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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament
Romans 3

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

Romans 3:1 f. τὸ περισσὸν τοῦ ἰουδαίου is that which the Jew has “over and above” the Gentile. τίς ὠφέλεια τῆς περιτομῆς; = “What good does his circumcision do him?” πολὺ goes with τὸ περισσόν. κατὰ πάντα τρόπον: however you choose to view the position. πρῶτον μὲν suggests that such an enumeration of Jewish prerogatives might have been made here as is given at length in Romans 9:4 f. In point of fact, Paul mentions one only, in which the whole force of the Jewish objection to the arguments of chap. 2 is contained, and after disposing of it feels that he has settled the question, and passes on. The first, most weighty, and most far-reaching advantage of the Jews, is that “they were entrusted with the oracles of God”. They were made in His grace the depositaries and guardians of revelation. τὰ λόγια τοῦ θεοῦ must be regarded as the contents of revelation, having God as their author, and at the time when Paul wrote, identical with the O.T. Scriptures. In the LXX the word λόγιον occurs mainly as the equivalent of אִמְרָה, which in various passages (e.g., Psalms 119:38) has the sense of “promise”; in ordinary Greek it means “oracle,” the Divine word given at a shrine, and usually referring to the future; hence it would be natural in using it to think of the prophetic rather than the statutory element in the O.T., and this is what is required here. The O.T. as a whole, and as a revelation of God, has a forward look; it anticipates completion and excites hope; and it is not too much to say that this is suggested by describing it as τὰ λόγια τοῦ θεοῦ. The sum of it was that God had promised to His people “a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 : see margin, R.V.), and this promise seemed threatened by the argument of the last chapter.


Verses 1-8

Romans 3:1-8. It might easily seem, at this point, as if the Apostle’s argument had proved too much. He has shown that the mere possession of the law does not exempt the Jew from judgment, but that God requires its fulfilment; he has shown that circumcision in the flesh, seal though it be of the covenant and pledge of its promises, is only of value if it represent inward heart circumcision; he has, it may be argued, reduced the Jew to a position of entire equality with the Gentile. But the consciousness of the Jewish race must protest against such a conclusion. “Salvation is of the Jews” is a word of Christ Himself, and the Apostle is obliged to meet this instinctive protest of the ancient people of God. The whole of the difficulties it raises are more elaborately considered in chaps. 9–11; here it is only discussed so far as to make plain that it does not invalidate the arguments of chap. 2, nor bar the development of the Apostle’s theology. The advantage of the Jew is admitted; it is admitted that his unbelief may even act as a foil to God’s faithfulness, setting it in more glorious relief; but it is insisted, that if God’s character as righteous judge of the world is to be maintained—as it must be—these admissions do not exempt the Jew from that liability to judgment which has just been demonstrated. The details of the interpretation, especially in Romans 3:7 f., are somewhat perplexed.


Verse 3

Romans 3:3 f. τί γάρ; For how? i.e., Well then, how stands the case? Cf. Philippians 1:18. εἰ ἠπίστησάν τινες = if some did disbelieve. It is not necessary to render this, with reference to ἐπιστεύθησαν in Romans 3:2, “if some proved faithless to their trust”. What is in Paul’s mind is that “the oracles of God” have had their fulfilment in Christ, and that those to whom they were entrusted have in some cases (whether few or many he does not here consider) refused their faith to that fulfilment. Surely it is no proper inference that their unbelief must make God’s faithfulness of no effect. He has kept His promise, and as far as it lay with Him has maintained the original advantage of the Jews, as depositaries and first inheritors of that promise, whatever reception they may have given to its fulfilment. Away with the thought of any reflection upon Him! When the case is stated between God and man there can only be one conclusion: let God come out ( γινέσθω) true, and every man a liar; let Him be just, and every man condemned. This agrees with the words of Scripture itself in Psalms 51 (50):6, which Paul quotes exactly after the LXX: the Hebrew is distinctly different, but neither it nor the original context are regarded. ἐν τοῖς λόγοις σου is a translation of Hebrew words which mean “when Thou speakest,” i.e., apparently, when Thou pronouncest sentence upon man; here the sense must be, “that Thou mayest be pronounced just in respect of what Thou hast spoken,” i.e., the λόγια, the oracles or promises entrusted to Israel, νικήσεις: win thy case (see note on text). Burton, Moods and Tenses, §§ 198, 199. ἐν τῷ κρίνεσθαί σε: Probably the infinitive is passive: “when thou art judged”; not middle, “when thou submittest thy case to the judge”. The quotation from Psalms 115:2, πᾶς ἄνθρωπος ψεύστης, is not important: the main thing, as the formal quotation which follows shows, is the vindication of God from the charge of breach of faith with the Jews in making Christianity the fulfilment of His promises to them.


