Galatians 3:11 (NKJV)

But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”

Romans 2:13 (NKJV)

(for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified;

In Galatians 3 Paul says "no one is justified by the law in the sight of God" but "the just shall live by faith" but then he seems to reverse this in Romans 2 where he uses the Greek word δικαιόω(free justify, innocent,be righteous) to allude to the doers of the law. Could I be missing something here?


7 Answers 7


This depends on the interpretation of works of the law. Paul's argument against the law in Galatians forbid the law for believers, he says it is mutually exclusive with grace. If they accepts or subscribe to the law, they are severed from grace of the new covenant (Gal 5). The context shows these arguments are specifically against Mosaic law or Mosaic covenant. "The law" serves as a phrase or title to denote Mosaic covenant which has been finished or done away through Christ, and a new superior covenant replaced it. Hence, old and new covenant are mutually exclusive; Paul says that doing works of the Mosaic law entails denial of Christ, thereby a righteousness of our own standards rather than God's. The righteousness derived by the Mosaic law has been made invalid now. (see Phil 3:9; and Rom 3-4)

The reference of law or works of the law in Rom 2:12-16 refers to moral or good works done by anyone even some godless gentiles with conscience. See early father Chrysostom's detailed commentary on this passage. The moral works in general are not limited to Mosaic covenant. Paul also reinforced the moral commandments within Mosaic law to the Church. He even referred to the moral law as the law of Christ (Gal 6:2). So Grace in contextual sense is the consolation with respect to the burden of Jewish/Mosaic law; it is not consolation and replacement of moral law. When Paul shows distinguish Grace and merits, he showed the superiority of the concept of Grace. This view is based on the contextual interpretation of "works of the law" as held by (many) Catholics.

Emphasis on the temporal changing of justification requirement in the new covenant. Faith in Christ replaced the Jewish law; now both Jew and Gentiles stand equal in the body of believers.

Romans 3:21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed –

Romans 3:26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness. (NET)

Luther interpreted Paul's arguments against the law as arguments against human-efforts, any works of obedience, leading to the doctrine of monergism which means that man cannot attain righteousness except through grace. This assumes that the Mosaic law could never justify or give life to anyone. The law was incapable so is man incapable of keeping the commandments. Grace under this monergism doctrine is favor as opposed to merits and vain-efforts. This interpretation creates a huge problem in harmonizing all the pro-works teachings or commandments by all apostles and even Christ since it sees a normative distinction in the nature of justification by merits/efforts with justification by grace to be mutually exclusive. Thus comes the whole conundrum of rationalizing faith-alone with not-by-faith-alone passages.

  • I think you will find the origin of monergism in Augustine's more radical writings against Pelagius. (I upvoted your response. Great summary. Really encouraging to see Chrysostom appealed to).
    – user15733
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 14:23
  • Thanks @TheNonTheologian I agree Augustine is the father of monergism or Lutheran faith alone. I found that Chrysostom is the only commentator who directly and rightly addressed Rom 2 passage; I cant find anyone else who ever did that. christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/53413/…
    – Michael16
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 14:27
  • Within the Orthodox Church, there is an explanation for why Chrysostom always seems to get Paul's Epistles right :) See "Reflection" (for today, coincidentally):
    – user15733
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 14:54
  • @TheNonTheologian interesting. My explanation based on common sense is simply because Chrysostom was not influenced by Augustine. Before Augustine was the Pelagian theology era. Pelagius would have also explained all things pretty clearly.
    – Michael16
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 15:07
  • "I agree Augustine is the father of monergism or Lutheran faith alone" This is a joke, right? Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 16:42

Paul's point is that the benefit of the law does not come from simply becoming circumcised and beholden to the law but rather by keeping the entire law, which no one does. For those who do not keep the law it becomes a curse in that its sanctions incur the wrath of God:

NIV Romans 3:

9What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 10As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”b 13“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.”c “The poison of vipers is on their lips.”d 14“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”e 15“Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16ruin and misery mark their ways, 17and the way of peace they do not know.”f 18“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”g 19Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20Therefore 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.


An interesting view is that Galatians 3:11 is referring to pre-conversion, while Romans 2:13 is post-conversion. Paul also states in Romans 3:31:

"Do we then void the law by faith? God forbid. We establish the law"

Particularly notice the word "then" in the above passage which indicates something that comes after. Perhaps Paul means that after becoming converted by faith (without being justified by the law), do we then afterward, make the law of no effect?

Sometimes "law" in Romans 3:31 is interpreted as "law of faith". If so then we are forced to render the text like the following :

"Do we then void the [law of faith] by faith ?"

Can anyone explain how you can void the law of faith by faith? This interpretation makes no sense. But you can certainly void the law of God by faith by saying, "I've got faith, therefore I can live a lawless life".


I think it really helps to understand what's going on in Romans 1:17 through 3:21 as a big picture. The overall message could be summed up as "For all have sinned" or "all are guilty" whether you are a Jew or Greek, or whether you have the law or don't. In the specific context of chapter 2 Paul is making an argument that the Jews are guilty of sin by being judgmental.

Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. 3 But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?

Paul later says...

12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; 13 for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.

The point of Paul's argument in this specific passage is NOT to claim that mankind is justified in God's eyes eternally by being a doer of the law, but that a person who believes they are righteous because they have the law (Jew) needs to realize that those who do not have the law (Gentiles) and do good things, God would consider them just in the good things that they do.

If there was any confusion about being justified by faith or the law, Paul clears that up in the following passages starting in Romans 3:31 through chapter 4.

