09i. Excursus: Additional "Tough Phrasing" (covers 3:10, 11, 12)

09i. Excursus: Additional "Tough Phrasing" (covers 3:10, 11, 12)

3:10 - All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law."

Comments:  This verse when misunderstood from its larger context will invariably lead the reader to the incorrect conclusion that Paul is advocating complete and mitzvah-by-mitzvah (commandment-by-commandment) Torah submission for everyone wishing to attain right-standing with the Almighty.  That the 1st century Judaisms did not advocate a view which required complete Torah obedience before one could be counted as a covenant member is attested to in the later rabbinic compilations that survived the destruction of the Temple.  Put simply, no one in Paul’s day thought that a person could practically walk out each and every single commandment.  Nor did anyone in Paul’s day believe that God expected such obedience of Isra'el.  No, such a notion finds its home among ignorant ideology and theology borne out of ignorance to the Laws of God and the Ways of God.  Our verse is a contrast to the previously statement made in verse 6 where Avraham is said to have been considered righteous on the basis of his faith.  By comparison, those who do not imitate Avraham, but instead seek to circumvent God’s method of declaring a person righteous actually fall into the trap of legalism.  When Sha'ul uses a statement like “all who rely on observing the law” he is referring to two positions:  Firstly, he is speaking to those who believed that covenant status was extended by God due to ethnic status, whether native-born or convert (for more on this nationalistic view see the quote by James D.G. Dunn in my comments to verse 13-14 below).  Such individuals, instead of living within the blessing of HaShem, were in reality found to be the object of God’s curse, because instead of submitting to God’s way of making a person righteous, they were said to be setting up their own way of righteousness, a charge leveled against unbelieving Isra'el by Sha'ul himself in Romans 9:31, 32-10:3.  Secondly, he is teaching against any superstition notions that God extends covenant status to the individual who simply avails himself of Torah obedience outside of genuine faith in the giver of the Torah.  This is proven by the conditional clause, “All who rely on…”  To what would the individual be relying upon for righteousness?  It must be either his ethnic status or his Torah observance.  Paul would have argued against either view.

The phrase “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law" is lifted from Deuteronomy 27:26, indicated by the familiar “for it is written.”  Paul is going to prove his argument—that lasting covenant membership is granted to those exercising faith—directly from the Torah itself.  The reference here by Sha'ul however is neither a direct quote from the Masoretic Hebrew text, or a direct quote from the Greek Septuagint (LXX).  He may be paraphrasing the general meaning of the verse for his readers.  The meaning is nevertheless captured by Sha'ul:  the covenant member to be, as well as the existing covenant member, must follow after all that God has spoken to do.[1]  Picking and choosing which commandments are relevant and which ones aren’t is not left to the covenant member.  Only God is allowed to determine which commandments might if ever fall into disuse and which ones will not.  But even more to the point of Sha'ul’s argument here is the historical reality that each and every covenant member bound himself to pursue the “Righteous One” promised by the Torah![2]  The very thing that a covenant member was expected to do was to exercise faith in God and in his Messiah to come, who by Sha'ul’s writing had already arrived!  The individual who failed to reach this conclusion ultimately found himself a candidate for being “cut off” (Hebrew=karat) by God himself due to his lack of faith.[3]  In stating that the one who denies genuine faith lives under a curse, Paul opts for the Greek word, katara, which conveys the notion of a spoken curse,[4] a clear reference to God’s words as pronounced in our Torah passage of Deuteronomy, i.e., the Book of the Law. 

3:11 - Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith."

Comments:  Sha'ul now states emphatically that “no one is justified before God by the law,” a statement that can only mean that “no one is justified before God by submission to a man-made ceremony as postulated by the prevailing halakhah of the 1st century Judaisms.”  Alternately, Sha'ul’s statement is a teaching against any mistaken notions that the Torah in and of itself automatically granted covenant status to the individual participant.  Again Paul uses a conjunction “because,” Greekhotee as a clarifier to further the truth that would-be covenant members do not walk into Torah submission to gain covenant status, rather, submission to God’s Torah is proof of a commitment already made on the part of an existing covenant member: “…because, the righteous will live by faith.” 

3:12 - The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them."

Comments: The quote is from Leviticus 18:5, a verse that Sha'ul will eventually go on to use again in Romans 10:5 in a similar discussion about covenant membership.  The context of the passage in Leviticus warrants careful study:

1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'I am the LORD your God. 3 You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. 4 You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God. 5 Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD. (Emphasis, mine)

Here the writer, Moshe, describes the lifestyle of an existing covenant member as characterized by obeying the laws spelled out by the Torah.  Paul refers to such a position as “clearly” described in the previous verse.  In other words, Paul expects his readers and opponents alike to come to the same conclusion as he: genuine Torah submission does not precede genuine faith; genuine Torah submission is the natural, expected result of genuine faith.  Stated another way: genuine and lasting obedience flows from the heart that has been circumcised by the Spirit of God himself.  The order of procession is vitally important for Paul’s argument:  faith comes first; obedience follows faith.  Such a processional order is also implied in the historical order to which the covenants in question were given:  the Avrahamic Covenant, typified by faith, preceded the Moshaic Covenant, typified by obedience.  By comparison, the Influencers had the sequence reversed, suggesting that faith came as a result of following after the teachings of Torah, as indicated by their preoccupation with the ritual of circumcision.


[1] A condition agreed upon by corporate Isra'el herself at the inauguration of the Covenant on Mount Sinai, as recorded by Moshe in Exodus 19:7, 8.

[2] See Deuteronomy 18:15-19, which was understood in Yeshua’s day to be referring to “The Prophet,” namely, Prophet Messiah, as evidenced by the people’s reaction in John 7:40-42.  The 1st century Judaisms also inferred and anticipated the coming of a Righteous One from numerous passages lifted from the Major and Minor Prophets.

[3] Romans 11:19-22.

[4] TSBD.

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