Romans 3:31
Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
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(31) Do we then make void the law.—In opposition to many commentators it seems right to take this as an isolated statement to be worked out afterwards (Romans 6:1 et seq.) more fully. It cannot, without straining, be connected directly with what follows. The Apostle deals with two objections to his theory of justification by faith: (1) that there ought to be a different rule for the Jew and for the Gentile; (2) that if not, the law is practically abolished. He meets this latter by a contradiction, saying that it is not abolished, but confirmed. This is, however, drawing upon the stock of conclusions in his own mind to which he had come by process of meditation; the detailed proof is reserved.

3:27-31 God will have the great work of the justification and salvation of sinners carried on from first to last, so as to shut out boasting. Now, if we were saved by our own works, boasting would not be excluded. But the way of justification by faith for ever shuts out boasting. Yet believers are not left to be lawless; faith is a law, it is a working grace, wherever it is in truth. By faith, not in this matter an act of obedience, or a good work, but forming the relation between Christ and the sinner, which renders it proper that the believer should be pardoned and justified for the sake of the Saviour, and that the unbeliever who is not thus united or related to him, should remain under condemnation. The law is still of use to convince us of what is past, and to direct us for the future. Though we cannot be saved by it as a covenant, yet we own and submit to it, as a rule in the hand of the Mediator.Do we then make void the law - Do we render it vain and useless; do we destroy its moral obligation; and do we prevent obedience to it, by the doctrine of justification by faith? This was an objection which would naturally be made; and which has thousands of times been since made, that the doctrine of justification by faith tends to licentiousness. The word "law" here, I understand as referring to the moral law, and not merely to the Old Testament. This is evident from Romans 3:20-21, where the apostle shows that no man could be justified by deeds of law, by conformity with the moral law. See the note.

God forbid - By no means. Note, Romans 3:4. This is an explicit denial of any such tendency.

Yea, we establish the law - That is, by the doctrine of justification by faith; by this scheme of treating people as righteous, the moral law is confirmed, its obligation is enforced, obedience to it is secured. This is done in the following manner:

(1) God showed respect to it, in being unwilling to pardon sinners without an atonement. He showed that it could not be violated with impunity; that he was resolved to fulfil its threatenings.

(2) Jesus Christ came to magnify it, and to make it honorable. He showed respect to it in his life; and he died to show that God was determined to inflict its penalty.

(3) the plan of justification by faith leads to an observance of the Law. The sinner sees the evil of transgression. He sees the respect which God has shown to the Law. He gives his heart to God, and yields himself to obey his Law. All the sentiments that arise from the conviction of sin; that flow from gratitude for mercies; that spring from love to God; all his views of the sacredness of the Law, prompt him to yield obedience to it. The fact that Christ endured such sufferings to show the evil of violating the Law, is one of the strongest motives prompting to obedience. We do not easily and readily repeat what overwhelms our best friends in calamity; and we are brought to hate what inflicted such woes on the Saviour's soul. The sentiment recorded by Watts is as true as it is beautiful:

"'Twas for my sins my dearest Lord.

Hung on the cursed tree.

And groan'd away his dying life,

For thee, my soul, for thee.

"O how I hate those lusts of mine.

That crucified my Lord;

Those sins that pierc'd and nail'd his flesh.

Fast to the fatal wood.


31. Do we then make void the law through faith?—"Does this doctrine of justification by faith, then, dissolve the obligation of the law? If so, it cannot be of God. But away with such a thought, for it does just the reverse."

God forbid: yea, we establish the law—It will be observed here, that, important as was this objection, and opening up as it did so noble a field for the illustration of the peculiar glory of the Gospel, the apostle does no more here than indignantly repel it, intending at a subsequent stage of his argument (Ro 6:1-23) to resume and discuss it at length.

Note, (1) It is a fundamental requisite of all true religion that it tend to humble the sinner and exalt God; and every system which breeds self-righteousness, or cherishes boasting, bears falsehood on its face (Ro 3:27, 28). (2) The fitness of the Gospel to be a universal religion, beneath which the guilty of every name and degree are invited and warranted to take shelter and repose, is a glorious evidence of its truth (Ro 3:29, 30). (3) The glory of God's law, in its eternal and immutable obligations, is then only fully apprehended by the sinner, and then only is it enthroned in the depths of his soul, when, believing that "He was made sin for him who knew no sin," he sees himself "made the righteousness of God in Him" (2Co 5:21). Thus do we not make void the law through faith: yea, we establish the law. (4) This chapter, and particularly the latter part of it, "is the proper seat of the Pauline doctrine of Justification, and the grand proof-passage of the Protestant doctrine of the Imputation of Christ's righteousness and of Justification not on account of, but through faith alone" [Philippi]. To make good this doctrine, and reseat it in the faith and affection of the Church, was worth all the bloody struggles that it cost our fathers, and it will be the wisdom and safety, the life and vigor of the churches, to "stand fast in this liberty wherewith Christ hath made them free, and not be again entangled"—in the very least degree—"with the yoke of bondage" (Ga 5:1).

