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Romans 3

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The Wrath of God Against the Jew (2:1–3:20 continued)

In verses 1-20, Paul continues the second half of his argument begun in Romans 2:1 in which he details the wrath of God against the Jews. In verses 1-4, Paul addresses an objection arising from his point in Romans 2:28-29. In verses 5-9, he overturns one last objection to his teaching in chapter two, which is occasioned by his answer to the objection raised in verse 3. Finally, Paul closes his argument by revealing to the Jews that they and the Gentiles are condemned by their own law (verses 10-20). In the closing verses of chapter three, having proved beyond doubt the sin and guilt of all men, Paul enters upon the argument that reveals his main object—the justification that comes through faith in Jesus Christ.

Verse 1

What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?

The objection Paul has foreseen is of no small moment, for the issue raised by these questions inquires into nothing less than the credibility of God Himself. One might draw the erroneous conclusion from Paul’s argumentation in Romans 2:25-29 that the Jew, in fact, has no real advantage over the Gentile at all. He might conclude there really is no profit in circumcision according to Paul. To so conclude, however, would call into question the truthfulness of the entire Old Testament record and even the faithfulness of God Himself. Did not the voice of the Old Testament give abundant testimony to the fact that God chose the Israelite nation out of all mankind to be His special people? Did not God Himself give them circumcision as a token of the covenant that He made with them? If there is no real advantage of the Jew and no profit in circumcision, two possibilities remain: (1) Either the Old Testament is an unfaithful record or (2) God has not been faithful to His Word. Obviously, this is no mere flippant

question. It strikes at the heart of the divine oracle and the credibility of God Himself.

It is a testimony both to the quickness of Paul’s mind and to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration that such a critical objection was both recognized and answered before it was ever posed by a reader.

Verse 2

Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.

Much every way: The Jew’s advantages are real, and they are numerous. His numerous and great advantages do not exempt him from judgment, however. A more complete list of the Jew’s advantages over the Gentile is detailed in Romans 9:4-5:

Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.

chiefly: Of these numerous and real advantages, Paul now only quotes one of them. It is in his mind the utmost or central one. All of the Jew’s advantages flow from this one, explaining why he does not mention others.

because that unto them were committed the oracles of God: Nygren comments:

God gave Israel a unique place in the history of redemption. That is not a matter of light esteem. Insistent as Paul has been to show that Jew and Gentile stand alike under God’s judgment, he by no means intends to deny the real differences between them. The Jew has an advantage which can never be taken away, that is that it was to him that God first gave His word of promise. Thereby circumcision is seen in a new light. By the circumcision Israel became the people of promise. As a precious trust, they received the promise which applied not merely to them but to all people; and that promise has now been fulfilled through Jesus Christ (137).

By the "oracles of God," Paul means the entirety of the Old Testament revelation. They include what Stephen calls "the lively oracles," which Moses received on Mount Sinai (Acts 7:38), as well as the writings and the prophets. This revelation of the mind of God was entrusted to the Jews both for their own benefit and for the benefit of all the world.

This blessing being the foremost one from which all the others flow, Paul mentions it alone. The Psalmist also recognized the revelation of God to Israel as their distinguishing privilege: "He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel" (147:19).

Beet’s comment on Israel’s great advantage is worth preserving:

While the Greeks were vainly discussing the nature of the gods, the Jews read in the sacred book about the Creator of the world, who became the God of Abraham. This was Paul’s first proof of the profit of being a circumcised Jew rather than a heathen (96).

Verse 3

For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?

Is the Jew’s great advantage annulled or His covenant broken because some (or even many) do not believe in God? Does his unbelief call into question God’s faithfulness?

A side note of interest here surrounds the phrase "did not believe" (hp) i/sthsa/n) in the first clause and "unbelief" (apist) i/a) in the second clause. What do the Jews fail to believe? Some commentators believe the reference is to the Jews’ failure to believe the gospel (Macknight, Godet, Beet). This conclusion, however, seems incorrect. It is much too early in Paul’s argument to bring up the gospel. The gospel is not introduced until after Paul has thoroughly undermined the Jews’ confidence that they are above the judgment of God. The point of Paul’s argument in this section (2:1-3:20) is that, like the Gentiles, the Jews also stand hopelessly condemned without Christ and the gospel. Paul labors to convince all men that they are sinners and, thus, in need of the salvation offered in Christ. To introduce the Jews’ refusal to believe in Jesus as the Messiah at this point would be not only premature but also a non sequitur. The salvation offered in Christ becomes the subject of discussion in verse 21 of this chapter.

What, then, is it that the Jews fail to believe? According to Bromiley, the phrase "did not believe" means to be unfaithful and more technically to refuse to believe. He cites similar usages in Luke 24:11 and Mark 16:16. The word "unbelief" in the second clause of Romans 3:3 also refers to unfaithfulness, he says. It is used in the same way in Hebrews 3:12 and is closely related to Hebrews 3:19 where the idea conveyed is disobedience (853). Hebrews 3, which has as its background Psalms 106, clearly reveals that the Jews demonstrated their unbelief by their disobedience (Hebrews 3:18-19). In Romans 2:28-29, Paul teaches that the true Jew obeys God from his heart—not only outwardly but also inwardly in his spirit.

The question is, then, did the disobedience or unfaithfulness of the Jews to the divine oracles entrusted to the Old Testament men of inspiration and recorded in thirty-nine books make God’s faithfulness ineffective? Shall their unfaithfulness make void (cancel or nullify) the faithfulness of God? Because they have broken faith on their part, shall God break faith on His? In other words, if God condemns the Jews in judgment, is He not breaking faith on His part? (See verse 4 for answers.)

Lipscomb, McGarvey, Whiteside, and Alford sustain this position. Alford comments:

And this advantage is not canceled, nor the covenant annulled, by their disobedience. The word does not import "did not believe," which certainly would be out of place here, where the Apostle is not speaking of faith or want of faith as yet, but of unrighteousness (verse 5), and moral guilt. The word seems to be used in the sense of were unfaithful to the covenant, the very condition of which was to walk in the ways of the Lord and observe His statutes (863).

Verse 4

God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou are judged.

God forbid: The rendering of the King James Version is unfortunate here. The original language does not include the name of God at all. A more literal rendering is preferred. Most translations since the American Standard Version avoid such a translation (including even the New King James Version). The phrase is exclamatory and is generally translated as one of the following:

1. "May it not be"

2. "Certainly not"

3. "Of course not"

4. "By no means"

5. "Never"

6. "That would be absurd"

7. Or some such equivalent

yea, let God be true, and every man a liar: God must be regarded as true and faithful to His word (Hebrews 6:18), even if every Jew who has ever lived must thus be reckoned a liar and cast out on that account. To understand this point, one must remember what the Jews forgot about God’s promises to the seed of Abraham. God’s promises were conditioned upon the faithfulness and obedience of Abraham and his seed. This principle is tacitly implied in Genesis 18:19 where the Lord says:

For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.

Later this principle is explicitly stated in the renewal of the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). Furthermore, in that context (Deuteronomy 28:64) and its parallel in Leviticus 26:33, God expressly threatened to cast Israel out of her promised land and scatter her among the heathen if she became faithless and disobedient to the law. Being warned in advance of the consequences of disobedience, Israel had no right to complain when the justice of God was meted out; neither can there be any charge laid against God’s integrity. In fact, in spite of their circumcision, their punishment expelled them from the land and placed them on a plane with the sinful Gentiles. Rather than exposing God’s unfaithfulness, God’s absolute faithfulness was actually established.

