Paul Never Says “by Faith Alone”: A Pauline Studies Pet Peeve

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Jason Staples Substack

During my reading for preliminary exams (generally a frustrating exercise, given that I was forced to read lots of infuriating scholarship without the ability to respond to it anytime soon), one mistake came up surprisingly often in the literature: Pauline scholars—who of all people should know better—referencing the “Pauline” doctrine of “salvation/justification by faith alone.” Yikes. It’s no wonder laypeople are so consistently misinformed on this point if scholars focusing on Paul regularly make this mistake themselves.

I was especially surprised to see someone of the stature of Jimmy Dunn making this mistake throughout the collection of his essays in The New Perspective on Paul. Obviously Dunn is a tremendous scholar, but it is a mystery to me how he can make statements like this:

Putting the point from Paul’s perspective, Paul was clear that justification is by faith alone: to regard any ‘works of the law’ as essential (in addition to faith) undermines ‘faith alone’. The gospel principle is clear: ‘no one is justified by works of the law, but only (ean mē) through faith in Jesus Christ’ (Gal. 2.16). [p. 25]

Apparently in the absence of Paul every saying “faith alone,” one must try to stretch ἐὰν μή to mean “only” (and only “only”). Unfortunately, that isn’t what it typically means in phrases like this, instead meaning something like “unless” or “without,” resulting in “a person is not justified by works of the law unless through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.” (I suppose this is worth a later post.) More Dunn:

That’s right, country music fans, not one of Paul’s letters teaches “faith alone.”

The thought of earning ‘the election of grace’ by the ‘works’ (to be subsequently) performed by the elect people is far from the thought. The challenge to Paul’s mission was rather that those who accept the gospel and receive the Spirit ought therefore to do the works of the covenant’s law, and that failure to do these works amounts to a refusal to accept the terms of God’s covenanted favour. That is what was at issue, and that is what Paul denied: God’s acceptance was by grace through faith alone. [p.51]

No. A thousand times no! Paul’s argument is that the old covenant had achieved its purpose and was fulfilled when Christ fulfilled its curses in his own person. Paul protested a going back to the old covenant, back to the flesh, once the new (the Spirit) had come. Paul was not arguing against covenantal nomism, which he upholds (as even Ed Sanders admits with respect to 1 & 2 Corinthians).

The primary question was whether these works were obligatory (also) for Gentile believers. Paul’s response had been clear: only faith was necessary; to require works of the law in addition to faith was to subvert the gospel of justification by faith alone (Rom. 3.28; 9.30-32; Gal. 2.15-16). Here the thought seems to have broadened out to refer to human effort in general as inadequate to the demands of salvation; salvation could be accomplished only by grace alone through faith alone. [p. 56]

So let me get this straight: Paul’s answer was something he never says?

But if, on the other hand, Paul is entirely serious, on the ground that ‘everyone who does good’ refers only to the Christians, then Paul’s theology of justification by faith alone has to be qualified as final justification by faith and by works accomplished by the believer in the power of the Spirit. If Paul is thus vulnerable to such a charge being levied against him, despite his insistence elsewhere that justification is by faith alone and entirely on the basis of grace, then at the very least the charges brought against Judaism’s ‘covenantal nomism’ should be a good deal less fault-finding. [pp. 87–88]

Argh. This whole section is invalidated by the problem that Paul never upheld a “theology of justification by faith alone,” nor did Paul bring charges against “Judaism’s ‘covenantal nomism’.”

The most frustrating thing about this is that I found so much of value in this volume (and others like it), only for everything to get dashed on the rocks of “faith alone.” Precision is so important in exegesis, and if we’re to do honest exegesis of Paul that isn’t simply an apologetic for the Paul of the Reformers, we should really insist that we start with what Paul actually says rather than what other interpreters have said he said. This requires that we drop “faith alone” when discussing Paul, since Paul does not ever use this phrase. It is perfectly fine to use this term when discussing Reformation theology, but it is out of place in a historical examination of the Apostle himself (except perhaps to point out that he never makes use of the phrase).

Tags: covenantal nomism, E.P. Sanders, faith alone, James D.G. Dunn, Judaism, justification by faith, New Perspective on Paul, Paul, Reformed theology, Sola fide

72 Comments. Leave new

  • Maybe Dunn was reading Paul in the original German?

    • That must be it.

      • Brandon Rathbun
        December 19, 2019 3:11 pm

        There are some serious problems with stating that “faith alone” is only relevant to reformation theology or the reformers considering I can quote no less than 12 early church fathers that teach faith alone(half of which use the phrase explicitly) just up until Augustine alone. Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Origen, Marius Victorinus, Hilary of Poitiers, Basil of Caesarea, Ambrose, Ambrosiaster, John Chrysostom, Jerome and Augustine. Some of them tied directly to apostles, but they must all be wrong.

        The phrase “works of the law” is also attested to early. Origen and Jerome thought that it meant ceremonial works only like NPP, then later Pelagius too ;-). However, Augustine and Aquinas commenting on Galatians, wrote that it was ceremonial and moral law, that is the whole law. Then later of course, Luther, Calvin and Jonathan Edwards… choose your favorite theologian I guess.

        • Uh-huh… I would love to see you back that up.

          • Well Sir, do you like apples?

            “Some definitely taught the doctrine of “faith alone.”

