This is more of a semantic question, but I keep coming back to it and can't seem to come to a conclusion.

Was the law able to give life? I know that Galatians 3:21-22 (and other places) tells us that since we are innately sinful and unable to keep the law.

However, other places, like Romans 2:25 and Leviticus 18:5 seem to suggest that the law could give life if we were theoretically able to obey it.


The Bible is clear that we are sinners cannot fulfil the law and so it condemns us, but if someone were able to obey it would the law be able to give life to them?

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    Do any of these answer your question? – Dottard Jan 16 at 6:04

I was under the (obviously) mistaken impression that this had been resolved more than 500 years ago. "Can the law give life?" Let us review the Bible facts:

  • Gal 3:21 - "Is the law, then, opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come from the law". THIS ANSWERS THE QUESTION ALONE!
  • Rom 3:20, 4:6 – atonement cannot be achieved by man by the works of the law
  • Eph 2:5, 8-10 – atonement is a free gift of God, out of His love and grace to do good works and glorify God
  • Gal 2:16 – we are justified not by works but by Jesus’ faithfulness because by the works of the law no flesh will be justified.
  • Titus 3:5 – we cannot atone for our own sin by deeds of the law
  • Isa 64:6 – our own righteousness (right doing or “deeds”) are as “filthy rags”
  • Acts 4:12 – sinners are saved by Christ alone
  • Phil 2:13, John 6:44, Rom 2:4, 5:5, Eph 2:5 all show that salvation and atonement are God’s initiative and that any positive response to God’s invitation is also the work of the Holy Spirit.
  • Rom 3:23, 24, 5:6, 8, 10 – the fact that God provided atonement for all sinners, while were still sinners, indicates that atonement is God’s initiative alone. Isa 65:1

This led directly to Luther’s reformation catch-cry of “solas”: Sola Scriptura, Sola fide, Sola Christos, Sola gratia, Sola Deo Gloria.

The reason for this quite simple:

  • 1 John 5:11, 12 - God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
  • Acts 4:12 - Salvation exists in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

But there is yet another reason for this. Keeping the law perfectly (assuming the absolute impossible) still will not give life to save us. Again, the reason is simple -

We are sinners not only because of what we have done (and so "guilty") BUT also because we are sinful, that is we have sinful tendencies which keeping the law perfectly does not cure.

In fact, it is because we are fundamentally so sinful (Rom 3:10-18) that it is impossible to keep the law perfectly. John puts it this way:

  • 1 John 1:8 - "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Note that the word "sin" here is a noun and thus shows the STATE of the sinner that Paul points out in Rom 3:10-18.
  • 1 John 1:10 - "If we say we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar, and His word is not in us." Note that the word "sinned" here is a verb indicating what we have done and essentially repeats what Paul says in Rom 3:23, "ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."

Therefore, even if a person could do the impossible and keep the law perfectly, that person would still need a Savior to change the wicked heart with sinful propensities.

Paul summed it up this way is Rom 12:2, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." We need a complete transformation of character so that the sin that was once attractive become repulsive. we need to be more like Christ as Paul puts it:

  • 1 Cor 2:16, But we have the mind of Christ.
  • Phil 2:5, Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus

The law cannot give life - only the great source of life (John 1:4,8:12, 14:6, 1 John 5:11, 12), and only Jesus Christ can give eternal life.

By contrast, Paul says:

  • Rom 7:9-11 - Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. So I discovered that the very commandment that was meant to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing its opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through the commandment put me to death.

However, Paul does not condemn the law - it is absolutely essential so that we can understand what sin is and that we need help. So Paul concludes:

  • Rom 7:12, 13, So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? Certainly not! But in order that sin might be exposed as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

The law is essential to point out that we are sinners but the only source of life is Jesus.


So what of Lev 18:5 which says, "Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD." Thus, there is no claim that the law gives life, only that it creates a way of everyday life for those who keep it. We must be law-abiding people.

