Category Archives: Bible & Theology

Who is Paul referring to as “one of the law”

A few days ago I invited readers to

consider Galatians 3.10:

“For all who rely on are of the 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” (Galatians 3:10 ESV, corrected).

There are current debates about what this means and why some people are under a curse. I’m not going to contribute to that debate, except to point out that those arguing for the common and traditional idea that Paul is claiming that people are cursed because no one can perfectly keep the Law need to admit to the problems with that argument. How could Paul claim and convince people who knew the Scriptures that this was how the Law was supposed to function?

via Is “keeping the law” the same as sinless, perfect obedience?.

In this post I want to point out that the term “one of the Law” (the idea of someone “relying on” the Law is an ESV interpretation masquerading as a translation) most likely refers simply to Jews in Paul’s day.

The evidence for this comes from Romans 4.16:

That is why it is of faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the one of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all

Notice here that faith does not exclude “the one of the law” but includes him along with the believing Gentile who, as Paul explains in the rest of Romans 4, trusts God while uncircumcised the way that Abraham did when he was uncircumcised. As John Calvin writes of this text, the words “mean simply the Jewish nation, to whom the law of the Lord had been delivered.” Both Jews and Gentiles are justified by faith.

Then how did a different interpretation of the words in Galatians 3.10 become “the tradition”? Good question.

Indeed, John Calvin and many others insisted not only on giving a different meaning to Galatians 3.10, but even to Romans 4.14, though it is in the same passage as 4.16. In my opinion, such a violent shift in meaning is simply impossible. But that is now the tradition, even though it necessitates a definition of “keeping the law” which Paul does not endorse, and is incompatible with the rest of the Bible.

But the fact that the idea is traditonal doesn’t make it true or convincing. Whoever “one of the law” is, he or she is someone who can be justified by faith along with Gentiles. In Galatians 3.10, Paul is explaining why such a person needs to be justified, and we need to study the passage carefully to figure out his reasoning. But to claim that his language refers to people “relying on” the Law, is an insertion of an idea not found in the text of that passage.

Israel is under a curse and the Israelites need to be justified by faith, as do the Gentiles. That bedrock truth needs a better exegetical framework than what “the tradition” gives us.

Inaccurate Bible translations solve nothing.

Weirdly inaccurate concerns about Tri-Perspectivalism

To understand where this fits into the Reformed theological tradition in particular, we can put it this way: Frame’s TP is a creative attempt at expanding on John Calvin’s and Cornelius Van Til’s Reformed epistemologies. I think in many ways I can say he has succeeded. His work is full of profound insights. But I still think his experimentation, if it does not risk some real theological precipices, it will at the very least risk some serious misunderstanding. In the first couple chapters of his institutes of the Christian religion, Calvin laid out a Reformed (and quite historically catholic) epistemology of the word. This was called the knowledge of God and self. There he proposed that man knows God through knowledge of himself, and man knows himself through the knowledge of God. Yet for Calvin, both the knowledge of God and Self is facilitated by the man encountering the word of God (the law) primarily. As we encounter the word, we learn both more of who God is and who we are. To sharpen that, we learn more of how righteous and holy God is and how we are not. We further learn from revelation what we are becoming because of Christ. My concern with Frame is that though he only calls the knowledge of self a “perspective” that is not independent of the knowledge of God, it does practically risk being another medium for true knowledge. What this means is that it risks operating apart from the law/word on the one hand, or collapsing word revelation and natural revelation on the other.

via “Tri-Perspectivalism”: An Introduction to John Frames Reformed Epistemology (Part I).

Hopefully this critic is just being premature in going to press. The whole “But for Calvin..” line starts a startlingly inaccurate line of reasoning. Frame is equally clear that all autonomous interpretation of reality is sin. He defines theology of the application of all of life.

The critic seems to be missing the point that, in encountering the word of God, one is also encountering the experience of that encounter. One’s knowledge of the Bible (This is what is said by the words on the page faithfully transmitting and translating the text the Holy Spirit inspired to be written and subsequently preserved and providentially transported) and ones knowledge that one is reading the Bible (My eyes are looking at these words and my mind is reading them) are both interrelated. Thus Calvin’s own statement that he doesn’t know which comes “first.”

