ROMANS CHAPTER 3
What advantage then has the Jew? Or what is the profit of circumcision? 2 Much every way! First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 For what if some were without faith? Shall their lack of faith make of no effect the faithfulness of God? 4 God forbid. Yes, let God be found true, but every man a liar. As it is written: You must be justified in Your words and must prevail when You come into judgment.
5 But if our unrighteousness commends the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who visits with anger? (I speak after the manner of men). 6 God forbid. For then how shall God judge the world?
7 But if the truth of God through my lie abounded to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come? (As some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just).
9 What then? Are we better than they? No, in no way. For we before laid to the charge both of Jews and Gentiles that they are all under sin. 10 As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one. 11 There are none that understand. There are none that seek God. 12 They have all turned aside, they are together become unprofitable, there is none that does good, no, not so much as one. 13 Their throat is an open tomb, with their tongues they have used deceit, the poison of asps is under their lips, 14 whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. 15 Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16 destruction and misery are in their ways 17 and the way of peace have they not known; 18 there is no fear of God before their eyes.
19 Now we know that whatever things the law said, it speaks to them that are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God. 20 Because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in His sight; for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.
A righteousness obtained by faith
21 But now apart from the law, a righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets- 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ to all them that believe. For there is no distinction. 23 For all have sinned, and all fall short of the glory of God; 24 but are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 Whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, to show His righteousness in the passing over of the sins done previously, in the forbearance of God, 26 for the showing of His righteousness at this present time; that He might Himself be just, and the justifier of him that has faith in Jesus.
27 Where then is the glorying? It is excluded. By what manner of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith! 28 We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.
29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one. He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised by faith. 31 Do we then make the law of no effect through faith? God forbid. No, we establish the law.
3:1 Whilst accepting Paul’s Divine inspiration, I have always found the logic of this and the next few verses to be difficult and twisted. It’s as if Paul wishes to say something nice about the Jews to as it were keep on board the Jews in his audience, having spoken against the significance of natural Jewishness so strongly in 2:27-29. But what he says there isn’t quite compensated for by the reasoning he now comes out with- or so it seems to me. If natural descent is so irrelevant and Jewishness has been redefined, what real advantage is there, then, in being ethnically Jewish? “Advantage” translates a Greek word which is a superlative meaning more ‘pre-eminence’, ‘exceeding abundance’. Paul appears to say that the Jews do have indeed such a superlative position; whereas elsewhere in this context Paul speaks as if the Jews are as sinful as or even more sinful than the Gentiles, and that both are “under sin” (Rom. 3:9). Both need baptism into Christ to be the true seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:27-29). Paul’s claim that their amazing blessing and advantage is because the Law was given to their fathers seems to strangely contradict the Law being elsewhere described as “weak and beggarly elements” (Gal. 4:9), “weak through the flesh”, whose glory was nothing, as dirty garments, compared to the excellency and surpassing wonder of Christ. I therefore suggest in the light of all this that we may be justified in reading Paul’s words in Rom. 3:1,2 as a kind of sarcasm: “What superlative, amazing pre-eminence then has the Jew! Or what profit at all is there in being circumcised! Much every way, indeed! The important thing to note is that the oracles of God were firstly given to them…’- and then Paul builds on that point to speak of Israel’s disobedience to those commandments, leading up to his crescendo of convicting Jew and Gentile as desperate sinners who must throw themselves upon God’s grace.
3:2 Were committed- Gk. pisteuo, God had faith in Israel (3:3), in giving them the commandments. He believed in them. The God who can know the end from the beginning allowed His emotion of love to take such root in Him that He as it were allowed His omniscience to be limited, just as He at times limits His omnipotence; and He desperately believed in them. For loving someone elicits also faith and hope in them.
3:3 Not believe- Israel never adopted atheism nor did they ever inform Yahweh He was no longer their national deity. Yet for all their professions of faith and loyalty to the temple cult, God viewed them as unbelievers. Or it could be that Paul’s implication is that they did not believe in Christ, in their Saviour Messiah.
The faith of God- God’s faith and hope in His people. See on Rom. 3:2. The awkward translations can make us miss the wonderful point here: Israel’s unbelief didn’t abolish [Gk.], do away with, make of no effect [AV], God’s faith in Israel. Here we see His love, His grace; a faith and hope in a weak other party which can only come from very deep love. They didn’t believe in Him, but He didn’t stop believing in them.
“Some" Jews didn't believe (Rom. 3:3); the majority, actually, but the Father is more gentle than that. The whole tragic history of God's relationship with Israel is a sure proof of His essentially positive character. Right at their birth by the Red Sea, the Almighty records that "the people feared Yahweh, and believed Yahweh, and His servant Moses" (Ex. 14:23). No mention is made of the Egyptian idols they were still cuddling (we don't directly learn about them until Ez. 20). Nor do we learn that this "belief" of theirs lasted a mere three days; nor of the fact that they rejected Moses, and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. "There was no strange god" with Israel on their journey (Dt. 32:12); but there were (Am. 5:26). The reconciliation is that God counted as Israel as devoted solely to Him. The Angel told Moses that the people would probably want to come up the mountain, closer to God, when in fact in reality they ran away when they saw the holiness of God; almost suggesting that the Angel over-estimated their spiritual enthusiasm (Ex. 19:21-24 cp. 20:18). Likewise the Angel told Moses that the people would hear him, "and believe thee for ever" (Ex. 19:9). Things turned out the opposite. At this time, God saw no iniquity in Israel (Num. 23:21).