  • Thanks for your reply — some interesting points made. Clearly Paul’s purpose was to address the practical realities of salvation by faith and not to discuss hypotheticals. You did address whether keeping the law perfectly (assuming the impossible) you also argued that they would still have a sinful heart that would disqualify them from salvation — in this hypothetical world where we could keep the law perfectly, we would not be sinful or have sinful tendencies in our hearts. The Sermon of Mount makes it clear that adherence to God’s commands is a matter of what our hands and our hearts. – Ben Robinson Jul 10 '20 at 4:50
  • As a result, I would dispute your claim that “Therefore, even if a person could do the impossible and keep the law perfectly, that person would still need a Savior to change the wicked heart with sinful propensities.” on the basis that this hypothetical perfect adherent of the law would have a perfect and sinless heart. – Ben Robinson Jul 10 '20 at 4:50
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    @BenRobinson - I think there is more agreement here that is apparent. The only person who can keep the law perfectly is a perfect person, who, therefore, would not need salvation. – Dottard Jul 11 '20 at 3:23
  • I would agree. The process of asking this question made it evident to me that the very idea of the law offering salvation to those who keep it makes no sense. Those able to keep Gods perfect law would be perfect and therefore in no need of salvation be it through the law or by faith – Ben Robinson Jul 12 '20 at 3:32
  1. The Law cannot save us, from our own committed sins or from the sin of the world that exists in the world - in humanity - come from Adam after his transgression.

I am assuming there is no dispute about this. It is a fact of experience, personally.

  1. The Law did not save humanity in the beginning, in Eden, from being deceived (the woman) or from transgressing (the man).

I am assuming there is no dispute about this. It is a fact of experience, corporately.

The question of 'could it give life ?' therefore, is a different question to 'can it save ?'.

The law does not give life.

The law has no life to give.

The law addresses life in the creature.

But the life that is in the creature is weak. The flesh is weak. Natural life is not capable of responding to the spiritual demands of the law.

The law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin . . . . [Romans 7:14 KJV]

is the expression of a man who found out, by experience, in his own soul, just how spiritual the law is, in its depth of operation in humanity, in its breadth of ramifications throughout humanity and in its absolute requirements over all humanity.

He says two things. I am carnal : I am sold under sin. First, he is carnal flesh. Second, his carnal flesh has been traded - it now resides underneath an authority. And sin is that authority. "I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present within me". These are Paul's experiences.

I had not known lust except the law had said 'Thou shalt not covet'. [Romans 7:7 KJV]

The weakness is not the law itself, for the commandment is holy, just and good, Romans 7:12.

The weakness is the flesh. The weakness of that through which law might (I say only might) operate . . . renders it inoperable.

To obey the law and earn the right to continue to live on planet earth one must have the desire to keep it, the intelligence to understand its demands, the discipline to actually obey its every precept (continually, without fault, without excuse, without a break) and the uprightness of character to obey it in all of the aspects of human life : in one's own thoughts and imaginations and emotions and sensibilities : in one's every relationship with other humans : and in one's relationship and appreciation of the Deity who created one.

I say again : Flesh is weak.

... for what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh ... [Romans 8:3 KJV]

Nor was it ever intended to operate through flesh. It exists, because it has to exist in a material, substantial creation in which there is intelligent life.

But that is not the way to live, spiritually.

Hence, in the garden of Eden, there was a Tree of Life.

And God warned not to eat of the other tree. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

It will kill you, he warned.

Humans are made of flesh. And flesh is weak.

We were never intended to live by Law.

Because we are weak.

Righteousness is of God : humanity believeth.

And Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him unto righteousness

Genesis 15:6 ... Romans 4:3 ... Galatians 3:6 ... James 2:23 ... [KJV]

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    (+1 Quite interesting – collen ndhlovu Jul 8 '20 at 13:32
  • Thanks for your reply. Could you expand on the distinction between the law giving life and the law saving? The Bible is clear that we are saved by faith and not adherence to the law because we cannot obey the law perfectly. To say that the law could 'save' those who perfectly obey it is a strange idea because they would presumably be sinless and without need for salvation. Is it reasonable to equate the sinless lack of need for salvation that results from obeying God perfectly with a sort of 'salvation' by the law? – Ben Robinson Jul 10 '20 at 4:54

The Tanakh contrasts statutes and judgments that if an Israelite does “...he shall live by1 them,”2 with statutes and judgments that if he does he “shall not live by3 them.”4 In Ezekiel, where both phrases occur, Yahveh’s statutes in the Law were those which the Israelites would “live by.”5 On the other hand, the statutes and judgments of the rebellious fathers,6 which Yahveh allowed (“gave”), “were not good...whereby [the Israelites] should not live.”7


        1 or “in”
        2 Lev. 18:5; Eze. 20:11, 20:21
        3 or “in”
        4 Exo. 20:25
        5 Eze. 20:11, 20:21
        6 Eze. 20:18
        7 Eze. 20:25

Neither commandment, however, whether those by which the Israelites would live, or those by which they would not live, refer to eternal life or eternal punishment in the world to come. Rather, if the Israelites kept Yahveh’s Law, their days (i.e., life in this world) would be prolonged in the land of Canaan. This, prolonged life in the land of Canaan, was the reward in the Old Covenant for keeping the Law.