The statement, "let every man be a liar," is taken from Psalms 116:11. Over and against the unassailable integrity of God stand the falsehood and wickedness of men. In the light of the truth of God, all men, if necessary, must be recognized as liars.

as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged: This citation is from Psalms 51:4 where it is supposed that David is confessing his sin in the matter with Bathsheba. The confessor is strikingly penitent and openly recognizes how entirely against God his sin has been. In addition, he recognizes the justice of God as vindicated in His punishment for sin. The idea expressed by Paul is that God must be shown to be just in His sentences or His words of judgment when men call His action into question. In the Psalm, the penitent regards his sin "as having been the instrument of bringing God’s justice into a clearer light" (Alford 863). It is noteworthy that, despite the terrible sin of David, which was severely punished, God did in fact fulfill His covenanted promise to David (2 Samuel 7:4-17). Beet concludes "no better example could be found of the faithfulness of God in spite of the unfaithfulness of man" (98).

Verse 5

But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man).

In verses 1-4, Paul has dealt decisively with objections he has anticipated on the basis of his argumentation in Romans 2:25-29. In the process, however, he realizes that some might draw an incorrect inference from his answers to those objections. He, thus, pauses in his argument in order to guard against any possible misunderstanding. In verses 5-8, he lays to rest this final objection.

But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance: Paul suspects the Jews of reasoning in this manner: "You, Paul, say that our unbelief and disobedience actually magnifies God’s faithfulness and effectiveness in accomplishing His purposes set forth in His word. Therefore, according to your own argument, our unbelief adds to God’s glory by commending His righteousness. It seems obvious that God would be unjust to punish us for our disobedience that so glorifies His righteousness."

(I speak as a man): Paul can hardly bring himself even to present such an argument. He recoils in righteous revulsion from even the thought of connecting God’s holy person at all with unrighteousness. He hastens to make clear that he is arguing as a man—and a foolish one at that.

Verse 6

God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?

The expression "God forbid" means "may it never be!" Paul rejects such a notion as hardly worthy of serious thought. The very idea that God could be guilty of any injustice is essentially and fundamentally absurd. Furthermore, such an argument is completely untenable, tantamount to a denial of what is held to be axiomatic—namely, that God will be the final judge of all men. Shepherd notes that God’s right to judge all men "is the first idea of God, as Governor of all intelligences" (66). McGarvey concurs as well, saying:

You see, then, the absurdity of your question, since it is a practical denial of the divinely established fact, that there is to be a day of judgment. Sin, though it may, by its contrast, display the righteousness of God, is nevertheless utterly without merit (318).

Verse 7

For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?

There is some consternation among commentators as to the meaning of this verse. The problem is found in connecting this passage to what goes before. Lipscomb and McGarvey appear to have the correct perspectives. Lipscomb observes:

If the treason of Judas had been the occasion of Jesus Christ being manifested to the world and glorified, why is Judas regarded as a sinner? The reason is that Judas did not betray Jesus that God’s love might be manifested and God’s glory proclaimed, but to satisfy his own covetous soul (67).

Lipscomb’s specific illustration of Paul’s question demonstrates clearly the fallacy of the anticipated objection of the Jews. McGarvey’s argument deals more effectively with Paul’s actual meaning in the context. He believes Paul illustrates the logical error of his questioners by making their view of his teaching analogous to their own case. He says:

You arraign me before the bar of Jewish opinion, even as you yourselves are arraigned before the bar of God; yet you would not permit me to use before you the very same argument which you are seeking to use before God. You Jews regard me as a sinner, and charge me with being untrue to the Jewish religion, and with being a false representative of it, in that I declare it to be fulfilled in the gospel. Now, my lie (as you consider it), in this respect, redounds to the glory of God by being a contrast to his truthfulness. But would you Jews acquit me of heresy if I should make use of this your argument? (318-319).

Verse 8

And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm we say,) Let us do evil, that good my come? whose damnation is just.

And not rather…Let us do evil that good may come: Paul says if their argument has any validity, it would render the conclusion that one should deliberately do evil so that good might come or, in other words, that God’s glory might be demonstrated. Any argument with such a conclusion is patently false, and Paul as much as says, "You and I both know it." Actually Paul’s question here is rhetorical, and the obvious answer is an emphatic "No." In the Jews’ condemnation of Paul, they condemn themselves in the claim that God cannot punish sin because it promotes His glory. Shrewdly, Paul has worked the discussion full circle to his beginning point in Romans 2:1: "Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things."

(as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm we say): Paul makes it clear that he has never made such an argument. The reports circulating that he is teaching the principle of doing evil that good may come are slanderous. To speak slanderously of someone is to blaspheme him. In relation to humans, blasfhmou/meqa means "slander, revile, defame someone" (BDAG 178). Paul wants it known that his argument is based upon the folly of the Jews’ own sophistry. Paul does not subscribe to the false notion that the end justifies the means. The purpose of his argument is to make his opposers realize that by their own argumentation they admit they are wrong.

whose damnation is just: Finally, Paul sweeps aside their fallacy by saying that anyone who makes such an argument deserves the condemnation with which God views such blatant false teaching. Both Paul and his opponents agree in denouncing such a principle; thus, the Jews are forced to admit their own condemnation. God’s judgment against these who would so argue is just. Paul has not finished with this point as it will surface again in Romans 5:20 and receives the same brusque treatment in Romans 6:1-4.

Verse 9

What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.

What then? are we better than they: This question arises naturally. Where do we stand now? Paul has argued at considerable length and detail from Romans 1:18 to this point. From Romans 2:1 the argument has been specific to the Jews. After having stated his premise in Romans 2:1-10, Paul has anticipated and answered five objections of the Jew (2:11-16, 17-24, 25-29; 3:1-4, 5-8). As he approaches his final argument, he asks the Jew these questions: What is the status of all these arguments? Are the Jews better than the Gentiles or not?

No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin: Paul does not mince words here. He simply says, "No." While it is true the Jews have had many advantages over the Gentiles with respect both to the knowledge of God’s will as well as to the protection of God’s covenant (the chief of which has been the commitment to them of

His divine oracles), the plain truth is the Jew is as guilty of sin as the Gentile. The Jew, despite his advantages, is no better off. The wrath of God rests upon both.

In Romans 1:18-32, Paul proves conclusively that the Gentiles are guilty of sin. They have violated the moral code written on their hearts and are, consequently, wholly without excuse. In Romans 2:1 to Romans 3:8, Paul reveals the sinfulness of the Jews, also. The Jews appeal to the law, but the law will not shield them. They appeal to circumcision, but there is no refuge for them there either. These matters Paul has proved, but he prepares now to blast them with one final overwhelming barrage from their own scriptures. He offers quotations from six Old Testament passages that reinforce his accusations of universal sinfulness.

Verses 10-18

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.

The overwhelming power of Paul’s argument is better perceived when these verses are considered in aggregate. Cranfield notes: "The catena has been constructed with considerable care and artistry, so as to form a real unity out of a multiplicity of excerpts" (66).

The series is arranged in three distinct parts. The first (verses 10-12) is founded on Psalms 14:1-3 with a possible trace reminiscence of Ecclesiastes 7:20. This first part has clearly been chosen for the weight it lends to the central point of Paul’s argument—namely, that all men without exception are sinners. The second section (verses 13 and 14) is taken from three passages (Psalms 5:9; Psalms 140:3; Psalms 10:7). The focus is on the sinful characteristics of the speech of all men. In the third stanza (verses 15-18), attention is directed to the sinful deeds of all men; the content is borrowed from two passages (Isaiah 59:7-8; Psalms 36:1).

The point in verses 10-12 is not so much that every single person who has ever lived has been totally consumed by wickedness but rather that the scriptures themselves testify of what Paul has been arguing. No man has ever lived in absolute righteousness. All men, Jew and Gentile, have sinned against the law under which they live. Furthermore, in proportion to the whole, few are those who have even tried to honor God; and no nation ever has completely. In verses 13 and 14, Paul evokes a horrible image when he describes the evil that pours from the mouths of men as the foul stench of a decaying body in an open grave. Jesus’ statement in Matthew 15:16-20 teaches the same point, though less graphically. Paul says the words of these evil persons strike with the poison of a snake, indicating "the extreme noxiousness of the slander by comparing it to the deadly poison of asps" (Lipscomb 70).