Here is John Frame:

“On the first page of his Institutes, Calvin observes that the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self are interrelated. We might expect Calvin (as a good Calvinist!) to add to that of course of course of the two, the knowledge of God “comes first”. remarkable, however, Calvin says instead that he doesn’t know which comes first. This comment I take to be enormously perceptive. The best way to look at the matter is that neither knowledge of God or knowledge of self is possible without the other, and growth in one area is always accompanied by growth in the other. I cannot know myself rightly until I see myself as God’s image: fallen, yet saved by grace. But also I cannot know myself rightly until I seek to know Him as a creature, as a servant. The two kinds of knowledge, then, come simultaneously, and they grow together. The reason for this is not only that each of us is part of the “situation” that is essential to the knowledge of God but also the additional fact that each of us is made in God’s image. We know God as He is reflected in ourselves. Furthermore, all the information we receive about God, through nature, Scripture, or whatever source, comes to us through our eyes, ears, minds and brains – through ourselves. Sometimes we dream fondly of a “purely objective” knowledge of God – a knowledge freed from the limitations of our senses, minds, experience, preparation, and so forth. But nothing of this sort is possible, and God does not demand that of us. Rather, He condescends to dwell in and with us, as in a temple. he identifies himself in and through our thoughts, ideas and experiences. And that identification is clear; it is adequate for Christian certainty. A “purely objective” knowledge is precisely what we don’t want! Such knowledge would presuppose a denial of our creaturehood and thus a denial of God and all truth.” (From The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, John M. Frame, P&R, 1987, p. 65-65).

There is absolutely nothing in this that implies we can know ourselves apart from God’s revelation of Himself. And nothing in Frame’s writings would lead to that idea.

Of course, even when we learn about God, we know also that we are his creatures. So, again, knowledge of God (our Maker) and of ourselves (His creatures) are always interrelated.

I don’t understand how the critic can produce a concern about an “independent medium.” Nothing in Frame’s writings allows for independence. And to deny any kind of creaturely medium would be to deny that God gives external revelation at all..

Unlike the rulers of this age, Jesus only demands of us what he has already done–and only in a lesser and derivative way

Unlike the rulers of this age, Jesus doesn’t ask us to shed our blood for his empire; he instead gave his own life for his realm

via Incarnatio: What does Church have to do with Kingdom?.

I love the politics in this, but I have to ask if it is completely accurate. While Jesus doesn’t sacrifice us for his own glory or power, I think he does demand that we also be sacrifices.

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:13-16 ESV).

Later, the man under discussion, Paul,wrote about his call to suffer for the kingdom.

 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints (Colossians 1:24-26 ESV).

Jesus himself said that, to have authority in the Kingdom, one must follow his example, even his example of giving up his life.

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45 ESV).

And this is presented as a challenge and a promise to believers. We inherit glory through suffering just as Jesus did. Thus Jesus wrote to the church in Thyatira,

Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 2:25-29 ESV).

It is right to contrast King Jesus with other human authorities. But perhaps we need to remember that Jesus, while King, has blessed us to be kings ourselves. God made us all to have dominion. Jesus is uniquely king, but not exclusively so. He offers us all a royal road so that we gain a kingdom by serving–in some cases even to the point of death.

Defending the Future of Jesus: The pretense that Reformed Biblical Theology is uniformly Amillennial

What I like about this quote is how Horton explains the City of Man, ruled by Satan, is a rival to the City of God. Properly understood, this makes me wonder about common phrases like “redeeming the culture” or “redeeming the city” which are tossed around in reformed circles. If the City of Man is at war with the City of God and is trying to supplant it, why do we go to such pains to get cozy with the culture? Why do we look for church-planters who are good at contextualizing the Gospel instead of men who understand this tension and antithesis?

via Joshua Judges Ruth: Dr. Mike Horton on the City of God and the City of Man.

Well, if you don’t think the Reformed tradition is correct in its understanding of Scripture and the Great Commission, then you might wonder about current Reformed slogans. But the fact is that Horton is, IF he were to claim to speak for the whole of the Reformed Tradition, a revisionist. And treating his conclusions as the unquestionable standard for judging the behavior and speech of Reformed churches is to engage in such revisionism.

The Reformed tradition has been both amillennial and postmillennial. Recently, some Reformed thinkers have embraced historical premillennialism. I have no problem with Horton or anyone else picking one side rather than the one I happen to think is true. But worrying about run-of-the-mill Reformed understanding of the Great Commission is not peaceful co-existence.

And, while I respect his Reformed bona fides (and in so doing hopefully set a good example for him and others) I think Horton is wrong, as I read the Great Commission.

 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).

When is Jesus given all authority in heaven and earth. At the end? “On the last day?” No. We are called by the King to disciple all the nations. The whole reason there is an “antithesis” between God and Man is because they are claiming the same territory at the same time. The new city begins now. Or rather, began then. Jesus is building it up not from invisible ghosts, or in the future, but in living breathing people who dwell here and now on the earth:

    As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy
(1 Peter 2:4-10 ESV).