Deu. 32:46–47,8

46 and he said to them, “Set your hearts on all the words which I testify among you today, which you shall command your children to be careful to observe—all the words of this law. 47 For it is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life, and by9 this thing you shall prolong your days in the land which you pass over the Jordan to possess it.


        8 cf. Deu. 4:40, 6:2, 11:9, 17:20, 22:7, 25:15; 1 Kings 3:14
        9 or “in”

Exo. 20:12,10

12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be prolonged upon the land which Yahveh your God is giving you.


        10 cf. Deu. 5:16

On the other hand, by not keeping the Law in accordance with their oath wherein they swore to do all the words which Yahveh commanded, Yahveh promised to destroy the Israelites. That is, their days would be cut short on earth (they would die prematurely) while incurring a host of curses.11

Deu. 4:25–26,12

25 When you shall beget children, and children’s children, and you shall have remained long in the land, and shall corrupt yourselves, and make a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, and shall do evil in the sight of Yahveh your God, to provoke Him to anger, 26 I invoke heaven and earth against you this day, that you shall soon utterly perish from off the land where you go over Jordan to possess it; you shall not prolong your days upon it, but you shall be utterly destroyed.


        11 cf. Deu. 28:45
        12 cf. Deu. 30:18

Finally, Deu. 5:33,

33 You shall walk in all the ways which Yahveh your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and so that it may be well with you, and so that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.

This verse clearly establishes that “you may live” = “it may be well with you” = “you may prolong your days in the land.”


Upon the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the Israelites entered into an oath with Yahveh and swore, saying, “All the words which Yavheh has spoken, we will do.”13 The covenant was founded upon this very oath.

Exo. 24:7

7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that Yahveh has spoken, we will do and be obedient.”

And yet, Yahveh never promised the Israelites eternal life in the world to come if they obeyed all the words which He had spoken. Rather, He promised them—and the Torah plainly states so—prolonged life in the land of Canaan. The Torah, which is the book of the covenant, simply makes no mention of eternal life. The prophets do speak of the resurrection of the dead and eternal life,14 but such was never contingent upon obedience to the Torah. Rather, it would occur by the hand of the Messiah.


        13 Exo. 24:3, 24:7–8
        14 Dan. 12:2; Job 14;4; Psa. 17:15; Isa. 26:19

The Torah could give life, but not eternal life. Rather, it only offered those who kept it prolonged life in the land of Canaan. Furthermore, because all of humanity sinned and therefore died in Adam,15 not even a perfect obedience to the Torah could gain one eternal life.


        15 1 Cor. 15:21–22 cf. Rom. 5:12–19


There have been some great answers already, but I'll throw in my $0.02.

Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. Galatians 3:21 NKJV

So the short answer is that the law cannot give life. But note that Paul's rationale was not that no sinner can meet the requirements of the law. Rather, no such law exists that can give life.

Paul is clear that keeping the law does not give life because that is not its function.

Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. Romans 3:20 NKJV

It can tell you when you've failed to meet the standard, but it can't save you from the wages of sin. That's simply not what the law is for.

But Leviticus 18:5 is not addressing the case of giving life to one who has lost it.

You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the Lord .

It is true that if you keep the law from beginning to end, you can live, but that's only keeping the life you have. IOW, keeping the law means you avoid earning the wages of sin. But that's very different from regaining life that you've lost. You don't get any credit to pay for your debt by keeping the law. As Jesus said,

So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, "We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do." Luke 17:10 NKJV

  • well said and welcome! – user48152 Jul 13 '20 at 11:43

If someone were able to obey it would the law be able to give life to them?

This question is similar to the account in luke 10:25-28, And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and made trial of him, saying, Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? 26And he said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? 27And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. 28And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

The phrase "Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live" implies that If eternal life cannot be found in the scriputres/law, Jesus' question and answer to the man in the above account would be a lie. The question "what is written in the law and how readest thou?" also implies that anyone seriously studying the law and scriptures, obeying/applying it will be led to God, the source of life. John 17:3. American Standard Version, And this is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ.

