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Bible Commentaries
Romans 3

Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentBeet on the NT

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Verses 1-9


CH. 3:1-9

What then is the advantage of the Jew, or what the profit of circumcision? Much, in every way. First, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. For why? If some had no faith, shall their lack of faith make of no effect the faith of God? Be it not so. Let God be true, but every man a liar: according as it is written, “In order that Thou mayest be justified in Thy words, and mayest overcome when Thou comest into judgment.”

But if our unrighteousness gives proof of God’s righteousness, what shall we say? Is God, who inflicts His anger, unrighteous? (I say it as a man.) Be it not so. Else, how will God judge the world? For if the truth of God through my lie abounded for His glory, why am I also judged as a sinner? And why not, according as we are evil-spoken of, and as some affirm that we say, Let us do the evil things that the good things may come? Whose judgment is just.

What then? Are we shielding ourselves? Not at all. For we have before-accused both Jews and Greeks that all are under sin.

This section has two broadly-marked divisions. Romans 3:1-4 answer an objection suggested by Romans 2:28-29 : and Romans 3:5-9 overturn a final objection to the teaching of Romans 2, an objection suggested by this answer.

Romans 3:1. Question prompted by the assertion in Romans 2:25 that to those who keep the Law “circumcision profits,” and the assertion in Romans 2:28-29 that the distinctions which avail are not outward but inward. In what then does the Jew go beyond the Gentile, and what is the profit of circumcision?

Romans 3:2. He gains much, from every point of view. Several proofs come to Paul’s mind. As in Romans 1:8, he mentions the first of them. A more complete catalogue of advantages is given in Romans 9:4.

Entrusted-with: literally believed: same word in same sense in 1 Corinthians 9:17; Galatians 2:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 Timothy 1:11; Titus 1:3; Luke 16:11; John 2:24 : see note under Romans 4:25.

The oracles of God: solemn utterances: so (LXX.) Psalms 107:11; Psalms 12:6; Numbers 24:4; etc.; and Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 4:11. Same word used by the Greeks for the answers, chiefly prophetic, given by their gods at Delphi or elsewhere to those who sought their counsel. But I have no proof that the phrase is ever used to denote the Old Testament as a whole. It is therefore best to understand by the oracles of God the direct utterances of God to man preserved in the O.T. and forming its most important element. Such are Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:14; Ezekiel 2:1-8; Ezekiel 3:1; Ezekiel 3:3-11; and they are the Holy of Holies of the sanctuary of the Jewish Scriptures, Like the Greek oracles, they were chiefly prophetic. They were entrusted to the Jews (cp. Acts 7:38) for the ultimate good of all men. And possession of them was, in Paul’s day, the great advantage of the Jew. While the Greeks were vainly discussing the nature of the gods, the Jews read in the sacred books 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. Another significance of the rite is mentioned in Romans 4:11.

Romans 3:3. Questions confirming the above proof of the advantage of being a Jew, by calling out and overturning an objection. This objection breaks off the list of advantages Paul was beginning to give.

Had-no-faith: in Christ and the Gospel. For this was all-important in Paul’s day for determining a Jew’s relation to God.

If some: how large a proportion of the nation had no faith in Christ, the readers knew well. But the unbelievers were at most only a part of the nation.

Faith (or faithfulness) of God: not reliance upon God, as in Mark 11:22 (cp. Galatians 2:16; Galatians 2:20); but that stability and constancy of God on which His servants rely in sure confidence that He will fulfil His promises. For the verse following proves that an attribute of God is in question. See note under Romans 4:25.

Make-of-no-effect: to make inoperative and without result: same word in Romans 3:31; Romans 4:14; Romans 6:6; Romans 7:2; Romans 7:6, and very often with Paul. If God do not fulfil His promises, His own faithfulness will go for nothing. The ancient oracles were designed to prepare a way for, and to lead men to, Christ and the Gospel. But the mass of the nation had rejected Him and disbelieved the good news. And it might be thought that God will refuse to fulfil promises, e.g. Jeremiah 31:31 ff and Ezekiel 36:25 ff, which to so many had failed of their purpose. If so, the oracles have lost their value, and possession of them is no longer an advantage to the Jew. But Paul’s question reminds us that in the promises the faithfulness of God is pledged, and that to suppose that they will fail is to suppose that man’s want of faith will make God unfaithful. Cp. 2 Timothy 2:13.

Romans 3:4. An emphatic negative answer to the foregoing question, confirmed by a quotation from the Old Testament.

God is true in that His words always correspond with reality. See under Romans 1:18. If he were unfaithful, he would be untrue. For He foresees whatever He will do. When He spoke the promises, He foresaw Israel’s unbelief and His own conduct in reference to it. Consequently, to give promises which He foresaw that He would not fulfil, would be deliberate falsehood. And this we cannot conceive. Rather let us say that God is true, and therefore faithful, in His treatment of a race of which every man is guilty of falsehood. The objection is answered. Every believing Jew can claim fulfilment of the promises old and new, even though the mass of the nation has rejected Him in whom the promises were to be fulfilled. Therefore the unbelief of others does not destroy the benefit of being born in a land where the promises are known.

According as it is written: as in Romans 1:17. What Paul has just deduced from the character of God is in harmony with the ancient Scriptures. Paul quotes, word for word, LXX. Psalms 51:4.

Justified: looked upon, declared to be, and treated as, righteous: see note under Romans 3:26.

In Thy words: the matter in which God submits Himself to the judgment of men.

Mayest overcome: as when a man gains his suit in a court of law.

Comest into judgment: by submitting his conduct and words to the judgment of men. The Psalmist confesses his own sin, “Against Thee only I have sinned, and that which is evil before Thee I have done;”

in order that, in condemning that sin, God’s words may be seen to be just and He may receive at the bar of man’s moral sense a verdict of approval. This implies the justice of God’s condemnation of sinners even in Israel.

The exact rendering of the Hebrew is, “In order that Thou mayest be righteous when Thou speakest, be pure when thou judgest.” But the common Greek rendering was sufficiently accurate for Paul’s purpose. For the words righteous and pure denote evidently righteousness and purity in the eyes of men: and the whole passage implies that God seeks, even when pronouncing judgment, the approval of men. If so, He may be said to come into judgment and to be justified.

Paul has now guarded against serious perversion his teaching in Romans 2:28-29. Some might infer from it that he looked upon the outward distinctions of the Jew as worthless, and denied the divine origin of the covenant which created them. To Jews, this would be a serious objection to his teaching, and a weapon with which they would oppose it: and on the other hand it might lead those who accepted it to underrate the earlier dispensation. Paul guards against this double danger by declaring the great advantage of the Jews, and by quoting as the chief of them their possession of the records of the historic revelations of God to Israel. And he proves that the worth of these records is not lessened by the unbelief of so many of those to whom for the world’s good they were entrusted. For, in the promises, God’s character is involved: and this cannot be set aside by man’s unfaithfulness.

Notice here and throughout the epistle Paul’s carefulness to defend at every point the divine origin of the Old Covenant.

The great lesson of Romans 3:3-4 is that God’s character is a pledge that, whatever man may do, He will fulfil His promises on the conditions therein expressed. It is easy to apply this to ourselves. As we come to claim the promises of God, we remember that these promises have been by us again and again neglected and doubted and disbelieved; and that at this moment they are set at nought by the mass of mankind. Dare we expect that God will fulfil promises so frequently trampled under foot? Yes: He will fulfil them even to the letter. For our unbelief cannot make Him unfaithful. The inseparable connection of His character and His words is proof that every promise will be fulfilled. And, if so, the promises, however neglected, are of inestimable value to those who possess them. Under them lies, and in them we take hold of, the faithfulness of God.

A tradition embodied, both in the Hebrew text and in the LXX., in the superscription to Psalms 51 attributes it to David as an expression of his deep penitence after Nathan’s rebuke ( 2 Samuel 12:7) of his sin with Bathsheba. And we notice that, in spite of this terrible sin, which was severely punished, God fulfilled His covenanted promise to David recorded in 2 Samuel 7:4-17. No better example could be found of the faithfulness of God in spite of the unfaithfulness of man.

Romans 3:5-9. The quotation in Romans 3:4, which is illustrated by the story of David’s deep sin, reminds us that the sin of man, so far from provoking unfaithfulness in God, sometimes brings out into clearer light His faithfulness and truth. But even this truth may be perverted into a last refuge for the man who lives in sin and yet hopes to escape from judgment. By the question in Romans 3:5, Paul discovers the refuge; and shows in Romans 3:6-9 how untenable it is.

Romans 3:5. Two questions, in which the readers are supposed to join. They introduce, by way of inference from Romans 3:4, an objection.

Unrighteousness: including the unbelief of most of the Jews, the falsehood of all men, and David’s sin.

God’s righteousness: that God is righteous, as in Romans 3:25-26. This meaning, different from that in Romans 3:21-22; Romans 1:17, is determined by the question, Is God unrighteous? and by the word justified in Romans 3:4. It is the agreement between God’s treatment of men and the principles underlying the Law. Men behold and declare this agreement, and thus justify God. We often observe that, as in the case of David, man’s sin gives occasion for a manifestation of God’s strict justice. Paul asks, What shall we infer from this? Shall we say, because our unrighteousness gives-proof-of God’s righteousness, that God is unrighteous when He inflicts His anger, i.e. when he punishes men for their sin? These questions expose a covert attack on the teaching of Romans 2, viz. that to punish sin is unjust, because the punishment reveals the uprightness of God.

As a man: asking a foolish question.

Romans 3:6-8. An absolute denial, supported by two other questions. The principle underlying the questions of Romans 3:5 would make it impossible for God to judge the world, and would justify an immoral maxim.

Romans 3:7. Following Tischendorf, and Westcott’s text, the R.V. reads but if, making Romans 3:7 an additional statement or a new argument. Lachmann and Tregelles read for if, making it expound or confirm the argument underlying Romans 3:6. This latter reading is given in the margins of Westcott and of the Revisers. The documentary evidence seems to me slightly to favour it. Moreover, the argument in Romans 3:6 needs exposition and support: and this it finds in Romans 3:7. This logical connection might easily be overlooked by a copyist; and the words but if might be suggested by the same words in Romans 3:5. Consequently, the slight change from for to but is more easily accounted for than the converse change. For these reasons, I prefer the reading in the Revisers’ margin, and take Romans 3:7 as expounding the argument underlying Romans 3:6.

My lie… I also: Paul appeals to his own case.

The truth of God: as in Romans 3:4.

Abound: work itself out into abundant results: so Romans 5:15; Romans 15:13.

For His glory: so 2 Corinthians 4:15 : direction and tendency of this abundant manifestation of God’s truthfulness, viz. to evoke man’s admiration of the moral grandeur of God. Paul declared in Romans 3:4 that God is truthful in His treatment and judgment of a race of liars. Therefore every lie, by bringing upon itself the foretold punishment, will give additional proof of God’s veracity and thus more abundantly reveal His moral greatness. And if so, every man in the world may claim immunity from punishment. Every Jew and Gentile may come before the judgment-seat and say, Why am I also judged as a sinner? Even Paul himself, if all that his enemies said about him were true, could say this. Admit once this principle, and God cannot judge the world. Notice how the language and tone of this verse differ from the coldness of Western thought and speech. Paul meets a man who claims immunity from punishment because his sin brings glory to God; and at once puts himself by the man’s side and says that he also and everyone else may claim the same immunity.

