Exposition of First Corinthians 11:3 — The meaning of Greek kephale (often translated “head”)

There is little doubt that 1 Cor. 11:2–16 is extremely tough to interpret. One piece of this complex passage is 1 Cor. 11:3, and, within that text, the meaning of the Greek noun kephale, usually translated “head.”

Starting in the 1990s, research on social conditions in the Roman empire during the first century began to shed significant light on many passages in First Corinthians.

To better understand 1 Cor. 11:3, check out this video :

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 We believe so that we might understand

1 Corinthians 2:14-16

14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Not everyone has the wisdom of God, and, in verses 14-16, Paul explains who has it and who does not. The main group who does not is identified by a two-word phrase in Greek that is translated by the NIV as “the person without the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:14). Older translations sometimes say “the natural man” (KJV, NASB, and ESV has natural person). The NET Bible and HCSB forthrightly say “the unbeliever.” An unbeliever does not have the Spirit of God dwelling within (Rom. 8:9) and is thus a natural man. Since Paul is stressing the Holy Spirit throughout this section, the NIV has nailed the meaning here.

Paul says three things about the person without the Spirit: they do not accept the things that come from the Spirit; they consider such things foolishness.; they cannot understand such things without the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14). This has profound implications for evangelism. We often think wrongly that unbelievers do not understand biblical truth and for that reason they do not believe. So, we try to clarify the biblical truth for them but make little progress. Ben Witherington describes the real problem:

The non-Christian, using his or her natural faculties, is not able to understand or judge spiritual matters (v. 14). They appear to be foolishness. This is a general principle, and probably Paul would say that the only way the non-believer understands enough to accept the gospel in the first place before receiving the Spirit is that the Spirit has already been working unnoticed.[1]

Perhaps a better approach would be to persuade those who need salvation to open their lives to seek God. In Athens, Paul said, “God did this [created the world] so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:23). Only those willing to seek the Lord will find him.

The only way for an unbeliever to grasp the truth God has revealed is to start with Christ crucified. When they commit themselves by faith to Jesus Christ, they receive the Holy Spirit and then can understand spiritual things previously beyond their grasp (“the person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things,” 1 Cor. 2:15).

The person who does not have the Spirit cannot make accurate judgments about those who have the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:15). Gordon Fee says, “Those whose lives are invaded by the Spirit of God can discern all things, including those without the Spirit; but the inverse is not possible.”[2] The answer to the question in 1 Cor. 2:16 is that the Holy Spirit knows the mind of the Lord. Those who belong to Christ have the Spirit and really know Christ.[3] Garland explains that to have the mind of Christ requires putting to death selfish ambitions, humbling oneself, and giving oneself for others.[4]

Fee points out that 1 Cor. 2:14-16 has often been abused in the church by some who consider themselves to be so full of the Spirit as to be beyond correction or counsel from others. It has been hijacked by various deeper life or second blessing movements who regularly make a special revelation from the Spirit their final court of appeal.[5] Such actions miss the point and divert attention from the central message of Christ crucified.

Fee powerfully concludes: “The gift of the Spirit does not lead to special status among believers; rather, it leads to special status [in relation to] the world. But it should always do so in terms of the centrality of the message of our crucified/risen Savior.”[6]

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Ben Witherington III, Conflict & Community in Corinth (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995) 128.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 118.

[3] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 101.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 102.

[5] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 120.

[6] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 120.

Exposition of Romans 5:18-19, Jesus used obedience to bring righteousness

We have said more than once that faith is an acceptant response to what God has said and done. Since God has said a lot about what he expects of us, including many explicit commands, it is obvious that obedience plays a central role in Christian faith. Is that not what you would expect since Christ is both Lord of lords and King of kings?

After we trust in Jesus, we still have a lifetime of choices to make about how best to obey our Lord. How will we proceed?

Romans 5:18-19

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

The parallelism built into Romans 5:18 is pervasive, as shown below:

Therefore
as one trespass [led to] condemnation for all men, } Adam

so one act of righteousness [leads to] justification and life for all men. } Christ

The square brackets [ ] indicate that the verb has been supplied to make literary English because the Greek sentence has no verbs. Different English translations have supplied different verbs:
NET (came), NLT (brings), HCSB (is), and NASB (resulted). Each of these choices is reasonable.