Do we then make void the law through faith? A very material objection is here to be anticipated and answered, viz. that by establishing justification by faith alone the law is rendered useless, and the obligation thereto destroyed.

God forbid: yea, we establish the law: having rejected this objection, by his usual note of abhorrency, he proceeds to show, that nothing more establishs the law, inasmuch as by faith we attain a perfect righteousness, we are interested in the most complete obedience of Christ to the moral law; and that hereby every type, promise, and prophecy is fulfilled; see Matthew 5:17 Luke 16:17: and we ourselves also being enabled thereunto by a gospel spirit, have a more exact conformity to the law, though we cannot reach to a fulfilling of it.

Do we then make void the law through faith?.... Which question is answered by way of detestatation,

God forbid! and by asserting the contrary,

yea, we establish the law. The law is not made void, neither by the grace nor doctrine of faith: not by the grace of faith; for that faith is not right which is not attended with works of righteousness; and those works are not right which do not flow from filth. Such a connection there is between faith and works; and so much do the one depend upon the other. Moreover, none but believers are capable of performing good works aright, and they do them, and they ought to do them: besides, faith, as a grace, looks to Christ, as the end of the law for righteousness, and therefore do not make it void. Nor is it made void by the doctrine of faith, and by the particular doctrine of a sinner's justification by faith in Christ's righteousness, which is here more especially intended; for though it is made void by it, as to any use of it for justification by the deeds thereof; yet its use in other respects is not set aside, such as to inform us of the mind and will of God, to discover and convince of sin, to show believers their deformity and imperfection, to render Christ and his righteousness more valuable, and to be a rule of walk and conversation to them; and it still remains a cursing and condemning law to Christless sinners, though justified ones are delivered from it as such: yea, the law is so far from being made void, that it is established by this doctrine; for by it the perpetuity of it is asserted, the spirituality of it is acknowledged, the perfect righteousness of it is secured: according to this doctrine all its demands are answered; whatever it requires it has, such as holiness of nature, perfect obedience to its precepts, and its full penalty borne: it is placed in the best hands, where it will ever remain; and a regard to it is enforced under the best influence, by the best of motives, and from the best of principles. It is indeed abolished as a covenant of works, and in this sense is made void to believers; and it is done away as to the form of administration of it by Moses; and it is destroyed as a yoke of bondage; and the people of God are free from the malediction of it, and condemnation by it, and so from its terror; yet it remains unalterable and unchangeable in the hands of Christ; the matter of it is always the same, and ever obligatory on believers, who, though they are freed from the curse of it, are not exempted from obedience to it: wherefore the law is not made void, so as to be destroyed and abolished in every sense, or to be rendered idle, inactive, useless, and insignificant; but, on the contrary, is made to stand, is placed on a sure basis and firm foundation, as the words used signify.

{13} Do we then make {h} void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we {i} establish the law.

(13) The taking away of an objection: yet the law is not therefore taken away, but is rather established, as it will be declared in its proper place.

(h) Vain, void, to no purpose, and of no power.

(i) We make the law effectual and strong.

Romans 3:31. Οὖν] The Apostle infers for himself from his doctrine of justification ἐκ πίστεως.… χωρὶς ἔργων νόμου—just discussed—a possible objection and reproach: Do we then make away with the law (render it invalid) through faith?

νόμον] emphatically put first, and here also to be understood neither of the moral law, nor of every law in general, nor of the entire O. T., but, as is proved by the antithesis between νόμον and πίστις and the reference as bearing on Romans 3:28, of the Mosaic law. Comp Acts 21:28, Galatians 4:21 f.

ΔΙᾺ Τῆς ΠΊΣΤ.] i.e. thereby, that we assert faith as the condition of justification.

