The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Romans 3

Rom 3:1

WHAT ADVANTAGE, THEN, IS THERE IN BEING A JEW?: That is, in light of Rom 2:28,29.

CIRCUMCISION: Referring, still, to the just previous verses.

Rom 3:2

MUCH IN EVERY WAY!: A manifold advantage, made explicit by "first of all". There seems no doubt that this suggests an enumeration, but Paul proceeds no further than his first point. The reader is kept waiting a long time for any resumption, but eventually the full list is provided (Rom 9:4,5).

THEY HAVE BEEN ENTRUSTED WITH THE VERY WORDS OF GOD: The Jews have been made the custodians of the Word of God (Deu 4:5-8; Psa 147:19,20). And so salvation is of the Jews (John 4:22); they should have been a "light" to the Gentiles (Rom 2:17-20).

Rom 3:3

WHAT IF SOME DID NOT HAVE FAITH?: To be "entrusted" (v 2) with the divine oracles obviously means more than to be the recipient of them. Actually it means more even than to be the custodian and transmitter of them. What is called for is faith and obedience. And it is just at this point that the Jew failed. Paul has already dealt sufficiently with Jewish failure in terms of the law, but here he deals with it in terms of God's revealed purpose.

He is considerate in saving that "some did not have faith". In 1Co 10:1 he says that some became idolaters, some murmured, etc. Actually, only two men of the Exodus generation pleased God and were permitted to enter the promised land. Paul is recognizing the concept of the faithful remnant in Israel.

DID NOT HAVE FAITH: Is the rendering "did not have faith" ("did not believe": AV) acceptable here, or should one regard the RSV translation, "were unfaithful", as preferable? The problem is to determine which fits better with the contrasting term, "God's faithfulness". The revelation of God summons both man both to faith (in its promissory character) and to faithfulness (in its exhortational aspect).

WILL THEIR LACK OF FAITH NULLIFY GOD'S FAITHFULNESS?: Because some in Israel failed (actually, only a few did NOT fail!), shall God withdraw His promises and be proved "unfaithful" because of them? Of course not.

Rom 3:4

NOT AT ALL!: "God forbid" (KJV). "Let it not be so." The word for "God" is not in the original.

LET GOD BE TRUE, AND EVERY MAN A LIAR: That is, "even IF every man were a liar, still God would be true!" Cp Psa 116:11.

AS IT IS WRITTEN: Paul now quotes from Psa 51:4 to draw into the argument a notable experience of David: the psalm is written as a memorial to his penitent acknowledgment of his sin re Bathsheba. After being chastened for his sin and refusal to confess it for a long period, David was ready to admit that God was in the right and he was in the wrong.

Rom 3:5


WHAT SHALL WE SAY? THAT GOD IS UNJUST IN BRINGING HIS WRATH ON US?: Is it not possible (so the question might go) that since human failure can bring out more sharply the righteousness of God, the Almighty ought to be grateful for this service and soften the judgment that would otherwise be due the offender? The question is one a Jew might well resort to in line with his thought that God would go easy on His covenant people. The mention of wrath ties in with Rom 2:8,9.

I AM USING A HUMAN ARGUMENT: Lit, "I speak as a man." "It constitutes an apology for a statement which, but for the apology, would be too bold, almost blasphemous" (Daube, cited in EBC). Paul's explanatory statement is due to his having permitted himself to use the word "unjust" about God, even though it is not his own assertion. If that were so, that is, if God were unjust, He would not be qualified to judge the world. There is no attempt to establish His qualifications, since the readers, at least, are not in doubt on a point of this sort about which Scripture is so clear.

Rom 3:6


IF IT WERE SO, HOW COULD GOD JUDGE THE WORLD?: This would be the natural conclusion to the argument (v 5). But of course, it was a self-evident truth, that "God is judge", and no one else! He is the only Judge of Jew AND Gentile (Gen 18:25; Deu 32:36; Psa 50:1-6; 149:5-9; 1Pe 3:17,18.