            Novatian, 200-258
            “For Zecharias also tells us, saying: “If ye eat or drink, is it not ye that eat or drink?”—declaring thereby that meat or drink attain not unto God, but unto man: for neither is God fleshly, so as to be pleased with flesh; nor is He careful3 for these pleasures, so as to rejoice in our food. God rejoices in our faith alone, in our innocency alone, in our truth alone, in our virtues alone. And these dwell not in our belly, but in our soul; and these are acquired for us by divine awe and heavenly fear, and not by earthly food.” (Novatian, On the Jewish Meats, Chapter V,
            Aristides, 2nd Century
            “II. Having thus spoken concerning God, so far as it was possible for me to speak of Him, let us next proceed to the human race, that we may see which of them participate in the truth and which of them in error.”
            “The Greek might be rendered, “so far as there was room for me to speak of Him1,” i.e., the attributes of the Deity are not further relevant to the discussion—as the translator into Syriac takes it. The Armenian adopts the other meaning, viz., the theme is beyond man’s power to discuss. As translated by F. C. Conybeare, the Armenian is in these words: “Now by the grace of God it was given me to speak wisely concerning Him. So far as I have received the faculty I will speak, yet not according to the measure of the inscrutability of His greatness shall I be able to do so, but by faith alone do I glorify and adore Him.” (The Apology of Aristides, Introduction)
            Chrysostom (347-407)
            “Have ye been vouchsafed, he says, so great a gift, and achieved such wonders, because ye observed the Law, or because ye adhered to Faith? plainly on account of Faith. Seeing that they played this argument to and fro, that apart from the Law, Faith had no force, he proves the contrary, viz., that if the Commandments be added, Faith no longer avails; for Faith then has efficacy when things from the Law are not added to it. “Ye who would be justified by the Law, ye are fallen away from grace:” (Gal. 5:4).” (Chrysostom, Commentary on Galatians – on Gal. 3:5,
            “Even the miracles done by themselves, he says, declare the power of Faith, but I shall attempt if you will suffer me to draw my proofs from ancient narratives also. Then, as they made great account of the Patriarch, he brings his example forward, and shows that he too was justified by Faith. And if he who was before grace, was justified by Faith, although plentiful in works, much more we. For what loss was it to him, not being under the Law? None, for his faith sufficed unto righteousness.” (Chrysostom, Commentary on Galatians – on Gal. 3:6,
            “Attend to this point. He Himself who gave the Law, had decreed, before He gave it, that the heathen should be justified by Faith. And he says not “revealed,” but, “preached the Gospel,” to signify that the patriarch was in joy at this method of justification, and in great desire for its accomplishment…”Further, they were possessed with another apprehension; it was written, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the Law, to do them.” (Deut. 27:26.) And this he removes, with great skill and prudence, turning their argument against themselves, and showing that those who relinquish the Law are not only not cursed, but blessed; and they who keep it, not only not blessed but cursed. They said that he who kept not the Law was cursed, but he proves that he who kept it was cursed, and he who kept it not, blessed. Again, they said that he who adhered to Faith alone was cursed, but he shows that he who adhered to Faith alone, is blessed. And how does he prove all this? for it is no common thing which we have promised; wherefore it is necessary to give close attention to what follows. He had already shown this, by referring to the words spoken to the Patriarch, “In thee shall all nations be blessed,” (Gen. 12:4.) at a time, that is, when Faith existed, not the Law; so he adds by way of conclusion,” (Chrysostom, Commentary on Galatians – on Gal. 3:8,
            “THE favors of God so far exceed human hope and expectation, that often they are not believed. For God has bestowed upon us such things as the mind of man never looked for, never thought of. It is for this reason that the Apostles spend much discourse in securing a belief of the gifts that are granted us of God. For as men, upon receiving some great good, ask themselves if it is not a dream, as not believing it; so it is with respect to the gifts of God. What then was it that was thought incredible? That those who were enemies, and sinners, neither justified by the law, nor by works, should immediately through faith alone be advanced to the highest favor. Upon this head accordingly Paul has discoursed at length in his Epistle to the Romans, and here again at length. “This is a faithful saying,” he says, “and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (Chyrsostom, Homilies on the First Epistle of St. Paul to Timothy, Homily IV, on 1 Tim. 1:15,
            Theodoret, 393-458
            “All this I say not for the sake of boasting, but because I am forced to defend myself. It is not the fame of my sermons to which I am calling attention; it is their orthodoxy alone. Even the great teacher of the world who is wont to style himself last of saints and first of sinners, that he might stop the mouths of liars was compelled to set forth a list of his own labours; and in shewing that this account of his sufferings was of necessity, not of free will, he added “I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me.” I own myself wretched—aye thrice wretched. I am guilty of many errors. Through faith alone I look for finding some mercy in the day of the Lord’s appearing. I wish and I pray that I may follow the footprints of the holy Fathers, and I earnestly desire to keep undefiled the evangelic teaching which was in sum delivered to us by the holy Fathers assembled in council at the Bithynian Nicæa.” (Of Theodoretus, Bishop of Cyrus, to Dioscorus, Archbishop of Alexandria,
            Vincent of Lerins, d. 445
            “To this most noteworthy example he adds the authority of two bishops of Rome, Sixtus III., then occupying the Papal Chair, and Celestine, his immediate predecessor,—the gist of the whole being the confirmation of the rule which it had been his object to enforce throughout the Treatise—that profane novelties must be rejected, and that faith alone adhered to which the universal Church has held consentiently from the earliest times, QUOD UBIQUE, QUOD SEMPER, QUOD AB OMNIBUS.” (Vincent of Lerins, The Commonitory, Introduction, “


            How you like dem apples? Adding our own works in any capacity to His finished work unto salvation is very dangerous to one’s soul. We have been justified and sealed unto the day of our redemption. (past tense) Come Lord Jesus!!

          • None of this is relevant at all to the post, and many of these quotations aren’t about salvation at all, making it very odd to include them even in a list that is otherwise irrelevant. But thanks for your interest!

  • I hear ya man. It truly is frustrating.

  • I think, though the phrase may never be used, the principle certainly is. “However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” -Romans 4:5

    “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” – Ephesians 2:8

    I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

    • Quite the opposite. Neither the phrase nor the principle are used.

      Firstly, When Paul says faithfulness is credited as righteousness, he does not say a person is justified or saved “by faith alone,” nor does his larger argument come anywhere close to saying such a thing.

      Secondly, when Ephesians says a person has been saved by grace, that rules out any possibility that it is “by faith alone,” as grace (χάρις) is always and everywhere a term involving reciprocity. Paul saying that salvation is covenantal and predicated on faithfulness by no means suggests “by faith alone”—quite the opposite!

      • This grace requires reciprocity?
        Since when do we have to work for a free gift. Paul said FREE gift.
        Romans 5:16 ESV — And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.

        Plus if you argue that Paul never specifically put the two words together “faith alone” then you have a hard time adding anything additional to faith to this verse
        Romans 4:4 ESV — Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.

        In your view the verse would need to look like this:
        Romans 4:4 ESV — Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift (which also requires works) but as his due.

        Titus 3:5 ESV — he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

        I don’t know how much clearer we need to be.

        • The problem here is that you’re using the ESV, which does a poor job translating these passages, Rom 5:16 in particular. The word “free” nowhere appears in the Greek; it’s a (wrong) interpretation added by the translators of the ESV.

          The second problem is that you are not differentiating between justification and salvation, which are two different things. Paul makes it clear that a person cannot be justified (made righteous) by accomplishing righteousness through works—that’s a contradiction since doing righteous works requires being righteous. He argues that God justifies (=makes righteous) a person, which means that person is enabled and required to work out that righteousness. And then at the judgment, that person will be judged according to works—but those works are righteous because the person has been righteoused by the spirit.

          Grace is the word for the gift of the spirit, which then enables and motivates the reciprocity that is also included in the word grace.

          • I admit I am no expert in Greek but I think ESV had good reason to ad free to gift. Romans 5:16 ESV gets gift from charisma (G5486) and word usage includes something given freely without recompense, a favour with which one receives without any merit of his own.
            Romans 5:15 uses “dorea” used for a gift freely given without merit
            There are others I can mention too but no need to be exhaustive here.
            To me in reading the context our justification is by the righteousness of Jesus not our own righteousness. This is a free gift as the Greek words indicate where there is no merit or expectation of anything in return to keep it. A true gift in it’s purist form would be one that does not ever require repayment. No strings attached.

