From Edwin M. Cotto CONTEXTUAL AND LOGICAL EVIDENCE IN ROMANS…
From Edwin M. Cotto
CONTEXTUAL AND LOGICAL EVIDENCE IN ROMANS FOR A LAW THAT HAS NOT BEEN ABOLISHED
According to the Encyclopedia, the letter to the Romans was probably written in AD 57.(1) This particular detail is important because the way Paul reasons in this letter requires that the law remain active rather than abolished. For example, Romans 2:12-13 says that it is the Law itself which will serve as the standard by which man will be judged in the last days (2). If the Law has been abolished, or if portions of it, such as the fourth commandment, became optional, then it cannot truly serve as the standard of judgement. Moreover, Romans 2:13 says that it will not be the hearers, but “the doers of the law” which “shall be justified.” The Romans could not possibly be “doers” of a Law that was no longer in force.
Other portions of Romans also require an active Law in order for him to make any sense in his reasoning:
EXAMPLE #1: Romans 2:14-24
Here Paul brings out that the Gentles were not given the law the way the Israelites were, and yet they naturally do the things contained in that law. They “show (present tense) the works of the law in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness (present tense) …” Note the tenses. The principles of the law remained intact even in AD 57 when this letter was written. The witness to this fact is the conscience acts of the Gentiles which witness in either accusing people of wrong-doing or defending people of right-doing. This statement about the Gentiles is parenthetical and is surrounded by the future judgement of the law (verses 12-13) and the hypocrisy of the Jews who were given it but have not adhered to it (verses 17-24). Since the law to which Paul is speaking about is the Decalogue, is it evident that, although they were not technically given the Decalogue, the Gentiles were unconsciously keeping portions of it.
There are two important details to remember here. First, Paul is making it clear that the Gentiles “by nature do the things of the law” (verse 14). This is present tense. Without an active law they could not, during the time in which this letter was written, “do” any portion of it.
And second, his questioning of the Jews is an effort by him to point out their hypocrisy in preaching to keep a law that they themselves do not keep. In other words, one needs to practice what they preach. If the Jew is to tell others to obey the commandments, he too must obey the commandments. The last question is just as rhetorical as the previous ones, and it proves that breaking the law was just as dishonorable at that point as it was before the cross, “You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?” The answer is yes, of course, because “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (verse 24). They were dishonoring God by breaking the law while telling others to keep it.
But if the law was abolished 24 years earlier at the cross, what is Paul’s point? What really is he accusing them of and are they really guilty of hypocrisy? Evidently Paul’s thesis makes no sense if the law was abolished when Paul wrote it.
EXAMPLE #2: Romans 2:25-29
With these texts Paul is seeking to prove who is really a Jew. Note particularly verses 26-27:
“Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law?”
If the law had been abolished by this time, what sense is there is Paul’s reasoning? What does he mean when he says that if the uncircumcised man “fulfills the law” he is able to judge the one who, while circumcised, breaks the law? There is, after all, no law to fulfill, and no law to break, right?
Obviously, for Paul to make any sense there must have been an active law that can be both kept and broken.
EXAMPLE #3: Romans 3:19
Note this text also:
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.”
The word “says” is in the present tense. No matter how one interprets the phrase “under the law,”(3) one thing is clear, the law still spoke when this letter was written, and thus it was still authoritative in people’s lives. Moreover, there were people during his days that were under the law. What’s the point in speaking to the Romans about people who are under the law, if by that time the law was abolished? How can you be under a law that no longer exists?
EXAMPLE #4: Romans 3:31
We mentioned this text earlier and Paul could not be any clearer. No matter how one interprets the previous verses, the law cannot be removed by faith. On the contrary, right then in AD 57 when Paul penned these words, the people were still to “establish the law.” Thus, the law was still being established by God’s people years after the cross, and faith motivated that.
EXAMPLE #5: Romans 4:15
Another example is Romans 4:15 which says that the law works wrath. Note it does not say it worked, in the past tense, but works, in the present tense. Obviously, it was still active during his days. Additionally, that same verse says that where there is no law, there is no transgression. So, there must have been an active law when he wrote this, because he just accused the Gentiles (1:18-32) and the Jews (2:17-24) of transgression!
EXAMPLE #6: Romans 7:7-13
Here, Paul shows the relationship between the law and grace. What purpose does it serve? He answers, “I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘Thou shalt not covet.’” We have absolute proof he is speaking of the Decalogue. What did the Decalogue do for him? It revealed his sin. And when was this letter written? Again, in AD 57. Thus, the law was still actively serving its purpose at this time. Is there something wrong with the law because of this? No, for “the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.” Is that law, which is good, now removed? The answer in verse 13 is a resounding “No!” The same answer should be given by God’s people today.
There are many other examples like these, but these should suffice in proving the necessity of the law being alive and active in order for Paul’s reasoning to make sense. Far from proving that the Law was abolished 24 years earlier at the cross, Romans actually establishes that it was still serving its purpose, even in AD 57.
Edwin M. Cotto
Adventist Defense League
1) “Letter of Paul to the Romans” Encyclopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/top…/Letter-of-Paul-to-the-Romans
2) James also has the Decalogue in mind when he speaks about the judgment in James 2:10-12. Furthermore, Psalm 96:13 and Psalm 98:9 says that at his coming, the Lord will judge the world with righteousness. What is righteousness? Psalm 119:172 says that the commandments are righteousness. Paul also says this various times in Romans. See: Rom. 8:4, 9:31, 10:5.
3) The phrase “under the law” means under its “guilt.” This is what the verse is saying. The law speaks to those “under the law” and why? “that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” Thus, under the law means to be under its penalty. In fact, that is the context in the previous verses (verses 9-18) where Paul quotes almost a dozen texts proving that all have sinned and therefore, all are guilty.