Rom 3:7

As if to say, 'Then surely God must be more responsible for my "lie" than I am! So why should He condemn me? I am mere clay in His hands.'

Rom 3:8

LET US DO EVIL THAT GOOD MAY RESULT: The same basic argument as in Rom 6:1: "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?"

THEIR CONDEMNATION IS DESERVED: As if to say, 'This is so obviously ludicrous that it merits no other response!' Paul will not deal with slanderers who refuse to reason on logical principles in the word of God.

Rom 3:9

Vv 9-19: In proving that both Jews and Gentiles are "under sin" (v 9), Paul brings to bear the witness of Scripture. He gathers together a number of passages from the Psalms and Isaiah. None are righteous; all are departed from the way. Vv 10-12 are from Psa 14:1-3 / Psa 53:1-3; v 13 from Psa 5:9; 140:3; v 14 from Psa 10:7; vv 15-17 from Isa 59:7,8; and v 18 from Psa 36:1. The verses are clearly selected from those that apply to Jews, under the covenant, so that their import cannot be sloughed off on the really "wicked" Gentiles only!

Throat (v 13), tongue (v 13), lips (v 13), and mouth (v 14) trace the stages of speech. Finally the feet (v 15) and the eyes (v 18) get into the act also. But serpent-like speech (Gen 3:1) is clearly the foundation and source of all wickedness. From the speech of that subtle denizen of Eden has sprung, indirectly, all sin. His throat was an "open sepulchre" (Rom 3:13). His tongue, the "little member" full of boasting, brought on the defilement of the whole bodies of both Adam and Eve (Jam 3:5,6). The great fire of corruption was kindled by his words, and human nature was changed for the worse. Now it can rightly be said of all mankind that "the poison of asps is under their lips" (Rom 3:13)!

WHAT SHALL WE CONCLUDE THEN? ARE WE ANY BETTER?: 'Do we, the Jews, have a higher moral excellence than the Gentiles?'

JEWS AND GENTILES ALIKE ARE ALL UNDER SIN: That is, "under (judgment for) sin". To be under sin is to be under its sway and condemnation. Thus Paul summarizes his argument in Rom 2.

It is noteworthy that in his discussion of sin up to this point Paul does not charge the Jew with the death of Christ as he does in 1Th 2:15. He could have included the Gentile also (cf Acts 4:27,28) and made this a clinching factor in the case against mankind, but he did not. Perhaps this is because few Jews and still fewer Gentiles were involved in effecting the death of the Lord Jesus. Paul is basing his case on a much wider sampling of human character and conduct. The specific episode of Calvary is not needed to make the verdict certain.

Rom 3:10

Vv 10-18: However, there is another argument waiting to be brought into play to seal the verdict. It is the testimony of Scripture. Writing to those who are for the most part Gentiles, Paul does not set down Scripture first and then work from that as a base for exposition (which is the method used in Hebrews), but he uses only a minimum of reference to the OT to substantiate what he has established. Leaving Scripture to the conclusion of the argument is calculated to increase the respect of the Gentile for it as being able to depict man's condition accurately and faithfully. Both Jews and early Christians were in the habit of drawing up collections of Scripture passages relating to various topics in order to use them as proof texts for instruction or argumentation. It is not known whether the present collection, taken mostly from the Psalms, is the work of Paul or whether he is utilizing something previously formulated.

Vv 10-12: Citing Psa 14:1-3: the "fool" why denies God "in his heart".

"Our guilt is great because our sins are exceedingly numerous. It is not merely outward acts of unkindness and dishonesty with which we are chargeable. Our habitual and characteristic state of mind is evil in the sight of God.

"Our pride and indifference to His will and to the welfare of others and our loving the creature more than the Creator are continuous violations of His holy law. We have never been or done what that law requires us to be and to do. We have never had delight in that fixed purpose to do the will and promote the glory of God. We are always sinners; we are at all times and under all circumstances in opposition to God.

