Rom 3:31

We (i.e. Peter and I against Yancy and Mike) have reached a dead end on Rom 4:1, so I want to step back to the preceding verse which is difficult as well as ambiguous. I am not satisfied with the traditional treatment of this verse in the commentaries nor the traditional translations, although the translations vary quite a bit.

The Greek text is: νόμον οὖν καταργοῦμεν διὰ τῆς πίστεως; μὴ γένοιτο· ἀλλὰ νόμον ἱστάνομεν.

A literal version may be: Do we then discard “law” through/by way of the faith? Not at all! Rather, we make “law” stand.

If this verse is read out of context in a fairly literal translation, as most people do, it is difficult to understand. Part of the context is that Paul is writing to Jews in Rome. Another part of the context is the way the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek. A third part is what Paul is writing elsewhere on this topic.

1. What is  NOMOS (law)? The Hebrew scriptures (Tanakh) were and are commonly divided into three parts: The Torah, the Prophets and the Writings. The Torah consists of the “Five books of Moses”. The word basically means “teaching” and it refers to God’s teaching where Moses was a key person in receiving this information and giving it to the Israelites. In the LXX, Torah is normally translated by NOMOS, and this gives rise to the first ambiguity: Does NOMOS refer to the Torah or more specifically to the 10 commandments and the other laws, rules and regulations? To answer that question, I believe it is helpful to refer to the introduction of this section, namely v. 21. It is common in Jewish/Hebrew thoughts and writing to have an inclusio, i.e. the first and last part of a section overlap lexically and semantically. In v. 21 we read that now (after and with Christ) there is a new kind of righteousness from God (cf. Rom 10:3) which has been revealed, but it was already testified to (prophesied about) in the “Law and the Prophets”.  Because of the coordination between “Law” and “Prophets”, I am suggesting that “Law” (NOMOS) both in verse 21 and 31 is intended to refer to the Torah.  It so happens that the Torah also contains a number of prophecies about the coming Messiah. One of the most famous ones is found in Deut 18:15-18. It is quoted several times by various NT writers. Paul quotes two times in chapter 4 from the Torah. Genesis contains several important prophetic promises to the Patriarchs.

2. What is meant by “through the faith”? I suggest that it refers to this new way of becoming accepted by God (righteousness), namely through faith in Jesus as the Messiah (and through faith in his “blood” (v. 25), that is, his atoning death.)

3. Does this new way to righteousness mean that we should just throw the Torah away? The Jews in Rome would be very upset if that was the case. The Greek verb is translated variously: make void (KJV), overthrow (RSV), nullify (NIV), do away with (GNB), destroy (CEV), forget about (NLT). But is Paul contradicting himself? He used the exact same Greek word in Eph 2:15:  “by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances” (RSV). In Ephesians his main audience are the Gentiles, and here he is talking not about the Torah as a whole but the laws and commandments it contains. He is specifically thinking about how to become accepted by God and join the new people of God, so that believing Jews and Gentiles become one people. This is not a result of trying to keep the commandments and ordinances in the Jewish laws. It is by grace through faith you are saved (Eph 2:8).

4. What does it mean to make the Torah stand? The Greek verb used is very common, 155 times in the NT. However, this is the only place in the NT where it is used in the present tense. Present tense forms of the verb do occur occasionally in the Septuagint, but most of the time it is in the literal sense of placing a person or thing at a particular location. I have only been able to find one place where the present tense form is used and the context is similar to here, and that is in Isa 44:26. Here God is described as the one “who confirms the word of his servant” (RSV). NET says: “who fulfills the oracles of his prophetic servants”.  My suggestion is that the word has a similar sense in Rom 3:31, to fulfill or make come true or confirm the truth of it. It does not mean to establish or uphold the law as a set of laws. In prophetic language, if a prophecy or a promise “falls to the ground” it has failed to come true. If it stands, it is fulfilled.  So, my proposal is that Paul is here saying that “we” as Jews who have come to believe in Jesus the Messiah are not abolishing or throwing away the Torah. Rather we are fulfilling its intentions, we are in a new and better way doing what God wants us to do, and that is the basic meaning of “righteousness”. Paul comes back to that thought many times, including in Rom 8:4 and 13:8-10.

As far as translations go, I am dissatisfied with them all. I am no defender of translation traditions.

21 thoughts on “Rom 3:31

  1. WoundedEgo says:

    Iver, it is my considered opinion that the question he asks does not relate to *the* law (of Moses) but rather law in general. “Do we abolish law?”

    He answers, “No, we are putting in place a [new] law.”

    So the question is, what law is he putting in place? It is the very law (“principle” may be better) of faith that he mentions in 27:

    Romans 3:27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.

    The OT has a convenient account… the law of the Medes and Persions is said to be inviolable, once established:

    Daniel 6:8 Now, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to ***the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not***.

    Even the king, when he wants to modify his own law *cannot*:

    Daniel 6:
    12 Then they came near, and spake before the king concerning the king’s decree; Hast thou not signed a decree, that every man that shall ask a petition of any God or man within thirty days, save of thee, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions? The king answered and said, The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not.
    13 Then answered they and said before the king, That Daniel, which is of the children of the captivity of Judah, regardeth not thee, O king, nor the decree that thou hast signed, but maketh his petition three times a day.
    14 Then the king, when he heard these words, was sore displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him: and he laboured till the going down of the sun to deliver him.

