The New Perspective of Paul popularized by E.P. Sanders and even more notably N.T. Wright claims that in light of the discovery of literature written during the period of 2nd Temple Judaism, it has become clear that Luther and the Reformers were wrong in their interpretation of Paul’s teaching on the doctrine of justification. My goal in this lengthier blog is to take such a view to task, and provide what I believe is a defense for the clear and biblical doctrine of justification by faith, and it will be specifically the New Perspectivism as advocated by N.T. Wright that will be critiqued.
The vast majority of New Perspective Scholarship comes from an examination of the 2nd Temple Judaistic works, and namely those found at Qumran (the Dead Sea Scrolls).One of the things that you will find when looking at any of these 2nd Temple texts is that they are often a conglomeration of many different views and understandings of the times. That is to say, gathering a single view or coherent doctrinal thread within them is nearly impossible at times. However, there is one text in particular that every New Perspective scholar uses as support for this view. The primary Qumran text utilized in support of this view of Paul’s teaching is the text 4QMMT. The primary passage from this text expounded on by Wright is the following:
Now, we have written to you some of the works of the Law, those which we determined would be beneficial for you and your people, because we have seen that you possess insight and knowledge of the Law. Understand all these things and beseech Him to set your counsel straight and so keep you away from evil thoughts and the counsel of Belial. Then you shall rejoice at the end time when you find the essence of our words to be true. And it will be reckoned to you as righteousness, in that you have done what is right and good before Him, to your own benefit and to that of Israel. (4QMMT C.26-32)
Wright sums up his argument in relation to this text in six points: (1) The context within which the key line C31 [the bold and italicized line] may best be understood is explicitly covenantal and eschatological. (2) The halakhic precepts offered in the text are intended to function as indicators, boundary-markers, of God’s eschatological people; this is the meaning of “justification by works” in the present time, anticipating “the end of time”. (3) Paul, arguably, held a version of the same covenantal and eschatological scheme of thought; but in his scheme the place QMMT gave to “works of Torah” was taken by “faith”. (4) Paul’s doctrine, like that of QMMT, was not about “getting in” but about community definition. (5) The Pauline halakhah, if that is what it is, plays a quite different role within his community definition to that which halakhah plays in QMMT. (6) MMT is written neither by nor for Pharisees. Just as the ‘works’ it prescribes are not those of the Pharisees, so we cannot assume that the form and structure of its doctrine of justification are identical, or even similar, to that of the Pharisees, or of the Galatian ‘agitators’, or of Peter in Galatians 2. (Wright, “4QMMT and Paul: Justification, ‘Works,’ and Eschatology,” 112).
This understanding of first-century Judaism is an integral part of New Perspectivism. If it were to prove inaccurate, there would need to be a pervasive rethinking of many things because of how many aspects of the system are tied to this one. We may sum up some of these aspects as such:
- Judaism is a religion of grace, not legalism. Being in a saving relationship with God is not merited by doing works but received as a gift and responded to with gratitude.
- The “works” that the agitators in Galatia were demanding from the Christians did not stir up self-exalting dependence on one’s own deeds for God’s favor, but defined the covenant people in an ethnically limited way through Jewish customs. Yet they were still a response of gratitude to grace. “Galatians 3, being about circumcision, makes the point, because Paul did not see circumcision at all as a ‘good work’ which one might do as part of a self-help moralism, but always an ethnic badge.”
- The term “works of the law” does not refer, in Judaism or in Paul, to moral efforts to earn or gain God’s favor, but to gratitude awakened markers of who the covenant people are and who will prove to be vindicated as such at the final judgment.
- “Justification by works” is thus opposed by Paul not because it is thought to be an act of God that grants his favor to those who do sufficient works, but rather because it was mistakenly taken to be God’s declaration that his people were those who wear the badge of works—works such as circumcision, dietary laws, and Sabbath-keeping. Paul opposes this and puts another badge in the place of works, namely, faith in Jesus.