By dissecting 5:18 in this way, we can easily spot important points. First, each single act affected all men, a comprehensive expression. As to the scope of all, C.E.B. Cranfield says:

It will be wise to take it thoroughly seriously as really meaning all, to understand the implication to be that what Christ has done he has really done for all men, that [life-giving justification HCSB] is truly offered to all, and all are to be summoned urgently to accept the proffered gift, but at the same time to allow that this clause does not foreclose the question whether in the end all will actually come to share it.[1]

Of course, we have already discussed the gift-nature of the justification and life. The gift was explicitly mentioned three times in Rom. 5:15-17. Not all accept the gift by faith.

Using the interpretive principles of salvation history (see Introduction), we point out that Adams deed came first, to the undoing of humanity’s privileged position in Eden and much more. The act of Christ came later and contained such grace as to overwhelm the damage done by Adam. James Dunn says: “The inaugurating act of the new epoch [i.e. the Age To Come] is thus presented as a counter to and cancellation of the inaugurating act of the old [i.e. The Present Age], Christs right turn undoing Adams wrong turn.”[2] Wrong turn is just another term for disobedience.

(ESV) Romans 5:19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Once again, Romans 5:19 has strong parallelism, but this time with actual Greek verbs:

For
as by the one mans disobedience the many were made sinners, } Adam

so by the one mans obedience the many will be made righteous. } Christ

It is clear from the parallelism that the major difference between what Adam did and what Jesus did is the difference between disobedience by Adam and obedience by Christ.

Sin wears many masks in life and in Romans, and Paul used a variety of terms to refer to it. In 5:12 we have the Greek noun hamartia meaning “a departure from either human or divine standards of uprightness . . . sin.”[3] In 5:15, 17, and 18 he switched to paraptoma meaning “a violation of moral standards, offense, wrongdoing, sin.”[4] Here in 5:19 Paul switched to parakoemeaning “refusal to listen and so be disobedient, unwillingness to hear, disobedience.”[5]

We could say that hamartia means: violating a revealed standard of God. The term paraptoma is used figuratively of making a false step; think of hitting your bare toes against a chair leg and put that pain in the context of a false step in some moral situation. The word in 5:19 gives us the interesting insight that Adam failed to listen to God’s actual voice! God told him explicitly what must not be done (Gen. 2:17), and he did it anyway. Unfortunately, many people can identify!

Cranfield makes one clarification about 5:19 when he says, “The many have not been condemned for someone else’s transgression, for Adam’s sin, but because, as a result of Adam’s transgression, they have themselves been sinners.”[6]

But the good news outshines the bad news by far: Jesus obeyed to bring righteousness to all who put their faith in him! The author of Hebrews says about Jesus: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered. And by being perfected in this way, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb. 5:8-9, NET).

Following Jesus

Surely it is plain that to follow Jesus means we are obedient to the Father just as he was. As the old hymn says, “There’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.” When you think about it, trusting and obeying are very similar because trusting is faith and obeying is faithfulness.

1. How many of us have heard God's voice about something, but, like Adam, we come to a point at which we do not listen? When have you made that error, and what did you learn from it?

2. What do you consider a difficult thing about obedience? How do you get around that obstacle?

It is no accident that Paul begins the letter to the Romans with the phrase obedience of faith (1:5) and ends the letter with the same phrase (16:26). There is no such thing as faith without obedience!

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 290.

[2] James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1988) 297.

[3] BDAG-3, hamartia, sin, q.v.

[4] BDAG-3, paraptoma, offense, q.v.

[5] BDAG-3, parakoe, unwillingness to hear, q.v.

[6] Cranfield, Romans, 290.

Exposition of Romans 5:11, Every Christian has reason to boast!

The Bible makes it plain that all humanity is created in the image of God. That fact explains a lot about humanity at its best and at its worst. By creation we can be both noble and tragic.

Is there more to the significance of being a Christian than that value which we have simply by being made in Gods image? Do we have a basis for becoming more in Christ than those who do not know Christ?

(ESV) Romans 5:11

More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

In Romans 5:11 we encounter the very same verb (Greek kauchaomai) we found in 5:2-3, and once again ESV renders it with rejoice rather than the preferable meaning boast. The standard lexicon says that kauchaomai means to take pride in something, boast, glory, pride oneself, brag.[1] Unlike ESV, NIV, NET, NLT and HCSB — all of which say rejoice –Moo uses boast in his translation of kauchaomai in Rom. 5:2-3, and his translation of 5:11 is: And not only this, but we also boast in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have received this reconciliation.[2]

Translators are probably influenced by Pauls negative comments in Rom. 2:17-24 about the Jews boasting — wrongly — about their relationship to God on the sole basis that they possess the law. Curiously, all of the above-listed translations inconsistently render kauchaomai with boast in 2:17 when talking about the Jews; the only exception is NIV, which says brag (2:17). So, how does this verb become rejoice when speaking about Christians in Romans 5? Words do not always mean one thing because of context, but the justification for such changes must be considered.