Verse 5

Romans 3:5 f. Here another attempt is made to invalidate the conclusion of chap. 2, that the Jew is to be judged “according to his works,” exactly like the Gentile. If the argument of Romans 3:3 f. is correct, the unbelief of the Jews actually serves to set off the faithfulness of God: it makes it all the more conspicuous; how then can it leave them exposed to judgment? This argument is generalised in Romans 3:5 and answered in Romans 3:6. “If our unrighteousness” (in the widest sense, ἀδικία being generalised from πίστις, Romans 3:3) demonstrates (cf. Romans 5:8) God’s righteousness (also in the widest sense, δικαιοσύνη being generalised from πίστις, Romans 3:3), what shall we say? i.e., what inference shall we draw? Surely not that God, He who inflicts the wrath due to unrighteousness at the last day (Romans 1:18), is Himself unrighteous, to speak as men speak. Away with the thought! If this were so, how should God judge the world? That God does judge the world at last is a fixed point both for Paul and those with whom he argues; hence every inference which conflicts with it must be summarily set aside. God could not judge at all if He were unjust; therefore, since He does judge, He is not unjust, not even in judging men whose unrighteousness may have served as a foil to His righteousness. It is not thus that the conclusions of chap. 2 can be evaded by the Jew. ἐπιφέρων τὴν ὀργήν: the “attributive participle equivalent to a relative clause, may, like a relative clause, convey a subsidiary idea of cause, purpose, condition or concession” (Burton, Moods and Tenses, § 428, who renders here: is God unrighteous, who (because He) visiteth with wrath?). κατὰ ἄνθρωπον λέγω: cf. Galatians 3:15, Romans 6:19, 1 Corinthians 9:8. There is always something apologetic in the use of such expressions. Men forget the difference between God and themselves when they contemplate such a situation as that God should be unrighteous; obviously it is not to be taken seriously. Still, in human language such suppositions are made, and Paul begs that in his lips they may not be taken for more than they really mean.


Verse 7

Romans 3:7 f. These verses are extremely difficult, and are interpreted variously according to the force assigned to the τί ἔτι κἀγὼ of Romans 3:7. Who or what supplies the contrast to this emphatic “I also”? Some commentators, Gifford, for instance, find it in God, and God’s interest in the judgment. If my lie sets in relief the truth of God, and so magnifies His glory, is not that enough? Why, after God has had this satisfaction from my sin, “why further am I also on my side brought to judgment as a sinner?” It is a serious, if not a final objection to this, that it merely repeats the argument of Romans 3:5, which the Apostle has already refuted. Its very generality, too—for any man, as Gifford himself says, may thus protest against being judged,—lessens its relevance: for Paul is discussing not human evasions of God’s judgment, but Jewish objections to his previous arguments. Lipsius finds the contrast to κἀγὼ in the Gentile world. A Jew is the speaker, or at all events the Apostle speaks in the character of one: “if my unbelief does magnify His faithfulness, is not that all that is required? Why am I, too, like the rest of the world, whose relation to God is so different, and whose judgment is so necessary, still brought into judgment?” This would be legitimate enough, probably, if it were not for what follows. But the slander of Romans 3:8, which forms part of the same question as τί ἔτι κἀγὼ κ. τ. λ., and to which reference is made again in chap. Romans 6:1; Romans 6:15, had not the Jews, but the Apostle in his Christian character, for its object; hence it seems preferable to take the κἀγὼ as referring strictly to himself. That Paul would come into judgment, in spite of the fact that his faithlessness in becoming a Christian had only set off the faithfulness of God to Israel, no unbelieving Jew questioned: and Paul turns this conviction of theirs (with which, of course, he agrees, so far as it asserts that he will be judged) against themselves. If he, for his part, cannot evade judgment, on the ground that his sin (as they think it) has been a foil to God’s righteousness, no more can they on their part: they and he are in one position, and must be judged together: to condemn him is to expose themselves to condemnation; that is his point. The argument of Romans 3:7 is both an argumentum ad hominem and an argumentum ad rem: Paul borrows from his opponents the premises that he himself is to be judged as a sinner, and that his lie has set off God’s truth: there is enough in these premises to serve his purpose, which is to show that these two propositions which do not exclude each other in his case do not do so in their case either. But, of course, he would interpret the second in a very different way from them. The question is continued in Romans 3:8, though the construction is changed by the introduction of the parentheses with καθὼς and the attachment to λέγειν ὅτι of the clause which would naturally have gone with τί μή; If judgment could be evaded by sinning to the glory of God, so Paul argues, he and other Christians like him might naturally act on the principle which slander imputed to them—that of doing evil that good might come. No doubt the slander was of Jewish origin. The doctrine that righteousness is a gift of God, not to be won by works of law, but by faith in Jesus Christ, can always be misrepresented as immoral: “sin the more, it will only the more magnify grace” Paul does not stoop to discuss it. The judgment that comes on those who by such perversions of reason and conscience seek to evade all judgment is just. This is all he has to say.