            Romans 3:24 YLT — being declared righteous freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

            We are declared righteous because it is Jesus’s righteousness we put on and this is freely (undeservedly) no works we can do for it. If it is all from Jesus’s righteousness then that is sufficient in itself. Makes no sense if that is sufficient why our insufficient righteousness can be expected to maintain our imputed righteousness.

            Titus 3:5 ESV — he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

            So if we can only do righteous things if we are empowered by his grace then how do we understand Titus saying we are not saved by righteous works when Catholics say righteous works are needed to cooperate with grace? If righteous works through grace don’t save us then what does? Nothing but by his mercy as Titus says.

            We disagree on that but I think this article does a good job in showing why Paul is talking about a declared righteousness and not being made righteous. Of course the words righteous, justification, salvation can all have diverse meanings depending on context.

            The link shows both sides but argues for the declarative kind

            Thank you.

          • Speaking as an expert in Greek, the ESV is simply wrong with that translation. The Greek word χάρις by definition always implies reciprocity, as it is a term that refers specifically to reciprocal gift-giving. For an English speaker, it’s probably closest to saying “do someone a favor,” which comes in the context of relationship in which the person receiving the favor “owes” the person having done/given the favor. That’s the basic sense of the word χάρις; as my old Greek professor explained years ago when we were translating Aeschylus, χάρις is always and everywhere a term of reciprocity. Where there is no reciprocity, there is no χάρις.

            The question of merit prior to the gift is a completely separate one, and it is a mistake to conflate the two. Paul teaches that God gives grace without regard to prior merit, but that is different from saying that the gift has no strings attached and no expectation of repayment. Paul says exactly the opposite on that aspect, explaining that those who have received God’s grace “have been bought with a price” and must render grace back to God as part of the reciprocal exchange.

            Moreover, justification is more than being “declared righteous,” it is being made righteous. It is not that God declares something that is not true but rather that God transforms the unrighteous into righteous and then can justly declare that the righteous is now righteous. Righteousness is incorporated, not just imputed.

            That article is very poor. I suggest that you take a look at John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift, particularly the first chapter, for a thorough explanation of gift-giving in the ancient world and in Paul’s letters. The first thing you need to un-learn is the idea that “a true gift in its purest form would be one that does not ever require reciprocity. No strings attached.” That conception of gift is foreign to the ancient world and certainly does not appear in the New Testament. You’re operating from a Kantian framework, not a New Testament or ancient framework.

            If Paul and the Gift is too much, I suggest Barclay’s more popular Paul and the Power of Grace or the even shorter pamphlet here.

            You’ll never understand Paul well if you don’t understand his conception of gifts and reciprocity.

      • The definition of one Greek word still doesn’t affect the said doctrine being discussed.

        Justification: saves from PENALTY of sin one time payment by God on our behalf. (Past Tense)

        Sanctification: saves from the POWER of sin and takes one’s entire life to work out as we are molded in the likeness of Jesus. (Present Tense)

        Glorification: saves from the PRESENCE of sin which we will attain at death or the rapture / resurrection. (Future Tense)

        Christ + anything at all = Legalism and denies the finished work of Christ by requiring something more to be done, thus MAKING SALVATION A REWARD FOR THE RIGHTEOUS INSTEAD OF A GIFT OF GOD’s GRACE FOR THE GUILTY and also making a liar out of Jesus on the cross when He said, “It is finished!” We should absolutely do our best to abstain as much as possible from sin by yielding to the Spirit but Paul states his flesh does things that he hates and if he hates it, he loves God’s law so its not him sinning but the flesh. Remember, salvation is a gift so that no man can boast and God isn’t an Indian giver. You can’t earn it therefore you can’t unearn it. You can certainly lose your rewards however but one must correctly divide the Word to delineate between the two.

        • These definitions are all wrong and contradict the way these words are used in the New Testament.

          Justification is being made just, the fulfillment of the prophets’ promises that God would finally make his people obedient, that they would finally do God’s will.

          Sanctification is being set apart as one of God’s people.

          Glorification is indeed a future concept, one that comes after the judgment wherein a person’s justification is confirmed by a judgment based on works—every mention of judgment in the New Testament is clear that judgment will be based on works.

          Your notion that this New Testament teaching amounts to “Christ + anything at all” is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of grace, which is always and everywhere a term of reciprocity. If there is no return, there is no grace. The whole point is that the works are done by the spirit of Christ working in and through the person—so that’s not “Christ + anything.” That’s Christ’s work from beginning through to the end.

    • Daniel, I agree. The principle is clearly there.

  • I am a little confused…In Galatians 2:16 doesn’t Paul say that man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith of Jesus Christ?

    • By our acts of obedience a born again believer reveals his faith, which is why faith without works is dead.

    • 1) Not all works are “works of the law”; that is a subset of “works” qualified by “of the law.”
      2) “Justified” is not the same as “saved.”
      3) If you read just a little further in Galatians, Paul says, “Whatever a person sows, that he will also reap,” warning the Galatians that they need to obey and produce the fruit that will lead to eternal life.

    • You are made righteous by God and thereafter fulfil the life giving law of Christ which is written in our hearts, Jer 31. In Gal 2, Paul argues against accomplishing righteousness through the works of the external Torah which was no longer effective since Christ was the end of it, Rom 10:4.

  • So if the classic evangelistic scenario were to transpire in my own case – I die and go the Pearly Gates and am asked, “Why should you be allowed into Heaven?” – I could answer “Partly through faith in Christ, and partly by my own works” . . . ?

    Nowhere does the Bible _say_ “Trinity,” either, but the concept is definitely taught. Sames goes for salvation by faith alone.

    • No. The correct answer would be “by grace” (χάρις), which by definition includes works. Your strawman response wrongly suggests that the works of faithfulness required for salvation must be “my own,” as though any works a person does could be performed without the empowerment of God’s grace. The concept of salvation by faith alone never appears in the New Testament.

      Instead, salvation is consistently presented as the result of the reciprocal process of grace, which provides the means of justification, and justification results in the righteousness that saves. And the glue that binds that reciprocal grace relationship from beginning to end is faithfulness (πίστις). But it is incoherent to suggest that πίστις is the only thing necessary, as it depends on the other aspects of the process just as they depend upon it.

      • In your view sir, how does the Thief on the cross reciprocate the grace of Jesus in his last breath? If anyone is an example of a last ditch plea by faith alone it seems to be him. No baptism, no communion, no visiting of widow or orphan, no opportunity to live any longer – only the desperate plea for mercy at the last second before death. And how many people will stand before God justified in the same manner. Who went home justified before God? It was the man who beat his breast and looked to heaven and cried out for mercy admitting his woeful, sinful condition before God.

  • I expressed it this way to someone else recently: Calvin grasped the biblical teaching that “we are saved by faith alone, but saving faith is never alone.” (Paraphrased) In other words: genuine saving faith produces spiritual fruit. This is consistent with the doctrine of “faith alone.”