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith


Both of these verses refer to whether or not someone can claim to be 'just in the sight of God' simply because they know the law, or because they are Jewish and therefore 'have' the law by birthright. Both say the same thing: that simply knowing, having or hearing the law does not justify anyone, but they are justified in doing the works of the law, in living by them. Jesus points this out in the hypocrisy of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees (Matthew 23), who judge others by the letter of the law, but do not practice it themselves.

What Paul clarifies further in Galatians is that 'living by the law' and 'living by faith' are not the same thing. This letter is predominantly aimed at countering the influence of Jewish Christians who appear to insist on circumcision and other Jewish customs in order to be accepted as part of the community. Because of this, his attack on the relevance of the law in relation to faith is quite forceful.

But neither are the two mutually exclusive. Living by the works of the law - including the many rituals, customs, traditions and regulations - was originally supposed to encourage the kind of close relationship with God that Jesus demonstrates as, being Jewish, he also lives by the law, abiding by the customs and regulations. And the work of Paul demonstrates that this relationship can be achieved by faith even without knowing anything about Jewish law. So it is possible to live by faith without the law, and it is possible to live by the law (or claim to) without faith, and therefore without that personal relationship with God.

It is also possible to know the law, and then to live not by the law but by faith, and be justified in the sight of God. Christians who once considered themselves to be Jews are no longer bound by the letter of the law if they live by faith.

"we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code." (NIV Romans 7:6)

That doesn't mean those who live only by faith are 'more justified' than those who live both by the law and by faith, or vice versa. It doesn't mean that the law is meaningless, either. The important point is to live by faith, whether you know the law or not, and whether you live by the law or not.

"For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law." (NIV Romans 3:28-31)

Unfortunately I'm not able to draw up a venn diagram to illustrate, but if you can imagine a circle labelled 'know the law', with a smaller circle labelled 'live by the law' completely inside it. Both these circles intersect with a third circle labelled 'live by faith' - which is the circle of the early Christian community: including some who know the law, some who live by the law, as well as some with no knowledge of the law.

  • Appreciate the suggestions, @Ruminator. Hopefully the edits help a little. In some cases, I am referring to quite a large chunk of text -eg. all of Matthew 23, all of Galatians, all of Jesus' actions in relation to Jewish festivals, etc. so it's hard to isolate one quote to back up what I'm saying. Unfortunately, I'm on an iPad, so I don't have access to Word (only notes), but I'll try to add a diagram at a later stage when I do. Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 5:34
  • Thanks. Romans 3:31 actually "we establish a law", referring to the law of faith which he mentions a few verses earlier: "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." - Romans 3:27
    – Ruminator
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 12:21


Successfully keeping the law makes us just.

I think that the synthesis of the two quoted verses is that we must keep the law, which I believe is the 'Ten Commandments', but can't do it successfully without the crucifixion of our flesh, according to the pattern drawn up for us by the crucified Christ.

Thus, faith and works are both important. Faith in the crucified Christ being the agent that enables us to keep the law.

Jesus: "I haven't come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it". (Mat 5:17)

  • Can you please clarify what you mean? Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 3:40

We are completely justified by faith. Good works should flow forth automatically through us because of that change that has been made, by a new heart and a new spirit. Filled with the Love of God that shows forth through our actions.

There was that first covenant which was given to our fathers when they left Egypt. Blood was sprinkled upon the Book and all of the people so seal it. We did not keep it and He promised us a Brit Chadishah, a New Covenant.

Jeremiah 31:31 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:

32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:

Too many believers are still hanging on to the Old Covenant, that is why that they still "under the Law".

What many people do not get, which causes alot of misunderstandings, is that the New Covenant was NOT going to be like the one that He gave to our fathers when they left Egypt.

Why do so many say otherwise???

We are entered into a New Covenant, which has already been ratified with the Blood of HaMashiach, Y'shua!

This is a higher Covenant, made with better promises. People will shout out that we are "lawless". They couldn't be further from the truth. This is a higher Law. It encompasses the 10 Commandments and magnifies it to a higher level.

Just as Y'shua said in Matthew 5:21,22 That the commandment says "Thou shalt not kill" but whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment".

It all stems from the heart. The Lord knoweth those that are His. Where is your heart at? Do your actions support that you have faith? This is a New Law, the Law of the Spirit, the Law of Love, which is also the Law of Liberty and the Law of Christ.

Face it, IF you love your neighbor, you automatically don't steal from them, covet their wife or commit adultery with them. You do not lie nor kill nor steal. You have found that every day is Holy unto God and have entered into His rest as Hebrews 4 shows us.

It is about esteeming others better than ourselves and also doing unto others, as we would have them do unto us.

Galatians 5:14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself

Romans 13:8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

People will cry out "But it says to keep His commandments!" Please, let these sayings sink down into your ears...

I John 3:22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.

23 AND THIS IS HIS COMMANDMENT, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.

But let us all be perfectly honest, there is none righteous, no not one. No man could stand. Any of us may be doing something that is not pleasing in His sight as Paul, being zealous and certain that he was doing the will of God,had believers imprisoned and killed. Same with the Inquisition, they thought that they were doing Him a service.

He has called us unto Holiness, but at then end of they day No One will be able to stand without being clothed in His Righteousness in which the best of our works are compared as dung.

We of course want to do what is pleasing in His sight, but we are only justified by faith. THAT is the Gift and Love of God to us!!! God honors faith, and without faith it is impossible to please God.

There is alot of love and good things in the Torah, and the Ruach HaKodesh can show us great things in them if we ask. But as far as the letter of the Law, we are not under it so there is no need to fight to keep so many believers in chains. Let them live in the Liberty of the Law of Faith, which worketh by Love. (Galatians 5:6)

Galatians 3:25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.

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