Finally, verses 15-18 refer to the endless trail of destruction and misery the deeds of sinful men leave behind. Sinners do not know how to be at peace with God, their neighbor, or themselves. The last line reveals the root of both their evil deeds and their evil words; indeed, it is the essence of their sinfulness. They do not fear God. Cranfield suggests, "to say there is no fear of God before his eyes is a figurative way of saying that the fear of God has no part in directing his life…God is left out of his reckoning" (67).

Beet notes in conclusion:

The real force of the above quotations lies not so much in the words quoted as in the entire context, and in the fact that such quotations might be indefinitely multiplied. They are a fair sample of the entire O.T., and prove its complete agreement with the teaching of Rom. ii (104).

The matter is conclusive. Without the sacrifice of Jesus and the gospel of salvation, all men, Jew and Gentile, are lost.

Verse 19

Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: The natural reaction of the Jew to the recitation of these passages and others like them is to reject their implications in an offhanded manner. He insists that such passages refer to Gentiles and not to God’s chosen people. In this verse Paul anticipates and forestalls such an objection. He says it is an evident fact that what the law says is directed to those who are under the law. In other words, these passages he has cited refer to Jews and not to Gentiles. It is true that many things in the Old Testament are spoken of and to the Gentiles; however, the direct object of the Old Testament scriptures was instruction, exhortation, reproof, and correction of the Jews. Therefore, unless a passage is specifically addressed to the Gentiles, it is to be universally assumed that the reference is to the children of Israel (Macknight Vol. I 236). Consequently, the point cannot be escaped. The Jews, like the Gentiles, are convicted of sin and that by their own law.

It is worthy of note that Paul clearly refers to passages taken from Psalms and Isaiah as the law. The notion held by some modern interpreters that "the law" refers only to the Pentateuch thus proves patently false. The fact is "the law" here refers to the entirety of the Old Testament scriptures. There are New Testament passages where the Old Testament is broken into its distinguishing parts. For example, Luke 24:44 speaks of what was "written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms." In such cases, "the law" is defined more narrowly to refer to the five books of Moses. In the general sense, however, "the law," as here, refers to the whole body of revelation to the Jews.

that every mouth may be stopped: Paul presents this overwhelming barrage of evidence from the law itself in order to prove beyond doubt, question, or quibble that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. As far as guilt of sin is concerned, they both stand equally condemned before God. Paul says it is time for the Jews to hush and accept what is evident. Macknight says, "a stopped mouth denotes the confusion of a guilty person, who being accused, hath no answer to make for himself" (Vol. I 236). Supporting him, Cranfield suggests, "the stopped mouth evokes the image of the defendant in court, who, when given the opportunity to speak in his own defense, remains silent, overwhelmed by the weight of the evidence against him" (67). The intent here is that the Jew stands silent before God and recognizes the justice of his condemnation. Despite all his advantages, the Jew simply does not have absolute righteousness. He must rather confess his sins.

and all the world may become guilty before God: If the Jews, the chosen people of God, whom God has protected and for whom he has provided, must stand silent before God in condemnation for their sins, then all men in the world must also recognize their guiltiness before God. If the people to whom God revealed Himself both by miracle and by revelation are not above sin, then no one is above sin. If the people of God who have been led by Moses and the prophets have had their mouths stopped by the law, then all other men are equally silenced by their sins before God. If the Jew, who might have reason to consider himself as an exception, is in fact without exception, then without doubt the entire race of humanity stands mute, condemned before God.

Verse 20

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: Much ado has been made because in the original the word "law" (no/mos) is not preceded by the definite article. The point is immaterial. Paul says no man can ever be justified by the works of meritorious law, whether the law under consideration is the law of Moses or the law of nature written on the hearts of all men. This is the argument advanced in Galatians 3:21, where Paul says: "Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law." In other words, if justification or salvation could ever have been granted upon the basis of meritorious law, it would have come by the law of Moses. The law of Moses is beyond question the greatest system of meritorious law ever given to men. If it is powerless to justify the sinner, then all systems of meritorious law are equally powerless. The inescapable thrust of Paul’s argument from Romans 1:18 to Romans 3:19 has been that all men are sinners, whether Jew or Gentile. The only justification offered by any law, revealed or natural, comes by perfect sinless obedience. No man can claim such justification. Therefore, since all men are guilty sinners, no one can claim justification by the deeds of the law—neither Moses’ law nor any other. One should keep in mind that meritorious law is the kind of law under consideration. In other words, Paul details the inability of all men to claim justification based upon works of merit—works whereby the worker earns his reward. The "law of faith" later described in this chapter is a law of a different kind. It operates upon an entirely different premise—faithful obedience and repentance.

The word "justified" (dikaiwqh/setai) should be noted carefully, for it now takes center stage in Paul’s unfolding of the scheme of redemption. The root word is dikaio/w, and it means "to be acquitted or to be pronounced and treated as righteous" (BDAG 249). In this verse Paul echoes the thought of Psalms 143:2. In the New Testament, two kinds of justification or righteousness are under consideration. There is absolute righteousness, which exhibits itself in absolute sinless perfection. This is the righteousness God Himself possesses (3:26). The only man ever to attain such a degree of perfection was Jesus, who did not sin (1 Peter 1:19; Hebrews 4:15). The New Testament plan details another kind of justification to which all men can attain. It is a declared righteousness. God, upon certain conditions, promises to declare men to be justified and, therefore, treat them as though they were absolutely righteous. Paul is nearly set to launch out upon this concept, but here he establishes the incontrovertible fact that no one is righteous or justified by perfect obedience to either the law of Moses or the moral law of the heart.

for by the law is the knowledge of sin: The question would immediately flash to the Jew’s mind, What good then is the law, if it does not help any man to attain righteousness? Paul replies that the law unmasks sin and forces men to recognize it for what it really is. The law reveals to every man that he is a sinner. In Romans 7:7, Paul says, "I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, thou shalt not covet." Without Jesus Christ and His sacrifice and resurrection, without the gospel and the system of declared righteousness, the law reveals that sin holds limitless sway in the lives of men. Nygren concludes this section with these words:

It is manifest enough that the Gentiles, who have not the law, are sinners and under the wrath of God. When, therefore, the law stops the mouth of those who have the law, compelling them to confess that they are the veriest sinners, the result is clear. "The whole world is held accountable to God," and all without exception stand under his wrath (143).

The Manifestation of the Righteousness of God

With the words of Romans 3:21, Paul moves on to the next logical step as he unfolds the scheme of redemption proclaimed in Romans 1:16-17. There he states the principle of declared righteousness—that God by His own decree accepts as righteous all men who believe and obey the gospel. In order to persuade men to accept God’s plan, Paul sets out to demonstrate their need for it. In Romans 1:18-32, conclusive evidence is levied against the Gentiles proving that all have sinned. In Romans 2:1 to Romans 3:20, equally crushing proof is registered against the Jews—all have sinned. No one is absolved. All men, Jew and Gentile, are guilty of sin.

In the next six verses (21-26), Paul presents the heart of the doctrine of salvation by faith. This section stands out distinctively in its style and content. Beginning with its emphatic "But now," it reads like a solemn proclamation. These verses reveal that the single decisive, once-for-all, redemptive act of God has taken place. That one act reveals both God’s righteousness and also God’s wrath against sin. These verses reveal the heart of the gospel Paul preaches—a series of completed actions in the historical past. The central focus of the gospel, according to Paul, is not solely the crucifixion of Christ, for if Christ had not been raised from the dead and exalted into heaven, the cross would not have mattered. The center of the Christian system of redemption is discovered in the cross, together with the triumphant resurrection and glorious ascension and majestic exaltation of Christ when He sat down at the throne of the majesty on high. These events are actual historical occurrences. They comprise the greatest event in history. As the decisive act of God, they are absolutely effective and totally irreversible.

