Tag Archives: Romans 7

Is Sola Scriptura Enough to Understand Paul?

Apostle-PaulIs the Torah to be considered as a dead husband that nobody liked anyway? This is the way many Christians interpret Romans 7:1-6: “For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies she is released from the law of her husband” (verse 2 of Romans 7:1-6). Paul refers to an ancient halachah (principle of the law) to illustrate his new relationship to the Torah because of his faith in Jesus. But one question is never asked when studying Romans 7:1-6. And it is only when the full impact of Paul’s Jewish heritage is understood in light of his entire teaching concerning the believer’s response to the Torah that this question can be carefully considered. Nonetheless, we must ask: Was Paul speaking about the death of the Torah or was he referring to the death of the flesh? Is the Torah, for Paul, a dead husband?

Brad H. Young
“Is Paul Against the Law?”

Dr. Roy Blizzard promoted this article on his Facebook page, and since I’ve read both Blizzard and Young in the past, I was interested in seeing how their perspectives have developed.

What I read made me think of how I recently brought up the issue of sola scriptura in relation to a presentation given by Pastor Steve Lawson at John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference last October.

I found myself wondering if sola scriptura as offered by Lawson would match up with how Young is interpreting Paul in Romans 7.

To interpret Paul correctly on this passage, it is first imperative to recognize that the saying, “when a person dies he is free from the law and the commandments” (kivan shemet adam naaseh chofshi men hatorah vehamitzvot), was a well-known concept in halachah, which probably was almost proverbial in ancient Jewish thought (b. Nidah 61b and parallels). When Paul says that he is writing to those who know the law (Romans 7:1), it is clear that he speaks concerning a practice of halachah with which the Jews in the congregation of Rome would be quite familiar. The marriage laws concerning a woman and her husband would also be fairly well known. Of interest to the issue is the fact that Rabban Gamaliel the Elder, who according to Luke was the teacher of Paul in his early days as a student in Jerusalem, addressed questions relating to these laws in the Mishnah. Gamaliel the Elder taught that a woman is free to remarry even if only one witness gives testimony that her husband had died (m.Yeb. 16:7). Scholars have noted that the passage in Romans 7:1-6 might well betray the influence of Paul’s teacher Gamaliel. While the similarity between Paul and Gamaliel on this point of halachah should not be denied, it is also true that such teachings were probably common knowledge to Jewish men and women who lived pious lives according to their devout faith. Paul could have been acquainted with this principle from many sources, including Gamaliel the Elder.

-Young, ibid

sola scripturaI tried to choose the most representative paragraph in Young’s brief article to illustrate that a thorough understanding of not only scripture but of Judaism (or the various Judaisms) as it (they) existed during Paul’s lifetime is absolutely essential to correctly understanding Paul. Without addressing the complete social, religious, historical, national context in which Paul was writing, plus his education and as much of his “psychology” as we can apprehend after all this time, we are quite likely to get Paul wrong and, as a result, construct completely erroneous theologies, doctrines, and dogmas based on our misunderstanding, all the while believing we are standing on the rock-solid foundation of “sola scriptura.”

But am I being unfair? After all, I do believe the Bible (correctly understood) is the basis for a life of faith. I just think it’s more complicated than reading the Bible and taking the text (especially in English) at face value.

I recalled that a gentleman named Tim Hegg, who is well-known in Hebrew Roots circles, took exception to another criticism of sola scriptura, written by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) author, Pastor Jacob Fronczak for Messiah Journal issue 111 (Fall 2012).

The full text of Hegg’s rebuttal can be found at TorahTalkOnline.com (PDF) but I’ll take the liberty of inserting the relevant quotes here.

According to Hegg, Fronczak asserted “it (the Bible) needs no outside help to be correctly interpreted”as a tenet of sola scriptura. Hegg responded:


Sola Scriptura holds that the Bible must be interpreted according to its historical, grammatical sense. This means that knowing the history, culture, and language in which the inspired word is given is necessary for receiving its divinely intended message. But Sola Scriptura also states that the Bible is self-interpreting, meaning that since it is God’s inspired word as a whole, it is never self-contradictory. Therefore, the truth of the Scriptures is found in the whole of the Bible’s message, allowing the whole to interpret the parts

The first part of Hegg’s response sounds good, but it is dependent upon how well the interpreter knows the “historical grammatical sense” and how much they’re willing to take into account the “history, culture, and language in which the inspired word” was given. In other words, would the interpreter who is an adherent of sola scriptura take into consideration ancient Jewish thought and Paul’s relationship with Rabban Gamaliel the Elder when attempting to understand Paul’s relationship with and description of the function of Torah in the community of first century Jewish believers?

