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Bible Commentaries

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected Books

Romans 3

Verse 1

What advantage then hath the Jew? or what is the profit of circumcision? [Paul’s argument was well calculated to astonish the Jews. If some notable Christian should argue conclusively that the Christian and the infidel stood on an equal footing before God, his argument would not be more startling to the church than was that of Paul to the Jews of his day. They naturally asked the two questions found in this first verse, so Paul places the questions before his readers that he may answer them.]

Verse 2

Much every way: first of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. [To the circumcised Jew God had given the Scriptures. The law, the Psalms, the prophets were his, with all the revelations and promises therein contained. They revealed man’s origin, his fall and his promised redemption; they also described the Redeemer who should come, and prepared men to receive him and to believe him. How unspeakable the advantage of the Jew in possessing such a record. But the Jew had not improved this advantage, and so we may regard him as asking the apostle this further question, "But, after all, the greatest part of us have not believed on this Jesus, and so what advantage were our oracles to us in reality?" The apostle now answers this objection.]

Verse 3

For what if some were without faith? shall their want of faith make of none effect the faithfulness of God?

Verse 4

God forbid: yea, let God be found true, but every man a liar; as it is written [Psalms 51:4], That thou mightest be justified in thy words, And mightest prevail when thou comest into judgment. [True, the Jew, by unbelief, had failed to improve his advantage in possessing the Scriptures; but that did not alter the fact that he had had the advantage. He had failed, but God had not failed. Had the unbelief of the Jew caused God to break his promises, then indeed might the advantage of the Jew have been questioned, for in that case it would have proven a vanishing quantity. But, on the contrary, God had kept faith, and so the advantage, though unimproved, had been an abiding quantity. And this accords with the holiness and sinlessness of God. He is ever blameless, and because he is so, he must ever be assumed to be so, even though such an assumption should involve the presumption that all men are false and untrue, as, indeed, they are in comparison with him: for David testified to the incomparable righteousness of God, that it was a righteousness which acquitted God of all unfaithfulness to his words, and which causes him to prevail whenever men call him to account or pass judgment upon him.]

Verse 5

But if our unrighteousness commendeth the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who visiteth with wrath? (I speak after the manner of men.) [I am not expressing my own views, but those of the man who objects to the truth I am presenting.]

Verse 6

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

Verse 7

But if the truth of God through my lie abounded unto his glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner?

Verse 8

and why not (as we are slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say ), Let us do evil, that good may come? whose condemnation is just. [But some of you Jews, objecting to my argument, will say, "According to your statements, the unbelief and disobedience of us Jews, with reference to God’s Scripture, drew out, displayed and magnified the faithfulness and goodness of God in fulfilling his Scripture. Therefore, since our unbelief, etc., added to the glory of God by commending his righteousness, is not God unjust to punish us for that unbelief, etc., since it works such praiseworthy results? "My answer is, God forbid that sin should become righteousness, for if sin ceases to be sinful, how shall God judge the world, since then there shall be no sin to be condemned or punished? You see, then, the absurdity of your question, since it is a practical denial of the divinely established fact that there is to be a day of judgment. Sin, though it may, by its contrast, display the righteousness of God, is nevertheless utterly without merit. As an illustration, my case is analogous to yours. You arraign me before the bar of Jewish opinion, even as you yourselves are arraigned before the bar of God; yet you would not permit me to use before you the very same argument which you are seeking to use before God. You Jews regard me as a sinner, and charge me with being untrue to the Jewish religion, and with being a false representative of it, in that I declare it to be fulfilled in the gospel. Now, my lie (as you consider it), in this respect, redounds to the glory of God by being a contrast to his truthfulness. But would you Jews acquit me of the sin of heresy if I should make use of this your argument? And, again, if your reasoning is correct, why should I not, as certain, meaning to slander me, report that I do, and affirm that I say, Let us do evil that good may come? But those who avow such principles are justly condemned. Thus Paul showed that, in condemning him (though falsely), they condemn the very argument which they were seeking to affirm in Romans 3:5]