Romans 3:8. Another disproof of the principle underlying the question in Romans 3:5.

Evil-spoken-of: blasphemed, as in Romans 2:24.

We: probably Paul and other Christian teachers. Some spoke evil of Paul and his companions by saying that they taught men to do bad things in order that good results might follow. Without discussing the truth of this charge, Paul makes use of a correct principle underlying it. The actions which it is unjust to punish it must be just to perform. If the end justifies the means, a man cannot be blamed who deliberately does wrong in order to bring about a good result. But this is what Paul’s enemies bring as a charge against him. By so doing, they admit that the principle involved is wrong: and if so, the question in Romans 3:5 b must be answered, as Paul has answered it, in the negative.

Whose judgment: the sentence pronounced by God on those who assert the principle attributed to Paul, a principle which he agrees with his opponents in condemning.

Romans 3:9. What then? how do matters stand? so Romans 6:15; Romans 11:7.

Are-we-shielding-ourselves? literally holding before ourselves, i.e. as an excuse. This plain grammatical meaning (R.V. marg.) of the word here used gives good sense, and is therefore better than the unintelligible R.V.

text, are we in worse case than they? We have seen that the principle called in question in Romans 3:5, viz. that it is unjust of God to punish sins which give proof of His justice, involves two serious moral consequences, viz. that not even a liar could be condemned as a sinner, and that it would be right to do wrong in order that good may come. We must therefore either accept these consequences or deny the principle which involves them. Paul asks, Which alternative do we take? Is it our object to prove that there are no moral distinctions and will be no judgment? Are we, by stating this alternative, holding before ourselves a shield behind which we may escape punishment?

Not at all, or in every way not: absolute rejection of this side of the alternative. This rejection is proved by the foregoing argument in Romans 1:18 to Romans 2:29 : for we have before-accused etc. Both Jews and Greeks, all: the latter in § 4, and the former in §§ 5-7.

Under sin: so Romans 7:14 : looked upon as a crushing weight under which the sinner lies, or a power from whose grasp he cannot escape. Notice here an assertion, even more plain than Romans 2:1, that all men are sinners. This tremendous and universal charge is complete proof that the arguments in Romans 3:5-8 are not an excuse for sin.

Romans 3:5-9 reveal Paul’s purpose in choosing for his proof-text Psalms 51:4. It suggests a truth which may be perverted into a last excuse for sin. David’s sin showed forth the sinlessness of God, and thus served a moral purpose: and all sin will eventually do the same. But is it not unjust for God to punish the sin of which He makes use to manifest His own glory and to accomplish His own purposes? Such a question is proof of human folly. Paul meets it with an indignant negative. If this be unjust, to judge the world is unjust and therefore impossible. In this world of liars every man might say, My lie, by bringing on my head the threatened punishment, will show forth the truthfulness of God. If others escape because their sin glorifies God, why may not I also escape? Thus the whole world would find excuse. Again, since all sin will eventually reveal the absolute uprightness of God, a man might deliberately go into sin with this in view. It would be right to do wrong: because all wrong will show forth the righteousness of God. A man might justly do the very things which our enemies bring as a charge against us that we teach men to do. But our opponents, by making this a charge against us, condemn it. In their condemnation, I agree. Hence either God is just when He punishes the sin of which He makes use to accomplish His own purposes, or the teaching with which we are falsely charged is right and the judgment day is a fiction. Which alternative do we accept? Are we weaving a cover for our sin? The arguments in Romans 1:18 to Romans 2:29 prove that we are not. We have already charged all men with sin, and proved that all sinners are exposed to punishment. The question in Romans 3:5 b is answered: a shield which would equally protect all sinners protects none.

Romans 3:1-9 supplements Romans 2. The man who, in Romans 2:2, claimed to escape the universal sentence has failed to make good his claim: he can hide himself neither (Romans 3:3-11) in the mercy of God, nor (Romans 3:12-24) in his possession of the Law, nor (Romans 3:25-29) in circumcision. Yet he cannot say that the accuser who has cast to the winds his excuses has thereby cast to the winds the reality of the advantages given by God to his fathers and to himself: for the privileges which he has failed to use are many and great. He cannot appeal to the glory which will accrue to God from his condemnation as a reason why the condemnation should not be carried out: for this appeal, if valid, would be valid for the whole world. The prisoner stands without reply before his accuser and before God.

Verses 10-20


CH. 3:10-20

According as it is written, “There is not a righteous man, not even one. There is not an understanding one: there is not a man who seeks out God. All have turned away: together they have become useless. There is none that does kindness: there is not even one.” “An opened grave, their throat is: with their tongues they were beguiling.” “Poison of asps is under their lips.” “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” “Quick are their feet to pour out blood… ruin and calamity are in their ways: and a way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

But we know that so many things as the Law says, to those in the Law it speaks, in order that every mouth may be shut, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God. Because from works of law will no flesh be justified in His sight: for through law comes knowledge of sin.

Paul will now prove that the accusation in Romans 3:9, which sums up the result of the argument of DIV. I., is in harmony with the ancient Scriptures: according as it is written: cp. Romans 3:4; Romans 1:17. This he does by grouping together, without mentioning the human authors, five passages from the Psalms and one from the Book of Isaiah. The first asserts universality of sin in the Psalmist’s day: four others imply that the sin even of circumcised Jews is hateful to God and will receive punishment: and the last confirms the teaching of Romans 1:21 that outward sin arises from inward neglect of God. Paul quotes for the most part word for word from the LXX. The differences between the quotations and the original text do not affect the argument. Examination will show that in each case the ancient writer means all, and more than all, Paul’s argument requires.

Romans 3:10-12. From Psalms 14:1-3, repeated in Psalms 53:1-3. God looks down from heaven to see if there are any who show their intelligence by seeking to know and please Him. Here is the result. His eye cannot detect one righteous man. Not one acts wisely, or makes it the object of life to find out God. All have strayed from the right path: all have together failed to attain their Maker’s purpose. Not even one does good. Evidently the Psalmist’s words include Jews as well as Gentiles. Consequently Paul’s charge in Romans 3:9 is but a repetition of an O.T. declaration about Jews and Gentiles of an earlier day.

Romans 3:13-17. Descriptions of bad men.

An opened grave: so Jeremiah 5:16. So deadly were the arrows of the Chaldeans that the quiver from which they came seemed like a grave opened to receive the dead whom the arrows slew. But more deadly than arrows are the words of the men described in Psalms 5:9. They encourage or provoke to acts of violence and bloodshed: the opening of their mouth involves the opening of a grave to receive those whose death will result from their words. Hence, in the vividness of Eastern imagination, their throat is called a grave opened to receive the slain. David himself, if not with his lips yet with his pen, dug a grave for Uriah: 2 Samuel 11:14. That the word throat denotes here, as in Psalms 115:7, an organ of speech, is proved by the words tongues and lips following.

Beguiling: their tongues being used as instruments of guile. This made their words as dangerous and deadly as poison of asps, which lies concealed under their lips: word for word from Psalms 140:3. The Psalmist cries for deliverance from bloody and deceitful men. He is afraid of their secret plots. The lips with which the plots are communicated to others, and thus matured, are as deadly to him as the poison of a serpent. He appeals to God against them, and calls for their destruction.

Whose mouth etc.: from Psalms 10:7 : a description of proud men who lay snares for the poor and innocent, and expect to escape, saying that God has forgotten their deeds and will not punish. The Psalmist appeals to God as one who beholds mischief and spite, and will requite it. This teaching of the Psalms is confirmed by a quotation from Isaiah 59:7-8. Here are men whose feet are quick when their purpose is to shed blood. If you trace their steps, you find that they have left behind them ruin and calamity. War and violence are their only element: and a way of peace they have not known. Yet these men were Israelites: for the prophet declares (Isaiah 59:2) that their sins have separated them from their God. Therefore, in his view, God is angry with the sins even of those who possess the Law and bear in their bodies the seal of the covenant.

Romans 3:18. An explanation of the conduct described in the foregoing quotations: from Psalms 36:1. As the writer ponders the transgression of the wicked, he learns its cause, absence of fear of God. He is not before their eyes as an object inspiring fear: hence their wickedness.

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 Romans 2. For the bad men here described were undoubtedly Jews.

On what principle, and with what precise object, did Paul select these quotations? We cannot conceive that he gives here a universal, or even a comparatively fair, description of the nation. He has rather gathered together into one awful picture the very darkest lines of the many delineations of character contained in the Jewish Scriptures. The men before us are of the worst kind. The opening of their mouths is the opening of a grave: they are deadly as vipers: their language is a curse: the prospect of murder hurries them on with rapid steps: where they have been, destruction and calamity are: and how to walk so as to be at peace, they know not. The delineations form one picture: Romans 3:13-14 describe their words; Romans 3:15-17, their actions; and Romans 3:18 gives the cause of the whole. Paul has, in my view, put together this mosaic of sin in order to prove that the O.T. teaches that Jewish privileges do not in themselves save even from the lowest depths of sin. He does not say that the objector in Romans 2 is as bad as these men. But whatever he pleads for himself these men might have pleaded. These bad men, whose names are forgotten but in whose character is plainly written the condemnation of God, arise from oblivion to declare that outward privileges, even though they come from God, and outward connection with the people of God, do not necessarily save.

Romans 3:19. A principle which both readers and opponents know, and which gives divine authority to the foregoing quotations. That quotations from the Psalms and the Book of Isaiah are spoken of as a voice of the Law, implies that these books are an authoritative declaration of God’s will concerning man’s conduct and of the principles on which He governs, and will judge, the world; and prove that in Paul’s view even man’s cry to God for deliverance, e.g. Psalms 140, was also in some real sense God’s voice to man.

To those in the Law: those to whom the sacred books were given, and to whom they were therefore the moral element of life and action. Cp. 1 Corinthians 9:21: “in law of Christ.”

It speaks: consequently the foregoing quotations are God’s voice to Paul s readers.

In order that etc.: purpose for which the words quoted from the Psalms and the Book of Isaiah were written.

Every mouth shut: without excuse for sin. It recalls the excuses in Romans 2.

All the world: Jews and Gentiles, without exception.

Under judgment: exposed to punishment, because without excuse for their sin. Paul here asserts that God gave the Law, which finds in the O.T. permanent literary embodiment, in order that every man may stand before Him silent and condemned, i.e. in conscious and helpless exposure to punishment. Notice that this purpose of the Law of Moses, of which the teaching of the prophets was a divinely-inspired exposition, is identical with the purpose of God’s manifestation of Himself in Nature, as stated in Romans 1:20 : “that they nay be without excuse.” We need not infer that this was the only purpose of these revelations: see Psalms 119:105.

This purpose was far from the thought of the writers of the Psalms. It therefore implies that these last had an Author and purpose greater than the human authors and their immediate purpose. It therefore confirms the proof, afforded by the use of the term the Law to describe the quoted Psalms, that in them spoke One greater than man.