    The thread can be seen clearly in Galatians:

    “. . . [D]id you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by  hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? . . . For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. . . . But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. . . . But the fruit of the Spirit is . . .” (3:2-3; 5:5-6, 16).

    Paul also uses the term /chōris/, “apart [from],” multiple times in his argument to the Romans about justification (3:21, 28; 4:6) – yet doesn’t hesitate elsewhere to say that God expects good works as part of our new life in Christ (8:6-13). If we are justified through faith “apart from” works, then obviously we’re justified by faith alone.

    So although fruit / good works are a natural part of the Christian life, we never have grounds to claim, “I was saved partly by faith and partly by my works” (Eph. 2:8-10). And if works aren’t a causal factor in our salvation, then logically we are saved by faith alone, because there’s nothing left over.

    The key, I believe, to grasping the nuance in James is his phrasing in 2:14: “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that [lit. “the”] faith save him?” (NASB) Thereafter in his discussion through v. 26, when James refers to “faith,” he has in mind merely professed faith, raw intellectual assent – not the legitimate personal trust that receives the Holy Spirit and engenders fruit in the believer’s life.

    Yes, I realize that justification =/= “salvation” in total. Nonetheless, the same principle is applied consistently throughout the Bible: salvation by grace through faith alone. Yes, works must be part of a believer’s life, but they’re works generated by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith; hence it’s never “faith PLUS works.” It’s faith; period. And real faith will produce works.

    Not really seeing what’s so difficult here.

    • Calvin quite simply got this wrong (in addition to besmirching the character of God throughout his theological system, as John Wesley pointed out). The New Testament nowhere teaches the concept or doctrine of “faith alone.”

      Instead, when Paul explains the process of salvation, he makes it very clear that it is a matter of works: “Accomplish/work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work according to his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12–13). But he distinguishes between “works of law”/”works of the flesh,” which he adamantly insists do not save, and “the works of faithfulness” (1 Thess 1:3/2 Thess 1:11)/”obedience of faithfulness” (Rom 1:5), which are empowered by God’s grace and are salvific.

      Paul repeatedly emphasizes that the final judgment will be based upon works and that this is true for all, believers or unbelievers. But he declares that those who trust Christ will receive grace that empowers them to righteousness and thereby to works that lead to a good judgment (Rom 2 is basically explaining this very thing).

      For Paul, it is not that a person’s belief brings salvation and that the byproduct of that salvation is that a person produces good works. It’s rather that God’s grace makes a person righteous, which leads to salvation when that person’s righteous works produced by walking by the spirit are ultimately judged. This is quite different from Calvin’s distortion of Paul’s teaching.

      I don’t see what’s so difficult here, either. Unfortunately, several very influential theologians over the centuries have polluted the stream sufficiently to complicate matters.

      • Seeing as you seem very knowledgeable about this, I have a question regarding Paul and his apparent contradictions with Jesus, the largest of which are on whether we still need to keep the Mosaic law.

        Here is the verse where Jesus says we still need to:
        Matthew 5:17-19: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not [h]the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches [i]others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever [j]keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

        Luke 16:16-17: 16 “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God [n]has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one [o]stroke of a letter of the Law to fail.

        And there is also the more specific scenario where Paul says it’s ok to eat meat sacrificed to idols, but says one shouldn’t due to hurting another’s conscience. This contrasts with what Jesus says in Revelation in some of His messages to the churches, where He condemns eating food sacrificed to idols. The first two points brought up in this link have relevant verses on what I just talked about:

        I don’t agree with most of the points brought up in this link, but these two points I do, as I can see no solid argument against them. The only one I’ve heard was that Jesus was talking about the moral law that continues, not the ritualistic one, but that argument gets debunked when one looks at the instances where the Greek word behind “law” in that scenario was used, and sees that’s it’s talking about ritualistic as well as moral instances of the Mosaic law.

        • The problem is that Paul does not proclaim the abolition of the law at all, so the basic premise of the distinction is mistaken. Paul himself would agree with both of those passages, as he makes it very clear that he understands his mission as to “establish the law” (Rom 3:31).

          Paul also doesn’t say it’s “ok to eat meat sacrificed to idols”; this is again a misunderstanding. Rather, he has to explain why, in the light of his gospel, people shouldn’t eat meat sacrificed to idols. His response is that there is nothing inherently wrong or dangerous with eating the meat itself, but eating that meat while knowing it is sacrificed is an unloving act and should therefore not be done. Those passages are ultimately about the reason meat sacrificed to idols is forbidden, not licensing the behavior.

          Paul plainly teaches that his gospel is all about people receiving the capacity to fulfill the “righteous requirements of the law” (Rom 2:29) and doing so, resulting in their salvation. Anyone who teaches that Paul’s gospel was against law-keeping or that the law was abolished is incorrect.

      • Paul is not saying work FOR your salvation. Work out your salvation meaning you are saved you have your salvation, now bring God’s work out of it and perform work for his good pleasure.

        The context surrounding it does not indicate he talking about needing to produce works to gain eternal life

        • This is simply inaccurate. Paul does not say to the Philippians that they already “have their salvation.” Your explanation of the phrase “work out your salvation” contradicts what κατεργάζομαι (the word translated “work out”) means. That word does not mean one already has something but rather means something closer to “achieve,” “accomplish,” or “bring about.” Feel free to look that word up in any Greek lexicon and you’ll see that’s the case.

          This is why Paul continues by explaining that he himself has “not already obtained it” but instead “I press on so that I may lay hold of it” (Phil 3:12).

          • I think the transaction of “Achieve or accomplish your own salvation” works well with once saved always saved. Salvation is stated in the NT as a past, a present and future reality. We have been saved, we are being saved and we will be saved are all true.

            I liken it a football game where 3 minutes to go and our team is up 60 to zero. There is no possible chance the other team can come back and win at that point but the game is still played. It would be safe to say that we won the game even though it is not technically over. We can say we are winning the game as we are. We can also say with all certainty we will win the game as a metaphor for being saved because we know its impossible to lose. So that coach tells us with 3 minutes left. “Now go play! Finish, the game and accomplish what is remaining with humility and respect.”

            Thats what is basically being said. We have our salvation won. Now accomplish your fact of being saved your victory in Christ by producing fruit with fear and trembling (humility and respect).
            Like an occupation. If I am a business manager I don’t wait till I’m done with a job to call myself a manager. I am a manager who works, making achievements and accomplishments during my work hours. I am saved and while I have my salvation I perform deeds that reflect it while I’m here. Not deeds to get salvation but perform deeds because I have salvation.

            Thank you

          • One does not achieve what one already has. This is why Paul repeatedly refers to salvation in the future tense.

