The phrase “works of the law” occurs 5 times in the King James Version translation. What is meant by the phrase “the works of the law” in the following verses:

Romans 9:32

Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;

Galatians 2:16

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Galatians 3:2

This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

Galatians 3:5

He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

Galatians 3:10

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

  • This question would have needed to question a specific doctrinal framework in order to work over on Christianity, so I have taken the easier route and modified it to be more explicitly about the textual issue so that it fits this site.
    – Caleb
    Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 9:30
  • Related question: "Would the Romans have known what Paul meant by “works of the law”?". Not quite a duplicate, then?
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 9:44
  • I want to know more about the doctrinal framework. Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 10:30
  • 5
    @CourteousChristian - if that's the case, you may want to re-ask the question over on christianity by stating the doctrinal perspective you're interested in. For instance, "how does the Roman Catholic church interpret 'works of the law?'" Hopefully the answers you get over here will also help provide background for understanding the doctrinal implications you hear about on C.SE.
    – Susan
    Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 12:16
  • 1
    This is a very important question in light of the "New Perspectives on Paul". Most conservative scholars would say it means "doing the things commanded by the Law" while N. T. Wright and company would say it refers specifically to circumcision, sabbath, and dietary rules. Others claim that it refers to works of any kind (i.e. not specific to the Law), though this is hard to defend exegetically.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Aug 13, 2014 at 18:11

18 Answers 18


Jesus often clashed with the Jewish leaders regarding the "Oral Torah" and he required of his disciples strict observance of the Torah but we know from the examples that Paul cited that his concern was with the Torah. As evidence I'll supply an example from Paul's arguments in Romans and one from Galatians from his arguments to show that they relate to the Torah proper:

Example #1:

KJV Romans 9:32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;

Notes #1:

  • Paul is not contrasting two laws (oral vs written law) but rather faith vs law;
  • if works are not antithetical to faith then Paul's argument fails miserably

Example #2:

NIV Galatians 3:10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law."

Notes #2:

  • notice the "divine passive" suggesting that the writer is God
  • notice that it says "continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law".
  • notice that it is the (singular) book of the Torah that they do what is written
  • 1
    You are right about the meaning of works of the law being Torah, but you must mention that the faith covenant is only now antithetical to the Torah. The antithesis is more of Law Vs No Law (Rom 4:15). The law is dead now. It is not that faith-righteousness did not exist before Christ. It would have been if you could quote a long list of "works law" verses about 8 verses to prove the point.
    – Michael16
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 15:49

The "works of the law" is not a Pauline Concept. This phrase was found also in the Dead Sea Scrolls indicating it existed around 200 years before Paul came along. The phrase literally refers to "works" which were commanded be observed by the Pharisees. These "works" were more specifically purity laws (defined by Oral Tradition) that were forced into every aspect of daily living. You can see an example of this in Mark. I have added my own comments in bold parentheses:

Mark 7:1-9 (KJV) 1 Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. 2 And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands (Works of the Law = Purity rituals defined by Oral Law), they found fault. 3 For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders (Traditions = Oral Law). 4 And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables. 5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders (Oral Law), but eat bread with unwashen hands (Works of the Law)? 6 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. 7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men (Oral Law). 8 For laying aside the commandment of God (Written Torah), ye hold the tradition of men (Oral Law), as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do (works of the law). 9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God (Written Torah), that ye may keep your own tradition (Oral Law).

The Pharisees believed they had the authority to over rule Gods Written Torah with their interpretation of scripture. They placed many rituals into daily life to which they taught that Salvation was gained through them. Paul's letters and especially Galatians counters the Salvation through works or Oral Law. You can see this is all true when looking at 4QMMT of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Essenes were teaching and defending this very concept of "works of the law."

I wanted to add also a reply to Liam. "Deeds of the Law" is synonymous to "works of the law" and in no way refers to the law of Moses but the Oral Traditions of the Pharisees:

Romans 3:28 (KJV) 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law (aka works of the law).

What this means is the rituals of purity do not in any way bring a man to justification (salvation). What reason then would we have need of a Messiah if going through certain activities would have brought salvation? This is Paul's point.

Both Jesus and Paul rejected the Oral Traditions that conflicted with the Written Torah.

