Romans, Isaiah and Justification by Faith Alone

peace

In my quest to discover New Testament midrash (“Second Testament” teachings which are expositions of, or expansions upon, “First Testament” texts), I was perusing Paul’s Use of Isaiah in Romans by Shiu-Lun Shum. Though Shum did not claim as much, I believe we can (and that Paul did) deduce the concept of salvation by faith apart from works from the originating Isaiah passages.

Shum points to Isaiah 32:17 as the foundation for Romans 5:1.

Romans 5:1 reads,

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (ESV)

Isaiah 32:17 reads,

And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.

I am beginning with the assumption that Romans 5:1 is indeed a midrash (explanation and expansion) upon Isaiah 32:17. The closer we look at the two passages, the more clear it becomes that they are connected.

Romans 5:1 places the terms “justified,” “faith,” and “peace” in a western-style, logical, cause-and-effect sequence. I find it fascinating to see how the terms correspond to and define one another. That righteousness and justification relate is evident, and word studies delving into the original languages will make this obvious (Hebrew, tzedek, and Greek, dikaios).

That peace is a result of righteousness is stated in both cases, although Romans 5:1 seems to speak more clearly of imputed righteousness, and Isaiah 32:17 is more ambiguous. Still, in both verses a condition of righteousness exists, and this righteousness results in peace.

In Romans 5:1, the cause of righteousness is faith; in Isaiah the faith is a bit more nebulous (quietness and trust) and seems to be the result. Yet, at the same time, Paul seems to teach that regeneration creates faith, justification, and a transformed life (evident in Eph. 2:1-10). Thus, in Paul’s thinking, faith produces justification, and justification peace with God; then peace with God results in the Spirit’s working within, producing more faith (quiet trust). Paul’s understanding of faith at the beginning of the cycle supplements Isaiah’s understanding of faith at the end.

I would like to call your attention, however, to the equating of quietness and trust with faith. Indeed, we might argue that the first two terms serve as a definition of true faith: quietly trusting the work of Yeshua (Jesus) on the cross as our final sin offering.

The idea of “quiet” is not far from the idea of “apart from works.” Thus, saving faith must be apart from works or it is not truly quiet! Resting means not working, by definition. All attempts at mixing works with faith (as the basis for justification) result in a loud faith, a contradiction if true faith is a quiet (resting) faith! We may be vocal about our faith, and our faith must produce works to be genuine, but the faith itself is quiet.

Isaiah 30:15 probably contributed (at least in concept) to Romans 5:1. I suggest that Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, contemplated these two verses and was thus guided to write Romans 5:1. This is obviously an opinion. Isaiah 30:15a reads,

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

Here we see similar concepts. In this case, Isaiah adds “returning” (which can be translated “repentance”) to the mix, further defining faith as repentance and rest. The idea of “quietness” once again suggests a lack of works. The believer ceases striving to work for his justification but instead trusts with a repentant heart. Works flow as the true evidence of justification, but not as a cause or contributor toward justification.

This then ties into the Sabbath concept of believers having “entered that rest,” as stated so eloquently by the writer to the Hebrews (4:9-10).

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His.

Conclusion

Under the inspiration of the Spirit, Paul and the author of Hebrews both derive the doctrine of salvation by faith (trust) apart from works from the Old Testament terms: rest, quietness, Sabbath. Although the New Testament expounds this doctrine more directly, it is implicit not only in Genesis (as Paul argues in the case of Abraham’s justification in Rom. 4) but also in Isaiah as well.

In Romans 4:4-5, Paul summarizes most succinctly the mutual exclusivity of laboring/working for salvation (not resting, non-quietness) versus believing for salvation.

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…

Despite the criticism leveled at the Reformers, they knew exactly what they were talking about when it comes to justification by faith alone. They did not invent it, nor did Paul, nor did Isaiah. The idea was God’s!

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Ed Vasicek's picture

Thanks, Nord, for your encouraging words.

The entire Midrash approach can be an excellent polemic to defend the doctrines now being challenged in evangelicalism.
With the "New Perspective" and denials of immediate justification upon belief -- and the idea that it is faithfulness over time that eventually justifies us -- these studies are not just curiosities or novelty discussions. They add an important layer of defense to the fundamental doctrines we embrace.

"The Midrash Detective"

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