Romans 10:5—Does keeping the law bring life?

Problem: Paul seems to imply that law-keeping brings life when he cites Leviticus (18:5) that “the man who does those things [written in the law] shall live by them” (Rom. 10:5). But elsewhere Paul himself calls it “the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). He affirms flatly, “the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death” (Rom. 7:10).

Solution: Keeping the law does not bring saving life to anyone. On this the Bible is crystal clear. Paul told the Galatians, “if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law” (Gal. 3:21). He added, “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight (Rom. 3:20). For “no one is justified by the law in the sight of God,” for “the just shall live by faith” (Gal. 3:11).

What then do the passages mean that seem to imply that the law will bring life? These are to be understood hypothetically, not actually. Theoretically, if one were to keep the law perfectly he would be perfect, but in actual fact no one can do that. For “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). And “whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). To summarize: can keeping the law bring life?

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.