  • Unless you are prepared to back up your assertion about the phrase appearing in the DSS you probably shouldn't appeal to it. Do you have the quote? As to "Oral law", while something Jesus dealt with a lot (including the passage you cite in Mark 9) there is no indication that Paul was concerned about it. He was concerned with the Torah itself. By the way, is this considered the "New Perspective" aka "the Wright's view"?
    – Ruminator
    Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 12:24
  • If you had read 4QMMT then you would know the phrase is unarguably present.
    – user6053
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 23:32
  • 1
    Do you think the law was given by DSS writers and pharisees or by Moses? What do you think of all the ref of Paul quoting the law describing the law was based on works (Rom 10:5). The argument of DSS is merely equivocation and etymological fallacy by tracing similar phrase in history.
    – Michael16
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 15:34

In Romans and Galatians, what does Paul mean by “the works of the law”?

In short , Paul meant "the perfect obedience to the Mosaic Law of rituals"

Paul is writing to his fellow Jews in the province of Galatia that became Christians:

Galatians 2:15-16 (NET Bible)

15 "We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, 16 yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified."

By the works of the law-( that is perfect obedience to the Mosaic Law of rituals)- no one will be justified, this due to the fact that for imperfect humans ,it was impossible to fully keep the commandments of the Law. Jews and Gentiles Are Justified by Faith in Christ and not by works of the Law,Paul added: The bold in [ ] added to the verse by me

12 "But the law is not based on faith,[has nothing to do with faith] but the one who does the works of the law [the things prescribed in the Law} will live by them. 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”)[is crucified}.

  • The Abrahamic Covenant consisted of the requirement to believe God, agree with whatever He said or asked as Israel travelled across the desert (Jer 7:22) . Israel wanted protection from God's wrath, so the requirement to be bearers of oracles was added, but did not supersede the Abrahamic Covenant. The remnant believed God wanted all the law to be obeyed perfectly. The Pharisees only wanted to tithe cummin and mint, and fast, enforce circumcision, do works of the law, leaving out the more important requirements, justice, mercy and love. Which group was justified?
    – Seeker
    Commented Oct 28, 2019 at 2:34
  • @Seeker ; I agree with you, Jesus said :" In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets." Matthew 7:12 NET Please supply me your verses for the remnant and bearers of oracles, thanks Ozzie. Commented Oct 28, 2019 at 20:01
  • Romans 11:4, 3:2. Since the Sinaitic code was added to the Abrahamic Covenant and did not supersede it, Israel could treat it like a hired hand, bear oracles only, manifest prophesies identifying Messiah, without observing justice, mercy and faithfulness or believe God, and hold that observing justice, mercy and faithfulness were to be given priority without neglecting being pre-publicists for Messiah. Be under an employment contract or relationship, works or grace. Look up honor shame societies and patron client relationships for more information. Blessings.
    – Seeker
    Commented Oct 29, 2019 at 23:59
  • The remnant treated the Covenant as a relationship. That's why they were justified by grace. Rom 11:6. QUOTE These historical misinterpretations of 'grace' have led to correspondingly incorrect interpretations of passages that use charis. Romans 4, for example, contrasts the Reciprocity System to a Contractual system (a rather subtle contrast) which has historically been exegeted as the difference between human effort and reliance on 'grace'. UNQUOTE theogeek.blogspot.com/2008/02/…
    – Seeker
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 0:33

The works of the law represent the commands of the old covenant under Moses and the Aaronic priesthood including the ten commandments. The law was never to provide righteousness but to cause sin to increase, to be a schoolmaster, and an impossible standard and to reveal the character of God which we cannot attain to by "the flesh" "the letter kills" the law kills us and with it a curse. Jesus was strict about the law because self righteous proud people falsely believe and deceive themselves that they keep it and look down on and judge others (which is not their job). Jesus took the law to a higher level. Anger is murder, lust is adultery and calling your brother a "fool" is worthy of judgement.

God wants us to want him not to be mired in ourselves and black and white thinking. The only way to break a proud man is to raise the bar until he falls. We call this "hitting rock bottom". "God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble" God always intended the law and sacrificial system to point to his mercy but "even to this day when the law is read a veil covers their hearts and minds"


In Romans 1-3, Paul teaches the Gentiles without the law of Moses were guilty of sin before God and the Jews who were under the law of Moses were also guilty of sin before God concluding that all have sinned. Contextually Romans 3:28 refers to the law of Moses. Today we a justified by a system of faith that is separate from the works of the law of Moses.