- “Justification by faith,” accordingly, is not an act of God which grants his favor to those who put their faith in Jesus. One does not get into God’s favor through justification. Rather, “justification by faith” is the declaration by God of who is already in God’s favor—in the covenant. It is “the anticipation, in the present time, of the verdict which will be issued on the last day.”26 “Present justification declares, on the basis of faith, what future justification will affirm publicly (according to 2:14–16 and 8:9–11) on the basis of the entire life.”
- The gospel is the announcement that Christ has become the expression and ground of God’s grace so that the forgiveness that Jews were expecting from God, through their grace-based works, now comes through Jesus.28 His resurrection and lordship over all things makes all ethnic limitations of the Christian “badge” inappropriate. Faith in him is now the only badge that defines who the covenant people are. This badge, therefore, opens the door to all ethnic groups.
As it pertains to Wright’s interpretation of the Qumran texts, the most crucial lines in 4QMMT for Wright are: “And it will be reckoned to you as righteousness, in that you have done what is right and good before Him, to your own benefit, and to that of Israel” (C31–32). However, these lines are not transparently supportive of his understanding of justification. A more natural reading would seem to be that the words “in that you have done what is right” signify the meaning of the righteousness that will be reckoned to the obedient sectarian, namely, simple obedience to what the law requires. Wright’s effort to place these words in the service of his understanding of justification as the declaration of who are members of the covenant people does not seem compelling to me. The person who stands before God at the last day with the assumption that he will be justified “in that [he has] done what is right and good” is more likely a candidate for Jesus’ indictment: They “trusted in themselves that they were righteous”—even though they say, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:9, 11).
Another problem with Wright’s reconstruction of the first-century setting that illumines the position of the “agitators” in Galatia and in turn sheds light on Paul’s understanding of justification is that this reconstruction seems to miss some of the implications of ethnocentricity. Insisting, as Paul’s Jewish opponents did, that Gentiles wear the Jewish badge of circumcision, dietary restrictions, and Sabbath-keeping is not, Wright would say, legalistic; it is ethnocentric. The problem with these antagonists was not that they were relying on the badge in order to be God’s people (which happened by a gracious election); the problem was that they wanted to keep that relationship for themselves.
Among the historical and exegetical objections that scholars have raised against this reconstruction of the background of Paul’s thought, one that has not been expressed as frequently is that Wright, and other representatives of the New Perspective on Paul, offer an inadequate analysis of the roots of ethnocentrism. Can one, for example, draw a line between the evil of legalism and the evil of lovelessness?
What did Paul’s opponents believe as grace-dependent people? Wright answers: They believed not that their “works of law” made them members of the covenant, but rather that the works showed that they were members already by God’s grace. But, Wright insists, Paul aimed to demolish “justification by works” not because it was legalistic, that is, not because the “works of law” were viewed as the basis of membership in the covenant, but rather because these “works of the law” (circumcision, dietary laws, etc.) were the wrong sign of the grace-based life. They were ethnocentric.
This Grace-dependent View does not accurately reflect the teachings of Paul or Jesus.
I do not believe that Wright or the New Perspective accurately reflects Paul’s arguments or description of his opponents. To the degree that the pre-Christian Paul was typical of the Pharisees of his day, the picture is not as grace-based as Wright’s view implies. By his own testimony, Saul the Pharisee (Phil. 3:5) was not living a life of dependence on grace walking in favor with God. He said that he and all others who rejected Christ were “dead in . . . trespasses” (Eph. 2:5). He explicitly included himself in the indictment: “We all once lived [among the sons of disobedience] in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:3). Paul’s own description of himself before his conversion to Jesus was that he was not a humble supplicant of grace (even if his theology claimed this) but an arrogant blasphemer in his very service of God. “Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (1 Tim. 1:13). Paul’s pre-Christian religion positioned him squarely under the wrath of God (“children of wrath, like the rest of mankind”). He was not God’s friend or follower. He was not loyal to the God of the covenant.