Yes, we are in one sense exiles from the city of Man, but that city is crumbling now. And we are called to minister in a new one now. Not later. Not at the end. Horton is quoted as saying that all humanity is outside of the Garden blocked from re-entering by the Cherubim. But in Acts 1 the two Cherubim over the Ark of the Covenant are gone. Rather two men now hold that office.

Jesus has been raised. And Humanity has been raised up with him to a far better place than the Garden of Eden. Yes there is more to come, but the path there is not an invisible one that leaves the city of man intact. Rather we are to replace it with the city from above that is our Mother.

 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:22-26 ESV).

Not one giant battle at the end with every rule and every authority and power. But only one last remaining enemy gets knocked down at the last Day.

For further reading.

Not “Old” and “New” but FOUR Testaments

The “Old Testament” and “New Testament” division in the Bible is so taken for granted that many Bibles actually start the page numbering over again, as if they were too separate books.

Yes it is true that one is written (mostly) in Hebrew and the other in Greek, but I don’t think that justifies the idea that they are separate books. If a difference in language is all it took, A hefty portion of Daniel would have to be torn out and published as a separate book.

Of course, there is a time gap between the “New Testament” and the earliest previous book. But in fact, there are two other time gaps.

So the Bible is made up of four “Testaments.”



Within the Hexeteuch, the first six books of the Bible, Genesis could be interpreted as first “Old Testament” and the following five books as First “New Testament.” Genesis, remember, is actually a compilation of ten books and were probably existent and recognized as Scripture before Moses was born.


Within the Hexeteuch, the Penteteuch, the first five books, can count as the first “Old Testament,” and Joshua as first “New Testament.” There is probably more backing in the rest of the Bible for this interpretation, since Jesus was a new Joshua leading the people to a new land and leaving Moses behind…

But let us move on.


Judges through Kings and Psalms & Wisdom

To use language from our “New Testament” the first group of books are the equivalent of the Gospels and Acts,while the second group are like the Epistles.

Some Prophets may also belong in this section. Not sure.

Note that Kings ends with the exile.


Chronicles through Esther and Prophets (but maybe some prophets go with previous “Testament”?)

Note that Chronicles is written from a perspective after the return from exile.


The Gospels and Acts and the Epistles.

Do Presbyterians believe that sanctification is by faith alone?

It really looks that way. In chapter 14 of the Westminster Confession of Faith we read that

the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.

So we rest upon “Christ alone” not only for justification but also for sanctification.

I have to admit I feel like I’m missing part of the story that might help explain why the Divines used this precise formulation. I don’t doubt that sanctification is God’s sovereign gift, and is given monergistically. But I find it hard to put the precise expression together with how we are supposed to work out our sanctification. Subjectively speaking, I often here statements from Reformed exegetes that indicate that a person’s means of pursuing justification and pursuing sanctification are different.

Q. 77. Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?
A. Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued: the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.



A (Speed) Reader’s Guide

Chapter 1.

1 From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.
2 This gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures,
3 concerning his Son who was a descendant of David with reference to the flesh,
4 who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.
5 Through him we have received grace and our apostleship to bring about the obedience
of faith among all the Gentiles on behalf of his name.
6 You also are among them, called to belong to Jesus Christ.

All Christians are slaves of Jesus Christ, so Paul is partially setting an example in referring to himself as one. But he is also asserting his special authority since he often assures Christians that they are not slaves but sons. The point in saying he is a slave is to point out he is serving the King.

“Christ” it should be remembered is a royal title. It means “anointed” which is how prophets designated men in the office of king (For example, Samuel the prophet anointed David as king). So being a slave of the king, indicates that one might have special knowledge and a special commission. Thus Paul goes on to point out that his service makes him an “apostle”–a representative and ambassador. Further, his calling or commission is in reference to proclaiming “the gospel” or good news “of God.”

This Gospel was prophesied in that body of works we now commonly call “the Old Testament.” In verse 3 and 4 Paul spells out the content of the Good news it can be summarized in three points:

A. God sent his Son

B. To live and die as a human and as the royal king of Israel

C. And to raise him as a New Creation and King by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The title “son of God” is ambiguous because it can refer to possessing deity and it can refer to Israel’s king. The reason for this ambiguity can be best understood this way:

A. Adam was made in the Image of God (Genesis 1.26-30).

B. Being in the Image of God and being the Son of God are very closely related (Genesis 5.1-3).

C. Israel was formed to be a new Adam (Compare Genesis 1.28; 8.17; to 35.11; and the terms of promise in Genesis 17.2, 6).