Verse 9

What then? Are we [Jews] better than they? [The Gentiles.] No, in no wise: for we before laid to the charge both of Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin [Having met the effort of the Jew to make an exception in his case, as set forth in Romans 3:5; the apostle now reaffirms his original charge of universal unrighteousness, in which both Jews and Greeks were involved. This charge he further proves by an elaborate chain of quotations, taken from the Old Testament, and chiefly from the Psalms];

Verse 10

as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one;

Verse 11

There is none that understandeth, There is none that seeketh after God;

Verse 12

They have all turned aside, they are together become unprofitable; There is none that doeth good, no, not so much as one [Psalms 14:1-3; Psalms 53:1-3]:

Verse 13

Their throat is an open sepulchre; With their tongues they have used deceit [Psalms 5:9]: The poison of asps is under their lips [Psalms 140:3]:

Verse 14

Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness [Psalms 10:7]:

Verse 15

Their feet are swift to shed blood;

Verse 16

Destruction and misery are in their ways;

Verse 17

And the way of peace have they not known [Isaiah 59:7-8]:

Verse 18

There is no fear of God before their eyes. [Psalms 36:1 . The above quotations are placed in logical order. "The arrangement is such," says Meyer, "that testimony is adduced: first, for the state of sin generally (Romans 3:10-12); second, the practice of sin in word (Romans 3:13-14) and deed (Romans 3:13-17); and third, the sinful source of the whole-- Romans 3:18 "]

Verse 19

Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it speaketh to them that are under the law [i. e., to the Jews]; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God:

Verse 20

because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for through the law cometh the knowledge of sin. [Having, by his quotations from the Old Testament, shown that the Jew was sinful, the apostle sets forth the result of this sin. Does the law provide any remedy? Is the Jew right in hoping that it shall afford him immunity from his guilt? These questions have been for some time before the apostle, and they now come up for final answer. We, says he, universally accept the truth that when the law speaks, it speaks to those who are under it. If, therefore, it has no voice save condemnation--and it has no other--and if that voice is addressed particularly to the Jew--and it is--his state is no better than that of the Gentile; he is condemned; and the law thus speaks for this very purpose of silencing the vain, unwarranted confidence of the Jew, that he may see himself in the same condition as the Gentile, and brought, with the rest of the world, under the condemnation of God; and there can be no legal escape from this condemnation, because, by the works of the law, it is impossible for humanity, in its frailty, to justify itself in God’s sight--nay, the law works a directly contrary result, for through it comes the knowledge and sense of sin, and not the sense of pardon or justification.]

Verse 21

But now apart from the law a righteousness of God hath been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets [Having shut up all under condemnation for sin under the law with its works, Paul turns now to point all to freedom and justification under the gospel with its grace. This section of the Epistle is, therefore, as Bengel observes, "the opening of a brighter scene." There was no justification under the Mosaic dispensation, says the apostle; but now, under the dispensation of Christ (Romans 3:26; Romans 16:26), a righteousness apart from or independent of the law, having God as its author, and proceeding from God, and long hid in the councils of God, has been at last manifested (Romans 16:25-26; 1 Timothy 3:16). Having thus distinctly announced this new justification, Paul proceeds to give details, the first of which is a statement that it did not come unannounced or unheralded, for in their types, promises and prophecies (Genesis 15:6; Habakkuk 2:4) both the law and the prophets foretold that this righteousness would be revealed];

Verse 22

even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that believe; for there is no distinction;

Verse 23

for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God;

Verse 24

being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus [The apostle adds four additional details, viz.: 1. This, justification is conditional, being obtained through faith in Jesus Christ. 2. It is bestowed upon Jew and Gentile without distinction, for both classes, having failed to attain that perfection of righteousness and character which is the glory of God, are equally condemned without it. 3. It is a free gift, bestowed by God’s grace or favor. 4. It was obtained as a redemption by the giving of Jesus Christ as a ransom (1 Corinthians 6:20). The last detail is further elaborated in what follows]:

Verse 25

whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God;