In Galatians 2 Paul is referring to Peter's behavior toward the Gentile brethren when others Jews came from Jerusalem. Peter and Paul were both Jews but knew that since the law of Moses was nailed to the cross they could not be justified by the law of Moses or the works commanded in the law.

Acts 13:39 And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.

  • (-1) for not naming the translation of your citation, failure to format and it is kind of a short answer.
    – user10231
    Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 21:58

The comment above about "works of the law" referring to oral traditions is misleading. Galatians 4 and the analogy of Hagar and Sarah make it clear that "works of the law" also refers to Torah, or Mosaic Law.

The point Paul is making is that even if a person observes the oral traditions, which are even more demanding than the actual Law of Moses, he still cannot earn justification, righteousness or salvation this way. So, if a person observed the lesser demands of the Law of Moses, he would be that much less able to earn justification and salvation.


The Greek phrase which is translated 'deeds of the law' or 'works of the law' in Rom 3:20, 28 9:32, Gal 2:16, 3:2, 5, 10 is ἔργων νόμου. Biblehub.com (http://biblehub.com/greek/2041.htm) says Thayer's Lexicon gives three definitions for ἔργων: 1.) business, employment, that with which anyone is occupied 2.) any product whatever, anything accomplished by hand, art, industry, mind 3.) an act, deed, thing done:

Translators have used the third interpretation. If we instead use the first interpretation the phrase means 'occupancy of the law' or 'being under the law'. Rom 3:20 becomes: 'Therefore, by the occupancy of the law no flesh shall be justified, ...'

Three facts were put forward again and again in the previous chapter, Romans 2: 1.) It is not the hearers of the law (Rom 2:13), the teachers of the law (2:17-23) or the circumcised (Rom 2:25-29) that will be justified. 2.) It is the doers of the law that will be justified (Rom 2:13, 26) whether they are under the law or not (2:11 and 14-16).

Essentially, in Romans 2 Paul wrote that being Jewish does not justify you. So, 'By the occupancy of the law no flesh shall be justified.' This was relevant to Paul's audience because many Jews thought they were 'sons of Abraham' just because they were of Abraham's bloodline. Jesus (John 8:39) and John the Baptist (Matt 3:9-10) are quoted as having told Jews that they were not sons of Abraham unless they kept the required righteousness (works, deeds).

So Paul was arguing that Judaism is not a fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham and that Christianity is. This meant that it is not that Christians needed to become Jews to become sons of Abraham but that Jews needed to become Christians to become sons of Abraham.

  • 2
    I'm not sure how you are using the word "occupancy" in your post. Can you please clarify? Thanks. Also, please remember that Biblehub includes a great Lexicon (BDB) for free. Strong's is NOT a lexicon and should not be used as one. hermeneutics.meta.stackexchange.com/search?q=concordance Also, can you please delete your last paragraph? It is not exegesis so is irrelevant. Thanks again Jason.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 12:36
  • The word 'occupancy' is the proposed replacement for the word 'works.' There is a link to the Lexicon I used in the post. Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 4:55
  • Thanks, but I don't understand what it might mean in English. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/occupancy
    – Ruminator
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 9:56
  • Jason Peter Perkins, I think that was beautifully thought-out and I enjoyed reading your answer. Thank you for answering with 'soul' and not conforming to flat, lifeless, pseudo-scholastic analytics. Well done.
    – N.Ish
    Commented Aug 12, 2018 at 5:51

The works of the law is most likely refering to circumcisim. Any thing that you find in the Bible that God gave to the Israeites as part of their responseabilities to God is construed as the law. Even Jews that beleived on Jesus tried to tell new believers that they had to be circumcised to be saved. Other people nowadays think you have to keep Saturday as the Sabath or your not saved. But mainly it was circumcisn that was being taught.

