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In Ezekiel 18:9 it says (ESV): "walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God."

And in Ezekiel 14:14 (ESV) it even calls some men righteous: "even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord God."

But we see in the NT, in verses like Galatians 2:21 (ESV): "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose."

But can you not be made righteous by following he law and doing sacrifices (which as far as I know are also part of the law)? If not, then why are Noah, Daniel, and Job called righteous?

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We need to read on and follow through the logic of the next Galatians chapter, so that we can understand why Paul is saying this.

It is the case, as Ezekiel affirms, that keeping of the law WOULD lead to righteousness IF anyone were capable of doing it. The problem is that nobody ever does. It is not humanly possible. That is why (Galatians ch3 v10) everyone who seeks righteousness by that route actually falls under the Deuteronomy curse pronounced against EVERYONE who fails to keep ALL the commandments of the law. That is why absolute righteousness cannot be found by that route alone.And the logic of the Galatians ch2 quotation is valid; if that was a possible way to righteousness, then the alternative route through the death of Christ would be unnecessary.

But the Israelites of the Old Testament period did not know about the alternative through Christ, so at least TRYING to keep the law which their God had provided was for them a mode of faith. As Hebrews observes, nobody can draw near to God unless they believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews ch11 v6). This is not a command but a logical observation. Only those who believe those minimal truths will even try to draw near to him. In the absence of explicit knowledge of Christ, those who sought to obey God were acting in faith. So examples of obedience like Noah, Daniel and Job could attain a comparative righteousness, at least, which could be offered as a model to other people..

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    By faith Noah ... +1 Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 12:21
  • 4
    It is humanly possible to keep the law, but it requires a constant attention to one's conduct and a willingness to accept any hardship or inconvenience, in order to accomplish the goal. At each and every point, obeying the Law is always possible. The fact is that except for Jesus, everybody has chosen to go off the path at some point.
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 16:07
  • How does Faith in Christ Become an Alternative Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 19:33
  • @Faith Mendel There's no need to be picky. I mean only that it's not the route of finding righteousness through works of the law, the route which does not work. Since it is not the same route, it must be a different one. Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 20:01
  • Consider the words of Micah 6:6-8. Torah simply highlights our failures and need for atonement. Then, consider the words of Yeshua when he stated that he had not come to do away with Torah, but to fulfill it. Thus, trusting in Messiah's fulfilling all 613 commandments of Torah and then becoming the final atonement for sin as "the Lamb of God," is our one and only alternative.
    – Dieter
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 20:15
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The OP asks:

But can you not be made righteous by following he law and doing sacrifices (which as far as I know are also part of the law)? If not, then why are Noah, Daniel, and Job called righteous?

Paul addresses this question in Galatians 3:

Galatians 3: 6-14 NIV

6 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

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.” 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Paul then argues that one of the reasons God gave the law was to lead us to Christ (Gal 3:15-24):

Galatians 3:15 15-19 NIV

15 Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds’, meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed’, meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: the law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

19 Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.....

Galatians 3: 21- 22 NIV

21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

Paul summarises:

Galatians 3:23-25 NIV

23Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

The law leads to Christ both by showing God's values and by demonstrating we can never be united with God through the law. “No one is justified before God by the law” (Galatians 3:11). The law illustrates our need in order to break us from the illusion that we can ever be justified by the law.

Paul elsewhere confirms that what matters to God is a covenant of the heart (Romans 2:29). That then was the origin of righteousness for Noah, Daniel and Job as raised by the OP. Righteousness, like faith, is of the heart.

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The Patriarchs were of course righteous, but in a relative sense, relative to the advent of Christ, for since Adam's fall, all Patriarchs, Prophets, Law-givers were righteous in the context of expectation of Messiah, in fact, the very gist and axis of their righteousness was this very expectation.

Imagine, had they disentangled their burnt offerings or keeping the precepts of Law from the expectation of Messiah: wouldn't then all their burnt offerings and Law-abiding be a naught? Even it is an oxymoron, for nobody can be Law-abiding without expectation of Messiah, because analytically this Law-abiding entails this very expectation (Romans 10:4); and, furthermore, nobody can make burnt offering in a correct way without the reference to the expectation of Christ, for as Paul clearly states in Hebrews, the Temple sacrifices were just prefiguration of Christ's once and for all Sacrifice for salvation of mankind (Hebrews 10:12). It is thus unlawful to continue the Temple sacrifices after the death of Christ on Cross and His Resurrection, as it is unlawful to continue with the precepts of Law after the advent of Christ (Galatians 2:19).

Therefore, yes, relatively all godly people - Patriarchs, Prophets etc. - were righteous in virtue of their expectation of Messiah, and through Him the expectation of the full reconciliation with God; but the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, through His Crucifixion and Resurrection brought the Salvation to mankind and this very expected reconciliation not in expectation, but in an actual reality (Romans 5:10), which is the righteousness already in an absolute, no more relative terms.