Verse 9

Romans 3:9. τί οὖν; What then? i.e., how, then, are we to understand the situation? It is necessary to take these words by themselves, and make προεχόμεθα a separate question: the answer to τί could not be οὐ, but must be οὐδέν. The meaning of προεχόμεθα has been much discussed. The active προέχειν means to excel or surpass. Many have taken προεχόμεθα as middle in the same sense: So the Vulg. praecellimus eos? and the A.V. “Are we better than they?” But this use, except in interpreters of this verse, cannot be proved. The ordinary meaning of the middle would be “to put forward on one’s own account, as an excuse, or defence”. This is the rendering in the margin of the R.V. “Do we excuse ourselves?” If τί οὖν προεχόμεθα could be taken together, it might certainly be rendered, What then is our plea? but it is impossible to take προεχόμεθα in this sense without an object, and impossible, as already explained, to make this combination. The only alternative is to regard προεχόμεθα as passive: What then? are we excelled? This is the meaning adopted in the R.V. “Are we in worse case than they?” It is supported by Lightfoot. Wetstein quotes one example from Plut. de Stoic. contrad., 1038 D.: τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς πᾶσι προσήκει, κατʼ οὐδὲν προεχομένοις ὑπὸ τοῦ διός: “who are in nothing surpassed by Zeus”. The word would thus express the surprise of the Jew at seeing his prerogatives disappear; “if this line of argument be carried further,” he may be supposed to say, “the relative positions of Jew and Gentile will turn out to be the very reverse of what we have believed”. This is the idea which is negatived in οὐ πάντως. Strictly speaking, the οὐ should modify πάντως, and the meaning be “not in every respect”: in some respects (for instance, the one referred to in Romans 3:2), a certain superiority would still belong to the Jew. But to allude to this seems irrelevant, and there is no difficulty in taking the words to mean, “No: not in any way”. See Winer, p. 693 f. “We are not surpassed at all, we who are Jews, for we have already brought against Jews and Greeks alike the charge of being all under sin.” ὑπὸ ἁμαρτίαν, cf. Romans 7:14, Galatians 3:22. The idea is that of being under the power of sin, as well as simply sinful: men are both guilty and unable to escape from that condition.


Verses 9-20

Romans 3:9-20. In these verses the Apostle completes his proof of the universality of sin, and of the liability of all men, without exception, to judgment. The τί οὖν of Romans 3:9 brings back the argument from the digression of Romans 3:1-8. In those verses he has shown that the historical prerogative of the Jews, as the race entrusted with the oracles of God, real and great as it is, does not exempt them from the universal rule that God will reward every man according to his works (Romans 2:6): here, according to the most probable interpretation of προεχόμεθα, he puts himself in the place of his fellow-countrymen, and imagines them asking, “Are we surpassed? Is it the Gentiles who have the advantage of us, instead of our having the advantage of them?”


Verse 10

Romans 3:10. οὐκ ἔστιν δίκαιος οὐδὲ εἶς. There is something to be said for the idea that this is Paul’s thesis, rather than a quotation of Psalms 14:3. Psalms 14:3 is correctly quoted in Romans 3:12, and the Apostle would hardly quote it twice: δίκαιος, too, seems chosen to express exactly the conclusion to which he means to come in Romans 3:20. Still, the words come after καθὼς γέγραπται: hence they must be Scripture, and there is nothing they resemble so much as a free rendering of Psalms 14:3.


Verse 11

Romans 3:11. οὐκ ἔστιν συνίων. For the form ( συνίων or συνιῶν), see Winer, p. 97. If we read συνίων the meaning is, There is no one to understand: if the article (as in the LXX) be omitted, There is no one who has sense.


Verse 12

Romans 3:12. ἠχρεώθησαν is the LXX rendering of נֶאֱלָחוּ, which means “to become sour,” “to turn” (of milk): one and all they have become good for nothing. χρηστότητα usually signifies kindness, and so it is rendered in 2 Corinthians 6:6, Ephesians 2:7, Colossians 3:12, Titus 3:4 (cf. Romans 2:4; Romans 11:22 : goodness): here it answers to Hebrew טוֹב and means “good”. οὐκ ἔστιν ἕως ἑνός, non est usque ad unum (Vulg.), which may be even more exactly given in the Scottish idiom: there is not the length of one.


Verse 13

Romans 3:13. τάφοςἐδολιοῦσαν is an exact quotation of Psalms 5:10 (LXX). The original seems to describe foreign enemies whose false and treacherous language threatened ruin to Israel. For the form ἐδολιοῦσαν, see Winer, p. 91 (f.). The termination is common in the LXX: Wetstein quotes one grammarian who calls it Boeotian and another Chalcidic; it was apparently widely diffused. The last clause, ἰὸς ἀσπίδων κ. τ. λ., is Psalms 139:4, LXX.


Verse 14

Romans 3:14. Ps. 9:28, LXX, freely quoted: (Psalms 10:7, A.V.). αὐτῶν after στόμα (W. and H., margin) is a Hebrew idiom which the LXX has in this passage, only in the singular: οὗ τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ.


Verses 15-17

Romans 3:15-17. These verses are rather a free extract from, than a quotation of, Isaiah 59:7-8. They describe the moral corruption of Israel in the age of the prophet. According to Lipsius, σύντριμμα καὶ ταλαιπωρία refer to the spiritual misery which comes upon the Jews in the path of self-righteousness. But it is much more natural to suppose that the Apostle is pointing to the destruction and misery which human wickedness inflicts on others, than to any such spiritual results of it. It is as if he had said, “Wherever they go, you can trace them by the ruin and distress they leave behind”. The same consideration applies to Romans 3:17. It does not mean, “They have failed to discover the way of salvation,” but “they tread continually in paths of violence”.


Verse 18

Romans 3:18. Psalms 35:2, LXX, with αὐτῶν for αὐτοῦ. This verse at once sums up and explains the universal corruption of mankind.


