3:1 Therefore what advantage does the Jew have, or what is the value of circumcision? 3:2 Actually, there are many advantages. First of all, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3:3 What then? If some did not believe, does their unbelief nullify the faithfulness of God? 3:4 Absolutely not! Let God be proven true, and every human being shown up as a liar, just as it is written: “so that you will be justified in your words and will prevail when you are judged.”
The Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God – Wright (Paul and the Faithfulness of God) insists that the word translated ‘entrusted’ ‘is always used by Paul in the same sense that it bears in secular Greek: to entrust someone with something is to give them something which they must take care of and pass on to the appropriate person…The whole sentence, and the whole drift of the passage ever since Rom 2:17, is not primarily about ‘Israel’s guilt’, but about God’s purpose, through Israel, for the world.’
The problem Paul is addressing (according to Wright) is that ‘the creator makes promises through Abraham to the world; Abraham’s family fail to pass on the ‘oracles’, in other words, to be the ‘light to the nations, the guide to the blind’ and so on that they were supposed to be (2:17–20); how is this God then going to keep his promises through Israel to the world? If the person responsible for delivering the mail has proved untrustworthy, how can I keep my promises to send you a letter by that same mail system?’
Faith…faith…faithfulness – The root is the same in all three instances (pistis). The last of these, at least, clearly means ‘faithfulness’ (rather than ‘faith’) lending some support to those who wish to regularly translate πιστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ as ‘the faithfulness of Christ’).
In order to bring out the play on words, Stott suggests the following rendering: ‘If some to whom God’s promises were entrusted (episteuthēsan, 2) did not respond to them in trust (ēpistēsan, 3a), will their lack of trust (apistia) destroy God’s trustworthiness (pistis, 3b)?’ (BST)
Let God be true – ‘Let God be esteemed true and faithful, whatever consequence may follow. This was a first principle, and should be now, that God should be believed to be a God of truth, whatever consequence it might involve. How happy would it be, if all men would regard this as a fixed principle, a matter not to be questioned in their hearts, or debated about, that God is true to his word! How much doubt and anxiety would it save professing Christians; and how much error would it save among sinners! Amidst all the agitations of the world, all conflicts, debates, and trials, it would be a fixed position, where every man might find rest, and which would do more than all other things to allay the tempests, and smooth the agitated waves of human life.’ (Barnes)
As it is written – The quotation is from Ps 51:4.
Paul uses the passive voice, ‘when you judge’ to translate this scripture. Calvin writes: ‘we know that, in quoting Scripture, the apostles often used freer language than the original, since they were content if what they quoted applied to their subject, and therefore, they were not over-careful in their use of words.’ Does this mean that Calvin acknowledged error in Scripture? Rogers and McKim think so, as does McNeill: ‘[Calvin] is obviously a little disconcerted by St Paul’s choice of a defective rendering. But his frank acknowledgment that the apostolic writers were concerned with matter, not words and that theirs was not a religio verborum, is quite characteristic.’ But Calvin also says: ‘Paul has quoted this passage of David in its true and proper sense.’ (See here).
‘Of all quotations ever made, this is one of the most beautiful and most happy. David was overwhelmed with grief; he saw his crime to be awful; he feared the displeasure of God, and trembled before him. Yet he held it as a fixed, indisputable principle, that GOD WAS RIGHT. This he never once thought of calling in question. He had sinned against God, God only; and he did not once think of calling in question the fact that God was just altogether in reproving him for his sin, and in pronouncing against him the sentence of condemnation.’ (Barnes)
This verse illustrates the meaning of justification. ‘The verb translated “to justify” clearly means “to declare righteous.” It is used of God in a quotation, which the New International Version renders “So that you may be proved right when you speak” (Rom 3:4; the NRSV has more exactly, “So that you may be justified in your words”). Now God cannot be “made righteous;” the expression obviously means “shown to be righteous” and this helps us see that when the word is applied to believers it does not mean “made righteous;” it signifies “declared righteous,” “shown to be in the right,” or the like.’ (EDBT)
3:5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is he? (I am speaking in human terms.) 3:6 Absolutely not! For otherwise how could God judge the world? 3:7 For if by my lie the truth of God enhances his glory, why am I still actually being judged as a sinner? 3:8 And why not say, “Let us do evil so that good may come of it”?—as some who slander us allege that we say. (Their condemnation is deserved!)