    In order to save the Jews, despite the law he was tricked into signing, the king had to enact a new law that allowed the Jews to defend themselves:

    Esther 8:8 Write ye also for the Jews, as it liketh you, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s ring: for the writing which is written in the king’s name, and sealed with the king’s ring, may no man reverse.

    In other words, rather than break the original law, he created a new law that supered [not sure of the correct word right now] the old.

  2. iverlarsen says:


    I can sort of follow what you are saying and agree to some extent. I do believe that as the new covenant was foretold and expected in the old covenant and has actually for us Christians replaced the old covenant that was made with the Jewish people, so does the new covenant contain one basic law, the law of love or the law of Christ. (I am sure some will dispute this understanidng.) If that basic law is allowed to guide my life, all the other laws are fulfilled, and more than that. The problem with the focus on specific written rules and regulations is that people tend to measure themselves to see if they have fulfilled those laws “by the letter” rather than “by the Spirit”.

    However, I am reluctant to add the word “new” when it is not in the text.

    And as I said I think the reference is to the Torah, not the law or laws in a limited sense, and if that be the case, there is no new Torah to be established.

  3. Yancy Smith says:

    Thanks, Iver, for this thoughtful post. In Rom 3:27-31 one has to keep in mind that Paul is using his rhetorical questions to frame whohow his audience should understand and apply the example of Abraham. Paul can assume that some people are already talking in Rome about his gospel (Rom 3:8; 6:1). A good case can be made that some had specific misgivings about the sort of thing he had written years before in his letter to the Galatians. Thomas Tobin’s masterful book, _Paul’s Rhetoric in its Contexts: the Argument of Romans_ is an excellent guide on this point. I agree with Tobin that its important to recognize a change in tone from Rom 3:21-26 and 3:27-4:25 where Paul again becomes more argumentative, similar to his approach i 2:1-3:10. Like the earlier passage, this passage is heavy with Scripture references and rhetorical questions. On the other hand, he appears to hope that the Roman Christians will be persuaded by his arguments without feeling their positions are being directly attacked. He maintains the appearance of indirectness that is the basic approach of the diatribe form, the “teacherly” approach that Paul adopts that Iver has referred to in his controversial post on Rom 4:1.
    The problem that Paul is addressing is a momentary conundrum he himself has created. In 3:27-31 he intends to maintain his basic conviction that God’s righteousness is now manifest through faith (whether Christ’s faithfulness or believer’s faith is immaterial at this point) apart from works. He also is clearly convinced that Jewish and Gentile believers have equal status. This passage gives a rethinking of the significance of these two convictions. Paul can anticipate that at least some in Rome have serious misgivings about his interpretation of the meaning of Abraham for believers in Christ. In Galatians Paul had opposed Abraham’s faith to observance of the law, pure and simple. Also, in Galatians he had seemed to make Abraham the father of the Gentiles only and seemed to exclude the Jews. He could anticipate that some Roman Christians would think Paul’s use of the Abraham story a clear perversion of Scripture. Paul seemed to annul the Scripture. Paul goes in a very different direction in Rom 3:27-31. God’s righteousness is now manifest apart from law, but neither against the law nor a condemnation of past observance of the law. What is more, the same theme he announced in 1:16 is reiterated here (3:30), the circumcised and the uncircumcised God makes righteous through the same faith.
    So, from my perspective, Rom 3:31 is meant to deal with the issue of whether Paul’s conviction about righteousness through faith apart from law observance in fact annuls the law. He claims categorically that it does not. It confirms the law, as he had already suggested in 3:21 where he claimed the Law and the Prophets witness to the righteousness revealed apart from the law. That is also why I believe that it is rather easy to argue that νόμος in 3:31 refers in a wider sense to Jewish Scripture as a whole.

    Accordingly, I see nothing wrong with the translation,
    “Do we then nullify the law through faith? Absolutely not! Instead we uphold the law.”

  4. Yancy Smith says:

    I would change “who” to “how” in line 2 of my post. And “He claim” to “He claims” in line 6 from the bottom. Sorry.

  5. iverlarsen says:


    I am not really surprised by your take on Rom 3:31 since it is connected to how one understands the new righteousness from God that was revealed through Christ. As long as you are thoroughly in the Hays&Wright camp (the “new” perspective?), we will not agree. Much of what you write I have a different perspective on, and I don’t see any prospects of us coming to agreement. There is too much theological baggage at stake.

    You say: In Galatians Paul had opposed Abraham’s faith to observance of the law, pure and simple. Also, in Galatians he had seemed to make Abraham the father of the Gentiles only and seemed to exclude the Jews.

    I am familiar with Galatians, but this makes no sense to me. The first sentence I simply don’t understand. The second is incorrect, probably because it fails to clearly acknowledge the two senses of “sons of Abraham” that Jesus and Paul often talked about.

    My interest is in the Greek text, and the verb “cause to stand, fulfill” intrigues me. Although the present tense of the active form does not occur anywhere else in the NT, there are examples of the verb in the active imperfect and aorist. Once we move into perfect and pluperfect, the focus shifts to the result of the action, i.e. being in a standing position rather than “make stand”. Various meanings are possible for the word like “cause to stand, stop, put up, bring forward, push forward, fulfill etc.” It is used in Mat 4:5 when the Devil put Jesus on the trumpeting platform at the highest point of the Temple wall (Southwest corner). BDAG suggests that Mark 7:9 is similar to Rom 3:31. Here a few mss have “So nice of you to set aside the commandment of God in order to put forward your own tradition!” Here we have two different sets of laws/traditions, and these Pharisees and scribes (the theologians of that time) have placed their own theological tradition at a higher level than the commandment of God.
    There is a similar usage of the same aorist form of the verb in Heb 10:9 where NIV translates: “He sets aside the first to establish the second.” One law or sacrificial system is placed at a higher level and supersedes another.