  • Can you please provide some evidence of that from the scriptures or another primary source? Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Sep 22, 2018 at 21:42

Psalm 106 commemorates an incident recounted in Numbers 25:1–8, in which the Israelites, on their trek to the Promised Land, fraternize with the Moabites, worship their gods and sleep with their daughters. As punishment, God sends a plague on the Israelites. When Phinehas the priest catches an Israelite in flagrante delicto with a foreign woman, he spears the couple through their bellies with a single spear. And the plague is lifted. For his deed, we are told in Psalm 106, Phinehas was regarded as eternally righteous:

“Then Phinehas stood up and interposed;
And so the plague was stayed.
And it was reckoned to him as righteousness,
from generation to generation forever.”
(Psalm 106:30–31)

Upon examination of the Hebrew text of MMT, it becomes clear that MMT echoes this passage from Psalm 106. The same passive verb—“it was reckoned” in Psalm 106 and “you shall be reckoned” in MMT—is one clear reflection of this dependence. The only difference is that the past tense of the verb in Psalm 106 is changed to the future tense in MMT to convert it into a promise for the addressee.

Two other considerations point to this relationship between Psalm 106 and MMT. In the psalm, the poet celebrates what Phinehas did when there was an unholy mixture of an Israelite with a foreign woman. Similarly, the central theme of MMT is the call to turn from the sin of unholy mixture. Secondly, the Qumran covenanters refer to themselves as the Sons of Zadok. Zadok was the high priest during the reigns of David and Solomon. He was a direct descendant of Phinehas, both Zadok and Phinehas being of the priestly line of Eleazar the son of Aaron. For the Qumran sect, a priestly paradigm of righteousness would have been especially pleasing.

MMT is couched in the exact language of what Paul was rebutting in his letter to the Galatians. MMT claims that adherence to the works of the law “will be accounted to you as righteousness”; Paul’s answer is that “No human being is justified by works of the law but only through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16).7 MMT espouses works of the law as exemplified in Phinehas’s deed; those who perform works of the law will be reckoned righteous unto eternity. So says Psalm 106, recounting Numbers 25:1–8.


Those things that specifically set one apart as Jewish. In Gal 2 Paul moves from discussing how 'you' peter though 'you' live like Jew 'you' act like a gentile... and points out his hypocrisy in observing food laws and no longer eating with the gentiles. In the next verse (2:15) he identifies with peter saying "'we'Jews by nature and not sinners from the 'Gentiles' know that a person is not justified through works of the law 'except' through faith of messiah Jesus" Paul is a Jew and he once followed the law, the law was a temporary provision till faith came, but now the spirit has been poured out and there is no need for the wisdom of the law and the spirit has gone to the gentiles so there is no longer a need for Law which once set Israel apart from the nations and so for Paul while the Law is not contrary to the promise the problem with it is that there is now one new people of God and Peter should not have stoped eating with the gentiles nor do the galatians need to take on circumscision to be justified rather they already have the promised holy spirit. sorry this was a vomit of words but an in depth look at both the first half of romans and glatians will show that what is at the heart of the full phrase works of the law is the observance of torah and not just any good work.


Rather than trying to unlock the phrase "works of the law" in abstracto, we should seek to understand the context in which it is being used. And the context, in every passage you cited, is always a discussion about Justification, i.e. On what basis is any man "declared righteous" (justified) before God? In every context, Paul says that it's "not by the works of the law."

Now that we've identified the subject matter surrounding the use of this phrase, we can proceed to expand our study. Are there other places where the Bible speaks to the matter of justification in relation to works of the law? Do these other contexts identify some of these works? That might help to shed some light on what Paul is referring to.

No doubt, there are many places in the NT where justification is treated. I'll mention one example, though it should point you in the right direction. Consider then, the teaching of Jesus in Luke 18:10-14. Luke begins there by saying, "And [Jesus] spake this parable unto certain men which trusted in themselves, that they were righteous, and despised others."

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his own breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.

Now, here it's pretty clear that the answer to your original question is answered in this text. Contrary to some, I would say first that Paul is continuing the teachings of Jesus and not the ancient sub-sects who lived in the caves of Qumran. This is important.

Should we interpret Paul by the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Or by the teachings of Jesus?

In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul makes it a point to say that his doctrine comes (not from other men) but directly from Jesus Christ:

But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Now, when we examine the story that Jesus gives in Luke 18, we see precisely what he's teaching. The Pharisee was not justified even though he performed the works of God's Law, but the publican was justified even though he failed to perform those same works.


Jesus says that they were the works contained (written) in the moral and ceremonial aspects of the Law of God. That much is clear from what the Pharisee actually says.

