Q. Referring to Zacharias and Elisabeth, John the Baptist’s parents, Luke 1:6 says, “And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” Doesn’t this contradict your statements in various articles that no man can keep the law and gain righteousness by observing the commandments?

A. I will make your question even tougher. In Romans 3:10, the Bible says, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.” The word “righteous” in both of these verses is translated from the same Greek word. Does the Bible contradict itself? Never!

Those who would like to have people believe that the Bible contains contradictions often try to present the Bible as if it is a dead slab of concrete with no nuances, no shades of meaning, no differences because of context. But one of the first rules of Bible interpretation is to look at context.

Romans 3:10 was written by Paul. Paul also wrote Philippians 3:4-6: “Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” How can Paul say in Romans 3:10 that no one is righteous and then in Philippians 3:4-6 say that he is righteous?

The difference between Romans 3:10 and Philippians 3:4-6 is the difference between God’s perspective and man’s. In Romans 3:10, we see man from God’s perspective. No one can keep the law perfectly and measure up to His standards of righteousness. In Philippians 3:4-6, Paul is simply telling us that from the perspective of a law-abiding Jew who was careful to keep the externalities of the law, he was as righteous as any other such Jew. That is, other Jews would have respected him and considered him righteous. But he did not mean this to refer to God’s perspective. Notice what he says in the verses that immediately follow: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:7-9). Do you see how Paul denigrates having his own righteousness, which is by the law? That is because he knows that, from God’s perspective, it is as worthless as dung (verse 8) and filthy rags: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6).

Paul understood that no one can really keep the law; those who think they can, are just fooling themselves. In Romans 7, Paul writes, “For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me” (verse 11). In verses 14-15, he adds, “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” Like everyone else, he is a sinner. Read now what he says in Romans 7:24-8:4:

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

As Paul says, it is those who are in Christ Jesus—who are placing their trust in Him—who have no condemnation. And this now answers the question about Luke 1. Luke says that Zacharias and Elisabeth were…righteous before the law? No. Righteous before man? No. He says they were righteous before God. There is only one way they could have been righteous before God. True, they were devout Jews under the Old Covenant, so they walked in the commandments and ordinances, and, as Paul in Philippians 3:6, were “blameless.” In other words, they kept the externalities. But that would not have made them righteous before God. The only way they could have been righteous before God is if they were trusting their salvation to their coming Savior and Messiah. Of course, at this time, they did not know who the Messiah would be or when He would come, but they knew the Old Testament’s promises, and they trusted in them. Zacharias and Elisabeth were elect saints of God to whom God opened the Scriptures and gave faith. This is the only way they could have been righteous before Him.

Peter Ditzel

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