Here is what I regard as the solution to the problem I stumbled across in my last blog. You will recall that I was perplexed as to why Paul would say that he was “under the law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:21 RSV), when he clearly argues in Rom 10:4 that “Christ was the end of the law” (i.e., the Mosaic Covenant). In his belief humankind was now under divine Grace (Rom 6:14-15), and people are justified (declared righteous) before God through faith in Christ (Rom 3:24-28).
The difficulty that I raised occurs because scholars/translators read the Greek word nomos (generally translated “law”) in a quite narrow way, as if it were referring to a “legal code.” Actually the word is nuanced (i.e., having a range of significations). Bauer-Danker explains that the basic signification of the term nomos is “a procedure or practice that has taken hold, [hence] a custom, rule, principle, norm.” Danker who revised Bauer’s lexicon1 says that Bauer understood nomos in Rom 7:21“as ‘principle,’ that is: an unwritten rightness of things.” Paul uses the word nomos in cases where he probably would have preferred another word or perhaps he intended a play on the word nomos “to heighten the predicament of those who do not rely on the Gospel of liberation from legal constraint: the Apostle speaks of a principle that obligates one to observe a code of conduct that any sensible person would recognize as sound and valid.” The other two significations listed for nomos are: “constitutional or statutory legal system, law” and “a collection of holy writings precious to God’s people, sacred ordinance.”
Understanding nomos as “the unwritten rightness of things” would almost demand the translation of “[spiritual] principle” for the word. In the passages over which I stumbled a translation of nomos as “principle” clarifies the apostle’s statement, whereas translating nomos as “law” obfuscates what the apostle is aiming to say. In short, according to Paul there is no “law of Christ.” Nevertheless, the “Christian” walk still requires certain behaviors (Gal 5:13-14).
Here are my suggested translations for Paul’s statements:
Rom 7:21: “So I do find it a [spiritual] principle that when I want to do right…”
Gal 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the [spiritual] principle of Christ.”
1 Cor 9:21: “…not being without law toward God but within the [spiritual] principle of Christ.”
Rom 8:2: “For the [spiritual] principle of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.”
In virtually all translations of the above verses in modern English nomos is translated as “law.” There are a few exceptions:
*Romans 7:21 is translated principle in Phillips, NEB, and NAB; rule in Weymouth; fact of life in LB, NLT, and Authentic Letters.
*Galatians 6:2 is translated power in LB and NLT.
*Romans 8:2 is translated principle in Knox; rule in Authentic Letters; Lord’s command in LB and NLT; life-giving power in Williams.
Paul had this to say about the relationship of law and faith:
Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (Galatians 3:23-26 RSV).
Translators do Paul a disservice when they render nomos in the verses above by the English word “law”; in these verses he is clearly referring to a spiritual principle.
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
1F. W. Danker and W. Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3rd ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago), 677.
Phillips: J. B. Phillips, New Testament in Modern English.
NEB: New English Bible.
NAB: New American Bible.
Weymouth: R. F. Weymouth, the New Testament in Modern Speech.
LB: Living Bible.
NLT: New Living Translation.
Authentic Letters: Art Dewey, et al., The Authentic Letters of Paul.
Williams: C. B. Williams, The New Testament. A Private Translation
Knox: R. A. Knox, The New Testament. A New Translation
Peace and love to all in this Holy time of the year. We have a miniature Golden Doodle grand-dog in our household, and he's always barking out to 'spread the love.'
I think that I'm going to stick with "condition of motivation" as my translation for nomos in the passages which you site. Paul seems to be contrasting the legal codes with the spirit of Christ as the motivator for behavior. For me personally, the word "principle" sounds too philosophical and abstract. Whereas "condition of motivation" is more of an 'in your gut' experience.
I am working my way through Galatians. Today, I am up to 2.14-21, so this relevant to my studies. In 2.16 there is a phrase “works of the law,” “ergon nomou.” If I translate it in verse 16 in the context of the previous chapter, I find “Jewish customs” or “practices” because the context of the previous narrative deals with circumcision and dietary customs, behaviors (though that is not the purpose of Gal. 1 & 2). The context I encounter is how I'll look before I translate. It would of course, be different for other passages (Romans 9.31 comes to mind). I would probably use a different word for the above Gal. 3.23-26, (all but rule breakers are confined by societal norms, custom) but I'm not that far in this "new way" of looking at such.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Good Evening Charlie- and I echo Gene's blessing of peace and love to all in this Holy time of the year,
1) I agree with your assessment of Gal. 5:13,14 that the Christian walk still requires certain behaviors. In your opinion- why isn't that requirement considered to be law? Required behavior vs. law... In your estimation what is the difference?
2) For that matter- what is the difference between faith and law? If faith in Christ is required to be "saved," can you logically argue that that required faith is NOT a law? In other words- whether you call it faith, grace, or any other concept under the sun... If that concept (faith) is required on behalf of the believer to be saved.... how is that different from being a "law???" It's mandatory, isn't it?
3) Thank you so much for the translation of nomos! That was extremely enlightening on many levels. Did you share that translation with your Bible study class? If so, what was their response?
Holiday blessings from my family to yours (Craig says hi!!) Elizabeth
Good afternoon Elizabeth,
My statement that "the Christian walk requires certain behaviors" suggests something I did not intend. I should have said "the Christian walk is characterized by certain behaviors: or Faith leads to a certain kind of lifestyle." According to Paul it is a walk led by the spirit (Gal 5:16-26). And since Christians live by the spirit, they should also walk by the spirit (Gal 5:25). On the other hand he warns that people who make a practice of gratifying the desires of the flesh would not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:21). In short one is led by the spirit to avoid the behaviors cited in Gal 5:19-20 and to make a practice of what is described in Gal 5:22-24. One is led by the spirit into righteous behavior; one is not bound to legalistic behaviors mandated by a code of law.