Romans 3:20. Because etc.: a universal principle stated in order to explain how the Law brings all men silent and guilty before God, and thus explaining why God used this means for this end. These words recall Psalms 143:2. The writer prays God not to enter into judgment with him, on the ground that in His sight no living person is or will be counted righteous. That no one will, implies that no one can be justified.

From works of law: actions in obedience to a written prescription, looked upon as a source or means of the judge’s approval.

Flesh: the material of which our bodies are composed: see note under Romans 8:11. Since it is the only form in which human nature presents itself to us, all flesh includes all mankind. It represents humanity as limited by the conditions imposed by the material of the bodies in which we live and through which we act. We shall learn from Romans 6:12 that the sin which prevents our justification by works has its throne in the flesh.

This universal denial excludes justification by works both in this life and at the bar of God.

For through law etc.: explanation and confirmation of the foregoing assertion. That these words are neither explained nor proved, reveals Paul’s confidence that they need neither explanation nor proof. They appeal to the experience of all. We find that all progress in knowledge of the Law reveals a law which we have broken. It is true that in Christ we find deliverance from the power and stain of sin: consequently, by revealing with increasing clearness our own sinfulness and thus driving us to Christ for salvation, the Law leads us day by day to closer conformity to the will of God. But this is wrought by the Gospel, and only indirectly by the Law; not by obedience to a command, but by belief of the Gospel. Now, if the Law reveals disobedience in all to whom it is given, it cannot justify. For justification through law can be obtained only by obedience. Therefore, by imparting knowledge of sin, the Law reveals its own powerlessness to justify.

Romans 3:20 gives complete proof of the assertion in Romans 3:19 that consciousness of guilt is not only an actual result of the Law but the purpose and end for which it was given. God gave to men commands which He knew they would not obey; and threatened punishment in case of disobedience. What was His purpose in so doing? Not directly to produce obedience. For, if so, the Law was a failure: and God’s foreknowledge makes it inconceivable that He would use means which He knew would not succeed. We are therefore, even apart from his apostolic authority, compelled to accept Paul’s assertion that the actual result of the Law was also its designed result. God gave it in order to make us conscious of our lost state, and thus to prepare us for a revelation of righteousness through Christ. In ages to come, we shall look back upon the Law, not as a failure, but as a guardian-slave (Galatians 3:24) who led us to Christ, and as an essential link of the chain which raised us from sin to eternal obedience and blessedness.

Notice how much Romans 3:19-20 increase the force of the foregoing quotations. In the quoted words the Law speaks, and declares how God will treat those to whom it is given: and God’s purpose in giving the Law was precisely the purpose which, by the arguments of DIV. I., Paul has sought to accomplish.

THE LAW. A law is a setting forth, by an authority claiming to determine and limit the action of men, of what they are to do and not to do. So Proverbs 3:1 : “My son, forget not my law, but let thy heart keep my commands.” The state claims this right over its citizens; and therefore its enactments are called laws. And, since without penalties enactments are powerless, the laws of the state announce both what the citizens are to do and not to do and the punishment of disobedience. The laws of an absolute monarch are an announcement of the principles on which he will treat his subjects.

On the ultimate foundation of law in the inborn moral sense of man, see the important quotation on p. 79. {Romans 2:15}

To Israel God was the only King and Lawgiver and Judge. Consequently, in the Bible, unless otherwise stated, the word law denotes always the Law of God.

In Genesis 26:5 God says, “Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My ordinances, and My laws.” At Sinai God gave to Israel, through the agency of Moses, a body of definite prescriptions, to be henceforth their national law, and the basis of God’s future dealings with the nation whom He had joined to Himself by solemn covenant. A rudimentary code of civil law is said to have been written by Moses at Sinai: Exodus 24:4. Statutes of sacrificial worship were added, each called a law: Leviticus 6:9; Leviticus 6:14; Leviticus 6:25. In the plains of Moab, shortly before his death, Moses restated the Law, wrote it, and publicly gave the book to Israel as the authoritative standard of the will of God, according to which the people were to live and according to which they will be rewarded or punished: Deuteronomy 31:9; Deuteronomy 31:26. Henceforth we read of the Book of the Law: Joshua 1:8; Joshua 8:34; 2 Kings 22:8; 2 Kings 22:11; Nehemiah 8:1. The Book itself, as being the authoritative and only permanent embodiment of God’s will, is called the Law: 1 Kings 2:3; 1 Chronicles 16:40; 2 Chronicles 23:18; 2 Chronicles 31:3; 2 Chronicles 35:26; Ezra 3:2. Hence the term the Law became, and is still with the Jews, the common title of the Pentateuch: Romans 3:21; Luke 24:44; Acts 24:14.

The ordinances given in the wilderness are attributed to Moses in 1 Corinthians 9:9; Hebrews 9:19; Hebrews 10:28; Luke 2:22; Luke 24:44; John 1:17; John 1:45; John 7:19; John 7:23; Acts 13:39; Acts 15:5. A narrative in Genesis is quoted in Galatians 4:21 as the Law. In Romans 3:10-18; John 10:34, quotations from the Psalms and one from the Book of Isaiah have the authority of the Law; these books being thus placed on a level with the Pentateuch. Thus extended, the Law denotes in the N.T., unless otherwise defined, the Jewish Scriptures looked upon as a rule of life given by God to man, and as a declaration of the principles of God’s government of the world.

Looking now at the contents of these books, we notice that one spirit animates the whole. Its voice is, Do this and live. This is the essence of law: and this principle assumes authoritative form in the Old Covenant and in the Jewish Scriptures. The written word is the body, this principle is the spirit, of the Law. Hence the apparent variety in the use of the word. Just as the word man refers sometimes to bodily form, at other times to mental and moral character, so the term the Law refers sometimes to the Pentateuch and the other Holy Scriptures, and at other times to the great principle which inspires these ancient writings, viz. that God will treat men according to their deeds. The special reference must in each case be determined by the context. But in all cases the underlying meaning is the same. It is unsafe to rely in a translation upon the presence or absence of the definite article. But in the original the anarthrous term law refers, I believe, almost always to the general principle, Do this and live; and the Law to the historical and literary form in which this principle took shape in the ears and eyes and thoughts of Israel.

We have already met the word law in various connections of thought. We saw in Romans 2:12 that possession of the Law separated mankind into two great theological divisions; that (Romans 2:13) not those who hear, but those who obey, the words written therein will be justified; that (Romans 2:17; Romans 2:20; Romans 2:23) in possession of the Book some trusted for salvation, and thought themselves wise because instructed from its pages; and that (Romans 2:24) by transgressing the written word they brought dishonour to God. The contents of the Book were written in the hearts of the Gentiles, who thus became to themselves, in some measure, what the Book was to the Jews: Romans 2:14. By this means Gentiles sometimes accomplish, without having read them, the purpose for which the written commands were given to Israel: Romans 2:27. The great purpose of the Law, wrought out unconsciously by its human agents, was to leave all men without excuse for sin; and, because by nature none are able to obey it, to bring all men under conscious liability to punishment.

A threefold purpose is, in this epistle, attributed to the Law; viz. that (Romans 5:20) through it the one sin of Adam might multiply itself into the many sins of his children, that (Romans 3:19) all sinners and therefore all men may be without excuse for sin and may know that God will punish them, and that (Romans 7:13) they may become conscious of the indwelling and irresistible power of sin which prevents them from doing what they know to be right and even wish to perform. In other words, the Law was given to Israel and written in the hearts of all men, in order to bring about in all men actual personal sin, and consciousness of inward bondage and of coming punishment. These are the divinely-chosen and mysterious steps to a glorious goal, viz. actual obedience to the will of God, begun imperfectly on earth and to be fully realised in the life to come.

But beyond these first steps the Law cannot lead us.

DIVISION I., embracing Romans 1:18 to Romans 3:20, is a proof of the assertion in Romans 1:18. The proof and the defence of it against prevalent objection are now complete. By pointing to God’s revelation of Himself in Nature, and to the immoral results of ungodliness, Paul proved in Romans 1:19-32 that God is angry with all ungodliness and sin. And if so, since all are sinners, God is angry with all men: Romans 2:1. In Romans 2:2, Paul repeats, after complete proof, the assertion in Romans 1:18. To expect exemption from this universal principle because of God’s forbearance, is a mark of ignorance: Romans 2:3-11. No reason for such expectation is found either in (Romans 2:12-24) the Law or in (Romans 2:25-29) circumcision. Yet the possession of the Law is to the Jew an advantage which the unbelief of the mass of the nation does not set aside: Romans 3:1-4. Their unbelief will but demonstrate the righteousness of God; yet even this will not save them from punishment: Romans 3:5-8. In Romans 3:9, Paul triumphantly combines the assertion in Romans 1:18 and its universal application in Romans 2:1-2. In Romans 3:10-20, he shows that what he has proved agrees with the teaching of the ancient Scriptures.

DIV. I. was introduced to show that the righteousness revealed in the Gospel by faith proves the Gospel to be a power of God to save all that believe. The proof is now complete. Paul has shown us a world perishing because of God’s anger against sin: therefore, if the good news from God announces God’s favour towards all that believe, it is indeed to them the mighty arm of God stretched out to save.

Notice the clearness and force of Paul’s arguments. They rest in part on great principles which commend themselves to the moral sense of all, and which underlie the teaching of the entire Old Testament; and in part on social facts within the immediate observation of Paul’s readers, and to some extent, even at this distance of time, within our own observation. If we admit the principles and facts, Paul’s arguments compel us to admit his conclusions. Notice also that, just as in Romans 2:6; Romans 2:13; Romans 2:24; Romans 2:29; Romans 3:4 he shows that the principles from which his conclusions are drawn are in harmony with the Old Testament, so in Romans 3:10-18 he shows that his conclusions are in harmony with the same. So conclusive is his reasoning that we have forgotten the apostolic authority of the reasoner. If Div. I. were only a fragment from an unknown author, it would still carry complete conviction.

Observe carefully Paul’s use of the Jewish Scriptures. He nowhere appeals to isolated or difficult texts. Each passage is a representative of many others teaching the same truth. Examination proves that each quotation fairly involves the principle it was adduced to support. We may well take this great teacher as a pattern of Old Testament exposition.

In DIV. I., Paul has not carried us above the level of the Old Covenant. He has only gathered into one focus whatever the ancient Scriptures, looked upon as law, said and proved in former days. The name of Christ has occurred only once; and then not as the Saviour, but as the Judge, of the world. DIV. I. bears to the rest of the epistle the relation which the Old Covenant bears to the New. It is therefore a testimony to the permanent moral worth of the Old Testament.

We have heard the Law: it has pronounced our condemnation and made us conscious of our need of salvation. And, since God is angry with all sin, no salvation will supply our need except one which makes us free from the guilt, the power, and the stain of sin.