D. The King of Israel represented and embodied the nation of Israel, and thus was a “son of God” (2 Samuel 7.14).

E. Jesus is thus the true image of God and, as Human, was both transfigured more into God’s image by the work of the Holy Spirit as well as established as the human king of creation at God’s right hand (Hebrews 1.1-5; Romans 8)

Paul thus sets out a two-stage life for Jesus, his death and resurrection, that he will use again and again in his letter. The NET Bible I am using is correct in v. 4 to say that Jesus was “appointed the Son of God.” Versions that merely say “declare” make it sound as if the resurrection merely proved something that was already true about Jesus. But Paul is not writing about the resurrection revealing Christ’s divine Sonship, but of his being established in a new reality and office.

Being a son through resurrection implies that the resurrection is a new birth. Paul will make a great deal of this idea in chapter 8. Jesus taught this view in his conflict with the Saducees (Luke 20.36), and it explains the title “Firstborn of the dead” (Colossians 1.18; Revelation 1.5) Also Peter’s first sermon claims that death, for Jesus, involved birthpangs (Acts 2.24; literal translations). Isaiah reveled this same idea when he prophesied Israel’s return from exile as a resurrection from the dead (Isaiah 26.18-19).

This “good news” about a new King in a new glorified life is Paul’s Gospel. Yet it can be explained with a great deal more information–as the rest of Romans proves.

If Jesus is a new King, then he should have people with whom he shares his great fortune, and whom he sends as his ambassadors. Paul has already said he is a slave and an apostleship. In verse 5 he reiterates this point, making it clear that to be take as God’s servant is to receive “grace.” And by that grace or favor, Paul has received the status of an apostle. The purpose of Paul’s calling is to take part in the Great Commission (Matthew 28.18-22). “The obedience of faith” is a term that acknowledge both that Jesus is Lord and that we are commanded to trust him. More specifically, we are to believe the message of the Gospel which tells us that Jesus is now both Lord and Christ (see Acts 2.36).

The Great Commission has already been obeyed and carried out to some extent, which is why the Roman Christians are in a position to receive God’s letter. Just as Paul is called to be an Ambassador to Jesus, so they are called to belong to him. This hints at the obligation that the Romans should willingly participate in Paul’s work as an ambassador bringing about “the obedience of faith” among other nations or Gentiles.

The Bible as the true myth

One of the most fun I’ve had was teaching on online course a few years back using the first Omnibus book. It was a live online “classroom,” and, no doubt, part of the reason I loved the work so much was because I had truly great students.

But it wasn’t just about teaching; I learned a bit more about the Bible and how to “use” it in the process. The genius of the book is that it makes students read the Bible stories side by side the ancient pagan stories of Near-Eastern and Western Civilization in roughly chronological synchronization.

Far from promoting some kind of synthesis, this format really gives students in Western society an opportunity for “deprogramming.” Homer and Plato get mixed in with Jesus in our cultural milieu. Going back to sources helps us free our minds.

I was thinking about it again recently in a missionary context. I fear (hopefully I’m completely wrong about this) is that many places rarely get much more than some stories about Jesus and a few other verses in the New Testament. For converting people from their gods and spirits to the True God, His Son, and the Holy Spirit, this is initially sufficient. But consider what is really involved in the Great Commission:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).

The Great Commission is an ongoing project.

And, though Jesus emphasizes training and commands, it requires stories. If nothing else, people already have stories. These stories make “sense” of their lives. Jesus, initially presented, comes to them as a powerful savior. He rescues them from  the superstitions of other gods and perhaps spirits or magical forces.

But these stories are still the dominating background. And faith in Christ can take the form of demoting him to a god or magician in a scenario that is not true, but that maintains social and mental power even over Christians.

God gave us other stories. To even read them as embodied “principles” to be applied fails to realize their power. (In that understanding, the story is a husk from which proper moral behavior must be extracted; then the story is no longer important.) These stories are meant to be cultural bedrock. They provide a new historical foundation for every culture.

Don’t let the geography fool you. When the Gospel arrives in a nation, it is those people who are immigrating to a new Land. But failing to inculcate and saturate the new Churches with all of God’s word–stories, songs, and wise sayings–will leave them halfway there.


The Future of Jesus 10: Who will Kings acknowledge?

I thought this series was done, but I have to add another entry.

