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Sunday, December 10th, 2023
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Bible Commentaries
Romans 3

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

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Verses 1-20


We saw in the last lesson that man if he would be saved must become righteous before God, and the righteousness which alone satisfies Him is that which he Himself supplies. We now learn what man’s condition is which makes this a necessity. In other words this lesson, constituting the second general division of the epistle, (1) gives us a Divine declaration about sin (Romans 1:18-21 ); (2) shows it to be punitive and degenerative in its effects (Romans 1:22-23 ); and (3) teaches the universality of its extent (2:1-3:20).

As to the Divine declaration about sin, we perceive that not only is there a righteousness from God revealed from heaven, but “a wrath of God” as well. The first gives the remedy, the second the penalty if the remedy is not applied. “Who hold the truth,” might be rendered “who hold down the truth.” That is, the truth of God, whose saving power might be known to men, is held down, does not get a chance to be known, because of man’s unrighteousness (Romans 1:18 ). This truth might be known by the facts of creation. Not that the Gospel of redemption is revealed in nature, but sufficient of God is thus revealed, i.e., His eternal power and Godhead, “to have kept men true to Him essentially,” so that they are without excuse (Romans 1:20 ). This is seen in what follows: Man once knew God, the story of Eden shows this; but he is now fallen from God, through his own ingratitude and conceited reasonings. The fall is moral, rather than intellectual, for his “foolish [senseless] heart” is “darkened” (Romans 1:18-21 ).

Sin at once becomes punitive and degenerative. Observe the downgrade: failure to glorify God; ingratitude; vain reasonings; darkened moral nature; turned into fools; worshipping natural objects, men, birds, beasts, reptiles; given over to uncleanness in the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves (Romans 1:22-25 ff.). The horrible details of this indictment against the Gentile world is established by the “classics” of Greek and Latin literature, showing that these things were true not merely of the low and ignorant, but the high and cultured of Paul’s day.

This thought is now elaborated, which shows the philosophers and moralizers of Greece and Rome to be no better than the others (Romans 2:1-3 ). They were incapable of judging others; only God could do that, Who is no respecter of persons (Romans 2:6-11 ). His judgment would be just both as against the Gentiles and .Jews. The former had not the revealed law as did the latter, i.e., they did not have the Old Testament scriptures, but would be judged by the law written in their hearts (Romans 2:12-16 ).

Special attention is now given the Jews because they had the Old Testament scriptures, and while equally sinful with the pagan Gentiles, were yet trusting in their knowledge of the letter of the law as making them better than they (Romans 2:17-20 ). The answer assumed in the case of each question in Romans 2:21-23 is affirmative, proven by the concluding verses of the chapter.

Did this mean then, that the Jew had no advantage whatever over the pagan Gentile? No, for the reason in Romans 3:1-2 . It was an advantage for the Jew to have the Scriptures even though some did not believe them (Romans 3:3-4 ). Romans 3:5-8 are parenthetical, with the main question taken up again at 9. The Jews are morally no better as a class than the pagans, proven by the facts of history just alluded to (Romans 3:21-24 ), and by their own Scriptures (Romans 3:10-18 with Psalms 14:1-3 ; Psalms 53:1 ; Psalms 5:9 ; Psalms 10:7 ; Psalms 36:1 ). These were the things which their own “law” said, and said to them as Jews, because the Gentiles did not know the law. Therefore the “mouth,” i.e., the boasting of the Jew was stopped as well as that of the Gentiles, and “all the world.” Jew and Gentile, was “guilty before God” (Romans 3:19 ). This proved that as the result of the works of the law no man could be accounted righteous before God, for the clearer one apprehended the law the more condemned as a sinner he became (Romans 3:20 ).


1. What did the previous lesson teach us?

2. What are we to learn from this lesson?

3. Divide this lesson into three general parts.

4. What two great things are revealed from heaven?

5. Why are men without excuse for their ignorance of God?

6. Name some of the steps in the downgrade of sin.

7. What is the bearing of contemporaneous literature on Paul’s indictment of the pagan world?

8. By what two lines of proof are the Jews proven as guilty as the Gentiles?

9. How would you interpret Romans 3:20 ?

Verses 21-31


If a righteousness were not obtainable by the words of the law as we saw in our last lesson, then a Jew especially might well ask in surprise how it were obtainable. To which the apostle replies, that “now apart from the law a righteousness of God is manifested,” (Romans 3:21 RV), i.e., a righteousness which may become man’s without the keeping of the law. This righteousness he describes as:

“Witnessed by the law and the prophets,” in other words, taught in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament; ยท obtained through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22 ); without respect of persons, Jew or Gentile (Romans 3:22-23 ); the free gift of God’s grace (Romans 3:24 ); based upon the death of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:25 ); and its bestowment declarative of God’s righteous character (Romans 3:25-26 ).

