Rescuing Romans from Martin Foord

Rescuing Romans from Martin Foord September 22, 2023

Martin Foord is a Lecturer in theology at Evangelical Theological College Asia, Singapore, and formerly a Lecturer in Systematic and Historical Theology at Trinity Theological College in Perth, Australia. He entered the Anglican ministry in 1996.


This is my reply to his article, “Rescuing Romans from Roman Catholic Epologists,” hosted on  anti-Catholic Eric Svendsen’s site and posted some time prior to 8 October 2007. His words will be in blue. I cite the RSV unless specified otherwise. Foord used the similar NRSV.

Rom. 3:10-18 fits into a larger argument that spans from Rom. 1:18 – 3:20. . . . Paul’s argument does not start with the issue of Jewish boundary markers and national righteous[ness] (so the “New Perspective”) but the fact of God’s wrath upon sinful humans (1:18 “For the wrath of God is being revealed against all ungodliness …”). In Rom. 3:10-18 Paul is concluding the argument about sin he began in 1:18.

Rom 3:19: Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. (NRSV, emphasis added) [RSV: “works of the law”]

Foord assumes that Paul is not referring to “boundary markers and national righteous[ness] . . .the “New Perspective”),” but that is by no means certain. If that perspective is correct, then Paul is not referring here to good works in general. This is the heart of he dispute over how to interpret him. Perhaps the leading proponent of the New Perspective on Paul is N.T. Wright, Foord’s fellow Anglican. It’s an inter-Protestant dispute (and apparently inter-Anglican as well). The phrase “works of the law” also appears six times in Galatians in the RSV. The similar “works of law” also appears in Romans 3:28 (the only time in the NT). 

Man’s “works” appears eight times in Romans, and also in Ephesians 2:9-10 and 2 Timothy 1:9. “Good deeds” appear eight times in Paul, and “deeds done by us in righteousness” once (Titus 3:5). I have provided fifty passages from Paul showing that his soteriological view is one that seemlessly blends, grace, faith, and works.

Notice Paul’s clear conclusion: “so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (emphasis added). In other words Paul uses 3:10-18 to show that all humanity is sinful. From 1:18-3:20 Paul’s argument is that all people without exception (the “whole world”), both Jews and Gentiles, are under God’s law and have broken it. The Gentiles have the “works of the law” written on their hearts (2:14-15) and are thus responsible to God (1:32). Yet the Jews were under the much more clear expression of God’s law in the OT Torah. Hence they also are responsible for their sin before God (Rom. 2:1-24). Paul’s argument is this: whether one is a Jew or a Gentile, all are under sin and culpable before God. Paul’s point is seen a few verses later:

Rom 3:23: since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; (NRSV, emphasis added).

Generally speaking, yes, all men are fallen creatures and sinners, but the Bible doesn’t rule out exceptions to that almost universal “rule” (e.g., Mary). In an article I wrote about Romans 3:23, I observed:

We see Jewish idiom and hyperbole in passages of similar meaning. Jesus says: “No one is good but God alone” (Lk 18:19; cf. Mt 19:17). Yet He also said: “The good person brings good things out of a good treasure.” (Mt 12:35; cf. 5:45; 7:17-20; 22:10). Furthermore, in each instance in Matthew and Luke above of the English “good” the Greek word is the same: agatho.

Is this a contradiction? Of course not. Jesus is merely drawing a contrast between our righteousness and God’s, but He doesn’t deny that we can be “good” in a lesser sense. We observe the same dynamic in the Psalms:

Psalm 14:2-3 The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God. [3] They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, [Hebrew, tob] no not one. (cf. 53:1-3; Paul cites this in Rom 3:10-12)

Yet in the immediately preceding Psalm, David proclaims, “I have trusted in thy steadfast love” (13:5), which certainly is “seeking” after God! And in the very next he refers to “He who walk blamelessly, and does what is right” (15:2). Even two verses later (14:5) he writes that “God is with the generation of the righteous.” So obviously his lament in 14:2-3 is an indignant hyperbole and not intended as a literal utterance.

