Romans 10.5-8 is a perilously difficult passage to make sense of. On the one hand, scholars have pretty clearly identifies the Scriptures in the Old Testament that Jesus is pulling from in Leviticus 18.5, Deuteronomy 8.17, 9.4, and 30.12-141 On the other hand hand, determining what sense Paul’s discourse would have had to his intended audience is a whole other matter.
Douglas Moo reads Paul’s argument in Romans 10.5-13 to be the division between law, that is what God gives people to do, and gospel, that is what God does for us: whereas vs. 5 is about law, vss. 6-13 is about the gospel of faith. According to Moo, Paul finds this division in the Old Testament Scriptures. 2 While a contrast between human and divine agency is perhaps merited in the background of Paul’s discourse, Paul is not intending to provide a strong contrast that the sharp Lutheran distinction between Law and Gospel suggests. Paul does not use the sharper άλλα to make a decisive contrast between the righteousness of law in vs. 5 and the righteousness that comes from faith in vss. 6-13. Instead, he uses δέ, which Stephen Runge, disagreeing with BDAG, “does not mark the presence of semantic discontinuity… Contrast has everything to do with the semantics of the elements present in the context.”3 In other words, if there is a contrast between Romans 10.5 and 10.6-13, the nature of the contrast should be understood based upon the differences specifically given before and after the δέ.
What contrast, if any, is Paul providing? Not of some abstracted understanding of law and gospel, but rather of two different communicators. In vs. 5, Paul quotes from Lev. 18.5 as coming from the hand of Moses (Μωϋσῆς… γράφει). On the other hand, in vs. 6, it is not Moses but the righteousness from faith (ἡ… ἐκ πίστεως δικαιοσύνη). Furthermore, this ‘righteousness from faith’ does not write as Moses does, but rather he speaks (λέγει). While we who have becomes very accustomed to the written word as a common vehicle of communication and as a result can read and use the verbs “write” and “say” interchangeably, we should not assume this of Paul. Paul will regularly refer to the written medium (γράμμα) of the Torah, seeing it as powerless and even can kill a person (Romans 2.27-29, 7.6, 2 Cor. 3.6-7). To describe Moses as writing what he quotes from Leviticus 18.5, Paul is make a more specific statement about the mode of communication. Meanwhile, Paul says the righteousness of faith speaks, and assigns to this figure what amounts to a interpretive paraphrase of Deuteronomy that comes from passages such as Deuteronomy 8.17, 9.4, and 30.12-14. Rather than presenting a contrast between Law and Gospel, Paul is presenting a contrast between two distinct communicators: Moses and the “righteousness from faith.”
However, because Paul does not use άλλα, we do not need to assume that Paul is trying to pit the figure of Moses against the “righteousness from faith,” as if the two are opposed to each other. Rather, the opposition is given just prior as being between those who did not submit to God’s righteousness and those who believe (Rom. 10.3-4). What happens with what Moses writes is that many read Moses words in Leviticus 18.5 and interpret it as a basis for giving a whole system of interpretive traditions and applications that people should follow. In other words, they take Moses words to saying the pathway to righteousness comes through the establishment of various halakhic principles and regulations (τὴν ἰδίαν ζητοῦντες στῆσαι: Rom. 10.3). Paul considers submission to these principles have lead them to ignore God’s own righteousness (ἀγνοοῦντες… τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ δικαιοσύνην: Rom. 10.3) expressed in Torah.
Therefore, it seems the contrast that Paul is giving is not between Law and Gospel, but rather those who interpret Moses’ words in Leviticus 18.5 as legitimating the submission to a specific moral program that isn’t the Torah itself with what the righteousness of faith is communicating.
In order to validate the idea that Paul quotes Leviticus 18.5 to provide a “proof-text” for a specific program of righteousness through halakhic prescriptions, a closer consideration of the relationship of Romans 10.5-8 with Romans 10.4 is helpful. It is common for commentaries and translations to treat Romans 10.4 as the end the section/paragraph that starts in Romans 10.1. However, upon closer examination, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to treat Romans 10.4 as the end of a section, as there is different content in 10.1-3 that focuses on Paul’s understanding about many Israelites who failed to believe in Jesus. Vs. 4 can then be understood as an explanation for why they failed to believe: their actions to try to establish their own righteousness failed to take into account that Jesus is the τέλος, variously consider to be end or goal , of the Torah.