Verse 19

Romans 3:19. At this point the first great division of the epistle closes, that which began with chap. Romans 1:18, and has been occupied with asserting the universal prevalence of sin. “We know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are in the law,” i.e., to the Jews. For the distinction of λέγειν (in which the object is the main thing) and λαλεῖν (in which the speaker and the mode of utterance are made prominent), see Trench, Synonyms, § lxxvi., and commentary on John 8:43. It is most natural to suppose that by “the things the law says” Paul means the words he has just quoted from the O.T. These words cannot be evaded by the very persons to whom the O.T. was given, and who have in it, so to speak, the spiritual environment of their life. In this case, νόμος is used in the wider sense of the old revelation generally, not specifically the Pentateuch, or even the statutory part of Scripture. For this use of the word, cf. 1 Corinthians 14:21, where ἐν τῷ νόμῳ introduces a quotation from Isaiah 28:11 : and John 10:34 (your law), Romans 15:25 (their law), both prefacing quotations from Psalms (Psalms 82:6, Psalms 35:19). At first sight there seems a disparity between the two parts of the verse. How does the fact that those who are under the law are impeached and condemned by such utterances of the law as those just quoted subserve the Divine intention to stop every mouth and make all the world answerable to God? We must suppose that all other men—that is, the Gentiles, who are not under the law—are convicted already; and that what is needed to prepare the way for the universal Gospel of grace is that those who have been under law should admit concerning themselves, what they are prompt enough to assert of all others (“sinners of the Gentiles”: Galatians 2:15), that they have not a word to say, and are liable to God’s judgment. ὑπόδικος is a classical word, found here only in the N.T. Sanday and Headlam remark its “forensic” character.


Verse 20

Romans 3:20. διότι means “because,” not “therefore,” as in A.V. The rendering “therefore” is perhaps due to the difficulty which the translators had in putting an intelligible meaning into “because”. The sense seems to be: Every mouth must be stopped, and all the world shown to be liable to God’s judgment, because by works of law no flesh shall be justified before Him. This last proposition—that no flesh shall be justified in this way—is virtually an axiom with the Apostle: it is a first principle in all his spiritual thinking, and hence everything must be true which can be deduced from it, and everything must take place which is required to support it. Because this is the fundamental certainty of the case, every mouth must be stopped, and the strong words quoted from the law stand where they do to secure this end. The explanation of this axiom is to be found in its principal terms—flesh and law. Flesh primarily denotes human nature in its frailty: to attain to the righteousness of God is a task which no flesh has strength to accomplish. But flesh in Paul has a moral rather than a natural meaning; it is not its weakness in this case, but its strength, which puts Justification out of the question; to justify is the very thing which the law cannot do, and it cannot do it because it is weak owing to the flesh (cf. Romans 8:3). But the explanation of the axiom lies not only in “flesh,” but in “law”. “By the law comes the full knowledge of sin.” ( ἐπίγνωσις, a favourite Pauline word: fifteen times used in his epistles.) This is its proper, and indeed its exclusive function. There is no law given with power to give life, and therefore there are no works of law by which men can be justified. The law has served its purpose when it has made men feel to the full how sinful they are; it brings them down to this point, but it is not for it to lift them up. The best exposition of the passage is given by the Apostle himself in Galatians 2:15 f., where the same quotation is made from Psalms 143:2, and proof given again that it applies to Jew and Gentile alike. In ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, νόμος, of course, is primarily the Mosaic law. As Lipsius remarks, no distinction is drawn by the Apostle between the ritual and the moral elements of it, though the former are in the foreground in the epistle to the Galatians, and the latter in that to the Romans. But the truth would hold of every legal dispensation, and it is perhaps to express this generality, rather than because νόμος is a technical term, that the article is omitted. Under no system of statutes, the Mosaic or any other, will flesh ever succeed in finding acceptance with God. Let mortal man, clothed in works of law, present himself before the Most High, and His verdict must always be: Unrighteous.


Verse 21

Romans 3:21. νυνὶ δὲ: but now. All time is divided for Paul into “now” and “then”. Cf. Ephesians 2:12 f., τῷ καιρῷ ἐκείνῳνυνὶ δέ; 2 Corinthians 5:16, ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν: the reception of the Gospel means the coming of a new world. χωρὶς νόμου: legal obedience contributes nothing to evangelic righteousness. It is plain that in this expression νόμος does not signify the O.T. revelation or religion as such, but that religion, or any other, conceived as embodied in statutes. It is statutory obedience which (as Paul has learned by experience) cannot justify. Hence νόμος has not exactly the same sense here as in the next clause, ὑπὸ τοῦ νὸμον κ. τῶν προφητῶν, where the whole expression is equal to the O.T., and the meaning is that the Gospel is not alien to the religion of Israel, but really finds attestation there. This is worth remarking, because there is a similar variation in the meaning of δικαιοσύνη between Romans 3:21; Romans 3:25, and in that of δόξα τοῦ θεοῦ between Romans 3:23 and Romans 5:2. To deny that words which mean so much, and are applied so variously, can convey different shades of meaning, even within the narrow limits of a few verses, is to deny that language shares in the life and subtlety of the mind. πεφανέρωται: once for all the righteousness of God has been revealed in the Gospel. Cf. Romans 16:26, Colossians 1:26, 2 Timothy 1:10, 1 Peter 1:20, Hebrews 9:8; Hebrews 9:26.