    However, if there is a contrast in 3:31 it is implicit. One can make a case for the contrast in Paul’s mind from everything else he has written. One would be the traditional understanding of the law, common among Jewish rabbis at the time, the one that Jesus vehemently opposed as did Paul after his conversion. The other would be a new perspective on the Torah (God’s will for humankind). The new perspective is that only through faith and helped by the Holy Spirit is a person able to fulfill the intentions of the law. The law in itself is powerless to accomplish that.
    If you “uphold” the law, you imply that the old law continues as is in spite of opposition. That is clearly not what Paul had in mind. Rather, the “law” (whether it refers to a more limited sense or the wider sense of the Torah) is placed higher and brought to a new level.
    As I sai d- and unlike you – I am not satisfied with traditional renderings of the verb in this verse. I would be close to the meaning as clarified by NLT when it says “In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.” I have been toying with the translation “(we don’t abolish the law/Torah,) but we bring it to a new/higher level.” Here I do use “new” as WoundedEgo suggested, but it is caused by the struggle to grasp and translate the difficult Greek word with many possible senses like push forward. It never refers to retaining the status quo.

    This morning when I opened my Logos 4 program where the home page is updated daily, a big heading hit my eyes: Christ Came to fulfill the Law. It referred to a quote from the NET bible of Matt 5:17. It is the same as the NIV: “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.”
    The lexical and thematic similarities to Rom 3:21 and 31 are striking.
    By the way, it is a mistake to suggest a major break between 3:26 and 27. A paragraph break is OK, but the section 3:21-31 should not be broken apart. It would destroy the lexical and thematic cohesion. V. 31 is the closing words of the section, and 4:1 starts a new section.

  6. c.s.bartholomew says:

    Listening to Iver and Yancy reminds me of an article by Kenneth A. McElhanon SIL on the relativity of knowledge. You can read it here

    Recently, I have been trying to explain why this important to translation consultant in Saint Petersburg Russia. Apparently the cookie hasn’t dropped for some people in translation work, that the cognitive language models have implications for the doctrine of scripture. Kenneth A. McElhanon understand this but he comes out sounding somewhat like Jack Rodgers of Fuller Seminary.

  7. Yancy Smith says:

    C.S., I thoroughly enjoyed the article by Kenneth A. McElhanon! Thanks so much for the reference, I’ll pass it around at the office; my fellow translation consultants will really like it, I’m sure.

    Iver, I certainly don’t see a major break at 3:26, 27 but a change in tone in rhetorical terms. As you said, a paragraph modern break (in layout terms).

    My concern is also with the Greek text and the analysis of the rhetorical flow of that text. I certainly agree with you, if I understand you correctly, that the translator should concern herself/himself with understanding the text in context first and only secondarily be concerned with the theological consequences of the careful reading of the text.

    In the case of Romans, what Paul previously preached and wrote about Jews and Gentiles, the law and justification by faith were already an issue of contention in places like Jerusalem (see Acts 21). We can surmise that Paul could anticipate that similar rumors had spread to Rome. Consequently, he could not merely repeat what he had written in the blazing hot, polemical letter to the Galatians and hope to help the diverse congregations in Rome achieve some sort of consensus about sending him on to Spain (Rom 15).

    So, in some sense the law has to continue to stand, while being relativized at the same time. Romans 14 in fact seems to be a concrete example of the way Paul sees this happening. And 3:31 is not the final word Paul will give. It wouldn’t be appropriate to translate it in such a way that renders his later qualifications (Romans 7, 8, 14, 15) not to mention 10:1-5 useless.

    Still, this verse represents an easing, a softening of Paul’s strident stance. There is no need to fiddle with odd lexical senses of his wording to make Romans sound more agreeable to Galatians. Let the readers and pastors work that out. The translation can’t do everything. Here is how we handled this text in translation I worked on:
    Entonces, ¿con la fe eliminamos la ley? ¡De ninguna manera! Por el contrario, confirmamos lo que la ley enseña.

    So, do we eliminate the lay by means of faith? In no way! Rather, we confirm what the law teaches.

    Iver has indicated how his reading of this text conforms to his general understanding of law, but how does it fit in the flow of the rhetoric of the letter? I’m curious.
    Blessings in Christ

  8. jkgayle says:

    In the LXX, Torah is normally translated by NOMOS, and this gives rise to the first ambiguity…. What is meant by “through the faith”? – Iver

    not relate to *the* law (of Moses) but rather law in general – W.E.

    Paul’s Rhetoric in its Contexts: the Argument of Romans_ is an excellent guide on this point. I agree with Tobin… – Yancy

    W.E. makes an important point. Perhaps the referent of νόμος is invariably Torah, but that does not eliminate the resulting unintended ambiguity. This term is huge in Greek for the Greeks, especially philosophically-political Greeks. Plato and Aristotle, for example, have “faith(fulness” and “law” – working together – throughout their many treatises. That the LXX uses these terms is no accident, I think, as it’s translated in Alexandria, the namesake city-state of Alexander the Great, who is the first pan-Hellenic conqueror to push forward the platonic and Aristotelian political project.