  • William knight
    July 20, 2018 3:55 pm

    I write things down as I study scriptures and for inspiration and possibly edification but came across your article Grace Faith justification what was Paul really teaching as I said I write things down which I wrote this about a week prior to reading this article and it goes as such in the day of my trouble I will call upon you oh God 4 you will answer me amen thank you Jesus with loving thankfulness and teach me your love your loving kindness amen lead me into all good works by faith in Jesus through Jesus for True righteousness fill my heart with your grace oh God so that the restraints of the law I can fulfill through Christ Jesus with love and joy oh how wonderful is your great love oh Lord how great is your mercy oh how great are t h e e I believe in you by faith in t h e e to do all things with peace in t h e e

  • Frank Voutsakis
    December 28, 2018 9:49 pm

    Every parable of Jesus in all 4 Gospels point to His teachings. The core of this is love of thy neighbor, repentance, forgiveness, obedience to God’s word, and most of all mercy. Nearly all, if not every single parable has this as its goal. The parables categorically point to works as that which exhibits faith in and to God. The mere profession of faith in God on one;s lips is done even by the false prophets and indeed even by the demons.. James 2:19

    One cannot reconcile the doctrines of “by faith alone” or “by grace alone” or “by scripture alone” with Matthew 25:31-40 or the parables of Jesus as a whole, or the Sermon on the Mount or the Prayer that Jesus gave us. These solas are theological doctrines made by men to exalt themselves, not the word of God as given by Christ. Jesus preached the Commandments anew. This was His word. Those who love him follow his teachings. See e.g. John 14:15-24 or indeed the entire Gospel of John.

    Paul preached a theology and christology and set all of Christendom on the course it has taken., divided and laced with the venom of the father of lies. Some of the church fathers and especially the reformers hung on Paul’s words as if he were the Christ. And we all know they had their agendas.

    • You must not have read the post. It’s not Paul’s theology that has done what you suggest; it was those who came after him. Like Jesus, Paul taught that works were necessary for salvation. For example, Philippians 2:12 says, “Work out [could also be translated “achieve] your salvation with fear and trembling.”

      • In your response above, you wrote, “Philippians 2:12 says, “Work out [could also be translated “achieve] your salvation with fear and trembling.” I think verse 12 has to be read with verse 13 because it seems to be talking about the role of God’s grace in a saved person’s good work. It seems to be a stretch to say these verses seems to be advocating faith+works. It seems to be along the lines of “you are saved, live by the Spirit”

        • Yes, Phil 2:12 must be taken together with 2:13. But you are mistaken that it is “the role of God’s grace in a saved person’s good work.” The problem is that you are presuming that the person is already saved, but the passage does not work that way. Instead, it is the role of God’s grace in the justified person’s life, which culminates in final salvation. It’s not “you are saved, live by the Spirit,” but rather, “You have been justified, live by the Spirit that you might be saved.”

          • In his letter to the Philippians, Paul seems to be confident that his audience the Philipians are saved.
            Philippians 3:20 ESV — But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,

            So yes we can presume Paul is talking about people already saved.

          • Once again, you’re reading this backwards. He says “we await a savior,” not “we are already saved.”

            They are citizens of the kingdom, but that means they are responsible to abide by its laws and serve its king, who will come (future) bearing the salvation for which they are presently hoping. This idea is repeated frequently in the NT.

      • But was Paul talking about final salvation here? What is the context to help us figure out what kind of deliverance is this? Some interesting alternative explanations which I now find more plausible.

        Or even this

        Both seem very plausible to me.

        • The first is completely implausible. Yes, it’s true that the same word sometimes refers to more mundane contexts, but Paul has clearly shifted to speak of something else in Phil 2, where he is telling his audience to imitate Christ so that they too will be exalted.

          The second is right in that it understands Paul to be talking about a good judgment before the judgment seat of Christ. But it’s completely misguided to treat that as some *other* judgment independent of receiving final vindication and salvation. Paul does not envision multiple judgments, and the “Bema” is simply the throne from which Jesus judges all. It’s nonsense to split the “Bema” judgment from salvation; Paul certainly never does this.

          • I’m not sure about if vindication is what Paul is talking about either but I believe the word for salvation can be taken to mean various ideas. We can see ourselves as having been delivered and being delivered and will be delivered to eternal life. Paul uses all those past present and future tenses. True we have not obtained the final salvation of entering the pearly gates but in my view in eternal security I can say I am already saved. Plus salvation I think is sometimes presented as the whole Christian experience of living our deliverance. We are currently in our state of deliverance. Deliverance includes not just the future eternal being but the here and now relationship and achieving righteous living for the glory of God. God delivers us now from many consequences of sin as we submit to his will. So I see no issue with Paul saying “accomplish your salvation with…” as yes our final deliverance of entering into heaven is not complete yet but I believe he has promised and ensured our appointment into Heaven. We continue righteous living in our present deliverance up until we actually get to heaven. We are in the process of achieving our final salvation but at the same time have the salvation as one example here
            John 5:24 ESV — Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

            So the “has passed from death to life” sounds like we are already experiencing eternal life in one sense

            Even when we get to heaven we could claim that we are saved because we are eternally delivered. In a sense that there is no end point to our salvation. It will exist eternally with us.

            We disagree on the Bema but I do appreciate your time and response. I value understanding diverse thoughts on these things. Thank you. You can have the last word if you want.

  • David Sprague
    March 11, 2019 9:32 pm

    You seem to be an alternative point of view from “jesuswordsonly” and you give reasons. I will consider both views fairly and make up my mind. There is a lot to dispel as far as Paul having a stance against the law contrary to Jesus:

    Romans 10:4 New International Version (NIV)
    4 Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

    Thanks in advance,

  • I find your reasoning pedantic.
    You’re looking for magic words – “salvation by faith alone.”
    Paul’s teachings are mainly a ministry toward Gentiles and for the Jews – providing an argument of justification in Jesus Christ for Gentiles rather than under Mosaic / Jewish law. It is through that lens that we must understand what Paul is teaching. Under the law, the basic formula for salvation is obtained by righteousness (freedom from sin by keeping the law) + works in the law (e.g., sacrifice) for justification from sin. Works in the law, however, is done away with by Jesus Christ. You would seem to argue faith in Jesus Christ provides the justification from sin alone, but that righteous acts are still required in the form of good works. However, it is faith in Jesus Christ that provides both the act of righteousness and justification from sin, thereby satisfying all requirements for salvation. For example, Galatians 3 provides that we are all Abraham’s heirs in Jesus Christ and that belief (i.e., faith) is counted as righteousness. Romans 3-4 discusses this in depth.

    Ephesians 2 makes this most clear – “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

    Now, you say above that grace involves reciprocity and “by definition includes works,” but Paul says the opposite – that grace is a gift which is not of your own doing and “not a result of works.”

    You say that careful exegesis of Paul’s teachings are required, yet you suffer from that which you accuse Dunn (and nearly all mainstream Christianity), by ignoring some of Paul’s words in favor of other of Paul’s words. You are reading into what ‘grace’ is by looking at the circumstantial evidence rather than the words themselves.