God’s plan to make men righteous is unveiled by these events. This is the thread Paul now takes up in his exposition of the scheme of redemption. At this point the transition from one age (the Old Testament time) to another becomes visible. Until now the argument has been designed to reveal the wrath of God against all sinners and to show that one who sins cannot attain righteousness by perfect obedience to law—neither the law of Moses nor the law of the heart. Therefore, since all stand hopelessly guilty before God by virtue of their sin, how shall men be made righteous?

Verse 21

But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

But now: In dramatic contrast to what has preceded in proving all men to be guilty of sin, these two words "But now" indicate something new has appeared on the horizon of human history. There is some controversy over whether the strongly emphatic "now" is to be understood in its temporal sense (that is, now at this point in time) or in its logical sense (that is, the situation being such…). Both usages are common in the scriptures. It is evident in the temporal sense in verse 26 and in Acts 17:30. The logical sense also is frequent (Romans 7:17; 1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Corinthians 14:6). Cranfield holds to the former (69) and Godet to the latter (146). It seems more likely that Nygren is correct when he asserts that here it possesses both characteristics (144). The idea is: the situation being what it is (verse 20), the righteousness of God has been made visible. In addition, Paul means God’s system of righteousness is being effected now—that is, in the Christian Age.

the righteousness of God: Paul does not refer here to God’s personal characteristic of absolute righteousness as he does in verse 25. He refers here rather to the system whereby God reckons men who are sinners, and therefore not absolutely righteous, to be righteous. It is righteousness received from God as a gracious gift granted upon the satisfaction of certain conditions decreed by God. Paul’s usage here is the same as that in Romans 1:17.

without the law: The system of righteousness revealed in the gospel is independent of or apart from law. There is no definite article before law in the Greek. Consequently, Paul indicates that the righteousness God grants to sinful men by declaration does not come as a result of perfect obedience to any law, neither Moses’ law nor moral law. By these, men stand condemned.

Paul does not mean, as the next phrases indicate, that the law of Moses had no bearing on or reference to the gospel system of God’s righteousness—quite the contrary. The law did attest to the coming of the New Covenant. He means the righteousness of God cannot be earned on the ground of having done what the law requires; neither is it received through the law nor on the basis of the law. This phrase "apart from the law" is equivalent to "without the deeds of the law" in verse 28 and "without works" in Romans 4:6. Cranfield says, "the status of righteousness before God of which verses 21 and 22 speak has been manifested as something which has not been earned by men’s fulfillment of the law" (70).

is manifested: Properly, this wording should be "has been manifested." Cranfield notes:

…in 1.17 a present tense (is being revealed) was used, because the reference was to the revelation taking place in the on-going preaching of the gospel. Here the use of a past tense indicates that the thought is of the revelation…in the gospel events themselves. A perfect tense has been preferred to an aorist because what was made manifest in those events has ever since remained manifest (70).

1 Timothy 3:16 and Romans 16:25-26 make similar declarations. In the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation of Jesus, God has opened for all a brighter scene. The reference is to a completed fact of history that has ever since been visible to all.

being witnessed by the law and the prophets: Having announced this new system of justification, Paul hastens to remind his readers that this plan was heralded long before in the types, promises, and prophecies of the Old Testament (Genesis 15:6; Habakkuk 2:4; et al.). Both the law and the prophets foretold of the coming of the Messiah and His New Covenant (Acts 3:24). This same thought occurs repeatedly in Romans (1:2; 4:1-25; 9:25-33; 10:6-13, 16-21; 11:1-10, 26-29; 15:8-12). Cranfield notes:

That this attestation of the gospel by the Old Testament is of very great importance for Paul is indicated by the solemn way in which he insists on it here in what is one of the great hinge-sentences on which the argument of the epistle turns (69).

Verse 22

Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference.

Even the righteousness of God which is by faith: The manifested righteousness of God is defined exactly in this verse. The system whereby God declares men righteous is conditioned upon faith in Jesus Christ. By "faith" Paul means the same faith he describes in Romans 1:5; Romans 1:16-17. He means mental acknowledgment of God, Jesus, and the gospel that leads one to surrender personally his will to God’s and leads him to obey the gospel.

faith of Jesus Christ: Paul does not refer here to the faith that Jesus Christ Himself had, notwithstanding Burton Coffman’s impassioned plea to the contrary (118-121). Coffman’s argument is wrong primarily because the text will not support his view. Cranfield and the majority of English Bible translators say that the Greek genitive "in Jesus Christ" is objective (70). They are correct. The suggestion that this phrase is subjective—referring to Christ’s own personal faith—is altogether unconvincing.

Second, Coffman’s doctrine is wrong because the context will not support it. The entire thrust of Romans 3:21 to Romans 5:1 is that God reckons sinners righteous based upon their faith in Jesus Christ—the kind of faith Abraham had. Third, Coffman’s view is wrong because it appeals to the Calvinistic doctrine of imputed righteousness which is, in turn, dependent on the previous cardinal points of Calvinism: total hereditary depravity, unconditional election, and limited atonement.

unto all and upon all them that believe: There is some controversy among texts about whether this passage has two prepositions governing "them that believe." Bruce Metzger, speaking for the United Bible Society’s third edition, states that combining the two variant readings, as the Textus Receptus has done, produces "an essentially redundant and tautological expression" (A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. 2nd edition 449). To the contrary, Nygren notes, in defense of the reading as it appears in the King James Version, that "it is quite characteristic of Paul to repeat a noun with different prepositions for the sake of special emphasis" (150). He then cites Romans 1:17 as an example.

The point of the passage, whatever may be concluded about the proper reading, remains the same. The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ is available to all men (1 Timothy 2:6; Acts 10:34-35) without regard to race, sex, creed, or color; however, it is actually reckoned only to those who actively place their trust in Jesus.

for there is no difference: There is no difference between Jew and Gentile in respect to God’s righteousness. All alike may be declared righteous by God, based upon their faith in Jesus. As John says in the prologue to his gospel record: "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name" (John 1:12).

Verse 23

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

For all have sinned: This is the other side of the coin revealed in the previous verse. In verse 22, the righteousness God grants is available to all men upon the condition of faithful submission to the gospel. Here, there is also no difference in the need all men have for the righteousness from God, for all have sinned—both Jew and Gentile. Upon the ground of merit, all men are alike—they do not have any claim to righteousness. They have sinned—all of them, without exception.

This verse sums up the argument begun in Romans 1:18 and concluded in Romans 3:20. As Paul’s argument has risen to a crescendo, he has emphasized this point again and again (3:9-12, 20, 22). All men have sinned.

and come short of the glory of God: By the expression "glory of God," Paul refers to God’s heavenly glory, likely entailing the relationship Adam and Eve had with God prior to the fall. The phrase also refers to what Peter styles "the restitution of all things" (Acts 3:21). All believers hope to attain the glory of God, which is a home in heaven (compare Romans 5:2; Romans 8:18; Romans 8:21; Romans 8:30); tragically, as a result of sin, all men have fallen short of the glory of God.

Verse 24

Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

Being justified freely by his grace: The best understanding is "for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," as a parenthetical expression. Leaving out the parentheses, the reading is:

But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifest, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe…Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (verses 21-24).

Whiteside adopts this view (78), and Cranfield argues similarly (70). The point revealed is while righteousness cannot be obtained by any man, Jew or Gentile, on the basis of merit because all have sinned, it can be obtained upon the ground of one’s obedient faith in Jesus. The rationale of this great truth Paul now begins to unfold.