Also, when Hegg says that “the Bible is self-interpreting, meaning that since it is God’s inspired word as a whole, it is never self-contradictory. Therefore, the truth of the Scriptures is found in the whole of the Bible’s message, allowing the whole to interpret the parts,” he seems to be leaving out the necessity of understanding the context to its fullest degree.

By that, I mean in order to resolve those areas of the Bible that seem internally inconsistent (how Paul in some parts of the Bible seems pro-Torah and in other parts seems anti-Torah), we have to employ a much wider net of information gathering than I think Christian interpretive tradition is willing to allow.

Here’s more about what I mean:

If Paul employs a known analogy from halachah in Romans 7:1-6, perhaps the Jewish tradition can throw light upon Paul’s message and the conclusion he desires to draw from the evidence he cites. The sage, R. Simeon ben Pazzi, taught “…and the servant is free from his master”(Job 3:19). A person, as long as he lives is a servant to two masters: the servant of his Creator and of his [evil] inclination. When he does the will of his Creator, he angers his inclination, and when he does the will of his inclination, he angers his Creator. When he dies, he is freed, ‘the servant is free from his master!’ (Ruth Rabbah 4:14, M. Lerner pp.78-80). Rabbi Simeon ben Pazzi’s saying, “When he dies, he is freed…” not only recalls Paul’s words in Romans 7:1-6, but also provides a clear parallel in thought to his discussion of the servant who either is enslaved to his evil inclination or to his Creator in the preceding chapter of Romans. In Romans chapter 6, Paul teaches that an individual is either a servant of sin to obey the flesh or a servant of righteousness to obey God.


In order to grasp the meaning of how Young is understanding Paul, not only is understanding other areas of scripture necessary, but understanding ancient, and to a certain degree, modern Judaism is required as well. If you had no idea Paul was employing “a known analogy from halachah in Romans 7:1-6,” you might not consider investigating Jewish tradition in order to “throw light upon Paul’s message.”

Rabban GamalielThe conclusion you draw about what Paul is saying can be dramatically altered by inserting or omitting the Jewishness of Paul’s thinking, education, life experience, personal history, and teachings. If Paul was a disciple of Rabban Gamaliel, we know, as a disciple, he would have memorized his Master’s teachings to the degree that he could teach from the same perspective and understanding. To the degree that Paul became a disciple of Jesus (although not in a traditional sense), Paul would also have studied and memorized all of the teachings of this Master. If we don’t understand the full impact of what that means in terms of the late Second Temple model of Jewish discipleship and look to the relevant sources that would support authentic comprehension of Paul’s letters, we’re going to miss the point of everything Paul wrote, and as a result, misunderstand the very fabric of what it means to be a Christian.

I encourage you to read the full content of Young’s commentary on Paul and Romans 7. It only takes a few minutes, but it may also open your eyes, not only to Paul as you’ve never seen him before, but to the level of complexity involved in approaching and interpreting the scriptures. Sola scriptura is a good, basic place upon which to stand, but if you aren’t employing the proper interpretive tools to correctly understand “scripture alone,” you aren’t going to have a very accurate view.

The Church created a basic set of interpretations early on in order to foster separation between Gentile Christianity and Judaism, with Judaism and the Jewish people cast in the role of the villain. We like to think we’ve come a long way in revising our understanding of the Bible, but the deep core of those original interpretations lives on, underground, unseen, and most Christians are unconscious of how much they permeate their (our) Biblical thinking. We have it within ourselves to dismantle those ancient assumptions and to take a fresh look at Paul. Interestingly enough, we’ll have to go back even before the so-called “Church fathers” to our “Jewish fathers” and their fathers, to the Jewish Paul and the Jewish Gamaliel, to see a vision of Jesus and of Paul that has been lost since the time of the apostles.

Only with such a lens can we see not only what Paul wrote, but the intent, the thought, the heart he used to pen his letters and what he wanted his original audience and us to understand.