“His righteousness” in these last two verses does not refer as in the earlier instances, to the righteousness he is. It means that He is perfectly consistent with His own law and holiness in freely justifying a sinner who believes on Christ, because Christ has fully met every demand of the law on his behalf (Romans 10:4 ). In this connection “propitiation” should be understood clearly. It does not convey the idea of placating an angry God, but of doing right by His holy law and so making it possible for Him righteously to show mercy. Christ so honored the law by enduring its righteous sentence that God who ever foresaw the cross, is vindicated in having “passed over” sins from Adam to Moses (5:13), and the sins of Jewish believers under the old covenant, and in justifying sinners under the new covenant.

To appreciate chapter 4 go back to the phrase, “witnessed by the law and the prophets” (Romans 3:22 ). The Law of the Prophets was one of the names given by the Jews to the Old Testament. The Law meant the Pentateuch or the first five books of Moses and the Prophets the remainder of the Old Testament. Paul was showing that the salvation or justification by faith he preached was Old Testament truth, and in the present chapter he confirms the fact by the instances of David and Abraham. The illustration from Abraham is found in the Law and that from David in the Prophets. Abraham’s case is first treated (Romans 4:1-4 ), and then David’s (Romans 4:5-8 ). To Abraham he returns at Romans 4:9 , showing in what follows how justification is entirely distinct from ordinances. Romans 4:18-25 should be pondered because of their simple and picturesque presentation of the theme. Abraham believed God’s testimony about Isaac in the face of nature to the contrary, and this faith “was counted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:22 ). We have only to believe God’s testimony about Jesus Christ, Whom Isaac typified, to receive the same blessing in the same way. Romans 4:2 of this chapter must not be thought to contradict James 2:24 , because these two scriptures are but two aspects of the same truth. Paul here is laying down the principle which James is applying; or to put it better, Paul is speaking of that which justifies man before God, and James of that which justifies him before man. The former alludes to what God sees faith, and the latter to that which man sees works. The one has in mind Genesis 15:6 , the other, Genesis 22:1-19 .

There are three great results of justifying faith as indicated in Romans 5:1-11 : peace with God, access unto God, and rejoicing before God (Romans 5:1-2 ). The rejoicing is in hope of the glory of God, tribulations, and in God Himself (Romans 5:11 ). The rejoicing in tribulations is a theme full of interest. We rejoice because the tribulations of a justified man work “patience,” the patience “experience,” and the experience “hope, that maketh not ashamed” (Romans 5:3-5 ). The “experience” in this case is experience of the love of God who comforts us in our tribulation, sanctifies it to us and delivers us from it. This experience assures us of His love for us, the Holy Ghost thus ‘sheds it abroad in our hearts,’ and in consequence of that assurance our hope of beholding and partaking of His glory grows the brighter. We know that we shall not be ashamed of, or confounded in regard to the fulfillment of that hope. Romans 5:6-10 , important as they are and full of the riches of Christ, are in a sense parenthetical to the main line of teaching in this section. Bishop Moule suggests a rendering of Romans 5:10 of great beauty: “We shall be kept in His life.”


1. What is meant by righteousness “apart from the law”?

2. What is meant by “witnessed by the law and the prophets”?

3. How do you distinguish the “righteousness of God” (Romans 3:25-26 ), from the same phrase as used earlier?

4. How do you understand “propitiation”?

5. What part of chapter 3 is illustrated by chapter 4?

6. What is the meaning of The Law and the Prophets?

7. Why is the phrase used in this case?

8. What is the substance of chapter 4?

9. How does Abraham’s justification illustrate ours?

10. Harmonize Romans 4:2 with James 2:24 .

11. Name the three results of justifying faith.

12. Name the three causes of rejoicing.

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Romans 3". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/romans-3.html. 1897-1910.
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