To be "justified" (dikaiou/menoi) means "to be acquitted or to be pronounced and treated as righteous" (BDAG 249). God grants this acquittal of man, the sinner, freely according to His grace. Grace (xa/riti) refers to God’s "free favor specially manifested towards man in the gospel scheme" (AGLP 436). The grace of God is a much misunderstood concept. In their opposition to the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification by works, the Protestant reformers retreated too far. They interpreted God’s free unmerited favor to mean that God attached no conditions to the salvation He offered. Nothing could be further from the truth. The primary extension of God’s grace centers in the sending of His Son to this world to give Himself as a sacrifice upon the cross (John 3:16); thus, God could maintain His justice and at the same time redeem His creation by the plan offered in the gospel. Grace does not mean that God ignores sin. To the contrary, grace reveals how sin can be punished and the sinner redeemed—all according to justice and mercy. God devised this plan before the creation of the world (1 Peter 1:20), and in the person of Jesus and the gospel of Christ, and He offers it freely to all men.

through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: The word "redemption" (ap) olutrw/sew$ from ap) olu/trwsi$) means "to dismiss for a ransom paid…redemption, a deliverance procured by the payment of a ransom…sometimes…deliverance, simply, the idea of ransom being excluded, Luke 21:28; Hebrews 11:35" (AGLP 47). Considerable controversy has arisen as to whether the word in this passage carries with it the notion of a ransom paid. Some writers believe the idea is merely of deliverance. Bromiley defends the idea of simple deliverance:

Apolytrosis…consists of forgiveness as the act of God which is now enjoyed by promise but which will bring full renewal at the last day. The historical reality of redemption is that of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ…Now hidden with him in God our redemption will come to consummation when we attain to union (1 Thessalonians 4:17) and glorification (1 Corinthians 15:49) with him. He himself is made apolytrosis for us (1 Corinthians 1:30). Hence it may be had only in fellowship with him, i.e. in virtue of his work (Galatians 2:20) and in the sphere of his lordship (Colossians 1:13). It is not won from God, for God himself has made him our redemption. It is a gift of grace (Romans 3:24). In Hebrews the word has the common Greek sense of "release" in 11:35, but the meaning is "remission" in 9:15. It may be noted that in none of the NT passages is the idea of actual "ransom" expressly present. The closest to a direct reference is Romans 3:24… (546-547).

Bromiley’s translation has admirably conveyed the sense of this word. In his last two sentences, however, he essentially dissociates the word redemption from the idea of a ransom paid. He conceives of redemption as simply deliverance. In so doing, he overlooks an important aspect of the word and, thus, the doctrine of salvation.

In contrast to Bromiley, Trench defines the word more correctly in comparing and contrasting the synonyms redemption, reconciliation, and propitiation. First, he draws attention to Chrysostom who, in commenting on Romans 3:24, notes that by adding the preposition a)po to lu/trwsi$ the apostle expressed "the completeness of our redemption in Christ Jesus, a redemption which no later bondage should follow" (271). Continuing he says "lu/trwsi$ is not recall from captivity merely…but recall of captives from captivity through the payment of a ransom for them" (271). He adds that "the idea of deliverance through…a price paid…is yet central" (272) to the family of words related to ap)olu/trwsi$. Confirmation of these thoughts is overwhelmingly supplied by reference to numerous passages in the New Testament (1 Peter 1:18-19; Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; 1 Timothy 2:6; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 9:12; 1 Corinthians 6:20; Galatians 3:13; Galatians 4:5; Romans 6:17-20; John 8:34; 2 Peter 2:19; John 8:33; John 8:36; Romans 8:21; Galatians 5:1).

God accomplishes this redeeming action in and through the person and work of Christ Jesus. No other person has the power to rescue sinners "from the power of darkness" (Colossians 1:13).

McGarvey summarizes the teaching of verses 21-24 in four points:

1. This justification is conditional, being obtained through faith in Jesus Christ.

2. It is bestowed upon Jew and Gentile without distinction, for both classes, having failed to attain that perfection of righteousness and character which is the glory of God, are equally condemned without it.

3. It is a free gift, bestowed by God’s grace and favor.

4. It was obtained as a redemption by the giving of Jesus Christ as a ransom (1 Corinthians 6:20) (321).

Verses 25-26

Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

The words in these two verses reveal the heart and soul of the scheme of redemption formulated in the mind of God even before the creation of the world. Godet calls this passage "the marrow of theology" (150).

Whom God hath set forth: The word translated "set forth" (proe/qeto) is from proti/qemi, and it occurs only two other times in the New Testament (1:13; Ephesians 1:9). All three times it appears in the middle voice, which makes it difficult to translate. The reason for the difficulty is that in the middle voice this verb can mean either "to set forth publicly, display publicly, make available publicly…Romans 3:25 or to have something in mind beforehand, plan, propose, intend…Ephesians 1:9Romans 1:13 (BDAG 889). Perschbacher defines it as "to place before; to set forth, propose publicly, Romans 3:25…to purpose determine, design beforehand, Romans 1:13; Ephesians 1:9" (AGLP 357)). Considerable controversy in determining the proper rendering has been evident among scholars for centuries. In favor of the first definition cited, "to display publicly: (BDAG 889), it has been argued that the immediate context contains a number of terms indicating the concept of public display (for example: "is manifested" in verse 21 and Christ Jesus being "a propitiation…by his blood" in verse 25). The cross was something accomplished publicly before the eyes of all men. But the counter-argument points out that in both of the other New Testament usages the verb clearly means "to purpose." Cranfield adds the weight that eight of this word’s twelve cognates in the New Testament also carry the idea of purposing (73). Cranfield leans heavily to the idea of purpose. He concludes:

While it is true that the idea of publicity is present in the context, a reference to God’s eternal purpose strikes us as even more apposite just here than a reference to the public character of God’s deed in the passion of Christ. We take it that by the first words of v. 25 Paul means to emphasize that it is God who is the origin of redemption which was effected in Christ and also that this redemption has its origin not in some sudden new idea or impulse on God’s part but in His eternal purpose of grace (73).

As usual, Cranfield’s argument is weighty and powerful. There can be no question either that God originated the scheme of redemption, or that it was worked out according to His eternal purpose rather than by impulse. Robertson says, however, that both ideas are conveyed by this word. He says, "God set before himself (purposed) and did it publicly before (pro) the whole world" (347). This explanation seems to satisfy both the definition of the word and the demands of the context. It also retains the validity of the worthy comments of Cranfield. The fact is that Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross was both a public display of God’s righteous punishment of sin vicariously upon Jesus and the solemn working out of His eternal purpose through such a public display.

to be a propitiation: The word "propitiation" (i(lasth/rion) means that which serves as an instrument for regaining the goodwill of a deity; concretely a "means of propitiation or expiation, gift to procure expiation" (BDAG 474). Determining Paul’s intention, however, is not always as simple as defining the words he used. In this case it has been noted by numerous scholars and from earliest times that since this word refers in twenty-one of its twenty-seven occurrences in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament and also in its only other New Testament usage (Hebrews 9:5) to the mercy seat, it is conclusive that Paul used it that way here. According to this argument, Paul portrays Christ here as the antitype of the Old Testament mercy seat. Macknight, Nygren, and Bengel all adopt this explanation as correct.

Numerous other equally prestigious interpreters (Cranfield, Godet, Beet, Shepherd, Whiteside, and McGarvey) opt for a more general meaning, such as that given by Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker above. Bromiley notes that:

Whether Paul has the [mercy seat] in view in Romans 3:25 is not wholly certain but he undoubtedly means "that which expiates sin" and thus reveals God’s righteousness and brings redemption. God Himself is the subject of the action, so that divine expiation rather than human propitiation is the point (365).

Vine adds:

The phrase "by his blood" is to be taken in immediate connection with propitiation. Christ, through his expiatory death, is the Personal means by whom God shows the mercy of his justifying grace to the sinner who believes (Vol. III 224).

Paul’s meaning is that God purposed in His mind, even before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:19-21), to set forth Jesus Christ publicly upon the cross. The purpose was that He, by the sacrifice of Himself, might provide the atoning settlement whereby God’s righteous judgment against sin could be satisfied and His mercy righteously extended to sinners who believe in Jesus. On the cross, Jesus became the sin offering for all mankind (2 Corinthians 5:21); and through Him, God punished the sins of all men.

through faith: Belief in Jesus Christ is the condition upon which God promises to declare men righteous. The kind of faith Paul alludes to here is delineated at length in chapter four. He means to indicate that when men have the kind of faith Abraham had, they will be justified. In Romans 1:5; Romans 16:25-26, Paul styles it as faith that produces obedience.