Such remarks are common to Hebrew poetic idiom. The anonymous psalmist in 112:5-6 refers to the “righteous” (Heb. tob), as does the book of Proverbs repeatedly: using the words “righteous” or “good” (11:23; 12:2; 13:22; 14:14, 19), using the same word, tob, which appears in Psalm 14:2-3. References to righteous men are innumerable (e.g., Job 17:9; 22:19; Ps 5:12; 32:11; 34:15; 37:16, 32; Mt 9:13; 13:17; 25:37, 46; Rom 5:19; Heb 11:4; Jas 5:16; 1 Pet 3:12; 4:18, etc.).

One might also note 1 Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” As far as physical death is concerned (the context of 1 Cor 15), not “all” people have died (e.g., Enoch: Gen 5:24; cf. Heb 11:5; Elijah: 2 Kings 2:11). Likewise, “all” will not be made spiritually alive by Christ, as some will choose to suffer eternal spiritual death in hell.

The key in all this is to understand biblical language properly in context. It’s not always literal.

I go into some detail in the same article about how the Greek pas (“all”) is by no means always literal in intention. See also my article, Sinless Creatures in the Bible: Actual & Potential (Including a Listing of Many Biblical Passages About Sin, Holiness, Blamelessness, Righteousness, Godliness, Perfection, and Sanctity) [10-20-22; greatly expanded on 7-27-23].
Catholics agree with Protestants that God’s grace and the faith of man that flows from it (Lord willing) are the sole factors in what we call (“monergistic”) initial justification. But we go on to say that subsequent to to initial justification, works must be manifest as part and parcel of faith in the justified and regenerate human being, that justification is ongoing, works meritorious, and that justification can be lost (and possibly regained again). We’re agreed on grace alone and the heretical nature of salvation by works, but not about faith alone.
Foord addresses the issue I wrote about above: Paul’s citation of Psalm 14 in Romans 3:10-12:
It is true that the OT texts, like Psalm 14 mention the “righteous.” Calvin’s point is that the “righteous” in these OT passages are those whom God has had mercy upon in the context of the universal sinfulness of all humans.
But no one disagrees with that. We all agree on initial monergistic grace. The question is whether there is literally not a single righteous person to be found. In the Protestant understanding of external, forensic, imparted justification, perhaps that would be true, but we deny that every time “righteousness” or “holiness” is mentioned, that it is only in this merely declared sense. So, for example, when David refers to “He who walk blamelessly, and does what is right” (Psalm 15:2), that sure doesn’t sound like merely declared righteousness that isn’t literally present. It reads exactly like the Catholic view of infused justification, especially in light of the clause, “does what is right.” Paul echoes the thought of actual righteousness when he states: “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Rom 2:13)
For example, Psalm 14:1 “there is no-one who seeks God”. What else could those words mean but that there is no one that seeks God?
It’s clearly a general, proverbial-like statement which incorporates hyperbole: a very common thing in Jewish thought and the Bible. We know it’s not literal because even in immediate contest (14:5), David refers to “the righteous.” All of this has to be harmonized. Foord ignores these other factors; I do not.
. . . one cannot turn to God in their sinful state . . . 

Of course they can’t. Why mention things that we agree on? The Council of Trent made this very clear in its Canons 1 and 3 on Justification:

CANON I. If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.

CANON III. If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.

That Paul’s use of “justification” was forensic is now beyond doubt linguistically. Romans is enough to prove that. In 8:33-34 the verb “to justify” (dikaioo) is the antonym of the verb “to condemn” (katakrino). Furthermore in Romans 5:16 and 18 the nouns for “justification” (dikaioma and dikaiosis) are antonyms of the noun “condemnation” (katakrima). So whatever “justification” / “justify” means, it must be the opposite of “condemnation” / “condemn”. The “justification” language of Paul most likely comes from the OT Jewish legal setting (Deut. 25:1; 2 Sam. 15:4; 1 Kings 8:31-32; 2 Chron. 6:22-23; Psalm 132:3; Prov. 17:15). Both “justification” and “condemnation” (and their verb cognates) are forensic terms in that they are the declaration a judge makes upon a person. Hence “to condemn” was to pronounce or declare one guilty, and “to justify” (tzadaq) was to pronounce or declare one not guilty.

