What Are “Works of the Law”?




I remember the first time I ever heard the possibility that “works of the Law” in the Pauline Epistles could be anything other than just keeping the Mosaic Torah. I disregarded it immediately. Why? Because I heard this from someone, who read an article, whose author had read an article in a theological journal, an article that had likely been misinterpreted and misrepresented. Like the game of telephone—one person gave a message, and then it had been passed down to four or five people—sounding nothing like what had originally been said by the Biblical scholar who made the original proposal. Hearing things fourth or fifth-hand can make it pretty easy to disregard what has been said, especially if the person passing on the information is not a part of the theological conversation, who is able to go to the source, seeing what was originally proposed, and engage on any kind of reasonable level.

Anyone who enters into Pauline theological studies today will easily encounter the fact that there are scholars and exegetes who think that the term “works of law” or ergōn nomou—appearing first in Galatians (2:16[3x]; 3:2, 5, 10), and then appearing again in Romans (3:20, 28)—actually does designate something other than “works/deeds/actions required by the Mosaic Law,” or at least something a bit more specific than just “observing the law” (NIV) in general. These proposals, though, have been met with a great deal of criticism, and even some hostility, by those of particular theological traditions. Alternatives to the customary meaning of “works of law” have been proposed more frequently, as New Testament theologians, over the past fifty years or so, have had greater access to ancient Jewish literature and resources, and this information has had to be considered in their exegesis. Their thoughts, suggestions, and conclusions have just in the late 2000s been discussed by normal lay people in the evangelical Church.

Does the Apostle Paul use ergōn nomou as a polemic against Jewish observance of the Torah, against a kind of salvation-by-works doctrine? Or does he use it in reference to something like ancient halachic matters that affected a faith community, which should have been welcoming of non-Jewish Believers in the Messiah, but were not?

Today’s Messianic movement has grown in leaps and bounds significantly because Believers want to know more about the First Century place and setting of the Apostolic Scriptures. While this has certainly affected much of how we view the teaching style of Yeshua the Messiah as a First Century rabbi, it has unfortunately not affected as much of how we view the Pauline letters. The Pauline letters are a part of the Bible that too many of us do not deal with, either because we just do not know what to do with them, or because entering into the world of contemporary Pauline scholarship is too much of a minefield and a hassle for us to do. Too few of our congregational leaders and teachers are aware of the considerable progress that has been made in the past few decades within Pauline theology, and how it opens up parts of Galatians and Romans—that have traditionally been interpreted as being anti-Torah—to really not be anti-Torah at all. They include, rather, specific critiques of practices and attitudes that impeded the work of the gospel among the nations in the First Century.

In this article, we will discuss some of the various proposals made regarding “works of the Law,” and see how they play out. Are “works of the Law” just observing the Mosaic Torah? Are “works of the Law” some kind of legalism? Or, are “works of the Law” the identity barriers set by an ancient sect of Judaism? How might knowing about these things bring greater clarity to passages in Galatians and Romans? What kind of contemporary application might help us to be a vibrant Messianic faith community, which can positively impact society at large?

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reproduced from The New Testament Validates Torah MAXIMUM EDITION

Today’s broad Messianic movement is of the conviction that the Torah or Law of Moses is relevant instruction for God’s people in the post-resurrection era. This is a conviction firmly rooted within the teaching of Yeshua the Messiah, who explicitly said that He did not come to abolish or eliminate the Torah (Matthew 5:17-19). Yet throughout much of Christian history, and even more so today, many theologians and examiners have argued that Moses’ Teaching has been rendered inoperative, and/or that it was only to be followed by those in the pre-resurrection era. Many of today’s Messianic people, while having a witness of the Spirit that God’s commandments are to be written on their hearts and minds via the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27), are not equipped well enough to answer common arguments delivered by evangelical Protestant family members, friends, acquaintances, or even various pastors or teachers that they know—when they quote verses to them from the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament), in support of the premise that the Torah of Moses has been abolished.

The New Testament Validates Torah is a massive resource that all of today’s Messianic Believers need, especially in the current season of growth, development, and expansion in which our faith community finds itself. This publication is an extensive compilation of data across the wide range of books and commentaries available from Messianic Apologetics. The core of this resource is an examination of fifty passages, which are commonly used as proof texts to claim that the Torah is not to be followed by God’s people today. Statements such as not being “under the Law” (Romans 6:14-15), “Christ is the end of the Law” (Romans 10:4), “All things are lawful” (1 Corinthians 6:12), ‘how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things” (Galatians 4:9), “abolishing…the Law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Ephesians 2:15), “having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14), and even “Thus He declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19)—among many—are thoroughly addressed. Considerable attention is given to various Hebrew and Greek issues, potential translation differences, and differences of perspective. Cross-examination and discussion with a wide number of commentators have also been offered, as well as an exploration of important subjects present within today’s Biblical Studies.

The New Testament Validates Torah is an important apologetic study that will benefit Messianic Believers and evangelical Christians alike. There is literally nothing in today’s Messianic movement that has compiled and packed as much information on Torah relevance for God’s people into a single book. Also, unlike some other publications issued on the message of Torah relevance, The New Testament Validates Torah is highly respectful to Protestant voices over the centuries who have valued what they have considered to be the “moral law” of the Old Testament, and seeks to fairly honor those who have preceded us in the faith, establishing common ground where possible.

762 pages