The faith by which men are saved is much more than mental assent. It is assent that calls forth personal surrender on the part of the believer to God’s will and is evidenced by his obedient conduct to God’s commands.

in his blood: If these words are taken in connection with faith (that is, "faith in his blood") as it is rendered in the King James Version, then it means that God grants pardon to all who have faith in Christ’s blood that was shed for the remission of sins. As Macknight says:

[All who] trust to the merit of [Christ’s] sacrifice for the pardon of their sin; who approach God with reverence and confidence through the mediation of Christ; and who discerning with admiration the virtues which Christ exercised in His sufferings and endeavor to imitate them. This I think is "faith in his blood" (Vol. I 241).

If, on the other hand, one connects this phrase with the word "propitiation" as most modern English translations do, then the meaning revealed is that God purposed by the shedding of Christ’s blood to present Him as a propitiatory sacrifice that man may appropriate to himself by faith (Cranfield 72).

In either case, the point is technical and the meaning essentially the same. Numerous passages concerning the blood of Christ should be compared with this one (5:9; Acts 20:28; Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 2:13; Colossians 1:20; Hebrews 9:11 ff; Hebrews 10:19; Hebrews 10:29; Hebrews 13:12; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 Peter 1:19; 1 John 1:7; 1 John 5:6; Revelation 1:5; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:14; Revelation 12:11; Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; 1 Corinthians 10:16).

to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God: The righteousness Paul has in mind here is not the system whereby God declares unrighteous sinners to be righteous as it is in verses 21 and 22. Instead, the reference in this verse declares God’s own personal character of absolute righteousness. This understanding is required by the clause in verse 26 "that he might be just and the justifier." Paul points to the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus as essential to the declaration of God’s own personal righteousness in forgiving men of their sins. God’s righteousness is vindicated by Christ’s vicarious sacrifice both with respect to the justification of men living before the cross and men living after the cross.

The words "sins that are past" refer to the sins of all men who lived prior to the cross. These are placed in contrast to God’s forgiveness of sins in the present time (verse 26). Similar words are used in Hebrews 9:15:

And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

Another passage to be considered in conjunction with this one is Acts 17:30: "And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent" (one might also note Acts 14:16).

The word rendered "remission" in the King James Version occurs only once in the New Testament. The Greek word is pa/resin. The word ordinarily and properly rendered "remission" is a&fesin (see Acts 2:38). Pavresin means "deliberate disregard, passing over or letting go unpunished" (BDAG 776).

The difference between a&fesin (remission) and pa/resin (passed over or pretermissed) is subtle but significant. According to Bromiley, both words mean essentially to forgive sins (88). Trench explains their difference to be that pa/resin primarily looks forward "leaving it open in the future either entirely to remit or else adequately to punish [sins], as may seem good to Him who has the power and right to do one or the other" (110). Whereas, a&fesin primarily looks backward and refers to a more settled and fixed conclusion to the matter (112). Trench continues to differentiate these words by the following:

He then, that is partaker of the a/resi$, has his sins forgiven, so that unless he bring them back on himself by new and further disobedience (Matt. xviii.32, 34; 2 Pet. i.9; ii.20), they shall not be imputed to him, or mentioned against him any more. The pa/resi$, differing from this, is a benefit, but a very subordinate one; it is the present passing by of sin, the suspension of its punishment, the not shutting up of all ways of mercy against the sinner, the giving to him of space and helps for repentance…Rom. ii.3-6. If such repentance follow (sic.), then the pa/resi$ will lose itself in a/fesi$, but if not, then the punishment suspended, but not averted, in due time will arrive (Luke xiii.9) (113).

During Old Testament times, God passed over and left unpunished the sins of faithful Jews. He left their sins unpunished provided that: (1) they obeyed the law of Moses in general; (2) they offered the required sacrifices for their occasional sins;(3) they sought always to please God and do His will; and (4) they served God in faith looking for "a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Hebrews 11:10). Hebrews 11:13 defines those Israelites whose sins God pretermissed: "These all died in faith, not having received the promises but having seen them afar off; and were persuaded of them and embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth."

God justifiably passed over (or forgave in this limited sense) their sins in prospect of the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, which He had planned before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:19-21). This passing over of sins exhibited God’s forbearance to all. In other words, God’s righteous retributive anger against sin was held back temporarily until Christ could offer Himself as an atoning sacrifice, suffering in His own body the wrath of God against sin. At that point those faithful Jews and Gentiles of previous dispensations whose sins had been pretermissed actually received complete remission by virtue of the shed blood of Christ Jesus.

God’s patient forbearance or restraint enabled Him to endure the sins of men until the Lamb of God could give His life for the sins of the world (John 1:29; John 1:36). Bromiley says, "the noun anoche [forbearance—AWB] in Romans 2:4; Romans 3:25 is God’s ’restraint’ in judgment (linked with his kindness and patience in 2:4 and forgiveness in 3:25)" (58). When Jesus died, those people living prior to the cross, who were of the character of those described in Hebrews 11:13, were finally forgiven. Their pa/resi$ (pretermission) was swallowed up in complete a&fesis (remission). The blood of Jesus Christ flows in both directions from the cross of Calvary. Note that verse 26 reveals its flow to men living on this side of the cross.

To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: The words "at this time" are placed in contrast to "remission of sins that are past" in verse 25. The word nu=n means "now, at the present time" (AGLP 286). kairw=| means "simply, a point of time" (AGLP 216). In other words, these words simply mean "at the present time" (NIV) or "at this point in time."

The object of this phrase is to establish that God presents Jesus as our atoning sacrifice in order to demonstrate God’s righteousness toward both "sins that are past" and sins that have been committed since the cross of Christ—that is, "sins that are present." As in verse 25, God’s righteousness refers to His own absolute, personal righteousness. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was the "proof" (e&ndeicin) (BDAG 332) of God’s righteousness.

that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus: The expiatory sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross made evident the justice or righteousness of God. In the scriptures God is everywhere presented as absolutely just or righteous (Psalms 48:10; Psalms 145:17; et.al.). By the same token, He is presented as absolutely merciful and loving (Psalms 103:8; Psalms 108:4; 1 John 4:16). Oftentimes these facets of God’s character are presented in tandem in the scriptures (Psalms 89:14; Psalms 98:2-3; Psalms 48:9-10). The question that surfaces in finite human minds is, How can God reconcile in His own mind these seemingly mutually exclusive characteristics? How can He be both just (and punish sin) and the justifier of the sinner? God is not like man. It is impossible for God to lay down a law, affix a penalty to its violation, threaten infliction upon violators, and proceed no further when the law is actually broken (Hebrews 6:18). When man sinned, God’s justice had to be invoked. Sin had to be punished with death (Genesis 2:17). On the other hand, God, who is love, desired to grant mercy to His creation and redeem them from sin. To the limited minds of men, this problem was not solvable; but in God’s infinite mind there was no problem. Even before the dawn of time, God resolved this issue (1 Peter 1:19-21; John 1:29; John 1:36).

God’s justice against sin was meted out righteously on Jesus Christ, the divinely appointed vicarious sacrifice. He bare in His own body our sins upon the tree (1 Peter 2:24); that is, He suffered the punishment of God’s righteous anger against sin. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul says, "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."

Paul does not mean to say that Jesus became a sinner or that He became sinful, for neither of these concepts is according to God’s word (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22). He means to say that Jesus became our divinely appointed sin offering (Hebrews 9:11-14; Hebrews 9:26; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Not only so, but also at the same time He revealed in His sacrifice the grace and mercy of God, who is love, by enabling God to declare not only His justice but also His mercy; for God is the justifier of those who believe in Jesus. The salvation offered to men by virtue of Christ’s expiatory sacrifice is available to all men (1 Timothy 2:5-6); however, it is actually granted only to those who seek it upon the basis of faith in Christ—submissive, compliant, obedient faith in Jesus. No salvation is offered to any man outside of Christ. No one who fails to believe in Jesus can be saved.

