Roman Riddles 1: Paul, the Antinomian? Nah.

May 2, 2006

I've been reading through Schreiner's commentary on Romans which I picked up at BJU. He is reformed, and it appears that some of that is coming through in his exposition of Romans 3. The startling part of it is that some of it makes sense. He presents the possibility that Paul in Romans 3:1-8 is answering objections that are commonly laid against his gospel. This is his translation of the passage:

Therefore what is the benefit of being a Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every respect. For first of all, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. Now if some were unfaithful, would their unfaithfulness nullify the faithfulness of God? Certainly not! God remains true, even if every human being is a liar, just as it is written, "in order that you may be vindicated in your words, and you should triumph when you judge." But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, then what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who inflicts wrath upon us? I am speaking from a human point of view. Certainly not! Otherwise, how would God judge the world? Now if the truth of God abounded by some lie for his glory, why am I still judged as a sinner? And why not conclude – as some slanderously claim that we say- "Let us do evil so that good will come"? God's condemnation of such people is just. (Schreiner, Romans, pg. 147)

Paul is responding to this hypothetical objector (the kind that Schreiner assumes Paul faced often in the synagogues) whom he assumes he would in Rome. Now, if Paul just argued in chapter 2 that the Jews are not much better off than the Gentiles when facing God's judging righteousness (God is not impartial – he judges all by their works), then how can he assume that there is any benefit at all in being a Jew, and that the law and election were just cruel jokes by God? Schreiner lucidly phrases the objection here: "… it is reasonable to ask how God could be righteous in condeming the Jews if they are frail creatures who have no ability to choose righteousness and their only hope is God's grace." (Schreiner, Romans, pp. 156-157)

It's something I had often thought about. If God knows we can't live up to the law, why do we get condemned for not being able to obey it? By Paul's statements in Romans 3:1-8, when he says "I speak from a human point of view", it's obvious that he can't even entertain the thought that God could judge unrighteously. How could God judge the Gentiles, he says, if not in this way? It seems all very Calvinistic to me. But it is here where Paul's opponents, according to Schreiner's proposal, would have wished to nail him. If the Jews cannot obey Torah anyway, then antinomianism is the answer. Paul says that God's condemnation of people who say such slanderous things about Paul is just! He cannot see that as a logical endpoint of his position.

This all throws the whole OT out of whack. All these comments and challenges to Israel, from YHWH himself and then through his prophets, telling the nation to repent, to change its ways, to obey the divine commands. But they can't. They can't because they don't have the Spirit to aid them. So it makes me wonder what the point of the Mosaic covenant was at all, and why God didn't just jump straight to the New Covenant (it obviously wouldn't have been new if it were introduced first). It seems to me like I'm telling my son to get something from the kitchen cabinet, which is located 5 feet above his head, and then punish him for not being able to do it because he never had a stool.

It is in instances like these that I humbly submit to my ignorance of all that is going on in the Scripture, and ask earnestly for more knowledge from the pastors and teachers that God has gifted the church with, so I may understand these difficult passages and teachings.


3 Responses to “Roman Riddles 1: Paul, the Antinomian? Nah.”

  1. Ron Says:

    This has always been a very tricky issue. Paul’s stance on the law is very strange, at the same time it all does have a logical flow. I think the Calvinist has problems answering the pointed question you ask above.

    Why did God give the law when He knew that nobody could keep it without the law? First, there is an error in the question. The law can be kept, it just could not be fulfilled. There is a stark difference between the two. To keep the law, one must make the appropriate sacrifices when one has sinned. To fulfill the law, one must be able to live in perfect accordance with its spirit, which is love for all. Only Christ could fulfill the law, as it pointed to Him all along! Other people could keep the law, but all the while knowing that it was God’s gift in the first place.

    When the Jews finally stopped paying attention to the law at all, God exiled them from the land. He brought them back when they called out. Then, instead of not being able to live by the law, they embraced the law instead of God. As Paul says in Romans 7, sin used the law to create more sin, and by this were all deceived. Once the Jews had covered all the errors they could, by both ignoring the law and then paying so much attention to the law they ignored God, God then sent His Son (Cf. Gal 4:4-5 and Rom 8:1-4) to fulfill the righteous requirement of the law and enable all to have the Holy Spirit.

    I hope this helps answer your questions somewhat.

  2. It helps a bit, especially on noting the difference between keeping and fulfilling the law. However, I still don’t understand the necessity of the Spirit if the Jews were capable of keeping the law by themselves. And if they weren’t, why would God expect such a thing from them if their unregenerate state prohibited from doing it?

    Thanks for reading and commenting, J!

  3. Ron Says:

    THe Spirit is necessary because keeping the law is not enough, and never has been, to have a true relationship with God. Once Adam sinned, God wanted to provide a way to remove sin. Thus, He instituted the law to point out sin so we (humanity) would recognize our need for salvation. The law was never intended to save, only God can save. The law was intended to show the true God and His love.

    Once the law showed sin, and then sin corrupted the law, God gave His Son to fulfill the law. With the law fulfilled by Christ, God could now give the Spirit so ALL could fulfill the law. The law is STILL fulfilled by Christ, but it is fulfilled in us by the power of the Spirit bringing into us the life of Christ.

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