    Rhetoric is a key part of politics, for these Greeks. And Paul (under Rome, where rhetoric and politics are eagerly appropriated) seems to be well studied and practiced in it (knowing and practicing both the Greek and the Roman teachings).

    Aristotle opens The Rhetoric with metaphorical definitions of key terms. Included is the phrase Paul uses here in Rom 3:31 – τῆς πίστεως. This is huge as the scientist-rhetorician is chiding others who have neglected such important concepts for rhetoric.

    And with “law” comes the essential concept of “faith/ belief/ trust/ provability” — for example: Plato’s Laws (927a) “believe those who lay it down by law” and Aristotle’s Politics (1271a) “their education has been on such lines that even the lawgiver himself cannot trust in them as men of virtue”

    The point is that Greek readers in Rome would not be able to help at least overhearing the rhetorical tone of Romans, especially points about “law” and “faith” together, especially in 3:31.

  9. jkgayle says:


    It’s very very interesting how McElhanon points to Aristotle as a continued influence on Bible translators. His thesis about the elimination of ambiguity by the forgoing of metaphor is spot on. His observation that Relevance Theory is the biggie now goes hand in hand with those notions of Aristotelianism.

    How very telling, and sad in my opinion, that in his 2007 review of influences, McElhanon offers absolutely no mention of Kenneth Pike, Eunice Pike, Evelyn Pike, or Robert Longacre, who developed fresh, robust, and dimensioned alternatives to Nida’s view of language/ translation. K. Pike was SIL’s first Ph.D. He worked not only in linguistics but also in rhetoric, being championed by rhetoricians as offering a “new rhetoric” — i.e., beyond Aristotle’s stiff and narrow conception; Pike’s infinitely-dimensioned view of language put person above logic, above formalism. KP’s useful notion of outsiderness and insiderness (i.e., “etics” and “emics”) has found its way into some twenty five different academic disciplines.

  10. iverlarsen says:

    I have just read McElhanon’s paper. Nicely done. I cannot find anything in it that I do not agree with, maybe because I am rather eclectic myself. I certainly value metaphors, especially in poetry, but I also recognize that metaphors are based on cultural habits and specific language conventions, so assisting metaphors to jump over cultural barriers is a challenge. Language barriers is not the problem here.
    It is true that Relevance Theory is being pushed from the top in the SIL translation department. Rather sad in my opinion. It is a valuable communication theory, but not really a translation theory, although translation is a specific kind of communication. Its basic insights are simple and intuitively correct, but the new training manual based on the theory is being opposed by many experienced consultants. Most of us prefer an approach where you use the valuable and proven insights from various theories, including discourse. I have personally learned a lot from Longacre and greatly appreciate his pionering work. Pike is more distant for me since I was never taught tagmemics in my SIL training. But I was introduced to his useful distinction between emic and etic, mostly in my studies of phonetics and phonemics, without which I could never have produced a good alphabet in the language I have worked on now for 25 years on and off.

  11. Tony Pope says:

    R. St J. Parry in his Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary (1921, p.69) says on 3:31 “The Gospel does not abolish law by insisting on faith as man’s sole contribution; it represents law as fulfilled in Christ … Practically a summary of the treatment of law in Mt. 5.”

    Godet comments (1:281) “Paul’s gospel was accused of making void the law by setting aside legal works as a means of justification; and he has just proved to his adversaries that it is his teaching, on the contrary, which harmonizes with the true meaning of the law, while the opposite teaching overturns it, by keeping up the vainglory of man, which the law was meant to destroy, and by violating Monotheism on which it is based. Is it surprising that he concludes such a demonstration with the triumphant affirmation: “Do we then overturn the law, as we are accused of doing? On the contrary we establish it.”

    Godet’s full comment on this section is entitled “The Harmony of this Mode of Justification with the true Meaning of the Law” and can be read at and following pages.

    I think Godet (and Parry) are on the right track here, and it looks as though Iver may be going in this direction too. But (in agreement with Yancy) it is not the word hISTANOMEN that needs tweaking. Paul claims he is upholding the true spirit of the Mosaic law. Clearly, though, a translation such as “rather, we uphold the law” is in danger of being misinterpreted if the reader has too narrow a view of the law. Might it become clearer if reworded as “we are in fact upholding the law”? But as Yancy implies, Paul must be allowed to explain himself in the rest of the letter.

  12. John Radcliffe says:

    JK wondered whether “… the referent of νόμος is invariably Torah …”

    Well it certainly isn’t in v27 (“law of faith”).

    So perhaps the fact that Paul can use the term in a “non-technical” sense in the middle of this section should make us wary of assuming it has the same meaning everywhere else. (For example, I suspect that it is used in two different senses in v21, with the first perhaps being carried over from that in v20.)

  13. iverlarsen says:

    Thanks to all who have commented. I’ll try to take up some of the points and also try to clarify my thinking, since it seems that it has not come through clearly enough. My response is a bit long since I am trying to address several posts in one comment.

    First, NOMOS is a bit like SARX. It has many shades of meanings in different contexts. Traditional Bible translations have ignored that, or to put it differently, they have pushed the burden of deciphering the meaning onto the reader, but without giving the reader all the clues that are there in the original languages. Theologians generally like that approach, the common reader gets frustrated. The translated text is much harder to understand than the original.

    I am in a different translation camp, maybe because I am more of a linguist than a theologian. I know the Bible well from 30 years in the Bible translation business, but I know less about what this or that Bible commentator thinks about the Bible. Douglas Moo, by the way, is my favourite commentator on Romans.