Verses 21-26

Romans 3:21-26. The universal need of a Gospel has now been demonstrated, and the Apostle proceeds with his exposition of this Gospel itself. It brings what all men need, a righteousness of God (see on Romans 1:17); and it brings it in such a way as to make it accessible to all. Law contributes nothing to it, though it is attested by the law and the prophets; it is a righteousness which is all of grace. Grace, however, does not signify that moral distinctions are ignored in God’s procedure: the righteousness which is held out in the Gospel is held out on the basis of the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. It is put within the sinner’s reach at a great cost. It could never be offered to him—it could never be manifested, or indeed have any real existence—but for the propitiatory virtue of the blood of Christ. Christ a propitiation is the inmost soul of the Gospel for sinful men. If God had not set Him forth in this character, not only must we despair for ever of attaining to a Divine righteousness; all our attempts to read the story of the world in any consistency with the character of God must be baffled. Past sins God seemed simply to ignore: He treated them apparently as if they were not. But the Cross is “the Divine theodicy for the past history of the world” (Tholuck); we see in it how seriously God deals with the sins which for the time He seemed to pass by. It is a demonstration of His righteousness—that is, in the widest sense, of His consistency with His own character,—which would have been violated by indifference to sin. And that demonstration is, by God’s grace, given in such a way that it is possible for Him to be (as He intends to be) at once just Himself, and the justifier of those who believe in Jesus. The propitiatory death of Jesus, in other words, is at once the vindication of God and the salvation of man. That is why it is central and fundamental in the Apostolic Gospel. It meets the requirements, at the same time, of the righteousness of God and of the sin of man.


Verse 22

Romans 3:22. δικαιοσύνη δὲ θεοῦ. The δὲ is explicative: “a righteousness of God (see on chap. Romans 1:17) [Romans 3:21], and that a righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ”. In the Epistle to the Hebrews Jesus Christ is undoubtedly set forth as a pattern of faith: ἀφορῶντες εἰς τὸν τῆς πίστεως ἀρχηγὸν καὶ τελειωτὴν ἰησοῦν, Hebrews 12:2. Cf. Hebrews 2:13; but such a thought is irrelevant here. It is the constant teaching of Paul that we are justified (not by sharing Jesus’ faith in God, as some interpreters would take it here, but) by believing in that manifestation and offer of God’s righteousness which are made in the propitiatory death of Jesus. εἰς πάντας καὶ ἐπὶ πάντας: the last three words are omitted by and most edd. If genuine, they add no new idea to εἰς πάντας; see Winer, p. 521. For διαστολή, cf. Romans 10:12. The righteousness of God comes to all on the terms of faith, for all alike need it, and can receive it only so.


Verse 23

Romans 3:23. ἥμαρτον must be rendered in English “have sinned”; see Burton, Moods and Tenses, § 54. ὑστεροῦνται expresses the consequence = and so come short of the glory of God. To emphasise the middle, and render “they come short, and feel that they do so,” though suggested by the comparison of Matthew 19:20 with Luke 15:14 (Gifford), is not borne out by the use of the N.T. as a whole. The most one could say is that sibi is latent in the middle: to their loss (not necessarily to their sensible or conscious loss) they come short. The present tense implies that but for sin men might be in enjoyment of “ δόξα τοῦ θεοῦ”. Clearly this cannot be the same as the future heavenly glory of God spoken of in Romans 5:2 : as in John 5:44; John 12:43, it must be the approbation or praise of God. This sense of δόξα is easily derived from that of “reputation,” resting on the praise or approval of others. Of course the approbation which God would give to the sinless, and of which sinners fall short, would be identical with justification.


Verse 24

Romans 3:24. δικαιούμενοι: grammatically, the word is intractable. If we force a connection with what immediately precedes, we may say with Lipsius that just as Paul has proved the universality of grace through the universality of sin, so here, conversely, he proves the universal absence of merit in men by showing that they are justified freely by God’s grace. Westcott and Hort’s punctuation (comma after τοῦ θεοῦ) favours this connection, but it is forced and fanciful. In sense δικαιούμενοι refers to πάντας τοὺς πιστεύοντας, and the use of the nominative to resume the main idea after an interruption like that of Romans 3:23 is rather characteristic than otherwise of the Apostle. δωρεὰν is used in a similar connection in Galatians 2:21. It signifies “for nothing”. Justification, we are told here, costs the sinner nothing; in Galatians we are told that if it comes through law, then Christ died “for nothing”. Christ is all in it (1 Corinthians 1:30): hence its absolute freeness. τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι repeats the same thing: as δωρεὰν signifies that we contribute nothing, τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι signifies that the whole charge is freely supplied by God. αὐτοῦ in this position has a certain emphasis. διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν χ. . The justification of the sinful, or the coming to them of that righteousness of God which is manifested in the Gospel, takes effect through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Perhaps “liberation” would be a fairer word than “redemption” to translate ἀπολύτρωσις. In Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14, Hebrews 9:15, it is equal to forgiveness. ἀπολύτρωσις itself is rare; in the LXX there is but one instance, Daniel 4:29, in which χρόνος μου τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως signifies the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s recovery from his madness. There is here no suggestion of price or cost. Neither is there in the common use of the verb λυτροῦσθαι, which in LXX represents גָּאַל and פָּדָה, the words employed to describe God’s liberation of Israel from Egypt (Isaiah 43:3 does not count). On the other hand, the classical examples favour the idea that a reference to the cost of liberation is involved in the word. Thus Jos., Ant., xii. 2, 3: πλειόνων δὲ τετρακοσίων ταλάντων τὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως γενήσεσθαι φαμένων κ. τ. λ.; and Philo, Quod omnis probus liber, § 17 (of a Spartan boy taken prisoner in war) ἀπογνοὺς ἀπολύτρωσιν ἄσμενος ἑαυτὸν διεχρήσατο, where it is at least most natural to translate “having given up hope of being held to ransom”. In the N.T., too, the cost of man’s liberation is often emphasised: 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23, 1 Peter 1:18 f., and that especially where the cognate words λύτρον and ἀντίλυτρον are employed: Mark 10:45, 1 Timothy 2:6. The idea of liberation as the end in view may often have prevailed over that of the particular means employed, but that some means—and especially some cost, toil or sacrifice—were involved, was always understood. It is implied in the use of the word here that justification is a liberation; the man who receives the righteousness of God is set free by it from some condition of bondage or peril. From what? The answer is to be sought in the connection of Romans 1:17 and Romans 1:18 : he is set free from a condition in which he was exposed to the wrath of God revealed from heaven against sin. In Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14, ἀπολύτρωσις is plainly defined as remission of sins: in Ephesians 1:14, Romans 8:23, 1 Corinthians 1:30, it is eschatological.