Of course, he thought he was, and would no doubt have spoken of the election of grace. But Jesus (in line with Paul’s own testimony of Eph. 2:2–3) said that many Pharisees did not have God as their father, but the devil: Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. . . . You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning [as Acts 9:1 describes Paul prior to his conversion], and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.” (John 8:42, 44)
This fits with Paul’s own testimony that as a Pharisee before his conversion he was “following the prince of the power of the air,” that is, the devil (Eph. 2:2). Wright does not, as far as I can see, express any amazement that Paul looked back on his pre-Christian devotion to pharisaic Torah-keeping as demonic. In Paul’s very service to God he was blaspheming. He saw his religion as the consummate expression of hubris (1 Tim. 1:13).
There is no reason to reject the teaching of Jesus concerning most of the Pharisees in his experience, of which Paul, by his own testimony, was a classic example. “They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others” (Matt. 23:5–7). In other words, their pursuit of Torah was not out of gratitude to God, but out of craving for human glory. This is why they could not believe on Jesus: “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44). Jesus made a distinction between what they said they believed and the true condition of their hearts.
The Pharisees were committed to establishing their own righteousness, even if they claimed to believe that it was by God’s gracious enabling. And the most natural understanding of the meaning of that “righteousness” is simply obedience to the law with a view to glorifying God. But Jesus said it was only external and therefore hypocritical: “You clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence . . . you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:25, 27–28). They were lovers of money (Luke 16:14) and, by this and other means, were an “adulterous” generation (Matt. 12:39; 16:4). Their zeal for righteousness included proselytizing: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matt. 23:15). Therefore, in spite of all their self-understanding to the contrary, Jesus says these Jewish leaders (not all Jewish people!) are not going to be justified at the final judgment: “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matt. 23:33).
In view of Jesus’ penetrating and devastating indictment of the Pharisees, and in view of Paul’s testimony that he was one from that group (Gal. 1:13; Phil. 3:6; Eph. 2:2–3; 1 Tim. 1:13–14; Titus 3:3), it seems to be a historical fantasy to portray the pre-Christian Saul or his later opponents in Galatia as true lovers of God who had drunk from the fountain of divine grace and who therefore genuinely followed the Torah out of heartfelt gratitude to God. No doubt there were such grace-dependent, gratitude-driven Jewish people, but it is doubtful that Paul and the Pharisees whom Jesus knew and Paul’s opponents in Galatia were among them. My aim here is not to say that Wright has a rosy picture of Paul’s antagonists in Galatia, but to make clear that the picture was not rosy and that saying “legalism” was not the problem may overlook the deeper connections between other sins and depths of legalism that are not as obvious.
Turning from the Qumran community and first-century Pharisaism, we focus on what appears to be an insufficient analysis of the problem of ethnocentrism. Wright talks as though there is a significant difference between the evil of legalistic boasting in works, on the one hand, and the evil of loveless boasting in ethnic distinctives, on the other hand. He identifies the underlying reason that Paul and other Jews rejected Jesus as Jesus’ threat to their ethnocentrism, not his threat to their so-called “self-help moralism.”
Yes. But that is only the tip of an iceberg of evil that Jesus exposes and Paul confesses. Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in” (Matt. 23:13). It does not matter that the immediate reference here is the exclusion of other Jewish people by the legal demands the Pharisees were making. The principle holds. Exclusivism rooted in religious pride remains the same. Jesus identifies the ethnic exclusiveness of the Pharisees as deeply rooted in morally reprehensible pride—that is, self-righteousness. “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). For Jesus, the line between ethnic pride and moral pride vanishes. Ethnocentrism and self-righteousness are morally inseparable.