    In my translation philosophy the translators have the responsibility to do careful exegesis in context and then present that exegesis in a way that takes into account what the average reader knows already (not quantifiable).

    So, my point is that the Roman Jewish audience are Jews first and foremost who happen to speak Greek. What NOMOS means in Roman society and tradition is not in focus. What Torah means to Jews IS in focus. English translations have the same problem. If we use the term “law” or “principle” consistently in the translation, we are likely to miscommunicate. For a Jew, the Torah encompasses God’s will for his people, and it includes more than laws. It includes important prophetic announcements and stories of the heroes of faith like Abraham, Joseph and Moses. Whether the sense is principle, law, or Torah depends on the context. Sometimes the intended senses may not be clearly delineated, not even in the mind of the speaker. For instance, when I say “Lord” the sense depends on whether I am speaking a in religious context or not. But even in a religious context, I may refer to both God the Father and Jesus without making a distinction.

    Likewise, NOMOS has different senses and references whether spoken in a religious or secular context. Even in a religious context as in Romans, the word may refer to what we would call “law” or it may refer to a principle, or it may refer to what the Jews knew and know as the Torah, which is much more than “law”.

    NOMOS occurs 7 times in 3:21-31 with varied senses. What sense is intended in each place is not easy to determine. This is ambiguity, but not an ambiguity that is necessarily intended by the writer. Most ambiguity is created by the reader, and Bible commentators make a living out of creating ambiguity.

    NOMOS is used twice in v. 21. The first occurrence corresponds pretty well to the Biblical English word “law”, but it is a metonymy for the way through which a person is considered to be righteous or considers himself to be righteous. Think of the Pharisees and how they considered themselves righteous by fulfilling to the letter the requirements of the Mosaic law (plus amendments and “clarifications”). (Paul was like that before he became a Christian and some of his Jewish readers are still like that). The second occurrence in v. 21 is clearly Torah, because it is parallel to the second part of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Prophets.

    Verses 22-26 focus on righteousness, since that is the key question – how to be righteous. This is seen by other key words like faith, believe, blood, propitiation, redemption, forgiveness of sins, grace, gift. The section is introduced by the Greek DE which indicates that all of these verses describe the OTHER way, apart from a rigid fulfilling of the law.

    v. 27 introduces a conclusion or consequence which should steer the reader to think of the famous parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector – or similar incidents familiar to the Jews. Where is the basis for boasting (of your own righteousness like the Pharisee)? There is no basis! By what principle (NOMOS)? By the principle of obtaining righteousness (acceptance by God) through faith, not through fulfilling religious laws and regulations. In case v. 27 was not clear enough, Paul gives further explanation of the same principle in v. 28, introduced by the Greek discourse particle GAR which means “let me explain a bit more”. Paul says: We(exclusive of some of his readers) have come to the considered opinion that a person is accepted by God on the basis of faith APART from works of law. Another NOMOS, repeating the phrase from v. 21, but clarifying by adding “works”.

    In v. 29, Paul counters another (unspoken?) assumption of the Jews in his audience: Isn’t God our God alone? Did God not choose Israel rather than any other nation? If Gentiles want to join us, they must become Jews.

    No, says Paul in v. 30. Because this new way of becoming righteous is not based on fulfilling the law as Jews were brought up to think, but it is based on faith. Circumcision – the hallmark of being a Jew – is irrelevant, because ALL people become righteous through their faith, whether they are Jews/circumcised or not.

    V. 31 is introduced by the Greek OUN. KJV and most traditional translations either mistranslate or ignore these crucial discourse connectors, because it is only in recent years that linguists have discovered how they function. Most theologians have not yet discovered it. NLT does pretty well here when they say: Well then… Paul is concluding this section and wraps it up by foreseeing an objection by the Jews: If we accept what you are saying, are we then to through away everything we believe in when this new way of faith is how to become righteous? That is not how we were brought up to think. Paul’s answer: No, we are not to throw away the Torah. As I have said already, the Torah prophesied about this new way of faith. In fact – as I shall return to shortly – Abraham is a key person in the Torah, and he obeyed God. He was considered righteous by his faith. The Messiah, Jesus, was foretold in the Torah. He fulfilled God’s will, and we are to do the same. We are not throwing away the Torah – as that contains the basic teaching of God, but we are to fulfill the intention of God’s laws in the Torah by way of faith, just like Abraham, whom I shall turn to now. In fact, as I shall explain to you Jews in chapter 7, you have to die from the law in order to do the will of God. Not because the law is bad, but it is utterly ineffective, it failed in its purpose because of the power of sin in fallen man. That power must be broken, and it is only broken when you surrender to Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.

    To Tony I would say, it is not a matter of “tweaking” anything. The translation “uphold the law” is misleading in English for two reasons. The verb does not mean “uphold”. No other instance of this sense is given in the dictionaries, apart from the BDAG mistake for Mark 7:9. Danker added “uphold” as well as this reference in the revised version of the dictionary, probably in honour of RSV and NIV. Similar contexts in the Greek Bible suggest the meaning “fulfill”, and that is what NLT correctly uses. CEB’s “confirm” is not correct. KJV “establish” is even more misleading, and CEV’s “we make it even more powerful” is totally off the wall. The law was and is powerless. The power comes from the Holy Spirit. Secondly, the English word “law” limits the sense more than the Greek NOMOS does. If crucial verses in Romans are not translated properly, Paul is NOT given a fair chance to explain himself.