We fully agree and add that these passages are referring to initial justification, which is monergistic; therefore it can be considered to be imputed. See the article, Trent Doesn’t Utterly Exclude Imputation (Kenneth Howell). This gets into what we are responsible to do as well as believe after initial justification. Trent states about that:
CANON IV. If any one saith, that man’s free will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it cannot refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive; let him be anathema.
The great law court scene that Paul had in mind was, of course, the last judgment (Rom. 2:13). 
Yes, and note that when he refers to that, he says, “it is . . . the doers of the law who will be justified: (Rom 2:13). This precisely reflects and is almost identical to what Jesus told the rich young ruler, when he asked Him, “what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” (Mt 19:16). If Protestant “faith alone” theology were true, and following Foord’s chain of reasoning, Jesus would have had to clarify at this point, “you can’t do any deed to attain eternal life! All you can do is believe!” He would have had to deny the evident false first premise (granting Protestant soteriology).
But of course, instead, Jesus followed the thought of grace- and faith-filled works leading to salvation: “If you would enter life, keep the commandments” (Mt 19:17). Huh?! I thought no one could be saved that way?! Matthew 19:16-17 is a real head-scratching passage for Protestants. But when the rich young ruler said he had done all that, Jesus said, “sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mt 19:21). Rather than talk about faith alone, exactly at the time when Protestant theology would demand that it be forcefully asserted, Jesus again reiterates a good work that is required for this man’s salvation (because riches were his idol). No one can deny that this is a good work and not merely belief in one’s head. Thus, asked how to go to heaven, Jesus refers to works twice, and not faith at all, let alone, “faith alone.”

Indeed Paul’s doctrine of justification is that the end time declaration of God in Christ on judgment day is now thrown into the present for the believer. In other words the believer knows in advance what God’s verdict will be.

Really? How is it, then, that Paul himself can write the following?:

1 Corinthians 9:27 I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 10:12: Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

Philippians 3:11-14 that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. [12] Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. [13] Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, [14] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

How can Paul be absolutely assured of his eternal destination, when he uses rather “uncertain” terms like “if possible I may . . .” and “Not that I have already obtained this” and “I press on to make it my own . . . I do not consider that I have made it my own”? St. John Henry Cardinal Newman asserted:

The doctrine, then, that few are chosen though many be called, properly understood, has no tendency whatever to make us fancy ourselves secure and others reprobate. We cannot see the heart; we can but judge from externals, from words and deeds, professions and habits. But these will not save us, unless we persevere in them to the end; and they are no evidence that we shall be saved, except so far as they suggest hope that we shall persevere. They are but a beginning; they tell for nothing till they are completed. Till we have done all, we have done nothing; we have but a prospect, not possession (Parochial and Plain Sermons, V, 1840, Sermon 18: “Many Called, Few Chosen,” 1110-1119).

If works were included in Abram’s (or anyone’s) justification then Christ’s death would not be sufficient (Gal. 2:21; Gal. 5:4). Abram’s good works were the effect of his justified status before God, not the cause.

See: Banzoli’s 45 “Faith Alone” Passages; My 200 Biblical Disproofs [6-16-22]

Foord then tackles Romans 9. For a Catholic counter-reply, see my paper, Romans 9: Plausible Non-Calvinist Interpretation [4-22-10].


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Photo credit: St. Paul (1482), by Bartolomeo Montegna (1450-1523) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Summary: I engage in a systematic back-and-forth debate about the soteriology of St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans with Anglican exegete & university Lecturer Martin Foord.
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