Why Israel Did Not Obtain Torah-Righteousness: A Translation Note on Rom 9:32 -- By: T. David Gordon

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 54:1 (Spring 1992)
Article: Why Israel Did Not Obtain Torah-Righteousness: A Translation Note on Rom 9:32
Author: T. David Gordon


Why Israel Did Not Obtain Torah-Righteousness:
A Translation Note on Rom 9:32

T. David Gordon

Rom 9:32 is an important part of its immediate context. The way this verse is understood both influences and reflects one’s understanding of the remainder of the context. In this verse, Paul answers his own question about why Israel did not attain unto the Torah.

Rom 9:32, in its context, also figures prominently in the discussion of Paul’s understanding of the law, because here is a text which seems to suggest that Israel’s failure to attain righteousness is due to her mis-pursuit of Torah, her pursuing it “as if it were based on works.” Since this is so evidently the case, those who wish to clear Israel of any such charge find it convenient to overlook this text.1 The role of this text in Romans, and in the contemporary discussion, warrants a careful consideration of its teaching.

Unfortunately, Rom 9:32 is elliptical: “Because, not by faith but rather as by works” (ὅτι οὺκ ἐκ πίστεως ἀλλ= ὡς ἐξ ἔργων). There is no verb in the clause following the question, διὰ τί. It is generally assumed that the missing verb is some form of διώκω, reflecting the participle of 9:31. Thus the RSV translates the text, “Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works.” By translating the ellipsis this way, the RSV suggests an answer to the painful question raised by the context: Israel did not attain to the Torah because she pursued Torah the wrong way, by works.

In actual fact, the prepositional phrase could modify two things: διώκων or νόμον.2 That is, it is equally possible and equally likely that the prepositional phrase modifies νόμον, with the copula omitted: “Because the Sinai covenant [νόμος] is not identified/characterized by faith.” What follows are three considerations which lend weight to the plausibility of reading the verse this way.

Gal 3:12. In Gal 3:12, Paul employs precisely this negated prepositional phrase with this noun: ὁ δὲ νόμος οὺκ ἔστι...

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