The Role of Covenant and Works in Salvation: A survey of Second Temple Literature

ABSTRACT

Scholars have debated the basis of salvation in Second Temple Judaism. On the one hand, it is argued that salvation is conceived in the literature as achievable through works of the law. On the other hand, some hold the view that salvation was secured on the basis of the covenant, with proponents attacking Paul's understanding of Jewish soteriology (e.g., Rom 1-4). In this study, we attempt a survey of relevant primary sources across the spectrum of religious literature of the period to be able to describe the Jewish idea of salvation. The picture that emerges is a composite one. The basis of salvation as presented in the literature is both the covenant and obedience/works: the covenant secured the historical redemption of Israel from their enemies, while obedience/works is presented as the precondition for eshatoloical salvation. Having established the currency of the doctrine that eschatological salvation was achievable through obedience/works, we conclude that the Pauline teaching against merit theology—for example, 'by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified' (Gal 2:16)—is a necessary corrective to such a soteriological concept in Second Temple  Judaism.

AUTHOR
Daniel K. Bediako, PhD, is Associate Professor of Old Testament Language and Exegesis at the School of Theology and Missions, Valley View University, Ghana.