Saturday, September 12, 2009

Works of the Law

What are "Works of the Law"? by Austin Greene
Today at 10:20pm | Edit Note | Delete
The only thing I could add to this is that "Nomos" often translated "Law/Torah" can also mean legalism or the sacrificial system. So a correct translation in context would be "Works of Legalism", trying to be saved by keeping the Law. Which is just as bad as "Lawlessness" living by man's tradition instead of G-d's Commands.

Austin's Note:

What are "works of the law"?
All verses are taken from the ESV.


From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus taught the Jews that they should not rely upon their physical Jewish lineage when it comes to being saved, saying:

Mat 3:9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.

And he continued, in saying:

Mat 3:10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Now good fruit and good works are the same thing. He was telling these pharisees to repent and show their repentance with their good works. As he also says:

Mat 3:8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

The good works being commanded of here are in opposition to dead works, which many of the Jews of the time were guilty of. As the apostle writes to the Jews, saying:

Heb 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,...

Now, dead works are those things that can be done for reasons other than faith toward God. And faith toward God is believing that he exists and that he will reward those who seek him. Just as the apostle says in the same letter:

Heb 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

What kinds of things were done as dead works? Concerning these, the prophets are more than willing to help us understand, as Isaiah says:

Isa 1:11 "What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says Yahweh*; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.
Isa 1:12 "When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?
Isa 1:13 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations-- I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
Isa 1:14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
Isa 1:15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

It was not that offerings, sacrifices, and feasts were a bad thing in and of themselves. It is because they were not being done for the right reason. Yahweh exposes their hearts to them and tells them how to correct themselves, saying to them:

Isa 1:16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil,
Isa 1:17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.

Yahweh immediately brings before them good works that they can show to prove their faithfulness, if they desire to repent. The works that are presented before them are very difficult to not do out of faith. Once these more important, faith-proving works are shown, then the offerings will be acceptable and even very pleasing to him. Just as the psalmist says, in the light of the sin he has committed:

Psa 51:16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
Psa 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psa 51:18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem;
Psa 51:19 then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

And also as Jesus instructs, in the same spirit:

Mat 5:23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,
Mat 5:24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

It was taught in great detail by Jesus, what were the most important matters in the law, as he, in response to the scribe's question says:

Mar 12:29 Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one.
Mar 12:30 And you shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'
Mar 12:31 The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

If the foundation of what you do lies in the things Jesus is talking about here, then your motivation is pure. The scribe, understanding that there are things on the opposite end of the law, that can easily be done for reasons outside of faith, responds by saying:

Mar 12:32 And the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him.
Mar 12:33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."
Mar 12:34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Jesus, in complete agreement with the scribe, congratulates his understanding. However, there were many more cases where Jesus had to rebuke the scribes and Pharisees for their ways. Later on, he comes at them saying:

Mat 23:23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

Jesus tells them them here not to neglect even the smallest matters of the law, but to do them out of a repentant heart that is truly seeking God's desire, and not to do them for other reasons, adding beforehand in this same speech:

Mat 23:5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others...

And again:

Mat 23:28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

The reason Jesus emphasizes things such as mercy, justice, love and faith, is precisely because of the dead works which were being done in the first century. It would have been no avail to be telling the Jews as the center of his message to please God by keeping the festivals, or doing sacrifices. They were already doing these things, and the hypocrisy in them was the source of God's displeasure. Although the minor points of the law were not constantly reiterated in his message, he did in fact, teach explicit obedience to even the smallest command. As he said on the mountain:

Mat 5:17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Mat 5:18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
Mat 5:19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

And as Paul, in agreement, says to the assembly in Rome concerning the the law:

Rom 3:31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

And as he says to Timothy concerning the Scriptures he was raised on (the Law and Prophets):

2Ti 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
2Ti 3:17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Paul was very adamant about the believers being zealous for good works. As he also says:

Tit 2:14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

So if Paul speaks favorably of obedience to the law, and of good works, what are the works of the law that Paul does not speak too favorably about? They are those works relating to the law that are done for reasons outside of faith toward God. This is why Paul speaks of Israel in this way:

Rom 9:30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith;
Rom 9:31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.
Rom 9:32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone,
Rom 9:33 as it is written, "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame."

As was stated before, many Jews of that time thought that being Jewish was enough to get them into the kingdom. And therefore, they would practice in their lives things that identified them as Jewish. These included circumcision, festivals, immersions, and many other things. Therefore many boasted in their status as a Jew. Paul himself lays his own previous life out as exemplary of this behavior as he says to the assembly in Philippi:

Php 3:4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:
Php 3:5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;
Php 3:6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness in* the law, blameless.
Php 3:7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
Php 3:8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
Php 3:9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith--

And as he also says concerning this boasting and the works of the law that identify one as a Jew:

Rom 3:27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law (principle)? By a law (principle) of works? No, but by the law (principle) of faith.
Rom 3:28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
Rom 3:29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also,
Rom 3:30 since God is one--who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.
Rom 3:31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

The Judaism in the first century was highly community oriented, whereas in the "churches" of our society this is not nearly the case. Anyone can walk in or out as they please without much say as to whether they are a "member" or not. But to the first century believers, you were not a member of one church and not a member of another. You were either a member of the body of Christ or you weren't, and that directly affected whether you could be included in the group. (For this reason, the Jerusalem Council is hard to understand for many today.) This sociological behavior is demonstrated in Paul's rebuking of Peter in his letter to Galatia, where he says:

Gal 2:12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.