"If we have never loved Him supremely, if we have never made it our purpose to do His will, if we have never made His glory the end of our actions, then our lives have been an unbroken series of transgressions. Our sins are not to be numbered by the conscious violations of duty; they are as numerous as the moments of our existence" (CH).

Rom 3:11

// Pro 2:9,10; Psa 69:32; Isa 8:19; Mat 13:14,15.

Rom 3:12

TURNED AWAY: Like a stray sheep that had forgotten its master's voice (Psa 119:176; Isa 53:6). Israel had left the Shepherd's path of righteousness (Psa 23:3).

Rom 3:13

Vv 10-12 (Psa 14:1-3) deal with man's inner thoughts, which are wicked altogether. Now Paul begins to work outward: throat, tongue, lips, mouth, feet, etc. Man's entire being is adversely affected by sin. His whole nature is permeated with it.

THEIR THROATS ARE OPEN GRAVES: Cit Psa 5:9: men speaking falsehoods (Psa 5:6), thus discharging the malodorous stench of flesh through their corrupt mouths. "Whited sepulchres, full of dead men's bones" (Mat 23:27).


THE POISON OF VIPERS IS ON THEIR LIPS: Cit Psa 140:3: the metaphor of a serpent's forked tongue under which is a deadly poison. All sin started from the serpent's lie in Eden: that which comes out of a man's heart defiles him (Mat 15:10-20). The tongue is full of deadly poison (Jam 3:8).

Rom 3:14

THEIR MOUTHS ARE FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS: Cit Psa 10:7. The bitterness of deceit, lying and hypocrisy (Mat 23:27; Psa 59:12; Jam 3:10).

Rom 3:15

Vv 15-17: Cit Isa 59:7,8: the wicked nation of Israel. Isaiah seems to be quoting Pro 1:11,16 in turn (cp also Pro 6:17,18).

Rom 3:16

In their wake they leave ruined lives, the abominable manifestation of the evil heart within. In this world of wickedness, human relations suffer, because society can be no better than those who constitute it.

Rom 3:17

THE WAY OF PEACE THEY DO NOT KNOW: In the context of Isa 59:8 is Isa 57:19-21: " 'Peace, peace, to those far and near,' says the LORD. 'And I will heal them.' But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. 'There is no peace,' says my God, 'for the wicked'."

Rom 3:18

THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES: Cit Psa 36:1. No regard or reverence for the character, authority and honor of Yahweh.

Rom 3:19

SO THAT EVERY MOUTH MAY BE SILENCED: Building on the thought of Psa 63:11: "The mouths of liars will be silenced." Also cp Eze 16:60-63; Job 5:15; Psa 107:42.

When human achievement is measured against what God requires, there is no place for pride or boasting but only for silence that lends consent to the verdict of guilty. In the various Biblical scenes of judgment, the silence of those who are being judged is a notable feature (eg, Rev 20:11-14). Questions may be raised for the sake of clarification of the reason for the verdict (Mat 25:41-46), but when the explanation is given, no appeal is attempted. The Judge of all the earth does right (Gen 18:25).

THE WHOLE WORLD HELD ACCOUNTABLE TO GOD: Paul says all the world has been "charged" (v 9) in the court of divine justice. First charged, and now convicted. "Through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful" (Rom 7:13).

"How can Jewish failure in terms of what Scripture requires lead to the involvement of the remainder of the human race? Two possibilities come to mind. One is that the Jewish nation is being regarded as a test case for all peoples. If given the same privileges enjoyed by Israel, the rest would likewise have failed. Their human nature is no different from that of the sons of Abraham. Another possibility, which is the more likely explanation, is that the failure of the non-Jews is so patent that it is not a debatable subject; it can be taken for granted as already established (Rom 1:18-32). Once it has been determined that the record of the Jew is no better, then judgment is seen as universally warranted" (EBC).