Note carefully that the Pharisee denied that he was an "extortioner" (8th Commandment), an "adulterer" (7th Commandment, and that he affirmed that was faithful in paying his "tithes" (Lev. 27:30; Num. 18:25–28; Deut. 14:22–24; 2 Chron. 31:5–6; Malachi 3:6-12).

Clearly, all of these things were either prohibited or commanded by God in His law. Jesus says then, as does Paul, that these works of the law cannot justify sinners before God; it's only when they repent of their sins that God declares them righteous in his sight. He does so, says Paul, because Jesus fully satisfied the demands of God's justice by his death on the cross (proven in his resurrection from the dead). And God counts that satisfaction toward those who repent and believe in Jesus.

Romans 4:5 says,

But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

For further study, I suggest a study of Acts 15, where the Jerusalem Council also addressed the relationship between works and justification. There, you will see the works of the law are again the written commandments (not the Oral Tradition) contained in the Law of God.

  • Baseless statement that Jesus taught works of law cannot justify. -- if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments. Do this and you will live.
    – Michael16
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 15:56

When Apostle Paul says "the works of the law", he is referring to the contents (especially the commandments) in Law of Moses.

We can read this in Romans 3:20 - "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin."

We can see that Apostle Paul is talking about the contents (especially the commandments) of the law when he says works of the law. Let me give an example.

When you learn the commandment (in Law of Moses) "Do not steal", you are learning the fact that stealing is sin.

In his letters, Apostle Paul was opposing the claim that Salvation first comes to your life through the works of the law while disregarding faith completely.

Apostle Paul taught that Salvation first comes to your life through faith. Not through works of the law. When you believe in Jesus Christ, Salvation (or Life) will come to you. This is the first step of Salvation coming to your life.

But in order to “achieve” Salvation, you need to keep the commandments of the law. This is the second and final step.

That is why Apostle Paul wrote to uphold the law through faith in Romans 3 verse 31. That is also why Apostle Paul wrote that adulterers, idolaters, swindlers, etc. will not inherit the kingdom of God in 1 Corinthians 6 verse 9 to 10.


Works of the law.

Parchment unearthed at Qumran suggest that the phrase works of the law are the halakhic pronouncements of the leader of the sect, in this case the Teacher of Righteousness. Judaism was never monolithic, but had different schools, identified by the Rabbis they followed, and the differentiator was the interpretations they made of the base written law.

The issue being explored is what justifies a believer, makes him recognizable as the recipient of the promise to Abraham.

For the Teacher of Righteousness, the leader of the Qumran sect, it was ritual purity, the abstention from contact with certain body fluids. In other words, absence of the evidence of contact with those impurities, either by avoidance or cleansing, guaranteed the recognition by God of the affinity to Abraham and therefore receiving of the aforementioned promise.

Paul is only following the tradition of laying out halakha, mandatory requirements, in Galatians, which exactly follows the structure of 4QMMT. In Paul's version, believers are justified by "the hearing of faith".

Is "the hearing of faith" the equivalent of "works of the law"? No! Not only is Paul rejecting the terms and conditions of Sinai, he is rejecting the Covenant itself! Drive out the son of the bondswoman, who had been living in the same camp as the son of the free woman! Be sons, not slaves! The Sinaitic Covenant had been allowed to come into existence on Israel's insistence (interesting study for the topic of the Remnant), but it did not, could not, supersede the promise made to Abraham four hundred and thirty years earlier. Israel had two arrangements running parallely in her midst for sometime, but now that the New Covenant, the promise by God to His People had come into existence, was fulfilled, it was time to drive out the Sinaitic Covenant.

Ishmael oppressed Isaac, and was a stumbling block, neither entering the Kingdom nor allowing others to enter. By works of the law can no one be justified, be recognised as co-heirs with Christ. Only by faith, manifestations of loyalty, affinity with Abraham, can a believer be accepted into adoption to sonship, justification, recognition of "right-ness", suitability for family membership.