  14. Yancy Smith says:

    I’m a bit embarrassed to say there is more going on in Rom 3:31 than Iver accounts for, because his explanation is already so thick and heavy. But, one needs to recall that Melanchthon alerted us several centuries ago that Romans takes the form of a Greek classical rhetorical discourse, so Greek forms of thought and rhetoric cannot simply be ignored while focussing exclusively “Jewish” ideas. Indeed, the massive interpenetration of Greek culture in Palestine for hundreds of years before Paul makes this difficult to sort out. And this is where a rudimentary awareness of the broad history of interpretation can help. Why, for example, is there no Jewish concept in the LXX quite like Paul’s concept of “faith” (a key term in Rom 3:31). Paul has to really stretch and search to “find” it in the OT. James Kinneavy, in _Greek Rhetorical Origins of Christian Faith: an Inquiry_ (Oxford, 1987) proposed an answer: The word πίστις had compatible meanings in both Greek rhetoric and Christian faith and the writers of the New Testament both knew this similarity and exploited it. So, in most cases the noun πίστις (faith) and the verb πιστεύειν can be read with a rhetorical interpretation. The core of this definition lies in three concepts: trust in God as the initiator of faith and salvation, assent of mind and will to the Biblical proclamation, and knowledge of what it is that Christians believe. Greek rhetoric had an honorific view of πίστις in Isocrates and especially in Hellenistic culture, where all of the major philosophical schools moved away from scientific certainty toward probability or belief and a tolerance for rhetoric. Kinneavy showed that Paul “faith” fits rather well within the Hellenistic, Aristotelean tradition of “πίστις” in persuasive art.

    Kinneavy: In this context, it can be said that the message of the Bible is a persuasive message. Like other persuasive messages, it elicits a strong trust in the credibility of the speaker (the ethical argument); it elicits a free assent from the recipi ent of the message who must believe that it is to his or her good to assent (this is the essence of the pathetic argument); and it passes on information and some knowledge about the subject matter involved (the logical argument). For this reason, it is possible to erect the structure of the concept of faith in the same model as that of the structure of the concept of persuasion, (p. 51)

    Though this congruence is by no means complete, the most important factor is that such a concept cannot be found in the Old Testament (p. 26).

    So, it should not surprise that Paul’s use of “law” and “righteousness” and the rest of his key terms is often polyvalent, skirting in and out of the edges of Jewish and Greek notions in true Hellenistic form, a tight weave, an amalgam of both eastern and Greek concepts. And as soon as you try to limit his notions to one or the other context, you find that seeing double is more faithful to Paul than having a single eye for a single context (either Jewish or non-Jewsih Greek speaking Roman and all the attendant complexities of these audiences), for Paul is always looking past one audience at another, and both audiences are looking at one another while they listening to Paul through Phoebe (or her reader).

    So, I would see 3:31 as conclusion of Paul’s comments about the oneness of God and the inclusive quality of God’s righteous activity in Christ expressed in the inferential question, “Are we then neutralizing law through this faith?
    The question here concerns whether “Paul and his fellow believers” are antinomians. καταργέω is used here in the sense of “thwart, neutralize, render inactive,” as in the parallels in Testament of Solomon 6, 7. ἱστάνομεν, (“we uphold, establish/make to stand upright”) reflects both biblical and later Jewish discussions of the law. The στα root, we might say, is well established in this usage. For example, “These are the words of the covenant, which the Lord commanded Moses to establish (στῆσαι) with the children of Israel” (LXX Deut 28:69; cf. 2 Chr 35:19; Jer 42:14, 16). A textual variant of LXX 1 Sam 15:11 has Yahweh saying, “I repent that I established (ἐστήσεν) Saul as king.” The legal context is reflected in the Mark: “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandments of God, in order to uphold (στήσητε) your tradition!” (Mark 7:9). Idomeneus Test. 2.35, reflects this usage: στήσασθαι ἤθεα τε καὶ νόμους (“to establish both customs and laws”).

    For Paul to say he “we uphold, establish/make to stand upright” cannot mean that Paul merely thinks that the Torah prophesied a new way of righteousness and is otherwise useless. He is more subtle than that. Rather, as Iver hints, “In fact, as I shall explain to you Jews in chapter 7, you have to die from the law in order to do the will of God.” The irony is that one has to die to the law to fulfill its righteous requirement (τὸ δικαίωμα τοῦ νόμου Rom 8:4). For Paul, the most important, universal aspects of the law endure and are fulfilled by those who have faith in Jesus. The aspects of the law that relate to ethnic Israel alone, however, are no longer important for him.

    While the terms chosen by Paul would have been readily understood by Jewish members of his audience in Rome as referring to the influence of Jewish Scripture, these terms also seem to have a more general reference. I think it significant that νόμος (“law”) is used both times in v. 31 without the article, which suggests that law in general may well be in view. The sanctity of laws was as much a passion for Greco-Romans it was for Jews, so Paul’s argument allows an appeal to a mixed audience in Rome.

    Paul can still argue that no law can provide salvation. He can also argue that honor and status should no longer be attached to compliance with the law as the entity that defines one’s ethnicity and status with God. However, once you take into account his relativising and his qualifying (for example, Rom 12, 13, 14) Paul turns out to be a remarkable thinker in terms of political theory. He upholds law (whether Jewish or Pagan) if indeed law is transformed and clarified by faith in Christ crucified. While it may seem that v. 31 is inconsistent with Paul’s earlier critique of law in Galatians, I think Dunn is correct when he concludes, “When [the law] is taken as ‘the law of faith,’ when it is seen as speaking to Gentiles as well [as Jews], it [law] is established and its validity confirmed.”