God’s righteousness – According to Wright, Paul’s argument here has to do with God’s faithfulness. If Gentiles are accepted by God on the same basis as Jews, does that mean that God has forgotten his covenant with the Jews? In this context, ‘God’s righteousness’ means ‘God’s covenant faithfulness.’
The Condemnation of the World
3:9 What then? Are we better off? Certainly not, for we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin, 3:10 just as it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one,
3:11 there is no one who understands,
there is no one who seeks God.
3:12 All have turned away,
together they have become worthless;
there is no one who shows kindness, not even one.”
As it is written – Paul is about to refer to a number of OT passages – Ps 5:9; 10:7; 14:1-3; 36:1; 140:3; Isa 59:7-8.
An immortal soul? E.J. Carnell draws the following implication from this verse: ‘Instead of teaching that man is of such infinitely incontestable value, that God, to be worthy of his name, must preserve him immortally, the Christian follows Paul’s judgment that there is none righteous, no not one (Rom 3:10). Man, then, deserves death, not life. The Christian cannot appeal to the rationality of the universe, for all rationality is from God. He cannot claim an independent rule of goodness and justice to assure him of life, for all goodness and justice flow from God. In short, the Christian knows that man, a vile, wretched, filthy sinner, will receive immortal life solely and only by God’s grace; man neither deserves immortality nor is worthy of it. Unless he that made man sovereignly elects to give him salvation and life, by grace and not by works, man is absolutely without hope. Man came into this world naked and it is certain that he will depart in exactly the same manner; and he who gave life in the first place can also recall it either to damnation, blessedness, or annihilation.’ (Quoted in Fudge, Edward William. The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition (p. 29). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.)
Worthless – ‘Sin is a disease which pervades and runs through every part of our moral constitution and every faculty of our minds. The understanding, the affections, the reasoning powers, the will, are all more or less infected. Even the conscience is so blinded that it cannot be depended on as a sure guide, and is as likely to lead men wrong as right, unless it is enlightened by the Holy Spirit. In short, “from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness” about us. (Isa 1:6) The disease may be veiled under a thin covering of courtesy, politeness, good manners and outward decorum, but it lies deep down in the constitution.’ (Ryle, Holiness)
3:13 “Their throats are open graves,
they deceive with their tongues,
the poison of asps is under their lips.”
3:14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
3:15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood,
3:16 ruin and misery are in their paths,
3:17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
3:18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
See Gen 20:11; Ps 36:1; Prov 8:13; 16:6; 23:17; Lk 23:40; Rev 19:5
3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God.
3:20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.
Observing the law – This has usually been understood to refer to anything that has been done in obedience to God’s law. Recently, however, Dunn has suggested that the ergoon nomou (works of the law) refer to those Jewish practices that marked them out as God’s people, i.e. circumcision, dietary laws, and observance of feasts. But it would seem from the present passage that ‘when Paul concluded that no one will be justified by works of the law (3:20), this was because even the Jews who had the law failed to observe its requirements, and it was not their failure to practice circumcision, to obey food laws, or observe the Sabbath that he had in mind. The failure he highlighted was their failure in the moral area.’ (Kruse)
3:21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed—3:22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe.
But now – These words ‘mark a major transition in Paul’s argument. More than that, they introduce the great turning-point in the history of salvation.’ (Ryken) Moo thinks that the more normal temporal meaning is likely here, marking ‘the shift in Paul’s focus from the old era of sin’s domination to the new era of salvation’. Kruse agrees, noting that the idea is clarified in v26 (‘at the present time’).
‘There are no more wonderful words in the whole of Scripture than just these two words “But now”.’ (Lloyd-Jones)
A righteousness from God – Lit. ‘a righteousness of God’. The NIV takes it as a possessive genitive, which is possible, although sometimes disputed. In fact, God both is righteous, Ps 98:2, and gives righteousness. See also Rom 1:17.