In such hearts, the use of the law will inevitably be self-justifying, whatever the theology one professes. In Paul’s battle with those who seek to establish their own righteousness, he was not dealing merely with ethnocentrism but the kind of heart that uses whatever it takes up as part self-commendation to God and man.
Wright’s general orientation toward Second-Temple Judaism—that “the Jew keeps the law out of gratitude, as the proper response to grace”—encounters at least two additional problems. First, it seems to fly in the face of what Jesus says about how the Pharisees in general experienced and shared mercy. And second, it seems to overlook the reality that the root of ethnic pride is the same root as legalism, namely, self-righteousness, and that this root can produce branches that boast in God’s grace.
In regard to the first problem, Jesus’ basic statement about the hermeneutic that guided the Pharisees’ pursuit of Torah was: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7). In other words, they do not handle the Torah faithfully because they do not have a “proper response to grace.” They do not grasp—or, more crucially, are not grasped by—the precious reality of the mercy of God and its implications for how to read the Bible and treat people. They may say that they are depending on grace. But Jesus said they are not. Jesus made it plain in the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:23–35) that a person who is demanding and unforgiving has not truly experienced God’s grace. The evidence that this was generally true of the Pharisees is that “they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matt. 23:4). This is not the work of “gratitude as a proper response to grace.” “He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47).
In regard to the second objection to the general view that “the Jew keeps the law out of gratitude, as the proper response to grace,” it is important to see that, from Jesus’ standpoint, relational exclusivism (ethnic or otherwise) is rooted in self-righteousness, which means that ethnocentrism and legalism have the same root. This connection between self-righteousness and exclusivism is one of the points of Jesus’ parable that begins, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). A deep root of “treating others with contempt” (whether the others are ethnically similar publicans or ethnically different Gentiles) is: “[They] trusted in themselves that they were righteous. In other words, the exclusivistic treatment of others is one manifestation of the self-righteousness that trusts in its own law-keeping. Legalism and ethnocentrism have the same root. They are not separate conditions of the soul. Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector also shows that the branches of this root of exclusivistic self-righteousness can, amazingly, make protests and prayers to the effect that all is of grace. Thus, the Pharisee prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). Is this not a clear warning to us that finding grace dependent statements in Second-Temple Judaism does not demonstrate that the hearts of those who made those statements were not at root self-righteous?
This is why I said above that Wright’s view of possible legalism in Qumran was inadequate. He claimed that the teachings of 4QMMT “reveal nothing of the self-righteous and boastful ‘legalism’ which used to be thought characteristic of Jews in Paul’s day.” But now we have seen that this cannot be successfully defended by saying that the author instructs his followers to pray for God’s gracious help in keeping the works of the law (“Understand all these things and beseech Him to set your counsel straight and so keep you away from evil thoughts and the counsel of Belial,” sections 28–29 of QMMT). Jesus makes plain in Luke 18:11 that such prayers do not prove the absence of self-righteousness, which is the root of legalism, even when protests of depending on grace are present.
I would suggest, therefore, that Wright’s effort to distinguish the “racial boast” of the Jew from the boast of the “successful moralist” is both futile and, in the end, pointless because the racial boast is rooted in self-righteousness that is the fundamental problem with the legalist. Wright says, “This ‘boasting’ which is excluded [in Rom. 3:27] is not the boasting of the successful moralist; it is the racial boast of the Jew.”25 But Jesus has shown us that boasting in one’s human distinctives—whether racial, cultural, or moral—is rooted in trusting in oneself as righteous (Luke 18:9). This is true even if the human distinctives are thought of as gifts of God (Luke 18:11). Both the racial boast and the moral boast show that, no matter what one believes about grace, the heart is not properly resting in the God of grace—that is, in the obedience he provides outside of us and for us—but is trusting in self (even, perhaps, the self one may believe God has graciously created).
