Paul's take on "works of the Law"

Determining the proper understanding of “works of the Law” in Paul’s argument in Galatians is not easy, as much of the background to the term important for its interpretation is left unspecified. Paul does use it in this particular context, though, within a particular flow of argument, which does give clues to how he intends it to be understood. When Paul first uses the phrase in Gal 2:16, it is in response to the particular issues which provoked his visit to Jerusalem and the conflict with Peter in Antioch: circumcision and food laws. These are indeed well known requirements of the Torah which marked an individual as connected to the covenant. But Paul does not leave them there: The flow of his argument in v. 16 moves from current praxis (οὐ δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ἔργων νόμου ἐὰν μὴ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) to past act (καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν) to intended purpose for past act (ἵνα δικαιωθῶμεν ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων νόμου) to scriptural justification (ὅτι ἐξ ἔργων νόμου οὐ δικαιωθήσεται πᾶσα σάρξ). Paul moves from the specific of his current praxis with the Gentile Galatians through his personal experience to a theological, timeless warrant, and works of the Law don’t fit anywhere within his argument. The better interpretation does not restrict works of the Law within Paul’s argument as simply social or only salvific; rather, they are legitimately both, and Paul rejects their function in both contexts. Paul refuses their function as restrictive markers of who is within God's covenant community; faith in Christ is now the only badge those within the covenant should wear. Paul also refuses any value or merit of these same works before God; his citation of Psa 143:2 proves that it is only God’s mercy on which the individual can hope. So within Paul’s argument “works of the Law” point to specific requirements of the Torah which have an important social function within Judaism but no value before God, who only responds to individuals mercifully because of their trust in him.