Wright (who understands it as ‘the righteousness of God’) says that ‘the phrase does not denote a human status which Israel’s God gives, grants, imparts or imputes (‘a righteousness from God’ as in Philippians 3:9), or a human characteristic which ‘counts’ with God (‘a righteousness which avails before God’). Nor does it denote the saving power of the one God…. It retains its primary scriptural meaning, which is that of God’s covenant faithfulness.’ (Paul and the faithfulness of God)
‘I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the righteousness of God,” because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous and deals righteously in punishing the unrighteous…Night and day I pondered until…I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before “the righteousness of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became a gateway to heaven.’ (Luther)
Faith in Jesus Christ –
Even so Jesus Christ has taken my poor guilty soul ever since I believed in him and has wrapped around me the blood-red flag of his atoning sacrifice, and before God can destroy me or any other soul that is wrapped in the atonement, he must insult his Son and dishonor the sacrifice, and that he will never do, blessed be his name.’ (Spurgeon)
For there is no distinction, 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
There is no difference – While men stand under the law, there are always differences among them. There is the difference between the righteous and the sinners, between those who strive to fulfill the law and those who break the law. As to the fulfillment or the violation of the law, there is an endless gradation of more or less. But, all such differences pale before the new righteousness of God. “There is no distinction.” Without exception, all are sinners before God. “All have sinned.” That is the point of departure for the whole redemptive work of God. No one has anything to offer which could elicit the love of God. In that respect, all are alike. Man’s own righteousness, though it be of great importance within human relations, does not serve, at all, to motivate God’s work of salvation. That depends, wholly, on God Himself. The only motive is in God Himself, in His gracious will.’ (Nygren)
All have sinned – or, to make the force of Paul’s argument clearer, ‘both (i.e. Jew and Gentile) have sinned.’ If follows that this text should not be used on its own as a proof-text for universal sinfulness.
Fall short of the glory of God – This ‘is often spoken of as missing the mark, that is, failing to hit the target, let alone the bull’s- eye, or the arrow dropping short. But hystereo, the word Paul uses here, simply means “absent” or “lacking.”‘ (DBI)
In Wright’s view, Paul ‘is referring to the glory that, as true humans, they should have possessed. This is the “glory” spoken of in Psalm 8: the status and responsibility of looking after God’s world on his behalf. This status and this activity are sustained by true worship of the true God. This is the royal vocation, undergirded by the priestly vocation.’ (The Day the Revolution Began)
‘There are, of course, variations in guilt and depravity, but the Bible is adamant that sin is absolutely universal. This does not mean, unfortunately, that conviction of sin is universal. Many human beings live lives of perfect complacency. They have no sense whatever of sin. God had to send a prophet to tell David that he was guilty of glaring iniquity (2 Sam 11 and 12). It is difficult to believe, after all he had done, that he had no sense of his own sin. But it is a great picture of conviction of sin, a reminder that only God can really tell us the truth about ourselves.’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)
3:24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
They – the ‘all’ of v23. But in both cases the meaning is ‘both’ (i.e. Jews and Gentiles alike). Just as v23 should not be construed as teaching universal sinfulness, so v24 should not be construed as teaching universal salvation.
Justified – A legal term. A justified person is pronounced by a judge to be acquitted, rather than condemned. But justification is more than pardon, or forgiveness. Stott cites Loane: ‘The voice that spells forgiveness will say: “You may go; you have been let off the penalty which your sin deserves.” But the verdict which means acceptance [sc. justification] will say: “You may come; you are welcome to all my love and my presence.”’
Hodge: ‘‘To condemn is not merely to punish, but to declare the accused guilty or worthy of punishment; and justification is not merely to remit that punishment, but to declare that punishment cannot be justly inflicted … Pardon and Justification therefore are essentially distinct. The one is the remission of punishment, the other is a declaration that no ground for the infliction of punishment exists.’’
By his grace – as God’s free gift, undeserved, unearned.
Redemption – They are release upon payment of a ransom. God does not set people free without doing something about their sins. The underlying word, lutron, is often used in the papyri of the money used to free slaves.
3:25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith.
God publicly displayed him – ‘presented him’ (NIV), ‘set him forth’. There is here a divine purpose in sending the Son, and a public exhibition of saving grace. This ‘setting forth’ of Jesus by God is a similar idea to his ‘sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering’ (Rom 8:4); and to his ‘not [sparing] his own Son, but [giving] him up for us all (Rom 8:32). The present verse takes us back to the ‘hilasterion‘, the ‘mercy seat’ of the tabernacle. It was here that heaven touched earth, that God met with mortal human beings. But it was also the place of cleansing, precisely because of the sin which otherwise separated the would-be worshippers from their God. And the cleansing takes place by the sprinkling of blood on the hilasterion. In this way, ‘we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’, and through [him] we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand’ (Rom 5:2).