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can you not be made righteous by following he law …?

That's like asking whether you can become a concert pianist by pressing the piano keys according to what's written on the paper. Anyone can learn to read the score and do the actions, can even learn to never make mistakes, but that doesn't make them great musicians.

Great pianists play those notes because they are musicians. They start out as potentially great pianists with undeveloped skill, and continually practice playing those exercises in order to perfect their talent.

Most people take lessons and practice in order to learn how to play the piano.
But great musicians do it in order to express the music that is already within them.

Most people can force themselves to follow the law.
But righteous people learn to follow the law in order to perfect the righteousness that is already within them.

Now consider:

  • "I can see the Eiffel Tower; we are near Paris."
  • "The birds are singing; morning has broken."
  • "I am happy; my child is getting married tomorrow."
  • "He walks in my statutes and keeps my rules; he is righteous."

Do they mean that seeing the tower caused them to be near Paris, that the singing of the birds caused the sun to rise, that my happiness caused the marriage, that obeying the law caused him to be righteous?

The first three are obviously silly conclusions, logically confusing cause and effect.

The fourth is just as wrong, but some people want to believe it is true. The Pharisees are the definitive example of this.

James taught that righteousness causes obedience.
Paul taught that obedience does not cause righteousness.

Both ideas are correct and in harmony, but many people want it to be a disagreement. They want to conclude that since obedience isn't the cause of righteousness, one can be righteous without following the law.

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Noah and Job sacrificed animals as sin offerings, which Daniel hardly could have done in Babylon. However, he was still declared righteous (Eze 14:14), which means that animal sacrifices can not make people righteous. Only honest, upright, living can.

The crux of the matter is that, we can only successfully keep the law and become righteous if we crucify our flesh, as revealed (Heb 11:26; 13:8) to us on Golgotha. Paul in Galatians 5 explained this thus: “walk in the spirit and you won’t do what your flesh wants. The works of the flesh are adultery, murder, etc.”

A rough summary of walking in the spirit would be to; exercise in a natural environment during the day, instead of on the disco-floor at night. (John 11:9,10)

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The question of whether justice comes from the law is a complex theological issue, and different parts of the Bible seem to present various perspectives on this matter.

  1. Ezekiel's Justice: In the Old Testament, particularly in the book of Ezekiel, there are references to justice associated with obedience to God's statutes and the observance of His rules. However, it is essential to recognize that this justice is within the context of the Mosaic Law. Within this framework, justice could be achieved through the fulfillment of the commandments and regulations of the Law.

  2. Transformation of Job: Although Job was initially considered a righteous man in the Old Testament, his story also illustrates a deeper spiritual journey. He was proud of his self-righteousness, thinking that his obedience to the law made him blameless. But as the story unfolds, he comes to understand that justice is not limited to legalistic obedience but involves a deeper relationship with God. His understanding evolves, and he recognizes his limitations.

  3. Paul's Perspective: The writings of the Apostle Paul are fundamental to understanding the relationship between justice and the law. He argues that, while there is a form of justice found in the law, it is not sufficient for the salvation and eternal life of all. In passages like Philippians 2:15, 3:6, 3:9, and 1 Thessalonians 3:13, Paul discusses the concept of "blamelessness" in the context of the law. He himself was a zealous Pharisee who believed in the righteousness of the law, as he states in Philippians 3:6. However, he recognizes the limitations of the law and that true justice is found in faith in Christ. In Galatians 2:21, he emphasizes that God's grace would be nullified if justice were entirely achievable through the law, implying that the law, while sufficient to lead some to a form of justice, is imperfect when it comes to bringing all of humanity to perfect righteousness and eternal life.

  4. Jesus' Encounter with the Rich Young Ruler: The story of the rich young ruler in the Gospels illustrates the idea that mere observance of the law may not be enough for something beyond eternal life. Jesus challenges the rich young ruler to go beyond legalistic observance of the law and to give up his worldly possessions to follow Him and attain, beyond eternal life through obedience to the law's justice, treasure in heaven. This demonstrates that a higher level of commitment is required than merely following the law to achieve a reward.

  5. New Covenant: The concept of a New Covenant is also crucial for understanding the shift in perspective. Hebrews 8:7 highlights that the first covenant was not without flaws, leading to the need for a new covenant. The New Covenant, according to Christian theology, is based on faith in the atonement of Christ rather than strict adherence to the Mosaic Law.

In summary, the Bible presents a complex view of justice and the law. While passages in the Old Testament, such as those from Ezekiel 14:14 and 18:9, seem to suggest that justice can be achieved through obedience to the law, the teachings of the New Testament, particularly figures like Paul and Jesus, emphasize that justice is ultimately a matter of faith in Christ and a deeper relationship with God. The example of Job's evolving understanding serves as a reminder that justice is not merely about legalistic observance but about a transformation of the heart.

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