Where Romans and Galatians Meet: Analysis by Mark Nanos

Mark NanosBut when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Galatians 2:11-14 (NASB)

Table-fellowship, particularly in the context of gentile participation, was a significant concern among Diaspora Jews. The many laws and customs that made it necessary generally to separate from association in gentile meals, or from the eating of many gentile foods whether in the company of gentiles or not, made table-fellowship a notable issue. Jews often avoided meat and wine, for it was necessarily tainted by idolatry in Diaspora cities, unless special provisions had been made. However, Jews did eat with gentiles, given proper circumstances. And in the context of “righteous gentiles” attending synagogue this matter became a regular necessity.

Gentiles attending synagogue and participating in the lifestyle of the Jewish community, or visiting Jewish homes, were expected to adopt minimal Jewish practices. This behavior demonstrated respect not only for Jewish sensitivities, but in the mind of the Jews at least, it represented respect for the righteousness of God that would be expected to accompany the faith of the “righteous gentile” — for God is holy.

-Mark D. Nanos
“Chapter 2: The Historical Backdrop and Implied Audience,” pg 56
The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letters

No, I haven’t stopped reading this book, but the demands on my discretionary time plus the dense commentary in the Nanos book have slowed me down considerably. I just finished Chapter 2 (as I write this) but decided to take a detour into “Summary and Appendix 1: Peter’s Hypocrisy (Gal. 2:11-21) in light of Paul’s Anxiety (Rom. 7).” Given my lengthy and sometimes frustrating review of the Book of Galatians with my Pastor, I felt it necessary to get in some additional reading beyond Lancaster’s The Holy Epistle to the Galatians: Sermons on a Messianic Jewish Approach (although it seems my conversations on Galatians have reached a premature end).

I must admit, I too have had a difficult time fitting “Peter’s hypocrisy” and Paul’s criticism into my overall understanding of Paul’s relationship with the Torah as a Jew and an Apostle of Messiah. In a little over thirty pages though, Nanos managed to clear things up for me. It never occurred to me to look at that passage from the point of view Nanos presents.

In the first part of Appendix 1, Nanos reviews the traditional interpretation of Galatians 2:11-21, that Peter had been living like a Gentile, that is, not observing a Torah or Jewish lifestyle and eating all manner of non-kosher food at the same table as the Gentile disciples in Antioch. Then Torah observant Jews from James came to visit, and as a result of peer pressure, Peter separated himself from the Gentiles and resumed a Torah lifestyle, inducing others including Barnabas to do likewise. Paul calls Peter out for his hypocrisy, that he could live a Torah-free life with the Gentiles one minute, and then, weakening to pressure applied by more traditional Jews, back off from his “freedom” from Torah and rejoin the “circumcision party.”

But Paul says something else in verse 14:

…how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?

The Mystery of RomansWe tend to miss that part of the verse but it may hold the key to understanding everything Paul is saying about Peter.

But first, lets take a look at how Nanos describes a mixed Jewish/Gentile synagogue in the city of Rome:

That is, the early Roman Christian communities were functioning as subgroups within the larger synagogue communities at the time of Paul’s letter, and Paul hoped that they would hear (shema) his epideictic message in a manner that would enhance their adherence to righteousness and the worship of the One God of Israel as the One God of the world even before his arrival. They would then be found fulfilling the eschatological expectation of Israel: gentiles declaring the Shema in the midst of the congregation of Israel to the glory of God, the One God of all.

-Nanos, “Summary and Appendix 1: Peter’s Hypocrisy (Gal. 2:11-21) in light of Paul’s Anxiety (Rom. 7),” pg 338

Nanos paints a portrait of Jews and Gentiles worshiping within a subset of larger Judaism and the larger Jewish synagogue community in Rome, with Jewish believers continuing to live Jewish lifestyles, including Torah observance, and Gentile believers living in respect of the Torah lifestyle of their Jewish mentors, and living within the behavioral constructs of the Noahide laws (Genesis 9) and the Apostolic Decrees (Acts 15). They enjoyed table fellowship with the Gentiles either consuming food totally acceptable to the Jewish believers or with the Jews restricting their diet to vegetables and water while sharing a table with gentiles.

So what’s Peter’s problem or for that matter, Paul’s? In the context of Galatians 2 not only does Paul say that Peter is living like a Gentile, but it is implied that Paul is too. Did both of these Jewish men apostate from Judaism and convert to Gentile Christianity? Like much of Christian doctrine teaches, did Christ turn Jewish believers into Gentiles?

The argument of the Church is that the disagreement is about food, that is, Peter was eating “trief” like a Gentile, having abandoned a kosher diet and presumably everything else about the Law. How like the misunderstandings most Christians have about Acts 10 and Peter’s vision. Was that about food, too?