Why am I beating this somewhat technical horse? Christian translators, commentators and theologians appear to be uncomfortable with pride because of the obvious dangers it presents (1 Cor. 4:6, 4:18, 5:2, 13:4; Col. 2:18; Rom. 4:2). Yet the New Testament contains a number of godly reasons for boasting or taking pride: works done for Christ (Gal. 6:4); the hope that we have because of Christ (Heb. 3:6); the faithfulness of other Christians (Phil. 2:16); Christs accomplishments through Paul (Phil. 1:26); and sacrifice in preaching the gospel (1 Cor. 9:15).

The point is that Romans 5:11 says we may boast in God because of the reconciliation he has accomplished for us through Jesus Christ. Yes, of course, rejoicing is also appropriate for the same reason; but boasting and rejoicing are not the same thing.

Time to do a little bragging!

We need to take a moment to reflect candidly on the contemporary scene. How is it that Iranian protestors can ascend in the night to the roofs of Tehran to shout god is great yet American Christians would be mortified to do such a thing? Clearly, the context in Iran is not the same as here in America, and that seems to include their attitude toward the one they worship.

We have every reason as Christians to hold up our heads in pride for the incomparable God that we worship! If you understood me to say that we are nothing and he is everything, then I have failed to make myself clear. Instead, Christ is all and in all (Col. 3:11b), so we may hold up our heads because he lives within us and has made us part of Gods own family. Jesus Christ is the basis for all godly pride in the life of a Christian; we are significant because he has made us significant.

So, in short, we should be proud of God and proud of what he has done in our lives!

1. What leads some Christians to be silent -- or sometimes almost apologetic -- about their faith in Jesus Christ and their pride in God? Do they realize it?

2. What do you think about the idea that Jesus Christ is the basis for godly pride as well as our personal significance?

Jesus said, Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:14b). To be proud of God and to boast about what God has done within those who have trusted in Christ magnifies God and so humbles us in the proper way.

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] BDAG-3, kauchaomai, boast, q.v.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 297.

Exposition of Romans 5:6-8, Love and Death — Christ Gave Both

Part of the problem in being a twenty-first century American is that the idea that God loves us has been around for a long time. Indeed, that is by far the most popular theological idea even among people who do not think Jesus is anyone special.

The amazing thing is that reasonably intelligent, well-informed people, who read the newspaper and know a little history, would find it next to impossible to give you one good reason why God should not hate humankind in view of how we have behaved!

(NET) Romans 5:6-8

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.) 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Commentary

This group of three verses is remarkable by any standard. First, Paul uses three words to describe our condition before Christ took action: we were helpless, ungodly sinners. Second, we are told that God responded to our desperate situation with love and death. Indeed, each of the three Greek sentences ends with the same Greek verb for death (ἀποθνῄσκω) — clearly intentional.

From a theological viewpoint — something you should definitely strive to develop — it is vital to see that before we trusted in Christ we were helpless (5:6) to save ourselves from Gods wrath. Osborne says, “This does not mean that human beings are incapable of good — John Calvin, the Protestant reformer, called this ‘common grace,’ the ability of the natural person to do good since all are made in the image of God — but it conveys that they can do nothing that will make them right with God.”[1]

In relation to the word translated “ungodly” (5:6), the Greek adjective ἀσεβής here means “pertaining to violating norms for a proper relation to deity, irreverent, impious, ungodly.”[2] It is more than sad that contemporary American society is filled with such people, who pay no attention whatever to God. Secularism marginalizes God more now than at any time in a thousand years.

We have looked at the bad-news part of Romans 5:6, but the good news utterly overwhelms the bad news: “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (5:6b). C.E.B. Cranfield says, “For Christ’s death on behalf of sinners compare . . . 3:25; 4:25; 6:10; 7:4; 8:32; 14:15 (in the last two of these passages [the Greek preposition] huper is used, as it is here [5:6] and also in a good many other NT passages dealing with the same subject).”[3] Next we will discuss why that is important.

Huper — meaning “for, in behalf of, for the sake of”[4] — is one of the few Greek words that every serious student of the New Testament should know about because it stresses that Jesus died as our substitute. See also 2 Cor. 5:14, Gal. 3:13 and John 11:50. The preposition also occurs three more times in Romans 5:7-8.

