In Galatians 3:12, Paul says “The law is not of faith, rather, the one who does them shall live by them” citing Leviticus 18:5. At first glance, Gal 3:12 seems to present Paul’s blunt statement rejecting the law and Lev 18:5 seems to be cited to prove that the law is in opposition to faith. This impression is enhanced by noticing that Lev 18:5 is put antithetically to Habakkuk 2:4, which is also cited in Gal 3:11. Because Hab 2:4 is promoting justification by faith, putting Lev 18:5 in opposition seems to suggest that Lev 18:5 advocates meritorious works-righteousness.
Because both Lev 18:5 and Hab 2:4 are from the OT, it seems odd for Paul to treat one OT passage as promoting a good theology and the other as promoting bad theology. These difficulties become more obvious when we notice that Lev 18:5 in its original context never promotes meritorious works-righteousness. Instead, Lev 18:5 encourages God’s people toward righteous living as a proper response for God’s chosen people. This verse is an encouragement for Israel to walk in the law instead of pagan teachings because only the Lord’s law would bring people to life. Why then in Gal 3:12 is Paul citing Lev 18:5 in such a seemingly negative way?
In this paper, I will study Lev 18:5 and Hab 2:4 in its original context, then study how Paul uses both text in Gal 3:10-12. As I do this, I will focus especially on how the prepositions B (in/by) is translated in LXX for Lev 18:5 and Hab 2:4. What I will show is that while “live by/in them” in Lev 18:5 and “live by/in faith” in Hab 2:4 both use the preposition B (in/by), in LXX they are translated differently. Lev 18:5 translates it as evn no,mw| “in the law,” and Hab 2:4 translates it as evk pi,stew,j “by/from faith.” While we usually treat evn and evk interchangeably, I point out the fundamental differences that evn is for ‘motions in’ with a consecutive sense more fitting, and evk is for ‘motions from’ with a causal sense more fitting. This sensitive difference that LXX makes suggests that Lev 18:5 should better be translated as “shall live in them (~h,B'),” which makes the relationship between life and law as consequential, rather than causal. While a causal relationship makes obedience to the law based on cause and merit in order to gain life, this consecutive relationship makes life a natural consequence of the obedience. Both could be said as “conditional,” but it is not a meritorious condition, rather, it is a consecutive condition.
I will also point out that Paul respects the non-meritorious significance of evn no,mw| “in the law” in Lev 18:5. Of all the occasions where Paul is against meritorious works-righteousness, he only condemns those who are evk no,mou “from the law,” not evn no,mw| “in the law.” Paul is not against the law by itself, rather he is against the misuse of the law, evk no,mou “from the law.” Instead, he is presenting the proper function of the law, the law is for one to live en no,mou “in the law.” Paul is citing Lev 18:5 to present the proper function of the law and to rebuke the improper use of the law. For Paul, the law is not to make someone “justified by it,” but it should be used to be “lived in it,” by the people of God.
The law is not a gate to enter into the righteous status, but a realm to live in after one has passed through.