Your second paragraph: Paul regards faith and obedience to a law code as two totally different concepts and operations in satisfying the "requirements" of righteousness. Approaching God through faith relies on what God does; approaching God by performing the "requirements" of a religious code depends on what the individual does.
I did not share the two blogs with the Bible class of which I am a member, since I never addressed the issue in the discussion.
When you say approaching God through faith relies on what God does- the final decision is God's, not ours. So there are no requirements on our part? My understanding from years of sermons is that there are indeed certain requirements in order to be a part of God's family of believers. Whether it's a code of law or a code of grace makes no difference. They are both mandatory- and it's the mandatory part of the equation needs to be addressed when talking about the Christian "lifestyle." In my opinion, anyway. If something is mandatory- it's a law. Elizabeth
When I read the Paulines, I read “grace” or “favor” (charis) as a gift of God, not a code, thus it would come from God, according to the author.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
There are clearly requirements for church membership, which differ according to the denomination. But like Dennis said--right standing with God is God's gift to the one who has faith. Here is how one of Paul's disciples channeled the great apostle:
"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God--not because of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9, RSV). Of course, Paul and his followers could have been wrong, but for good or ill in his view "salvation" is freely given to those who have faith--without prerequisites.
Merry Christmas and happy New Year!
You might be interested in the Pauline translation debate over whether "faith in Christ" should actually be translated "faith of Christ" (e.g., Galatians 2:15-21; Romans 3:21-26). Over the centuries translations have gone one way or the other. The King James version used "of," most likely because that is the literal meaning of the Greek. The New Revised Standard uses "in," along with many other modern translations, and the Jesus Seminar translators use "a confidence in God like that of Jesus" (Authentic Letters of Paul). Search the net under "faith of Christ, faith in Christ" for a fascinating ride through history.
I prefer "justification by the faith of Christ" (Romans 3:28). Paul calls this 'condition of motivation' the "law of Christ" at Romans 3:27. Its a once and done deal to which people can respond, with their own acceptance or belief, or not; the human response itself would not be considered a law but an opportunity.
Perhaps Charlie would be willing to share his insights on the translation history.
I've never heard of that debate- thank you Gene! I'm very interested in translation histories and development over the centuries... So thank you for that suggestion. I've never heard it put that way: "justification by the faith of Christ." That doesn't make "faith" seem like a law to be abided by. (Sola Fide) Also, it makes it seem like an opportunity, as you put it, which is life-giving and uplifting rather than heavy and burdensome. I'm glad you shared that- I will remember it. The word opportunity makes a huge difference. Elizabeth
Thanks for bringing up the translation in The Authentic Letters of Paul. I am afraid that all I know about it is what I read in the Cameo Essay in The Authentic Letters of Paul pp. 65-66. It gives all the evidence. I believe that it was Daryl Schmidt that first made the discovery, which was confirmed by his coauthors of the book (Dewey, Hoover, McGaughy). I find their translation of Romans 3:24-26 to be highly interpretive, however. The text reads very different in Greek. When one compares Romans 5:8-10, for example, one senses that it is faith in Jesus' sacrificial death that brings justification. And this is something that is confirmed by Paul's disciples, who share the view of Romans 5:9 (i.e., faith in Jesus' death rather than sharing the faith of Jesus): Ephesians 1:7; 2:13-16; Colossians 1:20.
I am not much help, I am afraid.
I would include this Philippians 3.9-10 statement to the mix about “faith of Christ” because morality (“rightness”) is based on trust, which is based on knowledge of Christ, power of resurrection, partnership in suffering, and imitation (of Christ) in death. (Imitation, however, is not exactly what I think the Greek reflects. I think the base of that word is what we consider “morphing.”) Anyway, this seems to point toward “faith of Christ.” (Pardon the attempted translation.)
“To be found in him [Christ],
not morality from the law
but through the trust of Christ
the morality from God based on trust,
to know him
and the power of his resurrection
and partnership of his suffering
to be like him in his death,
perhaps I might arrive in the resurrection from the dead.”
Dennis Dean Carpenter
I agree Philippians 3:9 is another instance of this phenomenon. The Authentic letters of Paul translates the expression as follows: "having the integrity endorsed by God, the integrity of an absolute confidence in and reliance upon God like that of the Anointed [Jesus]."
And it seems that you have been making progress in your Greek studies. Congratulations!
Christmas and New Years blessings to all, Gene Charlie and Dennis!
The two things that stand out to me in both Dennis and Charlie's response are the words "trust".... and the phrase "reliance on God." Number one, I prefer the word trust to the word "faith." I have no idea why- it just resonates with me more deeply. So thank you for that translation Dennis. And Charlie, the phrase "reliance upon God," also resonates with me more strongly than having "faith" in God. Faith is an abstract term that means many things to many people, very subjective. However reliance upon God is more mechanical and practical and I understand the meaning of more clearly the pious platitude called faith.
Many thanks to all! Elizabeth
Correction: second part of last sentence should read "and I understand the meaning of it more clearly than the meaning of the pious platitude called 'faith.'"
"Faith" is used synonymously these days with "belief," especially in John, where it is almost always used as the verb translated "believe." Since meeting Daryl Schmidt in the early 00's, I have understood the meaning to be "confidence" or "trust" when I read it in the Paulines. In my Homeric Greek books the Greek (pistis) is rendered "trust, pledge, assurance..." not "belief."
Dennis Dean Carpenter
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