  15. Yancy Smith says:

    Just a clarification. I see Iver’s point about the ambiguity of νόμος in v. 27, but I am inclined to translate νόμος not as a reference to a general principle of logic, but as a anticipatory reference to Torah, the Jewish Scripture. The “νόμος τῶν ἔργων” anticipates the metaphor in 4:5-6 in which the Abraham, who was “righteous by faith” is compared to someone who works in expectation of a reward. Some (not all) Jews had this attitude about their merit and status relative to Gentiles in the presence of God (at the judgment). The “νόμος πίστεως,” on the other hand is precisely what we get in Rom 4. It is “promise” realized in Christ “to the whole seed” παντὶ τῷ σπέρματι. So the law of works is the law that defines ethnic Israel as in while leaving out the Gentiles, while the law of faith is the same law that gives both light and promise to the Gentiles, now shorn of its ethnic particularity by Christ and given as one of many blessings in Christ to the nations.

  16. iverlarsen says:

    We look at Romans so differently because we are using different lenses. It is difficult to keep our comments short, since we touch on many different assumptions and only a fraction of the relevant ones. What you call persuasive rhetoric, linguists call a hortatory text. In this case we are using different words to describe essentially the same concept.
    I agree that PISTIS (faith/faithfulness) has several facets, and the nuance that is relevant depends on collocation and context. In Danish (and English) the word ”believe” is often used as a synonym for ”think, guess”, and that is why many prefer the translation ”trust”. Trust is certainly one of the key facets of PISTIS, especially, but not exclusively, in the new covenant. I noticed that you also mention this as one relevant concept. In this nuance the object is a person. You trust or do not trust (in) God, Jesus or people in general. Another concept is ”the assent of mind” In this case the word has a statement as object, i.e. you believe that X is true. A third one is “the assent of will” which is close to responding with obedience. You also mention (knowledge of?) what Christians believe. This last one is only found in the NT in the noun form, as far as I remember, i.e. the belief system. In the African language that I am most familiar with we have to use three different words for 1) trust in a person, 2) believe a proposition to be true (assent of mind) and 3) to respond positively to that proposition (assent of will). The concept of faithfulness is often expressed as trustworthy or to be trusted. The same can be done in English at times, e.g. a trusted employee. One is active in sense, the other is passive, but this distinction is made implicit in Greek when the noun PISTIS is used. The noun can be used in an active sense (faith in) or a passive, descriptive sense (faithfulness). This ambiguity of the noun in isolation is IMO behind the controversy over πίστις Ἰησοῦ (PISTIS IHSOU) which some have claimed to mean the faithfulness of Jesus. I have no doubt it means faith in Jesus. Of course, that does not exclude that Jesus was also faithful. That is normally expressed in Greek by using the adjective PISTOS.
    Based on your quotes from Kinneavy, I can see that I would disagree with much of what he claims. That the concept of ”faith” is not found in the OT, I don’t understand. It is true that in the OT covenant the focus is on obedience, but that is the same as ”assent of will”, a crucial part of “faith”. The focus on obedience was established already with the covenant with Adam and Eve and reinforced with Abraham and Moses.
    On the STA root (hISTHMI, hISTANW), I agree that it can be used to mean establish or set up, as long as you are establishing something new. But the NOMOS in 3:31 is not a new concept that never existed before. That is why it was a mistake by KJV to translate with ”establish” here. The Greek word is used in both an active and a middle/passive/resultative/perfective sense. The difference is shown by the form of the word in Greek. A similar difference is found in English between raise (up) and rise. The standard Greek dictionaries (BAGD and BDAG) are often not helpful, because they list many glosses which appear not to be related at all. This obscures that the various senses have a common semantic thread, namely ”put in (a certain) place” or ”raise up”. The few examples you mention from the OT/LXX all conform to the idea of ”put in place, set up”. I have no disagreement with that, as long as we respect the context and do not do what James Barr called ”illegitimate totality transfer”, e.g. you take a sense established in one context and impose that on a different context where it does not fit.
    In Mark 7:9, you refer to a ”legal context”, but that is far too broad. We need to look at the particular context more closely. A few mss have the subjunctive στήσητε (STHSHTE), whereas most have τηρήσητε (THRHSHTE), meaning to keep/follow. Whether we accept στήσητε or not, the crucial point is that there is a conflict between God’s commandment and your tradition. The text says that you put aside the first in order to put in place the second. It does not mean to establish, since the addressees did not establish that tradition. A tradition is handed down to you, you don’t establish it. Likewise, the meaning is not quite “uphold” as if their tradition was under attack. Jesus rebuked them, because they had set aside God’s commandment and instead raised up their own tradition to override God’s commandment. NET note comments: “… the more natural opposite of “reject” [atheite], literally “you set aside”, is “set up”.” However, I would add that it is not set up in the sense of establish here, but in the sense of raising it up to a higher position than something else.
    The word cannot properly be said to include the English “confirm”. BAGD did include this gloss, but it has been removed in BDAG. Instead BDAG suggests “to validate someth. that is in force or in practice, reinforce validity of, uphold, maintain, validate”. However, the three references they cite (1 Macc 2:27, Mrk 7:9, Rom 3:31) do not support their interpretation and none of the suggested glosses give an accurate rendition of the meaning intended. The first two have the sense in context of “follow, give assent of will to”, that is, you raise up a standard above another one that you want to follow. The third is in a different context. So, we have seen that the Greek word can refer to establishing a new concept or to override a competing concept. None of these fit Rom 3:31, because we do not have a new concept. Whether we have a competing concept is debatable since it is not explicit. It may help to think of the antonym “to make it fall”. I have looked through all occurrences in the LXX, and the clearest parallel to Rom 3:31 is Isa 44:26. The Hebrew word used here (קום) corresponds rather closely to the Greek word we are discussing. In prophetic language a prophecy or a promise will “fall” if it is not fulfilled, but it will “stand (up)” if it is fulfilled. This is the middle/passive/resultative sense. If we go to the active sense as we have here, it is a contrast between “cause to fall”, that is, fail to fulfill, or “cause to stand”, that is, to fulfill or cause to be fulfilled.