3:4 Let God be true- Paul is continually using legal language. Let God be found [in a legal sense, through legal, forensic analysis] true [Gk.] and faithful by man’s judgment of God. The amazing statement in 3:3- that God remains faithful even when we are not- is hard to believe. Paul understands our internal doubts as to the extent of God’s grace as man effectively putting God in the dock and trying the veracity of His claims. In one of the finest paradoxes of all, Paul will go on in Romans to use this very legal language to describe how God the judge as it were turns it all around, puts man, us sinners, in the dock, and justifies us the humanly unjustifiable.
Every man a liar- in that our false accusations against the real extent of God’s saving grace are exposed as untrue and lies.
That You may be justified- God comes through the trial of His grace by doubting man as justified, declared right. And yet this very term is what Paul uses to describe how God declares us righteous in His judgment of us. We judge God, but in the end, God judges us.
And overcome when You are brought to judgment [Gk.]- “Overcome” is the legal word for winning a case in court. It is our doubts as to the extent of God’s grace, that He abides faithful even throughout our unfaithfulness, which is effectively our bringing God to court, to judgment. Paul is here quoting Ps. 51:4, which were David’s words of reflection upon his sin unto death, and God’s forgiveness of him. He reflected that he had sinned so that God might be justified when He is brought to judgment by us. Again we are up against an amazing grace. God uses our sin, our doubt of His forgiveness, in order to declare Himself yet more righteous when He is put in the dock to answer against our false charges: ‘Is He really able to forgive me that? Will He really not hold this eternally against me? Will I really be saved, sinner that I am? Can God really accept me after what I have done, all I have failed to do as I should, all I have not been...?’. These are the kinds of questions with which we accuse God. Effectively the case against God’s grace is that He will not actually forgive, justify and save weak sinners. And He gloriously wins the case against us. And He even uses our sin, as He used David’s (who becomes a figure of us all), in order to prove this to us and to the world. And so, in a matchless logical tour de force, Paul triumphs in 3:5: “Our unrighteousness commends the righteousness of God”, just as David sinned so that God’s righteousness would be declared.
3:5 Our unrighteousness commends the righteousness of God- see on Rom. 3:4 “And overcome...”. God commends His love to us in that when we were still sinners, Christ died for us, the just for unjust (Rom. 5:8). Thus on all sides we have God’s saving love commended to us- by our own unrighteousness on the one hand, and by God’s self-commendation of His desire to save us through giving His Son to die for us, taking the initiative whilst we were as yet unborn and still from His perspective “sinners”. The Greek for “commend” means literally to place beside, e.g. Lk. 9:32 “the men that stood with him”. God and man come to stand together in that court room. Our unrighteousness and His righteousness stand together. The accused [God] comes to stand together with the accusers [our doubts, sinful man]; and then the roles change, God becomes the accuser and we become the accused, and He through His love comes to again stand with us, having condemned and yet then justified us. Truly, even under inspiration, Paul is lost for words: “What shall we say?”.
David recognized that God works through our sinfulness- he is effectively saying in Ps. 51:4: 'I sinned so that You might be justified...'. These words are quoted in Rom. 3:4,5 in the context of Paul's exultation that " our unrighteousness commends the righteousness of God" - in just the same way as David's did! Because God displays His righteousness every time He justifies a repentant sinner, He is in a sense making Himself yet more righteous. We must see things from God's perspective, from the standpoint of giving glory to God's righteous attributes. If we do this, then we can see through the ugliness of sin, and come to terms with our transgressions the more effectively. And Paul quotes David's sin with Bathsheba as our supreme example in this. We along with all the righteous ought to “shout for joy” that David really was forgiven (Ps. 32:11)- for there is such hope for us now. David is our example. And yet the intensity of David’s repentance must be ours. He hung his head as one in whose mouth there were no more arguments, hoping only in the Lord’s grace (Ps. 38:14 RVmg.). Notice too how Ps. 51:1 “Have mercy on me, O God…” is quoted by the publican in Lk. 18:13. He felt that David’s prayer and situation was to be his. And he is held up as the example for each of us.
Taketh vengeance- another legal term- ‘to judicially afflict’. God would not be and is not wrong to press the case against our sin to its final term- vengeance, wrath, as will be seen at the final judgment. Would He be wrong to do this to us? Of course not.
3:6 God will indeed take vengeance, press the legal case to its ultimate end, in condemning the unbelieving world. The judgment against sin cannot be minimized just because we know that it will not in fact be meted out upon those who believe in Christ- see on Rom. 3:5. I prefer to translate this verse as an exclamation: “Because how much [i.e. ‘how severely!’] shall God judge the world!”.
3:7 The Truth of God- the profound truth of Rom. 3:4, that God is willing and eager to save sinners, to remain faithful when we are unfaithful (3:3).
Abounded through my lie unto His glory- this is the same idea as in 3:5, that our unrighteousness actually commends the righteousness of God. Every man is a liar, a false accuser of God’s grace (3:4) in that we all doubt the reality of God’s saving grace for me personally. And Paul focuses on himself- he along with every man is one of those liars. Yet his doubt, his false accusation of God’s saving grace, only abounds unto God’s glory, in that God will and is finally justified in all this by forgiving, justifying and saving us.
