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Trust and Obey, for Theres No Other Way: Obedience and Works in Paul
Professor Richard E. Oster, Jr. Harding School of Theology 1000 Cherry Road Memphis, TN 38117 USA 901-432-7718 roster@hst.edu

This manuscript represents the ideas and notes for an oral presentation and therefore lacks some of the normal transitions between sections and a formal conclusion.

Having the opportunity to speak at this Christian Scholars Conference (at Lipscomb University, on June 07, 2012) on the topic of Paul, works, and obedience is a bit of dj vu, perhaps dj vu all over again. I spoke at the 2nd Annual Christian Scholars Conference (conducted in 1982 at Abilene Christian College, Abilene, Texas) on the topic of Paul and the Law and that topic certainly bears a family resemblance to my topic today. In 1982 my thoughts about the topic were guided by a seminal article published by the British NT Scholar C. E. B. Cranfield, St. Paul and the Law, Scottish Journal of Theology 17 (1964) 43-68, by the then recently published work by E. P. Sanders, Paul

and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion, and by the


continuing influence of my doctoral studies in Biblical Studies at Princeton

Theological Seminary (1971-1974) where I was taught to beware of the Reformation Captivity of the Church. Since that first paper decades ago phrases such as Covenantal Nomism and The New Perspective on Paul have entered into the professional jargon of New Testament studies and scholars such as N. T. Wright and James Dunn have joined Sanders as leading proponents. This discussion has become so large and complex that the website entitled thepaulpage.com, for example, has a subheading On the New Perspective, another subheading From the New Perspective, and a third subheading Challenging the New Perspective. Since many Protestants and their Free Church and Believers Church relatives associate the name Martin Luther with any legitimate discussion of issues such as Paul and works, Paul and obedience, Paul and the Law, it is appropriate to give a very quick overview of Luther and his influence, and perhaps inadequacies, on this topic. At the outset it needs to be pointed out that since there is such diversity of interpretation of a onevolume book called the Holy Bible, we would search in vain to find a consensus among interpreters regarding the ideas contained in the 55 volume set [in English] of Luthers collected works, lectures, and preaching. Admittedly, Luthers works do not span the many centuries

and cultures that the Scriptures do, but, nevertheless, Luthers thoughts and documents are far from Systematic. I will quickly mention three points of Luthers theology, or at least the popularized Luther, that I regard as impediments to understanding Pauls ideas about Law, works and obedience. Three Facets of Luthers Thought Judaism and the Jews Luther held views toward Jews and

Judaism that today would generally be regarded as anti-Semitic. According to Luther, in his 1543 essay on the Jews and Their Lies (Part 11), his recommendations for the treatment of Jews in Germany included,

First to set fire to their synagogues or schools . . . This is to be


done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians. . . . Fourth , I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. . . .

Fifth , I advise that safeconduct on the highways be abolished


completely for the Jews. . . . Seventh , I commend putting an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam (Gen 3:19). For it is not fitting that they should let us accursed Goyim

4 [transliteration of a Hebrew term for gentiles/pagans] toil in the sweat of our faces while they, the holy people, idle away their time behind the stove, feasting and farting, and on top of all, boasting blasphemously of their lordship over the Christians by means of our sweat.

Anyone who has read through Romans 9-11 knows that Luthers view of unsaved Jews and how to interact with them is far, far removed from Pauls. Moses and the Mosaic Law It comes as no surprise, then,

that Luther might have a rather negative view of Moses, the Mosaic Law, and associated themes. For Luther the teachings of Moses are of value to the Christian only because they are repeated in the New Testament or because they are in agreement with what is otherwise known from Gods laws of nature. Thus the Law of Moses is somewhat like a national law of the Jews, which would not be in force for those living in another nation with different laws. Just like the Laws and Constitution of Germany would not be authoritative in England or France, so the Mosaic Constitution would not be authoritative for later Christians [Luther,

Against Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments, 1525


and How Christians Should Regard Moses, 1525]. In this last homily

Luther preached that, Therefore, we read Moses, not because it applies to us and not because we must keep his regulations but because he agrees with the natural law and has summarized this better than the Gentiles have ever been able to do. Luthers views on the Mosaic materials in the OT fail to measure up to Pauls understanding of Law as Scripture and to Pauls use of terms such as good, holy, righteous, and spiritual to praise it. Works/Works of the Law Martin Luther was involved

both in a personal soul searching crisis and also in the midst of what he saw as a crisis in the Roman Church. His personal spiritual impotence and the crass selling of indulgences for salvation in the Roman Church led him to Pauls teaching about justification by faith apart from works. Unfortunately, Luther took the damnable practice of the Roman Church in its selling of indulgences and foisted that type of practice and theology upon Pauls Christian opponents from Jerusalem in Galatians. Due to these circumstances, Luther, unlike Paul, believed and taught that justification by faith apart from works of the Law was the center of the Christian faith (Luther, Preface to Romans; Two Kinds of Righteousness;

