991.

Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God. vol.1. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.

Wright, N.T. “The Paul of History and the Apostle of Faith” in Tyndale Bulletin 29 (1978), 61-88.

Wright, N.T. New Perspectives on Paul, 10th Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference: 25–28, August 2003 http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_New_Perspectives.pdf accessed on 23 May 2014.

 

Bible Translation

1.     The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989.

2.     Pseudepigrapha: Jubilees, http://www.pseudepigrapha.com/jubilees/19.htm accessed on 1 June 2014.

3.     The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition. Lexham Press, 2010.

4.     The Lexham English Septuagint. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012.

 



[1] D.G. Reid, "The misunderstood apostle." Christianity Today 34, no. 10 (July 16, 1990): 25-27.

Theodor Stoychev, "Is there a New Perspective on St. Paul's Theology?" Journal Of European Baptist Studies 11, no. 3 (May 2011): 31-50.

Lambrecht, Jan. “Romans 4: A Critique of N.T. Wright” in Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Dec 2013 vol. 36, 189-194.

[2] Passages in Romans are for example: Rom 3:20, 27-28; 4:2, 6; 9:12, 32; 11:6.

[3] Judaism is one of the oldest religions in the world. Differences between Jewish denominations or sects reflect varying responses to changing times and cultures. The historical Jewish sects (Pharisses, Sadduccees, and Essenes) were responses to the Roman rule of Israel, while the major modern sects (Reform, Orthodox, and Conservative) are responses to the modern, secular culture of Europe and America. http://www.religionfacts.com/judaism/denominations.htm accessed on 20 August 2014.
In this thesis, Jewish soteriology refers to those historical Jewish sects.

[4] E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 75. Also, see E.P. Sanders, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1993.

[5] Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 33.

[6] Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 38.

[7] Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 204.

[8] Stephen Westerholm points out “On the basis of an important study by G.F. Moore, Sanders notes that the description of Judaism in these terms entered Christian scholarship in the nineteenth century through the work of Ferdinand Weber. In Weber’s Judaism the benefit of God’s covenant with Israel were wiped out already in the wilderness when Israel worshiped the golden calf. Thereafter individual Israelites could gain acceptance before God only by compiling a list of fulfillments of the law and other good deeds that outweighed the list of their transgressions. The view that in Judaism works “earn” salvation, that God “weighs” fulfillment of the law against transgressions to determine who will be saved, and that the result of such a soteriology was a despairing uncertainty of salvation on the one hand or a self-righteous boasting on the other.” Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives old and new on Paul (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2004), 130

[9] Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 551-552.

[10] Marvin Wilson also concurs this view by quoting Pinchas Lapide, a Jewish scholar of NT studies, statement ”The rabbinate has never considered the Torah as a way of salvation to God…[we Jews] regard salvation as God’s exclusive prerogative, so we Jews are the advocates of ‘pure grace.’”. Marvin R Wilson, Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1989), 21. However, we will see later, even in Jewish community, may they also have various understandings on salvation of works.

[11] Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives old and new on Paul, 179. N.T. Wright, “The Paul of History and the Apostle of Faith”, Tyndale Bulletin 29 (1978), 61-88.

[12] Wright, “The Paul of History and the Apostle of Faith”, 78.

[13] Wright, “The Paul of History and the Apostle of Faith”, 65.

[14] Wright, “The Paul of History and the Apostle of Faith”, 71.

[15] For "badges of covenant membership", see N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans part one (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004), 35–41. For reliance on the Torah to reckon Jewish kinship, see Pamela Eisenbaum "A Remedy for Having Been Born of Woman: Jesus, Gentiles, and Genealogy in Romans" in Journal of Biblical Literature 123 No.4 (Winter, 2004), 671–702.

[16] N. T. Wright, New Perspectives on Paul, 10th Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference: 25–28, August 2003. http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_New_Perspectives.pdf accessed on 23 May 2014.

[17] James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1–8, vol. 38A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), lxix.