Rom 3:20

NO ONE WILL BE DECLARED RIGHTEOUS IN HIS SIGHT BY OBSERVING THE LAW: Cit Psa 143:2: "Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you."

BY OBSERVING THE LAW: For the first time in Romans we encounter the expression "by works of law" (cf v 28) which has such prominence in Galatians (Gal 2:16; 3:2,5,10).

THROUGH THE LAW WE BECOME CONSCIOUS OF SIN: "The law was added so that the trespass might increase" (Rom 5:20). Cp also Gal 3:19-25. The practical result of working seriously with the law is to "become conscious of sin" (cf also Rom 7:7-11). How startling it is to contemplate the fact that the best revelation man has apart from Christ only deepens his awareness of failure. The law itself loudly proclaims his need for the gospel.

Rom 3:21

Vv 21-31: Having shown that all men, on account of their possession of the weakness of flesh, stand condemned on a basis of law before God -- where then is man's justification? On what basis is salvation made possible? Only at the "mercy seat", or "sacrifice for atonement" in Christ Jesus. Salvation is dependent upon a clear understanding and a dedicated application of the principles contained in these verses.

BUT NOW: Paul is not only stressing an enormously significant point in time (as in 2Ti 1:10: "But it has NOW been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel"), but also a major turning point in his thesis. What went before (Rom 1:18--3:20) was the "bad news"; what follows is the "good news"!

A RIGHTEOUSNESS FROM GOD... HAS BEEN MADE KNOWN: Only God possesses inherent righteousness. If man is to possess righteousness (that is, to be declared justified, or righteous), it can only be by the special means made known (or "manifested": "phaneroo") by God. There are only two ways this might be achieved: (1) by vindication, as completely righteous in oneself -- which could only be for Christ himself (John 8:46; 16:10; 1Pe 2:22; Rom 1:4); and (2) by forgiveness of sins, acquittal, and reconciliation -- which is the path open to everyone else: through the covering name of Christ (Isa 53:11; 1Co 1:30). This comes through faith: the acknowledging of sinfulness and the plea for forgiveness. The following verses amplify this statement.

APART FROM LAW: The Law of Moses can do nothing to save any man; it cannot produce righteousness; it can only highlight sin (v 20).

TO WHICH THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS TESTIFY: "Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow" (1Pe 1:10,11). See also Acts 26:22,23; Mic 6:5-8; Luk 24:27,44; John 5:46; Heb 10:15-17.

This observation prepares the reader for the recital of God's dealings with Abraham and David as outlined in Rom 4.

Rom 3:22

FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST: That is, as the context makes plain, nothing less than an explicit understanding of and faith in the principles of sacrifice exhibited in God's Anointed Son.

Rom 3:23

FOR ALL HAVE SINNED AND FALL SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD: Like an arrow aimed at the target of God's "glory", which -- even with the best efforts of the archer -- falls dismally short.

But why "glory"? Perhaps because it refers to the name or character of God, to be impressed upon man. This ever-present deprivation is depicted in the restriction of the divine glory to the holy of holies in the tabernacle, and the denial of the right of access to the people except through the high priest once a year. God's glory is the majesty of His holy person. To be cut off from this fellowship is the great loss occasioned by sin.

Rom 3:24

FREELY: The Gr word "dorean", translated "without a cause" in Joh 15:25, also appears in Rom 3:24: "being justified freely by his grace". As gratuitous as was their hatred for Christ, just so was his love for them!

God finds no reason, no basis, in the sinner for declaring him righteous. He must find the cause in Himself. This truth goes naturally with the observation that justification is offered by God's grace.

REDEMPTION: "Apolutrosis" = to be bought away from. See Lesson, Redemption.

Rom 3:25

GOD PRESENTED: "Some would object to the rendering 'presented' on the ground that a public exhibition of the person of Jesus has something almost theatrical about it, and that for this reason the alternative rendering 'purposed' (literally, 'set before himself') might be preferred. However, there are words in the passage that express manifestation: 'made known' (v 21) and 'demonstrate' (vv 25,26); so the objection is unwarranted. Also it should be pointed out that the emphasis on faith (v 25) suggests that the real force in 'presented' is not so much the actual exhibition of Christ on the cross as in the proclamation of the gospel that makes his saving work central" (EBC).