Verse 25

Romans 3:25 f. But the question whether the word ἀπολύτρωσις involves of itself a reference to the cost at which the thing is accomplished is after all of minor consequence: that cost is brought out unambiguously in Romans 3:25. The ἀπολύτρωσις is in Christ Jesus, and it is in Him as One whom God set forth in propitiatory power, through faith (or, reading διὰ τῆς πίστεως, through the faith referred to), in His blood. προέθετο in Ephesians 1:9 (cf. Romans 1:13) is “purposed”; but here the other meaning, “set forth” (Vulg. proposuit) suits the context much better. ἱλαστήριον has been taken in various ways. (1) In the LXX it is the rendering of כַּפֹּרֶת, (A.V.) “mercy-seat”. If one passage at least, Exodus 25:16, כַּפֹּרֶת is rendered ἱλαστήριον ἐπίθεμα, which is possibly a combination of two translations—a literal one, a “lid” or “covering”; and a figurative or spiritual one, “a propitiatory”. Many scholars argue that Paul’s use must follow that of the LXX, familiarity with which on the part of his readers is everywhere assumed. But the necessity is not quite apparent; and not to mention the incongruities which are introduced if Jesus is conceived as the mercy-seat upon which the sacrificial blood—His own blood—is sprinkled, there are grammatical reasons against this rendering. Paul must have written, to be clear, τὸ ἱλαστήριον μ ν, or some equivalent phrase. Cf. 1 Corinthians 5:8 (Christ our passover). A “mercy-seat” is not such a self-evident, self-interpreting idea, that the Apostle could lay it at the heart of his gospel without a word of explanation. Consequently (2) many take ἱλαστήριον as an adjective. Of those who so take it, some supply θῦμα or ἱερεῖον, making the idea of sacrifice explicit. But it is simpler, and there is no valid objection, to make it masculine, in agreement with ὃν: “whom God set forth in propitiatory power”. This use of the word is sufficiently guaranteed by Jos., Ant., xvi. 7, 1: περίφοβος δʼ αὐτὸς ἐξῄει καὶ τοῦ δέους ἱλαστήριον μνῆυακατεσκευάσατο. The passage in 4 Maccabees 17:22 ( καὶ διὰ τοῦ αἵματος τῶν εὐσεβῶν ἐκείνων καὶ τοῦ ἱλαστηρίου [ τοῦ] θανάτου αὐτῶν θεία πρόνοια τὸν ἰσραὴλ προκακωθέντα διέσωσεν) is indecisive, owing to the doubtful reading. Perhaps the grammatical question is insoluble; but there is no question that Christ is conceived as endued with propitiatory power, in virtue of His death. He is set forth as ἱλαστήριος( ν) ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι. It is His blood that covers sin. It seems a mere whim of rigour to deny, as Weiss does, that the death of Christ is here conceived as sacrificial. It is in His blood that Christ is endued with propitiatory power; and there is no propitiatory power of blood known to Scripture unless the blood be that of sacrifice. It is not necessary to assume that any particular sacrifice—say the sin offering—is in view; neither is it necessary, in order to find the idea of sacrifice here, to make ἱλαστήριον neuter, and supply θῦμα; it is enough to say that for the Apostle the ideas of blood with propitiatory virtue, and sacrificial blood, must have been the same. The precise connection and purpose of διὰ ( τῆς) πίστεως is not at once clear. Grammatically, it might be construed with ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἴματι; cf. Ephesians 1:15, Galatians 3:26 (?), Mark 1:15; but this lessens the emphasis due to the last words. It seems to be inserted, almost parenthetically, to resume and continue the idea of Romans 3:22, that the righteousness of God which comes in this way,—namely, in Christ, whom God has set forth in propitiatory power in virtue of His death—comes only to those who believe. Men are saved freely, and it is all God’s work, not in the very least their own; yet that work does not avail for any one who does not by faith accepts it. What God has given to the world in Christ, infinitely great and absolutely free as it is, is literally nothing unless it is taken. Faith must have its place, therefore, in the profoundest statement of the Gospel, as the correlative of grace. Thus διὰ ( τῆς) πίστεως, though parenthetic, is of the last importance. With εἰς ἔνδειξιν τῆς δικαιοσύνης αὐτοῦ κ. τ. λ. we are shown God’s purpose in setting forth Christ as a propitiation in His blood. It is done with a view to demonstrate His righteousness, owing to the passing by of the sins previously committed in the forbearance of God. God’s righteousness in this place is obviously an attribute of God, on which the sin of the world, as hitherto treated by Him, has cast a shadow. Up till now, God has “passed by” sin. He has “winked at” (Acts 17:30) the transgressions of men perpetrated before Christ came ( προ- γεγονότων), ἐν τῇ ἀνοχῇ αὐτοῦ. The last words may be either temporal or causal: while God exercised forbearance, or because He exercised it, men sinned, so to speak, with impunity, and God’s character was compromised. The underlying thought is the same as in Psalms 50:21 : “These things hast Thou done, and I kept silence: Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as Thyself”. Such had been the course of Providence that God, owing to His forbearance in suspending serious dealing with sin, lay under the imputation of being indifferent to it.” But the time had now come to remove this imputation, and vindicate the Divine character. If it was possible once, it was no longer possible now, with Christ set forth in His Blood as a propitiation, to maintain that sin was a thing which God regarded with