Verses 21-26



CH. 3:21-26

But now, apart from law, a righteousness of God has been manifested, witness being borne to it by the Law and the Prophets, a righteousness of God through belief of Jesus Christ, for all that believe. For there is no difference: for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation through faith, in His blood, for demonstration of His righteousness, because of the passing over of the beforecommitted sins in the forbearance of God, for the demonstration of His righteousness in the present season, in order that He may be Himself righteous and a justifier of him that has faith of Jesus.

Romans 3:21. But now etc.: sudden and joyful transition from the condemnation of the Law to the light of the Gospel.

Apart from law: independent of, and in some sense contradicting, the great principle underlying the Jewish Scriptures, viz. that the favour of God is conditioned by obedience to His commands. It is practically the same as “apart from works of law” in Romans 3:28.

Righteousness of God: as in Romans 1:17.

Manifested: set conspicuously before the eyes of men, as in Romans 1:19. Compare and contrast Romans 1:17. The righteousness of God has-been-manifested (perfect tense) once for all by the appearance of Christ and by His announcement of salvation: day by day “it is revealed by faith” (present tense), i.e. brought into the consciousness of each one, as each one believes.

Witness-being-borne-to-it: day by day, as the ancient Scriptures are read. This testimony was mentioned in Romans 1:2 : and a specimen was given in Romans 1:17. Much more of it will be given in Romans 4, 9, 10.

The Law: the Pentateuch only.

The Prophets: the other chief division of the Jewish Scriptures: cp. Matthew 5:17; Matthew 7:12; Matthew 11:13; Matthew 22:40. A fuller description is given in Luke 24:44 : “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and Psalms.” The phrase here is not only a common division of the O.T. but describes two conspicuous elements which run through the whole: for very much of the Law is expressly or symbolically prophetic, and the Prophets announce or rather reiterate God’s will about man’s conduct. The word law refers to the principle of law, which is the great feature of the Pentateuch: the term the Law refers to the book in which it assumes written form.

Romans 3:22 a. Additional information about the righteousness of God, viz. the channel through which, and the persons for whom, it comes.

Belief (or faith) of Jesus Christ: an assurance of which Christ is Himself the personal object, a sure confidence that the words of Christ are true and will come true because they are spoken by One who cannot deceive and who is able to perform His own promises. Same construction with the genitive in Romans 3:26; Galatians 2:16 twice, Galatians 3:22; Ephesians 3:12; Philippians 3:9; Mark 11:22.

For all that believe: persons for whom the gift of righteousness is proclaimed in the Gospel. The emphatic word all, like “everyone “in Romans 1:16, includes Jew and Gentile, whether previously moral or immoral. We can conceive the favour of God given through faith, yet only to a portion of those that believe. These words declare that faith is the only condition.

Some have supposed that, although salvation is proclaimed for all who believe, God has secretly resolved to bestow only upon a portion of the race selected by Himself those influences without which repentance and faith are impossible. If so, salvation is limited, not really by man’s unbelief, but by God’s eternal purpose. This view seems to me at variance with the teaching of this verse: and I hope to prove in a note under Romans 9:33 that it is utterly at variance with the teaching of Paul.

This verse states the personal object of our faith, but not its object-matter. It tells us whom, but not expressly what, we must believe. But there can be no belief without something believed, no mental rest in an idea without an idea in which to rest. See note under Romans 4:25. And evidently the object-matter of saving faith is the good news announced by Christ: so 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Mark 1:15. We obtain the favour of God by belief that through the death of Christ God bestows His favour as a gift upon us who believe, this belief being reliance with all the interests at stake on the word and faithfulness and power of God.

The conspicuous phrase righteousness of God in Romans 3:21 and again in Romans 3:22 at once recalls the same phrase in Romans 1:17; and takes up and carries forward the thread of discourse which was broken off in Romans 1:18 in order to prove the need of the salvation announced in Romans 3:16-17. This proof is given in Romans 1:18 to Romans 3:20, which I have comprised in DIV. I., an integral portion of the epistle, the dark background of that Gospel of salvation which is its chief matter. Under this deep shadow we went suddenly in Romans 1:18, and emerged from it as suddenly in Romans 3:21; and on emerging we found ourselves where we were before we entered it. This return to, and restatement of, teaching stated at the beginning of the doctrinal part of the epistle marks out this teaching as the foundation-stone of the Epistle to the Romans.

Paul has now taught us that it has been publicly announced that, without requiring previous obedience to the Law but in harmony with the teaching of Moses and the prophets, God bestows, as a gift, a state which He approves; and that this gift is obtained by believing the words of Christ and is designed for all that believe. In other words, he teaches that God accepts as righteous all who believe the glad tidings of salvation announced by Christ. This doctrine, in the equivalent form of justification through faith, meets us again in Romans 3:24; Romans 3:26; Romans 3:28; Romans 3:30; is illustrated from the O.T., in the form of “faith reckoned for righteousness,” throughout Romans 4; and is made in Romans 5:1-11 a ground of exultant hope of coming glory. The same doctrine is with equal clearness stated and defended in the Epistle to the Galatians. That his readers are justified, is taught in 1 Corinthians 6:11; Titus 3:7; and that by faith they are already in the way of salvation, which is the same doctrine in another form, is stated in other epistles bearing the name of Paul. By an important coincidence, the same doctrine in the same phrase is in Acts 13:39 attributed to Paul in a recorded address; as is similar teaching in Acts 16:31; Acts 26:18. All this taken together is decisive documentary evidence that as matter of historic fact Paul taught, in language equivalent to that used in Romans 1:17; Romans 3:21-22, that God accepts as righteous, in spite of their past sins, all who believe the Gospel. This teaching, which we may conveniently speak of as JUSTIFICATION THROUGH FAITH, is the FIRST and chief FUNDAMENTAL DOCTRINE of the Epistle to the Romans and of the theology of Paul.

We now ask, How came Paul to claim, without proof, his readers’ belief for this important and fundamental doctrine? An answer is suggested by the fact that although the phrase “justified through faith” is found only with Paul, the equivalent doctrine that all who believe the Gospel are in the way of salvation is found in other N.T. documents altogether different in thought and phrase from the epistles of Paul. In the Fourth Gospel Christ is said to have frequently taught that all who believe in Him will have and already have eternal life: e.g. John 3:15 ff, John 3:35 f, John 5:24; John 6:29; John 6:35; John 6:40; John 6:47. If so, they already possess by faith the favour of God. Similar teaching, in Mark 1:15; Mark 16:16; Luke 8:12; Luke 18:14. And in Matthew 8:10; Matthew 9:22; Matthew 9:29; Matthew 15:28; Matthew 17:20; Matthew 21:21 we have, attributed to Christ, teaching wonderfully in harmony with the same. So also James 2:1; James 2:14-26; James 5:15; 1 Peter 2:6-7; 1 John 5:1-13. We notice also that the doctrine that God accepts as righteous all who believe in Him is unknown to writers earlier than Christ except somewhat vaguely as a prophecy of the future, e.g. in Habakkuk 2:4; Isaiah 28:16; but that since His day it has been taught by many calling themselves His disciples. All this is decisive documentary evidence that this doctrine was actually taught not only by Paul but by Christ. And that Paul learnt it from Christ, he asserts in Galatians 1:11. That it was accepted by all Christians everywhere because they knew that it was taught by Christ, is a complete explanation, and the only conceivable explanation, of the confidence with which Paul assumes it without proof and makes it the foundation-stone of his theology. See further in Diss. vi. of my Galatians.

Romans 3:22-23. A short recapitulation of DIV. I., proving the universal need of salvation implied in the universal assertion all that believe; just as DIV. I., introduced in Romans 1:18, justifies similar words in Romans 1:16.

For there is no difference: summary of Romans 2. Same words in same connection in Romans 10:12. They are here supported by a reassertion of the teaching in Romans 2:1; Romans 3:9; Romans 3:19 : for all have sinned. The Greek aorist includes all sins in all ages up to the moment of writing. It must therefore be translated by the English perfect. For our preterite pushes the event into the past, and thus gives to it a definiteness, as separated from the present, which the Greek “indefinite” tense has not.

Glory: admiration evoked by an object in the mind of a beholder, or that quality in the object which evokes admiration: see under Romans 1:21. In Romans 1:23; Romans 6:4; Romans 9:23

the glory of God denotes the manifested grandeur of God evoking His creatures admiration; and in Romans 3:7; Romans 4:20; Romans 11:36; Romans 15:7 the admiration thus evoked. So the glory of Jehovah in Exodus 16:10; Exodus 24:16-17, and frequently in the O.T.; cp. Luke 2:9. But this meaning does not give good sense here and in Romans 5:2. In Romans 2:7; Romans 2:10, the word glory, i.e. a splendour evoking admiration, describes the reward of the righteous: so Romans 8:18; Romans 8:21; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:43; Colossians 1:27; Colossians 3:4. They will share the splendour of Christ: Romans 8:17; 2 Thessalonians 2:14. This must be the meaning in Romans 5:2 : “hope of the glory of God;” and it gives good sense here. For this future splendour, although concealed from view, is a present possession of the servants of Christ. Their afflictions are working out for them “an eternal weight of glory,” and already they can say “we have a house eternal in the heavens:” 2 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Corinthians 5:1. Thus understood, the glory of God here and in Romans 5:2 is the splendour which God gives, just as “righteousness of God” in Romans 3:21-22; Romans 1:17; Romans 10:3 is a righteousness which God gives. In both cases, the divine gift is related to a divine attribute; but must be carefully distinguished from it.

Fall-short-of: fall behind others, or fail to reach some goal set before them. Believers are already (Romans 8:17) sharers of Christ’s heritage of glory: but of this heritage they who have not by faith obtained a righteousness of God are destitute. In this sense, through their sin, they fall short of the glory of God. The middle voice scarcely implies that they are conscious of their failure: it implies only that it reacts in some way upon themselves.

Romans 3:24-28. A participial clause, grammatically subordinate to Romans 3:23, followed by other subordinate clauses, but really introducing a new and all-important doctrine, viz. justification through the death of Christ. By introducing this great doctrine in this subordinate form, Paul intimates its logical connection with the doctrine of universal sin and failure. The prominence of this last doctrine throughout this epistle reveals its large place in the thought of Paul.

Romans 3:24. Justified: a judge’s decision in a man’s favour, as in Romans 2:13. But in this last passage the word refers to the day of judgment; whereas here the present tense being-justified refers to a judgment now going on. Same word in same present tense in Romans 3:26; Romans 3:28; Romans 4:5. That it is introduced without further explanation, implies that its meaning is involved in what Paul has already said. If, as we learnt under Romans 3:21-22, God accepts as righteous all who believe the Gospel, then is the Gospel a formal announcement of justification for all who believe it. They have no need to wait till the day of judgment to know their destiny: the judge has already pronounced their acquittal. In the Gospel, they read their own justification. It is

(Romans 1:17) revealed by faith. Thus day by day men are being justified as one and another put faith in Christ. Paul could not say “having been justified:” for this is not true of all who have sinned. Moreover, he does not speak of justification in the past tense till Romans 5:1. He refers to it now only generally as a process going on. Cp. 2 Corinthians 5:19: “reconciling the world to Himself.”

Freely: as a gift: so Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:17.

By His grace: source of the gift, in the undeserved favour of God, i.e. the love of God contemplating its objects with a purpose of blessing: see under Romans 1:5.