Note that the word read in luke 10:26 in greek also means to know,314 anaginṓskō (from 303 /aná, "up, again," intensifying 1097 /ginṓskō, "personally know") – properly, "to know again" through reading. Reading (314/anaginskō) enables others to re-live (re-appreciate) what was conveyed (experienced) by the original author. HELPS Word-studies Biblehub.

The Greek verb gi·noʹsko in John 17:3 basically means “to know,” and here the verb is used in the present tense to express continuous action. It may denote a process of “taking in knowledge about someone; getting to know someone; becoming better acquainted with someone.” It may also include the thought of making an ongoing effort to get better acquainted with someone who is already known. In this context, it refers to a deepening personal relationship with God brought about by ever-increasing knowledge of God and Christ and a growing trust in them. Clearly, this necessitates more than knowing who a person is or knowing his name. It would also involve knowing what that person likes and dislikes and knowing his values and standards.​—1Jo 2:3; 4:8.

Could any Israelite gain eternal life for himself by keeping the Law of the covenant with God perfectly, without breaking even the slightest part of it? The Law covenant offered each Israelite the opportunity to prove that he could do so. In Leviticus 18:5 this opportunity is referred to, in these words: “You must keep my statutes and my judicial decisions, which if a man will do, he must also live by means of them. I am Jehovah.” So, if any Israelite kept the Law flawlessly and gained eternal life by his own works, he did not need the benefit of the sacrifices of the Law covenant. Neither would he need the blessing of the Abrahamic Promise. (Genesis 12:3; 22:18) Such a perfect Law keeper would establish his own righteousness and life merit.

However, even the prophet Moses died. Even the high priest Aaron died. And every other Israelite from the establishment of the Law covenant down to the passing away of the Aaronic priesthood in the year 70 C.E., yes, down till today, has died. Even nineteen centuries since the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple by the Romans the orthodox Israelites of today go through a form of celebrating the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. This in itself is an admission of their need of cleansing from sin, yes, their inability to keep the Law perfectly and gain eternal life by their own righteous works. And if they could not do this under the Law covenant, how could any of the rest of us imperfect humans do so?

  • Galatians ch. 3 confirms your concluding sentence: "Why then the Law? It was added to make transgressions manifest, until the seed should arrive [Jesus]... For if a law had been given that was able to give life, righteousness would actually have been by means of law... Consequently the Law has become our tutor leading to Christ, that we might be declared righteous due to faith. But now that the faith has arrived, we are no longer under a tutor." (NWT) See Dottard and asg's answers on that. The law exposes us all as unrighteous! No amount of knowing it or keeping it changes that. – Anne Jul 28 '20 at 14:35
  • The Law covenant offered each Israelite the opportunity to prove that he could do so. However, even the prophet Moses died.The Israelites' celebration of the Day of Atonement is an admission of their need of cleansing from sin, yes, their inability to keep the Law perfectly and gain eternal life by their own righteous works.And if they could not do this under the Law covenant, how could any of the rest of us imperfect humans do so? Nonetheless, they were given the opportunity, Leviticus 18:5. – user35499 Jul 29 '20 at 0:59
  • Just so! "There is none righteous, no, not one...Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets, even the righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe..." (Romans 3:10-22) Awesome! – Anne Jul 29 '20 at 6:37
  • @Anne. Part of the question is "However, other places, like Romans 2:25 and Leviticus 18:5 seem to suggest that the law could give life if we were theoretically able to obey it." My answer was a response to that. Maybe you should post your answer to it to better emphasize your points. I may be getting dull trying to perceive which part of my answer you are commenting to. – user35499 Jul 29 '20 at 11:25
  • I'm simply agreeing with your answer! I up-voted it. We are not at odds on this point. – Anne Jul 29 '20 at 13:16

Yes! And be glad that it can. The Law was the requirement for righteousness - and through righteousness we have life.

Back to your question. Jesus, as a ‘man’, had his righteousness through, or via, the Law.

And that’s why Death could not hold him. The wages of sin is death. Jesus was put to death under the Law - illegally. If you don’t break the Law, then you don’t need to pay.

That’s why Jesus had to come at a time, to a nation that was under the Law.