Both Jesus and Paul saw this deeper problem in the Pharisees and, by implication, in Paul’s opponents in Galatia. The issue was not whether one should wear a Jewish badge to signify one’s reliance on grace or a Christian badge to signify one’s reliance on grace. The issue was that the Jewish badge itself (circumcision, diet laws, etc.) had become the trust of many Jews (like the Pharisee in the parable of Jesus) and was thus a means of exalting self, not God (even, for some perhaps, while thanking the grace of God), and had therefore led to contempt for others, and was therefore a morally unrighteous form of legalism. Wright is correct to say, “The Jewish longing for a great law court scene, a great assize, in which they would be on one side and the Gentiles on the other, seems to have gone horribly wrong.” Yes. And we learn from Jesus and Paul how horribly wrong it had gone. It was not merely the “wrong” of a mistaken badge of God’s gracious activity. It was the wrong of turning gracious national election into racial and moral superiority to the exclusion of the nations—all of which was rooted in the exaltation of self—including the God-elected, Torah-keeping, supposedly Spirit-assisted, righteous self. The effort to disassociate this mind-set from legalism is not successful or helpful. On the contrary, this mind-set is itself a form of legalism.
Wright’s repeated claim that Paul was confronting “Jewish racial privilege,” not “self-help moralism,” is an unhelpful and misleading differentiation. Something had gone “horribly wrong.” Racial privilege, with all its badges, had become the ethical twin sister of “self-help moralism.” Both nullified grace. Both were expressions of confidence in self that it was upright because of human distinctives (one claiming that these were from God, both acting as though they were not). Both exalted self and boasted before God, and neither expressed the spirit of Jesus’ words, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10). It is morally irrelevant whether the self-exaltation comes from thinking they have achieved a superiority by moral performances (like the Ten Commandments) or by religious performances (like circumcision) or by being born by God’s grace into a certain group (Jew).
Therefore, it is not misleading to say that Paul was confronting a deep legalism when he articulated his doctrine of justification. The root of this legalism was self-righteousness, in whatever ethnic or moral dress. Inevitably, self-righteousness implies that one’s own moral condition is the basis of self-exalting exclusion in relation to men and hoped-for inclusion in relation to God. Being Jewish by birth—and therefore by grace—was not a saving category for Paul (Rom. 9:3, 6–8). Perishing or being saved hung on whether one trusted in one’s own moral condition (self-righteousness) or the moral condition of a Substitute (Christ righteousness). Which of those would be the basis of being counted just and therefore included in everlasting joy with God (1 Pet. 3:18)? This is what justification dealt with, and as such completely undermines the New Perspective argument.
The New Testament Argument for Justification by Faith
God’s righteousness, is his commitment to do what is right. “He cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). His righteousness is his unswerving commitment to uphold the worth of his glory. That is the essence of his righteousness. Thus the moral righteousness he requires of us is the same—that we unwaveringly love and uphold the glory of God. He does not demand that we glorify him part of the time or that we glorify him with pretty good zeal. His demand is unwavering and complete allegiance of heart, soul, mind, and strength. But we have all failed. That is our unrighteousness. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men . . . they did not glorify him as God . . . and [they] exchanged the glory of the immortal God” (Rom. 1:18, 21, 23).
We have exchanged the glory of God for images and failed to glorify and thank him but have dishonored God by breaking the law (Rom. 2:23) and caused his name to be blasphemed among the nations (Rom. 2:24). So none of us is righteous, not even one (Rom. 3:10). That is the charge against every member of the human race. The question, then, that we posed earlier is: When the Judge finds in our favor, does he count us as having the required God-glorifying moral righteousness—an unwavering allegiance in heart and mind and behavior? And does this counting us as righteous happen because we meet this requirement for perfect God-glorifying allegiance in our own heart and mind and behavior, or because God’s righteousness is counted as ours in Christ?
Yes, the latter is what I believe happens in justification. God counts us as having his righteousness in Christ because we are united to Christ by faith alone. That is, we are counted as perfectly honoring and displaying the glory of God, which is the essence of God’s righteousness, and which is also a perfect fulfilling of the law. This is what God imputes to us and counts us as having because we are in Christ who perfectly honored God in his sinless life. It is not nonsense. It is true and precious beyond words.