Redemption, or ransoming-off: a setting free on payment, or by payment, of a price, combining the ideas of liberation and price. Same word in Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 4:30; Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 11:35; simpler cognates in Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; Luke 24:21; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:18; Luke 1:68; Luke 2:38; Hebrews 9:12; Acts 7:35.

These cognates are common in classic Greek for liberation of captives by payment of a ransom; and in the LXX. for the liberation by price or substitute of those, e.g. the firstborn, on whom the Mosaic Law had a claim. Cp. Exodus 13:13; Numbers 18:15; Leviticus 27:27-33; Numbers 3:46-51. Like most others denoting a combination of ideas, these words are sometimes used when only one of the ideas is present, viz. liberation: so Exodus 6:6; Exodus 15:13, etc. This last idea is evidently present here. For, “to justify the ungodly” (see Romans 4:5) involves liberation from the ruin which is the due penalty of sin: see Romans 4:5; Romans 6:22-23. Whether, and in what sense, this liberation involves payment of a price, we must learn from the further teaching of Paul.

Through the redemption etc.: channel through which the justification goes forth from God; just as “faith” is the channel (Romans 3:22; Romans 3:28; Romans 3:30) through which it reaches the sinner.

In Christ Jesus: His personality being the element or environment in which the liberation takes place. This important phrase, peculiar to Paul, except that in a slightly different form it is very common in the Gospel and First Epistle of John, (see also 1 Peter 3:16; Judges 1:1,) meets us again in Romans 6:11; Romans 6:23; Romans 8:1; Romans 8:39. It is a conspicuous and important feature of the teaching of Paul. See under Romans 6:11.

Romans 3:25. Whom God set forth etc.: further explanation of the redemption in Christ.

Propitiation: cognates in 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10; Hebrews 2:17; Luke 18:13; also (LXX.) Leviticus 4:20; Leviticus 4:26; Leviticus 4:31; Leviticus 4:35; Leviticus 16:30; Leviticus 16:32-34; Numbers 16:46-47. These passages make the meaning of the word quite clear. Propitiation was a means of forgiveness. To propitiate, was to shelter the sinner from the punishment due to his sin. In each case the propitiation was provided and commanded by God. The O.T. use of the word recalls the sacrificial ritual of the Law of Moses: and the words in His blood place the blood shed on the cross of Christ in relation to that which was so conspicuous in the Mosaic ritual. In Homer’s Iliad bk. i. 147, 386, 444, 472 and elsewhere in classic Greek, the word is used in the sense of deprecating the anger and regaining the favour of an offended deity, the name of the god being put in the accusative: similarly Genesis 32:20; Proverbs 16:14. But this construction and conception are not found, in reference to God, throughout the Bible. In the passage before us, as in 1 John 4:10, God Himself provides the propitiation.

In Hebrews 9:5; Exodus 25:17-22, the exact word used in Romans 3:25 denotes the mercy-seat, the place of propitiation. But to any comparison of Christ with the mercy-seat we have no reference throughout the New Testament. Moreover, the death of Christ is here mentioned as a demonstration, not of the mercy, but of the righteousness, of God. To call Him a mercy-seat, would add nothing to the meaning of this great statement of doctrine; whereas, to call Him a propitiation, connects His death with the ancient sacrifices; as in 1 Corinthians 5:7; Ephesians 5:2; 1 Peter 1:19; Hebrews 9:26. It is therefore better to take the word to mean a propitiatory sacrifice, a means of atonement. In the ancient ritual, the blood of the sacrifice procured for the offerer forgiveness. God set-forth Christ conspicuously before the eyes of men to be a sacrifice by which they might escape from the punishment due to their sins. The word propitiation derives its force from the proof in DIV. I. that all men are exposed to punishment.

Through faith: means by which the propitiation becomes effective for each one. As each one believes, he goes from under the anger of God. God set forth Christ in His own blood: presented Him to the eyes of men covered with His own blood. This indicates wherein lay the propitiatory efficacy of this sacrifice. The above connection of thought is better than faith in His blood: for the phrase faith in (Ephesians 1:15; 1 Timothy 3:13; 2 Timothy 1:13; 2 Timothy 3:15) is not common with Paul: and we nowhere else find such an idea as faith in the blood of Christ. But the practical difference is not great: for justifying faith takes account of the death of Christ as the means of our pardon.

Since the validity of the propitiation in Christ was in His blood, i.e. in His violent death, His blood and life were the ransom price of our justification: so Ephesians 1:7; Matthew 20:28; 1 Peter 1:18-19; Revelation 5:9. For in all human language every costly means used to obtain a result not otherwise possible is correctly called the price paid for it. Thus the word propitiation sheds light on the foregoing word redemption.

For demonstration of etc.: purpose for which God set forth Christ as a propitiation.

His righteousness: as in Romans 3:5 : the divine attribute by which God impartially administers His own laws and will judge the world. This meaning, differing from that of the same phrase in Romans 3:21-22, is required by the words Himself righteous in Romans 3:26. Such administrative righteousness, we commonly call justice: but in Greek the words are the same.

Because of the passing over etc.: conduct of God in the past prompting Him now to give proof of His justice. Passing over: not forgiveness, but apparent tolerance of sin shown in delay to inflict punishment.

The before-committed sins: during the long ages of the past history of Israel.

In the forbearance of God: as in Romans 2:4 : His holding back the due punishment of their sins: cp. Acts 17:30; Acts 14:16. God gave proof (Romans 1:24-27) of His anger against sin by now and then inflicting punishment on the Gentiles and on Israel. But He did not inflict the full penalty: else the whole race would have perished. He did not forgive, but to a large extent He passed over, the sins of men. Now, for a king to overlook crime, to forbear to punish, or even to delay punishment, is unjust. And God’s character was lowered in the eyes of some by His forbearance, which they misinterpreted to be an indication that they will escape punishment. God gave Christ to die in order to demonstrate His justice in view of a tolerance of past sins which seemed to obscure it.

Romans 3:26. For the demonstration of His righteousness: conspicuous and emphatic repetition of the same words in Romans 3:25.

In the present season: the days of Christ, who, as we read in Romans 5:6, “in due season died for ungodly ones,” in contrast to God’s forbearance in earlier ages.

In order that He etc.: further and final purpose of this demonstration of God’s justice, and of His gift of Christ to die. This purpose implies that, apart from the demonstration of God’s justice in the death of Christ, God could not be at the same time Himself just and a justifier of those who put faith in Jesus. For certainly He would not have given His Son to die in order to reach an end which might have been reached at less cost. In other words, Paul here asserts that God gave Christ to die in order to harmonize with His own attribute of justice the justification of believers announced in the Gospel.

Faith of Jesus: belief of the words of Jesus, as in Romans 3:22. Him that has faith: literally him whose position and character are derived from a faith of which Jesus is the personal Object: same phrase in Romans 3:30; Romans 1:17; Romans 4:16; Romans 9:30; Romans 9:32; Romans 10:6, etc. These words keep before us Doctrine I, asserted in Romans 3:22.

Romans 3:26 is Paul’s last and highest word about the death of Christ; and it is the fullest teaching in the New Testament, explaining all its other teaching on the same solemn subject. If the death of Christ was needful in order to demonstrate the justice of God in view of the justification of sinners announced in the Gospel and in view of His own past forbearance of sin, then Justice itself demanded this demonstration. For a ruler is bound not only to administer impartially his own laws but to make his impartiality manifest to all; because whatever obscures his justice defeats the ends of justice, and whatever manifests it aids those ends. Now, if God gave Christ to die in order to harmonize with His own justice the justification of believers, then was Christ’s death absolutely necessary for man’s salvation: for God could not possibly be unjust. Consequently, by the death of Christ was removed an absolute barrier to man’s salvation having its foundation in the eternal nature of God.

The above teaching explains the word redemption in Romans 3:24 : for if, as we have just seen, man’s salvation was impossible apart from some such demonstration of God’s justice as is found in Christ’s death, then was this last the price paid for our salvation. We need not ask, To whom paid? For the phrase is one of the most common and expressive of human metaphors. There was no bargaining with Satan, or between the Persons of the Godhead, but there was an infinite price paid. The word propitiation in Romans 3:25 is also explained: for through the death of Christ believers are saved from the penalty of their sins which otherwise would have fallen on their own heads, just as in Egypt the firstborn was saved from death by the death of the Paschal lamb.

In Romans 3:24-26, Paul asserts, without proof, the SECOND FUNDAMENTAL DOCTRINE of this epistle, viz. that God gave Christ to die in order to harmonize with His own justice, and thus make possible, the justification of believers. The same doctrine He reasserts in Romans 4:25, and draws from it important inferences in Romans 5:6-10; Romans 6:3-10; Romans 7:4; Romans 8:32-34; Romans 14:9; Romans 14:15: it is equally prominent in other epistles from his pen. The complete confidence with which he asserts and assumes it, without proof, leaves no room to doubt that this remarkable doctrine was actually taught and held by the apostle Paul and by the Christians among whom he moved.

That our life comes through Christ’s death, is taught clearly in Hebrews 9:12-28; Hebrews 10:1-19; 1 Peter 1:18; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10; Revelation 1:5; Revelation 5:6-9; Revelation 7:14. Similar teaching is attributed to Christ in each of the Four Gospels: Matthew 20:28; Matthew 26:28; Mark 10:45; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; John 6:51; John 10:11; John 12:24. That these numerous and various documents agree in teaching this remarkable doctrine, proves clearly that it was universally held by the first generation of the disciples of Jesus; and that it was actually taught by Him. For only thus can the agreement be accounted for.

This proof is greatly strengthened by the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. Wherever there are Christians, they celebrate His death by the most solemn act of their worship. The universality of this custom proves clearly that it dates from the origin of Christianity. Now, if the servants of Christ live because He died, we wonder not that they commemorate His death by a feast: and we wonder not that in the most solemn crisis of His life He commanded them to keep this commemorative feast, thus giving it a unique position as the one recurrent rite of His Church, and thus indicating His purpose to make it a channel of special blessing. But, of this rite, and of the importance attached to it by Christians everywhere, I can conceive no other explanation. It is thus an abiding witness to the doctrine before us. A similar though less definite witness is borne by the animal sacrifices so conspicuous in the Mosaic ritual and in the worship of the ancient world.

In almost every nation men believed that in some cases the guilty could be saved only by the blood of an innocent victim. Whence this strange belief? If the teaching of Romans 3:24-26 be true, we can conceive that He who wrote His law in the hearts of all in some way taught men to offer animal sacrifices, in order that, by their evident insufficiency, they might proclaim the need of a nobler Victim.

On the whole subject, see Diss. vii. of my Galatians, on “The Cross of Christ;” and Part iii. of my Through Christ to God, on “The Death of Christ.”

Paul has now, after proving that all men are or have been under condemnation, asserted two great doctrines, viz. (1) that God receives into His favour all who believe the good news announced by Christ, and (2) that this salvation comes through the death of Christ, whom God gave to die in order to harmonize with His own justice the justification of those who put faith in Christ. Of these doctrines, the first is implied in, and the second is the only explanation of, teaching which can be traced by abundant and decisive documentary evidence to the lips of Christ. We may therefore, apart from the apostolic authority of Paul, accept each of these doctrines with perfect confidence as a sure basis for further theological research.