If you ate with someone, it meant you had accepted them. If you did not accept them, you did not eat with them, just as Paul says to the Corinthians:

1Co 5:11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler--not even to eat with such a one.

You see, the circumcision party, in their inception, was teaching that one had to basically identify themselves as a Jew before they could be saved, and thus enter the community. This included an adult circumcision, instruction and practice of the whole torah, and probably a few other things. Paul and the other apostles taught otherwise. For this reason, the Jerusalem council goes as follows:

The circumcision party comes by.

Act 15:1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."
Act 15:2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.
Act 15:3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.
Act 15:4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them.

The circumcision party clarifies what they mean.

Act 15:5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses."
Act 15:6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.

Peter tells them about their justification by faith apart from works related to the law.

Act 15:7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.
Act 15:8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us,
Act 15:9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.

Peter tells them how obedience to the whole torah as a means of justification (and thus being included) is a burden none could bear.

Act 15:10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?
Act 15:11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will."
Act 15:12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.

James speaks about the prophet's teaching concerning the inclusion of the Gentiles.

Act 15:13 After they finished speaking, James replied, "Brothers, listen to me.
Act 15:14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.
Act 15:15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,
Act 15:16 "'After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it,
Act 15:17 that the remnant of mankind may seek Yahweh, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says Yahweh, who makes these things
Act 15:18 known from of old.'

James makes a decision to burden them with only a few things to be saved (but really more included), four things of which all relate to idolatry, and have a death sentence as pronounced by the law. He does this to ensure that they truly have repented and are "saved".

Act 15:19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God,
Act 15:20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.

James then goes on to say that they will eventually learn about the rest of the law in the synagogues, showing that he is by no means against the law itself.

Act 15:21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues."

The letter is sent, and the recipients rejoice knowing that they do not have to undergo the circumcision party's burden.

Act 15:22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers,
Act 15:23 with the following letter: "The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings.
Act 15:24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions,
Act 15:25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
Act 15:26 men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Act 15:27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth.
Act 15:28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements:
Act 15:29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell."
Act 15:30 So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter.
Act 15:31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.

In teaching that faith was not enough, the Pharisees were in fact not operating out of faith, and thus presenting a false "good news". If a person accepted this, it was an acknowledgement that they did not believe that God's sacrifice of his son would be sufficient, and would thus be a severe lack of faith towards God. For this reason, Paul gets very angry with the Galatians who accept this, as he says to them:

Gal 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.
Gal 3:2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
Gal 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
Gal 3:4 Did you suffer so many things in vain--if indeed it was in vain?
Gal 3:5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith--

One of the primary reasons Paul shows as to why works of the law will not work for them as a means of justification, is because the law shows them the sins they have committed as they have lived outside of faith. As he says to the assembly in Rome:

Rom 3:20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

And likewise he says concerning those who rely on the law and not on the faith:

Gal 3:10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them."

Most teachers today would like us to believe that Paul was actually angry with the Galatians for keeping the laws, even out of faith, but this makes little to no sense concerning the whole picture of Galatians, and this can be easily seen in the lack of logical continuity in thought among the scholarly commentaries. Let's examine again the passage concerning Peter's hypocrisy and see Paul's response:

Gal 2:11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.
Gal 2:12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.
Gal 2:13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
Gal 2:14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?"
Gal 2:15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners;
Gal 2:16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Now as to the conclusion of the Christian scholars regarding Paul's accusation before Peter, it is most bizarre! They would actually have you believe that the phrase "live like a Gentile" is a positive thing! Whereas anywhere else, a similar phrase or even remote connection to such an idea would be an extremely insulting! Ideally living like a Jew was a good thing, as the Prophet says:

Zec 8:23 Thus says Yahweh of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'"

And according to Jesus himself, an unfaithful Jew was not a Jew at all, as he says to the assembly in Smyrna:

Rev 2:9 "'I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

So the scholars would have you believe that Peter did not live like a Jew (concerning obedience to the law), whereas it is plain fact that the believers of Jerusalem were zealous for the law!

Act 21:20 And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, "You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law...

Paul was clearly insulting Peter by telling him he was living like a gentile. How? The answer is in the next verse:

Gal 2:15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners;

The gentiles were the ones that were supposed to be the sinners, not the Jews. Yet Peter was sinning in playing the hypocrite. Paul was asking him how he would be able to compel Gentiles to live as the believing Jews if he himself was sinning in rejecting them. The truth is, as is easily seen, Paul's accusation against Peter is not found in "compelling the gentiles to live like the Jews (according to obedience to torah)", as he was not doing such in this context, but was in fact sinning in his hypocrisy.

If you favor one man over another, you have become a transgressor of the law and have sinned, as James says:

Jas 2:9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
Jas 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
Jas 2:11 For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
Jas 2:12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.

And finally Paul tells Peter that he should not have disassociated from the believing Gentiles because no man will be justified by works of the law, which again, are things related to the torah, done outside of faith - most of the time to establish oneself as a Jew. But one cannot rely on works of the law, because the law shows us the sins we have committed and condemns us, and simply doing more things related to the torah is not the solution to that problem.

The faith of the Messiah is.


The Pharisees in general were faithless from the start, and the works of the law they were promoting were nothing more than a continuation of their dead works.


The next note will hopefully be on what it means to be "under the law".



* Yahweh does not mean "the LORD". Adonai means LORD. Translations should translate words, or transliterate them, not carry on useless traditions.
* The greek text says "in". The ESV translators put "under" for some strange reason. If Paul wanted to say "under the law", he would have used "hupo nomon" as he always does.

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