Another explanation is that Romans 10.4 is the beginning of the section that extends to 10.13. I would put forward that vs. 4 still functions to explain why the unbelieving Israelites were mistaken in their zealous pursuit of righteousness, but the verse is not intended to be understood to be an explanation on its own, but as it is expounded upon in following verses. This can then provide a sense of the significance of Paul’s usage of τέλος. Whereas Paul quotes from Leviticus in 10.5, Paul’s employment of the passages in Deuteronomy in 10.6-8 and that he reads these passages in light of Christ suggest that Paul’s usage of τέλος refers to the way Christ is a fulfillment of what comes at the end of the Torah from Moses. Romans 10.4-8 is suggesting that one should understand the Pentateuch as a whole and that for Paul, Christ is, quite literally, understood as being pointed to at the end of the Torah. In other words, τέλος is not functioning as some sort of statement of theological epistemology about the source of the Torah in relationship to Christ, but rather a specific reference to where Christ is understood within the Torah: at the end in Deuteronomy 30.
If this is the case, then the function of Paul’s quotation in Leviticus 18.5 is to start to give an account of righteousness as explicated in the Torah. This passage by itself could have serve as a legitimating proof-text for righteousness based upon halakhic traditions that seek to apply Torah. However, Paul’s account pushes further to take Leviticus 18.5 in light of what comes in Deuteronomy. The essential effect of the contrast between Leviticus 18.5 and Paul’s interpretation of Deuteronomy is not to state “the Torah is now useless for righteousness” as it often the interpretation of Paul, ignoring what Paul says in Romans 7.12. Rather, it is to argue that one can not pursue and develop a program of righteousness based upon an understanding of Leviticus 18.5 alone, but one has to understand what comes at the end in Deuteronomy. We see a similar pattern in Galatians 3.12-13, where Paul contrast the quote from Leviticus 18.5 with follows in Jesus’ curse on the cross as a ‘fulfillment’ of Deuteronomy 21.23. For Paul, one can not understand the pursuit of righteousness based upon Leviticus 18.5 alone, but one must set it in context of how Christ is a fulfillment of what comes in Deuteronomy.
This would make sense of why Paul supports faith as the basis of righteousness through Deuteronomic quotations in contrast to Leviticus 18.5 standing for righteousness based upon upon. Deuteronomy as a whole could be understood as encouraging Israel to be obedient to God’s commands based upon faith in God’s future blessings. So, in appealing to Deuteronomy, Paul is finds the overarching theme and concern of Deuteronomy to be in support of righteousness that comes through faith.
This isn’t to suggest that Paul is setting Leviticus 18.5 over and against Deuteronomy but that a program of righteousness based upon Leviticus 18.5, which only discusses righteousness in relationship to the Torah regulations, has failed to take into account an understanding of righteousness as it is expressed in the “faith-saturated” Deuteronomy. Just as an account of Christian soteriology should not be based upon John 3.16 along, but should incorporate the wider concerns of the New Testament canon, an account of righteousness should be formed with the whole of the Torah in mind, including the faith in the future of blessings for a faithful nation that Deuteronomy points towards.
So, this brings us back to Romans 10.5-8, seeing vs. 5 and vss. 6-8 as differing communicators, one from Moses and one from faith, but not contrasting ideas strictly speaking. Furthermore, because Deuteronomy is saturated in faith, Paul has a reason to assign the language of Deuteronomy to the communicator of “righteousness by faith.” However, more that than, because the faith of Deuteronomy is connected to the future fulfillment of God’s blessing, Paul can rework the Deuteronomic passages in light of Christ as the fulfillment.
Therefore, what appears to be happening in Romans 10.5-8 is that Paul is giving a Torah-wide vision of righteousness, which is ultimately realized in Christ as the fulfillment of the Deuteronomic hope. Avoiding what we might consider the “proof-texting” approach that would see Leviticus 18.5 as a potential legitimization of the halakhic traditions to obey the regulations of Torah, Paul see the righteousness of the Torah as a whole pointing towards Christ.
Those who have rejected Christ as guilty of developing a program of righteousness that is closed-off to only concerns about obeying the regulations of the Torah, rather than a vision of righteousness that looks forwards to God’s fulfillment of His promises. They have embraced a very narrow account of righteousness based upon a proof-texting approach. As such, they have trouble placing Christ into their understanding of righteousness.
- Robert Jewett, Romans: A Commentary. Hermeneia (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2007), 625-629; N.T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God. (Minneapolos: Fortress Press, 2012), 1171-1174.
- Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans. NICNT. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 644ff.
- Steven Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2010), 28.