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What does Paul mean by "works of the law"?

The way Paul's writings are usually addressed creates disorder between him and Jesus. Paul was a follower of Jesus. Therefore any inconsistencies reveal that something has gone wrong in interpreting Paul.

Two ways of using "law"

No change in "faith"

There is a difference of perspective in some of Paul's writings. That is where people allow themselves to be swayed to other thoughts.

 

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

At first glance this would seem to contradict what has been discussed so far. To resolve this it is needed to know what works are being talked about. There is a particular work by which people have sought after salvation in biblical times, namely, sacrifice.

Hebr. 10:8 Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law;

These are the works of the law that Paul talks about extensively in his letter to Galatians. It depicts the struggle of early followers' of Jesus. There was a long tradition of teaching that salvation can be achieved through continuous burnt offerings. This is Paul's perspective. He wants to confront it and say that faith in Jesus does not include burnt offerings.

Sometimes Paul does not explain each time which law is discussed, God's law of ten Commandments or the law of Moses with sacrifice etc. But with further study it can be seen in context. In Galatians it is in chapter five where we learn which one he is talking about, when he mentions circumcision. These are the "works of the law" (Gal. 3:2) or "deeds of the law" (Rom. 3:28).

 

Not separating the two meanings that Paul has will result in contradictions and difficulties. The most obvious example of that is when he speaks highly of law in many places. For instance in Rom. 2:12 that every man will be judged by it:

For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law

The above use of the word "law" obviously means the ten Commandments. It would not make sense any other way.

 

Rom. 3:28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

"Faith" in the verse above and wherever Paul uses it remains the same, just like Jesus described it. Paul was simply resisting sacrifice, which does not make faith abstract. Nothing can change God's truth as Jesus taught it. It is absurd to suggest that even the Bible itself negates it.

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