Why yet am I also judged as a sinner?- A reference to how his opponents judged him as a sinner. But as he elsewhere says, we are to pay no attention to how men judge us, because the only judgment worth anything is God’s (1 Cor. 4:3). If we are judged and justified by God, so what how men judge us?
3:8 Paul’s opponents repeated the gossip [“we be slanderously reported”] and fabricated primary evidence that they had actually heard Paul say [“and... affirm”] that therefore we should sin so that blessing would come from God. Note the legal language again- they were as it were putting Paul in the dock and making affirmations against him. Vilification is something which every preacher and teacher of the Gospel has to put up with, and we shouldn’t be surprised when we encounter it. Paul speaks of such slanderers and word twisters in very tough terms: “Whose damnation is just”. This of course is in the context of his having just pointed out that the legal condemnation of the unbelieving world is just and right. He perceived his critics within the ecclesia as actually being in the unbelieving world. He also sees their damnation as a present thing- human behaviour is played out before the judgment seat of God right now. It’s not that He is unaware of it and will only consider it at the future judgment seat. Slanderous words and fabricated evidence against God’s children is seen as an ‘affirmation’ made in the Divine court- and it will be judged with damnation.
To God, slanderers and false teachers within the ecclesia already are given their condemnation (Rom. 3:8). "The Lord shall judge the people... God judgeth (present tense) the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day... he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready. He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death; he ordaineth his arrows" (Ps. 7:8,11-13). God is now judging men, and preparing their final reward. For the wicked, the arrow is prepared in the bow, the sword is sharpened- all waiting for the final day in which the present judgments will be executed.
3:9- see on Rom. 2:4.
Are we better than they?- RV “in better case”, do we have a better legal case than them? The “they” could be the Gentiles- as if Paul is saying that we Jews have no better case than the Gentiles. In this case our retranslation of Rom. 3:1 [see there] would be the more justified- for Paul would be saying that actually Jews have no real advantage over Gentiles. But the “they” contextually would more comfortably refer to the unbelieving world (3:6). We have no better case than them, because both Jew and Gentile are all sinners.
We have proved- to legally accuse, RV “laid to the charge”. It is in fact God who does the accusing; but Paul for a moment sees us as on His side, accusing all humanity, ourselves included, of sin.
All under sin- Paul alludes here when he says that “I am carnal, sold under sin” (Rom. 7:14). And yet he also draws the contrast between being “under the law” and now after baptism being “under grace” (Rom. 6:14). Paul sees himself from outside himself when he says that he has legally accused all men of being sinners- and he includes himself in that mass of humanity. Repeatedly, he wishes to emphasize that he too is a sinner and not, as the teacher, somehow separate from sinful humanity. He sets a great example to every teacher and preacher in the ecclesia. For he previously warned against the human tendency to assume that what happens to all men will somehow not happen to me (Rom. 2:2,3).
Paul speaks of both Jew and Gentile as being “under the power of sin” (Rom. 3:9 RSV) – which in itself suggests that he saw “sin” personified as a power. If sin is indeed personified by the Bible writers – what real objection can there be to the idea of this personification being at times referred to as ‘Satan’, the adversary? It has been argued that Paul was well aware of the concept of dualism which the Jews had picked up in Babylonian captivity, i.e. the idea that there is a ‘Satan’ god opposed to the true God; but he reapplies those terms to the conflict he so often describes between flesh and spirit, which goes on within the human mind.
3:10 The quotation from Ps. 14:1-3; 53:1-3 is about the fools who say in their heart that there is no God. Yet Paul applies this to every one of us, himself included. What he’s doing here is similar to what he does at the end of Romans 1- he speaks of the grossest sins and reasons that we are all in essence guilty and condemned as serious sinners before God. Here he quotes passages which speak of effective atheism and applies them to us all, himself included- even though atheism was abhorrent to the Jews, and Paul may have seemed the last person to be an atheist. But the ‘atheism’ of Ps. 14:1 occurs within the psychological thought processes of the human mind- the fool says in his heart that there is no God. In the context of Romans, Paul is arguing that we call God a liar when we disbelieve His offer of justification and salvation. To deny this is to effectively say in our hearts that there is no God. If God is, then He is a Saviour God. To deny that He will save me is effectively to say He doesn’t exist; for a God who won’t save me may as well not exist. Far too many people claim some level of belief in God’s existence, but in their hearts deny Him, in that they personally doubt whether His promised salvation is really true for me.
3:11 None that understands- in the context, understands, perceives, the reality that God will really save me.
Seeks after- translating the Hebraism for ‘to worship’. Nobody really grasps the reality of personal salvation and falls to the ground in worship as they should. If we would only let ourselves go and realize that His desire to save me is greater than my failure, that my sin is no barrier to His grace- we would be the most ecstatic and profoundly devoted worshippers of Him. But actually nobody really is like this, for their faith is not total and therefore their worship cannot be either, whatever outward appearance of ecstasy and profound expressions it may appear to have, in lyrics and music.