indifference, Paul does not say in so many words what it is in Christ crucified which constitutes Him a propitiation, and so clears God’s character of the charge that He does not care for sin: He lays stress, however, on the fact that an essential element in a propitiation is that it should vindicate the Divine righteousness. It should proclaim with unmistakable clearness that with sin God can hold no terms. (The distinction between πάρεσις, the suspension, and ἄφεσις, the revocation, of punishment, is borne out, according to Lightfoot, Notes on Epp. of St. Paul, p. 273, by classical usage, and is essential here.) In Romans 3:26 this idea is restated, and the significance of a propitiation more fully brought out. “Yes, God set Him forth in this character with a view to demonstrate His righteousness, that He might be righteous Himself, and accept as righteous him who believes in “Jesus.” The words ἐν τῷ νῦν καιρῷ refer to the Gospel Age, the time in which believers live, in contrast to the time when God exercised forbearance, and men were tempted to accuse Him of indifference to righteousness. πρὸς, as distinguished from εἰς, makes us think rather of the person contemplating the end than of the end contemplated; but there is no essential difference. τὴν ἔνδειξιν: the article means “the ἔνδειξις already mentioned in Romans 3:25”. But the last clause, εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν κ. τ. λ., is the most important. It makes explicit the whole intention of God in dealing with sin by means of a propitiation. God’s righteousness, compromised as it seemed by His for bearance, might have been vindicated in another way; if He had executed judgment upon sin, it would have been a kind of vindication. He would have secured the first object of Romans 3:26 : “that He might be righteous Himself”. But part of God’s object was to justify the ungodly (chap. Romans 4:5), upon certain conditions; and this could not be attained by the execution of judgment upon sin. To combine both objects, and at once vindicate His own righteousness, and put righteousness within reach of the sinful, it was necessary that instead of executing judgment God should provide a propitiation. This He did when He set forth Jesus in His blood for the acceptance of faith. (Häring takes the ἔνδειξις of God’s righteousness here to be the same as the “revelation” of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in Romans 1:17, or the “manifestation” of it in Romans 3:21; but this is only possible if with him we completely ignore the context, and especially the decisive words, διὰ τὴν πάρεσιν τῶν προγεγονότων ἁμαρτημάτων.) The question has been raised whether the righteousness of God, here spoken of as demonstrated at the Cross, is His judicial (Weiss) or His penal righteousness (Meyer). This seems to me an unreal question; the righteousness of God is the whole character of God so far as it must be conceived as inconsistent with any indifference about sin. It is a more serious question if we ask what it is in Christ set forth by God in His blood which at once vindicates God’s character and makes it possible for Him to justify those who believe. The passage itself contains nothing explicit—except in the words ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι. It is pedantic and inept to argue that since God could have demonstrated His righteousness either by punishment or by propitiation, therefore punishment and propitiation have no relation to each other. Christ was a propitiation in virtue of His death; and however a modern mind may construe it, death to Paul was the doom of sin. To say that God set forth Christ as a propitiation in His blood is the same thing as to say that God made Him to be sin for us. God’s righteousness, therefore, is demonstrated at the Cross, because there, in Christ’s death, it is made once for all apparent that He does not palter with sin; the doom of sin falls by His appointment on the Redeemer. And it is possible, at the same time, to accept as righteous those who by faith unite themselves to Christ upon the Cross, and identify themselves with Him in His death: for in doing so they submit in Him to the Divine sentence upon sin, and at bottom become right with God. It is misleading to render εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν δίκαιον κ. δικαιοῦντα, that He might be just and yet the justifier,” etc.: the Apostle only means that the two ends have equally to be secured, not that there is necessarily an antagonism between them. But it is more than misleading to render “that He might be just and therefore the justifier”: there is no conception of righteousness, capable of being clearly carried out, and connected with the Cross, which makes such language intelligible. (See Dorner, System of Christian Doctrine, iv., 14, English Translation.) It is the love of God, according to the consistent teaching of the New Testament, which provides the propitiation, by which God’s righteousness is vindicated and the justification of the ungodly made possible. τὸν ἐκ πίστεως ἰησοῦ is every one who is properly and sufficiently characterised as a believer in Jesus. There is no difficulty whatever in regarding ἰησοῦ as objective genitive, as the use of πιστεύειν throughout the N.T. (Galatians 2:16, e.g.) requires us to do: such expressions as τῷ ἐκ πίστεως ἀβραάμ (Romans 4:16) are not in the least a reason to the contrary: they only illustrate the flexibility of the Greek language. See on Romans 3:22 above.