REVIEW of § 10. Through the Gospel announced by Christ, God has, apart from obedience to law and from natural distinctions, manifested a righteousness which is His own gift to all believers. Such was needed: for all have sinned, and are thus destitute of the heritage of glory which belongs to the sons of God. This Gospel implies justification by God’s free favour: and this is itself a proof of the moral failure of our race, a proof strengthened by the assertion of Paul that it was made possible only through the death of Christ. This last was therefore the ransom-price of our salvation. The payment was made, and the liberation takes place, in Him who was born at Bethlehem to be our King. Because no other means would avail, God set Him forth before the eyes of men, covered with His own blood, to be a propitiatory sacrifice sheltering from the punishment due to their sins those who believe. God did this in order thus to afford proof of His own righteousness, a proof made needful by His past forbearance and by His present purpose to proclaim pardon for those who believe the words of Jesus. To delay punishment, and still more to pardon the guilty, by mere prerogative, is unjust and therefore impossible to God. But that which by itself would have been unworthy of a righteous ruler, God has harmonized with His own absolute justice by the demonstration of it given in the death of Christ.

JUSTIFICATION. The word rendered in N.T. justify denotes to make righteous, but always in a forensic or subjective sense. In non-biblical Greek, it denotes to claim as a right, to judge right, or to treat with justice, sometimes in the sense of condemning and punishing. In the LXX. it is a technical term for a judge’s sentence in a man’s favour, in Deuteronomy 25:1; Isaiah 5:23; and of God the Judge of the world, in Exodus 23:7; 1 Kings 8:32; 2 Chronicles 6:23; Isaiah 50:8. In Job 33:32, it denotes approval by a friend: and in 2 Samuel 15:4; Psalms 82:3 it is a judges’ righteous sentence, thus approaching from another side the classic use of the word. The only passage in the LXX. in which the word can possibly denote objective conformity to the Law is Isaiah 53:11; and its use elsewhere suggests that even here it means simply to procure for guilty men the acquittal of the great Judge.

In complete agreement with this use of the word in the LXX., is its use in the New Testament. From her works and her children has gone forth a declaration that Wisdom is in the right: Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:35. We read in Luke 10:29; Luke 16:15 of men who justified themselves, in the sight of others and perhaps of themselves. Even the publicans, in Luke 7:29, “justified God.” i.e. declared Him, by receiving Baptism, to be in the right in His severe words to them through the lips of John; in the sense in which the word is used in the quotation in Romans 3:4. In Matthew 12:37, as in Romans 2:13, the word denotes a favourable sentence of God at the great assize; and refers in James 2:24-25 to God’s approbation of Abraham expressed in Genesis 22:16, and to His approbation of Rahab’s faith as shown in her rescue amid the destruction of Jericho. Christ’s words about the publican in Luke 18:14 foreshadowed Paul’s use of the word: for he “went down to his house justified.” Throughout the Bible the word justify denotes, never impartation of inward righteousness, but always a reckoning or declaring or treating as righteous.

This constant use of the word, in close harmony with its somewhat different use in classic Greek, determines its meaning in Romans 3:20; Romans 3:24; Romans 3:26; Romans 3:28; Romans 3:30; Romans 4:5; Romans 5:1; Romans 5:9 and in Galatians 2:16-17; Galatians 3:8; Galatians 3:24 : and this determines the meaning of the equivalent word righteousness in Romans 1:17; Romans 3:21-22; Romans 9:30; Romans 10:3-4; Romans 10:6. All these passages refer, not to actual conformity to the moral law, but to God’s forgiving reception into His favour of those who put faith in Christ. And this is confirmed by the phrase “faith reckoned for righteousness” used in Romans 4:3; Romans 4:5; Romans 4:9; Romans 4:24 as an equivalent to “justified through faith.” For the word reckoned is evidently forensic.

To the above meaning of the word it cannot be objected that a forensic righteousness without actual conformity to the moral law is worthless. For, as we shall see, justification through faith is followed by adoption into the family of God, and by the gift of the Spirit of Adoption to be the animating principle of a new life of devotion to God. But this all-important teaching is clothed in other phraseology. It is not suggested by the word now before us. See further in Diss. vi. of my Galatians.

Since we appear before God charged with sin, to us justification is acquittal. And, since we are actually guilty, it is practically pardon. But it is not looked upon as such: for, whereas pardon is a setting aside of law, justification is a carrying out of the new Law of Faith.

In the N.T., no writer except Paul uses the phrase “justified through faith.” Notice therefore an all-important coincidence in Acts 13:38-39, in a recorded address of Paul.

Verses 27-30


CH. 3:27-30

Where then is the exultation? It has been shut out. Through what kind of law? Of works? No, but through a law of faith. For we reckon that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law. Or, of Jews only is He the God? Lot also of Gentiles? Yes, also of Gentiles; if, at least, there is one God who will justify circumcision by faith and uncircumcision through their faith.

Romans 3:27. Where then etc.: question suggested by § 10, and bringing out a logical consequence of it.

The exultation: the well-known exultation of Romans 2:17; Romans 2:23. That Paul refers specially to Jewish boasting, is evident from Romans 3:29-30. But all human boasting is shut out by § 10: for its teaching rests on the truth that no man, by his own effort, can save himself. Paul looks round and cries, Where now is your exultation? It has vanished from view: it has been shut out. By what means? By means of a law, i.e. a divine proclamation of the way in which God will rule and judge His people?

What kind of law? one which re-echoes the voice of Moses, Do this and live?

No. God has shut out all boasting by promulgating a law which says, Believe and live. The Gospel is correctly called a law: for it is an authoritative declaration of God’s will concerning us, and of the principles on which He will govern us. It is a law of faith: for it requires faith, and is thus distinguished from the Mosaic Law which required works. Important coincidences in John 6:29; 1 John 3:23. The word law reminds us that the voice of Christ is equal in authority to the voice from Sinai.

Romans 3:28. Restatement of Doctrine I, taught in Romans 3:21-22; so put as to be evidently a proof of the answer just given. The reading here is uncertain. The documentary evidence is about equally divided. All the Critical Editors prefer for, though Tregelles and Westcott express doubt, by putting therefore in their margin. The Revisers prefer therefore, putting for in the margin, as read by “many ancient authorities.” This is therefore a case in which internal evidence may be allowed to decide. The reading for would make Romans 3:28, a proof of Romans 3:27; the reading therefore would make it an inference. Now this restatement of Paul’s great doctrine cannot be an inference from a consequence of that doctrine, viz. that by it all boasting has been shut out: but it comes in appropriately as a restatement of the source from which the consequence flows. I therefore prefer the Editors’ reading, For we reckon etc. The point of the proof here given lies in the sharp contrast of faith and works of law, which echoes a similar contrast in Romans 3:21-22. The Gospel proclaims righteousness for all who believe it, without reference to previous obedience to law. Now the Gospel is an authoritative declaration of the will of God, and has therefore the force of law. By promulgating this new law, God has shut out all boasting on the ground of good works: for the new law implies that works cannot save.

Romans 3:29. Another ground of Jewish boasting. Do you exult in God as though He had nothing to do with any except Jews? Is He not the God also of Gentiles? Yes, also of Gentiles: Paul’s answer, re-echoing his question.

Romans 3:30. A second restatement of Doctrine I, in a form suited to overturn this second objection, strengthened by a great truth in which the Jews gloried, viz. the oneness of God.

Circumcision: as in Romans 2:26. It was a visible mark of the covenant on which rested the vain belief of the Jews that God was their God only.

By faith (Romans 1:17) and through faith (Romans 3:22) are practically the same.

Their faith: that which the Gentiles evidently have. If there be one God, and if He will justify all on the same terms, then is He the God of both Jews and Gentiles. Notice here an important argument. The oneness of God is a proof that He is the God of all men: for a national god must be one among many. Thus a doctrine to which the Jews clung tenaciously supports the teaching of Paul and overthrows the exclusiveness of the Jews.

We here meet again the two objections dealt with in §§ 6 and 7. those based on the Law and on circumcision. Each is overturned by a restatement of Paul’s great doctrine of Justification through faith, in forms suited to the objections they are designed to rebut.

In Romans 2:13, Paul overturned the first objection by pointing to a principle which underlies all law. He now shows that the Gospel, which has authority equal to that of the ancient law, likewise overturns it. And He shows that the Gospel, read in the light of a truth which the Jews were ever ready to assert, overturns also the second objection.

That Paul mentions, as the first result of the Gospel, a matter so small as exclusion of Jewish boasting, may surprise us. But this boasting was probably the chief hindrance to the spread of the Gospel among the Jews.

It lingered even among Jewish Christians: so Galatians 3:2; Galatians 4:21; Galatians 5:4. Paul wishes to show at once that it is utterly inconsistent with the Gospel. Moreover, that the Gospel shuts out all Jewish boasting, was to many a serious objection to it. So serious is this objection that Paul is compelled to meet it before he goes on to develop the spiritual results of the Gospel. By the reasoning of Romans 3:27-30, he suggests the objection: in Romans 3:31, he states it: and in Romans 4 he will entirely overturn it. Thus this section opens a way for the next.

Verse 31


CHS. 3:31-4:17

Do we then make law of no effect through faith? Be it not so. Nay, we establish law. What then shall we say that Abraham has found, our forefather according to flesh? For if by (or from) works Abraham was justified, he has a ground of exultation; but not in reference to God. For what says the Scripture? “But Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness.”

But to him that does work, the reward is not reckoned according to grace but according to debt: but to him that does no work, but believes on Him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness. According as also David describes the blessedness of the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works, “Blessed are they whose lawlessnesses have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered over. A blessed man is he to whom the Lord will not reckon sin.”

This pronouncing-blessed then, is it upon the circumcision, or also upon the uncircumcision? For we say that to Abraham was reckoned his faith for righteousness. How then was it reckoned? While in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received a sign, that of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had in his uncircumcision; that he may be father of all that believe in uncircumcision, that to them also the righteousness may be reckoned; and father of the circumcision, to them not of circumcision only, but also to them who walk in the steps of the faith in uncircumcision of our father Abraham.

For not through law was the promise to Abraham or to his seed that he should be heir of the world, but through a righteousness of faith. For if they of law are heirs, faith has been made vain, and the promise has been made of no effect. For the Law works out anger: but where no law is, neither is there transgression. Because of this, it is by faith, in order that it may be according to grace, in order that the promise may be sure to all the seed, not to that of the Law only but also to that of the faith of Abraham, who is father of us all-according as it is written, “Because a father of many nations I have made thee”-before God whom he believed, who makes alive the dead ones, and calls the things which are not as though they were.

Romans 3:31. A question suggested by the inference in Romans 3:29-30 that justification through faith shuts out all boasting that God is in a special sense the God of the Jews. This assumption was based on the fact that to them only He gave the Law. Paul asks, Do we, by preaching a doctrine which ignores the distinction of Jew and Gentile, set aside the Law, which created that distinction?