[18] Lev 20:24–26; Ezra 10:11; Neh 13:3; Pss. Sol. 17:28; 3 Macc 3:4, Jub. 22.16, Philo, De Vita Mosis 1.278

[19] Dunn, Romans 1–8, lxx. “Your glory passed through the four gates of fire and earthquake and wind and ice, to give the law to the descendants of Jacob, and your commandment to the posterity of Israel.” (2 Esd 3:19). “For I sow my law in you, and it shall bring forth fruit in you, and you shall be glorified through it forever.” (2 Esd 9:31)

[20] Dunn, Romans 1–8, lxxi.

[21] C.f. Rom 3:20 and 14:2, 5. Dunn, Romans 1–8, lxxvii.

[22] Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/New York: Noonday Press, 1976), 281.

[23] Heschel, God in Search of Man, 281.

[24] Heschel, God in Search of Man, 289-290.

[25] Heschel, God in Search of Man, 361-362.

[26] Heschel, God in Search of Man, 379.

[27] Heschel, God in Search of Man, 380.

[28] Adin Steinsaltz, The Essential Talmud (Cambridge: Basic Books, 2006), 3.

[29] Gary G. Porton, “Talmud,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 311.

[30] Joseph L. Trafton, “Solomon, Psalms Of,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 116.

[31] F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1527.

[32] Rick Brannan et al., eds., The Lexham English Septuagint (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012), Ps Sol 2:37–39.

[33] The Lexham English Septuagint, Ps Sol 9:9.

[34] The Lexham English Septuagint, Ps Sol 14:1–2.

[35] F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1023.

[36] D.J. Harrington, Invitation to the Apocrypha (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 149.

[37] The Lexham English Septuagint, 2 Mac 7:9

[38] George W. E. Nickelsburg, Resurrection, Immortality, Eternal Life (Cambridge: Harvard University, 2006), 96.

[39] Simon J. Gathercole, Where is boasting? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 67.

[40] Harrington, Invitation to the Apocrypha, 75.

[41] The Lexham English Septuagint. Wis Sol 3:10

[42] The Lexham English Septuagint. Wis Sol 3:14

[43] The Lexham English Septuagint. Wis Sol 6:18-19

[44] The term eschatology, formed from the Gk adjective eschatos (meaning “last,” “final”) was coined in the early 19th century by theologians to refer to that part of systematic theology which deals with Christian beliefs concerning death, the afterlife, judgment, and the resurrection, i.e., individual eschatology.

[45] Aune D. E., “Eschatology: Early Christian Eschatology,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 597.

[46] Matt 5:12, 46; 6:1-6, 16-18, 19:28-29; 25:31-46; John 5:28-29; 6:26-29; James 2; 3:1, 6; 4:12; 5:7; Rev 20:12-15 and etc.

[47] παλιγγενεσία

[48] Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14–28, vol. 33B, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 565.

[49] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Mt 19:27–29.

[50] Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 566.

[51] Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, Lk 10:25.

[52] Gathercole Where is boasting?, 123. Dunn claims that “the law was given primarily to regulate life within the people of God.” J.D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998), 153.

[53] “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor 6:9-10)

[54] Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 1 Co 6:9–10.

[55] In addition of regarding response to Sanders, there are three points underlined by McGrath (1) Sanders is rather vague about why Paul is convinced of the superiority of Christianity over Judaism. Judaism is presented as being wrong, simply because it is not Christianity. They are different dispensations of the same covenant. But Paul seems to regard Christianity as far more than some kind of dispensational shift within Judaism. (2) Sanders suggests that both Paul and Judaism regard works as the principle of continuing in salvation through the covenant. Yet Paul appears to regard good works as evidential rather than instrumental. (3) Sanders tends to regard Paul’s doctrine of justification in a slightly negative light, as posing a challenge to the notion of a national, ethnic election. Alister E. McGrath “Justification” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 519.

[56] Ronald Y.K Fung, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, vol 1 (Taiwan: Campus Evangelical Fellowship, 2003), 96.

[57]The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Lexham Press, 2010), Ro 4:2.

[58] Most English bible version translated as “by” (NRSV, NASB, ESV, NIV, KJV, NKJV). This word falls into the category of marker denoting origin, cause, motive, reason. See. Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). 295-296. So, some translators translated as “from”, Dunn, Romans 1-8, 195. Michael Middendorf, Romans 1-8, Concordia Commentary (St Louis MO: Concordia Publishing, 2013), 316.