Hebrews 2:14, ESV: "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death,

So Jesus had his life, as a man, via the Law. Death could not hold him. Satan had nothing to ‘hold’ Jesus with.

As for all others, that is, ‘man’, the Law can not be the source for our life, our righteousness - as it’s impossible to keep. We need to obtain our righteousness, our ‘life’ another way.

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    Could you please quote a text (or two or three) in support of your statement 'Jesus as a man had his righteousness through the law' ? It is forbidden to humanity to partake of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is fatal to do so. That is the way of sin and death for any and all humanity. – Nigel J Jul 8 '20 at 12:48
  • Romans 8:21 “…. for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily, righteousness should have been by the law.. Jesus was born a Jew. The Jews were under Law. The Mosaic covenant, their righteousness came via this agreement with God. Romans 10:5 KJV For Moses describes the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. – Dave Jul 8 '20 at 19:49
  • @Dave hi, please consider your statements alongside *All are guilty because of Adam's sin as explained in Rom 5:12-- * to save space, see answer above. – user48152 Jul 9 '20 at 11:29
  • @user48152 Sin is passed on via inheritance, via Adams seed. But, as you said, Jesus was not born through Adams seed. As per ROM 5:12. [quote from you] ’Finally, the law can never give life because it would undermine faith.’. Righteousness [eternal life] can either come by Faith, or via the Law. It’s an either/or. For man, righteousness via the Law is impossible. The Apostle Paul had to tell some churches to stop going back to it, (the Law) for their righteousness because, as you said, it undermines, actually worse, nullifies faith. – Dave Jul 9 '20 at 20:38
  • I see where you're coming from now. I guess that wasn't so clear in your answer. So to clarify, Jesus kept the 'law', remaining without sin, obtaining righteousness, thereby fulfilling the law (of putting GOD first in everything) and by grace offers it to all. – user48152 Jul 9 '20 at 21:41

The Ten Commandments contain the entire gospel, the plan of salvation ...The first commandment is Jesus introducing himself to a person who was born into abject slavery and dying in hopeless bondage, that was delivered by the man whose name is I Am....the key to understanding the entire law is in the verbs....the vast majority being carnal can see nothing more than, what they can't do...! To all such sin is fun and the idea of giving it up is onerous....you can't do this, you shall not do that..etc...the entire human race is dead in trespasses and sins , how much work can a dead man do ? Nothing they're dead ...every breath we breath is a sin, we are nothing but filled with death....no created being can keep a Divine law...weyre not God ....the only way anyone can live is if Jesus lives in them, it's either sin or Jesus....the only reason unfallen Angels don't sin is because the Holy Spirit never left them.....if you read the Ten Commandments as future tense verbs, which is exactly what they are , you will find Jesus is promising you , I Will Do In You Everything Contained in My Law.....you believe Him cry out to Him to deliver you from your unbelief and He has sworn , He will perform His promise in you, for that is the glory within His Law ...mercy is implied from the very first command ...delivered from bondage ....never again will you have any other god before me....I Am the only God ....the entire law begins to open up in ways few have ever imagined.... it's what is implied....that's what very few can see....never again will sin destroy you ....because I Am ....Love...1Jn 4:8


No - for those descendant from Adam it cannot. All are deemed sinful/guilty because of Adam's sin as explained in Rom 5:12--

...by the transgression of the one the many died... by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one...

Jesus was foreknown by God to become the Second Adam, or second human. As his Father was God he would be outside of the sin passed down from Adam through fatherhood. His role as the new Adam, the one who would be raised from death after a sinless life - passing from flesh to spirit, was to include all who believe in him in his righteousness - thereby gaining true life.

As a man, if he sinned once, Jesus would have also died and stayed dead, as he was bound by the law too - being under the law of sin and death as a master over him.

Romans 6:9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.

Finally, the law can never give life because it would undermine faith.

Gal 3:21 if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. 22 But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.


Jesus is the way the truth and the life. Believe in Him, and ask Him to make you born again. That's the only way to life.

I tried to be perfect on my strength, it was truly impossible. Only by Holy Spirit that made me born again, that i could change.

We are saved by GRACE ALONE. Because Jesus said not a single sheep given to Him by the Father will be lost. Some people are chosen before the creation of the world to go to Heaven by God's MERCY AND GRACE.

Foreknown by God Called by God Justified by God Glorified by God

Nothing about what we offered. But, when God lives in you, will you be the same?

Jesus loves you.

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