3:12 All gone... together become- although quoting still from Ps. 14:1-3, the idea is very similar to “we like sheep have gone astray” (Is. 53:6). We sin because of our group mentality, the influence of others is so strong upon us, we sin because we are sheep who follow the rest of the flock rather than stand alone against sin. Peer pressure is simply far stronger than we can ever imagine. In the context, Paul is reading “all” and “together” as meaning that both Jew and Gentile have alike gone astray, united and undivided in their joint sinfulness, no matter how they may culturally differ in the flesh.
None that does good- the Greek word essentially means profitable, useful. The contrast is with how we are all become “unprofitable”- none is profitable to God. It’s not that nobody ever does any good deed; rather the idea is that we are like the vine tree, not useful of ourselves to God (Ez. 15:2-6) unless He justifies us and makes us useful in His service.
3:13 Throat... tongue... deceit... lips- the connection is surely with how Paul has said that all men, himself included, are liars (3:4,7). Yet the lie he had there in view was the lie that God will not save me, will not and cannot justify me as He has promised. And in this we falsely accuse God, putting Him in the dock. Paul talks of this in the harshest of language here, as if we are poison spitters, the seed of the serpent, in how we speak against God. This is a theme with Paul- to use exaggerated and extreme language about our disbelief and sinfulness.
Because of God's abhorrence of sin, sins of ignorance were still counted as offences against God, requiring atonement. This should really humble us- if we are sensitive to this fact. It therefore follows that we should lift up our voice for understanding of God's ways, for ignorant sin is still sin to Him- even though His judgment of us may possibly take into account our level of appreciation. In this context we should also be aware that God remembers unforgiven sin. Over time we can forget that we cursed our wife on 6.6.96 or whenever and never bowed down in repentance. But He doesn’t. The haziness of our memories can work as a kind of pseudo-atonement for us. With Him there is no distinction between past and present and future. The sin remains before Him. By the law comes the knowledge of sin to men, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t culpable for those sins before God (Rom. 3:20; 7:7)- for sins of ignorance still needed atonement. “Sin is not imputed when there is no law” (Rom. 3:13) most likely means, in this light, that it is not imputed by those who do the sin. But God still notices… We only have to consider the passion of Peter's appeal to Israel in Acts 3:17-19: "I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did your rulers... repent ye therefore”. His Jewish hearers would immediately have spotted the allusion back to the Mosaic protocol about what to do when you and your rulers realized you'd committed sins of ignorance. But the sacrifice required was now not an animal- it was the sacrifice of a broken heart and a baptism into Jesus.
It should be noted that verses 13-18 are quoting from the Septuagint of Psalm 14- they aren’t found in the Hebrew text. Time and again the inspired New Testament writers quote from the LXX rather than the Hebrew Masoretic text, often preferring the LXX over the MT, and in this case accepting the LXX addition of verses which the MT omits. It’s hard to gauge the wider significance of this. The LXX versions of the genealogies in Genesis would, e.g., not support the contention that the Genesis 1 creation occurred 4000 years before the birth of Christ.
3:14 This and Rom. 3:16 especially could be appropriate to the descriptions of the rejected at the day of judgment. The idea being that we are all rejected, for we are all sinners; but by grace, the believers in Christ have been declared righteous. We seem to have Paul declaring the sinfulness of humanity in the most graphic terms he can- quoting verses which immediately trigger the reaction: “But that’s not quite true of me. I may be a sinner, but I don’t do that”, e.g. cursing and blaspheming all day long. I think this is intentional; for Paul writes very sensitive to his audience’s likely reaction. It’s similar to how he speaks about the grossest moral sins in chapter 1, and then proceeds to count us all guilty in essence. It’s a powerful device to try to highlight to us all the extent of human sinfulness.
3:15 Shed blood- Paul may be quoting this and applying it to us all in the sense that he gave full weight to the Lord’s teaching that the hateful thought is as bad as murder. Or he may be wishing to shock us with the extent of our sinful position (see on Rom. 3:14).
Eliphaz thought there were only a few very sinful people in the world (Job 15:35); but His words are quoted by the Spirit in Is. 59:4 concerning the whole nation of Israel; and this in turn is quoted in Rom. 3:15-17 concerning the whole human race. This same path of progressive realization of our sinfulness must be trodden by each faithful individual, as well as on a communal level.
3:16 Destruction- Gk. ‘a dashing to pieces’, perhaps an allusion to how the stone of Messiah’s second coming would dash the kingdoms of men to pieces at His return (Dan. 2:45; Rev. 2:27). But sinners are going now in way of such destruction. Damnation begins now- in the way of life people chose to live.
Misery- the wretchedness of the condemned. But remember Paul is applying this to us all, as apart from Christ we are all sinners, even now living out our future condemnation. Yet Paul uses the very word about himself in Rom. 7:24: “O wretched [s.w. miserable] man that I am…”, going on to exalt that Christ has saved him from that position, that misery, the misery of the condemned sinner. What is true of all humanity is true of Paul too- he repeatedly emphasizes his own personal share in the condemned human situation.
3:17 The way of peace have they not known- Remember that Paul is writing to Christians who have known God’s ways, convicting them that they with him are, naturally speaking, condemned and the most wretched of sinners. “Peace” in Paul’s thought nearly always refers to peace with God through forgiveness and salvation in Christ. It is this which they have not known all the time they refuse to really believe that they have been forgiven and justified in Christ.