Romans 5:7 is a comparative verse in which Paul presents the absolute most you can expect in terms of human love. Rarely, one person might dare to die for some other deserving person, described as either righteous or good. Such behavior is rare enough that we widely honor the sacrifice it requires. Think of the firemen rushing into the burning World Trade Center to help others during the 9/11 attack by terrorists.

But God has done so much more in “his own love” (5:8) than the greatest acts of human love. Christ, the beloved Son of God, keeps on demonstrating God’s love toward us in that he died for the helpless, ungodly sinners — the very ones also called God’s enemies (5:8). Seeing the desperate plight of sinful, lost humanity, God did not sit in heaven feeling affection for us and yet doing nothing. Christ came among us to suffer and die for us.

Grant Osborne rightly says:

This is the primary point Paul is making. Christ did not die for righteous people or for friends; he died for sinful human beings in all their degrading depravity, for those who “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (1:18) and do “not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God (1:28), who are “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil greed and depravity” (1:29). Therefore we deserved to experience the wrath of God and eternal judgment, but Christ took our punishment upon himself and paid the penalty in our place, thereby procuring redemption on our behalf (3:21-26).[5]

Gods love brings death and offers life

An ancient church father known as Ambrosiaster once said: “If Christ gave himself up to death at the right time for those who were unbelievers and enemies of God . . . how much more will he protect us with his help if we believe in him!”[6]

1. We will take a moment to review: (1) the penalty for sin is death (Rom. 1:32), and (2) you may pay the penalty either with your own death or use the death of Jesus instead (Rom. 5:8). Which will you choose? Keep in mind that not to decide is a decision in itself; you are not in a fail-safe position if you have never trusted in Christ!

2. Why do you think Christ was willing to die in your place? How does the extent of God's love for you, expressed in Christ's death, make you feel?

Each day’s lesson begins with a six-word theme. Here is another one:
Jesus Christ died in your place. Praise God forever!

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 132.

[2] BDAG-3, ἀσεβής, ungodly, q.v.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 264.

[4] BDAG-3, huper, on behalf of, q.v.

[5] Osborne, Romans, 134.

[6] Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 131.

The Aurora, Colorado shootings and sin

In the early hours of 7/20/2012, a single man executed a carefully designed plot and killed 17 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. The death toll will certainly rise higher in days to come. I have intentionally omitted this mans name because he deserves shame, not fame. If only the news media would do the same!

People are totally mystified about one question: Why? What mystifies me is that this is still a question. Have we not seen enough wars, enough torture, enough human slavery, enough terrorism and enough mass murder to believe in sin in the human heart? Have we all forgotten the one (unnamed) man who murdered 69 teens in Norway just one year ago (7/22/2011)? It happens over and over; so, how can we not look for real answers instead of dwelling on pretended mysteries?

Okay, so millions do not want to hear what God says. They want to put pictures on Facebook, post their opinions, watch the latest videos, play the latest games or have sex with their latest partner. God has given them the ability to make such choices, and our distracted generations have firmly seized that opportunity. Since they do not want to address the serious issues of life, we should not be surprised when they have no clue about how evil occurs through human agents or how it exists within their own hearts.

In asking why, the public never looks beyond their own insensitivity to God. The biblical Book of Romans describes the situation like this:

28Just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know Gods righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 3:2832)

But just as God has described the cause of the shootings in detail, he has also provided a solution for human sin and its horrible consequences:

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

On the basis of Christs death for our sins, God offers complete amnesty to all who have ignored him in their rebellion and ignorance. But all amnesties have conditions. The condition for Gods amnesty is this:

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of Gods one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)

Sin caused the killings in Aurora. Human sin. Only God can fix what is wrong with humanity. I urge you to accept Gods amnesty by committing your life to Jesus Christ. Give him your allegiance so that you can be part of the solution to human sin rather than part of the problem.

Copyright 2012 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.

Exposition of Romans 4:13-14 An unqualified promise requires no works

Some of us grew up around churches that had a set of rules which, if violated, meant we could be hell-bound ? so they said. The list contained things like drinking, dancing, wearing makeup, swearing, immodest dress and other such things. (Some of you may need comforting now!)

However, there were a few problems. First, the list seemed to vary a bit from church to church. Second, it was not quite clear whether we went to heaven by keeping the list or whether it only served as a signpost marking the way to hell. Questions about the list were not exactly solicited. :)

Even more puzzling — what did all of that have to do with faith in Jesus?

(ESV) Romans 4:13-14 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

Since Christians hold ideas that are nowhere recorded in Scripture — such as the three Magi or purgatory — it is no surprise that the Jews of Pauls day did as well. One such bogus idea was that Abraham had obeyed the Law of Moses perfectly before it had been given.[1] [In the following discussion the Hebrew word t?rah is sometimes used to refer to the Law of Moses.]