The key question in all of this however is was Luther correct in his interpretation of Paul: Does Paul believe and teach the imputation of Christ’s obedience for those who are in Christ by faith alone?
The biblical language of imputation is found most strikingly perhaps in Romans 4:3–8, where Paul picks up the language for imputing from Genesis 15:6 and gives his interpretation. Here the term “justifies” in verse 5a is explained in terms of the “imputing of righteousness” (v. 5b). “To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted [or imputed] as righteousness.” So justification is conceived in terms of “counting (or imputing) as righteous.” Unlike Wright’s emphasis that justification must call to mind the image of the final law-court, Paul sees rather, in this case, the picture of a ledger—a book in which are “counted” a person’s “wages.” The key statement is that not working but trusting results in righteousness being reckoned to our account.
It is crucial to recognize that the New Perspective interpretation of 4:1–8 falls to the ground on this point: that David although circumcised, sabbatarian, and kosher, is described as without works because of his disobedience. We should go further, however, and point out the positive contribution these verses make to Paul’s doctrine of justification. It is striking that forgiveness is seen as a vital component of justification. This can, again, be seen within the wider context of justification as God’s declarative, creative action that brings about his will out of its opposite. God’s justification of David “apart from works” has two components that are two sides of the same coin. We can imagine a ledger for each person that records both sins and righteousness. In the case of the first, Paul follows David in recognizing that blessedness consists in the “sin” side of the ledger being wiped clean. David is the paradigmatic sinner whose sins need, in the threefold assertion of 4:7–8, forgiveness, covering, and “nonreckoning.” God’s declarative act of justification of the sinner (4:5) requires his act of the “nonreckoning” of sin (4:8). However, this is simultaneous with God’s positive reckoning of righteousness on the other side of the ledger [that is, positive imputation!]. Again, where there was no righteousness, where David was “without works,” God creatively “counts” righteousness. This is Paul’s God: “the one who justifies the ungodly.”
Romans 5:18–19 points in the same direction. Only here Paul is explicit that the righteousness counted as ours is Christ’s obedience. “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” Notice the main point about justification in verse 18: It happens to all who are connected to Christ the same way condemnation happened to those who were connected to Adam. How is that? Adam acted sinfully, and because we were connected to him, we were condemned in him. Christ acted righteously, and because we are connected to Christ we are justified in Christ. Adam’s sin is counted as ours. Christ’s “act of righteousness” is counted as ours.
Philippians 3:8-9 I count everything as . . . rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.
Notice that the righteousness Paul counts on having “from God” is pursued with a longing to “be found in Christ.” The righteousness that he has is his because he is “found in Christ.” This use of “in Christ” is positional. In Christ by faith is the place where God’s righteousness counts as a righteousness I have, while not being “a righteousness of my own.” Thus, “being found in Christ” is the way to “have a righteousness not my own.” True, this does not say explicitly that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, but along with the other evidence presented above, it is naturally implied.
2 Corinthians 5:21 “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Christ was made sin for our sake. We might say that our sins were reckoned to Christ. He, although sinless, identified himself with our sins, suffered their penalty and doom—death. So we have reckoned to us Christ’s righteousness even though in character and deed we remain sinners. It is an unavoidable logical conclusion that men of faith are justified because Christ’s righteousness is imputed to them.
Lastly, and most important is when Paul clearly shows that there were Jews seeking righteousness based on works rather than faith, he writes, “What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 9:30-32).
So based upon all that has been said, I believe that Luther was absolutely right in his interpretation of the New Testament teaching of Justification by faith alone, whereby God declares sinners as righteous by imputing to them the righteousness of Christ because of their faith granted to them by His grace. Sola gratia, Sola fide, Solus christus.