Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.
–Romans 4:19-5:2 (NASB)
Remember, Paul wrote this letter without chapters and verses in mind. He was trying to express a unified set of thoughts to his audience who were, most likely, the believing Gentiles associating with believing and unbelieving Jews in the Roman synagogues.
In my previous reflection, I focused a great deal on how, for a Jewish Jesus-believer, there was/is no inconsistency between Torah and faith. For that matter, there’s no inconsistency for a non-Jewish Jesus-believer between faith and obedience, either.
But there was a lot of misunderstanding going on (apparently) in the Roman Jesus-believing community on both sides of the aisle. The Gentiles somehow felt they were superior to the non-believing Jews in that they were granted access to Jewish worship and social space as equal co-participants without having to undergo the proselyte rite and take up the full yoke of Torah in the manner of the Jews. The non-believing Jews pushed back by declaring themselves superior as possessors of the “oracles of God” and how by just being ethnic Jews they were justified before God.
There is also some indication that at least some Jews may have mistakenly thought that because their faith in Yeshua (Jesus) justified them, they were more like the Gentiles and did not have to follow a strict observance of the mitzvot.
Paul was trying to straighten out his audience orient them to the importance of both obedience due to covenant obligation and being justified only by faith.
Now we see Paul continuing to make this point, emphasizing how Gentiles could also be included in the covenant blessings by faith but not have to take up all of the Jewish covenant obligations. The one commonality between the Jewish and Gentile believers was/is that they were/are all justified by faith and granted “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Justification by faith is what made Gentile participation in the covenant blessings possible without conversion to Judaism and remember, they were justified by faith alone, so even if they voluntarily chose to take on additional mitzvot in the manner of the Jews, it would not increase their justification or otherwise grant them greater merit before God.
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
–Romans 5:3-5 (NASB)
Notice that justification by faith includes the hope we have in the New Covenant as evidenced by one of the “down payments” of the New Covenant promises, the Holy Spirit “who was given to us.” That takes us back to Acts 2 when the Jewish Apostles received the Spirit in the upper room (in an act reminiscent of the giving of Torah at Sinai), and Acts 10 with the occasion of the Spirit being given to faithful Gentiles, the Roman Centurion Cornelius and his entire household.
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.
–Romans 5:6-9 (NASB)
But we are justified by faith, not just in God, but in who Jesus is and what he represented as the final sacrifice we’d ever need for the forgiveness of our sins. God loves us all even in our sins, and desires that we repent, take up our faith and cross, and follow our King.
But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
–Matthew 9:13 (NASB)
Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 to point out that sacrifice (observance) alone does not justify, and also that he came for the sinners, the disobedient and faithless of Israel, to bring them back to God, to redeem Israel. It is believed, contrary to Christian thought, that the general Jewish population in Israel during the late second Temple period maintained a high level of Torah study and observance, higher than previous points in the nation’s history, but it was the sin of baseless hatred that resulted in the Temple’s destruction and the exile of the Jewish people. It was this hatred among the Jews the Messiah was addressing (Remember what I’ve said in the past…these are just my “reflections” as I’ve read through Romans as associated with previously acquired information…it’s not a researched and annotated doctoral dissertation).
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.
–Luke 1:5-6 (NASB)
As you can see, there were likely many righteous people in Israel, including Zacharias the Priest and his wife Elisheva (Elizabeth). We may never know how many among Israel were at their level of spiritual enlightenment since as the Master said, he came for the “lost sheep of Israel,” and not for the righteous who did not need to repent of baseless hatred.
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
–Romans 5:10-11 (NASB)
Our hope isn’t just in the atonement provided for mankind by the death of the tzaddik, but in the resurrection and the life, for even as we die with him, we rise with him from the tomb as new creations and have the hope of life eternal in the Kingdom of Messiah, a Kingdom of utter peace and tranquility. We are no longer enemies of God but sons and daughters by adoption, Gentiles who are now included in the blessings alongside God’s people Israel.
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
–Romans 5:12-14 (NASB)
This admittedly is difficult for me to grasp. Paul is introducing something new which seems to be the origin of sin. It came into the world because of the disobedience of Adam, the willful disregard to the one and only negative commandment that existed in the world at that time.
It wasn’t just disobedience that was the sin but the lack of faith that rested behind it. Although the commandment to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was not directly imparted to Havah (Eve), Adam allowed her to consume the fruit and then willfully ate it as well.
But then Paul says that there is no sin “when there is no law,” which I assume is Torah and it defines obedience and disobedience, and yet between Adam and Moses there was still sin and death.
Different translations of Romans 5:13 state “but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law” (NIV), “but sin is not counted where there is no law” (ESV), and “but no record of sin is kept when there is no Law” (ISV), basically saying the same thing.
I have a hard time depending on Christian commentary to guide me here since most or all of them draw a hard line between Torah and grace, believing the latter has replaced the former for Jewish believers (and everyone else). However the commentary from Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible on this verse states in part:
…but sin is not imputed when there is no law. This looks like an objection, that if there was no law before Moses’s time, then there was no sin, nor could any action of man be known or accounted by them as sinful, or be imputed to them to condemnation; or rather it is a concession, allowing that where there is no law, sin is not imputed; but there was a law before that law of Moses, which law was transgressed, and the sin or transgression of it was imputed to men to condemnation and death, as appears from what follows.
From this I gather that there were actually standards for sin and righteous for mankind prior to the giving of the Torah at Sinai but that the Torah defined heightened responsibilities specifically for the Children of Israel. This suggests that the rest of humanity still operated under the older standards and, given a more Jewish perspective, that said-standards for the nations were the Noahide Laws we see God issuing in Genesis 9.