There is no “achieving” salvation through "works of the law" nor any "works" including those of the law, as Christ did alone achieve (procure) it for all, the whole world, 1 John 2:2 by being “the propitiation” …for the sins of the whole world”, which include us that believe. This is why he also recorded the very words of Christ speaking, in the third person, in John 3:16; “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life”. This also is the way John said it in John 1:12; “But as many as received him (Christ) to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that 'believe' on his name.” Again, Paul says; Romans 10:9,10; “That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” It is all by faith believing! No, works can have no effect on either righteousness, nor salvation, as Christ provided these by his blood. But, Paul did share that works do “follow those that are Christ” (saved), after having believed, Ephesians 2: 8. So get the “works” in the right protocol, the right progression, the right order, as first believe, then as Verse 10 confirms, “…we (that believe) are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus ‘unto’ good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.” Take away? Works can never procure, but only confirm one's procurement! Thanks

  • Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for your contribution. Please take the tour to better understand how this site works. Please break this answer into readable paragraphs.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 22, 2021 at 10:10
  • How do you explain (Rom 10:5) For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the one who does the them shall live by them. [cf. Lev 18:5; Ezek 20:11; Gal 3:12] if you think it the law could never justify?
    – Michael16
    Commented May 16, 2021 at 18:07

The ''works of the Law'' in Pauline letters were given by God himself, unlike the oral traditions of the religious Jewish leaders.

The works of the Law in Romans 9:32 was referring to the Law of Moses based on context (Romans 9:4 speaks of the ''giving of the Law'', which was the Law given to Moses). The same thing is found in Galatians (''The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. Galatians 3:19.).

The The phrase ‘works of the law’ in the New Testament is different from what the Dead Sea Scrolls had.

by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:39 NRSV).

The phrase ‘works of the law’ refers merely to the traditions of men in the Dead Sea Scrolls (4QMMT C 27, 31). However, Paul has a different meaning for the phrase ‘works of the law’. For Paul, the ‘works of the Law’ refers to the ‘all the things in the book of the Law’ and ‘the Law of Moses’, that is, the entire Torah itself.

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.” (Galatians 3:10 NRSV).


I don't understand the confusion.

The people of Israel were chosen to be an example to the world, demonstrating their cause and effect relationship with sin. When a nation, its leaders and citizens, follow the laws, God will bring them blessings. When a nation, its leaders or citizens, don't follow the laws, God will bring them curses.

The Old Covenant was strictly physical. Jews today still follow this covenant, knowing that it is their behaviour that counts, not necessarily their thoughts. God doesn't judge their thoughts and motives until they actually commit a sin. (For instance, being homosexual is not considered a sin, but giving in to those desires is.) Only those thoughts that actually lead to sin are wrong.

It is one's duty to God to follow his Law. The "works of the law" are simply the observable behaviour of those that do.

Christians too are chosen to be an example to the world. But for them, thoughts by themselves can be a sin, even if they don't lead to committing any physical sin.

The early converts to Christianity were looking for spiritual salvation. But many of them still clung to the idea that it was their behaviour that would earn them salvation as a reward, that they could earn salvation by their actions.

This is the misconception that Paul and others were trying to dispel. No matter how good one is, no matter how many good deeds one does, salvation can neither be earned or rewarded. There is nothing that a Christian does or thinks that can entitle them to salvation.

A Christian must first have faith that they will be given salvation despite their thoughts and actions. Then they must allow that faith to change and develop their characters so that they will not want to sin, either in thought or deed.

This faith -> repentance -> change -> obedience relationship is necessary for salvation, but mechanical obedience by itself is not sufficient.

Believing that one's works can earn one's salvation is wrong. But believing that one's faith can earn one's salvation is just as wrong.

It is one's works, which are a natural consequence of one's faith, that demonstrate one's faith. But it is God's grace that gives salvation to those with faith; nothing anyone does can entitle them to this gift.


I find it utterly incredible how some Men do not care what Paul is actually teaching, they still have a faith so weak they insist on works salvation. This is SIMPLE LOGIC. Asking what defines works of the Law is Moot using simple Logic.

Why? Because Paul excludes EVERY THING but faith. So you can argue, twist, & redefine works until Christ comes but the Holy Spirit is given at the moment Faith is exerted and His presence is an immediate adoption unto Sonship and a guarantee - making the definition of works as meaningless as the any other *Thing you want to include. You have to be able to comprehend that. It is not even high school reading level. It is the Holy Spirit & His presence upon that kernel of faith that Messiah proclaimed can move mountains that places us unquestionably into the Kingdom of God. The Father transforms that miniscule kernel into fact as He places in our spirit that Jesus is exactly who he says he is & will do precisely what he said he will.