3:18 No fear of God- Again, the language appropriate to the most hardened, atheistic blasphemer is being applied to all men, including Paul and all in Christ. This is Paul’s attempt to shock us into a deeper realization of how serious our position is as sinners. He has already convicted us of in essence being sexually immoral in chapter 1; he has applied the language of atheists to us in Rom. 1:28; 3:10. And now he as it were crowns it all by quoting a description of the very dregs of human society, who live with no fear of God, and applying it to us- we who fear His judgment and condemnation in our faithlessness that His grace is enough to save us. It’s a paradox- if we fear God’s judgment, not believing in His grace, then we are categorized along with those who have no fear of God.
Although I have argued that Paul is quoting from the LXX of Psalm 14 here in Rom. 3:13-18, it would seem that this verse is also quoting Ps. 36:1: “The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes”. This has a strange appropriacy. David says that the sin of the wicked is speaking within his [David’s] heart. This is the same spirit in which Paul is applying the descriptions of the very worst of humanity and admitting that in essence, this is what is going on within his heart and within the heart of every man. Truly, bad man only do what good mean dream of.
3:19 “The law” here seems to be used in the Rabbinic sense of ‘the OT scriptures’. There seems no sense if Paul is saying that the Law, the Scriptures he has just quoted, speak only to those “under the law”, and that therefore the whole world is condemned and guilty before God. I think we have to read in some ellipses here; the Message seems to get it right: “This makes it clear, doesn't it, that whatever is written in these Scriptures is not what God says about others but to us to whom these Scriptures were addressed in the first place!”. This would be continuing the theme of 2:2,3- that we are not to give in to the human tendency to assume that the consequences for all men because of sin will somehow not come upon us personally. See also on Rom. 2:21.
Those verses Paul has just quoted, speaking of the worst of sinners, apply to us all (3:9,10). Paul realizes we are prone to respond that no, that’s not quite me… I’m not that bad. And so he has warned: “Whatever is written in these Scriptures is not what God says about others but to us” [The Message]. The intention is that “every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God”. The Greek for “stopped”, according to Vine, refers to “the effect of overwhelming evidence upon an accused party in court”. It is the speechlessness of the rejected of which the Lord speaks in Mt. 22:12. Each of us should so know our sinfulness that we really feel as if we are standing at the judgment seat of Christ and have been condemned. We, along with all the world, “become guilty”, become sentenced [Gk.] before His judgment seat, right now. Only by having some sense of this will we be able to have any emotion of relief, joy, gratitude, praise, exaltation etc. at the wonder of having been declared right, accepted, by God’s grace in Christ.
We can however interpret “the law” as the Law of Moses. Its’ purpose was “so that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19). Paul is quoting here from Ps. 63:11: “the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped”. He’s reasoning that because we’re all sinners, we’re all liars- for untruth is the essence of sin. We are not being true to ourselves, to God, to His word, to our brethren… we profess covenant relationship with God, to be His people, and yet we fail to keep the terms of that covenant. And the Law of Moses convicted all God’s people of this, and in this way led them to the need for Christ. Yet Is. 52:15 prophesied that the crucified Jesus would result in men shutting their mouths. The righteousness and perfection displayed there in one Man, the very human Lord Jesus, has the same effect upon us as the Law of Moses- we shut our mouths, convicted of sin.
Rom. 3:19 (A.V.mg.) defines "all the world" as those "subject to the judgment of God" - which is only the responsible. The Lord Jesus took away the sin “of the world”, but the Jews died in their sins; “the world” whose sins were taken away is therefore the world of believers. "Every knee shall bow to me... every tongue shall confess... so then every one of us shall give account" (Rom. 14:11,12) is another example- 'all men', 'every man' means 'every one of us the responsible'. "The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men" (Tit. 2:11)- certainly not to every human being that has ever lived; but to the " all men" of the new creation. For not "all men" will be saved. The Lord tasted death "for every man" (Heb. 2:9)- for every one who has a representative part in His sacrifice through baptism. Christ "reconciled the world" in that He obtained forgiveness for us (2 Cor. 5:19)- we are "the world" which was reconciled, we are the " all things" purged by His blood (Heb. 9:22). 1 Cor. 4:9 seems to make a difference between "the world" and "men", as if Paul is using "the world" here as meaning 'the world of believers'. The Lord was "a ransom for all" (1 Tim. 2:6), although it was only us, the redeemed, who were ransomed by Him out of sin's slavery (Lk. 1:68; Tit. 2:14; 1 Pet. 1:18; Rom. 8:13; Rev. 5:9; 14:3,4). The “all flesh” upon whom the Spirit was poured out in the first century was clearly enough a reference to those who believed and were baptized (Acts 2:17).
Sodom being a type of latter day events, it is not surprising that Scripture provides a wealth of detail concerning Sodom. The Genesis record summarizes what we glean from later revelation by saying that " the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly" (Gen.13:13). "Before the Lord" recalls the earth being "corrupt before God" prior to the flood (Gen.6:11), another clear type of the last days. Indeed their sin being "before the Lord" may hint that Lot (or Abraham?) had preached God's requirements to them, and therefore they were consciously disobeying Him. Thus Rom.3:19 speaks of the world becoming "guilty before God" by reason of their having the opportunity to know God's word (cp. Rom.2:12,13).