νόμον ἱστῶμεν] Not: we let the law stand (Matthias), but: we make it stand, we produce the result that it, so far from being ready to fall, in reality stands upright (βεβαιοῦμεν, Theodoret) in its authority, force, and obligation. Comp 1Ma 14:29; 1Ma 2:27; Sir 44:20-22. This ἹΣΤΆΝΕΙΝ of the law, whereby there is secured to it stability and authority instead of the ΚΑΤΑΡΓΕῖΣΘΑΙ, takes place by means of (see ch. 4) the Pauline doctrine demonstrating and making good the fact that, and the mode in which, justification by the grace of God through faith is already taught in the law, so that Paul and his fellow teachers do not come into antagonism with the law, as if they desired to abolish and invalidate it by a new teaching, but, on the contrary, by their agreement with it, and by proving their doctrine from it, secure and confirm it in its position and essential character.[936]

The νόμον ἱστῶμεν, however, is so little at variance with the abrogation of the law as an institute of works obligatory in order to the becoming righteous, which has taken place through Christianity (Romans 10:4; 2 Corinthians 3:7; Galatians 3; Romans 7:4; Galatians 2:19; Colossians 2:14), that, on the contrary, the law had to fall in this aspect, in order that, in another aspect, the same law, so far as it teaches faith as the condition of the δικαιοσύνη, might be by the gospel imperishably confirmed in its authority, and even, according to Matthew 5:17, fulfilled. For in respect of this assertion of the value of faith the law and the gospel appear one.

If the νόμον ἱστῶμεν and its relation to the abrogation of the law be defined to mean that “from faith proceeds the new obedience, and the love develops itself, which is the πλήρωμα νόμου, Romans 13:10” (Philippi; comp Rückert, Krehl, Umbreit, Morison), as Augustine, Melancthon, who nevertheless mixes up with it very various elements, Luther, Calvin, Beza, Vatablus, Calovius, and others assumed (comp also Apol. C. A. p. 83, 223), the further detailed illustration of ch. 4 is quite as much opposed to this view, as it is to the interpretations which conceive the law as pedagogically leading to Christ (Grotius, Olshausen), or as fulfilled in respect of its object, which is justification by faith (Chrysostom, Oecumenius, Theophylact, and others[939]). In the case of the two latter views, faith appears as something added to the law, which is just what Paul combats in ch. 4. On the form ἱστῶμεν, from ἱστάω, see Matthiae, p. 482, Winer, p. 75 [E. T. 93]. Still the ἱστάνομεν, recommended by Griesbach and adopted by Lachmann and Tischendorf, has preponderant attestation (so also א*; but א** has ἱστῶμεν), which is here decisive (in opposition to Fritzsche), especially when we take into account the multitude of other forms in MSS. (στάνομεν, ἵσταμεν, συνιστῶμεν, συνιστάνομεν et al[940]).

[936] Comp. Weiss, Bibl. Theol. p. 333.

[939] Ὃ γὰρ ἢθελεν ὁ νόμος, τουτέστι τὸ δικαιῶσαι ἂνθρωπον, οὐκ ἴσχυσε δὲ ποιῆσαι, τοῦτο ἡ πίστις τελειοῖ· ὁμοῦ γὰρ τῷ πιστεῦσαι τίνα δικαιοῦται, Theophylact.

[940] t al. and others; and other passages; and other editions.

Romans 3:31 to Romans 4:24. The harmony of the doctrine of justification by faith with the law, illustrated by what is said in the law regarding the justification of Abraham.

The new chapter should have begun with Romans 3:31, since that verse contains the theme of the following discussion. If we should, with Augustine, Beza, Calvin, Melancthon, Bengel, and many others, including Flatt, Tholuck, Köllner, Rückert, Philippi, van Hengel, Umbreit, and Mehring, assume that at Romans 4:1 there is again introduced something new, so that Paul does not carry further the νόμον ἱστῶμεν, v. 31, but in Romans 4:1 ff. treats of a new objection that has occurred to him at the moment, we should then have the extraordinary phenomenon of Paul as it were dictatorially dismissing an objection so extremely important and in fact so very naturally suggesting itself, as νόμον οῦν καταργοῦμεν κ.τ.λ[932], merely by an opposite assertion, and then immediately, like one who has not a clear case, leaping away to something else. The more paradoxical in fact after the foregoing, and especially after the apparently antinomistic concluding idea in Romans 3:30, the assertion νόμον ἱστῶμεν must have sounded, the more difficult becomes the assumption that it is merely an anticipatory declaration abruptly interposed (see especially Philippi, who thinks that it is enlarged on at Romans 8:1 ff.); and the less can Romans 3:20, διὰ γ. νόμου ἐπίγνωσις ἁμαρτ. be urged as analogous, since that proposition had really its justification there in what preceded. According to Th. Schott, νόμος is not meant to apply to the Mosaic law at all, but to the fact that, according to Romans 3:27, faith is a νόμος, in accordance with which therefore Paul, when making faith a condition of righteousness, ascribes to himself not abrogation of the law, but rather an establishment of it, setting up merely what God Himself had appointed as the method of salvation. The discourse would thus certainly have a conclusion, but by a jugglery[933] with a word (ΝΌΜΟς) which no reader could, after Romans 3:28, understand in any other sense than as the Mosaic law. Hofmann explains substantially in the same way as Schott. He thinks that Paul conceives to himself the objection that in the doctrine of faith there might be found a doing away generally of all law, and now in opposition thereto declares that that doctrine does not exclude, but includes, the fact that there is a divine order of human life (?).