A SACRIFICE FOR ATONEMENT: Gr "hilasterion", the mercy seat. The LXX uses this word for the mercy seat in Lev 16:14; Exo 25:27; cp Heb 9:5. God has marked out His Son ahead of time to be a "mercy seat", and set the principle in operation in the tabernacle in Israel. It was His "meeting place" with man (Exo 25:22), "above the mercy seat, between the cherubim". At the very heart of the tabernacle, the mercy seat represented the fusion of God and man, the "crossing point" between the two. In the real fulfillment of this typical "mercy seat", "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ" (2Co 5:19).

" 'The mercy-seat is no longer kept in the sacred seclusion of the most holy place: it is brought out into the midst of the rough and tumble of the world and set up before the eyes of hostile, contemptuous, or indifferent crowds' (Manson). Indeed, Christ has become the meeting place of God and man where the mercy of God is available because of the sacrifice of the Son" (EBC).

THROUGH FAITH IN HIS BLOOD: This translation suggests that the believer's faith is to be placed in the blood of Christ, and the sequence of terms favors this. However, it has been pointed out that there is no example of Paul's calling for faith in a thing rather than a person. Perhaps with a comma between "faith", and "in", we might understand that "in his blood" is intended to modify "the sacrifice" itself!

TO DEMONSTRATE HIS JUSTICE: To exhibit, for all mankind to see, His righteous character.

IN HIS FORBEARANCE HE HAD LEFT THE SINS COMMITTED BEFOREHAND UNPUNISHED: Lit, he had "passed over" those sins committed in earlier times. "For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance -- now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant" (Heb 9:15).

Rom 3:26

AT THE PRESENT TIME: Not just for "sins committed beforehand" (v 25), but for sins from this point forward.

Rom 3:27

WHERE, THEN, IS BOASTING?: The conclusion to the question to the Jew in Rom 2:23. See 1Co 1:29-31; Jer 9:23,24.

Rom 3:28

A MAN IS JUSTIFIED BY FAITH: Whether Jew or Gentile (Rom 4:5,16; 5:1,2; Gal 3:8-11).

APART FROM OBSERVING THE LAW: "The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, 'The man who does these things will live by them' " (Gal 3:12; cit Lev 18:5).

Rom 3:29

Thus Paul is qualifying the "man" of v 28: that "man" includes both Jews and Gentiles.

Rom 3:30

SINCE THERE IS ONLY ONE GOD: ...He must have a single, unified principle by which He is approached, and by which He may save men (cp Deu 6:4).

WHO WILL JUSTIFY THE CIRCUMCISED BY FAITH: The Jew would be justified "out of" (Gr "ek") faith.

AND THE UNCIRCUMCISED THROUGH THAT SAME FAITH: And the Gentile would be justified "through" (Gr "dia": by means of). Starting from outside the Law, and the faith it taught, the Gentile needed to pass THROUGH the law/faith continuum on his way to righteousness. Cp Gal 3:7-9.

Rom 3:31

DO WE, THEN, NULLIFY THE LAW BY THIS FAITH?: Paul now corrects the false accusation made against him in v 8.

NOT AT ALL!: Cp vv 4,6.

RATHER, WE UPHOLD THE LAW: The Law was holy, just, and good (Rom 7:12), but it was introduced so that sin might become exceedingly sinful (Rom 7:13), and that all the world might appear guilty before God (Rom 3:19,20). Christ was sent to "fulfill the law" (Mat 5:17), and to "fulfill all righteousness" (Mat 3:15). Thus the Law stood as a memorial to God's righteousness -- to which man, by his own strength, could never attain. So it was only by the principle of justification by faith (Rom 1:17) that man could attain the righteousness of God.

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