The Exclusion of Boasting (Verses 27-31)

From Romans 1:18 through the end of that chapter, Paul effectively destroys the vain-glorying of the Gentiles who are trusting in their intellectual achievements for security. He reveals that everyone had violated the moral code written on man’s heart and consequently had no hope. They were all sinners—guilty before God. In Romans 2:1 to Romans 3:20, Paul turns the same accusing finger against the Jews. They, too, were all guilty of sin and hopelessly lost. The boastful and self-righteous spirit of the Jew is demolished. In verse 20 of chapter three, Paul reaches his first great conclusion: "Therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified." Then, in verses 21-26, Paul begins to turn the tide of the sordid story of man’s fall and his inability to live in perfect obedience to the law. He begins to unfold the plan of God to redeem man from the morass of sin.

In this short section, Paul argues that when men are declared righteous according to God’s plan, all glorying or boasting is ruled out. No man can establish a claim on God on the ground of His own work because "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (3:23). The law of Moses and the moral law could justify men meritoriously only through perfect obedience to their precepts, and no man can establish such a claim. Because of all that precedes these verses, one must conclude that all glorying by men as a result of their salvation is excluded. This exclusion is made evident by the inexorable proof that justification comes only by the law of faith—the gospel, according to which men are justified graciously only on condition of their faith in Christ. Thus, it is in verse 28 that Paul reaches his second great conclusion: "Therefore we concluded that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." In the concluding verses of chapter three, he reveals that God is the God of all men and that these principles, rather than voiding the law, were God’s intentions for the law of Moses from the beginning. This last point he further elucidates in chapter four by revealing the case of Abraham as confirmation that glorying has been excluded (4:1-25).

Verse 27

Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.

Where is boasting then: Paul has overthrown completely the Jews’ false confidence of a favored position before God (2:1-11) by virtue of their knowledge of the law (2:12-16), which they did not obey (2:17-24). He has destroyed their false hope on the basis of circumcision (2:25-29) and their superior position (3:1-8). Now Paul triumphantly asks, "Where is boasting now?" Bengel notes (Godet and McGarvey concur): "where is…a particle expressive of victory in the argument (1 Cor. i.20; xv.55; compare 2 Pet. iii.4) (Vol. 2 50). McGarvey observes, "if a man is saved not as a righteous person but as a pardoned criminal, where is there room for boastfulness?" (322).

Paul’s point is there can be no question of any man’s putting God in his debt by virtue of his perfect adherence to a law system (neither Moses’ nor the moral code written on a man’s heart). Thus, his rhetorical question is occasioned. The answer is more than obvious; but to emphasize the point even more emphatically, Paul answers himself.

It is excluded: The boasting of all men and particularly the Jews (2:17, 23) is shut out. That his reference is specifically to the Jews and only by legitimate extension to all men is revealed in verses 29 and 30. Cranfield says, "the tense of ’has been excluded’ (it is an aorist in Greek) indicates that the exclusion referred to has been accomplished once for all" (78). The pretense of the Jews to justify themselves by their own works of merit, instead of deriving their righteousness from the work of Christ on the basis of their faith, has been laid bare—totally devoid of any validity. There remains nothing for man to do except to lay hold of salvation by faith.

It is worthy of contemplation that Christians, too, can lose their salvation if they should strive to turn the religion of the New Testament into a meritorious system like Moses’ law. In Christianity there is no room for boasting at all by anyone. Our faith in Christ is the ground of our salvation. Does such a principle weaken the necessity to obey the New Testament commands of Jesus? Quite the contrary. It calls for the complete submission of our entire being—body, soul, and spirit. Jesus says, "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15; compare John 14:21, 23, 24: 15:3, 7, 10, 14). However, our commitment must never be merely perfunctory, outward compliance but rather must always issue from the heart (2:28, 29).

By what law? of works: Is boasting excluded by a meritorious law of works such as Moses’ law that required absolute, perfect obedience for justification? Absolutely not! As amazing as it may seem in view of the failure of every single Jew (except the Lord Jesus) to attain such meritorious righteousness, the law actually promoted boasting. Romans 4:2; Romans 4:4 says, "For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God…Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt." If a man did keep the law perfectly, he would have the right to boast. Thus, boasting is not excluded by either Moses’ law or the moral law. By what law is it excluded?

Nay: but by the law of faith: Several opinions have been voiced by scholars on just what the "law of faith" is. Many learned men espouse the view that the law of faith is the gospel (Beet, McGarvey, Whiteside, Lipscomb, and Shepherd, Bengel). Some believe the law of faith is a reference to the Old Testament (Nygren, Cranfield). Still others believe the law of faith is the rule by which sinners in every age are justified (Macknight, Godet, Alford). While the second view has little persuasive argumentation behind it, the first view has much to recommend it, not the least of which is the fact that the New Testament system is called "the law of the Spirit of life" (8:2 compare Galatians 6:2; 1 Corinthians 9:21). Alford and Macknight, however, weigh in heavily with compelling arguments. Alford observes:

The contrast is not here between the law and the gospel as two dispensations, but between the law of works and the law of faith, whether found under the law or the gospel, or (if the case admitted) anywhere else. This is evident by the Apostle proving below that Abraham was justified not by works, so as to have whereof to boast, but by faith (868).

Alford’s point concerning Paul’s argument in chapter four weighs heavily on the side of truth; nor does his view contradict James 2:21; James 2:24 : "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered Isaac his son upon the altar?…Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." Contextually, James is discussing the works faith produces rather than works of merit: "Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?" (James 2:22).

Macknight contributes this expanded paraphrase of verse 27:

Since all are justified by the free gift of God, where is boasting? It is excluded. By what Law? Of Works? Do the laws which require perfect obedience exclude it? No. But it is excluded by the law which makes faith the means of our justification (Vol. I 243).

In his notes on the passage he adds:

The law of faith here, as opposed to the law of works, is that gracious covenant, which God made with mankind immediately after the fall…This gracious covenant is fitly termed a law, because it is the law, or rule, by which sinners are to be justified in every age… (Vol. I 243).

This position appears to be the correct one in view of Paul’s argument in chapter four where he asserts that if men are justified, they must have the kind (degree) of faith Abraham had. Also, it is the opposite of Paul’s statement in Romans 9:31-32:

But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone.

If Israel had attained righteousness, it would have to have been by the law of faith. According to faith’s hall of fame in Hebrews 11, there were certain Israelites who did seek God according to the law of faith, even though Israel as a whole failed. Along with the New Testament faithful, they will be justified at the last day. "By what law? of works? Nay; but by the law of faith" (3:27).

Verse 28

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law:

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith: The basis of our justification is our faith in Jesus Christ. God has graciously revealed that when a sinner places his entire faith and trust in Jesus, God will declare him righteous. What is meant by this word faith? It is defined in Hebrews 11:6: "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." The faith that pleases God comprises two facets. First, it compels the believer to accept as true everything made known to him by God and by Christ. In Ephesians 3:2-5, Paul says:

If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.

The believer accepts the entire New Testament as true, for it is the revelation of God’s will to man for this dispensation of time.

Second, it requires the believer to be diligent in doing everything the revelation enjoins upon him (James 2:14-26). Macknight concludes: "So that [the believer’s faith] terminates in the sincere belief of the doctrines of religion and in the constant practice of its duties, as far as they are made known to the believer" (Vol. I 244).

without the deeds of the law: It is important to recognize that the contrast here is not between faith and the obedience of faith. Instead Paul contrasts justification upon the basis of perfect, meritorious obedience to a code of law with justification upon the condition of faith. Paul has already established at the outset that when he speaks of faith he has reference to a faith that is humbly submissive and obedient to God’s will (1:5). Not only so, but lest anyone has misunderstood him, he reminds his readers that the faith by which men are justified is a faith that produces obedience (16:25-26). Whiteside remarks:

Works of law is an entirely different thing from obedience of faith…To make works of law refer to obedience of faith is to enshroud ourselves in a fog of confusion from which we will not be able to emerge with any clear ideas of the gospel plan of salvation (83).

