“Grace Alone” in Romans 11:6

Romans 11:6 (NKJ), “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.”

What an interesting verse!

  • Rhetorically

Paul seems to make his case that grace and works are mutually exclusive. You cannot have both, or a mix and match of both. This distinction is very important as so many faith traditions and sectarian groups mix grace and works in some way. But in Paul’s thinking, it was one or the other, not both/and.

  • Historically

Grace alone was one of the pillars of the Protestant Reformation. According to Luther and the Reformers of that era, salvation was by Scriptures alone, by faith alone, and by grace alone. The antithetic to both faith and grace was works. Romans 11:6 spoke with great clarity on this very issue (as did Peter in Acts 15:7-11)

  • Textually

Both sentences of Romans 11:6, found in the NKJ above, are also found in Luther’s 1545 German edition and the 1616 French Geneva (both of which I own). Further, both sentences are also found in the Greek Orthodox tradition (e.g. another text I own titled, Hv Avgi,a Grafh,).

Interestingly, however, in the Latin Vulgate tradition, only the first sentence is found. The absence of the second sentence goes back as far as the 1530 Jacques LeFebvres d’Étaples New Testament (according to a PDF that I printed).

Therefore, the Eastern-Western traditions are quite distinct on this verse!

  • Does it matter?

Yes. The two sentences form a very strong juxtaposition of faith and works in a non-equivocal way. Together they form antithetically synonymous statements with no wiggle room for any cross-pollination of grace and works. Paul by his two antithetical statements argued that grace and works cannot be mixed. Salvation is either by grace or it is of works. Any combination of the two nullifies the meaning of either grace or works.

It is obvious that this teaching of Paul is incompatible with the history of Western Church doctrine since its development of Sacraments (works) as “means of grace.” This practice predated Master Peter the Lombard (~1096-1164 A.D.) and his Four Books of Sentences. And Lombard himself relied very heavily on Augustine (354-430 A.D.) and his On Christian Doctrine and other writings.

Notice that the issue here is not of an exegetical nature—it is predominantly a historical-doctrinal issue, with exegetical ramifications. For, if the second sentence is not considered a part of the text, it is not available to the exegete. So this case shows that textual criticism trumps exegesis, since it provides the phrases and words to be analyzed and exegeted by the exegete!

Thus the science of textual criticism is important for exegetical reasons and doctrinal reasons. Whether one ought or ought not to include the second sentence in Romans 11:6 has very strong interpretive, ecclesiastical, and doctrinal ramifications. And because the issue at hand relates directly to salvation or the reception of grace, the mixing of grace and works may be one of the most significant doctrinal battles that exists. If salvation by grace alone outside of any work is that important, then how one reads Romans 11:6 carries with it a lot of weight.

My original reason for handwriting Reformation texts of the Bible was to immerse my mind in the biblical rationale that led the Reformers and their followers to be die by the hundreds of thousands for their faith. Romans 11:6 provides a biblical validation for their martyrdom and for their belief in salvation by Scriptures alone, by faith alone, and by grace alone, outside of any works.

Romans 11:6 (NKJ), “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.”

 

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