3:20 Therefore- because we are convicted sinners facing condemnation, no good works we do in other areas can change the outcome nor displace the sins we have already committed. ‘Just’ one sin brings death, as evidenced by the sin of Adam and Eve. “Guilty before God” in 3:19 is reflected by “[not] justified in His sight” in 3:20. Because we are already standing dumbstruck and declared guilty before Him, we cannot be now declared right, it can’t all be made OK, by doing some other good works according to that same system of law parts of which we broke. If you murder your neighbor and stand in court condemned for it, you can’t put it all right by then doing the good deed of mowing your other neighbour’s lawn and taking his garbage to the dump. Indeed, trying to obey “the law” in one aspect isn’t going to declare us right when that same system of law condemns us. The only possible way to ‘get right’ would be to somehow get to the judge through another paradigm than obedience or disobedience to the law. And this is exactly what Paul is building up to. For the Judge of all the earth Himself thought up such a way. Seeing that “by the law is the knowledge of sin”, or as 1 Cor. 15:56 puts it “the strength of sin is the law”, a way simply has to be found for our salvation which doesn’t depend upon our obedience or disobedience to the law.
3:21 The righteousness of God- a poor translation which is out of harmony with the context of 3:20 [see there]. The idea is that the justification of God, the way God sets a person right, without reference to the law, outside the paradigm of law- is in fact revealed (RV “has been manifested”, already) within the Old Testament prophets and the Law of Moses itself. The Old Testament scriptures are described with yet another legal term- they are right now witnessing in court, attesting. It’s as if we stood in the dock condemned and silent before God; but then the very law which we had broken and the Scriptures themselves take the witness box- and offer a way for us to be declared right.
3:22 God’s way of putting us right operates through our faith in [RV, Gk.] Jesus Christ, which Paul will later define more concretely in chapter 6 as baptism into His death and resurrection; for this is what constitutes in the first instance our believing into Christ. Whoever, any human being, who believes into Him will be counted right by God. And therefore “all”, “any”, who believe will be saved, there is no difference or distinction between them in terms of their being Jew or Gentile. The same word is used in this connection in Rom. 10:12.
3:23 For all- the context suggests that the enormity of our condemned position before God should mean that we do not uphold any human distinctions between us, e.g. on ethnic grounds. Perceiving the enormity of our sin, how we are all in this together, and the wonder of God’s saving grace, ought to be the most powerful inspiration to unity known to humanity. The “all” who have sinned could refer to ‘all believers in Christ’ which is the subject of the preceding verse 3:22; and 3:24 suggests that this same “all” are those who are justified freely by His grace.
Come short of the glory of God- We have all already sinned [aorist past tense] and we do now [present tense] fall short of God’s glory, i.e. the complete perfection, the glory of God which was seen in the person of His Son (2 Cor. 4:6). God declared His glory to Moses in terms of His character (Ex. 33:18 cp. Ex. 34:4-6). We fall short of that perfection of the Father’s character which was revealed in its fullness in His Son. Heb. 12:15 uses the same Greek word for “come / fall short” in warning lest any man “fail / fall short of the grace of God”. We come far short of God’s glory, but we are not to fall short of His grace whereby the righteousness of His Son, His glory, is counted to us and we are thereby declared right with Him. Jewish writings such as the Apocalypse of Moses 20.2 and 21.6 claimed that Adam “came short of the glory of God” by his sin in Eden; Paul is clearly alluding to this and is saying that Adam is everyman, we each are as Adam in Eden, with the tidal wave of realization breaking upon us as to the seriousness and eternal consequence of our so easily committed sin. It must be remembered that the Jewish writings frequently paralleled Adam with Israel (1). But Paul is arguing that Adam is every single human being, not just Israel. For Adam was created well before Israel, and all humanity are his offspring, not just Israel. The universal experience of sinfulness therefore leads to the offer of God’s grace to all types of human being, not just Israel; and there will be an ensuing unity between those who believe in this grace, regardless of their ethnic background.
The Bible itself continually reflects a distinction in the mind of God between the person and the behaviour, the sin and the sinner. When we allow ourselves to be offended and to offend others, we have ceased to make that differentiation. We so easily equate the person and their behaviour, and thus they offend us. Consider how we are in the habit of saying: “We’re all sinners”. You may think I’m being pedantic, but Rom. 3:23 says otherwise- that “all have sinned”. And there’s a slight and subtle difference. We have committed sin, and therefore we can be called sinners. But the Biblical focus is on the action committed rather than the branding of the person with a label.
3:24 Freely- Gk. ‘without a cause / reason, as a gift’. We are justified, declared right in our court case, for no reason. This declaring right is therefore by the purest grace imaginable. The same word is used of how we should freely, without a human reason, preach the Gospel (Mt. 10:8; 2 Cor. 11:7); our receipt of such a “free” salvation should naturally inspire us to share it with others in the same spirit. Any form of charging for the Gospel, getting personal benefit or glory out of sharing it with others, is absolutely outlawed. The free nature of the grace we have received must be reflected in our sharing it with others in the same spirit; God’s giving to us has to be translated in our giving to others. Sharing the Gospel isn’t, therefore, an irksome duty, something we salve our conscience with, something we are asked to participate in by a church leadership team; but a natural personal outflowing of the free gift we have received.