I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.

Acts 10:34 (NASB)

peters-vision-doug-jaquesPeter’s vision is recorded by Luke in verses 9-16 and verse 17 testifies that Peter did not know what the vision meant. We see that Peter finally figured it out by verse 34. The vision wasn’t about food, it was about equality. God was telling Peter that the Gentiles had equal access to justification before God through faith, just as the Jews have. He even testifies of that equality in a legal hearing in Jerusalem some time later (See Paul on Trial by John W. Mauck for more detailed information about the nature of the legal hearing in Acts 15):

And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.

Acts 15:8-9 (NASB)

On pages 342-3 of his appendix, Nanos says this about the Church and Galatians 2:

The traditional assumption is of course that Paul opposed Peter in Antioch because of Peter’s change of behavior with respect to food.

But just as food wasn’t the issue in Acts 10, neither is it the issue in Galatians 2 according to Nanos.

Nanos goes on to say that if the traditional Christian interpretation of these verses is correct, then Paul had to have been saying there are no Jews in Christ, because to set aside the Law and live like Gentiles would make the Jewish believers no longer Jews. There would be only Gentiles (born Gentiles and formerly Jewish Gentiles) in Christ.

This contradicts the Bible on so many different levels it makes my head spin (although even an apostate Jew is still Jewish…you can’t become “unJewish”). You’d have to completely ignore all of the Messianic prophesies in the Tanakh (Old Testament) to make that interpretation work.

As already mentioned, the traditional interpretation of Paul’s rebuke of Peter turns on the issue of food. Although the balance of the letter is read with respect to the issue of justification by faith in Christ, and the explicit use of justification language in Galatians is concentrated around this incident, yet the traditional interpretation obscures the focus on justification in verse 14. I suggest that the language of Paul’s rebuke centers on the same justification language as the surrounding context, namely the position of one justified, that is, living “in Christ” by faith, whether “Jews by nature” (“even we” of 2:16) or “gentile sinners,” as equals. It is thus Peter’s withdrawal, not food, that is at issue in Antioch; what was eaten or how it was eaten was not the reason for Peter’s withdrawal. The issue entirely concerned those with whom he had been eating and then withdrawn; his exclusion of gentiles was because they were gentiles, not because they ate offensive food or in offensive ways.

-Nanos, pp 347-8

Apostle-Paul-PreachesGalatians 3:28 famously declares that there are no Greeks or Jews, no men or women, no slaves or freemen, but all of them are one in Christ. But just as women don’t have to turn into men to become saved in Messiah, neither do Gentiles have to turn into Jews or Jews turn into Gentiles to become disciples of Messiah. The “oneness” is as equal co-participants in the community with equal access to justification and the blessings of God.

What Peter was doing was indeed responding to peer pressure and as a result withdrawing from close association from the Gentile disciples, but it had nothing to do with Peter’s eating habits or Jewish vs. Gentile lifestyle. His hypocrisy had to do with accepting Gentiles as co-participants previously, and then treating them like second-class citizens by withdrawing from them when Jews from James showed up.

The issue of Galatians 2:11-21 was the same issue as the rest of the book of Galatians: Gentiles do not have to become circumcised and convert to Judaism, taking on board the full yoke of Torah in order to be justified before God and equal co-participants in the community of faith. Look at verse 14 again:

…how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?

Peter was putting up the dividing wall that Paul was trying so hard to break down by saying Jews had a superior position in Christ and in justification and that only by compelling the Gentile disciples to live like Jews (convert to Judaism) would they be saved, undoing all of the blessings of Christ upon the world.

No wonder Paul was furious. Peter just slapped him and all of the Gentile disciples in the face by his withdrawal and worse, he compelled other faithful Jewish disciples, including Barnabas, to do the same.

Nanos wrote this appendix because of the apparent conflict, especially in light of his interpretation of Romans, between Romans 7 and Galatians 2. I’m only summarizing what he has to say. To get all of the details, you’ll need to read the Nanos book.

In Romans, Paul is encouraging Torah observance for the Jewish believers and respectfulness for the Torah and for Jewish observance from the Gentiles. However, much of Galatians, including Galatians 2, seems to contradict this. Nanos wrote this summary and appendix to set the record straight, or at least to give his readers something to think about.

Hopefully, this has given some of my readers something to think about as well.