Law: in its usual sense, viz. the Old Testament, viewed in its general character as a declaration of God’s will and as a standard of right and wrong. There is nothing here, as there was in Romans 3:21, to limit the word to the Pentateuch.

Of-no-effect: as in Romans 3:3; cp. Matthew 15:6. It might seem that Paul, who preaches faith without reference to circumcision or previous obedience to law, denied the authority of the Old Testament. For there the favour of God depends on obedience to precepts, and circumcision is commanded as a sign of God’s special covenant with Abraham’s children. Now, to the Jews, the Old Testament was the authoritative standard of right and wrong. Does not the doctrine of justification through faith discredit, not only Jewish boasting, but those sacred books which were to the Jews the ground of moral obligation? If so, two bad results will follow. Paul’s teaching will weaken, in those who receive it, the authority of the Scriptures, and thus weaken the moral obligations therein embodied; and the Gospel will be rejected by others whose conscience tells them that the voice of Sinai, which still speaks from the pages of the Old Testament, is the voice of God. Cp. Acts 6:13.

We establish law: by preaching faith as the condition of justification, we give additional proof of the divine authority of the sacred books.

So serious and so plausible is the above objection that we cannot conceive Paul, who is so careful to prove everything, meeting it by a mere assertion, viz. that contained in this verse. A full proof of this assertion, we shall find in his exposition, in Romans 4, of the faith of Abraham. Even the narratives of the O.T. are included in the Law: for they announce the principles of God’s government. For another example of a narrative in Genesis quoted as law, see Galatians 4:21.

Romans 4:1. What shall we say? what shall we infer? as in Romans 3:5. If we defend the authority of the O.T., how shall we explain its teaching about Abraham?

Our forefather: speaking as a Jew to Jews.

According to flesh: in contrast to the spiritual fatherhood of Romans 4:11.

Romans 4:2. Reason for introducing the case of Abraham. God’s covenant with him proves that he found favour with God, and was in this sense justified. Now, if this justification was derived from works, he has a ground-of-exultation. This last word is cognate to, and recalls, those in Romans 3:27; Romans 2:17; Romans 2:23. Paul proclaims a Gospel which shuts out all boasting; and he now introduces the case of Abraham in order to test by it the objection that, by overturning Jewish boasting, the Gospel overturns the ancient law.

But not in reference to God: his exultation would be, not an exultation in God, like that in Romans 5:11, but something infinitely inferior. If from works done in obedience to law Abraham had obtained the favour and covenant of God, God would be to him, not the free Giver of every good, but only a master who pays according to work done; and Abraham’s confidence would rest upon, and his expectation be measured by, his own morality. Cp. Galatians 6:4. The Gospel gives us that nobler joy which arises from confidence in God. This better exultation, a justification derived from works could not give, to Abraham or to us.

Romans 4:3. By introducing Abraham after saying that the Gospel confirms the Law, by admitting that justification from works would give him a boasting which Paul has proved that no man can have, and that it would deprive him of the only well-grounded exultation, Paul has implied clearly that Abraham’s justification was derived from a source other than works. This he now proceeds to prove: for what says the Scripture? This last word denotes a single passage. The whole collection is called “ Scriptures,” as in Romans 1:2; Romans 15:4; Romans 16:26.

Paul quotes Genesis 15:6, perhaps the most important verse of the Old Testament. In Romans 12:1; Romans 12:7; Romans 13:14, we read of God’s promises to Abraham and of Abraham’s conduct on receiving them; but from Romans 15:3-4 we learn that the promise had not been fully believed. In Romans 15:5, God solemnly repeats it. And now, for the first time in the Bible, we are told the effect produced in man’s heart by the word of God: “He believed in Jehovah,” i.e. he was fully assured that God’s promise of posterity as numerous as the stars will be fulfilled. See under Romans 4:18. These words are the more conspicuous because of the purely outward character of nearly all Bible narratives. Equally remarkable are the words following.

Righteousness: fulfilment of a condition, inward or outward, on which God is pleased to bestow blessing, spiritual or temporal: see under Romans 1:17. God reckoned Abraham’s faith to be a fulfilment of the only condition required; and, because he believed, gave to him the blessing promised. God commanded him to offer sacrifice; and in that sacrifice again revealed Himself. “In the same day Jehovah made a covenant with Abram:”

Genesis 15:9; Genesis 15:18. Of that covenant, circumcision was afterwards appointed to be the sign: Genesis 17:10. Thus Abraham’s faith put him in a new relation to God.

Reckon: as in Romans 2:26; Romans 8:36; Genesis 31:15; Proverbs 17:28, etc.

Reckon for righteousness: an important parallel in Psalms 106:31, which is a comment on Numbers 25:10-13. God graciously reckoned the loyal act of Phineas as something which He will reward with an eternal priesthood. Similarly, in Deuteronomy 24:13, He promised to reward the return of a pledged garment; and, in Deuteronomy 6:25, general obedience to His commands. Same phrase in 1 Macc. ii. 52, expounding Genesis 22:16-18. Hence, in James 2:21, Abraham is said to have been justified by offering Isaac. The two phrases are practically equivalent. The reckoning may be spoken of as the mental act of God; and justification as the formal declaration of it.

Thus the Book of the Law declares that Abraham obtained the favour and covenant of God by belief of a promise. And, of that covenant, all the blessings which afterwards came to Israel were a result. Whatever distinguished the sacred nation from the rest of mankind, their deliverance from Egypt, the Law, the possession of Canaan, and the voice of the prophets, was given because of Abraham’s faith: so Exodus 2:24; Deuteronomy 9:5. The question in Romans 4:1 is answered. Abraham found justification through faith. Consequently, the preaching of faith is in unexpected harmony with the Old Testament; and thus confirms the divine authority of the Law.

Genesis 15:6 is quoted also in Galatians 3:6; James 2:23; and ten times in the works of Philo, an older Jewish contemporary of Paul.

The rest of § 12 expounds Genesis 15:6. In Romans 4:4-5, Paul will show that it implies justification apart from works, which in Romans 4:6-8 he will confirm from Psalms 32:1-2; and justification without circumcision, of which rite he will in Romans 4:9-12 explain the purpose. He will show in Romans 4:13-15 why the promise was given to Abraham apart from law; and (Romans 4:16-17) on the simple condition of faith. He will thus show that the Law is in harmony, not only with the Gospel proclaimed in § 10, but with the levelling of Jew and Gentile which was to the Jews so serious an objection to it.

Romans 4:4-5. Proof, from Genesis 15:6, that Abraham was justified apart from works, and had therefore no ground of exultation. Romans 3:4 describes the case of one whose claim rests on works, and Romans 4:5 that of another who has no works on which to base a claim. It is then evident that Abraham belongs, not to the former, but to the latter, class. Paul assumes that there is no merit in faith, that it does not lay God under the least obligation to reward us. Consequently, whatever follows faith comes, not by necessary moral sequence, but by the undeserved favour of God: so Romans 4:16. Therefore, that Abraham obtained the covenant through faith, proves that he had done no work to merit so great reward. For we cannot give a man as a mark grace, i.e. undeserved favour, what we already owe him as a debt. Consequently, the recorded faith of Abraham puts him apart from those who obtain blessing by good works.

The reward: or pay for work done.

Romans 4:5. The opposite class, to which Abraham does belong. That a man’s faith is reckoned for righteousness, and thus put in place of works, proves that he does no good work which fulfils the required condition.

Ungodly: as in Romans 1:18. That Abraham was such, we need not infer: and his obedience to God’s call proves his fear of God. Paul states a general principle, in a form which applies to his readers rather than to Abraham. He obtained by faith a numerous posterity, and through the promised seed a fulfilment of the earlier promise that in him should all families of the earth be blessed. The promise made to us is escape from the wrath of God, and eternal life. To make this dependent on faith, implies that all men are exposed to punishment: and to expect justification through faith is an acknowledgment of ungodliness, and a reliance upon Him who justifies the ungodly. By thus turning from Abraham to the sinner, Paul prepares a way for the quotation in the next verse.

Thus Genesis 15:6, which asserts that Abraham was justified through faith, implies also that he was justified apart from works. Therefore he has no ground of self-exultation, but a good ground of exultation in view of God. Consequently, Paul, by proclaiming a new law which shuts out all boasting on the ground of works, does not overthrow, but supports, the authority of the Old Covenant and of the Jewish Scriptures.

Romans 4:6-8. A quotation from Psalms 32:1-2, in harmony with the foregoing.

David: as in Romans 11:9 from Psalms 69:22-23. The name is found (Heb. and LXX.) in the heading of each Psalm. But to this we cannot give any critical value. Paul quotes the O.T. as he found it. See further in Diss. iii.

Blessedness: the highest form of happiness, found only under the smile of God: so Matthew 5:3-11. This sacred sense is not absent in Acts 26:2, 1 Corinthians 7:40. So Aristotle, Nic. Ethics bk. x. 8. 8: “To the gods, the whole of life is blessed; to men, so far as it is some likeness to divine activity:” cp. 1 Timothy 1:11, “the blessed God,” 1 Timothy 6:15.

David is quoted to support, not “faith reckoned for righteousness,” but righteousness apart from works. Here we have a man guilty of acts of lawlessness and of sins. But they are forgiven and covered-over: cp. James 5:20.

To reckon sin, is practically to inflict punishment: so 2 Timothy 4:16; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Philemon 1:18. We have in Psalms 32 the joyful song of a pardoned man. Breaches of law have been forgiven, and a veil cast over sins. Consequently, in the future God will not reckon the man a sinner.

The Lord: see under Romans 9:29. In Psalms 32:5, the Psalmist confesses his sin, and rejoices in forgiveness. He finds in God a refuge from trouble, and bids others rejoice in Him: Psalms 32:7; Psalms 32:11. We have here a clear case of righteousness without works, of a man on whom, in spite of past sins, God smiles with forgiving grace. Thus the negative side of Paul’s teaching is proved to be in harmony with the ancient Scriptures. Although Psalms 32 is not quoted in proof of justification through faith, we notice Psalms 32:10, “ He that trusts in Jehovah, mercy shall compass him about.”

Psalms 32 is quoted only in passing: and Paul returns at once to Genesis 15:6. As the words quoted do not mention faith, they were probably not quoted to prove expressly that the preaching of faith supports the Law. But, as we learn from Romans 3:19, they have the authority of law. And, by supporting an inference following necessarily from justification through faith, viz. justification without works, they point to another harmony of the Law and the Gospel; and thus confirm the divine origin of both.

Romans 4:9-12. Further evidence, from the historic origin of circumcision, in support of the Gospel which announces righteousness apart from it, followed by an exposition of the purpose of the rite.

Romans 4:9-10. This announcement-of-blessedness: in Psalms 32:1-2. Is it for the circumcision as such, or also for the uncircumcision? abstract for the concrete, as in Romans 2:26; Romans 3:30.