I started the series with Psalm 2, perhaps we should re-visit it. Psalm 1 and 2 together are commonly considered the “entry” into the Psalter. If so, then perhaps Psalm 2 presents us with a problem and then spells out the solution in later Psalms.

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
(Psalm 2 ESV)

The choice is stark. They must “perish in the way” if they refuse to “take refuge in him” and “kiss the Son.”

So, what do the kings decide to do? Later psalms address this question. Psalm 72 is about Solomon but also about Christ, the Son, and his Church:

May he have dominion from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth!
May desert tribes bow down before him,
and his enemies lick the dust!
May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands
render him tribute;
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
bring gifts!
May all kings fall down before him,
all nations serve him!
(Psalm 72:8-11 ESV)

And more:

All the day my enemies taunt me;
those who deride me use my name for a curse.
For I eat ashes like bread
and mingle tears with my drink,
because of your indignation and anger;
for you have taken me up and thrown me down.
My days are like an evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.
But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever;
you are remembered throughout all generations.
You will arise and have pity on Zion;
it is the time to favor her;
the appointed time has come.
For your servants hold her stones dear
and have pity on her dust.
Nations will fear the name of the LORD,
and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory.
(Psalm 102:8-15 ESV)

And again:

All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O LORD,
for they have heard the words of your mouth,
and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD,
for great is the glory of the LORD.
(Psalm 138:4-5 ESV)

And again:

Praise the LORD from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist,
stormy wind fulfilling his word!
Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Beasts and all livestock,
creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
(Psalm 148:7-11 ESV)

Kings are called upon to praise the Lord. We are promised that they will all give thanks to God. This cannot possibly be a promise “reserved for the next life” since, if the kings don’t learn to acknowledge and give thanks to Jesus now, they will never be in a place to do so in the next life.

No, in this world, they will give thanks. “Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth.

That’s everyone.

Is “keeping the law” the same as sinless, perfect obedience?

Obviously not, but here is what is true:

  1. Everyone sins.
  2. God must punish sin.
  3. Sin is a failure to obey God’s will.

A fourth point could be added to this: Sometimes God’s revealed will is referred to as God’s law.

But if we strike through the “sometimes” we can come to this elegant and false conclusion: It is impossible for anyone to claim to have kept God’s law.

But it is hardly honors God’s law to insist on such a point. For the Law also says:

Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
(Genesis 26:5 ESV)

And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”
(1 Kings 3:14 ESV)

Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel also was among those who called upon his name.
They called to the LORD, and he answered them.
In the pillar of the cloud he spoke to them;
they kept his testimonies
and the statute that he gave them.
(Psalm 99:6-7 ESV)

I am a sojourner on the earth;
hide not your commandments from me!
My soul is consumed with longing
for your rules at all times.
You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones,
who wander from your commandments.
Take away from me scorn and contempt,
for I have kept your testimonies.
Even though princes sit plotting against me,
your servant will meditate on your statutes.
Your testimonies are my delight;
they are my counselors.
(Psalm 119:19-24 ESV)

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.
(Luke 1:5-6 ESV)

So the position of the Bible is that the Law of God can be kept by believers who sin. It does not demand sinless perfection as a condition for being right with God.

This only makes sense since the Law of God commands all people to trust in Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life.

Of course, it is still the case that God must punish sin. God cannot simply overlook it. God can only forgive our sins because Jesus suffered and died. God can only regard us as righteous or just if we are included in the justification Jesus received at his resurrection (1 Timothy 3.16). Justice “will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:24-25 ESV). The three propositions listed above are indeed at the heart of the Bible’s teachings as well as of Protestant teaching.

But the insistence on the terminology of “God’s law” needs more attention.

All this become highly important in interpreting Romans or Galatians. For example, consider Galatians 3.10:

For all who rely on  are of the 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 (Galatians 3:10 ESV, corrected).

There are current debates about what this means and why some people are under a curse. I’m not going to contribute to that debate, except to point out that those arguing for the common and traditional idea that Paul is claiming that people are cursed because no one can perfectly keep the Law need to admit to the problems with that argument. How could Paul claim and convince people who knew the Scriptures that this was how the Law was supposed to function?

There may be ways to substantiate the traditional view, but what I have seen thus far makes me think that people don’t want to really admit the difficulties with the view. Nor do they seem willing to acknowledge that other views could be compatible with the three points listed above. One must either insist that the law demands perfect obedience as a condition of acceptance with God or must claim that God is soft on sin. This simply is not a reasonable dilemma.

Here is an essay that, while not addressing the interpretation of 3.10 specifically, provides a good framework for looking at the message of Galatians.

RELATED: Who has kept the Law?