    You cannot cite Romans 2 without considering Romans 3 and 4. In Romans 2, Paul sets up a strawman argument by saying that we will all be judged according to our righteousness and works, Jews and Gentiles alike. But in Romans 3, Paul makes clear that under that standard, we are all destined for damnation, for we all fall short. Rom 3:27-28 – “27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

    I’m not sure why Paul never used the magic words which would satisfy you – that it is by “faith in Christ alone” in which we are saved. Maybe there was not a phrase available to him which would convey this thought precisely. I think, rather, his contemporaneous audiences would have understood what he was saying without the need to include the magic words. Paul was writing to Jews and Gentiles so he put his teachings in a paradigm which they would most readily understand. But the result is the same. Paul emphasizes time and again that justification is by faith, and that good works are an outflow of that faith, that “we should walk in them.” Jesus did not say, “your works have saved you.” No, Jesus said “your faith has saved you.” Luke 7:50. While we can look to works as evidence of one’s faith, Jesus can judge our heart – he does not judge works, but judges faith.

    • I’m afraid that nearly everything you have said here is quite simply wrong.

      1) It is not true that “under the law, the basic formula for salvation is obtained by righteousness (freedom from sin by keeping the law) + works in the law (e.g., sacrifice) for justification from sin.” You are assuming this, but it is completely incorrect. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the formula is quite different. Instead, we find that God extends his grace to a specific covenantal people and then requires that they obey in order to maintain that covenantal relationship. There is no sense of earning God’s favor by keeping the law (which is God’s gracious gift to his people), and sacrifice has nothing to do with “justification” but rather atonement. Those are very different things.

      2) You are conflating justification and salvation. They are different concepts and different things.

      3) Πίστις does not mean “belief” but rather something fuller, closer to the English word “fidelity,” which better gets across the relational quality of that Greek term. To suggest that “belief” is counted as righteousness is not only to entirely miss the point of those passages but to ignore the repeated statements of Jesus himself. For example, Jesus explicitly says that not everyone who believes in him will be saved but only those who OBEY him: “Not everyone who says to me Lord LORD will enter into the kingdom of heaven but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven” (Matt 7:21). Those same people believed in him sufficiently to “prophesy in your name and in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many miracles” (7:22)—that’s not only belief, that is very strong belief. And yet, Jesus makes it very clear that this belief is insufficient for salvation. Instead, what matters is whether they obeyed God and lived righteously.

      4) Justification (being made righteous) is not justification if there is no justice. Put another way: If I were to transform you into a race car driver but you never got behind the wheel of a car, you never became a race car driver at all. In the same way, a person who has been transformed into a just person necessarily does acts of justice. Don’t stop at Galatians 3 (which you’re misinterpreting anyway). Continue reading to Gal 6, where Paul says, “Don’t be deceived: God will not be mocked. Whatever a person sows, that person will reap the same. For the one who sows to the flesh will reap corruption from the flesh. But the one who sows to the spirit will from the spirit reap eternal life.” Paul here explicitly instructs his Christian readers that they must live lives of obedience, sowing the good works of the spirit, in order to reap eternal life.

      5) Not only does Paul not say “the opposite” of the idea that grace involves reciprocity, but such a statement would have been impossible in Greek since the word for grace (χάρις) is a word that specifically refers to reciprocity. It would be like someone saying in English, “hot is cold” or “up is down.” It is true that grace is a gift that is not of a person’s own doing or “a result of works.” But it both enables and requires works. You’re confusing the origin (one cannot earn or work for grace) with the outcome (grace facilitates and demands works). To reiterate: grace is not the outcome of works, but works are the necessary outcome of grace, and without those works, grace is invalidated and ineffectual.

      The very definition of χάρις in the Greek language involves the strings attached to such a gift. It is a “favor” that means someone “owes” a return. And if there is no return reciprocated, then the relationship forged by χάρις has been turned down or terminated, with all of the benefits of that relationship no longer extended to the original recipient of the gift. Paul’s letters (and Jesus’ own statements) repeatedly emphasize exactly this sort of relationship. God has extended his grace, making people righteous (=justifying) through the spirit, which enables and motivates those people to fulfill the will of God. In response, those people are commanded to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12) precisely through the grace God has granted (Phil 2:13).

      6) Your reading of the progression from Rom 2 to 3 and 4 is similarly misguided. Romans 2 is no “strawman argument”; you have zero evidence for such a claim. Instead, it establishes the very foundation for the later chapters that assume the content of Rom 2. The problem addressed in Rom 3 and 4 (and beyond) is that everyone will be judged according to works as established in Rom 2, which is very bad news if people are unrighteous. Thus Rom 3 and 4 address the question of how an unrighteous person can become righteous. That is, how can a person come to be such that his/her actions will be judged as righteous? Paul’s answer is that no one can become righteous by doing righteous things (doing righteous things requires righteousness to begin with), so the process has to start with God’s grace empowering a person to do the things that please God. This is why Paul’s larger argument through these sections wraps up with Rom 8, in which he explains that God’s gracious gift is the spirit, which transforms and empowers the person to be righteous. “What the law was powerless to do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending his son … so that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in those of us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the spirit” (Rom 8:3–4).

      7) This means that your entire reading is misguided. When Paul says, “justified by πίστις,” he does not mean that a person is “saved by belief.” He says that a person becomes righteous through fidelity to God—fidelity specifically provided for by God’s grace. Thus salvation is “by grace through fidelity,” with grace providing the power to be faithful, and faithfulness being lived out through the “obedience of fidelity” that Paul says he proclaims (Rom 1:5, 16:26).

      8) You say you’re not sure why Paul never used the magic words “by faith alone” and even speculate that “maybe there was not a phrase available to him which would convey this thought precisely.” This is most certainly not an option, as the phrase “by faith alone” does appear once in the New Testament: “so you see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). Paul certainly could have used the same phrase James did while leaving out the “not.” But Paul fundamentally agreed with James on this point; justification is not “by faith alone”—meaning the same negation applies to salvation all the more, since salvation depends on justification.

      9) When you say “he does not judge works, but judges faith,” you contradict every single statement about the judgment in the New Testament. You might want to consider the implications of that fact.

      Thanks for your comment. Hopefully this helps you understand the New Testament a little better.

  • All of the discussion, above, is interesting. I am surprised nobody commented on the fact that Martin Luther, in translating the Bible from original language texts into German, took liberty in rendering certain texts in accord with what he determined the sense of the text to be, based upon his theological presuppositions. The most significant of such passages is Romans 3:28. This translation of the RSV is accurate to the original language Greek. Luther, however, rendered it as, “allein durch den glauben” which would be the equivalent of “faith alone” or “only through faith.” This is NOT in the text of the Scriptures, and Luther defended this by claiming this is what Paul intended. Did Luther ask God what HE intended?

    A commenter above asked what to say at the Pearly Gates, for his admission. In reading John 6:47-69, I don’t think he has to say anything if he is following what our Lord Jesus Christ taught in Capernaum. Special attention should be paid to 6:53-58 & 66.

