The Law Is Not of Faith

… A Salvation-Historical Interpretation

Galatians 3:10-14 ESV
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
I’ve been asked to explain what Paul meant when he said that “the law is not of faith” (Gal 3:12). To do that I need to offer an explanation for Gal 3:11:

“But it is clear that by the law no one is justified before God, because the righteous will live by faith.”

The law in question in Gal 3:11 is not law in general but specifically the law of Moses.
When Paul says by the law no one is justified before God, I do not take this as being a temporally universal statement. The timeframe of the present tense of the verb translated as is justified must be determined from the context in which it is found; and in this particular context the timeframe of the verbal action is delimited by Paul’s eschatological understanding of Hab 2:4, which is quoted at the end of the verse.Paul’s use of Hab 2:4 in Gal 3:11 is the same as in Rom 1:17. I have argued previously (see “Paul’s Use of Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:17: The Righteous Will Live by Faith”) that Paul understood Hab 2:4 as being a prophecy of the new covenant, which would be a time when righteousness would be defined in terms of a positive response to the eschatological revelation of the gospel instead of by means of a positive response to the Mosaic revelation (which is how righteousness was defined under the Mosaic covenant).
In other words, Paul is saying in Gal 3:11 that it is clear from Hab 2:4, which prophesied that covenant righteousness in the eschatological age would be defined in terms of faith, that in the new covenant age no one is able to be justified by a covenantal commitment or adherence to the law of Moses. In other words, Hab 2:4 effectively prophesied that a doctrine of justification by faith would apply in the new covenant age (on analogy with how righteousness was defined for Gentile Abraham).
This then leads us to Gal 3:12: “But the law is not of faith, but the one who has done these things will live by them.”
Both clauses of this verse contrast with the content of Hab 2:4. Paul wants to contrast the eschatological faith spoken of in Hab 2:4 with the holistic faith response (i.e., the works of the law) required under the Mosaic covenant.Now we need to say at this point that there is evidence that the law of Moses did require faith (see my previous post “The Paradox of Faith and Law: Is the Law of Faith or Not?”), but we also need to say that the faith that applied with respect to Mosaic torah was a Mosaic type of faith.
The faith that Paul has in mind in Gal 3:12 is the faith that is defined in Hab 2:4, i.e., an eschatological type of faith.
By saying that the law is not of faith, Paul is saying that the positive response to God’s revelation that was required under the Mosaic covenant was the response of saying amen to the whole of Mosaic torah, and this contrasts with the new covenant response of saying amen to eschatological, Messianic revelation, which is the gospel.
As noted above, saying amen to the law of Moses is faith (in terms of how the ancient Hebrews thought of it); but being a holistic idea, this faith was characteristically talked about using the language of obedience. Paul’s quotation of Lev 18:5 shows this. Leviticus 18:5, properly understood, is simply saying that a commitment to obeying Mosaic torah was the way of blessing and eternal life for Israel according to the stipulations of the Mosaic covenant. The typical orthodox (Old Testament) Hebrew way of thinking was that Israel’s covenant obligation was that of obedience to the law, which was an obedience that could be performed if the law was written on the heart. This Mosaic way of thinking is encapsulated in Lev 18:5. Paul is quoting Lev 18:5 in a perfectly valid Jewish manner. Both he and his Jewish opponents accepted that covenantal obedience to torah was the way of righteousness and life under the Mosaic covenant (see also Rom 10:5).
So, by saying that the law is not of faith Paul is really trying to distinguish the required response to old covenant revelation from the required response to new covenant revelation. Old covenant revelation was the law of Moses; new covenant revelation is the gospel. The law of Moses is not the gospel. The law of Moses testifies to the gospel (Rom 3:21); but the gospel per se, and faith in this gospel, could only be proclaimed once the Messiah had been revealed to Israel (hence Paul’s reasoning in Gal 3:23-25). The gospel as the revelation of the righteousness of God is apart from the law (Rom 3:21). The law and the gospel are two interrelated, mutually consistent, but distinct revelations. Strictly speaking, the gospel could not be proclaimed until the Son of God had been revealed (Heb 1:1-2), and the Messianic victory won.In other words,
Paul’s point in Gal 3:12 is that the law of Moses and its required response of obedience is not the eschatological revelation that requires faith, about which Habakkuk prophesied. The law of Moses required obedience (a Mosaic type faith). It did not require an eschatological (Abrahamic) type faith. In effect, in Gal 3:12 Paul proves from the Hebrew Scriptures that his Jewish opponents’ teaching that the Mosaic covenant and its stipulations were still normative for salvation (even after the resurrection of Christ) is out of step with the teaching of the Old Testament prophets, who foresaw, upon the coming of Christ, a new covenant based on a new revelation, which necessarily requires a new definition of what constitutes faith or covenant obedience.
The law of Moses prophesied about the Messiah, but it did not proclaim Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, for in the Mosaic age Jesus of Nazareth had not yet been born or revealed to Israel. The law of Moses is not eschatological revelation. The law of Moses is not the (eschatological) gospel. In this sense, therefore, the law is not of faith.