Without works of law ("without the deeds of the law") means no man can be justified by a law system—that is, a system requiring perfect obedience. The reason is that all men have sinned (1:18-3:23). A sinner is one who has transgressed or broken the law (1 John 3:4). Consequently, he can never be justified by law for no amount of works will change the fact that he has sinned. In Galatians 3:21, Paul says, "…for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law." The law of Moses was the greatest system of meritorious law ever given because God was its author; and if life could be given to guilty sinners on the basis of law, it would have been given by Moses’ law. But it was not.

It is noteworthy that it was at this passage that Martin Luther went hopelessly awry of the truth in his opposition to the Roman Catholic doctrine of salvation by works. In this verse he inserted into his German translation the word "alone" in connection with faith. Bengel illustrates Luther’s thinking mathematically:

Two means came to be considered; Faith and Works = 2 Works are excluded, subtract - 1 There remains faith alone = 1

If one be subtracted from two, one remains (Bengel 51).

Luther’s reasoning has given rise to much false doctrine. He failed abysmally to consider what Paul is contrasting. He is not placing faith and the obedience of faith in opposition to one another because the faith that justifies requires the believer to be obedient. The contrast is between justification by meritorious works of law and justification by faith.

Because of the magnitude of Luther’s error and that of most denominations today, the reader should consider the following lengthy but accurate excerpt from Macknight:

In this verse works of law are all those works which law enjoins, performed in the perfect manner required by law. Wherefore, when the Apostle tells us, that "by faith man is justified without works of law," his plain meaning is, that men are justified graciously by faith, and not meritoriously, by perfect obedience to any law whatever…But many, interpreting this passage differently, have argued, that in the affair of justification, men’s faith only is regarded, and no regard whatever is had to their works, as if they attributed men’s justification to some efficacy in faith, which is not in works. This, however, hath no foundation in scripture. For while it teaches that men are "justified by faith without works of law," it at the same time teaches that men are justified freely through God’s grace"; consequently it excludes faith equally with works, from any meritorious efficiency in the matter. And with respect to instrumentality, faith cannot be thought more necessary for preparing us to receive justification as a free gift than works; seeing, in that light, faith is itself the greatest of all good works, being the principle from which every good work proceeds. Hence it is called "the work of faith," 1 Thess. i.3, and "the work which God hath commanded," John vi.29. But it hath been said, that faith alone is necessary to men’s justification, because thereby they lay hold on the righteousness of Christ, and receive it by imputation. To this it is sufficient to answer, that no such operation of faith is taught in scripture. Neither is it said there that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers. What the scripture saith is, that the believer’s faith is imputed or "counted to him for righteousness,"…In short, to connect justification with faith, and to separate it from works, is to put asunder what God declares he hath joined together, and what is joined in the nature of things. For faith without good works is a dead faith, or no faith at all, as…James expressly affirms, chapter ii.20 (Vol. I 244).

Verses 29-30

Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith.

Paul’s question in this verse is occasioned in anticipation of the Jews’ denial of the principle espoused in the previous verse. In verse 28, Paul has revealed that a man—that is, any man, whether Jew or Gentile—may be justified by his submissive, obedient faith in Jesus and not by his perfect, obedience to a system of meritorious law—any such law, whether that of Moses or the moral code written on a man’s heart. Sensing the Jews’ recoil from such a principle, Paul asks, "Is he the God of the Jews only?" No Jew would make such an agreement. They believed to a man that God is the God of all men. He is the Creator and Ruler and Judge of all.

Paul’s point is that God cannot be the God of all men unless the truth of verse 28 is accepted. The God who creates, rules, and judges all is gracious and merciful to all as well.

If, as the Jews contended, only those who kept Moses’ law could be justified, then only those who were Jews would have any opportunity to be saved because only the Jews possessed Moses’ law; it was only directed to them. But such a condition would violate God’s character of absolute righteousness. Did not God create, provide for, and govern the Gentile? Of course, He did. Is He not then the God of the Gentiles, too? Or would you rather defend the proposition that there are two Gods: one for the Jew and one for the Gentile? Paul neatly shows the Jew the absolute absurdity of such a notion.

Macknight sees here an allusion to Zechariah 14:8:

…where the prophet foretells the progress of the gospel, under the image of "living waters going out from Jerusalem:" then adds, ver. 9 "And the Lord shall be king over all the earth, and in that day there shall be one Lord, and his name one:" To show that under the gospel dispensation all nations shall be regarded by God as his people (Vol. I 245).

Though some scholars claim to see a distinction between the Jews’ being justified "by faith" and the Gentiles’ being justified "through faith," there really seems to be no practical difference. Paul is just making the point that God justifies all men on the same basis.

Verse 30

Do we then make void the law though faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.

Does the principle of justification by faith, as Paul has explained it, make law of every kind useless? Does the fact that all men, Jew and Gentile, are justified by the law of faith without the deeds of perfect obedience required by a meritorious system set aside the principle of law? Absolutely not! Instead the contrary is true. Justification on the basis of an humbly submissive and obedient faith establishes the principle of law.

The word "establish" (i(stw=men) means "to make to stand" (AGLP 211). According to Thayer, it means "to establish a thing, cause it to stand, make firm, fix, establish…to cause a person or thing to keep his or its place" (308). In other words, what Paul says makes law (there is no definite article in the Greek) stand in its correct position. There are five ways in which the doctrine Paul teaches in Romans 3:21-31 establishes law:

1. When the sinner admits his failure to keep the law has made him to be a sinner (7:5), he establishes the law. Such an admission is tantamount to recognizing the law as valid and binding.

2. When the sinner admits that because of his transgression of a valid and binding law, he is lost and needs forgiveness from God (7:7-12); he makes the law to stand.

3. When he then admits and accepts the concept that faith and obedience to God is the only way to obtain God’s gracious forgiveness, he recognizes law. When we speak of faith here, we use a synecdoche putting faith for the entire submission of one’s will and conduct to the control of God’s will. In Romans 4:4-8, where Abraham’s faith is counted to him for righteousness, Paul means to say he was forgiven of his sins on account of his faith. Finally, verse 12 of chapter four reveals that the faith that yields forgiveness is progressive. It has steps and implies continuous walking according to God’s will rather than simple mental assent (believing).

4. By this commitment to believe and obey God, the sinner puts himself into complete dependence on God for salvation. This submission removes from him any ground for boasting that he may have previously thought he had (7:24-8:4). According to this passage, the law was intended for righteousness (8:4) in its adherents. However, once it was broken by transgression, its original purpose could be fulfilled completely only by what is described in Romans 8:2. "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" is the only thing that could free the sinner from "the law of sin and death." Consequently, the sinner needs to believe and obey the gospel in order to be saved. All of this teaching verifies the principle of law.

5. Finally, the law is established by the fact that it required the death of Jesus, the Son of God, who kept it perfectly, in order for the Jew to be made free from its shackles (7:1-4). In like manner, the death of God’s Son was required to free the Gentile from bondage to the broken moral law.

Clearly, what Paul has taught establishes the principle of law for both Jew and Gentile.

To summarize, law is established because it forces every man to admit his guilt of sin. Such an admission recognizes the rule of law and its binding authority. Thus, law effectively condemns all men because all have sinned. Consequently, the justification God offers to all men on the basis of their faith establishes law in that it compels all men to recognize first their inability to claim salvation on the basis of perfect obedience to law. No man merits salvation, thus establishing the principle of law. Furthermore, whatever establishes law also takes away the sinner’s ground to boast. The entirety of Paul’s argument concerning Abraham’s justification in chapter four contains the illustration of the principle stated here at the close of chapter three.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Romans 3". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/romans-3.html. 1993-2022.
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