Of course there were no Noahide Laws prior to Genesis 9, so there must have been some sort of standards in place between Adam and Noah. These standards are hinted at (how did Abel know about animal sacrifice and how did Noah know what a clean animal was?) but never listed in the Bible.
But what about the next verse?
Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
–Romans 5:14 (NASB)
Death continued between Adam and the time of the giving of Torah at Sinai because of the continuation of sin, and presumably it continued after that and continues to this day, if we’re talking about bodily death (and since Paul has been talking about the bodily resurrection up to this point, I think it likely). Mankind would have remained accountable to God under Genesis 9 covenant and its conditions, then with Moses and the Torah, Israel was elevated to a much higher place in terms of blessings, responsibilities, and curses.
In a way, this put the Israelites in a rather unenviable position, because the conditions of obeying God, the Torah mitzvot, were so many, so complicated, and so much more involved than the Noahide commandments, that they had to do a lot more work to maintain their covenant relationship with God.
Of course, there are also terrific blessings attached to Israel’s covenant with God including having God dwell among His people in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. But the Temple and the sacrificial system was never designed to permanently remove sin from the Israelites, or for that matter, the rest of humanity (even though the prayers and sacrifices of Gentiles were acceptable in the Temple).
And who is this “who is a type of Him who was to come?” Apparently, according to various translations and commentaries, it’s Messiah. Adam was the first man and the first to sin, the prototype of sinful mankind, but also the prototype human being as the first created man. Yeshua, as Messiah, sent to be the hope of humanity, is sort of an “anti-Adam,” one who entered the world perfect, just like Adam, but unlike Adam, one who never sinned even though sorely tempted.
But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
–Romans 5:15-17 (NASB)
Paul continues his theme of the duality of Adam and Jesus, the transgression of Adam and the free gift of grace through Christ. Adam’s faithlessness and disobedience condemned humanity to sin and death and Messiah’s faithfulness and obedience, even to the point of death, reverses that curse…or rather, it will.
Sin and death are still in the world, even for Christians. Believers still sin. We’re not perfect (or perfected). And believers still die. But if we are faithful and obedient, we will not be dead forever, and when we are resurrected, we will be resurrected as perfected people. God will heal our physical imperfections but more importantly, He will heal our hearts and write His Word upon them, so it will be natural for us to obey and not sin, even as it is now human nature to disobey.
That is why Jesus is our hope because he is the hope of our future perfection and the redemption of the world, all through God’s covenant with Abraham, then with Isaac, then with Jacob, and then the Sinai covenant with the tribes that issued from Jacob, the Israelites, and with their descendants, the Jewish people. Salvation for the rest of the world comes from the Jews (John 4:22) and from their King Messiah.
Jesus reverses the curse that Adam initiated.
Paul calls all this a “free gift,” and I admit to having a bit of a problem with the wording.
It’s true that we don’t have to do anything to produce this solution to the problem Adam introduced into the world, and it’s true that we didn’t even ask for it, and it’s true that we don’t and in fact we can’t pay a price to purchase this gift. On the other hand, we still have to do something. We have to choose. We have to hear the “good news,” and we have to listen, and we have to allow the Holy Spirit to influence us, and then we have to repent and accept the Lordship and rule of Messiah over our lives.
And then we enter into discipleship, start studying, and finally realize what all that actually means. Then we realize what it is to accept Jesus as Lord and oh boy, it’s not as easy as we were led to believe by whoever evangelized us.
Then and only then comes the hard part. Living the life of a disciple and a slave with Jesus as Lord and Master…yeah, Master like Master over a slave. Living the life of a slave with Jesus as our Master, surrendering any priority over our life to him and making all of his priorities our priorities.
Do you do that all the time, 24/7/365? Really? Are you sure?
So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
–Romans 5:18-21 (NASB)
It sounds like Paul is getting a little repetitive, but then he says the “Law came in so that the transgression would increase.” God introduced the Torah to Israel to increase their sin? That seems odd. The Torah lists the conditions of the Sinai covenant between Israel and God, a covenant which says God will be Israel’s God and they will be His people and that they agree to obey a certain set of conditions listed in the Torah. If they don’t, and disobedience (sin) is also defined in Torah, then the curses laid out in the Torah will be applied to Israel. If they continue to obey, the blessings, which are also spelled out in the Torah, will be applied.
So how does all that “increase sin” and especially for the whole world since the Sinai covenant and its conditions (Torah) only apply to Israel?
Is there some other “Law” that Paul could be talking about in this context?
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
–Romans 6:23 (NASB)
There is what’s called “the Law of Sin” which the above-quoted verse defines, but that doesn’t seem to fit the context. However, it also makes no sense at all for God to give the Torah to Jews at Sinai just to increase their culpability for sin so that in their sins, God could demonstrate how much they needed His grace, send Jesus to die for their sins, and replace the Law with grace.
The only way I can see how the Torah could “increase sin” is that it raised the bar quite a bit for the Children of Israel relative to the rest of mankind. It certainly increased the chances of any given Jewish person to come into transgression. After all, it’s no sin for me to not wear tzitzit but it is for a Jewish person (man). It’s no sin for me to eat a pork chop (although I don’t) but it is for a Jewish person. Even as a Christian and the receiver of many blessings through Israel’s covenants with God, I’m still not held accountable to as high a standard of behavior as my wife (who is Jewish), at least not this side of the Messianic Kingdom.
But if Gentile believers are the primary audience of this letter, what does Paul mean? I suspect the answers may be yielded in the next chapter and in next week’s edition of my “reflections.”