Translating Romans 3:21

Translating Romans 3:21

Romans Ebook

But now apart from the norm the justice of the Almĭghty is made visible, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. [Good News of Messiah, 3rd edition, Romans Ebook: 4th edition].

Here is a survey of some other translations:

“But now, apart from the Torah, a righteousness of Elohim has been revealed, being witnessed by the Torah and the Prophets.” [The Scriptures (ISR 1998)]

“But now, quite apart from Torah, God's way of making people righteous in his sight has been made clear - although the Torah and the Prophets give their witness to it as well.” [The Complete Jewish Bible, David Stern].

“But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago.” [New Living Translation]

“But now the justice of God has been revealed without The Written Law and The Written Law and The Prophets testify of it.” [Aramaic Bible in Plain English]

“Now, the way to receive God's approval has been made plain in a way other than Moses' Teachings. Moses' Teachings and the Prophets tell us this.” [God's Word Translation]

The Torah says, “And it will be righteousness for us when we watch to do all this commandment before Yahweh our Almighty, as that he has commanded us” (Deut. 6:25). Further, in the end of days Israel will return to this righteousness, “Then you will have returned unto Yahweh your Almighty, and you will have listened to His voice according to all which I am commanding you this day, you and your sons, with all your heart, and all your soul” (Deut. 30:2). Also it says, “I will have put my Torah within them, and upon their heart I will write it, and I will have been their Almighty, and they will have been My people” (Jer. 31:32).

There can be no righteousness or justice that is apart from the Law and Prophets. There can be no way of becoming righteous except by conforming to the commandments. There can be no justice without conformity to the Torah, nor can any one do justly, or decide justice. No one can be righteous in God's sight without obeying the commandments. So the standard translations are corrupt. I will not criticize these men. For I know not what dispensation of the Spirit they were given. I will only observe that the translations are incorrect, and proceed to the point.

The first problem is that νόμος does not mean “the law” in every case that it is used. The meaning of nomos spans a wide range of meaning: custom, usage, norm, rule, tradition, the status quo or law. All the definitions are in the Greek dictionaries. The best is by far this one: BDAG, 3rd. For the word nomos (νόμος), definition number one gives, “1. a procedure or practice that has taken hold, a custom, rule, principle, norm.” Church tradition, of course, will deny that nomos means anything except law in texts where they want the interpretation to be that the law is abolished. But if you investigate far enough, it will become apparent that all arguments are based on the principle of interpreting lies with more lies, and establishing one corruption with another corruption. The Church's argument against the law is the longest running, and deepest multi-layered case of circular reasoning known to man, with evolution coming in second.

The scholars of the BDAG Lexicon were more studious and scientific in their linguistic investigation. The introductory paragraph in the entry for nomos is a resounding rebuke of trying to understand the term via one English term, and here I quote from it:

“The primary meaning relates to that which is conceived as standard or generally recognized rules of civilized conduct especially as sanctioned by tradition …. The synonym ἔθος (cp. συνήθεια) denotes that which is habitual or customary, especially in reference to personal behavior. In addition to rules that take hold through tradition, the state or other legislating body may enact ordinances that are recognized by all concerned and in turn become legal tradition. A special semantic problem for modern readers encountering the term νόμος is is the general tendency to confine the usage of the term ‘law’ to codified statutes. Such limitation has led to much fruitless debate in the history of NT interpretation” (page 677, bolded emphasis mine).

Modern sociologists have a good window onto the meaning of nomos. It means the social status quo, or society's norm. It is the social convention, rule, custom, or tradition. It is what describes the customary habits or behaviour of a group of people. Nomos also describes an ordinary procedure or approach as opposed to an extraordinary procedure or approach. A justice or righteousness that is apart from the NOMOS is not a claim that the nomos has no justice or righteousness. It is only a claim that this justice or righteousness is extraordinary. It is saying that this justice is outside the norm.

The justice that is according to the status quo or norm is the usual justice. I am talking about punitive justice here where the lawbreaker is justly punished for his or her violation. In the vast majority of cases, this is what happens. The sinner is convicted. The sinner is sentenced. The sinner pays the prescribed penalty. It is the NOMOS for the sinner to pay the price.