For we say etc.: reason for Paul’s question, in which he takes his readers along with him, and for the tone of triumph in which he asks it. Paul and they have now learnt from Genesis 15:6 that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. He asks, How then was it reckoned? While in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? To this last question, there is only one answer. For fourteen years, Abraham was in covenant with God before he was circumcised. Consequently, the rite is not needful for the validity of faith or for a covenant relation with God. All the distinguishing blessings of the Jewish race were a reward of the faith of an uncircumcised man. Paul’s answer is an emphatic repetition of his own question.

Romans 4:11-12. An explanation of the purpose of the rite, supplementing and strengthening the foregoing argument.

Sign of: Matthew 24:30; Luke 11:29.

Circumcision was enjoined as a visible mark or token of the covenant of God with Abraham in the day when he believed: Genesis 17:11; Genesis 15:18.

A Seal: a solemn and formal attestation of that to which it is annexed. So 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 2 Timothy 2:19. Specially appropriate to circumcision, this being a visible and permanent attestation. The sign of the covenant, ordained by God in the day when Abraham believed, was a divinely-erected monument of the covenant and of the validity of faith even apart from circumcision.

That he may be etc.: purpose of this sign and seal, viz. that the faith of Abraham, thus made prominent, may lead many others to a similar faith, and that thus he may be father of a great family of believers; and that all who believe, even without circumcision, may be able to call Abraham their father, and to claim the inheritance of sons. The meaning of father is explained by heirs in Romans 4:14 : cp. Galatians 3:9; Galatians 3:29, also Genesis 4:20-21.

That to them also etc.: further purpose of the rite. God’s purpose was, by leading both Jews and Gentiles to a similar faith, to make them partakers of the righteousness which comes through faith.

Father of circumcision: suggested by also in Romans 4:11, which implies that God’s purpose embraced others besides Gentiles. Even among those who bear in their bodies the sign of the covenant, Abraham was to have a spiritual posterity. But his true children are those only who imitate the faith of their father, which was earlier and nobler than circumcision.

Walk: go along a line: so Galatians 5:25; Galatians 6:16; Philippians 3:16; Acts 21:24. Cp. Romans 6:4; Romans 8:4; Romans 13:13; Romans 14:15. Every act is a step forward in some direction.

Faith in uncircumcision: emphatic repetition of the point of the argument in Romans 4:9-12.

Romans 4:13. Not through law; about which as little was said as about circumcision when God made the covenant with Abraham.

The promise: as stated in Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 12:7; Genesis 15:18; Genesis 22:17. In these passages nothing was said about law, in reference either to Abraham or to his seed. The fulfilment of the promise was not conditioned by obedience to a prescribed rule of conduct.

That he should be heir of the world: the promise described, not in the form given to Abraham, but as we, taught by the Gospel, now understand it. Abraham’s children, i.e. those who imitate his faith, will one day possess a new earth and heaven: and this, because given to his spiritual children, will be the reward of his faith. Of this greater gift, Canaan was but an earnest. It will be obtained, not through law, but through a righteousness of faith, i.e. a state which the judge approves and which comes through faith. On the historic independence of the promise to Abraham and the Mosaic Law, see Galatians 3:17.

Romans 4:14-15. Reason why the promise was given apart from law.

They of law: who make law their starting-point in seeking life, and whose claim is derived from law: so Galatians 3:10; cp. Romans 2:8; Romans 3:26; Galatians 3:7; Galatians 3:9.

Heirs: who receive the blessing in virtue of their imitation of, and therefore spiritual descent from, Abraham.

Is-made-vain, or empty: same word in 1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 9:15; Philippians 2:7.

Made-of-no-effect: as in Romans 3:3; Romans 3:31; Galatians 3:17. These two words are practically equivalent. Of the statement in Romans 4:14-15 is a proof.

Works-out anger: brings men under the anger of God. For none can obey the Law as it claims to be obeyed: and God is angry with all who disobey.

But where no law is, there are no prescribed limits, and therefore no transgression or overstepping of limits: same word in Romans 2:23; Romans 5:14. Before the Law, there was sin, but it did not assume the form of transgression. If when God gave the promises, He had annexed the Law as their condition, He would have made fulfilment impossible. For none can keep the Law as it needs to be kept. Therefore He said nothing about law. He thus winked at or passed over the sinfulness of those to whom He spoke; in view of the propitiation afterwards provided: cp. Romans 3:25.

Notice here another summary of DIV. I. The causes which made justification from works impossible to us made it impossible to Abraham. The constant recurrence of this teaching reveals its importance in Paul’s theology.

Romans 4:16. Because of this: viz. that the Law works out anger, and would if it were the condition of fulfilment make the promise without result. Therefore the inheritance is by faith. According to grace: God fixed faith as its condition in order that it might be in proportion, not to man’s merit, but to God’s undeserved favour. As in Romans 4:4, Paul assumes that there is no merit in faith.

Sure: a firm basis for confident reliance. God made faith the condition of the promise, in order that all the seed, not only Jews but Gentiles also, may have a firm ground for expectation of fulfilment, and this measured not by their works but by God’s grace. Had obedience to law been its condition, they could have looked forward to nothing except His anger.

Who is father etc.: actual fulfilment of the purpose stated in Romans 4:11.

Of us all: including Jews and Gentiles.

Romans 4:17. According as… I have made thee: a parenthesis asserting that the foregoing is in harmony with a promise of God to Abraham (Genesis 17:5) at the time of the change of his name. Israel was not many nations but one nation: and the sons of Hagar and Keturah were not heirs of the covenant. To what then did this promise refer?

To something important: for it was embodied in a change of name. The only adequate explanation of it is that it refers to Abraham’s spiritual children. Jew and Greek, Englishman and German, call him to-day their father. Thus the Gospel again confirms the divine origin of the Law by affording an explanation and fulfilment of a prophecy therein contained and otherwise unexplained.

Before God etc.: completing the sentence interrupted by the parenthesis. Abraham stands before God whom he believed, who, as we shall see under Romans 4:19, makes alive the dead, and calls, i.e. summons to His service and disposes of as He will, the things which are not as though they were. This description of God calls to our mind those elements of His nature on which Abraham’s faith rested. Cp. Genesis 17:1 : “I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be thou perfect.” God speaks to men and things not yet existing, and they come into being, and dispose themselves at His command. These words refer to the many nations whom, before they existed, God gave to Abraham to be his children. Before Him whose voice is heard and obeyed by nations unborn, to whom the decay of natural powers, even when amounting practically to death, was no obstacle, Abraham stood; and believed. And, because he believed, he stood in that day before God as the father of the whole family of believers of every nation and age.

REVIEW. We shall best understand this section by attempting to rebuild Paul’s argument from the materials he used. In Genesis 12:2; Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:16, God promised to make of Abraham a great nation, to give to his children the land of Canaan, and to make them numerous as the dust of the earth. In obedience to God, Abraham left his fatherland. But in Genesis 15:1-3 we find him in fear and unbelief. It is night; and there is darkness around and within. Although God has promised him a numerous posterity, Abraham speaks of a servant as his heir. God brings him out from the tent in which the lonely man nurses his loneliness, directs him away from the darkness around to the everlasting brightness above, and declares that his children shall be numerous as the stars. Abraham stands before Him who made the stars and calls them by their names, who is the Author of life, whom even death cannot withstand, who controls even men and things not yet existing. He hears the promise, believes it. and looks forward with confidence to his children unborn. His faith is recorded in the Book of the Law, where, in Genesis 15:6, we read for the first time the effect upon the heart of man of the word of God. We also read that God accepted Abraham’s belief of the promise as a fulfilment of the divinely-appointed condition of fulfilment. In that hour he stood before God as father of unnumbered children. The words of Genesis 15:6 are soon explained by the act of God. Sacrifices are slain; and in the presence of shed blood God makes “in that day” a covenant with Abraham. Of this covenant, the birth of Isaac, the deliverance from Egypt, the giving of the Law, the possession of Canaan, and all the distinctive privileges of Israel, were a fulfilment; We see then that the blessings of the Old Covenant were obtained by Abraham, for himself and for his children, by faith.

Again, since Abraham obtained the covenant by believing a promise, it is evident that he had performed no works of which it was a due reward; else it would have been given him as a debt. The words of Genesis 15:6 remove him from those who earn something by work and put him among those who know that they are sinners and believe the word of Him who justifies the ungodly. Consequently, Abraham was justified without works. Therefore, though he may well exult in view of the grace of God, he can exult no more than we in view of his own works. Justification without works is also taught by David, who calls himself a sinner and rejoices in a pardoning God. Again, when Abraham believed, he was uncircumcised: and nothing was said about the rite till fourteen years after he received the covenant. Therefore, circumcision is not essential to the validity of faith, or to the favour and covenant of God. What then is the use of circumcision?

It was a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham: Genesis 17:11. And, since the covenant was obtained through faith, circumcision, the visible and divinely ordained sign of it, was a solemn and public attestation by God that faith, even without circumcision, is sufficient to obtain the favour of God. In our days, God has announced justification for all men on the one condition of faith. Therefore, remembering that the Old Covenant was preparatory to the New, we cannot doubt that the rite of circumcision was ordained in order to call attention to Abraham’s faith, and thus to lead his children to similar faith. And, since the Gospel proclaims salvation for Jew and Gentile alike, we cannot doubt that circumcision was delayed in order to teach the believing Gentiles of future ages that they may claim Abraham as their father and the righteousness of faith as their inheritance.

We are prepared for this levelling of Jew and Gentile by the fact that, at the time of Abraham’s faith, as little was said about the Law as about circumcision. The reason is evident. If the promises had been conditional on obedience to law, they would have been practically useless, and Abraham’s faith an illusion. For neither he nor his children could keep the Law. The only result would have been disobedience and punishment. We therefore infer that nothing was said about law in order that sin, although existing, might not be a breach of the covenant; and that faith was chosen as its condition because God was minded to bestow the blessing as a gift of pure favour, and in order that believers, both Jews and Gentiles, might look forward with certainty to a fulfilment of the promise. In the Christian Church, we see fulfilled the purpose for which circumcision was ordained, and the promise that Abraham should be a father of many nations. He stands to-day in actual fact, as he stood then in the purpose and foresight of God, as the father of us all.

In § 11, Paul proved that the Gospel breaks down the barrier hitherto existing between Jew and Gentile. Now this barrier was erected by the Law. To break it down, seemed to be a denial of the divine origin and authority of those Sacred Books which were to Israel the ground of moral obligation. But now Paul has proved from these Books that the covenant which was to the Jews the source of all their instinctive privileges was obtained by Abraham through faith and apart from circumcision and from law. An inference from this, viz. justification without works, has been confirmed from another part of the Holy Scriptures. This unexpected harmony confirms both Law and Gospel, for it reveals their common source. Consequently, the Gospel, which by the resurrection of Christ is itself proved to be divine, affords proof of the divine origin of the Law. If therefore, after saying that the Gospel confirms the Law, we are asked what benefits Abraham obtained for himself and his descendants, our reply is, justification through faith, without works and without circumcision.

In this section, Paul has touched one of the strongest internal proofs of the divine origin of the revelations recorded in the Bible, viz. the profound harmony which, amid a great variety of outward form breathes through the whole.

Bibliographical Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 3". Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jbc/romans-3.html. 1877-90.
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