So you go boy. Keep trying to qualify for God's approval. Keep pushing your weak faith through your pet doctrines, because that's precisely where your *Works lie anyway. I'd bet dollars to donuts that you aren't volunteering at the soup kitchen as you proclaim works - instead *Your Works are your Pet doctrine - that's what sets you apart in your mind. Barking that out is your work.

Ps. Using 2 sentences in James, the earliest NT letter - written to the Jews- before the Jerusalem counsel, to correct or clarify Paul, the Chosen Instrument of God's gospel to the Gentiles, who beats this topic to death umpteen times as there to be no question about it, is so utterly preposterous you literally have to want to justify yourself by works in order to be saved.


I feel Liam really answered this, however I would like to show some of the foundational concepts that help support his answer.

As Liam points out there are the two systems the "Faith Based System" and the "Law of Moses". These two systems are explained in Galatians under the terms Spirit and Flesh. Paul starts by explaining about trusting in the Circumcision.

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. 2 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. 3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5:1-6 NKJV)

So to restate: Jesus made us free from the "Works of the Law". So now we should no longer "Work the Law" becoming entangled to the yoke of bondage. Feeling the need to be Circumcised is putting our trust in a system that we have been freed from. Those that choose to follow the law are then required to keep the law because they have fallen from grace, by denying Christ. Instead we should eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness that comes from the "Faith Based System".

7 You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is.

11 And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased. 12 I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!

13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! (Galatians 5:7-15 NKJV)

So to restate: The Galatians started off well, but this persuasion to follow the law does not come from Christ. "A little leaven leavens the whole lump." Even just a little bit of following the law can cause all to stumble. Whoever is convincing you to do this will bear his judgement. And if Paul was teaching "Works of the Law" why was he receiving persecutions? So Paul even wished those pushing this "Following of the Law" would emasculate themselves. Then gives a warning that our liberty should not be used as an opportunity for our bodies to perpetuate the Law.

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16 NKJV)

So to restate: Trust in the "Faith" and you will not fulfill the "Works of the Law"

For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. (Galatians 5:17 NKJV)

So to restate: The "Works of the Law" are against "Faith" and "Faith" is against the "Works of the Law"; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Galatians 5:18 NKJV)

So to restate: But if you are in the "Faith", you do not do "Works of the Law".

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 NKJV)

So to restate: The result of "Working the Law" is adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV)

So to restate: But the result of "Faith" is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:24-26 NKJV)

So to restate: nd those who are Christ’s have crucified the "Works of the Law" with its passions and desires. If we live by "Faith", let us also "Walk by Faith". Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load. (Galatians 6:1-5 NKJV)

So to restate: If one who "Walks by Faith" is overtaken in any trespass (feels the need to use the Law to come to peace), you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, carefully considering the the situation lest you also be tempted to "Use the Law". Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ "The Faith". 3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something(as such a man who can escape fulfilling the Law without consequence), when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load.

  • 1
    -1 because this draws an unneeded distinction between law and faith. The two work together (see James 1:1 through 5:20). Paul also speaks highly of the Law and follows it. While he refuses Titus to be circumcised, he insists that Timothy be (Acts 16:3). This is because Titus was a gentile while Timothy was an uncircumcised Jew whom other Jews would consider an apostate. Paul, along with the Jerusalem Council, refused to make circumcision a requirement for salvation, but they recognized that the Law did good things in people. One who follows the Law in faith will not do those things.
    – Frank Luke
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 16:03
  • However, one who has faith must not take their liberty in Christ as an excuse to sin. God forbid that we should sin that grace abound! And "taken in trespass" does not mean "feels the need to use the Law to come to peace." It means falls into sin, i.e. disobeys the Law.
    – Frank Luke
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 16:08
  • This also is why the word Body is used. For example the part of the Law that is "Overwritten" is the "Opposite Equal Reaction Laws" - eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Now God has decided to fulfill the Law. He now does the "Opposite Equal Reaction". "Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?" (Acts 23:3 NKJV) Here Paul shows how God will fulfil the Opposite Equal Reaction for him. "Therefore prophesy against them, prophesy, O son of man!" (Ezekiel 11:4 NKJV)
    – Decrypted
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 22:45
  • "He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints." (Revelation 13:10) and take a look at how Jesus says this "So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first." (John 8:7) The people took this personally, however The One Without Sin is God. "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord." (Romans 12:19)
    – Decrypted
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 22:50

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