Commentary on Galatians). In reality, the phrase works of the Law is


found in only two of Pauls thirteen letters, namely Romans and Galatians

[Rom. 3:20, 27-28; Gal. 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10], a fact which makes it very difficult to construe justification by faith apart from works of the Law as the center of Pauline theology. These two epistles reveal that the phrase works of the Law is used in the context of Pauline letters where issues of ethnicity and Gentiles mission are prominent. Paul on Works As a student of Scripture, Paul would have known that covenants in Scripture are based upon the prevenient grace of God; there are none that God creates at the behest of humans nor are there any which are maintained by human actions that merit the covenant blessings. Turning to the Mosaic covenant established with Israel, it is certainly significant that the Exodus comes before Sinai and the giving of Mosaic Law and statutes. We Christians and Jews would all be working with a radically different paradigm if the Hebrews were permitted to participate in the Exodus only after successfully obeying the Laws of Mt. Horeb. Accordingly, it is inaccurate to imagine, as Luther did, that the burden of Pauls message against Judaism was to free people, esp. religious ones, from a previous Sinai based paradigm of works/merit based righteousness (see Deut. Chapter 09). For Paul, the Law was not primarily a foil against which to demonstrate that now, after Jesus, God

has had a change of heart. Luthers view, stated on more than one occasion, was that the main purpose of the Law was to demonstrate to us that we cannot keep it, and thereby it crushes our works based selfrighteousness. Luther wrote on another occasion that the Law was Gods hammer to soften and humble a man to cause him to acknowledge his misery and damnation. In my opinion, the last idea Paul would like to get credit for is that Gods people can be carefree about obedience and works. Contrary to the theology of some contemporary Christian hymnody, Paul did not advocate that we were created to sing praises, but rather were created in Christ for good works [Eph. 2:10]. Paul was not the champion of the later piety known as cheap grace that Dieterich Bonhoeffer so forcefully rejected in his work The Cost of Discipleship. Although it might appear counter-intuitive to some, Pauls letter to the Romans is one of the best places to look for Pauls emphasis upon and understanding of obedience. One should not underestimate the significance of the phrase the obedience of faith (Rom. 1:5; 16:26 (?); ), both because of its location in the epistle and because of Pauls own correlation between this idea and the essential nature of his own apostolic calling [1:5, we have received grace and

apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name]. Paul expects Gentile believers to view faith as quintessentially tied to obedience, just as it was for Israel. In all likelihood . . . Paul had in mind the importance of obedience within Jewish self-understanding--obedience as Israel's proper response to God's covenant grace [James Dunn, Romans 1-8 Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word Books Publisher, 1988, p. 18]. As the reader of Romans moves into chapter 2, it becomes clear that the obedience that Paul embraces in chapter 1:5 was not just some initial romance with the idea of obedience that could later be neglected. Paul cannot discuss the eschatological judgment that God will impartially give on the day of wrath, when Gods righteous judgment will be revealed [2:5] without stating its premise: God shall yield to each man after his works [2:6, Wycliffe and Douay-Rheims (1899); Luther Bibel, nach seinen Werken]. Without a Reformation bias, I see no need to translate the Greek term ergon as works when referring to Jewish expectations and theology and deeds when used of the life of believers in Christ. While some Evangelical interpreters can only tolerate this premise of Romans 2:6 by considering it to be hypothetical, that solution creates more problems than it solves, since Paul, like Jesus

before him [Matt. 16:27], is quoting from Psalms 62:12, One thing God has spoken; two things I have heard: that might belongs to God, and faithfulness is Yours, O Lord, to reward each man according to his deeds [Jewish Study Bible]; and it is pretty certain in Matt. 16 that Jesus is not speaking hypothetically about Gods judgment at the return of the Son of Man. Moreover, as Paul describes the behavior that leads to eternal life [ ] in 2:7 it is noteworthy that the terms used in this case are , good work, rendered more accurately than most Protestant translations with these words, To them indeed, who according to patience in good work [ ], seek glory and honour and incorruption, [they will receive] eternal life. While this is a Roman Catholic translation, its insistence on the necessity of works is clearly supported by the commentary on Romans by Cranfield [C. E. B. Cranfield,

Romans A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987, 48].