Verse 26

for the showing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season: that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus. [God set forth (or exhibited in his blood on the cross) Jesus Christ to be a propitiatory sacrifice (i. e., a sacrifice which would justify God in pardoning sinners) for the benefit of those who, through faith in him, would present him to God as such. And God thus set him forth as a bloody sacrifice, that he might, in him, show his righteousness (i. e., his retributive justice, his hatred of sin, and firmness in punishing it), for this retributive justice of God had for a long time been obscured by his conduct towards sinners, for he had passed over, or left only partially punished, the sins done aforetime (i. e., all sins committed before Christ’s death), for he had neither fully forgiven nor fully punished them, but had passed them over, reserving the full punishment of them to inflict it upon Jesus when suffering upon the cross (Isaiah 53:4-6); that full forgiveness also might flow from the cross (John 1:29; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5; Revelation 7:14), God forbearing to punish man because he anticipated this method of pardoning him. Thus God explained, or made clear, his former conduct, by setting forth, in these days, his crucified Son as a propitiatory sacrifice, that he might show himself, not just in condemning, but just and yet the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus. Thus Paul makes it apparent that the sacrifices of the Old Testament were types, and because of them God showed forbearance, looking forward to Christ, the real propitiatory sacrifice, in whose sufferings on the cross God punished sin, that he might show mercy and grant pardon to the sinner. The propitiatory sacrifice of Christ could only take place with his free and full consent, for it would have else been unjust to punish one being for the sin of another.]

Verse 27

Where then is the glorying? [Romans 2:17; Romans 2:23] It is excluded. By what manner of law? of works? Nay: but by a law of faith. [In all that portion of this Epistle embraced between 2:17-3:20, Paul has been demolishing the boastful spirit of the Jew. As he ends his successful argument, he pauses now to ask, triumphantly, What is left of this boasting? If a man is saved not as a righteous person, but as a pardoned criminal, where is there room for boastfulness? There is none at all; it is excluded. But by what law or principle is it excluded? by that of works? No; for such a law tends to foster it; but by the law or principle of faith. The law of works, which says, "Do this if thou wouldst live," tended to develop a spirit of self-righteousness; but the law of faith, which says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved," silences all boasting.]

Verse 28

We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

Verse 29

Or is God the God of Jews only? is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yea, of Gentiles also:

Verse 30

if so be that God is one, and he shall justify the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith. [Therefore, as the conclusion of the whole argument, we reckon that every man, be he Jew or Gentile, is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. If only those who kept the law of Moses could be justified, then only could Jews be justified, for they alone possessed this law, and it is addressed only to them. But this state of affairs would belle the character of God. Does he not create, feed and govern the Gentiles? and is he not then the God of the Gentiles? Or are there two Gods: one for the Jew and one for the Gentile? The question is absurd; there is but one God, and he is God both of the Jews and Gentiles, and as each race is alike wholly dependent upon him, he must deal impartially by each; and this he does, for he saves both Jew and Gentile in tile same manner; i. e., by faith. It may be well to note, in this connection, that Luther added the word "alone" to this verse, thus: "We reckon, therefore, that a man is justified by faith alone." In combating the error of Rome (that men are justified by works), Luther fell into another error, for repentance is as much a means of justification as faith, and there is no merit in either of them. The meritorious cause of our justification is the atoning blood of Christ, and by faith, repentance, baptism, etc., we appropriate the blood of Christ. These acts, on our part, do not make us worthy of justification, but they are the conditions fixed by Christ, on compliance with which lie invests us with the benefits of his blood; i. e., justifies us.]

Verse 31

Do we then make the law of none effect through faith? God forbid: nay, we establish the law. [Does the conclusion, proved by my argument, make the law of none effect? God forbid: on the contrary, it establishes the law by clearing it of misunderstanding. It was given to show that no man could attain salvation by self-righteousness, and we establish it by showing that it accomplished the end for which it was framed. We have shown that it was of no service to justify men; but of great service to convict them of sin, and thus lead them to Christ for justification.]

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
First published online at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on Romans 3". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/oca/romans-3.html. Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.