Monday, March 14, 2011

The Law of Nature, The Law of Moses, and The Law of Faith: Romans 2:12-16 and Romans 10:10-13 in Context

“While it is certainly true that all religious traditions espouse exclusivism at some level---for example, minimally, to make a truth claim, A, is to make an exclusive claim with regard to not-A---the claim that Christian salvation is dependent on access to a particular experience or set of beliefs is a central feature of theological exclusivism. The latter position, what I will call epistemological restrictivism, raises the following sets of questions. First, the exegetical: what grounds are there to read Acts 4:12 as ontological rather than epistemological? Why should not Romans 10:10-13 be read in light of Romans 2:12-16? Does John 3:17-18 say anything about the fate of the unevangelized?” (Amos Yong, “Beyond the Impasse: Toward a Pneumatological Theology of Religions.” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003, page 25)
Dr. Ken Keathley made Amos Yong’s work my assignment for Spring, I had to buckle down and read Yong, at last. The above quote is only one of many I found interesting in Yong’s book. While rereading the above quote last night, I decided to blog on it today because Yong poses these questions to exclusivists (me being one)...and, in addition, I thought writing on these two passages would provide a good, formidable response to inclusivism.
Let’s repeat Yong’s question regarding Romans 2 and Romans 10 once more:
“Why should not Romans 10:10-13 be read in light of Romans 2:12-16?”
In order to answer this question, we must first understand these two passages and then place them in proper context. So, off to the passages we go!!
Romans 2:12-16 contrasts the Jews and Gentiles:
“For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, BY NATURE do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, ARE A LAW TO THEMSELVES, who show THE WORK OF THE LAW WRITTEN IN THEIR HEARTS, THEIR CONSCIENCE ALSO BEARING WITNESS, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel” (Romans 2:12-16, New King James Version).
What “law” is being discussed here? Paul’s reference to “the law” indicates that a specific law is being discussed, one that the Jews have but the Gentiles do not. “The law” reference, then, would refer to the Mosaic Law. However, while the Gentiles do not have the Mosaic Law, notice that they still have a law! This is why Paul notes that the Gentiles “show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness...” While the Gentiles do not have the Mosaic Law, they do have a natural law written in their hearts and minds, placed there by God Himself...a divine moral code that the Gentiles themselves are aware of. So contrary to what many think, no one can say, “I don’t have the Mosaic Law, therefore I’m innocent of wrong.” Rather, all have some form of divine law that dictates right and wrong and rules the human conscience. So Gentiles have a natural law (the law of nature) while the Jews have the Mosaic Law (the Law of Moses given by God Himself).
However, upon arrival of Romans 3, we come to understand that neither law (whether the Law of Nature or the Law of Moses) can be kept perfectly:
“For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written:
There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practicd deceit...there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:10-18).
As we just read, “both Jews and Greeks” are guilty of transgressing God’s moral law (whether in the law of nature or the Mosaic Law). As a result, the moral laws themselves cannot and will not save anyone. Neither of the laws themselves can be kept by humans, and therefore, a solution is needed apart from the laws themselves. What purpose did the laws serve?
“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).
What “law” is being mentioned here in 3:20? It is the Mosaic Law. The reference to “there is none righteous” (provided in Rom. 3:10-18) comes from the Old Testament, and is a compilation of Ecclesiastes 7:20, Psalm 14:1-3, Psalm 5:9, Psalm 140:3, Psalm 10:7, Isaiah 59:7-8, and Psalm 36:1. In other words, a summation of mankind provided by the Old Testament is given by Paul in just a few verses of Romans 3. Paul’s point for providing a summation of man here is to demonstrate that the law itself states that “there is none righteous.” The Law itself tells us that neither Jew nor Greek is righteous, that none seeks after God. Not only are the Gentiles guilty of turning from are the Jews. The very Law they prized so dearly was unequivocally clear about the sin of the Jews and their need for a Savior (and grace).
Verse 21, then, comes as such a huge relief to the one who senses the desperation of man to be saved: “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference” (Rom. 3:21, 22).
The righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ. And in case one does not understand that faith in Christ is the solution for both Jew and Greek, Paul reiterates it again at the end of chapter 3:
Where is boasting, then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the LAW OF FAITH. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Or is He the God of the Jews only? IS HE NOT ALSO THE GOD OF THE GENTILES? YES, OF THE GENTILES ALSO, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith” (Rom. 3:27-30).
Whether Jew or Greek, circumcised or uncircumcised, the only way one will be declared righteous in the sight of God is by faith in Christ alone.
If this be the case, then what about Romans 10:10-13? According to Amos Yong, we should read Romans 10 in light of Romans 2. I agree with that, on the surface; but I disagree with what I think Yong means. He takes Romans 10 to refer to those who, like the Jews, “have the law” (in his case, the Gospel). In the same way the Gentiles are guilty apart from the Mosaic Law, Yong claims that many who are unevangelized should be judged “apart from the Gospel.” However, there is no biblical warrant for this claim whatsoever; after all, if Yong's claim is right, then one might as well cut all of Romans 3 out of the canon of Scripture.
What is Romans 10:10-13, then? Romans 10:10-13 is “the law of faith,” and it should be read in light of Romans 2 (and in my view, Romans 3 as well). The fact that the Gentiles cannot keep the Law of Nature (the natural law code) and the Jews cannot keep the Mosaic Law anxiously yearns for the Law of Faith in Romans 10. But the Law of Faith in Romans 10 is for all, both Jew and Gentile. This is the only way that one can be saved, apart from the Mosaic Law (and natural law). There is no other way to be saved.
Yong has reasons for why he lines up Romans 2 and Romans 10. I will go into what I think his full statement is and refute his view in my next post. Keep reading...

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