‘In paganism, man propitiates his gods, and religion becomes a form of commercialism and, indeed, of bribery. In Christianity, however, God propitiates his wrath by his own action. “He set forth Jesus Christ,” says Paul, “to be a propitiation”; “he sent his Son,” says John, “to be the propitiation for our sins.” It was not man, to whom God was hostile, who took the initiative to make God friendly, nor was it Jesus Christ, the eternal Son, who took the initiative to turn his Father’s wrath against us into love. The idea that the kind Son changed the mind of his unkind Father by offering himself in place of sinful man is no part of the gospel message—it is a sub–Christian, indeed an anti–Christian, idea, for it denies the unity of will in the Father and the Son and so in reality falls back into polytheism, asking us to believe in two different gods. But the Bible rules this out absolutely by insisting that it was God himself who took the initiative in quenching his own wrath against those whom, despite their ill–desert, he loved and had chosen to save.’ (Packer, Knowing God)
‘Note that God put Christ forward as hilastērion. Paul does not speak of Christ appeasing an unloving God on our behalf, but of a God who redeems humanity in his own Son.’ (Sifried, Christ, our Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Justification)
The mercy seat – ‘sacrifice of atonement’ (NIV).
‘New Testament references to the blood of Christ are regularly sacrificial. (e.g., Rom 3:25 5:9; Eph 1:7; Rev 1:5) As a perfect sacrifice for sin, (Rom 8:3; Eph 5:2; 1 Pet 1:18-19) Christ’s death was our redemption (i.e., our rescue by ransom: the paying of a price that freed us from the jeopardy of guilt, enslavement to sin, and expectation of wrath; Rom 3:24; Gal 4:4-5; Col 1:14). Christ’s death was God’s act of reconciling us to himself, overcoming his own hostility to us that our sins provoked. (Rom 5:10; 2 Cor 5:18-19; Col 1:20-22) The Cross propitiated God (i.e., quenched his wrath against us by expiating our sins and so removing them from his sight). Key texts here are Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17; 1 Jn 2:2 and 1 Jn 4:10, in each of which the Greek expresses propitiation explicitly. The cross had this propitiatory effect because in his suffering Christ assumed our identity, as it were, and endured the retributive judgment due to us (“the curse of the law,” Gal 3:13) as our substitute, in our place, with the damning record of our transgressions nailed by God to his cross as the tally of crimes for which he was now dying (Col 2:14; cf. Mt 27:37; Isa 53:4-6; Lk 22:37).’ (Packer, Concise Theology)
‘God, because in his mercy he willed to forgive sinful men, and, being truly merciful, willed to forgive them righteously, that is, without in any way condoning their sin, purposed to direct against his own very self in the person of his Son the full weight of that righteous wrath which they deserved.’ (Cranfield)
Through faith in his blood – ‘The only plank between the believer and destruction is the blood of the Incarnate God.’ (J.H. Evans)
This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed.
He did this to demonstrate his justice – God does not merely overlook sin. The justice of God demanded an atonement, and the grace of God provided it.
The sins committed beforehand – before the coming of Christ.
‘What Paul is saying is that the gospel which proclaims God’s apparent violation of his justice is really a revelation of his justice. So far from creating a problem about the justice of God’s dealings, it actually solves one; for it makes clear, as the Old Testament never did, the just grounds of God’s pardon and acceptance of believers both before and since Christ’s coming. The gospel shows how a just God can justly believing sinners.’ (Packer, God’s Words, 141)
3:26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness.
So as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith – God: the just and the justifier. ‘Nowhere has Paul put the problem of God more acutely or profoundly. To pronounce the unrighteous righteous is unjust by itself. (Rom 4:5) God’s mercy would not allow him to leave man to his fate. God’s justice demanded some punishment for sin. The only possible way to save some was the propitiatory offering of Christ and the call for faith on man’s part.’ (A.T. Robertson)
‘In Rom. 3…with its contextual emphasis upon the wrath of God against sin and upon the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ for the satisfaction of the Father’s justice, we must continue to understand dikaios (Rom. 3:26) in its traditional sense: ‘That he [God] might be just [exacting punishment, according to sense 5 above], and [yet at the same time] the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus’ (J. Barton Payne, NBD, art. ‘Justice).