[59] Middendorf translated this as “toward” and claimed the figurative idea of boasting “toward God” is appropriate in conveying direction, since it means he is discussing a person’s relationship with God. Middendorf, Romans 1-8, 317.

[60] Douglas J Moo, Romans 1-8, The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 262-263.

[61] Everett F. Harrison and Donald A. Hagner, “Romans,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians Revised Edition, ed. Tremper Longman III & Garland, David E., vol. 11 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 77.

[62] New Revised Standard Version, Sir 44:19–20.

[63] New Revised Standard Version, 1 Mac 2:51-52.

[64] http://www.pseudepigrapha.com/jubilees/19.htm accessed on 1 June 2014

[65] Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2012), 195.

[66] Note the strong adversative ἀλλἀ is used, as compared with δέ.

[67] Moo, Romans 1-8, 264. E. Käsemann translated this verse as “For if Abraham was justified by works, he is entitled to boast. But (this will not stand up) before God”, he put ‘this will not’ instead of ‘he will not’ to emphasize the rejection is for the whole previous clause – justification by works, not only making contrast between before men and before God. Ernst Käsemann, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1980), 105-106. On the nature of this conditional sentence, c.f. further Jan Lambrecht, “Why Is Boasting Excluded? A Note on Rom 3,27 and 4,2” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 61(4, 1985), 365-369.

Some also hold the same view, c.f. Middendorf, Romans 1-8, 325. Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, 195, C.E.B. Crandfiled, Romans: A Shorter Commentary (Edinburch: T&T Clark, 2001), 84; Fung, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, vol 1, 438.

However, still some commentators argued Paul as qualifying his previous statement, “Perhaps he has before men, but not before God” William Sanday and Arthur C. Headlam, A critical and exegetical commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1902), 100. Also refer to Gathercole, Where is boasting?, 241, Gathercole points out , in footnote, two German commentator’s works hold the same interpretation, Wilckens, Brief and die Römer, 261-262; H. Schlier, Der Römerbrief, 123.

[68] The above sentence diagram demonstrates the idea of “no something to boast about before God”.

[69] N.T Wright, “Paul and the Patriarch: The Role of Abraham in Romans 4” in Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Mar 2013; vol. 35, 232. In this article, Wright argued that Paul has the entirety of Gen. 15 in mind while composing Rom 4. And Paul wants to prove that in Jesus Christ God’s promise to Abraham ‘to inherit the world’ (Rom 4:13) and ‘to be the father of many nations (4:17) is fulfilled. However, Lambrecht has been countered thesis. Jan Lambrecht, “Romans 4: A Critique of N.T. Wright” in Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Dec 2013 vol. 36, 189-194.

[70] N.T. Wright, “Romans” in The New Interpreter's Bible Acts - First Corinthians (Volume 10), (Nashville

: Abingdon Press, 2002), 490. “a faithfulness focused particularly in the obligations which marked them off most clearly as the seed of Abraham, the children of Israel, the people of the law (circumcision, food laws, Sabbath, in particular)” Dunn, Romans 1–8, 201.

 

[71] Stephen Westerholm, Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 119.

[72] Thomas R. Schreiner, “Works of the Law” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 977.

[73] Ben Witherington III, Paul's letter to the Romans: a socio-rhetorical commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2004), 124-125.

[74] S. Brian Pounds, “Romans 4:1-8 as a Test Case for the New Perspective on Paul” in Biblical Theology Bulletin: A Journal of Bible and Theology 41 (2011), 215.

[75] C.E.B. Cranfield, “’The Works of the Law’ in the Epistle to the Romans.” in Journal for the Study of the New Testament 43 (1991), 89-101.

[76] N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, Vol.1, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 267.

[77] N.T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 33.

[78] Wright, The Climax of the Covant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology, 150.

[79] Pounds also published a thesis to against New Perspective’s interpretation of Romans 4:1-8. Pounds, “Romans 4:1-8 as a Test Case for the New Perspective on Paul”, 213-225.