Verse 27

Romans 3:27. ποῦ οὖν, where, since this is the case, is boasting? ἐξεκλείσθη: for the use of the tense, cf. ἐβλήθη and ἐξηράνθη in John 15:6; it is equivalent to, “is peremptorily, or once for all, shut out”. διὰ ποίου νόμου; By what kind of law? In other words, How is the “law,” the divinely appointed spiritual order, or constitution, which excludes boasting, to be characterised? Is it by “the works” which it prescribes, and which those who live under it perform? No: its character is given when we call it a constitution or law of “faith”. νόμος in these brief questions is evidently used in a wide sense to denote the religious order or system under which men live, regarded as established by God, and having His authority; the O.T. religion and the N.T. religion, unlike, and in some ways opposed, as they are, are alike νόμος—divine institutes.


Verses 27-31

Romans 3:27-31. In these verses the positive exposition of the righteousness of God as offered to faith through the redemption in Christ Jesus, is concluded. The Apostle points out two inferences which can be drawn from it, and which go to commend it to religious minds. The first is, that it excludes boasting. A religious constitution under which men could make claims, or assume anything, in the presence of God, must necessarily be false; it is at least one mark of truth in the Christian doctrine of justification that by it such presumption is made impossible. The second is, that in its universality and its sameness for all men, it is consistent with (as indeed it flows from) the unity of God. There can be no step-children in the family of God; a system which teaches that there are, like that current among the Jews, must be wrong; a system like the Christian, which excludes such an idea, is at least so far right. In Romans 3:31 an objection is raised. The whole system just expounded may be said to make Law void—to stultify and disannul all that has ever been regarded as in possession of Divine moral authority in the world. In reality, the Apostle answers in a word, its effect is precisely the reverse: it establishes law.


Verse 28

Romans 3:28. λογιζόμεθα γάρ: see critical note. In λογιζόμεθα there is no idea of an uncertain conclusion: it rather suggests the confident self-consciousness of the reasoner. ἄνθρωπον is not “any human being,” as if beings of another sort could be justified otherwise: it is like the German “man” or “one”. Cf. 1 Corinthians 4:1; 1 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Corinthians 11:28, Galatians 2:16. The sharp distinction drawn between faith and works of law, as characterising two different religious systems, shows that faith must not itself be interpreted as a work of law. In principle it is a renunciation of all such confidence as legal obedience inspires.


Verse 29

Romans 3:29 f. ἰουδαίων θεὸς μόνον; The only way to evade the conclusion of Romans 3:28 would be to suppose—as is here presented by way of alternative—that God is a God of Jews only. But the supposition is impossible: there is only one God, and therefore He must be God of all, of Gentile and Jews alike. This is assumed as an axiom by the Apostle. εἴπερ is the best attested reading, but the argument seems to require that it should “approximate to the sense of ἐπείπερ” (Simcox, Language of the N.T., p. 171), which is a variant: “if, as is the fact”. It is simplest to read Romans 3:30 as explaining and confirming what precedes: He is God of the Gentiles also, if as is the fact God is one; and (consequently) He will justify the circumcision on the ground of faith and the uncircumcision by means of faith. δικαιώσει is probably logical, rather than temporal, whether the reference be made to the last judgment, or to each case, as it arises, in which God justifies. Lightfoot insists on drawing a distinction between ἐκ πίστεως and διὰ τῆς πίστεως in this passage. “The difference,” he says, “will perhaps best be seen by substituting their opposites, οὐ δικαιώσει περιτομὴν ἐκ νόμου, οὐδὲ ἀκροβυστίαν διὰ τοῦ νόμου: when, in the case of the Jews, the falsity of their starting-point, in the case of the Gentiles, the needlessness of a new instrumentality, would be insisted on.” (Notes on Epistles of St. Paul, p. 274.) But a comparison of Romans 2:26, Romans 5:1, Romans 9:30, Galatians 3:8 (Weiss), shows that Paul does not construe the prepositions so rigorously: and in point of fact, what he does insist upon here is that justification is to be conceived in precisely the same way for Jew and Gentile. The ἐκ πίστεως and διὰ τῆς πίστεως serve no purpose but to vary the expression.


Verse 31

Romans 3:31. νόμον οὖν καταργοῦμεν διὰ τῆς πίστεως; Do we then annul “law” through the faith we have been discussing? Perhaps if Law were written with a capital letter, it would suggest the true meaning. The Apostle speaks as from the consciousness of a Jewish objector: is all that we have ever called Law—the whole Jewish religion—that divinely established order, and everything of the same nature—made void by faith? God forbid, he answers: on the contrary, Law is set upon a secure footing; for the first time it gets its rights. To prove this was one of the main tasks lying upon the Apostle of the New Covenant. One species of proof is given in chap 4, where he shows that representative saints under the Old Dispensation, like Abraham, were justified by faith. That is the Divine order still, and it is securer than ever under the Gospel. Another kind of proof is given in chaps. 6–8, where the new life of the Christian is unfolded, and we are shown that “the just demands of the law” are fulfilled in believers, and in believers only. The claim which the Apostle makes here, and establishes in these two passages, is the same as that in our Lord’s words: I came not to destroy (the law or the prophets), but to fulfil.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Romans 3:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/romans-3.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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