It is noteworthy that Martin Luther gave a sermon that is often neglected in these discussions which is entitled Two Kinds of

Righteousness, where he spells out the first kind of righteousness that is


known as imputed righteousness (which cheap grace believers adore) and the second kind of righteousness which is a life spent profitably in

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good works, in the first place, in slaying the flesh and crucifying the desires with respect to the self. For Luther, following Pauls perspective

here, the believer must manifest in Christian living this second kind of righteousness, This righteousness follows the example of Christ in this respect and is transformed into his likeness. It is precisely this that Christ requires. Admittedly, there is an intramural debate going on within Lutheran circles today whether this Two Kinds of Righteousness sermon actually represents the real Luther, both because of the earliness of the sermon (1518) and because it just doesnt sound Lutheran enough. So let us turn to Luthers Preface to the Epistle to the Romans (1522), certainly the gold standard for pure Lutheranism. There Martin Luther writes, It is impossible for it [i.e., faith] not to do good works continuously. . . . An individual who does not do these works is a faithless person, who gropes and looks around for faith and good works and knows neither what faith nor what good works are, despite talking nonsense about faith and good works. . . . Therefore, it is impossible to separate works from faith, just as it is impossible to separate burning and light from fire [Philip D. W. Krey & Peter D. S. Krey, eds. Luthers Spirituality, Paulist Press, 2007, p. 109].

11 A similar idea is expressed in 2:10 where Paul again uses the term

good but here joins it to the verb form of work (ergazomai) rather than the noun ergon; it is rendered, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does [or works] good, the Jew first and also the Greek. As we leave chapters 1-2, it seems clear that Paul believes that ones behavior is decisive for ones faithfulness to the gospel and certainly the basis for Gods impartial eschatological judgment. Paul on Obedience Turning now to the idea of obedience in the life of the believer, Rom. 6 makes clear that the various forms of the term, the verb obey and the noun obedience, are associated with the lifestyle of the believer, either a life of obedience to the flesh or obedience to Gods ways. Thus the imperative of Rom. 6:12 reflects the former, Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions, while the later is evident in the wording of 6:16b, Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But 6:16b has another

component that is even more important for this study. Paul writes, to the consternation of some commentators, that obedience leads to

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righteousness ( ). That is, for the Paul of Romans, not only does faith lead to righteousness as in chapters 4 and 10, but also so does obedience, and this is an obedience that is synonymous with the acceptable behavior of a believer. Some interpreters prefer to take the obedience in Rom. 6:16b as a reference to a one-time obedience of believing when one comes to faith. Douglas Moo correctly rejects this approach, Some interpreters think that 'obedience' refers mainly to the act of believing rather than to moral activity. . . . But this interpretation moves too far from the meaning of 'obedience' earlier in the verse and does not square with Paul's obvious interest in this passage with concrete behavior. Paul is out to emphasize the significance of obedience in the Christian life, in a context where such an emphasis is necessary to counter a false libertinism [The Epistle to the

Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996, p. 399].


In 6:17a Paul celebrates the lives of those Roman believers who have an obedience based righteousness with the phrase Thanks be to God; their former devotion to sin has been replaced by an obedience to a form of teaching. Although many commentators waffle on the interpretation of the words [you] have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, (6:17b), it seems hard to get away from the context of Romans 6 with its emphasis upon a

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life of dead-to-sin ethics and sanctification. For those who practice a form of Christianity where sanctification is desirable, but not mandatory for righteousness (=North American Christianity), the remainder of Romans 6 presents some disturbing theology. The following verses from Romans 6:18-23 establish the indissoluble link between lifestyle sanctification and eternal life. It seems to me that one would have to abandon the standard, context based, method of exegesis to disconnect the phrase form of teaching from the context of a dying and rising with Christ ethics and sanctification, which began for Paul at baptism. If my perspective on Paul in Romans has merit, then it clearly provides a context for his teaching that Spirit led believers are under the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus [Rom. 8:2a]. In Romans 8:6-7 Spirit led faith for the apostle Paul does not mean retreat from Gods Law, but rather submission to the Law of God, to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to Gods lawindeed it cannot. Perhaps Pauls connection between being Spirit filled and Law keeping stems from ideas like those in Ezek. 36:27, I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. This connection certainly existed in Second Temple Judaism.

14 In conclusion, then, it is little wonder that Paul could write in

Romans 13:8-10 that a believers life of love, service, and ethical purity should be viewed as the fulfillment of Law, particularly the ethical directives in the Ten Commandments: For the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Returning to the title of this lecture, taken from the Christian hymn Trust and Obey by John H. Sammis (1846-1919; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_H._Sammis), we certainly see that both a trusting faith and obedience are part of Pauls gospel presented in his letter to the saints in Rome. And I can easily imagine that the Apostle Paul would heartily sing along with these words from Sammiss hymn, But we never can prove the delights of his love until all on the altar we lay; for the favor he shows, for the joy he bestows, are for them who will trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.