    The strawman argument that he was only speaking in the abstract, he didn’t really mean what he said, WHY did he allow so many disciples to “go away and accompanied him no more.”? If he didn’t mean it FOR REAL, why wouldn’t Jesus correct what he had taught in the synagogue?

    JOHN 6:47-69

    47 In all truth I tell you, everyone who believes has eternal life.

    48 I am the bread of life.

    49 Your fathers ate manna in the desert and they are dead;

    50 but this is the bread which comes down from heaven, so that a person may eat it and not die.

    51 I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.’

    52 Then the Jews started arguing among themselves, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’

    53 Jesus replied to them: In all truth I tell you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

    54 Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person up on the last day.

    55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.

    56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person.

    57 As the living Father sent me and I draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will also draw life from me.

    58 This is the bread which has come down from heaven; it is not like the bread our ancestors ate: they are dead, but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.

    59 This is what he taught at Capernaum in the synagogue.

    60 After hearing it, many of his followers said, ‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’

    61 Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining about it and said, ‘Does this disturb you?

    62 What if you should see the Son of man ascend to where he was before?

    63 ‘It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.

    64 ‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the outset who did not believe and who was to betray him.

    65 He went on, ‘This is why I told you that no one could come to me except by the gift of the Father.’

    66 After this, many of his disciples went away and accompanied him no more.

    67 Then Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘What about you, do you want to go away too?’

    68 Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life,

    69 and we believe; we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.’

  • Hi Jason
    Well made points! Everyone is blinded while only few understand the actual truth. Shared more detailed views on my blog:

  • Abram believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.

    The work that followed was Ishmael.

    The only way the Holy Spirit can reside within the heart of the believer is if the expectations have been completely fulfilled by both parties.

    If God expects more than faith then we do not have all we need for life and godliness in Christ, as it is written,

    The process of grace is a very interesting concept that must have taken a lot of work to invent because while it makes no intuitive sense it is taken seriously by them that refuse to accept complete forgiveness.

    • This is of course complete nonsense. The work that followed was offering Isaac in Gen 22, which is what James references.

      As for your comment about grace, it wasn’t invented by anyone in the modern world; it was the default understanding of that term when Paul used the term, and he uses it for that reason.

  • Jason are you saying that good works do not earn me my salvation, but good works are still required to go to heaven when I die?

    I am a very simple person in my understanding and have struggled with this for some time because to say faith without works is dead…and that dead faith can’t save you…it would only seem logical to say works are necessary to be saved even though they don’t pay for that salvation. Am I missing the point?

  • This might not be completely on topic but I have a question about Romans 10:4, is it saying “Christ is the end of the law” or “Christ is the end for righteousness of the law?”

    The Apostolic Bible Polyglot suggests the latter as do the surrounding verses, but this is against most translations, which meaning is correct? I see this as a difference between it talking about just the righteousness of the law or talking about the law itself.

    Here’s the ABP and the surrounding verses in the NRSV:
    “For Christ is the end for righteousness of the law to every one trusting” (Rom 10:4 ABP)

    “3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness.
    . . .
    5 Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” (Romans 10:3-5 NRSV)  

    • Good question. This is a very difficult and controversial verse, as the word telos can mean a range of things, including “goal,” “end,” “culmination,” “climax,” etc.

      I think the verse is best translated “For Christ is the culmination of the law for righteousness in everyone who trusts.”

      What Paul’s referring to here is that Christ’s death and subsequent sending of the spirit has enabled righteousness in those who put their trust in Jesus, facilitating the righteousness the prophets had promised God would grant to Israel (e.g., Jeremiah 31:31–34, Ezek 36:24, Deut 30:1–10). That’s why he proceeds to explain that Jesus is the “one who does these things” and thereby lived by them—the resurrection is the proof that Jesus is the righteous one of the Torah, and it’s why he then quotes Deut 30 to explain that those who believed Israel needed to be sufficiently righteous to bring the messiah had things backwards—it’s not that Israel’s righteousness would bring the messiah, it’s that the messiah came to make Israel righteous.

  • Jason, thank you for your thorough replies. To be transparent, I believe the case to be by faith, not by works, so therefore faith alone. I don’t quite understand what you think Paul would have said salvation was achieved by, if not works. I can see by grace and faith, but not works.

    That confessed, your points have made me take pause, as I am currently wrestling with my view of the many many passages in the NT that call/warn the believer to do good – or else….
    ie: Matt 6:15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
    Romans 13:2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
    Matt 12:36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak
    Romans 11:21-22 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.

    I have been taught that these passages are warnings that keep the believer eternally secure. But I struggle with that interpretation of them to be honest. Seems odd to warn of something that could never happen. If we are saved by grace, and God is 100% in control, then why bother warning us. The hyperbole would be like me saying to my daughter – make sure you don’t turn purple or else you will explode. It just can’t happen.

    So basically, I am just saying that I am caught on the edge of this. The things you are saying make some sense with regards to some passages, but at the same time Paul saying we are saved (present tense and in full?) by grace, through faith, not by works – seems to be saying faith without anything else. But what am I missing here?


    • Yes, it does indeed seem odd to warn of something that could never happen, doesn’t it?

      The main thing that should help here is that “grace” does not mean unilateral, nonreciprocal action of one party. In Greek, the word charis means exactly the opposite. It’s the word used for relational reciprocity, a gift given with (relational) strings attached. We still have some sense of this in English with the word, “favor,” as in “I’ll do you a favor.” And then there’s an understanding that the recipient of the favor “owes one” to the giver. Greek has a specific word for that relational conception: the word typically translated “grace.” So when Paul says a person is justified by God’s “grace,” he’s not talking about a unilateral action with no strings attached or expectations on the other side but rather the gift that he’s talking about is the holy spirit, the law written on the heart that empowers and motivates to do the will of God.

      Paul’s gospel is that God has given the motivation and capacity to obey, so when the judgment (which he insists will be based on works) happens, the person who has received the gift will have done the things that lead to a good judgment. The works are therefore God’s works, done through the gift God gave. But they nonetheless have to be done.

      It’s all about the fulfillment of the prophets’ promises of a circumcised heart, a new heart and new spirit, the law written on the heart that empowers the people of God to obey (unlike how God’s people behaved previously). That’s the “grace” Paul is talking about.

  • The Church has been poisoned by Satanic false Gospels led by OSAS and Faith Alone.
    I found your comments and rebuttals most excellent.
    May God bless you and continue to help you respond with such excellence in defense of the TRUTH

  • You’re a false teacher and a liar. Not only did Paul teach salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, but Yeshua did as well. Take your false teaching and lies and deposit them where they belong, with satan and the fallen angels in Tartarus. Adonai Yeshua, you were certainly spot on in instructing believers in You to beware of false teachers. No wonder You asked the question in Luke 18:8, “when the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?” Show mercy to this man.

  • Jason, thank you for this teaching/article. Can you tell me what are the righteous works? Which are the works of the law? Where is the line drawn?