The redemption- We are declared right here and now, we receive redemption in that our sins are forgiven (Eph. 1:7); but redemption is in fact a process, culminating in the redemption of our body at the return of Christ, the final change from mortality to immortality in a corporeal, literal sense (s.w. Rom. 8:23), in “the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30).
3:25 Set forth -“Whom God put forward as a place of atonement by his blood” (NRSV margin) seems to be the right sense. The reference is to the mercy seat, not to the sacrificed animal. Vincent comments: “The word is used by Herodotus of exposing corpses (v. 8); by Thucydides of exposing the bones of the dead (ii. 34)”. The sense of public display is picked up later in the verse in the word “declare”. Crucifixion is by its very nature a public event. There was once a doctor in Paraguay who spoke out against human rights abuses. Local police took their revenge by torturing his teenage son to death. The local people wanted to stage a huge protest march, but the father disallowed them and chose another means of protest. At the funeral, the father displayed his son’s body as it was when retrieved from jail- naked, scarred from electric shocks, cigarette burns and beatings. And the body was displayed not in a coffin but on the blood-soaked prison mattress. This public display of a body was the most powerful witness and incitement possible. And the public nature of the display of God’s tortured son was for the same basic reason. “He was manifested, that he might put sins away" (1 Jn. 3:5) could suggest that in His atoning death, ‘He’ was manifested. There God set forth Jesus in His blood, for all to see and respond to (Rom. 3:25 Gk.). There the real essence of Jesus was publicly shown forth. And there we come to know what love is (1 Jn. 3:16).
A propitiation- the Greek word doesn’t have to mean “mercy seat” / atonement cover, with reference to the ark, even though this is how it is translated in Hebrews. The idea is essentially a place of atonement or the atonement victim, the sacrificed animal. Instead of that place of blood sprinkling been hidden away on the top of the atonement cover, the ark of the covenant within the Most Holy Place which the High Priest saw only once per year, God through the cross set forth publically, He declared, the place of atonement to be in the very publically displayed blood of His Son. The public nature of crucifixion therefore was appropriate. The Son of Man had to be, therefore, “lifted up” (Jn. 3:14) so that He could and can be believed in. Rom. 3:25 states that the Lord in His death was "set forth to be a propitiation". Graham Jackman comments: "Though the primary meaning of the word ‘set forth’ (protithemi) seems to be that of ‘determining’ or ‘purposing’, another sense, albeit not in the New Testament, is said to be that of exposing the bodies of the dead to public view, as in a lying in state". See on Mk. 15:29.
To declare- see on “set forth”. But the word also carries the sense of setting forth evidence, proof. The legal flavor could possibly suggest that the blood of Christ, His death upon the cross, is brought forth as a proof in the court case that actually, we really have been declared in the right. Whilst Christ’s death was multifactorial, it would be true to say that God could have saved us any way He chose, without being forced, as it were, to have a begotten Son who was publically crucified. Maybe He did this because He so so wishes us to believe, and He wanted to commend His love in all its depth and costliness as publically as possible, so that we would indeed perceive and believe it.
God’s method of declaring us right deals with the sins “that are past”, for which we stand condemned before His judgment seat with no way to make amends; and also “at this time” (3:26), right now, we are declared righteous by status, declared in the right, if we are believers into Jesus.
Forbearance- We shall all be saved by the forbearance of God, hence we should not deny to others the forbearance of God. Hence in Rom. 2:4 the same word is used, in stating that those who condemn their brethren are despising the forbearance of God, in that they are assuming that His forbearance can’t apply to the person whom they have condemned. If we are saved by God’s gracious forbearance, it’s not for us to deny this to another.
3:26 Declare… at this time- see on Rom. 3:25.
That He might be just- the whole process of justifying sinners is achieved without infringing upon the justice and integrity of God. Quite how… isn’t explained (although I am aware of many attempts to explain it, but they all seem to fail). I think we are asked to accept this on faith.
And the justifier- God’s plan of declaring us right takes care of our past sins (Rom. 3:25), right now “at this time” declares us right, and will justify us at the coming day of judgment.
In Jesus- It’s rare for Paul to refer to the Lord Jesus Christ as simply “Jesus” with no title. Perhaps he is trying to bring out the simplicity of it all- that by believing in the very human Jesus, a man of our nature with one of the commonest names amongst first century Palestinian Jews, i.e. ‘Jesus’, we really can be declared right before God.
3:27 Boasting- the Jewish boasting about obedience to the Mosaic Law of Rom. 2:17. If we are saved by grace, any feelings of superiority are excluded. “It is excluded” is a mild way of translating the aorist- the sense is that boasting has once for all been cut off, ended, excluded; by the death of Christ, and by that moment when we believed into Christ, and stood declared righteous before the judgment seat of Christ. Paul must refer to boasting in a wrong sense, a boasting in our works and obedience; for he uses the word quite often in his letters of his boasting of God’s grace, and of the faithfulness of other brethren which had been inspired by that grace (e.g. 2 Cor. 7:4,14; 8:24; 9:4; 11:10,17).
By what law? Of works?- Boasting in the sense of feeling superior to others hasn’t been excluded by law, i.e. it’s not that we no longer boast because there’s a law that says ‘You shall not boast’. It has been cut off by the law or principle of salvation by faith rather than works. This simple reality, that we really are saved, not by works but by faith in God’s grace through Jesus, is so powerful that it quite naturally excludes boasting.
