Midrash: Justification by Faith Apart from Works in Isaiah
By Ed Vasicek
In my quest to discover New Testament midrash (Second Testament teachings which are expositions or expansions upon First Testament Texts), I was perusing, Paul’s Use of Isaiah In Romans by Shiu-Lun-Shum, an academic work published by Mohr Siebeck. I have gone way beyond the thoughts expressed by Shiu-Lun-Shum, to the point that I believe we can (and 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. Let me quote the texts (ESV) to get us started on our journey.
Romans 5:1 reads:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 32:17 reads:
And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.
We are beginning with the assumption that Romans 5:1 is indeed a midrash (explanation and expansion) upon Isaiah 32:17. If the texts themselves do not suggest this to you, then I have little more to offer. If, on the other hand, you think it likely that the two are connected, read on.
Romans 5:1 places the terms justified, faith, and peace in a logical, cause and effect western-style 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 a no-brainer (Hebrew, tzedek and Greek, dikaios).
That peace is a result of righteousness is stated in both cases, although the Romans 5:1 verse seems to be more clearly speaking of imputed righteousness whereas the Isaiah verse is more ambiguous. Still, in both verses, a condition of righteousness exists as the result, not the cause. We first have the righteousness, then the peace.
In Romans 5:1, the cause of righteousness is faith; in Isaiah (although a bit more nebulous), faith (quietness and trust) seem to be the result. Yet, at the same time, Paul seems to teach a doctrine of regeneration that creates faith, justification, and a transformed life (evident in Ephesians 2:1-10). Thus, in Paul’s thinking, faith produces justification and justification peace with God, and peace with God results in the Spirit working within, this producing more faith (quiet trust). He adds an understanding of faith at the beginning of the cycle as well as Isaiah’s result 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 away from the idea of “apart from works.” Thus saving faith must be apart from works or it is not truly quiet! An attempts at mixing works with faith as the basis for justification is a loud faith, a contradiction if true faith 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 returning (which can be translated “repentance”) is added into the mix, thus 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.
Paul and the author of Hebrews both derive the doctrine of salvation by faith (trust) apart from works, under the inspiration of the Spirit, from the First (Old) Testament terms, “rest, quietness, Sabbath.” Although the Second (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 Romans 4:1ff) but in Isaiah as well.
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!