  • Steve Young
    July 21, 2022 3:37 pm

    Thanks for the article as well as the very articulate responses. Several questions arise for me:
    1. What are the works of the Law and where is the line drawn with the food and all else, like mixed fibers, shaving, observing the feasts/holidays, etc.?

    2. What are the good works we are to be doing, besides the obvious from James, like caring for windows and orphans?

    Thank you!

  • Was Paul a true Prophet?
    August 28, 2022 9:54 pm

    Hi, Could you please have patience to read this?

    Could you please study:

    Whether Paul was a false Prophet or not.

    Because Matthew 7 describes false Prophets and their followers. Those false Prophets and their followers have obviously believed in Jesus and drove out demons in Jesus’s name YET Jesus abandoned them .

    because they didn’t do the only true God (referred to in John 17: 3) Will i.e the Father and hence they become evildoers.

    Jesus said from their fruits, you know them. Evil doers or people of lawlessness are bad fruits.

    Paul has encouraged people to live not by the law. He made sure to ask people to not circumcise, saying if you circumcise , Christ will be of no value and you will be judged by the law. Although Jesus himself got circumcised following Abraham covenant with God!

    In Matthew 7

    15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

    21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

    And here:
    Matthew 13:41–43


    41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place tthere will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun vin the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

    Add to that please, Paul’s theory regarding: the wage of any sin is death and people salvation in the crucified son’s blood contradicts Jesus’s teachings and OT! Actually, logical wise and Biblical wise , it’s invalid.

    But first, why would God need a son to sacrifice when he can: 👇

    Isaiah 43:25

    25 “I, even I, am he who blots out
    your transgressions, for my own sake,
    and remembers your sins no more.

    I ask the question below about the wage of any sin is death (What type of death) ?


    1. If it’s the temporary death… don’t we all die? Do we die for our sins? Why Christians die too then?

    2. If it’s an eternal death, then God “has to” keep a son dead forever to pay the penalty 🥴 because it’s not settled yet :/ (astaghfur Allah)


    I don’t understand Paul’s view on this. The wage of any sin is death?

    Eternal death he meant? To die as if never been?

    Or the type of temporary death we all will have and that the crucified had?

    Because some Christians die in ways much more horrible than the crucified had.. burnt for example.


    What did Jesus say about Pharisees teachings?


    Matthew 16

    5 When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. 6 “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
    12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

    Acts 23

    Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.”



    Exodus 33:20

    But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”

    (You) the ((only)) (true God)!

    John 17: 3

    3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.


    Who you ask in your prayers?

    You don’t ask Jesus in your prayers as per Jesus himself but you ask the only true God of John 17:3.

    And who forgives the sins?
    The Only True God, of John 17: 3, does.

    Where is the blood here and crucifixion? 👇

    (Jesus is speaking here)

    Matthew 6

    9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

    “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
    10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
    11 Give us today our daily bread.
    12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

    14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

    15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

  • This post, and all of your comments have cleared up so much for me. THANK YOU for doing this. I’m going to go search for all your work I can get my hands on now.

  • KJV Luke 23:38 states,“And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” In the name of grace, let us accept that the multiple languages should (via the AUTHORITY, see Luke 23:38 as what was written) be sufficient to satisfy the language /interpretation concerns lest you reduce Gods Glory for thine own. When Christ impresses upon thee, as the gift that Paul declares, that ‘by grace are ye saved through faith’…don’t rebuke the WORD.
    Seriously, have salt in yourselves and be at peace with each other was a command, not a suggestion.

    • Note that the very verse you quoted says “by grace,” not “by faith” and definitely not “by faith alone.” Thanks for your comment and for helping further demonstrate my point.

  • Prof Jason, thanks for your insightful replies. They really help a lot in terms of understanding the chronology of these concepts: grace, justification, sanctification, salvation. Seems like Paul’s understanding of salvation is eschatological in Philippians. What about Rom 10:9-11? Vs 9 looks like future salvation and vs 11 a present salvation. Kindly assist me to understand Philippians 3. Why would Paul say what he used to hold dearly is garbage now that he knows Christ? Please help

    • Hi Thandu, I address these things in some depth in my upcoming book. Again, excellent questions. As for Rom 10:9–11, they’re all referring to the same thing in the same timeframe (v. 11 is citing the proof text for the preceding two verses). And in Rom 10 as a whole, Paul is arguing that the eschatological salvation promised in Deuteronomy 30:1–10 is now taking place, though it has yet to be fully completed. As for Phil 3, he is arguing that what he possessed previously was merely the shadow or image of the thing itself, and now that he has the thing itself, the picture is no longer of value. Consider the difference between a picture of a loved one versus being in the presence of person. Once in the presence, the picture no longer matters; it is only valuable in that person’s absence. Such is Paul’s argument in Phil 3.

  • Thanks prof for the reply. Is it safe to say that Phil 3:6 is about Paul’s righteousness he obtained through obeying the external law (an image)? If that is case, then the righteousness of Phil 3:6 is not the same as the righteousness of Phil 3:9 (I become righteous through faith in Christ).

    • More or less. His justness according to Torah has to do with observing the Torah of Moses, which is the image of the heavenly. In 3:9 he’s referring to the justness that comes by receiving the spirit, which writes the heavenly Torah on the heart.

  • Thank you Prof Jason. You are brilliant.

  • Hi Prof. Sorry to bother and to digress. My apologies.
    John 14:26, the spirit will teach you and remind you of all things I have said to you. I know that the Bible was written to them and for me. But I find myself not understanding some biblical texts and yet the spirit is meant to teach me. Why am I not understanding but I have the spirit? The spirit is meant to teach who [or was it meant to teach only the early disciples of Christ who spoke the language Jesus spoke]?

  • David Houston
    January 6, 2024 6:18 pm

    Hello Dr Staples, thanks for the post! I’ve been enjoying your new book on Paul too. I have a couple questions for you:

    (1) You draw our attention to the future oriented nature of salvation, but I was wondering how you would interpret those few passages in which salvation is used in the past tense, like Eph 2:8 and Rom 8:24?

    (2) Are you familiar with DeSilva’s little book _Transformation_? It looks like you two agree on the meaning of the word justification encompassing far more than forgiveness.

    Thanks again for your work!

    • Hi David,

      (1) Eph 2:8 isn’t in the past tense but the perfect, which is a primary tense in Greek, meaning it reflects a present reality based on something in the past. Rom 8:24 is in the aorist, which is indeed a past (secondary) tense. So that’s the one that’s more difficult as an exception to Paul’s typical use. I think in these cases, the best explanation is that Paul is here referring not to salvation in the sense of final judgment but rather to salvation from sin (cf. Matt 1:21), which then leads to ultimate (future) salvation from punishment at the judgment. So in that sense, there are two “salvations”: one (past/present) from sin, and then the other (future) from condemnation due to sin.

      (2) I’m not familiar with this book, but glad to hear he emphasizes the difference between justification and forgiveness.


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