Natural Revelation And The Purpose Of The Law In Romans -- By: Mark A. Seifrid

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 49:1 (NA 1998)
Article: Natural Revelation And The Purpose Of The Law In Romans
Author: Mark A. Seifrid


Natural Revelation And
The Purpose Of The Law In Romans

Mark A. Seifrid

In Romans 1-2, Paul argues the justice of divine wrath upon idolatry and upon the one who judges another. Jews and Gentiles enter his argument only as individuals, not as ethnic groups. Only in Romans 3 does Paul bring the charge that all human beings are idolaters. In establishing the justice of God's wrath, Paul claims that even Gentiles without the Law fully possess the knowledge of God's will, through their participation in the created order. Consequently, the advantage of the Jew lies in the possession of the oracles of God, which make known divine judgement and salvation. Correspondingly, a distinctive function of the Law emerges in Romans 3:19-20, namely, the outward and objective establishing of human guilt. It is this aspect of the Law which sets it apart from natural law, and which makes it a witness to the righteousness of God given in Christ.

It is impossible to treat Paul’s understanding of the law of Moses rightly apart from some discussion of ‘natural revelation’ in Paul’s letter to Rome. The two themes are linked in Romans 2:12-16 in such a way that the interpretation of one inevitably affects the interpretation of the other. Our aim here is to follow the basic lines of Paul’s argument in Romans 1-3, and in so doing stake out the relation between the two themes, thus highlighting the distinctive function of the law of Moses according to Paul.1

As is well-known, Paul’s exposition in Romans of the gospel which he proclaimed among the gentiles calls forth from him in Romans 1:18-3:20 a description of the condition of the gentiles among whom he proclaimed that gospel. Equally obvious is the remarkably high value which Paul accords natural revelation at the outset of his argument. Indeed, his claim in Romans 1:20, ‘that which is known of God is manifest among them’, is so remarkably bold that interpreters

often feel compelled to add their own qualification to the text. Paul must here speak of a ‘rudimentary knowledge’ of God to which special revelation is added as a supplement.2 We may ask, however, if such a reduction of Paul’s language accords with his argument. Although it is genera...

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