The Jews did not believe this idea on a whim; it allowed them to claim that one could be Abrahams child only by taking on oneself the yoke of torah.[2] So, the claim about Abraham keeping the torah before there was one was a convenient way of tying together the patriarch who had received the promises from God and the law given through Moses over 430 years later. Yet, in Galatians, Paul argues: The law that came four hundred thirty years later does not cancel a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to invalidate the promise (Gal. 3:17, NET).

Of course, the idea that Abraham could obey the law before there was a law has always been ridiculous. For example, Lev. 17:4 requires that a sacrifice be brought to the Tent of Meeting and given to the priest for sacrifice on that spot. But in Abrahams time there was no Tent of Meeting, and the Aaronic priesthood had not yet been established. So, how did that work? This simply shows that you should never be surprised at the creativity of theologians when they float free of the Bible; in that case they are like scientists speaking authoritatively about non-scientific matters. :)

In a way Paul cuts through all these specious theological assumptions by returning to what God originally promised Abraham (Rom. 4:13). The Greek sentence throws the phrase not through the law near the beginning of the sentence to stress the incongruity of the idea that the law had anything to do with the promise. Instead, Paul says the promise came through the righteousness of faith (4:13b).

Now that Paul has expressed his thesis that faith was the basis of the promise to Abraham rather than the law (4:13), he next explains why this is so. Grant Osborne expands the logic of Romans 4:14 by saying: If it were possible to be righteous and thus gain an eternal inheritance on the basis of personal achievement, then faith would be unnecessary. If works and obedience were sufficient, the need for Gods promise would be removed.[3]

The final clause of 4:14 — faith is null and the promise is void (ESV) — has two Greek verbs in the perfect tense. This probably emphasizes the state of affairs that would exist if law-keeping were actually the way of attaining righteousness before God, the premise that Paul denies.[4] Basing righteousness on law-keeping simply throws faith and promise into the trash!

The final clause of 4:14 makes for an interesting study in English translations. NET probably has the most literal translation in relation to the meaning of the Greek verbs:

(NET) faith is empty and the promise is nullified (Rom. 4:14)

We can compare the NETs translation to two other important English translations:

(ESV) faith is null and the promise is void (Rom. 4:14)

(NLT) faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless (Rom. 4:14)

Since the ESV and NLT have strongly different translation philosophies, it is surprising to find them using a similar approach to this clause. Null and . . . void has a nice idiomatic ring in English, uncommon for ESV. NLTs not necessary and . . . pointless uses words that are very powerful from a pragmatic, American viewpoint. Both ESV and NLT run away from the semantic range of the Greek verbs, but they do a superb job of conveying the futility of basing righteousness on the law.

If the law does not bring righteousness, then what does it do? In 4:15 Paul explains what the law does — produces wrath — as opposed to what it cannot do — secure the inheritance.[5] He will develop these ideas more fully in Romans 5:12-14 and 7:7-13. C.K. Barrett captures the essence of Pauls point when he says, Law, though good in itself (7:12, 14) is so closely bound up with sin and wrath that it is unthinkable that it should be the basis of the promise.[6] Faith carries no such baggage.

The clause where there is no law there is no transgression (4:15) does not mean where there is no law there is no sin. On the contrary, the law makes sin all the more grave. Thomas Schreiner says, Transgression of the law involves greater responsibility since the infraction is conscious and therefore involves rebellion against a known standard.[7]

Faith and the law

The primacy of faith in Jesus Christ does not mean that the rules mentioned in the introduction of this lesson are totally without value. In a way more approximate and less authoritative than the Law of Moses, those rules at the start of this lesson were meant to motivate godly behavior, however imperfectly. The confusion sewn about keeping the rules as a way of salvation is less forgivable.

1. There is more to being a good citizen of the U.S. than keeping the laws of your state and the United States. By analogy, what does it take to be a good Christian?

2. Read Ephesians 2:810. How do these verses help clarify the relationship between faith and works? In what way can Ephesians 2:8 be said to constitute a promise to those who put their faith in Jesus?

The tension between grace and law is ancient. What God promises in an unqualified way will come to pass without regard to what we do. What we do truly matters, but we cannot overturn the promises of God. That is cause for rejoicing!

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 227.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 273.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 114.

[4] Moo, Romans, 275, footnote 25.

[5] Moo, Romans, 276.

[6] C.K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans (New York: Harper & Row, 1957) 95.

[7] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 230.