3:28- see on Rom. 2:26.
We conclude- the legal sense of the word refers to the summing up of a court case. Here again, Paul assumes the role of judge. The summary of the case is that a man is declared right by God on account of his faith in God’s grace and the blood of Christ. This is “without”, quite apart from, any acts of obedience to law.
3:29 God of the Jews only? Paul brings out the practical implications of the doctrine of justification by faith in God’s grace. Seeing that all men are sinners, and the basis of salvation is our faith in His grace through the blood of Christ- there can be no basic division between believers. God becomes “the God” of those He has saved, that seems to be implication- and so He isn’t the God of only the Jews.
The Roman concept of religio allowed each subject nation to have their own gods, so long as the cult of the emperor was also worshipped. But Rom. 3:29 states that the God of Israel was the one God of the Gentiles too. This is in sharp distinction to the way the Romans thought of the god of the Jews as just another national deity. Caesar was king of many subject kings, Lord of many conquered and inferior lords. In this we see the radical challenge of 1 Tim. 6:15,16: that Jesus Christ is the only potentate, the Lord of Lords, the King of all Kings.
3:30 It is one God- the belief which the Jews held most dear; they felt that their monotheism divided them from the rest of the world. But it is the fact that there’s only one God which binds together Jew and Gentile believers in Christ; for that one God justifies each human being on the same basis. The seriousness of our personal positions and the wonder of His saving grace is such that any ethnic difference between us becomes irrelevant.
By faith… through faith. The Greek words ek [“by”] and dia [“through”] may simply be being used in parallel, meaning effectively the same thing, as they are in Gal. 2:16. “The circumcision” refers to Jewish Christians who believed; “the uncircumcision” is perhaps also a technical term, in this context, for believing Christian Gentiles.
That God is one is not just a numerical description. If there is only one God, He therefore demands our all. Because He is the One God, He demands all our worship; and because He is One, He therefore treats all His people the same, regardless, e.g., of their nationality (Rom. 3:30). All true worshippers of the one God, whether Jew or Gentile, are united in that the one God offers salvation to them on the same basis. The fact there is only one Lord Jesus implies the same for Him (Rom. 10:12). Paul saw these implications in the doctrine of the unity of God. But that doctrine needs reflecting on before we come to grasp these conclusions.
Paul, writing to those who thought they believed in the unity of God, had to remind them that this simple fact implies the need for unity amongst us His children, seeing He treats us all equally as a truly good Father: " If so be that God is one... he shall justify the circumcision by faith, and [likewise] the uncircumcision through faith" (Rom. 3:30 RV). Unity amongst us is inspired by the fact that God seeks to be one with us, exactly because He is Himself 'unity', one in Himself. The Rabbis have always been at pains to point out the somewhat unusual grammar in the record of creation in Genesis 1, which literally translated reads: "One day... a second day... a third day", rather than 'One day... two days... three days', as we'd expect if 'Day one' solely referred to 'firstness' in terms of time. "The first day" (Gen. 1:5) therefore means more strictly 'the day of unity', in that it refers to how the one God sought unity with earth. "Yom ehad, one day, really means the day which God desired to be one with man... the unity of God is a concern for the unity of the world".
3:31Make void- Consider where the same word is used in the context of showing that the Law has indeed been ‘made void’ or done away: Rom. 7:2, we are “loosed” from the Law, “delivered from the Law” (Rom. 7:6), the Law was “done away” (2 Cor. 3:11), “abolished” (2 Cor. 3:13), “done away” (2 Cor. 3:14), “abolished… the law of commandments” (Eph. 2:15). Clearly enough, the Law is indeed “made void”- by the death of Christ. The emphasis should therefore be on the fact that it is not us (“we”), who made it void. We as lawbreakers have no right to simply abrogate Divine Law, to void it because we broke it and we want to avoid the consequences. It can only be done by the Divine lawmaker and His Son. Our faith in Him and His saving grace doesn’t mean that we make the law void; we by our sinfulness and acceptance of it do in fact establish or ‘make to stand’ Divine law. Paul is anticipating the objections of his Jewish audience- that he was teaching that sinners could merely abrogate the Law they had broken. We sense how on the back foot Paul was- his critics must have been persistent, and his stress level must have been very high by constantly seeking to anticipate their objections and parry them [did he actually need to have done this?]. By believing in God’s grace in Christ and not trying to get justification from keeping the Law of Moses, we are in a strange way fulfilling the “righteousness of the law” (Rom. 8:4). It may be that Paul here is using “law” as a reference to the Old Testament scriptures generally, which he has been quoting so freely to prove his point (he uses “law” like this in Rom. 3:19,21; although “law” in the first half of 3:31 seems to refer to the Mosaic Law specifically).
"Think not that I am come to destroy (“to make void”, Darby's Translation) the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill" (Mt. 5:17) has some kind of unconscious, hard to define link with Rom. 3:31:" Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law". The Greek words for "destroy" and "make void" are different; yet the similarity of phrasing and reasoning is so similar. I can't pass this off as chance, yet neither can I say there is a conscious allusion here. There is, therefore, what I will call an 'unconscious link' here.
(1) N.T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1991) pp. 18-40 for documentation.
The Case For Grace: A Commentary On Romans 1-8
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