  17. Yancy Smith says:

    On “hortatory text” versus “rhetoric.” A tag is not an explanation. Linguistics “deals” with persuasiveness by naming it “hortatory” but ingnoring how language is persuasive. Rhetoric is all about understanding persuasion and teaching speakers to be persuasive in various contexts by using the available means of persuasion. The exegetical use of “rhetoric” is an attempt to make use of emic categories to understand why a speaker or an audience might have thought their utterances persuasive in a given context. Linguistics is not very concerned with this. But, since I am not a linguist, you will have to tell us exactly what linguistics is concerned with. I would think that linguistics is concerned with “truth” about how brains operate language and how the language module encodes and decodes signals and makes use of context in the process (though I’m sure that last bit is debatable). I know that the linguists on this list are about to pounce on me. I would say rhetoric is not really about Truth at all. “Really” (or Reely) it is about appearances and perceptions. (You will see how important this is in our text in just a moment.)

    Iver said:
    On the STA root (hISTHMI, hISTANW), I agree that it can be used to mean establish or set up, as long as you are establishing something new. But the NOMOS in 3:31 is not a new concept that never existed before. That is why it was a mistake by KJV to translate with ”establish” here.

    So, we have seen that the Greek word can refer to establishing a new concept or to override a competing concept. None of these fit Rom 3:31, because we do not have a new concept.

    I see your claim, but not the evidence. Or do you consider it self-evident? (which amounts to fiat, because it is not at all evident to me.) Why? because even something “old” can be “new.” For example, if Paul were accused of tearing down the law, or “nullifying the law” then if he says, performatively, “We establish the law.” The audience would be hopelessly dull and pedantic to say, “Oh, stupid Paul! You can’t establish the law, because the law is something old and well established.” In fact, Paul is required to “establish” the law performatively because it has been torn down in the audience’s PERCEPTION.

    In linguistics AND rhetoric, the performative effect of language has been well known since the great J. L. Austin, How to Do Things With Words, said:
    What I shall have to say here is neither difficult nor contentious; the only merit I should like to claim for it is that of being true, at least in parts.

    The same can be said for Paul’s ἱστάνομεν. It has much more to do with creating assent and persuasion that with the absolute truth of the claim. Plenty of Jews would say, “You do no such thing; you set aside the law of circumciion.” But if you are persuaded (as I am) by Paul, he has “established” the law in way that opens it up for all people. That indeed is something new in Christ. His first person plural is an invitation to join, align with, cast one’s lot with those who see creation in a new way. I would add that in rhetoric the performative is a powerful argument based on ethos and it has become central to the rhetorical analysis of language, i.e. the analysis of how messages are persuasive for the purpose of understanding and effectively practicing persuasive effects.

    In Christ,

  18. WoundedEgo says:

    “So are we destroying law by means of faith? God forbid! Rather, we are establishing a law.”

    It is remarkable that anyone could read Paul and believe for one second that he is saying that he is establishing the law of Moses in any sense. Paul, spills so much ink insisting that the law of Moses is “not of faith” and the Jewish believer must “die to the law” in order to be married to another. There is view of “enhancing the law” or “more faithfully fulfilling the law.” But nor is he nullifying it. He does not suggest that the law must die, but rather that the **believer** must die **to** it:

    Romans 7:4 Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.

    Paul restates this a bit further on:

    Romans 8:2 For the law [principle] of the Spirit [breath] of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law [principle] of sin and death.

    Note the reference to the “breath of life” is not new to Paul:

    Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
    Genesis 6:17 And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.
    Genesis 7:15 And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life.
    Genesis 7:22 All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.

    This principle, that the breath gives life, is the principle that he establishes, that accomplishes what the law could not accomplish, which is to bring about righteousness:

    Romans 8:
    3 For what the law [of Moses] could not do, in that it was weak [impotent] through the flesh [body], God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned [gave a death sentence to] sin in the flesh:
    4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh [ie: by trying to fulfil the law of Moses], but after the Spirit [breath of life].

    In Galatians he goes on and on about all this as well, explicitly saying that the law plays no part in the righteousness of faith, but pertains only to “works”:

    Galatians 3:
    2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit [breath of life] by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
    3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit [breath of life], are ye now made perfect by the flesh?
    4 Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain.
    5 He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit [breath of life], and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
    6 ¶ Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.
    7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.
    8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.
    9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.
    10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.
    11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.
    12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.

    Paul even speaks of the law as a curse.

    The law Paul establishes is clearly the law of faith/the principle of the breath of life, not, in any sense, the law of Moses.

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