Romans 3, Part 1
Oct 16, 2010
In Romans 2:25 Paul tells us that circumcision profits a person only if they are able to keep the Law. Hence, Jesus was the only one who actually benefited from circumcision. Circumcision was meant to be an outward testimony of an inward heart circumcision. Jesus alone was without sin, making His circumcision a true and valid witness of the condition of His heart.
Since all other circumcised men had sinned, turning their circumcision to "uncircumcision" by the condition of their hearts, the question then naturally arose in 3:1,
(1) Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? (2) Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.
Men living a thousand miles away had little or no opportunity to learn the oracles of God, because travel was limited to a few traders, and lengthy trips took a long time. So there was great benefit in living in Judea, where the Law of God was readily available at the local synagogue. Judeans had a great advantage that others did not enjoy, even if they were all proven by those same Scriptures to be sinners, and even if their circumcision was an inaccurate testimony of their inward condition.
(3) What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? (4) May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, "That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, and mightest prevail [win the case] when Thou art judged."
Paul was quoting from the Septuagint version of Psalm 51:4, which was part of David's prayer of repentance for his sin with Bathsheba. When confronted by the prophet Nathan, David did not deny his sin, but agreed with God. It was as if God had prosecuted David for breaking the Law, and David confessed and capitulated. God should always win His court cases so easily!
By extension, we too ought to agree with God and not deny that we are sinners, knowing that this does not nullify the faithfulness of God, but establishes it.
(5) But if our unrighteousness demonstrates [establishes or sets forth] the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath [condemns the guilty] is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) (6) May it never be! For otherwise how will God judge the world?
In God's court case (legal controversy) with mankind, our confession--that God is indeed correct in prosecuting man for sin--establishes "the righteousness of God." The word "righteousness" has to be viewed in its legal context and usage in Paul's day. It does not speak of holy perfection per se, but of being on the right side of a legal controversy. When God justifies the righteous, the word picture in Paul's day was of God ruling in a man's favor in a court of Law. The Law pronounces one party "righteous," thereby "justifying" him, while the other party is found to be "unrighteous," and cannot receive justification, or receive "grace," a favorable ruling in his case.
It is important to understand these terms, not from our modern mindset, but from Paul's. The meaning of words tend to change with culture and time, so I find it most helpful to try to put myself in Paul's shoes and to understand his language, culture, and education.
So as Paul says in the verses above, God is a righteous Judge, whose judgments are correct every time. When the Law condemns a sinner for violating the Law, he should know that God is always right, even if our carnal minds disagree. Our disagreement with God is based upon our lack of understanding and our ignorance of the truth. If it were not so, God could not judge the world righteously.
(7) But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? (8) And why not say (as we are slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say), "Let us do evil that good may come?" Their condemnation is just.
God has established in His Word that all men are liars that are in the process of learning truth. (In 3:13 Paul will quote Psalm 5:9, to prove his case.) But if we deliberately lie in order to prove the truth of God's statement, we are distorting the truth through fatalism. There were fatalists in Paul's day, who used the truth of God to justify their own sin. Such fatalists falsely accused Paul of teaching such a thing, saying, "Well, if Paul's teaching is correct, and if there is no way that any man can keep the Law, then we may as well put away the Law and sin as we please."
Paul deals with this question more fully in Romans 6, where he again raises the question,
(1) What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? (2) May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
Understand that the biblical definition of sin is the violation of the Law (1 John 3:4). As believers, we have been pronounced "Not Guilty" in God's court of Law--not because we were sinless, but because the penalty for our sin was paid at the cross. When He identified with us, coming in human form as the great Intercessor, we died in Him. This caused the Law to rule in our favor ("grace") and justified us as if we were perfect.
But this is no excuse for us "to continue in sin that grace might increase." If we continue to violate the Law as a way of life, then we prove our unbelief and manifest our lack of faith. Faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17), and hearing is established by our response of obedience. If there is no obedience to what we have heard, how then can we say we have faith?
So Paul correctly says at the end of 3:8 that those who hold the view that we may now "do evil that good may come" are justly condemned. "Their condemnation is just." (It is not their condemnation of us that is just, but God's condemnation of those fatalists that is just.)
(9) What then? Are we [Christians] better than they [Jews] ? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; (10) as it is written [in Psalm 14:1-3 and 53:2, 3] , "There is none righteous, not even one; (11) There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; (12) All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one."
Paul quotes the Psalms to establish the universal condition of lawless men. He then continues by putting together a series of quotations from the Psalms. First he quotes from Psalm 5:9,
(13) Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving...
The rest of verse 13 is from Psalm 140:3,
(13) . . . The poison of asps is under their lips.
Then Paul brings in Psalm 10:7,
(14) Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.
Then he draws on Isaiah 59:7,
(15) Their feet are swift to shed blood, (16) destruction and misery are in their paths, (17) and the path of peace have they not known.
Paul ends his barrage of Scriptural proof with Psalm 36:1,
(18) There is no fear of God before their eyes.
This is sufficient in Paul's eyes to prove the universal sinfulness (lawlessness) of men and establish the need for the grace of Christ.
This is the first part of a series titled "Romans 3." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones