Adam Clarke Commentary
The apostle points out the peculiar privileges of the Jews, Romans 3:1-8. But shows that they, also, as well as the Gentiles, had sinned, and forfeited all right and title to God's especial favor, Romans 3:9. The corrupt state of all mankind, Romans 3:10-18. All the world is guilty before God, and none can be justified by the works of the law, Romans 3:19, Romans 3:20. God's Mercy in providing redemption for a lost world, by Jesus Christ, Romans 3:21-26. This excludes boasting on the part both of Jew and Gentile; provides salvation through faith for both; and does not set aside, but establishes the law, Romans 3:27-31.
Dr. Taylor observes: - "In the preceding chapter the apostle has carried his argument to the utmost length: what remains is to keep the Jew in temper, to fix his convictions, and to draw the grand conclusion.
"He has shown that the Jews were more wicked than the Gentiles; that their possession of the law, circumcision, and outward profession of relation to God, were no ground of acceptance with him. This was in effect to say that the Jews had forfeited their right to the privileges of God's peculiar people, and that they were as unworthy to be continued in the Church as the Gentiles were to be taken into it; and consequently, in order to their enjoying the privileges of the Church under the Messiah, they stood in need of a fresh display of grace, which if they rejected, God would cast them out of the vineyard. The apostle was sensible that the Jew would understand what he said in this sense; and that it must be very irritating to him to hear that his law, circumcision, and all his external advantages, were utterly insufficient to procure him the favor of God. This at once stripped him of all his peculiar honors and privileges; and the apostle, who had often argued with his countrymen on these points, knew what they would be ready to say on this subject; and, therefore, introduces a dialogue between himself and a Jew, in which he gives him leave to answer and defend himself. In this dialogue the apostle undoubtedly refers to the rejection of the Jews, which he considers at large in the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters. After the dialogue is finished, he resumes his argument, and proves, by their own Scriptures, that the Jews were guilty as well as other men; and that no part of mankind could have any right to the blessings of God's kingdom by any works which they had performed, but merely through the propitiatory sacrifice offered by Christ; and that this, far from destroying the law, was just the thing that the law required, and by which its claims were established.
"The sum and force of the apostle's argument is this: All sorts of men, Jews as well as Gentiles, have sinned; therefore, none of them can lay claim to the blessings of his kingdom on the ground of obedience. The Jew, therefore, stands as much in need of God's grace to give him a title to those blessings as the Gentile; and, consequently, the Gentile has as good a title as the Jew. And, when all are in the same circumstances, it is perfectly absurd for any to pretend to engross it to themselves, exclusively of others, who are only as bad as they.
"Thus the apostle solidly proves that we, Gentiles, through faith alone, have a good and firm title to all the blessings of the Gospel covenant - election, adoption, pardon, privileges, ordinances, the Holy Spirit, and the hope of eternal life."
As the nine first verses are a dialogue between the apostle and a Jew, I shall prefix the speakers to their respective questions and answers, to make the whole the more intelligible to the reader.
Jew. What advantage then hath the Jew? Or what profit is there of circumcision? - As if he had said: You lately allowed, ( Romans 2:25;), that circumcision verily profited; but if circumcision, or our being in covenant with God, raises us no higher in the Divine favor than the Gentiles; if the virtuous among them are as acceptable as any of us; nay, and condemn our nation too, as no longer deserving the Divine regards; pray tell me, wherein lies the superior honor of the Jew; and what benefit can arise to him from his circumcision, and being vested in the privileges of God's peculiar people?
Apostle. Much every way - The Jews, in reference to the means and motives of obedience, enjoy many advantages beyond the Gentiles; and, principally, because to them were committed the oracles of God - that revelation of his will to Moses and the prophets, containing a treasure of excellencies, with which no other part of the world has been favored; though they have most grievously abused these privileges.
Jew. For what - τι γαρ, What then, if some did not believe, etc. If some of the Jewish nation have abused their privileges, and acted contrary to their obligations, shall their wickedness annul the Promise which God made to Abraham, that he would, by an everlasting covenant, be a God to him and to his seed after him? Genesis 17:7. Shall God, therefore, by stripping the Jews of their peculiar honor, as you intimate he will, falsify his promise to the nation, because some of the Jews are bad men?
Apostle. God forbid - μη γενοιτο, Let it not be, far from it, by no means. Yea, let God be true, but every man a liar, etc. We must ever maintain that God is true, and that if, in any case, his promise appear to fail, it is because the condition on which it was given has not been complied with; which is the sense of what is written, Psalm 51:4; : I acknowledge my sin, and condemn myself that the truth of thy promise ( 2 Samuel 7:15, 2 Samuel 7:16;) to establish my house and throne for ever, may be vindicated when thou shalt execute that dreadful threatening, ( 2 Samuel 12:10;), that the sword shall never depart from my house, which I own I have brought upon myself by my own iniquity. Should any man say that the promise of God had failed toward him, let him examine his heart and his ways, and he will find that he has departed out of that way in which alone God could, consistently with his holiness and truth, fulfill the promise.
Jew. But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God - May we not suppose that our unrighteousness may serve to commend and illustrate the mercy of God in keeping and fulfilling to us the promise which he made to our forefathers? The more wicked we are, the more his faithfulness to his ancient promise is to be admired. And if so, would not God appear unjust in taking vengeance and casting us off?
I speak as a man - I feel for the situation both of myself and my countrymen, and it is natural for one to speak as I do.
Apostle. God forbid - μη γενοιτο, by no means. God cannot be unjust; were he unjust, he could not be qualified to judge the world, nor inflict that punishment on the unfaithful Jews, to which I refer.
Jew. For if the truth of God, etc. - But to resume my reasoning ( Romans 3:5;): If the faithfulness of God in keeping his promise made to our fathers is, through our unfaithfulness, made far more glorious than it otherwise would have been, why should we then be blamed for that which must redound so much to the honor of God?
Apostle. And not rather, etc. - And why do you not say, seeing you assume this ground, that in all cases we should do wickedly, because God, by freely pardoning, can so glorify his own grace? This is a most impious sentiment, but it follows from your reasoning; it has, indeed, been most injuriously laid to the charge of us apostles, who preach the doctrine of free pardon, through faith, without the merit of works; but this is so manifest a perversion of the truth that a just punishment may be expected to fall on the propagators of such a slander.
Jew. What then? - After all, have not we Jews a better claim to the privileges of the kingdom of God than the Gentiles have?
Apostle. No, in no wise - For I have already proved that both Jews and Gentiles are under the guilt of sin; that they are equally unworthy of the blessings of the Messiah's kingdom; and that they must both, equally, owe their salvation to the mere mercy of God. From this, to the end of the 26th verse, the apostle proceeds to prove his assertion, that both Jews and Gentiles were all under sin; and, that he might enforce the conviction upon the heart of the Jew, he quotes his own Scriptures, which he acknowledged had been given by the inspiration of God, and consequently true.
As it is written - See Psalm 14:1-3; from which this and the two following verses are taken.
There is none righteous - This is true, not only of the Jews, but of the Gentiles; of every soul of man, considered in his natural and practical state, previously to his receiving the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no righteous principle in them, and, consequently, no righteous act can be expected from them; see on Romans 3:12; (note). God himself is represented as looking down from heaven to see if there were any that feared and sought after him; and yet he, who cannot be deceived, could find none! And therefore we may safely conclude there was none to be found.
They are all gone out of the way - παντες εξεκλιναν, they have all diverged from the right way, they have either abandoned or corrupted the worship of God: the Jews, in forsaking the law and the prophets, and the Gentiles, in acting contrary to the law which God had written on their hearts. And the departure of both from the truth proves the evil propensity of human nature in general.
They are together become unprofitable - ηχρειωθησαν . They are useless, good for nothing; or, as the Hebrew has it, נאלחו neelachu, they are putrid: he views the whole mass of mankind as slain and thrown together, to putrefy in heaps. This is what is termed the corruption of human nature; they are infected and infectious. What need of the mercy of God to save from such a state of degeneracy!
There is none that doeth good - In Romans 3:10; it is said, There is none righteous; here, There is none that doeth good: the first may refer to the want of a righteous principle; the second, to the necessary consequence of the absence of such a principle. If there be no righteousness within, there will be no acts of goodness without.
Their throat is an open sepulchre - This and all the following verses to the end of the 18th are found in the Septuagint, but not in the Hebrew text; and it is most evident that it was from this version that the apostle quoted, as the verses cannot be found in any other place with so near an approximation to the apostle's meaning and words. The verses in question, however, are not found in the Alexandrian MS. But they exist in the Vulgate, the Ethiopic, and the Arabic. As the most ancient copies of the Septuagint do not contain these verses, some contend that the apostle has quoted them from different parts of Scripture; and later transcribers of the Septuagint, finding that the 10th, 11th, and 12th, verses were quoted from the xivth Psalm, imagined that the rest were found originally there too, and so incorporated them in their copies, from the apostle's text.
Their throat is an open sepulchre - By their malicious and wicked words they bury, as it were, the reputation of all men. The whole of this verse appears to belong to their habit of lying, defamation, slandering, etc., by which they wounded, blasted, and poisoned the reputation of others.
Whose mouth is full of cursing, etc. - They never speak but in profane oaths, blasphemies, and malice.
Their feet are swift to shed blood - They make use of every means in their power to destroy the reputation and lives of the innocent.
Destruction and misery are in their ways - destruction is their work, and Misery to themselves and to the objects of their malice is the consequence of their impious and murderous conduct.
And the way of peace have they not known - They neither have peace in themselves, nor do they suffer others to live in quiet: they are brooders and fomenters of discord.
There is no fear of God before their eyes - This completes their bad character; they are downright atheists, at least practically such. They fear not God's judgments, although his eye is upon them in their evil ways. There is not one article of what is charged against the Jews and Gentiles here that may not be found justified by the histories of both, in the most ample manner. And what was true of them in those primitive times is true of them still. With very little variation, these are the evils in which the vast mass of mankind delight and live. Look especially at men in a state of warfare; look at the nations of Europe, who enjoy most of the light of God; see what has taken place among them from 1792 to 1814; see what destruction of millions, and what misery of hundreds of millions, have been the consequence of Satanic excitement in fallen, ferocious passions! O Sin, what hast thou done! How many myriads of souls hast thou hurried, unprepared, into the eternal world! Who, among men or angels, can estimate the greatness of this calamity! this butchery of souls! What widows, what orphans, are left to deplore their sacrificed husbands and parents, and their own consequent wretchedness! And whence sprang all this? From that, whence come all wars and fightings; the evil desires of men; the lust of dominion; the insatiable thirst for money; and the desire to be sole and independent. This is the sin that ruined our first parents, expelled them from paradise, and which has descended to all their posterity; and proves fully, incontestably proves, that we are their legitimate offspring; the fallen progeny of fallen parents; children in whose ways are destruction and misery; in whose heart there is no faith; and before whose eyes there is nothing of the fear of God.
What things soever the law saith - That the word law, here, does not mean the pentateuch, is evident from the preceding quotations, not one of which is taken from that work. Either the term law must here mean the Jewish writings in general, or that rule of moral conduct which God had given to both Jews and Gentiles: to the former in their own Scriptures; to the latter in that law written in their hearts by his own Spirit, and acknowledged in their written codes, and in their pleadings in every civil case. Now, according to this great law, this rule of moral conduct, whether given in a written revelation, as to the Jews, or by the secret inspiration of his Spirit, as in certain cases to the Gentiles, every mouth must be stopped, and the whole world, πας ο κοσμος, both Jews and Gentiles, stand convicted before God: for all mankind have sinned against this law.
Therefore, by the deeds of the law - On the score of obedience to this moral law, there shall no flesh, ου πασα σαρξ, no human being, be justified; none can be accepted in the sight of God. And why? Because by the law is the knowledge of sin: it is that which ascertains what sin is; shows how men have deviated from its righteous demands; and sentences them to death because they have broken it. Thus the law is properly considered as the rule of right; and, unless God had given some such means of discovering what Sin is, the darkened heart of man could never have formed an adequate conception of it. For, as an acknowledged straight edge is the only way in which the straightness or crookedness of a line can be determined, so the moral obliquity of human actions can only be determined by the law of God; that rule of right which proceeds from his own immaculate holiness.
But now the righteousness of God - God's method of saving sinners is now shown, by the Gospel, to be through his own mere mercy, by Christ Jesus; without the law - without any right or claim which might result from obedience to the law; and is evidently that which was intended by God from the beginning; for it is witnessed by the law and the prophets - the rites and ceremonies of the one, and the preachings and predictions of the others, all bearing testimony to the great design of God, and to the absolute necessity there was for the sacrifice and salvation which God has provided.
Even the righteousness of God - That method of saving sinners which is not of works, but by faith in Christ Jesus; and it is not restrained to any particular people, as the law and its privileges were, but is unto all mankind in its intention and offer, and becomes effectual to them that believe; for God hath now made no difference between the Jews and the Gentiles.
For all have sinned : - And consequently are equally helpless and guilty; and, as God is no respecter of persons, all human creatures being equally his offspring, and there being no reason why one should be preferred before another, therefore his endless mercy has embraced All.
And come short of the glory of God - και υστερουνται της δοξης του θεου These words have been variously translated. Failed of attaining the glory of God: Have not been able to bring glory to God: Stand in need of the glory, that is, the mercy of God. The simple meaning seems to be this: that all have sinned, and none can enjoy God's glory but they that are holy; consequently both Jews and Gentiles have failed in their endeavors to attain it, as, by the works of any law, no human being can be justified.
Being justified freely by his grace - So far from being able to attain the glory of God by their obedience, they are all guilty: and, to be saved, must be freely pardoned by God's grace; which is shown to them who believe, through the redemption, απολυτρωσεως, the ransom price, which is in the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. The original is compounded of απο, from, and λυτροω, I redeem, and properly means the price laid down for the redemption of a captive. Comprehendit haec Christi απολυτρωσις, quicquid is docuit, fecit et passus est, eo consilio, ut homines malis liberati, praecipue peccato, malorum fonte immunes, veram felicitatem adipiscerentur. - Rosenmuller. This redemption of Christ comprehends whatsoever he taught, did, or suffered, in order to free men from evil; especially to free them from sin, the source of evils; that they might attain true felicity. And that it here means the liberation purchased by the blood-shedding of Christ, is evident from Ephesians 1:7; : We have Redemption, απολυτρωσιν δια του αιματος αυτου, Through His Blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace. See also Colossians 1:14, where the same words are found.
Λυτρα according to Suidas, is μισθος, η τα παρεχομενα υπερ ελευθεριας, επι τω λυτρωσασθαι βαρβαρων δουλειας A reward; or the price given to be redeemed from the slavery of the barbarians. Schleusner, under the word απολυτρωσις, says, Negari quidem non potest, hanc vocem proprie notare redemptionem ejus, qui captivus detinetur, sive bello, sive alio captus sit modo, quae fit per pretti solutionem; quo sensu verbum απολυτροω legitur haud raro in Scripp. Graecis. No man certainly can deny that this word properly means the redemption of a captive, (whether he may have been taken in war or in any other way), which is procured by the payment of a price. That the word also means any deliverance, even where no price is paid down, nobody will dispute; but that it means redemption by a price laid down, and the redemption of the soul by the price of the death of Christ, the above scriptures sufficiently prove.
Whom God hath set forth - Appointed and published to be a propitiation, ιλαστηριον, the mercy-seat, or place of atonement; because the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled on and before that, in order to obtain remission of sin, punishment, etc. The mercy-seat was the lid or cover of the ark of the covenant, where God was manifest in the symbol of his presence, between the cherubim; therefore the atonement that was made in this place was properly made to God himself. See the note on Luke 18:13.
Through faith in his blood - This shows what we are to understand both by the απολυτρωσις, redemption, and the ιλαστηριον, propitiation; viz. that they refer to the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, as the atonement made, and the price paid down, for the redemption of the souls of men.
To declare his righteousness - εις ενδειξις, for the manifestation of his righteousness; his mercy in saving sinners, by sending Jesus Christ to make an atonement for them; thereby declaring his readiness to remit all past transgressions committed both by Jews and Gentiles, during the time in which his merciful forbearance was exercised towards the world; and this applies to all who hear the Gospel now: to them is freely offered remission of all past sins.
To declare, I say, at this time - To manifest now, by the dispensation of the Gospel, his righteousness, his infinite mercy; and to manifest it in such a way, that he might still appear to be the just God, and yet the justifier, the pardoner, of him who believeth in Jesus. Here we learn that God designed to give the most evident displays both of his justice and mercy. Of his justice, in requiring a sacrifice, and absolutely refusing to give salvation to a lost world in any other way; and of his mercy, in providing The sacrifice which his justice required. Thus, because Jesus was an atonement, a ransom price, for the sin of the world, therefore God can, consistently with his justice, pardon every soul that believeth in Jesus. This is the full discovery of God's righteousness, of his wonderful method of magnifying his law and making it honorable; of showing the infinite purity of his justice, and of saving a lost world.
Hitherto, from the ninth verse, the apostle had gone on without interruption, proving that Jew and Gentile were in a state of guilt and condemnation, and that they could be saved only by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. The Jew, finding his boasted privileges all at stake, interrupts him, and asks: -
Jew. Where is boasting, then? - 'η καυχησις, This glorying of ours. Have we nothing in which we can trust for our acceptance with God? No merit of our own? Nothing accruing to us from our circumcision and being in covenant with God.
Apostle, It is excluded - εξεκλεισθη, It is shut out; the door of heaven is shut against every thing of this kind.
Jew. By what law? - By what rule, doctrine, or reason is it shut out? by the law of works? The rule of obedience, which God gave to us, and by which obedience we are accepted by him?
Apostle. Nay - Not by the law of works; glorying is not cut off or shut out by that; it stands in full force as the rule of life; but you have sinned and need pardon. The law of works grants no pardon, it requires obedience, and threatens the disobedient with death. But all glorying in the expectation of salvation, through your own obedience, is excluded by the law, the doctrine of faith: faith alone, in the mercy of God, through the propitiation made by the blood of Jesus, ( Romans 3:25;), is that by which you can be justified, pardoned, and taken into the Divine favor.
Therefore we conclude, etc. - Seeing these things cannot be denied, viz., that all have sinned: that all are guilty, that all are helpless: that none can deliver his own soul, and that God, in his endless mercy, has opened a new and living way to the holiest by the blood of Jesus, Hebrews 10:19, Hebrews 10:20, etc: therefore we, apostles and Christian teachers, conclude, λογιζομεθα, prove by fair, rational consequence, that a man - any man, is justified - has his sins blotted out, and is received into the Divine favor, by faith in Christ's blood, without the deeds of the law, which never could afford, either to Jew or Gentile, a ground for justification, because both have sinned against the law which God has given them, and, consequently, forfeited all right and title to the blessings which the obedient might claim.
Is he the God of the Jews only? - Do not begin to suppose that because you cannot be justified by the works of the law and God has in his mercy found out a new method of saving you, that therefore this mercy shall apply to the Jews exclusively. Is not God the maker, preserver, and redeemer, also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, as much as of the Jews; for all have equally sinned and there is no reason, if God be disposed to show mercy at all, that he should prefer the one to the other; since they are all equally guilty, sinful, and necessitous.
Seeing it is one God - επιπερ εις ο θεος . This has been rendered, Seeing God is one. It however makes little difference in the sense: the apostle's meaning most evidently is, it is one and the same God who made both Jews and Gentiles, who shall justify - pardon, the circumcision - the believing Jews, by faith; and the uncircumcision - the believing Gentiles, by the same faith; as there is but one Savior and one atonement provided for the whole.
It is fanciful to suppose that the apostle has one meaning when he says, εκ πιστεως, By faith, and a different meaning when he says, δια της πιστεως, Through faith. Both the prepositions are to be understood in precisely the same sense; only the addition of the article της, in the last case, extends and more pointedly ascertains the meaning. It is one and the same God who shall justify the believing Jews by faith; and the believing Gentiles δια της πιστεως, by That Same faith.
Do we then make void the law through faith? -
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