But what we see in a very very small fraction of the cases is when someone else pays the penalty, if the judge allows it. Such measures are so rare that they are not according to the nomos, which means they are not according to the norm, social convention, or status quo. Justice that goes against the nomos may be perfectly legal justice, such as the judge requires to be satisfied, but it does not need to be illegal justice, which would be a supposed form of justice that was against aboslute moral law.

The Scriptural commandments for every judge is that the guilty shall not be acquitted, i.e. the guilty person is not to be declared righteous, which is the same as finding them innocent. Absolute Law demands that everyone who is guilty be found guilty. This is universal and absolute justice. In this case the expected norm is the norm: the guilty will be found guilty, and the innocent will be declared righteous. And if the norm is contravened, then we say that the judges are being unjust or corrupt.

If one commits a crime against his fellow man, then punitive justice demands, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, burn for burn, limb for limb, life for life. In the case of sin against the Most High, the demand is for death. We see that in any case involving a sin of circumstance or ignorance that a sacrificial death was required to satisfy justice, or another offering, but which the sinner was to be remembered in the sacrifices on the altar. So the Almighty demanded a life for every sin as punitive justice. Where the principle of nomos comes in, is that man's nomos is that sin should increase, and sin is added to sin. Therefore the nomos is for the condemnation of the sinner. The nomos of sin and death leads to the norm of condemnation as the form of justice required. The provision of paying the punitive penalty via sacrifice is apart from the nomos for justice.

Therefore, Paul says: But now apart from the norm the justice of the Almĭghty is made visible, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. [Good News of Messiah, 3rd edition, Romans Ebook: 4th edition]. This justice is not the norm because it involves satisfaction of the punitive penalty via a substitionary sacrifice, namely Messiah. In such a case repentant sinner's life is saved so that he may have eternal life. The whole principle is in the Torah and the Prophets. Sin may be forgiven if a substitute pays such punitive penalty as determined necessary by the Father.

Now we may take this in a different way, which is not readily seen due to the limitations of English. Paul is teaching an extraordinary means of sanctification here. For the word justice has one and the same meaning in the original languages as righteousness. Righteousness in English has to do with personal behaviour, whereas justice as do with giving society or others what they deserve, or with correcting some social problem. Hence we speak about social justice, on the one hand, and personal righteousness on the other. This dichotomy did not exist in Latin, Greek, or Hebrew usages. For a judge to decide that justice required a penalty is the same as deciding that righteousness requires a penalty. For a person to decide that righteousness requires good behaviour is the same as deciding that justice requires good behaviour. Latin based languages tend to lack the severity of this divided thinking. Spanish uses the term justicia and French the term justice.

So with the above said: But now apart from the norm the righteousness of the Almĭghty is made visible, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. While it may be conceeded that Paul's primary sense here is the demonstration of God's justice through Messiah's death as a substitute, it should not be overlooked that from the faithfulness of Messiah the Most High is offering us a transformation of the heart that will result in our eschatological perfection. Therefore, this righteousness of the Almighty exceeds the status quo. It is apart from the norm of what righteousness man can acheive on their own power. This righteousness is implanted in the renewed heart as the Spirit of Messiah writes his law on our hearts.

We still wait for the fullness of this righteousness from His faithfulness. It is to be perfected at his coming, in the last day, in the eschaton, the olam haba. Therefore, when Paul says that the justice or righteousness of the Most High is apart from the NOMOS it is really true. The status quo--the norm cannot attain to such justice or righteousness.

So now, is Paul against the Torah? Is he against the Law? Is he erecting a new righteousness that is not expressed or defined in the Torah? Absolutely not! The Torah sets the highest standard, a standard that the status quo (nomos) was never able to reach. But the standard is the same. It is not a different standard, and reach it we will, in the day of Messiah, with the lovingkindness of Messiah and the sanctification of the Spirit through faithful commitment to his name, a name which denotes the righteousness of God. The utlimate righteousness will be in perfect conformity with the Torah on all points.

So as promised, the Torah will be written on the heart, so that men, women, sons and daughters naturally obey it, and all Israel will be returned the the land, which will be a paradise in the age to come, according to the promise: “Then you will have returned unto Yahweh your Almighty, and you will have listened to His voice according to all which I am commanding you this day, you and your sons, with all your heart, and all your soul” (Deut. 30:2).