Readers are invited to comment on Steven’s post.

Steven Coxhead has served as a visiting lecturer in Hebrew and the Old Testament at the Sydney Missionary and Bible College since 2002. He also teaches Johannine Theology and the Old Testament at the Wesley Institute in Sydney. In addition he has worked as a part-time lecturer at the Presbyterian Theological Centre in Sydney from 2002–2010, teaching the Old Testament, Romans, John’s Gospel, Biblical Hebrew, and New Testament Greek. He has had experience teaching Old Testament, New Testament, and Systematic Theology in South-East Asia.

Thinking Spiritually


Who is the Spirit?


What should we expect of him and how do we respond to him?  It’s an important question, especially given what Jesus had to say.  And what Paul said as well.  It’s a question so important that our lives depend on getting it right.

We need to begin by getting the right answer . . . or, more to the point, the right connection. 
Jesus said as much to Nicodemus in John 3.  The Spirit, Jesus told him, brings eternal life as a new birth.  The Spirit is our bond with God and his eternal life.  Jesus is our means for gaining eternal life by his atoning death; the Spirit then brings us into that saving work.  His presence in us, Jesus said, is like a wind in a forest as he stirs us out of our former spiritual dormancy and alienation—our former death towards God—and brings about a conspicuous responsiveness of new life.
Christ’s incarnate ministry displayed his own bond with the Spirit. 
The Spirit conceived Jesus in Mary’s womb and later ordained him to ministry by descending on him.  Jesus was then “full of the Holy Spirit . . . and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” to be tempted by the devil (Luke 4:1).  After that he “returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee” (v. 14).  Next, in presenting himself to the synagogue in Nazareth, he read Isaiah 61:1,2 and applied it to himself (v. 18).  The text began, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me . . .”  Elsewhere in Isaiah (11:1,2) there is another litany of Spirit-centered promises linked to the Christ.
This sort of portrayal establishes what some have called Spirit-Christicism: the belief that Jesus in his humanity relied on the Spirit in all he did, even though he was fully divine himself.  Why this arrangement?  So that as a man he could experience real humanity—and not live as a divine-human superman.  And he then left us with his own spiritual capacity for life—the Spirit himself—so that we now live as God’s children although we are still only human.
In writing to the Corinthians Paul expanded on the truth of the Spirit-as-life-in-us. 
In writing about immoral behaviors Paul referred to Genesis 2:24—a text that inaugurated marriage (“the two shall become one”)—and applied it to Christ and the church.  How so?  By treating believers as “one” with Jesus by union with the Spirit: “But he who is joined to the Lord become one spirit with him.  . . .  Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Cor 6:17,19).
The believer’s union with Christ, then, is both a product and a display of the same spiritual life Jesus experienced in his earthly ministry.  Just as the Father loved Jesus, we too are now given the intimate access in love to call the Father “Abba” at the Spirit’s urging (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6); and God also pours out his love in our hearts by the Spirit’s whispering presence (Romans 5:5).  So, too, we share the same qualities of the Spirit-life that Jesus has: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness” and more (Galatians 5:22).
What do we do with this sort of truth? 
I fear that some of us try to treat the Spirit as our personal genie as in the tale of Aladdin.  But this self-serving version of the Spirit hardly fits the picture of the one who led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, or filled Jesus as he taught and preached, cared for the needy, trashed the Temple trading exchange, and eventually died on the cross.
At a minimum, then, a proper grasp of the Spirit’s work in us is that he wants to change our hearts to be like the Son whose heart he now discloses to us.  Let me wrap up, then, by citing Paul: “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24,25).  Amen!
Thoughts? You are invited to comment on Ron’s article at Cor Deo.
~ Ron
Dr. Ron Frost
Ron served on faculty for more than 20 years at Multnomah Bible College and Biblical Seminary. At the seminary, from 1995-2007, he was professor of historical theology and ethics. He earned his PhD at King’s College of the University of London. His research featured Richard Sibbes (1577-1635). He now teaches internationally while serving as a pastoral care consultant to missionaries with Barnabas International. Ron authored Discover the Power of the Bible and writes on [See “Resources”].
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