[932] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[933] This objection in no way affects the question διὰ ποίου νόμου, ver. 27 (in opposition to Hofmann’s objection) where the very ποίου placed along with it requires the general notion of νόμου.

Romans 3:31. νόμον οὖν καταργοῦμεν διὰ τῆς πίστεως; Do we then annul “law” through the faith we have been discussing? Perhaps if Law were written with a capital letter, it would suggest the true meaning. The Apostle speaks as from the consciousness of a Jewish objector: is all that we have ever called Law—the whole Jewish religion—that divinely established order, and everything of the same nature—made void by faith? God forbid, he answers: on the contrary, Law is set upon a secure footing; for the first time it gets its rights. To prove this was one of the main tasks lying upon the Apostle of the New Covenant. One species of proof is given in chap 4, where he shows that representative saints under the Old Dispensation, like Abraham, were justified by faith. That is the Divine order still, and it is securer than ever under the Gospel. Another kind of proof is given in chaps. 6–8, where the new life of the Christian is unfolded, and we are shown that “the just demands of the law” are fulfilled in believers, and in believers only. The claim which the Apostle makes here, and establishes in these two passages, is the same as that in our Lord’s words: I came not to destroy (the law or the prophets), but to fulfil.

31. Do we then] This verse stands very much by itself, a sort of brief paragraph. A serious objection (on the part of the Jew) is anticipated and strongly negatived; but the discussion of it is postponed. It springs out of what has gone before, but is not connected closely with the next passage.

make void] annul, cancel. Same word as Romans 3:3.

the law] It has been much doubted what exact reference the word bears here. But the previous context seems to fix it to the moral law, and primarily as embodied in the O. T. (See on Romans 3:20.) For we have been just occupied with the contrast between “faith” and “works of the law;” and what St Paul intended by the latter (viz. moral, not ceremonial, obedience) is fully shewn by e.g. Romans 4:4-8. Here in fact is suggested and dismissed the objection which is discussed at length in ch. 6; that Justification by Faith not only annuls Jewish privileges, but seems to repeal the moral law. Alford takes this verse in close connexion with ch. 4; but ch. 4 is not at all occupied with the “establishment of the law,” in any usual sense of the word “law.”

Romans 3:31. Νόμον, the law) This declaration is similar to the declaration of our Lord, Matthew 5:17.—ἱστῶμεν, we establish) while we defend [uphold] that which the law witnesseth to, Romans 3:20-21, and while we show, how satisfaction is truly made to the law through Christ.

Verse 31. - Do we then make law void through faith? God forbid: nay, we establish law. The question naturally arises after what has been said about justification being χωρὶς νόμου. Do we then make out our revealed Law, which we have accounted so holy and Divine, to be valueless? Or. rather, as the question is more generally put (νόμον being without the article, and therefore translated as above), "Do we make of none effect the whole principle of law, embodied to us in our Divine Law? Regarded erroneously as a principle of justification, the apostle might have answered. "Yes, we do." But any disparagement of it, regarded in its true light and as answering its real purpose, he meets with an indignant μὴ γένοιτο. On the contrary, he says, we establish it. Law means the declaration of righteousness, and requirement of conformity to it on the part of man. We establish this principle by our doctrine of the necessity of atonement for man's defect. We put law on its true base, and so make it the more to stand (ἰστάνομεν) by showing its office to be, not to justify - a position untenable - but to convince of sin, and so lead up to Christ (cf. Romans 7:12, etc.; Galatians 3:24). In pursuance of this thought, the apostle, in the next chapter, shows that in the Old Testament itself it is faith, and not law, which is regarded as justifying; as, in the first place and notably, in the case of Abraham; thus proving the previous assertion in Romans 3:21, Μαρτυρουμένη ὑπὸ τοῦ νόμου καὶ τῶν προφητῶν. In ch. 7. he treats the subject subjectively, analyzing the operation of law in the human soul, and so bringing out still more clearly its true meaning and purpose.

Romans 3:31Make void (καταργοῦμεν)

Rev., make of none effect. See on Romans 3:3.

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