‘Zaleusus flourished about 500 B.C. His government over the Locrians was severe but just. In one of his decrees he forbade the use of wine unless it were prescribed as medicine; and in another he ordered that all adulterers should be punished with the loss of both their eyes. When his own son became subject to this penalty, the father, in order to maintain the authority of the laws, but to show parental leniency, shared the penalty with his son by ordering one of his own eyes to be thrust out along with one of his offending son. In this way, the majesty of his government was maintained, and his own character as a just and righteous sovereign was magnified in the eyes of his subjects.’
‘God is not omnipotent in the sense that he can do anything. God can only do those things which are consistent with his nature. He cannot therefore readily pardon the sinner, because he is a God of infinite justice. But neither can he readily punish the sinner, because he is also a God of infinite mercy. Here, then, if we may use human language, was the divine dilemma. How could he pardon the sinner without compromising his justice? How could he judge the sinner without frustrating his love? How in the fact of human sin could he be at the same time a God of love and of wrath? How could he both pardon the sinner and punish his sin? How could a righteous God forgive unrighteous men without involving himself in their unrighteousness?’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 165)
‘God is not as odds with himself, however much it may appear to us that he is. He is “the God of peace,” of inner tranquility not turmoil. True, we find it difficult to hold in our minds simultaneously the images of God as the Judge who must punish evil-doers and of the Lover who must find a way to forgive them. Yet he is both, and at the same time.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 28)
What, asks Wright, might we conclude on the basis of vv21-26 about what Paul would say the cross achieved?
‘First, he would say that the age-old covenant plan of the Creator, to rescue humanity and the world from sin and death, had been accomplished. The new Passover had taken place, in fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham.
Second, he would say that this had been accomplished by God himself, in his act of covenant faithfulness (for which the shorthand is “love,” though Paul does not use that word until chapters 5 and 8), drawing together Israel’s vocation and his own deepest purposes in the faithful death of the Messiah.
Third, as befits a “Passover” moment, he would say that people of all sorts— Jews and Gentiles alike— were now free, free from past sins, free to come into the single covenant family. They were “freely declared to be in the right,” to be within God’s justified people, able to look ahead to the final day without fear of condemnation (Rom 5: 9; 8: 1; 8: 31– 39).
Fourth, as we have seen in all the other early Christian strands of thought we have studied, Paul saw the new Passover also as the “dealing with sins” through which exile was undone. This is where Passover and the “Day of Atonement” meet and merge.
Fifth, and at the heart of it all, Paul saw Israel’s representative Messiah “handed over because of our trespasses,” in the sense intended in Isaiah 53. Dealing with sins robs the “powers” of their power; and this, as we have seen, is the key that unlocks all the other doors.’ (The Day the Revolution Began)
3:27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded! By what principle? Of works? No, but by the principle of faith!
‘Paul summed up the dangers of the moral law and its signs by the word “boasting,” which occurs some 50 times in his letters (and only four times elsewhere in the NT.) Boasting and pride pit themselves against grace, and grace, which can only be received by humility and faith, sums up the gospel. The essential conflict for Paul is between boasting and grace, not law and grace. Grace teaches that there are no distinctions, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Where then is boasting? It is excluded on the sole basis of justification by faith (Rom 3:21–28).’ (Edwards, UBCS)
3:28 For we consider that a person is declared righteous by faith apart from the works of the law.
Paul again underscores the vital necessity of faith (cf. v22, 25, 26). ‘Justification by faith alone’ was one of the great watchwords of the Reformation. When Luther added the word ‘alone’ to this verse, he was accused by the Roman Catholic Church of perverting the text. But in doing so he was not only being true to a long line of interpreters, including Origen and many Church Fathers, but was making explicit what is implied in the verse itself.
3:29 Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles too? Yes, of the Gentiles too!
3:30 Since God is one, he will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.
3:31 Do we then nullify the law through faith? Absolutely not! Instead we uphold the law.
Paul seems here to be responding to an objection that he probably heard often as he preached to Jews.
Nullify, in this context, means ‘invalidate’ (Kruse).